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The winter air rushed in and out of his lungs, mingling with the smoke inside them as John rapidly inhaled, his periwinkle eyes unfocused as he pushed a cart through the snow. He could no longer hear chanting behind him, but his own heartbeat might have covered it up. Glancing around the forest, he saw an ash tree with a lightning burn. Good. He knew where he was now. Umber was miles behind him. His shoulders relaxed and his breathing slowed. No longer concerned with imminent death, his thoughts shifted to sin.
Return was the moral option. Reverend Xavier knew what was right and he would end the sin in John’s life if given the chance. Then he could be a good person and spared from eternal fire. But when he glanced in front of him, his resolve sapped away. The girl he had taken with him was still coated in rust red. Some time ago, he didn’t know how long exactly, he had stopped to treat her wounds. She would be fine, though. John was sure of that. But if he came back now, well, that was a different story. In Umber, there was only one way to deal with witches. Kill them.
-.- . -. -. . -.. -.-- .... -.-- .- -.-. .. -. - ....
Gela Esprit never double-locked her door and hadn’t owned a Clefairy doll since she was a little girl. Yet when she got back from her evening swim, the door was locked and a strange pink plush greeted her with wide eyes. She sighed and pulled out her watch and cell phone. “Kodo, scan for bugs. New bugs.” A whirring sound emanated from her timepiece, so she put it down and called her mother as she loaded her computer.
The phone was answered on the third ring. A new record. “Hey, Gela. How’s it going?”
“Same as always. Get up, do some coding, find the meaning of life, talk to my volleyball and maybe the skipper. Standard stuff for living alone on a remote island.” Her OS had loaded. She just needed to wait on Kodo.
“Sarcastic as ever, I see.” The traditional four seconds of silence elapsed. Neither could think of what to say in just three, and five would be unthinkable. “I take it you aren’t just calling for small talk.”
“No, I’m not. What’d I do to piss off the boss this time?”
“My lair got a visitation today. No robbery, just a few reminders that they’d been there. Probably some bugs, but those are easy enough to take care of.”
“I haven’t heard of anything. Same awkward situation as usual around here. I’ll ask around, though. See if I can find anything.”
“Thanks.” A notification flashed on Kennedy’s monitor. “I think Kodo’s got something. I’ll get back to you later.”
“Alright, see you soon. Love you.”
“I love you too, mom.” A buzz as the phone disconnected mingled with the stench of lies. Gela scanned the message on her screen. “Alright, disable all but one of the bugs. We’ll destroy them later. In the meantime, let’s see who exactly wants to bother us from the Sevii Islands.”
--- .-.. .. ...- . .-. -- .- .-. ...
“Six months ago, Ronaldo Wyvern was just your average teenage boy from the country. Today he stands at the gates of the Indigo Plateau, and many analysts predict he could go all the way. Who is he? How did he do what so many only dream of? Today we will explore the origins and rise of this phenomenal trainer, potentially the future regional Champion. As always, no detail will remain unmentioned, no view unaired. Welcome to the Cinnabar Factor.”
The TV shut off as a teenage boy stood in front of it, his Graveler nervously standing back as he fumed. “Why? The kid breezes through all the gyms, gets the media to fall in love with him, and then goes to fight off a few legendaries without breaking a sweat. How? We’ve fought strong trainers before, but once he starts battling, poof. Nothing. Pretty soon everything we can muster is defeated. Military grade strategy? Useless. Hundreds of hours of training? Useless. Gym badges? Useless. How on earth does he do it? It’s like he can warp reality or something!”
Graveler ducked as a remote flew over his head. It wouldn’t hurt him, but the device might get shattered. That would just make his trainer angrier. “I swear, one day we’re going to beat Ronaldo Wyvern. Forget being the best. Just got to be better than that punk.”
.-.. . -. --- .-. . -.-. .-. .- -. .
The boat swayed rhythmically on the waves, lifted and lowered by the gentle swells scraping the surface of the immeasurably large ocean. Inside the vessel, dwarfed by the natural forces around it, soft music permeated the room, seeping from a violin at the front. As if shadowing the dance of nature around them, pairs of humans swayed to and fro, mindful of nothing but each other, the music, and the gentle rocking of the boat. Except for one girl, who was thinking about something quite different. “The incinerator,” she whispered.
“What?” Her partner momentarily stumbled, but quickly made up for it. “What did you say?”
“The incinerator, of course. No one expects someone to hide in the incinerator. But if it’s large enough and could be turned off... and then the ashes could be a red herring. The police, readers too, would assume that it was used to burn evidence, but maybe it was just used to burn fingerprints and cover shoe markings in the old ashes. Yes, the killer hid in there until only Miss Watson-“
“Lenore, you’re speaking aloud.”
“I’m- oh, shoot. Sorry. How loud was I?”
Her partner shook his head. “Not very. I’m guessing no one else heard you.”
“Oh, thank goodness. Thanks for stopping me, Edgar.”
“No problem. Look, if you don’t want to do this, I understand. The song is nearly finished, so you could slip off and think for a few minutes if you need to.”
As the music ended, Edgar left to find a new partner. Lenore apologized and thanked him before slipping off through the crowds and into the quieter hallway. Her parents would want to see her in the room, but for now she had a few minutes of quiet to enjoy her inspiration. That’s just how writing went. Brief flashes of clarity muddled by the mundane moments of life. Of course, it would help if she did something interesting for once. Or got out of her heels and behind a type-writer. But neither was going to happen anytime soon.
- .... . -. .- .-. .-. .- - --- .-.
Have you ever been in situations like these? Are murderous cult leaders, mafia spies, unbeatable rivals or midnight dances regularly out to make your life worse? Good. If they were you probably wouldn’t have time to read this. These four are currently working on a book after watching one too many terrible Cinnabar Factor broadcast fail to accurately tell their story. But it’s a long story, which makes for a really long book. And a long book means that it will take a long time to get to you. In the meantime, I have been allowed to put this together. It’s a collection of origin stories, telling how four children with deep psychological issues became four teenagers with deep psychological issues and access to powerful biological weapons.
Sound interesting? Good.
The stories can be read in any order. For example, you could read File 1 then Files 2, 3 and 4. You could also read them in the order 4, 3, 2, 1 or even 3, 2, 1, 4. But not 2, 1, 3, 4. Don’t get crazy on us.
So if you want to read more about how a teenage boy came to flee into the forest with a witch, go to File 1. To find out why a girl lives alone with her watch, check out File 2. For a depressing story about the futility of fighting fate and Sues, File 3 is your best bet. File 4 chronicles the musings of a poet dealing with her mental demons. As if there was any other kind of poet. There are no time-traveling robots, sinking ships, or blue aliens in any of the files. Please go to Netflix and look up James Cameron if those sound interesting.
Yes, you can read the Files in any order. I’ll update this post with the starting points of the various stories when they’re posted. File 1 is finished and begins in the next post. File 2 begins in post number 8 (CTRL+F "Anachronatic Order" to view it). It is currently being updated on Saturdays. I am doing research for File 3 at the moment and hope to release it shortly after File 2 is finished.
File 1 deals heavily with fringe religious groups (ie cults, communes). If this is a particularly sensitive issue for you, I highly advise skipping to File 1.2 when it is posted.
OPEN FILE 1: CADMIUM RED AND UMBER BROWN
OPEN FILE 1.1: JET BLACK
The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
2 Samuel 18:8
“I’m standing in Celadon City, the regional capitol of excess and consumerism, where earlier this morning a band of freedom fighters led by the revolutionary Titania stormed a Regional Government office complex. The situation is still developing, but it is presently believed that the revolutionary band has suppressed all resistance inside the building and is holding the majority of its occupants hostage. It is difficult to estimate of the death toll at this time; the few inside reports we have indicate that it is likely in the dozens. The Regional Army has surrounded the building and the two forces remain in a standoff. Titania has stated that she will release the hostages immediately should the Champion issue a resignation notice or move the troops currently in Celadon against the Mafia bases in the city. The Champion has publicly declined these terms, most probably because his ties to organized crime and the excesses of industry blinds him to the human needs of his followers.”
John Weaver looked up and frowned at the news. His parents were hugging each other and applauding so he clapped a little too. The words had been big. He shuddered. Why couldn’t they show more pictures or use clearer words? The broadcast was talking about a woman named ‘Titania,’ whom they had talked about a lot recently. His parents discussed her at dinner with smiles and the voices they used to discuss happy things like weddings and births in the Community. They said he was a true soldier of The Voice willing to fight against evil. The news team always called her “holy” and “blessed.” The Reverend gave a sermon once calling her “the paradigm of virtue” or something like that. It was a big word. John was trying to draw Titania now. He had to guess some of the details- the images of saintly individuals could not be recorded on camera, the Reverend said- but he drew her as tall and strong, like the heroes in the Testament who always fought evil and stood for what was right. There was a halo above her, of course, and the clouds were parting in a sign of The Voice’s approval. But there was fire behind her as well. That was the hard part. Fire was always changing, and he could never get the color right. He used a Cadmium Red pastel, normally, because it was only his red one. The shade was off, though. Well, not quite. He just needed more shades. Fire wasn’t only one color after all. And then he drew bodies. Titania would stand on a pile of dead evil people to show that she was good. There had been wars fought a few years ago where the sinful masses and the criminals tried to keep the government evil. When The Voice won they still tried to resist it. The evil won the second time: there had to be trials or it would be too easy to get to Heaven.
There had not been a war in years. Now there was Titania. She fought the evil government and blew up the non-believers. Testament said not to kill. Maybe the really good people were allowed to kill? His father had done it in the last fight. He would never answer questions about it. That made killing more mysterious to John. Maybe there were secrets about Testament and Law that only really good people like his dad and Titania could know?
One day he hoped to be good enough to kill people, too.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“For the last time, Titania is not a terrorist! The mafia are terrorists!
John Weaver huffed in disgust as he walked to the main field for free hour. Viridian! In his home Unit, Viridian Camp was spoken of like a different world. The Unit Leader told the kids regularly that they should care more about nature, like the Campers who came to Viridian Camp. John was the exception in the Unit. The moment Cinnabar Creed recitation sessions began, he was out. When Testament study began he would move his pencil over the margins to draw a bird or a flower while he pretended to take notes. When the whining began on camping trips, though, John was running around with his tools flying through his sketchbook. How could he draw the grass better? What color was best for the leaves.
John stayed up at night for three days, busily packing for a trip months away, after he was told he could go to Viridian Camp. Finally, Campers who cared more about the outdoors than memorizing old sayings! But the people here-by The Voice they were so wrong and sinful. He couldn’t tell whether to pity or hate them. Not hate though. The Voice told him not to hate. Only the good people could hate. Yes, he would pity. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t frustrated!
“My dad says that Titania is wrong. He says that the Champion’s given thousands of people jobs. She can’t be that bad if she gives jobs, right?”
“Giving stuff to the bad people at the cost of- you know what? I’m not talking to you.” John stormed ahead, ignoring his group. Sinful fools. It wasn’t complicated! Sure, the sermons on Xavier were always long and he was coloring by the end of half of them, but still! The Reverend thought the government was bad and Titania was good. The government was trying to make socialism, which was bad. Except for socialism in the Community. Umber was good. Titania wanted to bring Community to oppose the mafia and socialism, so she was good. Titania wasn’t a Community member but she liked the same things so she was good. It made sense, really.
John’s monologue carried him forward a half-mile before he looked up. He looked around to see where he was going. The stadium. He cringed, not wanting to see Pokémon manipulated by humans to hurt each other. It was wrong and against the Reverend’s- no, The Voice’s- commands. Still, he had nothing better to do. At least he could learn more to protest it later. John sat down on the wooden stands. It was uncomfortable. He didn’t know the people around him. Umber’s Unit didn’t send many Campers to Viridian Camp. Not many wanted to go, and those that wanted to were often not approved. They were told they weren’t ready to face the outside world. They didn’t believe enough and their minds were conflicted. When he asked his friends why they never asked to go, most said they were afraid of being rejected and feeling sinful because of it. John wasn’t worried though. He didn’t have a conflicted mind.
The announcer, John had seen him around camp but didn’t recognize him, took the stand. “Campers, today we have something a little different to show you: a Baccer match between counselors Ulysses Tanner and Seneca Williams! Since many of you probably don’t know the rules, let’s review. Each side will have three Pokémon. They must knock a ball into the opposing team’s goal as many times as possible in twenty-five minutes. After a goal is made, the other team will gain possession and the match will continue. Play will not stop until the time is up. Additionally, no attacks are permitted against either other Pokémon or the ball. Now, give it up for Ulysses and Seneca!”
Strange. John had never seen, or heard, of a Baccer match before. Was it like battling? And what did the announcer mean no attacks? Were Pokémon fine with being trained if they weren’t made to battle? Could they like it? Did it violate Testament? John would have to ask the Reverend later. Maybe make some notes to help the Reverend’s decision. No, he would surely know the answer without his assistance. He could still draw though. John took out his sketchbook and waited excitedly for the match to begin.
... . -. . -.-. .- .-- .. .-.. .-.. .. .- -- ...
“Iris, Night, Blaze: let’s go!”
“Form, now.” Ulysses shadow broke into four pieces. Three slipped away and rose into the air, forming jet black balls of smoke and toxic fog. When the process was done a Gastly, Haunter, and Gengar floated before him. A moment of shaking and silence passed before applause and cheering rose from the grandstands.
“Quite the display, Tanner. Does it translate to skill?” Seneca taunted.
“I believe you shall be astonished,” Ulysses replied, his face expressionless and his eyes masked behind his onyx sunglasses.
The ref tossed a coin. “By virtue of the flip, Seneca Williams’ team will lead.”
Seneca nodded and extended his coffee-colored hand to the sky. “London Blitz time, team. Let’s go.” His Pokémon rapidly moved into position. Blaze begrudgingly slunk back to a defensive stance in front of the circular goal. Iris and Night fluttered two meters off the ground. Flying-types weren’t allowed to gain too much altitude, but every meter counted when the Pokémon were relatively small. The ref tossed the ball into the air, and the match began. Night the Golbat rushed forward to grab it, quickly taking possession. Haunter and Gengar rushed towards him to swipe the prized orb. The ciel bat barely missed a beat and curved sharply to gain the angle and momentum needed to send the forty ball blasting through the air to his partner waiting down the field. Gastly reflexively rushed towards the ball and the Butterfree set to receive it, moving away from the goal.
“Hold back,” Ulysses commanded.
The Gastly stopped in mid-air to turn back towards its trainer with a confused expression. Gengar was seconds away from Ulysses’ Butterfree, Iris. That was all the time the bug needed. As the ball came in Iris gave her (almost adorable) attempt at a war cry and snatched it out of the air mid-flight. The force her reeling back several meters as she struggled to redirect the ball’s course. She beat her Ivory wings as quickly as possible until they blurred together and she began to slow. Her gaze shifted to the goal, now just meters away, and she stopped beating her left wing. The force sent her reeling in a crazed spin until she was facing her target and slammed the ball forward with all the might attached to her exoskeleton. Gastly swerved in its cloud to see the ball come into the goal right behind it, the entrance angle completely changed by Iris’ recoil. Ulysses pumped his fist in the air.
“London Blitz: works every time.”
“A word of advice: never try to play a misdirection game with an amateur magician. You may win the opening gambit, but by the end of the performance you will be left staring at the ground, wondering how such marvelous trickery is possible. Phantom force. Go.”
“Night, watch for Gengar. Iris, take Haunter.” His Pokémon called their assent as the two ghosts slowly advanced across the field, slowly approaching the mid-field line where play would begin, looking warily in all directions. Charmeleon grumbled as he pawed the dirt in front of the goal. “I know, buddy, you can play offense when you evolve. For now you’re my only team member durable enough to take the goal,” Seneca whispered.
At the centerline, Gengar held the ball in his hands, carefully eyeing the court without regard to the ticking clock. Seneca ran his gloved hands together anxiously. When he was six his parents had taken him to see a Lavender Spirits game. Their star’s Gengar zipped down the field faster than even an Arcanine , nimbly leaping in and out of shadows and small pockets of darkness to score within seconds. Night was fast but if Tanner’s Gengar was trained he might not be fast enough.
Suddenly, the ghost-type took off down the field, bolting straight towards the defending bat. As Night moved in, the ball was launched to Haunter materialized near Iris. The Butterfly raised her wings to block off as many possible shots as she could, quickly moving in closer to the nearby ghost. Why would Tanner deliberately keep the ball close to his Pokémon? There wasn’t a second one there. A quick scan of the field showed that Gengar was near Night, Haunter was cornered by Iris, and Gastly… was nowhere to be seen.
“Iris, watch-“ Suddenly the Haunter lunged to the left. Iris tried to follow, but her shadow whipped around to face her. Gastly popped out and gave a low, terrible wail that made John shake in the stands. Butterfree recoiled in horror, allowing Haunter to rush uncontested before lobbing the ball to the goal with its disconnected hand. Blaze jumped as high as his repitilian legs would launch him, flexing his back muscles on the off-chance that he had wings. With every ounce of his power he jumped, reaching for the strength to go just another inch to scratch the ball. But he had neither the wings nor the legs to do it. The ball descended through the goal from the highest trajectory possible, bringing the score to 1-1. Gastly stuck its tongue out at Iris as it flew back, leaving the butterfly shuddering and rubbing her tiny hands together. Seneca cursed under his breath. He had met Iris when he found a Caterpie shuddering in a meadow, too afraid to even launch a String Shot at a descending Spearow. Through the years she had learned to stand up to Lickitung’s, Koffing, and even Rhydon in matches. But ghosts? That was another level of fear.
“Ta-da.” Ulysses Tanner bowed. “Care for another go?
“But of course.”
“Haunter, Gengar: Keep doing what works.”
“If I’m remembering right, your defense doesn’t work. So please keep doing it.”
Ulysses laughed. “How narrowly you think.”
Seneca paused for a moment, glancing over the arena once more for any obvious threats he missed the first twenty times. “Iris, Night: keep going.”
Night blasted the ball to mid-field with a bit less power than his field-crossing pass. Unless he specifically ordered it, his Pokémon would never use that strategy twice in a row. They shared too many memories of a fast bird scooping the pass up and scoring in the first few seconds. Iris caught it in her legs without moving back more than a meter and fluttered forward again, ducking to dodge the approaching Gengar before she tossed it back to Golbat on the other side. The bat rushed forward until Haunter floated a few meters away, sweeping back a few centimeters to keep distance between them. Night swerved to the side to glance at Seneca who simply shook his head. Unnerved by the Haunter’s lack of motion, Night blasted it off to his partner. At least the Gengar was behaving predictably. The Butterfree caught the ball once more without incident, and turned towards the goal upon stabilizing herself. Just as she prepared a final heave around the guarding Gastly, Gengar shot up from right below her, tongue outstretched. Iris shrieked and the ball slipped from her hands. Haunter raced from his position near Golbat and grabbed the ball.
“Back,” Seneca whispered in a panic. His Butterfree and Charmeleon wouldn’t hear it but, more importantly, neither would Ulysses. Night and Haunter blitzed nearly unopposed through the air towards Seneca’s goal, leaving behind a shaking Butterfree. Haunter fired a rapid pass to Gengar, who glared at the fire-type blocking its path. Just as the ball entered its hand, a light blue blur descended from the sky and snatched the ball away into the sky. Night screeched in delight, the ball held solidly in his fangs.
“Iris, back to the goal. Blaze and Night, take to offense.”
As the Pokémon shifted positions, Blaze scooped up the ball. Baccer was a momentum game. Seneca had lost five of his first seven matches because he had not aggressively pursued the ball when he had a chance. Why would Ulysses, presumably an experienced player, do so now? For the two-hundreth time in the match, Seneca looked at every shadow and discolored area on the field. “Proceed carefully.” The Chameleon began to move forward, holding the ball in one hand and advancing low to the ground. He couldn’t go above or outrace his opponents, but if worst came to worst he could still duck below them. Night flew quietly nearby and sent out imperceptibly high-pitched screeches to check for threats. At once, the two ghosts began to rush the duo of attackers, quickly blitzing between them and making lunges at Blaze in an effort to get him to release the ball. Night flapped and screeched all around the area, trying to force them away. The Charmeleon himself soldiered on, moving past and through the phantoms as necessary.
Gengar slipped back in the shadows and watched as Haunter and Golbat continued their duel over Blaze, lunging and swiping at each other to force their opponent away. The slow lizard slowly marched forward, oblivious to the chaos above. In time the fire-type got ahead of both combatants above him, as neither could make any progress down the field without the other intercepting. Haunter would be blocked by a rapid dive from Night. The Golbat couldn’t get past the disembodied hands that Haunter could project. Freed from apparent adversity, Blaze’s grip gradually slackened. Blurring with the shadows on the field, Gengar slipped right under the Charmeleon and merged with the light distortions cast by the reptile’s fiery tail, leaving it free to search for the perfect angle to strike from. Finding one that was satisfactory, it rushed from the ground, through Blaze’s claws, and launched the ball into the air where Haunter caught it. Then he materialized in a cloud of cold smoke and began to float down the field. The Charmeleon followed as fast as his legs could carry him while Night rushed back, joining his fellow flying-type at the goal. The ghosts searched for every possible angle around the defense but where thwarted. They couldn’t assume a shadow form while they carried the ball, and when they did Seneca would follow the light patterns with a watchful eye, shouting out the opponents’ locations.
Even Blaze’s arrival at the goal changed little. The ghosts would tussle for the ball, then slip back to a better position when the odds turned against them. The fight inched closer to mid-field as the phantoms were repeatedly forced back by Night’s deft maneuvering and Chameleon’s dogged defense.
Back by the goal, Seneca watched the clock and the opponent’s Gastly. While it probably couldn’t move the ball with any precision due to its lack of hands or feet, it could still block shots and move the ball in its gas cloud. It could also scare his goalkeeper. He could clearly see Iris cowering as Haunter moved its hand to score the winning shot, Night rushing in too late as Blaze waddled down the field. The stalemate in mid-field continued in a rapid dance of dodges, feints, and lunges to secure or retain possession of the ball. Even if he did give orders, by the time his Pokémon heard the situation would have changed completely.
The two-minute warning sounded over the speakers. If Seneca was ever going to do something, it was time to set it in motion. “Iris,” he called softly.
“Drift up a bit. If there’s an opening, take it.”
For almost a minute the insect did nothing but scan the ongoing battle. Even with her excellent eyes, the rapid flight of Night and the ghosts was absurdly hard to track. One would rise and move its hand into a position she could steal the ball from, only to dissipate in a cloud of smoke or hand it off to its partner. Eventually, though, Haunter was cornered. It moved the hand it held the ball end behind itself, trying to hold it back form a rapidly advancing Night. Gengar had been trapped on the other side of the bat, helpless to take a pass. “FREE!” Rushing through the field, Iris adjusted her path to stay meters away from Gengar, but took far too much pleasure in seeing a look of shock on Haunter’s face as she snagged the ball from its hands and rushed towards the opposing goal before it could analyze what was happening. Gastly spread out its cloud to hinder her ability to score, but her complex eyes automatically detected the shroud’s thinnest point. She flew straight at the ghost, daring it to back down with her facial expression while her abdomen shook with anxiety. But this was her moment. She had failed her trainer twice in the game and would not back down for a third time.
“Scare her, Gastly! Do something!”
Gastly finally shook its confusion off and let out an earsplitting wail. Iris’ wings stop beating as she closed her eyes and shook in fear. Without her adjustment, Iris’ momentum sent her crashing through the Gastly’s outer cloud and up against the goal. Her wings hit metal and their ivory tint quickly adopted streaks of pink as her muscles relaxed and she plummeted to the ground. At the very last moment, through the shock, pain, and fear that came from fainting, she remembered to lift her legs up a little more, edging the ball through the goal.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
John watched Seneca slink off after the match. He secured his sketchbook, now filled with quick drawings of ghosts and fliers, and stood up to pursue him. The skill and grace of the combatants had given him excellent sketch material, yet left him with plenty of questions he wanted answered. Rushing off, he found the staff member near the forest’s edge.
“Hey!” Seneca turned, a bit confused as he attempted to recall where he had seen this participant.
“’Sup.” The Baccer player analyzed the camper. He was much shorter than him and rather pale. He wasn’t out of shape, but certainly not an athlete.
“I, uh, wanted to ask you some questions about the game.”
“Oh, sure. Ask me anything, I guess.”
“Your Butterfree- is it hurt?”
Seneca shook his head. “No, Iris just gets a little excited from time to time. I gave her some Potions a while ago, so she’ll be fine by nightfall. It wasn’t too serious anyway; bad for Baccer, but for a battle that would be nothing.”
“How do you make her fight like that, if she gets hurt? Doesn’t she want to stop?”
“The better question is how I can make her not play. If I’m being honest, she isn’t the strongest of Pokémon, especially physically. She gets hurt from time to time because she plays like she’s got the bulk of a Rhydon. I felt bad after she almost tore her wing in a school match, once. I decided to get another Pokémon to play in her place. Iris would still be my companion, just not play Baccer. I played exactly one match without her. After that she’d slip spores into my Ratatta’s food just to keep him from playing and make me go with her. I felt even worse for the rat, so I slipped it back into the wild where I’d found it. She likes playing quite a bit.”
“But, that doesn’t make sense. Why?”
Seneca motioned for John to follow him as he walked up to the site of his next meeting. “I don’t really know. We’re pretty close. We’ve both saved each other from a fair few nasty situations, and after spending enough time with me in practice my Pokémon might know me better than my family. I take care of her, and she feels compelled to pay me back, I guess. Or maybe she just likes the game. I read something once about trainer’s Pokémon being motivated to battle because it feels like the wild.”
“Pokémon battle in the wild?”
“All the time. It’s just safer when there are trainers watching over things. No fatalities if an attack goes wrong, no need to kill the opponent so it doesn’t kill you. There’s a reason that Pokémon evolved to learn attacks after all.”
“No they didn’t . The Voice made them that way.”
“Well, there’s a reason The Voice made them that way, then.”
John considered whether or not this was a valid argument. He decided it was fair: if it existed in creation, it must have had a purpose. “What about your other Pokémon? Do they like competing?”
“They like it more than Iris. Night’s a show-off, and he likes being able to display. Blaze likes battling more, since he’s in a hurry to get his wings and show the world who’s boss.”
“He likes battling? Actual battling? Wait, you battle?”
“Yes, yes, and occasionally. It’s the fastest way for him to grow, and he’s really interested in growing. Iris and Night like me for our friendship. Blaze puts up with me because I can help him grow. The other two don’t battle a lot, only as an occasional exercise for engaging in close-quarters struggles for the ball. But Blaze will wake me up at five every morning demanding I help him train. When I can find an opponent, he prefers battling.”
“Huh. Strange.” Why would a Pokémon like fighting? Why did they do it in nature, for that matter? And above all, if Pokémon were not meant to be with humans why did two of his like their position? “You said that you were friends with your Pokémon? Like, human friends?”
“Not quite. It’s more complicated. We definitely care for each other and would sacrifice almost anything for the other. I even tell them stuff I wouldn’t tell anyone here. But at the same time, they can’t really talk back or understand some of the complex stuff. We have an emotional bond, but not really a full mental one. Am I making any sense?”
“Sort of. You do think of them as friends, though?”
“Absolutely. I probably spend more time with them than anyone. I think most of my friends would stick with me through anything, but I know my Pokémon will.”
“Okay, then.” That was odd, too. Pokémon and people could be friends? He thought the Reverend had said it was impossible. Surely he was lying. But his Pokémon had seemed happy enough. What if he wasn’t lying? The friendship sounded nice; John didn’t really have anyone to talk to about personal problems like Seneca did. Well, there was always The Voice. When you had problems you did not burden the Community; you lifted them up to The Voice and it would solve them. But sometimes he wished that he could have an actual conversation about life with someone.
“I take it you don’t have any Pokémon. Ever thought of getting one?”
Of course he hadn’t. It was sinful to restrain a Pokémon and he had proudly told elders, teacher, and family that he would never own one several times in the past. It was part of what living in Umber meant. But he still paused for a moment before shaking his head.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Mommy, what’s that?”
“That’s a Rattata, dear.”
“And what’s that?”
“A type of Pokémon.”
“Yes, animals who live outside of the Community. Most humans enslave them to fight each other.”
“Yes, it is. That’s why we don’t allow them in the Community. If The Voice had meant for humans to force the Pokémon to fight each other, he would have allowed us to control them without technology.”
John was appalled that people could do something so mean. He was glad to live in a good place. It was his first time outside and he was already learning about how bad everywhere else was. It was his first hike with the Junior Camper Unit in Umber. They had hiked for hours yesterday before camping and hiking even more today. It was exhausting! He had never walked this far in his life.
The group was currently resting in a clearing in Viridian Forest on lands that the local camp owned. The woods were usually thick, but occasionally in places like this there would be an area with access to the sky and sun. He liked that. The dark was creepy. The Rattata he had seen was currently resting in a large hole three meters up the largest tree that John had seen in his life, situated in the middle of the otherwise empty patch of land.
Another child came over to him. “What are you looking at?”
“It’s a Ratta, up there! See it!”
“In the hole?”
“I see it! Up there! But, what’s a Ratta?”
“It’s a type of Pokmon, which is an animal that other people make fight each other for no reason at all. We don’t do that in Umber though. We’re good people.”
END FILE 1.1: JET BLACK
PROGRESS TO FILE 1.2: AUBURN
There is the potential from minor swearing from now until the end of File 1.
OPEN FILE 1.2: AUBURN
And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.
Silence engulfed the room as Reverend Xavier took the pulpit.
“Good evening, candidates.”
“Good evening, Reverend.”
“Today we will continue with your initiation training by discussing faith and miracles. Faith is the most powerful force in the universe. Humans are weak and can do nothing alone, but by the power of The Voice they may accomplish great things. In order to do these, they must first ask and believe. To display Our Creator’s power, its Prophets have historically done things that were seen as impossible by the people around them. This showed that they were speaking for something above the world. The most important Prophet, Kuracanto, was known for driving demons and plagues from every town he entered. At the time, this region was a state ruled by an absolute dictator of a Champion who crushed all dissent from the masses. He was displeased by the increasing fear and love the people held for Kuracanto, so he drove him away over the sea. There he survived without food and water for thirty days before arriving on an island far out in the ocean. Upon landing, he converted the local inhabitants with the power of The Voice and organized the faith into the form we practice today in Umber.”
“The average believer is not Kuracanto, but they could still perform miracles if they had enough faith. Indeed, that is a motif of Testament: any person at all, from any background, can do fantastic things through the power of The Voice. For believers still trying to wander the darkness of the world, this is a great power to help endure the inevitable persecution that comes with the intolerance outside of the Community. For those of us blessed enough to be here, it is the means through which we may preserve this hallowed place and demonstrate our virtue and power to the rest of the region, so that they may join us in harmony and belief one glorious day.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
For the most part, few people ever entered or left Umber. Every once in a while a new home would be lit and gossip would fly around the Community. Women would rejoice and praise The Voice publicly, only to gossip about the newcomer’s sinful past when they were alone. Men would congregate by the new arrival’s home to repair it and move the approved possessions in. As the weeks streamed by, every single family in Umber would visit the new home. John was fine with hospitality¬– maybe the new people would actually like the same things he did– but he still tugged at the stiff collar he normally only had to wear to Chapel, rubbing the itchy spot on his neck that seemed to seer in protest at two consecutive days of torture.
“I hear they have a kid your age, John,” Mrs. Weaver candidly said. “And supposedly they’re really upstanding folk. Mr. Jones was a minister down in Fuchsia for a time.”
John nodded. Newcomers were nice, even if the child was the typical minister’s kid. There weren’t many kids in Umber. Of the few that there were, almost all wore their church clothes proudly and held their Testament at all times. They sneered when they talked, lifting their chin in such a way that it was clear who was morally superior. He tried talking to one of his better acquaintances about Baccer after the break. John barely said three sentences before the kid cut him off, claiming that he had no interest in such profane activities. Discouraged, he tried talking to another boy his age about Viridian and the forest. They haughtily told him that there was no need for him to learn about anything outside the walls of Umber. John had liked Umber and he liked Baccer, but he found it impossible to keep talking about it when doing so led to the cessation of whispering whenever he entered classrooms and pointing fingers immediately lowering whenever he turned around. Still, another acquaintance could not hurt. At least they would not immediately judge him.
As he looked around him, John’s hand reflexively lowered to his sketchbook. It was the tail end of Summer in the Viridian area; the weather was warm but not oppressive and the trees were fern or forest green and vibrant. It did not have the same variety of colors as Autumn, which meant that he needed fewer utensils to draw it.
“Ah, here we are.”
They stood in front of a recently vacated stone house on the edge of the Community. The previous occupants were now serving as missionaries in an archipelago far away, so the home had been approved for reassignment. It, like most other buildings in Umber, was made of stone due to a command in Testament to “think of eternity in all things; all that is worthwhile lasts beyond the fading present.” John thought the verse was referring to salvation, but the Elders had decided it was also a divine building code warning against wood. They must have been really smart to see it that way.
A man opened the door after two knocks. “Why, hello. More visitors, I presume?”
“Yes, we’re the Weaver family. We brought food and greetings to welcome you to Umber.”
“Ah, do come in.” He turned to John. “My daughter, Andrea, is out back. You would probably rather talk to her than us old folk.”
“Yes, sir.” John saluted and walked around the house to the woods. The forest crept right up to the home. A path of trampled, browning grass only slightly wider than John led back into the forest, probably pressed down by the occasional migrating deer or larger Pokémon. Not seeing anyone, he began to walk down the trail. Birds of all colors, from nearly neon green to teal to pantone, jumped from branch to branch in the canopy, joined by occasional Pidgey who rested on the larger branches, pecking into the wood with their short beaks. John smiled as he walked, his hand absentmindedly tracing in the air as he watched the Pidgey preen their wings. Glancing down from the upper levels of the forest, he spotted an odd color for the woods: auburn. His expression sunk momentarily but he quickly whipped it into a forged smile. Nature time was over; time to be nice to people.
.- -. -.. .-. . .- .--- --- -. . ...
There was something in the woods. An ethereal glow had shone before Andrea Jones’ feet, reaching out to her until her very soul pushed her to follow. With supernatural exuberance she had bounded down the narrow trail, not even stopping to put on shoes. Her father had sighed and continued stacking boxes. He had learned years before there was no stopping her daughter. Now that she was in the middle of the forest the glow had subsided. Only sunlight and birdsong surrounded her. What was she supposed to see? Maybe it wasn’t there yet. She turned her gaze inward, focusing intensely on The Voice and her own mind. A soft hum rose from her throat, rising and falling rhythmically like a chant with indistinguishable notes. For minutes she scoured the darkness of her eyelids, searching for any further clues as her hum continued.
Andrea blinked and turned around to see a pale boy, apparently about her height and age, facing her. “Hi. Sorry about that there, just lost focus for a second.”
“It’s fine,” the boy replied, an eyebrow raised. Ugh. She had already made a terrible impression. How long had she been standing there? She glanced down at her feet. Bare feet. On a trail filled with thorny plants. Well, there was always a chance he wouldn’t catch that. “My name’s John. I live on the eastern edge of Umber.”
“My name’s Andrea. I’m fourteen. And you?”
She smiled. Okay, if John hadn’t already dismissed her as crazy, which he surely had, there was a chance that they could be friends. Now to change the conversation to something that would make her seem a little bit more normal. “Great. So, what do you do for fun around here?”
“Fun?” Great. Even wanting to make small talk made you insane around here. Umber was going to be utterly fantastic. “Well, I work for the Campers in the Summer. I also draw. Other than that, there’s not a lot to do in the Community other than homework and going to Chapel.”
“Really? You don’t do anything for fun here? No sports, clubs, anything?”
John shook his head. “Not really. The Elders think most of that is sinful.”
“I see.” Well, there went Plans A through Y. As silence settled in, Andrea desperately thought back through anything they might be able to connect on. Suddenly the forest departed and she entered another scene entirely.
.- -. -.. .-. . .- .--- --- -. . ...
Trees still surrounded her, but they seemed far taller now. She was wearing a small olive green uniform, surrounded by a horde of small children in the uniforms as well. Her legs were filled with boundless energy, a desire to run run run as far as she could. Some of the other kids were chasing each other a dozen or so meters away. Their parents were yelling after them, trying in vain to herd them into straight line.
An air horn blew in the distance and a collective groan rose from the kids. All of the children began to walk, if slowly and begrudgingly, towards the cars in a distant parking lot. Andrea followed them. It felt like the right thing to do. Once they reached the lot, she milled around with other kids before a very tall adult– her father!– walked up to her. “Hi, Andrea. Did you have fun?”
“Yeah! The Safari Zone was really big and the Pokémon there were cool.”
“So you think you’ll like Camping?”
.- -. -.. .-. . .- .--- --- -. . ...
Oh. Right. That had happened, however many years ago. And she just lost focus again. Well, there any chance she had to make up for her poor start went.
“Well, I did Camping for a while. Maybe I could get back into it.”
“You could,” John said, relaxing as the awkward moment passed. “The Unit here doesn’t do a whole lot , though. We hike every once and a while, but we just meet up and read Testament or talk about Prophets at most of our meetings.”
“Do you like that?” Andrea inquired.
John cringed and looked over Andrea for a moment as he formulated his answer. “Not really. I mostly go to Viridian to do the cool stuff. It’s only two hours away when I can get a ride on the Community van or a friend in the city. It’d be faster, but the road is bad.”
“So people do leave the borders from time to time?” Yes. If all else failed, she could at least meet people outside.
John shook his head. “Not really, no. Only a few people ever leave at all.”
Well, there that option went. “Could I go with you on one of these trips, then?” she blurted out. Why? He was going to say no. He almost certainly thought she was a wierdo, zoning out twice on him and hanging out in the forest barefoot.
“Sure, I guess. The only thing I’m going to for a few months is a service project, but if you want to come and can talk the Elders into letting you.”
“Thank you!” Okay, at least he was willing to lie to her and be nice. Second chances were always good.
A call came from the edge of the forest, bidding them to come.
“Well, I guess we should start walking back now,” John said, poorly hiding his relief.
“Yeah.” They walked for a few meters before Andrea spoke again. “May I ask you one more question?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“The teaching here... you mentioned it’s focused on sin and punishment.”
“Very much so.”
“Do you agree with it?” John stopped, confused and stunned. Well, she’d already lost him there. Might as well keep pushing ahead. She could always make other friends. Hopefully. “I mean, of course there is sin, but do you believe that it’s the central point of relating to The Voice? Do you think that the full meaning of Testament is taught here?”
“I, well,” John lapsed off, losing focus for a moment as he considered his answer. Andrea resisted the urge to smile. At least she wasn’t the only one who awkwardly left conversations. “I’m not sure.”
At last Andrea smiled and continued to walk down the path, taking special care to step around large twigs and thorns. “I think we could be friends.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Hi, Seneca.” John waved as his older friend on staff ran up to welcome him.
