Pokémon SS

Discussion in 'Pokemon Fan Fiction' started by Marril, Sep 30, 2011.

8 league13 468 60
  1. Marril

    Marril New Member

    JewelQuest: Yeah, that's the problem of shoehorning old elements into the story just because they were in the previous version. The big problem with David was just that he had nothing to do. He couldn't very well have gone along with Alex and company, Sam's plotline couldn't support it now, and he certainly wasn't going to join Team Rocket. Having him join the New Rockets seemed like it was going to work until I wrote the bit with Shan and realized David was far, far too powerful to let run around (basically because he was poised to end the series 10-15 chapters short, more or less the Naomi Misora problem if you've seen Death Note), so I had him run into Michael. I was actually going to draw out David's downfall for another chapter, but I just couldn't justify that what with how the last couple of segments were really more about Lindsay than David. So I pulled the plug (this also explains why David's death is a little sudden). It is, however, one of the things I'll look into expanding and revising once I get around to posting this on FF.net (I plan to start around chapter 20 and fix a few of the things that irk me about the series as posted here, either due to my own mistakes, like the David mess or the pronoun issue with Pokémon in early chapters or the fact that I really should've given more Pokémon nicknames, or otherwise because I don't want to run afoul of the Gym's rating restrictions). But at least we have Kay now, I guess.

    Chapter 18 - Afternoon Stroll

    Raleigh paced down the hallway, annoyed at the message he’d just received. Not only had that Johnny-come-lately Michael succeeded in trapping David, the psychic was now dead under the watch of Michael’s cohort Elizabeth. The fact that Raleigh didn’t know those agents existed before they killed David disturbed him. The fact that they’d so effortlessly removed his best gamepiece all but frightened him.

    How many of those senior agents did Kenneth bring to Idama, anyway? Just those two? Raleigh sincerely doubted that. When his Team Rocket contacts and moles couldn’t do anything more than confirm Kenneth did indeed exist and that his arrival heralded a surge of junior Rocket agents into the country, Raleigh had to operate on gut instinct.

    Raleigh threw open the doors to the New Rocket front business and stepped out onto the sidewalk in Hat Yai. Sunlight temporarily blinded him. He blinked repeatedly, and saw Adair standing by the door, leaning against the building face. Adair was his current contact within Team Rocket. Raleigh rotated through several double agents, one every few weeks, in order to keep suspicion low.

    “Walk with me,” Raleigh said in a harsh, clipped tone.

    “In broad daylight?” Adair wondered.

    “I don’t care,” Raleigh snapped. Absolute secrecy would demand they not speak in public, but the average pedestrian was uncaring. Few even gave mind to the affairs of others, and those who did would certainly not be members of Team Rocket.

    “Calm down, dude,” Adair said as he started to follow Raleigh.

    Raleigh stopped in his tracks and turned to Adair. He let the look on his face speak for him, and turned back to continue walking down the street.

    “Okay, so you’re mad about David,” Adair said. “What are you going to do? Stay mad? Try to get even?”

    “What I’m going to do is hope he didn’t tell that Elizabeth person anything,” Raleigh answered. “While I’m doing that, I’m going to take a step back and focus on these newcomers.”

    “They’re clearly highly experienced,” Adair said. “From what I can tell, they’ve only taken a few weeks to establish an infrastructure that’d take us months to begin setting up. Going off their apparently unlimited resources, I can only assume they’re Giovanni’s finest.”

    “Has Roland said anything about them?”

    “Roland’s just as surprised at their involvement as we are,” Adair answered. He paused briefly as the two men crossed a side street. “If anything, the fact that Kenneth’s come with his own agents means Roland’s no longer the one with the most real influence in Idama. Kenneth can’t match the sheer manpower Roland can field, but I think it’s only a matter of time before some kind of Kenneth-Juliet coalition takes over Idaman Team Rocket operations.”

    Raleigh rolled his shoulders back, and heard a slight popping sound. “I’m not going to dwell on how this happened. It has, and that’s what’s important. I should be thankful we have all of Roland’s information available to us, eh?”

    Adair smiled humourlessly. “We certainly wouldn’t know even this much without it. Speaking of that, what do you want me to bring back to him? I can’t exactly tell him I popped out to Hat Yai to have a chat with the New Rocket leader.”

    “Same as always,” Raleigh replied.

    Adair nodded. “One more thing.”

    “Let’s hear it.”

    “I can’t keep this charade going on forever. I think certain people are getting a bit suspicious.”

    Raleigh nodded slowly. He stopped and leaned against the face of a building—some shop for musical instruments. “Then you’ll have to go to ground after this. Don’t contact me. Just pretend nothing’s happening and stay out of known hot spots.”

    Adair smirked. “I’ve kept myself clean this long.”

    “Make sure you stay that way.”

    “Speaking of that,” Adair added, but didn’t continue.

    Raleigh suspected he wasn’t going to like what Adair said next. “What?”

    “One of the guys who serves as an intermediary between Michael and Roland is going around asking all kinds of awkward questions. Be warned I may have to defend myself.”

    “Warning heeded,” Raleigh acknowledged bitterly.

    Raleigh remembered tempting fate by telling David that Roland was the biggest gun Giovanni could bring to bear. He felt like kicking himself now.



    The next stop along Alex and Terry’s Neo League circuit was Chiang Mai. The city was nowhere near as ostentatious as Darkwood, but had many of the same architectural features. Alex commented after a while that it was like they took that weird double-Opelucid-layering feeling she got from Darkwood and pushed it more in one direction.

    In a lot of ways, Kay’s presence was kind of like a second Marril, albeit one that could speak human languages. They had similar senses of humour, although thankfully Kay wasn’t nearly as much of an attention hog. For the sake of her trainer’s new relationship, Marril was at least putting in a token effort to warm up to Terry, but this came at no loss to Marril’s need for Alex’s constant attention.

    That aside, Chiang Mai was a pretty heavy detour from Alex and Terry’s planned route. According to Kay, the gym was surprisingly easy, even adjusted for the skill difference between the three of them. The gym’s challenge backlog wasn’t too long, and the two of them were able to schedule one for the day after they arrived.

    “So,” Kay said to Alex and Terry as they left the gym after booking their challenge. “Looks like registration went better than your last time.”

    Terry wondered if this was really the best thing to say, but figured that Kay knew Alex better than he did. The statement would’ve warranted instant death if it came from him, but the fact that Kay was often subjected to similar kinds of gender-based scrutiny meant there was no doubt Kay was sympathetic. She’d have to have been, given the fact that Alex confided the Darkwood story to her.

    Alex shrugged. “Kinda.” With a scoff, she added, “The guy ‘only’ recoiled in surprise when he figured it out.”

    Kay winced. “Damn. I’m sorry.”

    “It’s fine,” Alex said. She forced a smile. “At least the line he tried on me afterwards was hilarious.”

    “Oh?”

    “Well, he didn’t want to look like a jerk, so he kinda fumbled around being all, ‘It’s just… you look… really young… for 22…’”

    Kay smirked. “Well, you do, but not enough that it’d be surprising.”

    “You’re luckier than I am in that area,” Alex pointed out.

    Frowning, Kay replied, “Except when they ask to see a second piece of ID trying to get into a bar. Or when you get people who ask if your parents are around.”

    “Grass is always greener, I guess.”

    “Tell you what, let science advance a few centuries and I’ll take you up on that body-swapping offer.”

    “I can just imagine the ads now,” Alex mused. “Stuff like, ’22-year old body, slightly used, originally masculine, altered with extensive estrogen treatments. A good fixer-upper that still needs some work. Brain not included.’”

    “Can’t be worse than some of the Pokémon ads I’ve seen,” Kay replied. “Dear gods, you’d think breeding licences flat-up didn’t exist given how many people don’t seem to have them.”

    “The gods’d have to exist to have anything to do with it,” Alex mumbled scornfully. A moment later, she added, “Sorry, Terry.”

    Terry gave a quiet grunt of acknowledgement. While he did believe in the gods in a loose sense, he didn’t really hold to any specific system of faith, so he didn’t mind Alex’s sometimes caustic atheism—if anything, her apologies for slights against the gods were on the cute side. As far as Terry was concerned, the gods themselves were less important than the lessons to be learned from them.

    Kay sighed and surreptitiously glanced back at Terry. He sensed a story behind this, one that Kay and Alex knew very well but that Kay didn’t trust him with yet. Terry didn’t feel like prying. In fact, he didn’t feel like entering the conversation at all.

    In a way, Terry found the emergence of that fabled thing he thought of as Girl Talk slightly intimidating. It wasn’t a result of any particular subject matter— he simply felt oddly compelled to silence while Alex and Kay chatted about anything, even League-related stuff he could and probably should have gotten in on. The fear was doubly irrational because Kay wasn’t really a woman. She was assigned female at birth and used female pronouns, but existed outside the socially-defined constructs of “man” and “woman.” Terry felt chagrined at how he could so easily accept that Alex was simply a woman assigned male at birth, yet for Kay, who was really neither male nor female, it required significant mental effort and constant self-reminding. That special effort made Terry feel like a bad person for requiring it.

    “So,” Kay said. “What now?”

    “Chiang Mai apparently has some pretty awesome Pokémon contests,” Alex said. “I was thinking we could catch one. You know, just sit back and watch some Pokémon do things other than beat each other unconscious.”

    “Cool,” Kay replied. After a pause, she added, “You know, contests were always one of those things that I understand what you’re supposed to do, but I just can’t make them work.”

    “Me neither,” Alex said. “I can be all, like, okay let’s get this pattern down, and let’s practice it, but in the end it just never really works. I dunno how you get that problem, though. I mean, aren’t you the one who’s all into pattern-based battling? What’s your excuse, eh?”

    Terry scoffed. “Pattern-based? Really?”

    “It speaks,” Kay commented. She turned her head back towards Alex. “Have you taught it any other tricks yet?”

    Terry rolled his eyes. As far as he could tell, this was simply Kay’s sense of humour, and she meant no ill will by it. The fact that Alex often traded these mock insults with Kay was proof enough of that. He didn’t want to be the one to make a big deal of it and ask Kay to stop, but the fact remained that it was wearing enough when it was Alex doing it. Kay didn’t have the advantage of being a friend of two and a half years, so even pretend barbs hurt like the real thing.

    “What’s wrong with patterns?” Alex asked. “I mean, I don’t use them myself, but there’s nothing wrong with them.”

    “What happens when you break the pattern?” Terry countered. Patterns, strings of attacks chained together, were a style he’d tried before and wound up discarding. They were tremendously effective when they worked, but had such narrow uses that training for situational adaptability was the better choice.

    “Branching patterns, dude,” Kay said.

    “I don’t see how you can branch off enough to cover all the realistic scenarios, let alone the corner cases,” Terry said.

    Kay shrugged. “Not my fault if you can’t train your Pokémon very well. Or if your Pokémon aren’t smart enough.”

    That one didn’t feel like a mock insult. Frustration welled up within Terry. “All right, then show me. I wanna see this firsthand.”

    Alex raised an eyebrow. “You really want to battle Kay?”

    “Why not?”

    Alex’s answer was a simple shrug.

    “Do we have time to get to a battle park and back before the day’s contest?” Kay asked.

    Alex pulled out her cell phone and thumbed the power button briefly. “Probably. Go ahead. You versus Terry is something I have to see.”

    After a few moments of struggling with an uncooperative cell phone app, Alex located a park with battle areas and led the two belligerents to it. The miniature arenas were as basic as possible, simply being large asphalt slabs surrounded by chain link fences. Bigger Pokémon would be uncomfortable battling in such cramped conditions, but Terry’s Eeveelutions would be just fine.

    Alex’s offer to ref the match was a token gesture, although it did let her announce the start. Theoretically, if they were to follow League rules strictly it’d let Alex set bench size as well, but Alex deferred that to Terry, who opted for a bench size of one.

    For whatever idiosyncratic reason, Alex only counted to two instead of three when announcing the start time, which threw off Terry but not Kay. As a result, Terry saw Kay’s Blaziken materialize while Espeon’s pokéball was still in the air.

    “Blaziken, eh?” Terry mused to himself. This wouldn’t be so bad, even with the bench drawing the battle out. “Espeon, Psychic!”

    Kay’s order was much quieter. “Fahrenheit, small-size rush.”

    Espeon’s eyes glowed azure, but his psychic powers weren’t enough to stop Fahrenheit the Blaziken from getting into close combat range and pummelling him with repeated blows. Fahrenheit finished that initial combo with a fierce uppercut, sending Espeon several metres upwards. Fahrenheit jumped up after Espeon, spun around in midair, and kicked the psychic away. Espeon hit the ground rolling, squealing in pain.

    Okay, lucky shot, Terry thought sourly as he switched out Espeon in favour of Jolteon. He knew what to expect now. He wouldn’t be caught off guard again. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Alex watching and smirking.

    “Thunder Wave!” Terry ordered, trying to ignore the fact that his girlfriend seemed to be silently cheering for his opponent.

    Fahrenheit could ignore psychic attacks due to momentum, but he couldn’t ignore electricity. The flaming bird twitched as electricity coursed over his body.

    “Defensive opening,” Kay said.

    Fahrenheit kicked sand up from the asphalt towards Jolteon. He then followed by leaping at Jolteon, but spasmed and stopped before he could continue the combo.

    “Thunderbolt!” Terry shouted.

    Electric arcs played over Fahrenheit’s body, but he still didn’t yield. Flexing his muscles, he threw off the thunderbolt, seeming to suffer only a minimal amount of pain.

    “Small-size balance, second half,” Kay said.

    Fahrenheit swept his leg across Jolteon’s knees, tripping her to the ground. He followed with a fierce karate chop to Jolteon’s back, eliciting a yelp of pain.

    “All right, that’s enough,” Terry grumbled, recalling Jolteon. “You’ve made your point. You can train a Blaziken to attack faster than normal so that when you combo out you instantly beat me.”

    Everything within Terry screamed at him to try and turn this loss into some kind of pyrrhic victory, to attack any satisfaction Kay found in winning. He squashed these petty feelings—even though, objectively speaking, all Kay did was combine multiple orders into single ones, the fact remained she won fairly. Sour as losing was, he’d have to deal with it.

    A hug from Alex helped dispel some of these feelings. “Don’t worry about it,” she said.

    “So I guess I can see why she said she can solo lower-end Neo League gyms,” Terry commented, glancing across the arena at Kay, who was visibly going out of her way to check her pokéballs for problems at a glacial pace. Letting Terry have this comforting moment with Alex. “What an idiot I was.”

    Alex turned towards Kay, called out, “Meet you in a few by the main gate, okay?” and led Terry away. In a slightly annoyed tone, she asked, “So what if you were? A challenge like this is nothing. I guarantee Kay isn’t going to dwell on it. After a day or two, she probably won’t even think about it at all.”

    “Still. What was I going to prove?”

    “That you were annoyed enough to do this,” Alex said. “She’s fairly perceptive. She isn’t going to write this off as ‘Terry being an idiot.’ If anything, she’s going to ask herself just why you threw down the gauntlet when you did. She’ll wonder if anything she did contributed to it. And she’ll probably realize what really happened there.”

    Terry shook his head helplessly. In a lot of ways, he’d rather Kay think him an idiot than realize the petty reason he challenged her. But regardless, he felt really drained. Bottled up emotions bursting the dam had a habit of doing that, and the fact that he’d started a battle out of childish insecurity made him feel even worse. Kay was an old friend of Alex's, and it was natural they'd want to spend some time catching up. There was no reason to act possessive of Alex, as if Kay was somehow threatening. It was a stupid knee-jerk reaction and Terry told himself he deserved this humiliation.

    His problem, though, and he'd have to be the one to work to fix it. Still, Alex was a very understanding person, and Terry wanted to trust that Kay was too. He leaned over and kissed Alex on the forehead.

    Alex smiled and subconsciously bit her bottom lip. “Looks like you picked up in a hurry.”

    “Well, I figure I’ll definitely feel better later, so I’m taking an advance to get it started sooner,” Terry replied. He put an arm around Alex’s shoulders. “Come on, let’s not keep Kay waiting.”
     
  2. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Really have nothing to say on any specific piece of this chapter, so just gonna say "Great chapter!". :D
     
  3. Marril

    Marril New Member

    Chapter 19, whereupon I retcon Terry's lineup a little to include Leafeon and Glaceon. Also a chapter where I try to find more ways to keep gym battles from becoming stale. And plot happens. I really don't have a whole lot else to say, so I'll stop trying to force creativity where it doesn't exist.

    Chapter 19 - Casual Conversation

    Kay sat in her seat, arms crossed, frowning at the battle she was watching. While Chiang Mai was one of the two gyms she’d successfully soloed, albeit with her partner’s Pokémon as meat shields, seeing trainers of an objectively lower calibre attempt to duo the gym and run into resistance was frustrating.

    It was amusing just how Alex and Terry’s specific weaknesses were so different from each other’s. Alex was a good trainer hindered by her single-type restriction and, more importantly, her crippling lack of self-confidence. Terry was a mediocre trainer with a healthy self-image and a wide variety of Pokémon. Which one of the two did better ultimately came down to type advantage more than anything else. Kay supposed they made up for each other’s weaknesses competently enough.

    One of the gym leaders—Lu, if Kay remembered her name—recalled her fallen Torkoal. Alex’s opening had been to focus her Gyarados’ attacks on it with Terry’s Umbreon serving as a distraction to the other leader’s Seviper. Lu sent out an Exeggutor.

    “Gyarados, Fire Blast!” Alex shouted from her trainer platform. The stands were within earshot of both platforms, so Kay heard orders from both pairs of trainers.

    Gyarados reared back and spat a burst of fire at Exeggutor. The palm tree tried to dodge, and was only partially successful. Several of its leaves and at least one of its faces caught fire, causing it to dance about in pain, trying to put out the flames.

    Seviper, meanwhile, had wrapped itself around Umbreon, which was biting and scratching at the snake. Neither Pokémon was especially well-positioned to harm the other, but the positive effect was that it separated the battle cleanly between the opposing pairs of Alex versus Lu and Terry versus Trisha. If Kay remembered anything about Alex’s Gyarados, it was that Gyarados had two strategies available at any given time: Overwhelming physical force, and a variety of elements. If Kay remembered anything about Lu’s Pokémon, it was that they were generally susceptible to Gyarados’ elemental range.

    “Toxic!” Shouted Trisha.

    Seviper’s fangs glowed a sickly purple, with a drop of poison forming at its left fang’s tip. Umbreon’s proximity meant he couldn’t dodge the bite, although his attempts to shake the poisonous snake off his flank were impressive.

    “Gyarados, Aqua Tail Seviper!” Alex called out.

    Come on, girl, you’re better than that, Kay thought, frustrated. Seviper’s poison would take time to build in potency. The correct strategy was to let Umbreon fight until the poison overtook him, focusing Gyarados’ attacks on Exeggutor and, time permitting, Lu’s third Pokémon. Overprotectiveness over one’s partner was a common enough mistake, and admittedly a hard one to overcome, but a trainer at Alex’s level ought to have known better.

    Gyarados surged towards Seviper and slammed her tail into the side of the snake’s head. Seviper hissed and went limp, allowing Umbreon to jump out of its coiled grip. Trisha recalled Seviper and replaced it with a Zebstrika. Exeggutor, in the meantime, rocked Gyarados with a psychic attack.

    “Umbreon, bite it!” Terry shouted a moment too late. Umbreon leapt at Zebstrika, which was already on its way towards Gyarados. Electric sparks crackled around the horse as it struck Gyarados under the jaw with its shoulder. Gyarados howled in pain.

    I wonder if Alex realizes just how badly this limits her options, Kay thought. Alex’s only Pokémon immune to Zebstrika’s electrical attacks was Gastrodon, but the slug couldn’t take much damage from Exeggutor before falling. Once Umbreon fell, Terry would be forced to use either Flareon or Leafeon.

    “Gyarados, Hyper Beam!” Alex shouted, aware that with Zebstrika out, she wasn’t going to get another attack out of Gyarados.

    Gyarados reared back and shot a tight, focused beam at Exeggutor, hitting the tree between two of its coconut heads. Exeggutor was knocked off its feet, flat on its back.

    “The challengers aren’t bad,” commented a man beside Kay.

    Kay turned to face the speaker. He was a middle-aged man, hair just beginning to turn grey. He was dressed oddly formally. “They’re friends of mine.”

    The man nodded. “Well, then I’ve no doubt who you’re cheering for.”

    “What about you?”

    “Oh, the challengers, definitely. Lu and Trisha aren’t the sort of gym leaders you expect to win a given match. Given a token amount of preparation time and a partner, even I could probably beat them.”

    Kay smirked and returned her attention to the fight. Terry’s Umbreon was replaced by Glaceon, and Alex’s Gyarados by Wartortle. It was an odd choice, but odder still was the fact that Exeggutor was still conscious, and Zebstrika had been replaced by Feraligator.

