Pokémon SS

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

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  1. Marril

    Marril New Member

    It was a set-up, basically. Richard's plan was to go to some businessmen who had New Rocket ties, pretending to "expose" them (since Richard's actual, real job is in finance and investment, he can do this on an official level), then have Adrian pretend to be a New Rocket member whose job was to silence everyone who knew the New Rocket cover had been broken and cover up the evidence (while also implying that Adrian "infiltrated" Richard's company somehow). As Richard's narration notes, his plan will presumably result in all kinds of investigations, arrests, etc for the New Rockets while keeping Richard's Team Rocket involvement hidden. Richard intentionally had Adrian shoot him non-fatally as well as killing one of Richard's assistants (who wasn't a Team Rocket member, just an employee of Richard's company) to make the act more convincing, while having the New Rocket businessmen killed because, well, Richard and Adrian are Team Rocket members. They don't play nice. That scene's primary purpose will become apparent next chapter, but its secondary purpose is also to show what the face of the Team Rocket/New Rocket gang war is really like—violence between the two has been described secondhand several times before, but this is the reader's first time seeing the actual ruthlessness of it.

    I might not have made that as clear as I should have in the story itself, since obviously as the writer I know the full implications of everything, but that can mean trouble if I'm a bit too subtle, unclear, or vague on a point. Sorry for the confusion.

    Edit: I also realized on rereading that section that it's actually spelled Ninetales. How that "Ninetails" typo survived my proofreading process, I have no idea.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2012
  2. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Ah.
    And it's probably not your fault that I didn't get it, I tend to skim unintentionally then wonder why something is not making sense.
    The only difference this time is that I couldn't figure it out after re-reading it several times.
     
  3. Marril

    Marril New Member

    One of the more annoying things about finally getting around to playing Pokemon Conquest is that I keep wanting to slip some kind of reference to it into SS. I probably won't, but still, it's strongly tempting (and it'd make more sense than the Dragon Age reference from a while back). Oh well. On the flip side, I did actually consider choosing the male hero in Conquest and naming him Terry just for the fun of it. The novelty would've worn off pretty quickly though.

    A few notes before we get started this week. In case anyone's wondering exactly what that one outfit in this chapter looks like, this is it. I also admit the pride parade backstory thing is a bit unclear, but there's no way to explain it in-story in a way that wouldn't sound forced, so I'll just drop the explanation here: Sexuality in this world is a complete non-issue, but gender variance and trans people and so on aren't as well-accepted, so it would've been just a trans pride event, not an LGBT pride one (and this explanation is longer than the passage it's explaining). Finally, for everyone thinking "Adair must be a total idiot for not realizing Alex and Richard have the same last name," I think the official explanation I'm going to settle upon (not canon until it's in story though) is that Lindstrom is actually Alex's mother's last name, so Richard would have a different one than Alex.

    Chapter 28 - Quotidian Procession

    Ha Tinh had better be a step up from Son La, Adair thought. He needed a city he could get well and thoroughly lost in for a few days to calm his nerves after he’d heard about the Team Rocket agent who, posing as a New Rocket agent, killed several New Rocket businessmen and nearly killed a foreign investor.

    It wasn’t Adair’s concern, strictly speaking, but he couldn’t help but obsess over that blow. That Team Rocket agent’s façade was nearly flawless, and it took the New Rockets days to begin piecing together the story. Gods only knew what they’d find later. It all left Adair wondering who else was only pretending to be on his side.

    Adair shot a surreptitious glare to his right. Ryan was so oblivious, so trusting that Michael couldn’t make mistakes. Hope sprang eternal that at some point Adair could end Ryan just like that Team Rocket agent ended Somchai and Thaksin. What a mistake on Michael’s part letting Adair roam around unfettered would be.

    Ryan said something, breaking the silence between the two men. Most of Ryan's attention was focused on driving, which was fine by Adair, who spent his time listening to music and staring into space, but it meant his sparse interruptions caught Adair by surprise. Ryan’s words were muffled by Adair’s music. Adair thumbed the pause button and asked, “Eh?”

    “I said there’s a town about twenty klicks up,” Ryan repeated himself. “Should probably stop there for lunch.”

    “I guess.”

    Ryan shrugged. “Hey, man, I’m just trying to keep you in the loop, you know?”

    “Yeah, sure, whatever,” Adair said before turning his music back on. He wasn’t especially hungry, but they wouldn’t make it to Ha Tinh before evening, and he’d regret it later if he didn’t eat now.

    Ryan was annoyingly immature, his friendliness grating and hollow. Adair wished he’d just shut up altogether. The age disparity between the two wasn’t that great, but it felt to Adair like they were a whole generation apart, with Adair as the wise and reserved elder and Ryan as the naïve and outgoing child.

    Yeah, that characterization isn’t completely self-serving, Adair thought to himself sarcastically between songs.

    They reached the aforementioned town a little under 15 minutes later. Like everything else in Idama besides the scattered few bastions of civilization, Xam Neua looked primitive and backwater. It wasn’t really the Idamans’ fault, but Adair needed a target for his frustrations, and they were the easiest ones, unfair as it was. Idama was hardly a third-world country, after all.

    Hand-painted signs marked various shops, restaurants, and other establishments, few of which Adair could read. It didn’t matter in the long run—Adair picked up lunch from a street vendor and ate it idly as he trudged down the dirty sidewalk. The food’s taste was inversely proportional to its cost.

    All right, Adair, think about what we know for certain, Adair tried to get everything straight. He didn’t have to act like a happy little Team Rocket member when Ryan wasn’t around, and he had a little under an hour to himself before he had to go back and meet Ryan.

    The fact that Raleigh couldn’t unearth any information about the assassin meant the assassin didn’t actually have any New Rocket ties. Raleigh said he could count the number of people who knew about Somchai and Thaksin’s New Rocket affiliation on one hand, including himself. That much helped Raleigh, but it did nothing for Adair.

    Gods, I need to stop worrying about this, Adair told himself as he finished his food and surreptitiously tossed the empty container and disposable chopsticks aside. Littering was a misdemeanour, but if the cops didn’t see it, well, then he didn’t do it.

    Now that he thought about it, would a hole-in-the-wall like Xam Neua even have an Officer Jenny? He figured it probably would. Those things were everywhere.

    Focus, damn it, Adair thought.

    The assassination was Kenneth’s doing. Even if the executive wasn’t personally responsible, one of his elites was. The New Rockets acquitted themselves well against Roland’s open gang warfare, and had been blindsided by Kenneth’s corporate approach. Hitting Team Rocket in the same way would prove difficult as they integrated themselves very well with the surge of foreign investors following the formation of the Neo League. For every Team Rocket business, there were scores of legitimate ones.

    Exploiting Alex to get to Kenneth was in Adair’s mind a prudent strategy, but Raleigh forbade it. Keeping an eye on him… her… whatever, on Alex and Michael would be more valuable in the short run. Adair agreed on a rational level, but not an emotional one. Some primal corner of his mind cried out to weaponize Alex against Kenneth now, not later.

    Rein that in, Adair admonished himself. He reached into his jacket pocket and dug out his secondary cell phone. It was a cheap model, intended to be easily disposed of if Adair needed to hide anything. Moreover, it was his sixth such phone.

    Nothing new from Raleigh. It figured. Adair decided nothing good would come of dwelling on recent events, and set off to find Ryan. Ryan’s naïveté aside, he wasn’t bad company per se. There were people he wanted even less to spend his time with.

    An hour later, the two of them were on the road to Ha Tinh again, Adair’s mood calmed significantly.



    “Did I tell you that you actually managed to surprise me this time?” Kay asked as she met Alex just outside some clothing store or another in downtown Ha Tinh. It wasn’t exactly the most upscale place, at least by Kay’s standards. The exterior was grimy and the windows were reinforced by sturdy-looking bars.

    Alex shrugged. “It’s meant to be uncharacteristic.” She nodded over her shoulder before turning and entering the store. “I needed to be sure Terry wouldn’t want to invite himself along. Hence the clothes shopping.”

    “In this place?” Kay wondered as she looked around. Mannequins littered the floor, each in a different pose. The walls were lined with distinctly Idaman clothing which Kay couldn’t imagine Alex actually being interested in.

    “I needed to be sure Terry wouldn’t want to invite himself along,” Alex repeated. She sighed and sorted through a nearby clothing rack with one hand. “We had another… disagreement after the gym battle a few days ago.”

    Kay fought back the urge to roll her eyes. This was typical Alex behaviour. She preferred to run from her problems, and this included dealing with Terry. Alex apparently couldn’t handle telling Terry to buzz off if he tried coming along, hence why she engineered such a contrived outing. Kay wanted to point this out to Alex, but couldn’t think of any way to say it that wasn’t completely jerky.

    “I thought you won?” Kay asked, keeping the conversation on a subject she could be civil about.

    “We did,” Alex said. “That’s the problem.”

    “Let me guess,” Kay said. “You used Meili again and Terry got mad?”

    “No, it was Gyarados that set him off this time.”

    “Really?”

    Alex nodded. She picked up a tunic and held it against her body, looking down at it. “The battle was type B, so I wasn’t going to risk getting disqualified by Meili. Gyarados’ teeth wound up puncturing Skarmory’s hide. Now Terry seems to think I’m trying to make brutality into some kind of gimmick.”

    Kay leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. “Are you?”

    “Of course not.”

    “Then I don’t really know what to say. These arguments are a new thing, right?”

    “They started with Son La,” Alex said. “At first I thought it was just some empathic spillover from Meili. Now it happened again without Meili.”

    Kay shrugged, a knot forming in her stomach. “I have a theory, but first, can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer if you’re uncomfortable.”

    “Now that’s ominous,” Alex said.

    Kay indicated Alex’s wrists, which were ringed by sore-looking reddish-pink marks. “Did you get those from Terry?”

    Alex glanced down at her left wrist, right obscured by a tunic draped over her forearm. She chuckled uneasily. “This is from before the gym battle. Nothing to worry about, I promise.”

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. Awkward, Kay grumbled internally. Well, better awkward than abuse. “It seems to me Terry’s just getting stressed out by the battles themselves. You two haven’t had any real fights outside them, right?”

    “Nothing out of the ordinary,” Alex said.

    “Well, then it’s Terry’s problem, not yours,” Kay said. “He’ll have to be the one to get over it.”

    “Doesn’t make it any easier for me,” Alex said. She held up two different tunics, one green, the other blue. “Which one do you think would look better on me?”

    Kay arced an eyebrow. “You’re actually going to buy something?”

    “Why not? I might as well since I’m here.”

    “Right,” Kay said, momentarily stunned by Alex so transparently taking the opportunity to use shopping as a brief escape from reality. “Um, the blue one. Emerald green’s a bit too bright for you. Try a darker green if they have one. Maybe a leaf green? Celadon? I dunno.”

    Alex scoffed lightly. “Just for that, I’m going out of my way to find a cerulean one.”

    Kay rolled her eyes. She didn’t share Alex’s pride in being from Cerulean City, although she’d been to Cerulean Pride more than once. On one occasion she even dragged Alex along, although Alex was still closeted about her real gender at the time and thus pretended she had no reason to attend.

    The two continued to make light conversation as Alex made the rounds, picking out a small armful of outfits. Eventually, Alex announced, “All right, now for the boring part.”

    “At least you’re honest,” Kay said as she followed Alex to the change rooms. “I’ve shopped with people who think this is the best part for the spectators.”

    “Yeah, I don't subscribe to that kind of falseness,” Alex said. She disappeared into one of the change rooms, and Kay took a seat on one of the adjacent benches.

    Kay shook her head and took out her phone. She loaded up a game to pass the few minutes she knew it’d take Alex to figure out how to put on a traditional Idaman outfit. Smart as Alex was, fashion was never a strong point for her. Kay could probably keep to two hands in counting how many times she'd ever been clothes shopping with Alex.

    Kay noticed the change room curtain open and paused her game. She looked up and saw Alex wearing a cerulean ao dai. It was such a departure from her normal jeans and t-shirt kind of style that Alex could have conceivably passed for a different person.

    “You should switch out the pants for white ones,” Kay suggested. “You’d match with Marril and everything.”

    “So that’s a negative?” Alex asked.

    “No, actually, I think that one looks good on you. Just don’t wear white pants with it while Marril’s around.”

    Alex rolled her eyes and closed the change room curtain again. Kay briefly unpaused her game, getting a good two minutes’ play before Alex came back out with an outfit slightly different in style and colour. This process repeated itself several times before Alex finally settled on the original cerulean outfit. As much as Kay razzed Alex about it, Alex did actually look good in that ao dai.

    And as much as Alex’s mood did seem improved as they left the store, Kay wished she could do something other than assist in a temporary solution to a much greater problem.

    Well, in the end, she has to help herself, Kay thought. She wished Alex would mention what was almost certainly the real thing bothering her—according to the news, at least, a Team Rocket agent had worked his way into Alex’s father’s company, killed several of his business partners, and injured him. Arguments with Terry were certainly something to be concerned about, but didn’t explain why Alex was suddenly in some kind of recluse mode like that shooting would.

    “Hey,” Alex said as they walked down the street. “Um, Terry’s going to be out for the day, so if you’d like we can get back to the hotel and I could make you lunch. Just kind of a thank you for dragging you around and all.”

    Alex’s very presence annoyed Kay lately, but she still couldn’t stand to see Alex in pain. Apologizing for an outing was something Alex only did when her depression flared up enough to make her seriously think her mere presence was an imposition upon others. Annoyance and sympathy created a very strange emotional mixture.

    “Sure,” Kay said. “Sounds fun.”



    Juliet slowly opened the incubation chamber. The infant Tribo, a small black mass with spindly arms and legs, looked at her curiously. It didn’t flinch as Juliet extended her hand, and crawled up onto it once it was close enough.

    Smiling, Juliet picked up Tribo carefully, cradling it in one arm. “This,” she said, “is a momentous occasion.”

    “I’ll say,” Sakuya commented dryly. “This means Elle wins the birth pool.”

    Incubation took longer than expected, and the date was June 19, a full three days later than any of the scientists had guessed. The winner was actually a person from the accounting department who had no data to go upon and merely picked a random date and time in June.

    “Maybe someday we’ll be in the history books,” Juliet said, looking down at the infant Pokémon.

    “The Mewtwo team didn’t make it, so I doubt we will,” Sakuya said.

    “True, but Giovanni didn’t intend to patent everything related to Mewtwo,” Juliet said. She nodded to Sakuya. “Come on, we need to get Tribo to the lab, make sure it’s healthy.”

    Sakuya nodded and followed Juliet. “Ugly little thing, isn’t it?”

    Juliet didn’t break stride. “It’s a face only a mother could love. Maybe in the next generation, we can focus on artificial Pokémon’s appearance.”

    The two women entered the lab, a spotless room with a stifling antiseptic atmosphere. It had a wide range of medical equipment for Pokémon, ranging from devices that could be found in every Pokémon Centre worldwide to proprietary machines meant to measure psychic activity.

    Juliet tried to set Tribo down on a small observation table. However, Tribo tried to climb back up her arm as she released it, and after a few moments of struggling, Juliet gave in and balanced Tribo in one arm while readying some ECG leads.

    “Mind giving me a hand with this?” Juliet asked.

    “Sure thing,” Sakuya said. She tried to stick several electrodes onto Tribo, but it hissed at her angrily. “Um, you might wanna take this one, boss.”

    “Interesting behaviour,” Juliet said as she connected each lead without a hint of resistance. “I’m guessing we made it imprint correctly. It doesn’t seem to trust anyone it doesn’t think is its mother.”

    “Let’s hope it works that out a bit,” Sakuya said. “It’ll be a little hard to work with if you’re the only one who can do anything.”

    “I wonder something,” Juliet said as she dug through her coat pocket. She pulled out a pokéball, decided it was the wrong one for the job, and dug out another. Double-tapping its eye, she released Sneasel onto the observation table beside Tribo.

    Tribo emitted a high-pitched hiss and raised its spindly arms aggressively, nearly tearing off the ECG leads in the process. Sneasel flashed his claws, not backing down. The two Pokémon stared at each other for several long moments before Tribo relaxed. Sneasel did the same.

    “At least I can probably get my Pokémon to help,” Juliet said. “Sneasel, can it communicate?”

    “Sel-Sneasel-snea-Sneasel,” Sneasel said to Tribo. Tribo tilted its head. “Sneasel-Sneasel.”

    Tribo’s reply was a gurgling hiss.

    “Sel,” Sneasel announced. That was a no. Tribo’s instinctual communicative skills hadn’t taken hold, but as long as its mental abilities were intact, it could learn to communicate the hard way.

    “It was a thought,” Juliet said. She’d intended to have Sneasel describe the procedures Juliet was going to perform and tell Tribo to stay calm and still. Now, they just had to hope Tribo would cooperate without knowing what was going on. “Sakuya, mind getting these readings?”