“How’s it going back in Umber?”
“Same as usual. Drawing and going to school and Chapel.”
“Nice.” Seneca turned to face Andrea as she walked up from the departing Community van. “Hey, there. My name’s Seneca Williams. I take it you’re from John’s unit.”
“Andrea Jones. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Well, come inside.” Seneca waved towards the building behind him. The outer walls were coated in a dull gray paint, now visibly cracked and covered in grime. “We can catch up later and there’s lots of painting to do inside.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
The room was huge, not quite as large as the Chapel, but easily the second largest John had seen in his life. Several stations were scattered throughout the area to divide up the work. Even then, John still found himself stepping back to stare at the enormity of the wall. How would this ever get painted?
“You’re staying the night in Viridian, right?” Seneca inquired.
“I was planning on it. Is it alright if I stay at your house?”
“Of course. Your girlfriend coming along?”
John’s brush stopped. “You know we don’t really do that in Umber, right?”
Seneca’s brush stopped. “You mean you can’t hook up? What gives you that idea?”
“It would be a distraction or something. I don’t really remember; it made sense.”
Seneca rolled his eyes and resumed pulling his brush across the cracked layer of dry, old paint currently on the wall. “Yeah, because doing what The Voice made us to do is really going to damn you for eternity, isn’t it?”
“I never said I agreed, just– I don’t see her like that, anyway.”
“Eh, whatever. She can stay in my brother’s room. You can take the couch in the living room.”
“Thanks for offering your room. Great hospitality, there.”
“Believe me, if you saw my room right now you would be begging for the couch.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
As soon as the day’s shift was over and the site secured for the night, Seneca bolted towards the door, waving for John and Andrea to follow him.
“What’s the rush? It’s only five.” John called after him as he hurried to catch up.
“If we want to get dinner before the game starts, we need to hurry.”
“Game? What game?” Andrea asked, now walking beside the two boys.
“What she said,” John added.
“Huh. I guess I did forget to tell you. My mom sells tickets for Viridian Stadium. She managed to set aside some extra seats for tonight’s Baccer Game. Saol’s playing, so I thought you would want to come.”
“Saol’s in Viridian! When did she get here and why didn’t you tell me?” John asked.
“Relax, she’s only been here for a few days. I didn’t think you could get out until the project, anyway.” Seneca replied.
“Saol’s a Baccer player, right?” The looks that John and Seneca cast him told her all that she needed to know. “Okay, at least I’m not totally out of touch with culture. I didn’t know you were a Baccer fan, John.”
“I’m not- okay fine, Seneca. Yes, I am. I can’t really talk about it in Umber because of the training prohibition.” John paused. Wait. Prohibition. Right. Most residents didn’t like training. Well, there went the one person his age who didn’t think he was a heretic. “If you don’t want to watch the game, I’ll stay at Seneca’s house with you.”
“It’s fine. I never really understood the ban and I don’t think either of you will tell anyone in the Community about it.”
“If that’s decided,” Seneca interjected, “What are you two hungry for? There are a lot of places to eat on this side of town.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Ladies and gentlemen of Viridian, do we have a match for you tonight!” The crowd exploded in cheering and whistling before the announcer raised his hand and it slowly subsided. “Today in the Red Corner, we have a visiting master. Her name is legendary and her record backs it up with a phenomenal 286-18 win ratio. Coming from 49 consecutive wins, the record for a female player, she hopes to secure her 50th tonight. Give it up for the Celadon Striker, Saol!
The audience once more exploded in an uproar of applause as the famous player took the stage in an explosion of green light and smoke, her jungle green uniform illuminated through the cloud. She waved and the noise rose even more until eventually the referee had to signal for order to return.
“In the Blue Corner we have a relative newcomer to professional Baccer. He is currently 6-2 in his rookie season, although he was recognized by Baccer Monthly as one of the ten most promising newcomers of the year. Can he match the proven power of the Celadon Striker? Ladies and gentleman, let’s welcome Guillermo Iglesias!”
“I think he went to Fuchsia College. Do you know him?” John asked Andrea over the respectful-but-weak shout of approval.
“No, Fuchsia has tens of thousands of people so I really don’t know everyone there.”
John looked around the stadium for a moment. There were probably ten times as many people as the population of Umber, maybe more. It was foolish of him to think that Andrea would have known a college student there. Even if he spent a year, John would never learn the name of everyone in this building. He knew the overwhelming majority of Umber’s inhabitants on a personal basis. Thank The Voice that he could live in a comforting environment like that.
“We’ll perform the coin toss and get the game started soon, but first we request that all in attendance please rise for the national anthem, performed by the choir of Viridian High.”
Almost of the audience rose to their feet in an upwelling sea of humanity, but John and Andrea remained firmly planted, looking down at their hands and ignoring the stares. Only The Voice needed to be honored. Respecting other authorities was rejecting the true one. An older man behind them muttered about unpatriotic youth, and John frowned. Why should he be patriotic? Why did he have to feel guilty for doing what was right.
After the anthem was sung, the crowd sat back down and the coin was tossed.
“Heads! Guillermo Iglesias will begin tonight’s match with possession of the ball.”
“Vinestrike, Guardstrike, Gripstrike: come on out!” Saol roared as she sent out her famous trio of powerhouses.
“Venusaur!” A speckled grass-type the size of a car materialized in front of the goal, spreading her flower and vines wide and hugging the ground. “Saur!” she snorted, flicking her vines to demonstrate her reflexes and power to the crowd.
A humanoid slab of muscle appeared close to the edge of the arena, rising two feet higher than he appeared at just by flexing his white elastic legs. He had no mouth and his eyes were devoid of emotion, gazing across the field to detect any possible advantages. Nearby a human-sized stag beetle formed, frothing at the mouth and roaring as he clicked his vicegrip closed and dug his heals into the dirt to prepare for battle.
“Erato, Clio, and Thalia, I choose you!” Iglesias was deathly afraid; his heart raced and he had to spend all of his mental energy just to keep focusing on the game. Yet his face was still locked in an arrogant half-smile and he stood as tall as he could. He wiped his brown bangs out of his eyes, staring confidently at his opponent and her death squad of a team. His three girls formed in the grass and slithered into position. Clio, his Dragonair, shot through the thin layer of vegetation on the field to rise up near the center-line. She instantly struck a pose, rattling her tail and weaving through the air with her head and the top of her body. Her ivory scales glistened as if polished gems. Erato, Iglesias’ Arbok, soon burst out nearby to spread her marked frill. Children in the front seat began to wail as the snake hissed, slowly alternating back and forth as she displayed her hideous markings to the enemy. Finally, Thalia the Onix rose up near the goal and delivered an earth-shattering roar as she slowly drew herself boulder by boulder to her maximum height. The sound of her motion was even louder than her roar, echoing throughout the entire stadium as if an earthmover was tearing up the turf.
“I take it snakes are good at this game,” Andrea mused as she watched Guillermo’s team appear.
“Snakes are usually decent, not great, but they’re pretty much the only way to stop Saol. She has a fantastic ground game and a strategy to counter birds, so lying low to the ground where her Pokémon can’t easily hit is ideal. Dugtrio and snake Pokémon do that best, but Iglesias doesn’t have a Dugtrio to the best of my knowledge,” Seneca answered.
“After a five second countdown play will begin and continue for twenty-five minutes, or until one side scores eight points,” the referee bellowed from the field below. “Should there be a tie at the end of standard play, tie-breaking procedures will begin. Now, if you will count with me.”
“FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE, GO!” The crowd roared as the ball was put into play.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“So we begin. Viper slide, go.” Clio took the ball and rapidly dived into the thigh-high grass until the flash of her ivory scales was almost invisible. Erato hissed for a second before she folded up her flap and dropped to the ground to slither towards the opposing team. Thalia the Onix rose up a little and coiled her massive stone body twice as she watched with interest, the harsh grinding causing babies to cry in the audience. Even the adults winced or covered their ears.
“Guardstrike and Gripstrike, root them out. Vinestrike, keep your guard up.” Saol was clear and confident, apparently not intimidated by the advancing serpents. But for whatever they had in skill and power, Saol’s team moved deliberately and slowly. They easily spotted the snakes, but their weak attempt at running through the grass was countered by simple changes in direction. Guardstrike at last cornered Clio, but the dragon kept sweeping her magnificent tail away from Guardstrike’s kicks at the earth, abusing his inability or unwillingness to bend down and pick the snake up. Gripstrike hardly tried to stop the offensive, frustrated by his inability to quickly kick or bend over and grab the snake. The ball moved less than thirty centimeters from the ground, yet it was unreachable in the serpents’ mouths.
“When you said Saol was good,” Andrea muttered, “this wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”
“Just keep watching,” Seneca replied.
Mere seconds after he finished speaking, Clio burst forward in a streak of white, racing beside Venusaur and reaching up near the goal, her body coming almost a meter off the ground as she threw the ball with her mouth. “Now!” Saol shouted. Vinestrike whipped her vine to the side, nicking the ball with it and shifting it onto her head with a supersonic hit. Then she stood as high as possible on her front legs while sitting down with her haunches, causing the embarrassed Clio to rush out of the way before being crushed. With a mighty thwack her vines swiped up from behind the ball, launching it up the makeshift ramp of Vinestrike’s head. Before Onix could lift herself up, another figure leaped above the ground like a missile or superhero. It slowed near the ball and seemed to stop entirely for a second before spinning in a brown blur. Part of the twist struck the ball, sending it flying straight towards Iglesias’ goal with impossible speed and percision. The magnetic sensors detected it and a buzz echoed through the stadium as Guardstrike finally landed on the Earth, compressing on his highly flexible legs as Venusaur roared in pride.
“Did she just… wow,” Andrea whispered while Seneca and John applauded. “I didn’t know Pokémon could do that.”
“Most can’t. Saol’s just really, really good.” John replied.
Saol congratulated her team as Iglesias’ snakes slithered back into position shocked and humiliated. The referee gave the signal for play to resume, and Iglesias picked up the ball and tossed it to Thalia. The Onix rose up as high as she could until she finally stopped and surveyed the world from five meters up. The audience let out a collective sigh of relief as the terrible grinding of rock on rock stopped. Clio and Erato were rapidly moving down the field, and the opposing Venusaur was playing firm defense. Even the enemy Pinsir and Hitmonlee were backing up. She carefully scanned for an opportunity, unafraid of attacks at her height so long as she kept an eye on the annoying Hitmonlee. Upon finding an opening she was willing to take, Onix whipped her head towards the ground and let go of the ball at such an angle that it flew straight towards Erato, who leapt up from the grass with her frill prominently displayed. Suddenly, a brown blur once more rose into the air and seemed to merge with the rapidly moving ball before chucking it back to the earth at a different angle, straight into the grip of Vicestrike.
“Offense, now!” Saol’s command was merely a formality as her Pinsir was already rushing forward with Guardstrike. The snakes tried to get back, but Gripstrike had a head start and was holding the ball high in his impossibly strong deathgrip. Rushing across the field, Pinsir jumped over Clio as she tried to trip him with her incredibly long tail, and simply dodged to the side when Erato sprang up. The snakes were powerless to stop the rampaging bug and he knew it. Onix tried to move quickly enough to snap up the bug, causing half the stadium to swear at the sound of rocks hitting rocks quickly, but she was far too slow and her maw never came within a meter of the powerful offensive player. Gripstrike leapt over Thalia’s body, spread his wings to break, and slammed the ball into the goal, gripping the rim to stop as Iglesias scowled and his snakes hung their heads.
In the stands, John’s pencil rapidly paced the page. Dragonair’s grace, even in shame, was a sight to behold and nearly impossible to capture correctly on the page. He tracked the snake’s movements as best he could, cross-hatching to the best of his ability but the texture still seemed too dark, too densely hatched. He flipped to another page to look at a sketch of Seneca’s Charmeleon. For a few seconds he stared at the scales before moving back to his main drawing, armed with a model. As he filled in the rattle’s outline, Andrea turned to watch. She had never seen anyone that skilled at drawing before, especially when their subjects were leaping and slithering. Reasonably satisfied after a few minutes of sketching, John moved onto Onix. The Rock Snake stood relatively still most of the time. It was just a matter of sketching a series of circles and filling it in with the desired rocky texture, and after two minutes he had a satisfactory drawing. But by the time he was done drawing the two snakes and started on Hitmonlee, Saol had already scored twice more.
“I thought you said that snakes were a good counter to Saol,” Andrea asked.
Seneca grunted. “No, I said they were the best counter. With Saol, there is a difference.”
Before that exchange ended, the Celadon Striker’s Pinsir had stolen the ball once more and passed it to Vinestrike. She rammed her head up to spike it as high into the air as possible, where Guardstrike caught it and passed it down to Gripstrike again. The Pinsir then tossed it to the Venusaur and the process continued as the snakes tried in vain to throw off the cycle. “Swarm Pinsir! You can get the ball yet!” their trainer called. Yet try as they might, Gripstrike would always brush the snakes off like they were nothing, Gaurdstrike would nimbly leap to the side and never be tied down, and Vinestrike simply stood up a little bit higher or flicked her opponents away with her long vines.
“What are they doing now?” This time it was John’s turn to ask a dumb question, much to Andrea’s relief.
“Juggling. Saol can’t realistically score four more points before time runs out and she wants to shut her opponent out. If her team can keep control of the ball like that until time runs out, she wins 4-0. The one problem with using snakes against Saol is that they really don’t have the physical power or aerial mobility needed to disrupt her when she starts juggling.” Seneca scanned the aisles and noted a few people already standing up. “We won’t miss much if we live now and we’ll save ourselves from a lot of traffic later. Let’s go.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“You know, Seneca, I think you missed a spot.”
“Shut up, John. It’s hard enough to move up here.”
Seneca was perched four meters up the wall on a ladder, trying to paint the higher areas of the room that always seemed just beyond his fingertips, however high he reached. John and Andrea caught occasional drips below him as they painted the more down-to-earth portions on the wall. Moving the ladder took all three of them almost three minutes– three valuable minutes they could be painting with– so Seneca desperately reached for the areas on the far end of his edge, leaning and stretching to the point where falling felt almost inevitable, but just avoidable, to get new unpainted areas.
“No, I think he’s right.” Andrea decided to cash in on the joke. It seemed to amuse John. Maybe he’d like her more. “It’s about two feet over to the right, between your current section and last.”
“I don’t see it.”
“Oh, it’s definitely there. Just reach over. Yes, just a bit more. Now that’s about-“
John and Andrea watched with wide eyes as Seneca lost his balance and fell from the ladder, hitting the concrete floor beneath him headfirst. A smear of rust red painted the ground upon impact. Andrea swore under her breath and rushed to his side, kneeling down beside him and flipping his body over to expose his bleeding head wound. “John, listen carefully. I need you to get a towel and some water. And prayer would be very much appreciated.” The adults in the room had shaken their stupor and were running over. “No, trust me. Or The Voice, really. He’ll be fine. I just need some space and some quiet now.”
Her voice never faltered and she looked the adults straight in the eye. The situation was unorthodox, but the sight and the shock of the situation made them hesitate just enough to let a teenage girl take over. After John handed her a damp towel, she began chanting quietly in a strange language. Dengan kekuatan suara, disembuhkan. She rubbed the towel over the head wound before pressing down upon the gash with the cloth, the volume and pace of her chanting increasing constantly as sweat appeared on her brow. Dengan kekuatan suara, disembuhkan. Dengan kekuatan suara, disembuhkan. Dengan kekuatan suara, disembuhkan.
Her sienna eyes jolted around the surrounding area looking for something, anything to draw strength from and her voice cracked at points, but no one stopped her. The chief supervisor called the hospital, but the foreground continued to be dominated by an increasingly desperate chant. Dengan kekuatan suara, disembuhkan. Dengan kekuatan suara, disembuhkan. Dengan kekuatan suara, disembuhkan.
Tears were rolling down her cheeks now, and for a moment she stopped chanting altogether and looked up to the ceiling. Maafkan aku, suara, jika saya telah gagal.
Andrea stared at Seneca’s body in silence for a moment, her lips visibly but barely moving. Finally, she pulled the cloth off of Seneca’s head. She exhaled and muttered something indecipherable, but apparently in English, under her breath before standing up. Andrea was shaking and her entire body was covered in a cold sweat, but her lips were still curled upwards in the faint form of a smile. “He’ll be fine in a while. I’m sorry; that usually doesn’t take so long.” A moment later, Seneca groaned and began to stretch.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“What did you think of today’s sermon, honey?” Mrs. Weaver asked her husband as their son walked beside them on the way home from Chapel.
“Bah. Miracles, please.”
“Are you saying you think the Reverend was wrong, dear?”
“Perhaps. For all of his big talk, ‘You can do this if you believe enough’ and ‘the laws of nature shall bend if you believe enough,’ all of it undermines his own arguments.”
“If you believe enough and are doing something The Voice is pleased with, there will be miracles. Am I correct?”
“I believe that’s what he said.”
“Then why isn’t the entire region in Umber right now? Or, for that matter, why do we have a flu epidemic every last winter? Why do people go hungry even here? In Testament the Prophets converted, cured, and fed through miracles. There are no miracles now. Do we believe enough?”
“I most certainly believe whole-heartedly in The Voice. It’s why we gave everything to move here.”
“Then either the preacher is wrong or The Voice is not pleased by what is going on here.”
That was the first time John Weaver heard his father insult the clergy or the Community. He knew his father was wrong and that the Reverend was right, but in the dark recesses of his mind it still lurked, popping up from time to time in his dreams. It was definitely in his thoughts the night that Seneca’s father took him back to Umber in his truck, unsure whether he should thank or curse the auburn-haired girl sitting in the backseat.
END FILE 1.2: AUBURN
PROCEED TO FILE 1.3: TITANIUM ORANGE
OPEN FILE 1.3: TITANIUM ORANGE
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
“This week we shall discuss the relationship between proper believers and the state.” Reverend Xavier cleared his throat. “For most of history, disciples have been persecuted by the governments and social structures of the world. The earliest disciples were martyred or fed to carnivorous Pokémon in savage battles. Later disciples were discriminated against for their beliefs, banned from living in certain cities or practicing certain professions. The world hates believers because of what we represent and because we will not conform to their wicked ways.
“A man can be pledged to but one power at a time. Society wants us to devote ourselves to their wicked and corrupted state. We cannot make oaths but to The Voice and we can follow no laws before those of the Prophets. Because of this, we have but two choices. We can live in glorious isolation as we do here, practicing Testament and the law of the Prophets freely without restriction. Here there are no pressures to defect to the pagan’s armies or renounce The Voice. Or, we may make the state synonymous with our Communities so that all of earth lives in glorious peace and tolerance. If we live by the standards of truth for long enough here, eventually the weary world will decide to come voluntarily and we shall rule from Umber. But, it is possible to go out and make the world see the need to convert by seizing their institutions and forcing them to see the glories of The Voice. It is for this cause that many of The Voice’s followers today fight the crime-tolerant government and its sinful ways so that one day we may regain the righteous power the followers of truth once held in this region.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
The forest clearing was alive with the colors of the late summer, shades of green ranging from fern to India. John’s abundance of green pastels that he had paid other staff members dearly to buy for him moved across his sketchbook page. His hand was almost independent, trained through years of sitting down on the same old stump to draw the same old trees. At the end of the month he would hold last year’s book up to his present one, marveling at the changes that another year brought to the forest and his skill.
“How was camp this year?” Andrea Jones asked as she sat down next to him on the log.
“Pretty good. I got ambushed by a Camper in war-paint perched a tree with his pocket knife, but no one got killed so it was all good. How was your summer?”
“Boring. Back in Fuchsia kids could do more or less whatever they wanted when school was out. It’s the safest city in the region, so parents could let their kids run around town without worrying too much. We would go to the zoo, relax on the beaches, or just play on the beach all day, enjoying the season. Here it’s just work and studying. It kind of sucked.”
“Welcome to Umber.”
Andrea rolled her sienna eyes. “ Right. Any chance they let me go to camp next year?”
“Umber might. The camp staff might not. Most of them are still scared of you after last September, no offense. Two years might be better.”
The girl sighed and stared at her sandals. “None taken. That’s actually why I had to leave Fuchsia in the first place.” She fell silent until John glanced up from his painting to look at her. “It was fun being different for a while, able to heal little scrapes and speak strange languages. Parents didn’t believe their kids, anyway. When your friends get older and start looking for targets to build up their own self-esteem, being the special one isn’t so fun. But hey, at least there’s no judgment here in Umber.” She rolled her eyes. “None at all.”
But Umber only judged practices that should be judged. John opened his mouth to say it, but the barely visible condensation on his friend’s eyes made him stop. Besides, if he argued she would win and he would have wasted hours of valuable sketching time. And maybe make her feel even worse. His pastel once again traced the outline of a distant leaf and John’s focus shifted until his world comprised only of a plant, his tools, and a piece of paper. It took Andrea three throat clearings to get him to look back up.
“Have you heard about the Center Bill?”
“Sort of. I think I heard it referenced once when I was watching the news in main camp. Why? What is it?”
“It’s a League Bill that mandates every village with more than five-hundred people accept regional money to build a Pokémon Center. It affects a few places, like the Power Plant workers community and the slopes of Mt Moon, but it would also cover Umber. Normally, I wouldn’t think that accepting food, jobs, and medicine would be a big deal. Helping people is supposed to be a good thing, right? But in our glorious Community, any interference from the government is a problem.”
“Are there even any trainers in the area to help?”
“No, but some of the Elders are worried that opening one would attract them and potentially corrupt the youth. Who would ever question their faith just because they met some trainers?” John silently prayed that was a rhetorical question. “There’s a public meeting tomorrow to discuss the issue. I want to go and at least make sure that all sides are considered. Will you come with me?”
What harm could going to a council meeting bring? “Sure, I’ve got nothing but Testament Study and Chapel until school starts again.”
Andrea shifted her weight on the stump so that she brushed into John. “Thank you. It’s been a lonely Summer.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Almost the entire town was in the Chapel when the Elders’ Session began, but Andrea had dragged John there almost two hours early so they could stand in front. All those sitting in the pews rose as eight men of the Community, their hair gray or white and their movements slow, shuffled onto the stage and sat down around a conference table to begin the meeting.
“We are assembled here today to consider KR-1028 and its potential conflicts with Testament and the law of the Community,” the Chairman proclaimed. “Beginning debate will be the venerable Mr. Applegate. Speaker, you have the floor.”
“Thank you, Ted. As many of you have heard, this law is intended to force this Community and other similar areas into opening Pokémon Centers and expanding secular socialism into Umber. Testament is very specific on its command to decline gifts should they cause you to sin and the need to defy the law should it cause you to sin. We must refuse to follow this oppressive command for own spiritual well-being. Come what may, The Voice will protect us.”
Mr. Applegate sat down and the Chairman turned to the other Elders. “Are there any questions for the Speaker?” He paused for a moment, but the Elders merely nodded their heads in agreement with their peer. “Seeing none, we move to the venerable Mr. Thompson. Speaker, you have the floor.”
“Thank you. Mr. Applegate summarized my thoughts well, but I think we should first elaborate upon why compliance here would be a sin. To start, it provides temptation to our children. If we allow a symbol for the Pokémon League to enter our borders, it will send a message to our children that we support its values. And then where are we? Can we justifiably tell them that it is alright to agree to service the worst of sinners and then tell them that we should outright refuse to participate in their base games? It is no secret that since the rise of Titania, and perhaps even from the Second Holy Revolution, the mafia-dominated government has sought to infiltrate and subvert Umber to prevent us from rising for a righteous cause. This is an obvious attempt to place spies and traitors in our midst. What other reason is there to send healers for Pokémon to a Community that bans it?” I cannot–“
“You’re wrong.” The room went silent, trying to figure out if they had really just heard an Elder interrupted in council. John turned in horror to see Andrea confidently staring into Elder Thompson’s eyes. “You’re wrong and you either know it or never read the bill. It clearly states in Clause II that the law, ‘Provides for the full funding of these Centers, as well as the dispatch of staff upon request from the municipal government.’ If the council is so worried about infiltration, couldn’t they just not ask for staff?”
“I, well yes. But my other arguments still stand. If we’re done with interruptions from the congregation–“
“Not really. Sure, we might get a few trainers in the woods from time to time, but historically this hasn’t been true. There’s not even anything in this part of the forest for trainers to come for anyway. No gyms, no rare species, no spectacular sights. The only reasons they would come is if–“
“Ma’am, only Elders may speak at Council,” the Chairman reprimanded.
“Testament says every believer is equal in faith. Kebanaran 3-12. As I was saying, there are two reasons for trainers to come. If they were hopelessly lost or if they came to see Umber itself. Testament–“
“While that may be true, we do have rules to ensure order. Please sit down–”
“And, as Elder Applegate said earlier, we have an obligation to defy laws that hinder The Voice’s cause. If a trainer is hopelessly lost, Testament says that we have an obligation to care for the weak and helpless. Lemah 7-31. If they are coming to see Umber, that means that they will have a chance to minister to someone who came here seeking. Pokémon Centers elsewhere also care for humans, which would give Umber the opportunity to gain a hospital to care for our own seek and weary for free. For years we’ve prayed for an end to sickness in the Community. Perhaps our prayers have been answered.”
“With that distraction out of the way, the Council will now recognize the next Elder, Mr. Plessey. Speaker, you have the floor.”
“Thank you, Chairman Rutherford. As much as I hate to tolerate violations of order, I think the girl in the front speaks some truth. Prayer, while powerful, can do nothing if we are not willing to consider the help of the divine when it presents itself. I think we should at least consider accepting the law for now and review it at a later time when we have had the chance to see the effects.”
“Acknowledged. Are there any questions for the Speaker?” One of the men raised their hand. “Mr. Rose, you have the floor.”
“You assume that we will have volunteers here that will replace the need for staff. Who do you propose will volunteer for this, as clearly no devout follower of The Voice will?
Andrea raised her hand and Elder Plessey laughed softly. “Well, I think you might have one volunteer. That’s part of why we should hold a trial period. We might get the people to help and the project might be a success for The Voice. If we do not, we just abandon the project. There’s no harm in trying.”
Elder Rose raised his hand again and the Chairman turned to him. “Mr. Rose, on follow.”
“Who exactly would you like to lead this project?”
“Well, from discussions we had before this meeting, I don’t think any of the Elders want to manage the Center.” They all shook their heads. “I would be willing to take ultimate responsibility for it during its trial period, but I’m old. Someone else would need to do the work to get it operational. Perhaps the girl who feels so passionately about it wouldn’t mind stepping up, if she truly believes in the cause.”
The entire Council turned to face Andrea. I guess I could do that. I’d need to get out of schoolwork for a while, but I know a little about healing.”
“There you have it. I motion that the execution of KR-1028 be placed under my authority with the right to delegate tasks to subordinates.”
The Chairman nodded. “Is there a second? Seeing one from Mr. Harper, the Chair rules the motion in order at this time. All in favor?” Three hands were raised. “All opposed?” Elders Rose and Applegate signaled their opposition. “All abstained?” The remaining two votes were counted. “The motion passes three to two with two Elders abstaining. The Council authorizes steps be taken to comply with KR-1028 under the watch of the venerable Mr. Plessey and recognizes his rights to appoint subordinates as The Voice leads him. Seeing no further purpose for this session, the Chair adjourns the Council.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Andrea stayed after the meeting to talk to Elder Plessey about plans to open the Center. John waited for a while, but both sides gestures and excited voices made it clear that she would be occupied for some time so he went home. His parents were squabbling in the kitchen when he arrived.
“I tell you, Mr. Jones’ daughter has more sense than the entire Community combined! We sit here all year and talk about miracles coming if we just pray hard enough, well you tell me what a miracle is if not a free hospital!” Mr. Weaver contended.
“It’s not free. We risk losing our children to desensitization to Pokémon training. First we allow our kids to be around trainers, then they accept that training might not be wrong, and pretty soon they’re heading down the road to Oak’s lab to pick them up their own enslaved creature. It’s a slippery slope. I mean, you’ve seen this John, right? Good people in the outside who just weren’t brought up right, and now they can’t help but think about sinning?”
“Sure, all the time.”
“See! Just think how much worse it could be here?”
John went into to his room, not wanting to get dragged into the debate. Why did people care so much about training? Trainers weren’t bad people, not most of them, anyways. Some Pokémon he had seen even liked being trained. Yes, there were flaws in the system and capturing Pokémon against their will was wrong. But surely treating trainers as if they were blasphemes or murderers wasn’t fair.
There was a knocking at the home’s front door and a minute later Mrs. Weaver knocked on John’s door. “You have a visitor, John.” He opened the door and saw Reverend Xavier himself standing in the small home’s entranceway.
“Greetings, Master Weaver. Would you care to step outside for a moment, with me?”
“Yes, sir.” The two walked outside and stood in the mid-day sunlight. Up close to him, John could see that Reverend Xavier was sweating a little under his black robes that he wore even in the summer.
“From what I have gathered, you are one of Miss Jones’ better friends. Is this correct?”
“I worry for her, but I doubt she would see reason from me and I loathe publicly contradicting the Community’s elders. I do not doubt her intentions are noble, but the passions of youth are preventing her from seeing reason and risking the spiritual health of the Community. I ask that you go and try to talk her into seeing reason later today, for everyone’s good.”
“I’ll see what I can do, sir. But I can’t promise anything. She might even change my mind.”
“I appreciate your assistance. Keep your head while talking and remember that what you do is for the betterment of the Community.”
The Reverend turned and walked away, ostensibly to find shade in the Parish or change out of his robes. John glanced through the window to look at a clock. Four in the afternoon. He figured that by the time he got to her house Andrea would be back so he set out to meet her.
He reached the Jones’ house just as his friend came over the nearby hill to her home.
As Andrea approached, John saw her eyes rapidly moving around with no clear reason. Beads of sweat hung on her skin, more thin he would have anticipated in the weather. Her hands trembled subtly and her face was drawn with worry.
“What happened at the meeting?”
“Um, do you mean what do I think about it?”
“No, what happened. I felt really drawn to attend, like obsessed with it, and I was there with you and one of the Elders was talking and– nothing. I don’t remember anything. Next thing I know I’m alone in the stands as one of the Elders walks away. I’ve been getting lots of weird glances on the way out here, so,” she inhaled deeply, “what did I do?”
“You remember nothing at all?”
“Well,” John dragged out his words and looked up, subconsciously wishing there was an easy answer in the sky to pull out. “You interrupted an Elder, quoted a lot of Testament, and more or less demanded we get a Pokémon Center. And then I think you volunteered to run it, but truth be told I still don’t really understand what happened. Oh, and the Reverend wants your recantation or your head.”
Andrea lashed her foot out a rock, watching it sail over the hill before collapsing on the ground. “Dammit. Being compelled to do the right thing sucks at times.”
John sat down next to her. “Look, if you need help I can give it. I don’t really get the whole possession thing, but if you’re going to go through with this you’ll need someone who can actually heal Pokémon. I can’t do it well, but I’m still probably better than anyone here and I know people who can teach me.”
“You could pay me back by letting me breathe.”
“Oh,” she released John, “sorry about that. Just got carried away. You want to talk more about it now?”
“We can discuss it later, if you want. Give us some time to think things over. There’s a two-day service project this weekend and Seneca has a game Saturday night.”
“Are they still letting me go to those things?”
“Well, they never told me I couldn’t bring you. Seneca’s not really hateful, and he just asked that I keep my friends from killing him in the future. Hey, that was a joke. Don’t take it too hard. He knows you didn’t mean it and he’s really glad you healed him. You can still come, if you want.”
“Sure. Why not?” She was weakly smiling, but even John could see through it. He would have to remember not to bring that up in the future.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to tonight’s final match between the Viridian Bees and the Saint Gregor Flycatchers. Competing in this match are Senior Princeton Perry from Saint Gregor Academy in Saffron and Junior Seneca Williams from Viridian High.” The crowd politely applauded as the two stepped up to the arena. Seneca’s dark hair and eyes blended into his smoky topaz uniform and contrasted with the pure white clothes of his opponent.
“He sure let his hair grow long, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, he did. Still not as long as yours.”
“I’m a girl. It’s different.”
“Whatever.” John opened up his sketchbook and took out a handful of pastels. Seneca’s Pokémon were always a challenge to draw given their constant motion in battle, but it was one of his favorite challenges. He pulled out his titanium orange and cadmium red pastels and prepared to draw Blaze when he came out.
“Don’t fail me, team,” Princeton called. A Kangaskhan and Tauros appeared in his offensive line while a Snorlax crashed down in front of him.
“Wow, those are some rare Pokémon,” Andrea whispered. “There were a few in the zoo in Fuchsia, but my friends told me that they were only found there and in the Safari Zone.”
“I’ve only seen them on television,” John noted as he made a quick outline of Snorlax. It wasn’t only a few ovals and rectangles, but it was a baseline he could improve later.
“Blaze, Night, Iris: show time!” Seneca called as his Charizard, Golbat, and Butterfree materialized in front of him.
“ZARD!” The terrifying roar made most of the crowd cringe as Blaze lifted himself higher and spit a burst of fire. John turned the page and put his pastels to work as he tried to replicate the flames before they extinguished completely.
“He’s got a Charizard?” Andrea asked.
“It’s fairly new. It only evolved over the summer.”
“As this is the fifth game and Viridian won the coin toss, Seneca will begin with the ball. As soon as it is tossed into play, the countdown will begin. As this is a team-based match and not an individual one, only ten minutes will be allowed.”
The Junior nodded and lifted the ball to throw it in. “Iris, hang back. Night and Blaze, do what you do. Go!” He tossed the ball into the air and Blaze looped around to capture it. His massive frame easily took the weight of the ball and he began to rush towards the other goal, roaring as he did so. Night fluttered quietly beside him, using his superior speed and excellent senses to detect any potential threats. Iris hung back even farther, simply scanning for any potential reversals of fortune with her powerful compound eyes.
“Tauros, offensive position. Kangaskhan, stop that dragon!” Tauros rampaged down the field while Kangaskhan began to hop forward, gaining altitude with every hop. In one mighty leap, she soared high enough to reach Charizard.
“Swerve!” The dragon quickly moved out of the way and rushed past. Snorlax tried to sit up and block the goal, but the Charizard rushed down in a speedy dive and banked around the normal-type until he had the right angle to score. Blaze released the ball at that moment and flew up over the Snorlax. The ball’s momentum sent it right over the bear’s head and through the goal, earning Seneca his first point.
“Stupid Snorlax! Wake up, buddy, this is a game! A very important game!” Princeton yelled.
“Wow, trainers sure can be jerks,” Andrea muttered to John.
“I know, but most aren’t like that. Baccer players in particular are usually really nice to their Pokémon, since most of the game is the Pokémon working on auto-pilot. Drilling obedience into their heads doesn’t really help.”
“If he wants to play heavy-offense, show him what offense looks like, Tauros. No mercy!” Princeton tossed the ball to Tauros, who caught it in his maw and began to rush through the field, head down.
“Taur-OS!” The normal-type ran with his tails whipping behind him.
Seneca cringed. Bull attacks were not something he usually had to prepare for in Viridian games. “Blaze, get down there.” His Charizard yelled to give his approval, and rushed to the ground, directly in front of Tauros. The bull slammed into the dragon, forcing it back a meter, but neither side would give in and let the other pass. Blaze grabbed Tauros’ horns and held it in place while Tauros pushed with all of his might to overpower his opponent. For two excruciating minutes muscles bulged and steam and fire flew form nostrils as the Pokémon stood locked in a battle of strength, digging into the ground with all of their power and pushing forward with seemingly impossible strength. The other Pokémon stood back and watched, not willing to get involved in a trap with enough power to crush every bone in their bodies if it broke.
“Alright, change in plans. Night and Iris, prepare for Mission Impossible.”
“Whatever he’s planning, don’t let him do it!”
The Golbat quietly flew over the two locked Pokémon as Seneca’s Butterfree flew away from the goal to join her partners. Kangaskhan began to lumber towards the engagement to block any attempted action and Snorlax used all of his energy to sit up and watch. “Now!” Butterfree rushed towards Tauros’ face, and swerved away at the last second. The normal-type looked up reflexively and Golbat came swooping down to pry the ball from his mouth. Before either Blaze or Tauros realized they were no longer fighting for the ball, the two flying-types were bursting down the field, easily bypassing the slower Kangaskhan, and swooping towards Snorlax. As they got closer to the enemy goal, Golbat tossed the ball to Butterfree, who caught it and circled around Snorlax whose eyes crossed and twirled as he tried to track the orb.
“For the love of The Voice, hit her already!” Seneca’s opponent shouted. Snorlax grunted, and swatted his massive paw at the bug with surprising speed. For a second the insect was entirely still and John jumped to his feet. Then the bear’s force won and the Butterfree was instantly sent blasting to the arena’s concrete walls, sailing over the sidelines before finally letting go of the ball as she went limp. “See that ref!” Princeton was ecstatic now. “See that! Not only are his Pokémon out of bounds, but so is the ball that his Pokémon last touched! Two penalty shots!”
“Shut up, kid. Let me do the refereeing, here.” He jogged over to where Iris was lying injured on the ground and handed her to Seneca when the trainer reached her. “If you don’t object, I can have her taken to the Center while the game finishes.” Seneca nodded, still stunned by what had transpired. “It is the referee’s opinion that Seneca William’s team left the bounds of play and led the ball outside of these bounds. For this Princeton Perry’s team will be awarded two penalty shots.”
“Alright! Great judgment there, ref!”
“I hate this job,” the referee muttered just quietly enough to ensure the microphone didn’t catch it. “But it is also the referee’s opinion that the team of Princeton Perry committed excessive violence with deliberate intention to harm, that the trainer directly ordered this, and that the trainer has shown extreme disrespect to his ref and, indirectly, his opponent. As such, Seneca Williams will be rewarded a total of seven penalty kicks.”
Princeton’s mouth dropped. “What the hell? Is there even precedent for that many?”
“Make that nine penalty kicks for profanity and questioning the ruling of a referee. If there are no–“
“A sham! You’re a sham! I’ll tell my daddy about this, just watch me!” Princeton stormed off the stage, leaving a stunned referee and Seneca behind.
“Well, in that case, Princeton Perry has forfeited the match. Seneca Williams wins!”
“By The Voice, he’s a prick,” Andrea spat with disgust.
“Absolutely. Worst player I’ve seen.”
“Is Seneca’s Butterfree alright? That was a really powerful direct hit.”
“She probably will be. The healers at the Pokémon Center are pretty good.”
Andrea nodded. “And they can heal Pokémon like that?”
“The girl who can miraculously heal people bleeding out is surprised that the Center workers can take care of simple hits?”
“Fine, you’ve got me there. But can you do that?”
John hesitated. “Well, sort of. I’d need some more practice, and I’ll need to read up on it a bit more, but I think I could do it.”
