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Jubilife City appeared in stages.
First came the famous ledge, the natural hill that the city stood upon. It raised the downtown above everything else, like a princely estate among cornfields, and as Michael followed the upward slope, he soon found himself a good few meters higher than the land behind him. The structures here were small and plain, things like family-owned businesses and gas stations. The houses were all propped up on stilts that made sure they stood horizontally, but the effect was a drab, rickety look that made it seem like they could collapse at any moment. Few cars lingered here, and the ones that did reflected the washed-out state of everything else. Michael watched as a rusty Oldsmobile passed by, spewing brown exhaust from its tailpipe.
No show, no go... he thought with a snicker.
As he continued farther up, the city grew cleaner, and the roadways smooth. Now he saw billboards with smiling people and pokémon, warmly welcoming him to the downtown and urging him to stop and get a cool haircut. The sidewalk widened, making room for dozens of little stands and booths, where street vendors displayed racks of souvenirs, food, and novelties. The items were all horribly overpriced, yet people gathered around in droves to buy them.
Michael had spent his fair share of time in the downtown, from weekend outings to forced shopping journeys, and countless adventures with his friends. He knew West Jubilife like the back of his hand, but the farther east he went, the more his sense of direction faltered, and the more the buildings and crowds seemed to compress together, forming rivers of congestion.
Most of the people around him were high-school students going wild on their summer break, strolling about the streets while the night was still young. They walked in cliques amid puffs of cigarette smoke and clinking glasses, crowding out the businesspeople to the sides of walkways. Across the street, Michael caught sight of a tall blonde in a knee-length miniskirt. Her arm was draped over the shoulder of an older, muscular guy, but it was safe to look from a distance. She was prettier than most of the girls at his school, who preferred to keep their hair tied and their faces unpainted, or did their makeup to such an extent that their faces seemed like porcelain masks. But this girl was the perfect middle boundary. He could detect a bit of eyeshadow and lipstick, but other than that, she was a natural beauty. Michael's gaze lingered on her as the couple walked, finally turning to enter a pub.
Nice, he thought with a smile. Just ditch Big Nose over there and you'll be swell.
A few minutes later, Michael’s gaze found a different girl — a brunette with unbelievably curly hair standing in front of an opened doorway. She was somewhat bigger than the blonde and wore thick-rimmed glasses. He wasn’t the type to judge a girl on the fact that she wore glasses (his previous girlfriend had worn them and looked mighty fine) so at first the brunette seemed all right, until he was close enough to read the sign she was holding: "Join the National Science League! Donations accepted inside!"
Michael was instantly reminded of school, and quickened his pace. From then on, he kept his wandering eyes fixed ahead. The cool kids drove cars, anyway.
As he progressed, the cars on the road became shinier and more exquisite, to the point where Michael had to stop to admire them. They glimmered in the light like candy wrappers, their bumpers bearing names like 'Chevrolet' and 'Pontiac'. He must have looked pretty idiotic, standing there with his lips parted, but Michael didn't care.
I'll have one of those someday. The best car there is, and I'll have it.
He made his pledge while eying a red Ford Galaxie. The model was a tribute to the Team Galactic rocket of the same name, and featured a bulky frame with shiny stripes along the side. A man was sitting in the driver's seat, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses and one arm carelessly dangling out over the door. For a moment, Michael imagined himself in his place. It felt good, even though he knew he might never get that much.
No one around him seemed to care that he was carrying a Stunky with him, though on one occasion he thought he heard someone coo, "Aw, look at the cute little trainer!" Michael couldn't see the face behind the voice, so he kept going, his cheeks stinging. The Stunky, meanwhile, was exploring the city in its own mammalian way. It scurried around, eyes blinking, probably also transfixed by the city's beauty. For a brief moment, Michael wondered what it must feel like to be a pokémon, to leave your home and be surrounded by so many unfamiliar things. From inside the cage, the world must have seemed bigger than life. In that sense, they were alike.
After a few more minutes of walking, Michael reached the heart of Central Jubilife. He knew it when he saw the fountain — a magnificent bowl that stood in an open square, shooting out tall plumes of water. The lights around it flashed all sorts of colors, dyeing the streams green, blue, red, and everything else imaginable. The fountain was surrounded by a garden, with vines that reached up to embrace the stone bowl. People sat in benches around it, talking, playfully rocking their feet.
For a moment, Michael listened to the rushing streams.
So this is what freedom feels like. He inhaled, and could almost taste the water through the air. What would Cory and Brendan say?
He stood on the sidewalk for a long while, then gathered his thoughts and pressed on. He crossed another street, keeping himself occupied by glancing at the windows he passed. Among the hair salons, candy shops, and clothing boutiques, his eyes found a bookstore. Its door was bright and new, to his almost comic observation, as if not many people had used it. The store was called Fran's Books. For some reason or another, he saw himself enter.
Inside, the store was clean and quiet, with walls of shelves that reached all the way up to the ceiling. Once the door closed behind him, the sounds of the city vanished, replaced by the buzzing of ceiling lamps.
The only person there was a female clerk, who sat behind a semicircular counter, reading a newspaper. Her area was a little island of light, while in the back room, the bookcases were masked in shadow. When the woman saw Michael, her eyebrows perked in greeting. Her name tag read, simply, 'Fran'.
"Hello," she said. "Sorry, I wasn't expecting anyone this late. I try to save energy this time of year, since not a lot of people come in." She flipped a light switch behind her, and the other room lit up.
"Why not?" asked Michael.
The woman shrugged. "I don't know. Summer, I guess. Everyone's out having fun, going to dances, and I'm the only one sitting inside reading."
"I like books," Michael said. It was true, actually. When he was younger, he sometimes stole Brian's books to keep himself entertained during boring class sessions. But for some reason, his interest had dwindled over the years. Stepping into a bookstore was like stepping back into childhood.
Meanwhile, the clerk smiled. "Good for you. You know, I've been noticing that people who read are less likely to get into trouble."
Michael stifled a laugh. Well that can't be true.
"And they also end up leading better lives," she continued. "These young people... all they care about is self-indulgence. Most of my friends wouldn't take a book into their hands if they were forced to. It's a choice you have to make early on, you know. Pay now, play later, or play now and pay later." She chuckled.
Michael didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded.
"Sorry, I'm rambling," the woman said. "I work by myself most of the time, so my mind tends to run." She leaned back and took the newspaper back into her hands. "So you wanna have a look around?"
"I guess," Michael said.
The clerk nodded. Her eyes went to the cage. "But be careful with that Stunky of yours. Some of these books are really old."
"Just holler if you need me."
Michael went to the back room and began to pace around, reading the titles that surrounded him. Most of the spines were tattered, their text faded. It occurred to him that this might have been secondhand shop.
Beside him, he felt the Stunky shift around. Michael picked a book from the shelf and turned it over to read the cover. It was a history book of some sort, and its binding was worn from years of being passed along. On the back, Michael saw the price tag — ten dollars. His eyes bulged.
"That's a really old book," said the woman from up front. "It's about ancient pokémon."
"It's expensive," Michael said.
"Like I said, it's old! And it's a special edition that is rarely reprinted nowadays. I actually got it off a—" Her sentence was cut short by a loud rrip. By the time Michael realized what it was, it was too late.
He had lowered his arm without realizing it, letting the bottom corner of the book dip into the cage. The Stunky had locked its jaws around it, soaking the pages with saliva.
"No, no! Bad Stunky!" Michael tried to yank the book loose, but the Stunky's grip was iron. The clerk nearly fell out of her chair. She was at Michael's side in seconds.
"It'll ruin the binding!" she screeched. "Get it off, quick!"
"I'm trying, I'm trying!" Michael shook the cage violently, bumping it against his knee and the shelves, causing two books to fall to the floor. But the harder he tugged, the stronger the Stunky held.
"Get it off, get it off!" The woman’s voice reached a hysterical high. Her hands moved frantically around the cage, fingers poking through the gaps in the bars. Somehow, she managed to reach inside with her thumb and gripped the Stunky’s tail.
"No, don’t!" Michael began, but before he could finish, a jet of green gas shot out at the woman's face. She let out a yelp and fell backwards, arms flying up. The cloud of stink rose and spread, and Michael backed away with a cringe, eyes watering.
The woman slid down against the shelf and plopped to the floor. Her cheeks were wet with tears, and her mouth was hanging open.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!" With one final exertion, Michael pulled the book out of the Stunky's mouth. He held it up to inspect it, but the damage had already been done. The entire bottom half was in ruins, and a page jutted out like a hanging tongue. Teeth marks stood out from where the Stunky had been holding.
The store was silent for a few moments.
"Oh no..." The woman rose slowly to her feet. A muscle beneath her left eye twitched.
In his mind, Michael kicked himself. He hadn't been in the store for five minutes, and already something had gone wrong.
"I'm sorry! It was an accident!" he said. "Here, take your book." He placed it in her shaking hands.
"This... do you know how much this meant to me? Ten entire dollars, wasted..." The woman’s eyes were bloodshot from the chemical reaction made by the musk.
"It was the Stunky's fault, not mine!" Michael said.
The clerk cleared her throat and ran her fingers through her hair. "It's okay, I guess it's not your fault. That book was about to fall apart anyway." To his surprise, she began laughing. "Heh! It's sure gonna need some repair."
She opened her mouth to say something else, but whatever it was didn't come out. Instead, her eyes fell on the cage. Her expression softened a little as she kneeled down beside it.
"Oh, you poor thing. You're probably hungry. Is that why you bit my book? Huh, little fella?" The woman placed a hand on the cage, and the Stunky shrank back from it. All of a sudden, she seemed to forget that her favorite book was in ruins and that she smelled like vomit.
"Uh... so, do I have to pay for the book?" Michael asked.
The woman looked back up at him, arching her eyebrows. "Your pokémon looks awfully hungry, kid."
"I... well, yeah, I know, but that's not the—”
The woman rose to her full height, her face towering well above his. "That thing is all skin and bones. Are you sure it's okay?"
Michael nodded. "It's fine."
"It doesn't look too good. Were you gonna take it to a vet?"
Michael shook his head. "No, it's fine, really. So do you want me to pay? I mean, I can if you want me to, whatever."
The woman didn't seem to be hearing him. She looked at the Stunky, frowning.
"Look, I can pay for the book! If you want me to." Michael repeated. The intensity of her gaze was unsettling him.
"Why are you keeping it in a cage like this? Most people just let their pokémon walk on a leash."
Michael exhaled. Why did she keep switching the subject? "I don't know. Okay? This is all I have."
"Where did you get it anyway? Are you a trainer?"
"It's none of your business! And no, I'm not a trainer!" Michael retorted. "If you don't want me to pay, then I'll go." He began to back away, but the woman advanced towards him.
"You know, trainers are the only minors permitted to carry pokémon with them. So if you don't have a trainer card, having that Stunky with you is illegal. Plus, it doesn't appear to be in very good health."
"It's perfectly fine!"
The woman shook her head. "You know, if you're not a trainer and you're not with an adult, I can assume that it's not yours and you're abusing it. That poor pokémon is shaking. Look at it! Does that mean anything to you?"
Michael took a quick peek at the Stunky. Yes it was shaking, but he always thought it was from fright, not hunger. Didn't he feed it earlier? What more could it want?
"I don't care! I mean, just..." Michael groaned, but for some reason the words weren’t coming out the way he wanted them to.
The woman's eyes widened. "You don't care?"
Michael pressed his palm to his forehead. "I can pay for the book," he said. "Then I'll leave, okay? I know I'm not a trainer, but I swear, this is my Stunky. I caught him myself and I put him in the cage because if I don't, he’ll run away! Okay?"
The woman didn’t answer. Her expression was clouded, and she looked down at Michael as if he were some sort of maniac.
"No... just get out of my store," she said slowly.
Michael raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? Because—"
"Just get out! You little monster." The woman stepped past him and went back to her desk. Then she did something that surprised him. She threw the book into the trash can, letting it fall into the scrap like a worthless piece of paper.
Michael narrowed his eyes. "Fine," he murmured. "Buy another one."
By the time he left the store and resumed his walk, the Stunky was growing restless. Michael could feel the vibrations it made as it circled around, and he shook the cage up and down to make it stop.
"Shut up, shut up!" Michael said. "It's all your fault anyway, Skanky. You should be happy if I decide to feed you by next week." The Stunky made no reply. Michael continued down the sidewalk, dodging anyone who got in his way. His mind was churning.
What a moron... How am I a monster? She was the one who tried to butt into my business. Now she can spend her own money to buy another book. What do I care?
But for some reason, he did. What the clerk said had displaced something within him. And no matter how he turned the conversation in his mind, he could wring no other meaning from of her words. Her intention had been very clear — you, Michael Rowan, are a monster for starving the Stunky.
He had been called worse before. So why did this accusation bother him?
Michael kept replaying the previous few minutes in his mind as he walked. He had stopped reading the street signs, and was now wandering aimlessly, with no idea where he even was. He drove himself to such extent that the sounds of the city began echoing strangely in his ears, and some of the signs became blurry to him. On top of it all, he was feeling a painful rumbling at the pit of his stomach. The candy bar from earlier had done nothing to chase away his hunger.
I need some real food... Michael pursed his lips thoughtfully. Looking around, he saw that there were a few restaurants around him, but they were all bars and nightclubs that looked as if they'd offer him a fight before they'd offer him food. He kept walking, till he came across a sign that read 'Joe's Supreme Sandwiches'. Without hesitation, Michael went inside.
The store consisted of a single room, furnished with a few round tables and a row of booths along the walls. The wallpaper was a dingy yellow, and elevator music crackled over the chatter of seated customers. A glass display beside the front counter showed rows of colorful sandwiches, piled with meat, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and countless other things. Michael's stomach rumbled again.
He approached the counter, where a man stood, assembling a sub with gloved hands. When Michael stopped by the register, he looked up.
"No pokémon allowed in the restaurant.”
Michael tore his eyes from the display and looked down at the Stunky. It was still a bit shaky from the bookstore, and looked ready to pounce. "Sorry. I can't really get rid of it right now."
The clerk sighed. "Whatever. As long as that thing doesn't urinate on my floor. If it does, you're cleaning it up. Understood?"
"All right. What will you be having?"
"Can I have the sandwich you're making?"
The clerk shook his head. "Nope. This one's for me. My genius of a manager doesn't give me much time for lunch breaks." He bit off a corner of the sandwich and began to chew. "Don't tell anyone I said that."
"Okay... how much is a beef?”
Michael nodded and dropped his backpack to the floor. He squatted down and began a very long, very awkward search for his money. The clerk didn’t complain. He waited for Michael to hand him a dollar bill, then reached into the display to pull out a large sandwich. He slapped it onto a tray and pushed it towards Michael, along with his change.
"Anything to drink?"
Michael handed over his change in return for a water bottle, and went to look for an empty table. The café was considerably full for its size. He looked around the room, then suddenly, his eyes locked on a single face, and he recognized the blonde girl he had seen before. She was sitting alone at a booth, absently stirring a cup of tea. Their gazes met for a moment. Before he pulled away, Michael noticed that her eyes were a deep amber.
He turned in the opposite direction and found an empty booth, and slid into the corner until he was well out of sight. He placed the Stunky beneath the table and took a long drink of water. But just as he lifted the sandwich to his mouth, he heard a loud peep from beneath the table.
Some people turned their heads. Michael quickly looked down, and saw that the Stunky had begun to pace around again. He glared at it for a few moments. It gave another squeal. Feeling sorry for it, Michael tore off a bit of his sandwich and tossed it into the cage. The Stunky threw itself upon it, and backed away with it into the darkness. Quiet at last.
He finished his sandwich without any further interruptions, and left the café with a satisfied stomach. He strolled up the sidewalk at a leisurely pace, looking around at the buildings with renewed interest. A large slip of the sky was visible overhead, completely black against the glare of light.
Michael was watching the cars go by when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
"Excuse me," said a mellow voice. Female.
He turned, and at first he couldn't believe his eyes. The blonde was standing three feet away from him. He could see her features in detail now — thin waist, long nose, pink lips. Freckles. She was definitely older than him, probably by about four years. The oldest girl he had flirted with was one grade above him, but that was nothing compared to this.
The blonde's eyes were narrowed, and she seemed to be in deep thought.
"Uh... hello," Michael said. Oh God, do I have crumbs on my mouth? He casually reached up and wiped it with the back of his hand. It was a stupid move, something a class nerd would have done, but the girl didn't seem to notice.
"Do I know you from somewhere?" she said. "I'm sorry, but you look really familiar."
"I saw you... walk into a pub earlier today."
Whatever she was about to say she bit back, giggling. "Uh, no. I don't mean that. From a distance, you looked exactly like someone I know. What's your name?"
The girl’s face lit up for a moment, but then the smile vanished. "No, no, I made a mistake. Sorry about that. For a second, you two looked really similar..."
"Who's the guy?"
The girl shook her head dismissively. "Just a friend from Slateport."
"Oh, so you're not from here?"
"No. I live in Hoenn. I'm visiting my cousin for the summer." She crossed her arms. "But he's more interested in the beer quality than the landmarks. He didn't even give me a map."
"Do you need directions or anything?" Michael said immediately. "I'm pretty familiar with this place, so..."
"Oh no, you don't have to do that. I'll only slow you down." Her eyes fell on the cage. "And it looks like you have enough to carry already."
In his mind, Michael winced. "It's okay, I mean, it's not really that heavy."
But the girl shook her head. "It's okay. Honestly, I'll be fine. At any rate, I should be getting back to the pub. My cousin's probably wondering where I am." She gave a smile, and waved. "It was nice meeting you, Michael."
"Nice meeting you too," he began, but stopped. He hadn't even gotten the girl's name. All he could do was watch as her form grew smaller and smaller in the distance, till it was finally swallowed by the crowd.
Michael swallowed. Well don't I have the best luck in the world. He could almost picture his friends laughing at him for passing up such an opportunity.
He continued up the sidewalk sourly, no longer paying attention to where he was going. As the Stunky began to move about again, he felt spite bubble up inside of him.
This thing has cost me my summer, it’s cost me my friends, it’s cost me my freedom, and now it’s cost me a chick. Shit, I hate pokémon!
Michael crossed a few more streets, rounded a few more corners. By the time he reached East Jubilife, his legs were aching and he had to stop at a bench to rest. He heaved himself and his backpack onto the seat and took several deep breaths.
The city had long lost its magic. The lights were giving him a headache, and the car horns blared painfully in his ears. It felt like he had walked a hundred miles. Looking out, Michael could see nothing but buildings, roads, and cars. The city was endless. He would be trapped in here forever, doomed to an eternity of walking, walking, and getting nowhere. He would starve, and his carcass would wash away into the gutters.
Michael took his head into his hands. I'm crazy. I've completely wigged out.
He leaned back into the bench and took a look around. Maybe I can find a hotel or something... I can beg them to let me stay for free... I don't know how, but I'll do it.
Beside him, the Stunky shifted. Michael frowned. I wonder how much someone would pay for a wild Stunky...
The pokémon cocked its head, probably not even aware of its own nose. Michael rolled his eyes.
He could see nothing around him that indicated an inn or hotel of any kind. All he could see were shops, stands, and diners that now seemed to serve no purpose other than taking up space.
He was about to close his eyes in resignation when, at the edge of his vision, he saw something flash. A sign. It was covered in black letters that spelled out something, but he couldn't tell what.
Michael sat up and turned his head around towards the building. It was tall and square, with a giant satellite dish perched on top. The flashing board hung right above the entrance, the text illuminated by a backlight, with dozens of tiny bulbs flashing along its perimeter:
"WELCOME TO THE CITY OF DREAMS! JUBILIFE TELEVISION STATION IS YOUR NUMBER ONE SOURCE FOR ALL THINGS NEW AND CURRENT! TUNE IN EVERY DAY AT 12:00 TO RECEIVE THE LATEST UPDATES ON YOUR FAVORITES... JUKEBOX, THE SPACE RACE, AND MORE!"
Beneath the sign, crowds were pouring in and out of three rotating doors, revealing brief slips of a thriving lobby.
The TV Station! Michael’s heart fluttered. I can catch up on The Space Race! Yes!
Without a second to spare, he gathered his things and scrambled to his feet.
"Excuse me, excuse me!" He dodged the passersby and ran up to the street. Taking a brief look both ways, Michael ran across it, eliciting a chorus of angry beeps. Still without stopping, he pushed through one of the doors and stumbled into the lobby.
Inside was a world of noise and lights. The entering crowd trailed off in separate directions, attaching itself to various groups that gathered along the walls, watching stacks of flashing televisions, examining racks of newspapers, or displays of the latest radio models. At the center of the room was a tall, round counter, where three clerks jabbered into telephones. At the very back was a row of elevators, and two staircases that spiraled up to the higher floors.
Michael paused to look around with every step he took, eyes widened, wanting to take as much of it in as possible. His gaze lingered on the TV screens, which came in various sizes, and seemed to be positioned at every corner of the room. They were all showing different channels, but over the cloud of noise the programs were indecipherable. He didn’t know which one to go to first.
He searched in earnest for a few moments, before his gaze locked on the biggest group in the entire lobby. It wasn’t gathered around a television, however, but in front of a billboard. Michael couldn’t see what the people were looking at, but as he approached, he caught bits of their conversation:
"... knew this would happen one day..."
"... Rockets are kicking our asses, that's for sure..."
Michael stopped short. He tried to wheedle his way through, but before he could get to the billboard, his view became blocked by a man’s head.
"Excuse me.” Michael tapped his shoulder. "I can't see."
The man turned around and scowled. "What's there to see? Haven't you been watching the news?"
"Not really," Michael snapped. "That's why I want to see what this is!"
"Have a good look at it then." The man walked off, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
Michael stepped in to take his space, and the crowd closed in around him. The billboard was covered with newspapers and city announcements, but one issue was positioned in the center, the square page unfurled to its full size. Its heading was bigger than all the others, and its ink shone with pride as it boldly declared:
The rest of the page was taken up by articles and commentaries on the same topic, and at the bottom was a black-and-white image of the pokémon. Its body was thin and sleek. One of its arms was missing, and instead, two long wires protruded from its shoulder. Its face was round, and two knobs grew on either side of its head.
Michael reeled forward, pressing his hands to the surface of the billboard. "That's it?"
"Hey, move it kid! We can't see!" said someone from behind.
But Michael was too angry to pay attention. He had missed one week of updates, only to see that Sinnoh was behind. And not only behind, but trampled in the dirt. His heart began to pound.
"It's just a stupid pokémon!" he blurted. "It's not that hard to discover; why didn't Team Galactic do it first?"
"They're lazy, that's why!" said a teenage girl beside him. "I swear if, they make us lose..."
"This sucks," Michael said. He let his hands slip from the paper and stepped back.
All around him, the people wore similar bleak expressions. They had likely known for days. Still, some of them were reading the text, their initial disappointment having blown away for a resigned sort of interest. But for Michael, the former was just kicking in.
One older boy scowled. “I can’t believe this. The Rockets were always the ones who said that nothing could survive outside the atmosphere. But they made the discovery. If the President said we’d be investigating space, then why are we watching other people do it?”
The girl from before shook her head. “Team Galactic is just full of itself. They’re all secretive and glamorous, but apparently they see it as an excuse to sit there and do nothing. If you ask me, we need a company that can keep its promises.” With that, she walked away, arms crossed. A few other people broke off from the group, and eventually, Michael did the same.
He walked to the exit in a stupor, gaze lowered to the floor.
Freaking dipsticks... all of them.
He barely noticed when he stepped out onto the street, and when the path ahead of him began to slope downwards. But he saw the buildings become sparser and lower, and the roadways veer off into highway exits, gradually separating the cars from the pedestrians. Soon the swarm of billboards returned, this time with mouths turned down and headings that read: 'LEAVING SO SOON?'.
But to Michael, it was all too easy to ignore. His mind was buzzing.
Team Rocket's a bunch of know-it-alls... Team Galactic sucks. Can’t believe I ever rooted for them…
His footsteps were hollow and heavy. As the sounds of the city grew fainter, an iron fence in the distance grew bigger.
