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Previously on An Apple A Day
Anita, Erin, Liam, and Jake arrive in Artemis Town. She quickly meets Styx, the gym leader's girlfriend, who not only knows about Liam's Forced Transformation Device, but agrees to help Anita destroy it. She also believes Anita is Mew. Anita has no clue how or where she's been obtaining this information. Apple stays in a patient room, recovering from burns. Apple teaches Anita some minor telekinesis-Anita can now move small particles like dust with her mind.
While sneaking around the off-limit halways in the Pokemon Center to find Anita (who's with Apple), Erin overhears Dustin (the gym leader of Artemis Town) and Styx discussing Liam.
Professor Blubber recognizes Mel as Professor Hastings's son. Professor Hastings was recently arrested by the gym leaders for being suspected of withholding information about where Liam is. Liam puts Rita Teal temporarily in charge of Team Glop'emm and asks her to look into who Professor Seth Hastings is. Anita admits to Liam that she knows that he's looking for Mew.
Chapter 38: Stuck in a Bind
I couldn’t sleep. I tried, but thoughts of my conversation with Liam whirled about my head, a tornado of danger, madness, and change. Change certainly.
I wondered if it was a mistake to tell Liam I knew he was looking for Mew.
Finally, after I heard Liam breath steadily, I got out of bed, a PokeBall in hand. I needed a distraction.
I returned the Pokemon Center’s quiet rooftop, enjoying the night’s light breeze. With the touch of a button, Splash was released from his PokeBall. His bright fur glittered with sparks. I smiled as he zoomed around the rooftop, marveling at his new speed. He hadn’t had the chance to run free since Vintage Village, since his evolution.
<I’ll be able to catch Vanilla now for sure,> he said gleefully. A stray leaf caught an upward draft, twirling across the rooftop. The moment it touched Splash’s fur, it was zapped into sizzling dust.
<We have to train. You need to learn to control electricity.>
<Training! Can we steal that Dangerous, High Voltage sign?> Splash said, eyeing the enclosure that no doubt held the Pokemon Center’s backup generator.
<We’ll see,> I said, then hesitated. <Splash?>
Splash sensed my seriousness and for once held his attention on me.
<There are some things I’m going to need your help with. Dangerous things I’m not prepared to explain and dangerous secrets that must be kept, well secret.>
<I’ll do it, of course. Anything! I’m better at keeping secrets than Vanilla, you know? Once in our old home, Allo pooped on the floor and I didn’t tell anyone for weeks—>
<Alright, then. Lets train.>
By the end of the night, anything that touched Splash’s fur still sparked and disintegrated, but I was peaceful and sleepy and satisfied with Splash’s exuberant effort. I crawled into my bottom bunk and slept.
The sun was already up when I awoke. I rolled over and looked at my PokeTech, which I’d buried under my pillow.
Automatically, I looked to the end of the bunk to see if Apple was up, only to remember she was with Fiery in the Pokemon overnight room. Right, Apple. My eyes darted to Liam’s bed. He was still asleep. I’d set an alarm for five in the morning so I’d wake up before he could even attempt to take that Forced Transformation Device anywhere near Apple.
Clearly, that was a failed plan. I clicked through my PokeTech until I got to the alarm setting.
It blinked 5:00 p.m.
I felt ridiculously brainless—if Liam had gotten up, if I’d failed Apple just because of a stupid alarm…
I sat up and glanced back at Liam’s bed, feeling lucky he was still asleep. He was always the first one up and usually woke me up for our training sessions—like the one we were supposed to have this morning.
But there Liam was, sleeping with his face into his pillow, the covers half over his body, half falling off the bed. From Erin’s soft snores from the top bunk, I figured she wasn’t up either.
As I climbed out of bed and quietly got dressed, I thought back to last night’s conversation with Liam, again wondering if it was a mistake to tell him I knew he was after Mew.
Last night, before training with Splash, I thought it was. Now... now in the daylight, seeing Liam drool all over his pillow, I thought maybe I’d overreacted. Liam had probably known I knew. Otherwise he wouldn’t have followed Erin and me around to begin with, right? And darn it, I’d been right back then—I’d known there was something up with him when we’d first met by Peepin Pond. I would’ve abandoned him then but nooo, Erin had to have her obnoxious, Mew-chasing, “researching” friend. And now she wasn’t even officially a research assistant!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t change any of that.
My priority for now was to keep Apple safe. Which meant keeping Apple out of suspicion. Which meant keeping Liam away from Apple until Apple and I could implement our rather vague plan. Which meant I had to get Styx in contact with Liam so she could deal with that dratted untransformer.
All of which indicated I had to find a way to drag Liam to the gym, where Styx said she’d be, without letting him near Apple.
Now that I thought about it, Liam had never watched one of my gym battles. He probably wouldn’t be interested in seeing this one either. Getting him to the gym could be a bigger problem than I initially thought.
I eyed the belt lying atop Liam’s nightstand. Liam was very protective of the few possessions he had; when I’d reached for his belt on the ship to Vintage Village, the S.S. Bezzle, he’d snatched my hand away. Clipped to the belt were six PokeBalls, a pouch that contained the syringe, and a grey walkie-talkie.
Taking the Forced Transformation Device was the equivalent of admitting one of my Pokemon was Mew. That was out of the question. Taking his Pokemon… I wasn’t sure. It felt wrong. I mean, Team Glop’emm stole Pokemon.
That left the walkie-talkie. Why the hell did he have a walkie-talkie anyway? I mean, he had a PokeTech. Who held the other end of the walkie? His parents? Or maybe it was one of those emergency phones.
Whatever it was, he wore it every day. I carefully unsnapped it from his belt. When I accidently let the belt clank on the nightstand, my heart pounded loudly in my chest.
Liam’s head rolled into the pillow.
When there were no further movements, I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.
I picked up my pack and double-checked my PokeBalls. If Liam was going to the gym, Apple couldn’t come, and I’d have to leave Fiery with her just in case. That meant I’d only have my other four Pokemon to use in the battle against Dustin. Oh, well, it couldn’t be helped. Hopefully the training with Splash would help.
I stepped onto the lower bunk’s bed frame and pulled myself up until I my head was eye to eye with Erin’s. “Erin,” I hissed.
Erin’s eyes fluttered. “But I don’t want to be a muffin menace,” she mumbled.
“Erin, wake up,” I whispered.
Erin’s eyes opened. Startled, she sat up, making the bed squeak loudly and causing loose pieces of pink fluff from her pajamas to flutter about.
“Shh—I need you to do me a favor.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I watched out the window, waiting for Anita’s signal with excitement and only the slightest twinge of guilt.
For whatever reason, Anita had taken Liam’s bulky phone.
The look on Liam’s face would be priceless.
Outside, standing in front of a vegetable vendor’s stand, Anita squinted towards the Pokemon Center with a hand above her eyes to block the sunlight. When her gaze fell upon my window she grinned and waved Liam’s phone in the air.
That was the signal. I turned around. It took only two steps for me to reach Liam’s bed; rooms provided by the Pokemon Center really were not very spacious.
Liam was dead to the world—I couldn’t even tell he was breathing. It was highly unusual for Liam to sleep this late; I wasn’t sure I’d ever even seen Liam asleep. Tentatively, I poked his shoulder. “Liam?”
A muffled groan indicated that Liam was indeed still alive and well.
“Liam, I think you need to get up.” I almost smiled at the well-performed worry I heard in my own voice. Almost. Smiling would’ve ruined the pretense.
Liam sat up, running a hand through his hair. He blinked at the light streaming in through the window. “What time is it?”
“Almost eight,” I said. “Err, you might want to look out the window.”
Liam looked past me at the bottom bunk. “Where’s Anita?”
“Just look out the window.” I backed up and sat on Anita’s bed, where I would be safe from any sudden, perhaps anger-provoked movement.
Liam untangled the covers from his feet, scooted out of bed, and peered outside. He froze with a hand on the windowsill. Then slowly, his gaze turned to the nightstand, on top of which his belt lied.
I’d been right—the look on Liam’s face was priceless.
Craning my neck, I risked a glance out the window. Anita was dancing in front of the vegetable stand, waving the phone in the air.
Liam literally sprinted out of the room, dressed only in boxers and the white t-shirt he’d worn to bed. He only stopped to grab the belt on his nightstand and didn’t bother shutting the door on his way out. As the pound of his feet faded down the hall, I heard another door open.
“Hey, what’s all the ruckus—Liam?” It was Jake’s voice. “Hey, wait! Liam, did Anita go to the gym yet? Is that where you’re going? Wait! Wait for me!”
More foot pounding.
I sighed, supposing I should follow.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
With the soles of my tennis shoes thumping against the sidewalk and my heart pounding so loud it made my ears ring, I found a new respect for the Melonbi Middle School’s track team. I remembered back when my childhood friend, Mia, had asked me to join the team with her, I’d bent over laughing until she aimed a well-placed kick at my shins. I’d chased after her with a shoe, threatening retaliation—she outran me, of course.
You couldn’t pay me to run, and the track team—they tortured themselves for fun.
However, put an angry, dark-gifted boy hell-bent on retrieving his weird walkie-talkie, which I just so happened to be carrying, on my tail and I’d run until the rubber on my shoes crumbled.
Luckily, I only had to make it to the gym, and I thought I had about a minute and a half head start. I wasn’t sure; I’d seen Liam move and he was fast.
There weren’t many people on the street yet so I ran straight down the middle of the sidewalk, rushing past the colorful shops on my left and the fire hydrants, benches, and planted trees on my right. When I thought about daring a look behind me to see how close Liam was, I swore I could hear Mia’s scolding voice: “The first rule in track is to never look back at your competitors. You’ll go faster if you always think they’re right behind you.”
So I didn’t look. The rhythmic thump of my feet against the sidewalk and my ragged breathing blocked my attempts to listen for Liam’s approach.
I could see the massive gym ahead of me buried between office buildings. It was shaped and colored like a massive eggshell.
Only when I reached the gym’s front doors did I risk a glance back. Liam was only a block away.
Gasping, I hurled myself through the gym’s revolving doors.
My ears popped at the change in air pressure. I was surprised to find the inside of the dome shaped gym just as vast as the outside. Sparky’s gym had been divided into several, smaller rooms, and Aden’s gym was sectioned between the entrance room, the maze, and the battle arena.
Dustin’s gym was spacious and austere. Bright lights lined the ceiling, and several rows of bleachers reflected the light about the gym, creating spots of light on the curved walls. The floor was made of a blue tile atop a gleaming metal—thicker lines of the metal carved out a simple battlefield that stretched in front of me. At the other end of the battlefield, a tiled platform drew my attention, the reflected light from the bleachers seeming to center upon this spot.
There were four large, throne-like chairs on the platform. Two Eevees sat on the center two. One of them had to be Dustin’s Eevee, Ray, but I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Dustin sat in the chair on the far right; a woman with fair hair and sharp eyes sat on far left—Dustin’s twin.
Directly next to the revolving door Styx stood with her arms akimbo and a grin on her face. “Welcome to—”
Liam shoved his way through the doors and lunged at me. Before I could react, he roughly grabbed the walkie-talkie from my hand, knocking me to the floor in the process.
Trying to calm my breathing, I stared up at Liam as he clipped the walkie to his belt, his relaxed jaw revealing a small glimpse of relief in his impassive expression. He was dressed in only boxers and a t-shirt. No shoes. No socks. He showed no sign of discomfort, despite his bare feet touching the cool floor.
Without acknowledging anyone in the room, Liam turned to leave.
“Welcome to the Artemis Town gym,” Styx said ironically. She blocked his path to the revolving door.
“Yes, Liam Mendol, please stay,” Dustin said. He leaned against an armrest and cupped his scruffy chin in a hand. “I’m honored you made an appearance.”
I frowned, disliking Dustin’s arrogant tone. And that platform with the chairs was totally an unsubtle treat-me-as-royalty-you-puny-trainer gesture. *******. “How do you know Liam?” I demanded.
Liam turned back to face Dustin, glaring. Some undecipherable expression was exchanged. What the heck? I reached my mind to Dustin’s—
There was a sharp pain in my head as Dustin psychically shoved the tendril of my mind back at me. “Nice try,” he said. Ignoring my question, Dustin addressed Liam. “I appreciate the tip, though I’m not sure what to believe regarding his actual position.”
Liam said nothing.
I looked from Dustin to Liam and back to Dustin, trying to figure out what I was missing. Styx was smiling as if nothing was wrong, and Dustin’s sister watched Liam warily, clutching the armrests of her chair a bit too tightly.
The revolving doors whirled, and Jake stumbled into the gym breathing heavily. “Geeze Liam… you’re like… a freak… freakin’ Suicune.” He bent over, resting his hands on his knees. I noted that he was also disheveled, appearing to wear what he’d slept in—black shorts and a sweatshirt that read, I Got Balls, with a lovely picture depicting two PokeBalls and a guy’s—well, you know.
Dustin looked irritated. “You again?”
Jake grinned, stood up slowly, and ruffled his hair with a hand. “Yup.”
Once again, the revolving doors spun. Erin entered and unlike the boys, was fully clothed.
Jake’s jaw dropped. “Hey, how—I mean, I’m a faster runner than you. How’d you get here so—”
“Unlike some morons,” Erin tilted her head towards Jake. “I actually stopped to pick up my healed Pokemon before going to a Pokemon gym.” She spun a PokeBall on her finger—a trick she may have picked up from Liam. “And Griffy’s much faster than you, Jake.”
Jake closed and opened his mouth a few times before turning to face Dustin, looking a bit shame-faced.
“Well, I know Anita Parkwood, Liam Mendol, and Jake Veneer. Who are you?” Dustin asked.
Dustin nodded. “Never heard of you.” He started to stand up, and then did a double take. “Huh, do you work at the Pokemon Center?”
“Um, well.” Erin glanced at Liam, Jake, and I. <****, ****, ****, I ran into the stinking gym leader yesterday. Aw, ****. Would they cover for me if I said I did?> Erin was projecting her thoughts rather loudly. From Dustin’s grin, I had no doubt he was listening as well. Erin spotted Styx. <Hell, I can’t say I work there. That’s the lady who checked us in yesterday. F—>
“Yes, of course she works there,” I snapped, knowing very well that everyone in the room knew she didn’t. Whatever.
Dustin laughed. “Well, I haven’t had this much entertainment in my gym since Styx and I—”
“Dustin!” Dustin’s sister exclaimed. The two Eevee’s on the platform put their paws over their faces.
Dustin rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright. I’m Dustin Blavoid, gym leader of Artemis Town.” He gestured to his left. “But my twin sister, Tali, pretty much runs this place with me.”
“Or for you when you and Styx are off—” Tali started.
“And that’s my beautiful girlfriend, Styx.” Dustin pointed his hand across the room at Styx. Styx gave a little wave. Tali shook her head, smiling, and patted the Eevee beside her fondly. “Liam, you can stop giving me your death-glare because I’m not going to tell your little secret,” Dustin said. “In fact, I think it’s probably good for you to get out.”
<What secret?> Erin and I thought at the same time. So did Dustin know about Mew? Was he somehow involved with Liam? My eyes slid to Styx. It was more likely that he was involved with Styx, and Styx was supposed to be helping me destroy Liam’s untransforming device.
Supposed to being the key words there. Styx had made no attempts to destroy the device on Liam’s belt yet. Hmm, maybe his lack of pants was a deterrent.
Dustin cleared his throat. “Anita.”
My head snapped around. Everyone in the room was watching me. “Huh?”
“You entered the gym first.”
“Oh. I’d like to challenge the gym,” I said.
“Very well.” Dustin nodded at Styx. She walked a few paces away from the door, and began rummaging through a small cabinet I hadn’t noticed before. “Who would you like to be your partner?” Dustin asked.
Jake’s eyes flashed to me. “What! No, Anita, c’mon.”
“Erin, you may leave,” Dustin said.
“Wait, I just said I wanted her to be my partner!” Dustin looked amused by my complaint, and Tali was no longer paying attention to us, feeding PokeBlocks to the two Eevees out of the palm of her hand.
“Go on, Erin.” Dustin made a shooing motion. Erin hesitated, glancing at me. “Don’t worry, you won’t miss anything. Anita won’t be battling today anyway.”
“Sorry, Anita,” Erin said. As she walked out the revolving doors, I peeked into her mind. <With the whole caught pretending to be a nurse situation, best not to mess with him any more. Plus, Anita’ll be okay battling with Jake… right?>
Liam, Jake, and I stood for a moment. The only sound came from Styx closing the cabinet, apparently having found whatever it was she was looking for. The sound echoed around the gym.
“Anita, I ask again, who would you like to be your partner?”
Okay, this was totally unfair. First off, I didn’t want to be stuck with either of them—Liam refused to battle and Jake was a total ******* who’d already lost to this gym leader. Secondly, even if I wanted to partner up with either of them, it was apparent that Dustin wasn’t going to let me have a say. I’d end up with whomever he wanted me to partner up with.
“Listen up, Blavoid,” Jake said. “I came here to challenge the gym, too, and I want to be partnered up with Anita.” It was bold, but mostly stupid of him to speak.
Dustin smiled. “Alright, Anita, your partner will be Liam.”
I turned to Liam. He was already heading for the door.
“What, Liam, too scared to battle me?” Dustin called. Liam ignored him, side-stepping Styx when she made to block his path. “I’ll tell them,” Dustin said, just as Liam reached the door.
There it was again. Well, the threat wouldn’t work because I already knew about Mew. Although, Jake didn’t…
Liam turned around. Somehow, despite not wearing pants, he managed to look intimidating. “I won’t use my Pokemon.”
“Styx tells me you’ve recently acquired a Ditto. That should suffice.”
“Can we just hold on a minute?” Jake said, holding his palms out. “What part of I want to partner up with Anita did you miss?”
“Are you the gym leader?” Dustin asked him.
Dustin turned his attention back to me. “As I told Erin earlier, we will not be battling today.” Dustin nodded to Styx. “Tie them up.”
Styx took my hand and reached for Liam’s. I tugged back, pulling Styx out of reach. “Now, wait a second. What’s going on?”
Dustin raised his eyebrows. “Nobody told you about the prelim?” When I didn’t answer, he continued, grinning. “The Artemis Town gym promotes teamwork. Thus, for the next twenty-four hours, you will be tied to your partner. You will be forced to work together to get through everyday tasks—”
Jake coughed. I swear I heard him rasp, “Like showering.”
Sicko. I threw my backpack at him.
“—and at the end of the twenty-four hours, if you’re still tied together, then you’ve passed.” Dustin put both hands on his head and leaned back. “Actually, you’ll have to make it through twenty-four hours and then fight me and Tali to pass the prelim. I’ve gotta make it a little harder for the gifted.”
“Hey, they’re not more gifted than me,” Jake complained. “How come I never had to—”
Dustin raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you seriously going to complain? Because I can make your prelim more difficult—”
Jake shook his head frantically.
“Right, then. Styx.” Dustin gestured to us. Styx pulled my arm.
“Wait, fight, as in…?” I punched the air.
“No, fight as in—” Liam swiped a foot into my legs. I fell forward, catching myself with my hands.
I scrambled to my feet. “What the hell, Liam?” Liam glared past my shoulder. I took a step toward him. “Don’t take your anger out on me just because your perfectly devised plans aren’t working—”
“Right, because this isn’t all your fault,” Liam said scathingly.
“Children!” Dustin yelled. Liam and I both turned our glares to him. In any other instance, I might’ve applauded him for not even flinching. “Please, wait until you’re tied together before you start fighting.” His gaze fell on me. “If you fail the prelim, you’ll fail this gym. Permanently.”
“That’s not fair! Jake—”
“Both times Jake has challenged the gym, he’s passed the prelim,” Dustin said, smiling. “He failed the Pokemon battle.”
If I didn’t feel like there was about a two percent chance of me making it through this prelim, I would’ve laughed at Jake for failing more than once. As it was, I just gulped.
“Liam and I are untied before we fight you, right?” I asked Dustin.
Dustin actually contemplated that, but it was Tali who nodded. “That would only be fair.” Dustin begrudgingly agreed.
As Styx pulled my hand, I thought to her, <You’d better destroy the Forced Transformation Device before I leave here.> Whether she heard me or not, I couldn’t say.
I was surprised when Liam willingly held out his hand, allowing Styx to touch our wrists together. Maybe he just wanted to get out of the gym and away from Dustin quickly. As she wrapped the band around our wrists, I realized I wouldn’t be able to use my powers for twenty-four hours. Well, that was just dandy.
At least I’d be able to keep Liam away from Apple.
Just as Styx finished tying the final knot, she bumped into Liam, who incidentally knocked into me. I fell, pulling him with me. The next moments seemed to happen in slow motion.
I saw Styx’s nimble hand reach for the untransformer as Liam fell toward me. Liam, always acutely aware of his surroundings, elbowed her hand out of the way, and carefully watched Styx as she managed to turn the movement into a clumsy stumble.
Great, just what I needed—Liam suspecting another person who might’ve been able to help me. My back hit the cold tile floor. Liam nearly landed on top of me, barely managing to catch himself with his hands on either side of my head. I winced, my right hand trapped beneath his left because the elastic band bound them together.
For less than a moment I looked up at Liam’s face. His eyes were wide, startled even, and his breath cool like a spring breeze. Wisps of black hair fell forward, tickling my forehead.
In that miniscule millisecond, my stomach clenched and knees quivered.
By Liam’s feet, Styx regained her balance, but knocked into Liam to steady herself. I closed my eyes at the jolt.
Liam’s lips brushed my nose, light and feathery.
And then I was being pulled up. I felt my face flush, but no one seemed to notice. Jake was giving a dramatic speech to Tali, attempting to persuade her that it was too dangerous to let me and Liam be partners, that she and Dustin were clearly violating the gym leader council’s gym safety regulations. From Tali’s squinted eyes and doubtful expression, I doubted she’d be swayed.
Liam was once again making dagger-eyes at Dustin, perhaps purposefully avoiding my gaze. I caught Styx’s eye as she brushed off her white skirt, regaining composure, and I chose to give her an unsubtle you-screwed-up-bad look. She shrugged and mouthed something.
<What?> I thought, knowing she couldn’t hear me.
She must have understood my expression because she mouthed more slowly, “Venture west.” Whatever that meant. She waved frantically at herself, and then at me, stopping abruptly when Dustin gave her an odd look.
Liam nodded to Dustin. As Liam tugged me towards the revolving doors and it was clear Styx wasn’t going to make another attempt at the Forced Transformation Device, I mouthed, “You suck” at her.
Styx watched us leave, her dark eyes wide, trying to give me a hint I could no longer receive telepathically.
Liam was smirking slightly when we pushed through the revolving doors. That couldn’t be good.
I squinted when we got outside, the combination of the bright light and change in air pressure making my head hurt. “Let’s go find a pair of scissors,” Liam said, dragging me towards the nearest store.
“What? Wait, already?” I tugged back. He stopped walking. “It’s been about thirty seconds. I don’t like this, but I’ve got to beat the gym.”
Liam shrugged. “Not my problem.”
“Persuade me.” Liam raised his eyebrows, his green eyes glinting. “Otherwise…” He made a scissor motion with his fingers.
I knew what he was getting at. “I’m not telling you anything about Mew.”
Liam turned back toward the store. “A pity.”
“I’m serious, Liam. That info’s not worth the price of gym badge.” Liam pulled me and I followed, not wanting the band to snap. “You might be the nastiest, most uncaring—”
“You’ve still got about thirty seconds to persuade me. Sixty, depending on how long it takes the clerk to find a pair of scissors.” We reached the store door.
“What do you want?” I asked, trying not to let my voice sound desperate. Liam gave me a look.
I thought back to earlier. “A kiss?”
That disturbed Liam enough for him to pull away from the door and put as much space between him and me as he could. “Ew, no.” He gave me a where-the-hell-did-that-come from-look.
“What do you want?” I repeated.
Liam unsubtly brushed over the Forced Transformation Device with his free, right hand.
I stared at his hand of a second. “Oh. Oh.” Well, he was going to test them at some point anyway. I’d be putting a lot of faith in Styx by doing this—in her “Venture west” plan and in her ability to keep Liam thinking Apple was still hurt. Could Styx and I break the Forced Transformation Device before Liam could use it on Apple? “Fine,” I said.
“Alright, let out your Pokemon,” Liam said.
“I’m not stupid. As soon as you use that untransformy thing, I know you’re going to cut the band.” I held up our bound wrists. “Plus, I don’t have all my Pokemon. The nurse told me this morning that Apple needed to rest another day, and I left Fiery with her for company.” I said it as if I believed it, I couldn’t afford Liam to see through the white lie.
Liam nodded. “Fine. This evening, I get to test the Pokemon you currently have. Tomorrow, after we get this band off, I get to test Apple and Fiery.”
Was that enough time?
We shook our already joined hands.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Your little secret,” I muttered, repeating the words Dustin had spoken to Liam. I meant to find out Liam’s little secret.
<Secrets, secrets are no fun unless you share the applesauce!> Griffy’s tail yelled. I sighed, returning Griffy to his PokeBall.
I stood in front of Artemis Town’s quaint library. For such a large town, the library was tiny—a small brick building squished between a grocery store and a funny smelling store that sold antiques. I pushed through the glass front doors.
If Dustin knew something about the secret, then the first place to start looking for clues was the gym leader database, a book every library should have. I nodded to the old librarian at the front desk and wandered into an aisle that looked like it might fall apart the moment I took a book off of the shelf. I spotted the Pokemon Trainer section in the far back, denoted by a putrid green sign.
There was a girl with pigtails leaning back in a chair, her feet up on a small wood table as she paged through a book. She had a red bag swung over her shoulder and was chewing gum loudly. As I walked past her to the bookshelf, she glared up at me as if my presence personally offended her.
I quickly located the spot on the shelf where the database should’ve been. The spot was empty.
As I turned to return to the front desk and ask the librarian for help, I glimpsed the cover of the book the pigtail girl was reading. The 2013 Gym Leader Database. Of course.
“Excuse me, can I see that book when you’re done?”
“Not going to be done for a while,” the girl said between bubble gum pops.
“Can I take a look at it now then? It’ll only be a minute.”
“You a trainer?” the girl asked.
I shrugged, not particularly wanting to explain.
“I’ve got six badges,” the girl said, “and I’m not going up against Tamara ‘till I find a decent dark Pokemon, but I’ve got a kickass fighting team ready to rock. The dark gym leader, however… you heard about him?”
“Well his freakin’ prelim is to find him.”
“Abalina’s was like that, with her gym under ground—” I started.
“Not like this,” the girl said, whipping her pigtails back and forth. “Nobody knows what his face looks like, and he could be anywhere, and I mean anywhere. In Sinnoh for all anyone knows. No trainer’s seen him since he left the gym. I heard a rumor that the dark gym leader was friendly with the normal gym leader so I came here—I mean, I figure the gym leaders aren’t freakin’ out over where the guy is so they must know or at least have contact with him. And if the dark gym leader’s havin’ contact with any of them, it’s the normal guy, right?”
I didn’t particularly care about this missing dark gym leader; I just wanted to take a look at that book. I hid my annoyance and nodded.
“But I haven’t seen nothin’ and I’ve been watching this normal guy for two weeks already. Believe me, I know all about him and his freaky girlfriend—”
A thought dawned on me, so obvious I might’ve smacked my head against the table if I wasn’t worried about what this girl might do to me if I passed out in front of her. “You said the dark gym leader’s been missing?”
The girl scowled at me. “That’s what I’ve been complainin’ bout. You even listening?”
“How long what?”
“How long has he been gone from his gym? How long has that prelim been going on?”
The girl shrugged. “A month maybe?”
Dustin knew Liam. Liam was darkly gifted.
The dark gym leader of Acceber has been missing for a month. We met Liam a month ago.
Two plus two, does in fact equal four
“What’s the dark gym leader’s name?” I asked.
“Somethin’ common.” The girl leafed through the book. “Ah, there we go.” She held the book up, and turned it so the pages faced me. She placed her finger under a name. “Just says the last name for some reason. Mendol.”
Well, that was that. I knew his secret.
Liam was undoubtedly the dark gym leader of Acceber.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Venturing west didn’t work out well.
It took me ten minutes to figure out which way was west. By that time, the streets were crowded with people trying to get to their Monday morning work. Liam and I were jostled about—businessmen elbowing us out of their paths and street vendors forcing their products in front of us. Seeing the band attaching our wrists, we got several offers for fakes to be put on later.
Though the offers were tempting, I suspected Dustin would have a way of knowing if the band was cut and replaced.
And I had yet to find exactly what Styx was referring to.
“You’re sure Erin said she’d meet us here,” Liam said doubtfully, nudging a Zigzagoon he would’ve otherwise tripped on out of the way with his foot.
“That’s what she said.” Not. I looked away from a man in a top hat shoving a hotdog beneath my nose. Artemis Town was beginning to seem like one giant market—if you walked down the middle of a street, there were so many market stands you couldn’t see the office buildings on either side of the road. Between a woman wearing a giant hat and a man dressed as a Pikachu, I spotted green.
“We’re not going to find her in this crowd. Call her,” Liam said.
“Wait.” I headed in the direction I’d glimpsed green. We came upon a giant park. There was a group of kids playing with a Frisbee and two trainers battling, but it was certainly less crowded than the street. I felt like I could breath again.
Liam was already dialing Erin’s number on his PokeTech. I looked around frantically. What was Styx talking about? I was pretty screwed when Erin answered her phone.
Liam frowned. “No one’s answering.”
Maybe Styx would show up or something, but I wasn’t going to wait around helplessly. I cursed silently, wishing I’d broken the untransformer earlier this morning when Liam was asleep. He’d have known one of my Pokemon was Mew, but he wouldn’t have had a way of proving it. Now, if I didn’t find a way of breaking the Forced Transformation Device, Apple was in very deep doo-doo.
Alright, attempt number one: smash it in close combat.
I swung my unbound fist at Liam’s belt, where the untransformer was. Of course, Liam blocked it with his arm. Neither of us moved. “This could get very dangerous for you, very fast,” Liam said.
I yawned widely, watching him through the narrow slit of my eyelids. “Chill. I just want to practice while we wait for Erin. I want to be ready for tomorrow, and someone slept in for my morning practice.”
I kicked my right leg at the back of Liam’s knees. Without room to maneuver, Liam took the hit and fell to the ground. Unfortunately, because we were tied together, I was yanked down towards him.
Liam caught himself with his free hand, swinging our bound hands over his body. His legs caught under mine, and I fell face forward into the grass. By the time I hit the ground, Liam was sitting up beside me, holding both of my arms behind my back. I winced.
“Fighting in this state,” Liam said, jiggling our tied wrists. I could feel his racing pulse slow, “will not help you prepare for tomorrow’s gym battle and will likely result in your injury.”
The grass tickled my nose. In my peripheral vision, I could see the untransformer peeking out of the pouch on Liam’s belt, gleaming in the sunlight as if to mock me. Mission smash untransformer with my fist: fail. “Fine. Let me up,” I said, my voice muffled by the grass.
Liam released my arms. I pushed up on the ground, awkwardly tucked my legs beneath me, and scooted on the grass until I sat facing Liam. Behind Liam, people were still bustling about on the streets. Our scuffle had attracted a little attention, but now that we weren’t fighting, people continued on their way quickly, not even glancing at us.
Liam watched me speculatively, his head cocked to the side. “If you want to prepare for tomorrow, it would be more beneficial to discuss strategy.”
My nose tickled and I thought I might sneeze. Wow, he was absolutely right. Well, right as long as I broke that untransformer and didn’t have to run for my life and Apple’s tomorrow. I forced my eyes to stay on his face and not dart to the untransformer. “Okay. What do you know of Dustin and Tali’s powers? How do you know Dustin anyway?”
“How I know them is not your—”
I held up our tied wrists. We were tied together—how could this not be my business?
“—business,” Liam finished. I didn’t press him; there were more important matters to worry about at the moment. He continued, “Dustin can mimic any gift—”
“Does that include your fighting ability?” I asked.
Liam looked at me, his eyebrows furrowed in irritation. “Will you let me finish a sentence? My ability to do this—” Liam shoved my shoulder with his tied hand, pushing me on my side, my left shoulder digging into the dirt.
“And you just love showing it off,” I muttered.
“-was hard earned through years of training. Dustin can’t mimic it; it’s not part of my gift.” Liam let me up. I rolled my shoulder, more to annoy Liam than out of actual soreness. “Dustin’s twin, Tali, has control over sound.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“You’ve never been yelled at by her.” Liam sighed and looked overhead. “So what do you know about strategy? Have you ever played strategy games?”
“What, like chess? I guess I strategize in Pokemon battles. When I battled Sparky—”
“Let’s use chess as an example. How do you strategize in chess?”
I think the last time I played chess was in third grade, when I had a crush on a freckled boy in the chess club. When he beat me in a chess game, my heart was crushed and I found I no longer had any positive feelings for the kid. “Well, I guess I set up that knight-pawn wall around my king, and then I try to knock out as many of my opponent’s pieces as I can—”
“So you lose sight of your goal, and then proceed to lose the game.”
“Strategy is accurately predicting your opponent’s moves and using these predictions to defeat your opponent.” Liam’s lips quirked. “For instance, if I flicked your nose right now, you’d be goaded into grabbing at my hand. Because I know how you’ll react, I’d be able to intercept your hand, forcing you to be still.”
“And I’d spit in your face.”
“Then I’d push you back to the ground painfully—” Liam started.
“Once again illustrating the perverse enjoyment you get from seeing others suffer.”
“That’s not true.”
I smiled, daring him to try me. “Let’s just be glad you didn’t flick my nose.”
Liam’s face was calm and stoic, but his eyes bore into mine, green as the grass field around us. “Strategy,” Liam said, finally. “Dustin’s powers are the most unpredictable, but he can only mimic one gift at a time.”
