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You have the unique honor of having your review being my 5,000th post on PC!
Anyway, onto the chapter. You have some interesting and creative strategies in both battles, though Goldeen's Horn Attack on Bronzor shouldn't have been effective as it was... unless it was Horn Drill xD In any event, one of its water-based attacks might have been a better choice. I did like how Clefairy used dirt and mud to finish it off, though And I liked Michael's "provoke Machop into a blind rage" and "fight the inner enemy" advice, lol
And every chapter it seems I see more and more of Michael losing a bit more of his cold, hard exterior and opening up more to others. And now the two of them get to move on from that stinky old mining town and onto greener pastures I know you said you were getting sick of Oreburgh too.
Sorry this review was so short, but my mind's kinda focused on exams and other end of the year stuff. But I enjoyed reading this during my study break, and I'm looking forward to what new situations the two guys find themselves in next
Hey, thanks for the review! I don't care about the length, just leaving a thought or two is enough. And hooray for milestones.
I'm pretty sure I corrected that 'spent/spend' mistake... I clearly remember doing it :/ It's strange what your eyes can't pick up sometimes.
Anyways, Eterna should (and will) be fun to write. I already have it planned, so now I'm going to write away and see what works. See you next chapter
Hey there, Haruka of Hoenn's up and running again. I'm not going to say much this time around; these past few weeks have just been really stressful. I hope it won't show in the writing. I've been brooding over this chapter for a while, but I think I've finally gotten it to where I want it. It's not too long, but it's pretty important.
From here on out, the story takes a turn into a bigger development. You should have a pretty good idea about what is is when you're done with the chapter.
The sleepy town of Eterna was one of those places that never reached their prime.
It belonged to a rare class of towns that had been a part of Old Sinnoh, the inner ring surrounding the Coronet mountains that had been there since the continent’s formation. Eterna was one of the few that had withstood the test of time, and managed the miraculous growth from tiny village to self-supporting community. It carved its own roads and cleared away the woods to make room for buildings. Fertile soil allowed for continuous agriculture, and natural resources provided a modest supply for fuel and construction. Eterna was nestled in between two of Sinnoh’s most famous landmarks—the mountains loomed in the east and the famous Eterna Forest lurked in the west—but the town had nothing to show but graying asphalt and creaky doors. Trees that might have been standing since the beginning of time sagged over the streets, reaching for the sun with ancient, withered branches. The sky was colored the tired blue of a wasted day, and occasionally bore fat clouds that crept by with a senior’s pace.
The town had changed little in the past fifty years, as had the people. While the rest of the world was caught up in the forward march of technology, Eterna lagged in the dust, picking up bits and pieces left behind by the party. Every so often the townsfolk would be introduced to a new piece of gadgetry, which in fact had long been in use in other areas, and would be completely blown away by the ‘discovery’. Telephones were still considered an innovation that few were rich enough to obtain. Television consisted of a few boxes stacked together at the town market, and it was something to behold for the newspaper-reading residents. Cars were practically nonexistent; the only ones that passed through belonged to travelers, and those didn’t stay long. Looking from the outside, a tourist from Jubilife would see a primitive agricultural community, the kind that preceded the Industrial Revolution and looked too fragile to exist.
Indeed, being four years behind of everyone else would have frustrated any young adult, and for that reason, most of the populace consisted of either retirees, or families with little children. A vibrant, youthful face was a rare sight, and usually meant only a brief visitor who would be gone by the end of the week.
Bertha was the exception. Eterna had been home to her since she was a little girl, and just like a nasty weed coming out of the ground to choke a flower bud, it had grown on her.
Not so long ago, she had been the sweet little girl on Chestnut Road, the daughter of the best pie-baker in town, the one who was always playing with friends on the hill. Her childhood had been typical of that of an Eterna kid—swimming, biking, running, and all other outdoor excursions with sleep and food in between. She barely noticed how she had made the jump from five to twenty-five, how those long braids she used to wear had unraveled, and how her parents had suddenly become small and wrinkly. The town had a lulling effect on her; it seemed to wash away all sense of time. One day, she was wiggling her first loose tooth in front of a mirror, and the next day she was strolling about with a bra and manicured nails, looking to buy some coffee before she started her morning shift.
By that time, Bertha had grown so attached to the town that she refused to move away. While her friends moved on to bigger and better things, Bertha remained behind, willingly lost in her illusion of childhood. The home she selected stood within walking distance of a vast meadow, a vacant lot that formed the last bit of space between them and the forest. She had faint memories of skipping through it as a child, and still knew a few oldies who went bravely by it every morning, the routine having burned itself so deeply into their minds that it was nigh impossible to break away from. She planted a garden there, did some home renovations, and lived happily for a few years. She never looked back on her decision or thought about how different everything could have been, because as far as she was concerned, there was no world outside Eterna. Bertha had grown up walking the same streets, watering the same plants, and she reckoned that that was all she’d ever see.
Boy, had she been wrong.
On December 3rd, 1961 (she remembered the date exactly because she had been keeping track for months now), the lot was purchased by a company by the name of Team Galactic Enterprises. Bertha had gotten enough pleasure out of the meadow over the years to miss it when half of it got cut off by an electric fence, and when plans were made for the construction of a factory in its place.
After all those years of seclusion, Eterna’s first taste of modernization was like a slap in the face. Fliers were spread around the city, detailing Team Galactic’s purpose and their promise to the residents. The papers had been posted on lampposts, public bulletin boards, and mailed straight to houses. They still came about thrice a month, right onto Bertha’s doorstep in little stacks with multiple copies, lest she lose the ones from last time and suddenly forget what the hell was going on.
Bertha had heard of the Space Race, though it never seemed like something to worry about. She’d often catch glimpses of the news reports in diners, shop windows, and other places where TV boxes were so cunningly hidden. She’d see the same two anchormen every time, their crooked noses bent down over their papers while they droned on about some new innovation they found under a moon rock earlier that month. She didn’t see the big deal, and being a quiet, self-centered town that it was, Eterna didn’t either.
Supposedly, the factory would be making tiny bits of machinery—master computers, they were called—that would help the space shuttle’s navigation system. Each copy of the flier had a simple diagram of the device, along with a list of its many promised benefits. The letters closed with an enthusiastic statement saying that Team Galactic was looking forward to be their new partners and neighbors for many years to come.
After six months, six painful months of plugged ears and foggy mornings, construction was completed. One morning Bertha and many others went out to stand in the meadow and saw the completed building in all its glory—glimmering tubes, towering smokestacks, and spinning turbines dominating the horizon. From the outside, it looked like a torture camp. Surrounded by all that quiet nature, it was like a metal spike sticking out from a pile of dirt; both intimidating and entirely out of place. It was close enough to her home for her to hear the constant dumm-de-de-drumm of moving parts rise up from the silence, and feel the rumble beneath her feet when she walked by. It felt almost like an earthquake.
From the day she had first seen it, Bertha knew one thing, and she kept it in the back of her mind until it refused to be silenced: She didn't care what they were making. The factory could be designing weapons of mass destruction for all she cared. It didn’t matter which, because one day she'd reach the end of her string.
After the battle, it had taken Michael and Henry less than two hours to pack their things, grab a quick lunch at the hotel café, check out, and be back on the sprawling streets of Oreburgh City, pushing along on their way.
In one of the shop windows, several TV boxes of different sizes were stacked on top of one another, all showing the same channel. An anchorman’s words sifted through the streets and into the hot summer air.
“Good morning Sinnoh, this is Teddy Ray live with your local weather on Channel Five. It is currently eighty degrees in Oreburgh City, sunny skies all around, with a fifteen percent chance of rain later in the evening. Looking good on the East side where, apparently, a new car dealership has opened...”
Michael and Henry kept to the sidewalks mostly, though they stopped at a little convenience store to pick up a map of Route 205. Michael held it in his hands, and Henry walked as fast as he could beside him, looking on over his shoulder.
“Route 205’s our only way out of this place, I think. It goes two ways—one to Cycling Road and the other to this nature path.”
Henry tapped his chin. “Ooh. Let’s go for the nature path.”
“It sounds like it’ll take ten times longer. I don’t want to spend three hours in a forest with Combees and God-knows-what crawling up my legs.”
Henry sighed. “But we don’t even have bicycles. Cycle Road only lets bikers on.”
“Shouldn’t they have rentals?” Michael said.
“I don’t think they do.”
Michael let out a groan. “Forget it. Cheapskates.” He rolled up the map and held it in his fist. “Fine, we’ll take the nature trail. But no stopping to smell the roses or anything, okay? We have to get to Eterna to book our next battles.”
Henry nodded. “Got it.”
They maneuvered their way through the rest of the city. Michael was already somewhat familiar with the roads, and some of the shops that lined them. They were able to walk quickly, since neither of them had that much to carry. The only extra luggage was the Stunky’s cage, but the pokémon too was becoming less of a burden now that it was being fed a steady diet with Henry’s pokémon food. When they passed by other pedestrians, Michael saw that it did not snap at the bars or growl, which he guessed was a good sign.
A few miles from the city, Route 207 split into two parts. The first, the trail which eventually came to be known as Cycling Road, was private property owned by a local business, and formed a bridge across a deep basin of land. The path was smooth and straight, but too brittle to accommodate the weight of cars. Due to popular tradition, but largely the business’s thirst for money, only bicycles were allowed.
Michael and Henry took the southern detour along the basin, following a thin strip of road that ran through it like a river. The valley was an enormous crater-like formation dotted with an odd mix of regular trees and evergreens, though as far as Michael could tell, they were more concentrated near the mountains. The path he was traveling was more dirt than anything, with the occasional tree here and there.
According to the map they were in the middle of a tangle of paths, each one breaking off from another to form a network much like the cross-section of a tree. They were traveling up the main road, Route 207, which ran a straight line right to the city. Cycling Road traced an arc overhead, its wired fences gleaming. Occasionally, Michael heard the elated shout of a cyclist shooting down the slope.
“I wish I had a bike,” Henry mumbled, looking up at the road with longing eyes. “It would make things so much easier, don’t you think?”
“Focus,” Michael said. “When we get the Championship, you can hire someone to drive you around. Even better than a bike.”
“Hmph.” Henry fell silent. As they walked he continued to stare up at the bikers, as if they were the luckiest people in the world.
About an hour later, the two boys emerged from the route and passed through the city’s southern entrance.
The first thing Michael Rowan noticed about Eterna was the emptiness of the place, the feeling of dullness and slowness that was far too different from Oreburgh’s environment. He could see no other kids his age, or anybody that even vaguely looked like a trainer.
The first street he encountered was Flint Avenue, marked by an old wooden sign. The buildings here were all small and gray, their roofs hanging limp with the burden of uncounted years. The trees moved lazily, their shadows spilling across the empty, quiet street whose only passengers stood smack in the middle, squinting with confusion.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Henry said.
“There’s only one Eterna, as far as I know.” Michael looked at the map again, and began to trace their route with his finger. “Yep. This is it. Eterna City.” He looked up, and still couldn’t believe it. Apparently, all the League excitement that infested Orebrugh like a virus dwindled here, and he couldn’t decide what to make of it. Either the Gym here was so boring that all the trainers had moved on after their first battle, or it was so hard that they had all gone home.
“I wonder what type of Gym they have here." Henry craned his neck in search of the building.
“Assuming there is one at all,” Michael said. “This place is like a ghost town.”
Henry smiled. “Yeah, ‘cause it’s been around for an eterna-ty!” He began to giggle.
Michael continued to stare at the map. It didn’t offer a detailed outline of the city—only a tiny white dot in the middle of a pattern of large green squares. He rolled up the paper and sighed.
“Guess we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way. Come on. We’ll follow the streets and do the best we can.”
They cut a twisting path through the city, heeding a random series of signs and crossing streets. The town looked much the same in every direction—drab, simple, and undeveloped. He could tell it was one of those small towns, the ones that didn’t seem to understand the meaning of modern times and hadn’t made repairs in over twenty years. The asphalt was gray and cracked, and in some places the roots of trees broke clean through to make little ripples in the sidewalk.
The jagged lines of houses began to set in as they went deeper. Where the city’s entrance had been something like an empty railroad terminal, now Michael saw large slices of green lawn trimmed with mechanical precision. Some gardens were more lavish than others, filled with mini statues and colorful flowers, and Michael thought he could sense the traces of neighbor rivalry behind their perfect petals.
They kept walking, sticking to the sidewalk and looking around. The silence was almost deafening. Michael’s neck grew sore from being pivoted back and forth, and his eyes grew tired of seeing nothing but blue roofs, gray houses, and trees. Henry had the other side covered, but by the looks of it he hadn’t spotted anything either.
“I don’t think we’re going to find anything here,” Henry said. “This just looks like a huge neighborhood.”
Michael tilted his head up and squinted, trying to see all the way to the horizon. Their street went on for what seemed like forever, intersecting with other perpendicular roads with houses of their own. Further down, the road vanished entirely, and there was a bare splotch of land right in the middle of everything. Here the people flocked, small clumps of them walking in and out of large barn-like buildings with paper bags in hand. Michael guessed it to be some sort of marketplace.
“The Gym could be there,” he said. “Let’s go.”
They came closer. A giant banner propped up on wooden stilts greeted them with a handpainted ‘WELCOME’, and beyond that was a scene that resembled a circus. A generous amount noise returned to Michael’s ears as he entered. It was like no other marketplace Michael had ever seen before—nuts and vegetables were piled in wooden chests, resting on tables beneath canvas tents. Meat was sold in booths, sometimes right out in the open. Michael passed several headless Grumpig bodies hanging from the ceiling like ornaments. Through it all, Michael diligently searched the crowd, hoping to find anyone who looked like a trainer, but saw nothing. In fact, no one even seemed to have pokéballs with them at all, nor gloves, hats, or anything else that signified the League. It was just a crowd of regular people living regular lives.
“Hello boys!” said a man behind a booth. “Want to buy some Nomel berries? They’re in season.” He tapped a box filled with tiny yellow berries.
“Uh, no thanks,” Michael said.
The man seemed genuinely surprised. “What? You know, the whole point of coming here in the summertime is to get the fresh harvest.”
Michael didn’t say anything, but walked on. Indeed, it did seem like there was some sort of special occasion going on. Every person seemed to be buying something, and some were carrying whole baskets filled with produce. There wasn’t a metal shopping cart in sight. But the one thing that surprised Michael the most was how familiar the people acted. It seemed like one giant party; everyone was laughing and joking together like they had been friends for their entire lives.
When he finally had enough, Michael stopped right in the middle of it all and dropped his arms to his sides. “What the hell?” he exclaimed. “Oreburgh was crawling with trainers! Crawling with them! What kind of Gym town is this?”
“Maybe it’s a test,” Henry said. “They’re trying to see how committed we are to the League. They probably hid the Gym on purpose to frustrate us and see if we’d give up.”
“Well it’s a stupid test,” Michael said. But the more he thought about it, the more logical it seemed. By hiding the Gym, the leader would be able to filter out all the whiners, the ones who weren’t serious about their goals and gave up on a whim. Those types of trainers were bound to fail from the start, and the leader wouldn’t have to worry about wasting his time on people who didn’t care anyway.
Two can play at that game, Michael affirmed. “Lets go, Henry. Whoever this leader is, we’ll shove his plan right back into his face.”
“Right.” Henry nodded.
They left the market and went back into the town, turning onto a new road.
“This time, keep an eye out for anything and everything,” Michael said. “The Gym’s probably hidden where we least expect it to be.”
“What if we passed it already?” Henry said. “I don’t want to go back all that way!”
“For now, we’ll keep going. If we don’t find it, then we’ll go back.”
“Fine. But this cage is getting really heavy. Can you hold it for a while? My arm hurts.” Henry held up the Stunky’s cage. In the full heat of day, the Stunky had fallen asleep. Michael took the cage and looked down at it with a snort.
“You’re mighty lucky, aren’t you? You get to sleep and be lazy while we carry you around everywhere.” He lifted the cage up to eye level. “It’s getting pretty fat too,” he observed. “It’ll have to start exercising.”
“What? I’m serious. We’ll get it a leash and it’ll walk on its own. It’s about time too.”
They were nearing a road named Meadow’s Road. Michael stopped at the sign and scanned the houses in front of them. The development was beginning to thin somewhat, and nature was slowly tightening its hold. Houses were more widely-spaced, and grass grew from cracks in the pavement. To the west, the land sloped upwards in a giant hill, but that was all he could see.
As he walked, Michael couldn’t help but notice that the houses here were larger and somewhat grander. Some had two, even three, floors. There were still no garages, but each house had a separate, smaller structure attached to it that resembled a large shed.
“I don’t think this is working,” Henry said. “Each house just looks like a house.”
“That’s the point.”
“No, I really think we should go back. The Gym wouldn’t be this far in. Remember Oreburgh?”
“So? If you haven’t noticed, this town isn’t exactly a copy of Oreburgh’s layout. Just keep going. We don’t have that far anyway. Just up to the hill.”
“But I’m tired!” Henry sighed. “I’m sick of walking like this! We’ve been walking nonstop from Oreburgh!”
“What, you think I’m not tired? I’m the one carrying the cage right now, and I’m not complaining!”
Henry stopped in his tracks and sat down on the asphalt, crossing his legs. “I’m taking a break. You can go if you want to. Tell me if you find anything.”
“Yeah sure, I’ll tell them how I found the Gym all by myself and this annoying whiner kid wanted to go home.”
Henry’s face reddened. “I never said that! I just want to take a break! Sheesh!”
Michael began to laugh, unable to help himself. Henry closed his eyes and lay down on the pavement. A second later, his eyes were open and he was back on his feet.
"Whoa! Do you feel that?" he said.
“Feel what?” Michael turned.
Henry sat down again, this time placing both palms onto the ground. “That... rumble.”
Michael perked an eyebrow. “What rumble? I don’t hear anything.”
“No, sit down! You have to sit down to feel it. It’s right beneath the ground. Sort of like a train.”
Michael sat down and placed the cage beside him. At first he felt only warm cement, but sure enough, he began to feel a distant churning rise up from somewhere beneath it.
Dumm de-de drumm de-de drumm...
Michael shook his head. “That’s impossible. Trains don’t go that far underground.”
“Is it an earthquake?”
“No, it can’t be that either.”
Henry looked at him for a moment, then rose to his feet. He walked forward a few meters, then stopped, and sat down again. “It’s louder now! It gets louder the farther you go!”
Michael got up and sat down at Henry’s spot. Sure enough, the sound had grown louder. “That’s really weird.” He got up and walked some more. They passed three more houses without any change, but after the fourth, the sound could be heard right above ground.
Henry looked around. “Where’s that sound coming from?”
“I don’t know.”
“So weird,” Henry said. “It’s kind of scary too, don’t you think?”
“Whatever, let’s keep going. Hopefully it’ll pass.”
They kept walking, though neither of them could resist a sideways glance here and there. In a few minutes, they had reached the end of Meadow’s Road. The street was cut off by the soil, and from there on rolled untamed nature. The sound had increased twofold, and Michael could almost feel the rumbling beneath his feet. Henry stopped and placed his hands on his knees.
“I really think we should ask someone, Michael. I really don’t think the Gym will mind if we’re resourceful.” Henry looked around, then pointed. “Let’s try them.”
Michael turned immediately to the spot. Henry was pointing to one of the last houses on the block, and this one stood noticeably separate from the others. A black Chevrolet Impala was parked beside the curb, and on the porch, two figures stood together. One, a woman, was holding open the door and looking down beneath the tiny roof. The second was a man in a suit and tie. He was looking up at her and shouting something angry and inaudible.
“Uh, they look kinda busy,” Michael said. Nevertheless, he crept closer. Michael could begin to sense the heat of an argument in the couple’s tone, and hear what was being said.
“... For the last time, I assure you, nothing harmful is being returned to the environment!” the man was urging, almost pleading.
The woman who was scowling down at him was visibly younger. Her blonde hair spilled down her shoulders in lovely curls and she had the round, supple cheeks of a flower-child. But at the same time, her eyes trapped an unspeakable anger that made the man shrink.
“Don’t give me that crap!” she said. “All you fancy managers come here and tell me the same goddamn thing every time, yet nothing gets done!”
“I tell you, it’s impossible! We inspect the premises daily!”
“Well it’s time to inspect again!” the woman spat. “Those gases are killing my plants.”
The man paused to take a deep breath. “If you want to file a complaint, I can give you the address of the supervisor—”
“I’m already filing a complaint! To you! Now you can go tell your supervisor that he can either check the shit he’s dumping into the ground, or go move his factory somewhere else!”
The man gasped, as if that had been an insult. “The factory produces materials for spacecraft! It’s vital to the Space Program, it cannot be moved!”
“Listen: I am giving him exactly two weeks to reply with a plan of action. After that, I promise you, I will kick you out of here and send your bare behinds to another town. Understand?”
“The Space Program is the beating heart of the country! You are disrupting innovation, simple girl! Without our aid, your town would be broke!”
“Have I made myself clear?” the woman repeated. “Or should I just go to the director right now and tell him what a lovely job you’re doing at customer service? I’m sure he’d love to hear how you called the people of your host town simple.”
The man drew back. He scrunched his nose and lowered his fists primly to his sides. “This is an outrage! You can be certain that I’ll be calling the director, Miss Herrida, but it’ll not be for the reason you think!” He slammed his hat onto his head, leaving the top crushed and askew. “Good day!”
The man hobbled off down the road, lost in a string of angry mumbling. He barely noticed as he brushed past Michael and Henry on his way to the Impala. The car tipped a little under the man’s weight and drove off, coughing up a trail of brown gas. Michael watched it go for a moment, then turned back just in time to see the woman close the door.
“Wait!” Henry called. He ran the remaining distance to the house and began to pound on the door, Michael stepping up after him. “We want to talk to you!”
The door opened a second later, throwing Henry back. The heat had not quite faded from the woman’s cheeks and she looked ready to shout again, but when she made eye contact with the boys, her face softened and her grip slackened on the doorknob. “Oh. Hello. What is it, boys?”
“Do you know where the Gym is?” Michael asked. “We came from Oreburgh’s Gym to get the second badge. You know, for the League.”
Michael was half-anticipating more confusion, but instead the woman’s face slackened and she slumped against the doorframe. “Oh.” It came out like uh. “You’re trainers, then. Right. Sorry I’m all over the place today. I’m just so damn tired. Come in.” She stepped back and beckoned for them to enter. Her house was sunny and spacious, though there wasn’t much to fill it. Her living room was furnished with only two armchairs and a coffee table in between. The woman went ahead of them, taking off her shoes by the doormat and replacing them with slippers.
“My name’s Bertha,” she said. “Sorry you had to see that little conversation earlier. I promise, I don’t yell that much.” She smiled, showing a softer side. “I’m the leader of Gym number two. It must have taken you quite a while to get here. I can see it in your faces.”
Michael braced himself for the accusation. Beside him, Henry nodded. “We looked all over for it.”
“I’m not surprised. Not everyone can find it the first time. I’m not calling you stupid, don’t get me wrong, because the camouflage is pretty good. We don’t have the money to build a real facility, so I use my house for the time being.”
Henry looked over to Michael and shrugged. Michael nearly laughed at the coincidence.
“Come on, I’ll show you the basement,” Bertha said. “That’s where I conduct the battles.”
She led them through a hallway, down a short flight of stairs and into a wide, musty room that looked like a garage. She turned on the lights, revealing an expanse of wood floor, brown walls, and tiny windows that closely resembled the Oreburgh Gym. This room, however, was much smaller and simpler. The boundary line was handpainted, and a water cooler in the corner added a touch of home. A wooden bench ran across the walls to seat a small audience.
“It doesn’t get any better than this, boys,” Bertha. “No professional paint, no welcome signs, just a roof and a floor to battle on. But it’s where the magic happens.”
She didn’t wait for them to agree, but went to sit behind an office desk that had been shoved into the corner. The room was half-office too, and there were several file cabinets and framed photos hanging from the walls. Michael and Henry took the two vacant seats in front of her.
"Okay, let’s cut to the chase." Bertha picked up a pencil and opened a journal. "Since you're here, I can assume you've beaten Byron?"
Both boys took out their badges, Michael from his backpack and Henry from his badge case. Bertha nodded. "And Byron checked your records, I.D.s, everything?"
“Yes,” Michael said at once. Bertha nodded again.
“All rightie, now I’ll sign you up for your battle dates. Who wants to go first?”
Michael and Henry exchanged glances.
“I guess I will,” Michael said. “My name is Michael Rowan.”
“Okay. Let’s see...” Bertha flipped a page and put her pencil down onto a square. “The next day I have open is tomorrow, at eight o'clock."
"No," she chuckled. "At night. I'm busy all during the day, and evening battles tend to be more interesting. If you don’t mind, of course, because I can always put you in for the morning after, but then your friend won’t be able to battle for another three days, which means you’ll be stuck in here even longer." Bertha looked at him. “It’s up to you.”
“Okay,” Michael said. “I guess I’ll take tomorrow.”
Bertha nodded. She jotted something down onto the square and looked up at Henry. “So, you’ll take the morning after? Nine o’clock?”
“Sure,” Henry said.
“Mhmm.” Bertha took another note. “By the way boys, if you’re not sure about the battle dates, tell me now. I’ve had kids come in here changing at the last minute, and just plain skipping matches. It’s a pain, and it sure as hell isn’t going to improve their chances of winning.”
“No, we’re sure.” Michael said.
“Good. Then it’s all settled. Thanks kids, you have no idea how easier this is on me. The only other thing I’ll have to ask you is if you’ve made any arrangements for lodging.”
“Lodging? You mean this place has a hotel?” Henry said.
“Nope. That’s why I asked. The mayor’s either too lazy or too broke to build one, which is why most of the trainers we get don’t want to stick around.”
Michael lowered his head to his shoes, realizing the problem. He turned to Henry. “Shoot. What are we going to do?”
Bertha answered for him. “Stay here, what else? I have a couple of guestrooms, and I clean them once or twice a week. It’ll do for the time being.”
“Wow, are you sure?” Henry said.
“Yeah. I run a house, a gym, why not a hotel too?” Bertha chuckled. “Just don’t expect any special treatment. I tell it to everyone who stays here—in the morning I feed you, and at night I kick your butt in battle and send you packing for home. No mercy.”
Michael and Henry exchanged glances. Bertha rose from her chair and went around to the door. “Come on, I’ll show you upstairs. You can bring the little guy up too. I don’t mind.” She nodded to the Stunky in the cage.
Bertha led them out of the basement, and through another hallway that went deeper into the house. She unlocked two doors that stood side-by-side, revealing almost-identical rooms. Henry went left and Michael went right, though the differences weren’t great. Both had full-size beds, white walls, plain curtains, and nightstands—the median of comfort. The only thing that spoiled it all was the noise, which Michael had suddenly become aware of again. Dum-de-de-drumm, it went, over and over like an annoying song.
Bertha leaned against the wall and rubbed her temples. “Oh, that noise... it’s like taking a hammer and pounding my head with it... Sorry, again. You boys came on a bad day. Bad bad bad.”
“Where’s the sound coming from?” Michael said.
“The factory,” she mumbled. “The goddamn factory over the hill.”
“Is that what you were arguing with that man about?” Henry said.
“Yeah.” Bertha opened her mouth into a greedy yawn. “They’re a bunch of irresponsible assholes, pardon the language. Ever since that factory got built they’ve been dumping all these chemicals into the water as waste. I have a garden in what’s left of the meadow over there.” She pointed out the window, towards the expanse of green grass outside. “I grow my own vegetables instead of buying imports from the market. But lately, all my plants have been dying. Every time I walk up the hill to water them, I see all these flakes in the grass. They’re in the soil, in the water, everywhere. Sometimes, at night, I can see this big cloud of something right around the factory. It’s like fog, but it stinks. Once it left me coughing for days.”
Henry stuck out his tongue. “Yuck, that’s disgusting! Someone should really do something about it.”
“What, you think I’m not trying?” she blurted, slapping the wall. Henry drew back from her sudden anger. “I’ve been trying to talk to their director for months now, and all I get are loons like him!” She jerked her thumb back in the direction of the front door. “They don’t know what the hell they’re doing.”
“What’s the factory supposed to be making?” Michael said.
“Some computer thing that powers the space shuttle. I don’t know why that should involve using chemicals, but apparently it does.”
So they’re employed by Team Galactic?” His face lit up.
“No, they are Team Galactic.” Bertha smiled sourly. “I know, surprising, isn’t it? Behind all those flashy TV programs is hardcore industry, kids. There’s no getting away from it. They look for the smallest, most looked-over spots in the region to put up their buildings and they snatch them up like hotcakes.”
Henry shook his head in fervent protest. “But how can this town be overlooked? It’s a Gym town!” he said. “They’d never put up a factory in Oreburgh, so why here?”
Bertha shrugged. “The Space Program isn’t connected to the League. Now, the League is somewhat decent; it wants to bring people to the historic places of Sinnoh and try to get everyone to travel and cooperate a little more. But the Space Program sees everything through one lens. They’re only interested in what’s beyond our planet, not what’s already living on it.” She leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms. “So far, the Gym’s been running pretty smoothly. I get kids coming in, I battle them, and they either move on or stay until they win. And I like it. I get to meet a lot of different people and help them take the next step in their life. You know, it makes me happy. But lately...” She looked over to the window again, at the base of the hill that was visible from here, and her words trailed off. As if in response to them, the factory’s rumbling grew slightly louder. “Lately, it’s just been a burden. That’s all I can say. Galactic is taking advantage of us, and I want to get them out.”
“How are you gonna do it?” Michael spoke, and his tone surprised him. It was daring, almost taunting, as if some inner part of him had risen up to defend his long-loved idol. To his relief, Bertha didn’t react to it.
“Petition, if I want to do it the ethical way. If not... well, that’s too much for you kids to know. I thought you wanted a battle, not an interrogation.” Bertha turned away, and by her expression Michael knew she would say no more on the matter. “I’ll make dinner later today. Pasta on Wednesdays. You both good?”
Michael and Henry nodded.
Bertha smiled. “Great. In the meantime, you can roam around if you’d like. Go outside, or whatever kids do these days.”
“Okay,” Michael said.
“It was nice meeting you,” Henry added.
Michael was about to turn for the door, when a sudden thought made him stop. He wheeled back around to face Bertha. "Hey, what type of Gym are you?"
She looked up. "Pardon?"
"I mean, what's your favorite type to use?"
Bertha looked at him curiously. "Well... I guess it would be grass. They help me with my gardening, and I'm around them so frequently that I started using them for battles too."
Michael nodded, hoping his inner smile didn’t show. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Bertha noded and walked off. When he and Henry were alone, Michael let his backpack slide to the floor.
“Leave your things here. Let’s go outside.”
When Michael got to the front porch, he took a moment to stand there, hands in pockets, looking out at the slow-arching hill. The sun was beginning to dip into late afternoon. The bare grass shivered like living hair, daisies nodding their heads in the wind’s direction. Henry joined his side momentarily. They stood in silence for a while, then Michael spoke. “Well, that went better than I expected. We have our battles. And the Gym is grass.”
Henry nodded. “So we need a Fire type? You know, because forest fires burn down trees.”
“I guess so. I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head, so we’ll go for fire.”
“What about pokéballs? Do you think this place sells them?”
“If the local market craze is Nomel berries? I doubt it.”
“But it can’t hurt to look around, right? We should go visit the market tomorrow.”
“No,” Michael said. “My schedule’s tight enough as is. I have to be ready for a battle by tomorrow evening. At least you get an extra night of sleep. If we’re going to make a capture, we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. By hand.”
Henry crinkled his nose. “Getting that Machop was just plain hard. And in the end, we still needed a pokéball. How are we gonna get by without one?”
Michael smiled. “Did I ever tell you the story of how I got my Stunky?”
“Well, it’s more of a demonstration. Three boys, armed with nothing but a net and their bare hands. I guess we can still get by with two, but you’ll have to be on your toes.”
Henry smiled. “Cool.”
“Let’s go. We’ll take a quick look around to see what this place has, then we’ll go back to get some equipment.” Michael stepped down from the porch. “Let’s start at the meadow. There are bound to be pokémon there.” He took several steps into the road when he realized Henry wasn’t following. Michael looked back, and saw that the boy was still standing on the porch, looking down at him uneasily.
“The factory.” Henry pointed. “Didn’t she say there was a factory by the meadow?”
Michael shrugged. “So?”
Henry’s gaze fell. “I don’t know... We shouldn’t go near it. What if someone catches us?”
“We won’t go into the boundary, stupid. There must be a fence around it if it’s in a public place, right? We’ll just look around the area by the fence, see if there are any pokémon worth looking at, then leave. No one gets in trouble for that.”
Henry maintained silence, and Michael was about to go over and drag the boy down himself, but at the last minute he jumped down. The two boys crossed the street and ascended the hill.
The grass on the hill was pale and soft; clearly it had been spared of the relentless daily treading that normally thinned city grass. The slope was uneven, steep in some places and flat in others. By the time he and Henry scaled it, his feet were slipping in their shoes and the hems of his jeans were soiled with dirt. The noise had also changed. It was no longer a single rumbling in Michael’s ears, but a pattern of swishes and crashes that were actually quite separated.
The fence he had anticipated stood about sixty meters away, and it was the tall electric kind. The green space leading up to it was utterly barren, like Professor Emerson’s giant bald head sticking out from the ground. Even the grass had thinned.
They crept closer, and Michael saw that a large notice was attached to the metal wiring:
HAZARDOUS WORK AREA!
NO ACCESS PERMITTED
TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED
AND ARE SUBJECT TO FINING
PROPERTY LICENSE: TEAM GALACTIC ENTERPRISES
Beyond that was a giant gray building, its color nearly matching with the crisscross wiring of the fence. By the looks of the curve, the hill should have gone up some more, but the point had been chopped off and flattened by a large slice of white asphalt that stretched all the way to the horizon. The building was in the middle of it, surrounded by a second, smaller fence. The factory had four giant smokestacks, all spewing out tiny amounts of the same white stuff into the sky. It had no windows and no other visible openings, and the noises seemed to be coming from somewhere within. Michael’s eyes swept over the cold lines of its silhouette, then he felt a sharp jolt in his arm.
“Come on let’s go, I don’t want to get in trouble!” Henry’s voice was small against the rumble.
“We’re not gonna get in trouble. See? We’re just looking.”
This wasn’t enough for Henry. He shook his head and began to back away. “We’re not supposed to be here. I’m leaving.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Fine. Baby.” He turned to follow him, but as he did, he saw something shift in the background. Michael jumped back towards the spot, and his eyes met a distant patch of trees. Something within their shadows had moved briefly, but whatever it was, it had vanished.
