|09/30/2011, 05:26 PM||#1|
As they say, "Once more with feeling!"
Anyway, Pokémon SS is actually a massive canon of mine spanning over 10 years of real time (the original was written back in 2000) and many different incarnations over the years. I won't bore you with the history of it, except to say that the current version is like the 2000s version of Battlestar Galactica: Based on my old work, but not connected to it in any way. Also, while "SS" was originally short for "side story" (the same kind of connotation that'd be behind a name like "Pokémon Gaiden"), the name remains only as acknowledgement of the story's roots. In another respect, I consider this the "fixed" version of the story.
That aside, I'd just like to say a few more words before I begin, mostly in regards to clearing up potential ambiguity in characters and setting, because certain details are kept vague within the story itself:
Now for Pokémon SS. Feedback and constructive criticism are always welcome.
Table Of Contents:
Chapter 1 - Newfound Sisterhood
Sam glanced at her watch. 11:47 AM, and the date, of which she’d since lost all mental track, seemed to be several days until her arrival in Cerulean City. A week aboard a ship was mind-numbing after the novelty of being on a boat wore off.
Take a good hard look at the Mankey-flinging boat, Sam mentally grumbled to herself. There really wasn’t anything else to do but sightsee a vast ocean.
Idly she picked at her lunch. She wished she’d packed more in the ways of actual time-killers. Textbooks were fine and well, but she needed some way to unwind. True, there was an onboard arena for Pokémon battles, but battling wasn’t her forte.
“Excuse me,” someone said from behind her.
She turned to face the speaker. Despite that his medium-length hair was a soft, ethereal white, he looked to be only in his early twenties. He was extremely pale, and his eyes were oddly coloured.
“Yes?” Sam asked.
“Your name wouldn’t happen to be Sam by any chance, would it?”
“Uh, yes, it is.”
“Mind if I have a seat?”
Sam made a show of looking around. “There are plenty of empty tables.”
The man smiled politely. “I know, but I was hoping I could speak with you.”
Sam eyed him cautiously. “What about?”
“It’s about your sister, actually.”
Right. Sister. Sam scoffed lightly. “Sure.”
The man sat down opposite her. “Maybe I should introduce myself. Your sister ever mention a Terry?”
Now everything fell into place. Sam was less than amused. “Yes,” Sam said, and paused slightly. “… She did.”
“I guess that makes this slightly less awkward,” Terry said. “Anyway, I was talking to Alex earlier and she mentioned she was going to be in Cerulean for a while. Wanted me to see if you’d be fine with the both of us going to meet her once we’re in town.”
“And, uh, she couldn’t have just asked the both of us separately?”
Sam felt like groaning. She hadn’t actually talked to Alex in a very long time, and even then they’d only had a brief conversation over the phone. Most of their communication lately had been through texting.
She’d never actually met Terry, although Alex talked about him a lot. The two met shortly after Alex’s last League tournament. It was shortly before Alex came out with something Sam still couldn’t believe.
“What’s Alex even want, anyway?” Sam asked.
“She says she wants to tell you something important, but… well… I think there’s another reason,” Terry replied. “We’ll see, I guess.”
The way Terry nonchalantly talked about Alex as her sister was somewhat unsettling. It felt like reality was being bent over backwards. Still, Sam knew complaint was pointless. She had no control over Alex’s actions.
“So,” Terry continued after Sam had been silent for a while. “What brings you to Cerulean, anyway?”
“Figured I’d just go home for a while,” Sam answered. It wasn’t technically a lie. Her last job as a researcher for a Pokémon biotech firm fell through when she discovered the firm had Team Rocket connections. She’d enjoyed the work, but couldn’t bring herself to work for anyone linked to Team Rocket. Returning home was a chance to take a break and have some familiar surroundings while she tried to find a more honest employer.
“I have to admit I’ve never been to Kanto before,” Terry said.
“I never left it until recently,” Sam said. She tried to be polite, but boredom seeped into her voice regardless.
“League reasons?” Terry asked.
Sam scoffed, though it was a fair question. For trainers, participation in other League tournaments was among the most common reasons to leave their home region.
“Oh, come on,” Terry said in a friendly tone. He smiled. “I looked you up, you know. Pokémon Master in the Kanto region. I figured you’d want to expand your title a bit.”
Again, it was a fair assumption. However, despite being a Pokémon Master, she looked down on the “I want to be the very best like no one ever was” types. Too many kids left home to be a trainer, to wander around collecting badges, to compete in League tournaments, and too few ever amounted to anything. Most couldn’t even get a handful of badges. The ones who qualified for League tournaments usually had no hope of winning.
“No, actually,” Sam replied. “I was working as a researcher in Hoenn.”
“Ah, so an aspiring Professor,” Terry said.
“Not in so many words. I mean, I wouldn’t mind being a Professor, but it’s not my focus. Most places focus heavily on Pokémon research, but it doesn’t really matter to me what sort of biology I’m doing. I don’t even know why I became a Pokémon Master. I was a kid, I guess. It was just the done thing. I don’t have much attachment to the title.”
Yes, she realized, it was a terribly “I got mine” attitude, and the fact that she all but ignored her status as a Pokémon Master would infuriate people for whom that dream was a far-off goal. That she had everything they fought so hard for and still threw it aside would seem abominable.
And yet… she simply didn’t care.
Terry frowned. “Well, I admit there’s probably a bit more money in biology than training.”
Sam smirked. “Quite a bit.”
“No substitute for doing what you enjoy, though.”
“I guess not,” Sam said distantly.
Sam had tried to be an optimist. She tried to think that meeting Terry would at least alleviate her boredom aboard ship, but that was a false hope if she ever had one. It wasn’t that Terry was a bad person or anything, Sam justified the slightly ugly thought in her head, but… but…
There were no buts. She’d just have to try to get to stand Terry, which wasn’t an easy thing to do after several days with him. Sam had no idea what Alex saw in the guy.
Well, she thought, they were almost there. Give it a few more hours so she could take Terry to meet Alex, then however long it took them to go off and do their thing, and then she’d never have to worry about him again.
“The SS Pacifica has arrived in Cerulean City,” the voice over the PA announced. “All passengers should be prepared to depart in ten minutes.”
Terry hoisted his small backpack up over his shoulder and stood up at the table they’d been sitting at. “Well then, I’d say we should be going.”
Sam stood up. “Yes,” she said with strained patience, “let’s.”