“Right. So he can either be a psychic, or he can have your oh-so-special dark gift.”
“Or he can copy Tali’s ability to manipulate sound,” Liam said. “The least threatening of these three abilities is mine—my gift is really only useful in the dark or when fighting a psychic.” He nodded at me. “So we can force Dustin—”
“We can force him to copy your dark gift if I bombard him psychically.” I plucked at the grass by my feet, shredding the blades into ant-size pieces. I wished I could practice psychically moving the grass bits like I had the glass shards yesterday with Apple. “And then you can take Dustin out with your hard-earned fighting skills.”
I peeked up at Liam. He nodded. I guess it was a good strategy.
“You know, we have another advantage,” I said. Liam watched me expectantly. I tapped my head. “If you open up your mind for the battle, we can communicate telepathically—”
“No,” Liam said harshly.
“Okay, okay. It was just a thought.” The Frisbee the group of kids had been playing with flew over my head, a thrown gone astray. Liam caught the Frisbee and tossed it back without getting up. “What about Tali?”
I smiled. “Or those noise canceling headphones that are always in the commercials.” As I glanced down to pluck more grass, I noticed Liam’s bare feet and legs. He was still just wearing his boxers and a t-shirt. I’d forgotten. “Err, maybe we should also buy you some pants and shoes.” I paused. “I could call my mom and ask her to loan me some money. I still owe you shrinkers…”
Liam got to his feet and offered me his hand. Err, his free hand. “Earplugs and pants first.”
I stared at his hand for just a moment before taking it and letting him help me up. “Earplugs and pants,” I agreed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Mel, why don’t you let Sparkles take you to the playground?” Sparky said. “It’ll be good for you to get to know other kids your age.”
I sat on the cushy couch in the TV room. Sparky’s house was big and confusing, which was cool because I could just float through the walls. My favorite room was the attic upstairs that was sealed in—only me and ghost Pokemon could get to it. The TV room was my second favorite because the couch was so cushy I sometimes got stuck between cushions and had to go intangible to get out.
Scary floated invisible near the doorway. We were playing I Spy the Ghost, even though I was getting too old for the game. I always found Scary now. “I don’t want to,” I told Sparky. I wondered if I should call him father. I didn’t really think of him like that—Scary would always be my parent. “Can we practice with Rotom?”
Sparky shook his head. “Gym battles today. I’m already going in late.” Sparky smiled. “’Course, the challengers are probably trapped in our booby traps, right?”
“Yup,” I said. Hehe, Scary was making faces behind Sparky. “Can I watch the battles?”
“Sure. I’m leaving in fifteen.” He walked right through Scary when he left the room. Sometimes Sparky could sense Scary and me when we were invisible. Sparky said we were charged weird. Scary and I had been working on being invisible even to Sparky’s senses—pranking Sparky would be the most ultimate prank ever. So far Scary and I were only sometimes successful. Scary thought we weren’t sensed when we stayed still, but I was pretty sure it was only when Sparky wasn’t focusing on sensing a ghost, like Anita not being able to read minds unless she was trying to.
I turned intangible and floated through the walls to Sparky’s office, where I knew he was going. Since yesterday, I had a new reason to be invisible to Sparky. Now that he knew who used to be my father, I had to make sure Sparky didn’t try to give me back. Seth Robert Hastings was not my father any more. He’d had his chance. He left.
Sparky was computer chatting with a woman who reminded me of Anita. She had purple eyes with little wrinkles in the corners. She looked tired.
“Sparky, I don’t have time for this.” The woman rubbed her temples. “Aden, Nai, and I are up to our ears in Team Glop’emm—”
“I thought we got the leader, Tamara. The Arkle guy.”
“We did. He’s who’s giving me this blasted headache—literally. I can’t get into his brain. Remember those Team Glop’emm members we caught on the boat, the ones using ghosts? They confessed Arkle was behind the orders. However, it seems their Master’s been keeping a few more ghost tricks up his sleeve—there’s a ghost Pokemon in his body, blocking me from reading him—either a Sableye or Spiritomb—” Tamara stopped speaking suddenly, looking as if she wanted to say more.
I squinted at her.
<There’s a ghost within her,> Scary said, appearing beside me.
How’d he know that?
<Look, she moves her mouth, but no words come out. Also, her eyes are dimmer, like Anita’s were when you took over her body.>
Tamara took a deep breath. “We’ve had to resort to messier means of gaining information. Thus, Nai and Aden.”
Sparky seemed to think Tamara was shaken over what she was talking about, not the ghost inside of her. He murmured something about “fire and ice torture” to himself and then smiled super big at Tamara. “Let’s hope he can’t pull off the most renowned ghost trick—disappear.” He laughed at his own joke. Tamara didn’t. I didn’t get it, but I would’ve laughed to make Sparky happy. “Alright, sorry. Why don’t you try using a ghost Pokemon to kick the other ghost out?”
“And which of us has a ghost Pokemon with that kind of power?” Me! I wanted to shout. Scary gave me a look like a silent shush.
Sparky didn’t answer.
“None of us, aside from Mendol, even have a well-trained ghost Pokemon.” Tamara raised her eyebrows, looking grave. “Unless…”
“Mel is eight years old and will have nothing to do with this,” Sparky snapped. What was wrong with Sparky? I could so do it. I’d battled ghosts for bodies before, including my own! I could get rid of the ghost in the man they were talking about and maybe in Tamara, too.
<He just wants you to be safe,> Scary said gently. <And so do I.>
It wasn’t fair—everyone I knew got to battle and fight bad guys. Why couldn’t I?
Tamara closed her eyes and said, “I have work to do. What did you want?”
“It’s about the man that was arrested the same day as Arkle, the one suspected of holding our dear Mendol hostage. Professor Seth Robert Hastings.” My heart sunk. I felt my eyes getting watery even though I knew I should be able to stop myself from crying. I was old enough now. But Sparky was going to send me back to him. Sparky was going to abandon me just like he did. “Mel, my foster son, is Hasting’s biological son according to Professor Blubber.”
“Nai accused Hastings of child abuse,” Tamara said softly.
“I know. I haven’t talked to Mel about it. I don’t know if I will.”
“The information he has could be useful.”
Sparky’s eyes flashed a cold, stormy grey. “He’s not a tool—first battling Arkle’s ghost and now this? What’s gotten into you, Tamara?”
Tamara’s eyes looked sad and distant, but she said nothing.
“It was Professor Blubber who recognized Mel; he was acquainted with Professor Hastings. He also said that when his past assistant, Erin Kendle, had returned accompanying Mel, she had spoken of finding him in an abandoned mansion a few miles from Cape Caution. I don’t know what kind of convictions we want to start drawing up against this Seth Hastings, but I figured it would be beneficial for someone to check out the mansion and pick Professor Blubber’s mind...”
<Sparky’s not leaving you,> Scary said as the conversation continued. <He won’t. He chose you.> Scary put a hand through my heart. I smiled at him.
<Thanks, Scary.> I thought about how strange it was that I could see Sparky, and that he couldn’t see me or Scary, and that I could see Scary if he wanted me to, and if Sparky really wanted to he could see us too, and my father hadn’t been able to see me… <Scary, they said they’re going to search our home.>
Scary nodded. I floated through the ceiling, upwards into my secret attic. Scary followed. It smelled a little like old socks, but I liked the texture of the wood floor. <Did my father… Did he love me?> I asked Scary.
Scary nodded again, his pointed ears bobbing.
<Because Tamara said abuse… and that’s when someone does very bad things to someone else.> I made myself solid and leaned against the wooden wall. I couldn’t see well now that I was solid—I could only make out an outline of Scary with the few bits of sunlight coming in through cracks between the wall planks. <Did father abuse me?>
<He left you.>
<And that’s abuse?>
Scary shrugged. He didn’t know. I didn’t know either. <He’s not my father,> I said. <But when he was, he liked his books, remember?>
Scary looked at me with his serious face. <He told me to guard them with my life once. He said the only thing more precious than them was you.>
<I never read his books. You taught me to read after he was gone.> I thought about making a hole in one of the planks so more sunlight came in. I decided it wasn’t worth Sparky maybe finding out. <If they search the house, they’ll find the books.>
I think Scary knew the direction my head was going now. He was good like that. My true parent.
<He’s not my father any more, but I want to get the books before they do.>
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
We had a successful morning shopping among the colorful stores of Artemis Town. When I’d called my mother, she wasn’t happy that the first call from me she’d received in weeks entailed me asking for money, but by the end of our lengthy conversation, she agreed to give me money, though warned me it would be the last time. She’d ranted for quite a while about my father, his lack of money as a trainer, and how though I was going through a “stage” in my life, she trusted I wouldn’t be a trainer for the rest of my life.
I loved my mother, but there were reasons I didn’t call often.
I didn’t tell her about my psychic gift. I’d read in Tamara Lilac’s book,The Gift, that the gift was genetic. I wondered if my mom had passed those genes to me, or if it was my father who I hadn’t seen in years.
After getting Liam his necessities, I picked a quaint café to eat lunch at. It was called The Blue Swellow and smelled like coffee and cookies. The walls were blue, composed of small glittery tiles. It was here, after a filling meal, that Liam and I encountered our first awkward difficulty in being tied together.
“I have to pee,” I said.
“That stinks,” Liam said, shrugging.
“No seriously, I’m not going to hold this for another twenty hours.” I got up and headed for the bathroom at the back of the restaurant. Liam, of course, was dragged along. A “W” on a wooden door indicated the woman’s bathroom. When I opened the door, I realized it was a single room-single toilet bathroom. “Alright, stay here and don’t let anyone come in.”
Liam rolled his eyes. “How do you expect—”
I closed the door on his arm. Liam glared at me through the door crack.
Liam turned his head, muttering something under his breath. The bathroom was small with crinkled wallpaper and a rusted sink. There was a faded advertisement on the wall for some roller coaster called, “Adventure Quest.” At least it smelled like soap. I backed up, trying to reach the toilet. I pulled Liam’s arm—just a little more…
“I thought you didn’t want me in the bathroom while you did your business,” Liam complained. His shoulder was nearly sliding through the door crack. “I’m getting weird looks. This is ridiculous.”
My rear end barely grazed the toilet seat. Just as I was clumsily trying to unzip my pants one handedly, a waitress walked past the doorway, curiously peering over Liam’s head. We made eye contact. Very awkward.
“Fine, get in the bathroom,” I hissed, rezipping my pants while Liam slipped through the doorway, careful not to look at me. He locked the door and faced the wall with the roller coaster poster.
I managed to unzip my pants and get on with my business. Maybe in an attempt to pretend he wasn’t locked in the bathroom with a peeing girl, Liam started reading the advertisement on the wall out loud mockingly. “Adventure Quest: the thrill you need. Adventure Quest: learn about magnetism! Adventure Quest: Artemis Town’s biggest roller coaster.” Liam snorted. “Like Artemis Town has more than one.”
Something in my mind clicked.
Adventure Quest. Venture West.
Geeze, I stunk at reading lips.
I zipped up my pants and made for the sink. “So Liam, do you like roller coasters?”
“Not that I care, but won’t Erin be looking for us at the park?” Liam asked, grimacing at the sun. It turns out “Adventure Quest” was a roller coaster that wrapped around a building owned by an investing company called Invest-A-Quest. You’d think that because the company owned the building, the line for the roller coaster would be inside. You’d have thought wrong.
The line spiraled along the outside of the building, and Liam and I were unlucky enough to currently be standing in the part of the line the Invest-A-Quest building did not shade. The sun was sweltering. Not only could I feel my sweat trickling down my body, but I could feel Liam’s on my wrist. The elastic band was not helping.
Worst of all, there was still no sign of Styx. I had no idea why she wanted me to come here. “Erin’s still not answering her phone,” I lied. I’d pretended to call her several times via PokeTech, not wanting to risk Liam actually getting in contact with her. I had to get this Forced Transformation Device thing sorted out first.
I eyed the black pouch that held the device. Liam wore the belt it was hooked onto loosely around his new cargo pants. Luckily, Liam was the complete opposite of Erin when it came to shopping—he went directly for what he needed, bypassing all the clothes salespeople tried to throw at him. I wondered if Erin’d be mad she’d missed the opportunity to force Liam into skinny jeans. That last night in Vintage Village, she and Lily had giggled about it behind Liam’s back, when they thought he wasn’t listening. I let my smile fade. That was before I knew about the Forced Transformation Device.
Maybe Styx thought with all the twists and curves on the roller coaster, I could accidently smash into Liam, crushing the untransfomer. I guess that was worth a shot.
The line moved. We passed several signs depicting how magnets powered the roller coaster, but didn’t make it around the corner into the shade. Liam wiped his face with his t-shirt sleeve. “This better be worth our money,” he mumbled.
I was surprised Liam had readily agreed to go on the roller coaster. No complaints, no suspicions, no questions.
“Have you been to Olivine Sea?” I asked. That was the amusement park my parents had taken me to once a year when we lived in Goldenrod. Even when we moved to Acceber, my mom still took me every few years.
“The beach?” Liam replied.
“It’s an amusement park. Why’d you agree to go on this? Have you ever even ridden a roller coaster?” Olivine Sea was the only amusement park I’d ever heard of.
Liam shrugged. “I like roller coasters. There was an indoor park just outside of Mauville. Lots of electric Pokemon to run the place.” Liam paused. “My parents used to bring me and my cousin. Once my cousin bought us both a pair of platform shoes so we could get on all the rides with a height requirement. He loved roller coasters.”
I wanted to squeal and exclaim, “Aha! You shared personal information with me and the world was not minced to pieces by the information-sharing devil. Would ya look at that!” However, I didn’t think that would encourage Liam to continue sharing memories. In fact, he’d probably never speak to me again. Instead, pretending we were two people engaged in normal conversation, I said, “You grew up in Hoenn?”
Liam nodded, looking out in the direction of the sea.
“Do you still keep in touch with your cousin?” I asked.
“Oh. Sorry.” The line moved again. We finally reached the shade. Now we were in the spiral right up against the building, almost to the front of the line. I wiggled my wrist tied to Liam’s a bit, trying relieve it from the itchy sweat. It didn’t help much. “How’d he die?”
I wanted to take the words back as soon as they left my mouth. Curiosity killed the cat. Or this conversation. Seriously, what was wrong with me? That was personal and rude. No way would Liam—
“He was swept away by the Slateport tsunami,” Liam said bitterly.
The tsunami might be my first memory. It had happened on my third birthday. At the time, I didn’t understand why many of my friends and my parents had left the party early. I’d cried for hours. Only when I was older did I comprehend the effects of the tragedy. Everyone seemed to know someone who didn’t make it through the disaster. In history class, we’d learned it was caused by Kyogre, the legendary Pokemon of the seas.
Legendary Pokemon… Oh.
“You don’t like legendary Pokemon much,” I commented.
Liam froze for a moment. Then he closed his eyes, leaned against the brick building, and bent his head back.
“So that’s why you’re after Mew.”
“Why don’t you say that a little louder,” Liam said, not meeting my eye.
“Nobody cares if—”
“Anita, just stop talking.” Liam was… upset? I should probably be feeling bad, but I didn’t know what I did. And Liam was… Well, he didn’t exactly look upset, more like defeated, but he didn’t usually look much of anything.
Bewildered would probably be the best word to describe my feelings this moment. So of course, I said, “If Kyogre killed your cousin, why aren’t you chasing that legendary Pokemon?”
“Try me.” The line moved again, and I pulled Liam away from the wall. We finally reached the metal gates opening to new riders. There was a slot in the middle that was empty, and we took it.
Liam spoke quietly and precisely. “Kyogre’s tsunami also drowned my mom and my aunt. My dad and I moved to Acceber to get away—it was the only known region without a legendary Pokemon. My dad despised legendary Pokemon, maybe more than I did… than I do. Then we arrived in Vintage Village, trying to get on with our lives, and boom—Mew’s explosion, houses on fire, several dead including Lily’s parents.”
“Don’t you get it? Nobody’s safe from any legendary Pokemon. And in Acceber, I have an—” Liam stopped talking suddenly.
“You have a what?”
Liam looked at me hard for a moment. “Is there someone in your life that you’d do anything for? Run into a fire, dig through corpses, take a bullet…”
I thought about Apple, grinning her sharp canines at me from my shoulder, her tail brushing against my neck. I nodded.
“That’s what my cousin was to me. Nobody should have to deal with the pain of losing someone like that.”
I still didn’t quite get why he was chasing down Mew instead of Kyogre, but I wasn’t going to keep pushing the subject. A roller coaster pulled into the station, and after the previous riders exited, the metal gates swung open. Liam climbed into the cart first, and I awkwardly climbed in after him, unbalanced because of my tied hand. The roller coaster didn’t go upside down so our seats were really just one big seat with a buckling safety belt and a neon yellow safety bar. We buckled up, and Liam pulled down the yellow bar.
“What are you going to do when you…” I couldn’t think of the right word because I didn’t really know how Liam planned on accomplishing what he wanted to accomplish. “Get Mew?”
Liam just stared at me.
Guess we both knew the answer to that.
“Mew can’t be killed, you know,” I said. An operator droned on about keeping our hands and legs inside the vehicle.
Liam gave me a sidelong glance, tilting his head in acknowledgement.
The roller coaster began.
The ride was a little bumpy, but definitely worth the five dollars we paid. The wind against my face was a relief after standing in line, and the small hills made my stomach flip wondrously, leaving my conversation with Liam momentarily forgotten in the station. Neither Liam nor I were screamers, but I let out a few squeals and I caught Liam smiling at an unexpected twist.
Of course, I did my best to ram into Liam at every turn the centripetal acceleration pulled me that way. His arm was hot and his shirt damp. I crinkled my nose at the smell of Liam’s sweat.
Unfortunately, my poor attempts to smash the untransformer were futile. At least they went unnoticed.
When we exited the ride, there was still no sign of Styx. Maybe I’d totally misread her lips? I really should go back to the Pokemon Center to look for her, but I didn’t want Liam anywhere within an a hundred yard radius of Apple, anywhere he might think to test her with that device.
The roller coaster exited to a higher level of the Invest-A-Quest building, and the exit led directly into the building, requiring riders to walk through the building to get back to street level. We passed several investing advertisements, more signs bragging about Adventure Quest’s amazing magnetic feat, and a huge electric generator on our way down the staircase to the lobby.
When we reached for the street, Liam looked at his PokeTech. “We should find Erin and get dinner soon.” He turned to me. “But first I’d like to test your Pokemon, please.”
Well, at least he was polite.
“Fine.” As I released my Pokemon in front of a roller-coaster-magnetism’s-awesome-please-ride-Adventure Quest poster, a thought came to me. The signs, the giant generator, the Forced Transformation Device…
I glanced at Splash, remembering our training earlier this morning.
I knew what Styx had been planning, or at least, I thought I somewhat knew. I didn’t know enough about magnetism to know how to make it seriously mess up a circuit. However, I did know that if you put enough electricity through any circuit…
Liam bent over Splash, lowering syringe to his spiky fur.
…stuff will get seriously fried.
Of course, I’d forgotten I’d get electrocuted along with Liam and the untransformer. Though slightly dizzy, I smiled at a blurry Splash, so thankful he couldn’t control the electricity running through his body. I’d tell him psychically if it weren’t for this blasted band binding me to Liam. Ah, and the best part was I didn’t have to do anything—this looked like a total accident.
As my vision came to, I saw Liam’s outstretched right arm holding the syringe. It was smoking slightly, and the air smelled like something burning—
Liam turned toward me slowly, his eyes glinting like newly sharpened skewers. “You planned this.” His voice was deadly.
“N-no, it was an accident.” I moved backwards, stumbling. At another time I might’ve laughed at an attempt to get away from someone I was tied to.
Liam was reaching for my neck. He was going to strangle me—I saw it in his eyes, in his face—I could only think of getting away—but we were tied together—something to slice the band away, anything—if I could use my powers, get up high maybe—
There was a flash of light.
An Eevee flipped through the air, neatly striking Liam on the head with its lit tail. My arm was tugged toward the ground.
Allo stood in front of me, crouched with his lit tail ready to strike again. Splash, Vanilla, and Sunflower watched behind him in awe. Liam was slumped on the concrete sidewalk, pulling my arm forward. We were getting some funny looks.
“Where’d you learn that trick?” I asked.
Tied to Liam, I couldn’t hear his answer. Honestly, I wasn’t too worried about it at the moment.
I bent over. “Liam?”
He was knocked out cold.
I was tied to Liam Mendol. Liam Mendol was unconscious. The Forced Transformation Device was destroyed.
I’d take it.
Next chapter, peeps
Thanks to all my readers!
Previously on An Apple a Day:
Anita challenges the Artemis Town gym. The prelim is staying tied hand-to-hand to someone for a day. Unfortunately for Anita, that someone happens to be Liam.
Dustin lets slip that Liam has a secret and Erin discovers he's the gym leader of Drape Town.
Mel listens in on Sparky's meeting with the other gym leaders. Tamara's having trouble questioning Jamie Arkle and suspects he has a ghost Pokemon within his body. Mel and Scary discover that Tamara has a ghost within her body (the Master's (Liam's) Spiritomb, left within her to keep her from projecting an image of Liam into others, which we learned a few chapters back). The gym leaders also discuss searching Professor Hastings's house for clues as to whether he is withholding information about Liam Mendol. Professor Hastings is Mel's biological father, and Mel decides to get Professor Hastings's books before the gym leaders do.
Meanwhile, Styx promised Anita she would destroy Liam's Forced Transformation Device (FTD). When Anita can't find her, Anita thinks she'll be forced to take matters into her own hands. Fortunately, her Jolteon, Splash, has major problems controlling his electric powers. When Liam touches the FTD to Splash's fur, Splash's electricity destroys the FTD's circuitry. Liam is furious and attacks Anita. Allo, one of Anita's Eevee's, steps in to protect Anita- he hits Liam over the head with an Iron Tail attack.
Chapter 39: Lost Revelations
My Lost Boy
In the forest my boy was born
Amidst a people bent and sworn—
So malleably bent!
Deal a fae’s resent,
Skew through her rival the deadliest thorn.
Who were we to doubt her regime?
Mere man, woman, and boy unseen,
His hand in mine,
Tugged through time.
History but a haunting dream.
I turned the page. The next page was blank. That was the last poem in Seth Hasting’s book—
“WHAT THE F—” BEEEP. An angry man in a frilly, white apron shouted at me, waving a bouquet of flowers at me accusingly. Whatever he was yelling was drowned out by a car trying to plow its way through the hoard of people crowding the narrow streets of Artemis Town. “—KEEP YOUR NOSE OUT OF THAT DAMN BOOK WHILE YOU’RE WALKING!”
I looked down. I’d squashed a small flower garden with my heels.
The angry flower shop owner was trying to push past a cluster of customers to get to me.
I, the brave, courageous Erin Kendle—unafraid of taunting Liam, picking a fight with Jake, or scolding Anita—released Griffy from his PokeBall and fled clutching the book tightly to my chest.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I forgot how much I missed the dusty floorboards, the Spinarak webs that hung from the ceiling, the little caterpillars that lived above the fridge, my collection of broken PokeBalls—my mansion. It still smelled dusty boots, still smelled like home.
I floated through my favorite wooden wall into the library. It was my favorite wall in the house because once every few months, when the dust got thick enough, Scary and I used to draw pictures in the dust all over the wall.
<The Oddish have infested the garden since we left,> Scary said, appearing through the bookshelf opposite me.
I shrugged. Scary cared about growing food in the garden. I thought it was easier to just go to the grocery store.
Scary floated up to the top of the tallest bookshelf and pulled out two tall, thin books. I remember my father used to drag ladders from the shed out back into the library to reach those two books sometimes. He wouldn’t put the ladders back until he was done reading the books and they were returned to the top shelf.
<Ready to go back?> Scary asked, waving the books at me. The books’ covers were falling apart like a crumble cake. Bits of peeled cardboard curled up around the edges and fell off as Scary waved the books.
I looked at the plush couches and floated down to the one that was peach colored. This was where I’d first met Liam and Erin and Anita. I missed them. Becoming solid, I sank into the couch.
<Sparky will notice you’re missing,> Scary said. <Plus, the gym leaders are sending someone to come look at the house, probably some time today.>
<Can we stay for a while?> I patted the couch beside me. <Come sit! We can read together.>
<I miss it here. Sparky won’t mind being gone for a few minutes.>
Scary’s eyes glowed red for a moment, and I almost got mad at him for trying to hypnotize me, but then he floated down next to me, dropping the books in my lap. <A few minutes,> he said.
My dad’s books didn’t even look like books—more like diaries, which was silly because everyone knows only girls wrote diaries. One was the color of Scary in those super bright lights and the other was a shade like the inside of a cucumber.
<Scary, why did Dad leave?>
<You tell me.>
<Because he was scared he couldn’t see me. Because he couldn’t see me.>
<He didn’t know you were alive,> Scary said.
I looked at the books again. The cucumber book was dated 2005. I was born in 2005. The other book didn’t have a date.
I opened the cucumber book. The pages were crinkly—had that old book smell—and the words were written with a pen in block letters, which was much easier to read than a lot of people’s scribbles.
May 18, 2005
I’ve never kept a journal before, but what’s just happened to me needs to be recorded. I’ve literally done what no man in written history has done before. Soon I’ll be crossing scientific boundaries no one has dreamed of for I have taken the opportunity of a lifetime.
But I’ll backtrack a little. This journal will surely be famous one day so I’ll write a bit about myself. My name is Seth Robert Hastings. My friends call me Bert, but my co-workers call me Seth. I am twenty-five years old, and just finished up my doctorate at the University of Celadon in ancient Pokemon two weeks ago. I grew up an only child just outside of Zahavah City in Acceber, and I did my undergrad at Zahavah University. I’ve been in contact with Professor Blubber since he helped me out with my thesis, and the professor recently asked me to help him with a project after I graduated. Yesterday I moved into an apartment in Cape Caution, and today I was supposed to meet with the professor to discuss that project.
Everything changed this morning. I walked into my kitchen to make myself some sunny-side up eggs before I headed out to the lab and found a green fairy with glittery wings floating above my stove.
I don’t know much about Celebi, other than it can supposedly time travel. Oh, and I know some whacked religion has followers that perform creepy rituals on its behalf in Ilex forest. A few years ago a group of people were arrested for slaughtering several Slowpoke and scattering their mangled bodies there.
Anyway, the Celebi in my kitchen smiled at me and spoke to me telepathically. <Professor Hastings, I’ve been watching you for some time now.>
That was a little disturbing, but I admit, there was a part of me pleased that a legendary Pokemon thought me worthyenough to look after.
The Celebi continued, <I’d like to offer you an opportunity to continue your studies in ancient Pokemon. Some… firsthand experience.>
I stared at the little fairy, wondering if Celebi was a figment of my imagination. The legendary Pokemon looked so out of place floating above my dirty pans, in front of the cracked kitchen wall. “You mean, you’d take me back in time?” I asked.
The Celebi’s smile widened. <Yes. You could see for yourself the Pokemon world as it was fifteen thousand years ago.>
“Would I be able to come back here? To this time, I mean, when I wanted?”
Celebi nodded, it’s antennae bobbing. This was too good to be true.
“Okay, what’s the catch?”
“When do we leave?”
The world whirled and twisted around me. I felt like I might be sick so I bent over to clutch my stomach, only I couldn’t seem to feel my arms. My ears popped. I blinked.
I stood in the middle of a forest, a Murkrow cawing above my head. The sky was a dim orange—I couldn’t tell if it was sunrise or sunset. When I looked up and down the thick growth around me, Celebi was nowhere to be found.
Did I time travel, or did Celebi just teleport me somewhere? Was this even real? I pinched my elbow and it hurt. I didn’t think that proved anything.
I checked my belt. I had my two Pokemon—Poliwrath and Machoke—but I didn’t have any food. I had three empty PokeBalls, the pen and notebooks I’d been holding to bring to my meeting with Professor Blubber, and my cell phone, which no longer had a signal.
Somewhere behind me I could hear the ocean. I decided walking towards the sound would be my best bet. Maybe I could figure out where I was.
It turned out the ocean was only about a mile away. The trees gradually spread out more, making it easier to see. The air around me cooled and the sky brightened. It was morning. I reached a cliff.
I thought I recognized the shape of the land down below near the water—the thick arch of stone carved from the tide. It resembled the same cliff I’d stood on yesterday when taking a tour of Cape Caution. Only yesterday, there was a gym on the cliff. Today, there was nothing.
The arch had also been thin, eroded. A heard of Tauros could trample this arch and it wouldn’t break.
Fifteen thousand years, Celebi had said?
Now I’m sitting by the cliff ledge. I’ve gathered strawberries for breakfast, waiting to be eaten as soon as I’m done writing this. Lucky I was holding the notebooks. I keep looking over the cliff at the rock arch, not quite sure if I can believe what’s happened.
Today, I plan on exploring. Maybe gathering some sticks to build a tent for shelter.
I keep expecting to wake up, or one of my buddies to jump out from behind a tree and yell, “Haha, you fell for it!”
I can’t stop the excitement from bubbling in my stomach. If I’m really fifteen thousand years in the past… Well, like I said, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
After leaving the library and escaping the angry flower shop owner, I checked the Pokemon Center for Anita and Liam. They weren’t in. When I called Anita, she didn’t answer. I gave up looking for them. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I was ready to face either of them with this newfound Liam-is-a-gym-leader info, and I certainly wasn’t ready to face them while they were tied together. If I told Anita at all, it would not be while Liam was in the vicinity—he’d gone so out of his way to make sure we didn’t know.
I spent the afternoon researching all I could on Liam and his past as the Drape Town gym leader. I was so not going to walk all the way back to the library just to use a computer, and the lines for the computers in the Pokemon Center’s lobby had been ridiculous. Thus, I slipped behind the front desk and past the operating rooms without even having to change into the nurse’s outfit—the Pokemon Center was so busy no one noticed, or at least nobody bothered to stop me.
I decided using one of the upper floor computers would ensure nobody would bother me, and I ended up on the floor I was pretty sure Apple was staying on. Maybe I’d check up on her later.
My research mostly comprised of me typing in various combinations of “Liam,” “Mendol,” and “gym leader” into Zangoogle (a much better search engine than Yahoothoot!) and sorting through the rumors to get to some base facts:
1. Liam had been the Drape Town gym leader for the past four years.
2. He took over after his father died of a heart attack.
3. Not one person had won a badge from him or his father. Statistics showed that most trainers avoided the gym altogether, opting to beat five of the other seven gyms to qualify for the Pokemon league.
Those were the only solid pieces of information I found. There were plenty of rumors circling, like his father being a member of Team Glop’emm, his father not actually being dead, and that Liam was currently fulfilling some secret gym-leader mission, which was why his prelim was to locate him.
Oddly, Liam’s first name was never mentioned, which was confusing because his father was also referred to as “Mendol.” It was also weird that I couldn’t find a good picture of Liam; there were a few with him standing with the other gym leaders, but he was always dressed in a dark cloak that covered his face.
I guess I’d known Liam was paranoid, but this seemed a little extreme. I mean, what was the point? Why wouldn’t he want people to know he was a gym leader?
Maybe he really was on some secret mission. It would explain why the other gym leaders weren’t making a big deal about Liam’s new prelim.
I clicked open a new tab. “Ahem.”
I froze, slowly lowering my hand from the keyboard and turning my head around. Styx, Dustin’s semi-*****y girlfriend and nurse at the Pokemon Center, stood behind me, her arms folded across her chest.
“I don’t remembering you checking in for a visit,” she said. “I also don’t remember giving anyone but our staff here permission to use the floor computers.”
“Um… I can explain,” I said, but Styx was looking past my shoulder at the computer screen. I moved to block her view and she smiled, flashing pearly white teeth.
“No, you can’t, but I don’t really care at the moment. Do you know where Anita is?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Haven’t seen her since I left the gym. Why?”
Styx peered around my shoulder again. “You’re a researcher, right?”
Choosing to let the abrupt change in subject slide, I said, “Well, I’d like to be some day. I was an assistant researcher for a year—”
“But not now? What are you doing now?”
“Traveling with Anita and Liam.” I stuck my chin up, daring her to comment further on my lack of work.
Styx surprised me by saying, “How would you like an actual research job?”
I blinked. “What?”
“I’m not a Professor so the pay wouldn’t be as good as you were getting, but I could give you enough to cover travelling expenses.” Styx tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I could also probably get you some sweet benefits. I’ve got an in with the gym leaders, you know.” She winked.
“You’re offering me a job?” I asked in disbelief. A minute ago, I thought she was going to threaten to kick me out of the Pokemon Center for trespassing in private halls one too many times.
“So what would I be researching?” I almost glanced back at the computer. She’d better not want me to “research” what Liam was doing. I wouldn’t spy on my friends, not for a billion dollars.
The time travelling Pokemon? Why? “Uh, what about Celebi?”
“I want everything you can find. Books from the library, articles in the newspaper, common rumors of sightings or its powers—whatever you can get. I can give you a few contacts at Zahavah to get you started. I’d like you to call me weekly with whatever you’ve found.” Styx grinned and she looked younger—like a child that’s come up with a way to steal the cookies from the jar without anyone knowing. “So how about it?”
“Um, sure, I guess. You don’t even want to see credentials or a recommendation or something?” This was just too weird.
“Nope.” Styx held out her hand.
I took it.
“Great, I’ll just need you to fill out some direct deposit—”
A nurse burst out of the elevator, panting. “Styx, Styx! There’s a girl downstairs demanding to see you. A gym challenger by the look of her—tied to some unconscious boy her Eevees dragged here with her—she won’t let us take a look at the boy until she’s seen you. We don’t know if it’s bad enough to call the hospital—”
I caught Styx’s eye knowingly. “C’mon,” she said, hurrying to the elevator.