Behind it, Route 203 lay in darkness. Michael wondered how comfortable a tree would be. He cringed at the thought, but realized that there was no other choice. Until he found a way to make more money, it would have to do.
There was no guard or gate at the city limit, just a wide, dirt path leading into the wilderness. For a city like Jubilife, such an abrupt exit was both silly and unsettling. But Michael didn’t care to ponder it. He stepped through, passing the route sign, letting the lights and sounds fade for the silence.
His field of vision was covered in splotches from where the lights had been, and it took a while to adjust to the darkness. Now that the sky was no longer blocked by skyscrapers, it suddenly unraveled and rolled off into the infinity, laying out a carpet of stars.
As he walked, Michael stared up at them, lost in thought.
Deoxys is out there somewhere ... and God knows what else.
Stupid Team Rocket... gonna beat Sinnoh...
You're a monster, Michael. Monster...
The trees and shrubs around him formed pockets of shadows, and stood out like ghosts on either side of the path. Michael walked for a few minutes, battling his exhaustion, till it grew so strong that it started to weigh down his limbs. He abandoned all reserve, forgetting that he had never set foot in Route 203 and had no idea what lived there, or how big it even was.
Michael veered from the path and sank into the softest-looking grass he saw, right beside a tree. He lowered the cage and backpack beside him and curled up into a comfortable position. Gradually, the lights and sounds rushed away from his memory, the sea of faces blurred, and the sting of his disappointments faded as sleep overtook him.
Ooh, very nice The descriptions of Jubilife and all the action about town really set the mood (But why is it that every time I read one of your chapters I get the urge to go back and spruce up mine?) And as PC's resident old car buff, I was quite pleased with you including mention of real life cars from that era in your story :3
AND ROCKET > GALACTIC (Except in HG/SS due to poor leadership). But the Space Race does have something to do with science, which makes it seem appropriate that Michael is so passionate about it.. I'm just wondering if the two teams' discoveries will play a bigger role than just simply news on the radio and television.
Not much action this chapter, but the inkling of character development and change is there. And I do appreciate the research you're doing of this time period to make the setting more realistic... it definitely shows in this chapter
EDIT: Ford Galaxie FTW. That is one big manly mass of real American steel
Yeah, I know. Regret for Michael Rowan is like... D:
The two teams in the Space Race will play a bigger role, but not in the evil mastermind way. Their discoveries will advance the plot and characters. Not much else I can think of to say... just glad you liked the chapter! See you next time.
lol, so Michael is into girls......
I loved the scene at the bookstore; as for the woman running it- I feel bad for her.
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Thanks for reading!
And of course I've been reading, I'm on the PM list!
Speaking of which.... why didn't I get a PM when the newest chapter came out?
Oh, sorry about that... I was in a bit of a hurry and I forgot
I should probably list my PM list in the first post... that'll help me remember. Thanks for reminding me.
No prob ^.^
Well, I'm assuming that, since this one was late, the "Schedule" will change (Will it come every Sunday)?
When Michael eased back into consciousness, the first thing he became aware of was a dull throbbing in his leg. He was leaning against something hard and uneven and... yes, he was sure it was making his back ache. Beneath him, the ground felt shifty and lumpy.
Where am I?
A few patches of light separated themselves from the darkness.
Was it all a dream? Am I back in my room?
His mother's angry face appeared before him, suspended in the oblivion. He had started a fight with her. She had said something to him... and then his anger got the better of him and he replied. She had left his room, and she had been so angry, but then again, hurt.
He started to clean his room. But his backpack was there too; it was telling him to go.
His room began to blink with color, and suddenly, it transformed into the Jubilife skyline. He had trudged across an entire city in a single night... and now a fresh jolt of pain squeezed his leg to remind him. He had decided to run away, with nothing but a backpack and a cage carried along with him.
The girl. Now her face popped into view, that slight frown and amber eyes. She had looked at the cage, and said that it was too heavy a burden. She had laughed. Probably should be getting back to her cousin now, yes, he drank too much and would need a ride home. Stupid Stunky. Always there to ruin the day.
Ruined his day. Team Rocket had ruined his day. No more Space Race... Deoxys was watching from up above. Laughing at him. Didn't want to sleep outside, but what choice did he have?
Then, a frozen image of the night sky. He had fallen asleep and the image vanished, replaced by a blank backdrop. The reel had ended.
But the laughter continued.
It had started out as a vague peal, but now it was slowly rising out... like something more than a memory.
Slowly and slowly, the patches of light took form, first into a canopy of trees. Tall, high off the ground. A blend of color became shrubbery, wild and overgrown. No one had stopped to maintain this route in months.
Next came the fence. White, picket maybe. It was broken and in some places the paint was chipped off.
A dirt path somewhere ahead, clean, but covered in footprints that previous travelers had left behind.
On it stood three figures.
First, a bulky frame which became a boy. He wore a baseball cap, and a burnt cigarette dangled in between his lips.
The second, a girl. Not pretty, but confident. Red hair. A nasty look in her eyes.
The third, a scrawny boy. Michael couldn't see his face; it was hidden beneath a sunhat.
They were laughing.
Michael sat up and opened his eyes all the way.
"Took you long enough, Tree Man!" hooted the boy with the cigarette.
"Did Mommy kick you out of the house or somethin'?" the redhead said, her hands poised on her hips.
"Who are you?" Michael said loudly. He struggled to stand, but his hand slipped on the tree bark and he fell back down. More laughter.
"We were just watching you sleep like a baby." The redhead made a horrible pouty face. "Poor wittle homeless baby has nowhere to go!"
"He's like one of those bums on the street! Wait 'till he grows a beard!" Once again, the pair tossed back their heads in loud, chest-heaving laughter. Somewhere underneath the noise, Michael heard the short boy's soft voice.
"I think he's one of those cave people," he said, hiding his smile behind his palm.
All of a sudden, the laughter stopped. The boy's companions turned to give him a strange look.
"What are you talking about?" the redhead said. "Cave people live in caves. This guy lives by a tree."
"Yeah, he climbs trees like an Aipom! What with those huge hands of his. He probably has a tail too, but he hides it in his pants," Cigarette Boy said. "Well, Tree Man? Do you climb trees or what?"
Michael didn't answer, still not sure what to make of this. He had fallen asleep in an empty route, and had woken up to find three people standing in front of him. People he didn't even know. They were laughing so carelessly, so mercilessly, just like the so-called bullies at his school did. Only now did it occur to Michael how dorky he must have looked, sitting under a tree like he had nowhere else to go. Like he was a wimp.
Heat rushed to his face. No one laughed at him. Not at Michael Rowan.
Cigarette Boy yawned. "I asked you a question, Tree Man. Do I look like someone you wanna mess with?"
"No," Michael said sharply, voicing the first thing that came to mind. "You look more like a Bidoof to me. What, with your buck teeth and your fat ass. You probably think you're just so cool right now, waving it in my face like a flag."
At first, his statement cast off into silence. No one reacted. Then Michael heard a strange squealing sound, and the short boy erupted in giggles. He doubled over, and his knees sank into the leaves. The redhead rolled her eyes.
Cigarette Boy, however, had flushed a deep red. "Well well well! Looks like we've got us a smartass! Hey Tree Man, didn't your mommy ever teach you about respect?"
"Didn't yours ever teach you not to shove your pimply nose into other people's business?" Michael retorted.
The small boy's laughs increased, but this time they were ignored. Both Cigarette Boy and the redhead were looking at Michael now, their fists clenched. Man, he really knew how to turn the tables.
"I've had enough of your cheek," Cigarette Boy said. "We go to this route every day to practice and we've been doin' it for years. We don't like smartasses, but we take 'em down just as easy. Now look me in the eye, Tree Man, and tell me if you wanna be starting something." He crossed his arms, and waited.
Michael looked at him for a few moments, already beginning to map out a plan of action. Cigarette Boy was leaning slightly to the right, and his arms were slightly lopsided. Uneven weight distribution. One hand curled into a fist, and the other hung limp, as if it belonged to someone else. With the right angle, Michael could probably manage to knock him down. Sure the kid had muscles, but Michael had enough experience to know that size did not always mean strength.
Feeling braver than usual, he rose and cracked his knuckles. "Bring it on."
They seemed surprised by this, but Cigarette Boy's sneer held a hint of satisfaction. He stepped forward and the sunlight caught his arm, underscoring the ripples in his muscles. Michael braced himself against the tree, ready to run, ready to kick, ready for anything...
But to his surprise, the boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a pokéball.
"Go!" he said, and a flash of red light illuminated the forest. An Azumarill sprang from the capsule, landing on all fours. Michael was bewildered.
Am I supposed to fight that thing?
He stood there for a few moments, unsure of what to do.
"I'm waiting, Tree Man. Or did all your pokémon run away already?"
A pokémon fight? Michael turned back to his tree. The Stunky was still there, watching curiously through the bars. Its ribcage was showing slightly through its skin. The Azumarill could pin it down in seconds. So the only thing left was... Turtwig.
Michael's heart sank as he went over to his backpack and fingered the pokéball nestled in the pocket. He twisted the knob and watched the Turtwig materialize before him. In the daylight, its blue-green skin seemed even brighter.
On cue, the others began laughing.
"Whoa! What's with its skin?" the redhead exclaimed, her hands pressed to her mouth. "Is it like diseased or something?"
"Doesn't matter," the bulky boy said, crossing his arms. "It's going down! Jaws, use Tackle!"
What am I supposed to do now? Michael thought, resisting the urge to bite his lip.
Several yards away, the Azumarill was preparing for a full-blown attack. It sprinted forward, and a cloud of dirt was raised as it gained speed. Beside him, the Turtwig stood absolutely still.
"Move out of the way!" Michael urged. "Go left! Play chicken! Do something!" The Turtwig turned its head to look at him.
"No! Don't look at me, look at -" But before he could finish his sentence, the Azumarill had collided with the Turtwig, eliciting an audible wham. Their combined momentum left deep skid marks in the dirt. The Azumarill wrestled Turtwig to the ground, where it lay flat on the back of its shell. Its legs moved back and forth, like a dying insect.
Michael gritted his teeth. "Get up!"
The Turtwig began to rock back and forth, but it remained where it was. Finally, Michael bent down and flipped it over onto its feet. The pokémon shook, but held firm. Ovn the other side of the battlefield, the three teenagers were laughing and jeering. Cigarette Boy pumped his fist in the air.
"Finish it off! Use Water Gun!"
Michael slapped his forehead. I lost. I don't even know what I'm supposed to do, and now I lost to them. He took one last look at his Turtwig. The sprout on its head was bent, making the leaves jut out at awkward angles. As he looked at it, he felt something click in his brain.
Grass! Michael drew himself up. Of course! Water can't hurt plants! It can only help them!
He turned back to the Turtwig, his eyes gleaming. "Use a grass attack! Water Gun can't hurt you, you're based on grass!" Michael felt a little silly saying this to a pokémon, but for some odd reason, he could tell that the Turtwig understood.
It threw its head back a little, far enough so a few leaves dislodged from the sprout. At first, Michael didn't know what it was doing. But then, with a single flick, the leaves were sent tearing through the air like razors. Azumarill didn't even have time to move. The leaves seemed to stick to its body, leaving behind traces of red where they touched. The pokémon gave a single cry, then toppled. A tiny cloud of dust billowed around its body.
Michael was dumbstruck.
"What? NO!" Cigarette Boy snarled. His knuckles were white as he raised the pokéball to the Azumarill's body. After its outline faded away, he looked back up at Michael. "You'll be sorry, punk!"
From behind him, the second boy smiled eagerly. "My turn?" Just as he was about to step forward, the redhead shoved him aside.
"No, Henry. It's mine." She withdrew a pokéball of her own. It was covered in stickers. "I'll teach you some manners. Go Timmy!" A lean orange pokémon emerged from her hands, landing in the spot Azumarill had just vacated. Michael immediately recognized it as a Buizel - one of those annoying companions that the school swimming team practiced with. He had always thought that the yellow sacs around their necks looked like shock collars.
The Buizel's tails flicked back and forth as it steadily lowered itself into a crouch. It looked ready to break into a sprint.
"Again! Do the leaf thing again!" Michael said to the Turtwig. For a minute, he thought he saw it smile. Again the Turtwig threw its head back, and sent another series of leaves rushing towards the Buizel. But before they could make contact, the pokémon disappeared in a blur, letting them pass harmlessly to its side. The blur ran in a zigzag, and collided full-force into the Turtwig. The attack raised a cloud of dirt, making Michael cough. When it cleared, he saw that the two pokémon were still wrangling, rolling over and kicking at each other.
"No!" Michael shouted. "Don't be a wimp! Use your surroundings! Knock it off balance!"
"All right! Timmy, use Hydro Pump!" the redhead shouted, her brow furrowed in determination.
Michael closed his eyes for a moment. Hydro... like water! Water again! He looked over to his Turtwig. It was lying on its side, its body bruised and dirty.
"Get up, get up!" Michael bent down and lifted the pokémon to its feet. He looked it in the eye. "I will not lose this! I don't care if it kills you, tear that Buizel's head from its shoulders!"
The Turtwig narrowed its eyes. "Turtur!" it screeched. It threw its head back again, but in the meantime, Buizel was preparing for an attack of its own. Its mouth was wide open, and some sort of liquid was bubbling in its throat. For a minute, Michael wondered if it was about to vomit. But instead, it lifted its face just as a wide jet of water sprayed out of its mouth, like some sort of fire hose.
The water accumulated, then swept the Turtwig away in a torrent. The stream carried it off somewhere behind the bushes. Michael let out a growl. He spun around on his heel, ready to kick the Buizel down himself, but was immediately surprised to find it twitching on the ground with tiny cuts sprinkled along its body.
The redhead seemed equally surprised. The corners of her lips were twitching as she slowly approached her pokémon. She maintained silence as she bent down over by the Buizel and returned it back into its pokéball. Then she went over to Michael, reached into her pocket, and pulled out a thin stack of bills. She slapped the money into his hands.
"Ugh. Whatever. Freak." With that, she stormed off towards the open trail. Cigarette Boy was next. He went over to Michael, withdrew a single dollar, and let it fall to the ground.
"Oops." He turned abruptly and went after the redhead. Michael was left standing alone with a bemused expression, a handful of money, and absolutely no idea what had just happened.
For a minute, it was quiet. A Starly screeched from somewhere overhead.
The voice nearly made him jump. Michael turned, and saw that the short boy was still there. He had come out from behind a bush, and was looking at Michael with reverence. "I've never seen anyone win against them before. How'd you do it?"
Michael scowled. "You're with them. So beat it, before I kick your ass too!"
The boy shook his head sadly. "They're not really my friends. All they do is take advantage of me. They treat me like dirt."
Michael snorted. I wonder why.
"To tell you the truth," the boy continued, "I'm no good at battling. I always lose. But you're, well... you're amazing."
"Hardly." Michael eyed the bills in his hands. "What's the deal with them giving me money? Did they lose a bet or something?"
The boy eyed him curiously. "What do you mean? That's what all trainers do. It's the code of honor. You lose, you pay money. It's respect."
Michael paused for a moment. "So I can get money for beating people?"
The boy nodded.
A smile spread across Michael's face. "Neat. Well, I gotta go. I'm gonna find my Turtwig and get into some more battles. Later." He turned in the direction of the stream. It was already beginning to dry, but the initial path was still discernable. Turtwig must have landed somewhere in the bushes, if it was even strong enough to hold on.
"Wait." The boy's voice cut him off, just as he took his first step. Michael turned back.
"You're going to Oreburgh, right?"
"I don't know. Sure?"
"Can I come with you? I just need to get back to my hotel room." The boy's face reddened. "I don't know a lot of people here and I, well, I don't want to hang around Chester and Veronica anymore. So, if it's okay with you, I mean... the town's really big, and I'm afraid I'll get lost."
Michael stopped for a moment, wondering if he was actually serious. This kid was the furthest thing from cool that he had ever seen. He was almost positive that after only a single day at his school, that boy would be running home in tears. He was probably a kiss up in class, bringing apples to the teachers and actually appreciating them. His mother probably bought him those cargo shorts, saying that they looked 'absolutely precious' on him. His hat made him look like a tour guide, or some sort of zookeeper.
Michael was seconds away from saying all of this, but reason stopped him. It would only be for a few hours. Plus, his arm was tired from carrying the Stunky around.
"Fine," he said. "But you're holding this." Michael went over to the cage and handed it to the boy, who smiled gratefully.
"Thanks! I'm Henry, by the way." He hoisted the cage on his arm like a handbag.
Henry peered inside the cage, tapping it with his finger. The Stunky shrank back. "Where did you get this guy anyway?"
"I caught it, obviously."
"Like... with a pokéball?"
"No, with my hands."
Henry's eyes widened. "Coooool."
Michael turned to face the stream. "I have to find my Turtwig."
"Is that it right there?" Henry pointed. Sure enough, behind a nearby bush, Michael's Turtwig lay in a heap, its front legs gripping a loose branch. Its tongue was hanging out from between its lips and its eyes were closed.
Michael scowled as he approached it. "Come on, get up!" he said. "You can't battle if you're lying around. Lazy." The Turtwig did not move. Michael nudged it with his foot, but it gave no response. He exhaled sharply. "What's with you? Are you dead or something?"
Henry squatted beside the Turtwig. "It's probably just tired. You have to give it a few days to rest."
"But," Henry lifted a finger. "There is a faster way."
"And that would be?"
"Just take it to a Pokémon Center."
"A what now?"
"A Pokémon Center. It's like a mini hospital for pokémon. They put your pokéball inside this special heating chamber, and the therapy supposedly makes your pokémon recover from anything."
Michael nodded. "Okay. Where do we find one of those?"
"There's one in Oreburgh Town. It's not too far away from here. And -" Henry leaned in closer. "- they have a Gym!"
Judging by his tone, Michael guessed he was supposed to be excited by this. But all he could manage was a blank look. "What's that?"
Henry's mouth gaped, as if it were the dumbest question in the world. He fought for words for a moment, then finally managed to say, "You're not a trainer, are you?"
Michael froze. "No," he said firmly. "And if you have a problem with that, you can leave."
"So... you're pretending to be a trainer when you're actually not?" Henry's expression was neutral. Michael braced himself.
"What if I am?" he snapped. "Do you want to tell me what's right and what's wrong?"
"No... it's just really... cool. How you don't care or anything." Henry fumbled for words. "I won't tell anyone," he added quickly.
Henry's face fell. "Well, this stinks. Even non-trainers are better battlers than I am."
"No one sucks that bad, kid."
"Well, I do. I really do. I mean, pokémon won't listen to me, and they're all really slow for some reason..."
"Good luck with that," Michael said. "So how far is Oreburgh?"
"About three miles."
"Then you can lead me there. After that, I'll leave you alone, and you can go back to your hotel room."
"Cool. Let's go." Michael gathered his things and started forward.
For the first time in his life, he heard a beat of footsteps behind him.
He and Henry walked through the remainder of Route 203, neither of them saying much along the way. Through it all, Michael was absorbed in visions of money.
If I could beat everyone in town... I could become the most powerful battler in the world! I'd be rich!
Henry, on the other hand, seemed more interested in the route itself. His eyes never left the tree canopies, and his mouth formed an 'O' whenever he saw a brightly-colored pokémon flick between the branches.
"I wonder how many kinds of pokémon there are..." he said at some point, eyes sparkling.
Michael didn't reply, however. He was too busy mentally constructing the pool in his future home.
When they finally decided to stop and rest, the sun was high overhead and leaves were drooping from the heat. They chose a shady spot underneath an oak tree, where they sat watching the clouds. Michael reached into his backpack and zipped open his snack compartment. He withdrew a chocolate bar and began chewing with closed eyes, savoring the flavor.
"Do you have anything else to eat?"
Michael opened his eyes. Henry was eyeing the bar enviously.
"Uh, do you want some?" He broke off a piece and offered it to him.
Henry shrugged. "I can't. Mom says chocolate's bad for your stomach if you eat it too much."
Michael frowned. "Is your mother here now?"
"Then take it. Don't be a wimp, she's not gonna come out from behind a tree and spank you." He held up the piece again. Henry laughed a bit, but still didn't take it. "Whatever," Michael popped it into his own mouth.
He threw the remaining wrapper into a separate pocket. Then he took out his notebook and opened it up to a clean page.
Dear Cory and/or Brendan,
Sorry I didn't give you guys any sign that I was running away. It was kind of a last-minute decision. I just want you to know that I'm fine, and I'm about to go to Oreburgh City.
Michael frowned, then scribbled over his lines. What if his mother or someone else got to the letter first? He started again.
To whom it may concern,
DO NOT READ THIS LETTER! FOR MY FRIENDS' EYES ONLY!
Michael crossed it out again, then slumped back against the tree. It would be impossible to write a letter without the possibility of interception. He stopped to think for a minute, when he realized that Henry was peering over his shoulder.
"What'cha writing?" he asked.
Michael shook his head. "Nothing." He tore off the page and threw it into his backpack. He could always start again when Henry wasn't looking.
"Okay." Henry reached into his own tote bag and pulled out a small canister. "Pokémon food," he said to Michael. "Here, I'll give some to your Stunky. It looks awfully hungry." Henry sprinkled some of the contents into the cage, and the Stunky squealed gratefully.
Henry giggled. "You should really let this Stunky out of its cage. It looks like it could be a lot of fun to play with."
"It'll run away," Michael said.
For a minute, he absently watched the Stunky eat. It was eyeing Henry gratefully, and prancing around in circles. Michael's pencil dropped back down onto the paper and began to sketch the spiky outline of its fur. As the pokémon turned, Michael observed the curvature of its cheeks and the shape of its eyes. He did some shading, and added a grassy background. He was no artist, but the final result left him satisfied. He gazed down at it for a few moments, and ended up adding a sun and some clouds.
"Can I ask you something?" Henry said after a while. Michael looked up, and saw that Henry was watching him draw.
"Why is your Turtwig differently colored than normal?" Henry pulled on a blade of grass. "Sorry if it's a personal question or something, but I was just curious."
Michael didn't answer. His gaze returned to the paper, and he doodled a quick tree in the landscape.
"It's not the first time I've seen it," Henry said softly.
At this, Michael looked up. "You've seen it before?"
Henry nodded. "My friend had a Zubat that was green. She took it to a bunch of specialists to have it checked out, but they didn't know what was wrong with it. They ran all these tests and drew all kinds of graphs. They wouldn't give it back to her, though, even after she asked. And there were no more like it, so she couldn't get another one."
"That's weird..." Michael said. "Did it ever change color or anything?'
Henry shook his head. "Nope. I was wondering if you knew about it, since you have one of those weird ones."
Michael slapped the page with his palm. "It's stupid how no one knows about any of this. When I asked that Emerson dude about my Turtwig, he just kicked us out. And he's supposed to be the authority on pokémon."
"Wow, that was really mean of him to do that."
"He's probably just too lazy to do his homework. I bet that the answer is sitting right there in one of his books, but he can't be bothered to look because he's too busy trying to quit smoking." Michael spat, and shoved his notebook back into his backpack. "Anyway, I'm not just gonna sit here all day. You ready to go?"
"All right." Henry stood, and began to gather his things.
Michael urged his heavy limbs to move back onto the path. Up ahead, he could see the beginnings of a strange rock formation. Branches obscured his view, but he was fairly certain that there was a sign hanging over it.
"There's Oreburgh Gate," Henry explained. "It's the only public entrance to the city."
Beyond that, Michael could see the hazy outline of the Coronet mountain range. Its jagged pattern stretched across the horizon, from the region's southern shores to its snowy northern valleys. The sun rested atop a blunt peak, illuminating the land on the other side. He exhaled slowly. For the first time, the world seemed like such a big place.
"Well, we're not gonna get there by just looking at it," Michael said after a while. "Let's go." Michael started forward. From behind, he heard the beat of Henry's footsteps as he rushed to keep up.
The Oreburgh Gate didn't have any doors. Its floor wasn't paved, and flickering ceiling lamps served as the lighting. The air inside was hot and thin. There were a few people here as well, cooing to wailing children and using pay phones. The lamps casted unnatural shadows on their faces, making them look demented.