Terry hadn’t been a bad conversationalist per se. The problem was he and Sam had nothing in common to talk about. He was a trainer with the goal of becoming a Pokémon Master, she was a researcher with a vague goal of becoming a professor. He’d had bad run-ins with Team Rocket in the past, she’d been duped into working for them once and it had ended surprisingly amicably. She was a vegetarian, he wasn’t.
You’re really reaching, Sam told herself.
She tried calling Alex on her cell phone once she was able to get reception, but didn’t get an answer. Sam sent a text, hoping Alex would receive it. Mumbling to herself, she stuffed her phone into her backpack and followed Terry off the ship.
Cerulean was as nice a city as Sam remembered, at least, off in the distance from the port. Maybe it was personal bias due to it being her hometown, but Sam always found herself comparing each new city she visited to Cerulean, and kept finding them lacking. The city’s beauty certainly made up for the city’s obsession over water Pokémon. She couldn’t stand them, and that had partially influenced her choice of Bulbasaur as her starter. Alex, by contrast, had gone the standard Cerulean water trainer route, even performing as a swimmer in shows in the gym from time to time.
Sam’s cell phone finally gave an “incoming text” beep on the rail into town.
Sam and Terry met Alex at a coffee shop just off the main street. Sam was thankful she remembered how to navigate the city, as they’d never have found the place for the massive crowds otherwise. It was a small, independently owned place that put effort into a comfortable atmosphere, rather than yet another Starmiebucks. From a distance, Alex looked the same as ever as he sat at a table on the patio waiting for them, but as they drew closer, Sam could tell there was something different.
Alex waved to the two of them. “Hi.”
Sam sat down at the table opposite Alex, Terry to her right. Alex’s Marril sat on the table, casting a wary glance between the newcomers. After seeing they were no threat, it returned to eating its plate of seaweed.
“Terry already explained everything, right?” Alex asked.
With that, Sam’s remaining illusions had broken. She looked again at the woman who used to be her brother, and was astounded at the physical changes she hadn’t noticed right away. Alex had always been somewhat on the feminine side, even as a boy, so Sam had projected that old mental image over her, despite her now very distinctly feminine style and outfit. Seeing her up close dispelled that.
Alex’s face was definitely a bit rounder, her features slightly softer, and her skin now had a much smoother, clearer look to it. Even her arms and waist looked thinner. The hormones Alex was taking were definitely kicking in—she’d been on them for about nine or ten months now, and the changes were extremely noticeable. Sam wondered what Alex would look like after another year or two. If she could even recognize the Alex she once knew.
“As best I could,” Terry said.
Terry’s voice temporarily broke Sam out of her transfixion. “He mentioned he was a friend of yours. Told me a lot about his Eeveelutions.”
Alex laughed politely. “Yeah. He does it to me, too. I hear one more story about how his Espeon is, like, the greatest Espeon who ever lived and even I’ll raise a ruckus.”
No question about it, Sam realized. Alex’s voice definitely needed more practice—she was still using her guy voice the last time they talked on the phone, so it was clear she’d only just started to use it fulltime—but was still different enough to make Sam feel awkward. Still, as much as she wasn’t fully comfortable with Alex’s… changes, she couldn’t deny that, brother or sister, Alex was still her sibling and she could put her personal feelings aside for Alex’s well-being. Especially because Alex didn’t have any choice in the matter—for people with her condition, transition was absolutely necessary.
“Hey,” Terry grumbled. “It’s not just Espeon. Umbreon’s pretty good, too.”
“Yeah, and Flareon, and Jolteon, and…” Alex trailed off.
“You’re right," Terry said with an amused smirk. "They’re all pretty good.”
Alex shook her head at Terry, then turned back to Sam. “He tell you about our plans?”
“No,” Sam admitted. Terry talked about everything but their plans. To the point of aggravation.
“We’re gonna go through the Neo League together.”
“Neo League,” Sam repeated bluntly.
“Neo League,” Alex confirmed.
“You sure you’re up for that?” Sam asked.
Alex shrugged. She leaned back in her seat, which made certain developments visible. Barely noticeable, but enough to remind Sam yet again that Alex wasn’t her brother anymore.
“It’s an incredibly hard league challenge, I know,” she said at last. “Entire league is two-on-two, gym leaders don’t hold back like in most other leagues… but I think we can take it.”
In a way, Sam had thought Alex’s old bishounen aesthetic was the extent of things. It was an uncommon yet not unheard of style for guys, and she was always glad Alex went for that instead of a goth or emo look. But yet… that moment a year and a half ago, when Alex told her that she wished she’d been born a girl, that she couldn’t bear trying to live as male anymore, Sam thought Alex was joking.
“Something wrong?” Alex asked after Sam had been silent for too long. “You seem really distracted. If it’s me, don’t hesitate to say so.” She scoffed lightly. “Nothing’s ever stopped you before.”
Sam heaved a sigh. “It is. I’m sorry, it’s just… last time I saw you, you were… you know… male.”
“I know it’s a hard thing to adjust to,” Alex said. Her tone was sympathetic. “I’m sorry there’s no way I can make it any easier.”
Sam glanced back at Alex’s face. She could still see her brother in it for the moment. It made her feel bad knowing she was clinging to a memory, but some part of her couldn’t help it.
“Whatever,” Sam mumbled. “If it’s what you need to do, then I won’t complain. Seriously, I mean it. Anyway, the Neo League is pretty far away. What were you doing in Cerulean?”
“Visiting mom, for the most part,” Alex said. In a small voice, she added, “Bad idea.”
Sam frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about,” Alex admitted. “You were always her favourite. I guess I was mostly just looking for closure.”
Alex’s comment stung. Sam knew she’d been her mom’s favourite ever since she and Alex were little.
“I’m sorry,” Terry said. “I know it’s not my place to ask, but your mom had a favourite?”
Alex explained in a hollow voice, “I can’t really explain why, but ever since I was little, my mom always liked Sam more than me. I guess because I was always pretty close with my dad, and they… didn’t get along well after the split.”
“I don’t think it was that,” Sam said to Terry. “Or at least not exactly. Thinking back on it, I think Alex just reminded her of our dad. He always was his father’s son.”
“She,” Alex prodded in a low voice.
“Fine, ‘she,’” Sam said. Terry showed no reaction to the pronoun issue.
“Anyway,” Alex continued, “my mom had custody, and it got to the point where the only time I was ever happy was when I was visiting my dad. I remember he had this Ninetails I used to play with all the time. Plus he always had these friends of his over.” She smiled strangely. “They’d always bring gifts for me. Sam never liked those guys, but… I dunno. I always felt better there than at mom’s place.