The lobby had cleared out considerably since I’d come into the Pokemon Center. Maybe not cleared out, I thought, seeing people packed around the edges of the room, hugging the walls and couch and leaving the middle of the lobby void of traffic.
It probably had something to do with Anita, standing in the middle of the lobby, surrounded by three growling Eevees and one sparking Jolteon. Liam slumped on the floor. “Don’t you dare call the emergency room until I have a word with Styx—” Anita stopped talking when she spotted Styx approaching her.
Splash stepped forward, his pins bared. I decided it might be best to stay put by the front desk with the rest of the nervous wall-huggers.
Styx and Anita spoke in low voices I couldn’t hear over the murmur of the other Pokemon trainers. Anita was furious with Styx for some reason. As she gestured angrily at Liam, his arm flopped against hers, like a puppet. Styx nodded and Anita said something quietly to Splash, who immediately backed off.
Styx turned around and started barking orders at the other nurses and the Chansey. Nurses hurried across the room like a swarm of frantic flies—some calming the other trainers and others helping Anita pick up Liam.
In under four minutes, we were back upstairs with Liam settled into a patient bed in a room across the hall from Apple’s. Anita sat by his side in a plastic chair, no longer yelling. An improvement, to say the least.
I glanced at Liam. His mouth was opened slightly, his jaw at an awkward angle against the pillow. Anita let the arm that was tied to hers hang over the bed’s metal railing. Should I take this opportunity to tell Anita about Liam’s gym leaderness?
Styx entered the room, closing the door quietly behind her. She’d been reassuring the other nurses that she had everything under control. Liam, apparently, had a head bruise. He’d be out for another hour or so.
“How bad is he, really?” I asked her. I looked at Anita. “And what did you do to him?” She frowned at me.
Styx raised an eyebrow at me. “I’d have called the hospital if he was seriously injured,” she said. “Just some bruising, no concussion.”
“You hit him over the head?” I asked in disbelief. “How? With what?” I’d never seen Anita successfully land a hit on Liam hard enough to do actual damage. I looked back at Styx. “And you just know he’s going to be okay after touch his head for all of five seconds?”
“I’ve already had a Sableye look into it. He’s fine,” Styx snapped.
“Anita,” I said, turning back to face her.
“Liam attacked me and Allo hit him over the head with an iron tail.” Anita glared past me at Styx.
“Liam attacked you?” Uh-huh.
“Because he’s a psychotic freak bent on destroying my life with his fancy—but very breakable—technology.”
“Anita…” I said slowly, taking a breath. Anita leaned back in her chair so it teetered. Splash and Sunflower hurried behind the chair to keep it from falling. I don’t think she noticed. “What did you break of his?”
“The tran—syringe thingy.”
“That was a vaccine to prevent PokeRus given to him by the professor he works for! It was important.” Maybe attacking Anita was a little extreme, but hell, I’d be pissed if someone ruined my assignment. And that vaccine probably saved lives.
“Oh, so that’s what he’s been telling you guys.”
I shook my head. “Anita, this is ridic—”
“No, Erin, you listen to me. Liam Mendol is crazy. He—” Anita stopped talking suddenly.
“He what?” I asked challengingly. Anita was being childish.
“Ugh, I hate this!” Anita yelled. Her chair fell backwards, and she landed on her back, the overturned chair shoved into the bed. Her Eevees scrambled to her side, licking her free hand and face. Anita kicked the chair out of her way and got to her feet. She looked at Styx. “You got me into this mess. Fix it.”
Styx walked past me and picked up the chair. “I’m sorry we had a slight… miscommunication,” she said.
“I’ll call it even if you have a way to keep Liam knocked out until the battle tomorrow.”
Styx smiled grimly. “You think this is the first time this has happened? That can be arranged.”
“Seriously, Anita?” I said angrily. She didn’t care that Liam was hurt, just about her gym battle. Was that why she hadn’t called an ambulance? She thought they might untie Liam, ruin her chances at the gym? And what was Styx thinking, encouraging her?
“What?” Anita snapped. “He attacked me. I mean, its survive through the gym battle or cut this damn band now and go into hiding—because even you know, Erin, that he’d hunt me down.”
“You really are a selfish, paranoid, and bratty—”
“Erin, stop. I really can’t take this right now.”
“Yeah, well neither can I.”
I turned around and left the room, my stomach empty and my throat tight.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Erin left. Styx left. Liam was unconscious.
I sat in the dark, in a cold plastic chair, my wrist itchy where it touched Liam’s.
Allo, Splash, Vanilla, and Sunflower lay beneath my chair, their tails brushing my ankles. It wasn’t much comfort.
I was scared. Seriously freaked out, borderline good-thing-I’m-in-a-Pokemon-Center-because-I-might-have-a-panic-attack. I had a decision to make: fight or flee. Stay, act like a typical gym-driven trainer, battle. Or run. Abandon Erin, my journey, everything. Risk Apple or risk my life as I knew it. I’d always told Apple we could run away, go into hiding, but for the first time, I was actually considering it seriously. The thought of never seeing my friends again, of not talking to my mom—that was scary.
I didn’t have any good options.
A part of me whispered to go because it’d be easier to abandon Erin than to make up with her, to leave Liam than to explain to him, to forget Styx because her existence made no sense. It was a stupid, petty part of me, but it felt bigger.
The door creaked open. Probably a nurse finally bringing in the cot. A sliver of light spilled into the dark room. A rather small, furry silhouette stood in the doorway.
Apple entered the room, her eyes glowing a soft violet—more violet than I’d seen her eyes since Celebi had sucked her powers dry. Apple’s ears were perked, her nose held high.
And that smile. That little, devious smile as Fiery padded behind her, never moving his eyes from the sway of her tail even as he kicked the door shut with his hind legs.
That smile made me not care for the moment how upset the nurses were going to be when they discovered Apple’s absence. Made me not care that Erin was mad at me, and that I had no idea who Styx was. Made me not care that Liam had tried to strangle me earlier today.
For just a moment, that smile made me smile.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I looked up at Scary and patted the open journal in my lap. “Did this really happen? My dad time travelled?”
I looked back at the open journal. The writing didn’t sound like Dad, not how I remembered him anyway. He got tired jogging. Adventuring would make him like an old walking zombie or something. “He didn’t mention having a Gengar. Where were you, Scary?”
Scary held a clawed hand over the book, and pages flipped forward rapidly. Then suddenly, the pages settled with the journal open to the middle. I stared at the page. At the top it said Day 27.
“Hey, you’ve read this before,” I accused. Not fair. He should’ve read me my dad’s time travelling adventures.
Scary shook his head. <No, I lived through it.>
“You’re from the past?”
Scary gestured to the book. <Just read.>
The moving seaweed I’ve observed from the cliff for several days are Lileep. This morning, I scaled a low cliff four miles southwest of my camping sight. I’d only backtracked half a mile along the shore when I came across a Lileep in the sand bank. It was the size of my palm—a baby. Though I would usually not catch a Pokemon so young, for the sake of science I caught it within one of my empty PokeBalls. According to archeologists, Lileep became extinct a hundred million years ago. Either Celebi has lied about how far I’ve been taken back or I’ve made yet another outstanding discovery.
As I was climbing back up the cliff, I heard a dull thumping in the distance, from the direction opposite my camp. Whismur, perhaps? Or several Poliwag using Belly Drum.
Of course, I went to investigate. I followed the cliff for a mile, but when it was clear the sound was coming from the within the woods, I began picking my way through the giant trees and twisted ivy. Eventually I came to a large clearing, but saw no source of the thumping. The clearing was manmade—rectangular and stretching across a few acres. The ground was black, burned and spotted with car-sized craters. No human could have razed the ground so thoroughly.
The thumping was coming from my right, beyond the nearest edge of the clearing. As I approached, I heard voices—human voices humming and murmuring.
I hadn’t known there were humans in the area. I’ve been exploring for nearly four weeks now without finding a sign of human existence—no tools, arrowheads, fire pits, and certainly no sounds. The clearing was the first indication I’d had of human habitation.
I walked across the clearing, and entered the woods again, this time careful to make as little noise as possible. Twice I nearly stumbled over a Seedot. In some ways, this past is very much like my present—the Seedot line still occupy the Cape Caution woods, as they have for tens of thousands of years. The Seedot, however, were more concentrated in this area than they had been along the edge of the woods. In fact, the concentration seemed to grow as I neared the thumping, the noise so loud I felt the vibrations in my bones.
Then I abruptly stumbled into another clearing. The thumping stopped.
If I’d been more practiced in wilderness navigation or even camping, perhaps I would’ve been able to hide in the bushes, like protagonists do in movies, clearly assessing the situation before implementing their clever plans. I didn’t have a plan. Hell, I just wanted to observe.
Interrupting what appeared to be some primitive ritual pretty much destroyed any chance of me simply remaining a spectator.
This clearing was smaller than the wasted one I’d passed through, maybe only a fourth of the size. On the far side of the clearing there were large tents covered in furs and cloth, supported by thick tree branches. There were a few Manectric lounging beside the tents, perhaps guarding them. All of their muzzles were turned towards me, their eyes watching me like I was going to be their mid-afternoon snack. I noticed they all had long fangs protruding from their mouths—Manectric didn’t have those fangs in my time.
However, it wasn’t the Manectric that worried me. No, what worried me was the crowd of humans in lively colors gathered around a very still, but very alive bear. There had to be over a hundred people. They were mostly dressed in yellow and blue furs—perhaps Manectric fur—though I spotted shades of brown and red. No two outfits were exactly the same—the clothing was cut to cover the bodies however was easiest to cut or sew. There were more men than women gathered, and every person was over ten years old. They all had very light skin, and most had some shade of blond hair.
Every single one of them was looking directly at me in my torn cache pants and rugged cotton vest.
The bear in the center of circle roared. The men and women in the innermost ring of the circle all held sharp wooden spears. As if given some silent command, they all turned away from me and thrust the spears into the bear’s neck.
I would’ve turned away if I’d known. I’ve never had much a stomach for blood. Instead, I stood very still, probably in shock. Some part of my brain noted that the bear stayed unnaturally upright when the spears were quickly withdrawn. A few too many heartbeats later, the bear slumped forward, a messy pile of blood and fur. I felt sick.
A purple mist seemed to trickle out of the bear’s skin. It flowed forward, through the people and solidified in front of me. A Gengar.
The humans had all turned their attention back to me, and the ones closest to the Gengar moved back, clearing some space. I held my palms out. “I’m Bert. I don’t mean any harm.”
I started to back away. After seeing the bear, I wasn’t sure I needed to learn about these people. Not if it cost me my life.
The Gengar growled, his eyes glowing red. I stopped moving and avoided direct eye contact. Never look into the eyes of a Pokemon that can learn Hypnosis.
I saw the Gengar rush forward. Without a moment’s hesitation I let out my Poliwrath and ordered a Hydropump. Perhaps I’d surprised the Gengar—he was hit head on, water splashing me and the closest of the humans behind the Gengar.
I expected the Gengar to be knocked out; not many Pokemon survive such a powerful, direct hit. Instead, when the water cleared, I saw the Gengar’s eyes narrow at me as he shook the water off. His shadowy hand curled into a fist and he leapt at me.
I reacted the only way a defenseless human can react—I threw and empty PokeBall at the oncoming Gengar. I didn’t expect the Gengar to be caught, just buy enough time for my Poliwrath to recover enough to get between me and the angry ghost Pokemon. The PokeBall shook three times. Poliwrath got to his feet and positioned himself in front of me in a fighting stance.
The PokeBall stilled. The Gengar was caught.
“Scary, that was you?” I asked, but I knew it was, even before Scary nodded.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I guess I looked pretty strange walking down the street with an unconscious body attached to my wrist carried by a Flareon and four Eevees. My Pokemon walked with their feet in sync to ensure Liam wouldn’t fall off. We got a few strange, worried glances, but nobody commented after seeing my wrist tied to Liam’s limp arm.
Styx was escorting us to the gym. To keep Liam asleep, she’d put ear buds in his ears, which were attached to a small MP3 playing Jigglypuff’s voice on repeat.
Being tied to Liam was frustrating. I’d been able to give Apple a verbal summary of what happened, but I couldn’t hear her thoughts on the situation. I couldn’t know what she really thought of our plan, whether she thought it would work.
I let out a sigh, an ocean breeze cool against my skin, carrying the waft of the market strawberries. Strawberries reminded me of Erin. We hadn’t talked since last night. I hadn’t even seen her—I’d slept in the patient room beside Liam. I guess I didn’t really expect Erin to come to my gym battle after our fight, but she’d come to all of my others and it felt strange to be going without her.
Thinking about it, I hadn’t seen Jake in a while either. Hopefully, he’d packed up and left town without us.
We reached the dome shaped gym. My heartbeat picked up, despite my best efforts to calm myself—I couldn’t afford to be nervous. Apple was depending on me.
In a bush between the gym and a clothing shop next door, I saw a prickle of yellow. Splash peeked his head up from within the bush, winked at me, and then ducked back down. At least he was enjoying his role in all of this. A pity I wouldn’t be using him in the gym battle after all that training we did, but his electricity was necessary for my plan. I eyed a vent leading into the gym near the bush. The other end of the vent was under the gym bleachers near the arena; the blueprints of the gym had been easily accessed though the Pokemon Center computer at the end of the hall on Apple’s floor.
Once again, when I entered the gym, my ears popped.
The lights were brighter than they’d been on my last visit. It hurt to look at the battlefield’s carved metal boundaries when at an angle that they directly reflected the bright light. Dustin and Tali stood at the far end of the gym in front of their throne platform on the edge of the arena. Neither of them reacted to the sight of Liam. Guess what Styx had said was true—apparently, a challenger returning with a knocked out partner wasn’t very uncommon.
Dustin raised an eyebrow at Styx. “You said you were working all day.”
“This qualifies,” Styx said. She bent over Liam and removed the ear buds and MP3 player. I held my breath. Liam didn’t wake up.
“You helped her?” Dustin asked. He didn’t sound angry, just curious. “Just last week you complained that Tali and I should disqualify contenders of who don’t return fully conscious.”
Styx shrugged and tossed her ponytail over her shoulder. “We’re supposed to help endangered Pokemon and trainers in this city—you two created PRAHA. Liam was a danger to Anita and her Pokemon. I helped.”
“Fine.” Dustin narrowed his eyes at Styx in a way that made me suspect this conversation would be continued later. “Anita Parkwood, you have completed part one of the prelim. Styx will cut the tie between you and Liam, and then we will fight.”
Styx opened the cabinet she’d initially taken the band out of while Tali stepped forward. “The rules of the fight are simple. Dustin and I are a team. You and Liam are a team. When a participant is knocked out of bounds, the participant is out. When both team members of one team are out, the opposing team wins.”
“What are the boundaries?” I asked.
“The metal lines depicting the battlefield,” Tali answered. There was a snipping at my side, and my hand was suddenly free. Styx held the band in one hand and the scissors in the other.
I yanked my hand away from Liam, whose hand fell limply to the ground, and flexed my fingers, smiling.
<Free at last!> My mind automatically connected with Apple’s first, and I was surprised to find a speck of her power had returned.
<Yup. Still too drained for telekinesis or barriers, but telepathy’s working,> Apple said. She looked at Fiery slyly, and when she caught Fiery’s eye, he looked promptly away. What exactly had Apple been up to, stuck in a room with Fiery, for over twenty-four hours…?
Apple looked up at me with innocent eyes, but a wicked grin. I touched Sunflower, Allo, Vanilla, and Fiery’s minds, thanking them for carrying Liam. Then I sent a psychic pulse out farther and located Splash—he was already in the gym’s ventilation system. Perfect.
Dustin cleared his throat. “Your Pokemon will need to wait in the stands, of course.”
I wistfully pulled out four Pokeballs and returned Fiery, Sunflower, Allo, and Vanilla. I would’ve let them stay out, but Liam might’ve gotten suspicious when he woke up if Splash wasn’t among my Pokemon. I put the Pokeballs in my pack, which Styx took while herding Apple towards the gym’s bleachers.
As Apple shuffled through missed plans and memories in my head, I bent over Liam and took out the headphones. “Liam, wake up.” I nudged Liam with my foot, but jumped away quickly, just in case Liam woke up with the same idea he’d had when Allo knocked him out.
“Challenger, are you ready to begin?” Dustin asked haughtily. Like he didn’t freakin’ know my name.
“No,” I snapped. “Liam?”
No response. ****.
“The referee will begin the battle in thirty seconds.”
I glanced up, not having noticed a referee in the gym before. Styx stood on the sidelines, a flag in hand. She winked at me and tilted her head toward a timer that was suddenly projected onto the gym’s curved ceiling. 27…26…
Great. Just great. She’d better not be biased.
<Shake him,> Apple suggested. I did. I lifted Liam’s shoulders off of the ground and shook. He was dead weight. “Liam, wake up!” Drool dribbled out of his mouth onto my hand. Gross. I hastily dropped him and wiped my hand on his shirt.
I looked up.
My mind was scrambling. Crap, I couldn’t fight Dustin and Tali alone. My psychic powers weren’t even stronger than Dustin’s copied psychic powers.
<Anita, remember Tali’s power!> Apple said. I glanced up. Tali and Dustin were still standing calmly at the other end of the field. Tali took a deep breath. I let my mind drift into hers, she was calming herself, preparing for that first bellow—
Tali controlled sound. I needed earplugs—that was more important than waking Liam; he’d be up seconds after she yelled.
Dustin grinned at me, shaking out his blonde hair. I stuck my hand down Liam’s pocket. Where’d he put them?
I shut my eyes and leapt away from Liam. Barriers. I needed barriers shaped like earplugs in my ears now.
Suddenly, there was a pressure on my head. I opened my eyes. Dustin was wincing and Tali had her mouth open, but I couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t hear anything.
Something grabbed my ankle. I jumped and nearly tripped. Liam looked up at me with a bizarre mix of pain and anger. He opened his mouth, but I couldn’t hear the words. Grimacing, Liam rolled over and covered his ears, releasing my ankle.
Dustin settled into a stance with his legs apart, arms flung in front of him. I felt psychic energy gathering in front of his palms…
I whipped up a barrier to encompass Liam and me. Liam lay still on the ground for just a moment. He sat up, taking in our surroundings through the purple tint of my barrier. I saw his mouth move, but heard nothing.
Liam got to his feet and looked at me. His gaze hit me like a bucket of cold water. His mouth moved again.
I realized I still had my barrier earplugs in my head. I released them.
“What?” I asked.
“I said, give me one good reason not to beat the life out of you.”
Okay, Anita, ignore the fact that he’s talking stoically about your death. Ignore it and deal with it later. “There are gym leaders watching,” I answered.
“Fine. Give me one good reason not to walk away from this prelim, leave you to lose, and later beat the life out of you.”
I shuddered at a crash against my barrier. Dustin was trying to psychically break in. I realized that Apple was adding what little energy she could to the barrier—why it hadn’t already caved. “You hate losing,” I said.
“Not as much as I hate you at this moment.” Liam turned. If he walked through my barrier, it would shatter, and we would be bombarded by both Dustin and Tali’s attacks. That was just a small reason to stop Liam from leaving though, compared to my huge plan to help Apple that depended entirely on Liam staying.
“I’ll tell you everything. I’ll tell you everything I know about Mew.”
Liam stopped mid-step and turned to face me. “I don’t believe you.”
“I swear.” There was another crash against my barrier. It felt like a crack through my skull. “I—please, Liam.”
“Tell me now.”
Another crash. I saw lights behind my eyelids. “I can’t, I can’t hold on… on much longer,” I gasped, bracing my hands on my knees.
“One piece. Give me a piece now and tell me the rest after we win.”
Arceus, I hadn’t prepared for this. “Near Melonbi,” I blurted out. “Near Melonbi Town, I saw Mew.”
The pressure was too great—the barrier wasn’t just going to shatter, it was going to blow, it was going to collapse into me—
A hand was held in front of my nose. The hand I’d been attached to for up until about two minutes ago. Liam raised his eyebrows at me, expectant.
“The rules. The rules to the prelim—stay in bounds—push them out,” I said. “And strategy from yesterday… I’ll get in Dustin’s head and—” The pressure on my head was too overwhelming. I took Liam’s hand. All the pressure vanished.
There was a brief moment of silence. Liam pushed something into my hand—
Tali yelled and all strategic thoughts fled my brain.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
<Mel, we should go back. Sparky will start to worry,> Scary said, lightly tugging at the book.
“No! I wanna keep reading!” I tugged the book back.
“But I didn’t finish the last entry—just till the end of it. Please?” I gave Scary my big eye look that usually gets me candy.
Scary let go of the book. <Fine.>
I stepped forward and picked up the PokeBall of the newly caught Gengar. There was a murmuring through the crowd: quiet, fearful noises. I returned Poliwrath to his PokeBall, trying to show that I didn’t want to fight.
A man wearing all blue along with a necklace of sharp teeth pushed his way to the front of the crowd. Later, I learned he was Ahigetric, head of this Shiftry Clan. Ahigetric called something in harshly in a language I didn’t know. There was rustling through the crowd and a woman was suddenly pushed to the front.
The woman was tall, 5’ 7’’ maybe, with waist-length blonde, almost silver, hair and the palest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Her outfit was different from every other person’s—though she wore the same Manectric fur, there was a tint of green to both the yellow and the blue. Looking closer, I realized that green strands of fur or hair of another Pokemon had been sewn into her clothes. She gestured at me and said something to Ahigetric in an urgent tone.
Ahigetric caught the woman by the wrist and thrust her towards me. The crowd quieted. Only sparing one angry glare at Ahigetric, the woman marched towards me, almost defiantly as if she had something to prove. I realized with a start that she was beautiful. My heart beat a little faster.
The woman stopped a few yards away from me. I pointed at myself and said, “Bert.” Then I held out my hand.
She stared at my hand. I guess expecting a handshake was fairly stupid of me. I let my hand fall to my side. The woman asked me something, fingering the green threads of her outfit.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” I said, holding my palms out and trying to look as harmless as possible.
The woman took another step forward, tentatively reaching out her hand. When I lifted my hand to touch hers, she drew back. I put my hands back down by my sides. “Alright, then,” I said.
The woman’s eyes watched me carefully. Then she reached out and gently brushed my cotton collar. She fingered the material in amazement, moving her hand down to my sleeve. She murmured something under her breath, looked up at me with those pale blue eyes, and asked another question in that language I didn’t understand.
I shrugged. The movement caused her finger to touch the skin on my arm.
The woman took a step back and repeated the question. This time, I made out the word, “Celebi.” Finally, something I understood.
I nodded and said, “Yes, Celebi. Celebi brought me here.”
A look of relief crossed the woman’s face. She picked a green thread off of her clothing, took my right hand in hers, and tied the strand around my finger. Then she grabbed my wrist and shoved it in the air, turning to the crowd. “Celebi!” she shouted. “Celebi!”
“Celebi!” the crowd answered. There was joyous laughter and some of the people started banging on hollow wooden drums. The woman took my hand and pulled me into the mass of people. Hands reached out to touch my arms and clothing. I had to slap a few hands that strayed too close to my PokeBalls.
The woman pulled me past the crowd, past the Manectrics to a tent at the edge of the clearing. Unlike the clothing, the tents were covered in a material thicker than Manectric fur. After seeing the little ceremony, I suspected it was bear hide. The tent she pulled me into was no different than the others except for the bits of green strands woven into the tent hide, just as the green strands in the woman’s clothing.
The inside of the tent was bigger than it appeared from the outside. There was a bed of hay on one side of the tent, probably for sleeping. Above the hay bed hung various sized ceramic bowls. On the other side of the tent, there was a pile of black feathers, a stone carving, and several wooden spears resting against the wall—the same type of spears that had been used to kill the bear.
The woman settled down cross-legged on the hay bed and seemed oddly at ease, her fine straight hair flowing over around her shoulders like a blanket. She pointed to herself and said, “Abetzi.”
Not knowing what else to do, I sat down across from her. “Bert.”
“Bert,” the woman repeated. She smiled and said something. Even if I could understand her language, I wouldn’t have heard what she was saying. That damn smile was just so… enchanting, lovely… beautiful? It warmed the entire room, like a fireplace on a snowy evening.
The woman’s smile faded. She asked me something.
“Celebi?” I said, wagging my finger that had the green strand tied to it.
Abetzi frowned, giving me an almost disapproving look. “Gengar.”
I pulled the Gengar’s PokeBall from my pocket and pressed the release button. Abetzi gasped as the room flashed red for a moment. When the Gengar solidified in front of her, she reached out to touch the Pokemon’s pointed ear, as if she didn’t believe what she was seeing. “Taabata,” she murmured, running her hand over the Gengar’s head. She didn’t seem worried about looking directly into the Gengar’s eyes.
“Taabata?” I asked.
Abetzi spoke rapidly to the Gengar, gesturing to me. Suddenly, the Gengar faded. Unwarranted images flashed across my mind, and I knew the Gengar was within my body. I shook my head, as if the action could cast the ghost Pokemon out. One of the images was of Celebi floating above the tents, the sunlight glinting across the legendary’s wings. The other images were blurred, zooming through my mind too fast for me to comprehend. Finally, a word appeared in my mind. <Sign.>
<Taabata, sign.> I knew the Gengar was speaking from within my mind.
I blinked and could see the world around me again. The woman scooted forward and poked my chest. “Taabata.”
Great, I was a sign.
“Of what?” I asked.
My own memories flashed across my mind, memories of when I was a child asking my father questions I couldn’t yet begin to comprehend about babies, memory, bottle caps… Somehow, I knew the Gengar was using my memories to understand me, to literally understand my language. I found this strange. In our time, all Pokemon innately understand all human language, even while humans cannot understand each other. Pokemon are used as translators everywhere. Growing up, I was of course told the fairy tale of “Jirachi and the Sentret’s Wish,” but I’d never believed it. I never believed there was a Pokemon powerful enough to grant all Pokemon the ability to understand all languages.
Suddenly, the images changed and slowed. The Gengar had understood my question and was answering it. I saw the Shiftry Clan bowing to Celebi, worshipping the time travelling fairy. They were in another land, a flatter land, where the clan grew crops. I saw Celebi teach the clan to sharpen tree branches shed by Shiftry into sharp spears, and saw the clan learn to hunt dear with those spears, adding meat to their mostly grain diet. I saw a time of peace and prosperity.
Then the sky darkened. A blue fire, ravaging the fields. A spot of purple in the sky. The clan moved, migrated north. They lived because they could hunt, because Celebi had taught them. They prayed to Celebi and Celebi brought them to this forest. The men cut trees, plowed an enormous field, while women searched for Shiftry. The Shiftry were much more abundant in the forest, but harder to spot. Normal branches could be used to create the clan’s tents, but not the clan’s weapons. Celebi had deemed it so. Abetzi, the clan’s so-called witch, befriended the local spirits, exchanging food and protection for help finding the Shiftry.
When the field was plowed and sewn with grain and the tents nearly complete, the Shiftry Clan threw a great celebration. A sudden crash interrupted their dancing, their drums. Something pink shot across the sky. More crashing, coming from their newly-plowed field. Children hid behind the legs of their mothers, and the Manectric growled.
Ahigetric, head of the Shiftry Clan, chose six men to accompany him to the field. Abetzi and the Gengar followed. No one stopped them.
There were two large craters in the field. Above the field the psychic legendary Pokemon, Mew, floated. Mew plunged suddenly towards the earth, its fist curled by its face. Where the legendary struck, another crater was formed.
Another Mew appeared next to the first Mew. It too, struck the ground. This Mew’s crater was bigger. The earth shook when its fist touched soil, and fires burst across the few unharmed patches of soil. The first Mew rushed forward to extinguish the flames with its tail, whipping the earth until the ground was but a mound of long burnt scars.
Ahigetric, the six men, and Abetzi were horrified. They yelled at the Mews, shook their fists, and trembled because for all their anger, they were afraid. Only Abetzi stepped forward and ordered Gengar forth. Ordered an attack.
The Gengar rushed forward and the Mews teleported.
The scene changed. Celebi promising the people revenge. Using bears as an example of what must be done.
One man questioned why Celebi could not take the revenge into its own hands. Celebi never explained, but the man felt Celebi’s wrath. For the first time, the clan feared Celebi, but they continued learning. Learning how to slay Mew.
“When?” the Ahigetric asked Celebi once. “When will we have our revenge?”
Celebi always answered with that tiny fairy smile. <Soon after the sign comes.>
Celebi’s smile widened.
The images faded. Abetzi blinked at me. I knew I had seen the Gengar’s memories; I knew, but didn’t quite believe. Not just Celebi, but Mew was somehow involved here? And why was I a sign? Why did Celebi bring me, use me? Hell, I wanted to observe and study the past, not be a part of it.
Abetzi touched my hand, smiling.
Warmth flooded my stomach, and I suddenly felt a yearning to sit here with Abetzi, forget my problems, and just bask in her presence. I looked at my hand in hers. It was shrouded in a sort of purple smoke. The Gengar was still within me. I vaguely wondered whether the sudden intense loyalty I was feeling belonged to the Gengar or me.
“You will stay. We will teach each other.” Abetzi spoke. Words I didn’t know, I understood with the Gengar feeding my mind subconscious translations.
With Abetzi’s hand in mine, I nodded. I couldn’t say no. “I’ll need to get my stuff from my camp.”
A tendril of purple floated across my hand to Abetzi’s. She closed her eyes for a moment, then nodded.
“Yes, of course.” She stood up suddenly, and the purple smoke flooded before her, materializing into the Gengar. I felt a bit empty, but strangely still calm.
I gestured around the room. “This should be scary,” I said.
Abetzi looked at me, puzzled. She couldn’t understand me. “Scarrr—ee?”
“Scary,” I confirmed.
She looked at the Gengar. He shrugged. Abetzi leaned forward and patted the Gengar’s ears. “Scary,” she said, fondly. “Scary.” Then Abetzi stood up and stepped through the flap of the tent. “Scary, vanguish.”
The Gengar faded through the tent wall, following Abetzi and leaving me alone and bewildered. I’m pretty sure neither of them understood that because of the PokeBall, the Gengar was bound to me. They both probably assumed the effects of the PokeBall were temporary. I let it go for now because I needed time alone, time to get adjusted.
I opened this journal up to write everything down. None of the other clan members have bothered me yet. I don’t know why Abetzi’s presence seemed to comfort me, and when I consider my pull towards her, I’m quite frightened. Maybe she really is a witch. Now that she’s left for the moment, I don’t know if I should leave or accept the clan’s hospitality.
No, that’s not true. I already know I’m going to stay here, see what happens next. I’m too curious. The scientist in me wants to know what happens to Mew, the rationalist in me figures Celebi’s my only way back, and the emotional lunatic in me just wants the chance to touch Abetzi’s hand again.
Also, I think I’ve inadvertently named the Gengar Scary. Go figure.
I looked at Scary. “So that… that was how you met my father?”
“That woman, Abetzi. Did she have a ghost gift?”
I hesitated. “Was she… was she my mother?”
There was a crash to the left of me. I heard grown-ups swearing.
<We have to go, Mel. The police have come to search the house for evidence.>
“Was she my mother?”
I hugged the journals to my chest. “I want to keep reading.”
<You can. We’ll bring the books back to Sparky’s. We can store them in the attic—but we need to go before the police find us here.>
I turned invisible and floated up, wondering if Abetzi could do the same. “Let’s go.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The noise brought me to my knees—my ears felt like they were being scooped out with pliers. Instinctively, my mind thrust away from my body to escape the pain. I could think more clearly with the sound distant. Maybe I could jump into Tali’s mind and force her to stop yelling.
<Anita, you need to put the earplugs Liam gave you in, or make barrier earplugs if you don’t want to lose your hearing,> Apple said.
But the sound. I didn’t want to hear—no, better to stop Tali. I sent multiple psychic tendrils towards Tali. I wished I could see what Liam was doing—he was invisible to my mind.
<Anita, I’m serious. Earplugs now.>
A force cut me off, shoved me back toward my body. I created barriers in my ears just before I returned.
My head was still ringing. Liam was running towards Tali, his eyes narrowed in on her—it was the look he had before he hit something. Dustin created a barrier under Tali, raising her above the ground out of Liam’s reach. Liam stopped mid-run as Tali took a deep breath. He was right below her. He scrambled to get away, but she released her breath, directly over him.
Sound is usually just a bit of pressure oscillating through the air. Tali, however, had the ability to create more than just a bit of pressure. That’s what I found out when I threw up a barrier over Liam.
The vibrations hit the barrier, travelled down those invisible psychic tendrils back to my mind, and scrambled my brain. And I’d thought I’d had a headache before.
Dustin ran through my barrier, collapsing it—he must’ve copied Liam’s gift. The platform barrier Tali’d been on disappeared as well, and she landed on bent legs behind Liam. Dustin smirked—they had Liam surrounded. Liam snickered right back.
At once, Dustin and Tali rushed in, Dustin making to grab Liam’s legs, Tali his arms. Focus, Anita, I thought to my pounding head. I thrust up two small barriers—one in front of Dustin’s feet and one in front of Tali’s.
Dustin stepped right through my barrier, but Tali stumbled, enabling Liam to turn and kick Tali in the stomach. She fell backwards toward the boundary—
A barrier caught Tali before she fell out of bounds. I tried to shatter Dustin’s barrier while Tali leaned on it, hitting it with all the psychic force I could muster, but it held strong.
Liam and Dustin were fighting in a blur of complex kicks and punches. Liam was faster—rolling under Dustin’s foot and tripping him from below, but he couldn’t seem to pin Dustin down or force Dustin toward the boundary. Dustin blocked Liam’s kicks with his arms, laughing as Liam danced around him and failed to land any major hits or force Dustin back. In fact, Dustin was backing Liam towards the center of the battlefield, away from the boundary behind him.