Leaning back in her seat, Andrea nodded as Seneca moved up the stands to talk. “Then we just might make this insanity work.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Today we’re going to talk about a very important topic for you boys and girls to learn about as you mature: love. Love holds a special importance in theology. It is the love of The Voice that began life, continues life, and redeemed life. Testament tells us that we should all hold love for each other mirroring that of The Voice for all of its creation. However, there are certain types of love beyond simple love for fellow man.
“The first is love for family. You should all be familiar with that. Children are to respect and take care of their parents, as well as demonstrate unwavering obedience. Parents, in turn, are supposed to ensure that their children are taken care of whenever possible. When the children error, it is the duty of parents to ensure that they are corrected and continue to develop correctly.
“And then there is romantic love. I see that a few boys find this to be funny in the audience. But I assure you, it is an incredibly serious matter. While The Voice gifted humanity with the desire and capacity for reproduction, the workings of The Enemy quickly corrupted the gift. Romantic attraction is a dangerous power that will corrupt all but the best of people, and sometimes even them. It overwhelms logic and creates a conflict of loyalties. For this reason, it is strongly discouraged in the Community as a dangerous distraction from the will of The Voice.
“When you get old enough, the Community may decide to grant you a marriage license and assign you a partner to live with. At this point, it will be your sacred duty to ensure the survival of that partner and any children you may have, wary of falling astray at all times and keeping your primary loyalties to your Community and The Voice, and not your temporal family.”
“To clarify, The Voice has said it is a being of love. This is a type of love we can barely grasp, and all-encompassing love of all people. The thought of any inter-personal relationship between humans ever rivaling that of The Voice to his creation is absurd, but it is the implicit meaning of any attempt to select a romantic partner of your own. It shows that you prioritize your love of another human over the holiness of your creator, and it is a blaspheme above almost all others. Whatever your bodies may lead you to believe in coming years, never fall for another person. The will of the Community has far better judgment than you.”
END FILE 1.3: TITANIUM ORANGE
PROCEED TO FILE 1.4: DAFFODIL YELLOW
OPEN FILE 1.4: DAFFODIL YELLOW
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
1 Corinthians 9:25
An excerpt from REGIONAL HISTORY FOR THE STUDENTS OF UMBER:
Prior to the First Holy Revolution, the region was governed by corrupt and evil dictators. The executive was the best Pokémon trainer, ensuring that the brutal and terrible practice continued, while the legislature and judiciary were selected by the regional elites who sought money and power over the greater good. All of this changed when a heroic captain, Johnathan Lee, appeared. He staged rallies in Lavender Town, Fuchsia City, and Cerulean City to move the remaining religious people in the region to action.
The combined forces of the disciples were enough to push back the armies of the Champion into Saffron, which they eventually captured. The city was the base for the depraved ultra-capitalist economy, and the wealthy sinners who dominated the government were slaughtered for their crimes against the people and The Voice. The just armies inflicted similar punishment upon the fallen nobles of Celadon City. The port city of Vermillion soon joined their cause. The West had fallen.
The Eastern campaign was far more contested. A handful of religious settlements, such as Umber, had long thrived in the forests of the East. The men of these Communities came to Lee’s aid. It was hard for him to move armies to support these fighters due to the geography of the region. Long and brutal battles were fought underground between Viridian and Vermillion, in the hills between Pewter and Cerulean, and in the forests between the Eastern and Western parts of the region. Naval forts in Cinnabar and the Seafoam Islands held back Lee’s navies. Ultimately, the stalemate was broken. The Seafoam Islands fell, and their entire population was slaughtered for their wickedness against the founders of our good faith. Cinnabar surrendered shortly after, on the condition that they join the just armies. After the southern stalemate broke, Lee’s forces landed along the southern coast of the region and quickly marched on Viridian. Cut-off from both sides, the remaining armies of the Champion in the undersea caves were decimated. The sieges of various rural communities were lifted by the liberating armies, and the remaining battles in the region ended.
After this, the armies of Johnathan Lee swept West. The mighty trainers on the Plateau held their ground for a full year before the overwhelming might of The Voice crushed them underfoot. The rest of the continent was quickly conquered, and the Western heathens who worshipped pagan gods of storm and sunlight were quickly subjugated and their cities burned for their sins.
The Holy Regime’s power was consolidated upon the same hill that tyrannical trainers had long ruled the continent from. The Regime lasted for twenty years. During this period, revolts in the West and their subsequent failure eventually led to a fledgling independence movement. At the time, the Western pagans were unable to act upon this desire.
During the Regime, Pokémon training was outlawed and the Testament’s law was applied. Blasphemes were publicly stoned for rejecting the love of The Voice and misleading the populace. Gambling was banned as a waste of resources. The wealthy were forced to donate all their assets to the Regime and the ministers of The Voice for their greed. The environment flourished as Pokémon populations rebounded and the desecration of The Voice’s creation was halted.
While the glorious dominion of our creator reigned in the region, there were elements of The Enemy working to thwart it. These factions organized into criminal syndicates bent on misguiding the public and overthrowing the Regime. They gained power for decades, growing in strength and arrogance until they eventually challenged the Regime itself upon Johnathan Lee’s death. A Prophet, Estis, rose to counter their challenge and the Second Holy Revolution began. The armies of Estis clashed with those of the mob for three years before Estis died and the region was overrun by darkness. In the aftermath, disciples were once again persecuted and the Champion restored. The West lobbied for independence. Faced with a possible war, the mob-government ceded the ancient lands of the region to pagans.
The twelve years since this war have seen many changes to the land, few good. Pokémon training has returned and flourished. The mafia state has discriminated against pure disciples and the world outside of the Communities has become increasingly secular. Socialism has grown rampant to fill the void of unhappiness in the lives of the masses and keep them from seeing the truth. In these hard times, freedom fighters have rose to begin a Third Holy Revolution. Their success has thus far been limited, but it is hoped that one day soon the region will rise once more.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Elder Plessey’s room smelled of the pink medicine and the wilted daffodil yellow flowers that sat on his bedside when John and Andrea stopped by. “Hello, kids. How are things going today?” the aging man croaked out.
“Relatively well, thank you. Elder Thompson’s granddaughter is down with a high fever and taking most of our time. Outside of that, it’s pretty quiet,” Andrea reported.
“Ah, yes. Slow as usual. To think that at one point the rest of the council believed we would be flooded with visiting trainers. We’ve had, what, three?”
“Four trainers in the entire year. Only one meant to be here, too.” Plessey let out a long, dry gasping that was intended as a laugh. “I’m really proud of you two. I know I say it a lot, but I mean it.”
“Thank you, but it’s not like we actually do a whole lot around here,” John said.
“Not a whole lot? Only if running the town’s medical services doesn’t qualify as a whole lot. -“
“You taught us everything and ran the Center for a few months,” Andrea interjected.
“But you were willing to learn and ran things after I stepped down. That’s a success in my book.”
“Maybe so. Here are your meds, Mr. Plessey,” John said.
“Down to business, are we? Just going to pump the old man full of his drugs so he goes to sleep and leaves you alone?”
“Not at all sir! Why, we just thought–“
“Just a joke, Andrea. Just a joke.”
A few minutes later, though, the old man was indeed asleep and the two teenagers were standing on his doorstep. Andrea scanned her list. Three names remained, enough that they would easily be done in an hour or so. Then she could relax at the Center and enjoy the rest of her day with John. She glanced up at her partner, only to find him staring off to space with a worried expression that she was not at all accustomed to seeing him wear.
“Is something wrong?”
“Nothing. It’s just, it’s just that I’ve been gone at camp for basically the last two months, and I get back to find Plessey like that. How bad is it? How long do you think he has?”
“Have some faith! He’ll get better, I know he will.” He has to.
“And if he doesn’t?
“Ugh. You really need to trust in The Voice more with these things. He’ll be fine.” He has to be fine.
John rolled his eyes, irritated at being blown off. “You’re right. But he’s old! Eighty-something, probably. Old enough he won’t give his age. He might survive this month, or this year, or even two years. One day he’ll die. What happens then? Who else is going to support the Center? Who’s going to help us?
“The Voice will. If we act according to its commands, there is no power on Earth that can stop us. I thought you would… Hello! Can we help you with something?”
A young boy was charging towards them. “Hi, you’re John Weaver and Andrea Jones, right?”
“Yeah, that’s us.”
“The headmaster asked that you two come to a school meeting in the Chapel, now.”
The two glanced between each other and realized that neither knew what was going on. “Alright, but we don’t really go to school any more. We kind of do our own thing,” John said.
“That’s fine! He just wants all teenage children at the meeting.”
“Alrighty then. I guess we’re going.” Andrea began to briskly walk towards the Chapel, and John and the other boy followed a moment later.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Good afternoon, students. Today I have come to make a very special announcement regarding the results of an inter-Community conference over the Summer. We determined that given the evidence in Testament supporting personal betterment and physical care, the potential for sporting to mislead is tolerable for the benefits derived from it. As such, an inter-Community Soccer league is in development. Any person in good standing with the Community between the ages of fourteen and eighteen inclusive may participate in the senior division, while those between ten and thirteen may play in the junior division. Youth games will be allowed and encouraged for those younger than ten, but there will not be a formal division. The callout for junior division will be tomorrow at this time. Senior division will have its callout a day later. Both meetings will occur inside the Chapel. Thank you, and we hope to see you in five days for the return of the school year.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“You going to the callout, Andrea?”
She shook her head. “I never really liked sports in Fuchsia. I’m more of a ‘read books’ type than a ‘kick things’ person, really. I take it you’re going.”
“Yeah, it’s the closest thing to Baccer I can legally do, so I’ll take it.”
“Right. I guess I’ll be working the Center while you’re away.” John nodded and the two continued to walk to their base of operations. “Just like the last two months,” Andrea added under her breath.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Looks like we had quite the turnout today, doesn’t it? My name is Mr. Letterman, but you can call me Coach. Our team here at Umber Community will have three main objectives, laid out by the Council. The first is to increase reverence to The Voice. As with all things in the Community, this will be at the heart of everything we do. Before, after, and at half-time of every game and practice we will have Testament studies and devotions, as well as prayers led by the players or coaches.
“The second objective is fellowship. All of you on the team should strive to know each other better throughout the season. Many of you will already know each other, but this will still be a fantastic opportunity for you to develop alliances with other people your age. It will also give you a chance to meet youth from other Communities of The Voice around the region. Finally, this program will help you stay in shape physically. Fitness is important, but never forget what the higher goals of the game are.
“I don’t expect that any of you here know much about soccer at all. Let’s go over the basics. The game is played between two teams of ten players. It is divided into two halves and play is continuous from when the half starts to when the half ends. Can anyone guess how long the game is? Yes, John?”
“Twenty-five minutes,” he confidently answered.
“Good guess, but it’s actually a bit longer than that. Each half is forty-five minutes, bringing the game to a total of ninety minutes in a game. A team wins by having the most points at the end of the match. Points are earned by kicking a ball like this one,” he pulled a soccer ball out of a nearby bag, “into a goal. There will be a handful of other players and a goalie trying to stop the offensive team. You will have a few allies as well to make the last scoring attempt. There are some other important rules to know, but those are the basics.
“Practices will be held after school on weekdays from four to six. I have already approved this with the headmaster, but you should make sure your parents agree as well. Are there any questions?”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
The Umber Pokémon Center was built in the sole wooden building in Umber, on the very western edge of town. The structure was immensely old, older than the new building codes, so it was allowed to stand as it was. It was two-stories tall, an oddity for Umber, and was previously a school house. It had been painted imperial red to match League regulations, and many glass panels had been added on the bottom walls. The region had paid for it, and Elder Plessey had argued that sunlight was good for the sick and resting so the Council approved.
After walking back from the callout, John opened the door and entered to see Andrea and another girl who looked slightly older than her talking. The new girl was taller than John was, which was admittedly not saying much, and had long chestnut hair. Her eyes were obscured by sunglasses and she wore a brown coat and cowboy boots. If she was trying to look like he’d stepped out of a Western, she was doing a good job.
“Hi, John. This is Reina Verity, a visiting trainer and Camper.”
“Howdy, partner. Andrea here tells me you’re a Camper as well.”
John felt air rise into his mouth, and had to fight hard to keep from laughing. She had to be intentionally similar to a cowgirl. Surely she knew how ridiculous it made her look.
“Yes, sir. I just got back from my second term on Viridian Staff a few days ago.”
“Viridian, eh? Believe it or not, I’m gonna be Director up in Cave Camp next season. Sorry to hear you’re trapped down hear with the forest folk.”
“Well, if you hate Viridian so much why did you come to visit?” John asked, glad that his camp at least wasn’t run by a crazy girl born a few centuries too late.
“Just passing through for a few days on my way to the Gym. I’m on a badge quest, now. Figured I might as well get one last hurrah out of life before the real world smothers the fun.”
“So you’re a battling trainer?” Andrea asked.
“Not sure what other types there are, kiddo.”
“Well, there are Baccer players.”
“Miss, there are trainers who are battlers at heart and trainers who battle to do what their heart wills. Players are just the second, nothing more. Ain’t no trainers who don’t battle from time to time. No real ones, anyhow.”
Andrea traced something in the air with her finger and looked up at the ceiling for a moment, trying to translate the visitor’s word through her drawl. “And you believe that it’s justified?”
“Can’t see why not. Pokémon are born fighters. They see somethin’ to clash their little skulls against and you can’t stop ‘em. Most you can do is guide ‘em in the right path, let ‘em fight when they can win, and heal ‘em up when they can’t. It’s been a way of life for centuries ‘round these parts. ‘Sides, you folk tried to stop it years back. Ya’ll couldn’t though. The battles go on, whether you like it or not. Thought working as healers woulda taught ya that.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
John was breathing more heavily than normal as he ran, but it was nothing compared to the gasping of the kids behind him. Hauling participants around the backwoods all Summer had apparently been good for his endurance, and he was thankful for every hike now. Admittedly he knew little about running technique other than what he had heard Cross Country runners talk about on staff, which wasn’t a lot. While the run was a far cry from being pleasant, he did appreciate it for giving him time to think.
Reina had been in Umber for two days, and he had been required to stay in the Pokémon Center with Andrea due to League policy. They could not exactly leave their guest alone in the building and they had to have two staff stay if neither had a Pokémon. The League didn’t give them a lot of red tape to deal with, but there were still guidelines.
During her stay, John had talked a lot to Reina about Camping and Cave Camp, eventually learning to ignore the girl’s exaggerated drawl. He had never left the Viridian area, so he could hardly imagine what living in the mountains would be like. John would excitedly draft notes and drawings as Reina talked about spelunking, and then tell his own stories about the backwoods. Reina could hardly imagine how it would be to get burned or poisoned while on the trail for ten days; John failed to fathom how the Cave Camp staff trekked without light for a week at a time. All the while, John had noticed Andrea talking less and less. He invited her to join the conversation often, but she would often just slink back and continue taking inventory or insist that she had to catch up for Testament study. It made no sense to John. None at all.
Elder Plessey’s health had also declined even more rapidly in the previous days. He was hardly eating anything now beyond his medicine and a ghastly pallor had snuck into his cheeks. Andrea still wouldn’t be honest about Plessey’s condition, but it obviously wasn’t great. It worried John both because of the friendship he and Andrea had formed with the Elder in the last few months and because he wasn’t sure who was going to guide the Center after he left. Plessey was able to defend the program to the Council when he was present, but whenever he was not John could always here the disgruntled mumblings of the Reverend and the Elders, irritated that they and their idea of holiness could be so easily trampled by a headstrong girl. He also wasn’t sure if there were any other skilled medics who were willing to stick their necks out like Elder Plessey had done. Andrea was a great healer and the Pokémon Center’s computers allowed the two of them to look up a lot of information and talk to doctors across the region, but they were still kids. They could do a lot, but they were nowhere near qualified to run a small hospital on their own.
All of those problems lie in the future, though. Now he just needed to get through practice and focus on breathing.
... . -. . -.-. .- .-- .. .-.. .-.. .. .- -- ...
‘Sup? It’s only been a few days since we last talked, but some major things were announced back in Viridian. Probably the biggest is that I’m Viridian director next year. As part of the job, I can pick my assistant directors. I was hoping you might accept the job of program director for ’90. Please write me back as soon as you can.
General Director, Viridian Camp
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Program director ain’t bad, kid. Just a hop away from bein’ head honcho. Congrats.”
“Thanks, Reina. What director were you?”
“I was facilities director, myself. I made sure that all the cavin’ gear was ready for usage and the trails were safe. Ain’t no accidents under my watch, so I reckon I did alright.”
“I guess so.”
Reina shifted her weight and stood up. Lifting her bag over her shoulder, she took a few steps towards the door before turning around. “Listen, kiddo. I gotta get movin’ now. Maybe we’ll see each other round the bend sometime. Hope your course goes well.”
“Then I’ll see ya later.”
Shortly after Reina closed the door, Andrea came down from the second floor with a book in her hand. “Is she leaving now?”
“Yes, she needs to get to going to Viridian soon to get her next badge.”
“Good, I can finally sleep in my own bed again.”
As she headed back upstairs to pack her personal items up, John stared after her, a question burning on his mind.
“Andrea, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, go ahead,” Andrea tersely replied.
“I just, well, you’ve never really hated any guest we’ve had here before. Why was it different with Reina?”
“I didn’t hate her.”
“Then why did you never talk to us? Ever? You seemed friendly enough when she first came, but then you started going off on your own whenever you got a chance. It was sort of rude to both of us.”
“Well then, John, it could just be that I don’t really enjoy spending my Summers running a Pokémon Center alone.”
“What does that have to do with anything? Do you not like me going to Camp?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But do you?”
“I don’t like it when people back out of commitments they made for months at a time and then don’t bother to apologize and get caught up in their own life immediately when they get back, not even bothering to talk to me. So, yeah, maybe I don’t like it.” Andrea threw up her hands. “There, you got a problem with it?”
“You know I have a life outside of here, right? I’m also not the one who stood up in the middle of a council meeting to volunteer to run a Pokémon Center. This project is yours. If you want to criticize my choices, fine. I’m out.”
John grabbed his pack from the room he was staying and walked outside, slamming the imperial red door behind him.
“Hmph. Fine. I didn’t need you anyway. I ran it for two months, I can keep doing it.” Andrea held her confident glare out the door before turning to face the staircase, her sienna eyes quickly losing their hardness as her frown relaxed. “Alone. I can do alone. I have no problem with being alone at all.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Rubbing his sore legs, John sat alone on his bed and read a Soccer rulebook. Five brutal days of practice and three of school had passed. He still saw Andrea around the Community, hurriedly rushing medicine to some poor child or elderly man, struggling to carry the weight of the packages he had carried with ease. His spirit pulled him forward to help; his pride said no. His mind wanted a way out.
It would be another two months before he would talk to his former partner.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Hey, you don’t have to handle it that roughly!”
Andrea grimaced as she wrapped the bandage even tighter around John’s ankle. “Man up, will you? It’s probably just a type one sprain. You’ll be out for a week and you can get on with your merry little life.”
Wincing in pain, John sat up in his cot. “And we both know that you could do this a lot less painfully.” John sighed as Andrea finally stopped tugging and stood up to leave the room. “Wait, there’s something I need to say before you go. Yeah, I should’ve asked you if it was okay to go to camp. I also should have probably talked to you more, but walking away after a fight was probably my biggest mistake. What I mean to say is that I’m sorry.”
Andrea sighed and sat down next to him on the cot. “No, I was being equally bad. I can’t expect you to bend your life and plans around me and I was being really disrespectful for a while. I’ll still accept your apology, though.”
They sat side by side for a few minutes, looking out the window at the orange and red tones of Autumn in Viridian.
“Well, since I’m out of practice for a few days anyway, could you use a partner again?”
“Sure, at times the job is a bit much for one person to do.” A knocking at the door interrupted the conversation. “Come in,” Andrea called. “It’s not locked.”
The same boy who had talked to them months before entered the building, a crestfallen look on his face. “I was asked to bring you another message. Elder Plessey is dead.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Excerpt from UMBER NEWS BROADCAST, 15 OCTOBER 1990
Hello, I’m here today on Cinnabar Island, where the revolutionary Titania was reportedly captured in a firefight earlier in the morning. Regional special forces stormed Titania’s compound on the island, burning it to the ground in the process. Reports indicate that several special forces were brought down, but unfortunately Titania was ultimately detained and the majority of the revolutionaries with her captured or killed.
Her second-in-command, Reverend Amarillo, has issued a statement insisting that the fight be continued even without Titania and that until she is released the remaining soldiers will inflict unspeakable horrors on the tyrannical government. The Champion has issued a statement on the raid, calling it a “great step forward” for his despicable agenda. It is unclear whether or not Titania will be executed, but most experts agree she will likely be tortured. May the grace of The Voice be upon the region now in this time of darkness.
CLOSE FILE 1.4: DAFFODIL YELLOW
PROCEED TO FILE 1.5: EBONY
OPEN FILE 1.5: EBONY
But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person's work has any value.
1 Corinthians 3:13
“Good evening, candidates. I am Reverend Xavier, chief minister of Umber, and I will be guiding you through your initiation process over the next few months. You likely already know the basics of discipleship, but not the fine details. That is acceptable. Before the end of initiation you will know almost all you need to about our wondrous faith. Let’s start with the very fundamentals today.
“Above all other things in the universe, there is The Voice. It created us and the rest of the world as well. The Voice deeply loves humanity, for above all it is a being of love. Humanity was perfect until it was manipulated by The Enemy. We know little about The Enemy except that it is a being of pure hatred and anguish that wishes to bring humanity down to its level. It was persuasive and The Voice allowed it to gain influence among men so that they might be forced to think for themselves and choose to follow The Voice of their own free will. While The Enemy is powerful in the world and has gained many followers, The Voice’s influence has never fully died. From time to time it sends mighty prophets to us to show the right path and revive the faith of the disciples.
“The center of discipleship has always been in Communities such as these. We will talk more upon why later, but the primary reason is that it is only here where divine law may be enacted. The Voice has laid down laws that we must follow to truly experience its love. These laws often conflict with those of civil government so in order to most easily live as The Voice intended the most devout disciples live in the Communities.
“The laws laid by The Voice still need interpreted. That is why the town has myself and the Elders, and also why we train the youth. Even The Enemy can twist Testament against us, so there need to be clear people on Earth to look up to when right and wrong are unclear. Testament is the basis of our law, but it is enacted and judged by the leading and most pious men of the most pious place in the land. If this were not so, the faith would collapse here in Umber as it has in the rest of the world.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Reverend Xavier raised his hand in the sleeves of his ebony robes to call the crowd to order. “I would like to thank so many of you for coming out for our early Solstice sermon today. As you may know, traditionally we would have invited everyone to come and it would be tomorrow, on the Solstice itself. A most urgent matter prevented either from being possible, so this meeting had to be called as informally and hastily as it was.”
“In October, two great blows were dealt to the disciples across the region in a span of three days. The first was the loss of our dear Elder Plessey, a great man of The Voice led astray at the end to support wicked polices against his better judgment. His death did not bring purification, but as the sole man present when he died I can assure you he was repentant.
“Ultimately, no action was taken on his change of heart due to ill-placed respect for the Elder’s legacy over the will of The Voice. We paid most dearly two days later when the greatest spiritual warrior of our time, Titania, was captured and tortured in her home base. Once more the message of The Voice was clear, but in our mourning we did not see the signs all around us. Two months have come and gone. Her successors have rallied against the government in vain and our movement seems at its weakest. That is where we stand today. We are weak while our master is strong. We lose when Testament says we cannot. Only one conclusion is possible: we are not truly following the commands of The Voice.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Thank you for visiting, tonight. Your room is down that hallway on the right,” Andrea said as she finished adding a note on the register.
“Oh, may The Voice bless you! We wouldn’t have come here and kept you away from your families the night before Solstice, but well, Evelyn here is due any day and we didn’t want to stay out in the woods longer than we had to.”
“No problem at all. Testament says to show hospitality to all who seek it, regardless of the circumstances.”
“It’s good to see that there are still loving people in the world, after all. Thank you once more.” The visiting man took the hand of his girlfriend, who patted her bulging belly as she unsteadily moved down the hall towards their room.
“You know, it’s really a shame that they have to be traveling this close to Solstice,” Andrea said wistfully. “Especially when she’s pregnant. It’s just not right.”
“Of course it’s not right. They should have been married first.”
“John, they’re on their way to do that now before the baby’s born. That’s why they’re out here in the first place: they value marriage.”
“They still should have valued it nine months ago. Maybe this is The Voice’s way of–“
“Shut up, John. You’re smarter than this. The Voice says not to judge.”
John’s hardened periwinkle glare instantly subsided into confusion. “Really? Where?”
“Um, Cinta, I think. Yeah, Cinta. Stanza Three? I don’t know. Outside of trances, I don’t really have an encyclopedic knowledge of Testament so I’d have to look it up.”
“No, I’ll believe you. I’d just never heard that before,” John admitted.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Reverend Xavier paused as a hushed silence fell over the crowd that quickly gave way to confused murmuring. Had he really just claimed that the Community wasn’t following The Voice? If Umber was lost, who could be found? What was he proposing they do?
“If we wish to return to the good graces of our god, if we wish to once more find power in ourselves and the world, and if we wish to ever take command of this sinful Earth we must find atonement. The Voice and its Prophets have been overwhelmingly clear on how we should do this. Testament is filled with examples where cities, men, or governments defied the law of our god. In every case, the demanded punishment was destruction. Thus whole cities were consumed by fire, men stoned, and leaders exiled for their sins. I do not wish death for Umber. It is truly the most righteous place on Earth. But even we may fall, even we may stumble and sin. Rather than risk the whole city, I say we purge the elements that displease The Voice.”
“On the Western edge of the Community, we have allowed an abomination to flourish. Standing in a city of light is a singular institution of darkness. The intentions to create it were noble, but the will to build it came from The Enemy and not our master. It has led us astray. Undesirables have soiled the ground of Umber, sinners have dwelled among us, and our children have lived in a world where evil was tolerated. It is ironic to note that Umber’s spiritual plague stemmed from healing, but even cells healing too quickly can cause a deadly cancer.”
“Therefore, we must rid this town of our disease. Tonight two trainers who know the will of The Voice but spit upon it reside in our grounds. What’s more, they are unwed but with child and dare to set foot in the holiest of cities. This cannot be justified, cannot be condoned at any point in our year. Now, but one day from Solstice, we tolerate it! No! We cannot! We must purge the poison, crush the sinners, ignite the fallen in a blaze of righteousness to make clear to The Voice that our sins have been purged, our structures sacrificed to make atonement. Tonight, we shall reclaim our Community and our connection to the divine!”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“John, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you for a while.” Andrea brushed a strand of auburn from her face and turned to her coworker. John was somewhat confused by her nervous expression.
“What are you going to do, well, let me back up. Have you ever, even for a moment, thought about leaving Umber?”
Total silence reigned supreme as John struggled to come up with a response. “I, um, no. Not really. Reverend Xavier says it’s much easier to join The Voice if you live here. There are some neat things outside, but I wouldn’t risk my soul for it. Have you?”
She sighed and sat down behind her computer. “Never? Not for one moment?”
“Okay, I’ve thought about it occasionally. Why would I want to, though? What’s out there that’s so much better than what’s in here? You’ve told me you hated the outside, so I don’t really see why you want to know this.”
“It’s just that…”
“It’s nothing. Just a few teachings I don’t agree with. A few things that are prohibited that shouldn’t be. Nothing you would ever think about, anyway.”
John pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. “Like what?”
“Like interpretation for one. I’m a human. I can think. I can read. What’s stopping me from reading Testament and figuring out what it means for myself? They do that everywhere I’ve seen but here. If the Reverend is really right on everything, surely it would do no harm to let people think and agree with him independently. And news. It’s biased, yes. But if we’re really meant to get the rest of the world on our side, why can’t we view the events as they see them and come to our own conclusions with Testament? Why does the Council have to filter what we can know and how we should feel? And then there’s– no, I’ll stop there.” Andrea’s rant ended and she crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair with a huff. “Why? Why is all that forbidden?”
John was taken completely aback. “Well, if the Reverend’s right and the Council has the right way of viewing things, letting uninformed people think their ideas are true would just create confusion. It’s best to–“
“Why do you always take their side?” Andrea muttered. “You obviously don’t agree with them about Baccer and Pokémon trainers. You defied the Reverend twice to help me with this. Why do you keep pretending you think he’s infallible?”
“Because,” John paused, raising his finger into the air only to slowly lower it. “Because I don’t know. It’s what I’m supposed to do. What was your third complaint, anyway?”
Andrea’s cheeks flashed with a shade of rose and she brushed the side of her hair, drawing her hands over her face for a moment to hide it. “Nothing, forget I said anything.”
“Tell me. If I’m going to think you’re crazy, I already would.”
“It’s not like that. It’s, actually, fine. I’ll tell you. Carpe diem and all that.” She laughed a little, obviously drained from her earlier speech. “Love. Half the Prophets had kids, all of the Founders did, and you never read about The Voice telling them who they could hook up with. It just seems dumb that when your heart and mind tell you to do something, the Council can say they know you better.”
John didn’t reply to that. He had never been in love, nor really understood the Council’s regulations on the matter or why they were important. Sure, it was more or less the only thing he had ever heard his peers complain about, but public complaints of any type were seldom made seriously in Umber.
“You probably don’t care, though. This is all you’ve ever known. All you might ever know. I can’t expect you to think like an outsider, but it’s just– never mind. I’ll stop here while I’m ahead. Or not horribly behind. Or whatever the case may be.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
In the snow covered streets of Umber, a mighty war cry rose as the Reverend shouted. “This is the day we fight for The Voice! This is the day we’re forgiven! This is the day we fight for The Voice! This is the day we’re forgiven!” The same two sentences, a famous quote from the holy warrior Jonathan Lee, resonated continuously throughout the otherwise calm Community, with the assembled masses roaring their assent.
“This is the day we fight for The Voice!”
“This is the day we’re forgiven!”
The mass was quickly moving through the wintery town. The season had been harsh and morale had plummeted as sermons increasingly turned to judgment and tribulation after Titania’s fall. Finally a way out had appeared, a way to restore the peace and complacency that reigned before the doors of Umber had been cast open to sinners, before KR-1028, before mere girls could interrupt elders. Normalcy was coming and by the start of the Solstice the world would be as pure as the snow they trampled underfoot.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Yea… amen… yea… amen… yea…
“John, do you hear something?”
Yea… amen… yea…
John furrowed his brow and listened. “I think people are yelling out there.” He opened the door and shivered as a rush of cold air swept into the building.
Yea! Amen! Yea! Amen!
In the distance a line of flickering lights cut through the early darkness, advancing in a massive row towards their present locations. Andrea pulled a jacket on and came out beside him. “It looks like fire. Candles?”
“Maybe, but that would be a lot of candles. Torches, maybe?” The two stood in confused silence as the lights came closer.
…fight… Yea! …forgiven… Amen!
Andrea’s jaw dropped. “John, go inside. Get your coat and get the visitors out, now. I, I’ll be out here.”
She swallowed and nodded. “Yes, I’ll be, I’ll be fine. Just go. Now. I think I need to get a trance going.”
…fight… YEA! …forgiven… AMEN!”
John moved back into the war air of the Pokémon Center and knocked on the door down the hall to the right. “Hey, sorry to bother you now, but, uh, you might want to get ready to leave. Something’s come up!”
“Just trust me. I’m really, really sorry about this, but you probably can’t stay much longer.”
“Al-alright then. Hear that, honey?”
John immediately ran upstairs to his own room and grabbed his coat and sketchbook. He rushed back downstairs and grabbed the guest’s red and white Pokéballs from the storage area in the back. He checked the labels. Vulpix and Growlithe. At least they probably wouldn’t freeze to death. If the worst happened, that was. He hoped it wouldn’t.
John shuddered. Outside, the chanting had stopped.
.- -. -.. .-. . .- .--- --- -. . ...
The first faces of the crowd were visible to Andrea, now. Reverend Xavier stood in front with a handful of Elders standing by his side. She recognized a handful of the people in the mob behind him, but she knew none very well.
“Enough! There’s a pregnant woman staying in there and you’ve probably scared her half to death! This isn’t the kind of hospitality disciples should show, especially this close to Solstice!” Good. Anger was good. Trances often came with anger.
“Ma’am, that woman should not be there at all!” Reverend Xavier shouted, and the crowd roared behind him a moment later. “We have tolerated the abominations you have sheltered, tolerated the wicked thoughts you have so deliberately implanted in the minds of our children, tolerated your corruption of even the most respected elders, but we shall no more! You stand before a shelter of time that one day shall rot, while we bear the fire of The Voice! There is nothing you can do to stop the wrath of a deity; stand aside.”
At last her vision nearly blacked out, replaced by a thin haze. Excellent. But why was it just a haze? Normally she couldn’t see anything. No. It would work. It was enough. It had to be.
“I thought better of you, Reverend. I really did. Misguiding followers with twisted Testament to lead them astray and attacking the weakest on days of peace and joy? Pathetic. Kuracanto cured murderers of blindness and insanity, Penebusan-6. The city of Cahaya at its most pious allowed foreign refugees of a pagan religion, Penebusan-15. In both cases, many were brought to faith in The Voice. How can we stand here and defy a clear precedent in Testament, if we heal and if we comfort, we shall prosper. If we shut ourselves off and care only for us, then we violate the very essence of the Prophets’ deeds.”
The crowd was confused and the sea of torches sagged a few inches. Reverend Xavier raised his hands and they rose once more. “You speak well, but you claim to know far more than you possibly could. Testament says to respect your elders in both life and faith. While others may have been willing to condone your youthful arrogance in the past, it will not be condoned here and now. Stand aside. We have no desire to harm you.”
“Testament also says to stand up for truth, Cinta-27.”
“And how, precisely, do you claim to know the truth better than those who have given their lives to serve The Voice?
Andrea raised her right hand into the air. “This hand, through The Voice’s grace, has done far more service than your whole body has ever done. I can heal mortal wounds through just as… Kuracanto… could.” The haze was fading. No. Bad. Thinking quickly, Andrea finished her own mouth’s lecture as best as she could. “If you are truly blessed, why can you not do such things?”
All assembled, even Reverend Xavier and the elders, were stunned. Could this girl really be a miracle-worker? If so, why had she kept it a secret? And if she was a miracle-worker, would that make her stances more correct than Reverend Xavier? Andrea herself was also in a full panic, desperately meditating and praying with her eyes open, her knees vibrating beneath her jeans. No. No. Why did the trance leave? She stared into the crowd and gulped. She knew some Testament, but not a whole lot, and had never stood before a crowd in control of her own body and spoke to this many people. And she had certainly never spoken to a torch-wielding mob.
“Bah. I do not doubt that this impetuous girl can heal. But think over the facts, my friends. She has stood up to the appointed Elders of The Voice and tried to corrupt its Community. Even now she fails to find the divine power to turn us back. Go ahead, girl. Show us your identification with The Voice. If it is really with you, blow out these torches.”
“It-it doesn’t work like that.” No. No. Please. Please. Come on.
“See? When faced with the real will of the divine, her magic fails her. This girl is not a Prophetess, but a witch who uses their arcane gifts for The Enemy! There is no other explanation. Now, the good people of Umber–“
“No,” the redheaded girl before him whispered. “Please, no.”
“–What do we do with witches?”
A moment of stunned silence followed as the Community members looked between one another and tried to remember a sermon. “Burn them?”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
As John finished escorting the guests out the back door of the Center, the front window panes shattered as a human body flew through them, auburn hair whipping in the cold air before Andrea landed inside the building in a shower of blood red fluid and translucent shards. John’s eyes widened as he saw the crowd rush forward outside, torches raised as they reached the wooden structure.
“BURN THE WITCH! BURN THE WITCH!”
****. John lifted his barely-conscious coworker onto his shoulders and stumbled for the medicine room as the first flames touched the outside walls and smoke began to trail around the building. He scooped up bandages and a medical kit in his free hand before groping out in the increasingly ebony air. The front wall was crackling as cadmium red flames crawled away from their origin spaces, replacing soft brown with black and red and orange. More torches, flying inside the building now. Red and orange and ebony. Some sputtered out on the floor, but others caught inside walls and began to ignite them as well. It was a dream world. Ebony air and orange floors. He choked down the graying air, breathed in the toxic fumes and felt his body line with sweat from the incinerating red. Cadmium red? No the shade wasn’t quite right. He could never draw fire quite right. Or was it the smoke? He couldn’t tell. Time was slowed, Panic and poison gripped his mind. The color of the fire wasn’t right. There was a girl on his shoulder, a surprisingly heavy girl, and the air was warm and he was going to die.
What shade of black would death be?
Was he already dead? There was fire and pain and he had been sinning.
No. The voices were still there, drowned out by the roar of red and the smothering of ebony as John’s pale hand groped ahead, trying to find its way down an impossibly long hall in an impossibly hot room of impossible colors. Were his parents outside? Andrea’s? Why did the smoke have to be so thick. Why did the flames, crimson?, have to be so hot? He remembered the story of a girl in Cinnabar who burned to death long ago. She was good, but corrupted, so she had to die or something like that. Maybe he should have paid more attention.
At long last, John’s body slammed into metal, rapidly warming against his back, and he saw light. White light. Just open the door. White. Light. Outside. There was white light outside.
Maybe that was the color of death?
Air, cold but pure, seeped into his lungs as he barreled his way out, his hand tightly gripping his medical supplies like they were life itself and the girl on his shoulders heavier than ever. He coughed. It was heavy coughing. Air was coming in. Poison out. Pure air in. Bad air out. Just. Keep. Breathing. He slid Andrea off of his shoulder into a wheelbarrow kept out back and began to walk, slowly but purposefully, away from the searing heat and into the white and the cold. Every breath of cold, pure air and ever expulsion of toxic fumes brought him one step, one turn of the cart’s wheels, away from Umber and into the forest.
The chanting and heat slowly faded until only the dry air around him and the cold, rocky ground below remained. He dropped the cart, his muscles collapsing and sending him hurling to the ground. He lay there for an eternity. Air in. Poison out. Air in. Poison out. He was safe now. Safe and free and damned.
John did the most he safely could for Andrea there, wiping off rust red blood with a cloth in the kit and bandaging the salmon scars that wrapped around her arms and legs, but ultimately had to keep moving when chanting resumed near the forest edge. On and on he marched through the midnight below, walking until midnight had long past and the Solstice had begun. Even then he continued, the buzz of fear at the back of his mind making sleep undesirable and impossible. He had sinned in his heart and deeds. He should have turned around and faced the Reverend, but every glance in the wheelbarrow would make him shudder and walk on. The Reverend would not recant. A ghostly imaged lingered with John that night, a phantom stake, burning with cadmium red fire just a shade off from the real blaze. When he paused and moved ahead of the cart to turn it around, a girl began to materialize in the illusion, chained and burning. He kept going forward.