“As you can imagine, I left home right at 10 to become a trainer. Sent in my application to the League, then headed right on over to the gym, took a few trainer classes, got my Squirtle, and left. Then I kinda lost contact with my entire family, except Sam. Anyway, I decided I’d do more than just write her every now and then, so I came home a couple weeks ago.”
“What happened?” Sam asked.
Alex sighed. “If you remember when I first came out to her, and she was a bit slow to accept it but said she was still my mother and she’d always love me… well, just started going fulltime, so naturally I go home to tell her.” Alex winced, looking hurt by recalling the memory. “She pretends she doesn’t know me. Tells me, ‘Alex is my son. I don’t know who you are.’ I didn’t stay after that.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said automatically. In light of that, she wished her reaction to seeing Alex like this for the first time hadn’t been to gape like an idiot. Showing off that she’d gone fulltime was obviously the real reason she brought Sam here, and there Sam was giving her a reaction only marginally better than their mother’s.
“Kinda makes me reconsider my decision to stay ‘Alex,’” she said sadly.
“Honestly, keeping your name does make it a bit harder to think of you as, well, a she.”
Alex shrugged. “I might change it. Who knows?”
“For what it’s worth,” Terry said, “I think it’s nicer as a girl’s name than a boy’s name.”
Alex smiled at the flattery. “Anyway, while we were all in town, I figured we could take a few days, catch up a bit more, you know, make the best of it before Terry and I head off for the Neo League.”
Sam eyed Terry with a hint of distaste. She put up with him because of Alex, but she didn’t want to spend any more time with him than necessary. She also couldn’t help feeling that catching up with Alex would be like meeting someone entirely new, even though she was well aware that Alex was still the same person she always was.
“Yeah, okay,” Sam said.
Her stomach twisted in guilt at how she instantly regretted it.
Last edited by Marril; 01/07/2013 at 01:14 AM.
|09/30/2011, 06:44 PM||#2|
What is this? Well-written, slightly controversial, real plot, thought, and a general feeling of completeness? Excellent. /subscribes
The Yanmega Guy
Fresno, California; Masters
Yeah, I work for 6P
|10/01/2011, 06:21 PM||#3|
....I read the Pokemon SS that you managed to get up to like Chapter 97......Is this a re-do of that?
Jolteon Flareon Vaporeon
|10/02/2011, 12:33 AM||#4|
"I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me." —Dave Barry
Pokémon SS - You know you want to read it.
|10/02/2011, 10:52 AM||#6|
Anyway, I think that this is interesting, and I'd like to see how it turns out.
Jolteon Flareon Vaporeon
|10/02/2011, 12:39 PM||#7|
Marril, active again?
ZOMG END O TEH WORLD
You should come back to debating with us all again, we missed you. =p
Team M ~We will remember~........OH GOD!! I AM IN CONTROL of the "BORED LOCKDOWN!" ........Metanite:R.I.P.
Student of Texas A&M and Proud Member of the Corps. of Cadets Army ROTC
|10/05/2011, 12:49 AM||#8|
JewelQuest: Sorry about that. Things took a nosedive in real life very quickly, I'm afraid. And another apology for leaving it at the cliffhanger I did. That must've been especially disappointing as an "end" point (I actually considered just writing the final three chapters and reposting the entire original SS but decided a rewrite would be better overall).
Absoltrainer: That'd be interesting, but I'm afraid I don't quite have the... explosive temper I used to, so it wouldn't be quite as dramatic as you might hope. It's interesting to go back and read my old arguments and marvel at what I was like back then—testosterone definitely wasn't doing good things for my mental state. Still, it's nice to be remembered, heh.
Anyway, on a more general note, I think I'm going to try a twice-weekly update schedule. This story is getting more views/comments than I thought it would, which is a pleasant surprise. Depending on how things go (mostly with regards to my buffer, which is currently far lower than I care to admit) I might drop it to once a week. But we'll see.
Chapter 2 - Ersatz Outlaws
“We’ve got another report from Jessie and James coming in,” said a brown-haired man in a white Team Rocket uniform.
The chair on the opposite side of the desk in the office didn’t turn to face the man. A woman’s voice came from behind it. “More of the same?”
“As if there was any doubt.”
The woman lazily waved her hand. “Send the report on. And let them know not to contact me again.”
It was a useless gesture, and she knew it. Still, omitting that order would be enabling the pair of incompetents, and she wasn’t going to have any of that.
“Don’t you get tired of hearing from them?” The man asked.
She scoffed. “Obviously. If it were up to me, they’d be out permanently. But I’ve told you before, Ryan, every single time you complain about them, that the fate of Jessie and James resides completely in Giovanni’s hands for whatever reason, and I don’t have the authority to override him. Honestly, as long as they aren’t being a drain on Team Rocket’s assets and give our operations a wide berth, I couldn’t care less what they do.” She couldn’t fully restrain a laugh, which came out as an ugly-sounding snort. “I actually enjoyed reading their reports back when they were chasing that one Pikachu for years on end.”
Ryan bowed respectfully before leaving the office. It was an affected gesture, meant to mask disrespect behind a façade of civility. His tone was sarcastic to match. “Yes, ma’am”
Juliet exhaled sharply and leaned back in her chair. She’d been dreading the prospect of showing her face to Ryan. As if the bags under her eyes weren’t enough, she could have sworn her face seemed more lined these days. As the executive in charge of Team Rocket’s genetics division, pulling too many all-nighters was unseemly, yet she pulled them more often than she actually got a full night’s rest.
Of course, she thought, that’s the exact reason why I look like something the Persian would drag in.
Turning halfway around, she tapped a few buttons on the computer on her desk. It looked like the Tribo Project was coming along nicely despite the “help” of the same inept scientists who designed Mewtwo. There were no new setbacks.
At least there will be only one Tribo, she thought to herself with a mental sigh. More than one Mewtwo—what was Giovanni thinking?
She remembered the first time she’d read the profiles on the Mewtwos. One was far weaker than expected and currently resided with a colony of Pokémon it cloned itself. The other was intended to correct that mistake in power, and as a result of their endeavours was far more powerful than expected. After a rather violent incident at the lab at which it was created, it was listed as “current location unknown.”
That had been years ago, back before she joined Team Rocket. The Mewtwo reports were only available to executives and lead scientists, and anyone caught disseminating them discreetly vanished. For some reason, Giovanni went out of his way to clamp down on information regarding cloned Pokémon, far more than operational security required. Juliet couldn’t tell whether he simply wanted to keep a tight grasp on the science of it, or if there were personal reasons keeping him from exploiting the knowledge to its fullest.