"My gosh, it's like a cave in here," Michael shuddered.
Henry let out a dry cough. "Yeah. I hope the city isn't this bad."
It wasn't. The first thing Michael noticed when they stepped out into the light was how brown everything was. The roads, the buildings, and even people's clothes had that same dusty shade. Unlike Jubilife, there were no flashing lights or advertisements to be seen. The closest thing to technology was the complex system of pulleys that circulated the town, transporting rocks of various sizes. Michael's eyes traced the maze and quickly found its starting point - a large opening in the ground on the far side of the city. Like Jubilife, it was buzzing with activity. But this town was like a tiny ant colony - small, but hardworking. Everyone here seemed like family, instead of just a bunch of strangers gathered in one spot.
"I always liked this place," Henry finally said, inhaling.
"So where's the Pokémon Center?"
"It's a bit further in. I'll show you."
Henry led him in a winding path, crossing intersections and sharply rounding corners. During a span of five minutes, Michael went through at least seven different visualizations of what the building might look like. Would there be a line? Would it cost him money? Would it be like one of those fancy clubs that never let anybody inside?
Just when Michael thought his head would explode, Henry stopped and pointed. "Look!"
In front of them was an ordinary-looking building, with shining windows and a bright red roof. A pokéball was painted on its door, but apart from that, it was nothing special.
On the inside, Pokémon Center resembled a laundromat. The walls and floor were white, and were lined with strange machines. Michael watched as a woman placed three pokéballs onto a metal tray and closed the lid. Her machine glowed red for about a minute, then she withdrew the pokéballs and put them back into her purse.
"Here, I'll show you how to use it." Henry pulled him over to an unoccupied machine and repeated the process. It hummed, displaying a constant temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Minutes later, Turtwig's pokéball came back out. It felt warm in Michael's hands.
Henry smiled. "Yup. Turtwig's as good as new."
Michael found it hard to believe that, but decided to take Henry's word for it. "Well, okay. Thanks, I guess." There was a pause. Henry began to rock back and forth, eyes drifting towards the ceiling.
"So... are there any good places to battle, or is everything just lumped together here?" Michael asked.
Henry clicked his tongue. "Well, there's a park at the center of town. I can show you that too. A lot of trainers come there to practice, but..."
"The people there are really mean." Henry looked down at his shoes. "They... they like to make fun of people, let's just say."
Michael let out a groan. What was this kid, six? "I think I'll be fine."
Henry shook his head. "No it's not a good idea! Trust me. They'll pick on you, just like Chester and Veronica did."
Michael laughed. "You actually think I was afraid of your little dweeb friends? Let me clue you in on something. I was the coolest guy in my school. No one picked on me, because they all respected me. So I'm the last person you should be worrying about when it comes to those sissies."
"But those kids are all bad!" Henry persisted. "They smoke and stuff!"
"Just because someone smokes doesn't mean they're bad. My brother... he smoked, and he was the best person I ever knew." He looked at Henry again. "So are you gonna take me there, or am I gonna have to find my own way?"
"Well... okay. But we can't stay long, okay?" Henry pleaded. Michael rolled his eyes.
"Yeah sure whatever. Let's go."
They left the Pokémon Center. Henry led him through several more streets, until they came across a large square clearing. The entire city ran around it, branching off into a bunch of little dirt paths that led to the park. Some kids were here already, sitting on benches and under trees. And although he searched, Michael saw only one boy who was smoking.
"Well, here we are!" Henry said. "Who do you want to battle first?"
Michael took a look around. He saw one girl sitting on a swing set stroking a Piplup, and a boy by the fence playing with his Machop. Neither of them looked like they could take a hit, much less pay a good amount. He walked past them. The other kids either didn't have pokémon with them, or turned away when he approached.
Michael continued through the park, and stopped when he reached a tall white fence. A group of five boys was leaning against it, talking slowly and casually.
"They look like a good group," Michael said. "What if I beat them five to one? How cool would that be?"
Henry, however, was shaking. "Oh no..." He reached up to bite his nail.
"You see those boys over there?" He pointed to the group. Someone had told a joke, and now they were all laughing heartily. Michael instantly thought of his friends, and felt a pang of guilt.
"They're the ones who make fun of me," Henry said, keeping his voice low.
"And what am I supposed to do about it? You have to stick up for yourself."
"Yeah, but -"
"Yo, it's Henry!"
Michael looked up. One of the boys had noticed them, and was slowly coming their way. The gang trailed behind in a semicircle of grins. Henry seemed to shrink in their presence.
"So who's your friend?" said the first boy. He looked over to Michael, giving him a quick once-over. Michael did the same. He noticed that the kid was wearing a Team Galactic shirt.
"You got a name?"
"Michael. Michael Rowan," he said simply, hands in his pockets. The boy nodded.
"What you doing hanging around a wimp like him for?" He jerked his thumb in Henry's direction.
"He's showing me around town." Michael nodded towards his shirt. "Been watching the Space Race lately?"
The boy grinned. "Yeah. Team Galactic is boss, man."
"Did you see those shots of Deoxys?"
"Yeah yeah, nothing special. If you ask me, the Rockets are just desperate for an excuse to beat us."
"Agreed," Michael said. "It's pathetic, really."
"Yeah and for all we know, they could've faked it. Why, we could take a picture of Henry's face and say it's an alien species."
Michael began to laugh.
"What do you want from us, Mack?" Henry finally said.
The boy turned back to Henry, his smile fading. "Not feeling too brave without those friends of yours covering your ass, are you? Is that why you brought Michael along? Think you can scare us away?" The rest of the gang began to chuckle.
"It's... it's not like that..." Henry looked down again, and began drawing circles in the dirt.
"You need to learn respect, little punk. Don't think I'll forget what you tried to do to us."
When Henry lifted his face again, his cheeks were red. "Let's leave, Michael."
"Mike can do whatever he wants, right? He's a cool head."
Henry tapped Michael on the shoulder. "Come on, let's go!"
"Hey, why don't you leave the kid alone and let him do what he wants?" The boy turned again to Michael. "You can hang out here if you want, Michael. You can help us maintain order in the park. Too many wimps like him, if you ask me. How about it?" The boy extended a hand. His arm was covered in dirt, leaves, and bruises.
But before Michael could reply, he felt something jerk his arm forward. All at once, the gang groaned. It took a few seconds to realize what was happening. Henry had grabbed him by the arm and was stomping down the path, like a mother would do to her child. Michael felt his face redden as he struggled to pry his fingers off.
"Shit! Henry, let go! What the hell are you doing?"
"Those kids are mean, and I don't want to be around them."
"So?" Michael looked back over his shoulder. The gang was shouting something over to them, but he couldn't hear what it was. They were already nearing the exit. "Man, why do you have to be such a -"
"Wimp? Dweeb? Nerd?" Henry sighed and dropped his hand. "Everyone's so mean to me here!" His voice cracked, and his eyes filled with tears. Pretty soon, they were spilling down his cheeks.
Michael gritted his teeth. "Stop crying. It's embarrassing."
"I don't care!" he shouted, voice hoarse. "I'm sick of everyone treating me like this! It's not fair! Everyone does it! It's everywhere I go, and I don't know why!" He was seconds away from stomping his foot, but before he could, Michael grabbed his shoulders.
"Listen to me, people are only gonna laugh harder when they see you cry! So shut up!" Michael shook him a little, and Henry quieted down.
"I'm sorry!" He sniffed and wiped his eyes. "Those kids just annoy me so much! They're the reason I hate coming here."
"Fine. Is there another place I can go to battle without having you scream in my face?"
"T-the Gym, but..."
"I'm not good for that either!"
"Hang on, hang on. What is a Gym, exactly? Tell me."
Henry sniffed again. "Not... not a lot of trainers want to do it. It's for the topest of the top. They say it's hard like crazy."
"Do they give money?"
"Then let's check it out."
"Wait, I don't want to go there either," Henry said.
"Ugh. Why not?"
"Because I always lose!" A fresh stream of tears fell from his eyes. "I'm not good at anything!"
Michael sighed. "Give it another shot, okay? We'll go together."
"No! I won't!"
"You're acting like a little kid."
"But I know I'll lose!"
"Then you'll really lose! But if you're certain that you're gonna win, then you'll win."
"But it doesn't work like that for me! You don't know what it's like to have every single person you talk to laugh at you! You don't know what it's like!"
"Oh God, I am so sick of your sob stories! You're so damn soft!" Michael gave him a sharp punch in the shoulder. Henry staggered back, wincing with pain. "There's always gonna be some kid out there who has it worse than you do. But that kid isn't crying about it. He's fighting the world and making something out of himself. I'm giving you a choice. Today. Are you gonna be a closet wimp, or are you gonna do your own thinking?"
Henry pondered this for a moment, wiping his nose of his sleeve. "Okay... Fine."
Henry looked up at Michael with watery eyes, and smiled. "Thanks for that."
"For calming me down. You're a good friend."
This caught Michael off guard. He stepped back a little, and looked at Henry curiously. "Okay. Uh... thanks."
They left the park in silence. Michael's mind was churning. First his teacher had put him down. Then his mother had left him, dropping off the face of the Earth. Then a bookstore clerk had called him a monster. Then a pair of kids had laughed at him for sleeping under a tree.
Then out of the blue came Henry, the kid who wore a sunhat, almost a foot shorter than him, the pinnacle of middle-school nerdiness, and the first kid who had ever called Michael Rowan a good friend.
Probably the only issue I had with the chapter was that Michael seemed to win his battles a bit too easily... especially a Turtwig with very little battle experience taking down a fully evolved Azumarill with a nickname that really doesn't suit it (I would have expected Jaws to be the name of a Totodile or something lol) However, I do realize that you're trying to show that exploiting type weaknesses is a new and mostly unknown tactic, so I guess I can let it slide.
It's quite interesting how Michael and new tag-along Henry have such differing personalities (kinda like a certain math and car obsessed girl and her younger sister that we know and love xD) and I think it'll be fun seeing Michael's brash attitude clash with Henry's more timid one.
Ah, the lure of cash. The inspiration for trainers and fraud artists alike. Not that Michael's gonna be the next Bernie Madoff or anything, but I do find it amusing how his whole motivation at this point is the cold hard cash xD
If the last chapter showed Michael's first step toward changing his cold attitude, then this one shows the second step by taking Henry under his wing. As well as his first taste of using type to his advantage. I can already see hints of a researcher in him, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he further develops, as the first Gym looms on the horizon....
but I could be wrong
Sorry, I can't find a lot of time to post anymore. Thank you both for the reviews, LeSabre and Gardenia! I'd give you both more detailed replies, but I'm a bit short on time. I appreciate you both for stopping by, and I hope you'll like seven!
"... so there are eight Gyms all over Sinnoh, and one leader for each Gym. Those trainers are really good, and you get a badge for each one you beat," Henry was saying, as they walked down Helix Avenue. It was a pretty busy road, full of pedestrians and hikers carrying shovels, but according to Henry, it was the fastest route to the Gym. During the past five minutes, he had covered the basics of the Gym's operation, all the trainers that would be there, and told Michael more about the worldwide competition that they called the Pokémon League. Apparently each country had its own, though each circuit was united under one logo.
"And who's the leader for this town?" Michael asked.
"Byron. I've battled him before, and he's really good. That's kinda how I got stuck with Chester and Veronica. They both won the Oreburgh Gym, and I'm the only one who lost."
"Okay, and let's say I beat all the Gyms. Then what happens?"
"Well, you can go to the Elite Four. They're the four most powerful trainers in the region. And after you've beaten them, well, if you get lucky enough, you get a shot at the most powerful one. The champion."
"And after that?"
Henry's growing smile faded for a moment. "I don't know. I don't think anyone's won before. They say you get a plaque, and your name goes down in a place called the Hall of Fame. Oh, and there's a money prize too."
Instantly, Michael leaned in. "How much?"
"Fifty thousand dollars."
Michael felt as if he'd been slapped in the face. "Fifty thousand dollars... is there an age limit?"
"I don't think so."
Michael beamed, and looked up towards the sky. It was a clear summer blue.
Fifty thousand... imagine if I won! I'd be the most powerful person in Sinnoh! I'll never have to count my money again.
Indeed, it would be rather fitting if he left his home as a poor, homeless drifter, and eventually found riches on his travels. It would be the perfect success story, something that would inspire people to write books and even movies. Michael turned back to Henry, and saw that he had been looking up as well.
"I'm gonna take the Gym challenge," Michael said.
Henry's face fell. "Wow. I bet you have what it takes, though. You look like it. But me, I stink. I want to sign up for a rematch, but I don't think I'll make it."
Michael grumbled. "My God, you're so fricking depressed. You're never gonna get anywhere, you know that?"
"But it's true! He knocked my team out flat."
"So try again and kick his ass this time."
"I guess..." Henry said, without enthusiasm. They continued walking, and now, Michael could see a large brick building up ahead. It was bordered by shrubs, which hid a thinning lawn. They neared it, and Michael could see a sign that jutted out of the soil: 'Oreburgh City Gym. Leader - Byron.'
"That's it?" he said. "That's the Gym?"
Henry looked up. "Yeah."
"Not too big on advertising, are they?"
"They don't have to be. Just being the first Gym of the League makes it popular."
The path that led up to the building wasn't paved. Now, Michael could see the sign in detail. Its surface was dented slightly, and there was a smaller inscription underneath the text: "I rock this town!" He chuckled to himself.
"So how do we do this; do I just walk in and say I want a battle?"
"Pretty much," Henry nodded.
Michael stepped forward and knocked on the door. There was no answer.
"Hello?" he called. His hand fell down to the doorknob, and he gave it a turn. It wasn't locked. He opened the door slowly and stepped in.
Inside, the ceiling was high and the floor was covered with tumble mats. Small, square windows lined the walls, giving light to the room. It was spacious, clearly designed for a large event, but today the benches that lined the walls were empty. The only other people there were a young man and woman, both standing in the center. The man was reading something on a clipboard, dressed plainly in a polo shirt and pants. The woman stood behind him, humming, with her arms draped over his shoulders. They were so caught up in their task that they didn't notice when the door slammed, and the two new arrivals stepped into the room.
"...so they want me to give ten percent of my profits towards the new museum, and in return they'll give me free advertising," said the man, scratching his chin. "What do you think?"
The woman laughed loudly. "Oh, they've been asking that for months now! Can't you just say no already and stop playing nice?"
Michael raised an eyebrow. A puzzled look had crossed Henry's face as well. He was about to back away when the man suddenly looked up.
"Uh, hello. Can I help you?"
The man snapped his fingers. "Oh, right, right, you're trainers! Sorry for not recognizing you, I'm really busy today. Are you here to schedule a battle?"
"Yeah," Michael said.
The man nodded. "Okay. I'll put you on the waiting list." He flipped back a few pages and drew a pen from his pocket.
"Wait a minute, there's a waiting list?"
He smiled. "Well, this is a popular Gym. A lot of people are waiting to get their first badge."
"Especially since the Gym leader is so handsome!" The woman smiled, tilting his face toward hers.
"So, both of you want a battle?"
Michael stole a sideways glance. Henry shrugged, biting his lip. "Yeah," Michael said loudly. "The little kid too."
"All right. Names please?"
"Henry McPherson... I battled you on Monday, so you might remember me..." Henry's gaze fell to the floor.
"Here for a rematch? That's good for you, boy. The sign of a remarkable trainer is his determination." Byron scribbled down a few notes, then turned to Michael.
"Okay. I don't think I've seen you before. Is it your first time here?"
"Okay, then I'll have to register you in the records. First off, are you a boy or a girl?" Michael's lips parted, and Byron chuckled. "Just kidding. All right, I'll need your age and date of birth."
"I'm thirteen. July 19, 1950."
Byron scribbled some more. "Okay, now I need to -"
But before he could finish, he was interrupted by a loud slam. A man's bald head poked through one of the side doors.
"Uh, Byron? Phone call. It's urgent. From the landscaper."
Byron sighed and pocketed the pen. "Now?" The man nodded, and Byron turned back to Michael. "The way it is, your battle will probably be next Tuesday. We open at nine in the morning, so be there early. Henry, yours will be on Wednesday."
Byron waved casually, then turned to leave. The two disappeared behind the door, talking animatedly, leaving only the woman. She looked over to the boys and let out a playful tsk.
"He's always so busy, that Byron. Here." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. "He always gives these things out to new trainers. Looks like he forgot this time, so you can have this one."
"Thanks." Michael took a look at its cover. 'THE POKÉMON LEAGUE: INFORMATION FOR THE FUTURE MASTER'. He didn't feel like reading what was inside at the moment, so he shoved it into his pocket.
Once he was outside, he collapsed into a nearby bench, grateful for the sun's heat on his face. Henry sat down as well, placing the cage next to him, and rested his elbows on his knees. The Stunky squeaked.
"Well, we have our battles." Michael said after a short silence. "That Byron guy doesn't look so tough, though."
"He's really good," Henry said, still staring at the ground. "He knocked my entire team out in less than a minute."
Michael looked at the sign again. "Well, he should really come up with a new slogan. 'I rock this town' is really cheesy." He continued to stare at it for a while, through narrowed eyes.
"You need to train them big time if you want to win, though," Henry pressed on. "Seriously, Byron's the master on rock type pokémon!"
"Hang on. Did you say rock?" Michael's eyes were fully open now.
"You mean, this Gym only uses one type of pokémon?"
Michael smiled. His gaze trailed off back to the sign. The letters, which had been carved deeply into the wood, now seemed to stand out against the background. "You know, we could really use this to our advantage."
"I've been thinking about this for a while, ever since I beat your friends. Have you ever noticed whether an attack has different effects on different pokémon?"
Henry rubbed his forehead. "Well, I guess. I mean, when Chester and Veronica used Water Gun and Hydro Pump on your Turtwig, it barely did anything. But when they use it on other people's pokémon, it practically knocks them out the first time. One day, they were battling a kid with a Hondour. They won in, like, thirty seconds. I counted."
"Do you know why that happened?"
Henry shook his head. "I guess some pokémon are weaker than others?"
"Maybe... but I think there's something else at play. Like... people use water to douse fire. But water, just normal water, doesn't ever hurt plants. Plants absorb it to make themselves healthier. And Turtwig is a grass pokémon, so..."
"So water attacks can't hurt it?" Henry's face lit up. "That's why you won!"
"I think so."
"But this gym is rock type. If a rock falls on a plant, won't it die?"
"Well... it's something I learned in science class. It's called biological weathering. Some species of plants can break down entire boulders. Kind of like decomposition, when flies and stuff pick at a dead corpse."
Henry's nose crinkled in disgust. "Are you sure that'll work?"
"Well, if it'll get me the win, it's worth a try."
"But won't it be... you know... cheating?"
Michael groaned. "Look, I honestly don't think that guy's gonna care if we do a little extra prep before the battle. It's not like it's a test. He never said that we couldn't try to help ourselves. And that's the most important part. Whatever people don't say you can't do, you can do."
"I've never really thought about it that way... Hey, you know what you should do? You should make a chart with all the types on it. And for every one you can write down what it's weak against and what it's strong against. That'll make you win the Gym for sure." Henry beamed. "We could bring it in on battle day, even. It would be so nifty!"
Michael cringed, unable to stop himself. "Okay, just please don't say 'nifty' again. That's what all the dweebs say. They think it's cool, but really, it's not."
"... I guess." Henry flushed a little at Michael's correction, and looked down at his thumbs. "You know, we could train together too. Since our battles are close and stuff. Just to help each other out."
"Uh, problem? I have nowhere to stay."
"You can share the hotel room with me. It has two beds. I have it 'till the end of the week too."
"All right. But first I want to find more about this Gym. Let's go to the Pokémon Center. There should be a bunch of trainers there." Michael rose from the chair, and Henry followed. They made their way back to the familiar building, and when Michael entered, he took a good look around.
There weren't that many kids here, though his gaze eventually found a young boy sitting in the corner. He was fiddling around with a metal cube, a mound of curly hair shielding his face from view. Michael guessed he was a trainer - the belt strapped to his waist held three pokéballs. The boy didn't notice their approach. Up close, Michael saw that the cube had a small screen. It flickered to life when the boy pressed the buttons, then went blank again a few seconds later. Each time it did, the boy let out a small groan.
"Hey," Michael said. "Do you have a minute?"
The boy looked up. His face was flushed, and his glasses were askew. His hat bore the pokéball insignia, the same that was on the back of the machine. "Huh? Who're you?"
"Just a trainer."
"We want to know more about the Oreburgh Gym," Henry piped up.
The boy eyed them briefly, then shook his head. "Uh, sorry, I can't help you. I'm busy." He looked back down at his machine and rapped it against the wall. "You stupid piece of... work already!" The screen flashed again. It now covered with tiny white stripes.
"What is that thing?" Michael said.
"It's a Pokémon Data Exploiter," the boy huffed. "It's the newest model, but it's just as bad as the rest... Come on, you stupid piece of shit! Work!" He knocked it against the wall one more time, so loudly that several heads turned. The boy ignored the murmurs, and lowered the device into his lap. There was a dent on the corner, but the screen had died.
"It's no use." His shoulders sagged. "I'm done for."
The boy looked up at Michael. "The professor gave it to me. I'm one of is interns-in-training. It's a summer camp." He sighed. "The professor wants us to gather info on sixty species of pokémon by the end of the month and record them here. I already got ten, but then this stupid gizmo died on me!" He gave it another half-hearted tap. "It'll take forever to get it fixed. By then, all the other guys will beat me."
"Well that's a stupid competition. Is there a prize?"
"Yeah. You get this super cool new pokéball that the professor designed himself. It's supposed to be foolproof, but I don't believe him."
Michael chuckled. "I wouldn't rely on that idiot too much. He doesn't know shit about what he's doing. You know, my friends and I, we call him -"
"Professor Chrome Dome, yeah," the boy said absently. "Everyone calls him that behind his back, even some of his real assistants. It's funny, but it's sad at the same time. You know, 'cause he can't help it or anything. He's lazy and stuff, but he's pretty nice once you get to know him."
"Whatever. So are you gonna help us or not?"
"The Gym," Michael said. "Have you been there? Do you know anyone who's battled Byron before?"
The kid shrugged. "I'm not really into the League, since my camp's taking too much of my time. But I've been there before, you know, just to see what types of pokémon he has, and... " He rubbed his chin, as if deciding whether to continue. "Well, okay, here's the thing with Byron. He says he prefers to use rock pokémon, but really, he's well-rounded with the moves. And one of his pokémon isn't even rock type."
"Then what is it?" Michael said, now more impatient than ever. "Tell us!"
"I would tell you if I could, but all my data's in here!" the boy held up the contraption. "And I can't get it started!"
"Perfect." Michael slapped his forehead. "Can't you just get it fixed or something?"
"Not when Sandgem Town's over a hundred miles away! Going back now would be like reserving a spot in last place!"
"Then get it fixed here," Michael said. "There should be a repair shop or something."
The boy shook his head. "No, it won't do any good. The professor designed it himself, and it's completely unique so only he knows how it works."
"Then he's a dipstick!" Michael exploded. "Didn't he give you something, anything, in case it malfunctioned?"
The boy opened his mouth for an angry reply, but then, his face lit up. "You know... maybe he did. I remember him giving us all this little pouch before we left. It had a bunch of tools to fix it..."
"Yes, and where did you put the pouch?" Michael said.
The boy held up a finger. "Hang on, I might have it here..." he slid his backpack off his shoulder and placed it in his lap, unzipped it and began to search through it.
Michael waited with his arms crossed, and Henry clicked his tongue. When the boy finally took out a large pouch from the bag, Michael sighed with relief.
"I almost forgot I had this," the kid said. "Thanks!"
"All right, all right. So can you do it yourself?"
The boy shook his head. "I don't know... I forgot most of what he showed me. But I can try. We'll need a table, though." He looked around, and pointed to an empty wooden table in the corner, well away from the machines. The three went over and sat down, and the boy spilled out the tools onto the surface. There was a small screwdriver, a few colored wires, an extra battery, and a few extra screws. He watched as the boy opened the device's back, revealing a jumble of wires and lights.