Henry stopped mid-step and looked at Michael. “What is it?”
“I think someone was there in the trees.”
“It’s probably just a pokémon. Now hurry up, I want to get out of here.” Henry beckoned. Michael’s eyes lingered on the spot, then he ran to join him.
I've read up to chapter 8, and I think it's great. =D
One thing that I thought was odd is how the kids don't know much about Pokemon Types. You'd think they would have figured it out by now.
Michael began to laugh, unable to help himself. Henry closed his eyes and lay down on the pavement. A second later, his eyes were open and he was back on his feet.
“Feel what?” Michael turned.
Looks like you missed a sentence.
Also, you repeated the part where Michael asks what type of gym it was.
Ick, both of those were formatting errors I must have made while posting... I'll get them fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.
As for the types, no one is familiar with them at this point in time. In 1963, just as science wasn't as advanced as it is today, they didn't know as much about pokemon as they do in the games, the Pokemon world's 'modern times'. During the course of the fic, you'll see how that knowledge broadens.
Thanks for the review! I'm glad you like it so far.
Can't post anything too long, but I will say I liked this chapter once again. You did quite a good job with setting the scene of Eterna as this smaller community that's quiet, boring, and behind the times... kinda like my hometown where I'm unfortunately stuck right now :/
Like with Byron, it's been interesting to see what Bertha, another mainstay of the current era, was like "back in the day". I like your characterization because it shows Bertha as more hot-headed and outspoken in her youth, yet still with that air of politeness that carries over into the mannerisms in the games. And for some reason, now I'm really itching for a spin-off fic that shows how Bertha eventually tries to combat the who Galactic factory issue.
And speaking of which, the actions of the group already hint at the more malicious activities they'll attempt in the future... you can already see hints of corruption already just in the way the team representative conducted himself with Bertha.
Well now, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. Will Michael be able to catch a suitable Pokemon to take on Bertha, or will he run afoul of Team Galactic by hunting around outside their property?
And some final notes:
I'm definitely looking forward to the next chapter!
As for the hotel, Eterna can't fund the building of one because it's not financially able. The mayor stuff I was getting at is Eterna's government system, which isn't complex at all since it's such a small, community-oriented town. I'll go more in-depth in the next chapter(s), but basically Eterna has a town council and a head, which would be the mayor.
So, thanks for the review! I'll be working on the next chapter, which I have a good beginning plan for. Expect it... sometime
A little note about this one:
First of all, this chapter is short, and somewhat uneventful. I couldn't write it any other way - to do anything more would be to just stuff it with unnecessary details.
But the good news is, I've compensated by finishing Chapter 13 (it's completely done) and I will be posting it in a few days so you won't have to wait too long after reading this one. Chapter 13 will be of regular length, and it has a lot more going on than this one does. Twelve is by no means unimportant, though, so I'd still read it carefully if I were you.
By eight o’clock, the sun was beginning to set over Route 205. Trees were slimmed by their own shadows and the sun was slowly closing its eye, spilling bands of red and purple across the sky.
The route itself was a small meadow with a brook running through it. The meadow wasn’t as large as the one over the hill (even with the factory taking up an entire half, it had been huge), but plant life was abundant here, and it thickened as the water trailed west towards the forest.
When Michael got there, the route was aglow with afternoon light. It had a generous amount of trees and bushes, and lots of shady spots that revealed glimpses of a forest within. In the daytime, trainers would no doubt have gathered to practice in such an abundant spot, but for now the route was quiet. The only other person there was a fisherman casting his line from the narrow bridge. A bucket stood by his side, filled with tiny, gleaming masses.
"All right. Let's drop everything here. No one's gonna take it." Michael set his backpack into the dirt, and Henry did the same.
When Michael straightened, he gave the route another once-over. "Okay, this is definitely a good spot. Pokémon hide in really out-of-the-way places—the kind where no one would think to look. So, we’re going to have to spend more than a few minutes if we want to find out. It can get pretty dry, but be patient. Got it?”
Michael stared at the trees for a moment. “Good. Now what we really need now is a net...”
“But what about using our bare hands?” Henry cut in. “Isn’t that how you got the Stunky?”
“Yeah, but hands are only good for catching. Once you catch a pokémon you have to find a way to keep it, and it’s not like we can carry it back to Bertha’s place.”
“But we don’t have a net. Where are we gonna get one?” Henry said.
Michael smiled. “I was thinking we could get one off of that guy.” He pointed to the fisherman. "Let’s ask.”
The fisherman was so caught up in his task that he barely noticed their approach. His boots were soaked up to the heels with water, and the edges of his vest were frayed and weathered. Up close, Michael could examine his bounty: Piles of dead Goldeen, Barboach, and Horsea were all lumped together in the bucket, giving off a slightly rotten smell. Behind him was a large mass of netting, unused.
"Hey, can you lend us that net really quick?" Michael called out, and the man jumped. The pole slipped from his hands and splashed into the water.
“Damn!” The man spat, and bent to pick it up. The empty hook was slightly stained with blood, but whatever it had held was gone. The man swore again, and turned his sweaty face to Michael. “You’ve just lost me my dinner, kid. What do you want?”
"We were just wondering if you would let us use that net." Michael pointed.
The man rubbed his eyes with his free hand. "Sorry, kid. I've been waiting all afternoon to reel in the big one, and I still haven’t gotten anything. I run a shop you know, and if I can’t sell I can’t buy.” He took a fresh chunk of bait from a second bucket, attached it to the hook, and cast the line again.
"Just the extra one,” Michael said. “We’ll only take it for a minute or two, then give it back.”
"Please?" Henry added, with a sugary smile on top.
Before the man could respond, something tugged at the pole. He quickly rose to his feet, twisting the crank with a growing smile. "Here it comes, here it comes..."
With a final grunt, he pulled, and the force of it nearly pushed him to the other side of the bridge. Something splashed, and out from the water came a giant lump of seaweed. Michael began to laugh. When the fisherman saw his prize, his sun-baked face reddened further.
"Shit!" he snarled. He dropped the pole and pressed his hands to his face. "Half an hour wasted, and it turns out to be grass...”
"So can we have your net?" Michael asked again.
"Fine, fine, fine! Just leave me alone!" The man lifted the net from the ground and thrust it into Michael’s hands. He paced around for a few moments, then sat back down, his legs hanging over the side. As Michael walked away, the man began to mumble to himself.
"Well, that was weird," Henry said. "At least we have our net. So what do we do now?"
"Follow my lead. And be really quiet too. Pokémon scare easy." Michael approached a bush, bent down beside it, and gave it a quick shake. Some leaves fell out, but he could hear no other noise.
Michael moved on to the next bush and shook it. Still nothing. He closed his eyes and listened, for his science teacher once told him that your hearing worked better when your sight was cut off. (Michael had tried the trick several times, but never really saw a difference.) All around him he could hear screeches and rustles, each sound twinkling in his mind. But when he opened his eyes, all he saw was stillness.
Several minutes passed. Michael continued to stare up at the trees, lost in the intricate patterns of their branches. He could have easily slipped into a daydream, until Henry’s voice jarred him awake.
"How long does this usually take?" the boy whispered.
"Sssh! Longer if you keep talking!"
Henry fell silent. A minute later, Michael felt a tap on his shoulder.
"How long did it take for you to find your Stunky?"
"Ugh. A while, okay? We had to skip the entire third period to get it."
"Skip classes?" Henry gasped.
"Yes. Skip classes. It's not as mind-blowing as it seems."
"But why would you do that?"
"It doesn't matter, just shut up!”
“Look, do you want to win the Gym or not?"
"Then shut up!"
Michael blinked and turned around, once more scanning the area. He did three full circles, but all he saw were the same trees, bushes, and rocks.
"I don't get it," he said after a while. "Where are all the pokémon?"
"Hey, look!" Henry said.
Michael jumped. "Where? What? What is it?" He lifted the net, ready to swipe at any moment.
"Right over there!" Henry pointed to a tall hedge. It was covered with bright pink blooms that swayed oddly with the wind. Instead of moving in one direction, as the laws of nature dictated, each flower opened and closed its petals freely, as if to kiss the air. Michael moved closer, narrowing his eyes enough to see the tiny peeking faces behind the petals.
"Are those... pokémon?" Henry said, creeping closer. The flowers had tiny black eyes and mouths that, at the first glance, looked to be no more than spots. Each face was unique, and some had different colors than others.
“They're Cherrim,” Michael said.
"Neat!” Henry said. He lifted a finger and gently brushed one of the delicate petals. Instantly, the bloom snapped shut, displaying a blue outer shell. A smile spread across his lips.
"Ha! That was so cool!" He poked a second, and laughed as it did the same thing. "Why do they do that?"
Michael sighed. "Focus, Henry. We have to find a fire type." He pulled Henry away from the bush, and they went deeper into the meadow, following the course of the brook. Michael kept his eyes open, and stopped when they alighted on a large tree that stood on the other side. It was some sort of willow tree, with thin, stringy leaves and roots that bulged out of the ground.
"You see that tree over there?" Michael pointed.
"I bet that's where all the pokémon are. Let's go look."
They carefully crossed the brook, stepping on stones whose heads were above the waterline. The trees here were more tightly-packed, and their branches seemed to weave together into a single canopy that sheltered them from the light.
"Okay. You come in from the left, and I'll come in from the right. This way, we'll corner whatever's hiding there, and it'll be our advantage. Got it?"
"Right." Henry began to tiptoe towards the tree, scrunching his face as he pretended to concentrate. Michael sighed. This kid had a lot to learn.
Up close, the tree looked to be about twenty feet tall. Its trunk was enormous, so that if a person hugged it their fingers wouldn’t come close to touching. Michael crept beneath its canopy, keeping his net at his side. Beneath the shade of the branches, the grass was cool and thick.
Henry approached, and Michael pressed his back against the trunk, using his peripherals as much as he could. From somewhere nearby, he could hear the crinkle of leaves. Lots of them. His heart began to pound.
They remained still for a few minutes. The sounds came and went with alternating loudness, but when Michael looked up, he could only see shadows.
Out of nowhere, Henry let out a gasp.
Michael reacted instantly. He looked up, fleetingly able to see a small dark figure leap down from a branch. With trained coordination, he swung the net over his head and let it fall to the ground, trapping the pokémon within.
"You got it!" Henry grinned.
The net rocked and jumped as the pokémon struggled against its new prison. Michael approached it, panting. Through the netting, he could see the outline of a tiny body, wings, and beak.
"What the hell? It's just a Starly!"
"What do you mean? That's good." Henry watched as the bird continued to screech and beat its wings.
"Starlies are flying types, dur hur. That won't help us in the Gym at all."
Henry's face fell. "Well... if a hurricane made a plant fall down, wouldn't that kill it?"
"If I ripped it out of the ground myself, that would kill it too. Don't overthink." Michael grasped the tip of the net and lifted it a little.
"Wait, wait, you're just gonna let it go?"
Michael looked over to Henry, who was biting his lip. "Because it's of no use. It won't help us at all."
"I still say we should keep it. It could come in handy."
"No," he said again. "I'm not keeping it."
"Fine, then I will." Henry kneeled down beside the Starly. "I'll carry it around and stuff so you won't have to. I have a spare pokéball."
Michael sighed, resigned. "Whatever." He handed the net to Henry, who carefully sealed its opening. The Starly continued to fidget.
Michael went back over to the tree and sat down against it. "Snack?" He held up a candy bar.
Henry looked at it for a moment. "Uh..."
"Come on. They give you energy."
"Well... okay. One time can't hurt, right?"
Michael tossed a bar over to Henry, then took one for himself. He sat under the tree for a while, watching the clouds in between bites of milk chocolate and caramel. When he reached back into his snack pocket, Michael was alarmed to discover that his supply was running out. He had only three Taffy chews left, some bubble gum, and a Hershey bar. At the rate he was going, all the candy he had brought from home would be gone in three days. And for some reason, it made him feel strangely lonely.
He sat there, one arm resting on his bent knee, while Henry munched on the bar beside him.
“This is really good! If it were healthy, I’d eat it all day!” Henry wiped his face with the heel of his hand and stuffed the empty wrapper into his pocket. He had wolfed down the bar in less than a minute. “All right! I’m ready to go. So are we gonna go looking again? There might be a fire type around here somewhere. I bet they’re just hiding.” He clapped his hands and stumbled backwards, looking up at the tree’s canopy.
Michael looked at him, then back up at nothing. “Yeah.” But he didn’t move. Henry slung his tote bag over his shoulder and began to walk off, and a few moments later, Michael went to join him.
They followed the river back to their starting point. The fisherman was getting ready to leave. His toolkit was closed, and the buckets were arranged in a row, all filled to the brim. When he saw the boys, he snapped his fingers.
“Great! Just in time. I’ll take that back now.” He reached for the net, but Michael hesitated.
“We still need it. Sorry, we’re trying to catch a pokémon and it’s taking longer than usual.”
The man raised an eyebrow. “Well I’d love to help, but that happens to be my good net, and I need it for tomorrow’s session.”
“You fish every day?” Michael said. “Don’t you ever take a break? You know, for your life?”
“Didn’t I tell you I have a shop to run? When you’re in the business, fishing is your life, whether you like it or not. And Eterna’s not a bad spot, mind you. Sure it’s no Pastoria, but the forest’s got all kinds of weird things cropping up all the time. Here.” He heaved a bucket from the ground. “Just now, while you two were gone, I caught this...”
He reached into the bucket with his bare hand, pushing aside the bodies with sick, slimy noises. The man took one out and held it in front of Michael’s face.
“Look at it! Look! Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
The pokémon that dangled from his fingers was a pale blue. Its eyes were glazed and its long, narrow snout hung limp like a noodle. It was a Horsea, but unlike any other Michael had seen. This one was bigger, fatter, and there was a slightly different shape to its head and fins. Even its scales seemed different from the tiny, round dots he had seen in the school aquarium.
“What is that?” Henry marveled. He reached out to touch it, but the fisherman yanked it back.
“Nah-ah. No fingers.”
“It looks like a Horsea,” Michael said.
“Yes, but it’s not! It’s a new pokémon, I’m telling ya!” He grinned. “Yep, wait ‘till everyone hears. I’ve discovered a new pokémon species, and it’ll only be sold in my shop. I’ll be rich!”
“But how can you prove it’s a new species? It might just be a Horsea whose growth spurt went out of wack.”
The man lifted a finger. “Ah, but it’s not a Horsea. How do I know? Look.” He brought the body close again, and spread the flesh near its neck to reveal an incision in the skin. “The meat is white. Horsea meat is pink. Always pink. Ask any expert on seafood and he’ll tell you that.” He placed the pokémon back into the bucket. “Well, I’m off boys. And seriously, I need the net.”
After a brief pause, Michael handed it to him. The man smiled. “Sorry. Better luck next time, eh?” He started off, but after a few steps he looked back. “Oh, and if you’re having trouble, I’d get one of those pokéballs. I heard they’re pretty reliable.”
“Thanks for the tip,” Michael said through his teeth.
“So long! Off to make millions.” The man laughed again, and strode off towards town.
When he was gone, Henry puffed out his cheeks and let out a sigh. “Great. Now we have nothing to hunt with.”
“We’re screwed,” Michael said simply. “We have absolutely no plan, no pokémon, and no time.”
“We could always use our bare hands,” Henry suggested.
“Yeah, that’ll take even longer. Let’s just go home.”
“Bertha’s house. Whatever.” Michael started back the way they came. Henry fell into step behind him, and they were silent.
When they got back to Bertha’s house, they were awaited with a lit kitchen and a full dinner table. Bertha was sitting at the end, and looked up as the boys entered. She cringed a little when they dropped their backpacks against the wall, but nevertheless her smile remained.
“You might want to wash your hands first,” she said. “And close it, before you let the flies in.”
She was talking to Michael, who had gaped at the sight of three perfect bowls of pasta, topped with a circle of marinara and adorned with tall glasses of juice. Besides the main course, there was also a salad, and three hot rolls in a basket. A basket. He and Henry slowly rounded the table. Even with the food so close he could taste it, Michael still couldn’t believe it.
“Is this all for us?” His eyes rested on each dish one by one, delving into a world of color.
“Who else?” Bertha laughed. “And if you were going to say me, then you better watch it, skinny.”
Michael pulled back a chair to sit, but Henry pulled him back. “Not yet, we have to wash our hands first.”
Michael grumbled, but stepped away.
“You can use that one over there.” Bertha pointed to the kitchen sink. The boys washed their hands, then took their seats.
Henry immediately dove in. He spun threads of pasta on his fork, slathered them with marinara, then shoved them into his mouth, pausing every so often for a gulp of juice. Michael watched Bertha eat as well; she and Henry took turns with the salad, weighing each spoonful before placing it on their plates, then bit by bit working through the piles until they disappeared.
Hands tore at the bread, forks clattered, and the mounds of food grew smaller and smaller. All the while, Michael sat with his head slightly lowered, staring at the spot of red sauce on his spaghetti till the color burned in his eyes.
“Bertha, you’re a really good cook!” Henry began after a swallow. “You make salads just like my mom. Only you know what she does?”
“What?” Bertha said. She was twisting another clump of noodles around her fork.
“She adds some spices right before she tosses. That gives it a lot of flavor. She uses different spices for different types of salads. Even egg salad, once. I thought it would taste really weird, but it actually tasted amazing!”
“Well that’s interesting. I’ll have to try that. Was you mom a cook or something?”
Henry shook his head. “No, we had a cook. He did basically everything, but my mom always made the salads no matter what. They were her specialty.”
Bertha smiled. “All my mother did was cook. She usually stuck with desserts, though. Those were her territory. What she was really good at was baking pies.”
“Yep. Apple, cherry, blueberry, anything you can think of. She even invented her own sometimes, mixing flavors like mango and raspberry. We had a little bake shop that my friends and I helped out with in the summer. She wrote down all her recipes in a little cookbook and gave it to me for my birthday one year.”
Henry looked up, his eyes gleaming. “Do you still bake pies?”
Bertha tilted her head to the side. “Hmm... why?”
“You want one?”
Henry began to laugh. “Yeah. Sorry, all the talk about dessert made me want some.”
“I haven’t baked in a while, though I suppose I could start again. Here. I’ll make you a deal—if you win the battle, I’ll bake you a pie. If you don’t, I won’t. Or better yet, I’ll bake one and eat it myself.”
They both laughed. After a while, they stopped, then turned to Michael. He hadn’t touched his food.
“What’s the matter?” Bertha said. “You sick?”
“Are you going to eat your bread?” Henry’s fingers jumped to the rim of the basket.
To both, Michael shook his head. “No. I’m fine.”
Henry pulled the bread to his plate and began to nibble on it. Halfway, he stopped and put it down, his face betraying the tiniest bit of guilt.
“Are you sure?” Bertha continued to look at him. “If you’re not hungry, you can leave. I won’t mind.”
Michael shook his head. In fact, he was hungry, and with such a lavish meal within arm’s reach, he felt the pang like never before. He had never seen such a table, not even at home, where his own mother was the cook and often messed things up, in more ways than one.
Several years before, (he had no idea why this memory was springing forward now, but it was too late to stop it) he had been sitting at dinner with his mother. Richard had vanished, Brian was off to school, and it was just the two of them, slurping noodles and watching the clock tick.
“So how was school?” Patricia had asked.
Michael had replied with the usual, that ancient, time-tested phrase that was more or less guaranteed to get an annoying subject off your back. “Fine.”
In reality, the day had been less to his liking. He had gotten a D on a test (he did somewhat care about his grades, regardless of what everyone else thought) and the paper was sitting in his backpack, awaiting a parent signature he’d probably ask Brendan to forge later the next day. Their new science teacher, the replacement for the one who had retired, was almost abusively strict and ran her classroom like a military camp.
And Michael Rowan was one of her favorite students.
He had passed her first assignment with flying colors, and the other competitors for ‘top of the class’ included Lola Brown and Carl Rogers—soon to be the class nerds.
Michael knew he wasn’t stupid, but it made him angry that he should automatically be lumped into a category he didn’t want to be in. He had gone to the Jubilife School for Young Children since kindergarten, as had his brothers in their own times, and the Rowan family had a mixed reputation. Brian was, of course, the brain. Richard was the ne’er-do-well. And he? Michael was both... and neither.
During their dinners together, Michael and his mother rarely talked. (To the contrary of what Patricia would later say in a certain interview with a teacher.) Their relationship was strictly grounded upon survival—if there was food and TV, they could get along peacefully, minimal contact creating minimal friction, so they could slip past each other’s lives without disturbance.
So to sum it all up, and to close another long loop of thought which Michael’s mind created intermittently and without warning throughout his life, he was stuck. He now sat at another dinner table, in another house and with other company, but for some reason the sight brought him all the way back, to the empty years when his life had been a waste.
It had been a long time since he had sat with his family at dinner. A long, long time.
It's been awhile, hasn't it?
You're right, not much happens this chapter, but what does happen is nicely executed. And it's interesting for the reason that it shows how much more advanced Pokemon research has come in the past 40 or so years. Today, we all know that the heavily mutated Horsea is an evolved form called Seadra and that flying types destroy grass-types, but that was all unknown back then. And I bet that old fisherman did make a few bucks with his discovery... unless someone else beat him to it, that is xD And in a way, it could also explain why evolved forms of certain Pokemon are sometimes discovered later... someone just happens upon one of the new forms, wonders what the heck it is, and reports it to a scientist.
And not-so-pleasant memories of Michael's past life... it's a bit like my own. I don't talk much with my parents except when I have to, and dinner is filled with awkward silences and conversations that I usually don't want anything to do with and that frequently end with me getting yelled at... Believe me, I won't miss family dinner at all...
I liked this chapter for what it is... a short filler chapter that's building up to possible new discoveries and an important impending gym battle. I'll be looking forward to the next installment
Yeah, it's been a while Good to see you're still here.
And yes, the fisherman will be making quite a bit of money off his new discovery... more on that in the next chapters. Michael and Henry will also get a rude awakening about the whole Flying/Grass thing too. But I won't say much more...
Next chapter will be posted soon, so don't stray off yet! Thanks for reviewing!
Here's chapter thirteen, everyone. Hope you like it!
A note before we begin: In one scene, you'll find Bertha talking to some people about chemicals. I'm not a chemistry major, nor do I intend to be, so I don't get too detailed in the names. I use the term 'fluorine compound' loosely, so if any of you happen to be learned in chemistry and think its placement here is completely bogus, know that I just use it for literary purposes. If it's that bad, then feel free to tell me how to make it better.
That is all.
The next morning, a thin layer of fog hung over the town. Michael and Henry had slipped out of bed early, and by the time the sun showed, they were in Route 205, walking in the generous shade of the trees along the path they had traced the previous day.
The Starly they captured had remained obedient, thanks to a spare pokéball Henry happened upon in his bag. The previous night, he had captured it and made it his own. The Starly was now perched snugly on Henry’s arm, where it pruned its feathers with its beak and squawked every so often.
They had practiced with what they had, shouting commands back-and-forth and directing the attacks towards trees. Their lack of a fire type still worried Michael, and he wasn’t sure if he could devise a good plan without one. He had brought his chart along, and managed to take down some notes. So far, their circumstances looked pretty bleak. He didn’t even know what pokémon Bertha had.
They were now walking back to her house, Michael in the lead. His stomach was beginning to rumble, and after the previous night’s dinner, he was eager to see what she would have for breakfast.
When they got to the house, however, what Michael saw surprised him. Bertha was stepping down from the porch, dressed in a stiff, formal dress, and carrying a large handbag that could only mean she was going somewhere.
When she saw them, Bertha paused mid-step, lips parted. “Boys? What are you doing? I thought you were still sleeping.”
“We went out early to train,” Michael said. “Where are you going?”
Bertha zipped open the purse and placed her keys inside. “That’s not important. But I’m leaving you two in charge of the house while I’m gone, okay? Make breakfast, but clean up after you’re done. I have pancake mix, eggs, anything you like. Cereal’s in the pantry. Got that?”
Michael and Henry nodded.
“Great. I’m off then. Don’t burn the place down.” She winked, and walked off.
“Wait!” Michael said. “What about the battle?”
Bertha turned around. “Oh don’t worry, I’ll only be about two hours. Two-and-a half tops. What you should be thinking about is a plan! Remember, I’m not easy to beat.”
“Bye.” Bertha waved, then went on her way. Michael entered the house, going immediately to the kitchen to get the pancake mix from the pantry.
“So she’s leaving the whole house to us?” Henry said. He looked around in wonder.
“Yep. Two hours all to ourselves.” Michael turned the box over and read the back cover. He had never tried to cook before, and almost all early childhood attempts at make brownies had resulted in failure, mostly due to his lack of patience when it came to the baking part. Richard would often sabotage the liquid mix while it was still in the oven, leaving next to nothing when Michael took it back out.
“Well, we should probably get started,” Michael said. “Do you know how to make pancakes?”
Henry shrugged. “No. Just follow the instructions, I guess?”
Michael read the label again. “It says I need an egg, butter, half-cup of milk, and one cup of mix. Can you get all that?”
“Hey, why me?”
“Because I’m the director of this project, and you’re the one who gets things done.” Michael had said this completely seriously, but he couldn’t help but smile at his own tone.
Henry obliged, and placed the gathered ingredients onto the counter. For the next few minutes, the boys struggled with the ingredients, opening packages, tossing scraps into the waste basket, and stirring the liquid mix with a beater Michael had found in one of the many kitchen drawers. The sink was soon filled with piles of dirty dishes and utensils, as he and Henry sampled and measured the ingredients.
When the time finally came to ready the stove, Henry approached with a heat-resistant glove on (Michael told him not to be a sissy, but he didn’t listen) and carefully buttered the skillet. They ladled the mix in parts, flipping the pancakes until they were brown on both sides, and divided them onto plates.
They sat down at the dining table twenty minutes later. Michael took a bite out of the finished product, and was pleased when it tasted all right.
“She has a really pretty house,” Henry commented from the other chair. In the morning, the sunlight scattered around the walls, and seemed to light the kitchen up from the inside.
“Yeah, I guess.” Michael looked around. Bertha had a fireplace, and it faced the kitchen from a small anteroom that accommodated an armchair. There were photographs on her mantle, but what Michael’s eyes lingered on was a small metal tray at the center. It was made of black wire, though he could see what it contained—three silver balls.
He got up.
“Where are you going?” Henry lowered his fork.
“I think this is where she keeps her pokémon,” Michael said. He approached the mantle. Sure enough, there were pokéballs in the tray, winking at him in the light. He took one into his hands, and smiled.
“Wait!” Henry ran after him. “I don’t think we should be touching them.”
“Why not? Think about it. We have the whole battle in our hands right here.” He held up two pokéballs. “If we could release them and take a look, I could get a better idea of what their types are, and how to counter them! It’s a total save!”
“I don’t know. Bertha’s really nice, and it wouldn’t be right to snoop around while we’re guests in her home. It’s cheating.”
“Please. If she really didn’t want us to look, she’d have taken them with her when she left.” He twisted the knob on the first one, but Henry grabbed his wrist.
Michael pulled away. “Let go!”
“It’s not right!”
“Don’t be a baby. She won’t even know we looked. We’ll just put them back exactly as we found them.”
Henry crossed his arms and turned away. “Fine. You can look, but I won’t.”
“Suit yourself.” Michael unscrewed the knob and shut his eyes against the burst of light that followed. When it faded, he looked down.
A Turtwig lay at his feet, shaking itself awake. Its back was to Michael, and for the first few seconds, it stared at the opposite wall in confusion. Then it turned around to face him.
From the side, Henry looked over his shoulder. “A Turtwig!” he said. The curiosity was edging back into his face, though he did not move as Michael kneeled down and looked at it. The Turtwig had realized that Michael was not its trainer, and was looking at him with its head cocked to the side.
“These things are everywhere,” Michael murmured. “I don’t think there’s anything special about this one, do you?”
Henry shook his head. “It doesn’t look like it. And well, it’s not different-colored like yours.”
“Let’s just hope it can’t shoot a sonic boom out of its mouth,” Michael said, and returned it back into the pokéball. “Why else would a Gym leader have a Turtwig?”
He swapped the pokéball for another, and opened the second. Out came a Cherrim. The pokémon had been sleeping too, and its petals were still folded in a shell around it.
“Hey, it’s a Cherrim!” Henry said. “Like the ones we saw on the bushes the other day.”
“They’re grass types too,” Michael said. “Still no surprises.”
“It shouldn’t be too hard, though, right?”
“Don’t know. Have you ever seen a Cherrim battle?”
Henry shook his head.
“Well then, I guess we will tonight.” Michael called the sleeping Cherrim back inside, and took down the final pokéball.
He opened it, shut his eyes, and when he opened them again, they instantly widened in surprise.
“Whoa!” Henry slid down to the floor for a closer look. “What is that?”
“It’s a Roselia,” Michael said, though he himself wasn’t so sure. The pokémon that had appeared was bigger and bulkier than any Roselia he had ever seen. The pokémon had a tuft of white hair growing from the crown of its head, and some more forming a ring around its neck. Its head was rounder, and the blooms at the end of each arm were larger and frillier.
“I mean... it looks like one, but—”
“But its growth spurt went out of wack?” Henry looked at him. Coming from his mouth, Michael’s words took on a new light.
The Roselia-thing was looking at them in confusion, probably wondering why these two random kids were staring and chattering at it. Michael reached out to stroke its head. The thing permitted the contact, but never took its eyes off him. The hair on its head was soft and wispy.
“Maybe it’s the factory again,” Henry said. “You know, all those chemicals everywhere could be causing mutations. Remember the Horsea in the river?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah...”
“Well, that’s enough looking I think.” Henry snatched the pokéball from Michael’s hands and returned the Roselia-thing. He placed the pokéball back on the mantle. “So are you gonna add them to the chart? They’re all grass types, so we only have to think of one counter.”
Michael was still on his knees, staring up at the window. “But the mutation. How could a Roselia change like that? If it’s from the chemicals, I bet you that its appearance wasn’t the only thing they altered.”
“Well, we could ask Bertha about it,” Henry said. “But that would kinda give us away.”
“We don’t have to ask her. I have a better idea.” He got up and went back to the kitchen. Henry followed.
“We’re going to find out more about these mutations,” Michael said. He took his backpack from the floor and slung it over his shoulder. “Let’s go.”
The Eterna Courthouse was the town’s oldest standing building. It had been built in 1704, a date which was engraved on a gold plaque right above its giant wooden doors. The building itself was huge, with a giant bell and prim-faced statues flanking its sides.
A few years ago, a restoration project had reinforced it with steel beams and replaced the roof with shingles, but other than that the building’s original architecture remained untouched. The imaginative mind would fill its seats with juries, its podiums with wig-wearing judges, and the cells of its tiny jail with stooping prisoners.
But aside from being a tourist attraction, the building itself served little purpose. Crime had never been a pastime in Eterna as far as Bertha knew, and she would often spot the sheriff walking around with an apple, his handcuffs clacking emptily against his belt as he searched for something to do with himself.
Bertha pushed open the double doors and went inside. The interior of the courthouse was almost entirely made of wood, and the main feature was a pair of stairs that stood on either end of the lobby, leading up to the balconies. It was not the stairway that she turned to, however. Bertha went immediately to a side door—one that was plain and mostly unnoticeable against the wall—and stepped through into a tiny, musty room.
The room’s only piece of furniture was a large wooden table, one that took up almost all the space and left only a little wiggle room for chairs. Three men sat behind it, through there was enough space between them to affirm that they were not together. The man on the left was dressed in full business attire, and his hair had that wet, gelled-back look that made him look suspiciously fish-like. The man in the middle wore a simple shirt and tie, without any other accessories. The last man had abandoned formality altogether, sitting quite comfortably in a t-shirt and jeans.
The men had all been staring in separate directions, each perhaps going off on his own trail of thought, but when Bertha stepped through the door, their eyes locked on her.
Bertha lowered her purse onto the table, but did not sit down. She gave a curt nod. “Hello.”
The man in the t-shirt nodded back. “Hello, Bertha. Glad you could make it.” He attempted a smile, but it quickly faded, and the room returned to its previous gloom.
After a brief pause, the man in the middle spoke. “All right, we’re all here, now let’s get to the point. What’s the problem and why’ve you called us here?”
“You know what the problem is,” Bertha said. “The whole town knows it. We see it every day when we look north.”
“If you’re talking about the factory—”
“Yes! I’m talking about the factory, Darrel! That thing’s been a problem since the day it got put up, and it’s getting worse and worse every day.”
“To my knowledge,” the man in the suit cut in, “everything’s been fine up to this point. I don’t understand where your complaints suddenly came from.”
“That’s because you live by Cycling Road. Of course you don’t have any complaints, because you’re not the one who’s up all night not able to get a wink of sleep while there’s a fucking earthquake in your backyard!” This last shout had been loud, and Bertha felt a tiny ripple of pain in her throat. She suppressed a cough. She had planned to start off calm, but apparently her control wasn’t with her today.
“If the noise is so bad, why hasn’t anyone complained?” Darrel said. “Surely if it was an issue worth pointing out, somebody would have said something in... oh I don’t know, the past year or so?”
“Oh, they have. I personally went around and gathered these statements.” Bertha took a folder from her purse and opened it. She took out a single paper and laid it down on the table. “You might know Mrs. Danbury, the lady who keeps a berry farm right by the forest. She used to be able to bring basketfuls of Orans and Spelons to the market. Now, every other season of crops ends up dropping dead. Look.”
The men leaned in closer. Clipped to the papers was a photograph of a field, each bush dotted with berries of various colors. Everything was covered in a white Christmas of tiny flakes.
“I took that picture last year, in July. All the plants from that season ended up shriveling, and Mrs. Danbury said that she couldn’t plant anything in the soil for over five months. Then there’s this.” Bertha took out another paper-clipped stack that she placed on top of the first one. “This is a medical report. The Eburway’s kids all got sick a few months ago. Headaches, dizziness, weak bones, and lots of coughing. Before that, they were in perfect health. They played in the meadow every afternoon, but now they can hardly walk.”
Devon looked at all this, and shook his head. “So? It’s illusion of correlation. Maybe it was a blight that killed Mrs. Danbury’s plants. Maybe the Eburway kids have inherent disabilities. Maybe the flakes are the result of insecticides. There are hundreds of factors that can be in play. What makes you think the factory is the one behind all this?”
Bertha’s face tightened. “Don’t think I haven’t done my research! I keep a garden of my own, right by the meadow, and every time a breeze comes around from the factory’s direction, I see those flakes. If the wind’s strong enough, they’ll get into the streets too, and slip in through the cracks in people’s doors!”