    “Sure,” Sakuya said. She copied some data into a laptop connected to the ECG machine and saved it. They had no way of knowing what normal readings would be, but assuming Tribo was healthy, they could establish a baseline over the next few days.

    “Tribo’s a lot clingier than I thought it’d be,” Juliet commented, looking down at the spindly black Pokémon still holding onto her arm tightly.

    “Maybe it needs some affection from its mom before we continue,” Sakuya suggested.

    Juliet scoffed at being called a mother, yet as she thought about it, she realized Sakuya had a very good point. Tribo was a living being in addition to an expensive science project. Clinging to her, shunning other human contact, and only barely tolerating Pokémon were probably just part of some kind of parent-child bonding.

    Once again, I forget living creatures are in fact alive, Juliet thought as she mentally kicked herself.

    “You’re right,” Juliet said. “Tell you what, I’ll, uh, go do whatever mothers do with newborns for a few hours, then we can continue.”

    Sakuya smiled. “Sounds good to me.”
     
  4. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Good chapter. I don't have anything in particular to comment on.
     
  5. Marril

    Marril New Member

    The only comments coming to mind this time is that I want World of Pokecraft to be a real thing, and that Pokemon Conquest is spectacularly addicting.

    Chapter 29 - Closing In

    Salavan was significantly worse than Ha Tinh.

    Oh, Adair could imagine why someone would label Salavan superior just because it was much larger and more modern, but that provided significant downsides to someone in his position. It was a lot harder to escape casual scrutiny in a place like this, and while relying on others’ apathy not to meddle in his affairs was a sound strategy, he’d rather avoid the risks entirely.

    The prevalence of Internet cafés in Idama did, however, mean that Salavan had a lot of them, and as a result of the competition, prices were mind-bogglingly low. Adair wondered just how many Idamans actually had home Internet and how many simply spent their free time in their favourite café, especially given the amenities offered by particularly upscale locales.

    For a while, Adair seriously considered opening a World of Pokécraft account just to have a cover story for parking himself at the same café for several days in a row, but decided against it. The last thing he needed was to find himself getting addicted despite his best efforts.

    He rubbed his temples as he read Raleigh’s latest message. He was tired after a long day, but this was the only time he could slip away from Ryan given their latest endeavour was to attempt to root out any New Rocket cells in Salavan. It was such a futile effort that Adair didn’t even need to obfuscate anything.

    We’re close to discerning the location of the elite Team Rocket member known solely as Conrad, Adair read the message silently. Elizabeth remains at large, while no opportunities to remove Juliet have presented themselves. Size and composition of Kenneth’s Team Rocket detachment remains unknown.

    That last part was the most galling. Alex knew every member of Kenneth’s group, but Adair hadn’t been able to get her to mention any of them. She even refrained from mentioning Elizabeth, even though she knew Adair was aware of Elizabeth’s existence. Of all the times to show any kind of prudence, Alex picked the absolute worst.

    Well, there couldn’t have been that many he didn’t know about. Any more than seven or eight people and Kenneth would run into problems with secrecy. There did, however, have to be more than Kenneth, Elizabeth, Conrad, and Michael, owing to the exploits of at least one other as of yet unknown agent.

    Past that, the only curiosity left to Adair was who specifically Alex was the daughter of. The most likely candidates were Kenneth or Elizabeth, if only due to passing resemblances to either, but Adair wasn’t able to narrow it down any further. The issue wasn’t important, at any rate, but curiosity nagged the back of Adair’s mind all the same.

    “Um, are you busy with something right now?” Came a somewhat deep, husky voice from behind Adair. Its pitch and tone were undeniably feminine, however, and Adair only knew one person who sounded anything like that.

    Crap, crap, crap, Adair thought. His blood chilled. The e-mail from Raleigh was still open. Adair pretended to file it away in his inbox before swivelling his chair around to face Alex. Noticeably taller than most women, she actually looked rather imposing as she towered over him.

    “Just catching up on some Team Rocket business,” Adair replied. He felt proud that he was able to keep his voice perfectly steady, without a hint of his nearly overwhelming panic creeping into it.

    Alex smiled. “You guys work way too hard, you know that?”

    “You can blame Michael for that,” Adair commented with a shrug. “Truth be told, this is the first night I’ve found some free time for quite a while. You have no idea how close I came to springing for one of the private terminals.”

    With an understanding grin, Alex said, “The night’s young. You still can. Gods know you need some real relaxation—Ryan sent me here to talk to you and I find you catching up on work in your time off? Really? That’s terrible.”

    Adair grimaced. “What does Ryan want me for now?”

    “He was going to come himself, but I insisted he didn’t,” Alex explained. “He just wants to pass on a message from Michael.”

    “He could’ve just sent me a text,” Adair pointed out.

    “He tried,” Alex said. “Apparently you’ve got your phone off.”

    “Then he could’ve waited.”

    “It’s a bit too urgent for that,” Alex said. She leaned in close to Adair and whispered a rather chilling message—a New Rocket had revealed the identities of several New Rocket agents posing as members of Team Rocket, and Kenneth was undertaking a cleanup operation. One of those New Rockets was in Salavan, and might decide to attack Adair if he wasn’t careful.

    Adair grunted in annoyance. He was the only infiltrator in Salavan, a point Raleigh made abundantly clear. His cover hadn’t been blown yet, but it would be soon if Alex’s words were true. He fought back a growing sense of fear. While it was the natural response, it wouldn’t help him as much as calm, rational thought would.

    “No need to panic,” Alex assured him. “Just relax. If Ryan finds anything, you’ll be the first to know. Just play some World of Pokécraft or something—Ryan tells me you’re into it. And, you know, watch your back when you leave.”

    Adair snorted in amusement. “I think I will. Anything else you need to scare me with?”

    “Nah, I’m good for now,” Alex replied. She turned to leave and waved over her shoulder as she walked away. Adair couldn’t deny that Alex’s androgynous figure did in fact look a bit feminine if one was predisposed to see it that way, if only due to how slim she was. “Have fun.”



    While Sam didn’t share the same view many foreigners did of Idama as some backwards country in drastic need of civilization, Vientiane simply felt like a better place to be than everywhere else she’d been. Her place in Rueni City never felt like an actual home, but she could see herself living in Vientiane if it came down to it.

    The city itself was extremely modern-looking, sporting familiar architecture and layout. It was as if someone transplanted a small piece of Kanto overseas. It was familiar, comfortable, and pleasant. Which was specifically why the Idaman government fostered that appearance. The Neo League was, as its name suggested, a new organization, and it had lofty goals. To accomplish them, it needed significant amounts of money, and that meant attracting foreign investors and creating as many ties with the Pokémon League as well. Every time Sam looked out her hotel room window and swore she could’ve been in Saffron City, she couldn’t help but wonder how Vientiane was before the Neo League took over.

    The most notable difference between the two Leagues was that the Neo League was headquartered directly in Vientiane, rather than outside the city in some analogue to the Indigo Plateau or even Ever Grande City. As such, the conference she was attending in several days took place in a convention centre attached to the Pokémon coliseum in the city centre. If nothing else, it meant getting there and back was easier than with the Indigo Plateau.

    “You’re going to be fine, right?” Sam asked Melanie as she gazed out the hotel room window, transfixed by the cityscape.

    Melanie stepped up behind Sam and snaked her arms around Sam’s waist, drawing her into a tight hug. “I promise, Sammy,” she said as she nuzzled Sam’s hair affectionately.

    Sam couldn’t help but smile, and she turned around to return Melanie’s hug. Melanie stroked Sam’s hair gently and kissed the crown of her head. The two women stood embracing each other for several long moments Sam wished could last forever.

    “So,” Sam said as they parted, brought down by reality but unable to keep a smile from her face, “you ready?”

    Melanie nodded, returning the smile. Her hands were still on Sam’s shoulders. “I wish I didn’t have to do this,” she said as she slid her hands slowly down Sam’s arms. “If I’m caught, you’re the one who’ll be punished worse than I ever would.”

    Sam grimaced slightly, giving Melanie’s hands an affectionate squeeze before letting go. “Then don’t.”

    “And let Juliet get sucked further into the mob?” Melanie asked. “I started this, and I’m finishing it.”

    Sam nodded. “If there’s anything more I can do, just let me know.”

    “Be there for me no matter how this ends,” Melanie said.

    “All right,” Sam promised.

    Their plan, worked out over the previous few weeks, was to use Sam’s access to give Melanie free reign of the Neo League. Melanie could then use her oddly amazing investigation skills to locate the Team Rocket boss in charge of the area undercover as a League official and silence him. Melanie made it sound so simple that Sam almost stopped worrying about the outcome.

    Sam and Melanie left shortly thereafter. Melanie kept close to Sam on their way to the Neo League headquarters. Sam couldn’t begrudge Melanie her emotions. Even Sam’s constant self-reassurance that she was a Pokémon Master and could therefore handle anything wasn’t working as well as it used to.

    The League headquarters itself was an imposing, twenty-storey building attached to an enormous, open-air stadium that could seat hundreds of thousands of spectators. Inside the building’s public areas were a Pokémon Centre, department store, breeding centre, tutors, and any number of other services. The restricted areas were divided into several access levels, with the lowest simply being for authorized trainers and the highest being only accessible to League officials, Pokémon Masters, and other high-level personnel.

    Sam handed Melanie her master card once they were inside. It was simply a reissued trainer card with a fancier design and an RFID system instead of a magnetic strip. “This’ll get you through any door you want,” she explained. “It’ll also register your movements as me, so don’t do anything to attract attention and make security wonder why I’m in restricted areas rather than meeting conference organizers.

    Melanie took the card and quietly slipped it into her pocket. “Quit worrying, eh? I mean, you could always loan me Shamash if you’re that worried.”

    Sam offered Melanie a grin. Requests to borrow Shamash were somewhat of a running joke ever since the Rueni trade show. “Maybe some other time.”

    Melanie smiled and gave Sam a goodbye kiss before heading off.

    While Sam would technically need her card if she had to open any doors, it wouldn’t be that hard to convince someone else to do so in an “after you” fashion. Leaving once she was done wouldn’t be a problem since the doors were only locked from the outside.

    Sam waited at the far end of the foyer for just under ten minutes before she was greeted by two men. One of these men was tall and lean, with medium-length brown hair only a few shades darker than hers. His long coat and knee-high boots made an odd but striking fashion statement. The other man was somewhat older than Sam, looking to be in his mid-thirties. He had short, jet-black hair and wore formal Idaman attire. Had Sam not already been a Pokémon Master, she might have assumed the second man to be the Master she was scheduled to meet, but her time with the Pokémon League was a lesson that almost no high-ranking trainers were completely normal.

    “You must be Raleigh Camulus,” Sam said as she stood up from her seat. She offered her hand to the brown-haired man, who shook it.

    “That’s correct, Ms. Lindstrom,” Raleigh said. “This is my associate, Lien, event coordinator for the trainer conference.”

    Sam smiled at Lien. “It’s a pleasure to meet you in person.”

    “It is,” Lien said. The two of them had exchanged hundreds of e-mails apiece, but had never even seen what the other looked like. Lien was probably the responsible for repeatedly shuffling around the time slot for Sam’s presentation, although Sam couldn’t be sure since his Pokémon League liaison, Raleigh, was also responsible for event planning. Raleigh was a Pokémon Master who Sam had only met once before, at a similar trainer conference at the Indigo Plateau. She didn’t remember much if anything about him.

    Sam politely waved Lien and Raleigh at the door, beckoning for them to take the lead. Raleigh took out his trainer card and swept it across a sensor. The door slid open silently.

    “You two aren’t going to change my time slot again, right?” Sam asked.

    Lien laughed as the three of them stepped through the doorway. “No, no, we’ve finally got a schedule that works. If you don’t believe me, Raleigh can tell you I’m not lying.”

    “He’s lying,” Raleigh said deadpan. “We’re going to randomize the schedule every day, twice on Thursdays, then cancel the conference the night before.”

    Sam rolled her eyes. Every high-ranking trainer had their own special quirk, and based on that and Raleigh’s further attempts at making jokes, it seemed Raleigh’s was a grating sense of humour. They reached Lien’s office without incident, and Sam was glad that they could finally start talking about something useful.

    “We won’t be here long,” Lien explained. “I just need to get the key fob you’re going to need for access to the backstage area.”

    Sam nodded. “Also, before we set off on the tour of the facilities, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you.”

    Lien paused while digging through a desk drawer. “Oh?”

    “There’s been a new development,” Sam explained. “Last night, our experiment proved successful. I’d like to change my topic from the theory behind artificial Pokémon to the application of that theory.”

    “I don’t see any problem with that.”

    “Got yourself a Castform Mark II, eh?” Raleigh said.

    “Something like that,” Sam replied. The proper comparison would have been Genesect or Mewtwo, mention of the latter being strictly verboten. Either way, playing Tribo down as being an equivalent breakthrough to Castform was the smart decision, as no one really needed to know how ridiculous she’d helped make Tribo’s battle abilities.

    “I look forward to hearing more,” Raleigh said.

    And I don’t, Sam wished she could say. In fact, she came dangerously close to verbalizing it, but caught herself at the last second. She figured this to be the most intelligent decision she’d made all day.



    Juliet had just finished cooking dinner when she got a call that she needed to head back to the lab right away. Sakuya wouldn’t summon her after hours without good reason, so Juliet fed Sneasel and Sableye, then grudgingly but hurriedly packed up and refrigerated her meal before heading out.

    Fifteen minutes later, Sakuya met Juliet at the building entrance. The younger woman seemed visibly distressed, which kept Juliet’s mood low enough that she took Sakuya’s news surprisingly well.

    “Tribo’s killed someone,” Sakuya said.

    That one took a few moments to sink in. Tribo was certainly powerful enough

    “Great, just great,” Juliet grumbled. “Well, take me to it and explain on the way.”

    Sakuya nodded curtly and strode through the halls at such a fast clip that Juliet had trouble keeping up. “It was one of our tranquilized psychics. He was bringing Tribo some food, and didn’t return. We sent someone else in to check, and found… you’ll see.”

    They arrived at the lab, where several well-armed, sturdy-looking individuals stood alongside equally sturdy-looking Pokémon. The security was more to reassure the after-hours staff than to protect against any real threat—Tribo could take down such a small contingent with little effort.

    “Anything I should know?” Juliet asked the security chief.

    The security chief shrugged at her. “We haven’t actually looked inside except to confirm the tranquil’s actually dead. Tribo lashed out at us but didn’t injure anyone.”

    “All right,” Juliet said. She took out Banette’s pokéball and released the ghost. Like the security detail for the staff, Banette was little more than a placebo for Juliet’s fears. Banette’s presence worked surprisingly well, however, and Juliet wasn’t afraid at all as she opened the door and entered the room.

    Something must have severely agitated Tribo, as the observation equipment had been totally destroyed. Electronics lay strewn across the floor, broken shards of glass glittering in the fluorescent light. The dead tranquil, who’d been known to Juliet solely as Robert, was huddled in one corner of the room, blood pooling around his body. After a few moments’ inspection, Juliet discovered Tribo in the opposite corner, similarly huddled, and trembling. It hissed rhythmically at itself.

    Juliet nodded to Banette, who kept several paces behind Juliet as she approached the genetic Pokémon slowly. She knelt down and extended her arm towards Tribo, saying in a hushed voice, “It’s me. Are you hurt?”

    Tribo emitted a high-pitched hiss and leapt at Juliet’s arm, latching on tightly. Its hisses turned back into that steady, rhythmic form which Juliet belatedly realized was crying. Did Tribo feel remorse over the kill, or was this something else?

    Banette approached, and Tribo gazed at her fearfully. This fear couldn’t possibly have been because Tribo felt physically threatened. It could have defeated Banette in mere seconds were that the case. This had to be something else.

    “It’s okay, I promise,” Juliet said to Tribo in a hushed tone. “Banette isn’t going to hurt you.”

    Tribo continued to cry, but seemed to accept that Banette was no threat. Juliet gently stroked the back of its head as she stood up. Sakuya stood leaning against the doorframe, looking at Juliet inquisitively.

    “I want you to get the lab’s psychics,” Juliet said. “I think Hypno’s going to be our best bet. Something terrified Tribo and Hypno can probably find out what.”

    “Could Hypno even communicate with it?” Sakuya asked. Tribo was part dark type, which meant in theory that a psychic Pokémon would be unable to communicate with it. That aside, Tribo was also part psychic type, which meant telepathy was its primary form of communication. Such a combination wasn’t known to exist naturally, so there was no way of knowing how it would work in practice.

    “Can’t hurt,” Juliet said. “If my theory’s right, Tribo will warm right up to Hypno.”

    “What’s your theory?”

    “It’ll take too long to explain now. Just get me Hypno and remove all tranquilized caretakers from Tribo’s staff.”