"My gosh," Henry said. "That thing looks like it's about to eat me alive! Did you say it was the newest model?"
"Then what did the first one look like?"
The boy paused and looked at Henry. "Uh... you don't want to know. You couldn't even carry it in your pocket because it was so big. You had to use a special case, and it was pretty heavy. So if you were a researcher and you had to lug it around all day, you'd be having backaches all the time. The professor told us all about them. The Data Exploiters were originally storage systems, just for regular computers, but then the scientists got sick of using paper to record their pokémon data, and they converted the systems to store that instead. They've made a lot of improvements since the first Data Exploiters, like they made it portable and stuff, but there's still something missing. They can't make a device that's both small and fast and doesn't die every other time you use it." The boy held up a clump of wires to the light, but dropped them instantly. "Owww! My God, that's hot!" He rubbed his fingers and looked down at the open device. "Ugh, man, this is so impossible! I don't even know what's making it act up like this!"
"Do you know how wires work?" Henry said.
"Well... no. Something about positive to the positive? Or positive to the negative?"
"No," Henry said. "Don't you just match up the colors or something? Liked red to red and blue to blue?"
"Ugh." Michael rose. "Don't you two pay attention in class? Lemme see it."
The boy stepped aside as Michael bent down beside the table. He pressed his palm to the inside wall, and yanked it back instantly before the heat could burn him. "I think it's overheated. That might be the problem. When machines get too how they can crash because their systems fail. Plus, it looks like your battery's really old. You'll have to change it."
"Do you know how to do that?"
"Yeah. Just give me the spare." Michael unhooked the battery, ignoring the patches of pain in his fingers. The boy gave him the new one, and Michael slid it into the holder. "Now give me two new red wires and a new blue wire." The boy handed him the wires, and Michael clipped them into place.
"I think that's it. But yeah, like I said before, it probably just got too hot and crashed."
"But why does it heat up like that? I swear, sometimes I can't even hold it because it burns my hands."
"You can't fix it," Michael said. "Machines generate heat, and the only way to cool them down is to kill the power for a while. Just don't overwork this thing. It's too crappy to take a hit." He fastened the lid, tightening it in with the screwdriver. "Also, just keep it in a cold place. Like the refrigerator or something."
"What? I'm serious. You have to keep machines cool. Blow it with a fan or something. Here." He handed the device to the boy. "See if it works now."
The kid flipped a switch, and the screen blinked to life. "So far so good..." Michael watched as a title screen popped up - Pokémon Data Exploiter - v9.5. Designed by Sandgem Labs. Then it vanished, replaced by a large scrolling list where a bunch of pokémon names were registered.
"We've got it!" the boy cried. "I have the list up! Thanks so much!"
"Okay, now can you tell us what pokémon Byron has?"
"Yeah, definitely! Hang on." The boy scrolled down the list. Henry hopped up from his seat and leaned over to watch.
"Wow, this is so cool."
The screen read:
POKéMON DATA EXPLOITER v9.5
DATA FILE // POKéMON ENTRIES
No. 001 TURTWIG [GRASS]
No. 002 GROTLE [GRASS]
No. 003 - - - - - - - - -
No. 004 CHIMCHAR [FIRE]
No. 005 - - - - - - - - -
No. 006 - - - - - - - - -
No. 007 PIPLUP [WATER]
No. 008 - - - - - - - - -
No. 009 - - - - - - - - -
No. 010 STARLY [FLYING]
No. 011 - - - - - - - - -
No. 012 - - - - - - - - -
No. 013 BIDOOF [???]
"What are all the spaces for?" Henry said.
"They're the ones I haven't gotten yet."
Michael pointed to Bidoof's entry. "Why are there question marks there?"
"Because I don't know what type it is. I've battled a trainer who had one, and the pokémon just bit and clawed at mine. They didn't shoot water out of their mouths or anything. Its attacks were just normal."
Michael shrugged. "So put 'Normal'. The professor lets you write your own entries, right?"
"Yeah." The boy continued scrolling.
"Man, how many do you have here?"
"I added in sixty slots, but I only have about ten... oh, here, I have the entries from Byron's gym!" He showed them the screen. "Here's his first pokémon."
No. 031 GEODUDE [ROCK]
This guy looks exactly like a rock, but it's strong and fast. In battle, it can use Rollout and knock down opponents using its arms, which it swings around. It lives by the mountains and sometimes on hiking trails. it likes to hide in plain sight, among other rocks, which can make it really hard to find.
"Interesting," Michael said. "Next?"
The boy showed him the next screen.
No. 034 ONIX [ROCK]
A giant worm-thing made of rocks. It likes to burrow deep in the ground where it's nice and cool. It has a good sense of direction, so it never gets lost. In battle, it likes to whip enemies with its tail, which it uses like a club. It can screech really loudly too, which distracts opponents and throws them off balance.
"All right, here ya go..." The final entry flashed before Michael's eyes.
No. 060 BRONZOR [Steel?]
It uses a lot of non-physical attacks that can confuse the opponent. Its habitat and diet is unknown, though it can be a good
The boy sighed and turned off the device. "That's all I could get. I didn't finish it because I didn't really know a whole lot about it. Byron wouldn't let me stay either to observe it; he said that there were other people waiting to battle him."
Michael's shoulders sagged. "Well that sucks. Didn't you get anything else out of it?"
"No. But it was amazing in battle, though. It can knock out a pokémon without even touching it."
"That's strange... were any moves you used effective against it?"
"I used my Buneary. She's really fast, and I just told her to use Jump Kick, and that did the trick."
Michael nodded. "Interesting. Well, thanks a lot kid. You've been a big help."
"Yeah, thanks!" Henry smiled.
"No prob. Hey, before you go, can you do me a favor?"
He turned the device back on. "Do you have any pokémon that I don't have data on? I need a leg up in the competition."
"Sure," Michael said. "Let's see... do you have Stunky?" He gestured towards the cage in Henry's hands.
The boy shook his head. "Nope. I saw one before, but I never got a chance to record anything... Do you mind?"
"Not at all. I'll give you the entry. Let's see... it shoots out a really smelly gas from its butt. The gas is green, and the smell lasts for weeks."
As Michael talked, the boy typed furiously into the device. "Uh-huh."
"They live in grassy areas, mostly near the suburbs, and they're really hard to catch. They run really fast."
"... Okay. Got it. Thanks!"
Michael nodded. "No problem." He looked at the device some more, and smiled. "You know what that Pokédex needs? It needs a feature where you could add in pictures of pokémon."
Suddenly, the boy looked up. "What?"
"You know, a picture. Like put a little camera in there so when you see a new pokémon you take a picture of it. That would be boss, instead of reading stupid text."
"No, I mean... what did you call it?" The boy held up the device. "Poké...what?"
"Pokédex." Michael shrugged. "I don't know, just a shorter name for it. Pokémon Data Exploiter feels so lame to say. Like the cat's got my tongue or something."
The boy rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Pohh-kayy-dex... I like it! I'll have to remember that."
Michael nodded. "Well, good luck with the competition."
"Thanks. Good luck with the battle."
"Cool. Let's go, Henry." Michael turned for the door, and Henry started after him.
"Bye!" the boy called after them, and they left the building.
When Henry joined him outside, Michael put his hands in his pockets. "This is really interesting... do you realize that if we keep this up, we can beat every single Gym in Sinnoh? All we have to do is read up a bit on the pokémon, assemble a team to counter the leaders, and we'll be done!"
"What are you gonna do if you win? Are you gonna challenge the other Gyms?"
Michael thought for a moment. "Probably. If I get good enough, I can win fifty thousand bucks. What are you gonna do if you win?"
Henry puffed out his cheeks. "I don't know... All I want is to get the Coal badge so I can prove to myself and other people that I can do it. Maybe get the next two ones if I'm good enough... but I never thought about doing the entire League. It seems like such a big thing for one person."
A smile tugged at Michael's lips. "Then what about two?"
Henry raised an eyebrow. "Huh?"
"What if we challenged the League together? Think about it. Doing it as a team will be better than doing it alone."
"But we have no money!" Henry protested, fiddling with the edge of his shirt.
"We'll start making some when we win battles. Look at how much I got just for Route 203."
"But it could take weeks for us to get anywhere! What if we don't make it? We'll have to go back home."
Michael rolled his eyes. "Cry me a river. I'm not a coward. I'm not gonna sit home wasting my entire life in my stupid room, moping about how dull my life is and how unfair everyone is to me. Remember how you told me that your friends treated you like dirt? Well, I had it even worse than that. But I'm actually gonna do something about it, because the fact is, if your life sucks now, it's gonna keep on sucking until you change it. I'll make my own money and success one day, and if you want to travel with me, then you have to share that goal. I'm not gonna stop you if you don't want to. So you can just go home right now, like a little baby, and keep on crying and whining. And maybe in a few months, you'll get to read about my victory in the newspaper."
Henry was hesitant. His tongue rolled around between his cheeks as he grappled with conflicting thoughts. His eyes frequently darted to the path, and for a minute, Michael was certain that he would refuse. After all, defeating the Pokémon League was probably far beyond his simple, sixth-grade fantasies.
But to his surprise, the little kid took his hand firmly and shook.
Great. I can already see a major character change in Michael, with him helping the boy with his Pokemon Data Explorer, letting the boy examine the Stunky when he usually doesn't let anyone touch it. Also, I can already see a young proffessor in him. It looks like he's going to discover type strengths and weaknesses.
But, of course, at the end we see that this is still Michael Rowan ;)
PS: I didn't get a PM :O
So thanks for the review! Though, the Data Exploiter is more plot-related. You'll see how that ties in with the whole thing about type matchups.
P.S. From here on, I'll be on a semi-hiatus. I'll try to find time to write, but that won't be much. Find some other fics to read in the meantime I'll be trying to devote as much time as possible to writing, so that'll mean less time on forums. Other days I might not be on at all. So... hope you'll all bear with me. But don't worry, I'm not giving up on this fic. It's too fascinating of an idea for me to drop.
Hope to see you next week!
This is terrible!
Oh, well. I'll find other fanfictions for now. But yours is still the best!
Ah, the precursor to the modern-day Pokedex shows up, complete with what might have been the very first use of the term, "Pokedex." And props for making it somewhat large and cumbersome... in those days actual computers still took up the space of entire rooms. I'm also seeing the plans for the first Pokemon type chart come into existence.
There's a slow but definite change in Michael's character, and that's typically the best way to go at it... have the character develop and change little by little over time (even though he was only helping that kid to get at the dirt on Byron's Pokemon. Teaming up with Henry doesn't seem to have any ulterior motive behind it, though...) I'm quite interested in this upcoming Gym battle because Michael's gonna be using strategy that's something completely new. And anyone using the power of science is a winner in my book.
Anyway, another nice chapter here, and looking forward to the next one... but take your time; there's my own fic and like 29 other sections of the forum I can hang out at anyway
Thank you for reviewing, LeSabre. I would respond to your review in greater dtai, but I have something else on my agenda...
Which just happens to be the posting of Chapter 8. Woop!
All right, before we begin Chapter 8, there are three things I want to get straight.
First off, here I feature some 60's music, mostly songs by the Beatles. (Tell me you didn't see this coming.) Of course, not all of their songs were released before 1963, but they had too many awesome hits after that date for me to leave them out. Therefore, the years won't really correspond, and the story won't be completely historically accurate. (But hey, the record players are accurate, right? Right?)
Second, (if any of you remember lololol) this is the chapter after Michael and Henry decide to take the League challenge together. This chapter will be full of battle scenes (snippets, actually). I hate writing battle scenes, so I wrote a bunch of them.
Third, a BIG thank you to LeSare for helping me out wth the hotels. You hlped me through my rough draft :D
Anyways, I hope my awful late-ness won't suddenly plunge Roots into an unfathomable abyss or anything and you'll still enjoy the chapter.
The Oreburgh Trainer's Hotel was one of the town's newer buildings, built to commemorate the Pokémon League's third successful year of operation. When it was created in 1948, the League was meant to be a small, exclusive competition aimed towards giving gifted trainers opportunities for prolonged careers. Budget cuts forced it to reform, however, and in 1950, the challenge was expanded to include trainers from any part of the region. They would roam about the continent, challenging Gyms and each other, all looking up towards the final destination of the Elite Four. The challenge grew in popularity over the years; the 1956 season was met with an unprecedented level of entries, to the point where Sinnoh was stirred into a mass-migration, and cities were at a loss for what to do to accommodate all the new trainers flooding in.
Government officials created the eight-hotel chain in 1957, going beyond normal codes to built a sleek, silver structure that would stick out of the landscape like a sore thumb. They would be accompanied by a Pokémon Center, a customer-friendly facility designed especially to meet trainers' needs, and a Gym nearby. The goal was to make the structures memorable, to unify the diverse cities of Sinnoh under one logo - the pokéball. Eight buildings standing in eight cities, each exactly the same in design and furnishing, to give trainers from all over a sense of unity and pride.
But to Michael, it was just another thing to squint at.
From a distance, the hotel’s ten-floor glory shone with the sun’s painful light. Its windows were lined up in perfect rows, and the shades overhanging them did not sag the least bit. A vast lawn stood in place of the parking lot, housing shrubs and trees all trimmed to an eerie perfection. A tall sign stood by its entrance, an array of tubes spelling the phrase "WELCOME TRAINERS!" in traffic-stopping letters. When he and Henry crossed over into its walkway, Michael had to cup his hands over his eyes to shield them from the glare.
"Something smells like big business.” Michael said, looking up. “This is practically the tallest building in the town.”
"Yeah they’re pretty rich,” Henry said, nodding his emphasis. “And it's obvious why, I mean, so many people sign up for it and they get profits from selling merchandise.”
“Then the room better be the best damn thing I’ve ever slept in.”
Henry beamed. “It is! It’s amazing. Wait till you see."
He led them up to the lobby, which was dotted with people, much like the Pokémon Center was. The front desk took up most of the space; the rest was an elevator, a few framed advertisements, a magazine rack, and a candy machine. The woman behind the front desk tilted her head to see the new arrivals, and smiled.
"Good morning, Henry!" she called over the general noise.
The other kids turned at the disturbance, some snickering, though Henry paid them no mind. "Good morning Miss Katie!" he replied sunnily. "Guess what? I decided to challenge Byron again. And my friend Michael's taking the challenge too! We're gonna go drop off our stuff and battle out in the courtyard." Henry jostled Michael’s arm, proving that he was there. The clerk smiled.
"I'm glad to hear that. Good luck to the both of you!" She waved, and they got inside the elevator.
Henry's room was on the second floor, a little way down a wide hallway. It was smaller than Michael expected, but cozy to make up for it. Two beds dominated the center, with a nightstand in between and a vanity desk off to the side. Sunlight sifted through cracks in the closed blinds, casting sleepy shadows on the carpet. There was a rotary phone and a TV too, which made him smile. Upon entering the boys went their separate ways - Michael to the TV and Henry to the desk, where he took out a planner and scribbled down the date of the battle.
"There!" he said, and closed it with a satisfied smile. "Now all we gotta do is be ready. And look, I know just the place to battle. There's this courtyard out back. They're all trainers, of course, and they have matches there all the time. And since we’re gonna challenge the League together, I figured we should battle together too. We’ll be the unstoppable team of Henry and Michael!"
"Mhmm," Michael replied, though his mind had trailed off. He was kneeling down beside the TV set, staring expectantly at the screen as he pressed the power button. For a few seconds, the screen remained blank.
"... but you gotta be careful when we’re out there. Some of these kids are really tough. They've lost to Byron loads of times so they have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. But now that you’re here, we can show ‘em who’s boss! Right?”
"Uh-huh." Michael pressed the button harder, but still to no effect. Meanwhile, Henry found a magazine within the rubble on the desk and held it up. “Look, this is Pokémon League Weekly. It’s a magazine that’s especially for the competition. They have weekly tips from the Champion, official merchandise catalogues, and other really cool stuff that helped me loads when I just started out. Even experienced trainers read it, and I think it’s really helpful. You’ll like it too. The hotels keep them up to the last five issues I think, so when we have time, I’ll take you down to the lobby and we’ll pick out a few. You can read them till the newest one comes.”
“Cool.” Michael gritted his teeth. His finger was sore from where the button had wedged into his skin, and when he pulled it away, he saw a small square indentation. A groan escaped him, and he shook the television box with both hands. The antennae rattled noisily. "What the hell? Why won’t this TV work?"
Henry looked over the side of the bed. "Oh. Yeah, that's broken. The staff told us that they're gonna repair all the bad TVs next week, but-"
"Next week?" Michael rose, mouth agape. "You can't be serious, man! Do you know how much stuff you're missing? They update on the Space Race ten times in a week, and twice that for the news! Ugh. This is perfect. My one chance of catching up with things and it's blown!" Michael plopped down onto the bed, and the mattress creaked.
"Hey, it's not all bad,” Henry said, sliding over onto the other bed. “You can still read the Weekly.” He proffered the magazine, and Michael took it grudgingly.
The first thing he saw was a picture of a tanned, smiling boy posing next to a pair of girls against a background of steel arches. The heading read ‘Ricky Sheldon - Two Years Later’ and Michael guessed that he was the current Champion. A pokéball belt hung loosely from the boy’s waist and he wore a black pokéball-logo cap, though Michael had a hunch Ricky cared more for the girls than the pokémon.
When he opened the magazine, Michael saw large pictures and columns of print. The text was airy and friendly, though as he read, he noticed that it placed more emphasis on the League’s glamour and excitement than its actual mechanics. At the top of every page was an image of Ricky Sheldon’s head, next to the words “I did it - so can you!” in bold print. With every page he turned Michael felt more and more awkward in this uncharted territory, yet more and more immersed as the world of pokémon trainers wrapped itself around him. For a full two minutes, he was able to forget entirely of the Space Race, and let his mind be filled with pokéball maintenance tips, badge cleaning, and even color coordination.
He was about halfway through an absurd column about pokémon fashion - dark shades are in, apparently - when a sudden low-key music filled the room. At first, Michael thought he was hallucinating, but when he sat up, it became louder. The sound was tired and drawn-out, like a countryman hauling a heavy sack of potatoes, or old people dancing. The images made Michael cringe. He dropped the magazine onto the bed and looked over to see Henry standing by the vanity, a record player open beside him.
Michael’s grimace must have been disgusting, for he pushed the player’s arm away and cut off the song at once. “What?”
“What the hell did you do that for?” Michael said.
Henry shrugged. “I like to play music while I read. It’s relaxing.”
Michael crossed his arms and sighed. “Okay. First of all, you don’t randomly blare out music when someone else is reading. It’s not cool, and on top of that, it’s rude. I didn’t ask you to play me anything. And second of all... dude. Your mom must have dropped you on your head when you were little, because your taste is terrible. Forget relaxing; that song’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard!”
His words met Henry full in the face, and within seconds, the boy’s shoulders had drooped. “Sorry. I was just trying to make things a bit more fun. You know, since the TV wasn’t working. It’s just that this record is the only one I have. But I like it.”
Michael peered into the record player, but all he saw was a shiny black record with no label. "So whose is it?"
"My mom's," Henry replied.
"No, I mean the band. Who's the band?"
“Huh?” Henry’s eyebrows perked, then lowered. “Oh. No band, sorry. It’s an individual artist. I forget her name, but she’s really good.”
Michael snorted. “And how old is she, ninety?”
“What’s that supposed to mean? I think the song’s really cool. It reminds me of the country.”
"More like retirement community. You need to really reconsider your tastes."
Henry bit his lip. "But there's nothing wrong with the song! My mom says-"
"I'm not asking you what your mom says. Seriously, you’re way younger than she is, and no teen would listen to that album. And yes, this even applies to you. You can’t like this stuff. You just can’t. End of story.”
Henry sat down in the chair and began to twist himself back and forth. “Yeah, I guess...”
“You ‘guess’ what? Isn’t there any other music you listen to?”
“Do you listen to Pink Floyd?"
Henry shook his head. "Nope."
Michael stifled a laugh. "Pathetic. All right, let's try again. Do you listen to Jimi Hendrix?"
"How about the Beach Boys? The Rolling Stones?"
Henry shook his head for both, and repeated the motion for every single big name Michael called out, his eyes blank like a child's. When Michael had recited every single band in his collection, and had each one of them rejected by Henry, all he could do was stare in amazement.
"What rock do you live under? Seriously! You can't tell me you've never heard of any of them! And the Beatles, dude. How can you not know who the Beatles are?"
"I never said I didn't know who they were..." Henry said, his voice dropping to its familiar whisper. "I just don't listen to them."
"What, do you not like them or something?"
"No, I do. Their songs are really carefree and happy. You know, they make you feel good. And at the same time, some of them are really deep too. But my mom doesn't let me to listen to them. She things they're a bad influence."
"She thinks that if I'll listen to them, I'll want to do drugs and wear my hair long and stuff."
"What's wrong with long hair?" Instinctively, Michael reached up to brush back his bangs. He hadn't cut his hair in over a month, so the ends nearly touched his shoulders. As a result of evenings cutting it with school scissors in front of a bathroom mirror, his layers were uneven and his hair formed a sort of messy black helmet. Yet, it was a style he had always liked, and one that any trip to the barber would ruin. Henry backpedaled instantly.
"Oh, I didn't mean you!" he said. "I don't think that all kids with long hair are bad. That would be unfair to, you know, the kids that aren't. It's just that some of them are. Like in my neighborhood, there's a group of kids who like to pick on people." Henry shifted. "They idolize rock bands, and they try to look like them by wearing their hair long. They get wasted after school too. One of them got into a car crash last month. I think it's because of the drugs, but my mom said it's because his hair was too long and he couldn't see what was in front of him. And she doesn't want me to be like them. My school, even. They suspend any boy with hair longer than the tips of his ears and they don't let him come back until he gets it cut."
"That's messed up," Michael said, shaking his head with true pity for the little kid. "What dump of a school do you go to?"
"It's a private school."
"Then it's no wonder you're such a sissy. The kids at private schools are too sheltered. You never learned to face the real side of life. You know, if you spend your entire childhood doing what your mommy says, you're never gonna learn to be yourself. You wanna listen to the Beatles? Let's listen to the Beatles." Michael went over to his backpack and opened it to its largest pocket, where he had packed his records. He had browsed rather hastily through his music collection that night, so of the Beatles he only had Abbey Road and The Beatles. Michael took out both albums and set them down on the table.
"Wow, you have Abbey Road!" Henry said. "That's their best!"
"I know. And from now on, we only listen to this.” Michael quickly replaced Henry's record with his and slid the player's arm over to start the song.
Immediately, a smooth, snappy beat shook the room, followed by the voice of John Lennon.
Here come old flat-top he come... groovin' up slowly he got...
The song went on, the notes weaving into strands of memories that entangled Michael's mind. The song made him think of summer, of his last days of school, sitting on a desk and throwing paper airplanes. He was walking through the halls with Cory and Brendan again, his footsteps in tune with the beat of drums. Music had always had that effect on him - it made his thoughts soar, and if he played it loud enough, he'd enter another world. Brian would always be complaining how he couldn't study with all the ruckus.
Beside him, Henry was also enjoying the tune. He was strumming his fingers against the wood and humming along to the words.
"This is amazing!" he said, smiling. "I haven't heard this song in such a long time. It reminds me of... well, me!"
"That's what music does," Michael said. "It puts you in a different state of mind."
"Yeah... and I don't want to stop listening to it!" Henry said. "Let's stay in a little longer, okay?"
"We'll be sitting here for hours. Let's just bring it with us."
"Out to the courtyard?" Henry looked to the door uncertainly.
"What? Is it not allowed or something?"
"No, but don't you think it'll be a bit weird if we just play music out in the open? People will stare and stuff."
"So what?" Michael switched off the record player, which had only begun to blare the chorus, and lifted the box into his arms. "Let's go. It'll attract attention and we'll get more challenges." With his free hand, he hoisted his backpack onto his shoulder and motioned for Henry to follow.