Suddenly, the wind was knocked out of me and my body was flung backwards so fast my mind and body separated. I struggled to send psychic tendrils back fast enough to keep my body from being thrown out of bounds. I made it, but barely.
For a moment my body was suspended against the barrier. Even with my consciousness out of my body, I could feel the bruises forming along my back.
I sent my mind at Tali, knowing that if she continued yelling, my barrier would break and I’d be thrown beyond the boundary.
I shoved my way into her mind. <La, la, la, la, la, la, la…> “La, la, la.” I was in! I felt Dustin shatter the barrier holding my body. Through Tali’s eyes, I saw my barrier fall apart and my body slump to the ground, my fingers touching the metal border but not going beyond it.
I bombarded Tali’s mind with the sensations my body was currently undergoing—returning the freakin’ headache she’d given me.
“Tali, finish it!” Dustin yelled. Tali and I both looked at Dustin, who finally faltered under a kick to the gut. Liam rebounded off the balls of his feet, pouncing at Dustin—
<Get out, get out, get—> My hands—Tali’s hands pulled at her hair. “Get out!” she yelled.
The same force that’d shattered my barrier—Dustin—yanked me from Tali’s mind. I felt the power Tali had released, felt the sound propagate towards my body and Dustin’s. I couldn’t feel where Liam was, but then, I never could.
The sound waves hit my body with full force, but Tali hadn’t been specifically aiming at me so there wasn’t enough force to actually move my body. I felt the sound waves dissipate before they hit Dustin. Interesting. Either Tali could move sound vibrations through the air like psychics could telekinetically move objects—but no, Liam and I’d have already been pushed out if she had that type of power—or…
I rushed back to my body. Ignoring my groaning bones, I jumped to my feet. “Liam!”
Liam either couldn’t hear me—he had earplugs in and his head was probably ringing as much as mine was, after all—or he was too preoccupied fighting Dustin. Dustin was no longer risking physical injury and had started mimicking Tali’s powers to prevent Liam from getting anywhere near Dustin’s body.
Liam had the disadvantage of not being able to put up psychic barriers. To keep from being blown away by strong sound waves he had to drop and cling to the ground or stay a good ten meters away from Dustin where the sound wave’s power wasn’t strong enough to cause physical injury.
I stumbled towards Liam. Sensing Tali behind me, I tripped her again the moment she took a breath to release a sound wave in my direction. “Liam, open your damn mind!”
Dustin let out a bellow that forced Liam to roll to the edge of the arena. Running towards Liam, I glimpsed Apple and Styx behind him, their eyes wide. Dustin took a deep breath, about to release another sound wave at Liam—no doubt this one would knock him beyond the boundaries with Liam so close to the edge.
I mustered my powers, throwing a barrier between them. Suddenly, Dustin turned his golden gaze to me. I was close enough that I could see Liam had ripped a sleeve off of Dustin’s white t-shirt and abruptly realized I was much too close to Dustin.
Time seemed to slow as Dustin opened his mouth. I psychically felt the vibrations in his throat transfer to the air and knew I was done for—
I hit the ground hard, something heavy pressing me to the gym floor as the sound wave roared around me so loud it made my eyes water.
When I could hear again, I craned my head around. Liam got up off of me in one swift movement, ready to dart at Dustin. “Wait!” I put up a semispherical barrier around us, more to keep Dustin and Tali from hearing me than to block their attacks. “Liam, you need to let me into your mind now—”
Liam looked at me with an expression of utter disbelief.
He wasn’t going to listen unless I explained, and even then, maybe not. I spoke quickly. “Dustin doesn’t have earplugs; he’s been mimicking Tali’s power to release his own sound waves that destructively interfere with hers so wherever he is located, the sound waves cancel out.” Liam’s eyes gazed past me, perhaps looking at Dustin. “So there’ll—”
“—be other locations of destructive interference,” Liam finished. He looked at me hard, calculating.
“I can sense how much power is being used by each of them, but I can’t calculate where the areas of destructive interference will be—where Dustin’s waves will cancel Tali’s—” I felt Tali get up behind me, inhaling. Not just Tali—Dustin was getting ready, too. “You can, though—you can calculate where they’ll be,” I said. Or at least he could if he had half the brain I thought he had.
There wasn’t any time. I released my barrier, making it clear that if he didn’t open his mind we’d lose this because Dustin and Tali were going to attack us at once. “Now, Liam.”
And suddenly, I could sense Liam’s mind. Apple had once compared the mind to an onion and my psychic powers to an onion’s scent. She’d said people using their dark gifts encased their onion-minds in diamond—no scent could ever break through. Later she’d told me the darkly gifted could control this encasing.
She hadn’t warned me of the vacuum-like effect opening the encasing would have on my mind.
Liam’s mind at once glittered like the inside of a diamond and felt empty—a void that had to be filled. I was pulled toward it and wanted to be pulled toward it. I wanted nothing more than to dive into the center of the void, but diamond-like barriers jutted out, prevented me from passing further than just below the surface.
<The fight, Anita.>
Liam’s voice. I could hear Liam. I showed him the power I sensed building in the base of Tali’s and Dustin’s throats. Liam ran through a complex set of calculations involving the angles the sound waves would meet at and their amplitudes. When I was suddenly visualizing a 3D image of the arena with a variety of colors illustrating the sound waves, I realized that Liam had the best visual memory of any person I’d ever touched minds with.
I was unexpectedly shoved back into the real, non-glittery, physical world. I didn’t even have time to blink before Liam yanked me across the field.
Dustin and Tali were both yelling. Apple was shaking, desperately covering her ears with her paws. The pressure threw Styx past the bleachers—she was lucky to have not hit her head. The bleachers rattled, and one of the thrones on the platform fell over.
Liam and I stood near the center of the arena, untouched by the sound. We stood within inches of each other, Liam’s hand on my shoulder to keep me within the wave cancellation zone, careful not to brush my skin and cut off my psychic powers.
Liam kept the telekinetic link open, again showing me the image of the arena and the sound waves, now emphasizing the areas on the arena where there would be constructive interference—where the sound waves would combine to be stronger.
With two well-placed barriers shooting out from beneath each twin’s feet, I gently nudged the gym leaders into the constructive interference zones. The effect was immediate. Both gym leaders were propelled well beyond the arena borders. Dustin was thrown far enough to knock over the remaining upright thrown.
The gym was silent—eerily so now that Dustin and Tali weren’t yelling.
Styx got to her feet shakily. Her arm was bleeding as she declared, “The challenger, Anita Parkwood, has won the prelim.”
Previously on An Apple a Day
Erin discovers Liam is gym leader of Drape Town, and Styx recruits Erin to research Celebi.
Mel and Scary return to the dusty old mansion Mel was raised in to get Professor Hastings’ journals before the gym leaders search the house. Mel reads about Professor Hastings’ time travel experience:
Professor Hastings was taken back in time 15,000 years by Celebi. Hastings comes across a clan of people who worship Celebi who call themselves the Shiftry Clan. The clan uses a Gengar to immobilize a bear so it can be killed. Professor Hastings fights and catches the Gengar (Scary). The clan’s “witch,” Abetzi, is able to communicate to Hastings through Scary that the clan’s land has been destroyed multiple times by Mew (being born and later Mew’s training). The clan takes Professor Hastings’ arrival as a sign that the clan will soon get their revenge for Mew’s destruction.
Meanwhile, Anita and Liam fight Tali and Dustin as the second part of the Artemis Town Gym’s prelim. To get Liam to stay and fight with her, Anita promises to tell him everything she knows about Mew. They beat the prelim.
Chapter 40: (Act 1) To Travel
“Dustin! Dustin, can you hear me?” Styx hovered over Dustin, taking his hand in hers.
Dustin was seriously hurt—he lay in his tattered clothing near the edge of the platform with his left leg twisted at an angle that shouldn’t be possible. When the sound wave flung him out of bounds, he knocked over one of the large chair thrones and apparently it fell on his leg. I didn’t even notice anything was amiss until Tali called Dustin’s name and he didn’t answer.
“Ambulance is on its way,” Tali said, returning her phone to a pocket. Her clothes were in better shape than Dustin’s, but with her ochre hair matted and frizzy, you’d think she’d just lost a fight to a blow drier, not to Liam and me. Tali approached the platform and peered at her brother. “I’d get his Pidgeot to carry him over if I thought he’d be able to stay on.”
I glanced over my shoulder. Liam had taken a seat in the bleachers next to Apple, staring off at the ceiling as if nothing was amiss. I guess Dustin was kind of an *******, but it sure took a cold heart to ignore someone—even Dustin—with a broken leg.
“Dustin,” Styx whispered. “Damn, wake up. I can heal—look!”
I snapped my head back around. Dustin’s eyes fluttered open. “Styx?” He tried to sit up, but Styx pushed him back down.
“Hey now, take it easy.” Styx locked eyes with gym leader. The way they looked at each other made me want to gag—they were eye-canoodling, or that’s what Mia called it once when Mia spotted our math and history teachers looking at each other that way. “Do you want me to…?”
Dustin closed his eyes and shook his head. “Of course not.” They must have some secret language to understand each other with such vague words, or maybe Dustin was tapping into that psychic mimicry again.
“An ambulance is on the way,” Styx said.
Dustin’s eyes shot open again. “I’m fine, really. I just… just need to battle Mendol and the psychic twerp.”
“If your leg wasn’t already broken, I’d kick your shins for even thinking that,” Tali said. “We’ll delay the battle until—”
“After I get a cast, of course—”
“—you’re feeling completely better—”
“—in a week.” Dustin and Tali glared at each other. I faintly heard sirens.
“How about we wait and see what the doctor says?” Styx said, moving between the twins.
The sirens grew louder and soon there were nurses and firemen flooding into the gym. Dustin was put on a stretcher, and I joined Liam on the bleachers, waiting for the crowd to disperse. As Dustin was carried past us, he said, “I’ll be seeing you two later today.”
I highly doubted it but wasn’t going to argue.
“And you guys made a mess of the gym so I fully expect—” Dustin was carried out the door. Styx and Tali hurried after the medical staff.
I turned to Liam. “Right so, you wanna go grab some lunch?”
Liam leaned back, casually putting his hands behind his head. “Discuss your relation to… a certain Pokemon… over pasta?”
<Eeks,> Apple commented.
I gulped. “Sure.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The attic didn’t smell as good as my old mansion, but it was a good place to hide from Sparky when Scary and I read about my father and his adventures.
We’d skipped ahead of the cucumber book to the dusty violet journal.
Abetzi is round as the moon with our child. Any day now, she will surely give birth. As I have expressed so many times, I wish we were in my time to ensure Abetzi and our child’s health. Frolikki the birthing mother has lost two women in this past year alone.
I fear for what will happen to us after the child is born. Ahigetric only tolerates my presence because in the clan, it is a man’s responsibility to look after and provide for his wife throughout her pregnancy. Still, Ahigetric reminds me every day that I shame the clan, forbidding me to wear the same Manetric fur as the rest and requiring me to empty the latrines before dinner when Abetzi is resting. My arrival was to signal the time had come to take revenge upon Mew for destroying the Shiftry clan’s crop fields. As Celebi has yet to manifest itself, I suppose Ahigetric’s disgust with me is understandable.
I do wish the other clan members were less inclined to follow Ahigetric’s example. Abetzi tried to help, but she was already a bit of an outsider when I arrived. The clan’s witch. The other clan members think I can’t understand their whispering as they speculate about whether I’m a plaything Abetzi conjured, whether our child will be a daemon, if perhaps they should sacrifice me or my child to Celebi.
If it comes to that, I will run and take Abetzi and the child with me. Certainly, we can survive on our own, especially with Scary’s help.
With all of the trees cleared out, we were finally able to plow and sow the new crop field. I showed Milo and the few other clan members who would listen to me how to implement a proper irrigation system. It was tiring work, but not nearly as bad as when we were cutting down and moving trees to form the clearing.
When I returned to the camp, Abetzi was foretelling a sick woman’s death. The woman would die the day after the moon was next full from the sickness, Abetzi said. I don’t know why Abetzi predicts these deaths. It was quite easy to see that the coughing woman would die of sickness without Abetzi’s prediction and the predictions only make the camp fear and mistrust Abetzi more. Whenever I ask Abetzi, she hushes me and claims it is her Arceus-given ability to see death, a gift given to be used.
I don’t know about this death-seeing gift. I’m simply satisfied to see my wife alive and breathing softly as I lay next to her. For hours tonight, under our fur covers we whispered names for our baby to each other. Abetzi hates the name Mel, short for Melvin or Melanie, saying its full of uncertainty. Personally, I don’t see what’s so bad about uncertainty; it brought me here next to her, after all.
As we lay together now, the moonlight spills over Abetzi’s body through the small breaks in the tent where the hide wasn’t properly sewn together. She is so lovely, resting with one hand on her stomach over our future child. I could not have asked for a better life.
“That was a boring section,” I told Scary.
<Mel, that was you in Abetzi’s stomach.>
I wrinkled my nose. “Well, I’m glad I don’t remember that.”
Scary frowned. <The next section is a little more…> Scary didn’t finish, but he was definitely going to say “exciting.” I just knew it.
Everything’s gone to shit—my life, Abetzi, Celebi—curse that ****ing little green devil. Pieces, I’ve got pieces left. Pieces of memory and… and a son. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be writing this. I’d have jumped off one of Cape Caution’s cliffs by now.
Arceaus, I pray this isn’t real. It can’t be real. Just ten hours ago I was lying next to Abetzi, listening to her slow breathing and gently pulling her closer to fend off the morning chill.
And then the fairy devil herself appeared in our tent.
<It’s time,> Celebi said. <Get up.>
I lifted my head groggily, at the time not understanding the danger. If only I had just put my head back down and fallen back asleep!
<Hastings, up. Go wake Ahigetric. I will be waiting with your wife at the fire pit.>
I slowly rolled out of the hide I’d been sharing with Abetzi, careful not to disturb her rest. I pulled a torn rag over my head, my most recent shirt. “Leave Abetzi out of this; she needs to rest,” I whispered. “Come with me to wake Ahigetric.”
Celebi sighed. <Your insolence is duly noted. Unfortunately, Abetzi is needed. Don’t fret, she won’t be harmed.> Celebi waved a hand toward the tent flap. <Now get, before I decide you’d be more useful as an Aerodactyl’s food morsel.>
When I didn’t move, Celebi waved her hand again. A vine sprouted from the ground, wrapped around my foot, and dragged me out of the tent into the dim early morning light. The vine released me, but waved threateningly in front of the tent.
Not seeing much of a choice, I walked through the campsite to Ahigetric’s tent in the center. His tent was slightly bigger than the surrounding tents, and a Shiftry branch rose from the tent’s top, resembling a mangled hand in the darkness. Not wanting to walk in on Ahigetric and whichever clan woman had chosen to sleep with him for the night, I released Scary from his PokeBall. “Bring Ahigetric out here, please. Dressed if possible.”
Scary rolled his eyes, but complied. Soon after, Ahigetric opened his tent’s flap, his bright furs glittering under the final rays of moonlight. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked, or at least he asked something along those lines. My comprehension of the clan’s language wasn’t perfect. A more precise definition might be, “What has willed you to act?”
“Celebi is here. The time has come,” I said, gesturing to the fire pit behind me.
For a moment Ahigetric didn’t react. Then he ordered, “Wake the warriors. This is the moment we’ve prepared for.”
No apology for his lack of respect for me over this past year. No emotion directed toward me at all, just a glint in his steel grey eyes as he looked past me at the fire pit, where I assumed Celebi was waiting.
I nodded at Scary and we proceeded to wake the “warriors,” the group of men who’d trained for months with Ahigetric, several of whom trained with Celebi before the clan migrated to these woods. Because it was difficult to wake up the men without waking their wives, sisters, and children, soon the whole camp was gathered around the fire pit murmuring amongst themselves or shouting praise to Celebi.
The crowd quieted and Ahigetric spoke. “The day has come. Celebi has arrived and will lead us…” I found myself on the outskirts of the crowd, unable to see the fire pit.
“Scary,” I called. The Gengar appeared beside me. “Clear away the crowd—”
Ignoring my order, Scary took over my body, turning it intangible. We floated through the crowd to the fire pit. Ahigetric had tied his long blonde hair back and stood facing the clan with two Manectrics by his side. Abetzi stood behind him with Celebi sitting on her shoulder. She looked strangely pale and tired, holding both hands over her stomach. When I appeared next to Abetzi, the crowd gasped.
Ahigetric gave me a stone-faced glare before shouting, “Step forth, warriors! Today we avenge our burned fields! Today we will follow blessed Celebi and our death-mother Abetzi into battle and kill Mew!”
I felt the blood drain from my face as the clan cheered.
I turned to Ahigetric. “Abetzi will not be following you into battle.” The cheering was too loud for most of the crowd to hear me, but those closest to the fire pit quieted.
“No, Abetzi will be leading us,” Ahigetric said sternly. His eyes were sharp as a blade, daring me to speak against him. He turned from me for a moment, facing the men around him. “Assemble the warriors on the west end of camp. Gather the spears,” he ordered the men closest to the fire pit.
“She’s pregnant! Why the hell would you have a pregnant woman lead your warriors?”
Though most of the crowd was dispersing, a few of the men lingered.
“Go!” Ahigetric ordered them. “Do not repudiate my orders in front of my clan,” he said in a low voice. “It is you who chose to wed the death-mother. Only she can see death in those that are immortal.”
<Basically,> Celebi said casually, leaning into Abetzi’s golden hair. <she’s needed to kill Mew.>
Abetzi put a hand on my shoulder. “It is what is meant to be,” she said. “I will be safe. I only need to watch the warriors.”
I shrugged Abetzi’s hand away. “This is such bull****. Death-mother? Are you talking about her death ‘predictions’? Ahigetric, you of all people should know that it’s phony—”
Ahigetric punched my stomach, and I doubled over in pain. “You may not disrespect the death-mother.”
He turned to Abetzi. “I do not understand your choice in husband, but should he continue with this blatant disrespect of the way, he will be exiled or killed. Now come. Bring the ghost.”
Ahigetric left, the two Manectric followed him, their fur sparking.
Abetzi turned me to face her. “I need to borrow Scary. Do not fear. We will return shortly.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
Abetzi stroked Celebi’s head. I swear the little twit smirked at me a moment, before widening those innocent blue eyes and looking sullen. “I’m the death-mother.”
I’d never addressed her magical nonsense before—what was the harm in letting her believe she could foresee death? It gave Abetzi a place in the clan. At that moment though, I regretted not saying anything.
“I’m coming with you. Scary’s my Pokemon anyway. And Frolikki must come as well, should you need help. You shouldn’t strain yourself this late in the pregnancy.”
Abetzi nodded. It worried me that she didn’t make a quip about Scary being my Pokemon. It’s become a running joke between us, something to argue about over dinner.
Ahigetric and Abetzi led the warriors down the short twisted path to the burnt field, with Frolikki and I helping Abetzi over fallen tree trunks and across small springs. I watched Celebi out of the corner of my eye, wondering if the fairy was putting Abetzi in danger by just sitting on her shoulder.
Soon, we came to the razed clearing. Bits of life were springing up again in the massive craters—weeds and vines mostly. If it weren’t for the craters, the clan might’ve actually been able to re-plow the field. In couple of years, they still might be able to.
Celebi fluttered above the twenty of us, directing Ahigetric and the warriors into a circle next to the largest crater in the clearing. Abetzi, Frolikki, and I watched from the edge of the clearing until Celebi turned its gaze to Abetzi. “Scary’s needed now,” Abetzi said.
Frolikki fidgeted with the Manectric skin covering her shoulders, clearly uncomfortable. When I’d insisted she come with us, she’d only agreed after a stern look from Abetzi. With Celebi on her shoulder, nobody in the clan would dare defy Abetzi.
I released Scary from his Pokeball. He floated to the center of the circle of warriors, mirroring his usual position when the clan captured a bear.
It wasn’t bear they’d be killing today.
<Stand here, behind your wife,> Celebi said. I was more than happy to move behind my wife, hopeful that she’d lean on me and allow me to support her weight.
Suddenly, Abetzi collapsed and screamed. “Abetzi! Abetzi! What is it?” She was breathing heavily. I glared at Celebi, now fluttering above us. “What did you do?”
“The baby,” Abetzi panted. “The baby’s—ahhh!”
Frolikki bent over and spoke swiftly to Abetzi. Then she had me move Abetzi so she was leaning against a boulder. Abetzi clutched my hand as I squatted next to her.
Ahigetric was yelling something, but I paid him no mind. Suddenly, there was a flash of light to my left, where the circle of warriors stood.
Mew and Celebi appeared in the center of the circle.
My attention was torn between the legendary Pokemon and my poor Abetzi. Scary disappeared and the Mew’s eyes glowed red. The Celebi in the circle disappeared.
Abetzi and the warriors screamed in sync.
<Look at the Mew, Abetzi!> Celebi yelled.
“Don’t you dare tell her what to do. Get away from my wife!” Without thinking I flung a rock by my legs at the fairy. Celebi dodged easily, fluttering in a spiral.
“Breathe, Abetzi,” I said, stroking her head.
Abetzi squeezed her eyes open, gazing at the circle of warriors. I followed her gaze. The warriors’ spears pierced through Mew’s throat. Blood trickled down the Shiftry wood like streams of ants slowly crawling across a log. A blue fire emerged from the Mew’s throat.
The ground shook, and the clearing’s bits of strewn greenery burned, specks of red among the strange blue fire. Where the warriors and Ahigetric once stood, there were piles of ash. The Shiftry wood cluttered the area, completely unscathed.
A purplish psychic barrier blinked out of existence. I hadn’t noticed it was up, when it was put up, but now that it was gone, I could smell smoke.
“Too late, Celebi. You need—ahh!”
“Go away, fairy!” I yelled at the legendary Pokemon.
Celebi had to have put up the barrier. At that moment though, I didn’t give a damn that the fairy had just saved my wife. I just wanted Abetzi left in peace, wanted her to make it through childbirth. Wanted the damned fairy to disappear and stop badgering us.
The next few hours were the toughest in my life. I ran between Abetzi and the spring, fetching the water Frolikki demanded by soaking my Manectric skins. Abetzi cried out and sweat and once broke out in hysterical laughter amidst the ash and the blue fire.
I tried not to think about the incinerated clan members. There’d be time to think after our child was born.
Finally, Frolikki had me sit by Abetzi’s spread feet. The midwife urged Abetzi to be strong and several painful screams later, a bloody, lovely baby boy trembled in my hands.
<Abetzi,> Celebi prompted.
“Almost had it. Divide… divide the ashes, necessary… divide to conquer… to kill—”
There was a sudden whirring around me, like being squeezed into a box.
A feeling I hadn’t had in over a year.
I was back in my apartment, in the kitchen among my dirty pans. It felt like an illusion. I was dressed in Manectric skins holding a bloody baby whose umbilical cord hung limply from his belly. Only seconds earlier he’d been attached to his mother. I thought stupidly, where’s Abetzi?
Celebi fluttered in front of me.
<You’ll be wanting this.> The fairy casually tossed a Pokeball at me. Scary’s Pokeball. I couldn’t remember Celebi touching it, I couldn’t remember what happened to Scary after Mew exploded…
“Bring me back. Bring Abetzi here,” I demanded.
<Welcome home.> The Celebi winked out of existence.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I walked toward the gym exit, with Apple trotting at my side. Liam followed us. <We’re screwed, Apple. We’re beyond screwed—I’m going to die painfully when Liam squeezes the information out of me with some medieval torture device he’ll have bought off that creepy sales guy, who I think might be following us—>
<Whoa, creepy sales guy. You don’t say.>
<Apple, I’m serious! I can’t lie—>
<Yeah, well you’re going to have to so suck it up—>
I turned to Apple, who was balancing on a metal beam that had fallen some time during my fight with Dustin and Tali. <I suck at lying, Apple! You’re always telling me I can’t lie for my life and now our lives are at stake!>
<Well, you got us into this. If you weren’t prepared to lie, you shouldn’t have promised Liam info in exchange for helping you beat the twins.> Apple jumped off of the beam and wagged her tail at me, not bothering to look back.
<Oh no, you don’t! You’re not going to put this all on me, Apple. We made the decision to stay with Erin and pretend everything was perfectly la-dee-da together. Just because I took advantage of the situation—>
<It’d only be an advantage if you’d actually prepared a lie.>
We reached the revolving doors. <Sometimes I understand why Liam wants to mangle you…> I pushed the door. It didn’t budge.
“What the…?” A Slaking was slumped between the glass doors, preventing the doors from moving. I tapped on the glass. “Hey!” The Slaking didn’t move.
Suddenly, an Aipom dropped from the top of the doorway, hanging by its from the low ceiling above the revolving doors. I stumbled backwards in surprise, tripped over a piece of crumbled tile, and fell on my butt next to where Liam was standing.
Liam looked down at me and raised an eyebrow.
“You could’ve stopped me from falling,” I muttered, picking myself up. I marched back to the Aipom and pointed my finger at in the Pokemon’s face, but not too close. My neighbor once had an Aipom that bit. “Now just what do you think you’re doing? And what’s with the Slaking?”
The Aipom swung back and forth, giggling. <Why is this trainer asking me? It’s not like she can understand. We just have to wait until she tries to leave to attack—>
“What do you mean attack?” I asked, alarmed.
<You can understand me?>
<Yes.> I made my voice boom in the Aipom’s head. <I’m a psychic. Now get your lazy friend out of the doorway before I get mad and blow you to bits with my mad psychic abilities.>
Apple snickered and didn’t even flinch.
<Sorry, we have strict orders to not let you leave until you clean up the gym, and even then, only if we get a call saying Dustin won’t be making it back to the gym today. Hmm, well, that explains why Dustin left Visio.>
Something wet wrapped around my arm. A wet, red tongue. With my eyes, I traced the tongue back to its user. A Kecleon gapped at me. Standing next to the Kecleon was Dustin’s Zangoose, who’d cut Apple’s fur. For some reason the Zangoose kept hitting the Kecleon over the head with his claw.
“Okay, now I’m really confused.”
“It’s quite simple,” Liam drawled. *******. “Clearly, these Pokemon are preventing us from exiting the gym. Dustin’s Zangoose is hitting Kecleon with a pursuit attack to change Kecleon’s type to dark and in turn, prevent you from using your psychic gift.”
He deduced that fromthis? “Well, don’t just stand there. Attack! Apple, use iron tail! And Liam, uh, kick them or something.”
Liam looked at me like something was sprouting from my head. “I’m not a Pokemon.”
Apple lunged. The Kecleon’s tongue wrapped around me and I was suddenly spinning, the Kecleon pulling me. I hit the Pokemon’s body with a thud, wrapped in several slimy layers of tongue. Gross.
Apple halted her attack, her tail lit and poised above her head, ready to strike, but unable to do so without hitting me.
“Let me go,” I demanded, trying to wriggle free.
Liam looked from Apple to me to the door blocked by the Slaking impassively. He nodded. “We’ll clean up.”
The glow in Apple’s tail faded. “Hey, no we won’t! This is Snubull crap—”
I was spinning again and heard the Aipom screeching something. Then I found myself flung on the floor, dizzy. I got to my feet unsteadily.
My pack hung from the tip of the Kecleon’s tongue.
<So, you’ll clean up or else Visio here will eat your pack and Pokeballs,> the Aipom said, waving a hand at me. Maybe I could smash his purple head into the ceiling with a barrier or hack off a few fingers—
<Anita, that’d be a bad idea,> Apple said. <I’m with Liam. You guys should clean up the gym.>
<I wouldn’t really hurt him… And you only want us to clean ‘cause you won’t have to do anything with your lack of opposable thumbs.> I swiveled around, turning my back on Dustin’s Pokemon. I bent over to pick up a piece of floor dislodged sometime during the battle. I paused as my fingers skimmed the smooth ceramic surface. <You know, Splash is still in the ventilation system. With his help, we could probably take on these guys—>
<So you’re willing to sacrifice our plan to survive—your plan to ensure I live—to get out of cleaning.> Apple actually sounded upset.
<No. I mean, that’s not how it is. It’s…> I picked up the displaced floor piece. <See, I’m cleaning.>
I returned the floor chunk to the hole it’d been initially dislodged from. The piece fit into the floor, but there were small chunks missing around the piece’s edges and the cracks surrounding the piece clearly weren’t going to go away. Nothing we could do about that. I tried to recall when the floor had broken during the battle, but couldn’t. “This is pointless,” I muttered. My stomach growled.
Liam and I worked in silence, replacing floor pieces and repairing the bleachers. Dustin’s Zangoose showed us the cabinet full of screws, bolts, nails, hammers—all sorts of supplies were offered, though Dustin’s Pokemon never offered to actually help. Bums.
I eyed Liam from time to time, surprised he was going along with the cleanup and even more surprised he hadn’t taken the opportunity to interrogate me. At least it gave me time to think.
I could probably get away with telling half-truths for now. I didn’t really know how much Liam knew—enough to suspect my Pokemon, but not enough to just try to take them already? Then there was what Celebi had told Apple, that she was being tracked… but who knew if that was true. Just in case, half-truths would work best. Plus anything unanswered, I could say I’d tell him after the battle, and hopefully after the battle, this whole mess would be sorted out.
I almost hit my thumb with the hammer. I looked up from the bleacher support beam I’d been trying to unbend.
Liam had pushed the platform Dustin and Tali typically stood on back, revealing a staircase leading downwards. I didn’t remember that being there when I looked through the blueprints of gym.
“Hungry? There’s food down here.” Liam gestured to the staircase.
<Why is Liam being nice?> I asked Apple suspiciously.
<Well, either an alien ate his brain or he wants to question you away from Dustin’s surveillance system.> Apple pointed her tail at Dustin’s Zangoose, who was going at Kecleon’s head with scissors and a comb, possibly trying to cut the spikes on Kecleon’s head into a mohawk.
<Some surveillance.> I nodded to Liam. “Yeah, but you’re paying. My money’s in my pack.”
I put down the hammer on the bleachers and followed Liam down the stairs, Apple trotting behind me. How did Liam know there was a staircase under the platform anyway?
The basement was a small room with a table that sat four, a vending machine, and a bar. The room’s floor and walls was covered in fuzzy white carpeting that made me want to take my shoes off and rub my toes in. “Fancy,” I said.
Apple rubbed her face against one of the carpeted walls. <Mmmm, fuzzy.> She peeked an eye open at me. <You sure you want me around. I mean, look at this romantic tone and you’ve already got him paying for food…>
<I don’t know how you can make sick jokes like that at a time like this, Apple. And, not that I would ever date Liam, but if I were to go on any freakin’ date I’d pay for my own freakin’ food.>
<Unless your pack was dangling from the tongue of a Kecleon with a Mohawk.>
I must’ve had a weird look on my face because Liam was looking at me oddly. “What?” I snapped.
Liam walked around the bar and bent down. “I don’t see a surveillance system, but your discretion would be appreciated as a precaution,” he said. I leaned over the bar counter and saw he was looking through a mini-fridge.
Liam plopped two sandwiches on the counter.
“What’s in those?” I asked.
“Vegetables. Maybe cheese. Tali’s a vegetarian.”
“How’d you know about this place?”
Liam shrugged, picked up his sandwich, and walked around the bar counter. He sat down at the small wooden table. I joined him, taking a bite of my sandwich before I even reached the table. It tasted better than it probably was because I was hungry. “So yesterday you mentioned finding her in Melonbi Town,” Liam said.
I took another large bite of my sandwich, annoyed. He never answered my questions, but I always had to answer his. So not fair. I swallowed. “Yup. That’s where I first encountered… her.”
“And when was this?”
“My birthday. July 2nd.”
“Describe the encounter.”
I looked around the room, looking for the invisible surveillance Liam was worried about. How the hell was I supposed to tell him about Mew without actually describing Mew?
“Well, I saw her about halfway to Azul City. She looked kinda like a Whooper at first…” Was that discrete enough?
“Did she say anything to you?”
I remembered Apple complaining about the rain. “Complained about the weather.” Liam was looking at me expectantly. Guess I needed something better than that. What else did we talk about? “And she asked about Team Glop’emm.”
“What about Team Glop’emm?”
“Can’t say that here. That’s all you’re getting for now. I need something to make you battle with me besides whatever secret Dustin’s holding over your head,” I said, remembering Dustin’s words when Liam seemed unwilling to partner up with me.
Liam snickered dismissively.
“If that secret’s so not important to you, then tell me.”
“That’d be no fun.” Liam chewed thoughtfully. “Have you had any more encounters with her?”
“I’m not telling you anything else until after the battle.”
“You’ve told me virtually nothing I didn’t already know. Any more encounters?” Liam demanded.
“Not while looking like… her,” I said carefully. I’d already told Liam I was involved with Mew. “Sometimes I run errands for her that she can’t accomplish herself.” Like paying for hotdogs. “But that’s all your getting for now, got it? I don’t need you running off to find and kill Mew before we battle Dustin and Tali.” Damn, the way I said that sounded cruel, like I cared nothing about what happened to Mew.
<And that’s a good thing,> Apple said. Liam frowned at me, as I gave Apple half of my sandwich.
“Alright,” he agreed. “We can leave it at that until after the battle.”
I felt uneasy. Was he convinced?
We ate the rest of the meal in silence.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Jamie Arkle, meet your new cellmate.” Damned officers. Damned gym leaders. I was so close, and then that shithead Normal gym leader arrested me. Oh, and let’s not forget Liam Mendol, the little genius Master running circles around the psychic girl. Mendol had something to do with my arrest, I just knew it. I shouldn’t have gloated to his uncle. No, I couldn’t afford to underestimate the kid again—tattling to the other gym leaders like that, what a coward.