    Sakuya shrugged helplessly. “You’re the boss. I just hope I’m not the next one we find dead.”
     
  6. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Cool, wonder what's up with Tribo.
     
  7. Redados1

    Redados1 Member

    I like this story.

    That is all
     
  8. Marril

    Marril New Member

    It was a really weird experience playing Pokemon Conquest and realizing at some point that the reason Nene stood out so much to me was that she looks a lot like how I imagine Sam looking (although Sam's obviously not a ninja and looks a little less moe). And on that note, I'm probably leaping a bit too far with how Conquest slots into the overall Pokemon canon as some kind of mythological epic, although the third scene in this chapter was actually planned months in advance, well before I started playing Conquest, so the whole warrior thing and comparing Juliet to Mitsuhide (though the actual dynamic there isn't explained overly well in Conquest itself) were entirely on the fly.

    No attempt will be made to explain how Mewtwo being in Ransei would work in the story.

    Anyway, now that I have regular computer access again, I should be able to write more and thus avoid 2+ week gaps between chapters.

    Chapter 30 - Self Discovery

    There was no way around it. Adair had to act now.

    It had been two days since Alex barged in and saw the e-mail from Raleigh, and in that time, Adair had to downplay or obfuscate several clues that he was a New Rocket member. It had even gotten to the point where Ryan started jokingly making reference to Adair’s true allegiance—the exact kind of joking façade Adair used extensively. Worse, Michael seemed to involve Adair in less and less, as if he knew Adair’s secret.

    It was possible it was all paranoia, a product of guilt building up and boiling over. Ryan’s jokes could very well have been genuine. Michael might not have been ignoring him after all.

    Yeah, and Grumpigs could fly the Miltanks home.

    This left Adair with one very clear course of action: Eliminate Alex while he could still operate, and go to ground, preferably overseas. Lining up a new identity in China would be simple given his connections. It wouldn’t be the first time, either. Sometimes, Adair wondered if anyone alive could connect him to his birth name anymore, if anyone knew him from before he joined the New Rockets. It was doubtful.

    While “kill Alex and run” was a simple plan, actually going through with it involved more steps than anticipated. In the end, Adair settled for calling Alex in to the Team Rocket safehouse on a night Ryan was out—a reversal of the way Alex nearly blew Adair’s cover. The reason he gave her for coming was that Ryan had found the New Rocket operative and was pursuing him, but that Alex was the current target and had to come to Adair for protection.

    Not the best plan I’ve ever come up with, Adair thought as he checked his automatic pistol’s magazine and loaded it, but it’s good enough.

    Alex wouldn’t take long to arrive. Adair paced back and forth in the safehouse’s living room. It was a fairly standard if cramped Idaman place. The floor was made of a cheap hardwood, with straw mats covering it. The couch was Miltank leather and the table was some kind of light-coloured wood Adair couldn’t identify. There were no adornments, no other furniture, and Adair couldn’t imagine more than one person living in such a space. It amazed him that this was considered suitable for a family of three.

    Adair picked up his cell phone and checked the time. It was 9:13 PM. Ryan said he’d be back by midnight at the latest. With all of Adair’s preparations, he had plenty of time. Unfortunately, time was as much his enemy as his ally at the moment, as a million doubts and fears crept into his mind. What if Alex didn’t show up? What if Ryan came back too early and stumbled across Adair? What if Michael and Kenneth tracked him down before he could flee the country?

    Focus, damn it, Adair told himself. Now was the absolute worst time to let his imagination run away with him. Alex was coming, and eliminating her—killing her, Adair reminded himself, because he wanted to avoid thinking of it euphemistically—was the immediate goal. Nothing else mattered until after that was accomplished.

    Adair nearly jumped at a knock at the door several minutes later. He took a moment to collect himself before calling out, “The door’s open. Let yourself in.”

    Adair kept his gun pointed squarely at the thin plywood door. In theory, he could have simply shot through it, but he needed to be sure to have enough stopping power to take Alex to the floor, and pistols were notoriously bad at that even at the best of times.

    The door opened and Adair fired four shots without looking. As the ringing left his ears, he saw that it wasn’t Alex at the door, but a bleeding Milotic. This image lasted for maybe half a second before Alex’s Milotic rushed at him, knocking the gun from his hands with its tail. Before Adair could respond, Milotic worked its tail around him, constricting him to the point where breathing was nearly impossible.

    Alex stepped into the room a few heartbeats later. She shook her head at Adair and said nothing.

    “What the hell?” Adair shouted. He couldn’t inhale to refill the air lost from his lungs. He felt like kicking himself over his stupidity—wasting air like that while being constricted made the situation even worse.

    Alex shrugged. “I let Michael and Ryan keep chasing after other people because I knew you’d try something stupid like this. Simple as that.”

    That sow actually pulled something like this off? Adair thought in amazement. It was unreal. This situation felt like it simply should not have been happening. A portion of his brain actually refused to accept these events as real.

    “So what?” Adair asked. “You’re gonna give me to Michael?”

    Alex scoffed darkly. “Of course not.”

    Damn it. Alex was smart, but apparently not perceptive enough to realize that Adair really would trade information for his life now that he had no other option. He’d been beaten by Alex’s cleverness, but it was her stupidity that would kill him.

    Well, either way, he still only had enough air for one more sentence, maybe two. If he was to say anything, he had to make it count.

    “Hey, Alex—” Adair began.

    An annoyed grunt from Alex cut him off. “Just finish him, Meili.”

    Adair’s shock at what Alex just said stunned him long enough for Milotic to tighten its grip around him, choking out what little air he had left to make an offer for his own life. Alex watched him with an impassive look on her face as his vision began to darken. A sharp pain shot through Adair’s chest as a rib gave way.

    Alex was still watching Adair as he lost consciousness.



    Alex struggled once more against what were now dry heaves. Watching Adair die, remembering what that constriction felt like firsthand, had stunned her at first, forcing her to watch the entire ordeal. The sickening thump of Adair’s body hitting the floor had snapped her out of this daze, and within moments she felt like throwing up. She’d barely made it to the bathroom in time. The heaving had yet to stop completely.

    She hadn’t even had the time to recall Meili. Gods only knew what the Milotic was doing without her supervision. He wouldn’t leave the premises, but the thought that he might do something to desecrate the body tore at her. Calling Michael took every ounce of determination she could muster, and she didn’t even perceive the passage of time until he arrived. Or at least she hoped it was him. Whatever it was, she heard a loud crashing sound from the living room.

    I swear to the gods… Alex let the thought linger as she stood up and stumbled out of the bathroom. Meili stood in the centre of the living room, glaring at Michael, Ryan, and a man who Alex supposed was another Team Rocket member.

    “Meili,” Alex called. “That’s enough.”

    Meili shot a defiant glare at Alex before tensing his tail. Alex grabbed Meili's pokéball and recalled Meili before his attack could reach the Rockets. With Meili gone, Alex could relax slightly. Her breathing was ragged, and her balance was surprisingly unsteady.

    “You neglected to mention the Milotic,” Michael said. Although his tone was deadpan, Alex detected a hint of derision in his voice.

    “Looks like that thing did a number on Adair,” Ryan commented, prodding the body with his foot.

    Michael turned to Ryan. “Please don’t make this harder on Alex than it already is.”

    Ryan hesitated slightly and then said, “Eh. Sorry.”

    While a prompted apology was worthless, it sounded sincere enough, which made Alex feel slightly better. Not that standing mere metres from the body of someone she’d had her Pokémon kill—that she’d killed—was a baseline from which any kind of improvement was possible.

    “You two get this mess cleaned up,” Michael said to Ryan and the unnamed Rocket before motioning for Alex to follow him.

    “Where are we going?” Alex asked dully once they were out into the cool night air. Michael’s car was parked out front. It was a nondescript, navy blue vehicle, and very obviously used. Such a car wouldn’t attract any attention on the Salavan streets.

    “Away,” Michael said. He sighed. “I suppose you’ll have to return to your friends or they’ll get suspicious.”

    Alex shrugged and leaned against the window. Her seatbelt cut into her neck slightly, but she didn’t care. “I dunno. Terry might ask questions if I’m out too late.” She laughed, a hollow, bitter sound. “The worst part is I know the exact story I’d tell him: Someone attacked me on the way home, I couldn’t get my Pokémon out in time, and things went bad from there.”

    “Inventive,” Michael said. He paused briefly. “How does it compare to what really happened?”

    “Pretty similar, except I got my Pokémon out in time,” Alex said. She sighed. “A few days ago, Ryan sent me off to deliver a message to Adair. Fairly normal thing. He was at an Internet café, and I guess I snuck up on him or something, because he was e-mailing stuff he shouldn’t have known to people I assumed he shouldn’t be talking to. Then there was all that stuff about a New Rocket guy running around… I figured it might be him, but I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want him running away. So when he called me earlier tonight telling him to come by, well, I knew what was up. Turns out I was right, since I had Meili at the door, and the first thing Adair did was shoot him. Then, well… yeah.”

    Michael nodded somberly, not taking his eyes off the road. “I wish you’d come to me with this. Ryan and I didn’t even suspect him. He could very well have killed you and slipped away before we realized anything was wrong.”

    “He seemed to be a step ahead of you,” Alex said dumbly. All this statement did was repeat what Michael said back to him, but she couldn’t afford to dwell on it. “I didn’t want to risk anyone.”

    “Anyone but yourself,” Michael retorted calmly.

    The words felt like a slap to Alex’s face, but Michael had a point. She’d recklessly endangered herself just to keep Michael and Ryan safe. But what if she’d failed? Then Terry, Kay, and Marril would all have to come to terms not just with her death, but the circumstances leading to it. It would’ve been an unreasonable burden to place upon them.

    “Yeah,” Alex agreed quietly. “I guess that’s how it went.”

    “Now that it’s over,” Michael said slowly, deliberately, “do you stand by your decision?”

    “I guess,” Alex said. “I can’t really think of anything else I’d do differently without, you know, hindsight and all that.”

    “That’s good,” Michael replied. He checked over his shoulder and pulled over. After a moment of looking around, Alex determined that they were just around the block from her hotel. “I’m going to be honest with you,” he continued. “I won’t say you did the right thing, but you did handle the situation very well. You made a hard choice and stuck with it. That’s commendable—most people in your position wouldn’t have been able to do the same.”

    “Look at me,” Alex said. “I’m a gods-damn wreck over this.”

    “I’d be worried about you if you weren’t,” Michael replied quietly. “I’ve seen more than one person, new Team Rocket members who had some idea of what they were getting into, completely break down as a result of their actions. If anything, the gods smiled upon you tonight.”

    Yeah, right, the gods. Belief in them was so ingrained into Alex’s culture that she couldn’t help but use religious language, yet the thought that the gods actually existed and that those world-shaping beings would descend from on high to help one specific person survive a bad situation was laughable. She didn’t have anyone other than herself to thank or blame for her own successes and failures earlier.

    “The gods smile on murder?” Alex wondered aloud, incredulity slipping into her voice.

    “In self-defense,” Michael answered evenly. “Ultimately, nothing I say will make this any easier for you. All I can do is help you in the long run by reassuring you that regardless of anything else, when it came down to you or him, you made the right call. Dying for no reason is worse than anything you can do and live. Remember that.”

    Michael’s words made sense on a logical level, but on an emotional one, Alex still felt she was moments away from more dry heaving. If experience with negative emotions had taught her anything, it was that she wasn’t in danger of any physical reactions at this point besides maybe lethargy. Now everything would be emotional.

    Alex nodded glumly. “Yeah. I’ll keep that in mind.”



    Sakuya treaded cautiously as she entered the lab which had been remodelled into a more habitable living space for Tribo. Juliet supposed she couldn’t begrudge the younger woman her caution. After all, Tribo had already killed one tranquilized psychic, and had grievously injured another before having been stopped. That would put a healthy fear into anyone.

    “I take it Tribo’s more stable now?” Sakuya wondered as she eyed Juliet cautiously. Juliet sat on a couch with Tribo in her lap, cradled in her arms like a toddler. The artificial Pokémon grew quickly—only recently it had been the size of an infant.

    “Tribo was always stable to begin with,” Juliet said. She indicated a chair along the wall. “Please have a seat.”

    Sakuya pulled the chair closer to Juliet before sitting down in it. Juliet could see plain distrust in Sakuya’s face. Again, it wasn’t something she could judge Sakuya too harshly for. “Well,” Sakuya commented dully, “it looks more stable now.”

    “It always was,” Juliet repeated. “It took me a while, but I figured out why Tribo reacted as it did. It has to do with how Tribo communicates. You see, it constantly reads thoughts and emotions from those around it. This is apparently subconscious—Tribo has no way to shut this off.”

    “Most psychic-types do that,” Sakuya pointed out. “I’ve never seen a case of a psychic becoming enraged by a tranquil before.”

    “As I said, Tribo has no filters. It can’t shut out the mind of a tranquilized psychic. It experiences the pain tranquils are put through as part of their procedures. Tribo’s experience of this pain never ends, never dulls. Worse, it hurts on a deeper level than it does for conventional psychics. It lashes out as a result of stimulus overload.”

    “The obvious question is how you figured this out,” Sakuya replied.

    Juliet smiled knowingly. “It was a lengthy process. Interpreting our psychic Pokémon isn’t always easy. In the end, I could only get the details from Tribo itself.”

    “I’m not sure I understand. I thought Tribo couldn’t communicate verbally?”

    “It can’t,” Juliet said. “I’m not sure how, but over the past few days, I’ve noticed I could feel Tribo’s thoughts and emotions in a way similar to how I imagine it can feel mine.”

    “A psychic link?” Sakuya asked. “I thought that was something only psychic humans could do. Normally you just have to train the psychic Pokémon to communicate verbally, don’t you? Or are you telling me you’re psychic now?”

    “I’m not,” Juliet assured Sakuya. She stood up slowly, Tribo still in her arms, and set the artificial Pokémon down gently. She kept her gaze on Tribo, who looked up at her in return. Juliet mentally focused intent upon Tribo rather than verbalized words, and the Pokémon bobbed its head up and down slowly as it tried to tell what Juliet wanted.

    After a moment, Tribo crawled towards Sakuya cautiously, deliberately. Sakuya looked increasingly nervous as Tribo got closer to her, but she didn’t rebuke the Pokémon’s advance. Tribo stopped at Sakuya’s feet and looked up at her. Sakuya flinched in surprise as Tribo hissed gently at her several times.

    “What’s it doing?” Sakuya asked.

    “I asked it to go over and say hello,” Juliet explained.

    “Cute trick,” Sakuya said. “Can you please get it away from me?”

    Tribo didn’t need to be told by Juliet to leave. Evidently it sensed Sakuya’s negative reaction to its presence and left on its own. Tribo scampered back to Juliet, who picked it up with one arm.

    “I imagine my link with Tribo will only increase as it matures,” Juliet said as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.

    “Why do you keep calling it a link?” Sakuya asked. She paused for a moment. “… Wait, do you really mean like Ransei-style linking?”

    “I don’t think I’d go quite that far,” Juliet said. “After all, Tribo’s psychic. We’re not talking about linking with a non-psychic or anything. It’s just a convenient term that’s easy to understand.”

    “Good. If you start calling yourself a warlord, I’m quitting.”

    Juliet laughed. “Because I’m a real Mitsuhide, right?”

    “Why him?”

    “No real reason,” Juliet said. In truth, she saw herself as Mitsuhide in the same way she saw Roland as Nobunaga, although she dared not elaborate on that to anyone other than Tribo. In the end, Ransei was an irrelevant legend, and comparison of her to Mitsuhide a passing fancy. She wasn’t a warlord or any other kind of mythological figure. She was a Team Rocket executive, living in the here and now, and her actions were hers, not a reflection of some kind of fate bound to myth and legend.

    “This is gonna cause some real problems with mass production,” Sakuya commented, changing the subject.

    “It’s fixable in the long run, although now that I’ve experienced the actual link, I can definitely see advantages to it. At the very least, we should look into whether or not this kind of link is replicable.”

    Sakuya sighed and leaned back in her seat. “Yeah,” she said under her breath. “A whole race of custom-made Tribos that’ll turn anyone into Pokémon warriors. That’ll end well.”

    Juliet chose to ignore Sakuya. There wasn’t any point in arguing at this point.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2012
  9. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Addicted to Pokemon Conquest too, eh?

    Good chapter, looking forward to the next one.
     
  10. Marril

    Marril New Member

    Yeah, Conquest is pretty addicting. Unfortunately there isn't really any way to work it into this story any more than I already have, since I think the warrior dynamic is pretty cool. It's a little ironic in a way considering that I made Pokemon Stadium of all things into an actual thing in-universe. On that note, it's not really plot-relevant, but the reference to Red isn't a reference to Ash, since one of the quirks of my own personal canon is that I mash together the games, anime, and manga with reckless abandon.