    Wartortle’s involvement was puzzling. She was Alex’s first Pokémon, chosen at the Cerulean City gym twelve years ago, which meant she wasn’t as weak as her form implied. Still, Kay wouldn’t have used Fahrenheit in a Neo League challenge back when he was a Combusken. Kay wondered what Alex had planned.

    “Ice Beam!” Alex shouted.

    Wartortle dropped down onto all fours and opened her mouth. Jagged, azure beams shot at Exeggutor, freezing it. This proved enough to take Exeggutor out of the fight, and Lu replaced it with, of all things, a Tropius.

    “Blizzard!” Terry shouted.

    Glaceon’s ice attacks were significantly more powerful than Wartortle’s, and Tropius never stood a chance. The saurian tried to dodge, but one of its wings got caught by an ice shard, sending it to the ground. Glaceon couldn’t possibly miss at that point.

    Feraligator’s response was swift, and it leapt at Glaceon and tackled her to the ground. Glaceon yelped as Feraligator struck her upside the head, and grunted as Feraligator’s other claw caught her midsection. Feraligator finished by biting Glaceon, latching on, shaking her, and throwing her aside.

    Terry’s obvious replacement was Jolteon, which struck Feraligator with a thunderbolt not even half a second after her feet touched the ground. Obviously, Terry trained her to recognize water-types and act accordingly without hesitation.

    Feraligator howled and stomped its foot to the ground, sending a shockwave through the arena floor. It followed by throwing chunks of concrete torn loose by the earthquake at Jolteon.

    It’s always a shock when a bad trainer finally uses their only good Pokémon, Kay thought. She remembered her own battle against Lu and Trisha. Feraligator forced her to switch not once but twice, although the second switch was probably more Torkoal’s doing than Feraligator’s. Still, if Jolteon fell, Terry would be out of the fight.

    “Thunderbolt it again!” Terry shouted.

    Jolteon struggled to her feet, electric arcs forming in her stiff fur. Her attack was cut short by a Hyper Beam from Feraligator, and Terry was forced to recall his fallen Pokémon. Even so, Trisha’s bench was exhausted, while Alex not only had Wartortle left, but Gastrodon. While not ideal against Feraligator, Kay had no doubt Gastrodon was up to the task.

    “Skull Bash!” Alex ordered.

    Wartortle lowered her head, taking advantage of Feraligator’s exhaustion to ready her attack. She leapt at Feraligator, striking it squarely below the neck. Feraligator roared in pain and reflexively swung at the smaller Pokémon, who dodged the blow easily.

    Feraligator spun around and struck Wartortle hard against the ground, cracking the concrete under her. The blow couldn’t have been good for Wartortle’s shell. Oddly, Alex looked unconcerned. Kay began to assess the possibilities in her head, but stopped herself as she saw Wartortle begin to glow. Wartortle kicked Feraligator’s legs out from under it and began to grow rapidly as her opponent fell to the floor.

    By the time Feraligator was back up, Blastoise had finished evolving. Mid-battle evolution was a potent trick when it worked, but was necessarily limited-use. Kay could only imagine what was going through Trisha’s head upon seeing her opponent’s Pokémon suddenly evolve.

    “Focus Blast!” Alex shouted.

    Blastoise hunkered down, sparks of light shimmering around her cannons for a heartbeat before she shot twin blasts of energy at Feraligator. Feraligator roared and dove at Blastoise in a last-ditch attack. Blastoise’s shell shimmered and Feraligator’s claw bounced harmlessly off it. Half-turned away, Blastoise could only bring one cannon to bear upon Feraligator, and shot it again, this time with a blast of light. The Flash Cannon was enough to take Feraligator out of the fight.

    “Not bad,” said the man beside Kay. She didn’t reply.

    Alex and Terry were led out the main entrance to the arena, and would receive their Heart Badges shortly. Kay stood up and exited through the entrance to the stands, wondering what to say to the two of them. Normally, she’d simply prod Alex with her usual lighthearted barbs, but Terry seemed not to take well to them. Her humour unchecked led to Terry’s reflexive challenge the other day. It left her wondering what sort of medium she’d arrive at.

    As expected, the two challengers were in the main hall waiting for her. Not as expected, the man who sat beside Kay slipped past Kay and towards Alex.

    “Excuse me,” he said.

    “Yes?” Alex replied.

    “If it isn’t too much of a bother, may I have a moment of your time?”

    Kay was certainly confused. Alex’s face showed a bit of unease, but no confusion of her own.

    “Yeah, sure,” Alex said.

    Terry turned to Kay as Alex was led off. “Do you have any idea what that was about?”

    “I was about to ask you,” Kay said.

    “Weird,” was Terry’s only other comment.

    “Yeah,” Kay agreed. Weird indeed.



    As it turned out, “Daniel Anderson” was neither a past or present member of Team Rocket. Juliet couldn’t say she was surprised. Nor was she surprised that her investigative efforts met a simple “do not pursue this issue any further” in the same vein as her inquiry into Alex Lindstrom. The fact that both came from Kenneth’s general direction was, if anything, simple confirmation that Alex did have something to do with this Idaman mess. Alex certainly didn’t seem interested in coming to Sam’s aid, which signified to Juliet that Alex’s role was very deep-cover.

    In a much more immediate and somewhat selfish sense, Juliet wished Melanie would hurry up and get to the bottom of things just to reduce the number of times she’d have to deal with Roland. Times she’d have to put up with the lumbering blowhard. Times like right now.

    “The New Rockets have stepped up their measures,” Roland said darkly. “I trust you know why.”

    “Of course,” Juliet replied dully, wanting this encounter to be over with.

    They were in one of Roland’s fronts in Darkwood, a small deli on the outskirts of town. The legitimate employees had been sent home for the day, meaning the building was left entirely to the two executives. Juliet found herself too used to her spacious lab complex, and as a result the cramped deli felt like a prison with Roland as its glowering warden.

    “Is the data at least useful to you?”

    “Yes,” Juliet said. It wouldn’t do any good to lie. Despite the brusque approach Roland took with her, they were still on the same side. The real power struggle was between Roland and Kenneth. Juliet could afford to play neutral for the time being even if both executives knew it was empty air.

    “Do you have an estimated time to completion?”

    Juliet shrugged. “We could begin our first development cycle within a month. Two months for a viable subject to be produced. Maturation will have to occur normally.”

    Roland grumbled. “I’m not sure I can hold off the New Rockets for that long. Did you know they bombed a location in Hat Yai solely because they suspected it had Team Rocket ties? It didn't, but that's hardly a deterrent. Several Team Rocket agents in the region have been killed discreetly. David Kirin’s death seems to have sparked outright war.”

    “Would you rather they have the psychic alive and working for them?” Juliet asked. Used to their fullest, David’s psychic powers were stronger than many psychic Pokémon. Team Rocket was lucky enough to lose only one local contact and a tranquil to him. In exchange, they’d moved their estimated time to completion up several months.

    “He was barking up Kenneth’s tree when he got caught,” Roland countered. “So much the better.” He sighed and then continued in a harsher tone, “It’s called escalation, Juliet. I’m certain you’re familiar with that quote. You know, ‘He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.’ It may seem like a fanciful bit of cinematic style to someone with no real experience, but let me tell you, it’s deadly accurate. We killed one of Raleigh’s, and he’s doing his best to kill as many of ours as he can. With how elusive Kenneth’s posse seems to be, who do you think he’s going to come after?”

    “Someone less elusive,” Juliet answered dryly. She didn’t need Roland to tell her how much danger Sam, Melanie, and herself were in.

    “You,” Roland said, letting the word hang in the air.

    “Doubtful,” Juliet said. The hardest part of saying something one knows to be wrong was saying it with conviction. Still, it had to be said. “They already tried that and discovered the hard way that we have a Pokémon Master willing to defend us.”

    “You have a home. You have to sleep somewhere. And if that doesn’t rattle your cage, I should point out your precious Samantha Lindstrom has to sleep somewhere, too. Before all this, the New Rockets wouldn’t dare come after you. Too much risk and all. Now? Better learn not to answer the door.”

    The first thing to Juliet’s mind was a snide remark that her Pokémon already handled that task well enough. Mismagius couldn’t be affected by bullets, which might come in handy. Sarcasm would only enrage Roland further, so Juliet clamped down on it.

    Roland stood up and paced around the small shop for a brief moment. He glanced out through the glass door. Juliet wondered if this was for effect or if Roland was looking for someone.

    “I’m trying to keep you alive, you know,” Roland said at last. “But it’s hard given that I have to fight on two fronts.”

    “So?” Juliet asked from her seat.

    “Give me control over the Tribo Project,” Roland demanded. “Take your assistant and even her Pokémon Master girlfriend if it pleases her and go back to Japan. Forget all this conflict. I can keep control over our people here without you if I’m in control of the Project.”

    Truth be told, Juliet was waiting for this. The demand was almost artistic in how many elements it blended together. On its surface, it was a reasonable request, combining an offer of safety not only for Juliet but Melanie and Sam with a reassurance that things would be fine without her. A layer beneath it was a subtle attack on Juliet’s self-esteem as well as pointed ignorance of what such escape would cost her. Juliet would have been lying if she said it wasn’t tempting despite knowing exactly what Roland was doing.

    Slowly, Juliet rose, her gaze fixed steadily upon Roland’s eyes. She circled around the counter.

    “No.” Juliet’s response was monosyllabic. It was her project, and no one would take it from her. She owed Roland no explanation.

    “What a pity,” Roland said darkly. “In that case, I remind you not to answer your door the next time you hear the doorbell ring.”

    Juliet didn't reply. She'd said everything there was to say.
     
  4. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Good job! Keep it up!
     
  5. Marril

    Marril New Member

    So this was, without a doubt, the hardest chapter to write yet. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it, to the point where I was dropping foreshadowing as early as chapter 1, but actually executing it took several rewrites and I'm still not totally happy with it (I wish I hadn't had to resort to my standard two-parallel-scenes structure, albeit with a weird length ratio, but trying to make it one huge scene didn't quite seem to carry the same impact the final version does). I don't really have a whole lot to say about it other than that, except maybe that I personally find it interesting how Alex's character arc contrasts to other characters' arcs. For someone who's nominally the protagonist (Alex being the protagonist and Sam the deuteragonist, although POV gets passed around freely), it certainly took a while to get her major arc started. Oh yeah, and Conrad finishes filling out the LGBT acronym for the cast list by being the first on-screen *** character, despite a massive total of five bisexual characters so far, if that's of interest to anyone (I don't imagine it is but hey I keep trivia in my random writing notes so there you go).

    Chapter 20 - Free Will

    Alex strode down the hall of a decidedly upscale hotel. It was definitely out of her price range, and succeeded in making her feel underdressed for the occasion—somehow she doubted a light jacket, t-shirt, jeans, and sandals were appropriate for this kind of place. Still, she’d long since stopped caring about what others thought of her. Unfortunately, caring about and being affected by were two different things.

    She reached the appointed room and knocked on the door without hesitation. It opened a moment later. The person answering had very similar features as her, although he was obviously far older. His hair was even the exact same shade as hers, his eyes the same colour. He was fairly well-dressed, wearing what Alex recognized as a kind of business casual Idaman style. He smiled as he saw her.

    “Hi, dad,” Alex said, returning the smile.

    Her father waved her in. Once she was inside, he drew her in for a hug.

    “It’s been too long,” Richard said as they parted.

    “Way too long,” Alex agreed. “Gods, how long has it even been, anyway? Definitely years.”

    Her ignorance of the exact time frame was, unfortunately, feigned. Alex knew how long it had been, how long ago she fled to Hoenn to try and eke out a new life—three years, give or take a few months. Before then, she’d seen her father every few weeks. If her memory was accurate, her last visit was only days prior to her departure.

    “It’s been too long,” he repeated with a chuckle. “I’d say you look different but you might take that the wrong way.”

    “Yeah, I do look a little different,” Alex admitted. “Kinda, I guess. Maybe. I did something with my hair. That could be it.”

    Richard’s smile faded a bit. “I won’t deny the thought of you as my daughter’s taken some getting used to. But what’s important is this: You’re happier this way, right?”

    “I’m actually happy period for once in my life,” Alex replied without hesitation.

    The smile returned. “That’s all that matters. How’s Sam? She never writes.”

    “She’s doing pretty well,” Alex said, wishing she’d mentioned Sam more in her infrequent messages. “She found a job over in Rueni, actually.”

    “Really, now?”

    “She didn’t tell you?”

    Richard snorted in amusement. “The first I heard of it was when I saw her in the news. ‘Pokémon Master repels Team Rocket attack’ or some such.”

    “She really, really hates that title, but it’s hilariously clingy.”

    “Clingy like a jealous ex?” Richard suggested. Alex blinked in surprise at her father’s bluntness, to which he said, “You’re an adult now. You get to hear the fun stuff.”

    Alex shook her head, wondering for what felt like the millionth time why she’d been stuck with her mother all those years rather than her father. “Anyway. I barely hear from Sam, myself, if that makes it any better. She’s really busy with work and her free time’s all taken up by her new partner. All-grown-up scientist has no time to write to her daddy and big sis.”

    “Not to mention she can’t even be bothered to bring her partner home to meet the parents,” Richard added sarcastically. He hugged Alex again. “I’ll tell you what. It won’t be long until I’m free again, and then you and Sam and I can finally spend some real time together.”

    “I’d like that,” Alex said with a smile.

    Richard cocked his head towards the main room. “Unfortunately, I’m going to have to put this reunion on hold. People are waiting for us.”

    The room, Alex saw, was definitely out of her price range. It was more spacious than some apartments she’d seen. In the middle of the room was a fine oak coffee table, around which were three sofas. There were two visibly separate bedrooms and even a kitchenette. Alex felt significantly underdressed compared to the other people in the room, whose attire was even more formal than her father’s.

    Their reception was friendly enough, though, sporting three very familiar faces. All of them looked exactly as she remembered them, except perhaps with a few extra grey hairs on their heads or lines on their faces. The old familiarity was slight comfort to the fact that Alex’s stomach was doing its best to knot itself in apprehension. This meeting wasn’t simply a social call, and she hadn’t expected quite so many people.

    “Wow, it’s like everyone at once or something,” Alex said to no one in particular as she took a seat beside her father.

    “Yeah,” commented a man with shaggy blonde hair and a very expensive-looking suit, sitting on the right-side sofa. His voice had the same light-hearted tone as her father. With a wry grin, he added, “We were all in the area, so we figured why not, eh? Don’t tell me you don’t like me anymore.”

    “All right, Kenny, I won’t tell you,” Alex said, trying and failing to match his joviality. Her tone became a bit more serious and much more inquisitive. “But, uh, seriously, you’re all just here on business at once? I thought it was just supposed to be you and dad.”

    “Well, when I said we were all in the area, I wasn’t joking. For the most part,” Kenneth said. “Unfortunately, Lizzy couldn’t be here today.”

    The nicknames sounded strange to Alex, as if a different Alex had been the one to use them last. Seeing Kenneth again was nice, but the unsettlingly formal tone of the meeting made Alex wonder what was really going on. Nominally she was there to discuss something-or-other to do with her Neo League run. Something important. There hadn’t been any explanation of why she’d needed such high levels of secrecy—no specific details were to be transmitted in permanent form, and she was to delete all e-mail and text messages after reading them. If anyone other than her father had been the one to set this up, she wouldn’t even have considered coming.

    “Look,” said Michael, sitting opposite Kenneth. “I won’t pretend there isn’t an obvious Snorlax in the room here. It’d be insulting your intelligence to pretend this is all a happy coincidence.” He managed a smile, which was rare given how dour he usually was. “Though it is nice to see you again. Richard is always talking about you.”

    Conrad, sitting beside Michael, added, “If nothing else, I’m glad to see you too”

    “Just…” Alex trailed off. The atmosphere had that uneasy hang to it, like something heavy was about to be dropped. “Just tell me. All this buildup’s starting to scare me.”

    “There’s no easy way to put this,” Kenneth said. “You’re aware of the scuffles Team Rocket’s in nowadays, I assume?”

    “Unfortunately.”

    “We think you’re in danger.”

    Alex frowned. “Because Sam fought them off when they attacked the lab she works at?”

    “Partially, but that’s not the main reason.” Kenneth sighed. “This may get a bit complicated, but I’m going to be fully honest with you. The actual gang war isn’t between Team Rocket factions, but between Team Rocket and some group simply using the Team Rocket name. The fake Team Rocket is composed of Idaman gangs who want the real Team Rocket out of the country.”

    “And how do you know all this?”

    Kenneth shot an inquisitive glance at Michael, who shrugged. Conrad looked to the ceiling, remaining pointedly silent. Richard frowned.

    “… Oh Tauros crap,” Alex said as she realized the only answer. She had to resist the urge to grab a pokéball from her bag, and wished she hadn’t assigned Kay to Marril-sit that afternoon.

    “Alex,” Richard said gently. “It’s not what you think.”

    “The hell it isn’t,” Alex shot back. She swore as another realization hit her. “You’re in with them, dad? What the hell?”

    “Like I said,” Kenneth added slowly, holding his hands up, palms outward, “it gets complicated. Why would we bring you here if all we were going to do was reveal our affiliation? The fact that we’re doing this means we’ve no alternative. All I ask is that you give me a fair hearing.”

    “No promises,” Alex said icily.

    Kenneth nodded. “Fair enough. Rest assured what I’m telling you is the truth. I’m a senior Team Rocket executive, peer to few and subordinate only to Giovanni. Now, Team Rocket isn’t a single unified entity. There are factions of sorts. I’ve never believed that Team Rocket should remain a criminal organization. Why should it when our business ventures are so lucrative? Our legitimate businesses in Idama were meant to support the Neo League, to offer investment and material backing to the program. None of that is illegal. The false Team Rocket, the New Rockets as they’re sometimes called, initiated this conflict, and other Team Rocket members are responsible for fighting them. Giovanni didn’t send me here to participate in any gang wars. My primary goals are to oversee and protect our business infrastructure and, now, to keep you and Sam safe.

    “You were always like a nephew to me, Alex—a niece now. Myself, Elizabeth, Michael… we all feel that way about you and Sam. We’d hoped to keep you away from this mess. It saddens me to know that we couldn’t. That’s why you’re here today. You’re in danger and I can’t stay in the shadows to protect you anymore. I’d gladly tarnish your opinion of me a hundred times before letting you come to harm.”

    Alex wanted to believe Kenneth’s story. No, that wasn’t quite right. She wanted to believe her father was a good man, and believing Kenneth’s story was merely a means to that end. Richard and his friends certainly didn’t behave like the thuggish image she’d always held of Team Rocket. Kenneth was her father’s best friend, truly a surrogate uncle to her, and every memory she had of him was pleasant. Michael could be a little gruff and had been the sternest babysitter she’d ever seen, but had a good heart and was surprisingly gentle when he let his guard down. Elizabeth was always patient, kind, and willing to go out of her way for Alex and Sam’s sake. And of course there was Conrad, her stepfather of five years. Alex trusted him almost as much as she trusted her biological father.

    Still… they worked for Team Rocket. Kenneth was, by his own admission, one of their executives. Few mafias were as cold, as brutal as Team Rocket, and Alex couldn’t imagine Kenneth reached his position entirely by fair play. Regardless, upon further thought, Kenneth didn’t seem to be lying. It was common knowledge that Team Rocket had legitimate involvement in most major industries. Someone had to be in charge of that.

    “I… want to trust you,” Alex said to her father. She had no doubt that Terry would be aghast at what she just said. Other than the fact that Team Rocket killed his starter Pokémon, he kept his past regarding them a secret, and Alex had no idea whether Terry was a former member, a victim of theirs, or something else entirely.

    Well, Terry didn’t have to know about this.

    “It’s a lot to take in,” Richard admitted. “It’s so selfish of me to say this, but I hope you can forgive me for hiding this from you all these years.”

    Alex shook her head, holding back tears. “You haven’t done anything that needs forgiving.”

    “I promise… all the mistakes I’ve made, I promise I’m going to—”

    “It’s okay, really,” Alex said, reminded of where she got her style of apology from. “You’re not going to have me doing anything illegal, right?”

    “If I may answer that,” Kenneth said gently. “No, nothing of the sort. I want to keep you safe, not recruit you, although the line between the two may unfortunately have to be blurred a little given the New Rockets’ recent actions. You haven’t told anyone that you’re specifically seeing your father today, correct?”

    Alex nodded. Kenneth had insisted this meeting be kept secret, and odd as that imperative was, Alex obeyed even without knowing Kenneth was a Team Rocket agent. Now that she knew, it wasn't fear that would keep her silent, but respect, as odd a thought as that was to face head-on.

    “Good. The plan is to have Michael ensure your safety. You’ll be free to continue on with your League circuit as if nothing happened, except that now you’ll be coordinating with him, making sure you only take gyms well out of the New Rockets’ path, making sure no one catches up to you.”

    Alex would have much preferred coordinating with her father, but she couldn’t afford to have Kay asking why Richard was mysteriously in the country. Conrad would have been her second choice, but carried similar risks. Seeing her father and stepfather more often could wait for a more opportune time—only a few weeks, if things went well.