The metal door groaned as my jail cell was opened. I sat up on my stiff bed as a man was shoved forward into the cell and the door was slammed shut behind him.
The man had a body of a forty year old, but a face that could have been twenty years older. He was balding, but the grey hair he had was long and scraggly. If it weren’t for his large bifocal glasses, I’d have guessed he was some hobo snatched off the streets.
I could break his glasses and use the sharp edge to cut his face up. How would the officers react?
“Was never told about this…” the man mumbled, tugging at the sleeves of the plain grey jumpsuit provided for prisoners. He blinked at me with wide, grey eyes, as if startled I was in the cell with him. “Who are you?”
“Jamie Arkle, arrested for being the Master of Team Glop’emm. And you?”
“Bert Hastings… Seth Hastings, who knows any more?” Hastings looked around the cell. “I don’t suppose they provide pencils and paper?”
“Bored already?” I’m sure if he asked the guard, they’d give it to him. Pencils, those had some real possibilities. Stab out an eye or pierce a finger. “What were you arrested for?” I asked.
“I need to keep writing poems. She said I’d get my son back if I kept writing.” Ah, so we had an incorrectly sorted prisoner. This one belonged in the loony bin. Hastings looked under the second bed in the cell and then sat down on it. “I am suspected of abusing and knowing where to locate Liam Mendol.”
That stopped me in my tracks. He knew Mendol? And had possibly abused him? He might be my new hero. “So did you do it?”
“I’ve only met Liam once, many years ago, or maybe not so many. It’s hard to say.”
“Tell me what you know of Mendol.”
“Oh, it’s hard to say how much I may—for she’ll punish me without delay.” The man grinned widely. “Now there’s a useless poem. Most are though. Useless, I mean. None ever brought my son back, or sent my sweet Abetzi to me.”
Nonsense again. “Tell me what you know of Mendol or I’ll tear that big nose off your face and stuff it—”
“You’re quite excitable, aren’t you? Yes, the Mendols aren’t affected by psychics, that much I can say.”
“You know about the gift?”
“No, I studied ancient Pokemon.” Would killing this fool increase security around my cell? The man looked me up and down, as if weighing something in his mind. “I suppose it could be considered a gift, a gift given by the earliest Pokemon, perhaps. Or maybe just good blood. I studied his blood, you know, down to the very DNA. There’s technology for that today.”
Though clearly insane, the man seemed educated enough. Perhaps he was once a scientist. Knowledge of Mendol’s blood and ancient Pokemon could be useful… “I guess you’ll have to come with me,” I said, lying back down.
“Come with you? Where?”
“Well, I certainly don’t intend to stay here. Now, neither do you.”
Ha, I was finally able to catch up with your story. So far so good, the only thing I noticed was that Liam somehow knew that the Pokemon wanted them to clean up with out anything being said to him other than Anita being attacked.
Thanks for the review quilzel! And Liam was able to deduce that the Pokemon wanted them to clean up from both the scene and knowing Dustin better than Anita.
Thank you to my readers!
Previously on An Apple a Day
Styx hired Erin to research Celebi.
Anita and Liam beat the Artemis Town prelim. Dustin is hurt and has to go to the hospital. He brings his posse. Dustin leaves his Pokemon behind to ensure Anita and Liam don’t leave he gym as well as make them clean up the damage done to the gym during the prelim.
Mel and Scary continue to read Professor Hastings’ (Mel’s father) journal:
Professor Hastings was taken back in time 15,000 years by Celebi. Hastings comes across a clan of people who worship Celebi who call themselves the Shiftry Clan. The clan uses a Gengar to immobilize a bear so it can be killed. Professor Hastings fights and catches the Gengar (Scary). The clan's "witch," Abetzi, is able to communicate to Hastings through Scary that the clan's land has been destroyed multiple times by Mew. The clan takes Professor Hastings' arrival as a sign that the clan will soon get their revenge for Mew's destruction.
Over a year later, Hastings has fallen in love with Abetzi, and she’s pregnant. Abetzi, ghost-gifted, has the ability to see how living creatures can be killed. Celebi has her watch the clan’s attempt to kill Mew as she gives birth to a baby. Hastings hears her say, “Divide the ashes, necessary… to kill—"
Celebi takes Hastings and the baby back to Hastings’ present.
Meanwhile, Seth Hastings has been put in the same jail cell as Jamie Arkle, the assistant to the Master. Hastings is suspected of child abuse and withholding information about the whereabouts of Liam Mendol. Jamie plans to escape with Hastings.
Chapter 41: (Act 2) Through
I dialed Erin’s number for about the twentieth time. Voicemail. I left a message again. “Erin, it’s Anita. Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to break Liam’s syringe, and when he attacked me, I freaked out. I was still pretty freaked out when you visited, and I said some stuff I didn’t mean. Please call me back.” I hung up and glared at Liam, who lounged in the bleachers beside me. “This is your fault.”
Liam looked at me coolly. “You broke the syringe.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“That has yet to be proved.”
I checked my watch. Almost eight p.m. Seriously, why couldn’t Dustin’s Pokemon let us leave? We’d finished cleaning the gym hours ago; everything was back in place, though the floor remained cracked as we had no way of repairing it. This was getting ridiculous. Clearly Dustin wasn’t returning—
“We’re back!” Dustin called. I looked up. Dustin hobbled through the revolving doors on crutches, his left leg in a cast up to his thigh. His entourage followed him—Tali, Styx, his Pokemon guarding the door, and… Jake? “I hope you two are prepared to be lose,” he said, returning all of his Pokemon to their Pokeballs. When Dustin’s Kecleon disappeared, my pack fell to the ground with a loud thump.
<It’s late. Our plans will have to change a little,> I told Apple.
<Doesn’t matter. This is it.>
Jake strode over to me, holding out his hand. “Good luck.”
Remembering his habit of kissing hands, I didn’t take his. “Have you seen Erin?” I asked.
Jake sat down on the bench. “No. And I wanted her to be my partner, too. I was hoping she’d be here.”
Apple hopped onto my shoulder and I stood up, turning to Liam. “Ready?”
Liam rose. “I don’t have the Ditto,” he said, gesturing to the lack of Pokeballs on his belt. Right. The Pokemon Center nurses had taken them all for safekeeping after he was knocked unconscious. It was kind of sad that he hadn’t said anything about them—if I woke up in a different place than I’d fallen asleep, my Pokemon would be my first worry. What had happened to make him not care?
Styx tossed a PokeBall to Liam. She had a bandage around her arm as well. “That’s Sticky,” she said, heading to battlefield sidelines. Guess she was reffing again.
Liam nodded. We walked to the side of the battlefield closest to the revolving doors.
Dustin stood in the center of the arena, resting on his crutches. “Heh, you guys didn’t do a half-bad job. Course’ I’ll probably still have to replace half the floor.”
“Come on, Dustin.” Tali pushed Dustin lightly. “Let’s do this, and then you’re going straight to bed. You shouldn’t even be battling.” An Eevee hung from each of Tali’s shoulders, sticking their tongues out at Apple when they thought nobody was looking. Apple was too preoccupied examining the gym floor to notice.
I sent my mind out to Splash and found him asleep in the vent behind the bleachers. <Splash! Get up!>
<Huh?> Splash yawned and stretched. <Can I leave now? There’s a couple of mushrooms that smelled kinda cool right outside—>
<Not yet. Remember what you have to do?>
<Yeah, yeah. Just tell me when.>
I noticed my pack was still laying on the ground a fourth of the way across the battlefield and nearly smacked my head for not remembering it. I quickly ran over to it, Apple only steps behind. I reached in the pack and untied a pouch, then picked up my pack from the wrong side so it was upside down.
A light powder sprinkled over Apple. The bright powder Sparky had given to me. I controlled the flow of the powder psychically, keeping the sprinkle over Apple sparse and invisible to the eye. I walked a little ways with the pack slung over my shoulder, Apple walking with me to stay below the powder. When the pouch in my pack was empty, I tossed my pack into the bleachers. Apple and I returned to our positions next to Liam.
Styx announced, “This will be a two on two Pokemon battle. A Pokemon stepping outside the metal boundaries of the battlefield is equivalent to a Pokemon fainting. A team of two wins when both Pokemon of the opposing team are eliminated. Trainers may not affect opposing Pokemon.”
“What’s that mean?” I asked Liam.
“You can’t use your gift to attack their Pokemon. For instance, you may not flood their minds with confusing images.”
“But I can use telepathy?”
“Yes, but so can Dustin.”
“What if I made a barrier for Apple to jump off of onto their Pokemon?”
“That would qualify as affecting the opposing Pokemon, as it has implemented Apple to have a physical advantage over her opponent she would not normally have.”
“Sounds like you’ve done this before,” I said, raising my eyebrows.
“Or I’ve actually paged through a gym leader database at some point in my life,” Liam replied.
“Hey!” Dustin yelled. “You twits ready to stop chit-chatting, and start fighting?”
“Sorry, not all of us have to go to bed early!” I yelled back.
“I have a broken leg, give me a break! Doctor’s orders.”
“You’re so lame. Get it, lame?”
Apple put a paw over her face. <Anita… oy.>
Styx grimaced. “One further reminder before we begin,” she said. “You must abide by all nationwide battle regulations; including regulation thirty-six section four that states Dittos may only transform into a Pokemon present on the battlefield. Are all teams ready?”
Dustin, Tali, Liam, and I all nodded.
<Okay, Apple, let me know when you’re ready.>
<Roger.> Apple leapt off of my shoulder while Liam released Sticky, the Ditto I’d seen him test the Forced Transformation Device on.
“Ray,” Dustin yelled.
“Cassie,” Tali said. Both Eevees jumped off of Tali’s shoulders, taking off towards Sticky and Apple as soon as their paws touched the ground.
As the only Pokemon released by a PokeBall and the only Pokemon having to transform, Sticky got a late start. I needed to buy Sticky some time. While my main goal in this battle wasn’t winning, it’d still be nice. <Attract,> I ordered.
One of the Eevees stopped charging, looking at Apple as if her fur had changed to gold. <So beautiful.>
The other Eevee kept charging, making to dodge around Apple and hit Sticky. Apple matched the Eevee’s quick attack, knocking the Eevee aside before Sticky was harmed.
The hit Eevee leapt backwards. <Cassie, snap out of it.>
Cassie. That was Tali’s Eevee—a female. <Apple, use attract again on Dustin’s Eevee, Ray. We can get them both!>
Ray charged at Apple, smirking. Apple was headbutted before she had time to move out of the way. <I don’t like girls,> Ray said.
Cassie managed to drag her eyes away from Apple, frowning at Ray. <But she’s so pretty—> Cassie shook her head. I suspected Dustin was psychically forcing back the attraction.
“Take Down,” Liam ordered Sticky, now fully transformed. He was the only one on the field ordering attacks aloud, a severe disadvantage if you asked me. We’d talked about it briefly, and he was completely unwilling to let my “inane mind” wander anywhere near his precious brain again. “Anita, if you’d like to win this battle, I suggest focusing on the Pokemon that can actually attack.”
Excuse me, I was well aware of what Ray was up to, but Apple had been hit hard. Arceaus forbid she should be given a second or two to recover.
Apple struggled to her feet as Sticky and Ray charged at each other. <You okay?>
<He didn’t hit me hard enough. I wanted to reach the boundary line…>
<So try again. Cassie’s closer to the boundary. Go for her. And don’t faint on me. Seriously, that would ruin everything.>
Apple smirked, lowered her head, and ran at Cassie, racing around Sticky.
“Your tail, Sticky,” Liam said. Sticky’s tail lit up moments before the Ditto clashed with Ray. I realized with a start that if Sticky was using iron tail, she had likely picked Apple to transform into. It gave me a proud bubbly feeling in my stomach.
I thought Liam wanted Sticky to hit Ray twice—once with the Take Down and once with an Iron Tail. To my surprise, however, Sticky dug her tail into the ground. Using her tail as a pivot, Sticky faced Ray belly-up and turned his own momentum against him, throwing the Eevee through the air.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Apple make contact with Cassie. Cassie took the hit, but used Apple’s attack to launch herself at Ray to prevent the Eevee from being flung out of bounds.
Apple was kicked backwards with an oomph. She rolled twice, landing on the metal boundary.
<Ready,> Apple said, still lying on the ground.
I pulled my psychic powers in, tight against my chest and then moved a single strand out, fully encapsulating Apple. This was my attempt at being discrete. I was banking on Dustin being too caught up in the battle to notice what I was doing.
Ray and Cassie had landed on the battlefield. Cassie stood over Ray protectively, releasing a guttural howl before Sticky could even prepare to charge. Echoed Voice, maybe. Or perhaps Round. These obnoxiously loud attacks were all hard to tell apart.
Whatever the case, this was my opportunity. I located Splash in the vent behind the stands. <Thundershock,> I ordered.
The metal that created the gym’s borders were conductive. In fractions of milliseconds, the shock had reached Apple.
The bright powder sprinkled on Apple’s fur lit up brilliantly. She was hard to look at. Ray, Cassie, and Sticky halted their attacks. I was surprised when Liam didn’t order Sticky to keep at it, instead watching Apple with unblinking eyes.
Splash would keep up the electricity until I ordered it him to stop. This was the tricky part. I flexed the psychic outline of Apple, tightening it into a sort of barrier—a barrier holding the bright powder particles shaped like an Eevee. My practice moving dust and glass particles would pay off now.
I first enlarged the Eevee semblance, giving Apple room to transform within the glowing façade.
A strand of my mind was linked to Apple’s. Although she was only transformed into her original form for an iota of time, I felt it like a waterfall hitting my skin. As Mew, her powers were amplified. My bright barrier prevented most of this power from escaping. I watched Dustin carefully, looking for any signs he’d picked up on the psychic disturbance. Dustin wasn’t even looking at Apple though; he was whispering something to Tali.
I tugged at my barrier, pulling the tiny particles into their precise locations as Apple transformed once again. In my attempt to give Apple enough room to transform, I’d enlarged my barrier-Eevee too much so as I altered the barrier’s form, I had to shrink it down some. Luckily, the bright light made the enlargement significantly less noticeable.
When Apple neared full transformation, my barrier grazed her fur and immediately disappeared. <Stop,> I ordered Splash. <Meet me behind the Pokemon Center in an hour.>
I felt Splash’s agreement and turned my attention back to the battlefield.
Apple stretched her front paws out, her sleek fur shimmering in the light. She was showing off her new form.
A sudden pride floated in my chest as I peeked at Liam. It had been Apple’s idea—she knew from experience a transformed Pokemon was incapable of evolving. If Liam had created a device that could untransform Pokemon, surely he had done his research and knew this to be true. He could no longer suspect Apple of being Mew; with his own eyes, he’d seen Apple evolve.
It was strange, not being able to feel Apple immediately. Apple opened her mind, and I knew we could speak telekinetically, but not being able to sense her presence would take some getting used to.
<Too bad Dustin didn’t come back earlier,> Apple said wistfully. <I could’ve been an Espeon and trashed these little Eevees with a mere thought.>
<Yeah, well, I can ‘teach’ you psychic at some point, and no one will be able to complain about you telekinetically bouncing other Pokemon about,> I said. <In the meantime, how about trying out some of that dark power you’ve inherited. Faint attack Ray.>
Apple disappeared from view. When Cassie and Ray didn’t respond, I called, “What, we’re still battling, right?”
“It’s rude to attack when a Pokemon’s evolving,” Tali said.
Liam snorted. “Their Eevees know the attack, Wish. They’ve been recovering.” Wow, Liam was sharing useful information with me. Must be some kind of record. “Sticky, transform into Umbreon.”
“Oh, no problem, Liam. I’ll deal with the opponent while your Pokemon takes its jolly old time to transform.”
Apple appeared behind Ray and Cassie, who were standing side by side, perhaps trying to glare Apple and Sticky into fainting. Apple closed in—
And missed? Faint attack never missed.
“Sticky, move half a meter to your left,” Liam ordered to the half-transformed Ditto. “Iron tail.”
Sticky moved as commanded and suddenly, Ray erupted from the ground Sticky had just been standing on. Barely transformed, Sticky swirled her tail around and struck Ray across his belly.
“It was a double team illusion,” Liam explained. “Cassie and Ray dug underground, but most of the battlefield is too dense for Dig to break through the surface. They can only come up where—”
“The surface of the field is cracked. I’m not a moron—”
<Ahhh! Uh, Anita. I’m in a hole.>
<Then get out! You know Dig.>
I felt a jolt as Apple was tossed out of the hole. She landed beside the hole on her back, and rolled over just before Cassie landed leapt atop of her. However, instead of pursuing Apple head on as I expected, Cassie jumped over Apple and sped her way to the center of the battlefield.
Though I thought Ray was at least a bit hurt from Sticky’s attack, he also got right up and next to Cassie.
“What are they doing?” Irritably, I said, “If you’d open up your mind we could discuss this faster.”
Liam ignored my comment. I put up a barrier to prevent Dustin and Tali from listening in. “They’ve finished assessing our battle skills and have concluded the optimum way to defeat us is to knock our Pokemon out with a single blow—Eevees have less stamina than Umbreons.”
Liam interrupted, “Order Sticky and Apple into the hole psychically.” I ordered Apple, and told her to tell Sticky. I couldn’t seem to connect with Sticty while she was an Umbreon—apparently, she didn’t seem to know how to open up her mind while transformed into a dark Pokemon. Liam continued, “One of the Eevees will use helping hand to boost the other’s power. The other Eevee—probably Ray, judging from the higher variety of attacks he’s used—will attack with last resort.”
“What last resort?”
“The attack last resort. There’s a high probability that Dustin and Tali will utilize double team to confuse our Pokemon. With Sticky and Apple underground, there are only two directions from which Ray can attack.”
On the battlefield, several pairs of Eevees did indeed appear.
“But if Sticky and Apple are underground, that means the attack will for sure hit.”
“Sticky is certainly capable of taking hits,” Liam said haughtily. “Did I make the incorrect assumption Apple is as well?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Order #25 for Marcus Ingblot. I peeled the sticker off of the wrapper and it stuck to my fingers. I rolled my fingers until the adhesive on the sticker made the ink forming my name unreadable. I wiped my hand on the underside of my armchair and unwrapped my cheeseburger, letting the thick meaty smell waft over the fancy keyboard in front of me. The room usually smelled sterile—this was more pleasant.
I leaned back in my swiveling chair and glanced at the giant screen above the keyboard. The screen was showing its “normal” display, which meant it flickered through a series of images including a map of Acceber, a list of people and Pokemon, and a bunch of statistics I couldn’t begin to guess the meaning of.
You’d think if Team Glop’emm could afford this fancy-shmancy tracking computer, us lackeys who did the real work would be paid better. I’d been working for Team Glop’emm since my mother kicked me out of the house and then kicked the bucket, leaving her life savings to a charity for homeless children. If I could talk to the dead, I’d ask her why she didn’t leave her life savings to a charity for her homeless son.
So I was forced to live by the measly wage provided to all Team Glop’emm lackeys. Well, I was better off than some lackeys. I knew people in high places. People who paid me something a little more than the typical wage for sitting by this lousy computer and frying the hard drive if something funky came up on the screen—
The computer beeped loudly. Something funky came up on the screen. A funky green dot.
Guess I had a hard drive to fry.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Liam was willing to let Sticky or Apple just take a hit from a ridiculously powerful attack. Well, that wouldn’t happen on my watch.
<Apple, Dustin and Tali don’t know you can use dig so this’ll only work once. Dig a hole from the center of theirs, and curve around to dig just below their hole, close enough to their hole that it’ll collapse when an Eevee comes rampaging through to attack you,> I ordered Apple.
“So what’s the advantage of purposely trapping our Pokemon in a hole and allowing them to get hit?” I asked.
“While Dustin appears adept at using his borrowed psychic gift, and indeed has enough natural power to make his psychic prowess a true threat, in reality he has little experience. He’s only battled with this psychic gift against Tamara Lilac, and is unlikely to consider the repercussions of relying on telepathy when battling against two dark Pokemon.”
“So we’re cutting off the Eevees’ communication with their trainers. You could’ve just said that to begin with.”
The pairs of Eevees danced around the field. I supposed I could probably locate the real pair psychically, but it didn’t matter; we knew what was coming.
<Alright, Apple. Liam snotty-pants here has a good point. Once the ground collapses beneath Ray, make sure you stay in physical contact with him. You should be able to outlast an Eevee—bite down, use iron tail, do whatever it takes to make your opponent faint while holding onto the little fur-ball.> I contemplated telling Sticky to do the same, but if the hole didn’t collapse for some reason, it would ensure that Ray ran into one of the Umbreons, and Liam did say Sticky was capable of taking the hit…
<And make sure to tell Sticky to stay in physical contact, too,> I said, settling into Apple’s mind as she waited. Just as Apple barked the orders to Sticky, Ray crashed through the ceiling of her hole, flailing. While Ray was cornered, Apple barraged with a series of iron tails.
Minutes later, she climbed out of the hole carrying an unconscious Ray by the scruff of his neck.
Styx looked at the field uneasily. Perhaps she was unsure if she should declare us the winners.
“Where’s Cassie?” Tali asked. Dustin muttered something about stupid, unreliable psychic powers. I didn’t say anything, but looked at Liam. He frowned, watching the hole Apple had climbed out of.
“Cassie!” Tali yelled. Ouch.
I put a finger in my ear in a futile attempt to stop the ringing.
<Geeze, tell the woman to pipe down,> Apple said, dropping Ray. <Sticky and Cassie are both unconscious down there.>
“Apple says both Sticky and Cassie are knocked out,” I related. It was another ten minutes before Apple tiredly dragged the other two Pokemon out of the hole and Styx declared Liam and me the winners.
Dustin wobbled over to us while Tali released Dustin’s Zangoose to carry Ray and Cassie to the Pokemon Center.
Before Dustin reached me and Liam, Jake came up behind us, putting an arm around each of our shoulders. “Exsighting battle, guys. Did you hear me cheering?”
Liam removed Jake’s arm robotically, not showing the display of disgust I was expecting. He stared blankly at Sticky for several moments before returning her to a PokeBall.
I ducked under Jake’s arm. “Didn’t hear anything. Actually, I forgot you were here.”
<Or, alternatively, our ears are still ringing from Tali’s yelling,> Apple said. <I don’t know how any of you can actually hear clearly after that.>
“Listen up, pipsqueaks,” Dustin said, pointing a crutch in our direction. “It’s been a great honor battling you, yadda yadda, you’ve inherited a great responsibility, yadda yadda, learned something about teamwork, yadda, and I now present you with the standard badge.”
Dustin’s Aipom climbed up over Dustin’s shoulder and around his extended crutch. When had Dustin let that guy out? The Aipom waved his tail at us, showing two shiny disks in his tail… palm. Abruptly, he whipped his tail around, sending the disks speeding our way.
I winced as a disk hit my shoulder and fell to the ground.
Liam, of course, caught his.
I bent over and picked up the badge. <It looks like a miniature CD. I bet if you play it, you’ll hear Tali’s horrible yelling,> Apple commented.
I turned to Liam smugly. “You know, we wouldn’t have these if I had listened to you and allowed Apple to take Ray’s hit. Then both of our Pokemon would’ve been knocked out.”
Jake peered over Liam’s shoulder excitedly. “You know Liam, you’re not really collecting badges. If you don’t need that one…”
Liam dropped the badge and crushed it with his foot. He spun around and walked silently out of the gym.
Jake’s eye twitched.
<Well, I call this a successful day,> Apple said. <You won a badge by one-upping Liam, I “evolved” into Umbreon, Liam can no longer suspect me being Mew, and Jake’s been left heartbroken.>
I nodded, allowing myself a small smile. <Only one thing could make it better. Making up with Erin.>
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Due to the nature of Celebi’s abilities, it is unknown whether there exist multiple Celebi or a single being. Professor Joshua Feldman speculates…
I yawned. I’d already browsed three books with similar opinion based speculation. I turned the page.
Typically, a green flash of light accompanies Celebi’s appearance or disappearance from one space-time realm to another—
Really? That’s what they were calling the present now? Space-time realm?
I closed the book and put it on the shelf. I looked at my watch.
Crap, almost two in the morning.
Guess time flies when you’re researching time traveling Pokemon. Anita would be done with her gym battle…
I felt a little guilty for missing it. But I was supposed to be mad at her. Ugh, why was it so difficult to stay mad at a friend? Every time I thought back on our conversation in the hospital room, somehow I ended up thinking her reactions were understandable. I shook my head. I’d talk to her tomorrow.
I got up, tucking the most promising book under my arm. I checked the book out on one of the self check out machines; the librarian was asleep at the front desk, drooling over a thick book.
Outside, I contemplated releasing Griffy and riding back to the Pokemon Center, but it was a nice summer night. Plus, the streets of Artemis Town were watched over by a team of Noctowls put together by the gym leader and his sister; it was safe to walk.
Celebi. I wondered why Styx was interested in the legendary Pokemon, if it even existed. Time traveling seemed a bit far-fetched to me, but then again, so did a girl with Pokemom powers.
I’d looked up dates of supposed Celebi-sightings online. There was actually a website that listed the dates and locations Celebi was seen, only accepting sightings with “photographic” evidence. The earliest photograph was of a blurry wing somewhere in Jhoto. It was hard to even see the wing—it was taken before the time of high quality, color photography. The latest photograph was of a green light over the ocean, taken less than a week ago in Cape Caution. In fact, we were in Cape Caution at the time.
Actually, three of the forty-three photographs were from Cape Caution. Maybe there was a fanatic up there or something.
Ah well, I couldn’t put much stock in the photographs; it was likely many of them were altered digitally.
I turned my PokeTech off of silent and noticed the screen read, Thirty-two new messages. Thirty of them were from Anita. Two were from Jake. Oy.
Just as I gathered the inner strength to listen to the first message, a pair of glowing purple eyes appeared in the short-cut ally I was about to take. Way to freak me out, Anita. Yes, I hope you heard that, but if you did, GET OUT OF MY HEAD.
“Geeze, Erin, I’m not even in your head and I heard that,” Anita said, stepping forward. She was wearing her pajamas—a large t-shirt and shorts covered in mini Eevee icons.
“Gave me a heart attack,” I muttered. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, let’s see. Someone here’s been missing for hours. I decided to track you down psychically before having to ask Dustin for help.”
It’s sad that it’s gotten to the point that I don’t question Anita’s abilities anymore. Somehow I’m not even surprised she can locate me psychically.
“Hey, where’s Apple?” I asked.
An Umbreon stepped out of the shadows. Its eyes were a raspberry red—there was the barest hint of violet in those eyes. “Apple evolved?”
Anita grinned. “Yup. You missed a pretty sweet battle. I got a badge.” Anita’s smile wavered. “Um, about earlier… I’m sorry. Liam and I have a kind of difficult time getting along, and we were under a lot of stress, and you don’t know the whole story, but at the time it seemed like keeping him knocked out was the only solution. I may have overreacted.”
“I’m sorry, too. I didn’t know the whole situation, and maybe shouldn’t have judged so quickly.”
We nodded to each other. Anita turned around and we continued down the ally in the direction she’d just come from, with Apple trotting lightly in front of us. I figured Apple would evolve soon; she clearly adores Anita.
“So what were you doing in the library?” Anita asked.
“I’ve got a new job. Styx hired me to research Celebi.”
Anita stumbled, caught herself, and turned to me, wide eyed. “Celebi? Why?”
I shrugged. “No clue.”
“Celebi, huh. Find anything cool?”
“Nope, not yet. Mostly just a bunch of garbage about recent sightings. There was even one right by us last week when we were in Cape Caution. Can you believe it?” Apple snickered and Anita chortled. “Am I missing something, guys?”
Anita waved a hand. “Nah, its just that Apple doesn’t believe in Celebi… kinda an inside joke type thing.”
We turned a corner, stepping out of the ally onto an empty road. Well, empty except for the Hoothoot in the trees. “So are you and Liam on okay terms?” I asked. “I’m surprised he battled with you.”
“I don’t know. He broke the badge Dustin gave him and stormed out of the gym. We were supposed to talk after the battle, but he disappeared for a while. I finally found him sulking in the Pokemon Center lobby, glaring at anything that breathed. I decided not to bother him. I think he’s waiting for Styx to heal that Ditto of his. When I left, he was still in the lobby, but at least the rest of the lobby’s empty now so he can’t scowl any poor trainer to death.”
We reached the stairs leading up to Artemis Town’s giant Pokemon Center.
Anita stopped. “I should probably warn you, Jake is planning on kidnapping you tomorrow morning so you can be his partner for his gym battle.”
I sighed. “Guess Griffy’ll have to sleep by the bed—”
A sudden green flash of light illuminated the Pokemon Center’s glass doors.
Anita and I looked at each other for a moment, then raced up the stairs.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Miss Teal, I’m in need of a new Forced Transformation Device.” The Master’s voice crackled through the walkie. As if I didn’t already have enough to do tonight.
Somehow the hard drive of the Master’s precious Mew-tracking computer had failed. The whole back of the computer was smoking by the time one of my underlings had the sense to unplug the damn thing. Obviously there was a short circuit somewhere, but it’d take a few hours to find the short and see the damage it caused.
I couldn’t tell the Master that though. I’d be fired in a heartbeat and probably killed in two.
“We still have the original prototype here, sir,” I said. “I can have Tal teleport that one to you or if you’re willing to wait a few days, I can whip up another one.”
If I thought the Master was capable of expressing the emotion of regret, I would’ve sworn I heard a sigh through the walkie-talkie’s static. Probably the wind. “Keep the prototype; we can’t lose all of that valuable information, but I would appreciate receiving a replacement device as soon as possible.”
“Of course, sir.” I hesitated. “And sir, about Sticky? I thought perhaps…”
“I’ll send Sticky back as soon as I hang up. Will that suffice?”
“Then goodnight. Master out.” I hooked the walkie to my belt.
I looked around the lab, at the humming computers and their empty chairs. I didn’t know where my two assistants had scampered off to, but I’d need to find them. I sighed, walked over to a glass display next to the row of computers, and pressed my thumb to the display’s DNA scanner. The glass retracted, and I pulled the Forced Transformation Device prototype out of the display, careful not to disrupt any of our other technologies under development. I pressed my thumb to the DNA scanner once more to close and lock the display.
As I exited the lab into the hall, I smelled traces of smoke lingering from the tracking computer accident. Abruptly, I decided some fresh air would do me good. I’d been in the lab basement for over three hours—the smoke was starting to tickle the back of my throat.
I took the elevator to the main level and wound my way through Team Glop’emm’s offices to the building’s back door, which exited into the Drape Town’s gym. I thought about how good it’d be to have Sticky back as I opened the gym door. Sticky was a quick learner—more than I could say about half of my assistants. Sticky’d be able to help me sort out this mess—
There was a young man standing in the doorway, clad in a tattered black shirt and jeans. My eyes darted from his wild, black hair to his green eyes.
“M—master?” I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen the Master’s face. This teenager had to be the Master though, it wasn’t just his eye or hair color—it was his stance, the way he casually moved himself to lean against the door, the determined glint in his eyes—
But I had just spoken with the Master. Why would he appear here? “Sir, I just talked to you on the walkie. How are you here?”
The young man stared at me.
He had to be a phony. I flipped the switch of the FTD prototype on, and before I could contemplate the repercussions of my actions, I zapped the man.
He was Master Mendol.
“Bu—but how are you here?” I unhooked the walkie from my belt and held it between us. “I just heard your voice through this—”
The Master plucked the walkie talkie from my hands, inspecting it in the light. “It seems, you’ve been deceived…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Apple evolved into Umbreon.
Yet another Pokemon to strike off the ever-shrinking list of potential Mews. Rita had proven that it was physically impossible for a transformed Pokemon to evolve.
Anita was not Mew. Apple was not Mew. Assuming the FTD worked before Splash destroyed it, Splash was not Mew. Supposing Erin’s testimony of Fiery’s evolution could be trusted, Fiery was not Mew.
If any of these evolutions had somehow been faked, if Mew had somehow transformed instead of evolving, surly Rita would have informed me. The tracking device would’ve picked up the signal.
She would have told me.
I fingered the walkie talkie. Maybe I should call her back now…
No, calling her would imply that I had forgotten to ask during the prior call. The Master is not allowed to forget. It would show weakness. I would call in the morning.
Still, it now seemed utterly unlikely that any of Anita’s Pokemon were Mew. Which left me where?
Could there be any truth in what Anita had told me? Was she actually “running errands” for the legendary Pokemon? Anita often exemplified a fierce loyalty to her friends and Pokemon; if she was truly loyal to Mew, she would not have given me that information. What did that signify?
Regardless, I’d need to get a full story out of her eventually.
For now, I needed to think, reevaluate the situation. What would be the best way to force Anita to tell the truth? Back her into a corner?
I paced the Pokemon Center lobby. It was empty and the lights were dimmed.
I heard the door behind the front desk to the operating rooms squeak open and looked up. Styx stood in the doorway, a PokeBall in hand. She yawned. “Sticky’s good to go,” she said, holding up Sticky’s PokeBall.
“I appreciate you staying up to heal her,” I said.
Styx laughed and tossed me the PokeBall. “Believe me, it wasn’t for your sake.” She turned around and waved her hand loftily at me as she exited back through the operating room doors. “Good luck.”
A peculiar woman, that one.
I moved my hand to pocket the PokeBall—
There was a just the tiniest change in the air, a light aroma of flowers. I spun around and found myself face to face with Celebi. I blinked in surprise.
The green fairy dropped a piece of paper in my hand. It read: I have a proposition for you. Open your mind if you’re interested.
I watched Celebi, contemplating my chance of success in destroying this legendary Pokemon and the consequences of either failure or success.