    Chapter 31 - Not Around

    “Hey, Kay,” Terry said as he and Alex were almost ready to leave after anime night in Kay’s room. “Mind if I stay a moment and talk to you?”

    “Uh, sure,” Kay said, obviously curious.

    “Is this something I should be in on?” Alex asked.

    “Oh, no,” Terry replied, hoping evasiveness wasn’t creeping into his voice. “This won’t be long. I’ll meet you back at our room, okay?”

    “You got it,” Alex said as she left.

    Now, all Terry had to do was actually talk to Kay. He wasn’t completely distant towards her, but most of the time it felt like the only reason he really ever spoke to her was because he was Alex's partner. This thought didn’t engender confidence in Terry.

    Terry sat down wearily. “There’s something I’ve been hoping you can answer for me.”

    “Oh?” Kay asked, sitting on the bed.

    “I mean, I know Alex tells you stuff she’ll never tell me,” Terry explained. “I’m okay with that. I don’t want to pry, but things have been getting serious and I really do need to know if she’s told you anything.”

    Kay frowned. “How ominous.”

    “She’s, well… her depression always varies, but lately she’s been downright distraught over something I know is serious. She just denies anything ever happened.”

    “I noticed it too,” Kay said quietly.

    “So she hasn’t said anything?” Terry asked.

    Kay sighed and took a slow deep breath. “She has. At least, she’s told me part of it. From what I know, I don’t think she’d even tell Marril the whole story.”

    “Can you at least give me what you’ve got?” Terry asked.

    “No,” Kay said as she shook her head. She grimaced. “It’s better that you don’t know. I probably shouldn’t have said even this much, but I just… look, trust me, okay?”

    Trust you? Why the hell should I do that? Terry thought. Kay wasn’t the one who had to deal with Alex at her worst. Kay had never held a sobbing Alex in her arms, in agony over the knowledge that nothing could help her at that moment. Terry had thought that the worst of it simply meant those cases sporadically going from once or twice a week to three or four times a week, but lately, Alex was totally inconsolable. For a few nights in a row, she’d had to sleep curled up at the far side of the bed from him. He couldn’t stand being completely unable to be there for her, if not emotionally then at least physically.

    And now here Kay was, telling him that not only couldn’t he know what was going on with her, but that she trusted Kay more than she trusted him. Too many times had Terry been forced to comfort an eerily silent Alex, he unable to tell what troubled her and she unable to say. Those nights were the worst. They were a reminder that on some level, Alex still couldn’t open up to Terry. To hear now that those most private fears and pains could be so freely shared with another was a rank insult.

    “I can’t,” Terry said at last. His voice was quiet, deliberate.

    “Sorry?” Kay asked.

    “I said I can’t,” Terry repeated as he stood up. “I get it, you two can’t trust me. Whatever. That’s Alex’s decision. But what I need to make it clear to you, and to Alex, is that my trust has limits.”

    “So, what, you’re going to make demands of her?”

    “If all she’s going to do is take, take, take, then I—”

    “Oh, shut up!” Kay shouted. She was on her feet in seconds, and although she was shorter than Terry, she looked downright intimidating. “It’s hard for you. So what? What do you think Alex has gone through? Do you really think that anything you’ve suffered is even a fraction of what she has? What gives you the right to complain?”

    “I—”

    “What do you think Alex would say if she saw you whining?” Kay continued. “How much do you think that would hurt her? Do you even care?”

    “Sorry,” Terry grumbled, mostly in an attempt to defuse the situation. He’d never seen such naked anger from Kay. Whatever was bothering Alex was clearly worse than he’d thought. One way or the other, he was going to have to figure out what it was.

    “Tell you what,” Kay said firmly. “I don’t want to hear another word of this for a good long while. If you care at all about Alex, you’ll drop it.”

    Yeah, right, you presumptuous clown, Terry thought angrily as he turned to leave, a scowl forming across his face. He wanted to bite back a sharp retort, but couldn’t think of anything, so he simply walked away, resolving not to talk to Kay at all in the near future unless absolutely necessary.



    Kim looked across the table to the Pokémon Master she’d succeeded in pulling aside for a proper conversation. She couldn’t deny Sam Lindstrom looked much better in person than in pictures. Her chestnut-brown hair looked very well cared for, and her hazel eyes had tiny flecks of green in them, pretty enough to make eye contact an altogether pleasant experience.

    Shame Sam was already taken…

    Kim shoved that idle fantasy from her head. Such a dalliance would be interesting, but unproductive.

    The two of them were at a café attached to the Vientiane coliseum’s Pokémon Centre. Neither was particularly hungry, although Sam had ordered a drink in the name of propriety. The place was brightly lit and the tables were well-polished. The cleaning staff definitely deserved praise for their work.

    “So,” Sam said, “what was this proposal of yours, Ms… uh…?”

    Kim smiled. “Kanda,” she said. She’d been using that name for so long that it almost felt as natural as her real one.

    “Right,” Sam said. “I’m bad with names sometimes.”

    “It’s no trouble,” Kim replied. “Anyway, I had the thought that it would make an interesting side event to have exhibition matches between Pokémon Masters. You and Raleigh Camulus would make for a truly amazing battle, and I’m sure that with the other Masters present, we could even make a full-on side tournament of it.”

    Part of the identity Sunan and Van had provided Kim was a role in event organization. Technically, Kim was supposed to be a minor functionary, but what Sam didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Obviously, Kim couldn't possibly set up what she was suggesting, but again, what Sam didn't know wouldn't hurt her. All Kim needed to do was stall for time and keep Sam preoccupied.

    “Kind of a Prime Cup challenge?” Sam asked lightly. The joke didn’t work as well as Kim supposed it did in Sam’s head, seeing as the Pokémon Stadium in Kanto had long since fallen out of favour amongst competitive battlers.

    “Something like that,” Kim replied graciously. “We’re only at the interest-check stage right now, of course.”

    “Well,” Sam said after a short pause, “I’d probably just get knocked out in the first round. I didn’t do very well at that one League expo, if you’ve looked into my battling history.”

    “I did,” Kim said. That much, at least, was true. Part of preparing for any cover role was thorough enough research that one could recite not only the knowledge and statistics of one’s position, but also its idiom and trivia. “You swept your first round and then lost to Steven Stone. No shame in that.”

    Sam shrugged. “I dunno. I could beat some of the guys here, I guess. It could be fun.”

    “That’s the spirit,” Kim said with a smile. “Should I mark down your support?”

    “Go ahead,” Sam said dully.

    “Excellent,” Kim said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about that legendary of yours—Shamash, I believe you nicknamed it?”

    “Yeah. I’ve never used it in official competition before. Wouldn’t it be banned, given League restrictions?”

    “Those only apply to the main League tournament,” Kim assured Sam. Tournament rules did in fact ban legendaries, or at least as many as had been confirmed caught by trainers. If there was one thing the Neo League did better than the Pokémon League, it was to ban legendaries before some yahoo with a Darkrai or a Latios or something could sweep the entire tournament.

    “Now I’m more interested,” Sam said.

    Kim smiled. “I’ll see what I can do.”



    Sam left the café, unsure of what to think. The Pokémon Centre was even more brightly-lit than the café, and threatened to give Sam a headache if she stayed there too long. The bustle of trainers dropping off and picking up their Pokémon didn’t help.

    Sam started a little as someone grabbed her from behind, but relaxed once she realized it was just Melanie greeting her with an ambush hug.

    “Don’t do that when you know I’m stressed,” Sam said.

    “Sorry,” Melanie apologized. She put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Wow, you’re tense.”

    “I’ll be fine.”

    “So what’d she want?” Melanie asked.

    “She wanted to set up an exhibition match between Raleigh and I. Then she suggested the idea of some kind of Pokémon Master tournament.”

    “With all six of you?” Melanie wondered. “Well, it’s a better cover than I’d have thought. Whatever she’s after isn’t something minor. Why do you figure she wanted to have you fight Raleigh?”

    “To get me out of the way or something?” Sam suggested. She didn’t like that answer, but it seemed logical. If Kanda was in fact a Team Rocket agent, making Pokémon Masters unable to fight could be beneficial if they were planning on violence.

    Master-level combat was almost unrecognizably different from normal combat. It was downright brutal and involved decision-making at both a rate and complexity beyond the grasp of the average trainer. Not even Alex’s Champion friend Kay could fully get a grasp of it even if it was explained to her.

    Of course, reflected Sam, becoming a Champion simply meant winning a regional tournament. Becoming a Master meant winning a national tournament against much steeper competition. It was possible, although unlikely, to become a Champion without having actual talent. Kay was not among that crowd, but the company she kept within it was tainting by association. By contrast, it was impossible to become a Master without exceptional skill and ability.

    “I don’t think so,” Melanie said. She craned her head towards the hallway. “Come, walk with me.”

    The hall was mercifully less bright than the Pokémon Centre. Sam didn’t know where Melanie was headed, but the most likely possibility was simply away. Talking too long in front of the same crowd was an invitation to disaster.

    “Honestly,” Melanie explained once they were out of earshot of the Centre, “I think it’s a distraction. She’s going to do something or another while everyone’s distracted on the new big spectacle. It’s the only explanation that fits the facts: They want you, with Shamash, to fight Raleigh, one of the best Masters to come out of Johto in years. You have any idea how much attention that’ll bring?”

    “Steven vs Red levels?” Sam speculated. After defeating her, Steven eventually lost to the world’s most powerful Pokémon Master in the finals. The resulting battle was one of the most watched in recent history.

    Of course, Sam didn’t have Shamash at the time. If she had, it might've been her versus Red, although Shamash still probably wouldn't have been enough to defeat him.

    “It’d be the perfect opening,” Melanie said.

    “Opening for what?”

    “I’m still trying to figure that out. It’s not the usual Team Rocket MO of bribery and extortion—they don’t need any cover for that. We know they’re involved to some degree in the Tribo Project, so maybe they’re trying to distract you or something? That doesn’t fit.”

    Sam raised an eyebrow. “Did we finally stumble across something you can’t figure out?”

    Melanie scoffed. “Give me time. I still need to get to the bottom of a few things.”

    “Far be it from me to complain,” Sam said. In reality, she wasn’t always much a fan of Melanie’s truly improbable investigative and social engineering skills, but at least Melanie put them to use for good purposes. Even if her current purpose was resembling vigilante justice as of late.

    “So if that Master tournament actually becomes reality, should I participate?” Sam asked.

    “I don’t see any reason not to,” Melanie said. “Just make sure you win.”

    Sam offered Melanie a lopsided smile that was half smirk. “I always win.”

    For her boasting, Sam’s reward was Melanie once again ruffling her hair. Now that she was used to it, she had to admit to liking it quite a lot.



    Melanie was barely able to catch Kanda before she was able to slip out of the coliseum. Without Sam present to force Melanie to downplay her true affiliation and skill, the gloves were off.

    “How can I help you?” Kanda asked once Melanie made it clear that she wasn’t going to accept being ignored.

    “Who are you? Really?” Melanie countered.

    Kanda shrugged. “I thought Sam would’ve told you.”

    “That was strike one,” Melanie said coldly. “You don’t want to get to strike three.”

    “Of course not. Well, what do you want to hear? That I’m a Team Rocket agent?”

    “Strike two,” Melanie said. “You’re a New Rocket. But that’s nothing I didn’t know already.” She glanced around to make sure no one was eavesdropping. “I want to know what you’re doing with Sam.”

    “I imagine ‘organizing exhibition matches’ would get me shot,” Kanda said.

    “In public? Don’t be absurd.”

    “You’ve made it work before.”

    Melanie frowned. Did this person just refer to the man she killed at the trade show? It was entirely possible, but if so, why would someone who knew about that make the mistake of admitting it? Information was power, and even the slightest of implications could be disastrous. Whoever Kanda really was, she’d just piqued Melanie’s interest that much more keenly.

    “Yes, I’m a New Rocket,” Kanda continued. “My goal has nothing to do with causing harm to Sam or even to Team Rocket as a whole.”

    “Your goal has nothing to do with the New Rockets’ entire raison d’être?” Melanie asked.

    “Don’t be so selfish,” Kanda chided. “Any organization as large as ours will develop other business in due course. The fact of the matter is that we have immediate concerns greater than Team Rocket at the moment,” Kanda paused briefly, as if considering her next words carefully, “and as such, we have no interest in impeding your action here.”

    “How would you even know what that is?”

    Kanda shrugged. “That I can’t say.”

    “Tell me how your business is so different.”

    “We’re here solely to ensure continued Idaman presence in ongoing processes,” Kanda explained. “I remind you that we are not an anti-Team Rocket group at our centre. The good of our country comes before any individual squabble.”

    We’re here to kill your leader of all people, Melanie thought in amazement. You know this. Why wouldn’t that matter to you?

    The answer hit Melanie so hard that she honestly felt stupid for even wondering it in the first place. Notwithstanding anything else about the man, one could tell simply from his name that Raleigh Camulus wasn’t an Idaman name. If what Kanda said was true, and the New Rockets’ real goals were primarily nationalistic, then it was likely the Idaman New Rocket members wouldn’t care if a foreigner, even an influential and powerful one, were to die.

    Melanie didn’t want to trust Kanda out of sheer principle. After all, Melanie hadn’t gotten this far through blind trust. It would’ve been simpler to kill her and be done with it. But if Kanda wasn’t lying…

    “All right,” Melanie declared. “You’re free to go, but if I see you around here again, that’s strike three. Got it?”

    Kanda smiled. “I understand.”
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2012
  11. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    I love your little mentions of the other games, its fun to read.

    Keep it up!
     
  12. another amazing chapter :) . Just out of curiosity, what kind of gods do they worship? Arceus and the like?
     
  13. Marril

    Marril New Member

    Yeah. I see it as being kind of like the Greco-Roman pantheon. There are legendaries which are flat-up gods in this world, like Arceus/Dialga/Palkia, Mew, the pixies, and Kyogre/Groudon/Rayquaza. Those are the ones people in SS generally refer to when they talk about "the gods." Then there are legendaries which are more just "rare and powerful Pokemon" like the Latis or the birds. I'm not very likely to include anything from the first category in this story, although the second is fair game for Master-level trainers (for instance, we can rule out Shamash being a Rayquaza). I want to include one of the birds somewhere, but I'm still trying to work out exactly where. Only problem is too many legendaries kind of dilutes the mythical presence I want them to have. The story did mention that there were four other Pokemon Masters in Vientiane that we haven't seen yet... hmm...

    Well, we'll see, won't we? :smile:
     
  14. Marril

    Marril New Member

    Because this is SS, and nearly every action has consequences. As the cast is learning to various degrees. But putting my characters through hell is a recurring theme—life's a dog and then you die, after all.

    And Silver refers to Giovanni's Team Rocket-hating son, for the record, who I imagine is some kind of high-profile trainer in this continuity.

    Chapter 32 - Shared Secrets

    Alex’s father visiting her felt like a sick reversal of the last time she’d been able to see him. Rather than meet him at his place, he opted to meet her at hers. Terry was out doing whatever he did during the day, and she’d told him not to come back until she gave him the go-ahead. This made him a lot angrier than she’d expected, but given the circumstances, she figured he could take that anger and shove it where the sun didn’t shine.

    Richard’s greeting at the door was simply to hug Alex tightly in a wordless embrace. This proved to be surprisingly comforting, even though it did make Alex want to cry. She couldn’t, of course—she’d long since run herself out of tears both alone and with Terry. In truth, precious few were for the events her father was here to discuss.

    “I’m sorry,” Richard said as they parted.

    Alex shrugged. “There was no way you could’ve known. Michael’s done the best job he could.”

    “Not that. I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’m sorry I left everything to Michael instead of being here for you.”

    Alex shook her head and offered her father a smile. “It’s better that you weren’t. I know how these things go. It’s hard enough for Michael to be objective about things given the position he’s in. Imagine how hard it’d be for you. I don’t blame you for anything—hell, I appreciate that you were able to make that choice.”

    How many of those words were forced? Alex had no idea. She was so focused on saying whatever she could to comfort her father that she hadn’t put any thought into what she really felt. She could know on an intellectual level that it was Tauros crap, but internalizing that lesson was another matter entirely.

    “Tell you what,” Alex said. “Why don’t you come on in?”

    Alex tried to ignore Richard’s smirk of amusement when he noticed that it was a single-bed room. With any luck, he’d stay quiet on the subject, if only to give Alex some kind of break. Alex took a seat at the foot of the bed, and Richard in the swivel chair at the writing desk. Marril peered out at Richard from behind Alex. Apparently satisfied with the knowledge that the visitor was only Alex’s father, Marril returned to dozing behind Alex.

    “I wish I had anything to tell you that’s not one of the standard lines,” Richard said after a few moments’ silence.