    “What about Sam?” Alex asked.

    “Sam’s in good hands,” Kenneth promised. He smiled ruefully. “Good enough that I won’t have to reveal myself to her, actually.”

    “You can thank Elizabeth for that,” Michael added.

    “I will next time I see her,” Alex promised with a hint of derision. Now was as good at time as any to ask the obvious question. “So why did those New Rockets attack her lab, anyway?”

    Kenneth frowned. “It’s because her employer is a Team Rocket agent like myself.”

    “Um…” Alex paused, trying to remember the name. “Juliet, I think? Sam’s mentioned her a few times.”

    “Yes. If I’d known Juliet was going to hire your sister, I’d have stopped her. I’ve always made sure Team Rocket stays well clear of you two. By the time I learned what happened, it was too late to do anything without arousing suspicion.”

    Well, Alex thought, at least that implicitly explained the main reason she was in danger. Sam was unwittingly working for Team Rocket again, and as her sister, Alex would be an easy target for the sake of getting to her. Alex couldn’t deny it was tempting to tell Sam who her employer really was.

    “How’d the New Rockets know where to go, anyway?” Alex asked.

    “That doesn’t relate to your situation,” Kenneth said.

    Alex felt her father’s hand on her shoulder. It still managed to be reassuring despite knowing he was a gangster—at least he still loved her, sharp contrast to her mother disowning her for what felt, on Alex’s end, to be utterly frivolous reasons.

    “If it helps any, you’re doing very well,” Conrad said. “This is a lot to take in.”

    Alex nodded solemnly. She’d accepted harder truths than her father working for a benign faction of Team Rocket. She could accept this.



    Alex’s return to the hotel was very late, well past the time she thought she’d be back by. Sorting out her new Neo League circuit and her methods for contacting Michael had taken hours, and the sun was beginning to set. At some point in the early evening, Kay had sent a text saying she’d handed Marril over to Terry so she could go get some rest. Alex felt completely drained as she walked down the sidewalk to the hotel, and had to lean against the elevator wall as she rode it up to the third floor.

    The door to her room was unlocked, but she knocked anyway before entering. She was met by Terry, who opened the door with one hand while holding Marril with the other. Seeing Marril let him carry her was, despite the smallness of the event, somehow as surprising as learning her father was a gangster—one more surprise for the ever-growing pile.

    “Are you okay?” Terry asked, the concern on his face a mirror to Richard’s earlier happiness upon greeting Alex. Terry led her into the room, and she sat down at the foot of the bed with an unceremonious thump. Marril bounded out of Terry’s arms, landed beside Alex, and climbed into her lap.

    “I guess,” Alex replied dully. Absently, she petted Marril, scratching behind her ears and rubbing her belly. Marril’s tail twitched back and forth lazily.

    Terry sat down beside Alex. “If you don’t want to talk about it, I’m not going to pry. But at least answer me this: Are you really okay? I’m worried, Allie.”

    The pet name was a recent development, this one very welcome, and Alex smiled upon hearing it. “I’m okay. Really. I just… I had stuff to take care of. Nothing we have to worry about anymore.”

    Marril leapt out of Alex’s lap as Terry put an arm around Alex’s shoulders, drawing her in close. Alex closed her eyes and let herself enjoy the warmth of Terry’s body, the gentle strength of his embrace. She wondered if he’d even want to be in the same room as her if he knew what she’d done earlier.

    “If it’s over with, then I’m glad,” Terry said, gently stroking Alex’s hair.

    “You’re cute when you get all protective, you know that?” Alex asked.

    She’d meant for it to be facetious, but Terry’s reply was very serious. “I know you can take care of yourself, but… so long as you’ll let me, I’ll do anything for you if you want me to. I love you. Never forget that.”

    Alex didn’t reply. For the moment, she could pretend that she was just a normal woman with a normal partner, in no danger at all. She couldn’t escape that it was an illusion, but it was a comforting one. Her problems could wait until tomorrow.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2012
  6. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Looks pretty good. I sorta like the new idea. Keep it up!
     
  7. Marril

    Marril New Member

    I'd like to start by offering my apologies to anyone kept waiting for this update. School got pretty hectic and only got worse up until I was done with finals (to give people an idea of how rough it was, I had to write a 10-page essay in 2 days because I had so much other stuff to deal with). But if nothing else, I've got this plus two chapters in buffer written up, which should help us get right back on track.

    Speaking of "on track," one of the things that struck me as I was writing chapter 23 was that the normal SS style feels very forced compared to my usual writing style, so I'll transition to writing that way in the near future. Upside is a much greater focus on character development. Downside is less action overall (speaking of which, this chapter comes about solely because something I thought Melanie said much earlier on was actually said by Juliet, freeing me up to continue developing Melanie in a very morally grey direction). I think it's a fair trade, but if readers disagree, just leave a comment.

    Finally, one of the things that really made me facepalm was the delayed realization that this is, it seems, a story about a trans woman running around Fantasy Thailand. Yeah, I was slow on the uptake with that one. The stereotype isn't that obvious to me, since I see the issue in a different way than (presumably) most of my readers. From now on I think I'll sprinkle in names and places from surrounding countries, since the idea was more "Fantasy South Asia" than anything with the groan-worthy connotations I've probably built up by now.

    Chapter 21 - Loud Greetings

    The beds in the Chiang Mai hotel weren’t all that comfortable when you spent about twelve straight hours on one. Alex supposed that was her fault, since most people got out of bed when they woke up, but she didn’t particularly need to get out of bed in order to think things over. Terry was out, leaving Alex alone with Marril for the morning.

    As if it wasn’t bad enough that her back hurt from lying in an uncomfortable bed for so long, the ceiling was a completely flat off-white, with no colour variations or texture. This made it significantly less interesting to stare at. Alex thought of herself as a serial ceiling aficionado after all the time she’d spent in her life consumed by depression. This morning, she reflected, was only a step or two away from that old agony.

    Kenneth had been right about one thing if nothing else: The situation had to be serious if it meant revealing himself as a Team Rocket executive to her. Her memories of him now seemed… tainted, she supposed would be the word. Every bit of generosity, of help with her schooling, even his help dealing with childhood bullies seemed like just another token gesture from a crime lord wanting to buy the approval of his friend’s children. The time he’d spent with her and Sam, the genuine affection he had for them, seemed diminished in a way. In short, “Uncle Kenny” seemed like less of an “uncle” now.

    “Ar-ril? Mar?” Marril asked quietly, climbing up beside Alex.

    “Yeah, I’m fine,” Alex gave Marril the line. Marril almost certainly didn’t believe her, but it was a ritual of sorts. “It’s the same as always.”

    “Marril Mar-Ar-ril-ar.”

    Alex managed a smile. “I’m just thinking about all this stuff, wondering what I’m going to do. I mean, obviously I’m going to do what Kenny says. Kenneth. Whatever. You remember him.”

    “Mar,” Marril said in a pleased tone. She’d always liked Kenneth, and for that matter Elizabeth and Conrad. She was less than pleasant towards Michael for some reason, although if she could learn to be nice to Terry she could learn to be nice to Michael. “Marri-mar-arril. Marril-mar-mar.”

    “I wish it was that easy,” Alex replied. She rolled over onto her side, facing Marril. “It’s like… it’s like if you made a Pokémon friend and you learned they had a trainer who made them kill people.”

    Marril twitched her ears and her tail flopped to her other side. It was her way of shrugging. “Ar-ril Marril mar-mar-ril-ar-ril-Mar.”

    Alex scoffed. “Nice to know you’d kill someone if I ordered you to, but that’s totally not the point here.”

    “Ril?”

    “No, it isn’t,” Alex insisted, rolling onto her back and staring at the bare, smooth ceiling again.

    Marril hopped up onto Alex’s stomach. Alex reflexively reached down to pet her.

    “Maybe I’m overthinking it,” Alex admitted. “It’s a lot to take in.”

    “Marril Mar-ri, ar mar-arri.”

    Alex blinked and her hand stopped mid-pet in surprise. Marril’s sentence, literally translated, meant “me Terry, you yes-with.” Alex was long used to Marril’s syntax, but she had to run that line through her head twice to realize what Marril was saying. Had Marril said that she and Kay would be there for Alex, then Alex wouldn’t have been surprised, but Marril including Terry, combined with letting him hold her the previous day, meant she fully accepted him now.

    “You really know how to surprise me,” Alex said.

    “Mar!”

    Marril’s ears twitched and she turned her attention to the door a moment before Alex heard a knock. Well, whatever, Terry could let himself in. Even cheered up a little, Alex didn’t feel like getting up.

    Another knock followed, and then Alex heard Kay’s muffled call of, “It’s me, you dingus!”

    Reason enough to answer the door, Alex figured. She got up out of bed, straightened her shirt, and with Marril still in her arms stepped over to the door. Her gait was slow and stiff, a product of the lingering depression she hoped Kay could dispel.

    “Oh, hi Alex,” Kay said. “I was kind of aiming that at Terry.”

    Alex smirked. “He went out, actually. Just me and my trainer here right now.”

    Kay crouched down slightly, bringing herself to eye level with Marril. “Has Alex been a good human?”

    “Mar!” Marril said.

    “Good,” Kay replied, patting Marril on the head.

    “So,” Alex said. “What’s up?”

    “Not much. Just decided to check in on you. You know, see how you’re doing and everything.”

    Alex scoffed. “I got enough of that from Terry,” she said as she led Kay into the room proper.

    “I imagine you would. He seems like the kind of guy who gets all clingy the moment his partner starts having problems,” Kay commented. She sat down on Terry’s bed, facing Alex, who sat down on her own bed.

    “That’s kind of uncharitable,” Alex said, setting Marril down in her lap. She started petting Marril absentmindedly. Kay seemed to take interest in this action, and Alex belatedly kicked herself for not suppressing this particular physical tic—all too often, she felt the need to do something with her hands when nervous or stressed.

    “I… I don’t mean to snark,” Kay said, returning her gaze to meet Alex’s. “I just know there are things you’d tell me but not him. Figured it’d help to have someone you could confide in, eh?”

    The thought was very tempting. Despite Kay’s sometimes thorny personality, she was very non-judgemental. Aside from Marril, Kay was the only one to whom Alex could entrust a secret like hers. Kay might not support Alex’s decision, but there was no doubting she’d understand and accept it, and Alex didn’t have to worry about Kay leaving upon the revelation.

    If only that knowledge made telling her seem like any better an idea.

    “It’s…” Alex began, and hesitated. No, she realized, she couldn’t go through with it no matter how much she wanted to. “It’s actually kind of stupid. I mean like, old-me stupid.”

    “Now this I have to hear.”

    “You know my Feebas, right?”

    Kay smirked. “The one that refuses to evolve no matter what?”

    “That one.” As if she had any other. She forced herself to continue and not get caught up by her own awkward approach. “A little while ago, I went and bugged Sam to see if she could give me any way to force him to evolve. She did, but it involves some stuff that’s… well… not entirely above-board, if you know what I mean.”

    “So you went and contacted some local Team Rocket guy or something?” Kay guessed.

    “I dunno if he was affiliated with Team Rocket or what,” Alex continued. “I just know he was able to help me get my hands on what I need.”

    Kay was many things, but water trainer and biologist were not among those things. As long as Alex could keep Kay from prying, she could bluff her way through the situation with no one the wiser. Sam’s actual advice had been very anticlimactic: There wasn’t any way to speed up the process beyond what Alex was already doing, so she should just keep shoving poffins and pokéblocks down his throat. Sam even sent a joke involving the tale of someone who evolved a Magikarp by kicking it and suggesting Alex give Feebas a turn with the Boot of Evolution.

    “You gotta do what you gotta do,” Kay said.

    Alex shook her head. “If I told this to Terry, he’d freak out at me.”

    “He supposedly had a bad experience, so I guess it’s understandable,” Kay said. She glanced around the room. “Honestly, I don’t see the point in acting as if you can keep yourself clean from Team Rocket these days. Even if you don’t deal with them directly, so what? You’ll wind up buying from one of their businesses sooner or later. I just don’t care either way.”

    Alex looked down to Marril. “Yeah. I guess that’s the best way to look at it.”



    Melanie glanced at Sam. The younger woman seemed dreadfully out of place at the Rueni trade show, an expo devoted to networking and communication technology. The room was packed with booths and displays showcasing developments Melanie could understand but not truly appreciate. If anything, the only thing to be unenthusiastic about was all the twenty- and thirty-something men who tried to make personal conversation with the two women. While there was no shortage of women at the expo, some men simply seemed to think hitting on any woman in sight was a good idea.

    The attention was worse for Sam, since there was always the chance she’d be recognized. Even a foreign Pokémon Master would be widely known in Idama. The expo was trade-only, so Sam theoretically shouldn’t have gotten in anyway, but the risk was still such that Sam wore makeup that changed the tone of her skin slightly as well as a pair of glasses that Melanie couldn’t deny Sam looked cute in.

    “I dunno if it’s just me,” Sam said to Melanie once she was sure no one was paying attention, “but I’m learning a lot about this stuff just by observation.”

    “If we ever have to hack anything, you’re our woman,” Melanie returned facetiously. Sam simply shook her head in amusement.

    Actual field work was a change of pace, even if Melanie couldn’t say it was a refreshing one. The last time she’d done anything remotely along these lines was the time Juliet had her and Ryan stalk Terry and Alex in Rueni. That endeavour was evidence enough that Juliet was far too much an academic to involve herself in Team Rocket’s more sordid affairs, but Melanie’s skills in that area weren’t as shallow as she sometimes pretended.

    I wonder what kind of person Alex even is, Melanie thought. What little she’d seen in person of Alex didn’t tell her anything at all.

    “Tell me something,” Sam said quietly to Melanie, breaking her train of thought. “What are you going to do with this guy when you find him?”

    Melanie offered Sam a thin smile as she turned her attention away from a booth demonstrating some new wireless protocol. “He can’t exactly run without creating a scene,” she explained. “He also can’t refuse to speak to me, not without blowing his cover. All I have to do is get him aside, and, well…” Melanie indicated her bag, in which was Hitmonlee’s pokéball.

    “If you want, I can lend you Sin,” Sam suggested. “He’d be more intimidating than Hitmonlee. He even scares me sometimes.”

    Had Melanie intended to keep to her word, she’d have accepted Sam’s offer instantly, but she couldn’t take the risk that they’d somehow communicate her actions back to Sam. Sin was least likely of all Sam’s Pokémon to care, so Melanie could potentially take that chance.

    No, she thought. I haven’t gotten this far just to be undermined by my own carelessness.

    “He’s probably a little too intimidating,” Melanie said.

    “Ishtar, then?”

    “Hitmonlee will be enough, trust me,” Melanie replied, forcing herself to appear slightly uneasy. In a joking tone, she added, “You could lend me Shamash, though.”

    “Yeah, no,” Sam said with equal good nature. Shamash was far too valuable a Pokémon to be lent to anyone, even to Melanie. Not that Melanie would know how to use Shamash effectively anyway.

    Holding back was uncomfortable. Melanie hated having to hide the sheer predatory intent in her search. The superficial charm used in questioning people needed an additional veneer of legitimacy. In short, she had to suppress her natural tendency to see a target as a thing rather than as a person for fear that she might betray this to Sam somehow.

    In all likelihood, it would have been best not to worry about that. Sam was easily the most intelligent person Melanie had ever met, but her intelligence was analytical and mathematical in nature. She didn’t have the natural talent or experience to read someone’s actions more than one layer down, and still instinctively took others at face value.

    Still.

    Melanie had no idea why she thought of it in those terms, as if naïveté was in any objective sense a childish phase to grow out of. Certainly, it seemed that way to her, even as she clung onto the façade of it for Sam’s sake. Sam, jaded yet innocent, wouldn’t agree—if anything, she wore cynicism as a layer of ill-fitting armour, not as a second skin.

    Getting away from Sam was simple enough. Once Melanie located their target, a man named Liang, all she had to do was tell Sam to “keep watch,” rather meaningless given Liang’s position, but Sam didn’t question it. From there, Melanie reflected that the dance of propriety meant the outcome was inevitable.

    “You’re Liang, right?” Melanie asked as she stepped up to the booth. The displays had something to do with video transmission, and there were a number of screens showing various bland repeating scenes.

    “That’s right,” Liang replied. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

    Melanie leaned in towards Liang. “I’ve got a few questions for you. You know the type.”

    Liang’s expression turned sour. “I bet you do.”

    Wordlessly, Melanie indicated that Liang should step away from the booth. Liang looked understandably hesitant.

    “You can try to run,” Melanie said. “You’d probably even get to security, maybe even get me arrested. But your cover would be blown and you’d have to go to ground somewhere new. Is avoiding me really worth that much to you?”

    “… No,” Liang answered after a moment’s hesitation.

    Melanie led Liang out through the crowd. No one paid the pair any mind—evidently, the trick to going unnoticed as a woman in such events was to be accompanied by a man. This wasn’t exactly new information, but in her mind it made little sense since she didn’t see any real difference between men and women outside of a few meaningless physical traits.

    I doubt Sam’s sister would think they’re that meaningless, Melanie found herself thinking. Then again, Sam herself, being only interested in women, would’ve disagreed with Melanie as well. Sam's preferences were nevertheless fine by Melanie.

    After a quick scan of her surroundings, Melanie risked reaching into her bag to make sure everything was still in place. Her fingers brushed Hitmonlee’s pokéball aside in her blind search. All was right in the world for the time being.

    “I’m not even sure what it is I could tell you,” Liang offered. His voice didn’t waver. Evidently he believed she really was going to question him.

    Melanie didn’t reply. She felt her very frame of mind shifting slightly, diverting all remaining person-oriented focus towards her task. They were out of the main hall now, near a back exit. All she had to do was lead Liang to a security camera blind spot and finish the job. Team Rocket had already taken care of bribing the centre’s security staff, so she wouldn’t run into any trouble.

    Though tempted to offer some manner of pleasantry, Melanie decided against it. There was no point. Instead, once she was sure she was in the appointed blind spot, she shoved Liang against the wall, reached into her bag, withdrew a silenced pistol, and shot Liang three times.

    Gods, I wish it never got easier, Melanie thought as she stowed the gun back into her bag. A year ago, her hands would’ve been shaking after something like that. Two years ago, she’d have felt the need to throw up. Five years ago, the thought of killing another human being would have been unthinkable.

    Now it was just a job requiring a different, segmented frame of mind to perform.

    Still, it was the first time she'd ever killed anyone so pointlessly. The several other occasions she'd had to, there'd been some clear, immediate reason. This time it was just so Sam could have a logical-sounding reason as to how Melanie knew the next link in their investigative chain. Melanie already knew where they were going next. This trip was a giant waste of time in her opinion, yet one more thing that might inadvertently strain Sam to the breaking point.

    She hurried back to the main hall, getting back into a more normal mental state. Thankfully, Sam was where she was supposed to be, and Melanie greeted her with a hug from behind.

    “You’re awfully cheerful for someone who just interrogated a man,” Sam said with a lopsided grin as she turned to face Melanie.

    Melanie allowed herself an awkward chuckle. “I’m simply glad to see you after having to do that.”

    “Well, anything else will just have to wait,” Sam said, grin still on her face. Melanie had to resist the urge to kiss her right then and there.

    “That’s my line, you bloody thief,” Melanie groused in a jovial tone.

    “You get what you came for?” Sam asked as the two of them headed out. No one seemed to pay them much mind, or if they did, Melanie didn’t notice.

    “Oh, yeah,” Melanie answered. “You’re not going to like it, but, well,” she reached over and ruffled Sam’s soft, chestnut-brown hair, “anything else will just have to wait.”
     
  8. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    I think the chapter was worth the wait. I liked the Marril-Alex scene the best, though.
     
  9. Marril

    Marril New Member

    This is really one of those chapters I can't imagine ever happening in the anime. The crime drama parts of SS are kind of exempt from this comparison in my mind just because they're so different from normal, but this one... well, suffice to say, Alex is definitely not Ash, and it shows. She's a better trainer in a technical sense, but she's not as good at earning her Pokémon's friendship (i.e. it takes her much longer to). Also, the various catchphrase-sounding lines Terry says at the beginning while playing Pokémon Black are just things I say in real life (the Oshawott one is actually my ingame trainer quote), because you can never get too meta.

    Finally, here's something I ran into on a "you know you're trans when..." list: "When mulling over whether or not to write a fanfiction for a certain story, you debate whether or not to write one where the main character is transsexual, either due to the sore lack of such fanfictions, the horrible quality of existing ones, or because you feel it would be interesting." Amusing that my reason doesn't fall into any of those (since it's mainly to do with Alex being partly based on myself, and prior versions were written back when I was in the closet). But hey, it means SS is in a relatively unique genre.

    Chapter 22 - Shaky Redemption

    Terry regretted trying a new bus line.