She’d have reflected more on the irony of her duties, on the mistakes she knew she was probably making, but at that moment darkness claimed her.
A black-haired woman knocked on the door of Juliet’s office. Then, after getting no answer, she knocked again. She repeated this a third time before simply opening the door.
Juliet was fast asleep, and by the looks of things, she was going to have a severe case of keyboard face when she woke up.
“Sorry ma’am,” the woman said, slipping a few enveloped documents onto Juliet’s desk. “You just wanted these, and, uh…”
Juliet snapped awake with a suddenness that caught the woman completely off-guard.
“I wasn’t asleep,” Juliet said firmly. “I was completely awake. Remember, saying that the local boss was asleep on the job is something your partner Ryan would say.”
“Uh, yes ma’am,” she said, saluting. At least her gesture of respect was somewhat genuine. “I’ll just leave you to, uh, ‘reading those documents,’ I guess.”
Just after the woman left, Juliet fell asleep on her desk again. Note to self, was her last thought before slipping into unconsciousness, lock that door.
“Listen to me,” Terry said after a short pause, putting his hand on Alex’s shoulder. “I really don’t think any worse of you just because your sister hates me. I actually don’t care how badly she thinks of me.”
That was a bit of an understatement. While Sam hadn’t been overtly rude, she’d certainly been passive-aggressive enough that even Alex had called her out on it. Then people got loud.
“Yeah, well,” Alex replied, “it’s mostly that I feel kinda bad because getting shouted at that badly must’ve hurt.”
Terry shrugged. “I’m used to that, I guess. People keep on thinking I’m creepy just because I look different than most people. Don’t feel bad for me.”
Marril, who was sitting on Alex’s shoulder, turned to face Terry. “Marril-mar, Marril, Marril, mar-mar, Marril.”
“Marril’s just being rude again,” Alex said. “Basically told you to stop complaining because I get it worse.”
Terry frowned at Marril. He sometimes wished Alex didn’t have the ability to understand it. Marril had never liked him from the start, and it had a very barbed, acerbic attitude towards him. There were a few times Alex even refused to translate what Marril said.
This was going to be a long walk, Terry decided. There was no direct rail between the airport and their eventual destination of Rueni City, so they had to go the old-fashioned way of hiking the way there. It wasn’t so bad, except for the fact that the sun always felt harsh on Terry’s skin. He never tanned—he only burned, and he burned easily. Years of Pokémon training taught him how to avoid sunburns, but there was only so much he could do.
Besides, thought Terry, it’s not like the forest isn’t scenic. They’d passed by several streams and even over a bridge overlooking a rushing river. The sun filtered down through the canopy, but the trees protected them from harsh glare. The wild Pokémon weren’t particularly aggressive, either. So far they’d seen a large number of Pidgey, Stantler, and a lone Skuntank that nearly sprayed Alex when she passed by too close unawares.
A slight rustle in the bushes on the side of the trail through the forest they were walking through put everyone into a cautious silence. Marril looked around for a second and then went back to its carefree idling.
“You hear that?” Terry asked.
“Yeah,” Alex said. “That didn’t sound like a Pokémon.”
“That’s right!” A woman’s voice shouted from the forest around them.
Terry’s face suddenly turned from neutral to grim.
Two white-clad members of Team Rocket jumped out from the trees, a man and a woman. The man’s jacket was open and was adorned with epaulettes, a fourragčre and aiguillette combination, and various other accoutrements not usually seen on Team Rocket uniforms. The woman’s outfit was minimal to say the least.
“There’s a voice saying something…” the woman began in a theatrical tone.
“… from beyond the horizon,” the man continued.
“Oh for the…” Terry grumbled. He grabbed a pokéball and threw it towards the pair. “Jolteon, Pin Missile!”
Jolteon appeared out of the pokéball and immediately dropped down into a crouch. The female Rocket barely dodged the barrage of pins fired at her.
“Hey, what gives?!” She shouted.
Alex was slightly slower on the draw, and sent out her Golduck. “Restrain them!”
Golduck’s eyes glowed a faint azure as it raised its webbed hands into the air. Both Rocket members jerked in place, arms pinned against their bodies and legs together as if grabbed by giant, invisible hands.
“All right,” Terry said, walking over to the pair. “Who are you two, exactly?”
The woman held her head high, though her affected pride was a futile gesture given her psychic restraint. “I’m Bonnie.”
“I’m Clyde,” said the man.
“You even gave yourself Rocket codenames,” Terry commented. It was common for Rocket members to take the names of famous criminals as aliases. “Cute. But I’m not fooled.”
“What?” Bonnie demanded.
“Uh,” Alex interjected. “They look like Rockets to me.”
“You should listen to him,” Bonnie said, putting a threatening edge to her voice. “Resisting will only make it a hundred, no, a thousand times worse for you.”
Terry shook his head. “I don’t think it will. In fact, I should leave you to Team Rocket.” Then to Alex’s inquisitive look, he explained, “Team Rocket’s presence in Idama isn’t strong enough yet to operate so brazenly. What we’ve got here is a pair of copycats—wannabes trying to make themselves seem big-time because they want in on Team Rocket’s infamy.”
“Oh, like Jessie and James,” Alex said. The pair was infamous for traveling the world causing mischief, although their true status as Rocket members was ambiguous. Team Rocket itself disavowed any relationship to the two.
“Something like that,” Terry said. He turned back to Bonnie and Clyde. “Now, the question remains: What am I going to do with you two?”
“You could try to have us arrested,” Clyde suggested, every bit as haughty as Bonnie. “Not like we haven’t broken out of jail before.”
“That’s effort,” Terry countered. He looked to Jolteon. “Thunder Wave them.”
Bonnie and Clyde convulsed as electricity flowed over them. Golduck’s psychic restraints held them in place, leaving them twitching on their feet. Their heads lolled limply after the electric current subsided, though they remained conscious.
“Now, Jolteon…” Terry began.
“Terry!” Alex shouted. “You’ve made your point, okay?”
“Fine,” Terry said. He turned to Alex. “You want to have your Golduck release them?”
Alex nodded to Golduck, which dropped its webbed hands, sending Bonnie and Clyde collapsing to the ground. She recalled the Pokémon.
Terry glared at the copycat Rockets. “If I ever see you again, I’m not going to listen to her. Got it?”
Neither Rocket responded, prompting Terry to recall Jolteon and trudge off. Alex followed. Terry heard her calling his name a few times, but ignored it. He needed to calm down before dealing with Alex.
Alex didn’t give him that option. She darted in front of him and blocked him from walking around her.