    “I’ve been hearing too many of those lately anyway,” Alex said.

    “Oh?”

    “I told Kay some of the details. She doesn’t know anything to do with Team Rocket, but she knows I was attacked and had to defend myself with lethal force.”

    It seemed Marril was following the conversation after all, as she chose that moment to climb into Alex’s lap. Alex petted Marril absentmindedly.

    “How’d she take it?” Richard asked.

    “Scarily well,” Alex said. She offered Richard a shrug. “Obviously, she doesn’t know enough to mean it when she says I ‘did what I had to do’ or whatever, but… I dunno.”

    “That sounds like Kay’s non-judgemental nature to me,” Richard said. “What about Terry?”

    The slightest of winces from Alex probably told Richard more than her words did. “He doesn’t know anything yet. It’s not that I don’t trust him, it’s just that I… can’t tell him about it.”

    Richard scoffed lightly and scowled. “Sounds you’re trying to rationalize away not trusting him. I know it’s not going to sound like much, but I do know the feeling you’re talking about. You’re telling yourself the same thing I told myself with your mother. Every day it tears me up that I could never tell her what was such a big part of my life. Believe me when I say it only hurts more in the long run to keep it from your loved ones. Ultimately, something has to give on either end.”

    “I know he wouldn’t take it well,” Alex said. “If I left out the Team Rocket stuff, he’d just get super worried and clingy. If I included it, well… he wouldn’t take it well. Anything to do with me and Team Rocket would end it right away.”

    Richard’s scowl deepened. “If he ever does anything to hurt you, the consequences will be dire indeed.”

    “I hope you’re limiting that to the bad kind of hurt,” Alex said. It wasn’t as funny a joke spoken aloud as it was in her head, but she had to try. Anything to lighten the mood before depression could crash back over her like an inexorable wave.

    Richard snorted in amusement. “There are just some things that’ll always sound weird coming from your kids. Needless to say, I don’t need that much information.”

    “Well, you’ll get it anyway,” Alex replied. She followed this with a sigh. “But seriously, it’s hard to keep this stuff in, you know?”

    “Mar!” Marril interjected. “Ar-ril Marril ar-mar-Marril!”

    Richard ignored Marril’s protestations that Alex did in fact confide in her. “Team Rocket is like that. There’s so much you wish you didn’t have to face alone, but you have to. This, however, isn’t one of those things. All of us are here for you, Alex.”

    “That’s the problem,” Alex muttered.

    “What is?”

    “Everyone’s going out of their way to do stuff for me while I go about pretending to have a normal life. I run around battling, and Michael’s always there behind me with people whose only job is to keep me safe. I feel so worthless like this.”

    That last sentence, spoken without thought, struck Alex as rather interesting. It was true that she felt powerless, to be certain. Having wrested definitive charge of her life in order to transition to live as female, she now felt she was back in the situation of living as others decreed. Functionally, little had ultimately changed there beyond her presentation now lining up with her real gender. But to feel specifically worthless was a word she couldn’t explain.

    “I wish I had anything I could say to that other than ‘you’re not,’” Richard said.

    “It’s not really anything you’re doing,” Alex explained. “It’s what I’m doing. I just put everything out of my mind for ages while Ryan and Adair did their thing, then when I… killed Adair… I realized what the situation was really like. I could’ve been killed, myself, but I did something. I guess what I’m saying is I want to do more. I don’t want to sit back and do nothing, you know?”

    Richard was quiet for a while. Marril looked back and forth between the two humans. She opened her mouth to say something at one point, but trailed off after squeaking a short “Mar…”

    “If that’s what you want,” Richard said at last, “then I have to realize I can’t treat you like a child anymore. But what I do want is you to make this kind of decision knowing the reality of the situation, the full consequences of your actions, both with regards to the New Rockets and with your sister.”

    “I know Melanie’s a Rocket agent,” Alex said. “What more is there?”

    Richard offered Alex a hollow smile. “The information you indirectly gave us through Adair let us know the identity of one of the New Rocket’s leaders, who’s currently in Vientiane. Melanie is using Sam’s League access to close in on this man.”

    “I see,” Alex said lamely. “Sam’s still safe, right?”

    “I wouldn’t have let Melanie pursue this plan if there were any chance Sam was in real danger. Melanie’s a much better agent than you’d think—our best and brightest don’t exactly get put in the spotlight for everyone to see, after all.”

    Alex couldn’t say that this entirely comforted her, but she was long since used to the fact that Sam’s partner was a Rocket. She was even used to the fact that Melanie was using—abusing, she figured the proper word would be—Sam’s trust and resources to further Team Rocket’s goals. Why draw the line here? If this meant they could cut their stupid gang war short, Alex could look the other way for as long as she had to.

    “The second part isn’t something I can make any easier for you,” Richard continued. “So I want to ask if you’re absolutely sure you want to hear this from me.”

    “I am,” Alex said.

    “You’re absolutely sure?” Richard asked. “I can’t overemphasize the gravity of what I’m about to tell you. Once you’ve heard it, the die will truly be cast. You won’t be able to go back.”

    “I’m sure,” Alex repeated. Her voice was unexpectedly steady.

    Richard exhaled slowly. “First, I want to ask you one thing: How much do you know about Terry’s past?”

    “Terry?” Alex wondered. “Uh, Team Rocket apparently killed one of his Pokémon a few years ago. He’s had some bad run-ins with a few agents. He hasn’t really told me any more than that. It’s only fair, really, given… you know.”

    “Well, suffice to say, it’s much more complex than he’s told you,” Richard said. “I don’t think even I know the full extent of it. But even the basics… I’m sorry, but if you’re to go forward with this, you have to know.”

    “I can handle it,” Alex promised.

    By the time Richard finished explaining everything, Alex truly wished she hadn’t made that promise.



    “Raleigh Camulus,” Melanie announced to Sam after they left the League headquarters, “is a member of Team Rocket.”

    “You’re sure?” Sam asked.

    “A surprisingly high-ranking one, if this evidence is to be believed,” Melanie said.

    Melanie gently pulled Sam aside, away from passers-by. In the shade of the great stone-and-concrete building, she pulled out a small USB drive. “I copied as many of his files onto here as I could. It’s the most solid evidence anyone is ever going to get.”

    “And you’re giving it to me?” Sam wondered.

    Melanie smiled humourlessly. “If we went to the police, one of two things would happen. Either Raleigh would flee before they could even get going, or they’d conveniently get paid off and their investigation would find ‘nothing.’ I’m giving this to you because you’re a Pokémon Master. I don’t know the full resources someone like Raleigh has access to. You do. And I trust your judgement on this one.”

    Sam hesitantly took the USB drive and looked at it curiously. The files therein would hold up to all but the best scrutiny. Melanie didn’t like having to fake evidence of something real, but Sam would never accept the real evidence Kenneth discreetly forwarded Melanie. Nor would Sam appreciate it if Melanie’s myriad talents started extending to assassination—Sam was already beginning to wonder awkward things.

    But if there was one thing Sam had that Melanie didn’t, it was a strong sense of right and wrong, a drive towards justice in place of Melanie’s inherent cynicism, amorality, and apathy. Having to take advantage of that was unfortunate, but Melanie would do all that and more a dozen times if it meant decapitating the New Rockets before they could take any more lives.

    “I’ll give this a once-over,” Sam said. “Then, well, I know someone who can help us.”

    “Oh?”

    “Marita Gartner,” Sam said. “One of the other Pokémon Masters here. She’s exactly the kind of person who can take a step past the line to keep Raleigh from running, and she’s got the influence to keep Raleigh from paying off the right people.”

    “She must owe you a hell of a favour,” Melanie commented.

    “Less that, more the fact that she hates Team Rocket. She really takes after Silver like that. A corrupt Pokémon Master? He’s not going to get any mercy.”

    “I’d hope not,” Melanie said distantly. “The last thing we need is mercy for someone like him.”



    Alex’s fear that Terry and Kay would be instantly at each other’s throats on meeting Richard for dinner were thankfully baseless. Terry didn’t acknowledge Kay’s presence, but that was par for the course. Kay ignoring Terry was somewhat less obvious, if only due to Kay being slightly more tactful about it, although there was no pretending that the two were on speaking terms except for what was necessary.

    If either of them got it in their heads to do that TV sitcom thing where they’d speak to each other only through Alex, she reflected that she was going to have to knock some heads together. Or just get Marril to Ice Beam some people. Either or.

    Richard was waiting at their table at the restaurant, a higher-end place in downtown Salavan that Alex would never have been able to afford normally. Given her father’s Team Rocket connections, she wondered if Richard even cared about the expense of paying for everyone’s dinner. If it even registered as an expense to him.

    “Hey there, Mr. Alex’s Dad Person Guy,” Kay said as they got to the table.

    Richard’s reply was a soft grunt of annoyance followed by a dry, “Your hair was only one colour the last time I saw you.”

    Kay shrugged as she sat down. “It’s three times better now.”

    Up to four, Alex thought, if those roots are any indication. Kay’s hair was variously green, pink, and purple, but she hadn’t kept up on maintaining it as diligently as she should have, so her dirty blonde roots were visible now.

    “Four times better,” Richard commented, echoing Alex’s thoughts. “You might want to do something about those roots.”

    Well, Alex thought, at least it’s nice having someone else who can keep up with Kay. Terry’s attempts were often lacklustre or mired in bitterness, even before whatever falling-out they had lately. Terry himself was oddly silent now, although Alex supposed this might have been due in part to meeting Alex’s father for the first time.

    “I’m still giving it a little time before making that declaration,” Kay said.

    “If you want, I could make it right now,” Richard offered.

    “Nah.”

    Inasmuch as Sam was her mother’s daughter, Alex was very much her father’s daughter. Not only did the two share a number of physical features, they even shared many personality traits, including a somewhat wry sense of humour. It must have been an odd sight for Terry to behold, but Alex’s train of thought was cut short by Richard suddenly taking an interest in Terry’s presence.

    “So,” Richard said. “You must be that Terry fellow I’ve heard several things about.”

    “Should I be afraid?” Terry asked.

    “That, of course, depends on whether what I’ve heard of you is true or not,” Richard said. It was perfectly clear to Alex that Richard meant Terry should only be afraid if what he’d supposedly heard was wrong, but the implication being the exact reverse seemed to put Terry on edge.

    “What have you heard?”

    “For one, that you’re a fine, upstanding young gentleman with naught but the purest of intentions towards my firstborn daughter,” Richard replied with a slightly facetious air.

    “Not in as many words, but that sounds right.”

    Richard leaned forward. “I’ve also heard that you’ve treated her with nothing but respect and kindness and have never even entertained the thought of causing even the slightest harm to her. Does this sound right?”

    “Um… yes?”

    “Good,” Richard said with an utterly predatory smile, his tone still pleasant but facetious, yet carrying a sinister undertone. “Because should I discover that you’ve lied to me, or that your conduct falls behind the utmost exemplary,” his voice dropped, becoming downright menacing, “you’ll vanish off the face of the earth and they’ll never find the body.”

    Silence hung between the two men for several lengthy, awkward moments. Terry looked downright terrified. Finally, Richard broke the silence by laughing, a genuine, friendly laugh which served as sharp contrast to his malicious-sounding threat. He leaned back, a smile on his face.

    “I can’t believe both my daughters are in their twenties and this is the first time I’ve had occasion to give that speech,” Richard said. “The look on your face was priceless.”

    “This is normal for him,” Alex assured Terry.

    “That was a hell of a first impression,” Terry said breathlessly.

    To Alex, the most interesting part of this was just how layered it was. Richard spoke with the gravity and conviction of a senior Team Rocket member, the exact tone which he’d have used when he was actually serious about threatening someone’s very life. The fact that he could very easily have backed up that threat was unaddressed, leaving the entire thing to be taken as a joke for being outlandish and unrealistic.

    Given what Terry had done in the past, Alex was amazed that Richard didn’t do anything anyway just out of principle.

    “You should’ve seen me when I threw him off trying something similar with me,” Kay said. “‘You’re seeing my daughter?’ ‘Uh, no.’ ‘Well then, as you were.’ It was great.”

    “That whole spiel doesn’t work nearly as well when its recipient isn’t actually Alex’s partner,” Richard admitted.

    “I can imagine,” Terry said.

    “Lighten up,” Richard said with a smile. “Trust me, I don’t bite… boys your age… anymore…”

    Kay snickered. Terry’s shoulders slumped slightly, as if he was wondering just how much more exasperating his situation was going to get, just how many more people associated with Alex he’d meet that shared her brand of humour. So far, the only one to break the mould was Sam, who he’d met for all of an afternoon months ago.

    “So,” Terry said. “I thought Alex said you were really busy in Vientiane lately? What brings you all the way out here?”

    Richard sighed. “Alex didn’t tell you?”

    Terry shook his head.

    “Um. If it’s what I think it is, I told him,” Kay said in a small voice. “Sorry, Alex.”

    Well, that explained a lot. The fact that Alex turned to Kay rather than Terry for support was probably more galling to him than anything Kay could ever have done to Terry personally. That naturally left the question of why Kay told Terry something Alex insisted be kept between the two of them, but now was unfortunately not the time to ask such questions. It was clear she needed to have a talk with Kay later.

    This is why Marril really should be the only one I trust with this crap, Alex thought. She can actually keep secrets.

    “So you can sympathize with why she’d need the additional support right now,” Richard said. The veiled barb was wholly unnecessary, but Richard apparently felt the need to twist the knife for what was ultimately a very good reason, even if Terry would likely assume “sympathize” to be simple odd word choice rather than a subtle reference to past events.

    For his part, Terry nodded solemnly, saying nothing.

    “I know you’ve been having a rough time lately,” Kay said. “But you don’t have to face these things alone. If there’s anything at all more to this, then trust me, we’ll understand.”

    Alex couldn’t suppress a sad smile. She wished she could tell anyone other than her father what was really going on, but it might strain Kay’s acceptance too far, and Terry would react very poorly indeed. Better they think everything was one enormous case of bad luck.

    Like everything else, her problems were best handled when they weren’t shared with “understanding” people who ultimately wouldn’t.
     
  15. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    I loved Terry's reaction to her father's 'threat'.
    Looking forward to the next chapter.
     
  16. Marril

    Marril New Member

    Chapter 33 - Everyone's Price

    Something about Alex’s father didn’t sit well with Terry. He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what, but the man seemed downright off the previous night. It couldn’t have been simple embarrassment at getting so caught up in the man’s insincere threats—he’d heard enough real ones to know that Richard’s was only insincere by context, not by content or tone.

    No, that man was hiding something. Terry knew he didn’t have the full story behind why Alex was attacked, and suspected that whatever was so odd about Richard was directly related to that. Was Alex attacked by a Team Rocket member or something? That still wouldn’t explain Richard’s demeanour.

    Terry wondered if he’d ever get to the bottom of it. He certainly didn’t have any avenues of investigation available to him. With nowhere to go, he’d have to drop it no matter how unsatisfied he was.

    He watched as Eevee returned with the ball Terry had thrown for her to fetch. Training Eevee often involved simple activities rather than combat practice, and it was times like this that Terry truly enjoyed spending time with his Pokémon. It was just him, Eevee, several of his Eeveelutions, and a wide open park in the middle of a sunny day.

    “That’s a good girl,” Terry said as he crouched down, took the ball from Eevee, and petted her. As he did so, his mind shifted to several of his nights with Alex, giving him all kinds of mental images he didn’t need at the moment. He thought of how often he found himself yielding to her, to what she wanted, ultimately doing as she said despite the boundaries of the scenarios she put him in. How their relationship seemed almost entirely physical at this point.

    Yeah, let’s not think about that one too much, Terry thought sourly. As much as things were distinctly unequal between them, dwelling on it in his time alone wasn’t good for Terry.

    Terry threw the ball again as hard as he could, and Eevee chased after it. The ball arced oddly in mid-air, and Terry looked down at Espeon. The psychic’s eyes were glowing faintly as he gave a psychic boost to the throw.

    Wouldn’t want to make it too easy on Eevee or anything, Terry thought. Sibling rivalry extended even to Pokémon.

    Eevee made it back to Terry after several moments’ searching for the errant ball, and dropped it at Terry’s feet. Once again, Terry knelt down and patted Eevee on the head. His eyes lingered on Eevee’s for a moment. They weren’t the usual colour or shape for an Eevee—rather than being brown and almond-shaped, they were round and black, like a Vaporeon’s. It served as external reminder of what Eevee was fated to evolve into one day. Not even an elemental stone could force her to evolve before then, or into anything else.

    Terry was thankful Alex never asked too many questions about why Eevee was still an Eevee. Oh, she’d asked several times, but was always content with the answer that Terry was simply waiting for the right time to evolve Eevee. It wasn’t a lie per se—he was waiting all right, although he didn’t know how long it’d be. Flareon evolved mere days after the event. Jolteon took several months. Espeon took an entire year. Umbreon, Glaceon, and Leafeon all evolved over the remainder of the nearly four-year period since that horrible experience, with Leafeon evolving shortly before he set out for the Neo League with Alex.