    Oh, Grey Houndoom seemed like as good a choice as any from the outset. Their rates for this trip were lower than Terry expected. But he hadn’t counted on their numbered seating being on a different pattern than he thought. It would have been logical if, for example, seats 1 and 2 were on the left side of the aisle, and seats 3 and 4 were on the right. This, unfortunately, wasn’t the case, and Terry only learned this after boarding.

    Kay wasn’t an unpleasant person to sit beside, but when he’d intended to spend the long hours beside Alex…

    Terry spent most of the time playing a handheld game. It was a highly simplified Pokémon training game, featuring a kid from Unova somehow becoming a champion on their first gym circuit after receiving their starter, defeating a real-life criminal organization, and apparently saving the world while catching a mind-bogglingly high number of legendary Pokémon. The only real-life trainer with a legendary he’d ever met was Sam, and she only had the one. To his knowledge, she only encountered it after becoming a Pokémon Master, not before.

    Insipid as the game was, it still passed the time. Alex, engrossed with her e-reader, didn’t seem too bored herself. At least she had Marril to talk to if she didn’t find books interesting enough. Kay, however, seemed light on the self-provided amusements.

    “You started with Snivy,” Kay said at one point, looking at Terry’s screen. It was a statement, not a question.

    “Serperior is superior,” Terry replied dully. “You’ve played this?”

    “The other version, but yeah,” Kay said. “Oshawott, for the record.”

    “Oshawott bothers me.”

    “Nothing beats Torchic anyway. Real-life Torchic, that is. Digital just isn’t as fluffy. They need to go all meta and make a Porygon game already.”

    “I thought they already did?”

    “They had that one TV show about Porygon like ten years ago in Kanto,” Kay said. “It gave a bunch of kids seizures. Everyone’s been too skittish to make anything with a Porygon in it since.”

    “Now that you mention it, I heard about that,” Terry said. The news made national headlines, although at the time he was too young to give the subject the respect it deserved. Or even much of his attention.

    “Scary to think it’s been so long,” Kay said. “I still thought I was a girl at the time. Feels like it was kind of before my life, in a way.”

    “I’ve heard Alex say similar. Have to admit, I don’t really know what it’s like to have your real gender not match your assigned one. I always knew people like that existed, but I didn’t really think of it as anything that’d ever affect my life until Alex came out.”

    Kay smiled. “Yeah, people have a bad habit of normalizing their experiences. It goes the other way, too. Did you know that before I met her, Alex honestly didn’t think it was possible for someone to be attracted to only one gender?”

    “She told me this story,” Terry said. “She says she was surprised by it.”

    “Oh, you should’ve seen the look on her face when I corrected her,” Kay said, breaking out into a grin. “It was the purest disbelief I’ve ever seen in a person. She honestly, truly didn’t believe me. I mean, in a way it makes sense. I was her first close friend since puberty kicked in and, you know, she started caring about relationships. I sure don’t care if my partner’s male or female or whatever else, so that was her whole world. I think it would’ve been easier for her to take if someone outside that bubble was the one to break it to her.”

    Kay’s story was undoubtedly meant to be a fun anecdote, but Terry found himself reminded that in so many ways, he was an outsider to Alex’s innate worldview. He was male, she wasn’t. He was only attracted to women, she was attracted to people regardless of gender. He was fine with his body and the social role he’d been given, and she was violently opposed to both of hers.

    It was strange to think that “she” in any of those three thoughts could apply to Kay just as well as Alex.

    “I guess it was easier on my end,” Terry replied thoughtfully. “It’s easier to know where you stand when there’s something you’re fundamentally not. I mean, I’m not attracted to guys, so I guess that gives me a lens I can view guys who are only attracted to guys. I guess it’d also explain why both categories don’t really understand people attracted to multiple genders. You know what I’m talking about?”

    “Oh yeah,” Kay said. “You know, don’t take this as like backhanded or anything, but you’re a lot more perceptive than I gave you credit for.”

    Terry scoffed lightly. “If you tell me you underestimated me because I’m a man, I’m going to have to hit you.”

    “Nah. I don’t believe in contributing to social structures that hurt men as well as women. It’s actually mostly because of how clingy and possessive you were of Alex right when I met you. Then you challenged me to that pointless battle and I was like, ‘Wait, what does Alex even see in this guy?’ I guessed all kinds of things, but I suppose I leapt to conclusions.”

    “I kinda jumped to some about you, too,” Terry admitted. He wasn’t prepared to admit that all his hasty preconceptions about Kay were false, but it paid to be diplomatic. “Tell you what: We each forgive and forget. Deal?”

    Kay’s amused smirk was a little off-putting, but her voice seemed sincere enough as she said, “Deal.” She leaned in closer to Terry. “So there’s something I’ve been wondering. You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to.”

    “How ominous.”

    “If you’ll excuse my bluntness, but… why you?”

    “Why me?” Terry wondered. It was a question he often asked of himself, but never in such a confusing context.

    Kay nodded across the aisle. “With Alex.”

    Terry’s first thought was that Kay was wondering just how he could have updated his mental image of Alex so easily, going from perceiving her as male to perceiving her as female without trouble. The answer to that was that he simply didn’t see any reason to cling to someone’s presentation when it conflicted with their real gender. It wasn’t complicated. Still, going by Kay’s previous comments, that wasn’t what she was asking.

    “I guess I just go for women I know are trouble, as cliché as that sounds,” Terry mused. He leaned back in his seat. “Everything else is just your standard guy answers, I guess. Why do you ask?”

    Kay didn’t answer. Terry couldn’t blame her. If he was right, she was asking because she wanted to evaluate whether or not he was good enough for Alex. It was an almost sisterly thing to do. He regretted never making friends who’d do the same for him.



    Alex’s back was stiff from too long spent in a bus chair, followed by a night of less than adequate sleep once they reached Son La City. “Adequate” to Alex sometimes meant in excess of ten hours, but still, she hadn’t even gotten enough for a normal person. At least she could blame Terry for the lack of sleep this time, even if she couldn’t complain about it.

    While Alex was determined to avoid relying on Pokémon Centres for shelter, they offered quite a bit of free space out back where she wouldn’t be disturbed and could reach a Nurse Joy if anything went wrong.

    “A” Nurse Joy.

    If anything could prove the gods’ existence and thus their sick sense of humour, it would have been Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny. Science was at a loss to explain them, and took to pretending they didn’t exist. Alex knew she wasn’t the only one who found Nurse Joy more creepy than welcoming.

    Alex tried to push the thought from her mind. She came to the Pokémon Centre because of the large pond in the open area out back and the relative seclusion. There was no point in getting distracted by another identical-to-all-the-others Nurse Joy.

    Kneeling down, Alex double-tapped the eye of her pokéball, and Feebas splashed down into the pond. Like usual, he took a moment to orient himself and proceeded to float helplessly, gazing at Alex with his vacant, glassy-eyed stare. His scales seemed more lustrous than before.

    “Hey, good news,” Alex said to Feebas. “I have more pokéblocks for you.”

    Alex swore she could have seen Feebas give her some kind of emotional expression. It would have been fear had Feebas any emotion to show, but it was her imagination at work, nothing more. She still felt uneasy following Sam’s advice to cram pokéblocks down Feebas’ throat until he finally evolved, but she needed another strong Pokémon for her Neo League circuit. The sooner Feebas evolved, the sooner she could start training him in earnest.

    “Relax,” Alex said in a soothing voice. “You like these, right? I didn’t make them myself, I promise.”

    The platitude was enough to get Feebas to nibble the end off the block. Alex sighed and fed the entire thing to Feebas at once. Feebas shuddered but swallowed it easily. She could see what she imagined to be anxiety in the fish’s eyes. He knew what was coming. It had become a common experience for him.

    “Mar-Marril-mar,” Marril said.

    “Yeah, I know,” Alex replied absently as she fed Feebas another block. Feebas glubbed helplessly.

    Experimentation had shown Alex that she could feed Feebas anywhere between ten to fifteen blocks at a time before he became physically incapable of eating more. Thankfully, he was getting close to evolution. Alex wasn’t sure how much more of this she could take, both because Feebas was clearly uncomfortable with it and because, to put it bluntly, Alex was sick and tired of having to deal with Feebas.

    You get what you pay for, eh? Alex thought bitterly as she shoved another block into Feebas’ mouth. Cheap as Feebas was, she was making up the cost in pokéblocks and poffins.

    “Mar!” Marril exclaimed. Alex blinked in surprise and expanded her focus away from Feebas’ mouth to the fish as a whole. His scales shimmered brightly, but steadily. He was definitely going to evolve today.

    Alex tossed around a quick glance to make sure no one was paying any undue attention. She didn’t have anywhere to do this except for a public place, and the last thing she needed was a bunch of trainers gawking at her or, worse, Nurse Joy or any of her Chanseys or Blisseys strolling by. No one but Marril cared at the moment, so Alex returned to feeding Feebas.

    After the third subsequent block, Feebas’ scales shimmered erratically. Alex stood up and took a step back, watching as Feebas began to glow all over his body and grow rapidly, elongating at frightening speed.

    Within the span of only a few heartbeats, Feebas had become Milotic. He loomed over Alex, gazing down at her icily. Alex broke into a smile.

    Before Alex could say anything, Milotic lashed out with his tail, striking Alex to the ground.

    “Ril-Marril! Ar-ril mar-Marril!” Marril shouted.

    Alex rose to her feet slowly, head ringing. The force of Milotic’s blow could easily have broken bones had she been any unluckier.

    “All right, okay, I messed up,” Alex admitted.

    Milotic would brook no apologies, it seemed, as he lashed out at Alex again, this time catching her right leg with a wet-sounding smack. Alex didn’t fall, but stumbled to her knee, clutching her leg in pain.

    “It’s just… I…” No. It wouldn’t do any good to try and talk Milotic down with empty platitudes. Honesty was the best policy this time. She'd been callous, and Milotic wanted retribution for the way he'd been treated. Her assumption had been that Feebas was largely insensate, and that he wouldn't remember her treatment of him when he evolved. “I messed up pretty badly,” Alex admitted, hissing through gritted teeth. “I just wanted to get you ready for battle sooner. I went on hurting you out of my own selfishness. I’ll understand if you don’t want to have anything to do with me.”

    Too late, the thought appeared in Alex’s mind not in the form of words, but as a concept.

    Alex felt Milotic’s tail wrap around her midsection and she was lifted up off her feet, eye level with Milotic. The air around her chilled, and she swore it darkened as well. Milotics were supposed to be gentle in nature, yet hers acted with cold ferocity, more like a Gyarados moving in for the kill. Alex must have hurt Milotic very badly to get this kind of reaction from him.

    “Is that what you want? My life?” Alex asked. She was well aware that constriction meant she only had limited air available. There was no point in being indirect anymore. “If you want it, take it. I’ve faced death before. I’m ready for it if you are.”

    Boastful as it sounded, it had basis in reality. Prior to medical intervention for her gender dysphoria, Alex’s thoughts at their worst were of little more than ending her own life. Only Marril served as any kind of physical tether to remain in this world, with rapidly fading hope being her sole motivation to continue living. She didn’t want Milotic to kill her, but she wasn’t afraid of the possibility.

    Not that this stopped the sheer primal terror of being unable to inhale.

    “Ril!” Marril exclaimed. “Ar-ril Marril-mar-Marril!”

    Milotic’s gaze turned away from Alex. He looked contemptuously at Marril, bored curiosity in his eyes. Marril didn’t back down, shooting a death glare at Milotic. Alex hoped Marril knew better than to attack Milotic—despite being freshly evolved, Milotic could defeat Marril effortlessly.

    “Ar-ril-ril-ril-mar!” Marril insisted.

    Alex felt Milotic’s constriction ease up the tiniest bit, just enough to let her draw a shallow breath. Marril had Milotic’s attention for the time being, and Milotic was willing to give her an audience to entreat her survival.

    I know Alex made a mistake, Marril pleaded. But she’s truly sorry.

    Milotic’s pained tone communicated that they were well past apologies. Marril braced herself.

    She was under a lot of stress, Marril insisted. She forgot the most important part of being a trainer. But I’ve known her all my life. I know she’s a kind human who loves her Pokémon. Please, please give her a second chance.

    Milotic returned his icy glare to Alex, as if to question her worthiness. Alex felt Milotic tighten up around her again.

    “Do it,” Alex said with her last breath. Her vision started to go spotty as Milotic flexed his muscles, tightening down on Alex.

    Suddenly, Alex was flung back to the ground, landing with a thud. She rolled over twice before stopping, her vision blurred.

    “Ar-ril!” Marril exclaimed, rushing over to Alex. “Mar-ril-Ar-ril?”

    “I’m fine,” Alex lied. She shook her head. As she stood up, she realized how badly she was shaking. Fearless though she was when staring Milotic down, she couldn’t keep it up forever. She also felt somewhat tired in the wake of her initial surge of adrenaline wearing off.

    Alex took a moment to assess her surroundings. She’d attracted something of a crowd when she wasn’t looking. Several bystanders even had their Pokémon out, although they knew as well as Marril that trying to intervene could have cost Alex her life.

    Nurse Joy rushed to Alex, flanked by an Audino. Alex waved the two away. She couldn’t afford to show weakness to Milotic right now.

    Milotic stood before Alex, looking as contemptuous as ever, this time with amusement colouring his expression. The words very well floated through her mind. For the moment, it seemed she had Milotic’s approval. Alex nodded to Milotic and recalled him.

    “Are you all right?” Nurse Joy asked.

    “I will be,” Alex said. She tried to take a step, but her right knee buckled and she stumbled forward. Nurse Joy caught her and steadied her. “I might need a bit of help in the short run, though.”

    “What were you doing?” Nurse Joy demanded as she helped Alex into the Pokémon Centre.

    “Something I didn’t think too hard about first,” Alex admitted, wincing each time her right foot touched the ground.

    Nurse Joy led Alex into one of the treatment rooms and sat her down on a bed. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it was better than standing.

    “You forced it to evolve too quickly, didn’t you?” Nurse Joy asked.

    Alex nodded.

    “Most trainers stop when they see their Feebas’ reaction to force-feeding.”

    “I have no excuse,” Alex replied. The sheer stupidity of her own mistake, and how it had snowballed to the point where it had erased basic empathy, was so painful that she couldn't have discussed it even if she wanted to. “I did what I did. Nothing can change that.”

    Nurse Joy looked like she was about to reprove Alex, but stopped. “Before I get someone to help you to the hospital, I want you to promise me you won’t do anything like that again.”

    “Way ahead of you,” Alex promised, looking down at her knee. “Way, way ahead of you.”
     
  10. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Milotic's reaction was worst then in your other version...

    But I still think that it was a good chapter.
     
  11. Marril

    Marril New Member

    JewelQuest: Well, consider that in the original, all m!Alex did was show disrespect and a bit of neglect towards Feebas, while in this one, f!Alex was shockingly abusive towards him. This isn't the last we'll see of the fallout from this abuse, either, although Alex is smarter than to let herself get attacked again.

    On a general note, man this chapter required a lot of editing. I find it stunningly hard to write depressive episodes without it going too far and coming off as annoying. The problem is that "realistic depressive episode" actually lies farther out than "annoying to the audience," doubly so when trying to cram enough summary of trans issues into it for it to make sense to audiences not already familiar with the subject. I promise this is the last "put Alex through hell" episode for quite a while, though—this is her low point, and things will look up from here. Finally, this is the start of me employing my normal writing style rather than the oddball style I developed for SS—it's similar, but noticeably different (although one-scene chapters aren't planned to become the norm, this one just happened to work out that way, even if under old style this would've been a three-scene chapter). The one instance of swearing isn't going to be a fixture or anything, as well (this is mostly for the mods' sake since I know the Gym is supposed to be an all-ages place). I wrote it when I was writing the scene stream-of-consciousness style and left it in through the editing process because of how well it punctuates Alex's mental state.

    So yeah, Enjoy, everyone. Standard "if you've got comments, feel free to leave 'em" applies.

    Chapter 23 - Saturnine Diversion

    Alex knew exactly what Kay meant when she said, rather facetiously, that there was a place downtown where the freaks all come around, but Terry’s blank look suggested he had a lot to learn. The only part of Kay’s over-the-top description that matched reality was the glitter on the floor, which, again, Terry seemed to find odd even though Alex barely noticed it.

    It was, strictly speaking, a place for people with alternative gender expression, although in practice this also included people like Alex. Terry looked very out of place, but seemed genuinely reassured by Alex’s promise to stay near him.

    “So are you gonna tell us exactly what happened?” Kay asked as Alex slid uncomfortably into the semicircular booth. Alex had told the two that she’d been hurt, but not how.

    “I had a bad run-in with a snake,” Alex replied.

    “You might want to be more specific, because that could mean a whole lot of things.”

    Alex scoffed. “I finally got Feebas to evolve.”

    “Congratulations,” Kay said.

    Terry interjected before Alex could say anything. “That still doesn’t explain the bruises and the cracked rib.”

    “I had a bad run-in with a snake,” Alex repeated. She sighed. “Turns out I was a bit too aggressive with the poffins and pokéblocks. I mean, I knew Milotic was going to be angry at me, but not enough for attempted murder.”

    Hugging Alex close, Terry said, “You should’ve let me come along. Or even Kay. It’s genuinely scary to think what could’ve happened.”

    Alex shook her head. “It wouldn’t have accomplished anything. Even if you did fight Milotic back, he’d still hate me. Probably even more. It’s better that I talked him down.”

    “Just don’t ever do anything that stupid again,” Kay said. Alex was reminded of Nurse Joy’s admonition.

    “I don’t have any more Pokémon to evolve,” Alex promised. She nodded towards the incoming server. “And I don’t want to talk about it anymore. The point of this is to have fun.”

    Their server was a cute young woman who, like Alex, had apparently been assigned male at birth. She couldn’t have been older than nineteen or twenty, which sent a slight tinge of jealousy through Alex, but she didn’t dwell on it. All the envy in the world couldn’t make up for lost time. The server might have been the exact sort of person Alex wanted to be at that age but was prevented from being, but those feelings couldn’t do her any good now. Besides, she was friendly enough, making light conversation for a few moments before getting to business. No need to inject bitterness into anything.

    After the three of them had placed their orders, Alex returned her attention to Kay, giving her an odd smile. “You’re sorta into her, aren’t you?”

    “Wait, what?” Terry asked.

    “Kay was obviously chatting her up,” Alex said.

    “Was not,” Kay insisted.

    “You totally were. I know that tone from you. First time I met you, remember? You came up to me and started talking just like that. And it wasn’t the last time I’ve seen you use that approach with someone.”

    “All right, I thought she was cute. So what?”

    Alex smirked. “Didn’t know you had a specific thing for girls like us.”

    “Wait,” Kay said, slightly agape at Alex’s joke. “Did you really say…?”

    Alex laughed. “I’m just messing with you.”

    The server returned with their drinks, making further light conversation as she served the trio. Alex noticed that Kay seemed slightly flustered, but if anything this worked in Kay’s favour. It added a certain something to the mild flirting, and Kay seemed to have recovered by the time the server left.

    All the while, Terry shot Alex a surreptitious, quizzical look that seemed to ask if this was really a good way to get under Kay’s skin. Alex’s only reply was a subtle shake of her head. It worked for Alex, but had Terry said something like Alex did, Kay would have gotten offended, both at the accusation and at making a joke he shouldn’t have. Alex could get away with it because she was part of the group in question. Terry couldn’t because he wasn’t, and to try would have meant instant death.

    “So, Terry,” Alex said. “How you liking the place?”

    With a shrug, Terry replied, “It’s different. Feels a little weird. Not the bad kind of weird, just… you know.”

    “You’ll get used to it,” Alex said, taking a sip of her drink. She didn’t care if fruity concoctions were stereotypically girly. She liked them, and was amused by the name for the mix of gin, clear rum, pineapple juice, and cranberry juice she was drinking. Stereotypes could go do unpleasant things with a Psyduck. “I remember the first time Kay dragged me to a place like this. I may or may not have been underage.”

    “You may or may not have been oblivious to that one guy’s advances if I didn’t chase him off for you,” Kay added, causing Alex to scowl.

    “You drinking underage?” Terry wondered. “Gods, that’d be a sight. I didn’t think you were the type.”

    “I’m sure you’ve got your share of embarrassing stories,” Alex said. “Like that one ex you keep hinting about.”

    Terry frowned and muttered a very foul epithet about this ex.

    “Now I’ve gotta hear it,” Alex prompted.

    “Not much to tell. She seemed nice, then you got to know her and suddenly… less nice. Fairly standard stuff, really.”

    Alex arced an eyebrow. “And my history’s not standard to me?”

    “Fair enough. I dunno, she seemed smart and funny to start with. She was a trainer, so we had that in common too, although she wasn’t really competitive.” Terry eyed Alex. “Dye your hair black and darken your skin a shade or two and you’d actually kind of look like her. You’ve got that same kind of tall, slim model-ish look going on. Not really comfortable saying anything more than that.”

    “If nothing else, better me than her,” Alex commented.

    “I’ll drink to that,” Terry agreed, finishing his drink. He turned to Kay. “What about you? Anything you’d like to share?”