“It’s a baseless assumption!” he protested. “You can’t possibly prove that the flakes are coming from the factory from the simple observation that they come from its direction.”
“Then maybe you’d like to explain why there were none before?”
“This problem could easily be solved by chemical testing,” said Darrel. “We need to know exactly what the flakes are in terms of chemical structure.”
“Way ahead of you.” Bertha placed yet another sheet of paper onto the table. “They’re a fluorine compound, which is produced under extreme conditions when certain gases are mixed. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine anywhere in Eterna where people mix gases for a living.”
Thomas exhaled. “Bertha, I’d love to believe you, but unless we know the factory’s exact chemical procedure, we can’t safely assume that they’re the cause of this.”
“And besides,” Devon said. “They are making computer parts. I’ve done my fair share of reading, and I can say that nowhere in that process is a fluorine compound used.”
“Then they must be making something else,” Bertha said.
“Look, we could argue about this all day,” Darrel said. “Bertha, you get us real, solid proof that these flakes are coming from the factory and nowhere else, and then we’ll be happy to talk with you. But until then, goodbye.” He gave her a casual little wave, but Bertha did not move.
She leaned forward to rest her elbows on the table, trying to keep her voice steady. “You guys are the heads. Of. Council. You have got to stop living in this dream, where everything’s going great and the town’s this perfect picture of happiness, because it’s not. I know things have been pretty smooth for us before; you can ask anyone else who’s lived here since they were a kid and they’ll tell you the same. We’ve gotten away with hiding from the world for a damn good while, but now’s the time to come out. This factory is the perfect example. Out there,” Bertha stretched out her hand panning it across a general direction, “past our little farms and houses, is a world that’s moving forward. We can either step up and move along with it, or get sucked dry by assholes like them.”
“We’ve maintained amiable relations with Galactic so far,” Devon said. “Hell, they’re helping us. Without the twenty-grand bonus they pay us every year, we’d have gone bankrupt a long time ago.”
At this, Bertha lost all poise and control. She threw her head back and began to laugh, clutching her stomach as she gasped and shook. The men watched as she stumbled back, hit the door, and came back to the table, wiping her eyes.
“I really don’t see anything funny—” Devon began.
“Oh, look around!” Bertha cried. “That damn company is sucking us dry! Every year, when we’re supposedly getting our bonus, our streets crack and the houses rot on their foundations! I’ve been trying to get a Gym built here for months now. Months! Do you know what that means for me, being a Gym leader? It means that I have no facility. I have to conduct battles in a basement, for God’s sake! Trainers go through hell and back trying to find the place, and then they have nowhere to stay too, so I have to give them any extra room I can spare and give them the food off my own plate so they don’t starve! I wouldn’t mind it either, if it were necessary. But it’s not. Go to any Gym town in Sinnoh, and you’ll see huge, beautiful Gyms and luxury hotel rooms. And what do I have? Garbage!” She slapped the table, and let the silence hang for a moment.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re spending that money on, but if it’s more important to you than our town’s image and success, then please tell me what it is so I won’t have to waste my time on this anymore. Celestic’s been wanting a Gym standing for a while now. Maybe I should give ours to them.”
For the first time that morning, the three men exchanged a single glance.
“Galactic is eating right out of our plates,” Bertha pressed, “and we’re not doing anything about it. This ‘business deal’ you have going on is killing us. Not only that; it’s practically killing the Pokémon League. There hasn’t been a single Gym repair or full trainer scholarship since Galactic rose to power.”
“All right, so what do you want us to do?” said Devon. “You want us to go in there with torches and pitchforks? Maybe form a mob or some protest rally, demanding that they leave?”
“Diplomacy isn’t exactly working either, if you haven’t noticed already.” Bertha pulled out a stack of letters from her purse. The rubber band that held them together was pulled thin. “I’ve written to them a thousand times, and all I get are stupid delays; morons trying to bide time and stretch words.”
Darrel looked up at her, eyes narrowed. “Have you written to Thealus?”
“If the henchmen haven’t given me anything, what makes you think their boss will? Sure, I can spend the rest of my life writing to Veilstone, waiting month after month on some false hope that someone will hear me. But why should I? Galactic’s shown me that it can’t negotiate. Either that, or it doesn’t want to. Now, they can go to some other industrialized town and by all means spew their nonsense there. But not here.” She took a breath, and continued. “I want to settle this as peacefully as possible. I’m planning on starting a petition. If I get the signature of all the Gym leaders plus a backing from the Gym towns themselves, then maybe, just maybe, that old coot will hear us. By all means, I want Galactic and the League to coexist. Is it possible? I think it is. And maybe we can. But we’ll never know for sure if the only person trying to do something is me.”
She stepped back away from the table and crossed her arms, a gesture she hoped would tell the men that it was all up to them now. They looked to each other again, and whispered back and forth for a while.
Finally, they parted. Thomas was the first to look up. “All right. We’ll back your petition.”
“But I beg you, be careful!” Devon cut in. “We can’t make a public scene of this. These are very strenuous times, and if we make one wrong move, it could destroy us! Galactic is what’s moving the country forward, improving millions of lives, and if we throw mud at their image, the consequences could be disastrous!”
Bertha smiled. “Disastrous? Who the hell cares about some tiny farm town?”
On the subject of Team Galactic’s boss, Thealus Blue, little is actually known. To Bertha, he is a faceless entity hiding behind a letterhead, as two-dimensional as the stamped logo of his corporation. To the rest of Sinnoh, he’s the inner mechanism of the Space Race, the mystical force that turns the wheels of progress.
The associates of Team Galactic never communicate with their boss, yet strangely, his presence can be felt everywhere. Behind the company’s logo is a story, they say, though the man who wrote it has been lost to the ages. The few who are lucky enough to be in daily contact with Blue are as tight-lipped as he himself.
Thealus Blue made one public appearance in 1949, under a different name, while the Space Program was still in its first years of life. However, all recordings are now lost to history, and anybody seeking to contact him will get the address of a P.O. box in Veilstone, a bleak, dead end.
“Hey! Sir, wait! Wait up!”
The crowds of the Eterna marketplace parted as a woman pushed her way through, leading with an arm stretched high over her face. In her hand she clutched a microphone, pathetically offering it to the air while she trudged through the tents and stands. A bulky cameraman trailed after her, and as they neared, all people within a ten-foot radius scurried away, baskets pressed to their chests. Their eyes lingered on the giant, gleaming device balanced on the man’s shoulder, and the speakers that protruded like menacing horns above the lens. As the woman plowed relentlessly forward, he scurried in her wake, shooting quick glances of apology to the people she shoved aside.
The woman paid them all no mind, for her hawk-like gaze was fixed on something in the distance. It captivated her whole attention, blocking out everything else around her. She was the image of exhaustion—skirt splattered with mud, hair disheveled, press badge hanging askew, and yet she still managed to hold onto a businesslike composure that set her apart as a professional. She waded through the crowd as if through water.
“Can you see him? Can you see him?” The cameraman strained to look over her shoulder.
“He went behind a stand,” said the woman. “Shit, this guy’s good.”
“You know, I think we’re being too obvious,” said the cameraman. He looked to the side, just as a group of shoppers turned away, muttering. “Can we at least lose the equipment? The camera just gives it all away.”
The woman shook her head. “No. He already knows our faces. We’ll just have to be fast.”
A man, seemingly from nowhere, presently stumbled onto the path with an armful of fruit. The woman wedged herself in front of him, bumping him against a pole.
The man doubled over with a grunt, and the fruit spilled over into the dirt. The cameraman stepped around and hastily picked them up.
“Sorry! Sorry. She didn’t mean it. She’s usually really nice, it’s just that—“
“NED, GET OVER HERE!”
“Coming, coming! Here.” He shoved the fruit into the man’s hands and scurried off, leaving the unlucky patron to his own devices.
Ned hobbled over to the place where the woman was standing. They were at a crossroads within the marketplace, bordered on all sides by noise and movement.
“Nancy, how much longer is this gonna take?” said Ned. “My shoulder’s about to pop.”
“It doesn’t matter. He can’t run forever,” said Nancy.
“Well, neither can we...”
Nancy gritted her teeth. “We will if we have to. I don’t care if it takes the rest of the day. We’ll catch him.”
“We’ve been at this for half an hour, and all on the slim hope that this random guy will talk to us. But what if he doesn’t?”
“He will. Now will you help me look or not?”
They walked, and passed another booth. This one had a small circle of people around it, slowly growing. But despite the crowd, the salesman managed to lock eyes directly with Nancy. He waved.
“Hey, miss! Care to try the new Wonder Fish? Caught right here in Eterna, and only sixty cents a pound!” He held up a strip of pale meat.
Nancy bit her lip and kept walking. The best tactic to ignore a pesterer was to give them the cold shoulder. Once she affirmed that Ned was following along, she picked up the pace and began to search.
The market was nowhere near as packed as the city was, but it lacked an internal infrastructure, which made it all the more chaotic. What could have been a nice street block with sidewalks was a jumble of tents and stands, with people running about like ants in a hole. The grass was expired—uncut, and in some places, trampled down to dirt. But one of the things Nancy Bryan was good at was adapting, and adapt she would.
She panned across the scene, shielding her face from the light, trying to discern something among the hundred moving bodies. She had not seen the man’s face yet, but she had seen enough to pick him out of the crowd—tweed suit, hat, briefcase. A typical businessman, on a not-so-businesslike regime.
“Got him.” Nancy spoke without turning. The man had reappeared again, and was now retreating into a tent, the brown of his coat passing in and out of view. The briefcase, black and sleek, was held stiffly at his side.
The other shoppers—who either didn’t notice him or were too busy to care—moved out of his way as he literally cut a path through them.
“Where is he? I can’t see him.” Ned spun around in circles, bending under the weight of the camera.
“By the tent. Come on!” Nancy broke into a jog. She dodged her way through the tent, keeping the man in view. When she came upon him he was out in the open, slowing beside a meat booth.
Careful to stay quiet, Nancy jumped behind a nearby pile of crates. Ned followed suit, and they both peered over the top to get a better look.
The man had not noticed their approach. He was looking around at the stand, though he didn’t seem particularly interested in anything they were selling. He leaned over and muttered something to the salesperson, who chuckled.
Ned lifted the camera to his eye, closing in on the briefcase. “Whoa. Double-whammy. I wonder what he’s got in there...”
Nancy waved the camera away. “Not yet!”
Ignoring her, Ned continued to focus the lens. “No way. I’m getting shots of this.” The camera began to click.
At that moment, something in the man’s bearing changed. His shoulder’s stiffened, as if someone had blown cold air down on his neck. The man turned around slowly, and his eyes locked on the camera.
Nancy froze. A second later, she ducked back behind the crates, but by then it was too late. The man’s eyes widened, and then he walked off briskly in the opposite direction.
“You idiot!” Nancy slapped the camera away from Ned’s face. “He heard you!”
“Hey, relax! I just wanted a picture.”
Nancy rolled her eyes. She straightened, brushing crumbs of dirt from her white skirt. “Fine. Let’s go.”
They started forward again, following the man’s beeline through the marketplace. He continued to stop at several booths along the way, and did the same thing at each of them — paced, looked around, and left without a word. And no matter how crowded it was, every time the crew approached, the man would turn his head to the exact spot where they stood, look at them for a few seconds, then disappear again. He moved effortlessly, and even with all the effort in the world, still too quickly.
Nancy was exhausted. She began biting her lip again (which she swore she would never do again after a viewer had laughed at the red blotches), and pushed up the sleeves of her shirt periodically. Her eyes were restless, scanning the crowd for any sight of the man. Behind her, Ned paused frequently to rub his back, shifting the camera from one shoulder to the other.
When they finally overtook him, the man was well on his way towards the exit. Nancy ran up to the sidewalk, waving her microphone in the air like a flag. Her skin gleamed with sweat, and her hair stuck to her face and neck.
“Sir!” she called. “Wait!” The man turned around. The discombobulated crew of two pushed pulled themselves up onto the sidewalk. Nancy scampered over, blocking the man’s path before he could leave. “Sir! Can I get a moment?”
The man looked up, a sneer turning his lips, as if it had all been some game of chase. Nancy ran a finger through her hair and flashed a smile.
“Hi! My name is Nancy Bryan, and I’m with Sinnoh Now. I’m on the hunt for everything that’s hip and happening all across the country. I’d like to take no more than two minutes of your time to ask you a few questions. Is it true that Team Galactic is building something in the Eterna factory?” She thrust the microphone into the man’s face, and he shook his head.
“No comment.” He turned to leave, but Nancy jumped in front of him again.
“What’s the nature of this project?” she pressed. “Is it a new piece of technology?”
“I said no comment.” The man continued walking. Nancy Bryan followed, her voice rising.
“Is it an electronic device of some sort? A computer? A—”
“Enough!” The man pushed the microphone away with his fist, just inches away from hitting Nancy in the nose. “And get that blasted camera out of my face! If you even think about putting this on TV, I’ll put a million-dollar lawsuit on your heads! You hear? Go home!”
Nancy watched him leave, her shoulders drooped. Forgetting her businesslike composure, she hung her head like a child, letting the microphone dangle from her hand. “Turn it off, Ned.”
The cameraman lowered the device and placed a lens cap over the camera’s gaping eye. “Hey, no worries. At least we tried.”
“Tried doesn’t cut it!” Nancy snapped up, turning to face her companion. She tightened her grip on the microphone. “What’s wrong with me? Everywhere I go I get spat on like some creature! The SNN reporters don’t get half as much bullshit as I do, and their stories are crap!”
“Calm down,” said Ned. “I’m sure we’ll find a good one if we keep looking. No offense, but Eterna’s not the best place you could’ve picked.”
Nancy glared at him. “Gee thanks. Thanks a bunch. That really makes me feel better, you know, especially after I drove twenty miles over here, no air conditioning, the sun baking my skin like a freakin’ toaster, having to fix two flat tires along the way, and dealing with you and Tom singing karaoke songs in the back!”
Ned raised both hands in defense. “Nancy, just be rational. Team Galactic obviously doesn’t want to talk to us. That’s not worth beating ourselves up over. There are a lot of good stories out there, and I don’t see a point in spending the rest of eternity chasing this one.”
“No! Don’t you get it?” Nancy said. “Team Galactic has never done an interview before. Never! Just think of the credit we’d get if we got just a one-page story about them. A single sentence, even. But they won’t fucking let us in! I hate that!” She doubled over, and her eyes spilled over with tears. Wet mascara ran down her cheeks in little gobs. “I hate this! I just... I’m just so sick... and tired of constantly having to accept junk! You know that? And when you keep accepting junk over and over and over again, that’s what you become. My life is junk.” She buried her face in her hands. Pretty soon, her sobbing could be heard from within.
Ned patted her back. “Come on. Don’t cry, Nancy. Your life’s not junk.”
“Yes it is!” Nancy wrenched out of his grip. “I am sick of you and Tom and Bobby always bugging me about doing some random story. Yeah, sure, I could give up and just do a report on a supermarket scandal, what will I be doing different from the other hundred networks out there? That’s right, nothing! If I can’t get people to talk to me like I’m normal and the SNN people can, then my life is pointless! I might as well just go back home and stay there with a paper bag over my head.”
“It’s just one story. I really don’t think SNN will care if we do something else. They’re not expecting us to break ground — they just want to see that we can support ourselves.”
“No!” Nancy said. “That’s the thing — they don’t expect us to break ground. They don’t expect us to do anything. They want to watch us fail, which we will, so they can buy our network and leave us broke.” Her voice cracked, and she spilled a fresh downpour of tears into her palms.
“Relax. We’ll keep trying. What’s the deadline again?”
“Okay. That’s more than enough time. We’ll just have to think of a better way to talk to these people. No offense, but I think you come on too...”
Nancy looked up before he could finish. Her face was blotchy and streaked with ruined makeup. “Too what?”
Ned chuckled. “Never mind.”
Nancy wiped her eyes and yawned. “All this heat is making me hungry. Let’s get something to eat before we go.”
They went back into the marketplace and found the Wonder Fish stand. The man was still selling, and by the looks of it, selling well. People stood on all sides with fish sandwiches, filets, and still more fish wrapped in foil. Nancy made her way to the front of the line and dropped a pile of coins onto the counter.
“Two sandwiches please.”
The man smiled. “Coming right up!” He withdrew and came back moments later with two sandwiches wrapped in paper. “Tell your friends!” he called as she walked away.
On their way out of the marketplace, Nancy peeled away the wrapping and took a bite of the white meat. It was soft and tasted like... fish.
“Wow, this is really good!” said Ned. “Better than Horsea, in my opinion. I wonder what it is.”
“Not now, Ned. We have to think. How are we going to get a scoop on that factory in a month?”
“I don’t know. We’ll have time to think about it, though, right?”
“The point of all this is not to wait till the last minute!” Nancy ripped another chunk from her sandwich and chomped it down. “We’ve tried writing, and that failed. We’ve tried live interview. Failed. What else is there?”
Ned shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t tell me there’s nothing left! I know for a fact that SNN is doing something else. They did a whole freaking segment about Fuego Ironworks. Fuego Ironworks, Ned. Those guys don’t just take live interview requests.”
“Are you kidding me? SNN practically snuck inside. There’s no other way they could have gotten pictures like that.”
All of a sudden, Nancy stopped. “Wait.”
Nancy smiled. “I think there’s one option left for us.” She looked north, where she could see faint puffs of smoke from over the trees.
“What are you looking at?” Ned pressed.
Nancy ignored him. “Come on. We have to meet the others.” She stopped beside a garbage can and threw her sandwich away before moving on.
That morning, a beat-up van had been parked on the curb by the marketplace. A logo, pasted in bold letters on the side, read: Jubilfe TV. The van was bulky and dirty, something that would be the subject of ridicule in most large cities, but here the sunlight gave its curves a pristine glow, a mighty symbol of innovation against the plain, undeveloped town.
Two men were leaning against the van’s side, sipping Coca Cola and staring absently into space. One wore a baseball cap, its visor lowered over his face. The second stared lazily up at the trees. A cart with various sound equipment stood between them.
“This place is such a bore,” said the first man, lifting the visor to rub his eyes.
“Tell me about it. This place is practically a jungle. I haven’t seen this many trees in, like, ever.”
“More than Jubilife Park, you think?”
The second man took a sip from the can and waved his hand. “Nah, this place puts Jubilife Park to shame.”
Both men began to laugh. The moment was as fleeting as the breeze, and then they settled back into an awkward silence. The trees seemed to soak up every attempt at conversation, leaving nothing to do but stare at one’s shoes. Even the Starly which they often spotted passed by without a sound, as if silence was a community rule.
“That’s it, I can’t take it anymore.” The man in the cap crushed the empty can in his fist. “I’m turning on some music.” He climbed into the van and started the engine. The radio came to life, and began to blast an upbeat song through the empty street.
He came around and slumped back beside the van. “That’s better.”
“Aw come on, that’s all that station ever plays. Be a man, would you?”
Bobby grinned. “Fine.” He went back to the van and turned the radio’s dial, scrolling through a string of random songs. He didn’t have time to settle on one, however, for when he stole a glance through the windshield, he saw Nancy and Ned coming up the road. Eterna was the only place in the world where you could cross the road without looking and not have to worry about being squashed.
“There they are!” He and Tom looked over as they approached. The pair looked as if they had walked for miles—their clothes were stained with dirt, and Nancy had two black lines streaking down her cheeks.
“Whoa, Nancy, what happened to your face?” said Tom.
“Later,” Nancy said. “Come on, we’re packing up. Get the sound equipment and put it in the back.”
Ned opened the van’s double doors and placed the camera inside its holder. Bobby and Tom lifted the cart.
“Well, did you get the story?” said Bobby. “Did that Team Galactic guy talk to you?”
“Not yet. But I have a plan.”
“I’ll tell you as we go.”
Nancy climbed into the passenger seat and took a mirror and tissue from the glove compartment. She began to scrub her cheeks, succeeding in removing most of the mascara and leaving the rest in two circular smears. She’d take care of those later. Nancy dabbed her shoulders and chest, which had become moist with perspiration during her run.
As the rest of the crew climbed in the van, she cradled her head in her hands and took a slow, deep breath, a calming routine she had developed over many years in the business.
Relax. You can do this.
Tom closed the driver’s door and started the van. Nancy adjusted her mirror to check her hair. A-ok.
Behind her, the van’s window showed a slip of sidewalk sprinkled with leaves. Not long after the van pulled out of the curb, the figures of two boys could be seen strolling down the sidewalk.
The fisherman’s stand was at the edge of the marketplace, an island surrounded by a small circle of people. Michael pushed his way to the front, and saw the man wearing an apron, holding up two wrapped packages.
“Two Wonder Fish sandwiches with lettuce? Anybody order two Wonder Fish sandwiches with lettuce?”
Someone held out their hands, and the man graciously exchanged the packages for a handful of bills.
When the man saw Michael, he grinned. “We meet again! I’m afraid if you want a sandwich, you’ll have to wait in line.” He indicated the mass of people in front of him.
“It’s okay,” said Michael. “We don’t want a sandwich. I was just wondering if you could give me one of those pokémon. Whole.”
The man’s eyes widened at the unusual request. “I’ll see what I can do, but you’ll have to wait in line.”
“But we don’t have — oh, fine.” Michael recognized a losing battle when he saw one. He edged himself into the mass of people, who struggled to arrange themselves in a line.
Apparently the meat had been a hit—everyone was leaving with two or more of those same sandwiches, happily eating them as they walked.
“That must be some meat,” said Henry. “I wonder what that pokémon was that he discovered.”
“That’s what we’re going to find out.”
Several minutes passed before they got to the front of the line. The man beamed down at them.
“So what did you want again?”
“One of those pokémon,” Michael repeated. “No sandwich or anything. Just whole.”
The man wrinkled his nose. “What for?”
“What does it matter? We’re paying for it,” said Henry.
“Well, I can’t argue with that logic... all right.” The man withdrew and came out with a large mound of tinfoil. “Tell your friends!”
“But of course.” Michael faked a smile and hurried off.
Henry caught up with him. “Where are we going now?”
“We’re going to make a call to Sandgem Labs.”
Henry gaped. “Why?”
“You’ll see. Come on.”
They hurried back to Bertha’s house and found a telephone in the living room. Michael bent down beside the table and picked up the receiver.
“How do you even know the lab’s number?” said Henry.
“You’d know a number too if your mother kept it pinned to the fridge for three years,” Michael said as he dialed.
The phone rang, and a breezy female voice answered him. “Hello! You have reached the office of Sandgem Labs, pioneering the field of pokémon research since 1866, this is Rebecca speaking, how may I assist you?”
“Hello,” Michael said. “I have a report to submit to Dr. Emerson, concerning a sighting of a new pokémon.”
The clerk paused. “What is your name?”
“Cory... uh, Hershey.”
“I’m sorry Mr... Hershey, but we don’t accept tips like these from callers. If you’d like, I can mail you a form that contains the instructions for a proper submission.”
“No!” Michael said. “Look. This is an emergency.”
“I am sorry, again, but there is nothing I can do. Protocol is protocol.”
Michael took a moment to think. “Okay. Okay, so can you tell me something else? I understand that... ah, that there’s a summer program going on in the lab sponsored by the professor?”
“...Yes,” the clerk answered stiffly. “But registration has closed, I’m afraid, as the program is already in session—”
“Yeah, I get that. It’s just that I know someone who is currently in the program. His name is Leroy, and I have an important message for him. Do you, by any chance, know his number or something so I can call him?”
“Even if I did, giving a personal number out to a third party is strictly against our policy. I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere for this Leroy.” With that, she hung up. Michael slammed the phone back down and groaned.
“Why did you want to talk to Leroy?” asked Henry.
“I wanted to get him to report this to the professor.
Henry picked up the phone. “Hang on. Let me try something. What’s the number again?”
Michael told him, and Henry dialed. And waited.
“Hello?” said Henry. “Yes. Hi, my name is Henry McPherson.” He hesitated, but he was obviously doing this for effect. “Sorry, I um, thought that the professor would pick up. See, I went to get my starter from him yesterday, and I noticed a problem with it, and the professor told me I could call him anytime to ask a question. So if you don’t mind... could you forward me to him?”
Michael lifted an eyebrow. Henry smiled and winked. Whatever he was doing, it was working.
A second later, he beamed. “Hi, professor! It’s me, Henry, remember? No? Well that’s okay. You’ll remember Michael.” He quickly handed the phone to Michael, who brought it to his ear slowly.
The wheezy voice of Professor Emerson answered him. “Ah? Who is this?”
“It’s Michael Rowan. I have something important to tell you. It may change your life.” The professor paused. He didn’t hang up, so Michael continued. “See, while I was walking the other day by a river, I saw a weird pokémon. It was a Horsea, only it looked kind of different. Bigger, for one thing, and the meat was white instead of pink. Horsea meat is always pink, you know, so I knew it was a different pokémon.”
The professor seemed to be scratching his chin. “Did this pokémon have a longer, thicker snout, and were its fins larger?”
Michael opened the package. The description fit the bill. “Yep.”
“It’s a different pokémon. That’s a Seadra.”
“Is there any relation between the two?”
“Somewhat,” said the professor. “Though their physical structures may seem different, there are certain similarities in their DNA... but that’s too much to get into right now. I say it would be fine to use either in a battle. The Seadra does not present any powers significantly superior to the Horsea as far as we know. Good bye.” The professor seemed eager to hang up. Michael leaned back against the armchair.
“That guy sucks,” he said.
“What did he say?”
“Basically that it won’t make a difference if you use a Horsea or a Seadra—that’s the pokémon’s name—in a battle.”
Henry shrugged. “So... it’s a good thing then? Bertha’s Roselia could be one of those look-alikes too.”
“At any rate, I think he’s lying,” Michael said.
“Because, two different species don’t look similar just for the heck of it. Chrome Dome said that there were similarities in their DNA, and that means that they can’t be two completely different species.”
Henry just looked at him. “So what are you saying?”
“I think Bertha’s Roselia is like Horsea and Seadra. It’s the same as a Roselia... but not quite different.” Michael looked down at his shoes. “I don’t know what it means for the battle, though.”
“Me neither,” Henry said. “Let’s just hope it can’t shoot missiles out of its hands.”
Hello Haruka! I know this is a bit (a bit? MAJORLY) of a late review for this seeing we’re so far in but I’d like to tell you what I thought of the story so far. As this is my first review on PC I intend to do a good job of it!
I decided to read because I really enjoyed your One-Shots but I never got a chance to review them. So here I am! (I’m at the end now and I realise the whole thing is praise. But constructive praise so meh, I think you’ll enjoy reading through and seeing all of the strange connections I’ve made. Also it’s rather long. Sorry I like to rant about things I enjoy. Don’t get me talking about Code Geass unless you have nothing to do for the next five hours.)
A really cool opening, it was nice to see Michael as rebellious and that is always how I imagined him in-game. He had a certain something the other professors lacked. The premise of delving into his back story hooked my own right away. I suppose he “caught” that Stunky in another way entirely :D . That scene was executed well but I was expecting a poison gas attack but it never came, it just started stinking really bad. Well done for leading me down a path and then twisting the other way. The description on his mother sitting in the conference was spot on, I knew exactly what you meant and I couldn’t help but smile when I imagined their expressions. Michael looking grumpy and his mother stiff and teary. Excellent work on this first chapter. Anyone reading should have progressed onto the next. (I sure did.)
Did I mention I love the way you do your chapter titles? Anyway, things are starting to pick up. His mothers repetition of the starter Pokemon was great especially when I imagined Michaels face when she kept saying them. I’m getting some great facial-visualisation from this fic. The lab scene was great and those kids made me really mad. They reminded me of when I had to take a karate class and the kids were acting up and I was feeling embarrassed and I yelled and them and they looked at me like I was evil and scary. Ooh, a defective starter aye? Nice touch with the shinyness being something he didn’t want. Instead of the “OMGZ SHINY STARTER LULZFEST!” which I never see nowadays BUT I CAN REMEMBER IT!
Haha, Do Not Disturb sign. Probably for doing speriments? Aah I hope they don’t do anything bad to that stunky. At the moment it is the most developed and my favorite Pokemon so far. Hungry eyes, I know what you mean. My cat gives me those all the time! “If it works on plants it must work on Pokemon.” I hate to break it to ya’ Corey but your logic is kind of screwed. (Unless it was a grass type pokemon.) I hate it that they aren’t treaty Stunky nicely because I get the feeling that it (he or she?) has a nice personality and could be really good friends with Michael. The space race was a nice way of finding the origins of the teams names. Although Team Rocket is a little unoriginal when compared to Galactic. Team Plasma would probably use a medieval catapult or something. :D The argument at the end between Michael and his mother was very powerful and I have a feeling he deserved and needed it. The sentence at the end was very sad and I refuse to believe they can’t mend the break in their bond. THEY MUST DO IT WITH THE POWER OF LOVE AND POKEMON! On that note, next chapter, great job on this one. (I got a little teary at the last line.)
Le gasp! Was that “bottom of the lake” mentioned as foreshadowing! I must read on to find out! Great way to open a chapter: Presenting something vaguely that may or may not come true and forcing the reader to endeavour to find out. (I bet I’m just making random connections though, I do that sometimes.) Example: N IS A ZOROARK!!!
New paragraph to focus myself. And then you make me all emotional with the epic pictures with captions and then the hospital room and then the sad, sad letter. I was very touched when I read it. It was a bit weird that his mother didn’t want him to mention Richard. That makes her character a bit crazy in my opinion. Maybe it would be best if her and Michael didn’t get back together but then again she always has the best intentions for him. Ack, you’ve got me feeling for the characters already. I see that his mother wants what she thinks is best for him, not actually what Michael wants. She’s trying her best but to Michael she just ruining his life. Breaking the vase pretty much assured me that he was running away and I don’t blame him. The verbal onslaught would just be horrific if his mother ever caught him. He needs to get a Poke’ Ball for that Stunky because carrying it about would be such a pain. Nice chapter and onto the next one!
Are the misshapen buildings a reference to the badly rendered buildings in game? Those sure look like they would fall over at any second. The way you described them rising above everything else on the natural hill was a nice touch and I knew exactly what you meant. The description of the main walkway through Jublife added a lot of atomsphere to the story. The way you picked out and talked about various chicks Michael noticed was great. (Bahaha, the science league turned him off one of them, too bad the other was with a girl or he could’ve made a move on her!) Oh, I spotted something that sounded awkward to me.
“He stood on the sidewalk for a long while, and then he was on the move again, crossing the street and eyeing shop windows. Among the hair salons, candy shops, and drive-in theaters, his eyes found a bookstore. Its door was bright, less worn since not many had used it. The store was called Fran's Books. For some reason or another, he saw himself enter.”
He saw himself enter just reads weird to me. I know what you were getting at, that he didn’t quite know why he did it but he just did it. The problem is that (from my eyes anyway) it reads badly and disrupts the flow of the story. Unless he was looking at his reflection if it was a glass door. (Or maybe I’m just over thinking things.)
I thought Fran was going to go off her nut when she was all like“ Make sure that Stunky doesn’t ruin the books.” and Michael was all “ok lol, whatever” and then five seconds later “OMG WHAT ARE YOU DOING, BAD STUNKY!” But apparently Fran loves Pokemon more than books and instaforgives (my new word ) and wants to give it (BOY/GIRL?) some food. Which is good for everyone I guess.
Oh don’t worry. Michael made a terrible decision and decided everyone else in the world is the problem and he will feed his stunky when he wants! He has a lot to learn which makes room for *gasp* CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT! *pops a party popper* Fran had a cool personality but it seems she won’t re-appear which is a shame. I’m a little attached to her after that one scene. The café was interesting, MAN THAT FOOD IS CHEAP! He finally feeds Stunky, wait till he finds out he has to feed Turtwig too :V
And he misses his chance with the hot blonde! Michael needs to get a better wingman, that Stunky is cute but doesn’t exactly talk him up.
Ooh the TV station! You aren’t missing anything in this city are you? Deoxys! Is. Full. Of. AWESOME. The space race shenanigans has been serving as an interesting sub plot in the story so far. I am eager to learn how it ends!
Michael you aren’t a monster you just need to treat other people better okay?
Nearly halfway, been going for about an hour now. (Yeah I read this all at once, watcha gunna do? With comments like these, half the review is filler anyway L)
Wow the opening was dramatic, and all that exposition served to introduce the very evil, revolting, conceited. . . Bullies. Gold star for your opening.
The battles were pretty well described but the strategy was mostly trollish grass>water no matter what you do. That was okay but Michael was very lucky that they both ONLY had water types.
Henry was introduced well and I got a fair grip with what you were trying to portray him as. The word zookeeper was spot on in this situation. And a Gym, Turtwig would rip up Roark any day. But wait, this is in the past. Maybe, le gasp, BYRON?
And in the park, Michael is turning BAMF it seems. And getting money from the gym will be cool, I’m excited to find out if I’m right when it comes to guessing the leader (Byron would make sense. Then who’s the Canalave Leader? Bertha? She’s the only elite four old enough.
Over halfway yeah! I’ve been reading and writing this up non-stop so your story must be really good and easy to read if I can keep it up like this,. (It could just be a side effect of my awesomeness we’ll see.)
Yeah I was right with the gym guessing! Woot, though it was a bit obvious. Stunky won’t be much help against steel will it (he/she?) “I rock this town!” What? So Byron changed specialist types? :V
Nice parody on the “Are You A Boy Or A Girl?” I guess that’s why Rowan asks it in-game in memory of this moment. Pointless random connection #678
Oh you know about biological weathering too and that’s why you always understood grass was good against rock like me! I’ve seen pictures of rocks split open by plants growing through them. Plants are hardcore.
OMG Pokemon Data Exploiter, POKEDEX! Also they did Starly‘s type wrong even though I would have preferred if it was like that. (Too many damn normal types!.) I think you did that on purpose though! It was a nice touch. I laughed at the composed dex entries. They were great.
I love all of the ways you are describing things that are common knowledge as “New and exciting findings” the fact that Rowan named the Pokedex made me scratch my head because Oak called it a Pokedex and he thought there were 150 pokemon tops even when it would have been obvious there were more than that. Maybe it was just a slip of the tongue that he forgot to say “In The Kanto Region?” Cool chapter, I’m reading on. *Wipes sweat off keyboard and brow.*
Oh and the Pokemon Centre made me “lol wut?” because I never imagined the magical nosies coming from the healing machines was just heat. :V Maybe they are just an older model?
Haha, this chapter definitely has a lot of kick butt hotel awesomeness thanks to Lesabre.