    Terry shook his head ruefully and once again pitched the ball as hard as he could. Espeon decided not to assist this time, so Eevee was able to catch it mere seconds after it landed. She was getting pretty quick for an Eevee fated to become a Vaporeon.

    Rather than let Terry pick up the ball after Eevee brought it back, Jolteon picked it up in her mouth and threw it. It didn’t go very far compared to Terry’s throws, and Eevee was able to catch it midair.

    “Hey now,” Terry said to Jolteon. “That’s my job, eh?”

    Jolteon’s reply was a gruff, dismissive bark as she lay back down.

    I just hope you don’t evolve with anyone else around, Terry thought for what felt like the millionth time as Eevee returned once again. Please grant me this favour, o gods. I can ask for that much at least, right?

    Alex would scoff at Terry’s prayer and probably call it a waste of mental effort, but he couldn’t deny he felt a little better having made it.



    Marita’s office at the Neo League headquarters was downright amazing. It was filled with all kinds of equipment Sam thought only existed in crime drama, as well as four computer monitors on her oak desk. Sam could see two distinct towers, as well as a server. Everything was kept immaculately clean, which lent an otherworldly air to the room.

    Marita herself was a woman in her early thirties, with shoulder-length, silvery blonde hair and just enough lines on her face to give her a look of distinction without making her seem old. She was well-dressed, if a bit casual, with a black jacket over a cobalt blue blouse, and loose black pants. Overall, she did a much better job of exuding a “Pokémon Master” kind of aura than Sam ever did.

    “Ah,” Marita said as Sam entered. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Sam. I’ve been over the data you gave me, and I think you’re going to be surprised by what I’ve found.”

    “Oh?” Sam asked.

    Marita indicated a swivel chair near the end of the desk. “Have a seat and I’ll show you.”

    Sam moved the chair across from Marita and sat down as Marita turned one of the monitors sideways so both women could see it.

    “It’s not that the evidence is bad per se,” Marita explained, indicating several items on the screen. “It’s that these documents point to something much more chilling than your original hypothesis.”

    Sam scanned the screen briefly. “… He’s a Team Rocket executive?”

    “That’s the impression I’m getting,” Marita said. “It would explain some of the discrepancies I’ve come across. I can’t say anything about your source, and I respect you enough not to ask too many questions about that, but unless you got this directly from Team Rocket, the only explanation that ties together how widespread and authoritative his communication is would be that he’s an executive.”

    “What separates an executive from any other high-ranking member?” Sam asked.

    “An executive is specifically given authority over a wide-reaching aspect of Team Rocket. We know various former executives who governed things like their research division, their criminal arm, and so on. There have even been times where executives act as the de facto head of Team Rocket—the infamous case in Johto with Executive Archer nearly a decade ago, for example.”

    “I’ve heard of that,” Sam said. “That was a splinter group though, wasn’t it?”

    “Team Rocket is nothing but splinter groups,” Marita explained calmly. “They have the appearance of central organization, but in reality, every executive can more or less claim to be a legitimate head of Team Rocket, with Giovanni existing merely as a figurehead. Most of the time, these executives and their splinter groups are all aligned, but when they aren’t… well… I have reason to believe that’s at the core of the gang wars here in Idama.”

    “Raleigh’s group is conflicting with another group?” Sam asked.

    “As far as I can tell, his name is Roland,” Marita said. “I haven’t figured out what they’re fighting over yet—the scale of this conflict can’t be something as simple as territory or money. There’s a layer I haven’t figured out yet, even with your mysterious informant giving me enough to piece together who this second executive—Raleigh—is.”

    “Glad I could be of some help, at least,” Sam said with a shrug.

    Marita offered Sam a slight smirk. “Actually, I was wondering if you’d help me with one more thing.”

    “Oh?”

    “Help me take down Raleigh,” Marita said bluntly. “Dead or alive. A Pokémon Master in Team Rocket needs immediate attention, and I can’t justify giving him any time to wait.”

    “More alive than dead, if at all possible,” Sam said. “And why us? Can’t we give this over to the police and let them handle it?”

    Sam knew the answer already, of course, but on some level she needed to hear it from Marita before she could begin to accept it. Melanie’s actions over the past few months were all but vigilante justice, and Sam had gone along with them in a somewhat detached manner. Now she was getting personally involved, and she didn’t want to do anything she’d regret.

    “The police would either be too slow or too bought off,” Marita said simply.

    “And they wouldn’t object to us taking the law into our own hands?” Sam wondered.

    Marita smiled coldly. “We’re Pokémon Masters. The law is often more of a suggestion to us than a rule. All we’d need to do is demonstrate that our actions were justified—which your evidence will do quite nicely—and pesky things like charges will be conveniently dropped.”

    Being able to ignore the law wasn’t the only perk to being a Pokémon Master, after all, but it was one of the most morally grey. Most benefits extended mostly to the financial, the ability to obtain funding and equipment for personal and business projects with astounding ease. Other benefits included access to the highest-quality Pokémon resources and even access to information on legendary Pokémon. The latter had even given Sam her chance to catch Shamash.

    This is what happens when you embrace the title instead of reject it, Sam thought as she regarded the steely resolve in Marita’s slate grey eyes.

    “All right,” Sam agreed. “But we don’t go in looking for a fight. I’m not about to let this get out of hand if I can help it. That sound fair?”

    “It’s reasonable,” Marita said. “Worse comes to worst, I have my titans and you have Shamash. Raleigh wouldn’t stand a chance.”

    “You’d think,” Sam said.

    And you’d almost certainly be wrong, Sam added mentally, not wanting to share the thought by voicing it. Raleigh would get a fair chance to explain himself, but if he decided to fight back, it’d take more than titans and a demigod to stop him.



    “So,” Ryan greeted Alex as she met him out in front of the hotel. “You ready for the riveting and exciting world of working with Team Rocket?”

    Alex rolled her eyes. “I’m assuming neither of those things will be true.”

    “Nope,” Ryan said. “Or, well, it might be somewhat interesting for you since you’re not used to this kind of thing yet. But exciting, not a chance in the eight cold hells.” He paused briefly, then indicated the featureless car beside him. “Well, might as well get going.”

    Alex noticed the front passenger seat was empty and wondered why. Didn’t her father and Michael say there’d be another person helping them? Maybe they were going to pick him up or something. Either way, she got in the front.

    “Hello,” came a voice from behind Alex as Ryan got in, catching her by surprise.

    Alex turned to face the speaker. He looked like a teenager, with a round face, coarse black hair, and for some reason scars on his temples. “Uh, hi.”

    “Ms. Lindstrom, I presume?” He asked. His tone was impeccable and polite, if a bit monotonous.

    “Please don’t call me that,” Alex said. “It makes me feel old.”

    “I understand, ma’am. What would you prefer?”

    What’s wrong with this guy? Alex wondered. He clearly wasn’t doing this to annoy her. As far as she could tell, he was being entirely genuine.

    “Just Alex,” she said.

    “I understand,” said the boy monotonously. “My name is John.”

    “He’s the help Michael promised,” Ryan said as he started the car. “Far as conversations go, I kinda preferred Adair, but John’s incapable of stabbing us in the back, so I’m not complaining.”

    “Incapable?” Alex wondered as they pulled out into the evening streets.

    “Yeah,” Ryan said. He didn’t elaborate.

    Does this have anything to do with those scars? Alex thought. It was tempting to take another look, but she understood all too well the feeling of having people gawking at you for being different, so she resisted the urge.

    Well, no reason to dwell on it. John seemed friendly enough, albeit a little awkward. Alex tried to keep any lingering curiosity out of her mind. Wondering too much about those scars would probably feel to him like someone wondering too much about her lingering masculine features.

    Ryan wasn’t very talkative, only saying as much as required to tell Alex exactly where they were going and who they were meeting. Apparently, it was a fairly simple meeting with a local business owner who had New Rocket ties. He had information Team Rocket wanted, and money would ply it from him more easily than anything else, especially when it was real Japanese yen rather than the relatively unstable Rueni baht.

    That, Ryan explained, was one of Team Rocket’s real advantages. Japan was an economic superpower, and Team Rocket could take full advantage of that, while the New Rockets had to make do with the economic backing of the fledgling Rueni economy.

    Ryan found a parking space at the edge of a downtown sidewalk, and managed an improbably quick and somewhat startling parallel park that made Alex glad seatbelts existed. “All right,” he said once the engine was off, “let’s get going.”

    John was utterly silent as they got out of the car. He didn’t even speak up once Ryan explained that the man they were meeting would be about a block and a half away and that Ryan would be bringing his Ampharos along for security’s sake.

    “Should I have any of my Pokémon out?” Alex asked, apparently the only one who cared to inquire about the plan.

    “If you want,” Ryan said with a shrug. “Just remember, we’re here to perform a business transaction, not to intimidate him. If you want to bring a Pokémon along, make sure it’s something low-key.”

    Alex nodded and dug out Golduck’s pokéball. She considered for a moment whether or not to open it, and decided that she’d feel safer with a Pokémon of her own out.

    “Duuuuuuck,” Golduck said as he looked around. Suddenly, he turned around to face John, assuming a defensive posture. “Duck! Golduck-duck!”

    “What’s wrong?” Alex asked. She wished Marril was there to translate what Golduck said.

    “Gol-Golduck!” Golduck said, glaring at John angrily. “Golduck.”

    “Calm down,” Alex said. “John there is our friend.”

    “Duck!” Golduck shouted defiantly. He raised a webbed hand and pointed it at John. His eyes glowed as if he was using his psychic powers, but Alex saw no result come from this.

    “Golduck,” Alex said sternly. “Stop it. Now.”

    “Gol-Gol-Golduck,” Golduck said as he lowered his hand reluctantly.

    Alex decided that recalling Golduck would be the prudent course of action, since she doubted that would be the end of it were Golduck to remain out. After he was safely in his pokéball, Alex asked, “What would cause Golduck to act like that?”

    Ryan shrugged.

    “No, really. There’s no way you wouldn’t have some idea.”

    “I’m a tranquilized psychic,” John said. “Pokémon with psychic abilities often react strangely in the presence of a tranquil. Please do not be concerned.”

    “Right,” Alex said. She had a vague idea of what tranquilization was, but not why a psychic Pokémon would react like that. It also likely explained the scars on John’s temples. Invasive questions would’ve been rude. Still, she was left wondering if that explained John’s emotionless behaviour, or if that was due to something else.

    For all she knew, the guy was autistic or something.

    Well, whatever, Alex thought. The group set off a moment later without further interruption, letting Alex take in sights she definitely wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The district they were in was much different from the relatively upscale city centre which housed the gym. This was less developed, and what existed seemed run-down. The streets were paved with uneven black asphalt rather than smooth cement, and the buildings were primarily made of wood. Street vendors lined the sidewalk, selling their wares from cloth-covered carts. They weren’t a new sight to Alex, but the sheer concentration looked downright… foreign, she guessed the word would be. The Neo League was doing a good job of providing economic stimulus to improve high-traffic areas, to make them resemble Japanese cities, but their reach had its limits.

    Ryan led them to a seemingly random street vendor operating a food cart. The prices listed on the hanging chalkboard were lower than anything Alex had seen in renovated areas. Similarly, the man operating it looked almost haggard, with threadbare clothes and several days’ worth of stubble on his face.

    “Bao,” Ryan said to get the man’s attention.

    “Yeah?” Bao asked. Then, after a moment to regard Ryan, he said, “Oh, you. Whatever. Make it quick. I’ve got customers, you know?”

    Ryan made a show of looking around. “Really?”

    “Shut your yap,” Bao said.

    Ryan smirked. He reached into a pocket inside his jacket and withdrew a small stack of bills. Based on their face value and the thickness of the stack, Alex figured Ryan was offering the man about a hundred thousand yen. It wasn’t a small amount—it’d keep his cart stocked for quite a while, or pay off unfriendly creditors in a hurry.

    This guy knows something important, Alex thought, trying to guess what it would be. If she was serious about this whole thing, she told herself, she had to pay attention and, more importantly, learn.

    “Let’s make this quick,” Ryan said. “Tell me something interesting, and this is yours. We’ll walk away and pretend we never saw you.”

    Bao sighed. “My brother just got called off to Vientiane. He told me Boss Linh’s planning something big, and that it’s important enough that we can just let you Team Rocket jerks run around smaller cities for a while.”

    “Did he say anything about what it was?”

    “Something about gathering all the New Rockets near the League headquarters,” Bao said. “He didn’t tell me what Boss Linh’s planning, just that she’s getting hundreds of guys in there for something. He left about two weeks ago, said he’d stay with his niece for a week to get settled in, you know? That’s all I’ve got.”

    For a moment, Alex feared that Ryan would deem that information insufficient, but her worries were proven baseless as Ryan unceremoniously handed the man the million or so yen.

    “Let’s go,” Ryan said to Alex and John.

    “That was worth a hundred thousand?” Alex asked once they were out of earshot.

    Ryan raised an eyebrow. “Good eye. Anyway, yes, it was. It gives us solid proof of something Michael already suspects, and that gives us our next course of action.”

    “Which is?”

    “For you to continue with your League run,” Ryan said. Before Alex could say anything, he continued, “Vientiane is very much a case of ‘not our problem.’ Kenneth’s got people who can handle anything the New Rockets try. Plus your sister’s one of, what, five or six Pokémon Masters in town? They can’t try a terrorist attack on the League or anything—it’d be suicide, just like when they tried attacking Juliet’s lab.”

    “Great,” Alex said. Truthfully, she was relieved that the exchange went smoothly and amicably, but she didn’t envy going back to the League circuit with Terry. Somehow, her momentum had inexplicably slowed, and it seemed nothing she could do would get it going again.
     
  17. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Good chapter, keep it up!
     
  18. Marril

    Marril New Member

    This chapter was actually really hard to write, so I imagine it might be really hard to follow. The basic problem as I ran into it is that text isn't a good medium for chaotic battles, especially team-on-team ones. The original draft even had Marita in there too, but I cut her involvement because it just made things too messy. That's also the reason there isn't much in the ways of Protect, Stealth Rock, Spikes, that kind of thing—it just makes things too hard to follow, so I sacrificed complexity for readability (even though realistically a master vs master battle would be so full of that kind of stuff that it'd be impossible to follow... but that wouldn't be fun to read). Still, I think it's interesting to see what happens in high-level battles where the gloves are off. It really shows how restrained even type A battling is, and how being extremely powerful isn't always an advantage because you suddenly have to start checking your strength.

    I also think it's a little amusing that Marita was stated to have titans on her team, but Raleigh's team is named after the actual titans.

    Chapter 34 - Too Far

    Sam strode down the brightly lit corridor of the Neo League headquarters. Marita led the way by a few paces, and Sam imagined that if she could’ve seen Marita’s face, she’d have seen a downright intimidating, steely resolve.

    Marita rounded a corner, Sam right behind her. They were almost to the conference room where Raleigh was meeting with Neo League officials and Idaman politicians. What his goals there were irrelevant. Any questioning would be a formality, little more.

    They reached the conference room moments later, and Marita threw open the wooden doors without so much as knocking first. Sure enough, Raleigh was inside, seated at a circular table. An Idaman man in a suit stood by a blackboard, making some kind of presentation or another, which was halted by their arrival. Everyone stared at the two Pokémon Masters as they entered.

    “Raleigh Camulus,” Marita announced. “Come with us.”

    Raleigh looked around with facetious incredulity on his face. “Why?”

    “In the interest of saving face, I suggest you come with us first and question us later.”

    Snorting in amusement, Raleigh said, “I have nothing to hide.”

    “Very well. I’m taking you into custody on suspicion of being a Team Rocket executive.”

    The mocking smile faded from Raleigh’s face. “Team Rocket?”

    One of the men sitting to Raleigh’s left eyed him oddly. “Perhaps you might do well to explain your… political connections. I think Ms. Gartner’s confusion stems from a very basic misunderstanding.”

    “There’s no misunderstanding,” Marita assured the man. “But sure, I’ll listen to what you have to say.”

    Sam glared at Raleigh. “First, I’d like an answer to one simple question. Do these connections of yours involve a longtime Team Rocket colleague named Roland?”

    Raleigh’s eyes widened considerably. Mere heartbeats later, he was on his feet, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a small pistol. He aimed a quick shot at Marita and dashed out of the room as Sam drew a pokéball.

    “Go, Ishtar!” Sam shouted as she threw the ball. “Chase him down! Don’t let him get away!”

    Ishtar the Garchomp was off before Sam could finish her order. Ishtar was a well-trained Pokémon. She didn’t need to know anything other than the fact that she was to pursue a fleeing enemy.