“What’d they do to you?” Alex asked in all seriousness. “Team Rocket, I mean.”
“They must’ve done something to you to make you hate them so much you’ll order a Pokémon to attack people dressed like them.”
Terry sighed. He didn’t feel like dressing the story up, so he explained bluntly. “The Eevee kits I have are all from the same litter. Team Rocket kidnapped their mother and performed experiments on her that she didn’t survive.”
Alex winced. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I mean, I’m mostly fine now. It’s just… I saw those two leap out at me and I just kinda snapped.”
Alex was silent. Terry wasn’t sure what she was thinking, and he definitely didn’t want to press the issue any further. What he hadn’t told her was that the mother, an Umbreon, had been his starter back in the day. He hadn’t told her that he had some of the finest breeders he could find help him find a mate for Umbreon, and that the kits had still been nursing age when Team Rocket stole it. Nor did he intend to tell her why Team Rocket was so interested in that specific Umbreon and its kits.
What would she even think, he wondered, if she knew what was special about them?
Terry idly fingered Eevee’s pokéball. It was the only one not to evolve yet. One day, he didn't know when, it would become a Vaporeon. He wondered what Alex would say when it happened.
“Marril-mar! Marril!” Marril said excitedly, breaking Terry’s concentration. He was thankful for the interruption.
“What was that about?” Terry asked.
“I’d really rather not say,” Alex replied. “Marril’s just being itself again.”
|10/05/2011, 01:05 PM||#9|
Jolteon Flareon Vaporeon
|10/07/2011, 11:50 PM||#10|
Chapter 3 - Midnight Rifts
Juliet’s nails bit into the palms of her hands. She wasn’t so much angry as annoyed. There were already Team Rocket copycats in Idama, and Team Rocket hadn’t even been operating in the country for a year. Copycats were inescapable even overseas, it seemed. She shuddered to think what the situation was like in countries they’d never sent so much as a single agent to, where they were known by reputation alone.
“You call yourself Bonnie,” Juliet said to the woman in front of her. The pair of copycat Rockets had been roughed up a bit, but hadn’t lost the affected pride they had when they were first brought in. Currently, both sat tied to chairs in front of Juliet. The room was spartan and dimly lit.
“Is that a problem?” Bonnie asked.
“We already have an agent with that codename,” Juliet replied. “Well, that’s one of the problems, anyway.”
“So who are you?”
“I’m a member of Team Rocket. That’s all you need to know.”
“I was wondering when we’d run into you guys. So what are you going to do now?”
Juliet was thankful the dim lighting partially obscured her features. She didn’t want Bonnie and Clyde reading that the scowl on her face was because she didn’t want to deal with them, rather than animosity towards them. She was a scientist and, lately, something of a bureaucrat, not a thug.
“Now we make an example of you,” Juliet said grimly.
Bonnie’s bravado vanished and her jaw slackened briefly.
“Nothing quite as dire as you’re thinking,” Juliet explained. “You’ll suffer no lasting injury, at any rate. You see, in any other country, you’d be disposed of without hesitation, but here, the local riff-raff hasn’t had time to get the message, and it won’t without visible examples of people trying and failing to emulate us. You two will be those examples.”
Juliet found herself wishing she had the stomach to order something harsher, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. If this situation had fallen to any other executive, Bonnie and Clyde wouldn’t ever be seen again, but Juliet didn’t want any deaths on her conscience.
“You two,” Juliet said to the men standing by the door. “See that they eventually find their way out. Make sure they learn that we won’t be as merciful if we catch them again.”
“I’ve heard that line before,” Bonnie said. Her sneer was audible.
Juliet didn’t respond. Instead she nodded curtly to the two men and left the room. She leaned against the wall outside, cursing her misfortune.
Nothing I can do about it now, she thought. She tried to ignore the noises coming from behind the door.
Juliet turned towards the operations room, where two other Rocket members lounged around a conference table. Both were dressed in white uniforms, although the woman’s outfit was of a much less ludicrous cut than Bonnie’s—in fact, it didn’t look much different from the outfit the man sitting by her wore.
“Yo, boss,” Ryan said as Juliet entered the room. His tone was less than respectful. “Taken care of business?”
Juliet scowled. She didn’t inspire much respect with the more conventionally criminal elements of Team Rocket. She’d hear no end of it from Ryan if he found out she’d been so lenient with their prisoners.
The woman, Melanie, slid the enveloped file across the conference table towards Juliet. “That’s really our assignment? Not much there, just a short bio on Terry—which we already knew back and front—and photos of him and that blonde girl he’s with.”
“Blonde boy,” Juliet said absentmindedly.
“That’s a boy,” Juliet said, frowning.
Melanie quickly retrieved the envelope, opened it, and looked at the picture, incredulous. “You’re not serious.”
Juliet smirked. “I am. We’re still working on his identity, but from what we can gather, he is male.”
“Hard to believe,” Melanie said. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” replied Juliet, staring off into space. She wasn’t, but she didn’t want to admit a possibility of error. Terry’s companion looked very androgynous, and dressed in an obviously female way, but there was a certain something she couldn’t put into words that made her read him as male.
Melanie blinked. Ryan continued to look at the ceiling.
“I’m assuming our primary target is Terry?” Ryan asked after a short pause. “Those missions are fun. We’ve lost like, what was it, two, three agents so far to him? He’s getting good at giving agents over to the various Jennies.”
“We’re not looking at grabbing his Eevee evolutions this time,” Juliet said. “While they’re extremely valuable, I think we should acknowledge that it’s a sunk cost. It’s not worth the potential further loss of human capital simply to get our hands on that litter, especially given his… retaliatory actions in Johto. That said, we can’t risk him discovering Project Tribo before its completion.”
“Seems to me like you’re paranoid,” Ryan commented. “I doubt he came all this way just to stalk you personally.”
“I can’t take any risks. Shadow him, and if he starts poking around where he shouldn’t… Well, we can’t have that, so get him out of our way.” She paused briefly, and then added, “Don’t kill him—just hospitalize him.”
“And the other, uh, guy?” Melanie asked.
“Oh, him too. Yeah, hospital.”
It was several days later when Alex and Terry arrived at Rueni City. There weren’t many hotels with vacancy, at least in their price range, which meant they had to settle for something that made Terry wish they’d just gotten cots at a Pokémon Centre. At least that was free.
“I don’t see why you should complain,” Alex said. “It’s got a roof, walls, and no leaks or anything.”
“In the future I’ll be sure to book somewhere well in advance,” Terry said as he looked around. It was a mostly bare room, but it had the essentials and objectively there wasn’t actually much to complain about.