Hours more passed as John alternated between pulling and pushing the wheelbarrow, checking on Andrea, and resting. Deep in the forest there was a place where they could be safe. It would be a long time, maybe even days, until they reached it but every step into the night brought more familiar trees and trails. They had crossed the Camp border some time ago. He saw a pale ash tree with a charcoal ring etched around a knob in the bark. Stopping, John listened to the near silence of the forest, interrupted only by the hooting of the owls and the occasional gusts of the wind rustling the tree leaves. Focusing more, another sound came into focus. The running of water. A stream. He could get there. Maybe. In truth, he had been hiking for a very long time while pushing another human’s weight. Surely it could wait until morning. There was no chanting. Umber was behind him. The buzz of fear had subsided. Midnight blue faded to black
John collapsed in a surprisingly open clearing in the woods beneath a surprisingly large tree standing in the center. Three meters up, a Rattata poked his head out to see what was going on below him. He was quite young, and her mother looked out shortly afterwards to see what his son had found, followed by a whole swarm of his other daughters and sons rushing to see the strange new creature. There was a human below. The mother growled and her children stayed in the tree. Humans were powerful and dangerous. One of her children could get captured if they weren’t careful.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Mommy! Daddy! Wake up, it’s morning now!”
“Ugh, just give mommy and daddy some more time, okay!”
“Fine, if you say so.” John Weaver huffed as he walked away from his parents. It was Solstice morning. They were supposed to be up and excited and eating before going to Chapel. And then they would have presents and there would be stories and the kids would get together to play and it would be fun. But first his parents had to get up. They had all night to sleep. Why weren’t they up yet? The sun was already out.
It was supposed to be a magical day of fun and love. At least, he had been told that. Truth be told he had no idea why it was supposed to be that way but it was and that was all that mattered. But he wasn’t having fun now. Not one bit. It was really sad when he couldn’t have fun on good days like Solstice. Bad things happened on normal days, but he could get through them because that was expected. Holidays were supposed to be good. Why weren’t they?
CLOSE FILE 1.5: EBONY
PROCEED TO FILE 1.6: RUST RED
OPEN FILE 1.6: RUST RED
As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.
“Today we shall be speaking on the Community and why it is of such importance to those of us who live here. The earliest followers of The Voice lived in Communities of only disciples, worshipping as they pleased. Outside the world of these believers, wickedness and vice flourished to sickening degrees. It was in this time that it became clear that isolation might be the only way to successfully live in such a way that pleases The Voice.
“Many noble souls have tried to persist in faith outside of protected Communities. Some have succeeded, but the vast majority have failed. The primary reason is that corruption is rampant outside, tearing away at what Testament tells us is true, and that ultimate spiritual knowledge only resides in a few people: those who head The Voice’s Communities. These enlightened individuals, myself among them, hold sole knowledge of what Testament truly means in the modern era. It is our duty to shepherd in those who are right and recognize those who are possessed, those who are so singularly wicked that there is no hope for redemption in them and cast them out. Better that one worshipper of The Enemy be cut off than a whole flock fall.”
“That is why your parents have made the choice to live in this Community. Here there is certainty in law. Follow it, follow me, and you will be saved. Choose to live in darkness and defy it, and you are wrong and shall be banished and damned. Right and wrong are clear and temptation is easy to avoid and punished, making it the hardest path. It is here, and almost exclusively here, that you may be saved.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
The April air was pristine and clear. Flowers of all colors bloomed. John reached behind him to the backpack the Viridian ranger had given him, but stopped. It would take too much time to get it out. He had enough memories to sift through to last until the hike was done.
Not many people lived at Viridian Camp in the off-season. The ranger and a few retired staff members stayed around to make sure that the trails stayed clear and the facilities were usable. They certainly were not expecting to find two half-dead teenagers in the backwoods shortly after Solstice. A medic was rushed out to the clearing they were found in and he arrived late the next day on an ATV. The boy was conscious when they met; he would be fine after receiving food and rest. The girl was a different story. The cuts had mostly dried but she was almost painted rust red and her limbs were covered in scars. He strapped her onto the ATV to be taken back to camp. The boy asked if she would live. He had to pause, however many times he had to do it he always had to beat back tears, and said that it would take a miracle. He never said death until hearts had stopped beating. To his surprise, the boy smiled. He told him with the utmost confidence that if only a miracle was needed, his friend would be absolutely fine.
For the first month Andrea practically lived in Viridian hospital. The questions the doctor asked John were sensitive and he didn’t answer them clearly whenever possible. She had fallen through a pane of glass. There had been some smoke they had inhaled. No, they could not return to Umber. Who cares about the law? It would not happen because it could not happen. In the end, Seneca’s uncle and a gun-toting intruder who claimed to speak for “the most Holy followers of The Voice” persuaded the hospital staff that guardianship laws weren’t very clear about what to do when the child technically belonged to a hostile religious commune. After Andrea’s release, Seneca showed up in his beat-up pickup truck to take them to his house.
At first John quietly tolerated exile for his fellow refugee. She had been burned, literally and figuratively. From time to time Andrea wrote letters to her father who was still in Umber. No response ever came. John could hardly leave her alone with no friends, completely cut-off from everything and everyone she had known.
But what if Umber let him back? They were more angry with Andrea, and he could claim to have never agreed with the Pokémon Center anyway. A tiny lie was better than losing his path to salvation entirely. He stayed up at night and memories came back: his first Solstice, a childhood hike, an old television broadcast. Most importantly, he remembered the sermons of his initiation. One about Community was particularly striking. He stood up staring at the ceiling for nights on end. Umber was good, he had never doubted that, but could it really be that he was entirely lost to The Voice unless he made up with it? Existential terror permeated his existence for months until he finally had to quell it for the good of his mind and soul. He stole away with Seneca’s backpacking gear alone in the night, a handwritten note scrawled on a sketchbook page left on his dressed. All he could do was hope his friends would understand.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Thankfully, the entire Community was in Chapel when he arrived. Unnoticed by anyone, John trekked from the edges of the forest to his home. The doors were never locked in Umber– that would signify mistrust– so he let himself in and rested in a chair, alone with his thoughts for another hour.
At last he heard voices approaching. “I still think that he’s got a point on works. Sure, The Voice is loving, but we have to do something–“
“…by The Voice…”
Mr. Weaver broke the silence first, rushing to his son and knocking over his chair as he lifted him up. “I’m so glad you’re here! Where were you for the last four months? I trust you got by well enough. You look fine. We’ve been so worried, scared that you’d never come back.”
“And you shouldn’t have.” Mrs. Weaver was struggling to stay composed. “You were chased out. If the Reverend says that you’re gone, you should be…” it came out as a whisper and she broke at the end, unable to face the rage in her husband’s eyes and the shame in her son’s.
“Martha, the boy’s been through far more than he should have. I don’t give a damn what you say, that man is not infallible and he has no justification for picking on kids to get an ego boost. I put up with you to come here. I will not allow you to tear our boy away because of some religious nutcase’s opinions.”
“Dear, the Reverend- you shouldn’t speak of him that way.”
“If you like him so much, let’s give him the final word. At least give John a chance to stick up for himself.”
“And if he says no?”
“He won’t,” John said quietly. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
Trials always drew crowds in Umber, and John’s was no exception. The Elders sat in their customary seats on stage while John and the Reverend sat facing each other on opposite ends. All others sat in the pews and were forbidden to speak. John glanced over the faces on stage. Most were sympathetic or neutral. It did not seem as if their wrath was focused upon him. That was good. He would get out. He would be saved by the grace of The Voice.
Reverend Xavier slammed a gavel down upon his desk. “Good afternoon, residents of Umber Community. Today we are assembled here to hear the case for the formal banishment of John Weaver, son of Martha and Alexander Weaver, both children of outsiders. I will now present my current interpretation of the matter. He may then defend himself and the Elders may question either party. After the conclusion of questioning, The Voice will guide me to the final and true decision.”
He cleared his throat to signal a change in topic. “John Weaver was a good and loyal Community resident for the majority of his life. In his early days he was fondly engaged in the Community’s Camping unit and easily passed his initiation trials. At about this point he was allowed to venture to Camping’s Viridian Camp, which he successfully attended without succumbing to the rampant temptations of the outside. Ironically, he was to be brought down from inside the Community even as he became more and more active with service outside of it.
“In the August of 1988, Casey Jones and his daughter, Andrea, moved into the Community. Casey has been a proper resident and disciple, always assisting those around him when requested and needed. However, he was ultimately unable to control his own daughter to the detriment of himself and those around him. Andrea Jones was mostly harmless at first. She expressed an interest in Camping, contributed positively at Testament studies, and generally caused no problems. Then KR-1028 came.
“The law mandated that Umber and other Communities build Pokémon Centers. It was originally the near-unanimous conclusion of the Elders, as well as my view, that no Center should be built. She had the nerve to interrupt an Elder in council while KR-1208 was discussed and single-handedly tainted the views of Umber into allowing a corruption into our midst. I spoke with John after that meeting and urged him to convince Andrea to come back to reason. Even then he acknowledged that he was already converted away from our side, into darkness and sin.
“For a while it seemed as if John might recover unscathed from even the influence of Andrea, later confirmed to be an unrepentant witch. He became a key figure on Umber’s first youth soccer team and continued to serve actively in Umber and Viridian as a Camper. However, he still spent the majority of his time servicing an unholy blemish upon our beloved and holy Community.
“A few months later the Community was finally free of sin once more. John was present when the Pokémon Center was burned and did not oppose it. However, he did prevent the Community from enacting its death sentence upon Andrea Jones and fled from The Voice for months before finally returning.
“Here lies the heart of the matter: is John Weaver’s involvement with the creation and operation of the Pokémon Center a sign of character defect or the temporary control of The Enemy’s agent? If it is due to a moral flaw he has no place in this Community. If it was due to the influence of an agent, he may flourish if he is removed from the corrupting influence of his former friend.
“If his story shows nothing else, it is that John Weaver is an exceptional Community member and was held in the highest of graces before Andrea Jones arrived. I view it as unlikely that anything more than severe temptation motivated his decisions. Removed from this corruption, as we all should be in a place such as this, he will be fine. Now it is time for he himself to speak.”
John shivered as all eyes shifted to him. “Thanks, I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to say after that.”
“Do you blame your actions upon yourself or your companions?” Reverend Xavier clarified.
“Well, I guess Andrea led me to do the things you talked about. I probably wouldn’t have done them without her.”
“Is that all you have to say?”
John was surprised that he was getting off so easily and nodded to signify his assent. “Yes, that’s it.”
The Reverend began the obligatory parliamentary explanation as to how the questioning phase would work. John didn’t listen though. He knew he was free. All he had needed to do was pin it on Andrea and he was free John’s eyes wandered over the crowd and scanned the crowd’s attitude. Most of them were happy. His family was well-liked and they always knew John as a nice-enough boy. One was different. It was… shocked? Betrayed? Anguished? John cringed as he looked into the man’s sienna eyes for another moment. They were the same color as another set, a pair that had admonished and comforted him at points. The eyes that he was betraying for his own sake. Eyes that were probably closed in Viridian, anguished and alone. Mr. Jones was unhappy.
“Do you agree, John?”
“Huh, sorry. Wasn’t really paying attention,” John sheepishly admitted as he turned towards the elders, away from Mr. Jones, and scratched his head. “Could you repeat the question?”
“I asked whether or not you believed Andrea Jones to be guilty of witchcraft, as she admitted to.”
“I, well, if she admitted…” John found himself staring back into the audience, gazing into the now anguished eyes of Mr. Jones. They looked too much like Andrea’s when she was angry. No, not angry. Disappointed. Betrayed. It was the way they looked whenever she would look at John and ask him why he believed so much in a human minister. Why he believed that a man could claim to understand Testament and then forbid any questioning of his knowledge. He had never understood what she was talking about. He still didn’t. He never did. But for one moment, he came a small step closer to knowing.
“No.” A wave of tense silence fell over the assembled disciples.
The questioning Elder leaned forward in his chair. “And what do you mean by ‘no’?”
“I mean, well, I mean that she isn’t a witch and never was. She never admitted to be; not to my knowledge. From time to time she would have things she called ‘trances,’ where she would forget everything and do crazy things like stand up to the Council, but she said they were from The Voice, not witchcraft. Andrea’s flawed. She has her problems. But everything she does, everything she did, she never meant any harm. Maybe she questioned too much. I think she did. I even think she was wrong on a lot of things. But at the end of the day, she was a girl who believed in The Voice and tried to follow Testament. If that’s a crime, if we burn people for that…”
“Then what, John?” the Reverend coaxed.
“I-I don’t know. It just feels wrong.”
“But do you believe that she was a witch: that she used dark magic to perform supernatural acts?”
“No. I saw her heal a dying man once, but her actions– they weren’t malicious. She didn’t want any recognition and she did it out of guilt and a desire to make things better.”
“You affirm that she performed supernatural deeds?”
“And that she claimed to come under the influence of a power hostile to the council from time to time?”
“Not hostile! Just committed to doing what was right?”
“But in this state did she challenge the authority of myself or the Council?”
The Reverend cleared his throat. “Has it occurred to you that she may have done and said these things to increase your faith in her, allowing her to manipulate you more later on? Or even that she may have been entirely possessed by demons and her whole life was designed to lure you away from The Voice?”
“But it could have–“
“It wasn’t. She wouldn’t have done that,” John said, his voice rising.
“So you deny that Andrea Jones was a witch?”
“I stand by what I said.”
The Reverend shook his head. “I honestly thought you were redeemable John. Unfortunately, your corruption is so far ingrained that you can no longer recognize the difference between good and evil. While I recognize your devotion to The Voice, I cannot risk you accidentally tainting those around you. It pains me to do so, but The Voice has revealed but one option to me. As of 3:00 PM tomorrow afternoon, you will be formally banished from Umber Community. Do not return in the future.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
For all of his life, John Weaver had considered whether his actions were right or wrong before doing anything. Now he wondered if he even knew the difference as he packed in silence. Andrea was nice and he had viewed her as his most valuable ally– no, his most valuable friend– in the Community. He didn’t think she was evil. But could he tell? If she was actually a witch, was it possible that he had merely been ensnared by her influence and was now unable to see the truth?
His parents were arguing outside of his room, but he tried not to listen. It was hard enough dealing with his own thoughts. For a time he tried to distract himself with packing. He now had both Seneca’s pack and his own to put his gear into. Unfortunately, he would still have to hike with the weight and he wasn’t sure how he would carry the second backpack. He liked focusing on that problem more. However he solved it, his worldview would not be threatened and none of his friends were in moral peril. Why couldn’t all of his problems be like that? Why couldn’t they be more like the ones he had before KR-1028, before he met Andrea, before he went to Viridian Camp?
At long last he finished compiling what he would bring. He left a lot behind due to a lack of space, but he had all he wanted and needed. His clothes and essential items were in his backpack. It fit the best, even if it was the smaller of the two. Seneca’s pack only held his art supplies so John could just latch the light pack onto the other one. However unready he was to leave, his time in Umber would run out in three hours if he wanted it to or not. His exile was inevitable.
He hugged his father on the way out. “I know you’ll do well, John. Stay with the people you know if possible, but don’t be afraid to take risks. Everything that The Voice does to good people is for the fulfillment of its plans. Whatever happens, try and find what you’re supposed to be doing. In the end, you might do more out there than you ever could in Umber.”
Mrs. Weaver watched her son tearfully, but said nothing and did not return his hug. She was a believer in the Reverend’s judgments until the day she died. If Xavier said someone was unholy, they were best banished from the mind and heart.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“You need a ride?”
John turned as one of the few cars in Umber pulled up beside him. Mr. Jones leaned out the window.
“I’m on my way out as well. There’s room in back for your stuff.”
For a moment John considered whether or not the offer was just a chance for Mr. Jones to drag him into the woods and kill him. During the trial he had certainly seemed willing to. Then again, one day he would die and burn for eternity because he had become hopelessly lost. What difference did it make in the grand scheme of things when that day came?
“Sure.” John loaded his two packs in the car’s backseat and got in the passenger door. “You didn’t need to help, though.”
“Yes, I did.” The car accelerated forward and began to move down the long and rugged road to Viridian. “It was the right thing to do. Even if you had ripped Andrea apart in public it would have been the right thing. Testament tells us to care for the weakest even when we don’t want to. I preached for fifteen years before coming to Umber and I never saw someone quite as low as you are right now.”
Mr. Jones chuckled. “I didn’t mean it like that. Most people go through either worldly or spiritual trouble, but only one of the two. Those with worldly troubles usually end up relying more on The Voice and hit a spiritual peak. Those with existential problems are usually working so hard that they have everything they could ever want. Everything but love and contentment. You got hit with both. Just as you were cast out of everything you knew, Xavier went two steps farther to shatter your worldview. In time it would have crumbled anyway if you wanted true spiritual health, but it might have come at a better point for you.
“Besides all of that, you did help Andrea in the end and in the last few years you did more for her than me. I wasn’t off in Viridian caring for her. I supported her politically and personally, but at almost every step you were there helping her directly. I hoped against hope you wouldn’t renounce her on stage. If you had, I might have hated you, but I also would have hated myself for doing less for my daughter than someone who accused her of witchcraft.”
Another hour lapsed in silence as Andrea’s father watched the road and John stared out the window, lost in emotional chaos and the minister’s words. “So what should I do?”
“About the spiritual and worldly hurt. What should I do about it?”
“Even if I knew, it wouldn’t be right for me to tell you. Any anguish you feel now is the dying influence of someone you trusted with your soul. If I pretended to know the answer and you took my advice you would just be passing responsibility to someone else who could fail you. It’s about time you figured out for yourself what’s right and what isn’t. That’s something no teacher can ever tell you with perfect accuracy. Find your own place in the world; don’t let your existence hinge on anyone but yourself and The Voice.”
- .... . -. .- .-. .-. .- - --- .-.
There’s an old legend in the region John grew up in. Like most legends, no one is quite sure what is and is not true. Almost all of the details vary depending upon the bard. But whoever tells it, the story begins several (but not too many) decades ago in a home on Cinnabar Island.
Bards can never agree on who owned the home, except that they were certainly a rich man. Some say he was a scientist who tried to push the limits of his discipline into the realm of The Voice and was plunged into madness as a punishment. Another variant is that a wealthy noble or capitalist lived a life of luxury until his daughter died of a disease not even his money could treat. The gentleman slipped into seclusion and went insane with grief. I have even heard one or two tales where a mafia lord owned the home. Something terrible happened in there: a man close to him was killed before his eyes by another don, his wife committed suicide, or a monster was sent by The Voice to torture him. Seeking redemption, the man turned to religion. In time he abandoned his criminal ties, but he always lived with a feeling of harrowing guilt for all he had done. Over the years it messed with his mind.
An insane and powerful man lived in a nice house. A bad thing happened in the house partially caused by this man. That’s all you really need to know. The rest is just fluff and creative license.
As the years passed, the man’s insanity grew even deeper. He lived mostly alone, but a single female servant remained on his staff to care for him. The town’s residents often spoke of the mansion’s occupant in hushed voices. Every passing year increased the mysterious allure of the spectacular home and its enigmatic owner. One day, the ringleader of the town’s gossips decided to get the answers she so desperately craved. The housekeeper accepted her offer to get some drinks. The gossip asked the barkeeper to make them a little stronger than usual that night in hopes of cracking the girl. It took hours, but in time she did tell all.
It was the housekeeper’s custom to bring the mansion’s owner a newspaper every day. For a week she did not, always lying about the reason. It was closing circulation on Sundays. The editor was sick. The assistant editor was dealing with a death in the family. There was an ink shortage in the region. Eventually the old man grew suspicious and wondered what events in the paper she would so desperately hide from him. He left his home for the first time in years one night and went to a local grocery store. Leafing through the newspapers, he discovered a gossip column where his servant had revealed everything about his habits and backstory. He paid for the paper and slunk back to his mansion without raising suspicion, seething inside.
The servant came the next day. Her boss was waiting there, praying on his knees in a large pool of strange liquid that covered the floor. As she approached with his meal, the man opened his eyes and slipped a steel rectangle from his pocket. The girl stopped, unsure of what to do, and kneeled down in the liquid to give him the tray. The fluid stuck to her legs, skirt, and shoes. When the lighter ignited she stood no chance.
The man, girl, and house were torched. The mansion was never demolished– that much can be proven. The story once more differs on what happened after the deaths. The most common account is that the girl was inherently good, but the home was evil. Heaven would not touch the house as long as her ashes were mingled with the sin that permeated the place. She was doomed to wander the scorched halls and stare at her charred body. As decades passed, her shock turned to grief, her grief turned to hatred, and her hatred turned to malice. If heaven could have reached her it would no longer have extended an invitation. Darkness seeped through her entire being. The Enemy would not take her into Hell because she was more useful to it on Earth as a being of terror and evil. The Elders of Umber called her a demon when they taught the story to the Community’s young.
For the second time, and in an entirely different way, John identified with the girl.
END FILE 1.6: RUST RED
PROCEED TO FILE 1.7: VIOLET
One file left to go.
OPEN FILE 1.7: VIOLET
"Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one who is among those who eat the flesh of pigs, rats and other unclean things--they will meet their end together with the one they follow," declares the LORD.
The Official Records of the Indigo Maximum Security Prison
Prisoner 1028; birth name: unknown; assumed name: Titania, was executed today at 15:00 in Room 102 of the compound. Her final meal was served at 12:00 and she was escorted to the execution chamber at 2:00. She was strapped into the chair as final preparations unfolded. The prisoner was silent for the duration of the ordeal. Wardens note that she was generally a loud prisoner who frequently initiated verbal or physical altercations with the guards and other prisoners, advocating for conversion to her cause or release. As the designated hour of execution approached, the crimes she was convicted of were read. She was asked if she had any final requests or parting words, but remained silent for a full thirty seconds. Final preparations began. A microphone near the prisoner detected a whispered phrase moments before her termination.
“The demons are stirring.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
John glanced back and forth between a boy and a girl his age on the opposite end of the table. The boy was looking straight at him, but the girl was hopelessly lost gazing into some sort of electronic device. John thought they were called cell phones, although he wasn’t really sure.
“Gela, the other Director’s here.”
“Are you at least going to talk to him? You’re being really rude.”
“Just let me finish the script. Okay, done. How can I offend you today?” She looked up and smiled, her jade eyes flashing with intelligence.
The boy sighed. “Sorry, it takes a while to get used to her.” He smiled and extended his hand across the table. “My name’s Oliver Mars, the new Director of Cave Camp. I hear you’re the new boss down South?”
John shook his hand. “Thank you. I’m John Weaver, Director of Viridian. I take it that she's–“
“You could ask the question to me, you know.”
“I’m sorry. I take it that you–“
“Direct the only camp remaining? Fantastic deduction. I’d quiver in my boots in awe and fear of your unimaginable intellect, but I happen to be wearing sandals so the effect is somewhat diminished.”
“Pleased to meet you then, Miss, um, whatever your name is,” John replied, casting a questioning look at Oliver. The other director simply shrugged.
“Such respects. I continue to vibrate profusely in my hypothetical winter shoes.”
“She’s Gela Esprit, the new Water Camp director.”
“Dammit, Oliver, stop telling everyone my secret identity.”
The Cave Camp director rolled his beaver brown eyes and turned back to John. He mouthed, “I’m sorry about her.”
“So, what are we actually going to do here?” John asked, looking out the window at the vast city beneath the waiting room they were sitting in. Buildings stretched in every direction; blimps and planes filled what little of the sky was unfilled by steel and glass. Saffron was far larger than John could have every imagined. There had to be at least a hundred-thousand people here.
“Sit around and pray to whatever you hold sacred that you die before you get dementia.”
“Winter doesn’t have dementia,” Oliver countered.
“That’s what they all say.”
“What she means is that the new and old Directors will meet with Mr. Winter, our boss, to talk about the job and its importance. He’ll probably, what do you call it?”
“Yes, nostalgically ramble about how we should all go on a Pokémon journey and how children these days have lost all respect because they don’t train as much as they should. Winter went on one decades ago, back before the First Revolution, and presses every group that comes through here to go on one before they serve. Some do, some don’t.”
“I see,” John’s eyes shifted back to the iron landscape outside. “So, a lot of Directors are battlers?”
Gela looked back up from her phone, flicking a button to lock it. “Depends on how you define battler. I’m primarily a haxor, but I battle on occasion. Oliver here prefers to mindlessly smash anyone who walks into the room displaying their red and white. Almost every Director is a trainer and almost every trainer battles. Make of that what you will.”
“So, did you too go on a badge quest, then?”
Oliver nodded. “I did. I didn’t exactly win, but I got a good team, some badges, and a lot of fun out of it. Gela trained at home and occasionally rode out somewhere to earn a badge and do some business. Although, that was really the only way she could do it because–“
“Because as an unrepentant nerd I can’t step into the sun without spontaneously igniting. Right, Oliver?” Gela’s piercing green eyes bore into her fellow director with far more anger than her smile suggested.
“Yeah, that. My bad.”
Gela turned back to her phone and the boys relaxed. “And your Pokémon like battling?”
“They’re surprisingly eager to get the tar beat out of them,” Gela answered. “Not very different from Oliver challenging me to battles.”
“My Pokémon like it. It’s a chance to show their power and play,” Oliver replied, ignoring his fellow director.
“And they don’t get hurt?”
“Inordinately powerful animals firing off anima pulses and tremendously forceful tackles would hurt anything but other absurdly powerful beings capable of absorbing said attacks.”
“Um, could you repeat that?”
“Such smarts. My toes yearn for a thick exterior to shake in at the thought.”
“I think he would prefer his answer in English, rather than Technobabble or Sarcasm.”
“Mi ne parolas la anglan. Mi nur komprenas tiujn lingvojn.”
“Esperanto is also off the table,” Oliver admonished.
“Fine, I loathe those who oppose my right to make scathing remarks in whatever language I please, but I shall comply with your request in the immediate timeframe, Your Majesty.” Gela rolled her eyes and turned to face John. “What I meant was that, yes, Pokémon are really, really powerful. They have the capacity to inflict massive damage in the heat of battle, especially when a trainer is guiding them. Their power works both ways. Forces that would tear us fleshbags apart barely dent some of the stronger Pokémon. Stelo’s told me battling hurts, but the rush makes it worth it almost all of the time.”
“Don’t get her started on it. Please don’t,” Horatio interjected.
“Yeah, in all probability we lack the time to go into that even if I did desire to do so. My point is that Pokémon like battling. Sure, some matches end disastrously, but it is the role of the trainer to care enough for their Pokémon and learn enough about the discipline that they don’t royally screw up and make their partner pay for it.”
“Did you enjoy journeying?” John asked.
Oliver nodded. “Yes, it was easily the best thing I’ve ever done. I learned more about myself in those few months than I did in the three years before it.”
“He even learned his name.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Jiggly, jiggly, PUFF!” The small, pink Pokémon in front of John inhaled a steady stream of air until its face turned coral pink and it lifted off of the ground.
“Easy, Gengar, there is little it can do to us. Stand your ground a moment longer.” Ulysses crossed his arm as his Pokémon obeyed, hovering in a defensive position.
“You’ll regret that, Ulysses,” his opponent proclaimed as she wagged her finger. “Puff, show them what we do to overconfident ghost-trainers.
“Jiggly!” The Jigglypuff opened up its mouth and yelled. The individual notes were perfectly pitched and resonated pleasantly in John’s ears,like the Autumn birdsong in Umber. Yet discord ran rampant. Scales ran up and down erratically as if their singer was not quite sure how far or how quickly to proceed. Notes jumped in volume and pitch, randomly dancing from loud to soft and high to low faster than any human ear could process. Somehow John couldn’t help but feel emotionally engaged by it. The beautiful notes engaged his mind in pleasant focus, only to be immediately disrupted by his head’s futile attempt to make sense of them as a whole. The attack was beautiful. Death by a thousand beautiful stabs to the ear.
“Psywave, Rachel, really?” Ulysses asked.
The camp medic giggled. “You bet.”
“Fine, then. Confuse Ray.”
As Jigglypuff’s cry died down, Gengar’s eyes glowed. The trainers averted their gaze for a moment. Spacing out in the middle of a match could only end so many ways. Few were good. When they looked back, Jigglypuff was spinning around on one foot giving a broken cry. Her huge eyes were unblinking as normal, but now one was turned skyward and the other faced out into the crowd, locked into place on the faces it saw as it spun.
“Strike it down, now.”
Jigglypuff perked up upon hearing her trainer’s voice, but her eyes were still glazed over. She puffed herself up once more, rising into the air and beginning to sing a handful of disjointed scales. The notes were captivating. The melody was filled with discord.
“No, not that song! The other one: sleep song!”
Puff continued to sing on as her scales grew in volume and chaos, escalating into a crescendo of emotional turmoil as Gengar slunk forward. The phantom’s hand began to emanate a powerful white aura as it leaned back for a moment and focused its glare through the pain.
The ghost rushed forward and brought his hand back. Just as he reached the source of the beautiful, horrible noise he slammed his fist forward straight into the elastic sphere of fur. The song was replaced by horrible screaming, like a deflating balloon crying out at impending death as its body grew smaller and smaller until nothing remained and the sound stopped at last.
John winced as the normal-type was engulfed in light. He raised a red flag in his right hand and proclaimed, “Rachel is out of usable Pokémon. As such, Ulysses is the winner!” The assembled Campers stood and applauded as Ulysses bowed and Rachel slunk off to the Medical Center, her face twisted with worry. “Alright, campers. You’re free to go back and continue packing up. Closing Ceremony will be in the main field at 6:00. You are dismissed.”
The Campers got up and began to trickle to their campsites until only the staff remained. John excused himself and began to briskly walk to the parking lot. It was late Summer again in Viridian. Pidgey and Spearow chirped as they flew from tree to tree. Swarms of smaller bright red and powder blue birds would rise into the air whenever the Pokémon landed so they could fly to other branches not occupied by larger, more intimidating beings. John smiled and his hand moved reflexively to his sketchbook before he beat it back. He could draw later. There would almost certainly be time for that.
There were already a handful of parents milling around the parking lot. He scanned the lot for an old cadet gray car. His eyebrows lowered and he sat down a tree stump after three visual sweeps ended in failure. At least the cars were interesting. They came in all shades, far more than his limited pallet could hold. He was forced to blend colors. John pulled out his equipment and looked over it fondly: cadmium red, forest green, white, and royal blue pastels in addition to his drawing pencil. His thoughts bled out as he picked up the white and blue pastels to sketch a nearby car. The car was about the same color as water. Water. John thought idly of a vast expanse of churning and crashing water beneath an equally blue sky. Or perhaps the sky could be gray, filled with churning clouds. Would the sea still be blue? Water had its color because of reflection or something, so if the sun was blocked, what then?
Would he ever see the sea? Occasionally he had sketched it, going off of the accounts of his father and other immigrant Community members. It was always a distant, fantastic body that seemed just beyond relevance to his life. He had seen maps; the sea had always been less than one hundred miles away from him. Five days and he could be there. John leaned back and sighed. He had never seen caves either. Flipping the page, John took a few pieces of charcoal out of his art supply pocket. His hand tried to create a circle of darkness on the page, leaving a few streaks of light behind. Would there be light? If there wasn’t, would there be color? And if water reflected light to get its color what would it look like underground? There was a cave twenty miles away. One day. In a week he could see a cave and the ocean. If he got lucky he could sketch water in all different degrees of light. Just one week
The other directors, the water camp one, had said she lived in a cave surrounded by water. He could call it camp business. Winter had wanted him to see more of the region. Why couldn’t he visit a visiting director? Why was the shade of water so confusing?
Pastels fell to the ground as John was lifted up a few inches in an unexpected embrace, arms closing around him as his periwinkle eyes burst open before settling in contentment. “Good to see you too, Andrea.”
“You could’ve wrote more, you know.”
“Four letters. You were gone for two months.”
“Okay, fine. I probably should have sent five letters. You happy?”
“Good enough,” she conceded as she took a step back. “When can you come home tonight?”
“Program ends at eight, but,” John looked up sheepishly. “Senior staff members can stay another week, and there’s still something I need to get done.”
“So you want us to come back in a week, then?” Mr. Jones asked as he walked up.
“Yes, I do.”
“You said you would be done today,” Andrea seethed.
“I know, it’s just I,” John sighed. “It’s about finding my own way and doing what I feel called to do. I promise, it’s important to me.”
“And there’s no chance I can come along?”
Andrea turned around, her body slouching. “Fine, but you had better be ready to come back next Friday.”
“I will be, I promise!” John called back as the Jones family got back into their car. “For a while, at least,” he whispered after they shut the door.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“This is the clearing they found you in last December, right?” Seneca looked around at the sparsely forested area as he shifted his pack.
“How close are we to wherever you want to go? You aren’t trying to go back to Umber, are you?”
“No, nothing like that,” John laughed. His eyes were unhappy but he laughed. “I think I’m done with that place.”
“Good to hear.”
“I actually wanted to come out here, to this clearing.”
Seneca shrugged and took off his backpack. “Not a whole lot here. Just wanted to say goodbye or something?”
“Actually, I was hoping to say hello.”
.. .-. .. ...
John’s hand shook as he clasped the red and white sphere inside of it. Iris the Butterfree floated nearby and shuttered a little in flight. Her temporary trainer was casting off chemical signals she did not quite understand. She scanned the clearing and once again saw no strange humans or large Pokémon. Why, then, did Seneca’s friend smell like fear?
“You sure you want to do this?” her trainer asked. “I mean, if you want to I have no objections. It was your idea and all.”
“Yes,” the other human said, masking his chemically broadcast emotions. “I’m going to do this.”
“Then go ahead whenever you’re ready.”
John gulped and turned to his borrowed Butterfly. “Iris, use Gust on the tree. See if we can get something to come out.”
The violet insect whirred in approval and beat herself up three meters with her pale blue wings. “Butter… FREE!” Iris’ wings began to beat, only slightly faster than normal at first, but with rapidly increasing speed until eventually they coalesced into a pale blur. John stared for a moment before noting to sketch it later. He shook his head and shifted his gaze back to the hole.
After a minute of sustained flapping, Iris began to wear out and sunk back down to a slightly lower level. The challenge had been made. If a Pokémon wished to accept it, they would come.
“Atta!” a medium purple shape burst from the hole in the tree, leapt down two meters to reach its target, and clawed into Iris’ torso. “Atta! Rat!” It screamed upon reaching the ground, pawing the soil and looking up at her challenger.
“Good job, Iris! Keep it distracted with, uh, Psychic! You know that move, right?”
The Butterfree’s eyes glowed electric blue for a second and the rat tensed, warily leering at his strange opponent. Then he cringed, howling in pain as his eyes flashed the same electric blue color. He collapsed onto the ground, eyes barely open and breathing heavily.
“Pokéball, go!” John lobbed the Pokéball at Rattata. The orb clicked as it got close before cracking open and casting a pale red beam at the normal-type, engulfing it in light for a moment. The ball landed and harshly throbbed once, twice, and three times before clicking and stopping in place.
“Was that really it? Capture is that easy?” John asked as he bent over to pick up the ball. “I guess I was expecting something more, I don’t know, challenging.”
“Iris is a trained Pokémon I’ve had for years. The Rattata was a year-old at best. Older, trained Pokémon are going to crush the weak Pokémon on the southern edge of the forest easily. Not to mention, Rattata usually live in huge swarms. No single one has to be that strong.”
“So, if I battle, I’ll be using Pokémon like Rattata against Pokémon like your Butterfree?”
“In some cases, yes. That’s why you train before taking on veteran trainers.”
John ran his hands over the smooth plastic orb. “Well, then we’ve got a long way to go.”
“You picked a name for it yet?”
“Hmm, I don’t really,” John mused. “I guess… Tikus. They were an old Prophetess. Ran the rats out of the Southern Isles. Yeah, that’ll do. Tikus it is.” John blinked, a sight that greatly amused Iris due to the simplicity of his human eyes. “Wait, swarms? So, does that mean we’re about to get attacked by a mob of rodents?”
Iris’ trainer laughed. “No, almost certainly not. The attack was a greeting of sorts. It let them know that there was a human here seeking a Pokémon, so if one wanted to leave the pack it had a chance to do so. It was probably voluntary on its part.”
“Well, from time to time Rattata will kick one of their own out if it’s annoying enough. They breed like, well, rats and their resources are limited. If that is the case, though, the loner’s usually better off leaving. It’ll get more care that way.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“Is something wrong, John?”
The blonde-haired boy looked up from his potatoes and shook his head. “No, sir.”
“Well, you’ve been awfully quiet lately. I just wanted to make sure nothing was wrong.”
John and the Jones family went back to tearing into their food in silence. Mr. Jones scowled for a second before his face flashed back to neutrality. Three months ago there would have been an argument. ‘For the last time, don’t call me scarface! It’s scararms, thank you very much.’ John would roll his eyes and apologize. The discussion would change. Backpacking perhaps. Two minutes would pass pleasurably. He might even get a chance to contribute at some point. Then the conversation became too relaxed. ‘That’s nothing; I hiked twenty miles in the snow… once…” John would trail off, abruptly staring down at his meat with sudden interest. Another, far more awkward two minutes would pass, and either he or his daughter would change the subject once more. The subject was never philosophical. Nobody wanted to go there anymore.
Then John left for camp and the table grew quieter. He still talked with Andrea, and there was still laughter, but she would trail off at the end of sentences. If she had a bad day she wouldn’t mock it or try to talk it out. Instead she would sit quietly, giving monosyllabic answers when necessary. At points he would catch her staring at nothing and running her fingers along the pale red scars on her arms, mouthing something indistinguishable.
He had originally dismissed it. When the summer ended, things would get better. At first it seemed like they would. Conversations resumed. From time to time Tikus scurried up the clock in the corner and perched on top, making herself a little nest from scraps of paper there. At other points she would paw John or Andrea’s legs as she begged for food. He would make a joke, everyone would laugh, and Tikus would get some scraps. During the day, the two children would go out to the Pokémon Center to intern or train Tikus. On the surface, the situation was even better than normal.
If there was anything Mr. Jones had learned in his years of preaching, it was that the surface showed very little. John would slink up to his room after dinner with a copy of Testament. Every so often he would come back down hours later to ask about the meaning of a trivial section, his voice and expression deadly serious over even the smallest of points. Occasionally Andrea would poke fun at his sudden interest in dogma and rhetoric when he had never cared in sixteen years in Umber. ‘Well, salvation is hardly a laughing matter,’ John would retort. Silence.
Casey Jones would have been overjoyed if the psychological problems stopped there. Years ago in Fuschia, he had to tell Andrea that she could not spend so much time with friends. One day a brown-haired girl he had never seen nor heard of would come home with her, and Andrea would plead that she be allowed to stay the night since they were the best of friends. Their home’s size, and not her desire, had limited the number of people at her birthday parties. Even in Umber she would occasionally be seen talking to one child or another at almost all times. Now when John studied, she sat in the foyer and read. She always covered the titles with a pillow, but he was friends with the librarian so he could always know what she was reading about. Auto-mechanics, the PC Revolution, an endangered flower in the Pewter area- he had never heard her talk about any of these things. After that, he had made a point to sit down in the foyer with her, occasionally sneaking a quick glance at his daughter while preparing lecture notes for the next Chapel. She turned the page occasionally and her eyes pointed at the text, but her sienna irises were unfocused, making no effort to comprehend what she was looking at. Her lips moved from time to time, mouthing the same phrases.