And it is revealed that Henry has lived a sheltered life (surprise, surprise) and goddammit those cats are fighting outside my window again! They give me such a fright when they hiss and growl at each other. Make love, not war cats.
Ontopic: The magazine was cool and I really feel like reading it. Apart from the obscure fashion section and the article on colour coordination. I’d like to know how taking care of badges improves you as a trainer too. (Unless they have the god-like powers in Poke Special Manga. Mind control anyone?)
The pseudo “Fight Club” they had going on in the courtyard (I think?) was cool. Strange how Henry wanted Michael to jump in but Michael wanted to be more careful about it. Kind of personality reversal in a way. :V If you’re wondering about that obscure smiley don’t worry, I use it to show an expression of. . . Confusion mixed with pleasure.
The compilation of the type chart was cool and I hope Michael does well in the gym!
So this one is long? *Has snack* Now I have returned to full power, back to the review.
Haha, the new décor. That’s hilarious, the weekly just keeps getting better doesn’t it? Also the way you described the Poke’ Balls as being expensive and metallic made me realise how absolutely awesome they would be in real life.
Silly Michael, Buneary isn’t a fighting type, it uses fighting moves. I’ve often ranted about how much cooler it would be if it was a fighting type so I’m not complaining. :D
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.
“Stood up into a crouch” sounds awkward for me because I associate standing up with straightening your legs and spine when crouching does neither of those things.
The description of Machop’s was so nice it made me jealous because I have written a fic where a Machop is caught on the same route and it was not nearly as good and begun with the Machop jumping out of a bush to attack my protagonist. /rant
The Poke’ Ball being really hot made me think a lot. So that’s why they let it roll around on the ground instead of holding onto it tightly to prevent it escaping. Oooh. Or maybe, again, it is just an old version of the Poke’ Ball. (No apricorn balls? But this is the past isn’t it? Maybe they were only big in Jhoto.)
They got trolled with the Magikarp, that’s for sure. The Goldeen is beyond awesome because I cannot express my love toward Seaking enough. Just google image search “Seaking” to see what I mean. I can just imagine the grin on that guys face and the small tears of laughter in his eyes when he said “It knows a few water moves.” :D
Nice fight, but I would have liked to have seem more than Michael getting knocked over then him pulling him to the ground, pinning him down and punching him in the face a few times. Maybe because I’m such a martial arts nut with all of these crazy techniques to spout everywhere. Crab scissor flip anyone?
NOO! The rules prohibit Goldeen from being used! NOOOOOO!!!! I won’t get my Seaking after all. Oh wait it looks like Michael is just screwing the rules, I hope that turns out well for him.
1.0 (I can’t believe I made it this far in one sitting. I’m crazy.)
So if it’s a tie, the gym leader can choose to give the badge? Interesting…
Roots: The fic that proves verbal abuse helps Pokemon in battles. :D I have to say Machop completely destroyed both Onix and Geodude. They didn’t really stand a chance. Bronzor did Machop in with a nice Confuse Ray. It’s frustrating when:
MACHOP HURT ITSELF IN CONFUSION x infinity
That kind of stuff happens so I can understand why Michael would be getting upset especially with so much at stake.
Haha, confusion reverses orders. So if you tell your Chansey to use Softboiled when its confused does it heal the opponent? That was a cool touch, I was expecting Goldeen’s horn attack to fail but it did really well and lived up to my expectations. I can’t wait until it evolves. :3
I’m glad Henry brought Pachirisu because I see it as the only way he could take down Bronzor at the moment. (Unless Magikarp evolves, lol.) Good Henry won, now he can stop moping around. (Hopefully.) :V
The ending of this chapter was sweet. The characters have grown so much already. I’m starting to warm up to Henry!
Oh wait, before I begin I’d like to point out what you said:
Hey, thanks for the review! I don't care about the length, just leaving a thought or two is enough.
My face after typing all of this up: :V
Moving on. Can I start by being really jealous of your description of Eterna City? I described that place and it was nowhere near the thorough and high quality standard you produced. But this paragraph:
Not so long ago, she had been the sweet little girl on Chestnut Road, the daughter of the best pie-baker in town, the one who was always playing with friends on the hill. Her childhood had been typical of that of an Eterna kid—swimming, biking, running, and all other outdoor excursions with sleep and food in between. She barely noticed how she had made the jump from five to twenty-five, how those long braids she used to wear had unraveled, and how her parents had suddenly become small and wrinkly. The town had a lulling effect on her; it seemed to wash away all sense of time. One day, she was wiggling her first loose tooth in front of a mirror, and the next day she was strolling about with a bra and manicured nails, looking to buy some coffee before she started her morning shift.
I read this and I was like: FUUUUUUUUUUUU- because it was simply that well done. I’m not usually that much of an “OMG I LURRVE THIS” kind of perso but for some reason this particular paragraph caught my eye. But girl, even reading through it again it still sounds awesome.
Oh I’m so stupid thinking that Bertha would be Canalave Gym Leader just because byron is there. Gardenia, Maylene, Wake, Candice, Fantina, Aaron, Lucian, Flint, Cynthia and Volkner are all too young to even exist in this point of time. That means there will be plenty of exciting new characters to develop!:D
I’m starting to like Bertha a lot because of her nature rants about how bad the factory is for the environment. You’ve done her character justice all ready just by the way you introduced her. It seems she changes her favourite type from grass to ground. . . That is cool I guess she will have at least one ground type like how Byron had the random steel type.
Haha, they have to sleep in Bertha’s house. That’s just plain awesome. They never really address accommodation in game because you never have to sleep. Then again, there is that pointless hotel in Celadon City that is permanently “Fully Booked.” The stairs don’t go anywhere in that building, stupid rumours about a Mew being there…
On Topic: Great ending to this chapter, you’ve built up some suspense there but not enough for a full “did they save the world or are they all going to die” cliff hanger. 9No I’m not calling them “cliffys” NEVER!)
1.2 (Whew, my eyes are getting heavy. I started this at 8:00 PM and now its 10:30 PM. I’ve got a test tomorrow and I’m blaming you if I do badly :D)
Haha, parody of in-game canon when talking to fishermen causes them to the THE BIGGEST AND MOST AWESOME FISH EVAR.
Silly Michael, Starly would be perfectly good to fight Bertha with. Glad Henry decided to keep it. Also, I’m pretty sure that Horsea has just evolved but if I was the fisherman I’d be taking my road somewhere else.
Ooh the ending was sad. So things were really that bad with Michael and his mum to start with? Now I believe you when you said the thing about the bond broken that would never be mended. Was there even one from the start?
1.3 (Also your location made me laugh. Where do you come from?
Bahaha, Game Freak loves to parody itself.)
Onto the chapter:
I was appalled that they looked at Bertha’s Pokemon and I think this time the Roselia has just evolved, not been genetically mutated. >. >
Nice change of perspective to the Bertha and the tragic reporter. I laughed when she talked about how the Sinnoh News Network get terrible stories, they actually do. I’ve watched them on TV and it’s boring. What’s hip and happening is much more entertaining.
And they don’t know about evolution? O_o That’s a little strange seeing as someone should have noticed that their Pokemon changed form at least sometime. It’s just strange how nobody noticed is all.
So, In conclusion:
Your human characterisation is the driving force behind this story. Your characters are likeable and realistic with plenty of traits to distinguish them from one another. However your Pokemon don’t seem to have much if not any personality besides Stunky who hasn’t really been mentioned for a while. Your Pokemon are just as much characters as the humans so make sure to develop them too.
Your description and the entire region of past-Sinnoh continuously amazes and excites me. The description flows well and sets the scene beautifully. Sinnoh is a really cool place and all of the small touches such as the magazine and the space race really boosts the story even more.
Pacing-wise it’s great. You’re not rushing and you’re taking the time to tell the story. As far as originality goes this story is tops.
I hope you enjoyed my rant, er, review rather. I look forward to further chapters!
I saw your post and all I had to say was wow. That must have taken you hours to type (and I hope you did all right on your test, by the way; now I feel bad :s). I shall now reply to your comments! (This might be a bit unorganized, since I'm just reading your post from top to bottom and replying to your review.) Here we go!
Unfortunately, the 'bottom of a lake' line wasn't foreshadowing. Michael was simply implying that he'd very much like to throw the pokeball into a lake and not have to deal with it anymore. It's not the most pleasant of things, but hey, it's Michael. (He'll change, of course, but this is how it all began )
The misshapen buildings are the outskirts of town, if you will, the underdeveloped parts that no one really cares to spend money on. Every place has those parts, after all, right?
The Stunky is a boy, by the way. I call the pokemon in my story 'it' because I follow the logic that pokemon are the equivalent of animals. (At least in the naming respect.) When you see a random squirrel or bird, for example, you'd say "It flew" or "It climbed up a tree". If you see someone with a dog, you'd refer to the dog as an 'it', unless you know that particular dog, its name and its gender. Then you'd say "Lassie was walking alongside her owner. She stopped to sniff a tree." etc. etc.
As for the hot blonde, she'll be back. That's all I'm saying.
The PokeDex entries are a little mixed up because, of course, this is a time when knowledge of pokemon powers is limited. (You mentioned somewhere down the line about the evolution problem, so I'll explain that right now.) General distinctions between species are recognized, and several correlations have been noted between species like Starly and Staravia, for example. Trainers have definitely noticed that their pokemon change form, but evolution is more of a gradual thing, not the giant light-explosion that happens in the games. (In most cases, but not all. This is very important.) When curious trainers take their evolved Starlies to a specialist, the specialist tells them that their pokemon is not, in fact, a Starly anymore, but a Staravia. And then the usual "How is this possible?"' "Is a Starly the same thing as Staravia?" begins. As Michael progresses in his quest for money and knowledge, more of this will come to light.
Another thing about the PokeDex: One thing I find funny about the games is that each generation builds upon the previous one, and yet the older games remain blissfuly unaware that there are more pokemon out there. (Back in the professor Oak games, there were 150 pokemon, but now there are over 600.) With every new generation come new pokemon, but for the sake of this fic, I'm going off of 4th-generation knowledge. Just in case by the time I'm finished they've added another 200 to the list.
The pokeballs in this fic are like the 1.0 version of the pokeball. They're not apricorn, since by the 1960s people could come up with something much more advanced than that, but they're still far from the ones of today's world. I took their design from the pokeballs that appeared in the Celebi movie. (Pokemon4Ever, I think.)
I'll have to explore that... (Holy crap, I think I just got an idea for a one-shot.)
As for Bertha, I characterized her as being a young grass-type trainer, but with that steely personality that (I hoped) would foreshadow a change in preference in her later years.
I absolutely refuse to speak about Michael and Patricia, though. My lips are sealed on that matter, and no amount of cookie bribes will make me change my mind. *shifty eyes*
I think that's about all I wanted to say... Thanks for mentioning those little nitpick phrases, by the way. Now that I look over them, I see how they can be changed, and I'll get around to doing that after I post this. (It's weird, because I can literally feel the difference in my writing and mentality between my earlier chapters and my later ones.)
I'm really glad you're following this, and I hope you'll like what I have in store for this story
Hey everyone. I got a nice bit of work done on this chapter, and (I think) it's my longest one so far. Hooray for new records!
Night crept over Eterna City in a silent whisper. Michael had Henry had gone outside a final time, spending the entire afternoon sitting idly underneath the tree. Then, all of a sudden, it was eight o’clock and Michael found himself running through the darkened streets of Eterna with Henry beside him, shouting.
"We're gonna be late, we're gonna be late!"
"Shut up, just run!"
They arrived at Bertha’s house in the nick of time. The porch was lit when they ran up the steps. Michel slammed his palm against the doorbell and listened, waiting to catch his breath.
The gym leader opened the door a few seconds later. There were little dark circles beneath her eyes, but other than that, she looked upbeat. "Well it's about time you got here!" she said. "For a minute there, I thought you wouldn't show."
She led them inside, to the familiar back door. The battle room was completely empty. The curtains were drawn, and four ceiling lamps lit the arena.
“All right, Michael, you’re up first,” said Bertha. “Now go on, pick a side. I prefer the left, but that's only because I'm a leftie."
"I’ll take the right then," Michael said. He handed his backpack to Henry, first withdrawing the three pokéballs that contained Turtwig, Machop and Caterpie. He had left his Goldeen behind, since it would only drag him down and (God forbid) make Bertha think he was incompetent.
With the luggage in hand, Henry stumbled over to the benches. Michael did not fail to catch the boy’s accusing glare as he sat down—apparently, Henry still had not forgotten their illegal peek at Bertha’s pokémon. But Michael was fairly sure that he would keep his mouth shut, for exposing him would expose Henry as well.
Bertha took her place on the battlefield. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and took a sip of water. Her appearance was casual—she could have been preparing for a morning jog—and for some reason it made her look all the more intimidating. Michael found himself wondering. Could he really repeat his feat at Byron’s gym a second time?
"You're familiar with the rules, right?" asked Bertha.
"Yeah... single battle, first person to defeat the other's pokémon wins, right?"
Bertha nodded. "Spot on. All right, let's get going! Send out your first pokémon." She reached into her knapsack and pulled out a pokéball. "Go!"
The Cherrim came out of the pokéball, still wrapped in a narrow tube. Michael put on a look of mild surprise, and behind him, Henry cleared his throat.
"Cherri, come out!"
At its trainer's command, the pokémon unraveled itself, showing a smiling yellow face rimmed with pink petals. On the whole, it looked like it couldn’t hurt a fly, but if a Gym leader was using it, then it could obviously pack a punch.
Michael opened his first pokéball. "Go, Turtwig." The Turtwig sprang from the capsule and landed in front of Michael.
Bertha smiled. "Cherri, use Take Down!" She had not paused like Byron had; she jumped in immediately, and it took Michael a second to find his voice.
"Turtwig, Razor Leaf!"
Just as the Cherrim sprang forward, the Turtwig tilted its head back and launched a spurt of leaves. But Cherri easily skipped out of their way, letting them hit the floor. Its sprint uninterrupted, the Cherrim collided with surprising force against Turtwig, throwing them both to the ground.
"Good!" Bertha said. "Now don't let it get away! Use Bullet Seed!"
Michael clenched his fist as he watched Turtwig squirm. "Get up! Dodge the attack, do Razor Leaf again!"
The Cherrim reared back, spitting out a round of tiny pink globs from its mouth. They pelted Turtwig like bullets, forcing it to back down under their fire.
Michael groaned. "Come on! Use Razor Leaf!”
The Turtwig struggled to lift its head. The spray had stopped, and Cherrim was preparing for another round, dislodging more tiny seeds from within its petals.
Turtwig whipped its head. Its aim was true—the leaves hit the Cherrim full in the face, but instead of cutting its skin, they bounced off without leaving a mark.
Bertha grinned. “Take Down!”
“What? No! Turtwig—” Michael looked down just as Cherrim leaped forward, knocking down Turtwig and rolling with it across the floor. It was like watching a wrestling match in miniature, only Turtwig was more like a punching bag than a fighter. The pokémon pushed and tumbled, Turtwig nearly always ending up on the bottom. Though the Cherrim’s arms were tiny, they were doing a good job of holding on to Turtwig, whose four feet were flailing in an attempt to throw off its opponent.
Right then, it struck Michael how little he knew about pokémon battling. He could reason his way through the pokémon types, but when it came to an actual strategy, he was at a loss. The only two moves he knew, Razor Leaf and Tackle, had both failed him, and all he could do now was stand there with his arms hanging at his sides.
“Come on, get it off!” Michael shouted, hoping to not appear useless as the Cherrim began to whip Turtwig’s face with its arms. “Don’t be a wimp!” But the Turtwig was too busy sinking under the blows to hear him.
“Cherri, finish it off! Use Leech Seed!”
“No!” Michael said. His hands had reached up unconsciously to pull his hair. “Don’t let it finish you off, for Pete’s sake! Do something!”
Against his better judgment, he looked at Cherrim to watch what it was doing. The pokémon was throwing more pink seeds at Turtwig, who was still lying on the floor. But this time was different; instead of pelting the skin, they stuck to Turtwig’s body like spitballs, and began to glow a bright white.
What the…? Michael watched in wonder as the Turtwig’s thrashes lessened. As its muscles loosened, he noticed that the Cherrim’s body was healing, all the minor scratches from the tackle patching up before his eyes. The Turtwig, in contrast, was being drained.
“Leech Seed is a neat little move,” Bertha said. “I can tell you haven’t seen it before. It drains the opponent’s energy and uses it to heal the user.” She crossed her arms and waited. When Turtwig’s head lolled over and its body rolled on its side, she nodded. "Turtwig is unable to battle. Send our your next Pokémon.”
Michael looked down in bewilderment. Abandoning all cares, he knelt beside his Turtwig and began to shake it.
"Get up! You're not gonna get anywhere if you lie around!" He tried to hoist it up, but its legs kept folding beneath its body. Bertha let him for a few moments, but then she shook her head.
“Kid, trust me. I know when a pokémon’s done.”
Michael called the Turtwig back into its pokéball, biting back his anger. If Bertha could take down his entire team that easily, he would definitely lose. He fumbled in his pocket for a moment, then withdrew Caterpie's pokéball.
The slimy pokémon screeched as it fell to the floor. Bertha looked down at it for a moment, and Michael thought he could read the words that were running through her mind. Was this, truly, the best he could do?
"Bug Bite it," Michael said. His enthusiasm was deflating more and more by the second.
"Cherri, use Petal Dance!"
When he saw the Cherrim getting ready for the next attack, Michael exhaled sharply. "Come on! Do it quickly!" The Caterpie remained where it was for a few moments, clicking its tiny pincers. The Cherrim, meanwhile, was beginning to twirl around in circles, pink petals gently blowing around its body like confetti.
Caterpie looked up at its opponent for a moment, then began to move, inching forward with a speed barely above that of a rolling ball.
“Hurry up!” Michael urged. He wanted to pick it up and toss it for the remaining few feet, but that would have been against the rules. He resorted to tapping the ground behind it with his foot, each time giving the Caterpie a little jolt so that it crawled slightly faster. “Pick up the pace, come on, that’s it.” It felt like trying to teach a little kid how to ride a bike.
Just then, the Cherrim broke out into a spin. The petals tore through the air at lightning speed, in a storm of pink and red. Michael dove out of their way, expecting any moment to see Caterpie splattered against the wall, but their target was so small that most of the leaves missed Caterpie completely. Instead they bounced off the floor, some blowing straight into Michael’s face.
He staggered back, sputtering as the paper-thin petals fell all around him. In the sidelines, Henry began to laugh.
“How cute,” Bertha chuckled. “You look like you’ve been to a romantic dinner.”
Michael brushed off the petals, fuming. “Caterpie, Bug Bite, now!”
While Bertha had been busy, Caterpie had made surprising progress. It had advanced across the battlefield, and at Michael’s command, sank its teeth into the Cherrim’s skin. The Cherrim began to squeal, its knobby arms flailing, unable to throw off the parasite. By the time it managed to pry away the teeth, the wound was oozing some sort of green liquid, and the Cherrim was swaying.
“Bug Bite again! Again!” Michael said, jumping on the balls of his feet. Whatever the reason, the Bug Bite was working. The Caterpie threw itself onto the dazed Cherrim again, chewing every inch it could find with those teeth that seemed too sharp for its delicate body. There were a few moments of fruitless struggle, and then the Cherrim went limp, its eyes drifting closed.
Bertha’s hand, which had been gripping her belt moments before, now unclipped Cherri’s pokéball to send it back.
“Not bad, kid,” she said as the Cherrim dissolved away. “I had a trainer use one of those Caterpies on me before. I’ve never bothered with them, but they seem to give Cherri a hard time...” She switched the current pokéball with a new one.
“But we’re far from done! Go, Turtle!” A ray of white light shot out from the pokéball, taking the form of Bertha’s Turtwig. Michael was glad Bertha couldn’t see the expression of curious recognition it was giving him when it landed in front of her.
“Turtle, use Stealth Rock!” Bertha said.
The Turtwig jumped, and when it landed, the floor shook. Tiny cracks appeared around Caterpie, out of which a circle of sharp, rocky spikes sprouted like stems. The ring of stone crushed tight around Caterpie’s body, leaving its green abdomen sticking out like a tiny stem. It wriggled in an effort to free itself.
“Come on, get out of it!” Michael said. Caterpie’s tiny legs were working, pushing its narrow body out of the ring’s grip.
Her Turtwig rushed forward with surprising agility. As it ran, the ground cracked further, and the ring of rocks around Caterpie loosened and sank back into the floor. But before Caterpie could do so much as move, Turtwig jumped.
There was a sickening crunch as it landed in a bellyflop, crushing the tiny body beneath it. When the Turtwig rolled off and bounded back to its trainer, Michael saw a long, flattened body. He didn’t even bother.
"That does it every time,” Bertha smiled. “Caterpie is unable to battle." Michael avoided her gaze as he sent back the Caterpie.
His final hope was Machop. It came out of the pokéball all curled up, actually rolling a few feet before it realized that it was time to get moving.
Michael clapped once, and the Machop stood, stretching its arms in a way that was amusingly similar to what he did just before taking a nap in class.
“Machop, use Focus Punch,” Michael commanded.
Bertha took a sip from her water bottle and stepped back a few feet. She was getting ready for something; Michael could see the twinkle in her eyes.
“All right. Time to make things a little more interesting,” Bertha said. “Turtle, use Leaf Storm!”
The Turtwig tilted back its head once more, but it was different from the Razor Leaf attack Michael knew so well. It turned its head rapidly, and a small gust of leaves began to spin above its head, but instead of hurling towards Machop, they swelled into a kind of cloud, like a balloon filling up with air above the Turtwig’s head.
At that moment, Machop seemed to freeze. Its red eyes followed the growing cloud.
“What is it?” Michael said. “Come on, do the attack!”
The Machop did not move, and in every wasted second, the cloud seemed to double in size. Whatever was going on behind Machop’s shaking eyes, it sure wasn’t a battle plan.
With a cry, the Turtwig let loose. A jet of leaves shot away from the cloud and Machop dove to the side, evading the attack but not stopping at that. It continued to scamper around the battlefield, arms flailing, eyes panicking. Bertha chuckled, and Michael felt himself flush with anger.
“Come back!” he said to the Machop. “Now!”
The Machop ignored him. Its running game was becoming an inconvenience for Bertha’s Turtwig, who was launching wave after wave at its opponent, who quickly hurried out of the way. Some of the leaves hit the walls, others bounced off the lights and the photographs and knocked aside papers.
After a while, the Turtwig decided that enough was enough. With another wave of its head, it send the remaining cloud of leaves rolling after Machop, like a paper ball attached to a string. The cloud followed Machop wherever it went, and when it realized this, the poor pokémon ran all the faster.
Bertha chuckled. “I have to say, you’ve got a pretty energetic one there.”
Machop bounded around and between them, bumping against walls and the benches. Finally, its legs gave way. The Machop tripped, skidding on its knees before coming to a stop in the middle of the battlefield. It backed against the ground, its chest pulsing with rapid breath. The cloud of leaves swallowed it whole. Michael heard an almost-human scream as Machop scrambled to its feet and began to run around again, arms flailing in an attempt to shake off the cloud. But the leaves surrounded its body even as it ran, pelting relentlessly.
Machop continued its run for an impressive amount of time, screaming and kicking at the air. Michael stood there, wanting to do something but not knowing what, until the cloud cleared and Machop’s body was exposed, stiff on its belly.
“I think that’s it for you, buddy,” said Bertha. “Unless you want to wait a minute?” She looked at Michael.
The Machop didn’t look in the mood to get up. As Michael lifted the pokéball, he felt his throat close up.
I lost. To a freaking Turtwig.
For a minute, he couldn’t move. He was stuck staring at the pokéball, speechless. In the corner of his eye, he saw Bertha lean forward.
"Uh... is that it? Do you have any more pokémon?" Michael looked first at her, then at Henry, who gave him a sympathetic shrug. But his eyes had a very I-told-you-so look about them.
And suddenly, the idea came to him with all the glory of a shining bulb. Still looking at Henry, Michael grinned. "No, I have one more. My Starly."
Henry did a double-take.
"Okay. Send it out then," Bertha said. Michael walked over to the bench.
"Forgot all about it, sorry!" he said. Henry slowly reached into his tote bag and handed him the pokéball. His expression was clouded, but it was easy for Michael to ignore as he walked back onto the battlefield.
The tiny bird's form shot out from the pokéball, assembling in midair with a series of screeches. Bertha nodded.
"All right. Turtle, pin it down with Leech Seed!”
"Starly, peck it!" he cried.
Upon Michael's command, the Starly folded its wings and dove. The Turtwig didn't have time to complete the attack—it was knocked down on its back by a swift gust of wind. Starly landed right on top, and began pecking at the Turtwig as if it were a piece of fruit, its large black wings thumping.
When Starly flew off, Michael saw the remains—scarred and shaking. The Turtwig was on its back, its feet plowing pathetically at the air as it tried to flip itself over.
Bertha's jaw fell open. "Wow! Talk about a comeback! We’ll try another angle then. Turtle, use Razor Leaf!”
The Turtwig heaved itself onto its feet. Michael didn’t wait. “Peck! Peck again!” he shouted, and the Starly landed. It pecked some more, and the Turtwig offered little resistance this time. “Don’t stop, don’t stop!” Michael was clenching his fists so tight that it hurt.
Now, an edge of frustration had crept into Bertha’s face. “Hang in there! Use Razor Leaf!”
"Dodge them!" Michael cried, throwing his arms out in front of him. As the leaves were launched, Starly looped out of their way. It was not entirely successful, however. A single leaf struck its side, sending it spiraling backwards. Starly flapped, regaining its balance, then dove forward again, Michael hanging on to its every move.
“Hurry, this way!”
“I really don’t get why we’re taking this road. I thought it was—”
“Sssh! Just follow me.”
“But what if someone sees us?”
“No one will see. Just run. And be quiet!”
“You know, we could be breaking the law right now. Is all this really worth the—”
“Yuck! I think I just stepped in something...”
“Oh, grow up. It’s just gum.”
“Shut up! My God, how many times do I have to tell you?”
“I can’t see! It’s not my fault that these damn people were too lazy to put up streetlights, and now we’re bumping into things like a bunch of idiots! We could be walking right into a trap right now!”
“I really think we should shut it now. I see the building.”
“Right over there?”
“That light. See? it’s a window.”
“I see it! Everyone quiet! Ned, do you have the camera?”
“Great. Tom, Bobby, are the speakers ready?”
“Good. We’ll come in slowly. No one move without my command, got it?”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
Two hands pulled apart a scrim of bushes, revealing the Galactic factory. The property was illuminated by blotches of white light, catching on the framework of pipes and chutes that laced the ground like vines. The buildings were plain and square, connected by metal roofs within the concrete jungle. A sign stood nearby, its letters screaming:
VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.
To Nancy, it might as well have said go.
She gave the signal, and Ned produced a large pair of metal clippers and snapped the lock on the gate. It fell into the bushes. Ned discarded the clippers and the crew shuffled into the lot, Nancy in the lead. She had expected some sort of alarm to go off when they had broken the gate, but none had. There were no security cameras she could spot, but she was still careful to move slowly, slinking around the perimeter with her team following behind in the shadows.
The factory opened itself to them like a multilayered shell. Though her heart was lodged in her throat and her hands trembled with her every move, Nancy couldn’t help but admire its beauty. The factory wasn’t just one building, as it had seemed from the outside—it was a compound of several structures, all of which were connected by a network of wires and lights.
Ned snapped several photos as they went along. The buildings were varied in shape and size, and some of them had enormous additions which poked out of the sides like the exposed flesh of an alien robot.
Some of the buildings had smokestacks, which struck out dramatically against the night sky. They were laced with some sort of material that reflected the dusty glare of the moon, and held Nancy’s gaze when she passed them. As they advanced, the noise from the machinery became like a deep heartbeat off in the distance. It was almost like a little piece of home.
It took her a while to realize that the voice was talking to her. A hand pulled her back, and she hit the fence alongside the rest of her team. Nancy was about to turn at them when Tom pressed a finger to his lips.
“Worker,” he whispered.
Nancy looked out. A factory worker—she couldn’t see if it was a man or woman—had appeared from behind a corner to pace about, looking up at the sky. Their back was turned. Nancy placed both hands behind her and held her breath. If the person were to look over in their direction, their presence would immediately be given away. And it was just too darn early for that.
She waited, but the worker did not look back. Their finger was tracing something in the sky, and they often looked down at a sheet of paper in their hands. They scribbled something, then disappeared again behind the building.
“Man, these people are weird...” Nancy whispered.
The team went on, their hands moving across the fence like rock climbers’. It was a while, but eventually, the building they were looking for came out from its hiding place. It stood alone, surrounded by a low metal fence that announced its division from the rest of the factory. This building was smaller, with a slanted roof and windows that glowed with room-light. It would have been completely missed by an observer looking in from the outside. It looked like a house in miniature.
Nancy rounded the building’s corner, searching for a good spot. She found one—a single square window that opened up at the side, the sill lined with flowerpots. The curtains behind it were drawn, though there was a slip of yellow light wide enough to obtain a medium-resolution image of the inside.
She motioned for the team to stop. They were in a pocket of shade beside the house, literally on the threshold of survival. Her palms tingled. The team crowded around her.
“Remember what we rehearsed,” Nancy said. “I come in with Ned first, then when the coast is clear, Tom and Bobby, you guys follow.” The three nodded their approval.
The next few feet were quite possibly the longest of Nancy’s life. She tiptoed first, then broke into an all-out sprint across the open walkway, and collapsed at her knees beside the fence. Ned plopped down beside her, rushing to turn the camera on. They were separated from the window by about five feet, but it was enough for her to tell what was going on.
There was a tiny crack between the curtains that allowed a slip of orange light to show. Ned aimed the lens, and Nancy looked over his shoulder at the image.
She was peering into what appeared to be a study room. It was flooded with books and papers, some tacked to the walls and others hanging out of bookshelves. In the corner was the edge of a large bed. A man sat at the desk, his back to the window, buried in paperwork. Nancy saw the tweed coat and hat hanging by the door, and with a jolt, recognized the man from the marketplace.
“Jackpot...” Ned zoomed in.
The man was reading. Not that interesting, but what held Nancy’s attention was the bulletin board hanging on the wall in front of him. It contained all sorts of diagrams and charts, and a detailed cross-section of what looked to be a very complicated piece of machinery.
“Ned, are you getting this?” Nancy said. “Look at the papers he has up there.”
Ned adjusted the focus so that the bulletin board took up the whole screen. The image was blurred, and she could only read the largest, most detailed papers. At that moment, Tom and Bobby sat down behind them.
“Whoa! What are those?”
“They look like cross-sections of something,” said Tom. “Can you get a closer shot, Ned?”
“Nope. This is the best I can do.” He snapped a few pictures.
“Look at that one.” Nancy pressed her thumb to the biggest chart. It was also the highest up, and cut off from the screen at the edge.
“It looks like… a rocket!” said Tom.
Bobby shook his head. “No way.”
“Yes way. Look, there’s the engine, and the thrusters, and the wings... my God.” Tom pointed to several points around the picture, and indeed, Nancy began to see the object’s three-dimensional outline. Her breath froze.
“Is that what they’re building, then?” she said.
“Impossible,” said Ned. “This place isn’t big enough to hold an entire rocket ship.”
“Well, obviously they’re making it in parts,” said Bobby. “Then all they’d have to do would be to send it somewhere else to be assembled.”
“Like Veilstone?” Nancy turned. “That would explain why Team Galactic’s headquarters is located there. The whole freaking city is surrounded by mountains. No one would be able to see a thing.”
“This might be a bit of a stretch,” said Tom, “but I think Galactic’s planning a space mission that they want to keep secret for some reason. Remember when the Rockets discovered that pokémon Deoxys?”
“Yes.” Nancy gritted her teeth. “Goddamn SNN just had to get the story. Of course Galactic would talk to them and not me...”
“But everyone already knows about Deoxys,” said Bobby. “What else would the Galactics want to keep from us?”
“Oh, loads. And it doesn’t matter, because they can keep whatever they want a secret. For all we know, Deoxys is some super hybrid alien that wants to launch an attack on the planet.”
The team chuckled. Nancy sucked in her breath.
“Well, we probably won’t get much praise for speculating, but it’s better than nothing. We’ll take some pictures, and tomorrow we’ll send them into Jubilife. Now all we have to do…”
She turned back to face the window, but to her surprise, the room was empty. The chair was pushed off to the side, and the man was gone.
“What the... where did he go?”
“That’s weird. I just saw him.” Ned adjusted the camera. “Maybe he went into a different room.”
Bobby shook his head. “Something’s not right about this place. I feel it… I think we should go.”
But before any of them could move, a new voice issued from the silence.
“Well, well, well.”
The team went completely still.
The man from the marketplace was standing behind them, flanked on either side by several security guards, their guns glinting in the orange light.
“It’s time we sorted this out. Take ’em.”
"Peck it, peck it!"
Michael’s eyes were narrowed in determination. Starly was in the process of attacking Turtle with its beak, and the Turtwig was flinching back under the force of the blows. The Razor leaves had done their job, but in the midst of the attack, Starly had trapped Turtwig in another close-combat face-off. The few minutes after he had sent out the Starly had turned the tables. For the first time, Bertha was beginning to back down, her taunting smile replaced by an unreadable stare.
Bertha was watching the struggle, clenching her fist around her remaining pokéball. “Turtle! Get him off!”
But the Starly was relentless. It continued to flap and peck, while the Turtwig’s head and legs inched further and further into its shell. When Starly finally moved away, Turtle had closed its eyes for good. Michael smiled.
"Yeah! Now that's what I'm talking about!"
From the side, Henry began to clap. “Woooooo!”
"Don't get too confident, we're not over yet!" Bertha said. She switched Turtle's pokéball with another one from her knapsack.
From a beam of white light, the Roselia-thing appeared before him. Bertha looked down at it longer than she had at her other pokémon, and Michael used the brief pause to ask his question.
"Bertha... is that a Roselia?"
"Yeah." Bertha held up her hand. "I know, I know, it looks different. I have no idea what happened; one day she was normal, and the next day I just took her out of her pokéball and found her like this. It shouldn't affect our battle, though. If anything..." she paused to wink, "she's gotten a lot stronger since then. So you better watch out! Rose, use Shadow Ball!"
Michael clenched his fists. "Starly, dodge it!" For a split second, he looked over to see a ball of black materialize in the Roselia’s hands. He turned back to the Starly, who was flying around in circles. "Come on, you're gonna get hit! Get out of the way!"