Alex stepped over to the far bed and sat down on it. “It hasn’t got a giant brick under here. What do you think, Marril?”
Marril hopped down off Alex’s shoulder and onto the bed. It rolled around for a little while before falling asleep.
“Well, there you go, eh?” Alex asked.
Terry sat down on the nearer bed. He might as well admit the real problem rather than continue to complain about trivialities. “Hey, Alex, mind if I’m honest with you for a moment?”
“You mean you aren’t always?”
“I’m serious. Honest as in awkward.”
Alex shrugged. “Go ahead.”
“I had the thought that… it’s just… I’m gonna be blunt and probably give you a bit too much information,” Terry explained. “Felt kind of awkward coming in here with you, the way the person at the front gave me that knowing kind of wink… what she obviously thought of us… occurred to me that I’d been thinking sharing a room with you was ‘like’ sharing one with a girl, but really, it actually is.
“I mean, yeah, I never had a problem before, back when… you know, but now it’s all… I don’t even really know how to word this. It just feels different, is basically what I’m trying to say. Just because you’re presenting differently now. You know, like… like you being a girl makes it different. It’s unfair, I know, but…”
Terry let his ramble drift into nothingness. He’d already put his foot far enough into his mouth. He didn’t need to continue his train of thought aloud. He tried not to continue it in his head. He knew where it was going to end, and he didn’t like it.
Alex was quiet for a while. Eventually she said, “You know, that isn't anything to be ashamed about. I mean, no one can really deny I’ve changed.” She smiled sadly. “I guess I’m being selfish by thinking everyone should act as if nothing happened. But if it helps, think about it this way: This is nothing you haven’t done before, even if you didn’t know you were doing it. Besides, you were fine on the way in to Rueni. Why worry now?”
“I guess there isn’t any reason,” Terry admitted. His embarrassment at the receptionist's reaction to the two of them seemed silly when put into the open. Despite that, he still felt a lingering sense of doubt that he couldn’t dispel.
“Tell you what,” Alex said. “Right now, I’m in dire need of a shower. I’ll leave you to think this over, eh?”
Terry, he thought as Alex went off to take a shower, you’re digging yourself deeper and deeper. She’s right. I’m just being insecure.
It was much later, after Alex, Marril, and Terry were almost asleep, that either of them said anything more on the subject.
“Alex?” Terry asked. He waited for Alex’s mmph mumbled into her pillow, barely audible across the room, letting Terry know that she was awake, before continuing, “If you think any worse of me now, I won’t hold it against you.”
“I don’t,” Alex mumbled, which was almost unintelligible to Terry seeing as Alex was talking directly into her pillow, “unless you don’t let me sleep. In that case, Marril ice beams you.”
A shrill ringing woke everyone up. It continued despite a pathetic whimper of “let me sleeeeeeeep” from Alex, who tossed and turned to lessen the shrillness of the ringing before being woken up.
“Alex,” Terry said slightly groggily as he rose, “that’s the fire alarm.”
“Oh,” Alex muttered, lying back down. “Well, I’m a water trainer. Let me know if the fire tries to get in here.”
Terry groaned an “I don’t know why I bother” groan, then grabbed Alex’s arm and tugged. Alex was surprisingly light and flopped forwards, where Terry caught her, decided things looked very compromising, and quickly led Alex out of the room by her arm, all to a furiously laughing Marril.
“You take forever to wake up,” Terry said as Alex stumbled down the corridor. At least her balance was fine. The fire turned out to be something to be concerned about, as he heard several people talking about smoke coming from one of the rooms.
After getting outside, it was, of all of them, Marril who first noticed the two people staked out down the street. After some surreptitious observation, Terry noticed that the people in the car were definitely watching them. He walked over towards them, but before he could get close, they backed up and quickly drove away. It was tremendously suspicious, but Terry admitted he could be misinterpreting the situation.
He could tell he wasn’t going to get much sleep tonight.
“What was that?” Melanie demanded, glaring at Ryan as he drove off. The streets were dark, streetlights barely visible in the darkness.
“The director’s luck must’ve rubbed off on me or something,” Ryan said. He avoided using Juliet’s name. He didn’t want to humanize her that way.
“I think that’d be ‘directrix’ or something. That sounds kind of silly, though. I’m not surprised no one says it like that,” Melanie commented idly. In a more serious tone, she asked, “You think they recognized us?”
Ryan pulled the car over. They hadn’t been followed as far as he could tell. “Probably not. Sleep deprived, poor visibility, the two of us in plainclothes… he probably thought anything except Team Rocket. Or were you worried he was going to recognize you personally?””
Melanie ignored Ryan’s prodding. “What was that fire about, anyway?”
“Don’t know. Don’t care.”
Ryan stared at the steering wheel for a short while. The absurdity of the hour combined with the fact that his last cup of coffee was wearing off made him feel like risking asking something he knew he shouldn’t.
“Hey,” Ryan said, “can I ask you a question?”
“Am I the only one thinking the director is absolutely stupid for ordering us out on this?”
Melanie shrugged. “She’s the boss. Personally, I think it’s an easier way to earn my pay than the alternatives.”
Ryan felt like grumbling. He shouldn’t have been surprised that she felt that way. It was a blatantly mercenary attitude, something he considered unfit for a career Rocket member. “It just makes me want to get out of here.”
“Out of Team Rocket?” Melanie asked. She scoffed lightly. “You of all people should know that’s impossible.”
“I didn’t mean out of Team Rocket. I meant out of here. Idama, or at least Rueni. Working for people who know what they’re doing. If that’s too much, then they should at least let me work on my own. You know I’m good enough to manage that.”
“I’m not going to get into this. Now you’re just whining.”
Ryan shot her a sideways glare which was thankfully hidden by the darkness. They’d been assigned to work together, and did that much reasonably well, but Grumpigs would fly before he’d accept her as his partner.
|10/08/2011, 11:03 AM||#11|
Jolteon Flareon Vaporeon
|10/13/2011, 12:11 AM||#12|
Chapter 4 - Dal Niente
Terry tried to nudge Alex awake.
“I said let me sleep,” the other mumbled.
“Alex,” Terry said, “it’s eleven in the morning. I know there was that fire last night, but still…”
“Marril, Ice Beam him,” Alex said groggily, turning over so her face was further into the pillow.
Marril looked between the two, trying to decide if its trainer was serious. Terry took a step back from the water mouse, held his hands up, and said, “Okay, okay, stay asleep. Don’t see me caring.”