    Kay shook her head dismissively, looking evasive.

    “Come on,” Terry insisted.

    “Well, there was one person,” Kay said.

    “Oh?”

    “Some guy I met,” Kay explained. Alex knew where this was going. “A trainer, because gods know I only seem to meet other trainers. Kind of good at it, I guess, but nowhere near my level.”

    “You’ve established few people are,” Terry said dryly. “It’s something I seem to hear every day.”

    “Yeah,” Kay continued. “Probably wouldn’t surprise you to know I’ve always found it fun to razz people like that. Anyway, the problem was he was kinda sorta in a relationship with someone else.”

    “Ouch,” Terry commented. “Love triangle?”

    “Not as much as you’d think. I mean, there was never anything between me and him, mostly because he wasn’t really my type, and yet…”

    “And yet?”

    “And yet I can’t help but think he had a certain something for me right from the get-go. I can’t help it, men and women alike are all attracted to my boundless intelligence and peerless skill. This one guy in particular was so adorable because he thought he could beat me, and challenged me to a battle right after we first met.”

    “… Wait,” Terry said.

    “Eh?”

    “Are you talking about me?”

    Kay burst out laughing. “It took you that long to notice?”

    Alex couldn’t help laughing, herself. She put her hand on Terry’s. “Relax. This is how those mysterious Pokémon known as Kays begin the courtship ritual.”

    “Consider it payback for the server thing,” Kay said.

    “But that was Alex,” Terry objected.

    “So?” Kay asked with a wicked grin.

    “Okay, that’s it,” Terry declared. “This conversation is officially over.”

    Cute as Terry was when he was flustered, Alex surmised it was probably a little bit tacky to make a joke out of an incompatible orientation. Well, whatever. Any tackiness was more than made up by how hilarious it was.

    The evening passed nicely enough. Now that Kay and Terry were getting along reasonably well, their bickering felt more like siblings than anything genuinely malicious. Terry said nothing further of his past, which was perfectly fair in Alex’s eyes. She had her secrets, he had his, and Kay had some of her own. Even Sam, who Alex knew better than either of her two companions, had secrets of which Alex knew nothing.

    Alex lost track of how many drinks she’d had, at any rate. She knew better than to get thoroughly hammered, but anything up to that point was fair game. It gave her liver something to do, and it made the shows that much more entertaining. Sober, she could only take so many singers onstage doing bad covers of already bad pop songs.

    Between shows, someone decided to take an interest in the trio. Given the venue, Alex was hesitant to assign a specific gender to the person, but ultimately settled on male. The person had long, flowing dark hair, impeccably-applied makeup, sparkling jewellery, and an outfit that could only be described as fabulous. Alex would have assigned a female gender to the person were it not for the sheer excess in that person’s expression of femininity—while Alex was merely dressed nicely, this person seemed intent to put up a show wherever he went.

    “Um, hi?” Alex greeted the person as he came up to their table.

    “Ah, it is you,” he replied with a broad smile, displaying artificially-whitened teeth. His voice seemed perfectly androgynous. “Alex Lindstrom, right?”

    “That’s me. Not to be too blunt, but who are you?” Alex asked, hoping futilely that this person somehow knew her primarily from her Idaman gym circuit.

    The person sat down opposite Alex, leaving a bit of room between himself and Kay. “We’ve never met, but I’m Hikaru. I’ve always been a huge fan of yours.”

    “Right,” Alex replied patiently, ignoring Terry’s confused look. Kay, for her part, merely showed barely-restrained exasperation. Alex still hadn’t given Terry the full details of her life prior to meeting him in Hoenn, while Kay, who in fact met Alex exactly this way, knew exactly what was going on.

    In Idama this time.

    “You’ve been a fan of hers?” Terry wondered.

    “Oh, yes, he used to be such a huge star in the Cerulean City water shows,” Hikaru said, gazing at Alex. “He’d have been given top billing as a Waterflower if he’d been a woman. I’m surprised he didn’t tell you if you’re here with him.”

    Kay rolled her eyes, saying nothing. She shot a brief, inquisitive look to Alex, silently asking if she should get rid of Hikaru or at the very least have him thrown out. Alex remained impassive, not trusting herself to speak in the face of such brazen misgendering.

    “Quick question,” Terry asked. “What pronoun do you use?”

    “Oh, ‘he,’” Hikaru replied automatically. Alex would have been genuinely surprised had she guessed wrong.

    “Uh-huh. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but she doesn’t seem to be the person you’re looking for.”

    Hikaru arced an eyebrow at Alex. “You mean you didn’t tell him you’re a guy?”

    “That would be because I’m not,” Alex replied in a measured tone.

    “Trust me,” Terry added. “I think I know better than you.”

    “Fine,” Hikaru conceded. “He… she… whatever, Alex was once a guy. Happy?”

    “I’ll have you know, ma’am,” Terry emphasized the address, “that her history has nothing to do with her real gender. She was female all along.”

    “All right, so he thought he was a girl and jumped ship,” Hikaru said with a slight sneer at Terry over the intentional misgendering. “From the looks of him, he went all the way with it just for the sake of some dalliance.” The statement was as brutally, hurtfully intrusive and offensive as Hikaru could possibly have made it. He returned his attention to Alex. “I’m disappointed. You know, if you were really female, you’d have known since you were like four and you’d—”

    “Leave,” Kay snarled.

    “—have done anything but show off your body in swimming performan—”

    Now!” Kay shouted.

    “—ces. We all get older, dearie. Youthful androgyny can only last so long. Most of us accept it and age gracefully, not cling to—”

    “This is ridiculous. I’m getting security,” Kay announced, shoving Hikaru aside and trudging out of the booth.

    Hikaru shot Alex an insolent look as he stood up. “I’m only trying to help you keep your life on track. I used to look up to you. Looks like I made a bad choice.”

    Alex couldn’t trust herself to speak, so she settled for throwing her drink at Hikaru’s face. If nothing else, it’d ruin his makeup. Kay would be by soon to get Hikaru thrown out, and…

    And…

    And that was enough. Alex rose from her seat, gave Hikaru a hard shove to the ground, called him the most uncharacteristically obscene string of epithets she knew, and stormed off. In the distance, she heard Terry threaten him with violence if he didn’t leave right away, but she couldn’t have cared less.

    The night air was chill on Alex’s skin, and she realized she forgot her jacket. Oh well, Terry or Kay would get it on their way out, and she could pick it up the next time she saw them. She had no intention of going back.

    Why? Was the only question going through Alex’s head. Why the bloody hell can’t I escape it?

    Being recognized in Kanto was fair. Hikaru hadn’t exaggerated Alex’s fame, and although she’d never been widely recognized, there would inevitably be one or two people in any respectably large crowd who could pick her out as “that androgynous Cerulean performer.” Androgyny had been her main appeal, and for the time, it had been sufficient. At one point, a magazine cover she’d appeared shirtless on had even been censored despite the fact that her chest was completely male-looking at the time, solely due to how feminine a “boy” she’d been.

    The subculture she’d once nominally identified with, the one embodied by Hikaru, would see such events as failings. The point for them wasn’t to be feminine, and certainly not to be read as female, but to perform masculinity in non-traditional ways, specifically ways commonly associated with but not exclusively a part of femininity. Hikaru bristling at what he perceived to be one of his own kind associating with not only femininity but outright femaleness was emblematic of their overall attitudes towards women assigned male at birth, seeing women like Alex as “men” deluded into taking their “fun” too far.

    Truth be told, Hikaru’s reaction to Alex really being female had been less painful than some of her past experiences. If anything, the protective social cocoon she’d built up around herself was nothing more than insulation against the reality that the average layperson didn’t and would never see her as female. Terry and Kay did. Her father and sister did. Her mother and most of society, however, had made their views crystal clear.

    It was enough to make her want to scream.

    And through it all, she was always going to be recognized. Vestiges of the false life she’d constructed would haunt her until the day she died, whether she lived in Japan or Idama or even overseas—even assuming she could get her birth records changed, record of that change would be available to anyone who looked. Worse, getting them changed involved time she didn’t seem to have and procedures she couldn’t seem to afford.

    She dried her eyes on the back of her hand and belatedly realized she was crying. A year ago, she couldn’t cry even when she wanted to. It was like something physical was stopping her. Tears came easier now that she was on estrogen. Emotional release through crying was therapeutic in the long run, but felt unimaginably worse in the short run.

    “I just can’t ****ing escape it,” Alex said to herself, voice cracking. Her brisk walk had slowed considerably.

    Gods, I’ve been so stupid, Alex thought as a stinging pain built up in the centre of her chest. That pain was familiar to her, and she considered it an old friend of sorts. At least its treatment of her was consistent.

    Thinking that simply running could accomplish anything was the height of presumption. Sure, it had helped in a way. She wouldn’t have met Terry if she hadn’t. But as nice and comforting as he was, he couldn’t actually do anything about the void inside of her. No one but her could. She had to get herself out of the hole she’d dug herself into. The problem was that by this point, fixing her life was such a difficult prospect as to be insurmountable.

    Wasn’t it?

    Alex turned at a street corner and stormed down the sidewalk with renewed energy. She didn’t care where she went, so long as it was away. She wanted away from the pain Hikaru reminded her of, away from the pain of her own mistakes, away from her own past.

    “Alex!” Kay called out from behind her.

    Alex’s first instinct was to run, and if it had been Terry behind her, she probably would have. But Kay was different. Kay knew her better than Terry did, and beyond that, she even knew the pain of trying to convince yourself that your body was the right one for you when it achingly wasn't.

    Many women in Alex’s position did in fact assert their identities from an early age. That Alex only realized something was wrong at puberty was “evidence” that she wasn’t “really” female. It fuelled her choices throughout her mid to late teens, culminating in her breakdown and eventual suicidal ideation. Kay might not have known these exact feelings, but she had a better idea than anyone Alex knew.

    “I’m surprised you caught up to me,” Alex admitted as she turned around. She offered a feeble smile.

    “I almost didn’t,” Kay said with a shrug. She indicated Raichu. “Volta had to track you down.” She grinned, holding up Alex’s jacket. “Good thing you left this so she could get the scent, eh?”

    “Rai-Rai!” Volta the Raichu exclaimed proudly, her lightning-bolt shaped tail snaking back and forth.

    Alex smiled feebly at Volta, then returned her attention to Kay. “Kind of a mistake on my part, I guess.”

    Kay nodded slowly. “Somehow I thought it was.”

    “Is Terry going to be along?”

    “No,” Kay answered. She smirked. “Last I saw, security was having a few words with him. Hikaru didn’t back down even after you left, so Terry took a swing. Then a few more. At that point, some burly guys stepped in.”

    “It’s just as well,” Alex admitted. “I don’t really feel like talking to him right now.”

    Stepping forward slowly, Kay asked, “Do you want to go?”

    “I don’t think so,” Alex replied without thinking. Honest though it was, it made little sense when spoken aloud. “You know what it’s like, at least. Having people tell you you’re wrong about your own gender. Being ridiculed like that.”

    “I wish neither of us did,” Kay said. She hugged Alex. “Gods, I couldn’t imagine something like that happening to me. I wish there was anything else I could say.”

    “It’s all right,” Alex said, returning the hug for a brief moment before parting. “I’m sorry for just bolting like that. Bad habit when I can’t deal with stuff, I guess.”

    Kay shot Alex a lopsided grin. “At least I could track you down this time.”

    “You mean Volta could,” Alex countered, offering Kay a similar grin. It didn’t exactly cheer her up, but it helped a little.

    “Rai!” Volta said.

    “Look, I’m… you don’t have to answer this,” Kay said. “I’m just going to ask you this because I’m worried about you. Are you okay? Really?”

    Alex hesitated. To hell with keeping it bottled up anymore. Someone other than Marril had to hear it for once. “No.”

    Kay nodded glumly. “Tell you what. Let’s get you back to the hotel and we can talk about it.” She offered a smile. “We can even pick up Marril if she’ll make it any easier.”

    Alex couldn’t help but return the smile. Marril probably would help quite a bit.

    The walk back was agonizingly slow. It gave Alex far too much time to think, and thinking never helped when she was in a depressive mood. Kay seemed to recognize this, making unrelated conversation all the while. This kept Alex’s mind from the worst of it.

    Marril was more than a bit of help, as well. She was all too familiar with Alex’s depression, and knew what to say and when to say it. She also knew there were times no words could help, and all Alex needed was someone, anyone to talk to, even a Pokémon. This was one of those times. All Alex really needed from Marril was her presence.

    “It’s just down here,” Kay said, leading Alex to her room. Alex followed, Marril cradled in one arm, her other hand absentmindedly petting Marril.

    Once inside, Alex forced herself to put down Marril, who scurried off to talk to Volta. Volta was one of the few Pokémon not on Alex’s team that Marril genuinely liked.

    “I’m an idiot,” Alex announced as she sat at the writing desk. She leaned forward over it, burying her face in her arms. “I’m a total idiot.”

    In a happier situation, Kay might have facetiously agreed. Now, her reply was muted. “I wish I had anything to say other than ‘no you’re not.’”

    “I am,” Alex insisted. She looked back at Kay. “You can’t tell me you haven’t noticed that I’m repeating Hoenn all over again.”

    “The thought had crossed my mind,” Kay said gently. “But I don’t think it’s the same thing. When you ran away to Hoenn, you were denying the reality of who you really are. If I know you at all, running away to Idama was so you could get away from reminders of your assumed life.”

    “It’s still just running away,” Alex said. “I can’t seem to face a problem head-on. I just run, or rationalize it all away… anything but actually facing it.”

    Kay put a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “You’re facing this one the best you can. Let’s put it this way. With Hoenn, you were trying to run away from an internal problem. No matter how far you went, it was still going to follow you. Now, you’re trying to run away from an external one. People recognize you from your performance days. That’s going to happen more often in Kanto than anywhere else, so the best place to be is, well, anywhere else.”

    “A broken clock is still right twice a day,” Alex pointed out. She waved in the general direction of her right leg, bruises clearly visible. “Milotic was one big case of running away. I told myself I needed a strong new Pokémon. I gave myself every excuse I could think of to justify how I treated him… and I only faced the reality of it when Milotic was ready to kill me.”

    “People make bad decisions all the time,” Kay said. She uttered a soft, barely audible grunt at how thoughtless and perfunctory the line was. “I only noticed you really talking about force-feeding him after you got that reply from Sam.”

    “That’s just a convenient scapegoat,” Alex retorted. She sat up and stared at the ceiling. “There’s something I need to say, but… But I never said it, okay?”

    Kay nodded and sat down on the bed, facing Alex.

    “This will probably seem like I’m trying to change the subject, but I’m not, I promise. Dad and Conrad are in Idama. I’ve been in contact with them for a while now, just haven’t said anything about it.”

    “Better them than your mom?” Kay tentatively attempted humour. She then offered a meek, “Sorry.”

    At least Kay didn't ask any of the obvious, awkward questions Alex was afraid she would. “No, it’s good. I think. And that’s the problem.”

    “How?”

    “Dad let me know in no uncertain terms that he acknowledges me as his daughter… but whenever I talk to him, I always flash back to how I was as a teenager, you know? It’s like my mind’s stuck trying to convince myself I’m his ‘son.’”

    “Do you feel the same about Terry and I?” Kay asked.

    Alex thought about it for a moment. The off-the-cuff answer would have been no, but Kay’s question was worth more than a half second of superficial thought. Kay understood Alex better than anyone, but Alex could never confide her true identity to Kay until relatively recently. Alex’s first meeting with Terry had involved trying to act as male as she could. By the same logic that Alex felt uncomfortable with her father, she should have felt the same with Kay and Terry.

    But she didn’t.

    “No,” Alex said at last. “I think I know why, too. So simple.”

    “Let’s hear it.”

    “You two, well, know me like I am. My dad doesn’t.”

    Kay offered an amused smirk. “At least the solution is obvious.”

    “Yeah,” Alex agreed. She hadn’t needed Kay to show her that solution, of course, but she felt much better about taking it now that she had Kay’s tacit support. Ultimately, her goal was not to need that kind of hand-holding, but change came one step at a time, and she felt like she’d finally taken one.
     
  12. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Good chapter! Keep up the good job.
     
  13. Marril

    Marril New Member

    All I really have to say about this chapter is that it's interesting the names I wind up using for new characters. I'm terrible at coming up with names, so I either draw on various and esoteric sources and hope no one notices, or I go to name databases and pull names at random. In this chapter I used the former, which is why we now have someone named after (though not based in any other way upon) a Touhou character.

    And as a bit of bonus content, this chapter's title is entirely based upon this gif. Enjoy.

    Chapter 24 - Everyday Shuffling

    “You want Sam to what?” Melanie asked.

    “I want Sam to take down Raleigh,” Elizabeth replied coolly.

    The two of them were at Michael’s Team Rocket front in Pattaya. The place didn’t open until mid-afternoon, and the two women had sent the janitorial staff home for the day, so they were alone.

    Melanie paced back and forth between the bar and a nearby booth. “I don’t think she’s going to go for it. At least not now. I’m already straining her disbelief enough as it is carting her around.”

    “Would you rather she go back to Rueni?” Elizabeth asked.

    “I…” Melanie began, then paused. Sam wouldn’t be safe in Rueni. Like it or not, Sam was a Pokémon Master, and even overseas she carried enough fame as to be recognizable. They’d had to account for this while hunting down Liang. All things considered, Sam was better off with Melanie. “No, I wouldn’t.”

    “With the information we’ll give to you to feed Sam, you’ll have no trouble getting her close to Raleigh,” Elizabeth continued.

    “What if she talks to Raleigh first?” Melanie asked. “All it’d take is the wrong line from him and the bubble would burst.”

    “Then she’ll be a problem that has to be dealt with.”

    No,” Melanie stated emphatically. “I’ll do all kinds of damnable things, but I won’t do anything to Sam.”

    Elizabeth eyed Melanie. “What if Sam learns you’re a Team Rocket agent? What if she deems you an enemy?”

    “I don’t know,” Melanie answered honestly. “I just know two things: I won’t do anything to betray Team Rocket, and I won’t do anything to betray Sam.”

    “Those two goals may well be incompatible when it comes down to it.”

    Melanie kept her emphatic gaze steady. “I’ll make them compatible if I have to.”

    Melanie heard the door open from the far side of the bar before Elizabeth could reply. Elizabeth didn’t acknowledge it opening, even as Melanie turned to face it. A middle-aged man with sandy blonde hair entered and closed the door behind him.

    “Good morning, ladies,” he said curtly. He walked up to the bar and gave a quick nod to Elizabeth. “I hope this isn’t a bad time?”

    “No, it’s not,” Elizabeth said. “I just gave Melanie her goal for the foreseeable future.”

    Kenneth nodded to Melanie. “I don’t envy your circumstances.”

    Well, at least Kenneth was straightforward. Melanie respected that much.

    “What brings you here?” Elizabeth asked.

    “Good news for once,” Kenneth said. “Things went well with Alex.”

    Elizabeth smiled, a genuine expression that felt unreal to see firsthand. “I’m glad. You told her everything?”

    Kenneth returned the smile. “She’ll be working with Michael directly.”

    Melanie grumbled scornfully. “So can I ask something? What exactly is the story with her, anyway?”

    “That doesn’t concern you,” Kenneth replied casually.

    “The hell it doesn’t,” Melanie insisted. “If nothing else, her sister’s my partner—”

    “Would you like a medal?’ Kenneth interrupted. He narrowed his eyes slightly. “Or would you rather put the notch for Sam right next to a certain someone’s? From the looks of it you're certainly looking to repeat history.”

    Kenneth’s words felt like a slap to the face, and not only because of who he was referring to. Still, no matter what Kenneth’s reputation was, Melanie wasn’t backing down.

    “Fine, I’ll go ask Alex directly,” Melanie threatened. “All I’d have to do would be to tell Sam who Alex’s—”

    “Alex is the daughter of… a high-ranking Team Rocket member,” Elizabeth interrupted. To Kenneth’s quizzical look, she merely shrugged, leaving Melanie wondering just who that high-ranking Rocket was. “As is Sam, obviously, but Sam has no interest in Team Rocket and would react poorly if she learned about either of you. Alex is thankfully a bit more open-minded.”

    Knowing the truth was actually somewhat of a letdown. Melanie envisioned all sorts of ultra-secret-agent scenarios in which Alex was some kind of deep-cover operative poised to strike somewhere vital at some time known only to her. Hearing that Alex was simply someone's daughter didn’t live up to those expectations.

    “Furthermore,” Kenneth said, “she is not to have contact with anyone I don’t personally authorize. Should you or any other unauthorized Rocket agent try to contact her, Team Rocket won’t recognize your membership and will act accordingly. Is that understood?”

    “Yes,” Melanie replied with forced evenness. She hated feeling like she’d been forced into what someone else considered her place, but pushing Kenneth and Elizabeth further was patently unsafe irrespective of being Sam’s partner. At least she got a straight answer for once, which was more than she’d gotten in the past.