The Shadow Ball was released into the air. Michael closed his eyes, waiting for the pained screech and the thump that would accompany it. But nothing came. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Starly was still flapping away in the air, the Shadow Ball gone.
Bertha too seemed surprised. "Wow! I've never seen anything like that before!"
"What? What happened?"
"Your bird. It just absorbed the attack. Like there was some sort of force field around it." Bertha looked over to him, her eyes searching. "Has that ever happened before?"
Michael was still. "Uh... I don't know. I never really paid any attention to it. I guess."
Bertha held his gaze for a moment, then chuckled. "Well, you must have really been training! Rose, let's try something else. Use Poison Jab!"
"Starly, peck again!"
As Rose jumped forward, Starly met it with its beak outstretched. When the pokémon collided, Rose was sent back down, flailing. The momentum had taken its toll on Starly as well; its flight became irregular and labored.
"Use Poison Jab again, Rose!" Bertha cried. The Roselia struggled to its feet, the flowers on its hands curling into talons.
The Starly dipped lower, letting out what could only be its final screech of despair before it fell to the ground.
"No!" Michael shouted. "Starly, get out of the way! Move! Fly higher!" His words seemed to have no effect, which only angered him further. "Starly, move! Be a brave bird, for God's sake!"
At this, Starly's beady eyes widened. Its wings began to flap, and it steadily regained its height. As the Roselia broke out into a run, the Starly let out a loud, vibrating screech, folded its wings, and lurched forward, gathering speed. The tiny bird was literally hurling everything it had at its opponent.
Michael didn’t even have time to blink. The gray blur collided with the Roselia, throwing both bodies back against the wall. When they collided, the entire building seemed to shake.
“Whoa!” Henry rose from his seat. Michael went to inspect, and Bertha followed him. Rose's body peeled away from the wall, tattered and motionless. Several feet away, Starly was on the ground, groping for footing. Shaking, but nevertheless moving.
Michael's jaw dropped open.
"Well, there's the mother of all comebacks!” Bertha said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a match that close since I did my battling exam to become a Leader!” She looked at Michael. “What? Don’t just stand there. I’m sure your Starly doesn’t want to claw dirt forever.”
Michael took out the pokéball with shaking hands, and called the Starly back inside. Bertha did the same.
“I have to say, I'm impressed. I don’t like to believe that someone’s tough before I’ve seen it with my own eyes. You've earned yourself the Forest Badge."
"Yeeeeaahhh!" Henry shouted, jumping to his feet.
Bertha allowed the applause for a moment before continuing. “Now onto your review. Your battle style is good, but somewhat rusty. Back when Turtle used Leaf Storm on your Machop, you stood there for about a whole minute. During that minute, you could’ve done something to save yourself. A trainer never wastes time. Get what I’m saying?”
“Great then.” Bertha went back to her desk, rummaged a bit, then came out with a shiny coin. Its edges were jagged, and it was painted a bright green.
"Thanks," Michael said.
"Hold your horses, kid." Bertha reached into her knapsack and took out several bills. Their green was the brightest of all. Michael was still trembling as he took them into his hands.
"Pay attention now." Bertha snapped her fingers, and Michael looked up. "Next Gym's in Hearthome City. And by that face of yours, I can tell that you're a person who likes the green." She nodded towards the money folded up in his hands. "Don't lose your head there. Please oh please. Folks there are big on gambling, and I'll tell you right now that if you don't keep that money safe, you'll lose it all. Got it?"
"Good. Have a safe trip."
Michael turned for the door. Henry ran up to him, the cage clattering against his side.
"That was so awesome!" he said. "But why didn't you tell me you wanted to use Starly?"
"It was a last minute decision, okay? And besides, without it, I would have lost." Michael took a deep breath. “And I almost did. That was… intense. I never knew that trainers had it so rough.”
Henry looked at him. “How do you feel about challenging the League now?” It wasn’t a taunt, which surprised Michael. “Do you think you can handle it?”
“Of course. I just said it was intense. All we need is a more rounded team for next time. In fact, we should work on that when we get to Hearthome.”
Henry beamed. "Totally. But wasn’t Starly the greatest?”
“Yeah. It totally swept Bertha's team.”
"I guess flying is effective against grass," Michael said. He chuckled in spite of himself, alleviating the quakes that still wracked his body. "I'll have to add it to the chart."
They left the battle area and walked up to their rooms. Before they parted ways, Henry stopped.
“Oh, and one thing,” he said. “Can I use the Starly tomorrow? You know, because...”
Michael handed him the pokéball. “Yeah, sure. Just don’t use the exact same moves I used or she’ll think that we helped each other.”
Just then, they heard the door to the battle room close. Bertha was coming.
“Shoot!” Michael slipped into his room. “See you tomorrow,” he said to Henry before closing the door.
“No, please! You don’t understand, we weren’t trying to—”
“Save it!” The guard tightened his grip on Nancy’s arm. She was being led down a long, narrow tunnel that was lit with buzzing orange lamps that left stains on her vision when they flicked by. Her heart was hammering in her throat, and her knees knocked together every so often, causing her to trip over her heels.
They reached a door at the end, which two more guards pushed open to reveal a tiny, windowless room. Nancy and her team were thrown down at a metal table. Their equipment had been confiscated, Nancy’s tape recorder smashed against the ground. Its splinters were probably being burned in the incinerator now, belching from the smokestacks she had been staring at scarcely ten minutes ago.
The chair she had been forced into was cold, unfriendly. A lone ceiling lamp heated her face, only dimly outlining the guards the stood at every corner of the room. They leered in the half-light. Nancy rose from her chair, wringing her hands.
“Please! We weren’t doing anything bad, all we wanted was—”
A guard forced her back into her seat. Then came the bang of a slamming door, and the man from the marketplace entered the room, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
“People have always fascinated me, you know. Your type in particular. You paparazzi just go on and on about your little business, oblivious to the personal cares of those around you. You poke your noses into things you don’t belong in. Isn’t a ‘keep out’ sign enough these days? Or should I really throw you in jail? I could, you know.” He put his hands down on the table. “There’s a reason we keep the public out of our operations. Our projects do not concern you. Do you understand me?”
Nancy nodded, but before she could insert her defense, the man went on.
“Trespassing. Defacing company property. Illegally recording classified material...” He tallied off their offenses with his fingers as he paced around the table. “Not to mention, a blatant ignorance of company policy!”
“What policy?” said Bobby. “Where does it say that we’re not allowed to interview you? We have freedom of the press!”
The man lunged at the table again, gripping the edge with his fists. “Freedom of the press my ass. Team Galactic is a closed-door company. That means we don’t take pictures, we don’t take interviews. Not from national corporations, not from a bunch of snot-nosed street rats with homemade cameras. End of story.”
The man leaned away, stepping out of the light again. “Now, I will explain this very clearly,” he said. “I have a direct telephone line to Veilstone City. I can call whoever I want, whenever I want, twenty-five hours a day. I can have you four locked up for life, and on top of that, I can shut down your little production company forever. Who do you work for?”
“No one,” Nancy mumbled. “Sinnoh Now is its own company.”
The man smiled. “Ah. Trying to make it on your own, eh? Hoping you’ll make the big time and have your own little TV show one day by snatching a quick one behind my back? But things didn’t go exactly how you planned today, did they?” He leaned in again, this time so close that Nancy could smell the cigarette smoke that reeked from his every word. “Because I can take that dream away from you faster than you can say ‘go’. And you know I will. You messed with the wrong people.”
He looked at each of them in turn, his gaze poking a hole through Nancy’s composure. She could actually feel the tears coming as he turned for the door.
It slammed, and two guards took their places beside it.
Nancy buried her face in her hands and began to cry for real. This time, none of her companions tried to stop her.
“Well, now what?” said Tom.
“We’re over, that’s what. Might as well pack our stuff and go home.” Bobby leaned back in his chair, arms crossed.
“If we don’t end up in jail, that is.”
“Man, now that I think about it, that guy was right,” Bobby said. “All this for a stupid story?”
“Will — you — STOP!” Nancy threw up her head at them, teeth clenched. Face red and mascara running, she once again resembled a monster. “At least I’m actually trying to do something! All you guys do is sit around and wait for me to tell you where to go! You never do anything by yourselves! Never! You just hang back and let me do all the work! You barely carry your own weight, and now you’re just quitting! Quitting on my work! All you want now is to save your sorry asses from jail. You don’t even care that everything we — oh, sorry, I — have worked for is being flushed down the drain!”
Tom looked at her in disbelief. “What? We’ve been with you every step of the way!”
“Yeah!” said Bobby. “Who was it that raised all the money to buy a van, huh? Who was it that put together that list of phone numbers for the interviews?”
Ned nodded his agreement. “Yeah, Nancy, you’re being completely unfair. You haven’t been a complete miracle either, you know.”
“Honestly, if we burst into tears every time something went wrong, then this project would have fallen apart years ago,” said Bobby. “I, at least, try to keep it together when life throws a little mud on my shoe.”
Nancy’s eyes flashed. “I, at least, have the organization to get things done around here! For some reason, I have the time to arrange meetings, map out all our routes, and pick up empty Coca Cola cans from the van’s floor that SOME PEOPLE are too lazy to throw away! And I don’t complain!”
“What’s the big deal if I forget once or twice? At least I learn from my mistakes and don’t forget to fill up the tank before we go, like this one.” He pointed at Tom.
“So you want to start this again?” Tom turned his chair to face Bobby. “That was one time! One freaking time!”
“You know what, Bobby?” said Nancy. “I think the reason you always hang on to other people’s mistakes is because you make so many of them that it’s nice to see someone else screw up for a change!”
Bobby threw up his hands. “Why are you all ganging up on me now? If you want to talk about mistakes, I’ll give you one right now — this! It was a mistake to come here from the beginning, but did anyone listen to me? No! Because no one ever listens!”
“Because you never have anything good to say!” Nancy said. “All you do is whine! ‘Oh, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do that, this is such a chore, blah blah blah!’”
“Nancy’s right,” Tom said. “If you at least pulled your own weight, then maybe we’d get things done a lot faster!”
Nancy turned her scowl on him. “Oh, don’t act so innocent, Mr. Stoic! Ever since we got put on probation by SNN, you’ve been nothing but a pain! Right when it’s our time to work, you decide to take a vacation—”
“How is that bad?” Tom retorted. “Sorry for not having a maniacal drive like yours, but I happen to be a human being who needs to take their mind off of show business every once in a while. What’s the crime in that? I work just as hard as you do, Nancy—”
Nancy gripped the edge of her chair. “IF I HADN’T PUSHED YOUR LAZY BEHINDS OUT OF JUBILIFE, YOU’D ALL BE DRIVING GARBAGE TRUCKS! DON’T YOU DARE TALK TO ME ABOUT HARD FUCKING WORK!”
“Well at least I—”
“Guys, just shut up!”
The bickering trio paused for breath. In their heated face-off, they had forgotten all about Ned, who had been listening quietly the whole time. His sudden outburst made them turn.
“What, Ned?” Nancy snapped. “Would you like to add to the discussion?”
“No, because the discussion is pointless!” Ned slapped the table. “Look at yourselves! You’re acting like a bunch of kids! Do you think that arguing will change anything about our current situation? We’re here, we’re in hot water, and nothing anyone has said in the past two minutes has helped us find a way out!”
Nancy and Tom exchanged glares, and settled back. Bobby rolled his eyes.
“Oh sure, sure, now everyone listen to Ned’s infinite wisdom—”
“Shut up, Bobby!” said Tom.
“See what I mean?” Ned said. “You guys are such... I don’t even know what to call it. Point is, you are a team. Everyone has their place, everyone has their job. Everyone’s important! You guys just hang on to every little thing that goes wrong. All people have their own problems, okay? But the point of making a group effort is to get past them and work towards a common goal!”
The trio exchanged glances again. Now that most of her anger had been let out, Nancy was able to take a deep breath.
“Fine. I guess you’re right. We should be worrying about how to get out of here, first of all...”
“I don’t think that’ll work out.” Tom looked at the tough-looking guards who stood by the door.
Nancy shook her head. “I can't believe this. All our footage… all our equipment, gone. This’ll cost hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to replace! We might as well be starting from square one.”
“Don’t worry about the equipment,” said Tom, dropping his voice. “It’s not the worst thing that could’ve happened. They don’t know about our van.”
“And they haven’t sued us yet,” Ned added.
“But they can’t really put us in jail, though, right?” said Bobby. “I mean... what we did wasn’t that bad. Well, it was bad, but not bad bad. I understand a fine or something, but prison?”
“Didn’t you hear the guy?” said Nancy. “He said he has a direct line to Veilstone. He can call whoever he wants to call. Hell, he’s probably dialing the number right now.”
“He could’ve just been lying to scare us. Those big-business guys do it all the time.”
“I don’t know... Something tells me he’s not the lying type,” said Tom, twiddling his thumbs.
The team fell into silence.
Nancy ran her fingers through her hair. “Well, there’s no point in speculating. Let’s just not make things worse and wait it out. Hopefully, this whole thing will blow over and we can leave for someplace else tomorrow.”
How right she was.
Well, I go to your thread and see you've posted 13 without letting me know, so this will be a 2-in-1 review. My apologies if it's a bit short, but as I explained in my PM, I'm not really into the whole fan fiction thing right now because of certain... circumstances...
First, let it be known that Michael still cooks better than Lisa... or me IRL, for that matter xD
Quite ironic that Bertha happens to use the same Pokemon team that her eventual successor in Eterna will use. And I'm trying to think of what would get Bertha to change types over the years... one thing that comes to mind is Torterra is Grass-Ground... another is she gets in it really deep with Galactic and changes her type to try to "re-image" herself.
As for the Roserade-Referred-To-As-Mutated-Roselia, it does make sense that it hasn't been discovered yet. There have been a whole bunch of new evolutions of existing Pokemon introduced throughout the years. (And I don't blame you for not using the newest set of Pokemon in the game - most of the new ones suck anyway. And for my story, I was actually gonna stick with just Generations 1-3 until we made the decision for Sadie to appear in mine )
Compared to how she's depicted in the games, it was quite nice to see a more impatient and impulsive side of Bertha show during her meeting with your typical ineffective and incompetent government officials. Of course there's always the possibility she's mellowed out over the years, but Bertha going ballistic = awesome.
Right now I'm not sure what to make of the news crew... it sounds like at least Nancy's heart is in the right place, but they still resort to the old paparazzi-style tactics to try to get what they wanted... and ended up failing miserably. But who knows? These folks might be determined enough to be the guys who finally break through the wall of secrecy that Galactic's built around their entire operation. And funny you should mention a van without air conditioning... I had relatives visit the past weekend and their van is also without air conditioning (albeit theirs is busted). For the record, though, back in this time period, I believe car air conditioners were still a "luxury" option - much like GPS navigators and backup cameras are today.
And good 'ol Dr. E... I had a teacher in middle school named Emerson who was a bit like him even though my teacher was this older little lady. I do remember she once called one of the students an "airhead" xD Granted, said student was an airhead, but it was still funny
One thing about the battle... Turtwig should have been unaffected by Leech Seed, since the move doesn't work on fellow grass Pokemon. Otherwise I thought the battle was quite well done, with quite a bit of trial and error on Michael's part to figure out something that would work. And inadvertently nailing mutated-Roselia with Brave Bird was awesome
Meanwhile, something's definitely up over in Galactic Land... Big fences, armed guards, a network of mysterious buildings, plans for some huge rocket-like project, and really unforgiving employees... Clearly much bigger things are going down here than anyone's aware of. Something that the higher-ups in the company really want to keep a secret. And with the government seemingly as their puppets, it looks like Galactic's going to be a powerful force of change and a tough group to try to get inside of.
The score: Galactic 2, News Team 0.
Anyway, quite a few interesting developments come to light, and I'm really enjoying reading as the mystery of team Galactic seems to deepen. I'll be awaiting the next chapter, whenever that may be xD
To put it short, Bertha's type change is a result of a change in taste when she becomes an Elite Four member. She does not do it on purpose to re-image herself, but finds that the change already happened on its own. Get it? (Idk if that made sense...)
I began this fic loooong before the new set was introduced, so even if I wanted to, including the new pokemon would have been jarring at the least. Besides, I sort of want this fic to be more Sinnoh-centric. Now that we're throwing up all this Unova hype, I think it would be nice to have a fic that takes you back a little.
I agree wholeheartedly: ballistic Bertha = awesome. I had a lot of fun writing her.
As for the news crew, they're a very important group. But you probably know that already, given the attention I've been paying them in these two chapters.
I decided to make it work, because in 'reality', I think that Leech Seed is more of a normal-type move, since its functionality (to drain life) doesn't really have anything to do with grass. Meh. It's just a minor thing I have.
EVIL FACTORY OF DOOM! I've always liked stories/movies that focus around an evil lair of some sort that always hangs in mystery. It's been too much fun fleshing that out in this fic. You'll see what happens in the next chapter. You'll see. It will be amazing.
And speaking of the next chapter, I've planned it, and I'm setting out to write it. NOTHING SHALL STOP ME!
Except maybe the new school year, which is once again right around the corner... these things happen so quickly. o.o;
Thanks for reviewing! See you next chapter!
All right kiddies, this chapter is a big one. Not in terms of length, but in terms of content. It gave a bit of trouble for some time because there were just so many things to keep track of
Anyways, I hope this was worth the wait. (I certainly won't be trying to type a chapter on two separate computers again, that's for sure...)
And happy last day of August.
The factory was spewing out an abundance of smoke, creating a little cloud over the hill that smeared its way into the rest of the town. Sunlight was sifted into bright patches along the road. Other than the steady grind of machinery from far away, all was quiet.
Michael was woken early by a panicked Henry, who wanted to get some more practice done before the battle. So, they went straight into the battle room and did a few practice rounds after a quick breakfast. Michael went over several scenarios and told Henry how to best counter each one, though he was fairly certain that everything would go well.
He could tell Henry was nervous, nevertheless. Long after they finished, the boy was still pacing around the battlefield, twiddling his thumbs and stealing frequent glances at the clock.
Bertha came into the battle room a few minutes late, rubbing her eyes. She had ditched the makeup, and her hair was slightly disheveled. “Sorry to keep you waiting, boys. It’s a fog day, if you haven’t noticed.” She stepped into the light and yawned.
When she saw them waiting patiently, she let out her breath. “You boys are pretty darn motivated. That’s a good asset to have. Some trainers that come here treat their stay like it’s a vacation. Then, of course, they get crushed by those that actually work.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Henry smiled, though the shaken look never left his eyes.
“So are you ready?” Bertha said.
“Well then let’s do this.”
She took her place at the battlefield, and Henry his.
“Go, Turtle!” Bertha’s Turtwig landed on the floor, fully rested from the night before.
Henry fumbled for his first pokéball. “Go, Starly!” The Starly dove out of the capsule and into the air. Bertha lifted an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.
“All right Turtle, use Razor Leaf!” The Turtwig bent back its head and sent forth a storm of leaves.
“Starly, evade! Peck it!” said Henry.
Michael watched as the Starly looped out of the way of the leaves, speeding toward Turtle with its beak leading the way. It began to peck, jabbing at Turtwig’s soft underbelly.
“Turtle, pin it down! Use Stealth Rock!”
The Turtwig rolled over onto its feet, shielding itself from the Starly’s blows. The ring of rock sprouted from the ground beneath Starly and encased it, drawing out frightened squeals. Its entire torso was trapped, leaving its wings and head sticking out.
Henry rubbed his chin. He cast a fleeting glance at Michael, as if in a silent plea for help, but right then he seemed to steel himself and looked forward again. “Starly, come on!” he shouted. “Get out of it!”
The Starly continued to beat its wings. Bertha’s Turtwig stood a little bit away, eyes narrowed in concentration as it tried to hold the stones in place. But Starly was making gains, and Henry was egging it on, shouting with impressive force.
“Come on, you can do it! Get out of it!” He watched the Starly squirm. The stones crushed ever tighter on its legs. Henry drew back, and then a sudden idea lit up his face. “Come on! Get out of it just like you wanted to get out of the net!”
The Starly squawked. Something in the Turtwig’s strength faltered, and the stones loosened by a single inch. It was enough. Starly shot out of its prison like a black-winged bullet, and collided full-on into the Turtwig, pecking every place it could find.
“Yeah!” Henry jumped with joy. Michael smiled. As he did, he felt a curious lethargy sink over him. He gave a big, Bertha-like yawn, tipping back in his seat. His gaze drifted up towards the window for a moment. It was a bright day. Or, it would have been, if not for the screen of brown fog-smoke that smudged the sun. The clouds were thick and brown, but he could still see some patches of blue hidden behind the screen. When he looked closer, they seemed to form patterns, like broken shards of a puzzle. A shoe, a blade of grass, a cup...
Michael bolted upright. He had almost forgotten the battle. Bertha’s Turtwig, still under fire from the Starly, was curling up into defensive mode. It pulled its head and limbs into the shell, becoming like a rock. Far from giving up, the Starly battered all the harder, whacking the shell with its wings and talons.
Bertha gave a soft laugh. “Wow. That’s one hell of a Starly you’ve got there. It’s like a one-man machine… I guess I’ll have to improvise a little. Turtle, return!” She held out the pokéball, and Turtwig’s shell melted away. Henry gaped.
“You can do that?”
Bertha clipped the pokéball back to her belt. “Why not? It’s not cheating, if that’s what you’re getting at.” She winked. “If anything, it’s good for you, because you get to see more of my team, and you’ll be prepared for when I send out Turtle next time. Go, Cherri!”
The Cherrim sprang from the second pokéball, all smiles and dancing petals.
“Use Magical Leaf!”
The Cherrim began to twirl in a similar fashion to Petal Dance, only this time it swept clusters of strange dark leaves around it. They shimmered as they tore through the air, with a speed and grace entirely unlike Razor Leaf.
“Starly, evade!” said Henry.
The Starly dove aside, but the leaves followed, striking its body from behind. Henry let out a cry as the Starly spun to the floor, struggling from its injured wings.
“It’s not a common attack,” said Bertha. “Cherri actually learned last month, but I only use it every other battle… I find that keeping some cards close to my chest is better for me in the long run.”
Henry looked down at the Starly, who was still flying, though clearly struggling to stay in the air. “Starly, use Brave Bird!”
The Starly obeyed, hurling itself at Cherri with every last bit of strength it had. Michael watched the pokémon wrangle. The Cherrim fell back under Starly’s blows, squealing.
“Nice one!” Bertha said. “But we’re not through just yet. Cherri, use—” Her mouth opened to announce her third pokémon, but at that moment, she stopped.
The silence was like a brief, curious break in a strand of thought. At first, it seemed like Bertha had simply changed her mind about what she was going to say, but as the pause in words grew longer, Michael began to think that there was something wrong.
Henry caught onto the signal a moment later. He relaxed his stance, and looked to Michael in confusion. Michael shrugged his shoulders in response.
Bertha hung still, ignoring them both. She was staring at the floor. And just then, after a moment of anticipation, the slightest sound broke the silence. It came from outside, beginning as a distant rumble, and then it rose into an echo like a speeding avalanche, or a million tiny pebbles skittering down a road.
The pokémon continued to brawl along the arena, scratching and biting at each other without any regard for their trainers. The sound traveled across the horizon, and died down, bringing a heavier silence than ever before. Even the machinery seemed to have gone quiet.
The sound exploded with such force that it shook the walls of the Gym, and all three of them clamped their hands to their ears against the great vibrations. The ceiling lamps wobbled, and a picture on Bertha’s desk fell flat on its face. The Starly began to panic, beating its wings and screeching.
A second crash followed the first, ending in a low, drawn-out rumble that was louder than the first. Michael gripped the edge of the bench for support, and Henry stumbled against the wall. Once the ground steadied, Bertha pocketed her pokéball and, as if by instinct, turned to the window.
When she looked back at Michael and Henry, her face was blank.
It was coming from the factory.
Morning light sifted through a tiny window near the ceiling, illuminating Nancy’s sleeping face. Her team was sprawled out around the table in poses of varying style, having given up comfort for the sake of rest. Ned was snoring.
When the rumble came, none of them stirred. The room shook ever so slightly, and a cloud of brown dust smeared over the window, blocking the light. The sound deepened, and Nancy was stirred awake. She felt slow and groggy, as if a rough hand had pulled her from her dreams.
She barely had time to register the situation when suddenly, the door to the detainment room burst open, and a group of security guards rushed in.
“Wake up! Wake up!” One of the them shook Nancy’s shoulders. She rubbed her eyes and yawned.
“What... what is it?”
“Are you letting us go?” said Bobby.
“We’ve been ordered to take you with us,” said the guard. “There’s no time for questions. Let’s go.”
Nancy was still struggling to stay awake as the guard lifted her and rushed down the hallway. The rumbling grew steadily louder, until it escalated to such a degree that she could feel it beneath her shoes.
“What’s going on here?” she said. “Is it an earthquake?”
The guards did not answer. Two of them pushed open the doors, hands clamped over their mouths. Nancy barely caught a glimpse of daylight before her eyes reflexively closed, and she began to cough from the onset of smoke.
“Put this on. Now!” A gas mask was thrust into her hands. Nancy fumbled for the strap, tightening it around her head. The guard tugged on her arm, and she started to walk.
When Nancy opened her smarting eyes, she saw that the whole lot was swarming with people. Red lights were flashing on doors, and workers spilled out of buildings by the hundreds, pushing large crates on wheels. And above the wail of commotion, a computerized voice boomed at them like a siren:
“WARNING! THIS IS AN ORDERED EVACUATION FOR ALL ZONES. CRITICAL ENGINE FAILURE IN SECTOR U-74. THIRD-DEGREE BATTERY LEAKAGE IN THE 102 MAINFRAME. ALL PERSONS TO VACATE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY. WARNING! THIS IS AN ORDERED EVACUATION FOR ALL ZONES—”
Nancy looked up. Large volumes of thick brown smoke were gushing out from an unseen building, staining the sky like a pool of mud. Galactic workers were scurrying about like ants, lab coats flapping around their feet. No two people seemed to be going in the same direction, and yet they were all shouting at one another, a chorus of instructions and confused nomenclature. There were suddenly so many of them, that Nancy found herself wondering where they had all been hiding the night before.
“Let’s go!” The guard pulled on her arm again, and Nancy was forced into a run. They dodged the multitude of moving bodies, following what seemed like a predetermined path. Nancy caught glimpses of passing buildings, and of the guards looking around in desperation, but she couldn’t deduce where they were going. The gas mask was wrapped tight around her face, and each breath she took felt stale and deprived, as if only half of it was reaching her.
The company made a sharp turn, pulling her into what appeared to be a parking lot. Rows of trucks were lined up by a tall fence, and Galactic workers were loading them with all sorts of crates and boxes.
The guards led them towards the trucks, and among the white-coated workers, Nancy caught glimpse of a man in a black suit, one of the few who was also masked. He stood on an elevated platform with a megaphone, and was shouting at a group of truckers, arms waving.
“Leave everything! Leave everything that’s not vital to the project—I SAID LEAVE IT! No!”
He stumbled from the platform and wrenched a crate from a worker’s hands. The two exchanged a brief verbal quarrel, and then the worker stormed off, dropping it off to the side.
When the man in the suit saw the team of guards, he immediately broke away from his duty and approached them. He was shorter than the man from the marketplace, and when he came close, Nancy heard him breathe a sigh of relief.
“Great. Thank God. That’s one less thing for me to worry about.”
“Should we take them to transport, sir?” said one of the guards.
The man shook his head. “No. Our first priority is to get every living body out of here. We're not sure exactly what's going to happen yet, but we're treating it as a full-on emergency. The engines have been working overtime all night, and something in the system must have failed. I’m still waiting for a status report.”
The guard nodded, and the man turned to address Nancy's crew. “Mr. Webbs has decided not to press charges against you guys. You should thank your lucky stars, because I’m telling you, he came close. It if wasn’t for the leak, you’d all be sitting in a jail cell right now.”
As one, the team relaxed. In an instant, Nancy felt all the stress she had retained from the previous evening drain away. Ned and Bobby exchanged a high-five.
“That does not mean,” the man continued, “that we can forget what you tried to do. I want you to understand the severity of your actions. Our projects are top secret, and breaching our security is as good as a felony in this country. We have your data on file, and if it happens again, I don’t care if it’s the end of the world — you are going to jail. Understood?”
Nancy nodded, still unable to make words.
The man seemed about to say more, but at that moment, a masked worker ran up to them, panting from a long journey.
“Sir!” he said. “Both backup engines have crashed. The radiator’s leaking faster than we can plug it up. We—” He doubled over and gave a resounding cough, which incapacitated his ability to speak for several moments. “We’ve… done our best to stabilize the machine, but at this rate, I don’t think we have much time. The pressure’s building inside the chamber, and if it’s not drained soon, the whole building will explode.”
The man took this all in, and nodded. “How long do we have?”
“We’re not sure,” said the scientist. “I estimate about half an hour, but then the fumes will spread across the whole town and beyond. There’s no way to stop it. We’ve done all that was possible… The only thing left to do is to evacuate. I’m sorry.”
At the scientist’s words, the man clenched his fist and swore. “Damn… what about the XTC? Is it damaged? What about the ST Pod? And the AAC?” With each unintelligible acronym he named, the man’s voice grew more and more desperate, and the poor scientist was left stuttering. His panicked eyes darted from the man’s to the faces of Nancy and her team.
“Sir… the… no damage has been done to the XTC, and the STP is in transport. But the AAC… some of the gases inside it have leaked, and it’s corroded the metal casing… I… I gave the order to unassemble it, and—”
“—isolated all the undamaged parts to prepare them for storage, but given the state of what was lost, it’s likely that the machine will need to be reconstructed, at least partially—”
The man slapped his hand to his forehead. He muttered something, but Nancy only caught the tail of it— “… sure as hell won’t be happy about this…”
The scientist stiffened as if for a verbal blow, but the man quickly collected himself. “All right. Recover all that you can and get it onto transport asap. I’ll notify Veilstone. It might delay things, but if you work fast, then we might avoid a major stall.”
The scientist nodded. “Yes sir.”
“And the town. Tell me about the town.”
The scientist fidgeted. “Sir, I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do. We have to impose an evacuation order. I advise getting everyone at least ten miles away from here. I don’t know how severe the damage will be, but we can’t risk anything. The gases are highly reactive. Eterna could be rendered uninhabitable.”
At this, Nancy felt her blood chill. The thought of a such pure, green town turning into a chemical wasteland was difficult to fathom. It had been a long time since she had been surrounded by nature to such a degree—in fact, Nancy hadn’t seen a forest since she left her hometown of Fortree City in Hoenn, which was ten years ago. She was actually starting to feel a sort of kinship with Eterna, something she had never felt before in any city.
Nancy held her breath as she waited for the man’s reaction. His composure did not change in the slightest, and his eyes remained cold behind the glass of his mask.
“Okay,” he said, after a moment. “I’ll make sure to mention that possibility. Now go. Every second counts.”
The scientist nodded, and ran off. The man turned to face the team one last time. “Your guards will now escort you to Eterna’s train station. From there, you’re on your own. Put as much distance between you and the town as you can, and make sure your friends do likewise. Understood?”
“But can’t we just drive away?” Nancy said. “We have a van.”
“Van?” He scowled. “This is no time for vans! Do you understand the concept of spontaneous combustion, and how fast a pressurized chemical leak can spread? A van won’t get you away from that in time. You need to board a train and get the hell out of here.”
Nancy bit her lip, dreading a response. Tom nudged her shoulder.
“It’s okay,” he said. “All the equipment that matters is gone. We’d have to start over anyway.”
“Yeah, that van was a piece of crap,” Bobby added. “Remember that week when it broke down three times in a row?”
Ned also nodded his approval. “They’re right, Nancy. That van was more trouble than it was worth. If anything,” he smiled, “we’ll be able to sneak up on people better if we don’t show off our team logo everywhere we go.”
Nancy looked at them, surprised by their sudden optimism. “Who are you people and what did you do with my friends?”
Tom laughed. “It’s okay. None of us are going to back out on this because of one little thing. We’re a team, remember?” He looked at Ned, who gave a thumbs-up.
Nancy lowered her head. “Fine. We’ll take the train.”
The Galactic man nodded. “Then we have nothing more to say to each other. I sincerely hope you’ve taken what I said earlier into mind, and that our two organizations will never cross paths again.”
“I hope so too,” Nancy said before she could stop herself.
With that, the man turned on his heel and hurried back to the podium. Nancy didn’t have time to watch the proceedings, for the guards immediately began to steer her in the opposite direction. They were led to the factory gates, which had been thrown open for smaller vehicles, and for workers running for their lives.
Beneath the hill, the town was stirring.
“Yes. Hello? This is Bertha Herrida. I want to — no, you listen to me! I don’t care about your stupid rules, I want you to transfer my call to that goddamn factory right now, and I want to know why the hell a bomb just went off in my backyard! Hello?”
Bertha tapped the receiver with her manicured nails, but there was evidently no response. Outside, the air was growing dense with brown smoke, and it was beginning to smear the windows of the battle room with soot. Michael placed his hands upon the sill, trying to see past the growing cloud.
Henry, meanwhile, was chasing the Starly across the battle floor, trying to catch it while it repeatedly sought to escape him. It had begun to screech and flap in evident agitation, and had backed itself into a corner where it lay trembling.
“No. Bad Starly. Bad. Come here. To me, Starly.” Henry tried various tones, from gentle to harsh, but the Starly seemed unwilling to leave its hiding place. In manic rage, it dove out from under the bench and bumped its head on the water cooler, falling back down again.
“What’s wrong with him?” Henry said. "Starly's never been like this before."
“He’s probably loaded,” Michael snickered. “Are you sure that pokémon food of yours is safe?”
“Not funny,” Henry said. He unclipped Starly’s pokéball and aimed it. “Sorry, buddy. You’re going back.” In a torrent of white, the Starly was sucked back into the capsule. When it was done, Henry looked at Bertha. “Did you call them?”
“Not yet,” Bertha said. “They’re giving me the damn hold.” She waited several minutes, stealing glances at the window. "They might be doing some sort of stupid experiment."
"Can we go check?" said Michael.
"No way. I'm not letting you outside when there's smoke from God-knows-what in the air. You'll get sick." Bertha twisted the thick cord with her finger. Finally, her face lit up, and she spoke into the phone. “Well it’s about time! What—”
She froze. The person on the other end was talking loudly and hurriedly, and though Michael couldn’t decipher the words, he could tell by Bertha's expression that it was something bad. She put down the phone a minute later.
"What is it?" said Henry.