They did not have to go far; the courtyard’s entrance was also on the first floor, at the end of an adjacent hallway. It was a simple, square field enclosed by a brick wall and centered by a flagpole. There were more than a few kids here, some hanging back in the corners and some running with their pokémon and flying kites. But what dominated the scene, and what Michael noticed first, was a large rectangular boundary marked by white paint. A mass of kids stood on the sides, cheering and pumping their fists around some sort of event. As he drew closer, Michael realized that in the center were two pokémon - a Poochyena and a Linoone - beating the crap out of each other.
"Wow! Let's watch!" Henry beamed. He tugged him forward by the sleeve, and Michael pressed the record player closer to his chest.
"Watch the player, watch the player!" But before he could pull away, he was already in the middle of the action, jostled by countless elbows and hands, his head filled with the noise. Through the constantly moving gaps, he could glimpse a boy in a black jacket squatting down on the Linoone’s end of the battlefield. His teeth were bared in a snarl that made him look strikingly similar to his pokémon.
"Go! Go! Use Slash!" he shouted, while the crowd of kids continued to cheer. Michael couldn't tell if the Linoone had obeyed or not; it continued to claw ravenously at the Poochyena's body as it had before, like a boxer whose adrenaline had gone off the edge.
The unfortunate opponent stood on the other side of the battlefield - a young girl, visibly younger than her opponent, watching the combatants twist over and around each other, with blue eyes so large they looked ready to burst. Michael strained to follow the pokémons’ moments, but just when he pinpointed their location, the blur of color had moved to another, taking a trail of dirt and whipping tails with it. Then, without warning, their dance snapped. The Linoone, apparently, was the one that had struck the final blow. The only thing Michael had time to see was a set of sharp, glinting talons raised up to the light, then brought down onto a wriggling grey body, drawing blood. The smaller pokémon collapsed, and the Linoone bellowed its victory. The girl's mouth fell open in what might have been a scream, but the sound was swallowed in an outbreak of applause. The boy in the black jacket stood and raised his arms like a champion boxer, before a posse of boys surrounded him, frantically exchanging strips of money. It all happened so fast that Michael barely had time to assess the situation.
Henry, however, seemed to process it perfectly. He was standing on his toes, pointing and shouting just like the others. His frantic gaze jumped from Michael, to the battlefield, then back again. “Wow, that was so amazing! Michael, did you see that last one? Huh? Did you see it? That kick, then the Slash, then the Poochyena just fell! It was so awesome! That kid’s good!”
Michael could only nod in reply.
It became quiet in waves, and the party surrounding the winner gradually receded, allowing him to pace the arena in all his arrogance.
"Anyone else wanna battle?" the boy shouted. "Come on, anyone?"
Several kids turned heads, but for a while, no one stepped up to take the challenge. The boy’s grin grew wider, as if this was what he had been expecting. Suddenly, Michael felt someone nudge his shoulder. He turned, and saw Henry wink.
"Come on, you so got this!"
"No!" Michael hissed. "Don't you get it? We can't rush into a battle that quickly! We have to watch to see what strategy this kid has so we can counter him."
“You sure? Well, fine then,” Henry said.
They watched in silence as another boy, a taller blond, rose up for the challenge. The two met, exchanged some verbal abuse, then went off in separate directions. The blond boy pulled a pokéball from his pocket and twisted it open. A bright flash lit his hands, then a small pokémon landed at his feet. A Turtwig. Michael's eyebrows perked. Quickly, he threw his backpack onto the ground and sat down next to it. Henry looked over, and bent down next to him.
"What are you doing?" he whispered.
"I'm making a chart." Michael took out his notebook and a pencil, and began to sketch a table. He divided it into several rows and columns, labeling the first row as 'Grass', and the first column as 'Normal' to stand for the Linoone. "See? This is perfect! That guy has a Turtwig, so by watching him, I can get a few good pointers on what to do with mine." Once he finished, Michael put his pencil down and watched.
The boy's Turtwig, meanwhile, had launched into a slow jog, its eyes narrowed. It made a clunky, labored pace, its leaf flopping awkwardly. Then, a gust of brown wind swept it off its feet, nearly too fast for the eye to see, and rolled with it onto the asphalt. The kids roared. Two bodies tumbled over, and the circle wobbled and widened as people rushed to step out of their way. Linoone was on top of its opponent now, lashing out with claws and tail, knocking the Turtwig forward and backward while the cheers drowned out its cries. It was a pitiful sight, and Michael tore his gaze away from it just in time to jot down a note: 'Linoone is very fast. Turtwig is slow. Linoone will knock out Turtwig before it can throw a single leaf.'
As he predicted, the boy with the Turtwig lost, and in a matter of minutes. The Linoone boy was once again surrounded by applauding fans, his white grin visible for only a few fleeting moments between the jumping bodies. His group of friends immediately broke off from the main crowd, headed away towards the flagpole. Michael caught glimpse of the blond boy somewhere behind, departing off to the sidelines, his eyes sunken.
"Wow, that boy was really good!" Henry said, watching the group go. "You should have battled him though. You could have so taken him.”
“Dude, did you see what he did to that kid’s Turtwig? The same thing would have happened to mine.”
Henry shook his head. “But you’re a better trainer than he was. You could’ve just done the leaf thing and knocked the Linoone out!”
Michael folded the chart and placed the notebook into his backpack. “What makes you think that if that kid’s Turtwig lost, mine would win? Same species of pokémon are the same. I mean, yeah, some can have genetic differences that would make them stronger or faster or weirdly-colored, but a Turtwig’s never gonna beat a Linoone in a race.”
“I guess,” Henry said. “So are we gonna go find some people to battle? I’ve got my team ready.” He tapped his knapsack.
Michael took a look around. A good portion of the crowd had left, though the kids that had stuck by were beginning to converge. They were all still on speaking terms, however, their voices mellow and hushed. When he and Henry approached, the circle opened a little. A boy with glasses immediately distanced himself to meet them, smiling, apparently recognizing them. He was a bit taller than Henry, and had a mound of red curls flopping over his ears.
“Hi Sebastian!” Henry said, and skipped forward to meet him. “I didn’t see you there. Long time no see!”
“Yeah, where have you been all week?” the boy asked. “You’ve missed so much! Maria went on to Eterna and this one kid, Eric I think, got so frustrated he went home!”
Henry’s jaw dropped open. “Wow! Well, you know what they say. First Gym’s the hardest.” The two shared a laugh. Henry promptly turned to Michael and tugged him forward. “This is Michael. He’s my friend. I met him over by Route 203. We’re gonna take the Gym challenge together!” Then, to Michael, he repeated the introduction. “Mike, this is Sebastian. He’s one of the kids I met here. He’s really nice, and he’s a good trainer too.”
Henry stepped back, and the two boys looked each other over. Sebastian wasn’t much - he wore a simple T-shirt and jeans, and stood with a neutral posture pretty relaxed for his age. As his eyes traced Michael’s face, it was obvious that he sensed the age difference. “How old are you?” the boy asked.
“Thirteen,” Michael said, figuring there was no use hiding it. He watched, unsurprised, as Sebastian’s eyebrows climbed.
“Wow. That’s kinda late. When did you get your starter?”
“Few days ago.”
Sebastian nodded, but didn’t press it further. “Okay. So yeah, we were just about to get a battle started. Can you believe it? We had to wait for an hour so that Dennis kid and his group could finish.” He shook his head slowly. “He’s so annoying.”
“You mean that kid who just won?” Michael said. He looked over towards the flagpole, where the group of boys was gathered. They were kicking around something now - a soccer ball, it seemed - and laughing maniacally. When the ball hit the flagpole, it wobbled noisily, and the laughter increased. The kids around them were either watching in annoyance, or trying to ignore them.
“Yeah,” Sebastian said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kid here before, though,” Henry said. “When did he check in?”
“About a day after you left. He’s been walking around like he owns the place from the start, and he hasn’t even battled the Gym yet.”
“Well, has anyone here beaten him before?”
“Oh yeah. But he never lets it get to him.” Sebastian’s face darkened. “He’s a friggin’ cheapskate, that kid. If he loses the bet, he says he’ll pay you tomorrow, but he never does. And if you ask about it, he pretends he doesn’t know what you’re talking about. So don’t battle him. Ever. It’s a loss either way.” He took a deep breath, and the redness in his cheeks subsided a little. “Anyway. We’re all waiting for him to take the Gym and move on outta here. His match is tomorrow, I think, and for our sake, I hope he wins. That way the decent ones will be able to practice too.”
“Okay. So who’s battling who now?”
“We were thinking of doing it in a sort of tournament style, only everyone gets to battle everyone. So one person gets to be it for the round, and the others in the group take turns battling him or her. If they win, then the next person in line goes, but if they lose, then the challenger takes their spot and the next person comes in, and so on.”
“Sounds cool,” Henry said. “Who’s it?”
Sebastian pointed to himself. “Me. Kyle already called first, but the rest we’ll just choose as we go along. You guys in?”
“Sure,” Michael said.
“All right,” Henry said, pumping his fist. “Let’s do this!”
From there, the group arranged itself pretty quickly. Michael got in line after Cindy, and Henry went behind him. Sebastian took his place at the head of the battlefield, and removed one pokéball from his belt.
“Go!” he shouted, releasing a jet of white light, which gathered itself into a ball and took the shape of a Geodude. The pokémon rolled around on the terrain, its two arms flexing, then finally settled in front of its trainer.
The second boy, Kyle stepped forward to take the second side. He released a Machop. Suddenly, the box in Michael’s arms began to feel very, very heavy. Grinning, he set it down and opened it. Henry noticed, and bent down at once.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“I thought this could make things more interesting.” Michael slid the arm over the record and turned up the volume. Within seconds, ‘Come Together’ was blasting out through the courtyard, so loud that the ground seemed to shake.
HERE COME OLD FLAT-TOP HE COME... GROOVIN' UP SLOWLY HE GOT -
JU JU EYEBALL HE ONE... HO-LY ROLLER HE GOT -
HAIR - DOWN - TO HIS KNEE.
GOT TO BE A JOKER HE JUST DO WHAT HE PLEASE...
The sound spread, awakening curious eyes from all over their section of the courtyard. Michael waved to them nonchalantly, and placed the record player into his lap. Henry covered his ears, but Sebastian and the others didn’t seem to mind. The line began snapping, and over the sound he heard -
“Geodude, use Rollout!”
At the command, Geodude tucked its arms over its eyes and rolled forward. The brown ball gained speed, until the cracks on its body seemed to smooth out and its arms vanished in the blur. It zigzagged across the field, throwing up a cloud of dirt, advancing towards the Machop to knock it down like a bowling pin.
On the other side of the field, Machop stood quite still, with a single reedy arm raised in front of it. It appeared rather silly at first, and for a moment, Michael was certain that Geodude would strike first. The pokémon was rolling forward with ferocious speed, its arms flattened, while the Machop stood, its eyes narrowed and focused.
And then, the tiny reedy green arm became a veined, muscular fist.
The song was split by the sickening crack of bone against rock, and the Geodude flew out backwards across the ground it had covered only seconds ago. The pokémon bounced, its arms flailing, and finally rolled over near the white boundary line. Michael leaned forward, unable to believe his eyes. Machop had just whacked a fifty mile-per-hour Geodude like a baseball, and wasn’t the least bit tired. In contrast, the pokémon looked more pumped than ever, huffing as it bounced on the balls of its feet. For a while, the music faded to his ears.
“Wow, Machop’s awesome!” he heard a girl from the line exclaim. “I’m telling ‘ya, that kid can’t fail.”
Michael continued to watched Geodude. There was a lapse in attacks for a moment; the Machop was pumping his energy and the Geodude was clawing weakly at the ground, trying to pull itself up. Before it could succeed, however, the Machop was on top of it again, pelting it with kicks and bullet punches that must have knocked the air out of its cold, hard body. When the Machop bounded back to its trainer, the Geodude was rolling around idly, its eyes closed.
He felt the question coming. Quickly, Michael reached into his backpack and pulled out the chart, adding in a new row labeled ‘Fighting’, then a new column, ‘Rock’. When he finished, he turned to the kids in the line.
“You guys have seen that Machop battle before, right?”
The blonde-haired girl who had spoken before looked down. “Yeah. We battle a lot. Why?”
“Have you seen it battle other rock-like pokémon like Geodude?”
The girl shrugged. “Yeah.”
“What would you say happens in those battles? Does the Machop lose, or does it usually knock them all out?”
She thought for a moment. “It’s hard to say... actually, yeah, I guess he does win a lot against rock pokémon. When he battled Martha’s Graveler, he practically had it in the bag from the start.” She looked over to the girl next to her, who smiled sheepishly.
“He’s a good trainer,” Martha said.
Michael smiled to himself. “Interesting. Very interesting.” He bent back over his chart and placed an ‘E’ in the intersecting square.
In less than a few minutes, Sebastian had lost. His next pokémon - a Shinx - had managed to defeat the Machop, but had given way to Kyle’s Glameow. By then, Abbey Road was more than halfway through. The surrounding kids had either gotten used to the music and were ignoring it, or were watching from the sidelines and singing along. When Sebastian came back to the sidelines, loosening his pokéball belt, Michael’s arm was sore from writing.
“All right, who’s next?”
The girls quickly exchanged glances. “Uh...”
“Wait, wait! I wanna go!” Henry scrambled to his feet. “I wanna go next.”
“Okay,” Sebastian said. “Go Henry.”
Henry beamed. “All right! Now you’ll finally see me battle, Michael!”
Still sitting with his legs crossed, Michael nodded. “Yup.”
“Wish me luck, guys!” Henry waved, and skipped onto the battlefield. He searched through his knapsack, pulling out a pokéball, then putting it back for another. The Skorupi, meanwhile, was clicking its jaw impatiently.
“Come on, Henry!” Kyle called. “Just pick one!”
“All right, all right!” Henry finally settled on one - though they all looked the same to Michael - and put the other two away. He twisted the pokéball open, squinting as the light burst around him. At first, Michael thought he was hallucinating. What appeared to be a pile of leaves had landed at Henry’s feet, shifting and squirming as if there was something ugly hiding inside.
“Oh, there he goes again.” Martha sighed.
“He always uses him,” Cindy said, crossing her arms. “Poor kid. He’s probably just trying to show off.”
“Wait, what?” Michael turned to the girls. “What are you talking about? What is that?”
Cindy shrugged. “A Burmy.”
“A Burmy,” she repeated. “And none of us have any idea how he got one. They’re supposed to live in this exotic, faraway island, so it’s practically impossible.”
“And what’s so special about it? Is it super powerful or something?” Michael turned back to the battlefield. The pile of leaves had sprouted a tiny head. The leaves covered all but two yellow eyes, and a twisted horn protruding from the top.
“No one knows. We’ve seen him battle with it and stuff, but it’s no different than any other pokémon. The only thing is...” Cindy’s voice trailed off, and she bit her lip.
“Yes?” Michael said. “What is it?”
“Well, it’s sort of hard to explain. Once, when we all went out for a walk outside the hotel, Henry took Burmy. And you see how he has those leaves covering him up?” She pointed to the pokémon. He was dodging an array of slices from the Skorupi, hopping from one toothpick foot to another. When he jumped, instead of falling as it should have, the cloak of leaves remained attached to his torso as if glued there.
“Yeah,” Michael said. “What about it?”
“It changed. And it was totally sudden, like the minute he came out of the pokéball. It went from green to, like, a shade of pink. And it was all fluffy, like it wasn’t made of leaves anymore.”
Michael nodded slowly. “And does that happen every time he goes outside?”
“I can’t say I watch it a lot, but the leaves stay on mostly when he’s here, like in the courtyard with all the grass. But the minute we go out into the city, the leaves go away. It’s the weirdest thing.”
“And he’s never taken it to a specialist or anything?”
“Nope. No one knows about it. And he doesn’t seem to care either. He just likes it because it’s ‘special’.” She put air quotes around the word.
Michael’s pencil made a clink clink sound as he tapped the notebook’s spiral. He watched Henry call out a command, and the Burmy’s entire three-pound bulk leaped upon the Skorupi. The Skorupi snarled, and tossed him off with its claws.
“Do the types of moves Burmy uses change when his cloak changes?”
Now Cindy’s eyebrow perked. “You ask a lot of questions. Honestly, I have no idea.”
“Actually, Cindy, I think they do!” Martha snapped her fingers. “Remember the time when he used a grass attack? And then he never used it anywhere else?”
“What are you talking about? No they don’t.” The girls both turned as Tony stepped forward. “You guys have got it all wrong. Burmy always uses the same moves in a battle no matter what.”
“How do you know, you don’t even watch!” Martha said, hands on hips.
“Yeah I do. Are you kidding me?”
“No you don’t, and you know it!”
“Guys, guys!” Michael threw up his hands, and they looked down at him. “It doesn’t matter if the moves change or not. I was just curious. I needed to figure out something.”
“Fine.” Tony shrugged and backed away. “All I’m saying is that they don’t change.”
“Do too,” Martha said.
Michael rolled his eyes. He began watching the battle again, and from what he gathered, Henry was losing. Burmy was being whipped by the Skorupi’s tail, writhing under the gusty blows. When it could take no more, Burmy crumpled, and became once more a pile of leaves on the sidewalk.
“Aww!” Henry shouted. “Darn. All right, return.” He called Burmy back inside and swapped its pokéball with a second.
The pokémon it yielded was a Clefairy, giddy and bouncing. Henry gave the command almost immediately.
“Clefairy, use Wake-up Slap!”
Michael leaned forward.
The Skorupi was charging, the thorn on the end of its tail brandished forward. It wasn’t as fast as the Geodude, though menacing to make up for it. Clefairy shied off to the side, its eyes trembling as they held its thorn in their focus.
“Come on, Clefairy! You gotta get out of the way! Use Wake-up Slap!” Henry urged.
The Skorupi was advancing, yet Clefairy remained still. Then, suddenly, it came to its senses. It turned its tail and scampered away, as fast as its two legs would allow. Michael exploded in laughter. He clutched his stomach and rolled onto his back, letting the pencil fall from his grasp. The battle had become a playground chase, with the Clefairy running and hopping while the Skorupi snapped at its heels.
“Aww! Come on, Clefairy!” Henry slapped his forehead and groaned. “You can’t keep doing this! Don’t bail out on me now!”
The Clefairy ignored him. Its eyes were as wide as golf balls. When the Skorupi’s tail snapped forward they would bulge, and the pokémon would let out a loud squeal.
Kyle, however, remained serious. “Skorupi, finish it off! Use Poison Sting!”
The Skorupi gained speed. Its tail whipped out to the side, the thorn jabbing into Clefairy’s skin. The pokémon let out a pained scream, then its kicks stopped. Its legs became limp, and its body tumbled over. Skorupi’s tail had left a large wound. Blood oozed, mixing with dirt, yet there was a third, purple substance trickling onto the sidewalk.
“Yuck!” Martha gasped. “I’m never gonna raise a poison pokémon.”
Henry’s face fell further. His voice was barely audible over the music as he said, “Okay, return.” He reached into his knapsack one final time and pulled out a third pokéball, his last. He looked at it thoughtfully, then twisted it open.
The pokémon released was a Pachirisu, a face that was all too familiar. Michael’s neighborhood was crawling with them; he often saw them picking food out of trashcans and scampering up tree trunks, often throwing acorns down at people’s heads. This one looked exactly like the type - its eyes were round and mischievous, and its bushy tail twitched with excitement. Michael couldn’t help but feel an old loathing bubble up.
“Pachirisu, use Quick Attack!”
“Skorupi, use Poison Sting!”
At first, it seemed like it would be a repeat of Clefairy’s struggle. The Skorupi charged forward, while the Pachirisu hung back, sparks gathering at its cheeks. But then it sprang forward as well, its tail bouncing off its heels. Skorupi raised its tail like a sledgehammer and brought it down, but the smaller pokémon leaped out of its way with surprising speed.
“Wow!” Sebastian said. “That was quick! I think he’s getting the hang of it.”
Henry was beginning to smile again. He clenched his fist. “All right! Now follow through, buddy!”
The Pachirisu swiveled around back towards the Skorupi and leaped on top, pinning its tail to its back. The bolts on its cheeks flared up, and shot a current through the Skorupi’s body. The Skorupi’s muscles seized, trying desperately to shake the Pachirisu off in between violent spasms.
Now, Kyle’s face began to show a trace of frustration. “Skorupi, hang in there! Crunch!”
The Skorupi rolled over several times, until the Pachirisu’s arms slipped. Its lips spread open into a smile of silver razors. They opened and shut, closing on a chunk of Pachirisu’s tail and legs.
“No!” Henry shouted. “Get out of it! Hurry!”
The Pachirisu tried to wriggle free, but the Skorupi’s jaw was locked. Its teeth swished from side to side, in a sickening grinding of skin, while the Pachirisu’s eyes rolled up to their whites. The pokémon fell limp, and Skorupi spat it out.
“Well done!” Kyle grinned. His Skorupi turned away from its victim and went back to its trainer. Michael felt a slight pity for the kid as Henry bent down beside his fallen pokémon.
“All right... return.”
Pachirisu’s twitching body faded into white, then vanished inside the capsule.
The Henry that came back to them was sullen and sighing.
The first one to speak was Martha. “It’s okay,” she said, giving him a pat. “Better luck next time.”
“Yeah dude,” Sebastian said. “You’ll get better, don’t worry.”
Henry nodded his thanks. He stopped beside Michael last. “Are you ready to go? I’m gonna go back inside now.” His tone revealed nothing.
“Sure.” Michael stood up. He closed the record player and tucked it under his arm. “See you guys around.”
“Bye everyone.” Henry waved, and they headed back towards the building. Once they were well out of earshot, he let out an exasperated sigh.
“I hate this,” he mumbled. “It’s always the same thing over and over again, and I don’t know why. At the rate I’m going, I’ll probably flunk the Gym again... Man, I’m sick of losing.”
“That’s great then.” Michael smiled. He folded his chart neatly and placed it back into his backpack. “Because I know exactly how we can beat it.”
Anyway, good work on the hotel, and the reasoning behind the founding of the chain is actually consistent with real-world hotel chains founded around that time... Holiday Inn, the motel end of Howard Johnson, and Ramada Inn were all created to provide modern, affordable lodging to a specific category of travelers... in your case, traveling Pokemon trainers and in their case, traveling families.
Did they have "portable" (and I use the term loosely since those things were huge) record players that were battery-powered? The ones I remember my parents having was part of their home stereo system and only ran on AC power.
I prefer 80's music, lol. Just a side note.
It's always nice to see more strategizing by Michael, though I wish he would battle for a change He could've taken on that Geodude lol. However, I like that now he's taking other factors besides type into account, such as Linoone's high speed, and how those attributes affect battle. And it looks like there's a plan in place for tackling the gym, and I'm looking forward to seeing what that is.
Another good chapter, nicely detailed, and Michael was able to fill up more slots on his type chart and get some new ideas for how to battle. I'm looking forward to the next chapter!
Oh gosh, did I really mispell that
Haha. Anyways, thanks for the review. I'm pretty sure they did have portable record players. I did a bit of research and looked at a couple pictures. They got a lot smaller; I can tell you that. I was satisfied at how the ending came out, though it was completely different from what I originally planned.
Seriously, this fic has changed a LOT since I first set out to write it. I'm hoping that's a good thing...
See you next chapter
This chapter is possibly the longest I've ever written for this fic. (About 20 pages.) I don't know how quickly I'll be able to get the next one up, but in the meantime, I hope you'll like this one.
Michael woke up early the next morning, which he hadn't done for as long as he could remember.
The previous day had ended rather quickly. When he returned to the hotel room, Michael immediately sat behind the desk and began to scribble on a fresh sheet of paper. His thoughts were clicking by faster than his hand could write, so he frequently had to stop and erase where his pencil had tripped over the lines. He had devised a formula based on the types of Henry’s pokémon and what he had learned from the boy in the Pokémon Center. The formula for Byron’s Gym was:
Geodude: Grass, water, fighting. (NOT electric.)