“Why? What did I do wrong? Why aren’t you with me?”
For two weeks after John’s return, Mr. Jones sat in the foyer with increasing unease until he too found his eyes unfocused on his work. “I’m going up to talk to John,” he told his daughter, who nodded in acknowledgement. He dusted off his jacket and headed up the staircase, muttering a silent prayer to The Voice to help him with whatever needed done.
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
“John, may I come in?”
“Sure,” the boy grunted.
Mr. Jones slowly opened the door and entered. The room was dimly lit and rather organized. A copy of Testament, filled with dozens of minute pencil scratches forming tiny words, lie open on the table. In the corner, a large pile of paper scraps formed the main nest of his Pokémon, who was happily chomping on a thick block of wood. Tikus looked up and chirped at him before going back to grinding her teeth against the toy.
“Look, I get that you’re going through a bit of a rough spot. You’d be a saint if you weren’t. But it’s gone on for a while and I think it’s worth having a talk on how to get out of it. If you wouldn’t mind talking about it, of course.”
John shook his head. “No, no, that’s fine.” He stared off at Tikus in the corner. The rat had moved on from her log and was beginning to shred a newspaper he had provided her. “I’ve just been distracted lately. I had an idea at camp and I’ve been thinking about it for a while, trying to figure out if it’s right or not.”
“I see.” Mr. Jones turned as Tikus screeched and jumped up onto John’s bed. The rodent began ramming her head into John’s leg, asking to be petted. “Could you tell me what the idea is? I might be able to help you work through it.”
“Sure,” John remarked as he absentmindedly stroked his purring Pokémon. “I think I might want to go on a journey. See the region, learn more about what’s in it. I have no idea what I want to do with my life anymore. It couldn’t hurt to see what’s out there, right?”
Andrea’s father smiled and sat down in a nearby chair. “When I was your age, I had exactly the same thought. I was a fair bit more mischievous than you and after fifteen years of brushing against my parents’ authority, I decided I’d had enough. I set out with my Bellsprout, Ivan, and swore to be the best there ever was.”
John looked up from Tikus, surprised at the announcement. He had never seen Mr. Jones as a trainer. “And did you do it?”
“No, no. Of course not. We got two, three– I can’t really remember– badges in and hit a wall. After the first city or two it was never really about winning. I wandered from town to town with Ivan, did some odd jobs for money when I was in a losing streak, and had a good time. Ivan evolved twice and I learned a fair bit about how big the world is and what I could do in it. Anyway, we hit a long rut of defeat. Traveled across the entire eastern part of this region without earning any badges at all. Some towns we didn’t even bother to challenge the gym. A number of things happened after then. The first war came and being a trainer was suddenly rather dangerous. Ivan hit it off with a wild Pokémon, so I left him in the forest north of here. And then I met a particularly special girl. That’s what finally got me to settle down.”
“What I’m really trying to say is you should forget what Xavier told you about journeying and training if you feel called to do it. You’ve got a good head and a lot of need to focus on something that’s not entirely spiritual for a little while. There’s more to life than Chapel and Testament reading.”
Annoyed at being ignored for the monologue’s length, Tikus leapt up onto her trainers lap and curled into a small ball to attract attention. John noticed and continued to pet her, earning a cry of contentment from his Pokémon. “Thanks for the talk. You’ll allow me to travel, then?”
“On one condition.”
John raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“I want you to let Andrea go with you. However bad it was getting kicked out of a city once, imagine going through that twice. She needs some time to clear her mind and focus on other things. I doubt she’ll actually train any Pokémon since she’s never had an interest, but she can at least keep you company. And when you’re traveling for a week or more through a cave or forest, company can be the only thing keeping you sane.”
“I’ll ask her.” John nodded his head and smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Jones. That helped a lot.”
.--- --- .... -. .-- . .- ...- . .-.
As he prepared to leave on his journey, John’s art supplies rested on his desk. Every child in Umber was allowed to receive one non-spiritual gift from their parents, with two rules attached. The gift could not be so expensive as to make other children envious or promote materialism. It also had to appeal to a specific interest of the child that was rare in the general population in order to demonstrate that everyone was given a unique role by The Voice. For his fourth birthday, John received his kit. It contained pastels of almost every shade, from Cadmium Red to Aqua Blue. Some had been rubbed down to nubs. He had bartered for new ones with other camp staff members over the years. When he packed it up for his adventure, John looked at every one of his tools and every book they had helped draw.
Primitive drawings of bluebirds scrawled on napkins. A somewhat more advanced sketch of the Chapel. An even further developed landscape marked by shades of green and blue cross-hatching– he had finally figured that out– in the sky. A detailed portrait of a teenage girl with brown eyes and red hair. Every single drawing and every single tool he held in his hands and mind. He held one pastel for the longest. Cadmium Red. The only shade of red in the box. In his early days he had used the color to represent fire in a drawing of Titania. After that he had found other uses.
A cadmium red Charmeleon before a hastily sketched Baccer goal. A dark-skinned boy lying in a pool of cadmium red blood, a girl leaned over him. A cadmium red roof of a Pokémon Center. A pale boy running under a cadmium red sun, a swarm of other runners in the distance behind him. Two figures moving slowly, painfully through a cadmium red inferno. A lone man trapped between the white lights of heaven and a cadmium red flame below. A cadmium red Pokéball lying on the ground.
When John’s journey finally began, he left these seven drawings behind with his cadmium red pastel. He had used one shade of red for far too long, sketching in a shade that was not exact. It was time he found, more in the world to make his art more fitting to real life. He left but one other pastel behind, one that he used often in his early work but hadn’t touched in a year.
END FILE 1.7: VIOLET
END FILE 1: CADMIUM RED AND UMBER BROWN
OPEN FILE 2: ANACHRONATIC ORDER
OPEN FILE 2.1: PILOT EPISODE
“I love how the bad guy always tries to get the hero to join them. You’d think the previous twenty dead ones would have given them a heads up by now.”
Years ago in Celadon City, on one side of a dream…
Ripples spread across the surface of the pond after the pebble struck, distorting the image of the young girl who threw it in. “The water looks fine. Why won’t you let me swim?”
The older man watching her sighed and shook his head as he slipped his hands into the pockets of his dark coat. “Looks can only tell you so much. The pond is beautiful, sure, but it’s downright filthy beneath the surface. Grimer and Muk are just about the only things that have been able to survive there after the casino was put up.”
“Yes, Magikarp, too. Although, I can’t think of many places they won’t live. They’re weaker than Caterpie and hardly the most intelligent of fish- no offense to Drako, of course- but there aren’t many places a Magikarp can’t live. Hot springs, pools, bilge water or anything, really. Hardy fellows.”
The girl sat down near the water’s edge, slipping the tip of her sandal into the pond to test her limits. “Gyarados are stronger and flying-type. I could have beat her if Drako evolved. Maybe not the first time, but surely the second or third time. That Venusaur would have been easy to beat.”
Sitting down a meter farther away, the man in the dark coat beckoned for her to ease away from the toxic pool. “Perhaps you would have, but you might wish you only had your Clefairy and Magikarp, then.”
“Why?” The girl looked up, her arched green eyes and puzzled frown expressing her confusion.
“Back in the navy you could always tell the Gyarados trainers apart before you knew what Pokémon they had on their team. They were emotionally aloof and composed, even during the heights of battle. Whenever they looked upon destruction their expression was almost bored, as if they had seen something far worse. Most of them had. Magikarp are docile creatures and they only evolve when they see anger and rage of the purest type. That emotion obsesses their simple minds as their bodies become far more powerful. If a trainer is lucky, they stop the rampage before someone gets hurt. More often than not, they don’t.”
Another few stones disrupted the pond’s surface as the two stared across it, lost in their own thoughts. “But I am angry right now. I hate losing.”
“You’re frustrated; there’s a difference.”
A final ripple progressed from the impact site. “The referee said that I could rechallenge in a year, right?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Do you think Mom will come for that match?”
The older man shifted uncomfortably. “We’ll have to wait and see. She doesn’t like battling too much.”
“Oh,” the girl lifted herself back to her feet, pushing off the ground with both arms. “Well, I will just have to train more in the next year. Then I should beat her easily. Oliver said that first badge fights are not hard once you learn the basics.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that too.” She must have missed it at the time, or maybe it was just the dream distorting the facts of the moment, but the girl did not recall hearing pity in the older man’s voice.
More recently in the Seafoam Islands, on the other side of a dream…
It had been years since she had double-locked her door and while she loved her Clefairy, she had never been interested in dolls. Yet when she got back from her swim the door was secured twice and a pair of wide glass eyes stared into her own. Sighing, the girl slipped her bag off of her left shoulder and pulled out her watch and cell phone, pushing her right arm away when it dangled into her hand’s path. “Kodo, scan for bugs. New bugs.” A whirring sound emanated from her timepiece, affirming that it had received the command. She briefly placed both gadgets down to turn on her computer, picking the phone back up when the black screen in front of her turned gray. She hit five on her speed dial and wondered why she still had the number listed higher than the nearest pizza parlor.
The call was answered on the third ring. A new record. “Hey, Gela. How’s it going?”
“Same as always. Get up, do some coding, find the meaning of life, talk to my volleyball and maybe the skipper. Standard stuff for living alone on a remote island.” Her OS had loaded. She just needed to wait on Kodo.
“Sarcastic as ever, I see.” The traditional four seconds of silence elapsed. Neither could think of what to say in just three, and five would be unthinkable. “I take it you aren’t just calling for small talk.”
“No, I am not. What did I do to piss off the boss this time?”
“My lair got a visitation today. No robbery, just a few reminders that they had been there. Probably some bugs, but those are easy enough to take care of.”
“I haven’t heard of anything. Same awkward situation as usual around here. I’ll ask around, though. See if I can find anything.”
“Thanks.” A notification flashed on Gela’s monitor. “I think Kodo’s got something. I will get back to you later.”
“Alright, see you soon. Love you.”
“I love you too, mom.” A buzz as the phone disconnected mingled with the stench of lies. Kennedy scanned the message on her screen. “Alright, disable all but one of the bugs. We will destroy them later. In the meantime, let us see who wanted to visit us from the Sevii Islands. And who was nice enough to leave a bug connected to their network inside the room of a professional coder. Genius man, right there. Launch initial infiltration scripts from a proxy.” A command prompt window popped open on the screen, quickly filled with a flurry of Python scripts as Kodo tapped into an infected computer to begin launching the attack. Gela smiled faintly as she leaned back in her chair, admiring her bot’s speed and her visitor’s stupidity. A minute later lines of code stopped appearing in the window and she scrolled to the bottom, her smile fading rapidly as she surveyed the results. “Well, seems like they are not quite as stupid as we thought. Do you think we’d be better off continuing with standard algorithms or just hoping they downloaded our trojan?” A question mark flashed onto her screen. “Right, you can’t answer that. Reactivate and trace the other bugs. Then see if we have an entry point on one of the computers or one nearby.”
Another window opened, this time scanning her database of infected devices. After only a few seconds, a short list of potential backdoors opened on her screen. “Good work. Activate the program and use supplemental algorithms if needed. Once you have access, infiltrate their system and see what information you can get. If anything comes up, sound an alarm.” A prompt on screen indicated that the message had been received. Gela glanced at the clock. Half past eight. Way too early to sleep, but Kodo moved too quickly for her to easily follow and she wasn’t sure how long it would take it to get any meaningful information. Surely an hour wouldn’t hurt if she could get it, right? She pulled a baseball cap off of the table and placed it so the bill hung low over her face. It took almost a half hour, but eventually both arms hung limp at her sides as her eyelids closed.
Years ago in the Seafoam Islands, on one side of a dream…
Gela woke to screaming and light. A horde of people were sitting in grandstands, staring at a pool of water on stage.
The Dewgong burst from the surface in a colossal splash. As water droplets cascaded into the air, it reared back its head and shot forth a beam of flashing light, instantly freezing them into a light snowfall that fell back into the pool. Another Dewgong shot through the surface beside him, leaping two meters out of the water to slam a suspended ball with its tail before falling back in. Applause rose from the crowd, only to die back down as the MC’s voice rang out over the PA. “That concludes our Dewgong show today, sponsored by Silph Co, serving the region since 1956. The trainers will be coming out shortly to answer questions near the front viewing areas. From all of us here at the Seafoam Islands Marine Park, we hope you enjoy the rest of your visit.”
Most of the crowd stood up and headed for either the exits or the front of the room, but the girl remained seated with her father in the stands. “You can teach Pokémon to do that?”
“Yes, I can. It’s what I do for my job.”
She continued to scrutinize the tank with her green eyes, focusing on the still-swinging ball hanging in the air as if trying to decipher the secrets to a magic trick. “How?”
“I use a type of computer called a ‘Technical Machine.’ There are some things that Pokémon can learn to do in the wild for hunting, defense, or showing off that they aren’t quite born knowing how to do. We just program the Technical Machine with enough information about the move to let other Pokémon of that species learn how to do it.”
“So it is not magic?”
Her father laughed. “No, but I guess it seems like it.”
The ball was barely vibrating and the water had calmed, so the girl’s attention shifted to the gathering crowds near the glass panels at the front of the tank. The Dewgong swam by, occasionally stopping to look at one human or another for a little while longer. They moved slowly, almost completely unlike the performance they had just put on. “Could you teach me how to do it?”
“It is probably a bit too hard for you right now. But, I promise to teach you when you are older.”
“So, only grown-ups can use the not-magic?”
“Sort of. Technical Machines are really difficult to make. When we get back to Celadon, though, I can teach you more about programming. That way you can learn how to make them sooner.”
Then an alarm starting blaring. Gela rolled her eyes and stood to leave. The Dewgong show was far less exciting now. She had directed a few in her time, although that really was not her specialty. But seeing the girl’s passion still made her smile, removed as she was from it.
More recently in the Seafoam Islands, on the other side of a dream…
The alarm blasted from the speakers behind the monitor until it was silenced by a quick keystroke. 9:30 PM. Well, an hour was nothing to scoff at. Attention shifting back to the monitor, Gela scanned Kodo’s report. “An extensive intranet with high security? Interesting. Nice job getting an admin password, by the way. Reinforce whatever behavior led to that. Hmm. ‘Key Isle Securities.’ No notable employees and no clear references to me outside of the location of the bugs. And you found no likely code-names?” The monitor briefly glowed red. Negatory. “Then our visitors probably just outsourced the monitoring to Key Isle. Did you get any information on the main investors? Nice. Ninety percent Pewter Mining Company. I think that’s a Vulcan subcontractor. Scan the DII database to check, though.” A green light flashed across the monitor. A few seconds later a file was pulled up in her word processor. “Good job, good job. Let me just control-find and, yup, Vulcan. Scan the DII database for Vulcan plus CEO.” Another file popped open shortly after. “Thank you. According to the file, he spends most of his time at 56 Ash Street on Cinnabar. Name is Frederigo Conti.”
Gela pushed her chair back and stood up, moving towards the bag she had sat down in the entranceway to pull out her Pokéballs. A burst of red light materialized into a tan, humanoid figure next to her. “
She turned to face her Hypno, pulling out her other two Pokéballs as well before speaking again. “There has been an intrusion, not from the DII this time. Mineral magnate operating out of Cinnabar. We are going to need to get up somewhat early to meet him tomorrow, so I will need your assistance tonight.”
Are you certain that visiting the boss in person is the best strategy?
“Walking right straight into the villain’s citadel alone always works out, right? Do not worry. If a random corporation bothered to pay me a visit reminiscent of a DII break-in, there was almost undeniably high-level authorization. In this case, seeking a lower level executive would likely be either pointless or alert the highest echelons of our knowledge without actually accruing any relevant information. Besides, I do enough hiding from problems behind a digital veil as it is. Might as well get some fresh air, for a change.”
If you are certain there is no other option, I shall accompany you. What time do you wish to awaken tomorrow?
“Six, probably. It is a moderately lengthy trip and I suspect that whatever occurs, it will not be brief.”
What if he simply refuses to see you?
“Oh, trust me. I am virtually certain I can get an audience with him.”
I see. How long will it be until you desire my services?
“Only a few minutes. I just need to finish putting some things away, and then I’ll be ready.”
Years ago in Celadon City, on one side of a dream…
Shouting rang through the house. Even with the theoretically soundproof walls that lined her room, the girl could hear it as she lie awake, staring up at the ceiling of her room. Midnight. It was midnight and her parents were fighting again and she was awake as always.
What do you expect me to do? Live with all of this? You, of all people, are supposed to stand against this kind of thing! That is your job!
My job is to do whatever I am told. If that means lying to the press, so be it. It’s for our daughter’s good. You know that.
Great. Do things in her name that will just make her world worse when she grows up. Fantastic idea.
Three soft knocks on the door. “Come in,” the girl said, her gaze never moving from the ceiling.
An older man stepped in, his body cloaked in a coat almost as dark as the room. “I hope I did not wake you,” he whispered.
“I have been awake all night. Just like the last few.”
“You still have sleeping issues? Your mother told me that those had gone away.”
“I lied to get her to stop worrying. She has more important things to deal with, so please do not tell her.”
The man sat down at the foot of her bed. The girl had never shifted her gaze from the ceiling, but felt the balance of it shift when he sat down. “Well, I might just have to take you to the doctor myself. See what’s wrong with you.”
For a few minutes everything was quiet in the room, the only noise coming from the screams outside of it. Believing the girl had gone to sleep, the older man glanced at her face to see her green eyes wide open, still staring up. “Is there something wrong with me? Mom and Dad talk about me a lot when they’re like this. Am I the problem?”
“There might be something wrong with your body that’s keeping you from sleeping, but there’s nothing wrong with you as a person.”
“Then what are they fighting over?”
“Your mother has a very powerful and important job. She has to do some things for it that your father doesn’t always agree with, so they fight about that. They do love each other and you, it’s just that they disagree about some political things.” Another sleepless moment of relative silence elapsed before the older man got up and pulled out a chair from a nearby table. “I can stay with you for a while longer, if you would like.”
“I am fine, thank you.”
“Then I will see you tomorrow.”
She wiped a lock of dirty blonde hair off of her face as she continued to stare up at the ceiling, listening to the arguments below. Gela stayed with the girl for several more hours as sleep eluded her, both to listen to the shouting’s messages and keep the girl company, however little it would help. It was a shame, really. Even when she was alone, her future self could always be there watching. And it would never make a difference.
More recently in Cinnabar Island, on the other side of a dream…
The mansion was an imposing structure. It was made entirely from the finest stone of the region and towered high above every building on the island except for the burned remains on the eastern edge of it. The sea stretched out behind it and thick walls surrounded the structure on land, with only a massive wrought iron gate allowing entrance. Gela normally did not care for details like these, but even she had to admit it was impressive. It would make threatening to destroy it all the more fun.
Not noticing any physical security guards, but wary of the conspicuous machine gun turrets lining the wall, she stepped up to the gate. After a moment with no response, she began searching for some kind of a button on the edge of the wall. Finding none, she looked up and found a camera following her movements. She ran her hand through her hair and smiled at it. “Greetings, my name is Gela Esprit and I am reasonably sure that Mr. Conti wished to speak to me today.” The wind blew across the grass and birds shrieked in the distance, but no other sound was made. “I believe he was quite set upon meeting with me. He passed on something of an invitation last evening.” The camera shifted away slightly, a subtle sign of rejection. “Oh, come on. Are you really going to deny shelter to an overly optimistic cripple? That is more or less the basin of human cruelty. Nearly analogous to killing puppies. But I see how it must be to be rich. Too many dollars to be made, boats to be had, and puppies to kill to focus on wrecking the dreams of a single adolescent with delusional fantasies about meeting a powerful and illustrious idol.”
“Ma’am, please leave,” a voice called out from a nearby speaker.
“Ah, I see. That is how it is, indeed. Simply going to cast out an admirer in her prime, not even bothering with a backwards glance as she trudges back into the cruel winter snow and you go to your fireplace to slaughter more newborn dogs. Such is life.”
“It’s early April and there hasn’t been snow on this island for a month.”
“Really? As a clearly spurned and mentally incacipitated girl who randomly appears at the gates of the mansions of the wealthiest denizens of our region, I obviously have no idea what season it is. I am afraid that now I will have to go back to my Gyarados friend of the deep and mourn the injustices I perceive in the bitter world I stumble through where the rich men have no pity while they cut down droves of-“
“Can we stop with the dead puppies thing? I think I got the point.”
“Fine. Where was I?”
“Gyarados friends of the deep.”
“Thank you. As I was saying, I will have to tell my Gyarados friends of the deep about the terrible atrocities that have been inflicted upon me. Out of the nobleness of my heart I will try and prevent them from viewing me as a martyr in vain, but alas, they cannot be stopped. In a maelstrom of fury they shall overtake this wretched puppy-stained-“
“I thought you agreed to stop.”
“Sorry, I got caught up in the moment there. This wretched stain upon the Earth and tear it to the ground in righteous fury. And there shall be moaning and gnashing of teeth because why not, right?”
“Ma’am, loitering and trespassing are illegal under regional law. I suggest you leave before we have to escort you to the police.”
“Ah, and now we witness the law’s allegiance not to justice, but to the extravagantly wealthy who most certainly do not kill puppies in droves. My story will be all the more enraging to my sea serpent friends now.”
“That’s it, I’m calling the-“
The ground shook across the northwestern corner of the island as a massive roar rose from the sea behind the mansion, followed by a small tidal wave that raced up the beach. The machine gun turrets whirled around, searching for an apparent source of the chaos.
“Sir, are you sure that you could not at least ask Mr. Conti if he would like to see me?”
An even longer silence elapsed as the turrets spun and the seagulls shrieked in fear as they took to the air in one giant swarm. Finally, the static-filled voice returned, wavering with fear.
“What did you say your name was?”
That was progress. But, of course. Progress did not always mean immediate success.
“I love how, ‘He’ll see you shortly’ really means, ‘Please sit down here while we go into DEFCON 1 to deal with some insane chick with an overpowered strongmon.’”
We have been here for less than an hour. Our host almost certainly has meetings to attend to that cannot wait.
“I am aware. It is just that there is only so much I can look at in this room, and staring at the same portraits of someone else’s ancestors gets a little old after a while.”
Are you tired?
“Stelo, when am I ever not tired? Outside of when I am lying in bed and trying to sleep, of course.”
I could put you to sleep, if you wanted. Estrea and I are more than capable of watching out for you, and you should be as rested as possible during the meeting.
“Fine, just let me send her out.”
Gela reached down to her belt and pulled out a dark blue ball with a yellow crescent on top. In a press of a button and a flash of light, her second Pokémon appeared. “Fairy! Clefairy!” The pink fairy flapped up onto her lap and snuggled against her chest.
“Yes, good to see you again, Estrea. Just like the other three times today.” Looking up from her Pokémon, she turned to Stelo. “Alright, if you’re ready you can do it.”
It is what I am born to do. Of course I am ready.
Three swings of his pendulum later, Gela was out.
Years ago in Celadon City, on one side of a dream…
Gela was by her home’s pool again. The girl seemed to be more or less the same age as their meeting last night. And she looked terrible.
A Magikarp’s orange body barely protruded above the surface of the pool as it swam lazily in circles. Every once in a while it scraped past his trainer’s feet dangling in the water in the only sign of affection it seemed capable of. The girl stared off into the distance, occasionally focusing on her Pokémon’s movements, but mainly concerned with something else. There are been more yelling in the house the previous nights. While the butler had promised to not tell her parents about their trip to the doctor, they had found out anyway. She was not sure how. Obviously the butler hadn’t broken his promise, so it had probably been the doctor or nurse. Or her father used his computer to find out. That was always a possibility.
The doctor had told the girl that some hormone in her blood (cortisol, Gela noted to little effect) was messed up. Now her parents argued more often and about new things. They still talked about politics and jobs and the usual things, but now there was angry discussion about drugs and depression. She had tried looking up more information about her condition, but all the articles she found were really scientific-sounding and had lots of big words. If those were big words about computers she could have read them, but they were about the body. The two were very different things.
The more confusing articles about her body and hormones and sleep she read, the more her mind rushed at night and kept sleep away. All the while, more and more distractions came from downstairs. The yelling she was used to, but the crying was new.
Now she was too exhausted to swim. All she could do was sit by the pool and idly watch her Pokémon rub against her feet before moving in another large and mellow loop.
The door opened and closed behind the girl. While she was curious as to who it was, in her exhaustion the girl did not care enough to turn around. Gela saw the girl’s father walk into the dream before the girl noticed him crouch down in her peripheral vision. Strange. He should have been at work. Even in the midst of a dream that was clear. “Hey.”
“Hi.” The girl finally worked up the motivation to turn her head to face him. “Why are you here right now?”
“Well, I am glad to know that you are overjoyed to see me.” He laughed to himself while the girl’s face remained uncharacteristically serious. “How are you doing today?”
The girl slouched and turned back to her Magikarp. “I am fine. And you?”
“You look tired.”
“No, I am perfectly fine. You do not have to worry,” she replied.
Four seconds passed. Always four seconds when family conversations paused.
“You can always talk to me about it. You know that, right?”
“Yes, I know that.”
The father glanced down as the Magikarp approached the pool’s edge to look at him. “Alright, I was just making sure. I did not come here to talk about that, though. I wanted to teach you something.” His daughter’s eyes followed with interest as he pulled a twenty centimeter disk and small electronic tablet out of his backpack. “I think it is about time I showed you how to write code for Technical Machines.”
Her eyes were almost free of dreariness now as they took in the equipment in front of her, unable to believe that the information she had hungered for over the last few years was finally within reach. “I thought you said you would teach me when I grew up.”
“I did. That was the plan. Unfortunately, a handful of complications have come up. It would be more convenient for me to teach you know.”
The subtext was lost to her in her anticipation and excitement. For Gela, the benefit of hindsight and detachment made it painfully clear. She stood up to leave the dream and girl behind. For one of the two, a moment of unimaginable joy was about to begin as exhaustion withdrew. For the other, this was not the case.
More recently in Cinnabar Island, on the other side of a dream…
Stelo tapped Gela’s leg, releasing her from his spell. She stretched for a moment before looking up to face a tall and well-groomed man in a dark suit. “Mr. Conti will see you now, ma’am.”
Smiling, she rose to her feet as Estrea jumped off of her lap, cowering behind her trainer’s legs as soon as possible to avoid the scary newcomer. “Thank you, sir.” The imposing man guided her down the long hallways of the mansion, past several elaborate portraits and tapestries that were probably centuries old. She recognized a few of them from art history books she had read in grade school. They were probably originals. At last, the two arrived at a pair of massive oak doors at the end of the hallway, flanked on both sides by the most ornate weavings thus far.
“Mr. Conti is waiting inside.”
Gela made a final backwards glance at the hallway. “With surroundings like that I half expect to see a bearded man with bulging muscles stroking a white cat inside. Actually, it is more or less inevitable now.” Seeing no further response from the guard, Gela pressed open the doors and entered with her Hypno and Clefairy.
She noted that the scene inside was not terribly far from her expectations. Elegant paintings covered the walls, along with detailed and marked maps of the region. The space immediately behind the main desk was occupied by a large glass window displaying the ocean northwest of the island. At the desk itself, a relatively small man with graying hair and oval spectacles sat up straighter in his chair to greet his guest. An Arcanine with dulling fur lifted its head briefly, but then went back to sleep. Frederigo Conti welcomed her, motioning to a burly wooden chair pushed under the desk in front of him. “Please, have a seat.”
She awkwardly struggled to move the heavy chair for a minute before Stelo finally gave her some telekinetic help. “Thank you,” Gela whispered as she slid into her seat to face the magnate.
Conti cleared his throat before speaking again. “Your visit was rather unexpected, I must say. Our original plan was to send you a few gifts and vague signals that you had someone on your side before we actually approached you formally. But, since you are here, we might as well get started.”
“If you want to keep a hacker from finding you, I suggest not bugging her room with devices connected to the Internet and continuously streaming to a computer. But thanks for the, uh, gift. I really needed some wiretaps, a reminder to keep my door fully secured and a genuinely creepy doll.”
“The doll was creepy, not you.”
“The creepy doll had a secondary purpose. I thought that if you could figure out whom to look for and where to find them you would have discovered that much. Perhaps you would even have a slightly different team.”
“Oh, boy. Cryptic hints incoming now just to confirm that this meeting is straight out of a spy movie.”
The magnate chuckled. “I suppose it is. I do have a fondness for the genre. I personally financed a few movies just to get new material to watch. Rather than the villain, I prefer to view myself as the powerful benefactor, though. But you may think what you wish.”
“Fascinating. Either way, megalomaniac or mysterious puppet master or whatever you style yourself as, what precisely do you have to gain through an elaborate series of visitations and donations to a random sprite of sarcasm dwelling in human form?”
“I prefer Gela, NeonChimera31, or The Goddam Batman, actually.”
“Gela, then. I believe we have a shared political goal that you could assist me with.”
“So you’re a ‘take over the government’ style villain?”
“Effectively so, if you choose to view it that way. Could you please not interrupt me when I am in the middle of a monologue? I do actually enjoy a chance to play what you call the mysterious puppet master.”
“My sarcasm is harder to extinguish than a flame war over liberation, but I will nobly venture to contain it if this is truly your greatest desire. Such is the overflowing virtue of my character.”
Conti eyed her warily before leaning back in his chair and sighing. “I was never told you were this difficult.”
“There is no way mere words could convey my wit except in an infinitely small dosage, which would in turn form a black hole of dry humor and rend the universe asunder in a vortex of cruel irony.”
“Fine, but can I at least continue my speech- you don’t have to reply verbally.” Gela awkwardly lifted her right hand into a salute before lowering it down. “Great, so, shared political objectives. Corruption has been almost universal since the war ended. Of course, you wouldn’t remember how things worked before then. Let me just say that however terrible the regime was they were rather transparent and they were very clear about their objectives. At the time I was living in the Sevii Islands helping transition my family’s fortune into a modern business empire, longing for the day I could return to this region. Indeed, the regime’s fall to a secular government was a dream come true for me. But, I can’t stand the new government. Common thugs and robbers occupy all levels, supported by the Champion, military, bureaucracy, and the DII. There is no inspiration anymore! They don’t care for dignity or ideology or even the beauty of high culture. It is a terrible waste, if you ask me.”
“I don’t want a coup. The region has seen enough of that in the last few decades. I want a bloodless revolution and a shift in political momentum. I believe that change can come from the outside, if only through shady and indirect attacks on the central government.” Gela raised her left arm. “Is this a serious question? If so, you can talk.”
“Thank you, good sir. I assume you know that elections and League are pretty much impossible to win without the blessings of the DII and security agencies. How exactly do you propose to non-violently replace a government that is quite content to stay in place, by pushing them somewhere else or some plan that I am clearly missing?”
“You obviously have not seen enough spy films.”
“Oh, I get it. That was exposition as to why I should join the dark side. Now you want to lay out your nefarious and unbeatable plan before I decline, you try to kill me in some overly elaborate death trap, and I get out unharmed to defy the odds and stop your ambitions.”
The doors were pushed open by the butler, carrying a tray with two glasses upon it. “I brought the tea you requested, sir.”
“Thank you, George. You are dismissed.”
After the butler walked out, Gela turned to the goblet in front of her. “If it is alright with you, I would rather not drink this. I gave up caffeine years ago and quite frankly I do not want to play the drink switching game to figure out which is poisoned.”
“Don’t worry. I understand. Besides, as the genre-savvy villain I am, I would have poisoned both glasses or neither anyway.” He laughed heartily at his own joke and Gela smiled politely. At least today’s villain had some sense of humor, even if it did not sync with hers. “Back to your earlier comment, yes, this is the part where I tell you how I plan upon achieving my objective. I would rather avoid the part where I have to kill you or you come back to kill me, though. That would be quite the setback.” He laughed again. Gela was not sure whether smiling was polite or not in the situation, so she just looked down at Estrea sitting in her lap. The fairy shrugged to the extent that a puffball can.
“My plan is simple. League matches are rigged by allowing leaders to bend the rules. However, if the leader is beaten even under the modified rules, they have to forfeit the badge. The same concept also applies to the Elite Four. If I could build a team so singularly unstoppable that I could crush every single leader and Elite Four member, even under rigged conditions, I would become the Champion. As commander-in-chief of the armies, and with my substantial connections among certain factions back in the Sevii Islands, it would be within my power to supervise the elections to prevent corruption. Furthermore, I would be above bribery myself as there is almost no amount of money that could persuade me to change my mind. All that would remain to change would be the spy services and DII, which a free government could get around to replacing in time.”
“And when in all of this do the agencies shoot you? That is still a thing they can do quite easily.”
Conti waved his hand dismissively. “Bah, I have security that I pay very well. I give background checks, too, making me a bit smarter than the average villain, if we really have to use that analogy. If they do try anything I would have a martyr or a clear reason for war. The security services are powerful, but they cannot stop my friends in the Sevii Isles combined with the progressive factions in the military. Whatever they do, I win. I don’t see any problems with this plan.”
“Neither did I. ‘Unbeatable teams’ that can triumph over every trainer in the League under any circumstances are floating around everywhere these days. They practically grow on trees. I mean, I was walking back to my cave yesterday when a one-ton Rhydon with decades of combat experience just fell straight out of a fern. And then an Alakazam just sprouted from a banana. It was incredible.”
“The unbeatable team is actually what I need your assistance for. You are a trainer at the Seafoam Marine Park, right?”
“In theory, yes. In practice I do a lot more coding and sarcastic ranting than anything.”
“You do this through unconventional tactics if I am not mistaken. Something called a ‘Technical Machine’?”
“More or less. I also spend a fair amount of time on conventional training for Gyarados and Lapras, if that can be called conventional.”
“But you do make Technical Machines? Devices that can teach any move to any Pokémon?”
“Not quite. They can teach a move to Pokémon whom naturally learn it or are physiologically capable of performing it. It is not like I am teaching Golbat how to use Earthquake, so it is not quite any move to any Pokémon.”
“The machines allow for easy training of powerful moves to Pokémon who would otherwise have to train extensively to learn them.”
“If that was a question, then yes. That is a potential use of them.”
Conti smirked. “Do you see how you play into the unbeatable team idea?”
“Sort of. I assume you want me to construct exceptionally powerful technical machines that allow your Pokémon to wield the most devastating forces in nature to decimate opponents. Or maybe I am completely missing the point and you want me to make blue and white cotton candy. This is something I can also do for my job.”
“Your first theory was correct. I want you to make me three extremely powerful moves capable of ending a battle in very little time.”
Gela stroked Astrea and looked at her watch, frowning. “Are there any specific moves you want?”
“I have no preferences, as you probably know more about this than I do. The Pewter City gym leader did mention that his Golem had learned an extremely powerful technique. You might want to look into that. The other two are entirely up to you so long as they are sufficiently powerful.”
“Hmm. I think it could theoretically be done. There is no absolute limit on power, anyway. However, the complexity needed to pull of these moves would be astounding. Multiple brain processes, high precision, and enormous physical or mental strength. Given a ton of time and research opportunities I could probably provide the first two. You would have to take care of the base strength part.”
“I am fully prepared to do that to see my goals through.” Gela continued to stroke Estrea, lost in mental calculations. “Your appearance today has dramatically shifted forward our time tables. I could give you a year and a sizable laboratory to operate with, along with a substantial payment of course.”
“Let me guess, you are about to take out a yup, briefcase full of money. I cannot really see through leather, so could you just tell me how much it is?”
“Ten million pokémon dollars. One quarter up front, one quarter for each of the drives you provide me.”
Green eyes flashed quickly from the suitcase to the magnate and then back down to the Clefairy. “Well, with that kind of money I might as well upgrade your order to hidden machines and give you free shipping and handling. Maybe a carrot peeler as well.”
“Technical machines with unlimited uses. It is a hardware thing. Most of our disks are only good for one use to reduce the risk of theft.”
“I see. I want that, then. Now that you know the details, are you going to accept?”
“Hell yes. I will not need your lab, either. Just a few months to get things done if you only want three. They will be three really complicated machines, but I have literally been making these things since I was eight so it should not be too time-consuming.” Conti chuckled. “What?”
“Nothing, I just find it amusing that you of all people would turn against family members for money.”
“I guess my father would disapprove of using his technology for this, but he happens to have no real say at the moment so it is fine.”
“I meant your mother. Are you really comfortable making moves that could lead to the downfall of the institution your mother has worked so hard to preserve?”
Gela frowned and glared straight into the magnate’s eyes, making him shudder slightly beneath his fine suit. “I have no qualms about tearing down institutions that I disagree with, whomever may be at the helm. Your proposal also makes this sound like a bloodless revolution. I trust you have seen enough action films to know what killing the parents of your female scientific benefactors brings about, though.”
“Yes, I happen to know what I am doing, thank you very much. This will be bloodless unless other factions fire first.”
“Then we should have no problem. Although, I do have one question remaining.”
“And that is?”
“If you did any research on me at all, you probably deduced that a far smaller sum would have procured my allegiance. I may have even done it for no charge at all if your presentation was strong enough. So why waste so much money on a petty programmer who has not even seen their eighteenth birthday.”
“Ah, good question. A great question, even.” The magnate’s Arcanine rose to its feet and yawned before walking over to his owner to beg for a petting. The businessman obliged and then continued his answer. “I will admit that part of the motivation was just because I wanted to ask for someone’s help with a suitcase full of money. It’s just something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I could also easily afford to do so. While ten million is a fortune for you, it is barely one percent of what I make in one year. It is a price I am willing to pay a thousand times over for my objective. You could also consider it an investment in the region’s future. When I am Champion, I imagine a girl with your intelligence and skills could start a small company that could quickly grow larger. Think about it: training goods are already a tremendous portion of the market. Vitamins and other performance-enhancing products are a billion dollar industry. Technical machines would be far more of a revolution in training. Wealthy trainers would shell out thousands for them, casinos and reality shows would stockpile them for prizes, and even the Pokémon League could use them as rewards for aspiring trainers. And that is just the domestic uses. Imagine what our military could do with the ability to train unique moves to Pokémon as the situation demanded. Sure, this would require a means of mass-producing the hardware and a devoted team of coders, but that is what the ten million is for. I am just shocked that the Marine Park never realized what a gold mine it was sitting on.”
“Actually, the park does not own the patent on them, nor does any park employee outside of myself know how to make them. In fact, I think only four people in the region are actually familiar with the coding and I am the only one who actually makes them. My father abhorred the usage of the machines for anything but a handful of minor uses with entirely non-violent consequences. Me? I do not care quite so much, but I have never felt the urge to actually try and profit on them. I have enough stress to deal with. I will gladly take your payment and consider future action with it, though. I trust that the down payment is being wired to an off-shore account or something. I have no idea what I would do with that much cash.”