“Follow me. Let's go." Bertha went for the door. Confused, Michael followed her up the stairs. Henry ran along behind, gasping.
“Wait! Bertha, what’s happening?”
Bertha did not answer. They ascended to the main level of the house, and when they reached the front door, Bertha led them outside. Instantly, Michael was consumed by a flood of noise.
Eterna was in chaos. Screams and bangs blended with the wail of sirens, and torrents of people were moving down the road as if in a protest march. Some carried luggage bags, others went empty-handed. They were pushing and shouting, all running from the factory, where a giant black cloud hovered like a hole in the sky.
“Whoa!” Henry pointed. “Look at that!”
Michael turned to the north, and nearly did a double-take at what he saw. The factory loomed over them like a huge injured beast, belching a mix of fire and soot from its towers that rained down upon the masses. As of by instinct, Bertha gripped their shoulders and pulled them close.
“They’ve finally done it. They’ve finally crossed the line. It was only a matter of time.” She lowered her head, closing her eyes. “Oh God…”
The gates to the factory were wide open, and people in white coats were spilling out like a waterfall. Some had already reached the bottom of the hill, and were running through the streets, their eyes wide with panic. Michael realized who they were—Galactic workers.
“Get out!” one of them yelled as they passed. “This is an ordered evacuation! We’re releasing toxic fumes into the air! The whole building will explode in twenty minutes! You have to leave, now!”
The stream of workers pushed through the Eterna residents, repeating the same warning. The streets were thrown up into a chorus of angry shouts, and the Eterna folk began to push and jab at the workers.
“Damn you, Galactic!” someone said. “Go burn in your own waste!”
There was a roar of approval. A mob swarmed around the inflow of Galactic workers, blocking them from view. Michael heard more screams.
Bertha gritted her teeth. “Get your stuff, boys. And be quick about it.”
“Wait,” Henry said. “You mean all these people have to leave? How?”
“The train station,” Bertha replied. “It’s the only way. Now go on. Hurry.”
She went back inside with them, and they scrambled to gather their things. Michael scooped his belongings into his backpack, and Henry gathered his tote bag and the Stunky’s cage. Bertha took a little bit longer, and met them by the door with her purse and a strange briefcase. She quickly pushed them outside to join the mass of people moving forward.
“We’ll be going to Hearthome City,” she said. “I have business there, and you’ll be able to get to your next Gym.”
“But Bertha,” said Henry, “what about my battle?”
Bertha tightened her grip on their arms. “Worry about that later. Let’s go.”
She pulled them down the street, into the town center. The whole of Eterna seemed to have wakened from the disaster. People were peering out of windows, stepping out of doors to see what all the commotion was about. When their eyes moved over to the factory, their eyes widened in shock, and they withdrew, later throwing open their doors with armfuls of luggage. And then they joined the flow of traffic, becoming a part of the movement themselves.
Bertha wove through the crowds, keeping an iron grip on their shoulders throughout. Michael stole frequent glances at the factory, and each time he looked, the cloud overhead became thicker and darker. A line of trucks was moving downhill from a side exit, bearing crates stamped with the Team Galactic logo. They followed the road, then turned unseen into a separate direction. The distant wail of sirens that rose up with the noise and fog sounded like the tolling bells of the apocalypse.
On top of that, Galactic workers were coming into the town by the hundreds. After the initial outpour, the remaining workers walked in an orderly, almost mechanical fashion. They kept their distance from the Eternians, marching forward with their heads ducked down, like students in a fire drill. Most of them carried luggage of their own, and all of them wore gas masks. They could have been soldiers, or policemen.
As they passed, the Eternians looked upon the workers with sour loathing, and instantly began to shout all sorts of verbal abuse at them. Several people even stopped to throw sticks and pebbles. And yet the workers walked, keeping a mystic sort of air about them, impassive to the jeers of the masses.
At one point, Bertha leaned over to whisper in Michale's ear. “You might as well stop looking. After this, I hope you realize that Galactic’s not all what it makes itself out to be, and that those workers are the same tormented idiots as the rest of us. This town has done a lot of things for them, and they’ve never given back.”
Michael barely remembered the next few minutes, save for more noise and shouting, the rapidly darkening sky, and more people joining the movement. It all felt surreal, as if he was stuck in an extended dream that he couldn't wake up from.
The Eterna train station, when they reached it, was the most crowded building in town. The majority of the traffic was directed inside, and though it was huge, the building clearly wasn't designed to hold the entire population of Eterna at once.
Nearly all the seats in the lobby were occupied, which left a multitude of people to stand against the walls, moving aside the decorative plants and statues. Bertha managed to find two vacant chairs, albeit not very good ones, and left them to settle down while she went over to the counter. A private seating area was arranged for the Galactic workers, some with belongings of their own, and many of whom were still wearing their safety gear.
Michael watched their movements carefully, and though none of them spoke, hel wondered what was running through their minds at that moment. Their factory was burning, and whatever they had been working on had been reduced to cinders.
As the old Space Race-obsessed part of his mind kicked in, Michael felt anger blossom within him. First Deoxys, and now the factory… it seemed that the very universe was conspiring against him, and his will for Sinnoh to gain victory. He wondered when the news would reach the rest of Sinnoh, if it would at all. The he thought of his friends again, Cory and Brendan, but this time their faces no longer made him dream of home. He felt detached from his old life, somehow, as if all those old memories were no longer his.
From the seat beside him, Henry spoke. “This is really scary,” he whispered.
Michael nodded. “I guess.”
In truth, he was slightly unsettled at the sight of the panic, for he had not expected that a place like Eterna could produce so much mayhem in so little time. He looked down at the Stunky, which was pacing around the cage, its tail twitching. It kept looking up at the windows and sniffing, as if it could already sense the onset of poison gas.
Henry looked at the people in the lobby, and to the crowds outside. “All these people… they’re losing their home. It’s sad."
“Be thankful they’re not losing their lives.”
Henry’s gaze fell to the floor. He did not speak until Bertha came back.
“Listen, boys.” She knelt down beside them. “The trains are loaded. I managed to get us spots on the ride to Hearthome, but since everyone is traveling out of the city, they have to stagger the departures. The Galactics will leave first, on the train to Veilstone. Then the train to Solaceon—”
“Wait a minute!” Henry looked up. “The Galactics are leaving first? Isn’t it a little rude of them to leave before everyone else, since they’re the ones who are behind the problem?”
Bertha closed her eyes. “Look. I don’t like it either. But that’s how it is right now, and you’ll have to deal with it.”
“Still!” Henry said, rising. “It’s not fair!”
“Life isn’t fair,” Michael retorted. Henry gave him a glare, but sat back down.
“Unfortunately, he’s right,” said Bertha. “Don’t worry. If anything, we’ll sneak aboard a train to some other town and go from there. What’s more important is your safety. All right?”
Henry nodded, resting his chin in his hands. Bertha rubbed his shoulder. “What’s the matter?”
The boy let out a long sigh. “We never got to finish our battle,” he mumbled.
Bertha rolled her eyes, but at the same time she smiled. “Kid…” She pulled the Forest Badge from her purse and placed it into Henry’s hand. “Here. It’s yours.”
Henry gaped. “What? But I… but I didn’t win! We never… I…”
Bertha chuckled. “I don’t need to finish a battle to tell a good trainer from a bad one. Hell, I can get by just by watching how a person prepares. I’ve seen you and Michael working your butts off for my battle, and I’m proud of you for that. What impressed me even more is how you battled today. You persevered, and you led that little Starly in battle like a freaking military commander. If our match had been just a bit longer, you definitely would’ve beaten little Turtle.”
Henry beamed. “Wow. I didn’t know you could… I mean, that you were allowed to do that!”
“It’s called leader discretion. If I think someone deserves the badge, I’ll give it to them. Usually, it’s settled by a complete battle, but it doesn’t always have to be. What I liked most,” Bertha continued, “is the way you and Michael worked together. I’ve seen a lot of kids come in groups to my Gym, but none of them are quite like you two.”
Michael blinked in surprise. “Really?”
“Definitely. All the other groups I see end up quarreling and staring these stupid rivalries with one another. But you two are the first pair I’ve seen that actually works together and shares the benefits.”
Michael and Henry exchanged a glance. “Thanks, Bertha,” Henry said.
Bertha smiled. “No problem. Now...” She checked her watch. “I’m going to make a quick call. You boys stay put, all right?”
“Okay,” Henry said.
Bertha left. They sat alone for a while, watching more and more people file into the lobby. Michael was happy to return to his thoughts, when Henry suddenly perked up again.
“Hey, I have an idea!”
“There should be a pay phone somewhere here, right? We should call home. Just so our parents know what’s happening.”
Suddenly, Michael’s mood darkened. It was as if a switch had gone off inside of him, bringing a sudden reminder to the forefront of his mind. Michael passed off this sudden shift with a shrug. “Mmm.”
Henry bounced up from the chair. “Come on. I have some coins.”
“I’ll pass,” Michael said. “I’ll call home when I get to Hearthome.”
Henry frowned. “Well okay. I’ll be right back.” He bounded off. Several nondescript minutes later, he returned, happily holding his coin bag. “All done! My mom’s glad I’m okay. She says to be careful in Hearthome and stuff, but other than that, she’s excited that I finally got past Byron.”
“Whoop de doo.”
Henry sat down beside him. “You should call home too.”
“I said I’ll pass.”
Michael sighed. “Just… nothing.” He turned away from Henry, indicating that he didn't want to talk any more. The trains to Veilstone and Solaceon were called, and the troupe of Galactic workers shuffled out of the station, along with a great number of Eternians.
Several minutes later, the call for Hearthome came.
“Attention!” came a voice over the loudspeaker. “All passengers to Hearthome City please board! All passengers to Hearthome City please board!”
Michael stood without preamble. “Come on.”
“Wait!” Henry said. “We should wait for Bertha. She's not back yet.”
“Too late. Let’s go.”
They grabbed their belongings and rose with the other Hearthome passengers. The train awaited them outside, stretched out beneath the sun. The smoke had advanced completely over the town, and what little light there was left shone feebly over the station.
The passengers huddled on the platform together, and boarded one by one. The air in the train was hot and stiff. Michael went as far back as he could, picking a compartment well off from the others. He plopped down next to the window, and Henry beside him.
"All right, what is the deal with you?" said the boy. "Why are you so mad all of a sudden?”
Michael remained silent.
"Talk to me!" Henry nudged his shoulder. "Is something wrong? You can tell me. What is it?”
“Can’t you just be quiet for once?”
“Not until you tell me what’s wrong.” Henry put his hands on his hips, and Michael groaned.
"When I left my house and went to Route 203, I didn't exactly have my mother's permission to go."
"What do you mean?"
"Urgh, I ran away from home, okay?" This came out pretty loudly, and Michael was instantly grateful for the thin wall that separated them from the others. "I can't let my mom know where I am. If she finds me, she'll bring me home and put bars on my window."
Henry's eyes widened. "You ran away from home? Why?"
"Because." Michael gritted his teeth. "She grounded me. And I didn't want to waste my summer in my room."
"But why didn't you just wait it out? What's the worst she could have done to you?"
"Will you stop asking questions? You don't know shit about my home life. I had it ten times worse than you ever will."
"Well, maybe if you talked about it..."
"That's the thing, dweeb. I don't want to talk about it. For once, I want to leave my old life behind me and start fresh. It's the big mouths like you who get in the way!"
"But your mom and dad probably miss you. They want you home."
Michael looked away, clenching his fist. "I don't have a dad. Now if you don't shut that mouth of yours, I'll do it for you."
Henry fell silent. Outside, it was bright and hazy. The land on his side was undeveloped, except for a strip of fencing that bordered the station's property. From his seat, Michael could see all the way up to the mountains.
The train started with a loud roar that shook the walls. The landscape began to roll by. Michael closed his eyes.
Over the hum of the engine, he heard a whisper.
"... Neither do I."
“Ow! Ow, that was my foot! Stop stepping on me!”
“You’re the one stepping on me!”
“How is your shoe on my foot me stepping on you?”
“Shut up already,” Nancy groaned. “I’ve been humiliated enough this week. I don’t need your contribution.”
Tom and Bobby fell silent. Ned stepped between them and opened the compartment door. “Here. This is far enough.”
The team shuffled into the empty compartment, placing the various luggage bags on the floor around their feet. As everyone sat down, Bobby peered out of the glass. “Wow. I just saw the hottest chick walk by…”
Tom nudged his shoulder. “Shut up and look straight, will you?”
Bobby chuckled. “What? I have a weakness for blondes. And this one’s a fox… she looks like she could be a freaking model. Holy shit, she’s coming this way.”
Bobby turned away from the window just in time as a tall, curvy woman stopped in front of them. She took a quick peek into their compartment, and turned back to sit in a vacant one across from them. She closed the door and pulled down the blinds, hiding her silhouette from view.
“Secretive much,” Bobby muttered. “I wonder what she had in that briefcase.”
“Maybe she’s a spy from Team Galactic,” said Tom.
“Guys,” Nancy said. “Please.”
Bobby stopped. “Oh. Right.”
But Nancy wasn’t in the mood to take it further. She slumped in her seat, leaning against the window. “This sucks.”
Nancy looked at her teammates, and simultaneously they looked at her. They were silent. Outside, the chugging motor could be heard as the train sped through open land.
“Well, what now?” said Bobby.
“What do you mean? We just survived an encounter with Team Galactic and made it out of a nuclear apocalypse. I think that’s more than enough reason to appreciate life as it is right now,” said Ned.
But Nancy shook her head. “No, he’s right. I have to think… We need a story before the twenty-fifth… We need a place to look.”
“Well, Hearthome’s pretty good,” said Tom. “They have the Contest Hall, and the Game Corner, and… loads of places. Right?”
Nancy turned towards the window, which had only just begun to smear with train smoke. She could still see the town behind them.
Suddenly, there was a chorus of gasps. Nancy looked towards the factory, just in time to see one of the smokestacks fall, snapping off from its base like a twig and falling onto the buildings below. It exposed a bare, blackened pit, where bright-orange flames licked the edges of ruin like the tongue of hell.
At that point, there was another great boom, and a torrent of fire and smoke swallowed the factory whole. For a few seconds, the whole of the hill was engulfed by a black cloud, where tiny trails of smoke trickled down like magma from a volcano.
Nancy heard muffled movement from the other seats as people pressed their hands to the glass to watch. The sight was both beautiful and terrifying. The flames caught on trees, and smoke drifted atop houses. Flocks of Starly took off from the trees, flapping and screeching.
Nancy did not tear away her gaze until the town was reduced to a flaming speck on the horizon. The tingle inside of her never quite went away, even when she turned from the window and looked at her hands, convincing herself that it all didn't matter. Then the train entered a stone tunnel, and a black wall was dropped over everything, blocking her sight of the world for good.
Just like that, Eterna was gone.
Sorry, short review.
Anyway, I really liked this chapter. The whole concept of a factory meltdown is awesome, and in retrospect I should have included a few meltdowns of my own in my stories I still have to wonder what went wrong and what all the strange projects/devices are that were being mentioned as things were going to hell in a handbasket. The chaotic scene was done quite well, and works well since there was pretty much no advance warning of the impending doom (compare to the recent tropical storm systems when people were given plenty of advance warning).
Well, at least it looks like our reporter friends have been spared the extent of Galactic's political clout and wrath, though at the expense of an entire town's livelihood. I wonder what kinds of sticky situations they're gonna get into in Hearthome.
And you're right... '60's vans were pieces of crap.
Can't say I like too much the idea of handing out a badge without seeing a battle to its conclusion (reminds me too much of the godawful anime) but given the situation, I don't think it could have been handled any other way... when a factory's going boom right in front of you, finishing a gym battle seems like it should be the least of anyone's concerns But now I'm worried about Bertha not catching the train. Did she do this on purpose and for what reason?
Well, I'll be looking forward to the next chapter. Good work on this one
Hey LeSabre! I'm glad you liked the chapter
And why does everyone keep thinking that Bertha didn't catch the train? I specifically mentioned the lady with the briefcase in the Nancy and Co. part of the chapter to make it clear. xP
And yes, I agree that factory meltdown scenes are awesome. I've actually been waiting to blow up the Eterna factory since Chapter 11, so I've had quite a few of these scenes planned already. Don't you just love extra info?
Team Galactic is definitely cooking up something, but what it is remains to be discovered... Hearthome City will definitely be a good place to be. I surprised myself by getting the first 11 pages of Chapter 16 done in only a few days. I'm hoping to post it sometime before or at the end of this week, so stay tuned!
Thanks for the review
The train chugged into the tunnel, and for several hours afterward, the windows were masked with black. In response, the lights in the compartments flickered on, bathing the interior in steady orange light.
It was the first time Michael had been underground. The sensation was peculiar, and his mind somehow likened it to being underwater. He sat with his legs spread out on the seat, facing the window. His eyes lingered on the black; it was the purest shade he had ever seen. Darker than tires. Darker than the night.
Against the lighting, Michael could see his reflection in the window, almost like a mirror. His eyes were narrowed into slits, and his hair was sticking out oddly at the sides. He saw Henry's reflection too, from the seat across from him.
The boy was facing the compartment door, fiddling with the edges of his shirt. On the whole he seemed unoccupied, though occasionally he took out random items from his tote bag and turned them over in his hands. Pokéballs. Tissues. Pencils. He had brought a book as well, nearly as thick as his arm. Michael wanted to ask him if he had another, but decided against it. Henry didn't look in Michael's direction. Not once.
After a while, the train's jerks and jumps became tiring. Michael decided to occupy himself with his chart. He added a new heading for 'Flying', and listed it as Effective against grass. But other than that, there was nothing to do.
He did not know at what point he and Henry had begun to talk. It was sometime around noon, which he could tell because Henry started taking out a small sandwich from his tote bag and a bottle of water. He tried with many grunts to open it, but the cap wouldn't budge. Finally, the boy sighed.
"Would you open this please?" He held out the bottle to Michael, who took it and opened it with ease.
"Thanks." Henry began to drink greedily. When he lowered the bottle, it was half empty.
The two boys looked at each other for a while, in total silence. It seemed like an invitation to talk.
"You say you don't have a dad either?" Michael began. "What happened to him?"
At first, it seemed like Henry wouldn't answer. He put the water bottle into his bag and took a bite out of his sandwich.
"He left. I was only four, and my mom caught him with another woman. They argued a lot, and he just packed his things and left. I remember. They got a divorce. My mom explained everything to me when I was old enough, and she said that it was time to move on. So we did." Henry paused. "She got another job, and she still had a lot of money so she could send me to a good school in Floaroma."
Michael nodded. "That's good. That you moved on like that, I mean. Wish my family could do that..."
"What happened to your dad?" Henry inquired.
"He died,” Michael said, surprised by his impassive tone. Henry flinched.
"Wow, I'm really sorry. Are you... better now? How is your family?"
"Well, my two brothers left, so now it's just me and my mom. Of course, I left, so now it's just my mom."
"Why did your brothers leave?"
Michael scowled. "Brian was a know-it-all. He went to some fancy-shmancy boarding school, and I haven't seen him since. And Richard... he left because he wanted to start over."
Henry studied him. "And you left too, because you wanted to start over."
"So... did you have any friends back home?"
"Two. Cory and Brendan." Michael smiled. "Awesome guys."
"They probably miss you."
"I guess. But they'll understand why I left. If I had told them the reason, then they'd understand me perfectly."
They fell into silence again, though Michael felt more relaxed than before. He leaned against the window and closed his eyes, ignoring the train's bumps and shudders. His only concept of time was the flick of turning pages.
Then there came a knock on their compartment door. Through the glass, Michael saw Bertha. She slid open the door.
“Mind if I scoot in? Sorry I took so long, boys, but I had some things to look over.”
Michael slid over to make room, and she sat down, clapping her hands together.
“All right, so we’re officially headed for Hearthome City. Fortunately, you won’t have to wander around all by yourselves, because I’ll be sticking with you. At least, for a while I’ll be.”
Henry beamed. “That’s awesome!” Michael was also pleased, for he had grown to like Bertha over the few days they had been together.
“But it won’t be all fun and games, I’m telling you,” Bertha warned. “If I ever catch you two goofing off, I’ll take away your badges and you’ll have to battle me all over again. And this time, I’ll be using a Golem, a Hitmonlee, and a Steelix. So you better watch it.”
Michael and Henry began to laugh. Bertha smiled, but Michael could tell that her heart wasn’t really in it. Her face was sullen, and she looked as if the last few hours had drained away all her energy. And he didn’t have to ask why.
It had been scarcely three days since they had left Oreburgh for the quiet, leafy neighborhood of Eterna. In his mind, Michael could still picture the town as it had been before, with its cracked roads and cozy buildings. The thought that the whole town was now flooded with toxic waste was almost an absurdity. He still half-expected to see Bertha’s sunny home again, and go to sleep staring at the patterned wallpaper of the guest room.
But just like that… boom.
Even now, a part of him wondered if it had been some bizarre case of bad karma, and if the explosion wouldn’t have happened if he had never set foot in Eterna. Michael knew this was irrational, and could comfortably put aside the thought, though he couldn’t quite get over the feeling that something inside of him had shaken, had moved from its place when he laid eyes on the burning Galactic factory.
It’s just a town. You’ll be in hundreds of others. It’s just a town.
But it wasn’t just a town. And he knew it. The tiny purse in Bertha’s lap was only a fraction compared to what she had lost.
Henry looked at Bertha in concern, as if he had been thinking the exact same thoughts. “Bertha, what about your house?” said Henry. “If you go to Hearthome with us, you won’t have a place to live.”
Bertha shrugged. “This is all I need, really.” She patted her purse. “My pokémon, my wallet, my Gym credentials, and some makeup. Home away from home.” She smiled, though dimly.
Henry began to wiggle his feet, and, as if by accident, his toes touched the briefcase. “Then what’s in there?”
Bertha let out a breath. “Nothing that concerns you two. But if you really want to know… I’m starting a petition. I’ll be collecting the signatures of all the Gym leaders, and some of the League staff if I can get my hands on them. Then, I’m going to send it to the Sinnoh President. Enough is enough. If Galactic doesn’t change their ways soon, then the Pokémon League is as good as dead.”
Michael frowned. “But Team Galactic’s got nothing to do with the Pokémon League. The Space Program is what’s putting money into the economy. Wouldn’t that be good for the League?”
Bertha snorted. “That’s only the half of it, Mr. Space Race. You know that Team Galactic runs on federal funds, right?”
“And you also know that the League does too?”
Bertha continued. “Now the League’s been around since 1750. That’s 213 years in the business. Know any family-owned restaurants that go back that far?”
Henry gaped. “Wow.”
“That’s right,” Bertha said. “Of course, I don’t know much about how it operated all those years ago, but right now, the League is a federally-owned system. It has its own department and everything. What keeps it alive is the money the government sets aside every year. That money is used to build Gyms, hire Gym leaders, staff, build hotels, the whole works. The League gets a little bit of money from trainer fees and merchandise, but only a small percentage. Without federal support, it wouldn’t exist. Now Team Galactic,” she eyed Michael, “also runs off of federal funds. It’s a fairly new company. I’m not sure exactly when it came around—”
“1951,” Michael said.
“—Okay, so 1951. That’s about… twelve years. Twelve years ago that the government decided that it wanted to start shooting giant hunks of steel into the air and started the Space Program. And those rockets are expensive—I bet they cost about two million apiece. That doesn’t include all the workers Galactic hires, or the ridiculous salary they probably earn for keeping everything they do a secret. So for those twelve years, the federal government has been setting aside nearly half of its budget for Team Galactic. And as a result, less money gets to the League.”
“But wait,” Michael said, “If the League’s out of money, how can it afford to maintain all those hotels? What happened to them being rich?”
“The League is rich, but it won’t be for much longer. It’s been getting steadily poorer over the years, actually—it’s just that for now, the increments are tiny, so it’s easy to cover up. But if the government continues to do what it’s doing, which is sacrificing us in favor of the Galactics, then the League will suffer.”
“So where does your petition come in?” asked Henry.
Bertha folded her hands in her lap. “I want the government to cut some of its funds from Team Galactic and give the League back the money it deserves. To put it bluntly, it’s the only way to make a change.”
Henry’s jaw dropped. Michael’s did too, but for an entirely different reason.
“They can’t cut money from the Space Program!” he blurted. “That would be like cutting Sinnoh’s throat! Team Galactic is what’s leading progress, and if you take that away, then Hoenn will—I mean, then we’ll have nothing to uphold the country!”
Bertha smiled. “You sound exactly like a friend of mine at the town council. Yeah, it’s true that Team Galactic is doing some good. But so what? Sinnoh got along just fine without it. And if the Galactics got paid a few hundred thousand dollars less every year, I don’t think it would matter to them. They’re big enough to get by, but the League isn’t. If the government keeps cutting our funds, there will be no more trainer hotels. No more free battles. No more prize money. Nothing. All those fancy Gyms will crumble, and unless the cities are rich enough to maintain them on their own, then there will likely be more of my Gym.”
“But then it wouldn’t be the League anymore!” Henry said. “Everything would be different!”
“Well, like it or not, but that’s what will happen. Heck, that’s what’s happening already. You’ve seen the evidence right here.” She spread her arms out wide. “My battle room was a frigging basement. Now, I managed to get by, but what about all the upper-division Gyms who have an entire team of staff running things? They won’t stand a chance.” She looked at Michael. “It’s kind of odd that you’re arguing against the League, kiddo, since by being a trainer you’re practically a part of it right now.”
Michael remained still.
Bertha pulled up her briefcase and spun the dials on the lock, taking out a clipboard and a pen. “Anyways… now that you know what I’m doing, I might as well ask a favor of you.” She looked at the boys, now seriously. “I know it’s a lot to be asking, but could I have your signatures? Legally, I need at least one hundred thousand from Sinnoh citizens, but I’m not taking any chances. I’m going for two, maybe even three. It’ll be one hell of a job, but if I can get around well enough, I might be able to do it. I won’t force you if you don’t want to, so don’t worry.”
Henry immediately grabbed the pen and scribbled his name onto the next open slot. “I want to do something about this,” he said. “It’s not fair for Team Galactic to be taking money away from us, especially since practically everyone follows the League. All my friends are official trainers, even!”
Bertha offered the clipboard to Michael, who shook his head.
“No. I can’t.”
Bertha sighed. “I can respect that. But if you ever change your mind, I suppose, just tell me.” She placed the clipboard back and locked the briefcase. “I had to do some editing on it, though. Originally, the second part of it was about getting rid of the Eterna factory too, but as we can see, there’s no point now.” Her eyes trailed over to the window. Though there was nothing to see, she seemed to be pondering something in the darkness.
“It’ll be another two hours, I guess,” she said after a while. “When we arrive in the city, no matter what, stay close to me. I’m friends with the Gym leader, so hopefully I’ll be able to introduce you to him and get your battles booked. Until then, relax.” Bertha took a deep breath. “I should relax too… all this commotion has made me realize how much sleep I’ve been missing lately.” She yawned. “Wake me up when we get there, all right?”
“Sure,” Michael said.
Bertha placed her belongings to the side and closed her eyes.
Michael did not know at what point he felt the train slow. It happened gradually, and as the rhythm of the engine faded, a string of tiny lights appeared behind the window, illuminating the walls of a widening tunnel.
Michael leaned to peer out of the glass. The train had brought them to an indoor platform, which was plain and crudely carved from cement. Huge lamps hung from the ceiling, bringing light to the masses of people walking about.
Bertha shifted beside him. “We’re here,” she said. “This is the Hearthome subway.”
When the train came to a complete stop, Michael, Henry, and Bertha rose from their seats and stepped off the train along with the other passengers. The air in the subway was hot and stiff, and in the greenish light, everyone’s skin took on a pale, sickly appearance.
The Eternians huddled together on the platform, whispering to each other. Some went their own way, but others remained, bewildered in their new surroundings. Bertha, in contrast, seemed perfectly comfortable in such a large crowd, and for the most part knew where to go. She often stopped to look at signs, as if checking for a change that might have been made at some point, but overall, Bertha led the boys swiftly around the terminal.
They reached a long flight of stairs that led up to the lobby. Here, breathing was easier, and the station’s sleek architecture was on full display.
The lobby was organized and efficient, far removed from the plain, low-ceilinged building in Eterna. Torrents of people were filing in and out of several archways, beneath digital charts of departures and arrivals. Concession stands and service stations were spaced across the enormous floor, and the walls were decorated with banners and advertisements. Directly across from them, on the other side of the lobby, were two sets of glass doors that led into the city.
“All right, here’s what’s going to happen.” Bertha tightened her hands around their shoulders. “We’ll walk to the hotel. I’m pretty sure I know where it is, but I’ll get a map just in case. Then we’ll rent a cab and go to book your battles. Okay?”
Bertha took a map from a rack near the wall, and they went off to the doors. When he stepped outside, Michael was immediately overwhelmed by a flood of noise and movement, the familiar environment of the city. The subway station was located in the middle of a busy street, which was jammed with both people and cars. The familiar wall of buildings that enclosed him made Michael think of Jubilife City, and he felt a brief shock when he realized that he was now on the other side of the country. And yet, everything was the same… the sunglasses perched atop mounds of hair, the faces peering out from glittering cars instantly reminded him of home.
Michael looked aside, and saw that Henry, as usual, was wearing a smile. Every time they passed a flashing panel of lights or saw a particularly impressive car, he pointed, his mouth forming an ‘O’ of surprise.
“Look at that! That’s so cool!”
“It’s not when you keep pointing,” Michael muttered. “That’s what the lame people do.”
Henry pouted. “I’m not lame.”
“If you do lame things, then yes you are. It’s time you learned how to be cool.”
“But I don’t know how,” Henry said. “And if you know so much about it, then why don’t you tell me?”
Michael shrugged. “What’s there to tell? If you want to be cool, then just be cool. Walk normally, as a start. Take me for example. Sure, I look around at stuff, but I don’t go pointing and jumping like a third-grader. Just relax and be casual.”
Henry began to imitate Michael’s stride, shoving his fists into his pockets. They were slightly too small for his hands, so he improvised again and let his arms hang by his sides, rounding his shoulders. Henry grimaced. “This feels weird.”
“That’s because you’re copying me. Don’t. Find your own groove.”
Henry puffed out his cheeks and exhaled. “This is hard. I’m going to walk my own way again.” He drew himself up and went back to taking short, choppy strides. Michael shook his head.
Bertha, who was walking slightly ahead of them now, made a sudden stop. “Whoa. We’re here.” She lowered the map, and Michael did a double-take.
Right in front of them, surrounded by a large parking lot, stood an exact replica of the Oreburgh Trainer’s Hotel. The semblance was striking—same ten floors, same window shades, same paint. They had even gotten the sign right, only this time the letters spelled ‘THE HEARTHOME TRAINER HOTEL WELCOMES YOU!’ In addition, a second, a smaller structure was attached to the main building. It had a long pink roof and sliding glass doors — a Pokémon Center. They would at least be spared the trouble of walking.
What surprised him even more was that he was the only one staring.
Bertha turned around. “I take it you’ve seen this building before? What’s the matter?”
“It’s the same hotel as in Oreburgh!” Michael said.
“Obviously,” Bertha said. “That’s the beauty of the League. National uniformity.”
Michael shook his head. “This is getting weirder and weirder…”
Bertha chuckled. “Well, come on. Let’s get to it.”
They went inside. The lobby was identical to the Oreburgh Hotel in size and structure, and the only real difference was that the old set of staff had been replaced by new ones. A few trainers were scattered around the lobby, but there was currently no line at the counter. Bertha approached the clerk.
“Hello,” said Bertha to the lady. “Two rooms, please.” She slid forward her Gym leader I.D.
The clerk studied it for a moment, then looked up. “Thank you, Miss Bertha! That’ll be thirty dollars for the three of you. As a reminder, on the fifth floor we have a complimentary practice room, and according to hotel policy you must keep your pokémon with you at all times. There’s also a pokémon park not far from here that’s free to use, exclusive to Hearthome City.”
Bertha thanked her, and handed over the money in return for the keys.
“Wait! You didn’t have to pay for us,” Henry said. “Michael and I could’ve pitched in.”
“Too late,” Bertha said, placing back her wallet. “Besides, what’s thirty dollars? Just don’t expect me to pay for your souvenirs.”
They went up to the elevator. By sheer luck, they had gotten two adjacent rooms on the fourth floor. These were also carbon copies of the Oreburgh hotel, and Michael found it oddly funny that he and Henry entered in much the same way as last time, picking the same beds.
Once Michael finished unpacking, he went almost robotically to the TV in the corner and pressed the power button. He expected a struggle, but to his relief, it flickered on almost instantly.
A pink auditorium filled the screen, blaring a chorus of applause. A crowd was seated around a glittering stage, clapping madly.
“—aaaaaand the winner of this week’s Poké-fashion Knockout Round is… STACIE FENDER!!” The audience began to cheer. The camera panned across the stage, where four contestants were lined up with their pokémon. One of them threw up her arms in victory, a Monferno at her side. She embraced the announcer, and then turned to the panel of judges, who were also applauding.
“Congratulations, Stacie!” said one of the judges. “You and Winnie gave a spectacular performance. This round has made you eligible to compete in the 1963 Contest season!”
Michael leaned away from the monitor, one eyebrow raised. “What the hell?”
Henry came over beside him. “What is this? I’ve never seen this channel before.”
Stacie Fender was handed the microphone, and began to blubber a tearful sequence of thank-yous. Once she finished, she was escorted down the stage by a troupe of dancers and dressed-up pokémon. A peppy song began to blast through the speakers, while the audience clapped and danced along.
Michael snorted. “Oops. This must be the sissy channel.” He was about to change it when Henry stopped him.
“Wait!” he said. “I think I know what those are. Those are the Pokémon Contests!’
“And why should I care?”
“Because it’s this competition they have once every three years in Hearthome City. I know it because my mom watches it, and I remembered just now — the next season is going to be this winter! That’s why they do all these pre-rounds. It’s to decide who will compete next.”
Michael looked back at the TV. “Well that sounds like one hell of a drag. What’s with all the pink and the girly frills everywhere?”
“I guess that’s just what the Contests are. You know. Fashion.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “If you think that that’s cool, then you seriously have some issues.” He leaned over to the TV set again. “Allow me to demonstrate the proper use of television.”
He scrolled through the channels, pressing the arrows until he found News 5. The frills disappeared, the music was silenced, and now he saw the familiar anchorman sitting behind his table, reading stacks of papers in his monotonous voice.
“And now for the latest updates on the Space Race.”
Michael grinned. “Finally.”