When Celebi did nothing but flutter above the counter for a full minute, I warily opened up my mind.
<Liam Mendol, would you like the opportunity of a lifetime? Would you like to travel back in time and save your cousin?>
Chapter 42: (Act 3) Time
“So the search of Seth Hasting’s mansion was a total waste of time. Didn’t find a scrap of evidence,” Sparky said, waving his hands on my computer screen. “Nai, are you even listening?”
I scrolled through the homeownership records, pondering what I was seeing.
“Sparky,” I said. “Professor Blubber recounted that Hastings moved to Cape Caution in 2005. He moved from Celadon City where he had been studying. Less than a year later, Hastings bought the mansion. Is this correct?”
“Yup. We have records from his professors at Celadon City.”
I scrolled up again. “According to these homeownership records, Hastings also bought a house in Winsk City in 2003. I have a vivid memory of him moving in, and I never remember him leaving for long periods of time to travel to Celadon City. In fact, he rarely left his house.”
I frowned. “Something’s not right.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
<Liam Mendol, would you like the opportunity of a lifetime? Would you like to travel back in time and save your cousin?>
“Yes,” I said. No hesitation, no angry refusal at receiving aid from a legendary Pokemon, and certainly no emotion.
My heart thudded loudly in my chest as Celebi smiled slowly. My gut suddenly twisted, my vision blurred, and I was acutely aware of every inch of my skin—the way my clothes rustled against my skin, the smoothness of Sticky’s Pokeball in my right hand still slightly outstretched, the cool breeze against my neck—
My vision cleared. I was standing on a beach, facing Slateport City with the ocean breeze against my back. Slateport’s old fountain stood a couple hundred meters in front of me, and beyond the fountain loomed the old shipyard.
I had to be in the past. In recent years, both the fountain and the shipyard had been torn down.
I noted Celebi was nowhere to be found.
Behind me, I heard muttering. “Stupid Liam… thinking Kyogre’s better and leaving… what a wussy-pants…”
I spun around.
A boy with tousled black hair marched across the shoreline, muttering to himself. He was wearing a green t-shirt several sizes to big for him and swim trunks covered in little Minuns. I remember I’d had a pair covered in Plusles.
When he heard his name, the boy stopped marching to face me. Time had blurred my memory. The Landon I remembered had pale skin, clean nails, and bright green eyes—a mirror image of myself. This boy was covered in sand, his cheeks burnt from the sun. The eyes were the same, though.
Behind Landon, the tide appeared to be receding. The ocean’s horizon rose, as if the world was tilting. A few places along the horizon the giant wave had already broken; I could tell just how close the tsunami was by how fast the white foam approached.
We had seconds, a minute at most.
I released my Honchkrow and grabbed Landon around the waist, pulling him with me onto the bird. Landon struggled in my arms, making it difficult for Honchkrow to take off. “Help! Get off of me you kidnapping piece of Houndoom poo—”
I caught Landon’s hands behind his back and pulled lightly, effectively quieting the boy. “See that wave? In less than a minute it’s going to hit the beach and then Slateport, killing thousands of people and Pokemon and leaving thousands more homeless. I’m saving your life.”
Honchkrow took off. I shielded Landon’s eyes from the sand kicked up by Honchkrow’s flapping wings. Landon started to squirm again. “Who are you? Let me down—they’re still on the beach! Liam and my uncle—”
“Will be fine,” I finished. Honchkrow’s flight faltered as he struggled to keep us airborne with Landon twisting around. I didn’t have time to deal with this.
I released Sticky, who transformed into a Noctowl while plummeting towards the sand. “Honchkrow, keep Landon out of the way,” I ordered, leaping off of Honchkrow. Sticky caught me, gliding out of a dive. Over my shoulder I called, “I’ll meet you above the harbor. Stay in the air.”
Honchkrow honked in understanding as I directed Sticky into the city.
Despite the chill in the air, the market was lively. It was strange to see everyone bustling about, oblivious to the inevitable devastation mere seconds away. I scanned the row of shops beyond the market, my eyes landing on a store called The Submerged Swamp.
Only once we’d landed did I realize I could’ve called out a warning to the people in the market. No changing that now. I shoved through the double doors of The Submerged Swamp not daring to check how far away the tsunami was.
I pushed past a woman examining silverware and ran down an aisle of cleaning supplies, searching over the short, cluttered shelves for that braid of black hair—
A short blonde girl wearing a white dress blocked my way as I turned the corner of the aisle. I didn’t recognize her until her hand turned pink and elongated to point out the window. “Liam, we leave now. Big wave here, crush, dead—”
“Out of my way, Sticky.” I stepped around the Ditto, spotting a staircase leading to the basement. A sharp memory flashed across my mind.
“Let me show you the vases we have in the basement,” I heard the store manager say.
That’s where they’d be.
I leapt down the steps two at the time. Halfway down, I paused to scan the room. “Mom?”
A woman turned to look at me. She had small wrinkles at the corners of her grey eyes. Her hair hung in a long dark braid down her back. She was shorter than I remembered.
Suddenly, I was flung downwards, my head spinning as my back hit a wall. For a moment, I thought I was back in the nightmares I had when I was younger about my grandfather’s Alakazam flinging me about psychically. Then I realized my clothes were wet.
I was sitting on a pile of broken ceramic bowls, a steady flow of water pouring over my legs from the staircase I’d just fallen down. The ceiling cracked. Something slimy wrapped around my ankle.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if I saved Landon only to die here? I nearly chuckled as I craned my head around to get one last look at my mother’s face before the ceiling caved in. The world seemed to darken as my eyes roamed the room, and before I could locate the dark braid, my consciousness slipped away, taking with it any chance I had of saving my mother.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
When I woke up shivering on a viscid surface, my first thought was that Anita was playing some absurdly immature prank on me.
My second thought was one of relief: I was no longer trapped in a nightmare where I’d failed to save my mother.
My third thought was an acknowledgement of my surroundings, accompanied by a wave of utter despair at the realization that I had not, in fact, been dreaming. I was sitting on a Tentecruel, floating in the middle of the ocean; there was no land in sight. Above me, my Honchkrow flew in circles with a small dark figure on his back, a shadow against the clear blue sky.
The sun beat down on my stinging face. I could tell from the way it hurt to grimace that I was sunburnt.
I shakily got to my feet. My clothes were damp and heavy, clinging to my skin as if I’d had a fever. “Sticky, what happened?” I asked the Tentecruel.
Sticky could only answer with bubbles. Of course, I already knew the answer. I’d felt a tickling around my ankle just before I fell unconscious. Sticky’s tentacle. Sticky had saved me before I drowned and left my mother and aunt to die. From the lack of land in sight, we were at least a day out from Slateport City, well into the Southern Sea if Sticky was heading back towards Acceber.
I needed to hear it. I put two fingers in my mouth and whistled. Honchkrow dove and neatly landed above Sticky’s red orbs next to me. Landon was sleeping on the Honchkrow’s back, clutching his feathers tightly. I climbed behind Landon, careful not to jostle him.
“Honchkrow, you’re going to have to carry both of us for a few minutes.” Honchkrow nodded and took off. He’d be able to transport both of us for forty-three minutes if my calculations of his endurance were correct.
Honchkrow hovered steadily over the water while Sticky reverted back into her amorphous body and then seamlessly transformed into a blonde human girl. A blonde girl who, unfortunately, didn’t know how to swim.
“Pick her up,” I said irritably as Sticky floundered. This would significantly lessen how much time Honchkrow could carry us. Honchkrow circled, gaining momentum, and then swooped, picking Sticky up in his talons.
“We have ten minutes before Honchkrow’s endurance fails. Start talking,” I said, peering over Honchkrow’s wings. Sticky’s wet, blonde hair was caught in Honchkrow’s talons, but she didn’t seem to notice. She clung to Honchkrow’s legs, watching the ocean with mild curiosity. When Honchkrow swooped to catch an air current, she giggled.
“Sorry. Never swam and flew as a person.” As Sticky turned to face me, her wet t-shirt expanded into a large windbreaker and her soaked jeans puffed into large sweatpants.
I frowned. Dittos could only transform by reverting to their original form first. Rita Teal had proven it through both experimentation and analysis of the brain. What Sticky was doing should be impossible.
“Right.” Sticky nodded at me. “We went into store. I see big wave. Rita sad if you die. I sad if you die. I turn into mighty Tentecruel and save you. Swim, swim, swim. Find Honchkrow and boy. When sun just leaves high point, you wake up.”
I had the sudden urge to go back. To see what had happened to the store, to my mother.
Unfortunately, I’d seen it before.
“Do you know who I was looking for in the store, Sticky?” I asked slowly. Patiently, even.
Sticky looked down. “Your mom. You yell for her.”
“That’s right. Do you know what she looked like?”
“Woman with braid.” Sticky turned towards me, but wouldn’t make eye contact. She pointed to her eyes, the color of a pine tree in the evening. Her eyes turned two shades darker, a green so dark it was almost black. “Her eyes this color.”
“So why didn’t you save her?” I hated this feeling in my chest. This helpless, worthless—Honchkrow swerved, preventing me from tumbling over his wing.
I clutched Honchkrow’s feathers and reminded myself that it was futile to return to Slateport City. My mother was dead.
“S-s-sorry. Couldn’t reach anyone but you with limbs. Building going to collapse. No time. Sorry. My fault. Other people dead, too. Had to choose.”
If she had the power to change her clothing, she could have elongated a tentacle. She had the power to save my mother. If I hadn’t been knocked out…
No, there was no purpose in angering. Regret and sadness were useless. My mother was dead. She’s been dead for seven years.
I couldn’t tell if the water on Sticky’s face was tears or just seawater.
My eyes stung. The wind, surely.
Honchkrow was flapping his wings much faster than he had been before picking up Sticky.
Focus. What to do now. Ideally, Celebi would appear now that I’d saved Landon, and she would take us back to my own time. Then again, ideally, there wouldn’t be a tsunami, Slateport City wouldn’t be in ruins, and my mother wouldn’t be an unrecognizable, bloated corpse.
If Sticky had been out of her Pokeball when Celebi appeared, she could have transformed into Celebi and taken us back in time again.
If I was stuck in this time, so be it. I’d need to find an isolated place to live with Landon, somewhere we could live peacefully with no chance of running into anyone we knew. Cianwood, Winsk City, or perhaps somewhere in Unova.
And what would happen if I did run into someone I knew? My uncle, my father, a classmate, myself? I never had in my time…
And thus logically, I never would. I frowned. We were several meters closer to the ocean than we’d been a minute ago.
Focus. I wasn’t focusing.
I suddenly wondered what Anita and Erin would do. Where would they go? It was laughable, considering anyone else in my situation. Anita would find another region to challenge gym leaders in, maybe put on a ridiculous disguise. No, Erin was the one with disguises. Erin would do anything from joining the circus to opening a poetry shop. She already had the poetry book she was so protective of…
Abruptly, my mind shuffled several pieces of information into place. I recalled the first page of Erin’s poetry book:
There once was a boy who will went,
to greatest unhappiness he was sent.
Never could it be,
if not for me,
the boy’s time would be ill spent.
So dear reader you see,
If you happen to be he,
When all rules are bent,
Jump through that vent—
And remember me, I plea!
I blinked. It was absurd. That poem was about me. If you happen to be he… remember me.
The book was Mysteries of Natures. The author was Seth Hastings. Professor Blubber had mentioned that. He’d also mentioned Hastings lived in Winsk City.
It was a start.
“Sticky, transform into a large flying Pokemon—Charizard or Salamance, perhaps.” I wasn’t sure what Pokemon Sticky had encountered. If I ever met Rita again in this lifetime, I’d make sure she introduced Team Glop’emm’s Dittos to every type of Pokemon Team Glop’emm had obtained.
“Haven’t but…” Sticky transformed. I noted she reverted back into a Ditto before transforming into a Dragonair. At some point, I’d have to ask about her transformation ability—sometime when I could think about her transformation without remembering my mother’s death.
I shook Landon lightly. “Huh? Where—ahhh!” I caught Landon around the waist, before he fell off of Honchkrow in surprise.
“We’re relocating. Don’t squirm.” I picked Landon up and jumped. Sticky neatly caught us on her long, sea-colored back before we hit the water, gliding upwards. I returned Honchkrow to his PokeBall, murmuring thanks. “Sticky, head east, to Acceber.”
It’d be three or four days before we reached Acceber, even if Honchkrow and Sticky alternated in carrying us. Finding a place to settle down for the night could be difficult.
Landon turned around, alarmed. “We have to go back! Liam and Uncle Velkan—and I want mom.”
I grabbed Landon by the back of his shirt to keep him from sliding off of the Dragonair. Picking him up in the air, I turned him around and sat him back on Sticky now facing me. “Liam and Velkan are fine. Your mother is dead.”
“No, she’s not!” Landon punched at my legs. “How would you know? You’re not like grandpa’s Tal or those freaky psychic gym leaders. You can’t see anywhere so you don’t know.”
“And you’re an evil kidnapper even if you didn’t try to give me candy. I should’ve never come with you. My aunt always told me and Liam to—”
“Run away screaming,” I finished with Landon.
The boy’s eyebrows furrowed. “You kind of look like me.”
“And you know what to do if you find a kidnapper. Who… who are you?”
“I’m Liam, from the future.”
Landon’s eyes widened. “No. You can’t be. You… you’re way too cool-guy-ish to be Liam. Liam always runs back crying to Aunt Sue when something bad happens.”
“Like when you ate my goldfish.”
“I did not eat your goldfish. Eliza dared me to put it in my mouth. If you hadn’t screamed when you saw the tail sticking out of my mouth, then I wouldn’t have accidently crunched it with my teeth. I bought you a new one anyway.”
“I remember. You asked Uncle Don what you could do to earn money for a goldfish. He had you take out the trash for a week. The garbage bin was bigger than you were—I laughed when you fell in that one time.”
“I got the fish though,” Landon said.
“I named it Kyogre.”
Landon looked over the sea. “You… you’re really Liam.”
“And we’re not going home.”
“Slateport City’s in ruins.” I wouldn’t tell him there were several survivors who would get the city back up and running within the year. No reason to keep him hopeful of returning.
“And my mom… she’s…”
“Your mother and Aunt Sue are dead,” I said. It was strange watching Landon. When my father told me they were dead, I remember crying for weeks. It took just one look out our window at the water damage or one glimpse of my father’s tears to start the waterworks.
Landon’s face, however, was dry. His eyes were hard, determined even. “Where are you taking me?” he asked.
“Acceber, where I live now, where we should be able to find someone who can help us.”
“We need help?”
I looked at Landon sharply. For a scrawny four-year old he was perceptive. Perhaps more so than I’d been at his age.
“I’d like to return with you to my own time,” I said. “However, I don’t know if that’s possible. Celebi allowed me to come back in time to save you, but hasn’t appeared to return us. Perhaps Celebi has something more in store for us, or perhaps I’m to live in this time period from now on. I don’t know. We’re going to Acceber to find a professor who will hopefully provide us with answers.”
“How do you know that professor guy knows anything at all?”
“Sounds like you don’t know too much,” Landon said stiffly. He turned around to face forward, balancing his body so he wouldn’t fall when he moved his leg from one side of the Dragonair to the other. “Guess you are still Liam.”
I nearly smiled.
We managed to find an island to sleep on the first two nights of travel, but the third night Sticky and Honchkrow were forced to carry us through the night. As the sun was rising the next morning, we finally spotted a cargo ship trudging its way towards Artemis Town. The captain was kind enough to let us sleep on the deck… after we scrubbed it.
That evening, Landon and I stretched out and relaxed on the highest deck while the crew provided food for all of the ship’s Pokemon below the deck, Sticky and Honchkrow included. “My arms and knees hurt,” Landon complained, lying down beside me.
I put my hands behind my head, watching the cloudless sky. “You’ll get over it. Your future surely contains far worse suffering.” I was just glad to not be feeling seasick.
“I liked you better when you weren’t such a pesim-pesi…err…”
“That’s what I meant! And per-perfectionist. My Liam was happier.”
“My Landon was brainle—oops, sorry, you are the Landon I knew.” I still marveled at the idea.
Landon turned his head and stuck out his tongue. When he rolled over onto his stomach, he spotted the six PokeBalls on my belt. He jumped to his knees so quickly that I was surprised the momentum didn’t flip him onto his back. “You have more Pokemon? I thought it was just Ditto and the bird! What do you have? How’d you catch them? Are they evolved? I wanna hear.”
And so for several hours I recounted to Landon how I raised Notal into a Mightyena before I even stepped foot in Acceber, how my Umbreon named herself Bree, and how I found my Spiritomb in the local mall’s toilet bowl. Questions led to more questions, and in the following days I found myself telling Landon about my journey through Acceber to destroy Mew, my father’s ascension through Team Glop’emm, and my current status as gym leader of Drape Town.
Landon looked at me with eyes full of admiration, and I wondered what all my wanderings and plots meant now that Landon stood before me, alive.
We arrived in Acceber somewhere above Apoosh forest after sunset on our sixth day of travel. I had Sticky fly us beyond the forest, past Drape Town and over the Nutshell River to the base of Hail Mountain to camp out for the night. Harvey Darcleye, the Master of Team Glop’emm in this time, had put much effort into setting up hidden bases in Apoosh forest and niches of Drape Town. Though I knew where each base was located and was very capable of avoiding every one, it was likely that the surrounding area was monitored. Were a lone teenager and a four-year-old boy to be spotted, Team Glop’emm would not hesitate to attempt a Pokemon robbery.
If I ever caught grunts that didn’t attempt that type of robbery, I’d permanently dismiss them from fieldwork.
The campsite I chose was a clearing in the midst of a large cluster of apple trees. As our food supply was running low, we ate apples for dinner. I had a new shrinkable set of pans Anita had bought me as a “sorry for dumping your stuff in the ocean” gift while we were shopping in Artemis Town. Sticky transformed into a Charmander and we had baked apples for dessert.
I watched Landon eat his second apple as we sat around Sticky, waiting for the baked apples to cook. “What?” he asked between bites. An apple peel fleck stuck to his nose when he took another bite.
Landon took another bite of the apple, looked away, and then glanced at me again. His green eyes contrasted sharply with the red apple. “What? Why are you staring?”
“For ten years, you were dead to me.” I reached out and brushed the apple fleck Landon’s nose. Landon scrunched his nose in distaste. “And now, despite our age difference, despite everything that’s happened to us, I still feel we’re… connected. It’s just strange. Strange that you’re here and I can just talk to you.”
“Well, I just went to the playground with you last week. You could talk to me then, too.”
Yes, but for me that was ten years ago. Talking to anyone else, I would have smiled and shook my head. But not with Landon. “You’re awfully insightful for a four-year-old.”
“Well, even though you’re better at numbers and school stuff, grandpa always called me the ‘emotionally smart one.’ Cuz I’m good at emotions and stuff.”
The sweet smell of apples wafted through the air. “The apples are ready. Let’s have some.”
That night, I slept easier than I ever had since the day I discovered Landon had died.
I felt oddly fulfilled when I woke up the next morning, though I didn’t remember my dreams. The sun hadn’t risen, but that was typical. I rarely woke up after six.
I carefully climbed out of my sleeping bag, careful not to budge Landon, who had curled up next to me.
“Honch.” Honchkrow was perched overhead, watching over our campsite.
I nodded to the bird. “Thank you for watching through the night. You can go find breakfast. Find Landon something, too.” As Honchkrow flapped away, I pulled out two PokeBalls. It’d been too long. There were twin flashes of red.
Notal, my Mightyena, and Bree, my Umbreon, appeared.
“Notal, protect Landon. Bree and I are going to train.” Notal’s nose flared. She growled challengingly.
“Yes, this is actually Landon. Celebi’s brought us back in time, and if you want the details, ask Honchkrow when he brings back breakfast.” Notal growled again. Beside her, Bree rolled her red eyes, turned tail, and walked away from camp. “Don’t give me that,” I said to the Notal. “A few weeks in your PokeBall hasn’t killed you. When you chose to come with me instead of staying in Drape Town, I warned you that we’d have to be careful. If someone were to recognize you or any of the others as my Pokemon, I would have been identified. Even Anita would realize I was Drape Town’s gym leader if she noticed that all of my Pokemon were dark-typed. And if just one person found me… Acceber’s gym leaders and gym challengers would impede my ability to track Mew.”
Notal begrudgingly sad down next to Landon.
I turned and followed Bree past the apple trees.
When we a quarter of a mile away, far enough away to avoid waking Landon, I stopped walking. Bree turned around, her rings glittering gold in the dark, illuminating the nearby brush.
In a flash, she disappeared in a Faint Attack.
I tensed my legs and turned thirty degrees to my left. As Bree hit me, I crouched, rolled backwards onto my back, and inflicted a two-legged kick to Bree’s stomach, sending her flying through the air into the brush. The momentum of Bree’s attack kept me rolling in a backwards summersault. I landed with the tips of my shoes buried in the soft soil, my chest held aloft from the ground by my arms, angled in preparation for Bree’s next attack.
Bree didn’t disappoint. I had a second to prepare for her quick attack.
Using my arms and legs to push off the ground, I jumped over her, but Bree changed tactics mid-attack. She gazed at me with red, hypnotic eyes.
I only registered her Confuse Ray attack for a moment.
Landon pulled on my sleeve. My clothes were dripping wet. “Liam, Liam, look! They’re dying Liam.”
I looked. My mother and aunt lied on the damp ground, their faces pale and hair wet.
“Do something, Liam!” But I could only watch as my mother’s body deflated like an air mattress. Her mouth moved but I couldn’t hear the words. “Liam, you’re useless!” Landon cried. He punched my shins over and over—
Bree knocked me over. When she bared her teeth, I knew she was going in for a Bite attack. I thrust my left arm in front of me. Bree took the bait and snapped at my arm. I rolled, intending to punch her with my right fist—
Anita sat on a stool, her eyes glowing purple. She leaned forward and smirked at me, her hands gripping the top of the stool. “Of course, I’ll tell you everything about Mew, Liam. I have nothing to hide.”
“I’m listening,” I said.
Anita’s grin grew wider. “You’re a smart boy. I thought you’d have figured it out by now.” Something wrapped around my ankle. Sticky’s tentacle, I thought, but when I looked down, it was Mew’s tail. I looked to see where the tail led—
Bree sat beside me, looking at the sky. The sun was already rising. Damn Confuse Ray.
I rubbed my head and got to my feet. “I’m out of shape. Need a better sparring partner than Anita, I imagine.”
“Umbre,” Bree agreed. We walked back to camp in silence.
As we neared the cluster of apple trees, I heard Landon yell, “Buster, use Ember!”
Bree and I broke into a run. Bree, of course, reached the clearing before me. I knew Landon’s actions couldn’t be too deplorable because she simply stood by an apple tree, unmoving.
I reached the clearing.
Landon’s Hondour was battling Notal. Notal easily dodged Buster’s fire and closed in, biting down on Buster’s leg. Notal leapt away as Buster spurted flames wildly.
Buster stumbled forward and swayed unsteadily. This was over. Notal had a nasty Poison Fang.
“Buster!” Landon yelled as the Houndour collapsed. He ran to his Pokemon.
I returned Notal and Bree to their PokeBalls. “Landon, return Buster.”
“He’s hurt! I need a potion.”
“No, he needs an antidote. I don’t have one and leaving a poisoned Pokemon out of its PokeBall only increases the rate of affliction,” I said. I frowned. “Why were you battling Notal?”
Landon was bent over Buster, cradling his head. He patted his pocket. “I… I don’t know where Buster’s PokeBall…”
I spotted a PokeBall in the grass where Landon had been standing. I swiftly crossed the clearing, picked up the PokeBall, and returned Buster.
“What were you doing?”
“I recognized Notal. She used to sit like that by you whenever Tal was around. Buster used to always beat her so I thought we’d battle and it’d be close since she’s older…”
“That was incredibly unintelligent. We’re low on food and the closest Pokemon Center is over fifty miles away. Notal’s had ten years to improve; Buster didn’t stand a chance.”
Landon’s face flushed. “Well Notal didn’t have to attack so hard!”
“She didn’t.” I pulled out Sticky’s PokeBall and released the Ditto. “I need to talk to you,” I said to Sticky. I glanced at Landon. He looked pitiful, still sitting on the ground with his fists clenched and staring at his feet determinedly. “Landon, gather some apples for later.”
Landon complied, muttering to himself while he got up. When I turned back to Sticky, she was already transformed into a blonde girl. “First of all, Sticky, can you transform into Scarmory or Charizard?”
“No. Never seen. Why?”
“We need to reach the top of Hail Mountain. Hail Mountain is notorious for its hail and snow storms. It will be difficult to fly through this weather on a typical flying Pokemon—Charizard or Scarmory are the best options.”
“Dragonair change weather. No hail,” Sticky replied.
“The cold will still be harmful to you. In addition, several ice Pokemon live within the caves and forests spread over the mountain. If you were to be hit by a single Ice Beam, you’d probably faint.”
Sticky tugged at her ponytail. “Will have to do.”
“I had a thought. Before, over the sea, you were able to change your clothing without morphing back into a Ditto,” I said. You could have changed the length of your tentacles to save my mother. I looked past Sticky’s shoulder, unwilling to meet her eyes.
“Yes. Small clothing change easy. Know material. Rita teach me properties.”
“So theoretically, could you change into a whole different Pokemon without transforming back into a Ditto?”
“No, don’t know properties. Have to rely on transform memory.” She had to be referring to the memory stored in a Ditto’s brain, replacing the area of the brain typically devoted to evolution. The complete memory of all encountered Pokemon would only exist when she was a Ditto.
I nodded. “And Rita tells me that you created that body for yourself. How?”
“Imagine. Combine transform memory.”
“Then can you imagine a Pokemon with different typing? For instance, a Dragonair that’s a partial fire type and thus resistant to ice?”
“Never try. When transformed, don’t know... properties.”
“Humans have different properties, though, and you were able to pick and choose which properties you wanted to have in this form.”
“Human one species. Pokemon several.”
I sighed. Given more time and Rita’s equipment, perhaps I could come up with a series of experiments to test exactly what Sticky was capable of. However, under these circumstances, it was most important to meet with Seth Hastings. If Sticky proved unable to take us all the way to the top of Hail Mountain, I had my own Pokemon I could rely on.
“Alright, Sticky, transform into Dragonair. We’re leaving.” I turned to find Landon, but Sticky sidestepped in front of me.
“Mr. Master, we go home soon, right? I miss Rita. Want to help.”
“You are helping, Sticky. I don’t know about seeing Rita, though. We could be stuck in this time.” I moved past the girl, scanning the apple trees. Landon was in the largest tree, closest to Hail Mountain’s steepening slope.
What would happen if I contacted the Rita of this time? She didn’t know my father yet. In fact, she might not even be working for Team Glop’emm. It was sometime this year that she would join. Until I understood exactly how the time stream worked, exactly how my actions would influence the future, perhaps it was best to have as little contact as possible with people from this time.
“Landon, ready to go?” I called as I reached the large apple tree. Landon, leapt out of the tree, landing beside me. He held four apples in his arms and gathered up the few he’d plucked from high branches and dropped to the ground. He didn’t look at me.
We walked back to our camp area and packed everything into my bag in silence. When Honchkrow cawed overhead, I returned him to his PokeBall.
“Landon, I apologize. I was a little harsh before,” I finally said. “We should reach Winsk City on top of Hail Mountain before dark tonight, and we can take Buster to the Pokemon Center.” I unclipped Buster’s PokeBall from my belt and offered it to Landon.
He took the PokeBall and pocketed it. We climbed atop Sticky and took off.
Two hours later, the air was much colder and it was more difficult to breathe. Though the morning had begun sunny and cloudless, Sticky had created thick overhead clouds in an attempt to keep some of the warmth in the atmosphere. It wasn’t having much of an effect. I’d had to unshrink the sleeping bags and wrapped them around Landon and me to stay warm.
Sticky pushed through the thin, cold air with more endurance than I’d credited her with.
By mid-afternoon, we were flying past cliffs made entirely of ice. Scaling Hail Mountain was one of the most challenging climbs in the world and by far the most challenging in Acceber. Nai Shivicle, the gym leader of Winsk City, rarely received gym challenges simply because it was so difficult to reach the top of the mountain.
When we took a brief break on a ledge made entirely of ice, Landon huddled in my large green sleeping bag and asked, “When we meet the Hastings man, you’re not going to leave me, are you?”
Sticky munched on a few apples I tossed to her. “Where else would I go?”
Landon just looked at me.
“No, I’m not going to leave you.”
“What if a big monster Pokemon, like Kyogre, takes you away?”
“Kyogre can’t climb mountains.”
“Fine. Articuno or Lugia.”
I bent down so I could see Landon eye to eye. Is cheeks were rosy from the cold. “Landon, if anything separates us, I will come find you.”
“Dragonair!” Sticky declared. Whether it was an agreement or an indication that she was done eating, I couldn’t say. We climbed back on her back and continued up the mountain.
With Sticky’s ability to hold the weather at bay, the biggest challenge we encountered was a group of wild Glalies trying to shoot Sticky down with Ice Beam. Sticky paralyzed them with a weak electric shock from her horn, allowing us to escape unscathed.
The Pokemon Center was closed for the evening when we reached Winsk City. This was one of the few towns, I reflected, in which the Pokemon Center could afford to close at all.
Landon held my arm tightly as we made our way to the nearest house; the ground was completely coated in ice. We knocked on the door and asked directions to Seth Hasting’s house. It was two more attempts before a man recognized the name as “the Professor who just moved here” and pointed us to the hut on the outskirts of the town.
The hut was small and slightly decrepit. A large portion of the gutter was hanging loosely, weighed down by the snow, and icicles hung from the roof around the hut’s windows. Smoke rose from the chimney slowly, as if it was an effort to keep the smoke rising.
I knocked on the door as Sticky transformed into her human form, this time wearing a thick fur coat.
A man wearing a maroon bathrobe and large, round bifocal glasses answered the door. He had dark bags under his eyes, and his eyes were bloodshot, as if he’d been crying.
“Come in, it’s cold out. And please, call me Bert.”
As we entered, Bert peered over my shoulder. “Ah, and this must be Landon.”
I stopped walking and stepped in front of Landon. “How do you—”
In front of me, by the living room hearth, fluttered Celebi. Landon gripped my arm tighter. “It’s Celebi,” he whispered.
I scanned the room. To my left there was a desk cluttered with papers. I spotted a paper that read, There once was a boy who will went. The walls of the room were made of wood. There were no paintings or photos hanging up. Across the room, there were two doors. One door was closed, but the other doorway I could see led to a kitchen. On my right was the living room, complete with a cushioned couch, thick carpet, and a fireplace.
“Why you here?” Sticky asked Celebi, stepping in front of Landon and me.
Celebi looked at me expectantly.
“Landon,” I said. “You need to let go of my arm so I can hear what Celebi wants to say.”
“You can control whether you can let psychics into your brain?” Landon asked. I frowned at him. This wasn’t the time.
Landon scowled and let go of my arm.
I opened my mind.
<I’m here to take you home, of course.>
Dread filled my stomach. I knew where this was leading. To be sure, I asked, “If you are just going to take us back to my time, why drag us all the way to Winsk City?”
<First of all, you’re the one who decided to come here. Second of all, who said there was an ‘us’ involved? I’m only taking you back to your own time. You’ve accomplished what you came back in time to accomplish, and Professor Hastings here has so kindly agreed to raise Landon in your stead.>
“No,” I said.
<You really don’t have an option. I’ll give you a few minutes to say your goodbyes.>
My head felt like it was spinning. Not again. I couldn’t lose Landon again. “Sticky, trans—”
<Do you really want to fight a Pokemon that can time travel? Use that logical brain of yours. Struggle, and I’ll pop you back to your own time now and disappear completely from your life. You won’t even be able to say goodbye. I’m trying to be nice by offering so don’t waste it.>
I turned to Hastings, angry. “You’ll take good care of him, you swear?”
The man flinched. “Y-yes. Of course.”
“Why did you agree to this?” I asked.
Bert smiled sadly. “I had a son once, too.”
Landon tugged at my sleeve. “What’s going on, Liam?”
Ignoring him, I turned to Sticky. Whatever happened in the future had already happened. Landon’s body had washed ashore four years from now. That meant either Landon would actually die, or…
“Sticky, you’re staying here. In four years you need to go back to Slateport City, imagine how Landon’s body would look if he had died the day of the Tsunami, transform into his corpse, and allow yourself to be found. You will be buried alive. After you can do as you please. I’m sure you can come up with some Pokemon that can dig out of a coffin. I’ll keep your PokeBall so there’s no possible way for anyone to catch you. If you find me in the future, I’ll return it to you.”
“I already knew,” Sticky said. A strange reply.
“Liam?” Landon tugged on my sleeve again.
“Already knew what, Sticky?”
“Knew this happen.” She stood a little taller, proudly. “I told me.”
I turned to Landon, putting my hands on his shoulders. “Landon, Celebi says she will only take me back to my time.”
“No! Stay here! You said you would! You said!” Landon pounded his fists on my chest. I let him.
“This man, Bert, has agreed to take care of you, okay?”
“Don’t go! Tell Celebi you’re not going!”
“Landon, remember how strong the tsunami was that destroyed Slateport City? The city didn’t have a choice in whether the tsunami hit it or not. This is the same way. I don’t have a choice. The legendary Pokemon will do what it wants regardless of my decision.” I hugged Landon. He was shaking.
“I hate them,” he whispered. “I hate legendaries.” He pulled away. “I hate you, too. Even if the stupid fairy says you have to go with her, can’t you at least try not to?”