    “So you’re really just sending me and Sam right at Raleigh?” Melanie asked Kenneth bluntly.

    “In a word, yes,” Kenneth replied. “Elizabeth explained the plan to you, right?”

    “Just before she told me the point of it was to have Sam take down Raleigh,” Melanie replied.

    “So you know why Sam is uniquely positioned to strike him where Team Rocket can’t access,” Kenneth said. “If we don’t get him then, our next likely shot is going to be the Neo League Championships, and I don’t have to tell you how that would end.”

    “No, you don’t,” Melanie grumbled. “All right, fine, I’ll come up with a story for Sam and get her on it.”

    And if she doesn’t believe it, I’m certainly not defending you, Melanie added silently, keeping any disrespect from her expression. She wondered if she’d have reacted so poorly if Juliet were the one giving the orders. After some thought, she decided she wouldn’t have.



    Like the song said, the times they were a-changing.

    Juliet still wasn’t fully used to Melanie’s absence. For most of the Tribo Project’s duration, Melanie had always been there, ready to offer assistance, dry humour, or both. For that matter, Juliet had also grown used to Sam. Sam’s youthful earnestness, at least in her unguarded moments, could be downright infectious, reminding Juliet what it was like to be so young.

    I think that as if I’m “old” now or something, Juliet mused. Age stopped mattering after one accepted they weren’t young anymore, and became largely a physical process by which one lost the ability to do things they used to, and gained experience they’d wish they had years ago. She didn’t feel significantly different than she had twenty years prior, at least on an emotional level. She wondered if she ever would.

    Juliet shook her head ruefully, prompting a curious glance from her new assistant, Sakuya. Sakuya was overly serious and seemed to have lost her sense of humour somewhere in her schooling. She was slightly younger than Melanie, but for some reason Juliet kept thinking she was older.

    “It’s nothing,” Juliet promised the younger woman.

    “Usually someone with a thousand-metre gaze has a story to tell,” Sakuya said.

    “Some other time,” Juliet promised hollowly. She returned her attention to the incubation chamber, in which a tiny black mass rested. They hadn’t been able to create a viable egg, so keeping a fetus in an artificial womb was the logical workaround. Juliet supposed that the thing was going to start looking pretty ugly in a few weeks—they hadn’t been able to design much in the ways of looks for Tribo, outside of their genetic basis. It’d be interesting to see what the thing would look like as an adult.

    Mismagius floated up to the window, grinning broadly. She looked at the fetal Tribo almost reverently. Juliet wondered how the ghost perceived Tribo.

    “Did you want to get in on the birth pool?” Sakuya asked absently.

    “The what?” Juliet wondered.

    “A bunch of us down in the lab have a pool going on when Tribo’s going to be up and ready. We can pretty much put it down to a two-week period, but inside that, who knows?”

    “I’m hardly a betting woman these days,” Juliet admitted.

    “Suit yourself,” Sakuya said.

    “Out of curiosity, what time are you in for?”

    “The sixth,” Sakuya replied. “At 6:06 AM.”

    I take back that conclusion about her sense of humour, Juliet thought. Unlike Melanie’s, Sakuya’s humour seemed the introverted type. Furthermore, the joke was extremely obscure, relying on ancient mythology. It would have been easy for a layperson to miss.

    “In that case, I’ll have to put myself down for the sixteenth,” Juliet said.

    “Oh?” Sakuya asked, raising an eyebrow.

    Juliet turned and headed to the door. She explained as Sakuya followed, “The number of the beast you're referring to. 666 is a translation error. It’s actually 616. Therefore June 16.”

    The door closed behind the pair as Sakuya said, “If you say so. Every translation I’ve read says 666.”

    “I guess we’ll just have to leave it to Tribo to decide which is right,” Juliet replied.

    Sakuya jumped in place at the sound of a high-pitched shriek. Juliet simply rolled her eyes and turned around to face Mismagius, giving her a stern look. The Pokémon seemed unrepentant.

    “Did Melanie have to put up with that?” Sakuya asked. It wasn’t the first time Mismagius startled her for amusement’s sake.

    “She got used to it eventually,” Juliet said. She smiled. “If it’s any consolation, Mismagius only does that to people she likes.”

    “In the future, I think I’ll keep my own Pokémon out as well,” Sakuya said. "For my own safety."

    Juliet shook her head ruefully and resumed her walk down the hallway. “Suit yourself.”



    “You’re sure you don’t want to join us?” Kay asked from the hotel room doorway.

    “I’m sure,” Alex replied, sitting on the bed. She felt much better compared to the previous night, but genuinely didn’t want to go out again so soon.

    “Your loss,” Terry said. He gave Alex a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll try not to have too much fun without you, Allie.”

    “Just don’t keep trying to pick up matching bruises,” Alex chided. “Last night was bad enough. Black-and-blue shouldn’t come in his-and-hers.”

    “Pff,” Terry said as he shook his head. “Not like that stupid sissy could’ve hurt me anyway.”

    “Whoa, hey, watch the language,” Kay admonished.

    Alex shrugged at Kay. “Honestly, after what I called him last night? That’s nothing. Let’s just not make a habit of it.”

    “Seconded,” Terry said as he put on his jacket. “Last chance to join us for fun, adventure, and profit.”

    “Like you’ll have any of those things,” Alex said with a grin. “But nah. I just need some time alone. Next time for sure.”

    “We’ll knock before entering when we get back,” Terry said facetiously. He ducked out of the room before Alex could overcome her surprise at the insinuation and muster a retort. Kay bade Alex goodbye, barely restraining a laugh as she did so, and followed Terry out.

    Alex turned her attention to Marril once the door was closed. The Pokémon lounged on the bed, curled up into a pillow with her tail wrapped around it. She was definitely intent on staying in. Alex envied her the option.

    Eh, I’ll give it a bit more time, I guess, Alex thought. Better to be safe than sorry.

    One of the benefits of being a serial ceiling aficionado was that those powers could be used for good as well as evil. Even though she wasn’t in a depressed mood at all, it was surprisingly easy to pass the time by lying on the bed and letting her thoughts wander. As long as they avoided the obvious landmine trains of thought, she’d be fine.

    After a little while, Alex decided it was time to get going. She left Marril on her pillow, but made sure she had all her pokéballs in her bag before setting off. She almost certainly wouldn’t need them, but after last time she didn’t want to take any chances.

    The sun was just beginning to set as Alex stepped outside. Son La wasn’t particularly attractive in any lighting, but she’d seen worse. At least it wasn’t a rural area.

    The Team Rocket safehouse turned out to be an actual house in the suburbs. Alex wondered what its main purpose was—traffic for discreet meetings would have been low at best. Knowing Kenneth, the explanation was probably as simple as it being rented out for a bit of extra income.

    Alex was greeted at the door by a brown-haired man she didn’t recognize, who she gauged at being in his late twenties or early thirties. He looked like the rough type cleaned up temporarily, the sort who cared little for anything he couldn't eat, drink, or have his way with. Not exactly the kind of person she preferred being around, as ugly and prejudicial an assessment as that was.

    “Hi, I’m Alex,” she identified herself.

    The man nodded curtly. “Michael’s inside.”

    “You work for him or are you one of the guys I’m supposed to meet?” Alex asked as she followed him in.

    “Both,” he replied. “Michael will explain further. I’m Ryan, by the way.” As they entered the living room, he said to Michael, “She’s here.”

    The living room reminded Alex of her parents’ house before the divorce. It sported old-fashioned furniture, paintings along the walls, and perhaps most strangely, barely a hint of modern technology. The clock hanging above the mantle, while analog, seemed like it had been made in the past few decades, and there was a tablet on the table, but that was it.

    Michael greeted Alex, accompanied by another man she didn’t recognize. Michael smiled at her, “It’s good to see you, Alex. You’re looking very well.”

    “Only looking that way, I assure you,” Alex said jokingly.

    “That’s what we’re here today to sort out,” Michael replied. He indicated the couch behind the coffee table. “Please, have a seat.” As Alex seated herself, Michael asked, “Would you like anything to drink? I could put on a pot of tea.”

    “Um, yes please,” Alex said. She wasn’t much of a tea drinker, but she didn’t want to be impolite by refusing. “Interesting place.”

    “We’re between tenants at the moment,” Michael explained. “The last one got taken in by his family. This part of town is mostly the elderly, you see.”

    It really shows, Alex thought, taking another look around. No one under the age of 80 could live in a place so devoid of modern technology. She’d go crazy in days if she had to live here.

    Ryan took a seat in one of the chairs along the wall, and the third man took one opposite him. Michael returned to the living room with a tray of four teacups and set it down on the table. He handed one in turn to Alex, Ryan, and the third man, before taking the last one for himself and sitting down beside Alex.

    “Fancy,” Ryan commented bluntly.

    “I believe in being a gracious host,” Michael replied calmly. He turned his attention to Alex. “You’ve already been introduced to Ryan, I take it?”

    Alex nodded.

    Michael indicated the other man. “This is Adair. He and Ryan will be the ones doing the heavy lifting to ensure your safety in the near future.”

    Adair gave Alex a quick, curt nod of acknowledgement. Alex offered a polite smile in return.

    “I thought we were taking this route through the Neo League to avoid anything dangerous?” Alex asked.

    “Nothing’s guaranteed,” Michael explained.

    “Eh, your safety will be, I guess,” Adair said dismissively. “I think Ryan and I can babysit a damn mob princess well enough.”

    “Hey,” Ryan said. “Show a little respect, eh? It might not be the most glorious job around, but if you’re looking for glory, you can pack right up and ship right out. Besides, it shows family stands for something in this organization. Hell of a lot better than the New Rockets can boast, I tell you what.”

    “Lovely,” Alex said quietly to Michael.

    “Adair just needs some time to get to know you, that’s all,” Michael replied gently. “His friendliness was not his selling point.”

    “I hear the New Rockets are hiring idealists,” Adair shot back at Ryan.

    “Shut up, the both of you,” Michael snapped. He loosened his posture a bit. “What kind of impression do you think you’re making for this young woman? That you’re a bunch of thugs who can’t see past their own machismo?”

    “Sorry. Kinda got caught up in things,” Ryan mumbled. It sounded genuine enough. Adair said nothing.

    “I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to,” Alex said. “If there’s something else you’d rather be doing, feel free to leave.” She offered a smirk, getting more into the role than she figured she should have. “Well?”

    “All right, all right, I get the point,” Adair said.

    Alex turned to Michael. “What’s the plan?”

    “Nothing fancy,” Michael explained. “Ryan and Adair will pretend to be trainers doing the Neo League circuit just like you. This will allow them occasional contact with you without raising suspicion. This can easily be dropped once you reach Vientiane with the story that they weren’t as successful as they’d hoped and quit.”

    “That might be a while,” Alex said. “Assuming I win my battle tomorrow, I’ll only be up to five badges.”

    Michael nodded. “It’s for that reason your father’s going to get into contact with you sooner than that. The problem is that he can’t leave for a place as remote as Son La given the nature of his work.”

    “You get two things out in the sticks: Safety and isolation,” Alex commented.

    “Not even that, going off some of the New Rocket attacks I’ve heard about,” Adair grumbled.

    “How bad does it get?”

    Adair shrugged and looked down at his tea. He hadn’t touched it since setting it down. “Standard stuff, really. Rocket members both real and suspected shot or stabbed in the middle of the night. Front businesses both real and suspected torched or in some cases bombed. Cops who get in the way without being careful enough turn up dead.” He looked at Alex intently. “Make no mistake: The only reason they haven’t gone after your sister is because they’re scared of her and, probably more importantly, scared of Elizabeth.”

    I like how that’s “standard stuff” to him, Alex thought with a hint of derision. “So I’ve heard.”

    “Hard to blame them, I guess. Apparently she racked up an impressive Pokémon body count that day,” Adair continued. Alex couldn’t figure out his tone. It sounded mildly scornful.

    “You won’t be involved in anything so dramatic, I promise,” Michael said.

    “Maybe not quite so dramatic,” Alex said, “but if it comes down to it, I hope I can show them I’m no easier a target than Sam.”

    Adair snorted in amusement.

    “Look, I know how I probably sound when I say I want to pull my own weight,” Alex explained. “I know that fighting is the worst-case scenario, but if it happens, the last thing I want is to sit on the sidelines. There’s been a definite ‘let us do all the work’ vibe ever since I met up with Kenneth, and I don’t want that.”

    Ryan smiled graciously with a hint of amusement as he finished his tea. “Gotta give you credit for that. I’ve got no problem with that. Adair?”

    “Whatever.”

    “Looks like the ayes have it,” Michael said. “Unfortunately, this isn’t a democracy. Being that Alex is old enough that her decision-making skills can be legally honed through liquor and perfected through voting, I see nothing wrong with accepting her vote as the only valid one.”

    Alex couldn’t hold back a smile. Michael’s deadpan tone was what really sold the humour. Plus it was nice to have the kind of respect that came with comfortable, good-natured ribbing rather than stiff, forced measures of politeness and formality.

    “You say that now,” Alex said, “but just you watch, I’ll be running the place before you know it.”

    Michael snorted in amusement. “In a few decades, you very well could be.”

    Alex blinked, unable to tell whether Michael was serious or not. He probably wasn’t, but still, the idea that he was serious wasn’t as off-putting as it should have been. Of course, by then she’d probably have her life figured out. She hoped.
     
  14. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Good chapter. Can't wait for more. :D
     
  15. Marril

    Marril New Member

    The worst part of writing this chapter actually came from something that won't appear on the Gym, namely the nicknames for Alex's Pokemon I'm going to use whenever I get around to FF.net'ing this series (she continues the theme of mythological nicknames by drawing from Norse mythology, because nothing says creativity like a blonde white woman with a Swedish name whose Pokemon are named after Norse gods/valkyries). All told, I think I hit name database sites harder for this one chapter than I'd done for the ten preceding chapters. Finally, I just want to make two short comments: Frustration is a lot easier to describe than Return would be, and a Fantasy-Southeast-Asian nationalist using such a ridiculously specific Spanish cultural adjective was so amazing that I just had to leave it in (I'd originally just used it without thinking about the implications of it).

    Chapter 25 - Two Pair

    “Go, Meili!” Alex shouted as she recalled Golduck.

    Being down a Pokémon with a bench of one didn’t inspire confidence, but Terry was still on his opening Pokémon, Flareon. The two Son La City gym leaders, Hoa and Ngai, were good, but not the best Terry and Alex had faced. They didn’t seem capable of the sheer training wizardry of Stephen and Keith.

    Still, Terry eyed Alex cautiously. To him, Meili the Milotic was an unknown variable, more likely to backfire on Alex than win the battle for her. It was true that Meili still harboured deep resentment for her that wouldn’t go away any time soon, but she wouldn’t deploy him without some guarantee of his loyalty, right?

    Meili materialized in front of Alex’s trainer platform, whipping his head around to give Alex a brief death glare before turning his attention to his opponents, Hoa’s Slaking and Ngai’s Togekiss. Meili gazed at them imperiously.

    “Go for Togekiss,” Alex ordered.

    Meili slithered over to Togekiss and grabbed him with his tail. Togekiss groaned in pain as Meili constricted him. Alex shuddered at the sight. Terry wondered why.

    “Slaking, get Togekiss free!” Hoa shouted.

    “Obstruct that!” Terry yelled.

    Flareon leapt in front of Slaking, breathing a stream of fire at the lazy Pokémon. Distracted, Slaking swung his arm down at Flareon, who leapt nimbly out of the way.

    “Just run past it!” Hoa shouted.

    Slaking took one look at Flareon and hunkered down on his side. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for a moment.

    “Keep at it!” Alex ordered. The battle was type A, which meant anything short of killing the opposing Pokémon was allowed. All Meili had to do was constrict Togekiss until he blacked out.

    “Hyper Beam!” Hoa shouted, evidently seeking to remedy the range problem.

    Without needing to be ordered to do so, Meili threw Togekiss out of its grip and into the beam. Togekiss took the hit full-force, rebounding off the far wall before hitting the ground. Meili moved over to Togekiss, obstructing Ngai’s line of sight and preventing recall. Togekiss tried to get up, but Meili slammed him hard to the ground. Meili reared back and breathed an ice beam at Togekiss, freezing him in place, and struck the jubilee Pokémon repeatedly and without mercy.

    Meili has to know what type A means, Terry thought. “Flareon, Incinerate!”

    Terry couldn’t keep his focus on Flareon. Meili’s savage beating was simply too horrific to watch. Togekiss was screaming in pain, obviously begging for Meili to stop, but this accomplished nothing. Terry looked to Alex, who was frighteningly impassive.

    Then it occurred to Terry. Of course Meili knew what type A meant. Killing Togekiss wasn’t Meili’s goal. Hurting him was. As far as Terry could tell, Meili was taking perverse enjoyment out of Togekiss’ suffering.

    Terry had seen Alex’s Gyarados on a rampage before. It could only have been described as burning, nigh uncontrollable rage. That kind of rampage was intimidating, but it wasn’t terrifying like Meili’s. Meili wasn’t driven through raw anger, but through calm, seething hatred. He didn’t want to defeat Togekiss, but to cause him pain. Terry wondered what could drive a member of a gentle species like Milotic to such violence.

    “That’s enough!” The ref yelled. “Stop your attack and allow Togekiss to be recalled!”

    Meili glared at the ref as if demanding to know who he was to interrupt his fun. Still, he relented and pulled away from Togekiss, who was convulsing uncontrollably on the floor, sobbing and piteously flapping an obviously broken wing.

    “Oh my gods,” Terry gasped as Ngai, obviously shaken, recalled Togekiss. He turned to Alex. “You trained him to do that?!”

    “No,” Alex replied. She leaned forward against the railing. “He’s actually less violent than when I first started training him.”

    “What did you do to him?” Terry wondered.

    Alex shrugged. “I made a mistake. Now I’m living with it.” She turned to face Terry. “Look, I had two choices: Train Meili to embrace and control his nature, or drop him from my team. There was no third option. I can’t change how he grew up. There’s no magic reset button that’ll change Meili into a happy, well-adjusted Pokémon.”

    “Fair enough,” Terry said, mainly to end the debate. The gym leaders looked like they were ready for the battle to resume following the interruption.

    It was true that the only formalized rule of type A was not to kill the opposing Pokémon, but the underlying gentleman’s agreement denied severe injuries as well. Meili’s actions, while technically legal, were indicative of very poor sportsmanship not only on Meili’s part, but on Alex’s for encouraging it.

    Terry was definitely going to have to have a talk with her later.

    “Ice Beam!” Alex shouted right as Ngai sent out a Fearow.

    “Flamethrower it once Ice Beam hits!” Terry ordered. The rapid oscillation in temperature would add even more damage to Flareon’s attack. Both attacks struck Fearow in turn, first building up a layer of ice around her joints, and then melting that ice before boiling away the residual water. Fearow hit the ground hard, but wasn’t out of the battle yet.

    A Hyper Beam from Slaking attempted to forestall Fearow’s inevitable defeat, but a shimmering barrier appeared in front of Meili, protecting him from the attack. Due to Slaking’s truancy, he would never be able to penetrate Meili’s protective barrier.

    “Just burn the thing!” Terry said, frustrated.

    Flareon hunkered down and expelled a trail of wispy fire, which enveloped Slaking, charring his fur and burning his skin. The pain from the burns would only intensify over time.

    “Aqua Tail!” Alex shouted.

    Meili wasted no time and closed in on Fearow. The bird took to the air in a panic, but couldn’t escape Meili’s reach, and he struck the bird to the ground easily. For a moment, Terry feared another display of stomach-twisting brutality.

    He was partly right in his worry. Meili didn’t go to such savage lengths as he had with Togekiss, but he still struck Fearow more times than necessary. The morbidly interesting part to Terry was Meili’s focus on Fearow’s wings. Meili ensured both of Fearow’s wings broke in the onslaught, and once this goal was accomplished, he moved away, allowing Fearow to be recalled without further incident.

    “Time!” Hoa shouted. The ref raised his flags in response, signalling a temporary pause to the battle.

    Alex turned to Terry. “So I’ve been wondering something. Why do you mind Meili so much when you’ve never once complained about Gyarados?”

    “Because…” Terry began, and trailed off. It wasn’t due to Meili’s savagery—Gyarados was much more violent. He’d actually seen opposing Pokémon more severely hurt by Gyarados than Meili. No, this ran deeper. “Because this kind of behaviour from a Milotic is wrong.”

    “Yeah,” Alex admitted, sounding mildly annoyed. “I messed up. I took what was meant to grow up into a creature of beauty and warped it into… that,” she waved at Meili with one hand. “It’s my mistake and I have to deal with it. Quit badgering me about it already.”

    And I’m the one who has to put up with that kind of wrongness, Terry added silently. It was an ugly, selfish thought, but the first one to come to mind.

    “The gym leaders forfeit the match!” The ref announced after a few more moments of consultation. “The winners by default are our challengers!”