Onix: Grass, water, fighting. (NOT electric.)
Bronzor: Fighting. If all else fails, luck it out.
Below that, Michael made a few notes on each of Byron’s pokémon’s appearances and how they moved, trying to remember what he had read on the boy’s PokéDex the previous day.
When he told Henry what he had found, the boy responded with a mixture of gratitude and disappointment. “Why didn’t I think of that?” When Michael asked him where his head had been when he lost to Byron, Henry replied with, “I guess I just didn’t know what to do with my team.” Michael would make a more personalized battle plan for Henry later - he’d have to take care of his own first.
Theoretically, Michael knew that if he were able to do a bit of research on the Gym and formulate a counterattack before a battle, he’d pretty much have it all in the bag before he stepped out onto the field. The thought excited him, but either way, he knew that he’d have to get more pokémon sooner or later. If his Turtwig lost, he’d be doomed.
This was the thought Michael was turning over in his mind as he got out of bed, ran his fingers through his hair, and sat down at the table. Henry’s planner was wide open in front of him so he could read the date: Monday, May 30th. The battle was one day away. Henry himself was dead asleep in the second bed, with his arms thrown over his head and his mouth lolling open like a child’s. Usually, this was the type of face he and his friends would color on with markers, but right now, Michael didn’t feel in the mood. Without Cory and Brendan there, he felt a strange detachment from his old life, though deep inside, nothing really had changed.
He went over to Henry’s side and shook his arm. “Wake up. We’re going outside to catch pokémon.”
Henry’s lips moved soundlessly. He rolled over, letting his face sink into the pillow, so his voice came out as a mumble. “Urgh... What time is it?”
“Nine-thirty-one. Get up.” Michael shook him again, and Henry rubbed his eyes. He began to kick off his blanket, and yawned deeply when he got to his feet. His eyes were watery and droopy, though the boy did his best to put on a smile.
“Morning.” He blinked. “Wait. Is the battle today?”
“No. It’s tomorrow.”
Henry relaxed, breathing deeply. “Oh, good. For a minute there, I thought we missed it. We still have a day.”
“Yeah and that’s the problem. We have to catch some pokémon before the battle.”
Henry blinked, puzzled. “But I already have a team.”
“For me, stupid. Do you honestly think I can beat the League with only a puny Turtwig?”
“Oh... right. What kind?”
Michael held up the formula sheet. “You have a good counter team, but I don’t. I need a water type or a fighting type. Can I find either of those here?”
Henry rubbed his chin. “Well... yeah, I think you can find some fighting types in Route 207. I don’t know about water, though.”
“That’s good enough.” Michael placed the paper back onto the desk. “I’ll also need to get some more pokéballs, and we need to battle at least once before tomorrow.”
Henry yawned. “Then we have a big day ahead of us.”
“Yes,” Michael said impatiently. “And every second you waste by standing there looking at me is a second away from our preparation time! Get dressed and let’s go.”
This seemed to set Henry in motion. He rushed over to the closet and shut himself inside, and after a few minutes of rustling and clanging, came out in a T-shirt and shorts. The hat had magically appeared on his head, as had the knapsack on his waist.
Michael hoisted his backpack over his shoulder and headed for the door. He turned, expecting to see Henry following along behind him, but instead saw the boy turn and walk into the bathroom.
Michael let out a groan. “Come on, you can brush your teeth later!”
The mirror lights came on, and water began pouring from the faucet. “No! You have to do it every morning!” Henry called. “Or your teeth will go all brown!”
“They won’t go brown after one day. Trust me. Now get your ass over here.”
“Fine,” Henry snapped. The water and lights went off, and his sulking shoulders appeared from behind the door. Just as Michael was about to turn the knob, Henry made another turn, this time for the shelves. He took down a can and sprinkled some chunky bits of meat into his palm.
“Just let me feed your Stunky.” He tossed the meat into the cage, right over the Stunky’s sleeping body. He placed the can beside the cage, then finally joined Michael by the exit. “Okay, ready.”
Outside, the city was warm and sunny, and filled with people. The early morning energy was beginning to wear off him, and Michael found himself fighting to keep his eyes open as he crossed the street. Their first destination was a hardware store two blocks down. The store had only one room, heavy racks lining the walls, displaying shiny metal goodies. As far as Michael could tell, he and Henry were the only people who shopped for hardware at nine in the morning. The only other person there was a cashier, who also looked quite tired. He acknowledged them with a nod, then went back to drinking his coffee.
Michael perused the aisles, his eyes skimmed over the shelves. He didn’t find any pokéballs, however. He met Henry back at the center of the store, seeing that he was also empty-handed. The store clerk, still watching them, seemed to read his mind.
“Looking for pokéballs?”
“Yeah,” Michael said.
The clerk nodded. “We got ‘em. Come around here. We don’t keep ‘em on shelves.”
Michael approached the counter, and saw the clerk remove a basket from one of the invisible cabinets behind it. It was filled with them, all under a price label of $4.50. Each.
Michael did a double-take. “Four-fifty?”
“I don’t price them, kid, I sell them. Those are the only models available, and they’ll probably be the only ones available ever. One choice, one price.”
Michael thought hard, staring at the paper. “Do they ever miss?” he asked, looking over to the clerk. “Like, can the pokémon break out?”
“Sometimes,” the man answered. “No refunds, though.”
“Can they be reused?”
“If you don’t throw too hard.”
Michael looked back down at the pile of shiny metal orbs. He handed over the money solemnly, and removed one. The clerk placed the money into a separate box.
“Anything else? We have premium pokémon food on sale, and new issues of Pokémon League Weekly for twenty cents.”
“I’ll take the Weekly,” Michael said, reaching into his pocket for some coins. Against all odds, he had grown to like the magazine. Though it was corny at times, occasionally he’d find something in there that was worth reading. Plus, it gave his mind something to concentrate on that didn’t have to do with the Space Race. Having immersed himself in the trainer’s world as deep as two days would get him, the urge to turn on the television was beginning to dwindle. He took a look at the front cover when the clerk handed it to him: Elite Four get new Facility Decor. Boy oh boy.
On their way out, Michael stopped by a bench and flipped through to the article. Henry looked on by his side.
"... Pokémon League's Elite Four get renovated..." Michael recited, skimming across the rows of print. "Wow, they spent $15,000 on new decorations and sofas for their trainers? That's so stupid."
"Told you they were rich," Henry murmured.
Michael scanned down the page, but found nothing else. "You know what I don’t get? They never put up pictures of that place. All they do is tell us how awesome it is. Not even a map, for Pete’s sake. If we don’t know what it looks like, how are we supposed to know where it is?"
"It's about fifty miles off the coast of Sunyshore," Henry said. "And that's all they want you to know. It's supposed to be a surprise, like sort of incentive to get people to compete harder."
“Wow.” Michael turned the page. “I wonder if it’s actually as good as they say, or if it’s all just a bunch of hype.”
“They’ve got trainers from all over the region wanting to beat it. It must be good then,” Henry said. “And at any rate, there’s only one way to find out, right?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” Michael dog-eared the page before closing the magazine. “All right, now we have to catch a pokémon. You know where Route 207 is?”
Henry rose to his feet. “Yeah, it’s past the northern exit. It’s a bit far, but we can make it.”
“Let’s go then.”
They stepped back out into the stream of foot-traffic, and started forward through it. As they walked, Michael recited his plan for the Gym. Henry kept his eyes mostly on the signs, though he nodded intermittently.
“We know that Byron has two rock type pokémon and one steel type pokémon. Remember how that kid with the PokéDex said that his Buneary did a good job against the Bronzor?”
“Well, Buneary’s a fighting type. And if I’m right, fighting types have some influence over steel. So we have to find a fighting pokémon for me now.”
“But what about me?”
“You have a Clefairy. Does your Clefairy know any moves that involve some sort of punching or kicking?”
“Yeah, she knows this move called Wake-Up-Slap, where she basically just slaps the other pokémon on the face. Would that count as fighting?”
“Maybe. What about punches?”
Henry shook his head. “No punches.”
“Then just do what you can with Wake-Up-Slap. Oh, and another thing. Don’t use Pachirisu.”
“Because it’s an electric type pokémon. Have you ever tried to use an electric move on a ground type?”
“Yeah!” Henry exclaimed. “And it never works! The lightning bolt goes through, but it’s like it vanishes! The pokémon doesn’t even get hurt or anything!”
“That’s because they negate electricity. Their type resists it. So don’t even bother trying. Stick with grass and water if you can. They both erode.”
“What about wind? Wind erodes too.”
“Okay, but would a tiny breeze move a boulder?”
“I guess not... I’ll just use my Burmy then.”
“Yeah, and you know the expression ‘kill two birds with one stone’? Guess what that means.”
Henry smiled. “Rock types can hurt flying types! That makes so much sense! Did you-“
“I already added that to the chart.” Michael winked. “Already two steps ahead of you.”
They looped their way through the city gradually, and Michael began to see the beginnings of a strange white building. At first it was obscured by other, lesser structures, then over time, it became more pronounced. Michael realized it was made out of stone. There was no telling how many floors it had, for in place of windows there were intricate carvings and statues.
They came closer, and Michael could read the ornate letters on its face:
OREBURGH MINING MUSEUM - SINCE 1660
Underneath that, a paper banner:
REAL Fossils! Recent mine discoveries! Open from 8 to 9 every day!
Michael’s eyes widened. He had never seen a real museum before, only pathetic symposiums his school sometimes took field trips to. Though it was wider than it was tall, the building still gave off the grand impression of height. Real pillars stood around its perimeter, parting to make room for a parking lot, a few trees, and a statue of some historical figure holding a shovel. People sat smoking on its benches, admiring the view.
“Wow,” Michael said aloud. “That’s a really cool museum.”
Henry looked up, squinting. “Yep. That’s the Oreburgh Mine Museum. This means we’re almost there.”
“We should visit it sometime.”
They stood for a moment, just looking up at it, then continued walking.
Route 207 was a tired, rugged landscape that felt more like a continuation of the city than a separate entity. Most of its plant life worn away from years of foot travel and landslides, leaving bare foothills disturbed occasionally by patches of dry grass. Here, the Coronet mountains were closer than ever. Michael could feel the land’s upward slope, from plains to hills to cliffsides. He had studied them in school for two painful weeks, and now knew almost everything about them. Their highest peak, Mt. Spear (the name always made him laugh), reached a staggering 37,648 feet. No one had ever reached the top.
The route was sparsely peopled - Michael saw a group of trainers here and there, and a few hikers, sweaty and drinking greedily from water flasks. Pokémon were also abundant. Starlies sat in the trees, plucking their feathers, and families of Geodude snoozed in their burrows.
“The Machops should be here,” Henry said. “They’re all over the place.”
“Where should I look?”
“In the bushes. That’s where Kyle found his.”
Michael took a look around. Bushes were scarce, but they were full and large. He went up to one and ran his fingers through it, letting a few leaves fall to the ground. Nothing happened. He shook it harder, but all he heard was an empty rustle. He went over to the next one and repeated the process. Still nothing.
“Check around it too!” Henry called to him. “Here, I’ll help.” He approached another bush and carefully pried apart the branches.
They went for about twenty minutes without finding anything, twenty painful minutes of aimless wandering, while the heat got stronger and stronger. Michael was beginning to regret not taking a water bottle with him, let alone having breakfast. The boys decided to take a break under a tree, where the heat would not reach them yet, their heads tilted back against the trunk.
When he closed his eyes, Michael could feel the heat throb inside of him. His head felt heavy.
“Man... why does summer have to be so hot?” Henry complained.
“Because the Earth tilts on its axis and the sun hits us,” Michael mumbled. “I don’t like it any more than you do. Deal with it.”
“I guess...” A sigh. “I wish I was at home right now. We have a pool, and I used to swim all the time in the summer. The water was nice and cold and blue. Then my mom would make smoothies, and I’d drink it right by the water. Strawberry banana. With those little umbrella things.”
“Well, you’re not at home right now. And your mommy’s not here to kiss your booboos.”
“I didn’t say that,” Henry’s voice receded a little. “I just said she made really good smoothies. She’d buy fruit fresh from the store, right before anyone else. She always wanted to buy a plot of land and start a farm herself. Just for the family.”
“What, is your family rich or something?”
Henry nodded, and when he did, his cheeks grew slightly pink. “Yeah.”
Michael opened his eyes halfway. “So your parents give you whatever you want?”
“Yeah, but they’re not... like, they set limits. They tell me to shop smart and don’t buy me anything unless I can prove I need it. They got me my Burmy for my birthday, but the rest, you know, I caught myself.”
Michael smiled a little at the irony of the moment, but for a while, he said nothing.
“So?” Henry’s voice came, after a while.
“So what?” Michael replied. “What am I supposed to say?”
“I don’t know. It’s just that when I tell people I’m rich, they always look at me weird. Maybe because I don’t seem like it, or it’s a bad thing.”
“Nah, you seem like the type. Rich boy, always gets everything he wants. Then you have me, the kid who gets nothing, has no one, who has to fend for himself. It’s not bad to be rich, you just can’t let it take over your life. See, it’s like what I said before. You can be nice and pampered when you’re a kid or you can live in a wooden shack and eat dirt all day; it still won’t matter. Because when you grow up, none of it applies. The minute you leave home and set off on your own, it’s just you. You against the world.”
Henry nodded slowly.
For a while, they sat in silence. Then, Michael heard a gasp.
He opened his eyes fully now, and saw Henry’s outstretched hand. He was pointing to the path, where a tiny green body had emerged. Michael leaned forward for a better look.
It was a Machop, all right, wandering in the clearing. The pokémon was completely oblivious to the humans that lurked only a few yards away; it was walking amiably, alternating between swinging its arms and picking at the ground. The sun cast a fragile shine on its leathery skin, highlighting the obvious ripple of its muscles. It wasn’t as big as the one he had seen on the battlefield, but at this point, Michael didn’t care. Henry stood up into a crouch, and whispered into his ear.
“Okay, now’s your chance! You want to catch it completely off-guard. Like, not make a sound. Then you slowly creep up to it, and just throw the pokéball. It’ll stay in for a few moments, and when it’s caught, the red knob will lock itself. But if the pokémon’s strong enough, it could break free, and then you’ll have to try again.”
Michael nodded. “Okay.” He took the newly-bought pokéball out of his backpack’s pocket and crawled forward, till he was almost out of the tree’s shade. The Machop’s big brown eyes found their hiding place, swept over their faces, then trailed off to the treetops.
Michael turned back to Henry. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. You come in from the left, slowly, so it’ll see you. I’ll come in from the right, where it won’t see me. You’ll distract it. Do a dance or whatever, just get it to watch you. Then I’ll just throw the pokéball, and the sucker won’t even know what hit him. Got it?”
“Sounds like a plan!” Henry gave him a thumbs-up.
They started off simultaneously, Michael on his hands and knees, and Henry getting up onto his feet. He began to hop around and clap, and the Machop turned to the source of the noise. It blinked.
“Heeey, look over here!” Henry called. “Yoo-hoo!” The Machop shifted its stance. Its hands curled into fists, then uncurled, until it realized that there was no danger. Just another stupid boy doing some stupid dance, it probably thought.
Henry continued to clap, though now he switched from hopping to skipping. He skipped left, then right, then back, the Machop’s gaze followed his every move.
Meanwhile, Michael was advancing behind it. The pokémon was still unsuspecting of him, as according to plan. He inched closer every few seconds, until he could see the tiny rise-and-fall of its chest. He could reach out and stroke the spines on its head if he wanted to.
Come on little guy... He took the pokéball into both hands and began to twist it open. Stand nice and still...
The pokéball fell open in his hands with a loud clank. The Machop’s body shuddered, and the pokémon spun around. Seeing him, and realizing it was tricked, the Machop let out a cry and darted off.
“No! Get back here!” Michael scrambled to his feet. The Machop was aiming for the bushes again, running with its head ducked down like a football player. He started after it as fast as he could, but the Machop had gained too much ground already. Still, Michael kept running, running and shouting.
“Henry! Get it!”
Henry jerked his head to the side just in time to see the Machop pass by him. He dove forward, catching it around the middle. They fell to the ground, Henry grunting, the Machop squirming. It kicked and smacked at his shoulder.
“Hurry!” Henry winced. His arms were wrapped around the pokémon’s body in a cruel hug. Michael held the open pokéball to Machop’s body with shaking hands.
Almost instantly, all color from the pokémon’s body vanished, swallowed by a sudden light, blinding white. It blossomed and burst, taking the route along with it in a horrible, torrential sucking. The light shrank, disintegrating into a shapeless beam, fleeing into the pokéball’s interior like a lightning bolt. Stripes of pain erupted in his hands, and the metal gained a sudden weight. The light pooled into a tight clump around the pokéball, then it closed with a loud slurp. It jerked out of his hands, bounced, and rolled into the dirt.
The pokéball lay on the ground, twitching. The red knob was twisting back and forth of its own accord, making strange squeaking noises. It began to twist down, then it locked, and Michael heard a soft ping as it touched the metal.
Henry smiled. “It’s over. You’ve caught it!”
Michael looked down at his hands. They looked like they had been burned with rope. He picked up the pokéball using the tail of his shirt, though its dulled heat still prickled his fingers.
“Damn, that hurts!” he winced.
“That’s why most trainers wear gloves. We’ll get some when we go back into town.”
“Uh-huh.” Michael staggered over to his backpack and dropped the pokéball inside. He waited for a few moments for the pain to subside, then slung it over his shoulder. “Come on, let’s go.”
Michael started back towards the city. When Henry caught up with him, Michael said, “Man that was the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“The pokéball. I swear, my eyes still hurt from it. Are all captures that chaotic?”
“Yeah. But you get used to it after a while. Gloves help too, for the heat. I always wear mine when I’m catching.”
“Didn’t they ever think of making them out of something other than metal? Or at least covering them with an insulator?”
“I don’t know, but I guess if they’re doing it, it’s probably for a good reason.”
“Do you even know how they work?”
“Nope,” Henry said simply. “No one does. For the most part anyway, unless you’re a scientist or something.”
“Who invented them?”
“Some guy. I forgot his name. But you gotta hand it to him, he’s really smart. Being able to fit a whole pokémon into a tiny space is really genius. It’s like condensing matter. Maybe that’s why they get so heavy while the pokémon are inside.”
The two boys continued down the path into the city. Up above, the sun was rising out of the clouds, bringing in the full heat of day.
When they returned to the hotel, the courtyard was buzzing.
The crowd was bigger than what Michael had seen the previous day, for some reason. The noise carried a sort of peppy excitement that one would find at a bazaar. Strangely, when he looked around, he saw that few kids were battling. They kept their pokéballs on their belts, talking animatedly.
Somehow, Henry located his friends’ faces in the sea of bodies. The familiar faces of Martha, Cindy, and Kyle waved to them from the flagpole, where the population was thickest. Michael and Henry went over to them, pushing past the others.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Henry said. “Did something happen?”
“Yeah, something’s going on all right!” Kyle smiled. “Leroy’s set up a trading booth! He’s giving away his pokémon.”
“Who’s Leroy?” Michael said.
“He’s this kid who’s been here a while. He’s not a trainer, but he goes to the Gym to watch the battles. He carries around this doohickey he calls his PokéDex... I don’t know how he got all those pokémon, but he seems pretty cool about giving them away. He gave me a Starly.”
“I got a Bidoof,” Martha said.
“Wait... hey, that’s the kid we helped! Remember, Michael? In the Pokémon Center!” Henry said.
“Yeah. So he stays here?”
“I guess so. Let’s go talk to him.”
They made their way to the front of the crowd. A line had assembled around the benches, and Leroy sat in one of them. His PokéDex was strapped to his trousers, and he had a bag of pokéballs sitting beside him.
When he saw Michael and Henry, his smile brightened.
“Hey, it’s you! How’ve you been?”
“We’ve been great!” Henry said. “We were in Route 207 catching pokémon. Your pokémon data has helped us loads!”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Leroy tapped the bag. “Want one? I have a Machop, Buneary, Goldeen, Zubat, and a Shinx. I caught them for my Dex, but now I really don’t need them anymore.”
Michael’s shoulders sagged. “Are you kidding me? I go out and spend my own money to catch a Machop, and it turns out I could have gotten an hour more of sleep and still have gotten one for free?”
Henry giggled. “Sorry about that.”
Leroy shrugged. “Well, next time you’ll know where to find me. Heh. So, you want anything?”
“Yeah... we’ll get the Goldeen,” Michael said. “Water’s a good counter for rock.”
Leroy took out a pokéball and handed it to Michael. A paper label was taped to it, displaying the pokémon’s name. “Anything else? Don’t be shy, I have a lot more.”
Henry rubbed his chin. “Ummm, do you have any more water types?”
“Let’s see...” He searched through the bag and came out with a pokéball labeled ‘Magikarp’. “You want him? He knows a few water moves.”
“Sure.” Henry took the pokéball and placed it into his knapsack.
“Well, it’s been nice doing business with you. What do you guys mean by counters, though? Are you planning for the battle or something?”
“No, I came up with a formula on how to beat the Gym,” Michael said. “Basically I found the type weaknesses to each of Byron’s pokémon, so now I’m trying to make a team that will go perfectly against his. It’s foolproof! I keep a chart, so that way when I discover a new weakness, I’ll have a place to record it.”
Leroy nodded. “Wow, that’s creative. I’ve never heard anyone do it that way before. Mostly, I see people come in and just do it all-out, hit him with whatever they’ve got. But you know what’s weird? People with some types of pokémon usually lose more often than others.”
“Yep, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
“You know, I think that this would be really useful for the PokéDex. If my machine had this, my life would be ten times easier!”
“Then make a suggestion to the professor.”
“Yeah, I think I will. When I get done with this, at least. I’m almost to forty entries.” Leroy tapped his PokéDex proudly. “Well, see you around.”
“See ya,” Henry said.
They stepped off to the side, and Leroy called “Next!”
Sebastian stepped forward. He nodded to Leroy. “Hey dude.”
“Hey Sebastian. How goes it?”
“Pretty good. You must be proud of yourself; people are talking about you all over the courtyard!”
“It’s nice to be famous.” Leroy grinned. “So, anything in particular you want?”
“I overheard you and Michael talking about counters and stuff. I think that’s a pretty cool idea. You don’t mind if I try it out, do you?” He turned to Michael, who shook his head.
“Not at all. Go for it, see if it works for you.”
“Cool.” He turned back to Leroy. “Then I’ll get a grass type. Do you have anything like that?”
Leroy fished into the bag. “Let’s see... I have a... Budew? That’s grass.”
“Sure thing. What about water?”
Leroy gave him another Goldeen.
“Can I have a Shinx too? I’ve always wanted one.”
Leroy took out a third pokéball and gave it to Sebastian. He cradled them in his arms.
“Nice doing business with you.”
“You too, Sebastian! Good luck with your battle.”
“Thanks.” He stepped off to the side to meet Henry and Michael. Cindy, Martha, Tony, and Kyle came around to join them.
“Hey Sebastian. What did you get?”
“A Budew, Goldeen, and Shinx. Look out Byron!” He laughed, and the rest of the group joined in. However, a new voice, a new laugh, broke through them. Before Michael could match the voice with the face, he was shoved roughly aside to accommodate a new body into the circle. He stumbled, but regained his footing. Henry, who had been pushed as well, fell silent.
Sebastian’s smile faded. His voice was flat and monotone. “Dennis.”
The boy stepped forward and the circle widened, as if none of its members wanted to come in contact with him. Dennis was still wearing his black sweater, and a lollipop stick was dangling from his mouth like a cigarette. Michael wondered if he had meant it that way.
Dennis waited. “So, none of you are gonna ask me how my battle was?”
Silence. Then, Sebastian spoke. “What, did you lose?”
“Nah, I won. See?” He held up what appeared to be a shiny coin. Before Michael could get a good look at it, it was back inside his pocket. “Byron was so easy. We crushed him flat. You’re planning to do the same, I see.”
“We all are,” Sebastian said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
“Yeah, but people have different ways of achieving their dreams. Some people, like me, work hard at it and keep going until they win. Others, for some strange reason I can’t understand, cheat.”