Terry couldn’t help but smile at how Marril backed off instantly. Glancing back at Alex, who was asleep again, he walked out of the room to go get an early lunch. If Alex wasn’t up by the time he got back, then there’d be a problem.
“Charizard, Flamethrower!” Shouted a brown-haired young man.
The dragon spewed a gout of flame at the Sneasel fighting it, but the ice Pokémon was faster and dodged it.
The man glared. “Charizard, Fire Spin!”
“Sneasel,” Juliet ordered, “use Slash and end this.”
Sneasel deftly jumped aside from the flaming cyclone and slashed Charizard in the neck. The dragon fell down hard, breathing heavily, and didn’t move.
The fact that Juliet herself hadn’t been knocked out or worse meant he was holding back. According to reports, the young man’s psychic powers were incredible. He could likely have knocked her unconscious or worse at fifty paces. Instead, he seemed to be relying entirely on his Pokémon to fight her off. Against most Rocket members, it would be as sound a strategy as any.
Juliet was thankful that he wasn’t as good a trainer as he was a psychic.
The man recalled his fallen Charizard and threw out another pokéball. “Nidoking, Earthquake!”
“Jump it and Blizzard!” Juliet shouted. She had to struggle to maintain her balance in the ensuing tremor.
Sneasel did as it was commanded, and Nidoking was encased in a block of ice. Juliet couldn’t help but smile at her good fortune. She was intending a lengthier strategy against Nidoking, but Sneasel got lucky and froze the thing immediately.
Enough games, Juliet thought. “Sneasel, knock out the trainer.”
Even if the man wanted to, he couldn’t have stopped Sneasel with his psychic powers. Dark Pokémon were immune to psychic humans as well as psychic Pokémon. Sneasel jumped at him and hit the young man hard upside the head. He stumbled and tried to get up. Sneasel hit him again and he stayed down.
Now as long as that concussion isn’t too serious, we’ll be in business, Juliet thought. She glanced at the frozen Nidoking. And unfortunately I’m the one who has to get that thing back into its pokéball.
So, Sam thought, Alex makes a big deal about going to the Neo League and I make a big deal about not going to the Neo League, and here I am in Idama anyway.
Sam found the irony laughable, but it was the only place she’d been able to find work. Not only that, but the research lab now employing her was extremely well-equipped, and the researchers were much better than anyone she’d ever worked with before.
This didn’t make her job any easier or more pleasant, however. She sat at her desk, staring at a computer screen, trying to make heads or tails over their big, multi-trillion-yen ambition to design a Pokémon. Such things had been done before, certainly, such as with Porygon and its evolutions, but Porygon was at its core a hunk of computer code. Sam was supposed to help figure out a way to create a real, flesh-and-blood Pokémon from nothingness.
Such had been her previous few weeks. Sam couldn’t say she didn’t enjoy it, but the frustration was sometimes immense.
Sam heard footsteps against the floor behind her. Probably the director coming by again to check on her work. She swivelled around in her chair.
“Sam,” said director Askacia.
“Director,” Sam returned. She sighed. “No luck yet on any way to make this thing psychic, I’m afraid.”
The director smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Have we really gotten to the point where I don’t have to say anything anymore?”
Sam shrugged. “Been banging my head against this for the past week. Can’t make any excuses for getting stuck.”
The director shook her head. “You push yourself too hard, you know that, right? Relax. We’ve been working on this project for years. I daren’t expect to see a breakthrough in only a few weeks—even as sharp a mind as yours has limits. Anyway, that’s not why I’m here.”
“I was actually a bit concerned about you. You haven’t been looking so well lately, and I noticed you haven’t found yourself a stable address yet.”
Sam grimaced. “No, I haven’t. There's just no availability out here.”
“Understandable, given the market conditions. Anyway, I was just going to say, if you’re interested, I know of a few places that might become available shortly.”
“Uh, sure, that’d be nice,” Sam said. She glanced towards the computer. “Seems a bit odd for a personal visit.”
Shrugging, the director said, “What can I say? I’m a hands-on kind of boss. E-mail is a bit too impersonal.”
Yeah, thought Sam. Right.
Melanie was waiting for Juliet in her office. Juliet had to admit the woman was diligent if nothing else. However, Juliet’s good mood had been dashed by her conversation with Sam. Juliet tried to be friendly, and the reaction she got had at least been lukewarm, but a stray thought that she was almost old enough to be Sam’s mother lingered in her mind. As if that didn’t make her feel old enough, she was half again Melanie’s age.
Melanie was half-sitting on Juliet’s desk, ankles crossed. She looked up at Juliet as she entered. “You’ve looked better.”
“It’s good to see you back, too,” Juliet replied drily. As much as she was irritated by Melanie’s informality, she enjoyed the reminder that she still had even one friend left.
“Yeah, well, given the circumstances, I think you’ll forgive me. So are you up to talk now,” Melanie smiled wryly, “or do you need a nap first?”
Juliet shot Melanie a look.
Melanie stood up and folded her arms in front of her chest. “So we’ve been following Terry and that blonde… person around for a couple of days now. I mean, what, Terry’s been in Idama for a couple weeks now, right? No indication he even knows we’re here. Even Ryan agrees with me, and do you have any idea how rare that is?”
“I…” Juliet began, and paused briefly. “I admit I may have been a bit paranoid. And a bit foolhardy in sending you after him.”
“Should’ve just sent Ryan alone,” Melanie said. “He’s a bit sulky but he does get his jobs done, and he’s smarter than to antagonize Terry. Plus, you know, Terry has no idea who Ryan is, which is another advantage he has over me. Anyway, what’s so important you had to summon us back?”
Juliet frowned. “We know who the blonde boy is.”
Melanie raised an eyebrow. “You’re sure that’s a guy? A little androgynous, sure, but I got a definite girl vibe there.”
“His first name is Alexander,” Juliet replied with a hint of sarcasm. “You tell me.”
“Huh. Well. I’m guessing he’s important,” Melanie said.
“In a manner of speaking,” Juliet replied. She sighed. “To be honest, even I don’t know why. Along with his name, all I got back was a warning not to pursue him.”
Melanie tsked. “Why not?”
“I didn’t get a reason,” Juliet said. She looked at Melanie seriously. “It was an executive order.”
Melanie’s jaw worked for a moment. Juliet didn’t have to explain which executive yanked their collective leashes. Only a few had direct authority over Juliet, and only one would send such an order. “Well,” she said, her voice drained of its usual cheer, “I guess we’re leaving him alone.”
David awoke to find himself in a holding cell. It was a small, cramped room, with heavily reinforced doors and no windows. A single light bulb provided a small measure of illumination to the cell.