“…it has been confirmed that Team Rocket has discovered a new pokémon inhabiting outer space. The Charon VII, which was launched from the Mossdeep Space Center on March 28th, has brought back pictures that have now been released to the public. The pokémon has been given the name ‘Deoxys’ by the scientists, and is currently undergoing intensive testing. A Rocket spokesperson from the Space Center was available for comment…”
Michael sat up abruptly. “What? They’re just repeating the same news from last time! That’s totally cheap!”
He turned to Henry, who was lying on his stomach, absorbed in the news. Michael shook his shoulder. “Dude, shouldn’t you have watched this already? It was on the news practically last week.”
“No,” the boy retorted. “I think it’s interesting.”
Michael scowled. “Well I don’t. There used to be like three updates a week. Now it’s just the same thing over and over again.”
“Maybe there aren’t any new updates,” Henry said.
“Or maybe Team Galactic’s decided to slack off, more likely. They can’t take a hit, so now everyone’s watching Hoenn. What a waste of time.” Michael turned the TV off.
“Hey, I was watching that!” Henry pushed his arm away, trying to reach the power button. Michael pushed back. The boys wrangled for a moment, but just then, there came a knock on the door.
“It’s me!” came Bertha’s voice.
Michael stood up, letting Henry plop down on the carpet. As he opened the door for Bertha, the Space Race began to blare again through the room.
“Don’t get too comfortable, Henry,” Bertha said. “We’re about to get going in a minute.”
With a grumble, Henry turned the TV off again.
“What should we bring?” Michael asked.
“Just your I.D.s will be fine. We’re going to book your battles.”
The boys gathered their things. Before they left, Henry tossed in a few more bits of food for the Stunky, which was currently sleeping with its head tucked under its tail.
“There you go, buddy.” He patted the cage, and went to join them by the door.
“Come on,” said Bertha as she led them out. “I have a taxi waiting for us already.”
The taxi cabs of Hearthome City were unique in design from the other cars, which made them very distinctive when they were out on the road. Their design was smooth and rounded, and they were painted with a black-and-yellow checkered pattern. Jubilife had taxi cabs as well, though their designs were plain, and they usually consisted of previous-year models that blended in with the rest of the traffic. They also didn’t wait for you if you took too long to appear, which Michael had noticed on various occasions.
Michael and Henry assumed the back seat, while Bertha got in the front, handing the driver an address on a slip of paper. They drove through the city for several minutes, and Michael was able to admire its size and beauty.
At one point, they passed a large building that stood separate from the others. Michael would not have noticed it if it weren’t for the sudden, painful glare cast by its steel roof. It looked to be some sort of opera house, with a curved body and a roof that splayed open towards the sky like the petals of a flower. The building was surrounded by a circle of pillars, which—he couldn’t help but notice—were adorned with thick pink ribbons, the same vomit-inducing color that had been on the TV.
A few people were gathered on its lawn, hanging back, taking pictures. When the building passed out of view, Michael shuddered silently.
“That’s the Contest Hall,” said the driver, casting a brief glance aside. “A lot of newcomers like to see it, but it’s not much right now. Wait till the season starts. Then this part of town will get abso-lutely crazy.”
Bertha smiled. “I’m not a big fan of Contests. I’ve always found them too girly.”
Michael was immensely relieved she had said this.
“Whoa, wait.” Bertha held up her hand. “That’s it. Right there.”
The driver slowed. He turned, and they pulled into the parking lot of a large office complex. Michael looked through Henry’s window, and saw that the buildings were all identical—square, and made of mirrored glass.
“This is the Gym?” he said. “Are you sure?”
Bertha shook her head. “This is just the leader’s office. Let’s go.” They climbed out, and entered the complex. The buildings in were numbered from 1900 to 2700. They found a sign that stood near one of the doors, and Bertha picked out a location from the list of office suites.
“All right, it’s here. We need the third floor.”
Rather than taking the stairs, they took the elevator by silent consent. Bertha led them down the third-floor hallway and stopped in front of a glass door that read:
Hearthome City Gym Services
Inside, they found a waiting room of sorts. Rows of blue chairs were spaced along the walls, surrounding a coffee table piled with outdated issues of Pokémon League Weekly magazines. The room was empty. There was a window on the opposite wall, much like in a hospital waiting room, though there was no one sitting behind it. The door to the office, however, hung slightly open, and Michael could hear the faint sound of typing coming from within.
“Hello?” said Bertha. “Anyone here?”
“Come in!” answered a voice.
Bertha pushed open the door, leading them into a sunny office room. The space was dominated by a large wooden desk, and around it stood various file cabinets that had been randomly opened, often halfway. The man sitting behind the desk was so overwhelmed with paperwork that he seemed to be buried in it. One hand rested on his forehead, brushing his hair from his eyes, while the other worked tirelessly over a document.
He did not look up at their arrival. He finished a final paragraph, signed his name and heaved a sigh, rubbing his eyes.
The man looked up at the sound of his name. “Bertha!” he said, immediately rising. “I didn’t expect you to arrive this quickly. You sounded so worried on the phone that I thought something had gone wrong.”
“Something did go wrong, believe it or not,” Bertha said.
They met in a brief hug, clasping hands. When they parted, the man took his seat behind the desk again, and Bertha grabbed the vacant chair in front of him.
When she saw that the boys were still standing by the door, Bertha beckoned. “Boys, I’d like you to meet Mr. Bradford. He’s the Hearthome Gym leader.”
The man smiled at them. “Call me Jerry. How do you do?”
“Hey,” Michael said. “I’m Michael Rowan.”
Henry waved. “I’m Henry McPherson.”
Jerry nodded, and leaned back in his chair. “So to what do I owe this little visit, Bertha? You weren’t too descriptive this morning. Tell me what happened.”
Bertha sucked in her breath. “There was an explosion at the factory. We barely got any notice of it. There was some sort of battery leak that caused some machine to fail and that caused something else to fail, and… well, now the whole town’s covered in toxic waste. There’s no chance of going back. Everyone’s been evacuated, and that includes me and my Gym.”
Jerry’s eyes widened. He tapped the pen against the table. “An explosion?”
Bertha nodded. “And right when I was about to get somewhere with the council, too. So now, my Gym is basically homeless.”
“Bertha, that’s terrible,” Jerry said. “Can I do anything to help? Do you need Gym space? We can double up for a while. I don’t think it will have any effect on the League’s operations.” He uncapped the pen again, but Bertha waved him down.
“No. Its fine. I—” she paused briefly. “I’ve decided to take temporary leave.”
Jerry balked. “Leave? In the middle of a season? Well, you might as well hand them your resignation letter! What on earth made you want to do this?”
“There’s something more important I have to attend to,” she continued “It’s for the League of course, but it involves a lot of traveling. And I can’t fulfill my duties as a Gym leader if I have to keep relocating.”
“And what would this project be?” Jerry said. “What could possibly be so important that it calls for canceling your operations this very minute?”
“I’d prefer it if you kept this only between us,” Bertha said. “Michael and Henry know already, but they’re trustworthy and they won’t tell anyone.”
Bertha brought forward the briefcase and withdrew a document bound in a plastic folder. “I’m petitioning the government. You know what’s happening with the funding. In the past two years, they’ve cut twelve percent in favor of Team Galactic, and it’s killing us. Look at the facts: We have my Gym town, which should be a shame to every trainer who sets foot in it, Oreburgh, which Byron and the city have to pay for all by themselves, and Pastoria, which from the letter their leader sent me, I hear is going under as well. It’s not just a town-by-town thing anymore, Jerry. It’s the whole damn country. If we don’t put an end to this soon, then the whole League will go bankrupt, and then we’ll be taken over by those astro-heads.”
Jerry’s expression clouded as he read over the papers.
“We can’t keep taking this quietly,” Bertha pressed. “Eterna took it quietly, and… well, it ended up a ruin. I don’t want the League going down the same way. Like it or not, but someone has to do something about this. And if that someone’s going to be me, then so be it.” She crossed her arms. “Team Galactic has sucked the life out of one thing I loved. And I’m not about to let it do the same to the other.”
Jerry looked back up at her. “What’s your plan?”
“I want to collect the signatures of all the Gym leaders, all the League Coordinators, and any other League staff member I can get. I also need at least eight or nine hundred signatures from Sinnoh citizens, which is where the traveling comes in. But I can’t get in touch with everyone I need without your help. You’re the one with the connections.”
“That’s true,” Jerry said with a smile. “I don’t always like it, but it’s true.”
“So will you help?” said Bertha.
Jerry looked down at the desk. “This is a serious thing to do… I hope you realize it. I agree, something needs to be done, but I never thought about making an attempt…” He smiled. “As usual, you’re the one with the ideas, Bertha. All right. I’ll help.”
Bertha beamed. “Great.” She brought out the petition, and Jerry took a long look at it.
“This is the correct form… Very good. This is exactly what we need. But be sure to make copies. Make multiple, and don’t keep them all in one place. You never know what may happen.” Taking out his pen, Jerry signed his name in the third slot, beneath Bertha’s and Henry’s names. Then he closed the folder and handed both to Bertha, who locked them in her briefcase.
“Now what we need to do is get in touch with the rest of the Gyms,” Jerry said. “I think it would be best for us to get as many signatures of League personnel as we can before announcing our intentions to the public. I’ll give you the contact information of Solaceon’s Gym, Sunyshore, and Canalave. Anything else?”
“Snowpoint,” Bertha added. “I need Snowpoint as well.”
Jerry scribbled down the names on a sheet of note paper. “Solaceon, Sunyshore, Canalave, Snowpoint. I’ll get those to you by tomorrow. Do you have the backing of any other Gyms?”
“Nope. I’ve said something about this to Byron, and he agrees with me, but I haven’t flat-out told him about the petition yet. Either way, I’m pretty sure he’ll back it. Obviously, we have the support of the Eterna and Hearthome Gyms, so that just leaves those four.”
Jerry nodded, and placed the paper into a file on his desk. Then his eyes found the boys, who had slumped into the chairs by the door several minutes ago, and were watching the conversation detachedly.
“I haven’t forgotten about you two,” he said. “Looks like we have another pair of people on a Gym quest. I don’t think we should keep them waiting any longer, Bertha. You brought them here to book their battles?”
“That’s right,” Bertha said.
“I think it would be best if we did that now. Come on over, boys.”
Michael and Henry approached the table. Jerry opened a day planner and thumbed through the pages. “All right, let’s see what we have. My schedule’s completely booked for the next two days. I’ll be at my Gym from eight in the morning to nine in the evening. Can you imagine that? Eight to nine. That’s why you gotta love your job.” He chuckled. “I always take Sundays off, but I’ve got a couple slots open on Monday. How about then? I can squeeze the both of you in on one day.”
“Sounds good,” Michael said.
“Same!” Henry gave a thumbs-up.
“All righty.” Jerry uncapped his pen again and took out a fresh file folder, and two clean documents. “Michael Rowan and Henry McPherson. May I see your I.D.s, please?”
Michael froze. During his period of hesitation, Henry skipped forward with this Trainer Card, and opened his badge case for Jerry to see. He examined both, and gave a thumbs-up. “Great. And Michael?”
“Uh… one sec.” Michael heaved his backpack to the ground and began to dig through it. The pockets had accumulated their fair share of junk over the days, and as a result, his badges, money, and papers were all jumbled up together. He managed to produce the Forest Badge, and the Coal Badge after much searching, and stumbled over to Jerry’s desk.
“Here. My badges.”
Jerry inspected them under the light. “And your I.D.?”
Michael’s pause was shorter this time. His brain had been scrambling for a good excuse, and in that final moment, he clung to the first one that seemed plausible. “I lost it.”
Jerry’s eyebrows climbed. “You lost it? That’s not good. I can’t book a battle for you unless I can be certain that you’re a legal trainer.”
“But…” Michael began again, trying to keep his voice steady, “obviously if I have badges from before, then I’m a legal trainer, right? Byron okayed my card and everything before I battled him, but I lost it on the way to Eterna. We were kind of in a hurry, and I left some things behind at the hotel.” He scratched his head. “I know, it’s not one of my best moves, but it’s true. I’m not good with traveling.”
“He’s right,” Henry piped up. Michael actually turned in surprise, because he did not expect to be defended. The boy paused, then added, “He told me about it.”
“What?” Bertha turned around to face them. “Why didn’t you tell me about this before, Michael? Losing your Trainer Card isn’t like losing a library card, you know. Without it, you can’t participate in the League. Without it, you can be fined. You should have told me immediately when you booked your battle! Do you understand that since you obtained my badge without your Trainer Card then your battle can be voided?”
“Voided?” Michael drew back. “But you saw me battle!”
“It doesn’t matter.” Bertha shook her head. “If someone were to press charges against you in court, then you would lose. I’m not saying that your battle is automatically voided right now, but it can be. And being a Gym leader, I’m required by law to turn in anybody that I suspect of committing fraud.”
“She’s right,” Jerry added. “Why just last week, I had to turn in two girls who tried to fake their badges. They came in with copies of Bertha’s badge, but when I asked them where her Gym was, neither of them could answer. Fraud is a serious offense in the League, and we take it seriously.”
Michael took a step back, trying to calm his pounding heart. Scarcely a moment ago, everything had been fine, but the tables were now turned on him in the worst possible way. The combined stares of Bertha and Jerry were too much for him. Even Henry was looking at him uncertainly, as if waiting to see what Michael would do next.
In response to his silence, Bertha leaned forward. “Tell me the truth, Michael. Did you honestly lose your Trainer Card?”
Michael steeled himself against her gaze. “Yes,” he said. “I did. I just haven’t had the chance to get a new one yet.”
Bertha studied him carefully. “Okay. I’ll hold you to your word. But get the card, all right?”
Michael nodded. “I will. I’ll… get it tomorrow.”
“That’ll be great,” Jerry said. “After you do, come here and show me. Remember, I have to see the card before the battle.”
Bertha rose from her seat. “All right, then I guess everything’s settled. Thanks for your time, Jerry. It means a lot.”
“Not at all,” Jerry said. “It was nice meeting you two, boys. And it was great to see you again, Bertha, though the circumstances aren’t the best right now.”
Bertha inclined her head. “Well, that’s what we’re about to change.” She and Jerry shook hands one last time, and Michael took the moment to draw a deep breath to steady his shakes.
“We’ll talk some more tomorrow morning,” Jerry said to Bertha. “So, see you then.”
“See you then.” Bertha smiled.
She led them out of the room, and Michael tried not to walk too quickly.
When Michael and Henry got back to their hotel room, there was little to do, so by mutual consent they decided to go outside. They got directions to the local trainer park at the front desk, and set off with their belongings under the blazing afternoon sun. Henry decided to bring along the Stunky to give it some fresh air. They walked along amiably, not talking.
Amity Square was wide open field bordered by a high wrought-iron fence. A stone path ran along its perimeter, breaking off into little roads that went into the lawn. It had lots of hills and benches, where people sat and talked, and a large fountain as the centerpiece. As Michael looked around, he saw that an unusual number of people had brought their pokémon as well.
The entrance to the park was guarded by a security officer, who was leaning against the fence. Seeing the boys, he lifted his cap. “Whoa there!” The guard held out his hand to block them.
“Is there a problem?” Michael said.
“First off, welcome to Amity Square,” the guard said. “Second, this is a pokémon park, fellas. Caging our buddies is not permitted.”
Michael looked down at the Stunky. “We can’t let it out. We don’t have a leash and it’ll run away.”
The guard shrugged. “Sorry, but rules are rules. You can’t go in unless you have a pokémon with you.”
Henry tapped his chin. “Wait!” He reached into his tote bag, rummaged a bit, and pulled out his pokéballs. “How about this?” He opened each capsule one by one, and his entire team—Burmy, Starly, Clefairy, and Pachirisu—landed at his feet, pushing and chattering.
Following his example, Michael took out his own, releasing Turtwig, Caterpie, and Machop. He left Goldeen in his backpack, for obvious reasons. The horde of pokémon converged, some chattering and others shaking themselves awake.
Looking pleased, the guard stepped aside and let them through. Michael felt slightly foolish with a whole party of pokémon walking by his feet, and kept having to look down to make sure he didn’t step on Caterpie.
They made their way down the path slowly, for they had to accommodate everyone and make sure the group stayed together. Michael and Henry flanked the group of pokémon on either side, making sure there were no stragglers. Michael had to keep an eye on Machop, which kept stopping either to pick at something shiny on the ground or to smell the dandelions.
After their fifth pause, Michael had reached the end of his string. He grabbed the Machop by the hand and began to tug it along behind him, grumbling. The pokémon was no taller than his elbow, which made him feel like he was walking with a toddler.
The sight must have been funny, for as soon as he saw this, Henry burst into a fit of giggles. Michael gritted his teeth. “If you tell anyone about this, I will throw you into a fountain.” Henry quieted down at once, though Michael still caught the wayward snicker here and there.
They followed the path for a while, dodging the other park-goers, who kept trying to stop them and introduce their pokémon. They reached the fountain, where benches were spaced around the long stone ledge. The water shimmered as it cascaded down from several stone basins, which were stacked on top of one another to create a soothing waterfall.
Michael guided the group towards the benches and sat down. Henry plopped down beside him. For a while, they watched the other park-goers wander about, playing with their companions. While the boys sat, their pokémon sprawled out on the ground before them, finding their own occupations.
“This is a really pretty park,” Henry said.
Michael twiddled his thumbs. “I guess.”
For a while, he watched as Henry’s Burmy tugged at the leaf on Turtwig’s head. Then he looked at Henry again. “Why did you defend me?”
“You know. For the Trainer Card thing. You know I don’t have one.”
This seemed to set the boy thinking. “I don’t know. I guess it’s because you’ve been a good friend to me and you’ve done a lot, so I felt that I had to repay you.”
“For a second, I half-expected you to rat on me.”
“I wouldn’t do that!” said Henry immediately. “I’m not that kind of person. At least, I don’t want to be anymore…”
“Elaborate?” Michael said.
Henry fumbled. “I don’t know. It’s just that this competition’s been really weird for me so far. When I first came to Oreburgh, a lot of people were mean to me. Then I met Sebastian and his friends, and they were real friendly, which I liked, and we promised to help each other out for the battles. But after I lost, I kind of ditched them…” Henry adjusted his position, sitting on his hands. “I wanted to go home, but then I met Chester and Veronica, and they sort of let me hang around and practice with them. But all they really wanted from me was to know how to beat Byron. And you know, I wouldn’t tell them. So they just kind of kicked me around.”
Michael processed this, and nodded. “The League means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”
Henry looked up at the sky and smiled. “Yeah.”
The boy shrugged. “I’ve been into it for a while. Ever since I was five all I wanted to be was a trainer. You know, like Ricky Sheldon. All the money and the fame. My dream was to beat the Elite Four, and now I finally have a chance to do it. My mom will be proud of me, and so will all my friends.”
“But you’re not doing it for your mom or your friends.”
“No, I’m doing it for myself.” Henry fidgeted again, kicking at the dirt on the ground.
For the first time, Michael understood. The League was a calling, a universal sign of achievement. For Henry, the underdog, it probably meant the world. And for him…
I’m just a kid running from his past, Michael thought grimly. He had stumbled upon the League entirely by accident, and in retrospect, he wasn’t even sure he had been willing to commit to it in the beginning. His real goal had been to put as much distance between himself and his house as possible. But now there was no going back. He had gotten himself into a mess, and the only way out was to think it through.
“We need a plan,” said Michael aloud, rubbing his hands together.
Henry turned. “Huh?”
“We need a plan,” Michael repeated. “If we want to win this, then we’ve got to get our act together. I barely pulled through at that last battle, and if it hadn’t been for that Starly, Bertha would have sent me packing. You have a lot of work ahead of you too. We both do.”
“I agree,” Henry said. “We should train more.”
“Not just that. We need to train wisely.” Michael pulled out his chart and a pencil. “From now on, we’re going to gather as much information about pokémon as we can. We’re going to find all the types and match them with their strengths and weaknesses. We’ll do what no other trainer has done before.”
Henry began to rock on his hands. “Are you sure it’ll work?”
“It has to. Think about it: All we need to beat each Gym is to know what pokémon the leader is using, and what their effective counters are. From there, all we have to do is catch the types we don’t have, and train them.”
“But getting information like that is against the rules! I know you know, but…” Henry dropped his voice. “I just don’t want to get into trouble.”
“We won’t. We just have to watch our step, is all. We’ll get my I.D. tomorrow, if we can find a place that gives them out first, and I’ll spin the same yarn as last time. Then, all my badges will be legal and we can keep going. No one will know a thing. As for this,” he patted the chart, “no one will be able to guess. We’ll just move from town to town as quickly as possible to minimize the chance that we’ll be recognized.”
“But what about Bertha?” Henry said. “She’s not exactly stupid. Won’t she catch on? And won’t she think it’s odd that we have the perfect counters for each and every Gym we battle?”
Michael shrugged. “Not unless she’s in the battle room with us, which I doubt, because she’ll be too busy with her petition to watch us. And again, if she ever suspects anything, we can just say that we want to broaden our knowledge of the pokémon species or whatever to become better trainers. We just have to be convincing.”
Henry bobbed his head in a nod, taking it all in. “Okay. Sounds like a plan. But where are we gonna start?”
Michael was getting ready to answer, when something tugged at the hem of his jeans. He looked down, and saw that the Caterpie had latched onto his foot with its teeth. With a shout, he sprang to his feet, kicking and flailing in an attempt to shake it off.
“Get off! Get off, you little—” Michael reached down and pried the Caterpie off with his hands. He tossed it aside without really caring where, for his attention was now on the torn denim on his right pant leg.
A second later, he heard a scream. Michael looked up.
By accident, he had thrown the Caterpie directly onto Machop’s head, which had been a big mistake. The pokémon scrambled to its feet, frantically groping at the fins on its head in search of the invader, while the others frantically dodged its footfalls. Finally, the Machop caught the Caterpie in its fist, and slowly brought it down to examine.
A second later, Machop let out a scream.
The Caterpie had sunk its teeth into its thumb, leaving behind an oozing cut. Machop flicked it off with a powerful swipe. Then, as if by instinct, it hurled itself at Michael’s waist and began to bawl into his shirt. Michael held up his hands, cringing.
“Aw, come on!” He tried to wriggle free, but the Machop’s grip was iron. “Why do you have to be such a frigging baby? Let me see.” He examined the Machop’s injured hand. The cut was still bleeding.
“Do you have a bandage?” Michael asked Henry. The boy took one out from his tote bag, and Michael wrapped it around Machop’s thumb. “There. Good as new. Now go.”
He gave the Machop a push, and the pokémon he looked at its hand, still blinking back tears. It slowly turned away, head drooping, as it went to investigate the new specimen. It plopped butt-first into the grass.
“Aw, that’s cute.” Henry smiled. “Look, he’s showing his friends!” He pointed as the other pokémon crowded around, eyeing Machop’s bandaged hand as if it were a natural wonder. Even the Stunky was sniffing at the bars, its eyes studying.
“Eh.” Michael gave a one-shoulder shrug. He sat back down, thankful that the park was sparsely-populated and that no one had seen the incident.
“I always thought it was neat how pokémon have their own personalities,” Henry said.
“I never noticed.”
“Well, you should spend time with them. We could come here more often.”
“Hey, you know what I think?” Henry said.
“We should let out Stunky.”
“Did we not have this conversation before?” Michael said. “It’ll run away, I told you.”
But Henry shook his head. “I don’t think it will. I think it just wants to have fun.”
Michael leaned back, clasping his hands behind his head. “Suit yourself. But if it takes off, you’re going after it.”
He watched as Henry kneeled down and unlatched the cage’s lock. The Stunky drew back a little, its tail twitching, though the fear that had filled its eyes before was gone now. It looked sane.
Slowly, Henry opened the door, and the Stunky stepped out onto bare ground. Michael gripped the bar of the bench, ready to spring into action if need be, but to his surprise, the Stunky didn’t run. It settled down among the other pokémon, who seemed to rejoice at its presence. They formed a sort of circle around it, exchanging sounds and gestures.
Michael watched it for a while, in wonder. The Stunky turned around, marveling at its new companions and the touch of something other than cold metal beneath its paws. Then its eyes locked on Michael’s, and for a moment, Michael had the feeling that it remembered all that had happened between them and knew exactly where they were now. It made him uncomfortable, and it gave him the feeling that he was being screened, which he did not like. But at the same time, it made him curious.
So Michael simply rested his elbows on his knees and watched, wondering how big of a blockhead Cory and Brendan would think he was for observing pokémon.
Ah, so she did make the train... and it looks like a third party member has been added to our group. Michael's gonna have to be a lot more careful with that chart of his from now on, though, with Bertha's watchful eyes...
1750, huh? Bet the League's seen a lot of changes since then, that's for sure... dating back before electronic healing machines and perhaps even Pokeballs. it would certainly be an interesting history to read about (this coming from the guy whose own region's Pokemon League wasn't founded till 1975).
Ah, so this Jerry happens to be the first "new" Gym leader who isn't still in business today... I wonder if he'll reveal beforehand what type of Pokemon he uses or whather the boys are gonna have to play this one by ear.
Veilstone was left out during Bertha and Jerry's rundown of participating Gyms.
Did one of those ones that they busted for fraud happen to be this lady? She would've been around 14 or 15 at the time and she eventually made a lifetime of committing fraud, so why not start with the Pokemon League. In any event, I smell a couple of mini-Bernie Madoffs in the making
Hard to say whether this scheme of Michael's to obtain an ID is going to work. It all depends on how often each branch updates their roster of registered Pokemon trainers... if they haven't updated since before Michael beat Byron, he should be able to pull it off, but if the records are more recent, then... But I'd imagine they'd most likely have paper lists of trainers - computers at that time were still huge machines that would require a separate room and tons of power to operate, and I'm not sure (but kinda doubting) that they had any way of networking computers back then.
Nice chapter, the way I prefer... not a lot of action, but new characters are introduced and new plot points are brought up... namely Bertha's petition and Michael's need to get an ID card. I look forward to seeing how both situations will play out. But please don't have Bertha get 799 signatures then have Michael have a change of heart and provide #800 - that would be way too cliche xD
Well, thus ends my review with a shameless plug to my own work and with a surprising number of fraud references. Now include a Buick LeSabre in here... they started making them in 1958 so there should be a few cruising around
Yeah, things will be more interesting with Bertha aboard the team. She's going to be playing a large role, and she's going to enjoy it. That just about sums it up.
As for the Contests, I decided to pay them a little tribute, since this fic is mainly centered around the League. Plus, Michael + Contests = hilarity.
Don't worry, I have a much, much, much better plan than that. (Though that would be funny for an April Fools chapter. Haha.)
Thanks for the review! Hopefully, the next chapter will shed some more light about what's going on...
The wail of a siren sounded high over the hubbub of morning traffic, and for a moment, the usual proceedings of the Hearthome morning were disturbed by a red ambulance shooting down the road, its spinning tires a blur.
The vehicle flew past three intersections and hit a bump on the curb, skating through a puddle and splashing water and mud all over the sidewalk. The spray missed a woman’s shoes by inches, but before she could turn around to assess the damage, the sirens died down.
Nancy Bryan squinted as she watched the vehicle speed off into the horizon. She looked back down at her heels, which were only slightly soiled with mud. “Great. And I just got these too.” She sidestepped the puddle, and looked back, facing the team members who had lagged behind. “Are you coming or what?”
Ned, Tom, and Bobby rushed to catch up with her. Even though the burden of their equipment had been relieved of them, it turned out that traveling was no faster.
As Bobby came up to the curb, he adjusted his baseball cap and rubbed his neck. “Whoo. Sure feels good to be back in the city, doesn’t it?”
“Not really,” Nancy said. “This place reminds me too much of Jubilife.”
“I hear ya.”
They waited for the traffic lights to go red, and then the four of them crossed the street. Nancy had a map with her, but after nearly a lifetime in the city, navigation was almost second-nature to her. All she really needed to know was the destination’s relative location, and the rest she’d be able to deduce from the surroundings.
In a few minutes, the tip of the Hearthome Contest Hall appeared on the skyline. As they approached the building was revealed in full glory, like a rose rising out among barren leaves. The building was enormous, shoving aside the lean towers around it to make room for itself.
The team stopped in front of it for a moment, taking in the sight. Everything about the building indicated vacancy, from the clean parking lot to the neatly-trimmed grass, which looked as if it hadn’t been stepped on in months.
“So, why are we coming here of all places?” said Ned. “Hoenn’s contests are like preschool birthday parties. Why should Sinnoh be any different?”
“It doesn’t matter how bad they are,” Nancy replied. “We just need something that has the potential to grab interest. And lots of people follow Contests. When I was little, the papers were filled with stories about them. It’s normal, it’s conventional, and most importantly, it’s marketable.”
Tom raised an eyebrow. “So how did you just randomly jump from far-out controversial to normal and marketable?”
Nancy sighed. “I just think we should give this a try. Galactic didn’t exactly work out for us, so maybe there’s a grain of truth in the old saying ‘boring is interesting’.”
Bobby scoffed, and Nancy rolled her eyes. “Will you please? Come on, we’re going. I made an appointment, so we might as well.”
She led them to the doors, which against all odds, were open. The lobby was painted a salmon pink, color-coordinated in every imaginable aspect. There were rows of chairs lined against the wall in mind of a multitude of occupants, but today, there were none. The lobby was utterly empty—there wasn’t even a clerk at the front desk.
“Hello?” Bobby tried. “Anyone home?”
“This doesn’t make sense. I made an appointment…” Nancy began to pace around. She tried several doors, but all were locked.
As a last resort, she lifted herself over the counter and tried the door that was behind the desk. It was locked as well, but when she pressed her ear against it, she heard faint sounds coming from the back.
“Hey!” she called, pounding on the door. “My name is Nancy Bryan! I’m here by appointment!”
It was a few minutes before the answer came. There was a rush of hurried footsteps, and someone yelling, “Coming!”
Nancy backed away, and the door swung open.
“Heeey!” came a breezy voice. In a rush of fabric, a dressed-up woman stepped out to greet them, bearing a dazzling smile. Her face and arms were doused with glitter, and the skirts of her dress were nearly too thick to fit in the doorway. With all the bewildering colors, looking at her was like trying to look directly at the sun.
The woman grasped Nancy’s hand in a firm handshake.
“Welcome! You must be with Sinnoh Now. My name is Leah. We’re just about to get started with our dress rehearsal. Everyone’s already in the back, so if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you the stage.” Leah swept her gaze across them. “Did you bring cameras, equipment, anything like that?”
“I brought a notebook,” Nancy said.
Leah winked. “Perfect. Follow me.”
It was about as warm a welcome as Nancy could have wished for. Leah led them down a long hallway into an auditorium. The lights were off, though Nancy could still make out the details. The design of the Sinnoh Contest houses were similar to those of Hoenn’s—walls decorated with ribbons and streamers, gleaming banisters, and balloons lining the ceiling like some sort of mesh material. As a whole, the room looked like it could seat one thousand people.
At the head of the room, the stage glittered like a gem against a frame of red curtains. The spotlights were focused on a young woman at the moment, who was performing a silent tap routine with her pokémon, a Kricketune. She tapped and twisted, the huge skirt of her yellow dress swishing rhythmically, but she stopped midway as the baton her pokémon was holding slipped from its hands and clattered to the floor.
“No no no!” she said, dropping her arms. “Casey, you promised you’d get it right this time! Ugh!” The Kricketune hummed angrily in response.
The pokémon picked up the baton again, and the pair started over. A few seconds in, Leah cleared her throat loudly, and the woman stopped to look at them. Immediately, her face broke into a smile.
“Hi! Oh my gosh, you must be the news crew!” She hopped down from the stage. Up close, Nancy could see the thick mask of makeup that covered her face. Her black hair was so saturated with spray that it seemed to gleam in the darkness.
“Miss Bryan wants to do coverage of our rehearsal,” Leah explained. “Think about it, that’ll definitely shoot us to the top this year!”
The black-haired woman squealed. “Totally!” She turned to the team. “My name’s Loretta, by the way. And didn’t you say you guys were from Hoenn?”
Nancy nodded. “I did.”
Loretta clapped her hands over her mouth. “That is far-out. How are the Contests there? Are they any different?”
Bobby placidly surveyed his surroundings. “Nah, they’re pretty much the same.”
Leah and Loretta seemed to think that this was the coolest thing in the world. They leaned close and began to whisper excitedly, and right then, Nancy began to feel slightly foolish for coming here.
Just then, a door slammed somewhere behind the wings, and a troupe of dressed-up girls descended the stage steps. Nancy saw lots of spun hair and poofy dresses, but also noted that there wasn’t a single guy among them. (Even in Hoenn, where Contests were largely a female endeavor, there were always three or four male coordinators who survived to the finals.)
The girls waved and clumped together into a semicircle before the team. Leah pointed and introduced them in turn.
“All right, meet our little groupie! We have Anne, Tammie, Alice, Becky, and Marilyn. We’re all best friends, and we’re all going to audition for this year’s Pokémon Contests.”
“That’s why we’re spending every minute we can in here,” said Loretta. “It’s so we’ll be at the top of our game when we enter the Knockout Rounds!”
“So we were hoping,” continued Anne, “that you would spread the word. You know, like when your story gets published, a lot of people would read about us and look for when we appear on TV.”
Nancy pursed her lips, looking at the girls with a newfound pity. Here they were, just another group of amateurs trying to make it in a competitive world.
They don’t stand a chance, she thought to herself. But then again, she wasn’t so different.
“All right,” Nancy said finally. “We’ll watch.”
The girls were elated. The troupe disappeared into the wings, and a few seconds later, the curtains slid closed. Nancy took a seat in the second row, her team members around her. She took out her notebook and scribbled the date and the location in the dark.
Bobby kicked up his feet. “Wake me up when it’s over,” he yawned.
Nancy elbowed him. “Stop it! For one thing, it’s completely rude, and for another, we need a story. Don’t screw this up.”
A minute later, the curtains flew open to reveal the dazzling light. Loretta stood in the center, surrounded by Anne, Alice, and Tammie, who were posing like ballerinas with their skirts spread gracefully along the floor.
The music began, and the girls broke apart, revealing Casey the Kricketune at Loretta’s feet. The two began their tap routine on center stage, while the other girls swayed and leaped around them. The Kricketune passed the baton swiftly between its two tiny hands, stepping in synchrony with Loretta.
When the number ended, the dancers assumed the poses they started off with, then briskly fled from the stage, making way for Leah, Becky, and Marilyn. Their song was more upbeat, and along with their pokémon, they began to dance in rhythm. Leah had a Buizel, and was spinning with it in circles, while Becky and Marilyn were partnering with a Pachirisu and a Happiny.