Clearly, this was not the word he had been expecting. Sebastian eyed Dennis, on the line between uncertainty and hostility. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I couldn’t help but overhear your little friends talk. You, him,” he pointed to Michael, “and Leroy. You do know that what you’re doing is illegal, right?”
“What are you talking about? There’s nothing illegal about a pokémon trade.”
“Do you even know what a legal trade is, smart one? A trade is when two trainers transfer their pokémon over to each other with a binding agreement, meaning that they sign actual papers and don’t just give them away. Or do you Southern folk really forget things so quickly?” He reached into the other pocket of his sweater and brought up a rumpled piece of paper. He unfolded it, and Michael immediately recognized the brochure he had received at Byron’s gym. He handed it to Sebastian. “Read it and weep.”
Sebastian’s eyes were lost in the paper for a few minutes. If the pamphlet contained groundbreaking information, then he didn’t show it. His expression remained neutral as he looked back up at Dennis. “So? You can’t do anything about it.”
“Wrong! Yes I can. As a matter of fact, I can go to the Gym right now and report you. I’ll get you disqualified before you can even battle. The both of you. And yes, I said both, so that includes you. Sitting and drawing.” He turned his gaze over to Michael. “I saw you watching my battle yesterday. You were just sitting there and drawing. You do know that this is a trainer’s hotel and not an art camp, right?”
“He has a chart!” Henry piped up. “He’s a trainer and he's gonna use it to beat the Gym. He'll have a badge just like you.”
The boy’s grin broadened. “Woooooooooow. You guys are such losers. Is that it right there?”
Michael suddenly realized he was still holding the chart. But before he could grab it back, Dennis had snatched it from his fingers and opened it up. He read it over like a doctor would read a patient’s diagnosis. Michael felt strangely exposed.
“Yep... yep. Wow. Yeah, I think I’ll have to keep this.” He folded the paper again, and began to fold it smaller, tucking it inside his fist. Michael’s arm seemed to act of its own accord. He wrapped his fingers around the boy’s wrist and held on firmly.
"You better not."
"Or what?" he sneered.
"Or I'll kick your fat ass."
The kids around him gasped, loud and deep. The boy stepped back, and Michael let his hand slip away. "Well, that sounds like a threat to me. And you know? I don't care. I'll eliminate some competition today. I'm gonna go straight to the Gym and tell them myself. You, Sebastian, and Leroy will all go home crying-"
Michael took a step forward. "I said fuck off! Mind your own business!"
Dennis didn't seem intimidated. He turned on his heel and began an exaggerated march towards the hotel building.
"La-la-la! Let's see you try and stop me!"
The crowd unquestioningly parted to make way. Hundreds of eyes darted from one boy to the other, waiting for some kind of reaction. At that moment, Michael's entire future flashed before his eyes. This one kid, whoever he was, could ruin everything he was about to work for.
Without a second thought, he lunged forward. His hands curled into claws and latched onto the hood of Dennis’s jacket, pulling him back. The boy staggered, then grabbed Michael’s shoulders to balance himself, digging his fingernails into his skin. They felt like prickly needles. Michael swiveled, but their grip held.
“You’re dead meat!” Dennis snarled.
Several people rushed over to watch what was going on. In a matter of seconds a large crowd had formed around them, all pointing and exclaiming. Michael caught a glimpse of Henry among them. His face was chalk white. Then, out of the blue -
“Fight! Fight!” A boy began to jump, pumping his fist. Others caught on to the chant, and the noise swelled.
“Yeah! Fight! Fight!”
Michael ignored the growing chorus. His eyes were on Dennis, and his arms were trying to pry off the fingers that gripped his shoulders. With surprising speed, Dennis pulled one arm back and swung it against his cheek. The punch was like an electric shock. Michael’s head was knocked sideways by an iron mallet, and he felt the world spin. His head might have swiveled around all the way around and come back, like a Noctowl’s.
If they ever punch you in the head, buddy, just punch ‘em right back. You don’t take hits from anyone.
“Fight! Fight! Fight!”
The faces blurred, then cleared. He heard a grunt, then realized it was his own. He had fallen to the ground for some reason, and Dennis was kicking him in the shins, the stomach, the arms. The sneaker jabbed into his flesh then drew back, aiming for another. This time, he grabbed the leg blindly and held on, until he felt the boy’s knees buckle. Dennis fell like a great giant, his upper body bouncing off the concrete.
Michael’s head was still spinning as he got on top of the boy and pinned down his arms, trying to remain steady against his flailing. It was a technique Richard had taught him before his first day of middle school, in case he ever needed it.
"You're not going anywhere!" he shouted, drawing his face within inches of the boy's. His voice sounded ferocious and distant.
"Yes I am!" Dennis rocked from side to side, but Michael didn’t budge. "I'll get you disqualified!"
"No!" Michael swung his fist against the boy's clammy cheek, bringing as much force as he could to the blow. He felt something crack beneath his knuckles, and the boy recoiled, screaming. He punched him again on the other side, watching with sick pleasure as the boy's head gave, spinning from side to side, just like his own head must have spun. He punched him again and again, till the blood from the boy's nose had painted his knucklebones.
"You're not saying anything to anyone," Michael said. "Or I'll find you and knock you out cold. You'll look like your opponent's Turtwig when I'm done with you. Got it?" Now, the boy's eyes trembled with fear. Michael could see a large red circle where his fists had struck, and the stream of blood from his nose had advanced down his cheek. He might have been crying blood. Michael jabbed his hand into the boy’s pocket and pulled out his chart.
As a parting gesture, he gathered the last of his mouth’s saliva and spat it into the kid’s face. “You might want to wipe that.” Michael got up and dusted himself off. The ringing in his ears drowned out the sounds of the kids around him, turning them into a pool of warbled confusion.
So they were calling his name now. What, would he be some sort of hero now? He felt a ripple of annoyance. But at the same time, he wanted to know what the pamphlet had said...
Leaving the chaos behind him, he stormed off towards the building without another word.
"Michael, wait! Wait!" came Henry's voice. He jogged up to Michael's side, his arms waving. Michael wheeled around to face him, grimacing.
The white had still not left Henry’s face, though it didn’t look as ghastly as it did in the crowd. Henry struggled to form words.
“That was amazing! You totally whooped him! I was really worried there for a second when he punched you, but you did it!”
"You idiot!” Michael’s sudden anger caused Henry to step back. “You just had to open your big mouth and blab about the chart. This is all your fault!"
Henry's smile became panicked as Michael backed towards the door. "I'm sorry! I really am!" he said. "I had no idea what was going to happen! I just thought that because you were prepared and everything you'd win and put him in his place because he really deserved it and we'd get him to stop bothering everyone! I didn't know, I mean why did he say that he'd get you disqualified? Is the chart not allowed or something?"
For a minute, Michael stared at Henry's face. His eyes were pleading. Behind them, Dennis had gotten to his feet, and was now heading back to his friends. The crowd followed, pecking him with laughs. Somewhere among them stood Leroy and Sebastian, both talking rapidly.
"No," Michael finally said, looking Henry in the eye. "It's not illegal. That kid was a dork. It was just an empty threat. People do it all the time to get you scared, but you can't fall for it. You have to stand up for yourself instead of hiding in the corner like a little baby."
“Hey, Michael!” Leroy and the others approached him. “That was intense! My gosh, we thought for sure you’d be a goner! ”
“Thanks for that,” Sebastian said. “I don’t think he’ll be bothering us anymore. And if he does, we know what to do, right?” He attempted a smile, but it faded quickly.
“What did the pamphlet say?” Michael said.
“Didn’t you get one?”
“I never read it.”
Sebastian looked at him. His eyes were heavy. “Here. You might want to know now.”
Michael looked over the pamphlet in his hands. He opened it up, and through his half-stupor, began reading.
Welcome, trainer, to the 1963 Sinnoh Pokémon League! This is a regionwide competition in which you are given the opportunity to prove your skills and mastery in the art of training pokémon. No matter your gender, no matter your age, you just might be the next big sensation to become one of Sinnoh's Best Top Fifty... and beyond! As a rising trainer, you will travel the region and visit many historic towns and cities, learn about their backgrounds, and have opportunities to take exclusive, informative tours not available to the general public. Not only that, but you will also partake in eight Gym battles, one for every town you visit. For every win, you will receive a silver badge. Keep them safe, because after you have collected all eight, you may advance to the Elite Four. This is a challenge for the qualified trainer only, operating in its own headquarters just off the coast of Sunyshore City. (For more information, see page 2.) The trainer who wins this season's League will receive an unforgettable prize, including a front-cover appearance on 'Trainers Today' magazine and an interview with Sinnoh News Net. Any trainer is eligible to participate, just register with your local Gym!Below that was a list of rules. Michael’s heart skipped, but he read on.
BASIC RULES & GUIDELINES FOR APPLYING:As Michael closed the pamphlet, he felt a jolt run down his spine. He had broken three of the five rules listed, and he hadn't even battled yet. All it would take was an attentive eye and a quick search through his papers for him to be caught, and most likely banned. Michael blinked slowly, his ears still buzzing. He looked over to Henry, who had not moved an inch, then at the other sympathetic faces that surrounded him.
“So, he was right.”
“Yeah,” Sebastian said solemnly. “But it’s not all bad. We’ll just give back all our pokémon to Leroy, and that way if Dennis does go to the authorities, he won’t have anything to back himself up.”
Michael remained still. He found himself stepping backwards, away from them. The trainers frowned. Michael was suddenly stricken by an urge to escape. To run away. To hide. Michael turned and ran off, hobbling to the building as fast as his backpack would allow.
“Hey, wait!” Henry's footsteps pounded after him again. “Where are you going?”
“Why? Aren’t you gonna return your pokémon?”
“No. Later,” Michael lied.
He went back inside, found their room, and unlocked it, all with a strange desperation. He dropped his backpack by the door and went to the bathroom, eager to get the blood off his hands. Henry followed him in.
“What did the brochure say, though? I didn’t get to see it. What are the rules?”
“You have your own,” he said.
“Yeah, but I forgot! I didn’t really read it, just like you!”
“Then read it now. It’s on the table.” Michael finished, turned the faucet off, and dried his hands. He went back into the room and lay down on his bed. Henry followed him there too, and stood in front of him.
“Just tell me. I need to know. Is the chart allowed?”
“Yes it is.”
“But what do the rules say?”
“I told you already, they’re on the table! Are you just so helpless without your mommy that you can't act for yourself? Use your own goddamn eyes!”
Henry sighed. “You’ve had a hell of a day, I get it! And you’re angry, that’s fine too. At least let me get you some water!”
Michael paused, looking at Henry’s face. The small kindness seemed to offset his annoyance. He nodded. Henry walked out of view, going to the other side of the room which he couldn't see. Michael heard a clink, and the pouring of water from somewhere - a water bottle? - and he was handed the glass. Michael took a few sips, letting the cool wash around his mouth, his throat, then handed it back. The buzzing subsided a little.
“Good. If you want any more, it’s on the nightstand.”
Michael nodded in thanks, and closed his eyes.
Interesting capture there, not pitting Pokemon against Pokemon I guess this is how they used to do it in the old days? Because Henry said he had caught a few Pokemon yet he didn't tell Michael anything about having to battle and weaken the target Pokemon (with another Pokemon) for capture. I'm perfectly fine with this; just another example of how training Pokemon has changed over the years.
And I liked how you were able to handle the whole "loaner" Pokemon thing. The idea of Leroy unloading Pokemon already in his Pokedex makes a whole lot more sense than any of the ideas we came up with during that one chat
And oh, the irony:
Although... that second rule might need to be changed based on the fact that (at least according to Dennis) there ARE legal trades:
And every chapter, I can't help but notice that there's a bit of my trainer character Lisa in both Henry and Michael - the analyzing, calculating side of Michael and the wealthy, lacking confidence in Pokemon side of Henry. Though I don't think she'd survive five minutes in 1960's Sinnoh xD
Good chapter once again. Now Michael has to start planning for a lot more than the upcoming battle. He's got to plan how he's going to skirt around the rules that would most definitely get him disqualified. I think that's an especially interesting dilemma that you've created for Michael, and I am most definitely looking forward to seeing how he's going to handle it, because it's something he's going to have to deal with every step of the way.
I'm really enjoying the direction you're taking with the plot here, it shows us that there are consequences for Michael's actions. I do see one potential plot hole however... Bronzor is a dual Steel/Psychic type, Machop won't be able to help in that match much.
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Henry's Magikarp won't be totally useless. That would be a waste of words. I'll have it know a few water moves, but of course it won't be mega powerful or anything.
And you're correct, there are legal trades, but the process is more intricate than just handing pokemon over. I explained this to another member on a different forum, so I might as well do it here:
Legal trades are like handing over the rights to a house. Trainers hand over the rights of ownership of their pokemon to each other. This is only required by the pokemon League since - recall from the pamphlet - it only recognizes trainers whose pokemon are legally owned by them. A simple trade won't cut it, and would be counted as using someone else's pokemon illegally.
I can see how that might be a plot hole, but for the way I'm planning the battle, it won't be too big of a problem. Michael is basically taking all he knows from what Leroy's PokeDex has told him, so his knowledge will be limited as Leroy's is.
Glad you're both enjoying the story! Reviews are always appreciated
All right, after thinking a bit on this one, I decided to include two battles, not one. You'll be seeing Michael battle, then Henry's, with a tiny little transition scene in between to tie everything together. I decided this would be best, instead of spreading the battles out across two chapters which would have taken forever. The result is lengthy, but I hope it'll be worth the reading.
Enjoy 10 everyone!
That Tuesday morning, at exactly 8:54 a.m., Michael stood in a large, rectangular room. It had a dirt floor and blank, heavy walls, the equivalent of some sort of dungeon. The early light peeked in through tiny windows lined up near the ceiling, and though they were too high up for anyone to look inside, Michael felt strangely exposed. Against the opposite wall stood Byron, now in what Michael guessed to be his battle attire. A white cape had been added to the back of his scruffy polo shirt, and he wore thick gloves on both hands. One of them held a pokéball.
As for him, his backpack had been left with Henry, who was now giving him a silent thumbs-up from the sidelines. He had let Michael borrow his knapsack for the battle, as well as a pair of winter mittens (they didn’t have time to go to the store to get real gloves) to cushion his still-aching palms. Michael might have thanked him, but for some reason, wearing Henry’s things made him feel more like Henry himself. Which wasn’t good.
Michael gritted his teeth. Not cool. Focus.
Byron was rolling the pokéball between his palms now, like a master card dealer brandishing his deck. He spoke in a deep, tight voice, a phrase he had probably repeated to every trainer that stood before him.
“Michael Rowan. Welcome to the Oreburgh Gym, and to the Pokémon League. Winning this match will earn you the Coal Badge and eligibility for the second Gym in Eterna City. The battle we will have today will be a single battle, no more than one pokémon per trainer on the field at once. The first trainer to defeat all of their opponent’s pokémon will be declared the winner. Do you understand these guidelines as I have dictated them to you?”
God, he sounded like a test paper. “Yes,” Michael said.
Byron flipped the cape back over his shoulder. “Well then, trainer! Send out your first pokémon!” In one fluid motion, he twisted the knob and tossed the pokéball up into the air. It split open, giving way to a small nova of white light. A Geodude, no bigger than a small boulder, landed on the floor while the rest of the light fled back into the capsule. Its face was chiseled with scars. It was bulkier than Kyle’s had been, but Michael figured that the bigger they were, the harder they fell.
The Geodude began rolling back and forth in the dirt, holding its massive arms high above its body. Michael took out a pokéball of his own and twisted it open.
Ever since he had made his first capture, he had developed an instinct to point the pokéball away from his face, even though the light wasn’t as bad and the heat had definitely lessened. The Machop he had caught appeared from the beam. It landed facing its opponent, flexing its arms in what might have been a yawn. It did not flinch at the sight of Michael now; clearly, something in the pokéball had caused it to recognize its new master.
"Gooooooo Michael!" Henry wailed in the background. "You can do it!" Michael rolled his eyes.
A cheerleader in the making, he thought. Meanwhile, Byron stepped forward into the boundary line. A smile was growing on his face.
“The battlers are out, now let’s get this started!” He pointed to the Geodude. “All right little buddy, use Rollout!”
The pokémon clapped its arms and launched itself forward into a rapid roll, kicking up dirt like a car tire. Michael curled his hands into fists, wincing at the dry rub of wool against his palms. “Machop, use Focus Punch.”
The Machop seemed to understand. It shuffled back and forth, its fists raised against its face like a karate fighter’s. It threw a heavy punch at the oncoming Geodude, and hit it back like a baseball. The Geodude was thrust backwards several feet, but instead of spiraling off with cries of pain, it quickly regained its balance and kept right on rolling.
What?! A second later, Michael slapped his forehead. Of course. He expected this.
The Machop seemed just as surprised as the trainer. Apparently, in its own little world of green grass and bright flowers, it had been the big bad. Now, when it saw the Geodude retaliate, it jumped swiftly to the side to avoid it. The Machop’s feet breezed over the ground, then it thudded over by the white line, scattering tiny pebbles. The Geodude, still spinning, turned right around after it.
“Come on!” Michael shouted. “Stop running and hit it! Yes, I’m talking to you!” Michael answered the Machop’s confused look with a snap. It rose to its feet, one side of its body smeared brown. It punched the Geodude again, and this time, the pokémon broke out of its ball form and landed back with both arms splayed.
“All right, Geodude, use Rock Tomb!” came Byron’s next command.
The Geodude clenched its fists, and for a second, Michael thought he could see a network of little tiny veins bulge out from its skin. Suddenly, the rock rippled in spikes, new growths bursting forth from underneath like horns. They thickened and sharpened, until Geodude resembled the head of a mace.
In a split second, the spikes shot towards the Machop like bullets. They landed straight into the dirt, encircling the Machop in a sort of cage, then began to grow rapidly. The spears grew thicker and taller, until they encased it up to the neck.
At that point, Michael realized that his mouth had been hanging open. He quickly shook himself awake, looking first to Byron. He wasn’t paying attention - he was too busy watching as the rocky cage constricted Machop’s body. The pokémon had craned its neck back against the strain, and its big eyes were shaking.
“Get out of it!” Michael urged. “Come on!”
Byron was smiling again. “Geodude, finish it off! Use Mach Punch!”
Michael didn’t know the move, but it sure as hell didn’t sound good. He turned over to the Machop, but it didn’t seem to be fighting back. It was squirming against the rocky prison, eyes darting from Michael’s face to the Geodude’s nasty grimace. It looked ready to squeal.
The Geodude was flexing its arms and rolling back-and-forth, clearly getting ready for something big. Michael let out a groan.
He stepped forward and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Come on already! Don’t just stand there and let your ass be kicked! Get angry!”
At this, the Machop looked up. Something glazed over its eyes for a moment, and a muscle in its neck twitched.
“That’s right!” Michael continued. “You heard me! Wimp!”
The Machop snarled, baring gleaming teeth. It shook harder, and this time, one of the spears cracked. It wriggled one arm free, then the other. With a snarl, it kicked away the rock, chipping the spears away one by one and letting the fragments fall to the ground.
From his seat at the sidelines, Henry covered his mouth with his hand. Michael kept yelling.
“Lazy! My gramma has more muscle than you ever will! Show me what you got already!”
The Machop pushed the remainder of the rock away, and landed on all fours on free ground. The Geodude had begun to swing its fist. With a grunt, it shot forward towards the Machop.
Michael took a deep breath. “All right, now use -” But before he could finish the command, he was cut off by a loud bellow.
The Machop’s face had turned an ugly red, and its eyes danced with fire. It let out a bellow that shook the empty walls.
It grabbed one of the spears behind it and leaped forward. It swung the rock like a club, hammering it right into the path of the rolling ball.
The ground rippled like water. The vibrations threw Geodude into the air, then back down.
“Geodude, hang in there!” Byron called. “Use -”
The sentence was left unfinished. Machop swung the spear, hitting the Geodude off towards the wall, where it crashed just below the windows. Machop did not wait for it to fall. The pokémon raced after it and the club struck again, throwing the Geodude towards the sidelines. Henry dove out of the way just as it hit the benches.
The benches shook with Geodude’s bounce, then the pokémon landed on the ground. The Machop met it there, and ignoring Henry, brought the club down straight into the Geodude’s face. Rock gave beneath rock, eliciting a crack. Michael flinched as the club was brought away. The Geodude’s eyes were now closed, and its powerful arms hung limp.
The Machop lifted the club to strike again, but Byron threw up his hands.
“All right, all right, that’ll do. Return, Geodude.” The pokéball’s white light was reflected in Machop’s eyes. It watched the Geodude go almost sadly.
Byron pocketed the pokéball and took a deep, steadying breath.
“Well that’s something you don’t see every day! Good work, Geodude. Good work.” He swapped the pokéball for a second. “Go, Onix!”
Out from the second pokéball came what looked like a giant caterpillar, only its body was made entirely from boulders. A horn protruded from its head, and underneath it were large, glaring eyes. The room could barely accommodate its height, and the pokémon had to crane its neck down to see them.
“Go get ‘em, Michael!” Henry shouted. “Yeeeaah! Do it!”
Byron was hidden behind the pokémon’s massive body, though Michael could still hear his voice, “Onix, use Iron Tail!”
“Club him, Machop!”
Machop was two steps ahead of him. It ran forward and hit the Onix’s tail, growling and muttering. The creature’s great eyes narrowed in pain, and it let out a drawling howl. The head turned towards the nuisance, and the Machop swung again, this time higher up. The Onix flinched, arching its body. The Machop began to climb the Onix’s back, using the gaps in the vertebrae as handholds. It brought the club down onto the back of the Onix’s head.
“No, Onix! Shake him off with Screech!”
The Machop kept clubbing, nearly too fast for Michael’s eyes to follow. Head, back, cheek, all with an endless rage. The Onix began to sway, its eyes spaced and unfocused. Machop hammered the club onto its head a final time, and the Onix drooped, falling limply to the ground.
The Machop continued hammering, and Onix opened its mouth in a giant yawn. All of a sudden, a flat, hair-raising scrape emerged from its throat, wailing through the room with staggering magnitude. Michael doubled over, clamping his mittens against his ears to silence it. It was perhaps the most horrifying thing he had ever heard, and he never could have guessed that such a giant creature could make such a sound. Even Byron had gritted his teeth. The Machop’s body was quaking, and a drop of bubbling saliva oozed from its mouth. Its hands tight around the club, the pokémon launched into a crazy mess of blows, high and low, trying to find an off-button. Finally, Onix’s cries faltered, and the voice cracked and died. The pokémon’s eyes fell shut.
“Well that’s something you don’t see every day!” Byron’s head poked out from behind. “I must say, you have a very unique Machop.” The giant body faded to white, then fled back into the pokéball.
Michael heard his heart thump. Two down, one to go.
“You have done well so far, trainer,” Byron said. “However, you haven’t gotten rid of me just yet. There is one more pokémon you have to beat.” He took out a third pokéball and took a moment to caress it lovingly. “My father gave him to me. And he’s not going down that easily! Go, Bronzor!”
A strip of blue metal with eyes emerged from the pokéball. At first Michael thought it was going to fall to the floor and shatter, but then the pokémon floated up and began to hover above their heads, casting little diamonds of light onto the walls. It was so thin, it seemed to vanish as it twisted. The only thing that stayed the same were its eyes - tiny and yellow, they seemed to be staring right into him.
A little gasp of wonder escaped Henry’s lips. “Whoa! It gets me every time! Isn’t it awesome, Michael?”
At first, Michael didn’t see what the big deal was. But as he stared at the rotating slide, he suddenly remembered Leroy’s words. Uses a lot of non-physical attacks that can confuse the opponent. Whatever that meant.
“Are you ready, Michael Rowan? Let’s finish this! Bronzor, use Confuse Ray!”
Michael took a breath. “Club him, Machop!”
The Machop looked up, seemed ready to leap, but all of a sudden it was seized by a convulsion that brought it down to its knees. The club clattered to the ground and it heaved over, muttering to itself incoherently.