    I sure hope you’re happy, you manipulative sow, Terry thought angrily at Alex. His prior frustration was understandable, but this definitely wasn’t. He turned his attention to Meili as Alex recalled him, wondering how much Meili’s empathic abilities were affecting him. He felt foolish for not realizing it sooner.

    Terry shook his head. Alex was right, of course. She made a mistake and was taking responsibility for it in a mature way. There was no point in dwelling on what already happened. He sighed to himself as he descended from the trainer platform to go collect his resolution badge, feeling thoroughly tired. The worst part was he still needed to have that talk with Alex later.



    What was Raleigh thinking?

    Kim shook her head as she left the meeting, baffled at her leader’s decisions. So far, the foreigner had been an acceptable leader, keeping Team Rocket from obliterating the New Rockets. That such a nationalistic group as theirs was led by a Japanese person was ironic, but tolerable. Raleigh was simply a guide of sorts, after all. Foreign taint hadn’t crept down too far through the ranks yet.

    That “yet” part concerned Kim the most.

    “Looks like you’re about as happy as I am,” Linh commented. She kept pace with Kim easily as the two women strode down the hallway.

    Kim shrugged. “I don’t mind the part about easing off on Chiang Mai. After that second Officer Jenny turned up dead, even I can see it’s getting too bloody to keep up.” She sighed. “What I don’t agree with is having to take orders from someone I’ve never met who isn’t even in the country yet.”

    Linh nodded soberly. Another layer of leadership being placed above their heads wouldn’t sit any better with her than Kim. Linh slowed and put a hand on Kim’s arm, bringing both of them to a stop near the elevator. “Can I ask you something? And get an honest answer?”

    “Of course.”

    “Doesn’t it feel like once we took on the ‘New Rockets’ name that we started becoming Team Rocket?”

    “Yes,” Kim answered without hesitation. “And it’s more than just adopting their methods. We’re slowly becoming foreign, just like them. Or the Neo League.”

    Linh smiled grimly. “At least you agree.”

    Kim pushed the elevator call button without looking at it. “So what are we going to do? Sitting around angry isn’t going to help us.”

    “Only thing we can do,” Linh suggested. “Get rid of Raleigh.”

    “What you’re really saying is we dissolve the New Rockets and go our own ways again,” Kim translated.

    “Oh, no, nothing of the sort,” Linh promised. “We just don’t need his foreign support anymore, no matter how useful his Team Rocket double agents are. I’m thinking we can get him right after the League conference in Vientiane.”

    With a smile, Kim replied, “I think I know who we can get for that. Tell me more.”



    Kim glanced across the room briefly before stepping in. It wasn’t a precaution she strictly needed to take, but better safe than sorry. The Hat Yai gym leaders were keenly sympathetic to the New Rocket cause, but weren’t able to do more than give moral support and send positive karma and all that other useless crap.

    Sunan met Kim as she stepped into the gym’s foyer, which was empty owing to the late hour. He was a fairly average-looking man whose age Kim couldn’t begin to guess. The only way she could remember what he looked like was the odd, zigzag part in his hair.

    “It’s a pleasure to have you,” Sunan offered a greeting accompanied by an extended hand.

    Kim shook Sunan’s hand absentmindedly. “Likewise.”

    “So, what can I do for you today?” Sunan asked with a hint of sarcasm.

    “I need access to the League buildings at Vientiane.”

    Sunan laughed.

    “I’m serious,” Kim said.

    “Oh, I know. I wasn’t laughing at your request. I just didn’t think you’d actually want to assassinate League officials to make a point. That’s a bit too terrorist-y for the New Rockets, no?”

    “I’m not after anyone from the League,” Kim promised.

    Sunan leaned against the front of the registration counter. “You want information?”

    “I want a way in.”

    “A well-placed bribe will get you that far.”

    Kim frowned. “If it could, I wouldn’t be here.”

    “If it couldn’t, I wouldn’t be here,” Sunan countered.

    Money truly did make the world go round. Kim bit back a sharp retort that, while satisfying, would ruin her chances of getting Sunan’s help. Hat Yai’s gym leaders were the only ones in the country who’d ever give this kind of support to the New Rockets, or at least to Kim and Linh. If Sunan attached a price tag to his help, then so be it.

    “Just tell me how much,” Kim said curtly.

    Sunan named a figure, causing Kim’s eye to twitch. It was obvious he knew she didn’t have anyone else to ask for this.

    “Fine.”

    “Good,” Sunan said with a smile. “Now, you know finding a specific person outside the seminars is all but impossible, right?”

    “Obviously. I’m not an idiot.”

    Sunan waved for Kim to follow him as he headed towards the gym’s main arena. “It’d be a lot easier for me to help you if you’d tell me who you wanted.”

    “I’m not looking to have anyone killed,” Kim insisted, trailing behind Sunan. It wasn’t a lie per se. She wanted into the League so she could learn more about Raleigh’s longer-term political plans. It wasn’t enough simply to kill him—she could have done that without Sunan’s help. She needed him so she could get access to Raleigh’s presentations to League officials and investors. With that, she could dismantle the legacy she knew would keep plodding along without him.

    “Creating a fake identity as a low-level League official is easy,” Sunan continued. “Giving you access to where you want to go might be a lot harder.” He injected a measure of smarmy sarcasm into his voice. “You need to work with me before I can work with you.”

    “Fredricsson Company,” Kim said sharply. It was the first name to come to mind. “I need to know what their plans are with the League.”

    Sunan looked thoughtful. “Well, that’s enough questions from me, I think.”

    Kim wondered just what she really said to make Sunan shut up. She didn’t know the first thing about Fredricsson except that it existed and that it was a League sponsor. She’d assumed that’s all they were, and any implications to the contrary were simply a bluff. Oh well, she’d dug her hole and now she had to live with it.

    The two arrived at the main arena. Walkways to either side led to the trainer platforms, and a waist-high fence served as a barrier between them and the arena proper. An Aggron and Meganium sparred under the oversight of a rail-thin woman with dark hair at the right-side trainer platform. The woman waved to the two as they walked towards her.

    “Getting in some practice?” Sunan asked once they were in earshot.

    The other gym leader, Van, nodded. “Meganium’s been a little slow lately, so I’m drilling her on her patterns. I’m hoping it’s just a bit of performance anxiety.”

    Sunan cocked his head towards Kim. “You know the League forces us to stay within a certain win/loss range?”

    “I hadn’t heard that,” Kim answered.

    “It’s true. Anything less than forty percent and you’ll find yourself up for review. Anything more than seventy, same thing. And you’d better believe they make sure you aren’t throwing any fights. It’s just a stupid way of enforcing their ‘elite’ attitude.”

    “I doubt she’s here to listen to your whining,” Van pointed out. She barked orders at Meganium before returning her attention to the two humans. “So why are you here this time?”

    Kim scoffed. “Can’t it just be a social call?”

    “If you weren’t a New Rocket, maybe.”

    “I’m here because I need access to the League facilities at Vientiane. Sunan’s agreed to help.”

    Van rolled her right shoulder, massaging it absently with her left hand. “Sounds easy enough. I can probably get it done in a week, two tops. Or is there a time limit on this?”

    “Two weeks will be cutting it pretty close,” Kim replied.

    “I only work as hard as my motivation. How much are you offering?”

    While it would have been interesting to give Van a different total than Sunan had requested, it would’ve complicated the matter more than Kim wanted to deal with. She didn’t relish the thrill of the hunt like some of those under her command. Haggling was more suited to Linh, but Linh didn’t have the same rapport, such as it was, with the Hat Yai gym leaders that Kim did.

    Kim quoted the sum to Van, who replied, “Well, a week it is. For that much, you’ll be about as much of a someone as I can make you without arousing suspicion.”

    “As long as it holds up,” Kim said.

    Van grinned. “I’ve never let a paying client down yet.”

    Money makes the world go round indeed, Kim mused bitterly as she shook Van’s hand. Times like this, she felt the love of one’s country was an antiquated, quixotic ideal she was foolish for clinging to. But if she couldn’t protect her homeland, she wasn’t any good to anyone. That thought alone kept her afloat in the plutocratic sea she’d been cast aside into.
     
  16. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Ouch. Poor Togekiss. I hope that Milotic eventually calms down....
     
  17. Marril

    Marril New Member

    Two things combined to delay this one: Vacation and writer's block. SS is (I think quite obviously) written off the cuff—to the point where some chapters are actually done entirely stream-of-consciousness with no prior planning—and only the major plot points are defined in advance. This makes it very awkward when you figure you're about 3-4 chapters from the major stuff (I play pacing by ear) but have nothing to tide you over. I tried to avoid doing things like "yet another lesbian romance + exposition scene" simply because it gets repetitive, but it wound up being unavoidable (what can I say, I write the kinds of stories I like to read, so this ain't the last Sam/Melanie romance scene we'll be seeing). This all led to perhaps the most rewrites I've ever given a chapter of SS. Oh well, I've got the next plot arc planned out and good to go, so no harm no foul.

    Apropos to nothing: I never cease being amused by the thought of just how ineffectual Ash and company would be in the SS universe, both in terms of getting plot done and in terms of battling (Stephen and Keith only worked magic with unevolved Pokemon through cameo power). Then again, Alex and company would probably be pretty ineffectual in the Pokemon anime universe, so fair's fair.

    (Side note for American readers: 40 degrees Celsius is 104 degrees Fahrenheit.)

    Chapter 26 - Smiling Reconciliation

    Alex winced slightly as she sat down beside Terry and across from Kay. It was the first time the three of them had the chance to have a proper outing since that one disastrous night—the fallout from the gym battle had the effect of souring things between Alex and Terry for a day or two, but they’d since made up.

    Kay arced an eyebrow quizzically at Alex. “Have another bad encounter with a snake?”

    “Shot day,” Alex replied uneasily.

    “I thought you were on those little green sublingual pills?” Kay wondered. Sublingual pills and intramuscular injection were the two most common delivery methods for estrogen, each with their upsides and downsides. Injections were supposedly more effective, but pills fit a traveling Pokémon trainer’s budget much better.

    “Shot day,” Alex repeated, glancing between Terry and Kay. “I haven’t had any bad encounters with snakes in a while.”

    Kay frowned. “Well, whatever.”

    Despite that it had been the better part of a week since Alex’s breakdown, she still didn’t feel like going out to do anything major. The single meeting with Ryan and Adair following her introduction to them had taken all the energy she could muster, so this outing was simply a light lunch rather than anything too involved.

    “So anyway,” Alex said once they were settled in, “it turns out my dad’s got business in Vientiane and he was wondering if we could arrange to meet him.”

    “If ‘we’ could?” Kay asked, raising an eyebrow.

    Alex smiled. “Yeah. He wants to see you too. And, of course, he wants to meet Terry.”

    “How ominous,” Terry said.

    “You’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” Alex promised. “Unlike Marril, he doesn’t bite.”

    Terry chuckled and drew Alex close. “Well, you’ve been known to bite from time to time.”

    Anyway,” Alex said as she pulled away from Terry, mildly flustered, “I told him sure, we’re at five badges already and can get the other three on the way there.”

    Kay scowled, looking up to the ceiling pensively. “That’d be… Ha Tinh, Salavan, and Phayao, right?”

    “… Yes, it would be,” Alex said. “How’d you know that?”

    “I’m awesome,” Kay replied.

    “That’s not awesome. That’s freaky.”

    “Freaky awesome,” Kay insisted, grinning. “But nah, I memorized what gyms were what and where back when I was trying to solo them. The Neo League’s only got about 30 gyms anyway, so it’s easier than trying to memorize what Pokémon League gym is what.”

    “To this day I still don’t remember Misty’s whole lineup,” Alex mused. “We didn’t exactly get along that well anyway—she thought I had a crush on Lily and never let me live it down.”

    “Did you?”

    “No,” Alex said with a sigh. While it would’ve been tacky to say in front of Terry, at the time Alex did think Daisy was… rather attractive, to say the least.

    “You’ll have to show me a video of one of your performances sometime,” Terry said. “They sound interesting. Be nice to see you in your salad days.”

    Alex shot a sideways glare at Terry, letting the look speak for her.

    Terry mouthed an obscenity. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” He hugged Alex. “I didn’t mean it’s because I want to see you, you know, before. My bad.”

    “I’m fine with you seeing them if you look them up on the Internet or whatever,” Alex said. The only real problem she’d ever have with the idea would be if Terry was the type to see her as actually having been male before her transition. But he wasn’t, so that was a non-issue. “I just don’t want to be a part of the experience.”

    “Well, getting back to something less touchy,” Terry continued, “you said you were rerouting us again?”

    “It makes sense even if you take my dad out of the equation,” Alex explained. “Getting to Vientiane early means we can spend the time until the League competition in civilization rather than crawling around backwoods one-Tauros Idaman towns.”

    Kay scoffed. “Back and forth and back and forth.”

    “Well, it is her first time seeing her dad in years,” Terry pointed out. “I certainly can’t argue that.”

    “Yeah,” Alex said. “It will be.”



    I need to be more discreet in the future, Adair thought. Reporting to Raleigh always carried some element of risk to it, but he wasn’t used to having to deal with Michael’s constant scrutiny. Getting out of town was impossible, so his only choice was to stick with Ryan and Alex and hear from Raleigh indirectly.

    And oh, did Raleigh ever have things to say about Alex.

    E-mail correspondence through Internet cafés had its downsides, but Adair was able to coordinate the next few weeks’ worth of events with Raleigh easily enough. All he really had to do was tell Raleigh who Alex was and more importantly who she dragged behind her like a kite. Michael was the second largest danger to the New Rockets, behind Kenneth himself. Michael being tied up protecting an inconsequential young woman was an unexpected boon.

    Adair logged off his anonymous guest account and slowly stood up as the computer returned to the login screen. Thinking of Alex as a young woman rather than a young man was somewhat awkward, but he couldn’t deny that Alex looked and sounded mostly female. Everyone else saw fit to treat her… him… whatever, her like a woman, so Adair took the path of least resistance.

    Adair pondered over Raleigh’s words as he headed back to the safehouse. The overall idea was that it’d be most expedient for him to frame one of the local New Rocket factions for Alex’s murder. That way, the New Rockets would only lose expendable resources, and Raleigh could establish a stronger presence at the head of the organization. It wasn’t enough simply to be the de jure leader, Raleigh explained. One had to be the de facto leader as well.

    “Sup,” Ryan greeted Adair with a grunt as the latter stepped into the foyer.

    Adair slipped out of his shoes. “Not much.”

    “Out seeing a local girl again?” Ryan guessed. “Or maybe a local boy?”

    Adair swore at Ryan and headed into the kitchen. He needed a drink badly. “You’re never going to get tired of that, are you?”

    “Nope,” Ryan answered casually. Adair glanced out into the living room, and saw the other man casually watching TV, sitting on the reclining sofa with his feet up

    “I was at an Internet café playing World of Pokécraft,” Adair shot back sarcastically. The best way to lie was to blend in enough truth that the actual lie became only a trivial part of the story. Adair was good at it. He opened the fridge and tried to remember which shelf Ryan said was his.

    Ryan scoffed. “Why do I believe you?”

    “Because you’re gullible?” Adair suggested sarcastically. The second lesson of effective lying was to get someone to associate what you didn’t want them to think with humour. In that way, undesirable thoughts became a joke. Ryan was nauseatingly idealistic, so as long as Adair could get Ryan to believe what he wanted him to, manipulating him was easy. Michael was slightly harder to fool, but Michael paid less attention to Adair than he did to Alex.

    Right, the top one, Adair thought. He grabbed a beer can from the middle shelf and closed the refrigerator door.

    “Whatever, man,” Ryan replied. “Just thought I’d let you know Alex sent me a message earlier. We’re heading out in two days.”

    “Let’s hope Michael finds us another nice safehouse,” Adair commented. He leaned against the refrigerator and opened his can. He brought it to his lips slowly. “I’ve been stuck in some real Rattata-traps in my time.”

    Ryan laughed. Adair wished Ryan was visible from the kitchen, because he wondered if Ryan’s face was really as humourless as Adair imagined it. “We’re working with the big shots now,” Ryan said. “I think they’ll accommodate us well.”



    Sam leaned back in her chair, letting the fan blow over her. The weather had taken a turn for the hotter lately, plunging average temperatures nearly to 40 degrees. Heat was one thing, but this was unbearable. The thermometer outside the hotel room window showed a reading Sam wished she hadn’t seen. She imagined Alex could have Marril spew water or ice to help cool her, but none of Sam’s dragons were capable of doing either on a small enough scale to help.

    Slowly, she drew her hand across her forehead. She glanced at it and saw it had come back glistening before she wiped it on her jeans. This was going to be a long day.

    Sam reached over to the table and grabbed her water bottle. She drained it quickly and lamented that she’d have to refill it for the sixth time that afternoon. It wasn’t even late afternoon either.

    She exhaled slowly and took her tablet PC off the table. She swivelled her chair around and swung her legs up and over the armrest, letting the fan catch her from the side. It offered little relief over facing the fan head-on. At this rate, she’d have to go jump in the shower, set it as cold as possible, and stay in there for the better part of an hour.

    Yeah, hypothermia in this weather actually does almost sound like a good idea, Sam thought as she tapped the screen idly, opening up her e-mail. There were three new messages: one from Alex, one from Sakuya, and something from the Neo League. She went through each in turn.

    Alex’s message wasn’t anything interesting. She seemed excited that their father was in Idama, but that excitement didn’t extend to Sam. Sam sent back a perfunctory reply and moved on.

    The one from Sakuya simply informed Sam that they were past her spot in the birth pool. Nothing she didn’t know already. Sam deleted it without a second thought.

    According to the Neo League’s e-mail, her speaking slot at the conference had been bumped up an hour. If anything, this was good, because it put her as the first speaker after lunch break. This meant more people would actually pay attention and remember what she had to say. Given how dry her presentation was going to be, this could only be a good thing.

    Autohypothermia not being quite as good an idea as advertised, Sam instead loaded up a movie and set to watching it, hoping it’d take her mind off the heat. She was halfway through by the time she heard someone open the door. For a brief moment, Sam considered staying as she was, but decided the razzing from Melanie wouldn’t be worth it. She reached over to the bed, grabbed her shirt, and pulled it over her head as Melanie stepped in.

    “Well, glad to see you’re decent,” Melanie commented dryly, noting the obvious haste in which Sam put on her shirt. She held up a take-out bag. “I brought some Greek if you’re interested.”

    “Sure,” Sam replied. “I don’t mind food I can’t pronounce as long as I can tell what’s in it.”

    Melanie gave an exaggeratedly sceptical look to the bag. “… Then I dunno about this one, Sammy.”

    Sam laughed. “Come on, don’t leave me hungry, Mel.”

    Melanie shook her head derisively, a grin on her face as she handed Sam some type of food no human being in the world could spell. It tasted good enough, though.

    “So,” Melanie asked as she sat down at the foot of the bed, “anything new?”

    “They moved my time slot again,” Sam complained. She frowned into her food. “Least it’s not a crap one this time.”

    “That’s good,” Melanie replied absently. “Speaking of time slots, wasn’t your birth pool time this morning?”

    “Yeah,” Sam said. “Whiffed it like Alex at the Indigo League. Not really surprising. Juliet’s is looking most likely by now.”

    “I’m just glad Sakuya’s stupid 666 didn’t pan out,” Melanie commented.

    “That would’ve annoyed me too,” Sam agreed. “Gods. Now we just have to miss Juliet’s 616 and we’re golden.”

    Melanie affected a hurt expression. “But that means missing mine.”

    “Like I said, we’re golden,” Sam repeated, grinning. She groaned in realization of something. “Aw, crap.”

    “What’s wrong?”

    “I just realized I’ll be in Vientiane on Alex’s birthday,” Sam explained. “I’d kinda wanted to visit her.”

    “Nothing you can do,” Melanie said. “At least she’s got that Kay person, right?”

    “Interesting you didn’t say Terry, all things considered.”

    Melanie scoffed. “This is the part where I make light of casual misandry by saying nothing good comes from men.”

    “Yeah, that doesn’t work from someone who’s attracted to men as well as women,” Sam pointed out.

    “Spoilsport.”

    “I try,” Sam said with a smirk. She got up, took her water bottle, and headed off to refill it. “So, anything new with you?”

    “Nah. Or, well, Juliet apparently had another run-in with that Team Rocket guy harassing her, but I just kind of expect one every little while by this point.”

    “And you’re sure we can’t just get rid of him?” Sam asked as she stepped back into the room. She sat down beside Melanie, who took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

    “That’d just risk more violence,” Melanie explained. “You’ve gotta cut off their heads first, then deal with them.”

    Sam shook her head. Well, no point having this argument again, so she decided to change the subject. “The other thing is that my dad’s in Idama now, apparently.”

    “That’s… good?” Melanie guessed.

    Sam shrugged. “I dunno. Part of me wants to go visit him just because he’s my dad, but the other part of me is like… we were never that close anyway, so it’d just get awkward really quickly. Alex was the daddy's girl, not me.”

    “Honestly, I think you should anyway. He’s your father. You only get one.”