“Yes, yes. My secretary will get that information to you later. I hope you do consider going corporate later. There is so much potential for that technology.”
Gela rose to her feet as Estrea leapt off of her lap. “Well, Mr. Evil Steve Jobs, I will keep that in mind. When I have some progress, I will contact you again. Probably electronically this time.”
“I look forward to meeting again.” Conti extended his right hand for a moment before quickly pulling it back and extending his left, apologizing quietly under his breath. Gela shook it without comment and left the room, wondering how to tell her friends that she was now a millionaire committed to bringing about the overthrow of the government.
Or if they would even bat an eyelash at the news.
Years ago in Celadon City, on one side of a dream…
Gela thought that the girl should have realized something was wrong when no alarm went off. She had only slept for two hours the previous night and had awaken hours ago, but there was never any indication that she was to rise from bed and leave. There were no windows, so she could not tell for sure, but she suspected that the sun had rose hours ago. Still, no one came to wake her up and her alarm clock was missing.
Eventually, she decided that she would at least step outside her room to check what time of day it was. Opening her door, she found sunlight streaming into the hall. Today was a Wednesday. Why had no one came to tell her to get ready for school? The halls were strangely quiet as well, as if no one was walking through them anywhere. Confused, she wandered down them and descended the spiral staircase into the kitchen. Her mother was sitting by the counter, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper alone. She worked on Wednesdays. There were usually other people in the kitchen. They almost never talked alone. The girl knew that this was different. She had not yet learned that different meant bad.
Noticing her daughter, the woman at the counter smiled and lowered the paper. Thin streaks of dried water ran from the corners of her eyes but she tried to deny them. “Hello. How was your rest?”
Not answering her question, the girl looked around the room in confusion. “What is going on?” she asked.
Her mother sighed and put down the paper entirely. “It’s about your father. He’s gone away for a while.”
Gela nodded and stumbled off to sit down. Indeed he had.
END FILE 2.1: PILOT EPISODE
PROCEED TO FILE 2.2: MEET CUTE
Contains some language and one-sided PokémonXhuman attraction that will not be going anywhere. This in not that kind of ‘fic. Also, props to Paradigm of Writing for Beta Reading File 2’s Chapters. Go check out his stuff.
OPEN FILE 2.2: MEET CUTE
“The probability of two people ending up in a relationship is directly proportional to the awkwardness of their initial meeting.”
Years ago in Cinnabar Island, on one side of a dream…
Tonight Gela found herself in a brightly lit and irritatingly warm room, high above a stage. A male friend of hers sat beside her, a few years younger than he was on the other side. She glanced down on the stage to see the girl lost in her own insecurities on the floor of a gym arena. Probably wondering why she let herself get talked into an obviously unwinnable situation. Nothing too unusual.
A man with thinning gray hair stood opposite her. He wore thick, dark sunglasses and carried a cane. However, his age had not stopped him from making a million puns in even the short time Gela had been watching. Neither the girl nor Gela could decide whether enduring them was worse than the actual prospect of battle.
Another, younger man waved a pair of flags on the side of the battlefield. “Welcome to today’s Cinnabar Gym match. Today our challenger will seek their first badge from Leader Blaine. As per League regulations, this will be a one-on-one battle. Leader Blaine must use an approved Fire Pokémon. The challenger can use any Pokémon of her choice. Once one Pokémon is unable to battle, the opposing trainer will be declared the winner. Are there any questions? Seeing none, the Leader may send out his first Pokémon.”
“Magmar, let’s see if this whipper-snapper can beat the heat!” A bipedal being of flames rose in front of him, instantly heating the room. The air around it rippled, distorting the girl’s view of it after only seconds.
“Estrea, this seems like as good a job for you as any.” The girl’s Clefairy appeared before her, twirling around and singing as if oblivious to the opposing Magmar. “Girl, I know it has been a while since we had one of these but it would be helpful if you focused. This is a gym match.” The Pokémon instantly perked up and snarled at the opponent to the extent that a pink puffball can.
“Why, that does appear to be quite the menacing sprite, right? As the challenger, you can be the first to bring the fire in this fight.”
“Puns and rhyming, now? Really? What’s next, a full musical representation of a Tauros being barbecued?” Sarcasm was always a great cure anxiety. She had learned that years ago. “Estrea, get in with a Double-Slap.”
“Ember her if she actually gets close,” Blaine retaliated.
Clefairy continued to dash forward as she held her hands wide apart, prepared to mercilessly slap the opponent. “If she actually gets—oh no. Estrea, stop! Water Gun!”
The fairy quickly switched to frothing at the mouth before blasting out a steady pulse of liquid at the opposing Magmar, catching it off guard after only a few embers spewed from its mouth. Most of the water evaporated in the intense heat near it, but some did manage to reach the beast’s outer flames. The Magmar momentarily became visible as it shrieked in pain before the air around it once again heated to conceal it. Clefairy pumped one of her fists into the air, jamming it straight into a small fleck of ash that her opponent had release. In an instant she had brought it back down to her mouth with a high-pitched screech, desperately licking it as quickly as possible.
From her position, the girl could barely see the injury. A portion of her Pokémon’s paw was burned, which made her cringe, but it was far better than what would have happened if the Clefairy had run straight into the inferno around Magmar. “Sorry, girl. I will heal you up later, I promise. As for you, Blaine, thanks for the heads up.”
It was hard to tell what the Gym Leader was thinking through his sunglasses, but his joking smile had momentarily lapsed. “Water Gun, eh? I hadn’t heard of a Clefairy who could do that. You must be quite the—“
“Water Gun again!”
Another pulse of water jettisoned through the air as Magmar let loose a torrent of fire around its body, seriously disturbing the air flow in the room and evaporating almost all of the water before it could reach it. “Hey, don’t interrupt me while I’m on a monologue! I’ll make you feel the burn for that!”
“I have a feeling you reuse those puns a lot.”
“Yup, I reheat them often!”
“Could you keep making them while I stall for time, please!”
“I can’t just put this match on the backburner like that! Prepare to—“
“Minimize. Thank you.”
A burst of light surrounded Clefairy, quickly retracting in size as if it had entered into its Pokéball. It was now almost as hard to distinguish as the Magmar was through his own trickery.
“Scatter Embers all around the field. Keep it from coming in any closer.”
“Water Gun around yourself. Keep any from hitting.”
A small puddle formed at one tiny point on the floor as a cloud of fiery particulates floated down. “I must say, that you are quite unusual for a trainer seeking their first badge. Solid strategy, unconventional moves tailored to win, and a Pokémon powerful enough to pierce Magmar’s surroundings without an elemental affinity. Is this your first time around the bonfire?”
“I hope you know how strange that pun sounded. No, this is not quite my first time.”
“I figured as much. How many badges did you get before losing the last time? Four? Five?”
“Believe it or not, zero. I am an absolute master at losing spectacularly in first battles. Venusaur alone cost me three matches in Celadon.”
“Venusaur? On a first match? Huh. She normally saves that for the fire-tested veterans seeking their last few badges. I wonder why—Magmar, no!” In front of him, his Pokémon had drifted to sleep and was soundly dozing off on the floor. “How! I didn’t hear a Sing attack!”
“Pokémon have far better senses than us fleshbags. Volume also does not matter for Sing, just your understanding of the words. As someone personally screwed out of two years’ worth of good sleep, I am quite confidant of that. Estrea, Water Gun in front of Magmar. Reuse as necessary.”
A small stream of water came from the floor at the sleeping Magmar, forming a pool around him that bypassed his now-cooled flames. The fire-type slowly began to stir as the Sing wore off and the cool water trickled under it, but by that point it was too late. With its relatively low-level and weakness, Magmar was down for the count.
The referee raised a flag. “Magmar is unable to battle. This match and the Volcano Badge go to challenger Gela Esprit of Celadon City.”
The Volcano badge was one of the hardest to earn first, even harder than beating The Celadon gym. As her friend came down from the stands to congratulate her, the girl felt like she could be a successful trainer for the first time in years. Gela rolled her eyes and stood up. The girl would be, briefly, before coming down harder to Earth and burning up in reentry. Articuno, those fire puns were infectious.
More recently in the Seafoam Islands, on the other side of a dream…
“You really will not eat without me, huh?”
Gela threw another fish at the blue Pokémon in front of her. It snapped its long neck to the side and easily caught it before humming softly and pleading with his trainer with an unapologetically sad expression. She laughed and threw him another fish. “Come on, we both know that you do not have to beg with me, big guy.” The Pokémon cooed and swam closer to her, craning out his neck in hopes of either a petting or another fish. “You really do need to learn to take food from other people. What happens if I have to leave for a while?” Despite her admonishment, she stroked the plesiosaur’s neck gently before handing him another herring.
A persistent tapping nearby caught the trainer’s attention. Gela turned towards the glass to face the early morning crowd and quickly spotted a young child banging on the glass repeatedly with his fist. She stood up, ignoring the Lapras moving in on the whole bucket of food, and tapped her microphone on. “Please obey the signs posted throughout the gallery. Do not touch the glass. Thank you.”
Gela sighed as she saw the Lapras trying to shake the now-empty bucket off of his face. She motioned for him to lean down and then helped pull it off by the handle. “See you later, Tri. If any other visitors are obnoxious, let me know.” The Lapras gave a mournful farewell cry and Gela struggled to find the willpower to open the door to step back out of the exhibit. Triassic’s codependency would have been almost adorable if it was not so problematic.
Immediately after shutting the door to leave the Lapras enclosure, Gela was pulled aside by her boss. “There you are. I should have known you would be here.”
“Hello, Gela. How was Triassic? He was anxious all weekend. We had to keep him in a storage area just to keep the visitors from worrying.”
“He is fine. He ate and acted normally and his vitals were stable. Just going through his normal withdrawal.”
“Good to hear, good to hear. You should get to see more of her than usual this week. Sarah broke her arm over the weekend—“
“Cripple for the cripple god,” Gela muttered under her breath.
“—so she can’t direct shows until the cast comes off. I need you to lead the Lapras shows this week.”
“I can do that. Is there anything I need to be doing this morning now that Tri’s been fed?”
“Actually, you can walk with me for a minute. I need to explain something you missed over the weekend,” she motioned for Gela to follow her down the hallway behind the Local Species cages and began to move. They passed by windows into a large circular Dewgong pool and a rocky seascape filled with bivalve Shellder and Cloyster slowly opening and closing. “This summer, we’re going to give every trainer a chance to perform a personalized show with their own Pokémon, directing, and narration. You can use it to show off your team and tell the audience a little bit about yourself. Not that I fully expect you to go into your life story—Hell, you haven’t even told me much of that—but some basic information would be nice. Maybe a quick review of how you got your team.” The two arrived at the end of the hallway and prepared to enter onto the main paths of the Seafoam Islands Marine Park. “Do you have any questions?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. Is it really necessary that I do this? It just really is not something I would ever normally do. That is pretty much rule one of being Gela Esprit. You do not talk about Gela Esprit. Seriously, at least. It is acceptable if coated in a massive layer of sarcasm.”
Her boss sighed. “Yes, you have to do something. I don’t care what, but some sort of half-serious presentation would be nice. I wouldn’t care if you did it, but the higher ups want to feel like their employees are appreciated and such. And it’s an easy way for them to decide who to promote without really getting to know people. Win-win for them.” With that, she opened the door and strode out into the crowd, leaving Gela with a task infinitely harder than constructing three death machines for a megalomaniac.
She at least knew where to start work on that task.
Gyarados: Monsters of the Deep
The words were engraved in a massive banner above a tremendous pane of reinforced glass. In fact, everything about the exhibit was gigantic. The tank itself contained over three million liters of seawater with a retired military vessel submerged in the center. The viewing area was the second-largest room in the entire Park, with dozens of rows of grandstands sloping down to the glass panel separating visitors from the two massive sea serpents on the other side of the glass.
Gela would be the first to admit she was a terrible tour guide barely knew any statistics about the park, except for the prices charged by the machines that carried good decaffeinated soda, but the Gyarados gallery was impressive enough that she made an exception. The only problem with it was that it was always so loud and crowded that getting work done was near impossible. This, of course, never stopped her from trying.
On that particular morning she found herself perched in her usual spot twenty-five rows up the bleachers and three meters from the right edge. From there she could watch the coolest Pokémon on the planet when she wanted to, but most of the time she was too busy tapping away on her tablet with all the speed she could muster one-handed to watch the Pokémon. The coding was slow work, transferring data on whether or not a neuron fired into the elaborate code her father had invented and then adapting it to match other species’ equivalent neural networks as required. Normally, this was about as hard as it sounded. Today it was brutal due to the ridiculous complexity of her chosen move.
So when thirty children walked in as part of a spring camp tour she was quite willing to embrace the distraction. After tucking her tablet into her bag, she began to descend the staircase on the side of the grandstand until she reached a teenage boy in a staff uniform walking up towards her. “So, the great Sawyer Ericson came down from his perch, eh? Is administration worried that one of the kids is going to spontaneously trip into a puddle and drown in the span of seconds, desperately wishing that a lifeguard was there to nobly risk life and limb in a valiant rescue mission?”
The lifeguard rolled his eyes. “Nah, the admins had nothing to do with it. There was an opening for spring counselors this week and I figured I might as well ride a different wave for once. Can’t get too eased into the same old habits, can we?”
Gela flicked a loose strand of hair out of her eyes and widened her smile. “I guess not. What time does your shift get off today, anyway?” In her peripheral vision she saw a handful of kids arguing about something or another. One took a step closer to the glass. Whatever. She was not about to have her conversation interrupted by a bunch of hyperactive rule breakers.
“I get off at eight tonight. Why? You want to hang somewhere?”
The kid was tapping on the glass now. How he could miss the twenty-six “For the safety of you and our Pokémon, please do not touch the glass” signs, she did not know. Shifting her attention back to Sawyer, she ran through her schedule mentally. She should really get her current TM done while she was making progress. Only one or two nights of work would finish it. But, Conti expected her to take several months more than she needed. A night away could not hurt, right?
“Sarah is out today, so I need to cover the Lapras show at nine. You can come if you want. After that, I am entirely free.”
“Sweet. My bro’s working the night shift today in vet services, so we could just chill at my place. If you don’t feel like riding back to your hermit cave after, the couch is always open.”
“Thank you, good sir.” A hushed silence fell over the crowd followed by a flurry of flashes from cameras across the room. The thirty-two signs reminding guests that flash photography was banned were also being ignored. Gela looked up to see Drako slowly moving towards the glass panel to face the child who had been banging on it. The kid was backing away slowly, quivering as the massive serpent approached with fangs bared.
“He won’t actually do anything, right?” Sawyer asked, his normally relaxed muscles shaking slightly. “I mean, that glass could handle it if he did flip out or something.”
Gela smirked at him, her green eyes flashing mischievously as she turned her microphone on. “Drako, use Thrash on the ship.”
The atrocious Pokémon looked for his trainer behind the panel, eventually spotting her in the crowd. He then swiftly rushed towards the glass before sharply turning, dragging his body against the panel as he made a U-turn with impressive speed for his bulk. He then roared, a terrifying bellow that sounded clearly through the glass and led to most of the flashes halting as the visitors stared on in awe. The Gyarados rushed straight for the shipwreck in the middle of his tank before abruptly turning, slamming his body straight into the metal plating and leaving a considerable dent. He then went back around and smacked the weakened point with his head before slamming his tail into the side of the boat again. The female Gyarados in the tank quickly took notice and rammed into the other side of the ship with her equally massive bulk. The two alternated strikes on the boat until eventually huge holes had been formed in the military-grade plating on both sides of it.
Gela smiled as she watched the audience shaking at the sight of the subsiding rampage before them. She then clicked her microphone back on. “For the safety of you and our Pokémon, please do not touch the glass.”
Years ago in Vermillion City, on one side of a dream…
Gela sighed. It was one of those trippy dreams again. Utterly. Fantastic.
It had taken her hours to fall asleep away from her normal location. Perhaps due to the unusual circumstances, tonight’s dream was different. The person she was connected to was younger, as expected, but now she was taller and stronger. The girl was someone else entirely.
The boy effortlessly moved through the water. He was a natural swimmer and the rough harbor waves were far from strong enough to deter him. He had not looked back in a while to check, but he was almost certain that his entire group was far behind. Even at state swimming competitions he was nearly unbeatable. For a moment he stopped to tread water, rest, and think. So far Water Camp had been a decent experience. The beach the Camp owned on the outskirts of Vermillion was exceptional. His personality earned him the friendship of most of his fellow Campers. Quite a few staff members liked him because he could talk about surfing from his own experiences and marine biology from listening to his brother talk about his studies. In a few more days he would be the alpha of his little pack without ever having to be aggressive about it. And it was good to be king.
Needless to say, the king was not expecting anyone to tap him on the shoulder that far out in the harbor. Much less the weird quiet girl in his patrol. “Hey, you really should not be out this far without a buddy. You would be vulnerable if something happened.”
“Sure, thanks for the consideration. How did you reach me out here, though?”
The strange girl smirked. “You are not the only one who can swim. You know that, right?”
“I know, I’m just not used to people swimming as fast as I can.”
A piercing whistle rang over the harbor, leading to a flurry of splashing behind them as the rest of the campers moved to the shore. The boy looked around in confusion before seeing the strange girl stare out into the ocean. He followed her gaze out to see a massive wake heading right towards them, a blue shape rising from it. “Look down and do not move,” the quiet girl hissed. The boy complied, too shocked to think for himself after seeing the approaching sea monster.
The water around the two churned as they could feel the currents moving around the creature’s body as it approached. A spray of water fell over them as the snake rose above. The boy did not dare to look up. Beside him, the strange girl began to speak softly. “Hello, Gyarados. We did not mean to intrude upon your territory. It was entirely an accident and we will—“
The strange girl froze as the beast lowered its head right down to her body, pressing its jaw against her torso and wrapping its whiskers around her. The boy locked up as he saw the encounter occurring out of the side of his vision. His trembling increased as the serpent abruptly lashed out towards him, growling as it circled him in the water.
“Gyarados, no. He is not a threat to me and we are not, um, mating. Please, leave us alone.” The atrocious Pokémon rose his head above the water and snorted before diving back into the deep. For a full minute the two tread water, the boy’s shaking increasing dramatically as he scanned the water beneath him for any signs of a pair of jaws rushing up. At long last, the strange girl spoke again. “Alright, I think we are safe now. Let us head back in.”
She slowly turned around and began to swim back towards shore. A moment later the boy followed. “Wait, what happened there? Why didn’t it attack?”
Between strokes, the girl replied. “I have trained a Magikarp for years, ever since it was a juvenile. Male Gyarados often select mates based on their perceived ability to care for their Magikarp offspring, so it was probably, uh, checking me out. He likely thought we were mating and wanted to eliminate or intimidate you into—your said your brother was studying marine biology, correct?”
“Then ask him for the rest of the explanation. He should know.”
The boy had to admit that the entire thing was freaky and terrifying. Still, looking ahead at the girl’s powerful strokes, he had to admit that the Gyarados could have gone for a worse potential partner.
In the part of her lucid mind that was not caught up in the strangeness of the night’s dream, Gela was both disgusted and strangely exhilarated.
More recently in the Seafoam Islands, on the other side of a dream…
“Well, they say that the three hundred and second time is the charm. Maybe this one will work. And maybe the sky will fall, cartoon characters will age, and I will actually find a half-decent story on orignalfiction.net.” Gela pulled yet another disk out from her pile and placed it into a scanning machine, watching as the initial transcription began. Shortly after it began, her phone buzzed in her pocket. One new text message from Gage Carver.
‘How did the testing work last night? 1 step closer to a death weapon?’
Gela strongly considered face palming before replying. Sure, that was really hard in her condition and she was not sure anyone in the real world had done it unironically in the last decade, but it might be worth a try to vent frustration. ‘My texts are almost certainly intercepted. I have no idea what you are talking about.’
Another minute passed before she got a reply. ‘Has the Eagle landed?’
‘No. I was a bit too busy enjoying the company of mortal beings like you are prone to advise me to do. Perhaps your bird of prey might yet roost tonight.’
‘Perchance could u tell me who u were with?’
A clicking sound came from the scanner, so Gela removed the disk and slid it into the download device. After inserting a borrowed Kingler’s Pokéball, she pressed the necessary buttons for the TM to be used. Only then did she reply. ‘Sawyer. I will also be having a state dinner with Her Highness, Queen of Aggravation, tomorrow.’
‘Victoria?! U srs? She doesn’t even live in the isles.’ Almost immediately, another text came in. ‘What did u do with Sawyer, anyway? Anything I should know about? ’
‘If you bothered to come out every once and a while I would be perfectly amiable to you. Well, maybe not. I would be no more hostile than I am to any other miserable denizen of this planet. As for Victoria, I am badly in need of a decent coordinator. This is a problem given my location and my unfortunate habit of developing friendships with freak mutants with a horribly disheveled 23rd chromosomal pair and no sense of style. No offense intended.’ She waited a moment. If she received two text messages she would send two replies. That is how the universe worked. ‘And you know that Sawyer and I are just friends in the seldom used sense that means that we are indeed merely friends with no romantic interests.’
The TM was done transferring information, so she sent out the Kingler into a nearby testing pond. The crab warily surveyed its surroundings, seeing nothing but the glass walls at the edge of his tank and a short concrete pillar. “Alright, Kingler. Use Guillotine on the cement pillar, please.” The crab turned to face her before moving to line his claw up with his target. Then it moved.
It’s claw latched onto the pillar with unnatural speed, crushing it in its massive pincer and squeezing as cracks shot up and down the concrete object. Finally, it slammed its claw shut and the pillar fell into pieces around it, obliterated at the point of contact. After staring in awe for a few seconds, Gela pulled her phone back out. ‘In other news, I am proud to announce that I am now formally Death, destroyer of worlds. Please change my contact information to reflect this.’
Years ago in Celadon City, on one side of a dream…
Cold. It was cold and for some reason the girl insisted on swimming and for the love of Articuno could she not wake up in dreams with a reasonable temperature? Or at least get reasonable clothing for those dreams? She relaxed and eased into the girl’s perspective entirely. She hated doing it abruptly—it did ruin the game, after all—but at least she was wetsuit.
Drako swam nearby her, occasionally swimming underneath or flopping out of the water. He showed happiness, and honestly all of his emotions, in strange ways. A particularly chilly breeze blew overhead, causing a small patch of snow to blow off into the pool and turn into slush. Still she swam on. That and coding were almost all she ever did anymore and she could not code with her Pokémon. The door opened and Mr. Aldo stepped out. At first the girl thought she would be admonished for swimming the in the December cold, but her stomach churned when she saw a Clefairy hesitantly waddle out behind the older butler.
“Is there any reason you left your Clefairy inside, again?”
The girl swam to the edge of the pool and pulled her upper body out into the freezing air. “I told you already that I do not want her. I wanted a strong Pokémon to help me beat gyms.”
The older man looked at Drako for a moment. “So, your Magikarp isn’t too weak but Clefairy is?”
“He is different. We have been friends for years and Gyarados are the coolest Pokémon ever. I am a programmer, not a princess. I do not need soft, pink Pokémon for little girls.”
The Clefairy was cowering behind the older man’s legs, nervously looking out at the mean girl in the water. The older man reached down to pick her up, petting the Pokémon’s fur until it calmed back down. “You know, a lot of people spend years looking for Clefairy or saving to buy one. Not many parents could afford to get one for their kid’s tenth birthday. You are really very lucky.”
“Hmph. That is the point. It is a generically good starter. It has nothing to do with what I wanted, though. Mom could not even bother to get me a Magnemite or an Abra or something more common I could actually use. It is like she does not even know me.”
The older man cleared his throat as his expression turned harsh. “Your mother goes through more for you than you could possibly imagine and knows you very well. She wanted to give you a Voltorb, actually. I talked her into the Clefairy. Blame me if you want to attack someone for it.”
Another gust of wind blew over them and the girl lowered all of her body but her head back into the less frigid water. “Why?” she whispered.
“A variety of reasons. The first is that it gives you a Pokémon that can and will spend the night with you in your room. Pokémon song doesn’t work on humans who can’t understand the words, but at least you will have someone to spend long nights with. The second is that Clefairy can battle in the air and land reasonably well, covering the fights that a water-type can’t begin to compete in. The third is that you honestly need something that shows genuine emotion. Whether or not you acknowledge you have them, you should try to express and control your feelings every once and a while. It’s good for you, and I think that something as playful as a Clefairy could teach you. Normal-types have also been reported to know some strange moves in the wild, meaning that you could use it as a test subject for your Technical Machines better than almost any other Pokémon. The last reason is, well, see for yourself.” He set the Pokémon down on the ground. “Use Metronome.” The Pokémon’s fingers began to glow as it waved them from side to side, generating an intense light that dissolved after only a few seconds. Clefairy then inhaled sharply and spewed out a blast of air, drastically reducing the temperature of the pool and freezing the water on the girl’s hair almost instantly while making her uncomfortable even in her wet suit. At long last the gale died down, leaving much of the pool frozen and the girl physically miserable but beaming nonetheless.
“What was that?”
“It’s called Metronome. It’s a powerful technique of the Clefairy that lets them summon a random move that they’ve seen. I’m not sure how useful it would be to your coding, but it could be helpful. Your father mentioned that it could be used for research purposes once. And if you’re really desperate in a gym battle it could turn the tide if you get lucky.
She had a cold for the next week after taking the Blizzard attack, giving the girl plenty of time to bond with her new Pokémon. The two planned detailed strategies they would use to defeat the Celadon Gym when the time came, and then move onto earning the rest of the badges and becoming Champions. She must have missed it at the time, or maybe it was just the dream distorting the facts of the moment, but the girl did not recall seeing a flash of regret in her mother’s eyes when they announced they were going to win the Rainbow Badge as soon as the girl was well.
More recently in the Seafoam Islands, on the other side of a dream…
“Thrash, Surf, Hyper Beam, Fire Blast, Thunder—you taught your Gyarados Thunder?!”
Gela looked over at the coordinator next to her as she scanned her Pokémon’s data. “Yes, I taught him Thunder. He is the smallest Gyarados that gets displayed in the tank and I would prefer the other try to assert dominance exactly once. The plan succeeded, mind you.”
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. You’re you, after all. Anyway, can Gyarados be used in this show? It’s a general rule in coordinating not to use any Pokémon who might freak out and kill the audience.”
“Rules are generally there because someone broke them once. I want to know where that one came from. Did a Vulpix flip out and ignite a comically placed fuse leading to twelve tons of dynamite once? Or did an Eevee just adore the entire audience to death. You gotta watch out for dem cutemons, after all.”
Victoria laughed. “I can’t think of anything like that. Is Gyarados tame, though?”
“I am reasonably certain that I can restrict Drako to only eating three audience members. Maybe even one if they are obese, but in general he prefers a high-carb low-fat diet so that is unlikely.”
“Um, you are joking, right?”
“Have I ever approached something without the utmost seriousness? I am frankly shocked and appalled you would accuse me of joking about a subject as serious as my Gyarados’ weight loss attempts.”
Her friend nervously scribbled some notes down on a page. “I’m going to go ahead and assume that Gyarados is usable, then. That’s good. It isn’t often you find a massive special move pool like that. If we can get a fog machine and some strobe lights—“
“Drako does not work with strobe lights. Let us leave it at that.”
“Okay, if we can get a fog machine and possibly a curtain we could pull of a nice entrance. Could we get a quick-burn curtain to hang over the tank’s outer walls? I haven’t seen one used in a stadium this big before. Well, maybe at the Grand Festival one year.”
“As you can imagine, we keep tons of props to assist fire-types around an aquarium. It really helps us perform stunts with the massive amounts of volcanic Pokémon we keep inside of water-filled cages.”
“Okay, so that’s out.”
Gela interrupted her. “Surprisingly, we actually have a few on hand left over from a visiting exhibit on dragons a while back. There are even some lightning rods somewhere from another temporary display. Not being sarcastic this time.”
“Nice. So, we could dim the lights before you release Gyarados. The audience sees a massive silhouette rise out of the water and face them before roaring—“
“Good, Drako does love roaring. Probably his only preferred activity to eating low-carb audience members.”
“Ok, then. It roars and then ignites the curtain with a Fire Blast. At that point a fog machine starts going, or has been going, and Gyarados starts to show off special moves in the dark and fog. I’ve seen that kind of thing be really cool. Maybe your Lapras could join in if you’re allowed to use it. Or even Clefairy. They know special moves, right?”
“Clefable, actually. She evolved three months ago. Unfortunately, she is still prone to cower from anything and everything that is not a rampaging Gyarados, which she is strangely perfectly fine with, so I probably cannot use her in front of a few hundred spectators. Triassic knows a few elemental moves and is sort of comfortable with Gyarados so that should be okay. What about Stelo? We could have him knock out the entire audience as a twist.”
“I’m pretty sure that would be frowned upon. I don’t really use Psychic types so I couldn’t tell you anything right now. I’ll look up some strategies that other coordinators have used if you are set on using him. But more importantly, Clefable! Can you please show her to me! They’re so adorable, but I can never find any and only a few coordinators can find both a Clefairy and a moon stone so I seldom get to see one. Please!”
Gela rolled her eyes. “Fine, I think we have done enough planning here, anyway. Estrea, unleash your terrifying cuteness upon an unsuspecting world.” The fairy Pokémon appeared beside her and scanned the room for threats. She perked up when she saw Victoria. “Fae?” The moment the coordinator’s red comb was out of her purse, the fairy was beside her begging to be groomed.
“You really should comb her fur more. It would make her happier and help her appearance,” she admonished.
“Victoria, I barely take care of my own hair and my first Pokémon was a Magikarp. I am clearly well-attuned to the grooming habits of normal-types.”
“I guess. You never did play your role very well.” Victoria laughed to herself. “Such a shame, too. You have a really cute Pokémon and you’re really pretty when you want to be. I think we could have been great friends and rivals.”
Gela gazed out across the enormous space they were in. The second-largest pool in the entire aquarium lie before them with row upon row of grandstands rising to the retractable ceiling in order to give a better view of their current position on stage. In a few months she would have to stand right here and tell hundreds of people about her life and show off her Pokémon. At least she had Victoria for the latter.
“Drako, use Bite on the uppermost ball.” Almost immediately a massive beast propelled itself out of the water. It almost seemed to fly as it soared into the air, rising until only the tip of its tail was still in the water before it snatched a hanging ball in its teeth, tearing it loose as it began to fall back into the tank before disappearing in a flash of light. “Thank you.” Gela rose to her feet and retracted Estrea as well. “We both know that was never going to happen. I get a 404 error whenever I try to give a damn about the modern princess thing and I never did understand how you and Lenore do it. Probably helps that you do not have the entire familial meltdown thing going on, but even then can you imagine me in a dress? Seriously? You two live in the role that your parents want. It is justified for you since you actually enjoy it. I have no idea why Lenore puts up with it. As for me I was going to be the Champion. I would wear my blue jeans and bring my tough and cool Pokémon all the way to the Indigo Plateau. Well, that never quite worked out. Now I program death machines, sorry, deadly cool machines, and make snide remarks about the world while wearing my blue jeans and training a Gyarados. By the way, do you know how much of an aneurism my mom had when I first came home covered in mud with a Pokéball I got from Articuno-knows-where and told her I had caught a Magikarp and was training to conquer the League?”
“I can only imagine. Still, you would probably have Sawyer by now if you wore a skirt more than once a year. Just saying. Although I’m not sure you even wear one that often.”
“Victoria, I literally just got done ranting about how I do not change myself for other people. I think that anyone wiretapping the stadium now would get really bored if I made another character-revealing rant that said the same thing but also gave details about my personal life that I really do not want everyone in the universe to know. This is completely ignoring the reality that I am entirely asexual, of course.”
“Fine. You know that only one of you can be General Director next year, right? Gage, too. Do you really think you have a shot at beating them?”
“I think I can beat Gage. He is reasonably intelligent and skilled at politics, but I know the aquatic aspects of camp far better. Sawyer might get half the girls to vote for him because he happens to be one of the most attractive guys on staff—in a purely objective way, of course—but I am smarter, funnier, and have the cripple sympathy factor going in. And before you rant about me not liking to receive things I do not deserve, for all the pain and inconvenience that arm gives me I think I deserve to take some pity votes.” Gela pulled up her hand to look at her watch. “And with that said, there is a show in here in about an hour and the stage hands will need to get the arena prepared. I need to give a short presentation on training backstage to the spring campers, anyway. Nice seeing you. Hope we can testily move over the same subjects again some other time.”
Years ago in Vermillion City, on one side of a dream…
The Vermillion Gym had once been an imposing structure. Tall, concrete walls towered above the southern portion of the city in a menacing trapezoid. Turrets stuck out and helicopters regularly flew in and out of the base. Unfortunately, with escalating terrorist threats in the area and a new gym leader the foreign military based there had ordered a new gym that was still under construction a mile away. For now, Gela met the girl in the lobby of the city’s Pokémon Center as she waited to battle the leader.
The girl rubbed her hands together in anticipation as she waited for her opponent to arrive. “The secretary told us to be here at nine. I did not make that up, right?”
The boy next to her shook his head. “Not a chance. I made a note on my phone. Three notes, actually. It’s only eight-fifty. Give him a few minutes.”
“Thanks, Gage. Although if you really wanted to be helpful, not signing me up for gym matches without informing me would be a nice start.”
“Sawyer said you did a nice enough job against Blaine, and the new guy can’t be any harder.”
“If being a centimeter away from getting your Pokémon killed is a nice enough job, than I am about three steps away from being Champion.”
“You won handily. That’s hardly getting your Pokémon killed.”
The girl stopped pacing and paused to consider the information. “I guess, but even then I have lost three times in Celadon and once to Sabrina. The latter is acceptable. Being shut out on a bid for the first badge is pathetic.”
“Look, I have no idea what happened there, but you should be fine. You beat me regularly enough and I got to six badges before getting shut out. Getting your first few badges should be easy.”
The banter was immediately stopped by a tall and muscular man striding into the room. He projected an aura of absolute power that forced both youth to snap to attention and consider saluting, even without military experience. The new gym leader came to a halt and crossed his arms before barking out, “I haven’t quite figured out the naming system of this region yet. Which one of you is here to get destroyed by the Lightning American?”
Her legs shook slightly in terror as the girl raised her hand. “The name is from the Sevii Isles. It is not typical for the region.”
The gym leader made a turn on the spot and headed out to the arenas behind the Pokémon Center. “Abnormal name or not, are you prepared for one Hell of a battle? The name is Surge. 2nd Lieutenant Daniel Surge from San Diego, to be precise. Where I’m from, challengers are supposed to expect a full battle against monstrous Pokémon if they dare set foot into a gym. Here things are a little bit softer. I’m only allowed to use a single Pokémon against you because you only have one badge. Not even one of my stronger ones. I would advise you not to get too confident, though. My Pokémon have all served me well in the heat of battle fighting off hordes of enemy combatants during the Desert War. A mere school girl should not be enough to deter me. Am I understood?”
“Yes, sir.” The girl stood up straighter in Surge’s presence and moved to the opposite side of the field. Even Gela found herself standing at attention on the sidelines.
“Good. Today we lack a referee. I am used to fighting in far less structured situations so it does not bother me in the slightest. Can I trust you to show the least bit of maturity, play fair, and recognize the obvious?”
“Fantastic. Now, I will begin. Voltorb, show ‘em how we brawl in America!”
“Stelo, please help me!”
In twin flashes of light a red and white orb appeared in front of Surge and a strange pig-like creature materialized in front of the girl. The two trainers stared each other down. Surge’s face was inscrutable behind his sunglasses and hard demeanor. The girl had dealt with a lot of intimidating figures in her life, but she had to do her best not to faint from the Gym Leader’s tough presence alone.
“Alright, Stelo, let’s start with our usual route.” The Drowzee’s eyes glowed pink for a moment as he stared directly into his opponent’s eyes. Surge barely missed a beat before ordering.
A bright light shone throughout the arena, temporarily stunning the girl and her friend and almost completely blinding the other Pokémon whose eyes had been wide open when the move struck.
“Screech. Let’s get this over with.”
An ear-splitting sound fell over the battlefield, giving the impression that several bombs were detonating at once while simultaneously crashing cars blaring the theme song of a certain water-based theme park ride from their speakers. At least, that is what it sounded like in the dream. Combined with the nasty flash earlier it seemed like the 2nd Lieutenant’s strategy was to recreate the horrors of war in an all-out attack on the senses.
Drowzee shuttered under the noise before another blinding flash swept over the arena, even causing Surge to flinch behind his sunglasses. The girl quivered in her sandals from the excitement. She had known this was coming for months, but it could not possibly have had better timing. As soon as the lights began to die down, she shouted out her next order.
The newly evolved psychic-type’s eyes shone brightly before Voltorb was lifted into the air. It vainly tried to execute another Flash, but compared to the recent glow of his evolution it was nothing to Stelo and the attack continued regardless.
Surge’s hands clenched into fists. “No other way out! End this with a bang!”
“No! Toss it! Up!”
As the Voltorb began to glow once more, Stelo bent down for a moment before straightening up. When he reached his full height, the electric-type was sent flying high into the air. Several meters up its glow became intensely bright. A sound that puts its screech to shame burst out across the battlefield before a wave of heat followed. However, from meters away on the ground neither the girl, the leader, nor the Hypno were severely hurt. Seconds later, an unconscious Pokémon hit the ground. The match was over.
“I… I won,” the girl whispered. “No hits taken. No overpowered monstrosities. No dirty sleep-inducing tricks… I won.”
“And you’re damn lucky that was only a battle for the second badge. Any higher up and you would’ve been in for one Hell of a fight, miss. But for now, according to League—well, shoot. Young man, does she have a history of fainting?”
END FILE 2.2: MEET CUTE
PROCEED TO FILE 2.3: SHE CLEANS UP NICELY
Some language and discussion of underage drinking in this chapter. It’s also really long. You have been warned.
OPEN FILE 2.3: SHE CLEANS UP NICELY
“The probability of a tomboy dressing up at least once approaches one as the story’s length approaches infinity.”
Years ago in Celadon City, on one side of a dream…
Gela awoke inside of her old room to find that the girl had been awake for some time. She glanced at the calendar. It had been only a few weeks since the girl had met her mother alone in the kitchen.
And those weeks had been brutal. The girl’s mother had ordered nearly all of the help out for a while and she seemed to be at work more than ever. All the girl could do was wander the empty and silent hallways of the home, code in her room, or swim with Drako. Granted, this was almost all she did normally but now she found herself staring off in silence when she would ordinarily be contently playing.
What did her mother mean when she said her dad had gone away? Where to? For how long?
Now she was learning that however silent the house was, sleep still eluded her as she intently studied the patterns of her bedroom ceiling. There were no windows in her room and looking at the clock would have been far too much effort, but she suspected that hours had passed while she was lying on her back. It had certainly seemed like an eternity since she had heard the front door open and close that morning.