There was a fluttering by my ear. I knew Celebi hovered just behind my shoulder. Gripping Landon’s shoulders tightly, I leaned over and pressed my lips to the soft mess of Landon’s hair. “Try not to get in too much trouble, and take care of Buster.”
My gut twisted and vision blurred.
Previously on An Apple a Day:
Styx, the normal gym leader's strange-powered girlfriend, tries and fails to help Anita break Liam's Forced Transformation Device. Anita achieves this herself, making Liam furious. Anita manages to convince Liam to battle the the normal-typed gym leader twins. In exchange, she will tell Liam everything she knows about the whereabouts and habits of Mew. During the gym battle, Anita manages to deceive everyone watching into believing Apple evolved into Umbreon, thus proving Apple's 'innocence' of being Mew.
Several miles away in Drape Town, the tracking device picked up Apple's transformation. However, a Team Glop'emm grunt, presumably paid off, broke the machine as soon as it emitted this information.
Both Jamie Arkle, assistant to the Master, and Seth Hastings, Mel's father who traveled back in time, were jailed and happen to share a cell. Jamie Arkle was thrown in jail as a suspect for leading Team Glop'emm. Seth Hastings was accused of child abuse and withholding information on the dark gym leader's location. They are being held in Zahavah City, home of the psychic gym leader, Tamara Lilac. Tamara is being partially held hostage by Liam's Spiritomb, who prevents her from telepathically showing anyone else Liam's face or doing anything that might endanger his trainer.
Meanwhile, after the gym battle, Celebi takes Liam back in time to rescue his cousin Landon from certain death. Celebi forces Liam to return to his own time without Landon; Landon is left under the care of Seth Hastings. Liam also leaves Rita Teal's Ditto, Sticky, back in time so Sticky may pretend to be a dead Landon washed ashore.
Anita and Erin see the green light emitted from the Artemis Town Pokemon Center from Liam time traveling.
The Master requests a new Forced Transformation Device from Rita Teal. However, as soon as she gets off the walkie-talkie with him, he appears on Team Glop'emm's doorstep...
Chapter 43: Break Away
“It seems, you’ve been deceived…”
The Master grabbed a long, black cloak hanging by the door and pulled it on as he walked down the hall. He pocketed my walkie. I hurried after him, my lab coat brushing against my ankles with each step. When I realized I was still holding the FTD prototype, I clipped it to my belt.
“Sir, if you weren’t on the other end of the walkie, who was?” I asked
“A very good question,” the Master answered. He slowed his pace, peering into offices as we walked past them. I fell in step beside him, examining the boy out of the corner of my eye.
He looked scrawny, as if he hadn’t eaten for a few weeks. He was taller than I remembered, having grown at least an inch since he left the base.
If he didn’t know who was on the other end of the walkie, we were in trouble. And Sticky… “Sir, do you know what’s happened to Sticky?”
I felt the blood drain out of my face. “One of my Dittos, sir.” Just how long ago did he lose the walkie-talkie? How many Team Glop’emm secrets had I shared with the man on the other side of the walkie? Dear Arceaus, I’d supplied him with the Forced Transformation Device.
And Sticky. Sticky was endangered because of the Master’s carelessness.
The Master shrugged and continued walking. I suddenly felt a rush of anger towards the boy walking in front of me. Why hadn’t he called as soon as the walkie had been lost? There were plenty of other means of communication. If anything happened to Sticky, there’d be hell to pay—
“Take me to the device,” the Master said.
“Of course,” I said stonily. The corner of the Master’s mouth twitched. Almost a smirk.
I could punch the brat.
I frowned as we turned a corner, feeling slightly guilty. Punch the brat. No, I couldn’t. Just the thought made me sick to my stomach, made me feel as low as that shithead Arkle. I pressed my thumb to the DNA scanner at the end of the hall, granting us elevator access.
Something was wrong, I thought as we rode to the lower basements. Something felt wrong. I glanced at the Master again. He’d put up his hood. I’d never felt the urge to act in such a violent manner, even while sitting through the hundreds of meetings in which Arkle constantly spouted nonsense.
We exited the elevator. Eyebrows of Team Glop’emm employees shot up as we passed. A few of the lab researchers we passed nodded to the Master or murmured, “Welcome back, sir.”
We stopped before the door where the device was located. I took a deep breath, knowing this would not go over well. “Sir, you should be informed that there has been an accident. Something in the device’s circuitry shorted, and the tracker is currently down. We’re working hard to fix—”
The Master waved a hand nonchalantly, turned heel, and walked back towards the elevator.
I narrowed my eyes. No, something was certainly not right. “Sir,” I said. “There’s an important matter I’d like to discuss with you. Can we go to your office?”
The boy nodded, his eyes an eerie green beneath his hood.
“You remember Janet, your secretary…” I chatted relentlessly as we returned the way we came, and rode the elevator up to the office floor. I watched the boy carefully for a reaction.
When we reached the Master’s office, I moved aside. I’d opened every other DNA scanning door. The cloaked boy didn’t immediately press his thumb to the scanner. Perhaps he’d still expected me to open the door for him.
I watched him expectantly.
He pressed his thumb to the scanner. The light glowed red. Access denied.
My suspicions were confirmed. This boy was not the Master. I swiped my thumb across the scanner, opened the door, and shoved the boy into the office.
The door swung shut behind us. “For the record, the Master’s never had a secretary,” I said. I walked around the Master’s desk and took a seat in his cushioned swivel chair, folding my hands atop the desk. “Now you’re going to tell me who the hell you really are.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I wearily pressed the “end call” button on the communication screen and leaned back in my office chair. So much for gaining assistance from Morty, Johto’s ghost gym leader. Espeon rubbed against my legs in an attempt to provide what little comfort she could.
<You do realize that I’m not even trying to get you out of my body,> I said. As usual, the Spiritomb didn’t respond.
Espeon looked at me sharply. She knew something was wrong; after all, every time Liam Mendol’s damned Spiritomb interfered with my body or psychic powers, Espeon felt my presence disappear. I was also fairly certain that the Spiritomb was filtering what telepathy I received from Espeon, preventing me from even listening to her questions.
If only she would tell one of the other gym leaders that something felt strange…
I yawned as I pulled out Acceber’s prison reports. Really, it was about time I hired someone else to deal with all this paperwork.
Frowning, I paged through the paperwork until I found Jamie Arkle’s file. <This case would be over if it weren’t for you,> I told the Spiritomb. <If you would allow me to contract a powerful ghost user, we could kick the ghost out of this psychopath’s body, interrogate the man, and get him permanently thrown into a higher security prison.>
Every time I had attempted to broach the subject of ghost Pokemon residing in human bodies, Spiritomb had prevented me from speaking. Morty was probably still wondering why I had contacted him in the first place.
I skimmed through the guards’ report for the day of Arkle’s activities. Ate meals as usual. Spewed profanity. Tried to stab another prisoner with a pencil during the recess period. It was noted that the other prisoner attacked first. At 7:05 pm, demanded and received his single phone call.
<Did any guards report anything unusual about Jamie Arkle’s phone call?> I asked Espeon.
She shook her head, but sent a series of psychic pulses at my computer, psychically navigating to open the video on my computer screen.
The scene began with Jamie Arkle entering an empty interrogation room, bare except the communication screen across from the door. A guard I knew by the name of Willis entered behind Arkle, softly closing the heavy door.
Espeon continued to psychically push keys on my computer keyboard and the screen divided. The left half of the screen continued to show Arkle in the interrogation room while the right half was a fuzzy grey, indicating Arkle had not yet made a phone call.
On the screen, as Arkle dialed a number, there was a loud wrapping on the door. “Yo, Will, get out here. We need backup getting that lunatic professor back into his cell.”
My eyes narrowed in on Willis as he left the room. Major protocol breach. All phone calls were supposed to be supervised—the cameras in the room were solely for security purposes. They were not regularly reviewed. I’d have to have a word with Willis and his supervisor…
<Isn’t Jamie Arkle’s cellmate a ‘lunatic professor’?> Espeon asked.
<Yes.> A feeling of misgiving settled in my stomach, something that had been occurring with less frequency since Mendol’s Spiritomb entered my life.
On the right half of the screen, a boy with brown eyes and ridiculous bleached hair hanging in his face appeared. He appeared to be in an upscale flat. Behind the boy was a double sized bed with an ornate headboard and plush comforter. There was a pretty blonde girl lying on the bed reading a magazine.
What would Arkle want with teenagers?
“Oh, it’s you,” the boy said. “What do you want?”
“Good to see you, Reece. I’ll be taking the favor you owe me, now,” Arkle replied.
“Dude, now’s really not a good time—” Reece, the boy, started.
“I don’t particularly care. The Gallade I gave you has been trained in hypnotism and mind control. You will teleport to Globert City and hypnotize as many poison Pokemon as possible to attack Cereal City. You will then teleport the poison Pokemon into Cereal City.”
Reece scratched his head. “By attack, do you mean like kill people?”
“I mean cause as much destruction as possible, and if people happen to die…”
I paused the video. Hell. I glanced at the clock at the computer clock. The call was made six hours ago, which meant it might already be too late. Despite the immense power it would use, I sent my mind out to Cereal City’s gym, searching for Kyle or Tounsil, his Vaporeon.
I located him in his loft above the gym. <Kyle, wake up. Look out the window.>
Drowsily, the gym leader rolled out of his bed, untangling himself from his sheets. “Tamara?” he asked. I didn’t answer; it was hard enough to maintain this connection. I could only sense a portion of what Kyle could because of how often I’d entered his mind in the past. Kyle shook his head and stumbled to the window.
I felt the cool air hit his face.
And then smelled the poisonous fumes.
Immediately, I returned to my body. “Espeon, we have to go.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Erin and I swung the Pokemon Center doors open in unison and stumbled into the building. Apple nearly tripped me as she bolted ahead.
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting to find, but certainly not Styx slapping Liam across the face. It was a loud slap, like the sound of someone belly-flopping into a pool. Liam’s cheek was cherry red. I was shocked Liam didn’t move out of the way. I’d seen him dodge hundreds of kicks and punches, and this had to have hurt.
“That’s for before, you *******,” Styx said.
Liam blinked. “You’re not Landon.”
“No ****.” Styx shook her head, then examined Liam’s belt, snatching the PokeBall clipped farthest on his right hip. “This is mine.” Styx took a step back and crossed her arms.
They watched each other for a moment. Styx’s eyes flicked to me, and a minute smile crept on to her face. “And this, Liam, is for helping me meet the love of my life.” She bent over and kissed Liam’s head.
Erin and I exchanged bewildered looks.
<Err, did I miss something?> Apple asked. <I’m pretty much an emotional-vibe expert being psychic and all, but I don’t know what to make of that.>
The doors to the emergency care area were flung open as Dustin kicked them open with his casted leg, using the crutches to create forward momentum. Somehow I didn’t think the doctors would be pleased with the innovative use of the cast as a battering ram.
Dustin immediately spotted Styx leaning intimately towards Liam.
<Anita, I’m getting a weird vibe from Styx. You’ve tried to read her mind before, right? Well, when I try to look at it now, its like she’s not even there—she feels like Liam feels.> I frowned and tried to sense Styx myself. Nothing. Apple was right.
Dustin leaned on his right crutch and pointed the left one at Liam. “Alright, kid, unless you want to become minced Mendol bits, you will explain to me exactly what is going on here.”
Liam’s expression was uncharacteristically lackluster. Something was wrong. Usually by this point he’d be goading Dustin with a smirk and some derisive language.
“Your girlfriend’s a Ditto,” Liam said, stepping back from Styx.
A childish comeback, I thought, and really random. “Liam, are you okay?” I asked as he walked towards us. “What happened?”
Liam strode past us through the Pokemon Center doors into the night. Erin, Apple, and I followed.
Liam had already started down the concrete stairs. “Liam, what happened?” I asked again. He didn’t stop.
“We’re your friends, Liam. We’re only trying to help,” Erin called.
Liam had reached the bottom of the stairs. He turned to face us, with eyes glowing like green miniature moons in the moonlight. Next to me, Apple’s yellow rings were just as bright.
“I have a family emergency I must attend to immediately,” Liam said.
“Alright, well we’ll come,” Erin offered. “Where is it?”
I didn’t say anything, hesitant. <Apple, something’s fishy. He made me swear earlier today to give him all information about Mew and now he’s just leaving?>
<You know, it’s very possible that he considers his family more important than destroying Mew,> Apple said. <That’s how most people think.>
<Most of Liam’s family’s dead,> I said, recalling our conversation in line for the Adventure Quest roller coaster.
Apple didn’t have a reply to that.
“You’re not coming.” Liam turned around and continued down the street. Erin hurried after him, and I followed, trying to track Liam with my eyes. In his dark shirt and muddy cache pants, Liam seemed to slip between shadows cast by the dim streetlights.
Erin broke into a run when she hit the bottom of the stairs, and Liam darted out of sight into an alley. I caught up with Erin when she stopped in front of the alley, squinting through the darkness. It was empty.
<Look up,> Apple called. I turned around. Apple still sat at the top of the stairs. I followed her gaze to the stars and spotted the faintest black silhouette of a large bird against the dark sky.
<Liam?> I asked Apple.
<Likely. It flew out near the alley you’re by.>
I tapped Erin on the shoulder and pointed. She swore, yanked out her PokeTech, and dialed Liam’s number. Of course, he didn’t answer.
“Damn, if I had a Pokemon that could carry us…” Erin muttered as we walked back to the Pokemon Center.
“He’ll be back,” I said. He would if he wanted the particulars about Mew.
“He will if I have anything to say about it,” Erin grumbled. “We could follow him; he was heading west. Maybe Dustin would lend us a bird—”
“All of Acceber’s west of here,” I reminded Erin. “We don’t know where he flew off to.”
We walked in silence up the Pokemon Center staircase. As I opened the Pokemon Center doors, Erin started, “Actually, Anita, there’s something I’ve wanted to—”
Dustin was speaking to Styx. “—time travel. And he knows that you’re a Ditto, Styx. Can’t you see how dangerous—” Dustin noticed Erin and I had reentered the Pokemon Center.
“What about time travel?” Erin asked at the same time I said, “Liam wasn’t joking about Styx being a Ditto?”
Dustin looked at us, opened his mouth then closed it. “Well, this is awkward,” he finally said.
<Even if Styx is a Ditto, that doesn’t explain how she fought you off psychically and how now she’s disappeared from my mind’s sight like she’s got a dark gift,> Apple said. <It’s like she can just imagine exactly what she wants to transform into and poof…>
<And none of that explains how she knew about the FTD.>
“I think you have some explaining to do,” I told Styx pointedly.
Styx rolled her eyes and threw her ponytail over her shoulder. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”
“Well, I for one, want to know why you kissed Liam,” Dustin said, turning towards Styx as if he’d been lightheartedly arguing with her the whole time Erin and I were outside the Pokemon Center. “Don’t think I didn’t see that through the windows on the emergency care doors—”
“Will you guys SHUT UP,” Erin yelled. She pointed at Dustin. “You need to stop trying to distract us from our questions. It won’t work. If you actually thought something went on with Styx and Liam you wouldn’t be talking about it in front of us.” Erin turned her death glare to Styx. She visibly flinched. “And you asked me to research Celebi so if you know something about time travel, I should be informed. More importantly, Liam just flew off somewhere because you did or said something to him. I don’t care if you’re a Ditto, a Magikarp, or a dead frog—as Liam’s friends, Anita and I deserve some answers.”
I grinned at Styx over Erin’s shoulder. Erin turned around to face me, wiping the smile right off my face. “And I don’t know what has gotten into you, Anita,” she said quietly. “I thought whatever issues between you and Liam were through, but you didn’t even try to stop him from leaving just now.”
“Erin, I…” I honestly didn’t know what to tell her at this point.
“Well that last one can be explained easily enough,” Styx said, pulling out a chair from a nearby table and sitting down. “See Erin, Anita’s Mew, and Liam intends to destroy Mew.”
<Wow, this is better than a soap opera,> Apple commented dryly. She pushed a chair under my legs, forcing me to sit before I decided to yank someone’s hair out.
“Anita, I had no idea—” Erin started.
“I’m not Mew,” I snapped.
“Then I’m not a Ditto,” Styx said sarcastically.
“Seriously, Liam tested me with that freakin’ FTD and nothing happened.”
“FTD?” Erin asked.
With one hand, Dustin pulled two more chairs around from the other side of the table, forming a circle. He sat down next to Styx, and Erin sat next to me. Apple lied down under my chair.
Erin held the edge of her seat intently, glancing from me to Styx.
“We should start from the beginning,” Styx muttered, looking at me expectantly. I nearly rolled my eyes—Styx knew more than me.
Styx continued watching me. Fine, whatever. I turned to Erin and said, “Liam’s been hunting Mew from the moment we met him at Peepin Pond. I had suspicions, but wasn’t totally sure until I saw him use this FTD—Forced Transformation Device—on Sticky, that Ditto his Professor person sent him.”
Erin frowned. “I fail to see how you can conclude he is pursuing Mew based on a piece of transformation technology. You’re paranoid—it could be totally unrelated.” Erin blinked. Geeze, she sounded just like Liam in encyclopedia mode. “Just so you know, I accept you for you are whether or not you are a legendary Poke—”
“I’m not Mew,” I growled. “He already tested me with the FTD—it was disguised as that syringe he told you was a disease cure or something. If he’s not chasing Mew, why do you think he would lie to you about the syringe?”
“Some non-disclosure rule, I don’t know,” Erin said, folding her arms. She looked at me thoughtfully. “As much as I’m tempted to, as a friend it really wouldn’t be fair of me to just blow off this ridiculousness… So, supposing I believe you about this forced-transformation device, why would Liam be hunting Mew?”
“He told me he was hunting Mew, Erin. A lot of Liam’s family was killed in the Slateport City tsunami, and Lily—the girl Liam knew in Vintage Village—her parents were killed by Mew. He has a thing against legendary Pokemon.”
“And you’re not Mew?”
“Then… why do you care?”
Styx smirked, looking at me like I was a mouse in a trap. Dustin was leaned forward, closing his eyes and resting his elbows on his cast.
“I’ve… kind of have had a connection to Mew for a while now. I sometimes run errands for her.” Beneath me Apple shifted, and I just knew she was hiding a smile. Well, it was kind of true, and that’s what I told Liam.
Styx raised her eyebrows doubtfully.
“Errands?” Erin asked.
“Well, I’ve done her favors—gave her my observations of a couple of cities, brought her medicine once—just small stuff. In exchange, she told me about the gift, and got me started training with telepathy.” Still all technically true.
“And you haven’t tried to catch it…her… yet?” Dustin asked, his close-eyed expression unchanging.
“With what, a PokeBall?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Erin asked.
“Would you have believed me? Do you even believe me now?”
Erin sighed and bent over to scratch Apple’s ears. “So you’re emotionally attached to Mew, and won’t give up its location to Liam, who’s trying to destroy Mew.”
“Yup, that about sums it up.”
“But where would Liam get the resources to…” Erin trailed off. I found it slightly annoying that I couldn’t read her mind when she was touching Apple’s fur; a side effect of Apple transforming I really hadn’t considered. “Yes, I believe you.”
I nodded, turning my attention to Styx. “Your turn. Why do you think I’m Mew, how do you know about the FTD, and are you actually a Ditto?”
Styx pointed a finger at me. Her arm extended disturbingly long, morphed into a tentacle, and reached for my head. I instinctively drew back, but Styx’s limb extended until it was touching my forehead. “Yes, I am a Ditto,” she said. “Until recently, I worked under Rita Teal, the Professor that Liam works with. I helped create the Forced Transformation Device.”
<Apple, how does she do that? Pokemon shouldn’t be able to transform straight from one form to the next, right?>
<I have no idea. It could explain why we can’t feel her mind though. If she can incorporate Liam’s dark gifted DNA into her own…>
“You work in a Pokemon Center inventing medical devices, are majoring in Linguistics and Biomechanical Engineering, and in your spare time assist whack-jobs with their Mew-destroying projects?”
“I didn’t know what the FTD would be used for when I was initially working on it. Later, I learned it was supposed to be used on you—Liam was convinced you were Mew. I know what its like to adjust to life as a transformed Pokemon, and I wasn’t going to let a little syringe destroy all the work you’ve put into building a life and relationships…” Styx leaned back and tugged on her ponytail. “A pity you’re not actually Mew. I’d have a tip or two for you on transformations.”
<Can you think of any way I can ask about transformation without sounding ridiculously suspicious?> I asked Apple.
Apple sighed in pleasure when Erin scratched a particularly sensitive spot on her ear. <Mmm, nope.>
“So what about the time travel thing?” Erin asked.
Styx shrugged. “Dustin just mentioned a new side project of mine—time travel. If Celebi can do it, theoretically we should be able to build a machine that can also manipulate time.”
I frowned. Styx’s dismissive attitude didn’t quite fit the situation. Then again, without the ability to use my gift on her, it was difficult to tell whether or not she was lying.
I caught Erin’s eye. She agreed with me.
“So why’d you slap Liam?” I asked. “And why did he have your PokeBall?”
Styx raised an eyebrow at me. “Suspicious, much? Don’t worry, I didn’t abuse your boyfriend.”
“You slapped him,” Erin pointed out.
“What, is he your boyfriend, too?” Styx asked, pulling Dustin’s hand into hers. “Liam figured out I was a Ditto, took my PokeBall—yes, I have a PokeBall—and taunted me. What would you have done?”
Well yeah, I probably would have tried to hit him.
“You’re four or five years older than us,” Erin said.
Styx smirked. “You sure about that? I’m a Ditto, remember?”
And once again, Styx was drawing our attention away from Liam. Maybe it wasn’t on purpose. Maybe. No, it probably was. Ugh, something just didn’t feel right…
I replayed the scene Erin and I’d walked into earlier, and felt Apple’s presence heighten. She watched with me. Styx slapped Liam. “You’re not Landon,” Liam had said.
<Who the hell’s Landon?> I asked.
<Probably family if he’s dealing with a family emergency,> Apple said.
<Maybe.> I shook my head. <Apple, he let Styx hit him. When was the last time anyone’s hand connected with Liam’s face?>
“…borrow a Noctowl to fly after him?” I heard the end of Erin’s question. She watched Dustin intently.
Dustin didn’t look interested in Erin’s question; in fact, with his head in the palm of his hand and his eyes shut, he looked like he was going to fall asleep. I yawned and checked my watch. 3:14 a.m. Definitely well past my bedtime.
“Erin, it’s late. Maybe we should just follow him tomorrow,” I said. “Or we can wait. He’ll be back eventually—”
Suddenly, Dustin jumped up, clutching his head in pain. “Shit, ****, ****. Tamara… ow.”
Styx quickly moved to support Dustin’s shoulder so he didn’t fall over. “What is it?”
“We have to go. According to Tamara, Cereal City’s under attack.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Even flying in the moonlight on this cool summer night was failing to effectively clear my mind of images of Landon. The Landon I’d abandoned in his own time. My four-year old cousin, Landon.
Upon my take-off, I’d pointed Honchkrow towards Winsk City, where Hastings, and assumedly Landon, had been residing ten years ago. In my initial attempt to find Landon, I’d overlooked the very obvious fact that it’d been ten years since I left Landon in Winsk City and it was likely he no longer resided there.
I quickly rectified my error, redirecting Honchkrow to Artemis Town’s library to look up the current residence of Professor Hastings.
My findings were disturbing. Beyond disturbing. Something in my stomach seethed, threatening to collapse.
Professor Hastings had recently been arrested for suspected child abuse.
Even when my mother died, both times she died, I didn’t feel—
I momentarily shut my eyes, trying to let the moonlight wash over me and absorb my thoughts. Now I was headed to Zahavah City, where Acceber’s central jail was located.
The wind rustled my clothes, still damp from the snow in Winsk City. I shivered.
“Landon, if anything separates us, I will come find you.”
Hours ago. I’d said that hours ago. My stomach churned again, this time because Honchkrow had begun to descend.
Zahavah City twinkled at night. Lights shimmered on skyscrapers, streetlights, and trees, all reflected off of the encompassing psychic screen that surrounded Zahavah City. The screen was used to detect and track every person who entered and exited the city.
Well, almost every person.
Honchkrow dipped through the barrier. We passed above the Zahavah City Gym and over a tree full of Murkrows, one of the few wild Pokemon that populated the streets of Zahavah City.
The gym was strategically placed less than half a mile from the Zahavah City jail. Tamara always had at least three psychic Pokemon, usually accompanied by Pokemon that worked for the police department, patrolling the area.
As I flew above the barbed wire fence, I scanned the area. No psychic Pokemon by the gym. Eight guards patrolling the prison ground’s perimeter, each accompanied by an Arcanine. A single Alakazam near the prison’s front gate.
Odd, where were the rest of Tamara’s Pokemon?
After my previous break-in to the gym, I’d expected an increase in security. This was rather… disappointing.
The actual building possessing the prisoner holding cells had only one entrance. Lights illuminated the path that led from the front gate to the single door.
Once I landed, the lights would take away my advantage of being able to see clearly at night.
For a moment, I contemplated landing at the front gate, flashing my gym leader ID and legally gaining access to the prison. That plan would certainly minimize damage to the ever-increasing rift between me and the other seven gym leaders. However, there would be protocols to follow and no doubt questions of my rather sudden appearance to answer. Tamara would be contacted. It could be several hours before I would be able to speak with Hastings.
I directed Honchkrow into a nosedive at the Arcanine nearest to the gate, but far enough away from the illuminated path that I would not be spotted immediately. I released Bree from her PokeBall as Honchkrow hit the Arcanine with a drill peck, and ordered a psychic before the Arcanine’s human partner, a hefty man with a beard, could utter a world.
“The key card?” I asked Bree.
The guard’s eyes bulged as a card fluttered from his pocket to my hand.
I spoke to my Umbreon softly as I returned Honchkrow to his PokeBall. “Bree, move the Arcanine’s body and walk with the guard until someone notices your unusual presence. This shouldn’t take long. When you’re attacked, react accordingly.” Bree nodded at me and forced the guard to walk awkwardly beside her.
I darted into the darkness towards the jail. I had between four and eight minutes until the Alakazam noticed the Arcanine or Bree’s control over the prison guard. I had approximately another six minutes to use as Bree fended off attackers.
Not far from the entrance, I strode into the lamplight and walked confidently towards the entrance. On the off chance another prison guard caught a glimpse of me from a distance, I would likely be taken for another guard.
Flashing the key card at the scanner on the door gained me access to the building. The first prison guard I encountered I incapacitated with a strike to the jaw. The second guard I encountered was already asleep at his post.
I systematically walked through the narrow prison halls on the first floor, where Hastings was likely being held for the time. Upper and lower levels were typically reserved for prisoners already found guilty of their crimes.
Most of the prisoners I passed, like the second guard, were asleep. The few wake ones paid me no mind, perhaps falsely assuming I was an inspector.
To my surprise, at the end of the third hall, I peered into a cell to find a very awake Jamie Arkle peering right back.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Master?”
An unfortunate turn of events I should have considered, I mused. From the security cameras I’d spotted along the walls, Tamara would certainly now know or further suspect my status within Team Glop’emm.
My former assistant looked more haggard than usual, with the dark dips beneath his eyes and his facial hair a centimeter longer than it was in our previous encounter.
My eyes darted to movement in the bed behind Arkle. Wild white hair, bifocals.
I blinked, surprised for the second time in a matter of seconds. Hastings.
“Where is Landon?”
Hastings sat up in his bed, looked at me, and began to giggle. His waist was thicker than it had been ten years ago and his skin was wizened.
“Didn’t you get the memo? Your cousin died years ago,” Arkle said, pressing his hands against the metal bars dividing us.
Continuing to gaze past Arkle, I pulled out Notal’s PokeBall and pressed the release button. There was a flash of red within the cell. “On the old man,” I ordered.
My Mightyena pounced on Hastings, sharply snapping his shoulder back onto the bed. She growled threateningly and snapped her jaws near his throat.
“This does not concern you, Jamie,” I said quietly. “Professor Hastings, you will tell me exactly what you have done to Landon and exactly where he is currently located, or my Mightyena will tear out your throat.”
“Ah, so you’ve finally deemed torture an acceptable means of gaining information.” Arkle sniffed. “My boy’s growing—”
“Shut up.” I didn’t have time to deal with this crap. “Hastings, start talking.”
The professor smiled dreamily. “She promised. She promised I could save my son, my son with hair the color of the sun just like my beautiful Abetzi. She promised I could save him if I raised the other boy. If I kept the other boy safe and quiet.”
‘She’ could only refer to Celebi.
“She brought me back six years, six years before my son died on August 9, 2009.” Once again, Hastings began laughing. Notal growled and pressed a paw against the professor’s throat. He wheezed and then continued, “I had six years to raise and keep the boy. Wrote a lot. He was like a son. I always kept him inside, just like she wanted. He never left. Never, never.” Hastings frowned. “He was a strange boy. Made me feel… I hit him when he was loud, when he whined. I never hit my son.”
I struggled to control my breathing. “Where is he?”
“Six years later it was August 9th again. I could save my son; she had granted me that opportunity. I would have, if… But no, the boy locked me in my room. Boarded up the windows. Said he wanted me to feel what it was like to be cooped up the whole day. Took my Pokemon, too. That ten-year-old boy lived that day. He went sledding and eating and playing while my son died again.” Hastings snickered. “When the boy let me out of my room two days later, I made sure he’d never escape again. He killed my son.”
“Where is Landon?”
“The boy was strange. Liked to bleed. I was going to take away his Pokemon, but they began attacking him. His Houndoom was vicious—biting and clawing and—”
“Spare me the gory details. What have you done with Landon now?” I focused on a rectangular stone in the wall beside Hastings’ head. I would not let my calm façade be destroyed, no matter how sick I felt. I would not allow Arkle to see any signs of weakness.
“Oh, but I haven’t gotten to the best part. I thought perhaps she’d left the boy to unlock some mystery of traveling through time—she’d promised after all—I’d save me son. I performed some experiments and found something was wrong with the boy. It wasn’t my fault I always wanted to hit him—I’m not a violent person, you see—”
“Unfortunately for you, Professor Hastings, I am. Notal.” I continued to stare at the stone as Notal bit down on the professor’s ear. Hastings shrieked, surely awakening the other prisoners and nearby guards. Blood spattered onto the stone. “Where is Landon now?”
“Stop! Stop—I don’t know where he is,” Hastings sobbed. “One day he was slumped in my living room, chained to the wall. The next day he disappeared. Ask Niami Shivicle—she knows—she thought he was you when he escaped.”
Loud footfalls were approaching quickly on my left. I returned Notal to her PokeBall for a moment and then released her outside the jail cell, by my side. Together we turned to our left and raced down the corridor, directly at the oncoming guards and Arcanines.
The two Arcanines leapt in front of the officers, clearly preparing to execute an Extreme Speed attack.
“Sucker punch,” I ordered. Notal rammed the first Arcanine before his attack could hit, and neatly jumped over the second Arcanine, knocking both officers to the ground as she landed. The second Arcanine continued forward, jumping at me with claws outstretched. I dove under the Pokemon, colliding into one of the guards and bruising my arm.
The guard I’d hit twisted around to grab and pin me. I rolled over and landed a solid kick in his gut before jumping to my feet.
Notal charged past me. I turned my head in time to see the second Arcanine was leaping at me again. Notal hit the oversized dog’s stomach midair, knocking the wind out of the Pokemon. Notal and I turned and fled.
Prisoners banged on the metal bars confining them as we ran past. Some begged to be released; others yelled profanities. We finally turned the last corner and reached the hall leading directly to the entrance. I stopped running. There were too many guards coming in. I snapped my head around. The two Arcanines that’d attacked us had recovered and were heading at us.
Tamara would be pissed at me after this.
“Notal, Strength.” Notal ducked her head and rammed through the stone wall, leaving a gaping hole in the wall to the outside. I released Honchkrow, grabbing a hold of his feathers with one hand and returning Notal to her PokeBall with the other.
As Honchkrow took off, I spotted Bree battling the Alakazam near the front gate. “Night Slash the Alakazam,” I said. Honchkrow nodded, quickly flying forward. I wrapped my arms around his neck and ducked down to minimize my air drag impedance.
As Honchkrow slashed a wing across the Alakazam’s back, I returned Bree to her PokeBall. The Alakazam was knocked out.
“Hey, kid! What in Arceaus’s name are you doing?” a man yelled behind me.
“Honchkrow, let’s go.” As we flew upwards, I heard several guards cursing behind us. I knew we were being tailed when we departed from Zahavah City. Two Pidgeots and a Swellow. Neither had great night vision.
Losing them was a simple matter of landing in a tree on the outskirts of Apoosh forest and lying low until the Pokemon had flown past, oblivious.
I yawned as I climbed back onto Honchkrow’s back, then shook my head. I couldn’t afford to be tired. I had to find Landon. Without Hastings’ input… Well, perhaps there was another way to locate Landon. Honchkrow turned his head around, giving me a questioning look.
“Drape Town. We’re going home.”
Previously on An Apple a Day:
Reece and Carly were rewarded for helping Jamie Arkle in Nelcorn City. Reece's reward was a Gallade and Carly's reward was to be in a Cereal City catwalk.
While reviewing security footage Tamara Lilac, the psychic gym leader of Zahavah City, discovers a plot created by Jamie Arkle and implemented by Reece.
After traveling back in time and rescuing his cousin, Landon, Liam is forced by Celebi to return to his own time. Liam is determined to find Landon and leaves Artemis Town. He goes to Zahavah City to interrogate Professor Hastings, the man Landon was left with, but is unable to gain any information. Liam decides to return to Drape Town, where he can utilize the resources of Team Glop'emm.
Meanwhile Erin, Dustin, Styx, and Anita have a nice long chat about what exactly Anita is up to. She claims to be "running errands" for Mew. It is discovered that Styx is a Ditto. Dustin receives a psychic call from Tamara- Cereal City is under attack.