    Sam chuckled to herself. “Well, two, kinda. He remarried a few years after the divorce, so technically I’ve got a mom and two dads.”

    Melanie shook Sam lightly, an amused grin crossing her face. “You know what I mean.” She put an arm around Sam. “I know what it’s like to be in your position, thinking that you can put stuff off because it can wait, because you don’t really feel like it… then it’s five, ten years later and you realize you can’t ever get that time back. People have moved on or died, and you’re stuck never seeing them again. That’s when you find you miss them the most.”

    “I guess,” Sam replied lamely. “After the League conference for sure. I promise.”

    “That’s my girl.”

    Sam scoffed derisively. “Hey now.”

    “Oh, you like it,” Melanie replied, gently stroking Sam’s hair. Sam didn’t quite understand Melanie’s fixation on doing this, but she definitely didn’t feel like objecting.

    “Tell you what,” Sam offered. “I can hack the TV to let us watch some of the more… interesting movies for free. That should take our minds off this heavy stuff, eh?”

    “I told you if we ever had to hack anything, you’re our woman,” Melanie said with a smile. “Sure, go ahead. I’m sure we can find something we’ll both like.”

    Sam kissed Melanie on the cheek before setting off to complete her appointed task. She reflected that it wouldn’t be hard to find such a movie at all.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2012
  18. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Good chapter. Keep it up.
     
  19. Marril

    Marril New Member

    It's probably bad luck of me to say this, but I'm kind of surprised I got away with the previous chapter. The jokes seemed to me like they wouldn't pass 'Gym muster, even though none are really that bad by the standards of my non-Pokemon writing. Then again, some of the stuff I got away with in the original iteration surprise me to this day. Maybe I'm just skittish and my worry's just overcompensating for what I'd like to write but obviously can't (suffice to say, if I wasn't rating-capped, we'd have gotten detail of what movie Sam chose and how the rest of her afternoon went). We'll see, I guess.

    I don't have a whole lot to say about this chapter specifically, though, outside of that I hope Kay doesn't venture into Mary Sue territory here. I'm also not a fan of the whole "nonstop action" thing, but it just kind of worked out that way (at least it lets me do the sixth gym battle in something approaching a new way).

    Chapter 27 - Hollow Victories

    Kay shook her head, trying to clear it. Every large city had some kind of regular battle activity—in Japan, they tended towards outlandish settings like the Battle Tower, Battle Frontier, Battle Park, and even the Battle Subway. The Idaman ones, like most things in Idama, they tended towards the low-budget and the practical. In this case, several enterprising residents of Ha Tinh operated a “coliseum” out of an abandoned warehouse on the poor side of town. Seedy, sure, but it was what Kay needed at the moment.

    Finishing off two opponents in a row was a bit tiresome. It didn’t give her the same thrill of soloing gym leaders, nor was there any sense of accomplishment. Battlers were sorted into pods of eight people, who battled single-elimination, the winner receiving a cut of all eight trainers’ entry fees. Needless to say, it didn’t attract many good trainers. Kay stood to make a good deal of money if she kept at this, but she needed stress relief more than some extra cash at the moment.

    “Go, Staraptor!” Her final opponent shouted as he sent out his first Pokémon. Kay hadn’t bothered to commit the man’s name to memory. In a few moments, she’d never have to acknowledge his existence again as long as she lived.

    “Fermi, you’re up again,” Kay said impassively.

    Fermi the Gardevoir stepped into the open area between the two trainers. He hadn’t been recalled since Kay started battling, and if Kay got her way, this battle would make his seventh to ninth defeated Pokémon in a row. Other trainers gathered along the marked perimeter in the room, watching Fermi as he glided gracefully towards his opponent.

    “Long range it,” Kay ordered. Battles here weren’t judged by referee, and started whenever the trainers were ready. They were nominally type A, but accidents happened from time to time.

    Fermi’s eyes glowed a bright azure, then switched to a fierce red. The air seemed to bend around Staraptor, and his movements appeared sluggish. Kay reflected that they wouldn’t have seemed that way to Staraptor himself, but time dilation was an unavoidable effect of a psychically-induced quantum singularity.

    An invisible force struck Staraptor, which was followed by another one as Fermi shocked him with another blast containing immense psychic energy. Staraptor, naturally, fainted from the repeated blows.

    “One down, two to go,” Kay said to herself. Even she could tell how dull her voice was, which was aggravating since she was so frustrated that it seemed it was all she could do not to jump into the fight herself.

    Her opponent switched out his Staraptor for a Tauros. Kay sighed to herself. For this one, she didn’t even need a specific pattern.

    “Fermi, just Focus Blast the thing,” Kay said.

    Fermi held out one of his thin arms, a blue ball swirling into existence around his hand. Tauros’ only option was to charge, which meant he ran headlong into the ball as Fermi shot it at the bull. Tauros roared in pain and collapsed, skidding along the ground a few metres and coming to a stop well clear of Fermi. He didn’t get back up.

    “Tell you what, Fermi,” Kay said. “You figure a blitz will take down his next one?”

    Fermi closed his eyes for a moment, reading the future, and then nodded. It was a distinctly human gesture. Of all Kay’s Pokémon, Volta might have been the most relatable, but Fermi was the easiest to communicate with. Furthermore, Fermi’s future sight was a very useful ability to draw upon, even if it unsettled Kay by proving the reality of determinism.

    “Go for it.”

    Existential issues aside, Kay’s opponent sent out a Simisear. She watched with a smirk on her face as Fermi first threw out a wave of thunder to paralyze the monkey, followed by a psychic attack that pushed her back and disoriented her. Fermi finished off the pattern with a Hyper Beam that knocked Simisear out before she even got a chance to attack.

    “I’ll be needing that money now,” Kay said to the man organizing the fights.

    “Yeah, yeah,” he said, counting out a number of bills. “If you want, you could go again and I could just take the entry out of this.”

    “I’m good,” Kay replied. She took the money once it was offered and headed out.

    Fermi followed his trainer closely as the two stepped out into the hot afternoon outdoors. Kay winced slightly at the glare from the sun. After blinking a few times, her eyes adjusted, and she continued on her way.

    Or at least she tried to. Fermi stopping in place was Kay’s first indication that someone had followed her. Kay sighed and turned around to see her first-round opponent, some man who’d introduced himself with a name Kay couldn’t be bothered to remember. Shin? Shan? Chen? Whatever.

    “So what’s the deal?” The man asked. “You’re just going to cut and run? You think you’re better than us?”

    Kay laughed, a much more malicious sound than she intended. “I’m a four-time Pokémon League regional champion. I can defeat Neo League gyms by myself. I can stand up to Pokémon Masters. I am better than you.”

    “Like hell you’d waste your time here if you really were a champion,” he retorted, bile in his voice. “You’re just some guy with a chip on his shoulder and delusions of grandeur.”

    The man grabbed a pokéball, but jerked in place and dropped it to the ground before he could open it. Fermi’s eyes glowed as he stepped between his trainer and her would-be challenger.

    “You’re not worth my time,” Kay said icily as she turned and left. Behind her, she heard a grunt followed by a thud, presumably as Fermi threw the man to the ground. She didn’t turn around to check—Fermi knew better than to cause anyone serious injury without very good reason.

    Please tell me what troubles you, Fermi said psychically to Kay as the two walked away.

    “Same thing as always,” Kay replied, not breaking stride. Unlike Alex, Kay didn’t mind the occasional pronoun mix-up—if anything, she revelled in it, so that part improved her ailing mood rather than worsened it. She groaned. “Worst thing is I can’t even let that jerk know about it. Just gotta put on a smile and pretend to be so happy I want to puke.”

    Your feelings are strong, but your friendship with Alex would survive if you told her the truth.

    “Really? You see that working in the future?”

    I cannot see that far ahead.

    “Then shut it,” Kay snapped. She sighed. “I’m sorry. I really am. I’m just stressed out, is all.”

    Perhaps you should have Volta approach Marril, Fermi suggested, unfazed. Strictly speaking, Kay’s apology was unnecessary. Gardevoirs constantly read emotion simply as a form of communication. Kay’s feelings of contrition were her real apology, but she would have felt awkward and slightly callous if she didn’t apologize in a way more familiar to her.

    “Marril’s way too loyal to Alex,” Kay countered. “She’d just tell her everything. I’ve gotta bide my time, is all. Maybe after she sees her dad. I mean, I don’t want to hurt her, so I should wait until she can take this kind of blow.”

    Fermi didn’t reply. However, Kay started to feel slightly better, and as she looked over to Fermi, she saw his eyes glowing a pale green.

    “Thank you,” Kay said to the Pokémon before recalling him. The psychic pick-me-up was just what she needed to keep her all-smiles-and-happiness façade as she met Alex and Terry that evening.



    Using his connections to meet with Idaman Neo League officials was, Richard reflected, probably a gross misuse of a few favours he was owed. It was potentially unnecessary. But unlike his previous experiences with the game, his daughters were now involved. Alex was proving herself a solid player, and Sam was a Pokémon Master with a clever partner, but that didn’t change the fact that a single misstep could result in either or both winding up hurt or dead.

    That thought never ceased to terrify him.

    So he decided to play it safe, which was why he now sat at a meeting table in a boardroom, flanked by several ignorant assistants and one very trustworthy Team Rocket agent. Across from him were two of his Idaman counterparts, one an investment banker and the other a partner in an auditing firm. His Neo League contacts unanimously agreed that pursuing those two businessmen would result in a spectacular domino effect.

    “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” Richard said. He took a sip of water and set the glass down gently in front of him.

    “With all the money changing hands under your facilitation, it’s our pleasure,” replied Somchai, the investment banker, with a hint of levity. “But in all seriousness, it really is our pleasure.”

    Not for much longer, Richard thought scornfully. Ah, the hell with it. “Not for much longer,” he repeated the thought aloud.

    “I’m sorry?”

    “This regards our investments and derivative contracts with Fredricsson and Shin Corporation,” Richard explained. He nodded towards Thaksin, the auditor. “In fact, it also regards your associate here. You see, it has come to my attention that Mr. Thaksin’s unmodified opinion of the previous year’s financial statements constitutes either contributory negligence or outright fraud, as my private auditor here,” he indicated Adrian, his Team Rocket accomplice, “discovered while reviewing your firm’s corroborating evidence.”

    “Absurd,” Thaksin exclaimed. “Why wouldn’t you come to us before making open declarations?”

    “The egregious and frankly pervasive nature of Shin Corporation’s misstatements, combined with the lack of corroborating evidence paints such a stark picture that we deemed that unnecessary.”

    Thaksin swore. “You know as well as I do that we can’t release every detail due to the nature of client relationships.”

    Richard turned his attention to Somchai. “Furthermore, it’s my understanding that Fredricsson has engaged in strategic investment of companies controlled by the New Rockets. As such, it’s our intention to liquidate all common shares in these companies back to their issuers through the agreed put option. Bonds will be held until maturity. Derivative contracts will be sold at book value.”

    Somchai’s shoulders slumped forward. “I understand.”

    Richard’s lingering worries that Adrian would linger too long before taking action were abated as Adrian stood up, offered a bow to the Idaman businessmen, and drew a gun. Richard looked at him, jaw agape, eyes asking the question his mouth couldn’t.

    “I’d hoped you were wrong,” Adrian said. His performance was admirable, but Richard couldn’t take the time to appreciate it. Instead, he slowly moved his hand toward his jacket pocket while Adrian’s attention was focused on the Idamans. “You got caught, but the New Rockets can’t let this transaction go through. We need the money more than we need you.”

    Adrian fired three shots, hitting Somchai, Thaksin, and one of their assistants. He whirled around to face Richard, but was too late to stop Richard from calling out his Ninetails. Adrian had to dodge a jet of flame from the fox’s mouth, resulting in his shot taking Richard in the arm.

    Swearing, Adrian charged toward the door, taking shots at Richard’s assistants. He only hit one, which made Richard wince. The man wasn’t a Team Rocket agent, but he was still a loyal employee of one of their subsidiaries. He wasn’t expendable.

    “Follow him,” Richard ordered. Ninetails yelped an affirmative and charged out of the room after the agent.

    Gods be with you, Richard prayed silently. Adrian was likely to escape despite Richard’s token attempt to stop him, but that wasn’t the issue. Adrian’s face would be all over the media now, his assumed identity known to police across the province at least. It meant Team Rocket would have to get him back to Japan for his own safety.

    Still, the benefits greatly outweighed the costs. Not only was Richard going to be free from suspicion of direct involvement, but a great number of New Rocket businesses would be under investigation. The police would come to the conclusion that Adrian was a New Rocket operative placed close to Richard to keep an eye on their investments, and that his mission was to silence all parties involved that day. Thanks to his actions, the police were going to have a great number of leads to work with. The financial blow alone was going to be tremendous, and any arrested agents would drain their manpower.

    Richard set out to reach security and call emergency services. The police were going to need a full report of the day’s events, and he intended to give them everything they needed.



    Wow, I could actually pull this off, Kay thought to herself as she watched Volta down her opponent’s Skarmory. Sure, she still had a Reuniclus to deal with, as well as another benched Pokémon each from gym leaders Quan and Vinh, but she still had a bench of her own.

    This little solo challenge wasn’t an official match, but after seeing Kay’s extraordinary Pokémon League battle rating, the Ha Tinh gym leaders found the prospect of an after-hours two-on-one battle too interesting to pass up.

    “All right, incapacitate that Reuniclus,” Kay ordered.

    “Rai-rai!” Volta exclaimed, dropping down on all fours. She shot a thunder wave at Reuniclus, which hit right as Quan sent out a Lucario. Kay was interested to see how well Lucario could use his aura abilities, or if he was simply trained in martial arts.

    That was, however, a concern for the future. Kay watched as Volta continued to assault Reuniclus by whipping her thunderbolt-shaped tail into the psychic’s face, kicking off his face to put distance between the two.

    Kay didn’t have time to warn Volta about the aura sphere headed her way. Thankfully, Volta saw it in time and with merely a split second of focus, a body substitute appeared in front of Volta to take the blow.

    “Focus on Reuniclus,” Kay said.

    “Chu,” Volta said in acknowledgement.

    Lucario’s attacks proved difficult at best for Volta to dodge, and she was only spared a painful defeat by Reuniclus’ paralysis. Volta focused on keeping as much distance between herself and Lucario as possible, leading the lupine Pokémon around behind her like a kite. Occasionally, Volta stopped to fire bolts of electricity at Reuniclus.

    This strategy worked for several moments, right up until Reuniclus finally managed to focus a psychic attack to hit Volta. The force of the impact sent Volta sprawling.

    “Volt Tackle!” Kay shouted as Lucario rushed in to finish Volta.

    “Rai-Raichu,” Volta grunted. Without hesitation, she leapt at Reuniclus, electricity arcing around her body. This charge erupted as she impacted Reuniclus, resulting in a near-deafening crack and a flash of light that made Kay recoil.

    “Good job, Volta,” Kay said as she recalled her Raichu. The attack had taken out Reuniclus as well, which meant Vinh was down to his final Pokémon, a Machamp.

    The gym leaders now had absolutely no chance of winning.

    “End it as fast as you can, Fahrenheit,” Kay ordered as she sent out her Blaziken.

    Fahrenheit offered a visible smirk as he crossed his arms in front of his chest, glaring at Lucario. He leapt into the air to dodge an aura sphere, spinning around in an intricate dance before landing. He didn’t give Lucario a chance to react, rushing in and sending Lucario up into the air with a powerful uppercut.

    Still aloft, Lucario turned his side toward Fahrenheit, hands together beside his body. He thrust his hands out, sending a Hyper Beam directly at Fahrenheit. Fahrenheit all but ignored the attack as he leapt up into the air after Lucario, body ablaze. He plowed through the beam, suffering no ill effect before reaching his opponent and striking him hard with a blazing kick. The blitz combined with the resulting fall proved more than Lucario could handle.

    Machamp attempted to rush Fahrenheit as he landed, but Fahrenheit blocked every single punch from his four-armed opponent. Fahrenheit caught Machamp with a palm to the chest, followed by a blazing kick to his midsection. Finally, Fahrenheit tucked his arms in close to his body. A blue glow surrounded him as he leapt towards Machamp faster than Kay’s eyes could follow, and the aura exploded, enveloping Machamp while also sparking over Fahrenheit’s body.

    Heh, brave bird, Kay thought appreciatively as she watched Machamp fall. Fahrenheit was actually far more hurt than he let on, and the recoil from that last attack could have knocked him out too had Machamp been able to land a hit. Still, the pun with the last attack’s name amused her more than it should have.

    “Zi-ken,” Fahrenheit grunted as he rose from his knees, triumphant.

    “That was truly impressive,” Kay said to Fahrenheit before recalling him. She’d trained all her Pokémon well, but Fahrenheit was heads and shoulders above any normal Pokémon. A truly solo win over two Neo League gym leaders lifted her spirits considerably. Victory had taken every Pokémon Kay had, as well as a fair bit of luck, but now she could say she’d soloed yet one more gym.

    “Take it,” Quan said with a smile as he handed Kay a temperance badge.

    “Yeah, that wouldn’t get me arrested for tournament fraud,” Kay replied sarcastically, looking warily at the small metal pin in Quan’s hand.

    “Of course it won’t,” Quan promised. That guarantee was what Kay sought, and having it, she took the badge graciously. “After all, your partner hasn’t officially dropped from the Neo League circuit. We’ll just take a second badge out of stock and pretend the both of you won this battle officially.”

    Kay nodded to Quan. “Can’t say as I deserve it, but thanks.”

    “You really need to challenge more gym leaders like this,” Vinh said with a smile. “That was a lot more fun than I usually get.”

    “Next stop is Salavan City,” Kay said. “You figure the gym leaders there would take a challenge like that?”

    “Salavan, you say?” Quan said. “They will after I tell them about tonight.”

    Kay smiled politely, thanked the gym leaders for their time, and headed towards the entrance. She actually had more badges stocked up than she admitted to Alex and Terry—this win made her fourth, although the count was useless seeing as she couldn’t participate in the League championships. Originally, she hadn’t mentioned her under-the-table gym battling to the pair because it would have been bad luck. Now that she’d built up a fair bit of resentment towards them, it would simply give them ammo to use against her if things hit the fan.

    That resentment bugged Kay as she headed to the bus stop and rode to the terminal. It wasn’t that she wanted those feelings. She’d known Alex for about seven years. Alex was her best friend, and understood Kay on a level most people simply couldn’t. Terry wasn’t a bad person, poor first impression aside. But Kay couldn’t put her feelings aside. The two irrationally grated her, and she had to pretend nothing was wrong.

    Well, whatever. She put the thought from her mind as the bus pulled into the terminal. Alex and Terry were going to meet her there, and as far as she could tell, Fermi’s empathic reinforcement was still holding. This wouldn’t be too bad.

    “Hi,” Alex greeted Kay with a smile as Kay stepped off the bus.

    “Sup,” Kay replied.

    Terry’s right arm was around Alex’s shoulders, so he checked his cell phone with his left hand. The possessiveness was a bit odd visually given that she was taller than him. “Before you ask, the bus going downtown’s going to be another ten minutes.”

    “Could be worse,” Kay said. She looked around. “So, what have you two been up to?”

    “Same old,” Alex said. “We set up a gym challenge earlier.”

    “Cool. From what I hear, the leaders in this city are pretty easy.”

    “Let’s hope so. I want to get all eight badges in one long winning streak.”

    Kay scoffed. “With Terry? Well, I guess I can tell you some of my gym-soloing strategies.”

    “Ouch,” Terry said.

    “Now, now, play nice,” Alex admonished the two of them gently. “You don’t want me to break out the Marril again, do you?”

    Marril, at the very least, didn’t make it onto Kay’s list of barely being able to stand someone. It was uniquely hard to hold resentment against a Pokémon, especially one like Marril.

    “Tell you what,” Kay said. “Peace offering: I kicked some people around in one of those battle rings earlier, so I’ll cover the food, and Terry can pick what series to marathon tonight. I won’t even complain about anime night being in your room as long as you’ve cleaned up.”

    “One time, one time I leave some things out…” Alex kvetched in a longsuffering voice. Suffice to say, that one unanticipated mess told Kay a lot more about Alex and her interests than she’d have believed secondhand.

    “Your funeral,” Terry said with a shrug. “Just have to pick the worse one I can find now.”

    “And I saw a promising-looking Indian place on the way out this morning,” Kay replied, “so we won’t be hurting for spiciness.”

    “So am I the only one who comes out of this happy?” Alex wondered. She didn't mind bad entertainment as long as it was still entertaining, and had an unhealthy obsession with her food being as spicy as possible. Those tastes served as a nice intersection to keep Kay and Terry grounded.

    Kay broke into a smile, one she couldn’t tell whether it was genuine or not. “That does seem to be the outcome, doesn’t it?”

    Alex grinned. “Well, then I’m not complaining.”

    Neither am I, Kay thought. Not even if I wanted to.
     
  20. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Good chapter, but I'm a little confused on why Adrian did what he did...
     

Share This Page