She considered getting up to e-mail one of her friends. But what was the point? All Victoria had done over the last few days was keep telling her how sorry she was. The girl’s request to know what she should be sorry about was ignored. Gela figured that was a good thing; the girl on the bed would not agree for almost six more years. Most of the girl’s other friends were programmers her dad had introduced her to. They were far older than her eight years and had not responded to any messages in the last few weeks. No, there was no point at all to contacting someone else. Best to keep staring up and hoping for sleep or entertainment or something. Anything.
The girl heard the garage door open through the crack in her bedroom door. Well, it was something. She slowly pulled herself out of bed and glanced at the clock. Eleven-thirty. Long past her bed time. Maybe her mother would understand though. She trudged downstairs to the kitchen where her mother was unpacking her briefcase for the day and talking to someone on the phone.
“Look, Sharon, I agree… No, no I’m not angry. It needed to be done… Yes, I am perfectly, completely fine about the whole thing—I understand why I had to happen… Hey, I know that this is bad timing, but could we put this off for a few minutes. My daughter wants to talk and, well, you know, I feel like… ok, thank you so much. Good bye.” She slipped her cell phone into her pocket and straightened up. “Hello, what are you doing awake this late?”
“I just wanted to talk. No other reason.”
Her mother sighed and bent down to hug her. The girl stiffened slightly, not fully accustomed to it. “Couldn’t sleep, could you? Do you want any medication? I have some in my purse if you need it.”
“No thank you. Dad said that would be bad for me.”
“Of course he did,” she snapped before loosening her body and adopting a more sympathetic expression. “Sorry about that. I’m just stressed right now. I really think the medicine would help.”
The girl’s eyes widened at the outburst and calmed only slightly after it. “I am fine, thank you. I can go back to bed now.” She turned around and began to move for the stairs before her mother interrupted her.
“Wait.” The girl paused and she continued. “Your dad did some research into all of this, and he came up with a few ideas. If you really aren’t going to take the medicine, although I still think you should, I could show you some of them.” She pulled a strange cloth bag out of her purse and moved to the counter. The girl thought it smelled strange. “This is called lavender. Supposedly it helps with sleep when brewed in a tea. We’ll see, though.” She noticed her daughter looking up in confused silence. For a minute or so she continued to prepare the tea before she finally spoke again.
“Look, I get that we haven’t talked as much as we probably should have. I’m busy with work and don’t have a lot of time left for it. I want to change that. Surely there are some things we could do together. Victoria’s in a local Camping chapter. I’m not sure what you know about them, but the organization sounds fun enough. We could do that. I could also take you to yoga class every once in a while. That might help with your sleep issues, too.” Her daughter was still staring up in mildly fearful silence. “And if that doesn’t work, well, I don’t know. We could find something.”
“You could help me train.” It was barely a whisper and the girl’s mother asked her to repeat it just to make sure she had heard it correctly.
“Oh, uh, I’d rather not. It’s a pretty dangerous world out there and you have so much potential. It would really be a shame if you went out and got hurt.”
“But if I was strong that wouldn’t happen.”
The tea was done and the girl was momentarily distracted. “Sure, maybe I’ll help. Why not? I think we should start by trying Camping and yoga, though.”
Gela observed her fake smile with a perfectly neutral expression. Had she really been that vulnerable to her mother’s lies for so many years? Had she just wanted to believe them. Was her mother better in reality than she was in dreams? Whatever the case, that was the girl’s problem now. Gela had stopped caring a long time ago.
More recently in Pewter City, on the other side of a dream…
Twelve-thirty. Gela took another sip of water and stared out the window. It was a beautiful early summer day in Pewter and she was stuck in a café waiting on a chronically late individual. She would have ordered already—her friend barely knew that ‘etiquette’ was a word, much less what it meant, but she did not want to be done eating before her friend met her. And Articuno only knew how long that was going to take.
She set her glass down and pulled her cell phone out of her pocket to make sure that he was still coming. He had sent her a message after all. ‘On my way.’ Twelve-ten. He was already ten minutes late then. Thankfully the café was hardly busy. As she put her phone away, the door finally swung open and a young man in a camouflage jacket walked in. Gela smiled and waved her arm, drawing him to the table.
“Thirty-one minutes late. Is the earliest you have ever come to a meeting?”
“Yeah, yeah, my parents made me do a ton of chores today and traffic was bad. Good to see you too, by the way. We don’t meet often enough.”
“I think we saw each other last October. That surely satisfied your yearly need for vitamin snark.”
“We used to see each other all the time.”
“Actually, we saw each other once a month on campouts and occasionally talked on the phone. Which, while more interaction with members of the female species than you have had since, is not much by objective standards. We also did not live on literally opposite ends of the region at that time.”
“Hey, I’ll have you know that I’ve had three girlfriends in the last year. While conquering the league.”
“Frequency and quality are generally inversely related from what I have observed. Could you possibly tell me any of their middle names?”
“Uh, well, that wasn’t important to our relationship. Do you even know your boyfriend’s name?”
Gela rolled her eyes and laughed softly as the waitress came to take their orders. Once she had gone away again, she gave her reply. “If you do not know that much, I think it hardly counts as a noteworthy relationship. And yes, my asexual soul mate and I are very close. I even know the middle initial of his nonexistent middle name.”
“Are you still putting up that ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ asexual thing? Come on, we both know that you’re into that lifeguard down at your camp. Just spit it out already.”
“Congratulations on assuming that asexuality is not a real orientation and that all chicks dig lifeguards. Your political correctness is astounding.”
“You know what I meant. I think you mentioned a specific one, name started with an ‘s’ or something, in a text a while back.”
“Oh, right. I forgot that mentioning a boy in a text message means that I am obviously yearning for his presence with every fiber of my being. My life pretty much has no meaning until every boy I off-handedly reference in a hundred-character message is mine.”
“Whatever, whatever. Has anyone told you you’re weird?”
“You have. Twenty-seven hundred times, as a matter of fact. Maybe a few more. I keep forgetting the exact totals.”
Oliver laughed heartily. “I guess I have. So, what’s this big project you keep alluding to these days. Come on, don’t lie to me. Every time I call you seem to be busy with some important business or another. What is it?”
“I take it that saying ‘I am busy because I work a full-time job as a trainer at a prestigious marine park’ would not suffice? No? Just checking that sane answers are no longer valid. The project is actually why I am in town today. I am trying to make three extraordinarily powerful technical machines. I already had one done at the start of the process. The second one is completed. I heard that Flint’s got a powerful enough move to work as the third one.”
“Right, I’ve heard the same thing. It’s kind of been the talk of the town around here. Our local legend’s Golem has developed a damn near unbeatable move. Some people say that it’s capable of knocking out anything it touches, boom, just like that. Glad I beat this gym a few months back. Not sure I could do it now.”
The waitress came back with their sandwiches and the two set to eating, the conversation quickly dying down. After they finished, Oliver reached down into his backpack and pulled out a small object wrapped in cloth. “I get that your birthday’s a few months passed, but I got you something.” Gela watched as he sat it down on the table. After a moment of fumbling with the rather awkward knot Oliver had tied, her friend finally loosened it himself so she could open it.
Inside was a stone spiral. It was almost perfectly preserved in the gray rock. The fossil was smaller than a full-sized Pokémon of the species usually grew to, but she was uncertain whether that was due to it being an unusually small example or the cloning process enlarging it. “Oh my gosh, wow. Thanks.” She moved her hand over the stone, wondering just how old it was.
“You’re welcome. I found it while I was hiking out in the mountains, and I figured that you would have more use for it. I don’t have the money to revive it myself.”
“Really? Even with League prize money? I could take care of that for you. Just, uh, how much—“
Oliver stopped her from opening her backpack. “No, no. It’s a gift to you. I shouldn’t have said that, sorry. You’ve got me something every year since I was ten. I haven’t got you anything.”
“You gave me a water stone when I was eleven.”
“You don’t have any Pokémon who could use it.”
“Well, it is the thought that counts. I had it made into some earrings later.”
Oliver shook his head. “Do you even wear that type of thing?”
“No, but let us not dwell on that. Thank you for the gift, Oliver.”
The waitress came back to give them the bill. Oliver glanced over his and fumbled around in his wallet for a while before Gela pulled out two twenty-Pokédollar bills. She left one with her bill and handed the other to him. Before he could object, she zipped her backpack and stood up to leave. On the way out, Oliver did catch up to her.
“Wait, you said you were going to the gym?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Do you mind if I watch? I have nothing better to do and I figure that I could use some experience watching good battlers with the tournament coming up and all.”
“I do not plan on challenging so you might be disappointed, but it is a public area. You may go if you wish.”
Of course, seeing one of the most powerful moves in the world executed by a master was hardly disappointing.
“Michael, Fissure attack again. Go!”
The Golem stared across the worn rock battlefield and grunted as he sized up the recording dummy in front of him. He made a slight motion towards the sensory equipment near his head in protest, but eventually complied. The megaton Pokémon jumped slightly into the air and yelled before retracting his limbs and hitting the ground with an enormous thud. The shockwave rocked all present but it was only the start. Shortly after impact, a small but rapidly growing crack extended from the landing site and rushed towards the dummy as the ground began to vibrate. When the crack connected, the dummy began to shake with almost unbelievable frequency as portions of it were shredded instantaneously. It gradually began to fall apart entirely as the shaking increased in frequency until only a rapidly moving metal pole remained where a mighty replica of a Snorlax had stood a moment before. The rock-type then slowly rose to his feet to receive a tasty quartz crystal from his trainer.
“Good job, Michael. You may rest.” He was recalled in a flash of light as his brown-haired trainer eyed the destroyed dummy. “Was that good enough?”
Gela eyed her readings in near disbelief. If she had not already seen a few equally powerful attacks she would not have taken the data seriously. “I think so. Three trials is usually enough to make a beta version. Thank you for your assistance.”
“No problem. I’m no physics man, so I was hoping you could answer a question for me. How does that move work? I can’t believe a crack that small can really wreck something that easily.”
“Physics is not really my area. I deal more with biology and computer science. I think the move abuses resonance, but do not quote me on it. I am just going by some show I saw about a shaking bridge on television once. You should ask someone with an actual degree in that field.”
Gela began to pack up her equipment. Oliver came down from the stands shortly after to help her as the job was somewhat arduous with one good arm. “Thank you, good sir. I will be on my way now.”
“What, not stopping to battle?”
“Not really my thing. Besides, this would either end with you knocking me aside like wet cardboard or losing your job for fighting fair. I would rather not put you in the latter situation, and as a general rule I avoid feeling like wet cardboard if I can help it. Dry cardboard is also unenviable but if I must choose between them, it is the clear winner.”
“Right. Your mother had that silly memo a while back. I don’t really care ‘bout the suits unless it interferes with my funding. Do you really think she’d cut it over that?”
Gela sighed as she put the last piece of measuring equipment away. “She has done far worse to people she cared far more about. I think everyone at that level has.”
“Well, then. If you’re really good enough to get special treatment, I’d like to at least see how you fight. Let’s split it evenly. Half of my team will be the normal one for trainers with two badges. The other half will be playtime for Michael. What d’ya say?”
Oliver smiled at her and nodded, so Gela rolled her eyes and faced the gym leader. “Sure, why not? It has been an exceptionally long time since I have felt like soggy modified paper being knocked aside. I would hate to forget what that feels like.”
“Well, let’s head off to the battlefield, then.”
Once they got there, Flint began the somewhat long walk over to his side of the arena. Scanning the battlefield, Gela immediately wished she had more planning. Flint was one of the stronger leaders in the region and his arena was nothing short of strange. It was a half-pipe of sorts with both trainers standing at the highest points in the arena and a gradual slope down to a low-point between them. There was no water or plants. Only a few loose boulders jutted out of the landscape. She tried to remember everything she could about rock-types and Golem, but could not remember much. Her training dealt mostly with aquatic Pokémon.
So this match was going to be utterly fantastic.
A referee took his place on the sidelines as Oliver and a few gym trainers made their way to the stands. “Welcome to this match between Leader Flint Harding of Pewter City and challenger Gela Esprit of the Seafoam Islands! This match will be a two-on-two battle with no substitutions of any kind. Due to exceptional circumstances and prior agreement, Leader Flint is not bound to his standard team for a third badge match. Are there any questions? Seeing none, Leader Flint will send out his first Pokémon.”
As the stony Pokémon appeared before the leader on the other side of the arena, Gela weighed her options quietly. “Another Pokémon really weak to water, huh? Only one good way to play this. Sorry for sending you onto dry land, buddy.” She pulled a Pokéball off of her belt and raised her voice so the entire room could hear. “Drako, I choose you!”
In an explosion of light Gela’s Gyarados formed near the bottom of the half-pipe. It roared in displeasure at the dry environment before staring up angrily at his trainer. She waved over to the other side of the arena where the Graveler stood. Something seemed to click in the Pokémon’s mind as it saw the rock-type as it immediately gave a savage roar and adopted a battle stance, its anger at the dryness shifted to rage at an opponent.
“Let’s start this off right. Defense Curl into Double-Edge.” Flint’s Graveler grunted and rolled up into a tighter ball before starting to drift down the half-pipe with increasing speed towards Drako.”
“Thrash. We should win a fight of strength.” She waited until the Gyarados was coiling inwards to prepare a counter-strike before whispering under her breath, “Right?”
The Graveler was made for rolling and when it finally jumped out of its ball to slam into his opponent, he was moving with incredible force. However, ‘incredible’ force is relative when taking this from an enormous sea serpent. Drako may have noticed the move, but in his rage he did not care. He lashed out repeatedly at the rock-type, slamming it with powerful strokes of his tail and midsection until small stones began to fall off of it. Gela tensed as she knew that she no longer had control of the match. Drako would tire out in time, but until then she would just have to watch him rampage.
Fortunately, the Graveler had no more in control over its predicament. Flint grimaced as he watched his Pokémon be seriously injured by even the resisted attack. “Rock Throw. The thing’s a flying-type as well.”
Graveler barked in agreement while shielding himself from 500 pounds of muscle slamming into him. One of his lower arms broke his defensive position to pick up a handful of protruding stones from the ground and slam them into the water-type. This bothered Drako enough to cause him to recoil and glare at the Graveler. Unfortunately, it was not enough to seriously injure the beast’s thick scales.
“Good! Surf him down!”
“Ugh! Just Harden for now!”
Heading orders, Drako reared back and sent his mouth crashing towards the Graveler as he spewed obnoxious amounts of water at his opponent. Graveler tried to strengthen his body’s defenses to make it more resistant to the incoming torrent, but eventually the sheer force of the attack eroded some of its outer layers and it collapsed in the watery basin of the half-pipe.
The referee held up a flag. “Graveler is unable to battle! This match goes to the challenger and her Gyarados!”
“Remind me why Gyarados are so overpowered?”
“You are literally about to use a Pokémon famous for destroying opponents in one hit. Can you please not complain about things being overpowered?”
“Fair point. Michael, let’s crush this irritating monster of an enemy!”
Instantly, the megaton Pokémon had appeared and was rolling down the slopes, right towards Drako at the bottom.
The Gyarados reared back its head and charged a shot of energy before blasting it out at the far heavier Pokémon as it rolled down the half-pipe. The beam did not manage to completely stop the rolling attack, but it did manage to slow Michael down enough that the damage was negligible.
“Surf when you can!”
As Drako recovered from the energy usage, Michael began to slam his considerable bulk into the serpent repeatedly in an attempt to pin him. Just as he almost succeeded, Drako slipped away on a small wave further into a growing puddle of water before lashing out at the Golem with a smaller wave. Unfortunately for him, Michael was far stronger and had a far less vulnerable hide so the Pokémon was able to rise to his feet seemingly unharmed after the attack.
“Fissure. Let’s finish him now.”
As Michael bent down to jump into the air, Drako slowly began to float off the surface of the ground. It snarled at the Golem as a crack flew a meter below his body before lashing forward with another frothing blast of water to add to the growing pool at the bottom of the arena.
“Since when can Gyarados fly?”
“Since they were flying-types actually. It is part of why Gyarados are the coolest Pokémon in the world.”
“I see. Michael, feel free to Rock Slide this flying-type if it insists on being airborne.”
As the Golem caused the ground to shake and stones to rise to the surface, Gela considered having Drako use Thunder on the water. Since the ground-type was now soaked, it might be vulnerable to electricity. Then she remembered that type matchups only worked that way in children’s cartoons.
“Blizzard. Try to push the rocks back.”
Drako shook his head to acknowledge the command before opening his mouth wide to unleash a gale of cold air upon his opponent. The rock-type was annoyed by the harsh conditions, but nonetheless stomped his foot down on the ground and sent a flurry of boulders flying into the ice storm. While Gyarados’ move slowed them slightly, it was not nearly enough to stop the onslaught. While the snake was not quite knocked out by the barrage of stones, it was now bound to the floor of the arena.
Gela raised Drako’s Pokéball. “Sorry, but no way we can avoid Fissure now. You did well, Drako.” Ignoring his cry of protest, Gela clicked the button to withdraw him.
The referee raised a flag. “The challenger has withdrawn her Gyarados. The match goes to the leader and his Golem.
Gela’s hand moved to Stelo’s Pokéball until she noticed Michael slowly trudging back up the half-pipe to join his trainer at the top. Of course. The point of the arena was to ensure that every round opened with an impossibly powerful attack from the leader’s Pokémon. No Hypno was going to save itself from being crushed by a descending Golem. On the other hand, a soft and plushy pink Pokémon might have the raw strength needed to do it. Or something like that.
“Estrea, get out there and show this punk strongmon how real girls play!”
The ball was tossed to release the Clefable right at the bottom of the half-pipe, directly beneath the Golem at the top. Gela smiled as the crowd murmured in disbelief. It was good to be viewed as completely insane.
“Alright, I have no idea what you’re planning here but it ain’t gonna work. Defense Curl and Double-Edge!”
As Michael began to build momentum, Gela smirked. “You know what to do.”
With one mighty smack, the megaton Pokémon slammed into the Clefable. The Pokémon squealed in protest but did not budge a single inch upon impact. Instead, she began to exude a dull brown aura and smacked Michael with far more force than a Clefable should be capable of. Almost immediately, the still-curled Golem was blasted straight back up the half-pipe as his trainer scrambled out of the way to avoid being crushed. The beast crashed into the back wall of the arena and struggled to stand back up as it lumbered to the top of the half-pipe again. At the bottom, Estrea pumped its fist into the air in a show of victory. Gela glanced at the stands and was glad they were mostly empty. This would be a much harder match with a crowd.
“You okay, Michael?” The rock-type grunted as he regained his composure and stared down his opponent from his vantage point. “Good. Let’s not walk back into the obvious trap. Rock Slide from the top.”
As the Golem began to gather more stones together in a large pile, Gela eyed the situation. She could not risk an avalanche of rock crushing Estrea and none of her ranged moves could realistically reach the top of the half-pipe with any real force. She could always Metrenome, but that was needlessly unreliable when another option existed.
If Flint kept insisting upon needlessly powerful attacks, be they rockslides, incredible tremors, or unstoppable tackles, she would have to retaliate in the only way possible. Hardcore trolling.
“Estrea, pwn noobs plz.”
The fairy grunted. Gela wondered if any other trained Pokémon in the region would have understood and acknowledged that command before her attention was immediately diverted by a rush of boulders, some as large as her Clefable, pouring down the half-pipe towards her pink ball of fun and death at the bottom. She held her breath as the first few collided with her Pokémon, causing it to recoil but not go down. She had to stare in horror as more and more began to pile around Estrea until she could no longer see any pink at the bottom. Gela bit her lower lip, an unusual behavior for her, in stress. Maybe she had slightly underestimated the finishing power of a finishing move.
A part of her mind wryly noted that if she was indeed the heroine of a terribly cliché action film, her Pokémon would dig herself out of the rubble and fire off an even more obnoxious finishing move in a few seconds. Most of her mind was still somehow surprised when her Pokémon did just that.
Pink hands burst through the top of the pile as heat waves began to radiate from it. Boulders were shattered into dust as more and more light and heat assembled around Estrea. Finally, every last rock at the bottom was shattered by tentacles of light extending from the fairy’s back that slowly pulled back towards her in an increasingly powerful glow.
“Michael, uh, I have no idea what that is, but—“
A meter-wide tentacle of light shot from Estrea and wrapped around Michael, crushing him as more and more pressure was applied. Cracks began to form in the weaker parts of his body before the pressure was finally released in a blast of heat that made Gela recoil thirty meters away. At the last minute, Flint managed to duck behind a nearby boulder and avoided the worst of it. That did not stop his eyebrows from being singed off when he came out to see his Pokémon knocked out a few seconds later.
In stunned silence the referee raised a flag before he remembered what he should say. “Leader Flint is out of usable Pokémon. This match goes to the challenger, Gela Esprit of the Seafoam Islands!”
Oliver stood to cheer while the rest of the gym looked on in shock. Flint withdrew Golem and laughed nervously. “Well, it looks like you might owe me some data on a super-move now. I could sure use whatever-its-called in my gym.”
Gela smiled as Estrea ran up the slope to embrace her trainer. “Bide. And I might get a copy to you later if you can give me a good reason.”
After badges and prize money were distributed, Gela walked outside with Oliver. The two talked about the battle and future plans for meeting up before their conversation was immediately cut short. Gela stared out at a woman in an immaculate suit before them, sternly gazing in frustration at the gym’s façade. Her green eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, but Oliver still managed to recognize the woman from her neatly styled blonde hair.
“Oh, um, hi. How are you doing Mrs. Esprit? I’ll be going now. Great seeing you, Gela!”
“You too,” Gela muttered under her breath before walking forward to get the conversation started. “Hello, mother. You here to see the gym?”
Mrs. Esprit lowered her gaze to meet her daughter’s. “No, I wanted to see you.”
“Right. You wanted to see me so you headed to the furthest gym in the region from where I live.”
“Your phone’s tracked. I thought you knew that.”
“Hmm. I should probably disable that at some point.”
Four seconds passed. Three would be too few and five would be too many.
“Gela, I meant to contact you earlier but I doubted you would reply at all to my message, much less in the affirmative. So, here I am.”
Her daughter shifted nervously on the balls of her feet. “What exactly is this mission that I would otherwise choose not to accept?”
“There’s an important ceremony at DII headquarters. Long story short, I’m getting promoted. I know you don’t exactly agree with our organization and I didn’t want to invite you, but Mrs. Everett insisted you be there. Since this is more or less the last time I’ll have to answer to her, I would rather grant her request.”
Gela closed her eyes for a moment and exhaled slowly. “Three questions. You probably know all of them.”
“Yes, Victoria will be there. You could talk to her the whole time if you wanted. In fact, you could even fake being mute or socially incompetent or something if you didn’t want to talk to anyone but her. Just don’t be too embarrassing to yourself or anyone else. The event is in thirty-six hours in Celadon. You can stay at my house for the night if you want. It’s been fully repaired from your—anyway, it’s operational and you can stay there. And finally, yes, I do expect you to wear something nicer than jeans and a sarcastic or monocolor T-shirt. I got you a gray dress; I think it should fit, but it might need some slight modifications. If you actually want to wear a color that doesn’t look like you’re going to a funeral, feel free to pick one.”
Gela sighed and tugged at her collar. “You know how hard it is getting into normal clothes with, well, one arm? Kind of hard being crippled.”
“And whose fault is that?” She snapped. Eight seconds. A mere four would be far too few. “Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought that up. Just given all that I do for you,” she paused to take a deep breath, “No, that’s the wrong approach. Please. Will you go? I know you don’t want to, but we are family however much you wish we weren’t.”
For a second Gela almost made a crack about the ironic appeal to family values, but ultimately she shrugged. It was hard winning staring contests with people in shades. “Fine. I’ll go to your adult birthday party equivalent. Can I at least code through it? I have a rather big project I need to work on.” And coding her machine at the party of the group it was intended to bring down was way too ironic for her to resist.
“Sure. Mrs. Everett will just be glad you’re there. And, uh, I’m sorry for being tense now. There’s just a lot of stress in my life at the moment due to the whole promotion thing. I was hoping we could talk sooner under better circumstances, but that wasn’t really possible. We can catch up on the ride back to Celadon. The car’s a block away.”
“It is fine.”
Most of the walk to the car was spent in silence. When they finally got in and began to drive, Mrs. Esprit broke it. “So, what have you been doing for the last few months. Been busy?”
Gela’s answers were normally shallow, deceptive, and sarcastic. Given that she could not tell her the truth, the rest of the day’s talk was even more so than usual right up until she collapsed in her old bed in a windowless room.
Years ago in Celadon City, on one side of a dream…
When Gela awoke, she saw the girl walking through a forest in the early summer with a friend. Everything around them was silent. She smiled. For once, it was a dream she did not mind having.
The two girls trudged through the grass, only stopping their conversation to glance around and make sure they were still following the almost indistinct trail. “I can’t believe your mom comes on campouts. Mine doesn’t come anywhere near them.”
“It is kind of strange. After years of more or less ignoring me she has tried to be really involved in my life in the last few months. I am not complaining, of course. It is nice to see her. I just do not really understand it.”
“Oh, uh, she might have a reason, then. But it’s nice that she’s spending time with you! I get to talk to my mom maybe once a month. Yours is spending a weekend a month with you and then some. You should feel really glad.”
The girl stopped in her tracks. “You keep bringing up her reason for doing it. What is it? Why will you not just spit it out and tell me already?”
“Look, you’re my friend and I want to tell you, but I can’t. I just kind of overheard our parents talking at my house and, um, just forget I said anything.”
“Fine. Just do not bring it up if you do not want to talk about it.”
The two resumed their walk in silence until they came across a large stream flowing through the woods. The girl smiled and leaned down beside it to release Drako into the water. The Magikarp flopped around briefly to test the water before swimming in more regular patterns in the stream. His trainer slipped her shoes and socks off to rest her feet in the water. Her friend waited for another minute until she realized that they were going nowhere. She crouched down on the water’s edge and stared at her broken reflection and the orange fish moving beneath the surface.
“You really have a thing for water, don’t you?”
“Uh-huh. I’m going to be a great water-type trainer and the Champion and maybe also a professional swimmer when I grow up. Water is important for that.”
“I think my mom wants me to get into politics or something. She has me go to a lot of social events with her and gets me nice clothes. I like it. I don’t really know what this “politics” thing is, but it can’t be too bad.”
The girl frowned. “My parents used to argue about it a lot. I do not really understand it either. Apparently our mothers are good at it.”
The two gazed off across the stream, content to wonder about the mysteries of politics for another few minutes before a loud, boyish voice burst out from behind them.
“Woah! That’s a big Magikarp! Get out of the way so I can catch it.”
The girl turned around to face the newly arrived boy. “No, we will not. He is my Pokémon, thank you very much.”
“Wait, you have a Pokémon? How? It isn’t legal until you’re ten. Are you ten?”
“I am nine, but I think most adults have better things to do than report a girl training a Magikarp a year early. It is not like I could possibly do any harm with it.”
“Cool. I’m going to be nine in a week. Could you help me get a Pokémon?”
“I do not have any Pokéballs on me right now. Sorry, I cannot help you.”
“Come on! Surely you have something.”
The girl exhaled in frustration. “No, I really do not. Please go away.”
“Liar. I’ll take your shoes until you help me.”
“Hey, that is—come back!” The girl watched as the boy picked up her shoes and ran off into the woods. She quickly withdrew Drako and ran after him barefoot. The grass was slick with dew and the boy was athletic with a head start. But, the girl was not about to give in. For a half hour she chased the boy across the grass, weaving around trees and almost losing sight of him at times until the boy finally collapsed along the edge of a ravine.
He laughed nervously and dangled the shoes over the edge. “You run well for a girl. But now you’re cornered. Give me a Pokéball or I’ll drop them.”
“I told you I do not have one. Please give me back my shoes.”
“Because otherwise I will make you do something you do not want to.”
“Like,” the girl flailed her arms beside her, “I do not know, like something!”
“You are being really convincing here. Could a girl like you really—oof.” He flinched from a barefoot kick to the side and his grip momentarily slackened, sending the girl’s shoes tumbling down the ravine. “Great, what was that for?”
“Get my shoes. You dropped them, now you should go and get them.”
The boy nervously eyed the edge of the ravine. “Look, I don’t think I can do that.”
“Fine. You will have to repay your debts, then.”
“I only have three dollars. Will that be enough?”
“Maybe, but…” A mischievous glint came into the girl’s eyes. “Do you regularly camp here?”
“My unit comes every month. Why do you care?”
“Fine. Until you repay your debt you will have to serve me for three hours every campout.”
“That seems really unfair to me. You just lost a pair of shoes and you seem to run just fine without them.”
The girl smirked. “Do you want another kick?”
“No, no. Ugh. You win. I’ll be your dumb servant or whatever for the next few campouts. Whatever makes you happy.” He started to rise to his feet but stopped midway. “By the way, I never did get your name. My parents told me to always introduce myself and get the name of anyone I met, and if we’ll have to deal with each other, we should start with that. My name is Oliver Mars. And yours is?”
Gela began to walk away as the girl gave her name and the world dimmed and faded. She already knew the rest.
More recently in Celadon City, on the other side of a dream…
The room was extravagantly decorated with the finest food and drink the region had to offer and filled with the most politically powerful men and women in the region. The past three Champions drank and shared stories in a corner as the chiefs of the intelligence agencies quietly sipped their drinks and exchanged quick remarks as they scanned the room. On stage, the present and future heads of the most powerful agency in the regional government chatted with the Prime Minister and the wealthiest magnate in the land. And sitting in a table with a front-row view of the entire event, Gela was bored out of her mind. Occasionally a magnate or DII executive who recognized her would come over to talk in hopes of getting a better connection to the family of the woman who would soon be wielding incredible political power. None were interested in genuine conversation. Some persisted in talking long after Gela made it clear she had no interest, but most were polite enough to stay away from her affairs. She made a few attempts to work on coding Fissure but her usually ponderous speed was hampered by people coming up to talk and her extreme exhaustion. It had been three days since she had slept in her usual bed and she had not deemed her situation important enough to use Stelo. That had side effects.
Gela tried to stay awake since she was in the public eye at an event that her mother apparently cared about, but she could not prevent her vision from occasionally fading to black before she jolted awake in her chair and shifted to stave off a future blackout that inevitably came. After a few lapses Gela pulled out her tablet and began to type a little more. While she would have to wait to get a real keyboard and Kodo before any meaningful work could get done, a little manual input would not hurt. Only a few lines in, she was interrupted by an enthusiastic hug from behind that almost made her drop the device she was holding.
“Gela! It’s so strange to actually see you dressed up for something!”
“Victoria, my arm,” Gela seethed as quietly as possible while still getting the message across.
“Oh! Oh my, I’m sorry. Did I hurt it?”
“Yes, you hurt it. Just about any pressure hurts it. You will be forgiven, though if you sit down here right now and give me something to look busy doing and keep me awake.”
“As you wish,” Victoria sat down in the seat next to her. “It’s better than sitting with my grandparents, anyway. Half of them are tycoons who insist that in two years I go to some fancy school to study business overseas, as if intelligence actually matters in amassing fortunes here, and the other half are military nuts who think I need to join the services now. It gets awkward quickly.”
“I can imagine. My mom ran away when she was nine and my dad’s family does not have anything to do with me anymore, so I do not quite have that problem. I am perfectly fine listening to how your life sucks, though. Do tell me more.”
“Someone’s a little grumpy today.”
“My arm is throbbing, I have not had a proper night’s sleep in days, I wasted two hours getting prepared to come to this ordeal and I am bored out of my mind to boot. I think I can afford to be a little bitchy today.”
At long last a man in a tuxedo walked up to the microphone on stage. “Hello. We will be starting the main program in two minutes. Please be seated so we may begin.”
“Finally. You know what is going to happen? My mother barely told me anything,” Gela said.
“I think my mom’s going to give a short history of the department and your mom. Then there will be an acceptance speech and the main party will begin.”
Gela gave her a blank look. “You mean there is more of this ‘partying’ after the speech? Can they not keep these things simple?”
“From someone who makes a living training Pokémon to do complicated things they can’t easily learn, you’re rather opposed to elegance and festival. Lighten up. It’ll be good for you.”
“What are the chances they would card me if I asked for a drink?”
“I thought alcohol messed with your sleep.”
Gela sighed and leaned back in her chair. “It does. But my sleep schedule is already shot and I need a distraction.
Before she could flag down a server, Mrs. Everett took the stage. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Sharon Everett, Chairman of the Department of Internal Investigations. We are gathered here tonight to honor Suzanne Esprit, my successor in the post. Before we begin, allow me to give a brief history of the DII.”
Gela sarcastically muttered under her breath, “Because the people gathered here definitely do not know about the DII. No chance at all.”
“Look, it sounds nice. Let her give exposition if she wants.”
Mrs. Everett continued, “The Department was founded a few years after the Second Revolution. At the time, gangs and corrupt officials controlled most of the government. Our region was little more than a mafia state and the League was in shambles due to inept leadership. Even most seats in the Parliament were filled on the whims of local crime syndicates. The Department of Internal Investigations was founded by then-Champion Rutherford to clean up the mess. We were given broad authorities to make and enact policies based on general resolutions from the Parliament. Within two years the prices at Pokémarts and grocery stores had halved and their profits were up. The cost of running Pokémon Centers declined and quality improved, leading to more and more citizens of our region having access to basic supplies and health care. Our League became competitive once more. The parliament was elected by the people and our industries thrived under government supervision and occasional nationalization following the odd failure.
“In our government, the Champion has responsibility for the League and our defense. The Parliament and the people determine the course we shall take. Corporations and independent segments of the bureaucracy thrive, but it is the Department of Internal Investigations that makes specific policies, and calls out the other branches when corruption occurs. I have spent thirty years of service in the Department and I do not regret a second. Tonight, an equally longtime veteran will be taking my place. Suzanne Esprit first joined the Regional Intelligence Authority at the age of twelve as a junior clerk. Over the course of two decades she rose through the ranks to become a full agent and eventually Assistant Head of Operations in the Island District. At around this time, she generously accepted an offer to transition to the DII. In her eighteen years of service to our department, she has proven to be an exceptionally talented administrator and assistant. Please, give a round of applause for our newest Chairman, Suzanne Esprit!”
“That was relatively short,” Gela whispered to Victoria.
“You aren’t going to clap for your own—oh, sorry. That was stupid of me. What else could she say about the DII? It isn’t like she’s going to say much more than what they formally do. And almost everything else about your mom is classified or too touchy to discuss.”
“I guess,” Gela relaxed in her chair as her mother walked onto the stage. “Hey, if I zone out and fall asleep, please do not wake me up.”
“You know the press would have a field day if they caught you falling asleep during your mother’s speech. Do you really want to inflict that on her that early in her tenure.”
“If the press are smart they will not bite the hand that could rip their head off.”
“Fair enough. You could show a little more respect.”
“I am here in heels. That is far more than I would do for anyone else on the planet.”
Gela watched her mother speak for a full five minutes, occasionally shifting a little to ward off encroaching darkness. When Mrs. Esprit first referred to her ‘wonderful daughter,’ her wonderful daughter stopped fighting sleep.
Years ago in Celadon City, on one side of a dream…
Gela woke up in front of the pool at her old home once more. This time the girl before her had longer hair and was taller than most dreams she had here by a few more inches. She had traded her normal wetsuit for a more standard swimsuit her mother had purchased. Great. The middle of the dark days. Gela sat down on a seat in the deck. She had a hunch as to what the dream was going to show and wanted to observe it more closely than normal.
The girl was in the water with her Magikarp as usual. It was neither particularly cold nor warm, suggesting either early fall or late spring. As usual the girl and her Pokémon were alone. Three minutes into the scene, the screen door opened and the girl’s mother stepped out. The sun had not yet begun to sink under the horizon. A few years ago the girl would have found her mother’s appearance before sundown strange, but now she hardly batted an eyelash.
“Hey.” The girl’s mother sat down in a seat next to Gela. “What have you been doing today?”
“I read a chapter of my textbooks and worked on a technical machine for an hour before coming down here. And you?”
“Same as always.” Her mother frowned for a moment while the girl was underwater before regaining her composure. “Are you excited for the campout next weekend? We’re going to a different camp than normal. This one is at the foothills of Mount Moon. Supposedly there are hills and caves.”
“So, Oliver will not be there?”
“No, but you can see him next month.”
“Okay.” The girl resumed her aimless swim as she gathered the resolve to say what she wanted to. “I am going to Saffron tomorrow with Mr. Aldo to challenge the gym there. Sabrina is one of the harder leaders, but I have had almost two years to train since losing to this gym and she will not know my strategies as well. I think I can win. Can you go?”
Her mother glanced at her watch for a second before replying. “I am sorry, dear, but I have work. I am sure you will put up a good fight.”
“I see.” The girl looked down at the distorted image of her feet in the water while her mother rose up to go back inside.
“We can talk more about the campout at dinner. I have a call I need to make for now. I love you.”
As her mother left, the girl weakly whispered back an affirmative answer. Had she been in Gela’s position, she would have seen a deeply worried expression fall over her mother’s face as she looked through a directory to find the Saffron Gym’s number.
More recently in Cinnabar Island, on the other side of a dream…
The dully colored Arcanine lifted its head as two humans walked in the door of its master’s office before it fell back into a resting position. The fire-type’s resting place had moved slightly from the last time she had been inside the room, but that was the only notable difference Gela could see in Conti’s office.
“You didn’t have to come all the way out to Cinnabar to see me. I would have gladly met you in the Seafoam Islands or wherever else you wanted to meet.”
“It is fine. I have some business I need to take care of on the island. It turns out that I am actually a professional volcano jumper with an interest in ancient mansions,” Gela replied.
“I see. Please be seated, Ms. Esprit. Or The Batman or whatever other name it was you preferred. I take it you have one of the disks to give me now?”
“No, I was really just here to chat. Talk about life problems with a billionaire I barely trust and is quite possibly a cliché action film villain.” After a moment of confused silence, she continued “Not quite. I actually have all three of them done. Just let me get them out.”
As Gela shifted gear around in her backpack to pull out the disks, Conti’s mouth fell open. “It’s only been eight months. My technology experts predicted it would take you two years at the earliest. How did you get it done so quickly?”
Gela put the disks on the table and blankly stared at him. “I thought you said you liked spy flicks? Have you not learned that the best programmers in industry will always dramatically underestimate the capabilities of a sarcastic teenager with a tablet?”
Conti laughed as he ran his finger over the disks’ casing. “It is still very impressive to see this in real life. Outside of your, uh, film protagonist advantage, how did you do this so quickly?”
“I already had one done when you asked and was half-way done with a second. Fissure, Flint’s move, was hardly any different from an Earthquake drive I made a while back. There were some modifications to be made and that took a few months, but I had a decent start. Not to mention that I highly doubt your ‘technology expert’ actually knows how technical machine coding works beyond the very basics. It really is not that hard if someone in the know taught you.”