    Sam spared a glance at Marita, who was leaning against the wall. Marita didn’t seem too badly injured. Sam didn’t have enough time to help Marita, so she set off, taking out another pokéball as she ran. Raleigh wasn’t a fool—he’d have his Pokémon guarding his escape path, and they’d be strong enough to stop Ishtar in her tracks.

    “Go, Gilgamesh!” Sam shouted as she ran. “Follow Ishtar! Don’t let Raleigh escape!”

    Sure enough, Ishtar was entangled fighting a Ferrothorn and a Skarmory only a hundred metres or so away. Gilgamesh the Dragonite didn’t stop to fight them, instead charging through both opposing Pokémon with a blazing aura surrounding him. Sam took the opportunity to slip by as Ishtar leapt upon Ferrothorn, slashing and biting it ferociously.

    Sam caught up with Raleigh a minute or two later, near the entrance to the rear training arena. It made sense for Raleigh to head there—it gave him a defensible position near an exit, perfect to discourage Sam and Marita from pursuing and allowing him to fight the both of them on even footing should they catch up.

    As if to prove that point, Gilgamesh seemed hopelessly outnumbered against a Tyranitar, Blissey, Gliscor, Magnezone, and Heatran. The five Pokémon circled around Gilgamesh, each hesitant to make the first move. Finally, the Tyranitar leapt at Gilgamesh, provoking the start of what would certainly have been a gruesome defeat.

    Time to even those odds.

    “Go, Enkidu! Sin!” Sam shouted, throwing two pokéballs. Enkidu the Salamence and Sin the Hydreigon materialized in front of her. Sin didn’t have to wait for orders, instead rushing off to aid Gilgamesh.

    Gilgamesh, wrestling with Tyranitar, was unable to defend himself against a thunderbolt from Magnezone, nor a subsequent flamethrower from Heatran. A well-aimed pulse from Sin’s left mouth struck Tyranitar in the face, knocking it away from Gilgamesh and giving the Dragonite a precious moment to recover.

    “Enkidu, Draco Meteor!” Sam shouted. As Enkidu took to the air, Sam grabbed Gilgamesh’s pokéball and withdrew him. A second later, several meteors struck the battlefield, dazing the opposing Pokémon but knocking out none of them.

    “Cronus, Hyper Beam her!” Raleigh shouted.

    Sam barely had time to run out of the way as Cronus the Tyranitar spewed a beam of energy directly at her. It hit the wall behind where she’d just been, causing it to explode into a burst of shrapnel, some of which struck her, cutting into her. She felt the heat convection from the beam along her right arm, blisters and burns forming on her skin.

    Most Pokémon battles were highly ritualized, kept within strict rules that ensured both trainers and their Pokémon would remain safe. Sam and Raleigh were free from such hindrances, which meant that attacking the other trainer directly was the quickest route to victory. It was battle at its most raw, its most brutal. Sam could almost appreciate the freedom to unleash her skills to their fullest.

    “Go, Gilgamesh!” Sam shouted. “Extremespeed Blissey! Sin, Dragon Rush Gliscor!” She hesitated a brief moment before adding, “No quarter!”

    The only restriction on type A battles was that you couldn’t kill your opponent’s Pokémon. This simple rule altered strategy in ways not even masters could fully understand until they’d fought free of that restriction. Her goal wasn’t to tire out Raleigh’s Pokémon, to make them yield, to cause them to faint. She was free to kill every single one of them if it meant capturing Raleigh, and they were free to do the same.

    Sam was undisputedly weaker than Raleigh at type A battling, but the question remained: Did that advantage carry over to their current battle? He certainly had the numerical advantage. Even if Ishtar returned, she was outnumbered over two to one against Raleigh’s entire team.

    “Hyperion, Zap Cannon that Dragonite!” Raleigh shouted. This was his first mistake, and Sam didn’t even need to capitalize on it—everything was set up in her favour already.

    The blast of electricity caught Gilgamesh hard on his left flank, throwing him off the wounded Blissey. Raleigh’s Heatran was busy with Enkidu, however, and with Raleigh’s attention focused on Gilgamesh, Sin had the time required to deliver the first fatal blow of the fight.

    A loud, screeching cry came from behind Sam, but she couldn’t afford to turn to see what it was. Against every one of her instincts, she forced her focus to remain on Enkidu. That Heatran would give him more trouble than Hyperion would give Gilgamesh.

    Rather than give Heatran a chance to cause any unnecessary damage, Sam recalled Enkidu. “Gilgamesh, Fire Blast!”

    Gilgamesh inhaled deeply and breathed a torrent of fire at Hyperion the Magnezone. Despite that Hyperion was made of metal, it was overall less durable than Gilgamesh, which was made apparent as Gilgamesh increased the intensity of his flames, heating Hyperion’s metal body so much it began to glow.

    “Blizzard!” Sam shouted. As she did, she felt a gust of wind from behind her, and out of the corner of her eye she saw Ishtar run by, headed towards Blissey. Heatran couldn’t get to Blissey before Ishtar sunk her claws into the happiness Pokémon’s soft flesh.

    The icy blast from Gilgamesh’s wings froze Hyperion’s heated metallic body, contracting the metal fast enough that it audibly snapped in parts. This wouldn’t necessarily kill Hyperion, but it would take it out of the fight.

    “Thea, no mercy!” Raleigh shouted, enraged at the permanent loss of another Pokémon and the temporary loss of another. “Magma Storm! Cronus, kill that Hydreigon!”

    Sam snap-recalled Ishtar before the swirling fire could engulf her. She winced at the effort it took to move her right arm. Switching Pokémon left-handed took more time than doing it right-handed, and that time could easily cost her. “Go, Enkidu! Dragon Dance towards that Heatran and Outrage!”

    Enkidu flapped his wings several times and took to the air, swirling and rolling, building up speed and momentum. He dodged another swirl of fire from Thea the Heatran, and Sam turned her attention towards Sin, who was keeping his distance from Cronus, periodically shooting ineffectual pulses of energy at him from various mouths.

    “Go, Ishtar!” Sam said. “Dig under the arena and hit that Tyranitar from below.”

    Sam would just have to trust that Sin could hold his own until Ishtar joined the fight. She watched as Enkidu sped directly through a wall of flame and struck Thea over the head. He followed by tearing his claws through Heatran’s iron hide.

    “Enkidu, Hyper Beam!” Sam shouted.

    “Cronus, Earthquake!” Raleigh yelled. As the tremors shook Sam and probably slowed or even stopped Ishtar from surfacing, he returned his attention to Thea and swore loudly. He tried to recall the Heatran, but Gilgamesh blocked the beam. Swearing some more, Raleigh dug out two more pokéballs. “Go, Tethys, Themis! Save Thea at all costs!”

    Tethys the Cloyster stayed near Raleigh and shot wave after wave of spikes at the enemy dragons while Themis the Lucario dashed towards them. Gilgamesh took several spike hits directly, one even piercing his hide at the shoulder. Sam winced as she saw this, but Gilgamesh succeeded at buying Enkidu the time he needed to end Thea.

    The Hyper Beam tore through Thea’s wounded hide, sending chunks of iron and flesh flying. Thea howled in agony, a deep roar that chilled Sam with how much suffering it conveyed. Had this been a type A battle, Sam would have simply ordered Dragonbreath, and Enkidu would have known to hold back. Now, however, her Pokémon were free to hit as hard as they felt like, and with that came the freedom to inflict horrible amounts of pain. Exercising this freedom was a terrible thing.

    After several more tries, Raleigh was able to shoot a recall beam past Gilgamesh, removing Thea from the battlefield. Themis reached Gilgamesh and leapt up, aiming a kick at the dragon’s face. Gilgamesh beat his wings and flew back and upwards, dodging the blow. Themis landed easily in front of Enkidu, who was temporarily too tired to take advantage of Themis’ tactical blunder.

    “Gilgamesh, Double Team!” Sam shouted. “Enkidu, rush that Cloyster! Hit Raleigh too if you can!”

    “Oh no you don’t,” Raleigh grunted as he threw another two pokéballs. “Go, Phoebe! Psychic! Mnemosyne, Ice Beam!”

    Phoebe the Espeon’s eyes glowed brightly, and one of the illusory Dragonites around Gilgamesh faded away. Mnemosyne the Starmie shot a beam at Sin, striking the dark dragon from behind. Sin roared in pain and spun around, firing a snapshot energy pulse at Mnemosyne, which was blocked by a shimmering barrier.

    “Cronus, Stone Edge!” Raleigh shouted, seeing the same opening Sam did.

    With Sin’s attention away from Cronus, he couldn’t stop the bigger, heavier Pokémon from rushing at him at exceptional velocity, tackling him to the ground. All three of Sin’s heads screamed at once, shocking Sam to the point that she fumbled Sin’s pokéball. Sin took a hard blow to the back of his primary head before Sam could recall him. That hesitation meant she couldn’t send Sin out again, lest potential brain injury result in his death.

    That left Gilgamesh and Enkidu alone for the time being. Again, Ishtar’s return wasn’t something Sam could rely on. Was it time to summon Shamash?

    No, Sam thought. I can still pull this out of the fire without relying on a god.

    “Enkidu, point-blank Draco Meteor!” Sam shouted. “Gilgamesh, send a second wave of meteors immediately after!”

    Enkidu was barely off the ground before he summoned a wave of meteorites that struck the ground evenly around him. He was barely out of range of the shrapnel from Gilgamesh’s meteors when they hit. Themis was able to escape in time, but Tethys wasn’t, one of the meteors even striking her shell directly.

    As the smoke cleared, Sam saw Phoebe lying on the ground, unmoving. Tethys’ shell was closed, which meant the shellfish wouldn’t have been injured. Well, one out of two wasn’t bad, although it meant Enkidu was dangerously close to Cronus.

    “Enkidu, up and out!” Sam shouted. “Dragon Dance!”

    Enkidu managed a nearly ninety degree upward turn, spinning as he ascended. Sam was thankful that Ishtar had already taken out Raleigh’s only flying Pokémon, since flight was the only tactical advantage she had. Everything else came from raw strength, thorough training, and trust in Sam’s orders.

    “Mnemosyne, shoot an Ice Beam at that Dragonite!” Raleigh shouted. “Cronus, stay close to me. Themis, Swords Dance! Prepare for Salamence’s descent! Tethys, watch for that Garchomp’s re-emergence!”

    The corner of Sam’s mouth twitched in annoyance. She’d hoped Raleigh wouldn’t dedicate a Pokémon entirely to watch for Ishtar, as that meant Ishtar would be ambushed the moment she came out of the ground.

    No time to think about that now, Sam thought as Gilgamesh narrowly dodged the Ice Beam. “Enkidu, Outrage!”

    “Themis, High Jump Kick!”

    Being far larger and more massive, Enkidu would have knocked Themis aside easily had their collision been head-on. Instead, Themis leapt to Enkidu’s side, delivering a sharp axe kick to the dragon’s wing joint. Enkidu crashed into the ground, and was immediately struck by an Ice Beam.

    “Gods damn it,” Sam muttered as she recalled Enkidu. This was serious now. She reached for Shamash’s ball, but Raleigh’s shout stopped her cold.

    “Themis, kill Ms. Lindstrom!”

    Only the sudden emergence of Ishtar from the ground in front of Sam saved her life. Several of Tethys’ spikes bounced off Ishtar’s hide as she clawed and bit at Themis, who was barely fast enough to dodge. Themis held his hands out in front of him, a glowing aura sphere growing around them. The sphere then shot at Ishtar, knocking her backwards slightly and exposing her underside, which was promptly pierced by several more spikes. None went deep enough to be fatal, but they’d restrict Ishtar’s movements to the point where she’d be useless in combat.

    Sam ignored the searing pain shooting down her burnt right arm, recalling Ishtar at the same time as she drew a master ball with her good left arm.

    All right, that’s enough, Sam thought. She was hesitant to call out her final and strongest Pokémon, hoping that she could win without needing to rely on the power of a god, but such a victory was looking increasingly remote. She held the master ball tightly in her grip for several lengthy heartbeats, and then threw it in front of her.

    “Go, Shamash!”

    A giant white dragon materialized in front of Sam, shining feathers and plume adorned by the blazing aura surrounding it. It roared as it took in its surroundings, bright eyes keenly observing every detail of the battle.

    “Blue Flare!”

    Shamash the Reshiram opened its mouth and shot a blue-white flame at Themis, too fast for him to dodge. The blast incinerated the Lucario too quickly for Raleigh to recall him.

    “Gilgamesh, withdraw to me!” Sam shouted. “Shamash, break up their defensive line! Fusion Flare!”

    The blazing aura around Shamash coalesced into a great sphere of fire, tearing across the battlefield. Mnemosyne the Starmie leapt in front of the attack, a shimmering barrier in front of it. The barrier withstood the Fusion Flare for a moment, then shattered under its intensity. Raleigh recalled Mnemosyne before it could be incinerated like Themis.

    “Go, Oceanus!” Raleigh shouted. This was his final Pokémon unless he had any that defied his naming scheme. Oceanus turned out to be a Tentacruel, which Sam figured might be able to withstand an attack from Shamash, maybe two. Raleigh smirked and nodded to Cronus. “This is what we’ve been waiting for. Bring down that Reshiram!”

    Cronus roared and began to charge. The ground shook with every step he took, and radiant energy crackled around the spikes on his back.

    “Shamash, Flamethrower,” Sam ordered. Shamash breathed flames in front of it, which burned and smouldered on the arena floor. As Cronus burst through them, Sam followed this order with, “Blue Flare!”

    The jet of fire hit Cronus’ rocky hide like a blowtorch, and though Cronus staggered from the force of the impact, he retaliated with the single brightest Hyper Beam that Sam had ever seen from any Pokémon, including her own. It struck Shamash in the chest, halting its attack and eliciting a brief cry of pain from the god.

    Cronus’ chest glowed reddish-yellow from Shamash’s attack, but this didn’t hinder his movements in the slightest as he ran at Shamash, tackling it with a Giga Impact.

    Sam ducked away from Shamash, bidding Gilgamesh to follow her. Once she was a safe enough distance away, she shouted, “Shamash, Draco Meteor!”

    Unlike her other Pokémon, Shamash didn’t need to take flight in order to summon a meteor strike. Also unlike her other Pokémon, Shamash only summoned a single meteor, albeit one significantly larger than any she’d seen even from Gilgamesh. The meteor hit Cronus in the back, snapping several of his spikes and pinning him to the ground. He rolled away with alacrity a creature of his mass shouldn’t have had, and with another roar leapt again at Shamash, biting the god’s wing and attempting to tear away feather or even flesh. Shamash flapped the wing contemptuously, shaking Cronus free.

    He’s got to give me an opening soon, Sam thought. Shamash is just going to sweep him otherwise. Not even Cronus is going to win in the long run.

    The only question was whether or not Raleigh had truly expended all his Pokémon. If he had, then Oceanus moving away from him would leave him open to a counterattack from Gilgamesh. If he hadn’t, then he could easily call out another Pokémon to block her dragon’s advance and probably take one or both out of the fight.

    Raleigh looked between Gilgamesh and Shamash. “Oceanus, Hydro Pump that Reshiram!”

    A rush of elation surged through Sam. This was it. Oceanus would have to move away from Raleigh to get to the optimal distance to shoot from, which gave Gilgamesh a perfect opening. It was a calculated risk on Raleigh’s part, and now a calculated risk on Sam’s. If Oceanus was able to get back to protect Raleigh before Gilgamesh could reach him, there was a strong probability Oceanus would take down Gilgamesh. If that happened, she’d be defenseless.

    But she had to try.

    “Gilgamesh, Extremespeed! Now!” Sam shouted.

    Gilgamesh’s feet left the ground not even a half second later, and he flew at Raleigh with blinding speed. Raleigh couldn’t react except to widen his eyes slightly, and Oceanus was too slow in moving to protect him. Gilgamesh struck Raleigh at full speed, lifting him up off the ground. Raleigh flew back from the impact, and for a brief moment Sam thought he was going to be okay, right until he landed. Raleigh’s head jerked back and rebounded off the ground and his body went limp. As Sam had feared, Gilgamesh couldn’t help but apply excessive force, even when he tried not to.

    The shock stunned Oceanus for several seconds, long enough for Gilgamesh to leap into the air, summon several meteors to strike him, and land with an Outrage attack that cracked Oceanus’ shell. A blow from Gilgamesh’s tail sent Oceanus to the ground.

    Cronus wouldn’t be going down so easily. Battered, broken, and burnt, the Tyranitar still had every bit the rage and fury he entered the fight with. He had an indomitable spirit, which meant Sam had no choice but to have Shamash kill him. Oceanus might surrender. Cronus wouldn’t.