Overall, Nancy thought it was a mediocre performance. She took notes, though she did not bother to ask her teammates for their opinions. Bobby had fulfilled his promise of falling asleep, and though Tom seemed to be doing his best to pay attention, he often turned to exchange a murmur with Ned.
After about half an hour, the curtains closed, and Leah’s voice announced the performance’s closure. There came a round of applause from the stage, and the curtains opened again, revealing the cast as they took their bows. Nancy took the time to stretch, closing her pen.
When the girls met them in the seating area again, they were all smiles and cheers. Leah bounded up to them, grinning.
“Well, how was it? I think that my pirouette could use some more work, but that’s just me.” She giggled. “So did you get everything you need?”
Nancy nodded, patting her notebook. “It’s all right here. It might take a while, but if your story gets published, I’ll let you know.”
“Great!” said Leah. “Well, I hope you had fun!”
“Yeah, hope you had fun!” said Loretta.
The girls waved. Nancy shook their hands, and after a few more parting words, the team of Sinnoh Now exited the auditorium.
When Nancy got outside, she was greeted by a faceful of blazing sun. Traffic was now in full swing, and so was the noise. Unable to contain her swelling excitement, Nancy scurried over to a nearby bench and opened her notebook, scanning her notes.
“Let’s see what we’ve got,” she muttered.
What she saw came like a cold slap in the face. What had seemed like a boatload of information was now as bland and wispy as cotton, entirely baseless. Her words were dull and scattered, barely amounting to three pages in total.
Strangely, Nancy clearly remembered writing vivid description, even giving her wrist a break from a writing cramp, but now it was as if a giant monster had sucked out the filling of what she had wanted to say, leaving only a vague sketch of her previous thought patterns.
Her shoulders drooped. As the rest of her team crowded around her, Nancy leaned back, running her fingers through her hair.
“Well that was a boring show.” Bobby yawned. “So what did you get, O Supreme Writer?”
Nancy shook her head, her voice flat. “Kill me. I can’t write about this.” She slammed the notebook shut.
Bobby laughed. “Dude. No one can write about this. Stop beating yourself up.”
“Yeah, honestly I can’t see something like that turning into a good story that SNN will care for. Or anyone, for that matter,” said Ned.
“Hmph.” Nancy leaned back, staring up at the sky. Her head was utterly devoid of ideas, just a blank sheet of blue with occasional bursts of thoughts, as empty and weightless as the clouds themselves.
She swallowed. Oh God, I think I’ve got writer’s block.
The notion was so silly and fitting that it made her laugh in spite of herself. It had been a long time since she had felt that annoying hindrance, since her mind had been heavily trained to work efficiently towards a product. But now it seemed that the exhaustion was finally catching up to her.
When SNN had announced the terms of their probation, they hadn’t specified exactly what kind of story they would accept. From past experience with the station, Nancy knew that they liked big, scandalous stories, and were pretty damn good at getting them too. She wanted to be like them and yet be different, less of a muckraker and more of a teller, a bringer of events, fearless in the face of a changing world.
She wanted to be a reporter.
When Nancy saw that her team was staring, waiting for her words, she broke the long silence and stood. “Okay, well let’s get going. We’ve got a whole town to look over, and I’m sick of standing in this heat.”
The men nodded their agreement. So Nancy walked with them, tucking her notebook under her arm and did what she did best— move right along.
Several miles away from the Hearthome Trainer’s Hotel, the city skyline rose, and the roads became wider, accommodating a thickening crowd of cars and people. In a small
section of the upper city, the grandeur of the downtown was utterly lost, stripped away from the signs and lights to reveal bare urbanity. The gutters beneath the sidewalks were stuffed with washed-out debris, and the buildings seemed to slump over the streets, their bricks brown and cracked.
Michael had made the decision to devote the entire day towards attaining his Trainer Card, and at any cost. He had done his fair share of procrastinating on school assignments in the past, but this was something he wanted to get off his chest as early as possible, so that he could start training for his battle without having to worry if it would actually happen or not.
That morning, Michael had approached the lady behind the concierge desk, who gave him directions to a local trainer store where replacement cards were given out. He and Henry had set out in pursuit of their destination, armed with a map and a small supply of candy Michael had purchased the previous evening.
They spent a good hour wandering through the town, in what seemed to be an endless drag of turns and crossings. Often, when Michael saw a building that stood out, he was stricken by a brief disorientation as his mind took him back to Jubilife City and rejected the unfamiliar surroundings. This did not help him in the slightest, and as the streets around them began to get dingier and narrower, Michael solidified his belief that they were utterly lost.
Henry remained surprisingly patient throughout their walk, but in these new surroundings, he seemed to be losing it. When they passed a dirty sewer, he shook with disgust, and whenever they passed a bar, Henry quickened his pace, forcing Michael to run up ahead of him again.
As they passed by a shop window, a shady-looking man peered out at them from the inside, leering. At that point, Michael felt a tug on his sleeve.
“I don’t like it here,” Henry whispered.
“Neither do I, but it’s no use complaining. Just keep walking.”
“Maybe we made a wrong turn,” the boy said. “Seriously, I think we did.”
“That’s impossible,” Michael replied. “We’ve followed the directions perfectly.”
“But doesn’t this seem like a weird place to have a trainer store?” Henry countered. “This place is just… bad.”
Michael took a look around. Henry was not entire wrong — the streets had a tired, run-down appearance that was miles apart from the pulsing city center they had left an hour ago. Even in broad daylight, the alleys seemed darker, the people rougher and colder. Every other building they passed was either a bar or casino. But if this was what he had to do in order to get his Trainer Card, then he’d do it.
“Relax,” Michael said with a smile. “If anything, we can just send out our pokémon and beat the crap out of whoever tries to bother us. Right?”
Henry puffed out his cheeks. “I guess.”
They reached another intersection and went right. Henry kept as close behind Michael as possible, flinching away from the passerby.
The smell of food and music wafted around Michael with every open door he passed, and he found it hard to keep going when there were so many things tugging at his attention. Hearthome’s streets were narrower than Jubilife’s, making everything seem close and compacted. He strained to read the store signs, but the pokéball logo refused to reveal itself from among the masses.
When Michael realized that Henry was lagging behind again, he stopped. “Will you at least help me? We could’ve passed it ten times already and I wouldn’t know it because I’m the only one looking.”
“I’m sorry!” Henry snapped. “It’s just that my feet hurt. Can we at least sit down for a while?”
Michael groaned. “Fine.”
They found a vacant bench nearby and sat down. Henry began to retie his shoes and adjust his socks, while Michael leaned back, watching the people go by.
All of a sudden, his eyes locked on something familiar — the pokéball. He sat up, just in time to see a boy run past, his shirt flapping in the breeze. It was a pokéball shirt, to which he had a matching cap and backpack. A group of three other boys rushed to keep up behind him, pushing and shouting.
“Hurry, come on!”
“It’s this way!”
Michael stood up, following the logos on their backpacks with his eyes. “Trainers!”
The group of boys ran to the end of the lane and disappeared behind the corner.
Henry sprang up. “Maybe they’re going to the store too?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” Michael said. “Let’s go.”
They ran after the group just as they crossed another street. In the distance, Michael saw the boys stop beside a building, and after crowding around its sign to make sure it was the right one, they hurried inside.
Michael ran as fast as he could, stumbling to a stop in front of the door. To surprise, it wasn’t a trainer store. Instead, the row of flashing lights above the door spelled out: “POKéMON GAME CORNER”.
“A game corner?” Michael perked an eyebrow. “Hey, cool! I think Jubilife had one of these!” He made a step towards the door. When he realized that Henry wasn’t following him, he turned. “Well, come on. What’s the matter?”
Henry shook his head. “I don’t think we should go in.”
“Oh, come on. It’s not like we’ll be gambling or anything. We just have to find those guys and ask them where the store is. They’re bound to know something, for Pete’s sake. Their entire outfits are League merchandise.”
“I still don’t want to,” Henry said.
Michael’s shoulders sagged. “What, would you rather ask that guy who looked at us earlier? I don’t mind. Maybe he’s still there, come on.” Michael feigned a jog in the opposite direction. His pestering worked its magic — Henry bit his lip and pulled him back immediately.
“Okay, okay! We’ll go in. But remember what Bertha said. I don’t want to be scammed.”
Michael snorted. “Relax.”
They went inside. Entering the Game Corner was like stepping into instant nighttime — the lights in the room were dimmed, but there were so many flashes from the slot machines and arcade games that lamps were unnecessary. Strings of red Christmas lights were lined against the ceiling, blinking.
Michael waded through the crowd, barely aware of his own breathing above the noise. He tried to follow the boys’ path as best as he could, though walking was hard with Henry’s hands gripping his backpack, steering him. If Michael had yelled at him to get off, Henry wouldn’t have heard him.
As he maneuvered his way through the arcade, Michael noticed to his surprise that the crowd populating it consisted entirely of children — trainers, from ages nine to twelve. They stood by the slot machines and the card tables, gambling tiny gold coins, at games tailored to their age. Michael saw signs like Pokéball Bonanza, Champion’s Chance, and Poké-basketball.
Henry leaned over to yell something in his ear, but the boy’s voice was lost in the noise.
Michael turned. “What?”
“I said this is a Trainer’s Gambling Corner!” Henry shouted. “There was one in Floaroma but it got closed down!”
Michael waded through an aisle of Pokéball Bonanza slot machines, narrowing his eyes against the dizzying screen flashes. The light was strangely distorting — against the black carpet, even the white of his shirt seemed to glow. Michael looked around for any sign of the trainer boys, but against this camouflage, finding them seemed next to impossible.
He felt another tug on his sleeve. Henry pointed to a table off to the side, surrounded by a small crowd of trainers. The boys with the red caps were among them. At the head stood a man with a microphone, calling over the general noise. He wore a black vest over a red polo shirt, most likely the employee’s uniform. He was one of the few adults present in the room.
“Step right up, trainers!” he said. “Today’s your chance to win big with the new Poké-Roulette! Three spins, three speeds, one grand prize! Hey there, what’s your name?”
He handed the microphone over to one of the red-cap boys, who grinned. “Chad!”
“Chad! Wa-hey! How would you like to win fifty dollars, right here and now?”
The other trainers began to whisper in jealousy. Chad nodded eagerly. “I’d love it!”
The man stepped over to Chad. “Great! You’ll be my demonstrator today. What you’re going to do is select a speed by pressing one of these buttons.” He pointed to a row of buttons on the machine numbered from one to three. “Then you’re going to put the money into the center… right there, that’s it.”
Michael watched as Chad placed three dollar bills into a small metal pit at the center of the wheel.
Three dollars? That’s cheap! Michael moved closer to examine the wheel in detail. As a whole, it looked like an ordinary roulette wheel. The colored slices varied in amount rather than thickness. There were three of each color, and black, the jackpot, had five. On the whole, it seemed like an unusually fair game.
Chad chose a speed and placed a white ball on the edge of the wheel. Instantly, it began to spin on its own, the slices blending into a bewildering whirlpool of color. Michael looked to the metal pit in the center, and saw that a glass dome had been placed over the money while Chad wasn’t looking.
The wheel continued to spin for about a minute, and then it slowed. Chad watched with a grin as the ball seemed to travel across the wheel’s circumference. As the wheel slowed, the pointer began to tick.
“All right, all right, here’s where it ends!” said the man. “Get it on black, and win fifty dollars! But don’t get it on green, or it’s game over!”
Chad leaned over the wheel eagerly. A dozen pairs of eyes watched the tiny white ball as it skipped past black, then blue, then yellow, then red. Finally, it slowed. The white ball began to tip over to the black slot, but then something strange happened. The wheel paused and gave a tiny jerk in the opposite direction, rolling the ball over to green. The break was tiny, almost too easy to miss. The wheel master’s smile slowly broadened.
Chad looked up at the glass dome, just in time to see the metal bottom collapse, and his money fall into a hole. A loud buzzer sounded, and the crowd groaned.
The man stepped back, grimacing in feigned pity. “Oooh, better luck next time! Sorry, kid!” But the man did not look too sorry about it. As Chad left , the other kids pushed past one another to get their turn.
The wheel’s second customer, a girl of about ten, ended up at the front of the line and placed her bet into the pit—six dollars for two white balls. She chose the slowest speed, and the wheel began to turn. The pointer clicked past the marks, and the balls rolled from one color to the next. The balls settled into one green slot, and one yellow slot without a problem. The buzzer sounded again.
“You get a free spin, young lady!” the wheel master said. “One ball only.” He removed the ball that had landed on yellow, and the girl spun again.
The wheel continued to turn smoothly, and Michael began to wonder if it had been just a trick of the eye. But no—the ball again came close to landing on black, only to be jerked by the wheel into green. The buzzer sounded again, and the girl’s money fell into the pit.
With a groan, the girl stormed off, and the other kids pooled together to fill her space, pulling out their wallets. A couple more kids went, and all of them lost. At least half of them came inches away from getting their pointer on black, only to have the wheel bounce back at the critical moment. After seeing the same phenomenon several more times, Michael elbowed Henry.
“I think I’ve got it!” he said. “The game’s rigged so you can’t get on black. Every time the wheel hits a black spot, something in its inner construction stops it from spinning. The money’s sealed in so you can’t get it out.”
“That’s completely unfair!” Henry responded. “Those kids are being tricked into losing their money!”
“It’s not unfair if you’re the guy managing the game,” Michael said. “Three dollars multiplied by an average twenty suckers a day who decide to play is sixty dollars a day per one game. And if you multiply that by seven days for a week, that’s already four-hundred twenty dollars. It’s a winner.”
Henry shook his head in disdain. The wheel master was getting more energetic by the minute. The crowd replenished itself as some kids left and others approached, but gradually it began to thin when the trainers realized that no one was winning.
And yet the man was constantly searching, scanning everyone over with his poisonous smile. “Step right up, trainers! See if you have what it takes to win!”
As if by accident, his eyes locked on Henry. He approached. “Hey there, little fella! Three dollars for a game?”
“No,” Henry said, flushing.
The man seemed surprised, but not dejected. “Why not? If you win, you get fifty bucks! And if you win twice, you get an extra hundred!”
“I said no.” Henry stepped away, hands behind his back. “Your game’s a cheat.”
The man began to laugh. “Kid doesn’t know what he’s talking about… isn’t that precious? Come on, let’s play.”
“No!” Henry backed up again.
The man followed him, now with a slight hint of annoyance crossing his face. “Come on, it’s not that hard! It’s just a wheel! People play it all the time!”
Henry continued to trail through the aisle. Their little game of chase continued until Henry retreated behind one of the slot machines, ducking down. The man swore under his breath, though not altogether quietly, and turned instead to Michael.
“How about you, kid? Want to win?”
Michael cast away his gaze. “Not particularly.”
The man jut out his lower lip. “Why not?”
“Because I’m the son of a billionaire and I get whatever I want all the time. I have people like you scrub my floors.”
The man gritted his teeth. Taking advantage of the opening, Michael ran up to the wheel and slammed his palm against the highest speed. The pointer hit a black slot, and bounced back with a sharp twang, rotating in the opposite direction from the barrier.
The trainers gasped. “The wheel’s a joke!” Michael called. “Watch!” He gave it another spin, and the wheel groaned, ricocheting off of its own momentum. “You can’t get it on black!”
Catching on to the trick, the trainers erupted in anger.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” one girl called out. “I want my money back!”
A wave of hands began to pound the table, trying to force open the glass dome. The wheel master ran up to them, his face panicked. “Stop! No! Stop!”
Michael began to laugh, slinking off to the side. Several Game Corner staff rushed to the scene, parting the crowd, forcing the kids away from the wheel. Amid the commotion, the wheel master jerked a finger at Michael, shouting to anyone that would hear: “GET HIM! GET THAT KID!”
Michael was about to bolt for the door, when he remembered Henry. He scanned the area, but the boy was nowhere in sight. Inch by inch, the entire Game Corner was thrown into a mini-riot as people pushed past one another to see what was going on. Still, a rare few kids, completely oblivious to their surroundings, kept right on playing.
Henry’s voice rose out momentarily from the wails, but its source was lost. Michael cupped his hands around his mouth to respond, but just then, he was shoved rudely aside against a slot machine, falling on his knees. A line of men rushed past.
“Out of the way! Out of the way! Hearthome Police!”
A line of policemen forced its way through the aisle, and as the children caught glimpse of their badges and guns, they paled and shrank against the walls. The noise died down in waves, and the Game Corner staff froze in their tracks, their arms splayed, unsure what to do.
Suddenly, the deafening music stopped. As one, the screens of the slot machines froze, as did the Poké-basketball stands, and the videogames, their images breaking into tiny black-and-white stripes as if the entire room had been stricken by the same glitch. The ceiling lights flickered on, bathing everything in stark white light. A nervous murmur rose in the room, and Michael wondered what the hell was going on.
The policemen reached the roulette wheel, and the crowd of children parted, as if by backing away they would remove the blame from themselves. The wheel master stood still, the microphone dangling from his fingers, mouth hanging open in disbelief. Police officers were standing at every corner of the room, moving large groups of trainers against the walls.
A voice rose out from the silence. “Excuse me, excuse me.”
Michael turned. A tall man was making his way through the path cut by the officers, gently moving the trainers aside as they passed by him. He had a neat, calm composure, and a crew cut that meant business. He walked in powerful strides straight for the roulette table.
As if by instinct, the wheel master jerked back, eyes wide with recognition. “You again! I told you, I have nothing to say!”
“The Hearthome City Police seemed to have a different story,” replied the newcomer. His voice was calm, but behind his glasses his eyes were blazing. “They were under the impression that your little Game Corner was complying to federal regulations, but apparently, you felt the need to persist with your schemes.” The man stepped forward. “I told you that the next time I saw you step out of line, I’d make sure that your little joint gets shut down, didn’t I? And now I’m following through with my promise.”
The wheel master’s face contorted. “You can’t do this!” he sputtered. “You can’t prove anything!”
“Can’t prove that you’ve been running an illegal practice right under their noses? I’m afraid I can.” The newcomer smirked. “And if scamming young trainers is your idea of fun, then in truth, my complaints against the League are justified. It’s people like you that are to blame for its decline, end of story.”
Michael looked around. The policemen were cuffing the Game Corner staff, who had tried to trickle into a back room and hide. At this, the wheel master gritted his teeth in fury.
“All the money you ripped from these children, every last cent of it, will be repaid by you and your associates,” the newcomer said.
Michael grinned, and he made sure that the wheel master saw it as the police officers cuffed his hands behind his back. As they led him out, the wheel master struggled against their grip.
“You slime!” he yelled. “You think you can just prance around and shove your nose into everyone’s business! I tell you, this isn’t over! You’ll be hearing from my lawyer!”
The man chuckled. Once the wheel master had been dragged out of the building, he stepped back to address the whole room. “As for you, trainers, I am disappointed. Gambling is not how you spend your parent’s money, or the money that you’ve earned through battles. It’s dishonorable, and often leads to legal consequences. Fortunately, none of you are under arrest today, because it is my firm belief that you were lured in here by advertisements, or from following your friends. However, since you all have assumed the great privilege and responsibility of traveling by yourselves to compete, you should all use a little more common sense when making decisions.”
There was a low murmur, and some of the trainers stared down in shame at their shoes.
“The police will now escort you out, and you can continue with your daily activities. Thank you.”
The remaining officers led the trainers out, like farmers tending a herd of sheep. Michael remained where he was, and when everyone was gone, he stood up, brushing the dust from his jeans.
“Henry!” he called. “You there?”
“Yeah!” came the reply. Henry jumped out from his hiding place and ran up to Michael. The man had neared the exit, and when they approached, he held the door open for them.
“Whoops. We’ve got two more.”
Michael and Henry ducked under his arm and stepped out of the building. When they were outside, Henry looked up.
“No problem,” the man replied, letting the door swing closed.
“I meant for calling the police,” Henry said. “It was you, wasn’t it?”
The man seemed surprised at Henry’s gratitude, though he nodded.
“How did you know to call them?”
The man sighed, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his coat. “I’ve had my eye on this place for a while now. It’s a shame what the League’s turned into. Ten years ago, it used to be an honest competition, but now it’s transformed into a commercial hoopla. These Game Corners have sprung up in practically all the Gym towns, and they’ve even trickled into regular ones too. They’re supposedly here for a good cause, to give a percentage of their profits back to the League, but all they’re really doing is raising money for themselves by scamming children like you.”
“How do you know all that?” Henry said.
“I’ve been around,” the man replied with a shrug.
“Do you work for the League?”
His man’s eyes twinkled. Michael caught a smile that almost, but did not quite cross the man’s face. “No, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out right from wrong. Sometimes, though, you have to really pay attention to make sure you’re not being scammed.”
“The wheel thing was rigged,” Michael put in, and the man turned. “I don’t think a lot of the kids realized it. Then the guy kept trying to get me and Henry to play.”
“But we told him we didn’t want any of it,” Henry added brightly. “We told him to shove off.”
The man seemed genuinely relieved. “Good. Good job on your part for not giving in. But I’m afraid there are plenty of people like those guys, always looking to trick trainers into doing something they don’t need to be doing. The League was founded upon a good principle—you can’t buy success. Of course, some of the things they’ve been doing lately have contradicted that, but the core purpose remains the same.” The man looked at them for a moment, his face grave. “You can’t buy success. Remember that, okay?”
Michael nodded. “Sure. Thanks.”
“Thank you,” Henry said.
The man smiled. “Don’t mention it. Now run along. I have other things I need to take care of, and the police chief told me that they’ll be closing down the premises soon. So we better not stick around.”
He walked off. A line of police cars was blocking the road, and barriers had been set up for a detour. Most of the trainers of the Game Corner were gone now, though some still lingered to observe the proceedings. Michael watched the man stop to have a word with a group of officers, then he took out the map that had been folded in his pocket. Henry came up behind him.
“So we’ll be sticking with the directions this time?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah.”
The trainer store appeared a bit further down the street from the Game Corner, sandwiched between a diner and a boutique store. It was a completely nondescript building, unrecognizable save for a small window sign and a pokéball logo. When Michael noticed it, he immediately led Henry after him.
Inside, it looked like nothing more than a stale convenience store. The space was divided into aisles, the shelves bearing things like trainer wear, pokéball belts, and backpacks. There was only one register at the counter, and one man on duty. When Michael and Henry entered, he was sitting with his back turned, reading a newspaper.
Michael tapped the surface of the counter. The man turned suddenly, his eyes popping open as if from a daydream.
“Huh? Wha? Oh.” He swiveled around, tossing the newspaper off to the side. “Hello. Can I help you?”
“I need a new Trainer Card,” Michael said. “When I was in Oreburgh, my old one got—”
The man held up his hand. “I get it. You lost it. Happens.” He shrugged. “Pay two dollars for a new one?”
Michael nodded. The man opened a drawer beneath the desk and took out a sheet of paper. “All right. Just fill this out for me then.”
He handed Michael a pen. To his relief, the document was simple. It had a blank space for his name, the badges he currently possessed, and which starter, if any, he had received. Michael filled out the form and handed it back to the man, who stood and led him to a small photo booth in the back.
Michael sat down on the bench, against a blank white background. The man took down a camera from one of the shelves, fastening the strap around his neck.
Michael put on a half-smile, and the man made a couple of shots. Then he disappeared behind another door with the paper in hand, and several minutes later he came out with a freshly-laminated card.
“Here you go.”
For a moment, Michael looked at it. The Trainer Card resembled a passport, with his name at the top in huge black letters, and his photo on the left hand side. On the bottom row were eight slots that stood for the Gym badges, where the man had applied two stickers for the Coal Badge and the Forest Badge.
So that’s it? He turned over the card, and saw that there was a black strip on the back, but nothing else. After all the panic of the previous day, he had received his card with all the nonchalance of a class picture.
“You can get the rest of the sticker package for ninety-nine cents,” the man offered.
“No, it’s fine.”
“All right.” The man went back around the counter, and Michael paid him at the register. The man gave Michael a transparent case for the card, and with his new merchandise in hand, Michael left the store.
As he and Henry walked back, Michael placed the card into the innermost pocket of his backpack and zipped it up. “Huh. So it’s that easy?”
He looked to Henry, but was puzzled to see the same expression of surprise on the boy’s face.
“I guess,” Henry said. “I never saw how they made the card, because when I went to the place in my town they were out of laminates. They had to mail it to me instead. But now that I think about it, if it really only takes ten minutes, then why did I have to come on a weekend?”
Michael shrugged, brushing off the question. He was too busy basking in relief to analyze anything, and he was fairly certain that there wasn’t even a problem to mull over. “At least I don’t have to worry about fraud anymore,” he said aloud. “All I have to do is get this to Jerry, and then we’re set.”
When they entered the parking lot of the Trainer’s Hotel, Michael saw a woman leaning against a car. Her head was bent back towards the sky, the sun reflecting off of her sunglasses in two searing smudges. It was Bertha.
When the boys approached, she smiled at them. “Hey. I finally got around to getting a rental car. Walking is just too annoying, and for someone like me who’s on the go a lot, this is just the thing. You like?” She stepped aside, revealing the automobile in full. It was a baby blue Buick, in pristine condition. Its tires were coal black, and its windows were spotless.
Michael brushed his finger against the hood, over the chrome insignia. “Nice.”
Bertha laughed. “The other cars were either filthy or didn’t go past twenty miles per hour. So I asked them to give me a new one.”
“Can it take us to Jerry’s?” Michael said. “I got my Trainer Card.”
Bertha perked an eyebrow. “That fast?”
“Yeah. We got directions to a store from a lady at the hotel.”
“Hmm. Well that’s good. Don’t like to procrastinate, do we?” Bertha smiled. “Can I see the card?”
Michael took it out of his backpack and handed it to her. Bertha looked it over, lifting her glasses. “Looks okay to me. Just one thing…” Her face clouded.
Michael tensed. “What?”
Bertha did not speak for a few seconds. “You should’ve done a better smile,” she said finally. “You look like you’re in pain.” She brightened, and Michael felt a surge of relief.
Bertha unlocked the front door to the Buick and climbed inside. “Hop in, then!”
Michael and Henry got into the backseat, and she pulled out of the parking lot.
They drove to Jerry’s office, and the Gym leader was happy to see them. He took Michael immediately over to his desk, and Michael handed him the Trainer Card. Jerry examined it under the light. “Looks good! You’re all set, Michael. Battle’s next Monday, don’t forget.”
“No problem,” Michael said. “I won’t.”
He was immensely relieved when he got back into the car. Michael settled down in the backseat, content with watching the town roll by. They reached the road on which the hotel was located, but instead of turning, Bertha continued to go straight, passing the next intersection.
Michael leaned forward. “Uh, Bertha? Where are we going?”
“Relax, kiddo. We’re making one more stop.”
“Where?” asked Henry.
She maneuvered through a strange, jumbled sequence of roads and turns, letting the buzz of downtown fade behind them. They entered a sparse, quieter part of the city, where the road was bordered by trees and the buildings became longer and shorter, resembling apartments.
Bertha parked near one of the buildings and led them to a door. Clearing her throat, she knocked twice.
“Who is it?” came a voice.
There was a pause, and then the door was opened by an older woman. Her brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and she looked rather tired. When she saw Bertha, however, she smiled. “Ah. Bertha. It’s been a while.” Her face fell slightly. “I see you’ve left the Gym.”
“Only temporarily,” Bertha replied. “Something’s come up, and I want to talk to you about it. Can we come in?”
“Certainly.” The woman allowed them inside. Her home was plain and undecorated, furnished to the absolute minimum, as if she spent most of her time somewhere else. The house was sleek and clean—so much like a magazine picture that it made Michael uncomfortable.
The woman guided them to a small sitting area and sat down in an armchair, brushing back loose strands of hair. Bertha took the other chair, leaving Michael and Henry to the couch.
As they settled down, the woman lifted a cup of tea that had been sitting on the coffee table and took a sip. The silence of her house was so arid that each movement seemed to produce an echo.
She stared at the opposite wall for a while, then spoke. “So. How have you been, Bertha? I heard what happened in Eterna… and I must say I’m not surprised. I just hope that whoever that building was insured to didn’t get too much money back.”
Bertha laughed. “You of all people would know.”
The woman nodded coolly. She sipped her tea again.
“I had a hunch you’d be here,” Bertha continued, “but I wasn’t sure. Your schedule is pretty erratic. How much longer do you think you’ll be staying in Hearthome? You look like you’ve packed already.”
The woman shrugged. “There isn’t much to pack. I’m only supposed to be here till the end of the month. Then it’s back to Veilstone.”
Michael looked at her in amazement. Even in the suburbs, life in Veilstone was notoriously expensive. Most of the people who were lucky enough to be there were only passing through, or else were short-term residents on business duties. The real residents of Veilstone were people who were extremely rich, not exactly the type who would live in a cramped apartment in Hearthome City just for the heck of it.
Noticing their bemused expressions, Bertha turned to explain. “Sorry, I don’t think I’ve introduced my friend here. Boys, this is Anita. She works for Team Galactic.”
Michael and Henry balked in unison.
“That’s right,” said Anita with a sly smile. “Any questions? Any big company secrets you want me to reveal? I’m all yours.”
Bertha snorted. “Come off, Ann. They wouldn’t have the guts to ask you even if you forced them to.”
Anita stirred her tea, chuckling. “Well, I wouldn’t be able to say anything important anyway. I work for the supply division, which coordinates the purchase and transport of materials,” she told the boys. “It’s a boring job, but it pays.”
A portion of Michael’s questions were satisfied, but now that he was aware that he was in the presence of a Galactic worker, his mind raised a hundred more. But he chose to remain silent, and again Anita spoke.
“So what is it you wanted to tell me, Bertha? Is it something to do with your Gym?”
“Indirectly, yes.” Bertha opened her briefcase. “I’m petitioning the federal government. I want them to cut some of Team Galactic’s funding—which if you don’t mind me saying has reached a ridiculous amount—and give the Pokémon League back the money it deserves. If the government keeps cutting funds from the League in favor of Galactic, then the League will die. And I thought that—”
“You thought that since I work for them that I’d be able to help you?” Anita lowered the cup.
“Yes,” Bertha replied. “In any way you can. I’m aiming for about nine hundred signatures, but to really make an impact on the President I need signatures and letters of approval from at least twenty qualified people. I’ll be getting a bunch from the Gym leaders and other League staff, but I also need someone from within Team Galactic itself who knows what’s going on and supports my goal.”
Anita leaned back, crossing her legs. “Bertha, what you’re asking is for me to defy the policies of my company in order to pay my allegiance to your cause. You do realize that if anybody higher up than me finds out and interprets this the wrong way then I can lose my job? You’ll be in trouble too when they learn that you’re the one perpetrating this. So much of this depends on chance, and I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Team Galactic doesn’t have the best sense of humor.”
Bertha held up her hand. “I know. That’s why I came here as your friend, not as a businesswoman. You don’t have to help me, but I would really appreciate it if you did. That’s all I’m saying.”
Anita leaned back on her elbow and traced her gaze across the ceiling, as if to catch a thought that was drifting there. She looked at Michael and Henry, then back at Bertha, as if drawing a sudden connection between them. “Team Galactic is a force to be reckoned with. They generate more than one-third of the federal government’s revenue. If they decided to break ties with us, then the whole economy would be thrown off-balance, and it would take one hell of a comeback to bring us back up to speed.” A somber smile crossed her face. “Winning the Presidential election might be a tad easier, Bertha.”
“That’s why I need all the help I can get,” Bertha said. “I’m not asking for Galactic to change their entire policy. I just want them to be mindful of their surroundings so we don’t have another Eterna City on our hands. I mean that in every way. They’re destroying nature, and they’re hindering the League, which is pointless when both should coexist. But the thing that’s preventing that from happening is all these heads and bosses and people who tell us what to do. But if we can just show them what they’re doing wrong, then I’m sure we can fix their old mistakes before it’s too late.”
Anita smiled. “Fighting for what’s right, as usual. I agree, Team Galactic and the Pokémon League can and should find a common ground. But it’s risky… oh, Bertha, I don’t know.”
“Hey,” Bertha said. “This isn’t entirely risk-free for me either. I went on leave to do this, and per the League rules, I’m not supposed to do that unless there’s a genuine emergency, so...” She shrugged, turning up her palms. “I guess I could lose my job too. But you know what? It’s worth it. At least I’ll know that I tried something.”
Anita tapped her chin, staring at Bertha intently. Finally, she sat up. “All right. You’ve convinced me. I’ll write you a letter, and I’ll give it to you before I leave town.”
Bertha inclined her head. “Thank you.”
The women rose. Anita led them out, waving as they got into the car, then disappeared swiftly behind her door.
On the drive back, Henry leaned over to Bertha’s seat. “You have a lot of friends, Bertha.”
Bertha threw her head back and laughed. “Wait till you meet my cousin Bernie. He’s an Elite Four.”
Actually, I'm not quite sure if they would have had computerized arcade/casino games back in that time period... I don't think the technology was quite there yet. Probably the big casinos of that day had more of the slot machines, roulette wheels, and card tables.
Man, what is it with Hearthome and scamming people? Back then it was the Game Corner, and more recently it was the Contests themselves. And of course it didn't escape my notice that after busting up a scam operation, Michael tries to pull a fast one on his own...
And yes, it is quite ironic that Nancy and crew missed a huge news story that happened right under their noses.
It actually doesn't surprise me that Michael was able to get his ID so easily... back then they didn't have computerized networks linked to a big national database so that they can verify stuff like that. Though, he just better be careful... if anyone gets suspicious, there's probably some way that those records can be checked, although it'll probably boil down to good old sifting through paperwork. So I do have to wonder if it'll eventually catch up with him, even though he's in the clear for now...
Getting support from someone who works within Galactic... that's a pretty big risk for both parties involved, and I can think of several ways things could go horribly wrong. But if they did go horribly wrong, that would just make for a more interesting plot xD But under-funded as the League is, they still somehow have enough to provide lodging facilities for trainers... of course the likes of Quality Inn could do a much better job at it. Just saying.
And thus concludes the second review in a row with lots of fraud references. Looking forward to the next chapter!
And yes, the League is underfunded, but it still has money to maintain the hotels and run its normal proceedings... but if they get cut any more, then the strain will begin to show. So yes, it's really important that Bertha asked for Anita's help.
As for Bernie, that was truthfully just a name I came up with on the spot. Though now that I take your example into consideration, this chapter has an awful lot of references to scams and con artists! it was a complete accident i swear
Thanks for reviewing!