Chapter 44: Fighting the Irr-ash-inal
“If this escapade of yours disrupts the New Blue catwalk planned for tomorrow that I’m starring in, I’ll throttle you till your brains pop out,” Carly threatened as we walked into Cereal City’s town square.
Rather, I walked. Carly did that thing where she sashayed her hips, making her miniskirt bounce teasingly. So impractical for this type of escapade, but that’s just how Carly was. In middle school, she wore a sundress on our class skiing trip.
“Reece!” Carly snapped her fingers. She’d stopped walking, standing in front of the Cereal City fountain with a hand on her hip. “Hurry up. I want to go home sometime tonight.”
I took just a moment longer to admire her silhouette in the streetlight—it was like one of those Met-I-Pod MP3 player commercials.
“Reece!” I sighed, maneuvering my arms so my bag fell to the ground. I tugged at the drawstring until the hundreds of PokeBalls within rolled out, spilling across the cement between Carly and me.
“Gallade, psychic,” I ordered. The stoic as **** psychic Pokemon flickered to my side. Suddenly, the whole fountain gleamed red as the PokeBalls’ release buttons were pressed.
“WHAT THE ****, REECE!” Carly screeched. “YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO WAIT UNTIL WE WERE FAR AWAY FROM THESE MONSTERS!”
I shrugged, fighting a snicker as I watched Carly’s tantrum. Sure, we were surrounded by the hundreds of poison Pokemon we’d captured in Globert Town, but they’d all been brainwashed by Gallade’s hypnosis. Like, super brainwashed. They wouldn’t attack Carly or me—just Cereal City and its inhabitants.
My snicker came out came out; I couldn’t help it when Carly tried to stomp her foot in anger, only to realize she’d stepped in a Grimer’s slime trail and her pretty black heel was stuck. “REECE, GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
<We must complete the next phase,> Gallade said.
Scrunching my nose at the disgusting smell accumulating in the area, I turned to the Pokemon. “What phase?”
The Weezing, Swalot, and two Trubbishes released closest to Gallade were fleeing away from the fountain faster than the other poison Pokemon. He gave off an aura nobody wanted to be anywhere near. Guess we had that in common.
<We are to break Mr. Arkle out of jail. He gave me the signal during your video session.>
“Alright, whatever.” Carly had taken off the slime-covered heel and was now using it to swat at a Koffing floating by her head. I smirked. With all the movement, the top of her bra peeked out from under her sleeveless top. Could the woman get any less classy?
“IDIOT, WILL YOU QUIT STARING AT MY BOOBS AND HELP ME ALREADY!” Carly pointed the heel in her hand at me.
“We’ve got to go get that Arkle guy out of jail, according to Gallade,” I said.
“WE? Are you kidding me! I’m not doing any more for that psycho—I’m the one who needs rescuing, not him! And do you see the damage he’s done to these shoes—”
I felt a light squeeze on my shoulder and turned my head just in time to see Gallade looming next to me. There was a faint popping noise, and suddenly Carly was no longer standing in front of me.
An alarm was blaring. Red lights blinked.
To my right, Gallade’s knees wobbled and he collapsed to the tiled floor. “What the hell’s going on?” I asked. “Where are we?”
<Tamara Lilac’s house. PokeBalls in kitchen safe, get them to get Arkle…> Gallade’s eyes closed.
The alarm was making my head hurt. Man, I was not cut out for this type of crap. Seriously, breaking into the psychic gym leader’s house. I’d be caught and then arrested. Hopefully, I wouldn’t be put in a cell with Arkle.
****, there weren’t any women in jail. And I sucked at talking to guys. Maybe there’d be a cute female guard—
<Even at a time like this, still thinking of how to get laid. You truly are a pitiful creature.>
Geeze, I thought he was knocked out. “Eff off. The only way you’re ever getting laid is if you bewitch the poor soul with your hypnotism—”
<The kitchen safe, Mr. Dracuta.>
“Do it yourself.”
<Too tired… can’t move or psychically feel…>
I returned Gallade to his PokeBall. If he was all out of psychic mojo from teleporting us halfway across the country, he’d be useless when security showed up, and I’d rather not hear his nagging in my head.
I scratched my shoulder, looking around. I was in a hallway with windows and one side and three doors on the other. To my right was an open doorway. Through it, I saw a refrigerator. The kitchen.
I paused a moment. Was this really worth it?
Well, the police were coming either way, and in Zahavah City, police were no joke—the city’s own psychic Pokemon army, pretty much. I’d only have a way out of this mess if I miraculously found the safe, opened the safe, and the PokeBalls within actually helped release Arkle and get out of here. Sighing, I released the Stunky that wouldn’t quit following me in Globert Town from his PokeBall, along with Tangela and Bagon.
“Stunky, cover the door. Bagon and Tangela, with me in the kitchen—”
A Kadabra flickered in front of me, psychically shoving me through the kitchen doorway. I hit the refrigerator door hard, slumping to the ground.
My vision got hazy for a moment, but I saw Stunky leap forward with outstretched claws and take down the Pokemon in one swipe. Useful little stinkball.
I must have blacked out because the next time I opened my eyes there were half a dozen knocked out psychic Pokemon on the kitchen floor. A cabinet had been moved in front of the single entrance, and Tangela’s vines whipped wildly about the room. Stunky stood growling under the kitchen table.
When I stood up, I realized I’d been leaning against my newly-evolved Shelgon.
Suddenly, three Ralts teleported into the room. Tangela’s vines immediately wrapped around all three psychic Pokemon, holding them still while Stunky slashed across the torsos of two of the Pokemon and Shelgon bit down on the third’s arm.
I heard arguing voices outside. The police, probably.
Aw, ****. I still had to find that safe.
I began shuffling through the cabinets nearest to me, letting pots and Tupperware clatter on the kitchen floor. “A little help, Tangela,” I said. Several of the wild vines wrapped around every drawer and cabinet door’s handle. There was a loud crash as the doors were ripped off their hinges and the kitchenware spilled out all over the place.
I scanned the empty cabinets and the crap all over the kitchen floor. No safe I could see.
Two Kirlia appeared. Tangela was unable to wrap his vines around the Pokemon before they put up psychic barriers. Stunky took down one of the Kirlia, slashing at its face until it blacked out. Tangela and Shelgon took down the other Kirlia, but not before Tangela was knocked out by a psychic.
I opened the oven, feeling the doom seep into my stomach. Without Tangela, the psychic Pokemon couldn’t be immediately subdued when they teleported into the kitchen. No safe in the oven.
Stunky had slashed down the picture frames on the walls. No secret compartments behind them. Damn it, if Gallade had waited thirty seconds for me to grab my bag off the ground before teleporting us, I’d have a few hyper potions up my sleeve. Green ass-wiping, headache-causing—
I yanked at the microwave door.
It wouldn’t budge.
You gotta be kidding me. The microwave?
Lucky for me, I now had a Pokemon with one of the hardest skins. “Shelgon, headbutt it.”
It took three more hits for the microwave door to splinter. The impact also broke two of the PokeBalls within the safe.
A Hypno and Magnemite materialized. Almost immediately, the alarm shut off.
<No way did the pipsqueak here break in on his own,> the Hypno said, projecting her thoughts to me even though she was clearly talking to the Magnemite. <We’re in Tamara Lilac’s ****hole. She’s set up some sort of barrier so even teleporting inside this place sucks up a ton of psychic energy.> The Hypno turned her gaze to me, questioning.
“Look, Gallade just brought me here to bust the Team Glop’emm Arkle dude out of jail. I just want out of here. Gallade thought you’d help, so help!”
There were three more flashes of red. A Togekiss, Porygon2, and Yanmega were released.
Hypno caught my eye. The room blurred. Flashes of memories of Arkle and Gallade surfaced for a moment, and then I was suddenly back in the messy kitchen. I stumbled backwards, tripping over a pot. Stunky jumped between me and the Hypno, growling.
<We will break out of the house. You will return all of us but Skampi—the Togekiss—and Yanmega to our PokeBalls. Then you will fly on Skampi to jail and release all of us to break Jamie Arkle out. You will also take the other PokeBalls in the safe with you. Understood?>
“Uh, sure. But how am I going to carry all of those PokeBalls? I’ve only got six clips.”
<If you can’t figure out how to transport a dozen PokeBalls while surrounded by hundreds of Tupperware pieces, you don’t deserve to make it out of here alive.>
“Err, Roger.” I collected the PokeBalls in a plastic piece I found near my feet and climbed onto the Togekiss’s back. “So why are you helping Arkle? Are you Team Glop’emm’s Pokemon?”
<Don’t confuse us with that filth. We belong to Jamie Arkle.>
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Flying in the moonlight was like cuddling with Fiery in front of a fan. My back tingled where the moonlight hit my fur and the wind chilled my neck pleasantly. It was exhilarating.
Which was more than I could say about watching the normal gym leaders plan the rescue of Cereal City from the backs of their puffed-up Pidgeots (Pidg-idiots, I’d call them) and Noctowls (Noct-fouls). The flying Pokemon were arguing about which of the trainers on their backs would be the first to fall victim to the poisonous fumes when they landed. The Pidgeot Anita and I were riding on was adamant Anita would be the first to go.
The bird Pokemon, however, weren’t half as incompetent as Dustin and Tali, who’d incidentally forgotten extra gas cloth for Anita and Erin. Tali gave hers to Erin as Tali planned on directing the moronic birds from above, leaving Anita to create a bubble-like barrier around her head before entering the city. The Pidgeot didn’t believe Anita was capable of this feat, thus his vote of confidence.
I peered over the Pidgeot’s wings at the city we’d been circling, only half listening to Tali’s orders of who was being assigned to what and Dustin’s arguments with her decisions.
From my sharply improved nocturnal vision, I could see the roads below speckled with hundreds, maybe thousands, of poison Pokemon. Purple fumes clouded the air in various alleys and the large water fountain in the center of the city gleamed a radioactive green. Paradise for a poison Pokemon. Long painful demise for the rest of us… unless of course, you were a steel Pokemon and didn’t give a metallic pooh one way or the other.
A shift in the wind bumped my attention back to Dustin and Tali
Dustin was complaining, “C’mon, Tali—”
“You’re in a cast,” Tali interrupted. “I swear on Arceaus if I see you lay a threatening pinky finger on an enemy poison Pokemon, I will see to it that you’re knocked unconscious and flown back to Artemis Town faster than you can say Extremespeed. Understand?”
Wow, point Tali. Dustin looked thoroughly subdued.
“Everyone understand the assignments?” Tali asked.
Well, I hadn’t been paying attention, but if I shifted so Anita’s hand wasn’t rubbing up against my leg I could take a peek into her mind—a very brief peek, that is. Due to the nasty-Celeibi-steals my-psychic-powers-to-time-travel part of my life, the pinnacle of my power at the moment was telepathy. Barrier creation and telekinesis remained elusive.
“So the best way to stop all the poison Pokemon would be to catch them. Do you expect me and Erin to what—break into the PokeMart or something to get that many PokeBalls?” Anita asked. Guess I didn’t need to peep into her mind to know what we’d be doing.
“The Artemis Town gym will refund you for any expenses,” Tali replied, deadpan.
“I can’t tell if she’s serious,” Anita whispered to me. She suddenly grabbed onto my fur as we plummeted to the ground.
Of course, the Pidgeot we were riding would have kindly forgotten to warn us.
As the Pidgeot dove, Anita pushed me forward slightly so we weren’t touching, enabling her to create a barrier air bubble around her head.
<Apple, what about you?> Probing her mind slightly, I found she had tried and failed to put a barrier around my head, having forgotten I was now a dark Pokemon.
<I’ll be able to breathe.> Pokemon had a higher tolerance to poison than humans. We didn’t always get poisoned after breathing poisonous fumes.
I took a moment to peek into Anita’s mind to see what the game plan was. We were on Pokemon cleanup with Erin and her gang. Dustin and Styx were on antidote distribution and medical help for humans and Pokemon. Tali would be directing the flying Pokemon in creating air-paths to disperse the fumes all over the city.
All scenarios considered, I decided we got the best job. Where all the action would be.
Anita and I were abruptly thrown off of the Pidgeot as it performed a barrel spin in midair some nine feet off the ground. I turned in the air, spreading my paws to lessen the impact. Anita created something of a psychic slide barrier, spiraling in a wide arc to prevent a crash landing.
Pride swelled in my chest. She was constantly improving.
The Noctowl Erin was riding, of course, landed and allowed her to dismount before taking off again.
Eh, at least we were dropped by the PokeMart and not directly on poison Pokemon.
“Someone got here before us,” Anita said grimly, pointing out the open door and broken windows. A Muk slunk slowly through the doorway, noticing us.
“I don’t think a Muk could have broken in like that,” Erin said. “The windows look like they were smashed in.”
I perked my ears, irked I couldn’t count on my psychic powers to perform a task as remedial as counting how many poison Pokemon were headed our direction. Stupid Celebi.
My ears counted nine incoming Pokemon.
Erin and Anita released their Pokemon as the Muk spit sludge at us. Anita threw up a psychic barrier. As Fiery materialized in a flash of red, a piece of the large air bubble surrounding Anita’s head broke off to surround his. The same happened to my other teammates as they appeared.
“Why did it attack?” Erin asked, waving Griffy to execute a psychic attack. The Muk was repeated thrown against the ground until it resembled a splattered paintball. “We didn’t do anything to—Griffy, I ordered a psychic attack, not a mauling of the poor thing!”
I’m not exactly sure how she could think of a Muk trying to poison us as a ‘poor thing.’
<My apologies, Miss. My attention will not slip again.> Griffy said, turning to face the incoming poison Pokemon. What he failed to mention was that his tail had temporarily taken control of the situation. His own attention had been split between the Muk’s attack and trapping air psychically some hundred feet above where the air was cleaner so he could safely breathe.
I turned to greet Fiery, who’d been released beside me, but he was busy shaking his head, trying to break the psychic bubble around his head. Beside him, Sunflower and Allo sat facing Anita, waiting for instructions while Splash amused himself by bouncing electricity off of the surface inside his head-bubble. Vanilla looked like she’d already passed out. As she wasn’t near any poisonous puddles and the psychic bubble around her head looked intact, she was probably faking in an attempt to be returned to her PokeBall, away from this stinky town.
“So here’s the deal,” Anita said, looking at Allo and Sunflower, who seemed most likely to listen. Missy floated beside them, mocking their attentiveness with wide eyes. “There’re poison Pokemon everywhere. Its up to you guys to hold them off while Erin and I grab PokeBalls from—”
“Are you trying to suffocate me?” Fiery asked, panting. Ah, because he was a fire Pokemon, oxygen around his body burned up quickly. With the barrier around his head, he wouldn’t be able to breathe soon.
I grinned. Well, I could help.
I took the opportunity to push my nose through the barrier into the soft fur under Fiery’s chin where I knew he was ticklish. Fiery leapt back growling, hackles raised.
“Who the hell are you?” He released a warning ember at my feet, which I sidestepped.
“Guys,” Anita said, at a loss of what to do. She couldn’t put a barrier up between us that would stop me from attacking.
Splash jumped between Fiery and me before I could retaliate. “Stop it! It’s Apple—she evolved.”
“Doesn’t smell like Apple,” Fiery snarled. Seriously, who could smell anything here but the nasty Grimers and Trubbishes? “I’ve never met this Pokemon—”
<You’re the one who figured out I wasn’t what I appeared,> I said to Fiery, raising an eyebrow at him over Splash’s spiky back.
Fiery relaxed from his attacking stance, pointedly looking away from me. Maybe he was embarrassed he’d forgotten I wasn’t an Eevee. Or maybe he hadn’t forgotten at all. Maybe he’d never actually believed his own accusations.
“I know this is Apple—I even helped her evolve,” Splash earnestly told Fiery. “C’mon, brother, everyone knows Eevees evolve into Umbreons when electrocuted!” That drew everyone’s attention. Even Vanilla ‘awoke’ from the unconsciousness to give Splash an incredulous look.
<My child, I fear for your sanity,> Griffy’s tail said. The tail then proceeded to repeatedly bang the psychic air bubble encompassing its head that Griffy had provided on a poison coated rock in an attempt to lick the toxic substance.
“I think the fumes are interfering with your sense of smell,” I said aloud, walking around Fiery until he was facing me. “I’m Apple.”
Allo and a few of the other Pokemon murmured in agreement.
Suddenly, Fiery and his siblings all winced, and turned their attention to Anita. I blinked, realizing Anita wasn’t the only one forgetting I was a dark-typed Pokemon now. I had to consciously remember to open my mind, or I wouldn’t hear Anita’s thoughts. Anita pointed past us.
I looked over my shoulder. There were four Arboks, a Muk, and six Trubbishes coming out of the shrubbery towards us. Clearly, my ears had miscounted.
“Maybe they’re not here to attack?” Sunflower whispered nervously. The Muk sent a sludge bomb at us and we dispersed, leaping into motion.
My tail alight, I went after an Arbok, battering away the poisonous barbs it shot at me with my tail. I felt for the Arbok’s thoughts, trying to sense why the poison Pokemon were attacking, but the Arbok’s mind was oddly blank. “Hey, snake-face. You brain-dead?”
The Arbok’s response was to lunge at me, jaws wide.
I spun, knocking the snake’s two front teeth out with my tail. I followed up with a tackle from behind, and once the Arbok was down, I bounced on the Pokemon until I knew he was out cold.
I turned to face another opponent, but found most of the poison Pokemon around us were already down. Two Arboks lied tangled at Griffy’s hooves, and another near Allo and Sunflower was literally tied in a knot. From their burnt exterior, it looked as if the Trubbishes had been taken down by Fiery and Splash. Splash stood over one of the Trubbishes with a paw on its stomach. “Looks like we took out the trash,” he proudly declared. Vanilla put a paw over her face.
The only attacking Pokemon still up and kicking—or rather, spurting sludge—was the Muk, who was now encased in a psychic prison. Anita squatted next to the Pokemon, a hand in her mess of hair.
“I can’t read its mind,” she said. “It’s like nothing’s in there.”
<It was the same with the Arbok I battled,> I said, padding over to Anita. <Where’d Missy go? See if she can get into—>
“Zombie!” Splash squealed. There was a sharp crackle as he electrocuted one of the Trubbishes.
Fiery tackled Splash. “What are you doing? I’ve taught you better than to attack an unconscious Poke—”
“Look, he’s not unconscious,” Splash said, struggling to get out from under Fiery. We all looked. Said Trubbish was getting up again, despite its burnt feet and bruised body. The other Trubbishes were also rising. Fiery got off of Splash, firing a flamethrower at the lot of them.
The stench was horrible, like burning garbage. Well, I guess that’s what it actually was.
For a moment, the Trubbishes were still. Then one’s arm twitched. It started to get up again. Guess Splash’s zombie assessment was accurate.
“****,” Anita said. “And there are more coming. Does anyone know what’s wrong with these Pokemon?”
<Oven-roasted rabies,> Griffy’s tail offered.
“I would guess hypnosis, Miss, but this appears to be something deeper. As you said, their minds are completely blank,” Griffy said, eyeing the Trubbishes warily.
“More like mind control,” I said. I paced over to Sunflower, who was gingerly sniffing one of the two tangled Arboks. “When Pokemon become exhausted, they faint. The fainting mechanism in their brain has been shut off or something—at this rate, they’ll kill themselves.” The Arbok opened its eyes. I hit it with an iron tail, temporarily knocking it out again.
Vanilla jumped behind Allo when the knotted Arbok started to squirm.
This was ridiculous. It was as if we were in one of those scary movies Anita and I used to sneak downstairs to watch after her mother went to bed on the weekends. Only a lot stinkier.
Suddenly, Erin ran out of the PokeMart with Missy floating behind her, their arms full of PokeBalls. Tweal followed, but faced the PokeMart, as if something might attack at any time. “Sorry,” she gasped, dropping the PokeBalls at Anita’s feet. “We ran into poison Pokemon inside—they poisoned Wella pretty bad. I couldn’t find any antidotes. From the look of it, someone already broke in and took them.”
Anita grabbed a PokeBall and threw it at a fried Trubbish.
The ball bounced off harmlessly. She frowned and threw another PokeBall at a different Trubbish. Another failure.
She tried once more, this time aiming at an Arbok. The same result. Fiery and I exchanged looks of horror.
“Why…?” Erin asked.
Anita closed her eyes and grimaced. “If we can’t catch them it means only one thing. They’ve already been caught.”
A moment of silence. We could all hear the bushes rustling as more poison Pokemon approached.
“I hate doing chores twice,” Splash said grimly. Nobody laughed.
I ducked a glob of sludge and rushed towards the bushes to meet my opponent.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I sensed a Grimer approaching from behind me and put a barrier through it, not bothering to look. This seemed to be the most effective way of dealing with Grimers and Muks—it stopped them for as long as it took to meld their bodies back together. Crouching down, I dodged the poisonous fangs of an Arbok with a particularly gruesome looking face on its neck.
The second Arbok I’d been battling took the opportunity to lunge at me, but I managed to put up a barrier between us before I took a hit.
Getting to my feet, I realized I’d rolled through a sludge puddle and now had a gaping hole on the back of my shirt. The skin on my back felt tender, but I had no time to worry about it as gruesome Arbok was coiling, preparing to spring at me.
I felt tired. My limbs were sore and I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d be able to hold up all of the air bubble barriers. The air in my bubble already tasted stale so maybe it didn’t matter.
The Arbok struck out at me fast, but not as fast as Liam could kick. I dodged, putting an elbow in his gut and knocking him out. Yay, he’d stay down for all of four seconds.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sunflower battling two Grimers, backed up against a brick apartment building. She was the only one of my Pokemon I’d been able to keep track of. Sunflower went the only direction she could go—down. She dug underground and popped up underneath the Grimer to her left, hitting it with my protective psychic air bubble. For quite some time now, she’d been using this technique—it proved very effective because of poison’s weakness to ground moves.
Arbok number two had recovered from ramming into my barrier and tried to grab me with its tail. I trapped the poison Pokemon in a dome shaped barrier before it could strike and pressed into its mind.
Blank as usual.
I sensed Sunflower in pain and snapped back into my body. I leapt over a Gulpin and thrust a barrier between Sunflower and the second Grimer she’d been fighting. A Muk slithered towards Sunflower, approaching my barrier where the Grimer was now spitting sludge in a feeble attempt to break through. She shot a shadow ball through my barrier, hitting the Grimer while the Muk ducked. The Grimer collapsed, but the Muk moved faster towards the barrier.
I sprinted forward, my stomach twisting even though I couldn’t read the Muk’s blank mind.
The Muk made a fist and punched right through my barrier. Brick break.
I was faster than the Muk. Fast enough to run by the poison Pokemon, grab Sunflower by the scruff of her neck, and pound my legs into the cement road, putting as much distance between us and the poison Pokemon as possible.
I could feel Sunflower shaking in my arms, even as she was jostled by my uneven steps. Poisoned. <You okay?> I asked. I sensed sludge shooting at me from two directions and couldn’t dodge both. Poisonous droplets hit the back of my leg and sizzled.
My breath was raspy. I would run out of air soon. A short break. That was what I needed. I could heal Sunflower and check up on Erin and my Pokemon—I swiveled into an empty-feeling alley, panting. Quickly, I pulled out the last of my antidotes and fed Sunflower.
I reached my mind out. Fiery and Allo were still battling. Splash was knocked out. Vanilla had pulled Splash into some brush and stood over him, covered in grime and snarling at the Trubbishes attacking the two of them. I vaguely sensed Erin, but she was too far away to know how she was doing. I couldn’t feel Apple at all. My chest squeezed.
Sunflower stopped shaking. <I’m fine,> she said. I fished in my bag for a potion anyway.
This was bad. We needed a plan—a plan better than this attack-run-recover-repeat plan. Damn it, if Liam were here…
Liam couldn’t do anything against these guys either. Punching Grimers just didn’t do much. I guess he’d be able to see the poison Pokemon in the dark, but sensing them with my gift had just about the same effect.
Liam would have a plan, though, another part of my mind argued. He’d review the facts, come up with something.
I found a potion and fed it to Sunflower. My hands were shaking.
And what facts did I know? The poison Pokemon were brainwashed. They belonged to someone. Somewhere, they had to have PokeBalls.
Why attack a city with poison Pokemon? Poison was dangerous, but not as immediately destructive as say, fire or a barrage of fighting Pokemon.
Poison Pokemon tend to be attracted to poison, I remembered from middle school. That was why there were very few poison Pokemon found outside of Globert City in Acceber—they were all drawn to the polluting factories in Globert as well as the other poison Pokemon…
An idea dawned on me.
<Anita,> Sunflower warned, shifting in my arms. Something smelled like death roasted in acid. I turned to find a giant Garbodor looming over Sunflower and me, blocking the exit from the alley. I was sure I would die of the smell—
I could smell. ****, that meant I’d released my air bubble when I hadn’t been focusing. It wasn’t just mine—I’d released the others, too.
I threw up a barrier in front of the Garbodor.
Sunflower attacked with a shadow ball, trying to drive back the poisonous monster from afar. It didn’t work.
The Garbodor pounded on the barrier. I gulped, my heartbeat racing, and searched for doors in the narrow alley—any way to escape. There were none. A wall blocked the end of the alley. Maybe I could climb onto the dumpster in front of the dead end and toss Sunflower over the wall. Then at least one of us would be saved.
Sunflower jumped out of my arms in front of me, growling at the monstrous Pokemon. In a movie it would have looked hilarious—a small, adorable Eevee trying to intimidate this mass of garbage.
The Garbodor pounded its dripping fists on the barrier again. <Garbage! Garbage!>
I froze. “I can hear his thoughts,” I said in utter surprise. I could sense he was a he. <Hello?> I asked. I felt his intense hunger, his yearning for the dumpster at the end of the alley.
“Sunflower, move here.” We backed up against the side of the alley and I released the barrier. Quickly, I created a new one that sandwiched Sunflower and me against the alley wall. The barrier was so tight, my nose brushed up against it.
The Garbodor ignored us, squeezing past the barrier to wolf down the garbage at the back of the alley.
As soon as the Garbodor had passed, Sunflower and I bolted from the alley. <What was different about that Garbodor?> I asked Sunflower.
She couldn’t think of anything. I stopped running. “Keep on guard,” I said, backing up to a tree that hadn’t yet been covered in sludge. I sent my mind to the Garbodor, shuffling through his memories as he shuffled through the trash.
Oddly, he didn’t have much of a recollection of the past couple of hours—some blurry movements, and one particularly delicious smelling group of Muks that were firing toxic into a broken pipe.
I could feel my energy seeping away. With all the barriers I’d been creating and a lack of bond with the Garbodor, I’d be done for soon.
I found a clearer memory. Being woken up by surprise. Caught. A Gallade’s purple eyes.
Like mind control, I could hear Apple saying. What if Griffy’s hypnosis theory was on the right track—if this was a psychic attack…
“Sunflower, have the Pokemon you’ve been battling been rising again?” I asked, too tired to ask her telepathically. The raw skin on my legs stung when a gust of wind blew past us.
At my feet, Sunflower shrugged.
“We could go check…” I looked over my shoulder, squinting from behind the tree down the street. There were definitely more poison Pokemon than we could handle if we ran in the open.
A stray Grimer sat near us in the middle of the street, exuding a purple gas and looking very constipated. The Grimer looked up and spotted me, and immediately spouted sludge. Sunflower and I ducked back behind the flimsy tree.
Well, this could work.
“Shadow ball it ‘till it’s down,” I ordered.
Sunflower’s attacks went through the tree, and the Grimer couldn’t retaliate from the other side. Three attacks later, the Grimer appeared to be out cold.
We waited. No movement.
Abruptly, I felt Griffy’s presence in my mind. <Excuse me, Miss Anita, for intruding. I bring news of utmost importance—you see, Missy is able to dispel the mindlessness—>
<Save it,> I said, looking pointedly at the Grimer. Griffy found my memory of Sunflower attacking.
<Ah, well pardon my intrusion—>
<Wait, Griffy. There’s something I need you to show Erin and Apple—or if you can’t reach Apple, then Fiery.>
Griffy shuffled through my mental images the way a child flips through a picture book: harshly, tearing out pages. I winced.
<A good plan. I will relay it immediately,> Griffy said promptly. As I turned my focus back to Sunflower, who was pawing at my shoelaces in concern, the tiniest echo of Griffy’s tail telepathically bounced through my mind, a voice mocking Griffy’s formal manner of speech. <Panic not, young sprout. Soon arrives the shrub of doom.>
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“So do you get paid by the hour to babysit me?” the Master lookalike said. He sat under the office window, leaning his head against the wall.
Already leaning towards the laptop on the Master’s desk, I lifted my hands to my scalp, lightly pinching my hair roots. The boy was infuriating. No, I wanted to snap. I’m getting paid to run a detailed DNA scan on the sample automatically taken when you pressed your grubby finger to the scanner on this office’s door. I ran a hand through my hair, briefly examining the blue tips before glancing past the laptop once again.
The boy smirked at me. The urge to strangle the kid simmered in my chest, but I calmed myself by shifting my gaze to the partially completed DNA scan results flickering across the computer screen. No complete matches found in Acceber.
Irritated, I exhaled through my nose. It would be hours before the scan of other regions was complete. And the scan only covered about twenty percent of the population—only citizens who’d had maternity or paternity tests, who’d been tested for diseases—and of those only the systems Team Glop’emm could hack into—
“I’m surprised you haven’t snapped yet. Like a twig.”
Calm, Rita. Calm. Although the boy had not answered a single one of my questions and this test was unlikely to yield positive results, I’d at least gained some information. DNA testing proved that this lookalike was related to the Master—a cousin or brother. The only reason I hadn’t thrown this halfwit in a cell yet was because he had a blood relation to the Master.
I could just rip the walkie talkie from his hands. Rip his hands.
My hands went back up to my scalp. Something was wrong with me. Or wrong with him.
I had to get out of this office, get away from this kid to clear my head. No, I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t leave him alone in the Master’s office.
The kid started to laugh.
A pressure I hadn’t realized was gripping my stomach loosened its hold. I looked at the boy again. Really looked. He was skinny—much too skinny for a teenager his age. The cloak he’d taken when he first entered the base seemed to engulf him, pooling around his arms and legs on the floor. His hair was shaggy, maybe shoulder length. And his eyes. Well, his eyes could be mistaken for the Master’s. I guess I’d already made that mistake.
The boy was shaking with laughter. “Hilarious—the first person I’ve encountered in years able to resist works for Team Glop’em. Some irony.”
“Enough of this,” I said, interrupting his laughter and bringing my hands back to the Master’s desk. “I will ask you again to please hand over the walkie talkie.” It was strange, I thought, how my attention had been diverted for so long. I needed to tell the Master of this intruder. I moved my hand to my lab coat’s pocket, where my PokeBalls were stored. I’d have Jilly or Spud restrain and question the boy—
I gasped. Doubling over in my chair and digging my fingernails against my palms to keep myself from lashing out. Don’t hurt the brat. Don’t dig those fingernails into his throat—
I squeezed my eyes shut, recalling the tune I’d made to remember the family names of RNA viruses in med school… Sequiviridae, Marnavidae, Iflaviridaeeeee. Picornaviridae includes the common cold, don’t you saaaay. Caliciviridae—
The pressure dissipated once again. I opened my eyes and found the kid had walked across the room, examining the scripture that had hung in this office for as long as I worked here—before the current Master became Master.
Who exactly was this kid? And that strange, malignant pressure. Was he the cause? Or perhaps some strange drug was slipped into my meal earlier—it wouldn’t be the first time something so underhanded occurred within the ranks of Team Glop’emm.
“The realm of irony has no limits,” the kid murmured. He caught me squinting past him at the scripture, trying to read the words. He smiled. “Curious?”
No, I was more curious about where this kid came from, why he was sitting with me in his office, how he was related to the Master, why I couldn’t seem to rid myself of these violent urges—
“Let me read it to you. It was one of my foster Father’s favorites.” Fury rose in my chest again. Blind, senseless fury. I was digging my fingernails into my hand so hard my palms were bleeding. I couldn’t stop it any more, couldn’t—shoving the rolling chair aside, I lunged towards the kid.
He ducked my arm swipe. “From Dust to Ash,” the boy began, twisting away from another swipe. “Floating, beaming, perhaps unwoken.” He slid under my arm, behind me.
“A legend of which is hardly spoken.”
I spun around.
“Waiting to combust.”
“Turn to dust.”
“Remain a cycle unbroken.”
The boy easily evaded my attacks. Some part of me, whispering in the back of my head was thankful. I lunged again. This time, the boy jumped back and hefted his body up onto the desk. He held an arm outstretched, his palm facing me.
“However halt instead—” The pressure suddenly drained as quickly as it had come. I felt nauseous. “—with darkness through head.” Exhausted, I slumped against the wall, slowly sinking to the floor. The boy jumped down from the desk towards me.
“Cut and slash. Darken ash.” He crouched down in front of me—so close I could reach out and touch the bags under his eyes. The boy tilted his head. “Who weeps for the dead?”
“A quality performance,” I muttered. Maybe, just maybe, I saw the flicker of a small smile. I drew my lab coat around my body tightly, trying to alleviate the nausea.
There was a soft buzzing on my computer. The boy glanced at it.
I sighed, relieved. “The Master’s home,” I said.
“When did you call him?”
“I didn’t.” It was luck. I abruptly remembered he still didn’t know about the broken tracking device. Perhaps it was misfortune.
The boy rose.
“Be careful when he confronts you,” I said, leaning my head back against the wall. “Doing this…” I waved at my head. “…trick… to him… Well, I wouldn’t want him to snap you… like a twig.”