    “Blue Flare!” Sam ordered again. She wasn’t going to be charitable or sporting. Blue Flare was Shamash’s most powerful attack, and she’d have Shamash use it over and over again until Cronus was defeated. “Gilgamesh, make sure Oceanus doesn’t get back up, but don’t kill him unless you have to.”

    Shamash’s fire glanced off Cronus’ side, melting the rock armour on his left shoulder. Cronus howled and stomped his foot on the ground, raising broken shards of the arena floor into the air. Eyes glowing, Cronus shot a beam of light at Shamash, which barely caused the god to flinch. The glow didn’t leave Cronus’ body.

    “Again!” Sam shouted.

    Cronus charged through the fire, good arm raised, electricity crackling around it. This time, the fire burned through the armour on his right midsection, but again wasn’t enough to stop his advance. He leapt forward and punched Shamash, tendrils of electricity erupting from the impact point. Grabbing Shamash one-handed, Cronus hefted the god to the ground, and struck it with its tail.

    “Again,” Sam said.

    Lying on its back, Shamash easily aimed another Blue Flare at Cronus, this time catching him full in the chest. Cronus staggered back, and Shamash got up easily.

    “Again,” Sam repeated.

    This time, the Blue Flare penetrated Cronus’ chest armour, striking his innards. Cronus roared defiantly one last time, energy crackling in his mouth as if preparing a Hyper Beam. However, his injuries were too great, and he finally collapsed to the ground, dead but not defeated. Even at the end, his spirit had been unbreakable.

    Sam leaned back against the arena wall. She cocked her head at Oceanus. “You’ve got two choices, Oceanus. Surrender and I’ll make sure you’re not put down. Or try your luck against Shamash.”

    Thankfully, Oceanus didn’t try to call Sam’s bluff. Killing in the heat of battle was one thing, and Sam could live with that, but executing a combatant after the battle was over was beyond her. Killing someone who couldn't fight back was unthinkable. Oceanus wasn’t responsible for anything worth punishment, anyway. He was simply a Pokémon fighting at his master’s command. He and whatever other survivors were in Raleigh’s pokéballs were too valuable to put down.

    “You did good, Shamash,” Sam said with a feeble smile, and recalled the Reshiram. She slid down the wall, finding herself unable to stand, and sat against it for what felt like forever, though realistically, it couldn’t have been more than ten or fifteen minutes.

    Several police officers led by an Officer Jenny emerged from the rear entrance. They were followed by Eli Howe, another of the Pokémon Masters in Vientiane. Officer Jenny surveyed the scene for a moment, then sent one of her men back out. He returned with several paramedics a moment later.

    Eli was the first one to reach Sam, and he extended a hand to her, which she took and let him help her to her feet. “I’m just gonna be blunt,” he said. “What happened?”

    Sam nodded at Raleigh’s corpse. “Marita and I discovered he was a Team Rocket operative. When we confronted him, he fled, and when I caught up with him, he tried to kill me. I… acted in self-defense.”

    “Gods among us,” Eli swore. “This is a real mess, you know that?”

    Sam shrugged. “If I hadn’t done this, we’d never have caught Raleigh.”

    “I believe you,” Eli said. He nodded over his shoulder to Officer Jenny. “But I’m afraid you’re going to have to answer a few questions first. Then we’ll take you to the station so you can make an official statement.”

    So you wanna be a master of Pokémon? The lyrics to a pop rock song Sam enjoyed listening to in her early teens floated through her head. Understand the secrets and have some fun?

    “Yeah,” Sam said distantly.

    Put myself to the test to be better than all the rest, Sam thought. She’d certainly done that much. Would she have chosen to pursue her adolescent dream of becoming a Pokémon Master if she knew this is what it would entail? Probably not.

    The real world never did live up to adolescent fantasy.
     
  19. Marril

    Marril New Member

    There's a reference to a specific work in this chapter that I can't explain on here (hint: it's something Alex says), but I just want to say that anyone who gets it is automatically awesome.

    This is also one of the chapters where my self-imposed restriction of not letting myself use words like "straight" or "bisexual" is kind of clunky, but I'm sticking to my guns anyway.

    Chapter 35 - Seventh Evolution

    As far as Terry was concerned, sometimes there simply wasn’t anything better than spending time with Alex. Sure, their relationship could be a little rocky from time to time, but he still loved her, and when things were good, they were really good.

    The two of them were at a Pokémon park, though not for training. Pokémon were like any other living creature, and some time out from training and from their existence in their pokéballs was nice. Terry’s Eeveelutions certainly enjoyed it. Most of Alex’s Pokémon did too. Meili was off brooding in the shade of a tree, shooting death glares at the occasional passerby.

    Terry sat on a bench beside Alex, watching Flareon and Gastrodon have some sort of conversation he couldn’t possibly understand. As far as he knew, Alex hadn’t learned how to speak Gastrodon, so she probably didn’t have any more idea than he did.

    Alex, meanwhile, was engrossed in watching Gyarados fly around in figure eights. Gyarados had no obvious flight mechanism, so Terry could appreciate how odd a sight a flying serpent was.

    “It’s Phayao next, eh?” Alex asked.

    “Yeah,” Terry said. “Then it’s off to Vientiane. Assuming they don’t call off the League entirely because of your sister.”

    “Because of Sam?” Alex wondered. She took her eyes off Gyarados to give Terry an incredulous look. “Because of Raleigh Camulus is more like it.”

    “Hey, I’m not denying that Sam had good reasons for tearing up one of the battle arenas and killing Raleigh,” Terry said. “It’s just a problem that she gets to do that and get away with it. You just know that if it had been me there instead of her, I’d have been arrested on trumped-up charges for even daring to fight a Pokémon Master. Winning would just get me a Kangaskahn court. But since it was another Master, well, they just look the other way.”

    Alex shrugged. “Isn’t that what we’re in this League to do, though? Win Master titles? The Japanese government will even recognize our titles if we win.”

    “It doesn’t mean I agree with the fact that Masters basically get to ignore the law,” Terry countered. “Sam didn’t for the most part. I actually respected that. Now… now she’s no better than the rest of the overprivileged elites.”

    “I think you’re being a little too harsh on them,” Alex said. “Outside of Raleigh Camulus, name one Pokémon Master who actually abuses their title.”

    “Sam Lindstrom,” Terry replied dryly. “But seriously, Marita Gartner. And I’m not referring to how she helped Sam a few days ago, either. She makes hunting Team Rocket a lifestyle. On my tax yen, no less.”

    “She’s effective,” Alex pointed out. “Didn’t she catch that Executive Stein guy a few years back?”

    “Arrested him and held him without trial,” Terry said. “It was only after significant backlash that she turned him over to an Officer Jenny.”

    “If it got the job done, then sure, I can get behind that,” Alex said. “And as far as detainment goes, Pokémon Masters do get to detain someone lawfully if they have a reason for it.”

    “That doesn’t make it right!” Terry exclaimed. “That’s the part you’re not getting. Yes, the law is set up so that Masters are the upper class. It’s the remains of a feudal system where power went to the warlords with the strongest Pokémon, and to the warriors who served them. All we’ve done in the modern era is awkwardly stick a parliamentary government in there. But tradition is tradition, and the League and its Masters are the ones with the real power.”

    “You’re skipping over the part where that’s a bad thing,” Alex pointed out.

    Terry sighed. “You don’t see anything wrong with all that power concentrated into an oligarchy?”

    “They do a good job.”

    “Raleigh,” Terry said firmly.

    “Okay, devil’s advocate,” Alex said. “What, exactly, did Raleigh do that was so heinous?”

    “He was with Team Rocket.”

    “What, exactly, did he do?” Alex repeated.

    Terry frowned.

    “Did he arrange people’s deaths? Did he use League resources for criminal activity? What?”

    “I don’t know,” Terry said. “But Sam clearly found something, or else she wouldn’t have gone after him.”

    “Maybe she approached Team Rocket with the same mentality you have,” Alex suggested. She sat back. “Just because someone’s in Team Rocket doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. It’s big enough that most of its members probably don’t need to do anything criminal anymore. Is membership alone so wrong? Does it make you bad?”

    “Yes,” Terry replied without hesitation. “Because you’re still contributing to their overall operations, which are just as criminal as ever.”

    “All right, so what if I got hired at some company and another division committed some kind of crime because the executives told them to. Would I be a bad person?”

    “No.”

    “Even though I still contributed to their overall operations?” Alex asked, raising an eyebrow.

    Terry hesitated. As much as he didn’t like to admit it, Alex did manage to catch him contradicting himself. His first thought was to argue that Alex’s hypothetical company wasn’t intrinsically criminal, but that was a trap he was smarter than to fall into. Of course it would be intrinsically criminal if its leadership was wholly corrupt, if it was created to act as a front with honest people being duped into working for them.

    “Can you at least see where I’m going with this?” Alex asked. She took Terry’s hand. “I know you’ve got your past with Team Rocket. I can only imagine looking at your Eeveelutions is like me looking at Meili—a reminder of something you wish you could go back in time and fix. But don’t let yourself start judging people as a result of it—Sam as much as anyone else.”

    Terry nodded solemnly. He wondered when he ever told Alex that he specifically regretted the incident with his Eevees, but it probably came up at some point. Plus she was smart enough to piece things together on her own. He’d probably have to tell her the truth at some point, but for the time being, he knew she wouldn’t take it well even in light of her recent arguments.

    “It’s just not the same with Team Rocket, I guess,” Terry said. “I see them differently. It’s not something I can just get past simply because I know I do it. It’s like how you have trouble getting past looking in the mirror and seeing a male face even though everyone else…”

    “Sun stone,” Alex said abruptly.

    The disconnect between the usual circumstances in which Alex said that and the current ones made Terry’s mind hiccup for a moment. He’d trained himself to stop whatever he was doing in response to it, no questions asked, but even so, saying it in this context meant Terry probably crossed a line a lot farther than he thought he might have.

    “I’m sorry,” Terry said.

    Alex shrugged. “It’s fine. Not like I ever get to hear you say moon stone.”

    The use of uncommon words as an unconditional stop signal wasn’t anything Terry would have thought of himself. The idea came from Alex, though Terry thought up the actual words. It made certain subjects much easier to broach without having to worry about accidentally hurting the other. In fact, it managed to be one of those things that was so useful and so obvious that not only should Terry not have been surprised the first time Alex explained the concept to him, he shouldn’t have been surprised at its use outside its primary context.

    Terry drew Alex in close and hugged her. “I know you’d stop instantly if I ever did say it.”

    Alex returned the hug, albeit a little halfheartedly. “It shouldn’t have set me off anyway. I thought I was past it, especially since… you know.”

    Terry did know, and Alex was referring to one of the few things that made things at all awkward for Terry. Although that awkwardness was completely drowned out by the effect it had on Alex. Besides, Terry found himself not minding after a little while.

    Terry gently stroked Alex’s shoulder. “I guess that trigger’s a bit harder to get past than we thought. Just remember that no matter what, I’m here if it ever gets difficult for you.”

    Alex smiled as she and Terry parted.

    The two of them spent a while talking about subjects decidedly unrelated to the previous ones, which felt quite forced, but Terry couldn’t complain. Besides, it was nice just to relax and not have to worry about getting stressed out by all the crap they had to put up with.

    The downside to this was that Terry got so distracted that he almost missed noticing Eevee’s fur getting shorter and bluer.

    Now? Really? Terry thought. Unlike most evolution, which happened extremely quickly, his Eevees evolved slowly. Physical changes occurred so slowly that visually processing each one was possible. In this case, it was very fortunate, since it meant Terry had some warning before his Eevee would suddenly evolve into a Vaporeon without a water stone anywhere nearby.

    “Hey, um, Alex,” Terry said. The direct approach was best, and honesty was always the best policy. Though this time it’d have to be creative honesty. “Eevee’s not looking very good. Mind looking after the rest while I take her to a Pokémon Centre?”

    “Uh, okay,” Alex said, blinking.

    “Thanks,” Terry said as he stepped over to Eevee, crouched down, and picked her up. He wasn’t sure what effect, if any, a pokéball would have, but he wasn’t in any hurry to find out.

    By the time Terry reached the Salavan Pokémon Centre, Eevee’s ears had started to flatten out and turn yellow. The beginnings of a fin crested her head, and a dark blue ridge was forming along her back. Nurse Joy would have been aghast at the sight, so Terry resolved not to let her see anything. All he needed was some privacy, which he could get out back, and easy access to medical services if anything went wrong.

    He set Eevee down on the grass and petted her head gently. Eevee flinched away from the touch. Slow evolution probably meant some amount of physical pain. Eevee’s breathing was steady for the time being, but Terry didn’t have any way of knowing if that would keep up.

    “Don’t worry, girl,” Terry said. “The rest of you went through this just fine. It’ll be okay, I promise.”

    Eevee’s tail wagged back and forth in acknowledgement. Terry could see the tip bifurcating into a fin.

    “See?” Terry said. “Nothing to be afraid of.”

    The Pokémon before him gave something between an Eevee’s yelp and a Vaporeon’s growl. The sound was likely something Terry would never get the chance to hear again, and he committed it to memory for curiosity’s sake.

    The whole evolution process took another few minutes, and by the time it was done, Vaporeon was so tired that she could barely stand. After a moment of examining her new body, Vaporeon laid down in the grass, tail curled up around it.

    Terry smiled. “Just like I said.”

    He drew a pokéball from his jacket and recalled Vaporeon. Explaining this to Alex would’ve been impossible, of course, so he simply had to hope she wouldn’t ask too many questions.



    The worst part about pokésitting was that Alex couldn’t really do anything productive at the same time. Terry’s Eeveelutions were well-behaved, though, which meant the only Pokémon she needed to pay special attention to was Gyarados.

    Terry better come back with that Vaporeon soon, Alex thought. Explaining to Terry that she knew about its slowed and innate evolution would’ve been impossible, but thankfully Terry was more worried about keeping it a secret than she was about keeping her knowledge a secret.

    Honestly, she wouldn’t have been too concerned about that fact even if she didn’t know the full story behind them. Eevees’ volatile genetic structure was common knowledge, and mutant Eevees existed. They were rare, but Alex could’ve accepted Vaporeon at face value.

    She couldn’t have accepted both Flareon and Jolteon’s evolutions being natural as well, but she didn’t know that before recently.

    “How’s it going, Marril?” Alex asked, looking down at the Pokémon sitting beside her on the bench.

    “Mar,” Marril said. “Marril-mar-mar-Marril-mar.”

    “Do the Eeveelutions know what’s going on?”

    “Mar,” Marril said. She explained that they knew what had been done to all of them, and in fact could tell that they’d known Eevee was going to evolve for at least a week. They simply hadn’t told Terry because Terry couldn’t understand any of them to the degree that Alex could understand Marril.

    “I wonder if Terry’d be fine with me knowing about his Eevees if I said you told me what they were talking about,” Alex mused.

    “Ril,” Marril said. “Ril-Marril-ril-mar.”

    “Oh, I wasn’t actually going to try telling him that,” Alex said. “At least not unless there’s some kind of reason to.”

    “Mar.”

    “Still,” Alex said. “I think I can get Sam to stay quiet about it. And I’m really curious about what she’ll say. I mean, the woman designed a Pokémon from the ground up. I’d be surprised if she couldn’t tell me exactly what the situation is just from the fact that they had predetermined evolutions.”

    “Ril-Marril-ar-ril-Mar,” Marril said.

    “Mar,” Alex said flatly. “Marril-ril.”

    Marril laughed. Alex couldn’t speak Marril’s language as fluently as she could understand it, but it was always good for a laugh whenever she did try speaking it. Inflection was much more significant in Pokémon languages than in most human languages, so Alex couldn’t say much, but a few basic phrases were easy enough.

    “But seriously, though,” Alex said. “He has to know eventually that I know, or else he has to tell me at some point. Those kinds of secrets aren’t healthy.”

    “Ril?” Marril asked.

    “Really,” Alex said. “Imagine if I’d tried getting into a relationship… you know, before.”

    “Ar-ril-Marril-Marril-mar, ril-mar-Marril. Marril-mar-mar,” Marril said.

    “Oh, can it,” Alex grumbled. Yes, it was true that she actually had tried it once, and that it had failed spectacularly because, as it turned out, most women didn’t like their “men” to be quite so feminine, but Alex couldn’t have helped that. Still, the thought nagged the back of her mind at the time that it could’ve worked if only she’d found a woman who liked both men and women…

    It was a stupid thought, and it made Alex cringe nowadays, but it illustrated the mental contortions you could go through in order to deny things you couldn’t admit.

    “Tell you what,” Alex said. “I’ll ask Sam about this, and I’ll say nothing to Terry. Sound good?”

    “Mar,” Marril said faintly.

    And that’s probably the best I’ll get out of her, Alex thought. But it’s better than nothing.
     
  20. JewelQuest

    JewelQuest New Member

    Liked it. The moments in between Marril and Alex are always amusing.
     

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