“What? What’s wrong with you?” Michael said. “Get up!”
The Machop shook its head, eyes swimming. It probed around for the club, and took it back into its hands hesitantly.
“That’s it. That’s it. Now see that metal thing up in the sky? Hit it!”
The Machop stood for a moment, staring up at the Bronzor. It lifted the club, but instead of aiming it forward, it brought it down onto its own head. Machop let out a cry, teetered, and fell on its butt. Henry looked at Michael gravely, and shook his head.
“Come on, Machop, you ditz! Hit the opponent, not you!”
Machop lifted the club again and whacked itself furiously, squealing and snarling at the same time.
“No! Not you, hit the - oh, just hit the stupid Bronzor already! The Bronzor! The thing up there!” Michael pointed up at the Bronzor, but every time he did, the Machop whacked itself atop the head once more, convinced that it was the enemy instead.
Byron stood and watched.
“Come on! Idiot!” Michael yanked at his hair as Machop continued to wrestle with itself. It dropped the club in a drunken daze, and began to punch the air. Michael slapped his forehead.
The Machop managed a few more punches, three to its own face, then with a final sigh, collapsed in a heap. Michael looked at it grimly.
“Fine.” He called it back inside without another word. He placed the pokéball into the knapsack and swapped it with the Turtwig’s.
In another flash, the Turtwig materialized on the floor. It looked straight ahead at first, expectantly, then slowly lifted its eyes to where the Bronzor was.
“Strike it down,” Michael said. “With the leaves. Then stomp on it. Got that?”
The Turtwig looked back at him. Byron pointed up to his pokémon.
“Bronzor, use Psychic!”
The Turtwig tossed its head back and sent a flurry of leaves up into the air. The Bronzor did not retaliate, but remained still with its eyes wandering as the leaves slid past its body and rained back down.
Michael was speechless. Of course leaves wouldn’t affect metal. They were leaves.
A pink glow lit up Bronzor’s eyes, and Michael looked up. He did not see the attack strike - all he saw was the flick of light as Bronzor descended, and the wince of his Turtwig as it collapsed. The Turtwig fought an invisible force for a while, shuddering and spitting, before going still.
“That’s it?” Michael said. He went over to his Turtwig and nudged it with his foot. “Come on, get up!” He turned it over onto its back, but it didn’t move.
“If it’s five seconds, it’s fainted,” Byron said. “Sorry.” He didn’t seem too sorry, though, as he watched Michael call the Turtwig back. He swapped the pokéball for his last one - the Goldeen. He had removed the label the previous day, against his better judgment, deciding that he would need every pokémon he could get.
The Goldeen emerged from the white gracefully, and landed on its belly in the rock. Michael had read about them before (which was actually him leafing through the pages of his textbook when he was bored in class), and he knew one or two of their most basic moves. He had gone over his strategy the night before, and if things would go according to plan, he would only need two.
“Goldeen, use Supersonic.”
“Bronzor, Confuse Ray!”
The two attacks hit silently, and simultaneously. Goldeen emitted invisible waves from its horn that penetrated Bronzor, working through millions of nerve cells and weakening their connections. In turn, Bronzor had taken control of Goldeen’s mind, causing the pokémon to lose awareness and stumble over its own fins.
The Bronzor’s eyes grew blank, and it dipped dangerously near the ground. Goldeen began to flail, as its air-adjusting gills narrowed.
“Hey fish, listen to me!” Michael said. He stepped closer to the Goldeen. “There’s an enemy inside you. Kill it. Use Horn Attack on yourself! You are the enemy! Got it?”
The Goldeen struggled back onto its belly. The Bronzor had fallen to the ground as well, and was flipping over like a leaf.
“Bronzor, don’t lose control! Use Psychic!”
“Go!” Michael snapped, and the Goldeen brought the Bronzor into focus. The theory was that if confusion reversed the pokémon’s understanding of its trainer’s commands, if the trainer told it to attack itself, the pokémon would attack the other pokémon on the field with it - the opponent.
Of course, it was only a theory.
The Goldeen dragged itself over to the Bronzor and pointed its horn at the blue body.
That’s it, Michael thought. He was down on his knees now, watching intently. Henry was sitting forward.
The Goldeen thrust its horn into the Bronzor’s face, with a force that should have made the pokémon shatter. Bronzor let out a muffled squeal through a mouth that wasn’t there, and the Goldeen lunged forward again. It butted its head, tossing the Bronzor over and over like a piece of scrap metal.
Finally, the yellow eyes closed. Michael’s hear skipped a beat.
“Yeeeeeaaaaaaahh!” Henry stood to clap. “You won! Michael won!”
Byron sent the Bronzor back into the pokéball, and dusted off his cape. He approached Michael and held out a gloved hand.
“Well done, trainer. You truly deserve the Coal Badge.” They shook hands. When Michael drew back, it was in his palm. A round, coin-like object. It was bordered by silver, and the rest of it was a deep brown. When he held it up to the light, it shimmered like Bronzor’s skin.
"Do you have a badge case?" Byron asked.
Michael shook his head.
"Well, you should get one. They're not too expensive, and they'll protect your badges from dust." He winked, then his expression took on a seriousness. "I'm afraid that it will only get harder from here, Michael. You’ve beaten the Oreburgh Gym, and the next challenge awaits you in Eterna City. It’s a small Gym, but the trainers there have even more skill and power than I do. I trust that in your future battles, you will maintain the honor, determination, and tactics that I saw today."
Michael nodded. “Thanks. I will.”
“My only advice to you would be to act quicker next time. Don’t stand there waiting for me to give my pokémon a command. You want to catch your opponent off-guard. You passed up a lot of good opportunities to take my team down, but thanks to your skill, you more than made up for it.”
Henry came to his side and held up his hand for a high-five. Michael gave it to him, and Henry smiled.
“Great battle! No, really, that was amazing!”
“You have a unique team, Michael,” Byron said. “I hope you will take it to good places in the future. And you,” he turned to Henry, “I will see tomorrow for our battle.”
“That’s right!” Henry said.
Michael began to step back, but Byron held up a hand. “Wait. One more thing. For all your troubles.” Byron withdrew a fat wallet from his pocket and removed several crisp bills. He placed them into Michael's hands.
Michael slowly pocketed the money, and instantly, he could feel its familiar weight against his side - light, but heavy at the same time. Truly the best feeling in the world.
"T-thanks," he managed.
Byron bowed his head. "Good luck."
When they were outside, Henry immediately pulled Michael over to a bench and sat down next to him.
"All right, let's see it! Show me the badge!"
Michael opened his hand, and let the sunlight catch the Coal Badge. Henry's eyes reflected its glimmers.
"Can... can I hold it?" He looked up, a bit uncertainly.
"Wow, thanks!" Henry carefully took the badge into his hands and held it up to the light. His hands were shaking. "I can't believe it... I've never actually held one before... Thanks." He handed it back to Michael, who instantly began laughing.
"Man, this is amazing! I'm already off to a good start, and look, look how much money I got!" He lifted the money from his pocket and rushed to count it. The result made him sputter. "Fifteen dollars! I can't believe it! Fifteen whole dollars, right here, in my hand!" He looked over to Henry and sighed. "Life is good."
Henry returned it, though at a lesser degree. He looked back down at the badge, his expression longing. "Yeah, I guess," he murmured absently.
"What's wrong with you?" Michael said. "Did you stub your toe or something?"
"No, I'm really happy for you. Honest."
"You don't sound too happy."
Henry sulked, and let out a sigh. "I don’t know...”
"Spit it out."
“It’s just that you did so amazing. And I can’t battle like that, you know? I'll probably lose again, just like last time. I told you, I'm a terrible trainer! I'm not good enough for the Coal badge, but for some reason, everyone else in my life is."
"Don't be a candyass. Your rematch is tomorrow."
"It won't be the same," Henry said quietly, with finality.
Michael rolled his eyes. He looked over the badge in his hands, watching as the metal patterns appeared and disappeared with the light's tilt. "I get the fact that Gyms give money, but seriously, what’s the deal with the badge? Why are you so obsessed with it? Does it make you famous or something?"
"No, it's just an honor. Money gets spent, but badges are a permanent memory of what you did. No one will take a trainer seriously if they don't have any badges. It's proof that you have skills and experience. This kid I know always used to get picked on, just like me. But then he got some badges, and now no one bothers him." Henry reached into his tote bag for what looked like a giant ring box, and flipped it over and over in his hands. "My mom bought me a case to hold them all. But I'll probably never get any."
"Big deal," Michael said. "I didn't have any badges when I was in school, and no one ever picked on me. A lot of people I knew didn’t have any badges, but they were fine. It's all about how you carry yourself. If you need some stupid piece of metal to feel cool, then you'll always be a wimp."
Henry sighed. "And that's what I like about you. You don't care what anyone thinks. I can't do that."
"Stop whining. I didn’t just win on luck, you know. I prepared. And I’ll help you prepare too. Remember your battle the other day?”
“Yeah,” Henry propped his chin on his hands.
“I took notes on it. And I have exactly what you need to know to win the match. You have a pretty good team for him, now all you have to do is use it.”
Henry looked over to Michael. “So you have a strategy for me?”
And Michael told him.
It was Michael’s turn to sit out this time, for Henry was on the field now, staring ahead at Byron with as much determination as he could feign to mask his nervousness.
The Henry gang (that’s what Michael had now come to know them as) sat beside him - Sebastian, Kyle, Tony, Martha, and Cindy. They looked to Henry with encouraging smiles, but the boy wasn’t paying attention to any of them. His eyes were fixed directly on Byron, and behind them, Michael could see a raging battle of focus trying to win over fear. His fist curled and uncurled around the hem of his shirt.
Byron himself stood in his usual spot, looking as if it were just another day at the office. Any fear that Michael might have had for Byron in the few seconds before they had battled were long gone now, and he was able to see the man as he was. Yet, by the way Henry looked at him, you’d have thought that he was the President.
“Henry McPherson, are you ready for your rematch?” Byron said.
Henry nodded stiffly. “Yes.” His eyes flicked over to the sidelines and briefly locked with Michael’s. Michael gave a single nod.
He had told Henry the strategy the previous day. The plan was simple: Burmy would be the leader, since its grass moves could be used to overwhelm Geodude and bring down Onix. If it fainted early, then he could back it up with his Magikarp, proving that it wouldn’t be a useless flop on land. Clefairy was another good asset, due to its fighting moves, in case both Burmy and Magikarp fell.
As for Bronzor, the kid would just have to fend for himself.
Michael had told Henry to leave the Pachirisu at the hotel, since it was an electric type and probably wouldn’t last a single minute. But Henry had insisted on packing it anyway, just in case.
Michael watched as Henry twisted open his first pokéball. The strange withered body of Burmy landed upon the sand, and immediately sucked up a small cloak of dirt to hide all but the yellow eyes. The cocoon stood upright, and Henry’s friends clapped.
“Yeah, go Henry!” Cindy shouted.
Byron uncapped his pokéball and released his Geodude. The pokémon was fully healed from the previous day, and looked even more battle-ready than before.
“All right, Geodude, let’s get this started! Use Rock Throw!”
Geodude lifted its arms, and at an invisible command, two boulders sprouted from the ground like plants. They grew from flat sand, spilling chunks around them, and landed into Geodude’s palms.
Henry didn’t wait. “Burmy, use Razor Leaf!” For a second, the pokémon’s dirt cloak peeled back to expose a green underlayer of leaves. As the rocks were thrown, the leaves fell upwards and whipped through the air around Burmy’s head, shooting forward in an angry cluster.
The leaves tore through the air like razors. The rocks shot through the cloud, but instead of coming out the other way, the leaves diced them into dust, letting the crumbs sprinkle down. The rest of the leaves clawed their way towards Geodude, who rolled swiftly to the side in time to evade them. The leaves hit the wall and slithered down.
Geodude continued to roll towards the Burmy, now having gained balance and speed. Henry gave his next command.
“Burmy, use Protect!”
The pokémon’s cloak began to thicken, drawing more sand from the ground, letting it seep over his eyes and nose and smooth the curves of his body. The Geodude didn’t seem deterred. It began to roll faster, hoping to knock Burmy down like a bowling pin.
“Knock it down, Geodude!” came Byron’s shout.
But the Geodude might as well have tried to move a wall.
The Burmy’s coat had thickened to almost concrete, and when the soft rock of Geodude’s head-body collided with it, it bounced back like a ping pong ball. Geodude was thrown back through the dirt, arms flopping and flailing, and collapsed facedown.
“Finish it off!” Henry cried. “Use Razor Leaf!”
Burmy shed its cloak in a heartbeat. The leaves were back again, swirling through the air and raining down on the Geodude’s body. The pelts left deep indentations in the rock, crisscrossing around Geodude’s eyes and arms. The wind When the leaves had exhausted their purpose, Geodude lay still on the ground.
“Yay! Go Henry! Woooooo!” the kids on the sidelines erupted in applause. Michael nodded again as Byron called the fainted pokémon back. Check one.
“Very good, Henry. I’m glad you see you’ve improved on your strategy since our last battle. You used Razor Leaf instead of Tackle.” Byron took out his next pokéball. No one noticed Michael’s sudden smile.
“Let’s hope you can keep it up! Go, Onix!”
The towering beast unfurled from the light, landing in front of its trainer with a colossal thud. Henry stepped back as if to accommodate the giant. The Onix drew itself up to its fullest height, well over five meters, and peered down at Henry with bulbous white eyes. Standing in its shadow, the Burmy seemed tiny and insignificant.
Henry sucked in a breath. “All right little buddy, Razor Leaf!”
“Onix, Iron Tail!”
The Onix lifted its tail like a giant club. Instantly, the rocks underwent a dramatic transformation, turning from pale gray to a lustrous, polished silver. They were raised the tail against the oncoming leaves. Instead of cutting through the rock, as Henry expected them to, the leaves slid off with no greater effect than if they had hit a windshield.
The tail was brought down onto the ground, tossing Burmy to the side. Burmy flipped over and over, landing on his back.
“No!” Henry said. “The face! Aim for the face, Burmy!”
In the split second that he had said this, Onix’s tail swept the field again. Before his Burmy had time to get to his feet, he vanished behind a cloud of dirt. Henry saw the leaves tear through the cloud and hit Onix’s face. They scraped the naked rock, making the great beast stumble.
“Yes! Keep going, keep going!” Henry smiled. More tufts of leaves spurted from Burmy’s cloak, slapping Onix’s face repeatedly from side to side.
“Now finish it off!” he blurted. “Give it a really good one!”
Onix was swaying to and fro, slowly sinking under the force of the gusts. The final leaves met the top of its head and pushed it down, finishing the job. Onix toppled, its mouth lolling -
“Burmy, get out of the way!”
- right onto the ground. Burmy was hidden behind the massive body in a giant roll of dust, and any cry it might have let out was instantly muffled by the crash. Henry bit his lip.
“Burmy, are you there?”
No answer. Byron stepped forward and held up Onix’s pokéball. “Good job, old friend. Return.”
Onix vanished, and the light cleared to reveal Burmy, who had been caught underneath. The sand cloak had melted away in some spots, and its eyes were closed.
Henry’s head drooped a little as he returned the pokémon and took out a second pokéball. Sebastian and the others shared confused looks, unsure as to whether to clap or not. Michael nodded again to himself, marking off the second mental check.
The Bronzor was released, and for a moment Michael stared up at it, watching it turn and twist in dizzying patterns above him. Henry was looking up at it too now, some inaudible thought running through his mind.
“Go, Clefairy!” His next pokémon sprang out from its container and landed onto the ground.
Byron flexed his wrists. Before Henry even had time to move -
“Bronzor, use Psychic!”
Michael watched as the invisible attack took hold. The Clefairy dropped to its knees, pressing its hands against its head. It rocked back and forth for a while and Henry watched it, teeth bared in a slight grimace.
“Clefairy! Use Wake-up-Slap!”
Michael could see the Clefairy concentrating. It lifted its beady eyes up towards the Bronzor, who was spinning somberly above it.
“Clefairy, go!” Henry urged again. Clefairy struggled to get up, its little neck bulging. It seemed to be pushing against a mental barrier, trying to break through a pane of glass to reach the proper muscles. At first, Michael thought it would give in, snapping like a twig under the pressure.
But in the next moment, something broke behind the pokémon’s eyes. The Clefairy bent down in renewed strength and leaped up, picking the Bonzor out of the air and bringing it back down with it.
The others began to clap. “Woo! Yeah! That’s it, do it Clefairy!”
The Clefairy had the Bronzor pinned down beneath it, oddly reminding Michael of how he had pinned down Dennis, and was slapping the shit out of it. It threw the Bronzor back, but the pokémon lifted itself up into the air again before Clefairy could grab it. It climbed up almost to the ceiling and let out a metallic clanking noise from its no-mouth, one that made Michael’s arms pickle.
The Bronzor’s eyes glowed a bright pink, and Clefairy was once again hammered down. It dropped down on its side and began to thrash, flipped around by an invisible hand. The kids let out drawling noises of pity, loud ooooohs and come ooons. Henry, for the first time that day, seemed completely unsure of what to do. He looked around for help, for anything, but no words came out of his mouth.
The Clefairy wrestled with itself again, rising then falling then rising again. It was gritting its teeth as if its head was filled with an annoying buzzing. With one eye open, it dug its fingers into the dirt and flung a clump at Bronzor’s face.
The dirt splattered, and Bronzor sank several feet. The invisible binds against Clefairy loosened, and the pokémon flung another chunk of dirt. The Bronzor was thrown back by the momentum, and sank even further, letting out more of its screeching noises.
Dirt! The word rang between Michael’s ears. That’s it! Ground affects steel! He tightened his grip around the bench. Henry just might pull through.
The Clefairy kept flinging, and Michael saw Henry’s eyes, wide with astonishment, following Bronzor as it fell, hovered back up, then fell again. Bronzor was clearly trying to regroup and counter, but it was hard to concentrate with a faceful of grime. When a small pile had amassed on its face, it collapsed from the sheer weight, and did not move.
Henry clamped his hands around his mouth.
Clefairy walked up to the Bronzor, now freed from Psychic’s effects. It gently wiped the dirt from the fallen pokémon’s face, to expose closed eyes. Fainted.
And then Byron began to clap.
“Well done! Well done, Henry!”
“Yeah!” Sebastian joined in. “Henry!”
The benches erupted in applause, louder than ever before. Michael nodded a third time, and brought his hands together to close the match, and their troubles. For a second, he thought he saw a tear slide down Henry’s cheek. Henry’s Clefairy jumped into his arms and he hugged it tightly. He whispered something in its ear, “Good job”, and called it back inside the pokéball.
The two met at center field, Leader and trainer, and shook hands. Everyone rose to crowd around them, to watch as Henry McPherson received his first badge. The Coal Badge looked the same as ever, but in the nest of Henry’s palm it seemed to shine and sparkle.
“You’ve grown, my boy, both as a trainer and as a person,” Byron said, and the roar died down. He placed a hand on Henry’s shoulder. “When I first saw you, you were unsure of yourself and your abilities. But I’m telling you, there’s a trainer somewhere inside there. You just have to make him come out. You got that?”
“You’ll try even harder in your upcoming battles?”
Henry beamed. “Yeah.”
Byron stepped back. “Then my job is done. Go, and good luck!” He indicated the exit, and Henry skipped along towards it, his friends dashing out after him.
The troupe of cheering kids spilled out into the sunny day, grouped together in the tiny front lawn in a mess of cheers and jumps. Sebastian and Kyle stood on either side of Henry, and lifted his arms like a boxing champion’s.
“Let’s hear it for Henry!”
The kids threw their arms up, then lowered them in a wave.
“Good going!” Tony ruffled Henry’s hair. “Now you can go on to Eterna! Lucky!”
“And then to Hearthome, Solaceon, and beyond, baby!”
Henry began laughing. His face was red, as the poor boy had nearly been driven to tears. “Thanks guys! Thanks so much!”
“Are you kidding me? That battle was awesome!” Cindy gushed. “At first you seemed like you’d go down, but then you came right back up and did it! You beat Byron with only two pokémon!”
“Yeah, that kid’s gonna make it big one day!” Martha said. “Mr. Henry, may I please have your autograph?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you guys down!” Henry said. He turned towards the sidewalk and beckoned to Michael. “Come on, we gotta go! We gotta get back to the hotel so we can pack for Eterna!”
Michael was about to go, but he stopped and took one last look at the kids. They quieted down at his stare, and looked back at him. They shared a moment of mutual silence, and then Sebastian spoke.
“So, you beat the Gym too?” he said.
The boy smiled. “Cool. Are you going for the League too? With Henry?”
Michael nodded. “Yep.”
“That’s great. It’s nice of you to travel with him. I think Henry needs a friend. And you’re a cool kid, Michael, even if you are thirteen.”
Michael smiled. “Hmm. You’re not bad for eleven either.”
Sebastian let out a laugh. “Thanks.”
Leroy stepped forward now, and took Michael’s hand in a sloppy handshake. He went over to Henry and shook his hand as well. “It was nice meeting you two. Really, really awesome battle! Congrats on the wins.” He stopped in front of Michael. “Oh, and good luck with the type strategies. They’re a really unique idea, and I think you’ll go pretty far with them.”
“Thanks. Good luck with your PokéDex,” Michael said with a wink.
Leroy smiled slyly. “Yeah. I’ll be traveling as well, looking for new entries and whatnot, so I hope we’ll meet again sometime.”
“I’m sure we will,” Henry said. “Thanks for coming to my battle.”
Henry began to step away, but right then, he seemed to remember something. "Wait." He turned back to Leroy and dug a pokéball out of his tote bag. "Here." Turning away so that the others couldn't see, he handed the silver capsule to the boy.
Leroy appeared confused. "What for?" He turned the pokéball around, and saw the label he had pasted on it: 'Magikarp'.
"I'm giving it back to you," Henry said. "I appreciate it and everything, but... I just don't want to get in trouble for it."
To the side, Michael rolled his eyes. Leroy kept his gaze fixed on Henry, and nodded slowly. "All right. I can respect that. You don't have to keep it if you don't want to."
Henry smiled. "Thanks."
He turned back around to his other friends, who were clustered in front of the Gym. Tony let out an exaggerated sigh. “Well?” he shouted. “What are you waiting for? Go!” He gave Henry a push from behind. “Go to Eterna already! Don’t hang around us, you’re too cool for that now!”
“Yeah! Get outta here, champion!” Sebastian said. “Hurry up, before all the good reservations are taken!”
Laughing, Henry stumbled towards the sidewalk, one hand clutching his badge and the other waving at them. “Come on, Michael! We gotta go!” He beckoned, and Michael went to join him.
“Bye! Keep in touch!”
“I will!” Henry called back. “I’ll write, I’ll send postcards! I’ll send photos!” He kept waving until they were well down the path, and their shouts had faded behind with the sounds of the city.
Michael and Henry joined the flow of foot traffic, on their way back to the hotel. They stopped at a street crossing, and Michael turned.
“All right, let’s see it. Show me the badge.”
Henry held out the Coal Badge, smiling for the millionth time that day. He slanted it to the light, watching the patterns twist and turn like the skin of Bronzor.
“It’s awesome! And he gave me money too!” Henry patted his pocket. “I think it’s the same that you got. Fifteen dollars!”
Michael shrugged in a what-can-I-say sort of way. “I told you, didn’t I? All you need is strategy!”
“Yeah! And it’s all thanks to you!” Henry pushed Michael’s shoulder.
“Well, you did the battling,” he said. He was surprised by how sheepish it sounded.
“Yeah, but you showed me how! I thought I’d never ever ever ever get the badge before. But then I met you, and you told me exactly what I needed! You helped!”
Michael looked at the boy’s face, radiant with light and excitement. Though he had been happy at the accomplishment of attaining his own badge, Henry’s win was different. Michael had planned and shared a strategy that worked, and seeing it in action gave him a thrill. More so, the feeling of having helped someone other than himself for once seemed to lift something within him.
Right then, Michael found himself smiling.