“I see. My researchers have already procured the technology to teach these moves to capable Pokémon, so I will not need that from you. The remaining funds will be transferred to an offshore account and—Zapdos, I can’t believe that I’m really holding these things. I expected it to take a decade to bring my dream to fruition. Now I could be Champion within a year.”
“About that. The moves are powerful and can annihilate basically anything in one hit. Getting the one-hit is the problem. If your Pokémon are not powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with the best before having the moves, they will not make all of the difference. They really just tip close battles definitively to your side.”
Conti smiled wryly. “Ms. Esprit, if I am willing to shell out ten million dollars on these devices I surely have the money to buy Pokémon capable of using them. That will hardly be a problem. If there is nothing else I should know, I will transfer the remaining millions to an off-shore account. My secretary will contact you shortly to tell you how to get the money.” The magnate extended his hand—his left one this time—to shake. Gela rose and returned the handshake before moving to the door and stopping.
“No pistol shots to the back of the head? No orders to your Arcanine to burn me to a crisp? I have outlived my usefulness to you and you are just letting me go. Disappointing. I may have overestimated your competence as a villain.”
“Gela, I come from a long line of noblemen from the Isles and hold a deep faith in the Storm Gods. My code of honor would forbid such tactics. Beyond that, I am a man of business. All I have in some cases is the sacred trust placed on a contract.”
“Well, it looks like you might be an anti-villain then. I will need to reflect upon how this affects your chances of success.”
“Or I might just be the protagonist. Have you considered this?”
“Nope. You are far too rich and well-connected to actually be the hero of this kind of story.”
Conti laughed as he rose to his feet. “Coming from the multi-millionaire daughter of the most powerful woman in the region, this is somewhat amusing.”
Gela looked back over her shoulder. “Did I ever claim to be the hero?”
Years ago in Saffron City, on one side of a dream…
Gela woke up to see the girl and the family butler, Mr. Aldo, walking the streets of the region’s largest city in the late afternoon until the girl stopped walking and slumped down on a park bench. The older man joined her a moment later.
“That Hypno was really strong,” the girl stated.
“Yes, it was quite the powerful specimen. But you knew you would have to face Pokémon like that on your badge quest.”
“I was not expecting them this early. I was hoping for a Kadabra or a Slowpoke or something that would actually be injured when hit by a Double-Slap. Something I could actually stand a chance against.”
“Well, maybe this isn’t for you. You’re a genius with technology and you like camping well enough. You could just do those things. They would let you play with your Pokémon, too.”
The girl stared off into the crowds and watched the throngs of people come and go, entirely oblivious to her plight. “It was that Hypnosis. I was already losing, but then I started getting sleepy and I could not focus. Then I lost.”
The older man blinked in surprise and turned to look at the girl. “You say that the Pokémon’s attack made you tired?”
“Yes. Is that important?”
The older man stood up immediately and began to walk at a brisk pace. “There’s supposed to be a population of Drowzee by Vermillion. If we hurry we could be there by nightfall when they come out. Who knows, we might even solve your problem.”
Yes, it had solved one of her problems. In the ensuing weeks her dream of being Champion had slowly faded to nothing. It would be years before it was revived again by two successive victories. Then she tried to battle Sabrina again. And then several of her problems began.
END FILE 2.3: SHE CLEANS UP NICELY
PROCEED TO FILE 2.4: CURBSTOMP BATTLE
'Sup. This chapter is really, really long and I apologize for that. It really should have been two chapters (one for Flint, one for the party-thing). In an earlier draft it actually was. But, neither chapter alone really compared to the others, I hated breaking up the time-lapse story, and they were too close chronologically to justify splitting. I did end up splitting one intended chapter later on, but that was because it was REALLY long on its own. Like 12k+ words and more story-content than any chapter but the first.
So, now the Conti arc is basically done. But Gela's explicit conflict was never really her central one...
Some swearing in this chapter. It gets far worse next time and only goes down slightly for the last chapter of the arc. Just warning y’all in advance.
OPEN FILE 2.4: CURBSTOMP BATTLE
“When the bad guy wins, they win big.”
Years ago in Saffron City, on one side of a dream…
Gela joined the girl in a gym’s stands, looking down upon someone else’s challenge. The girl was shaking with anticipation for her own battle. Gela simply settled into her seat. She already knew how this ended.
The referee raised her flags to signal the match was about to begin. “Welcome to today’s battle between leader Sabrina Fey of Saffron City and challenger Gage Carver of Vermillion, seeking his third badge. Each side may use two Pokémon with no substitutions permitted. Any questions? No? In that case, leader Sabrina may send out first.”
“Mr. Mime. Go.”
“Reef, let’s rock this!”
A Wartortle and Mr. Mime appeared on the battlefield and stared each other down as they shifted on their feet, waiting for initial orders.
“Reef, bite attack!”
“You know what to do.”
The Wartortle rushed forward, jaws open, only to hit an invisible wall between him and the opponent. He grimaced at the impact, but promptly began to froth at the mouth and shot out a tremendous blast of fluid straight through the transparent wall before striking the Mr. Mime directly in the face.
“Damage him,” Sabrina droned.
“Withdraw attack, now.”
The Mr. Mime’s eyes began to glow as his hands moved in a convoluted pattern that sent a ripple of psychic waves throughout the arena. Reef cried out in pain even lodged inside of his shell. The mental assault seemed completely unhindered by physical barriers.
“Ugh. Use the covering fire strategy we practiced yesterday,” Gage commanded. Sabrina frowned, but gave no verbal orders.
Reef leaned his neck back before shooting another Hydro Pump towards his opponent. Mr. Mime quickly bent the light around him to shield himself from harm and counter the blow. Continuing the fruitless deluge, Reef took a few uneasy steps closer to the barrier. Mr. Mime’s eyes glowed slightly as a weaker wave of psychic energy radiated from the shield, harming the advancing Wartortle.
At last Reef’s blast was merely inches away from the scintillating sphere of light. “Now!” Gage called. The Wartortle’s blast immediately stopped and it lunged straight through the shield and bit down into the Mr. Mime’s torso with as much power as it could muster, clamping down even harder as the Pokémon began to shoot out random confusion-inducing signals in a last effort to get Reef to release him. Eventually, though, the squirming grew less and less frequent and the Mr. Mime collapsed. Reef got to his feet, slightly worn but still in solid fighting condition.
The referee dropped a flag to signal the match-up’s end. “Mr. Mime is unable to battle. This round goes to the challenger. Sabrina, please pick a new Pokémon.”
“Slowbro, go,” the gym leader said as a large Pokémon materialized in front of her. If she seemed concerned, it did not show. “Start with Psychic.”
“Toxic attack, Reef. Leave this to Sparker.”
The girl smiled beside Gela. She and Gage had made that device specifically to beat Sabrina’s Slowbro to get their third badges. They had been planning to do a dual challenge, a match where two people underwent a special challenge to get a badge each, but Gela had wanted to earn her rematch all by herself. Now she could see if Toxic actually did the trick.
Reef fired off a shot of polluted water at Slowbro that burned against the psychic-type’s skin. The injured area glowed purple, but the affected Pokémon barely seemed to notice it as he yawned and waved a paw at his opponent. The Wartortle was sent flying back into a wall. He looked pained by the attack, but he steadily got to his feet and rushed forward to clamp onto the Slowbro. The Pokémon’s nervous system was far too slow to react in time and the Bite attack landed without any interference. After three seconds, the Slowbro finally noticed the opponent and smacked him away with another Psychic before closing his eyes and focusing hard to sharpen his mind. When he felt another bite attack digging into his flank he slammed Reef away with a powerful mental blast boosted by the Amnesia. When he opened his eyes again, the Wartortle was unconscious on the edge of the arena.
The referee raised her flag and looked at the Slowbro with a quizzical expression. The purple patch had expanded and was now visibly pulsing. It was certainly not an attack or symptom that normally came from the Squirtle line. “Wartortle is unable to battle. The leader is the winner of this match-up. Challenger, please send out your next Pokémon.”
Gage pulled out another Pokéball and tossed it into the air a few times as he stalled, watching the purple splotch on Slowbro grow larger with every pulse. “Sparker, this should not take long. Finish this.”
In a blast of static, a metallic being with three interconnected parts assembled in front of Gage. The Magneton’s eyes darted around the room as it took in its surroundings and made calculations for the battle. “Thunderbolt attack. Go!”
Sabrina’s eyes glinted blue for the briefest of moments before Slowbro’s eyes turned completely white. The electric blast struck its target with almost perfect accuracy, causing the water-type’s muscles to seize up momentarily before a white laser shot out from the impact site and went sailing straight for Sparker. When the beam hit, the magnet’s body flashed pure white before returning to its normal color.
“Disable, shoot. And now she’s going psychic,” Gage muttered to himself as he stared across the battlefield. Sabrina could theoretically strike at any time now that she was using psychic links, but her Pokémon was slow enough that it should telegraph most of its attacks. The purple spot was now almost half of a square meter. “Alright, Screech attack!”
The Magneton’s electric fields went crazy as a harsh static sound echoed across the room before it rapidly grinded its magnets together to amplify the harsh noise. Sabrina visibly recoiled and Slowbro moved to cover its ears. The Slowbro shot a weak pulse of water at Magneton that he easily dodged.
“Thundershock attack the ground!”
Sparker dipped to the gym floor and sent a weak shock through the trail of water the Water Gun had left on the ground. The voltage went straight to Slowbro who shook slightly from the weak attack before suddenly collapsing as the purple area faded back to its normal color. The referee looked on in silence for almost a full minute before raising a flag.
“Slowbro is unable to battle. This match and the Soul Badge go to the challenger, Gage Carver, of Vermillion City.”
Alarms began to ring throughout the room. Gela glanced at her watch and rose to her feet. It was not a terrible loss to stop there for the night. The best part was over, anyway. Now she needed to wake up.
More recently in Vermillion City, on the other side of a dream…
Gela rolled over to maneuver her good arm into a position that could turn the alarm off. Once it was she stretched a little on her cot and marveled that she could actually fall asleep in the back room of a dinky equipment shed. The higher-ups had wanted her to sleep in an actual cabin so she could, well, sleep, but she had objected to get the conditions most similar to the rest of the staff possible. On mornings like this she wondered why she could not be a more reasonable person.
She got into her uniform in the damp and enclosed space, an ordeal that took far longer than she liked to admit. After finally getting her shirt and pants on, she scanned the room for her neckerchief. For a minute she panicked, not finding it in her admittedly messy space, but then she remembered leaving it in the staff lounge last night. She could pick up the neckerchief when she brushed her teeth and awkwardly ran her hand through her hair to claim she had done something with it. Half of the campers looked worse, anyway, and the staff would not expect anything nicer.
When Gela finally walked into the lounge, the TV was on as usual. Unlike most of the time, though, it was now broadcasting a news panel picking apart some press conference. “Let me guess: publicly engineered confession. ‘I did it. I actively supported Titania in trying to install a Communist, Nazi, Cult-run, Anarchist state where sitcoms are required viewing for all?’ Or some new study showing that half of the people who live here are enemies of the state and we need to ramp up surveillance?”
One of the junior staff members, probably a first year, turned around to face her. “Gela, your mom has some balls.”
Gela exhaled slowly, irritated that some people on staff had not yet learned that bringing up her family around her was generally a no-no. “Yes, yes she does. It is a little known secret, but she is addicted to bowling. Loves it. Cannot stop. Down in the basement she has shoes, gloves, pins and, surprisingly, a whole pile of heavy projectiles lobbed down a wooden surface to knock over strangely shaped objects. You have figured it out. My mother does indeed have a prodigious supply of balls. What tipped you off?”
Ignoring the added level of harshness to today’s delivery of sarcasm, the staff member who now had a very intelligent, creative, and high-ranking staff member plotting to ruin his day, continued talking. “She just announced an investigation of the Assistant Chairman of Regional Security. She’s messing with the spy agencies, now. That isn’t a thing that the DII has ever done. This could be a real game changer. Has she talked to you about this? I mean, it must be fantastic having your mom be able to—“
“Tell me, what is your name?”
“James White. Why are you glaring at me like that? Did I do something wrong?”
“James, what is your job on staff?”
“I’m a lifeguard. Why? You just cover program stuff, right? What do I have to do with you?”
Gela glanced around the room. It was entirely silent. Some of the younger staff members were confused, while many of the older ones were looking at James with a mixture of pity and disgust. “No. Theoretically not. But Sawyer and I go back a few years. In fact, I am quite sure he would not mind assigning a junior staff member to cleaning the showers for the entire day if I asked him. Which means, since you seem incapable of taking hints, that I would learn the proper scrubbing techniques very soon if I were you.” She saluted the rest of the staff and picked up her neckerchief. “Good day to all of you. Tonight’s staff meeting is going to be here at ten-thirty. Campfire is still tomorrow at nine. We are changing the program slightly, so if you have a role in it please see me at some point during the day in the program office. If I am not there I will be down at the waterfront scaring the daylights out of campers with a Gyarados. Run to the screaming to find me.”
She began to walk down the hall to the bathroom. Gage got up and walked quickly to match her pace. “Hey,” he said.
“Look, if you are going to tell me I should have been easier on that kid, I will save you the time. Yes, I should have been. No, I do not care. There. Problem solved.”
Gage smirked. “No, he had that coming. Sawyer really should do a better job teaching his staff what dragons not to poke. I wanted to talk about something else entirely.”
“I can brief you on that situation later. It is interesting, but probably not something you want to deal with now. I actually wanted to talk about Conti. Did you see his match last night?”
“No. I try to watch as little news as possible now that, well, you know.”
Gage nodded sympathetically. “I get it. How powerful were those moves you sold him? He one-shotted Blaine’s Magmar in the first five seconds. Yes, it was a first badge battle and probably not rigged, but still.” He shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t think there’s anything that the government can do to keep him from becoming Champion outside of outright killing him or blackmail.”
“The moves have somewhere north of 400 BP. And beating the snot out of gym leaders was the entire point. If that match had been anywhere near fair, it would mean that I failed at my goal. Now, if you will excuse me I have an elaborate styling routine to perform in an area that you are restricted from entering. We can talk later.”
As it turned out, “later” meant more than twelve hours later at the evening staff meeting. Gela glanced around the lounge as more and more staff members poured in. She estimated that approximately eighty percent of the water camp staff was now present with ten minutes to go until the meeting was scheduled to begin. All six of the minor directors were there. The General Director was still nowhere to be seen. Apparently her meeting with the adult staff was running late tonight.
She glanced at the other minor directors standing beside her. “So, if Lenore does not show up, which one of us runs the meeting?” Four raised their hands. “Great. Maybe we could just collectively do it?”
The problem was resolved when her boss came walking in the door to the lounge and made a beeline for the assistant directors. “Salutations. According to the excessively lengthy debacle I was just liberated from, the day went swimmingly well. Onto actually relevant business, are any of you not running for my position tomorrow evening?” Only Gage raised his hand, which earned a stunned look from Gela. “Well, congratulations to you for preemptively escaping the excessive drudgery of my post. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a meeting to conduct.”
Lenore made her way to the front of the room and called the staff to attention. She began to review the day’s events and complications as well as discussing the much-anticipated events of the next day. Gela already knew most of what was going to be said and tugged on Gage’s shoulder before moving her arm to motion towards the door. He got the hint and the two discreetly slipped outside. Once they were out of earshot, she turned to face him.
“Really? You, of all people? Outside of maybe Victoria you probably have the biggest Type A complex on staff? What could have possibly swayed you not to run for the top job?”
Gage stared off into the distant ocean for a few seconds before answering, every passing second grinding on Gela’s nerves. “I would have rather seen you win. Things are changing in a region not known for change, and whether or not you like it you’re going to be in the center. I figured it would be best if you had some distraction so you didn’t do anything monumentally stupid to call attention to yourself. That and you’re probably the most qualified for the job.”
She stared at him for almost another full minute, mouth wide open. “You know, that may have literally been the dumbest reason for any decision I have ever heard. I reserve the right to make idiotic decisions whatever my obligations are and I happen to have a full-time job ten months of the year. If anything was going to distract me it would be that. And seriously? I am the most qualified person on staff? All I even do here is write witty articles for a fake newspaper. You actually manage people.”
“Look, I get that my reasoning doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’m standing by it. I have other reasons as well. Personal ones. I think you of all people should be able to appreciate that.”
She shrugged. “I guess.”
The door creaked open behind them and Sawyer stepped out into the warm July evening.
“’Sup?” He nonchalantly observed a flock of Spearow perch on a nearby building before continuing. “You guys ready for tomorrow? Well, I guess not for you, brother. Not sure what’s drifting through your mind right now, but whatever. That’s on you. Sister, you ready to go head to head?”
Gela flinched before replying. “You bet. I am pretty much a professional player of another region’s sport prepared to bash my head into yours repeatedly in a show of dominance until we both get concussions and contemplate suicide while the franchise owner vehemently denies responsibility. That is how ready I am to go head to head.”
Sawyer laughed. “Good, good. Glad to see you’re ready to roll.” The wind picked up and the Spearow left their roost. “It’s supposed to storm tonight. A titan of a storm, too. And, uh, the moon is full. Sis, I know that means you probably won’t be sleeping. The three of us could hang in the lounge tonight, if that’s cool with you. If we have three people it doesn’t go against policy.”
Gage nodded. “I could do that.”
“That would be fine with me. I should probably let Drako out now. He enjoys storms. I have no idea why. Surely not because he loves the electricity flying through the air. Once I take care of that we can get our thunderstorm survival party started.”
Indeed, they stayed up through the dark and stormy night, reflecting on the past and present. Thankfully, that night Gela only had to live through the latter.
The walls of the program office, a mercifully air-conditioned building on the outskirts of Water Camp’s Vermillion facility, were lined with headlines and pictures. “BREAKING: CAMP WATER UNSUITABLY WET, STUDY SHOWS.” “RUSHED PROGRAM DIRECTOR ACCIDENTALLY GIVES GO-AHEAD FOR REENACTMENT OF STALINGRAD.” “DAILY WAVE VOTED MOST RELIABLE NEWS SOURCE IN WORLD.”
Today, Gela was finishing work on yet another masterpiece of satiric camp news. She was scanning a shortlist of potential headlines to go with the day’s leading article. Her options included “THUNDERSTORM FRANTICALLY CALCULATING HOW FAR AWAY LIGHTNING IS,” to “GHOST OF TESLA CELEBRATES NEW YEARS SIX MONTHS LATE.” The decision would be much easier to make if she had more than one assistant, who happened to be sick today, and if she had any sleep at all to work with. Sighing, she had Kodo pull up the rest of the day’s articles, most of which she had finished the day or night before. She glanced over them all once to ensure quality and give herself more time to reflect on the lightning article. Not finding inspiration, she pulled out the night’s campfire program and mentally checked that everything was good to go. Seeing that it was and still not finding any ideas, she rose from her chair.
“Kodo, I am going on a walk. Revert to watch.” A flash on her wrist indicated that the command had been executed. After checking to make sure that the transition had occurred properly, she set off to the beach to meet up with the head lifeguard.
It was a full two kilometers to the camp’s waterfront area. Normally, this would be nothing for her. But sleep-deprived she could feel her strength slipping with every step. Only seeing the cool waves lapping against the land finally revived her spirits enough to carry her all the way. She saw Sawyer wading ankle-deep in the water and staring out to sea. Even a layer of sand forming between her feet and sandals could not stop Gela from smiling as she approached her friend.
“How are you feeling today? Ready to face the world with the alertness required by your post and today’s circumstances?”
“Sis, I have no idea how you deal with this as often as you do. I can hardly stand now.”
“You get used to it after a while. Or you find ways to fall asleep. Or you get a Pokémon who can do it for you when you are too lazy to make some lavender tea or meditate or mess around with pressure points. All are valid solutions.”
Sawyer yawned and continued to stare out into the water. “I guess.”
“What exactly are you looking for? I already withdrew Drako for the day, so you should not be getting any Gyarados surprises. At least, none from a trained Gyarados.”
“I’ve been teaching a staff member to swim for the last few weeks. He’s good enough that he can do it now, but he still wants me to watch him.”
“I see. That is, uh, awfully nice of you.”
“It is possible to be friends with the people you lead. I’ve found it to work well.”
“But that takes all the fun out of being a cool loner with a dark sense of humor.”
After a few more waves lapped up, Sawyer stretched and yawned. “I don’t really want to abandon him, but I need to catch some Zs. Any chance you can watch him?”
“Sawyer, I am not sure anyone has unironically said ‘catch some Zs’ since 1972. I get that you have the entire surfer façade thing going, but really?”
“Is counting sheep still a good idiom?”
“It is better. And I happen to be just as exhausted as you, if not more so, and while I can swim just fine I would personally be terrified if my lifeguard had a single working arm. That might not be the best option.”
“Fine. But I really don’t think I would be very helpful right now if he did slip up,” Sawyer replied.
Gela dug her feet into the wet sand and prepared to sit down in the water. “Then we can be not very effective, together.” All thoughts of titling storm-related articles slipped from her mind.
Two hours would pass before she stumbled back into her office to print the day’s run (the Tesla article won on a coin flip) and take as long of a nap as she could justify.
Years ago in Saffron City, on one side of a dream…
Gela found herself in the same stands as her last dream, only seconds after it had ended. The referee was scanning over her papers. She called out the name of the next challenger. The girl’s name.
She stood and looked around in confusion as she made her way to the arena floor. Normally, another level of challenge would be taken next to give Sabrina’s third badge team time to heal. For some reason this was not the case now. She nervously took her place in the challenger’s spot and glanced into the stands to look at her friend, who simply shrugged. He had no more idea what was going on.
“Today’s challenger is going for her third badge. This will be a one-on-one battle with no substitutions allowed. The challenger will send out her Pokémon first, followed by the leader. Seeing the experience of both sides and the previous third badge challenge, no questions will be taken now. Challenger, release your first Pokémon.”
The girl was quaking in her shoes, wondering what to do. Her plan had been instantly dashed and she had no idea what Sabrina could use to counter her choice. That was not supposed to happen. The leader always sent out first. “Uh, um, go.” She weakly tossed one of the two Pokéballs she had intended to use in the fight, not particularly caring which one of her Pokémon came out.
“Fair! Clefairy!” She looked down at Estrea as she scanned the room for an opponent. There was supposed to be a Mr. Mime or Slowbro before her. Instead, there was only a wholly disinterested gym leader.
“Psy. Finish this match.”
Almost instantly, an Alakazam burst from its Pokéball and brandished two massive spoons. It scanned the field for mental activity and quickly located the Clefairy. Seeing Estrea, it sent out a pulse of powerful psychic energy that picked up the fairy and slammed her hard against the back wall. As she fell back down, the Alakazam picked her up again and slammed her higher up. Once she recoiled it continued to whack her into the wall three times before suddenly launching her through the air to the wall behind Sabrina. Before the girl could even order, her Pokémon collapsed to the ground in a heap.
“Clefairy is unable to battle. The challenger is out of usable Pokémon. This marks a win for the gym leader and the challenger’s second loss of her second challenge. One more loss will invalidate her ability to challenge gyms for a full year. Our next challenger has seven badges and hails from…”
The girl collapsed onto the ground, fighting back tears. Sabrina cast her a look of disgust before quickly focusing on the new opponent walking down the staircase. Gela stood to leave. Such a short dream. Such a dream-crushing moment.
More recently in Vermillion City, on the other side of a dream…
A man with a short white beard walked to the front of the dining hall and flashed a salute, sending the room into silence. “Good evening, staff. My name is Mr. Winter. I am the regional director of the Camping organization’s facilities, including the various outposts of Water Camp. Tonight you will be electing the next year’s General Director. This vote holds special significance in our organization, as this is the only camp that holds elections for the role. The directors of Moon and Viridian Camps are appointed by the national council and adult leadership of the camps. Running tonight are four young men and women who will be between seventeen and nineteen years old next year. They are Sawyer Ericson, Price Farthing, Todd Nowack, and Gela Esprit. You are likely familiar with all of them, as they are some of the most senior leaders in the course. We are handing ballots out now to all Vermillion campus staff present. The other staff members who could not be here tonight have voted remotely. If there is no majority winner at the end of the first round, one candidate will be eliminated until one takes a simple majority. When you are done voting, pass your ballot to the center aisle.
Winter stepped back and watched as pens met paper across the room. Almost everyone, except for a few disappointed equipment staff who could not vote for their boss, had written a name in a matter of seconds. All votes were in within two minutes. Lenore, Winter, and a handful of adult staff members went to the back of the room to help count. Gela glanced the room. A few whispered conversations had broken out among people who were pretty sure that the person next to them had voted for the same person. A few glanced up at the candidates, but they were seated so close together it was hard to tell who they were looking at.
After only three minutes of vote counting, a curiously small amount of time for a room this large, Winter came back to the lectern. Gela’s lips curled into a fraction of a smile in anticipation. She expected to make it into the next round. She was not quite so sure who would be eliminated.
“Attention, please. After a fierce competition, I am pleased to announce that for the first time since 1981 an election has been decided on the first round. Please welcome your new program director, Gela Esprit!”
The next hour or so was a blur of congratulations, hand-shaking and social interaction. If she was not experiencing one of the biggest positive rushes of her life, Gela would have been unnerved by the attention or irritated by the staff members without the brain cells to extend their left hands. Finally, exhaustion from the previous night settled in and the future general director slipped from the dining hall to head back to her shed. The moon was waxing and half-empty, casting enough light that no supplements were needed for her to see the path.
A third of the way to her destination, she heard footsteps running after her. She absentmindedly reached to Stelo’s Pokéball before turning to see Victoria running after her. “Heh. Didn’t think you had the nerve to cheat that blatantly. Congratulations on finally gaining some confidence.”
“Victoria, I have genuinely no idea what you are talking about and do not honestly care.”
“Really, now? No casual notes from your mother stressing how much she wanted her daughter to win? Or even just telling Winter that you had to go to a family appointment after elections. Nothing like that?”
“We both know that I would never plan something like that with my mom for multiple reasons.”
“Strange. You sure?”
“Do I look like a yellow-clad cyclist here? I promise I did not use performance enhancing last names. Or blood doping. Actually, maybe the latter. Articuno knows what the doctors did to my arm.”
Victoria stopped walking and Gela went on, glad for the annoyance’s end. “Well, you know that no election in a decade has ended in a first round winner. And no program director has won in about as long. You aren’t exactly great at making friends. Even if you didn’t authorize or order it, you don’t seriously believe you won cleanly, right? That vote was tallied in half the time as last year’s with a larger staff. Even if all of Gage’s people voted for you and a third of Sawyer’s, there is no way you could have pulled a first round win. None. Not cleanly.”
Gela stopped in her tracks and turned around to face her. “Then I will have to tell Winter to hold a fair vote.”
“I doubt there’s ever been a fair vote. You know the adults are way too controlling to ever let someone they didn’t like get in power. You’re in now. Best enjoy your ill-gotten gains. See you!”
She thought about calling back as the younger staff member walked away. That was not her. She had won legitimately for once in her life and was now going to occupy her rightful throne.
But she did not call back. On some level, she knew that Victoria might be right. The events of the day had been far too improbable to have occurred without interference. That should have been obvious. It was obvious. Everyone would figure it out. She was a fraud. An extension of her mother. She had earned her position through no strength of her own.
The full weight of a week of near sleepless nights crashed down on her as she stumbled to her shed, shut and locked the door, and changed into her clothes for the night. Her mind was numb. She had won. She could not have lost. It had nothing to do with her at all. Why should she care? What did it really mean?
She rested on her back and stared up at a metal ceiling. Darkness moved in on the edges of her vision but she fought it off. She knew the dreams that would come. She could see them in the brief moments she blinked or nodded off before jerking awake after a mere moment asleep. Poolside conversations with her father. Trite maxims on independence and self-worth. Reminders to use her mind and ideas to get ahead. The foundation of her worldview, for better or worse. Betrayed. She had betrayed it. She had betrayed him.
Exhaustion, fear, and guilt swam before her eyes throughout the night until her alarm blared beside her, signaling that a whole new ordeal was about to begin.
Slightly more recently, in the same nightmare…
The darkness still swam at the edge of her vision from two consecutive sleepless nights as she walked to the water surface. Sawyer was standing shin-deep in the water, looking out at the same stupid kid as yesterday. She plopped down in the water next to him, not particularly caring nor noticing that she was not wearing a swimsuit. It was black anyway.
The head lifeguard glanced over at her. “You look awful.”
“Great way to start a conversation with the ladies. Explains the massive amount of female attention you get.”
He ignored the remark. “Did you sleep last night?”
“Does it look like I slept last night?”
A powerful wave brushed by. Neither flinched. “Sis, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s cool with me, but I’m always up for lending an ear.”
“Victoria thinks the election was rigged.”
“So does Gage. So do I, for what it’s worth. No sweat, though. Always goes to the biggest butt-kisser on staff. First time I can remember that the adults wanted to give it to kiss butt. You won. What’s not cool about that?”
“I don’t know, maybe that it’s painfully obvious I didn’t deserve it. The next year will be staff saying, ‘That’s Gela, she’s the daughter of the DII Chairman,’ rather than “That’s Gela, the girl who deserved the job.’ That’s what isn’t cool about this debacle. I could’ve been literally anyone in the right age range with the desire to win, doesn’t matter if I was a total asshole or a serial killer—yes, I know that I’m pretty much already an asshole, but come on—I would get the job because of my last name. So if I’m getting ahead because of that, there’s nothing to show the rest of staff that I’m not just some dumb blonde rich girl who’s mommy shoved them through. That’s the problem.”
“I don’t think anyone who’s ever met you for more than a sec has thought that. Just chill out. Take a breath. Feel the waves. It’ll be fine.”
“Chilling, breathing, and wave feeling completed. Still feeling like shit. Any new prescriptions, doc?”
“Nope. If you’re going to beat yourself to pieces over a molehill, do it. I’ll be here to listen.”
More waves lapsed. Gela was too tired to get into a serious argument with Sawyer. She hated doing it, too. “Is there anything I could do,” she asked.
“Do about what?”
“Do to prove that I’m the best? That I earned the job? That type of thing. I can’t win a vote to show that, so I might as well win it in some fair way. It’ll get me to stop moping about it.”
Sawyer frowned as he watched a distinct shape pop up on the horizon. “Yours?”
“That Gyarados out there. Is it yours?”
“Probably. I’m heading out to Seafoam today. Triassic’s not eating again. Glad to see someone’s got bigger psychological issues than I do.”
“Any chance I could come? I’ve got a few break days to play with and I want to see my bro.”
“Sure. Drako’s big enough.”
The two watched the sea monster swim in. Half of the participants were now cowering on the beach or as far away in the water as possible. The lifeguard glanced at Gela. She flashed him a thumbs up and he went back to looking indifferent.
“You know, if you really wanted to go out and prove that you’re the very best—“
“Like no one ever was.”
“I didn’t know you watched cartoons.”
“I never liked doing it. But there isn’t a lot an eight year-old can watch at three in the morning.”
“Makes sense. What I was going to say is that none of the other assistant directors have eight badges. Gage and I got to seven before losing. You could always go out and do that. Wouldn’t even have to fight the League. Just get the badges. And, yes, I know that’s hardly a walk in the park. Well, Conti’s doing it with your tech. That you built. With your own skills. And I can’t believe he’s half as smart as you are. Might be worth a try.” He braced himself as Drako came painfully close. He had never liked the species. “Or, you could do something else. I don’t know. Just throwing ideas out there.”
Gela idly ran her hand through the water as her Gyarados leered at some nearby participants who dared to get too close. “Can you get the first few days off after camp ends? I have the show Saturday. I have some business in Celadon after that. Then I might need to drop by a certain ninja’s domain and show him the firepower of nerd-fu.”
Sawyer nervously approached the Gyarados, pawing his back to let him know he was getting on. “As you wish, miss director.”
Years ago in the Seafoam Islands, on one side of a dream…
Gela hated this dream, but compared to her second match against Sabrina and the poolside micro-dreams of the night before, it was tolerable. She was standing on an ice floe in one of the larger tanks in the Seafoam Marine Park. The girl was nowhere to be seen yet. She was still in the passageways behind the area, heading off to the Golduck cage to work on a technical machine. There was strangely little security back there, if she remembered correctly. That should have tipped her off that something was not right.
Only a solitary Pokémon occupied the tank she was in. It was a young Lapras, barely a few months old. He plodded along uncertainly in the water, craning his neck to the sky and mournfully calling every two minutes to figure out where the rest of his small pod had gone to. It was tragic, really. They would not be coming.
A side door opened and three men in long coats marked with the DII logo entered. Gela saw holsters tucked into their belts, fully loaded pistols inside. One brandished a net, while another carried a small can of Pokémon food. “Here, girl. Come on. Just a little closer. There now, be a good girl. Yes, come to—now!”
His accomplice tossed his net onto the small Pokémon, ensnaring it almost immediately. The water-type thrashed against it, but only succeeded in lacerating his neck against the mesh net. They began dragging the now shrieking Pokémon closer to them, almost getting it onto land before a door creaked open behind Gela. She turned to watch the girl enter. The girl’s arm was awkwardly slung in her uniform. She was not used to either her limb’s current state or the new clothing and it showed.
The girl saw the three men on the other side of the tank and the baby Lapras they had ensnared, but little else in the lighting. “Who, exactly, are you and how did you get in here?”
The tallest man straightened and pulled a badge out of his pocket. “Agents with the Department of Internal Investigation. We are on an official mission at the moment and require this Lapras. Everything has been sorted out with the park ownership, ma’am. You may go about your business.”
“If you have the park’s approval, why are you doing this at night and without a Pokéball? And what mission could you possibly need a baby Pokémon for? It only knows Water Gun.”
“Miss, trust us. Everything is fine with this mission. Just leave before something happens.”
The girl reached down to her belt for Drako’s Pokéball. It had been a bad month for her opinion of the DII and she happened to like that Lapras. Then she saw a glint of metal on the agent’s belt and quickly moved her hand away from her Pokéball. She liked the Lapras, but she was not about to get shot for it. However much she hated to do it, diplomacy was needed.
“What for? I have level eight clearance. That should cover it.”
The agent laughed. “Look, good one. But we don’t just give—“
“There are one thousand three-hundred and eighty seven operative agents in the DII, but a ton more unofficial subcontractors—you call them subcontractors, anyway—that do most of the dirty work. The main building has seven floors and five-hundred and six offices, representing the executive order that founded the agency. Almost all of your computers run Linux, easily the greatest OS widely available. The current Seafoam Chief is Alexander Wycliffe, who has held the post for eight years. The current RIA regional director is Thomas Pyrope—I could go on, if I needed to. Give more specific information. Operation Harper’s Shadow comes to mind.”
The three looked between each other and then back at the girl. “How ‘bout that? I guess you do have some authority, after all. It’s just a standard benefactor reward op. Some rich kid wanted a Lapras. Those things don’t exactly grow on trees, ya know. Finally tracked it down to this place and the zoo in Fuchsia. The zoo only had one and wasn’t keen on giving him up. This place had more and a baby, which we figured would probably be easier for them to store in their bathtub or something. Your managers approved, but didn’t want to deal with the stain of legitimately transferring it to us. Likes to pretend he’s a goddam priest in public. That’s why we’re here, ok? Surely someone with your kind of clearance gets it.”
The Lapras howled in pain once more, a dramatic plea with power amplified by his beautiful voice. “I know that all too well. But you cannot just take a Lapras to a random kid. They are highly intelligent and sensitive creatures that grow to be quite big. Any sort of abuse can mess one up for life and within two years that one will be bigger than me. Probably capable of doing some serious damage if it got angry. And he is really, really needy. Lapras are social Pokémon that require need constant interaction or other stimulation to be happy. It could easily die in slightly improper conditions.”
“Yes, but we’re kind of dealing with the child of a really powerful individual. I don’t know who, before you ask. It wasn’t important to the mission. Just that they really should not be messed with. Not a whole lot of room to negotiate if someone like that tells the DII their kid wants a Lapras.”
The girl bit her lip before relaxing. She would need to swallow her pride and might hate herself for what she did, but it was the only way to help the increasingly desperate water-type. “If you told them that Esprit told you to change plans, they would probably take it if you presented a reasonable alternative. And you would not technically be lying.”
The agent eyed her for a moment before blinking in sudden realization. “Well, I’ll be… should have noticed the eyes. Just like hers. And the naïve attitude that things work differently than they do. Don’t recall her sayin’ her daughter was a crip, though. But she didn’t really talk about ya much at all. You wouldn’t a been really old then. Well, then, Miss Esprit, what should we do?”
“There is a breeding group of Seel and Dewgong out by my mother’s old retreat. You probably know where that is. They are much more playful Pokémon and they can deal with being left alone for a while. They also do better in captivity and are more trusting of humans. The line also eats less and do not grow to ridiculous sizes. Sure, it is not ideal and hunting them there is technically illegal, but the population is large enough there and I doubt you care much about the law. You can get him season tickets to this place or Zoo Fuchsia. I hear Silph’s new aquarium is also trying to get their hands on one or two if he lives in that area. That is how I would do it.” She shrugged before wincing in pain. It would be another few months before she mastered the art of shrugging one shoulder.
Miraculously, her appeal seemed to work. The three agents quietly discussed the matter amongst themselves for a moment before bending down to cut the Lapras free and left her alone with the Pokémon. The girl slipped into the water and slowly kicked her way to it, awkwardly holding herself up above the surface with one arm. Once at the other ledge, she pulled herself out with monumental difficulty and slowly scooted towards the baby. The Lapras reflexively swam further out into the pool with a cry of warning, disturbed by a new human coming to capture it. The girl smiled and released her Clefairy. She diverted her attention entirely from the baby Lapras and just stroked the pink Pokémon for a while. The fairy Pokémon may have noticed the other Pokémon nearby, but she did not seem to pay him any mind.
A minute later, the Lapras’ curiosity finally won out. It slowly moved towards the girl, nervously staying a meter or so away. The girl reached into her backpack and pulled out a super potion. She suspected that would be enough to start the healing process on a Pokémon that young. When it finally got close enough to her, she reached out to snag its neck and held it firmly in place. It took her a moment to realize that the position did not leave her with a hand to spray the area with. Thankfully, the Clefairy figured out what to do and helped finish the job. The cuts on the young Pokémon’s neck slowly faded as the Pokémon stopped struggling and the girl released it. In awe at its rejuvenation, the Lapras rushed over to the girl and hummed a song of gratitude. She stayed there with him for the rest of the night, until another group of humans arrived the next morning and startled the baby back into the center of the pool.
Gela stood up and left long before that. She could deal with her sleepless nights staying on the other side of the dream.
END FILE 2.4: CURBSTOMP BATTLE
PROCEED TO FILE 2.5 PRECISION F-STRIKE
A/N: For a variety of reasons, this story is being cancelled on Pokecommunity. If you would like to read more, I am still updating on Bulbagarden.