He didn’t know how long he was unconscious, nor did he know how long he was in the cell. Hours melted into days into a complete inability to tell time. He was fed irregularly, and the shine of claws through the slot combined with a complete inability to sense the presence of his captors indicated they were using a dark Pokémon as an intermediary. The only sense of time he had was in how his stubble grew. It had been a day or two at most by that metric, yet it felt like weeks.
One sleep later, his cell door slid open, revealing a Sneasel standing behind a Kadabra and Hypno.
Youthedavid, he felt the words coming from Kadabra’s mind, nonewishesforthebattle, ifresistnotthehypnotheviolencewillbethenone, ifresistthemistressdisappointedwillbe.
While David could understand Abra and its evolutions, their minds worked much faster than his, and the syntactical differences in their thought processes made parsing their thoughts difficult. By the time he made sense of Kadabra’s message, he was already transfixed by Hypno’s pendulum.
It is not so bad, he heard Hypno’s thoughts. Hypno was much more humanlike in its thought processes. The mistress wishes no harm to befall you.
A Pokémon would have fallen asleep nearly instantly upon gazing at Hypno swinging its pendulum. David had some mental defenses against hypnosis, but they weren’t going to hold. He needed to use his psychic powers for attack, not defense, and he needed to neutralize that Sneasel at the same time. He could see it, but he couldn’t feel it. It was like an apparition, and when he stretched his mind out towards it, it felt like reaching into a cold void.
A cold void with air around it. David concentrated and the three Pokémon he faced were knocked to the ground, Kadabra and Hypno by force, Sneasel by a blast of air. In that instant, David felt invincible.
The worst part was the rush he felt. The intoxication that came with his psychic abilities was like a drug. Everything was so easy. Just think about it and it was done. He didn’t know how Sabrina kept herself under control. It may have been part of her lessons, but it was something he never learned very well.
David started to run, but didn’t even make it to the bend at the end of the corridor before he felt a psychic presence behind him. He spun to see Kadabra glaring at him, its spoon glowing. Its psychic attacks were fairly easy to block, but in doing so he couldn’t stop Sneasel as it rushed forward and tackled him to the ground. Hypno plodded towards him.
Apologies are sincere, he heard Hypno think as darkness overtook him.
Terry and Alex spent the day trying to find out more about the gym in the city. There wasn’t much to learn. The leaders battled two-on-two, they were good trainers… nothing the two of them didn’t already know. As a result, they headed straight to the gym. A blind challenge was better than wasted time. They’d spent long enough in Rueni as it was.
“Marril-mar, Marril,” Marril said, riding on Alex’s shoulder.
“You just ate,” Alex replied. “You can’t still be hungry.”
“Mar…” Marril said dejectedly.
“No,” Alex said. Marril started to say something, but Alex cut it off. “We both know you’re not a ‘growing Pokémon that needs a bit of extra nutrition.’”
“Marril Marril ril. Mar.”
“Well, if you want Thick Fat, I can always start feeding you more, but there’s a point where round becomes too round,” Alex explained to the Pokémon. She lightly fingered the padding on the bottom of Marril’s foot. “If I see you waddling, you’re on a diet.”
Marril growled at Alex and pulled its foot away from her hand. Alex laughed.
Terry smiled. It was simultaneously interesting and odd that Alex could carry on a conversation with a Pokémon. Sure, he could understand what his Eeveelutions were feeling based on how they said what they said, but comprehension of whole sentences were beyond him.
“So, when do you think they’ll be ready?” Alex asked, glancing over to Terry.
“Dunno,” Terry said, opening the can of pop he’d just gotten from the vending machine, and sitting down on the bench beside Alex. “Weeks, months, years.”
Terry could see the wait was getting to Alex. She’d been a lot more even-tempered lately, and things didn’t get to her nearly as much as they used to. Compared to the old Alex, her newfound calmness was a strange relief. Despite that, it seemed waiting for four hours was enough to try even her patience.
Terry finished off the can and tried to throw it across the room and into the trashcan. He missed and had to get up, walk across the room, and put it in.
“Mar, mar, marmarmar, mar…” Marril muttered.
“Bored, bored, boredboredbored, bored…” Alex said with exactly the same inflections.
Terry was considering simply getting up and leaving. He checked the clock and figured that if there was nothing by half past, he’d suggest this to Alex. Or he’d simply get up and go and leave her figure it out.
A man of about thirty, dressed in military fatigues, stepped out of the arena doors shortly before half past, barely saving Terry a walk.
“All right,” said the man. “We’re ready for you.”
“About bloody time,” Terry muttered under his breath as he, Alex, and Marril followed the man in.
Last edited by Marril; 10/13/2011 at 12:19 AM.
|10/17/2011, 08:52 PM||#14|
Chapter 5 - Fortunate Happenstance
Sam entered the conference room. It was empty except for director Askacia and a dark-haired woman she didn’t recognize. The latter half-sat against the back of one of the chairs, while director Askacia stood in front of a blank projection screen.
“You called for me?” Sam asked.
Director Askacia nodded sharply. “Calm down. You look skittish.”
Sam didn’t reply. It was true that she half-expected the director to chew her out. She’d shown a lot of promise, but hadn’t come through with any actual good work yet.
“I called you here to run some data by you,” said the director. “You know, get a second opinion.”
She nodded to the third woman, who stepped towards them and laid some documents onto the table.
“This is my assistant Melanie,” director Askacia introduced the woman now standing beside her. Melanie was tall, beautiful, and only a few years older than Sam. Sam couldn’t help but notice Melanie’s eyes perfectly matched her dark hair.
“Pleased to meet you,” Sam said, smiling and hoping no one noticed her overlong gaze.
“Likewise,” Melanie replied, returning the smile. Sam forced herself to look away.
Director Askacia nodded to the two of them and motioned for them to sit down beside her. Sam and Melanie took seats on opposite sides of the director, who spread a few of the documents out.
“I wanted to get your opinion on this research data,” said the director. “What we’ve acquired on human psychics is amazingly detailed, but data is useless without the ability to turn it into viable information.” She smiled at Sam. “You’ve been doing the bulk of the work on making Tribo psychic, so I figured you’d be the best person to take a look at this.”
“Um,” Sam said, glancing over the papers. The data was indeed very interesting, and she wondered how the director obtained it. There was only so much she could tell at a cursory glance, but from all indication, it could actually help her succeed. Still, her curiosity was overpowering, try as she might to suppress it. “How did you get this, anyway?”
“There’s ongoing research on human psychics,” explained the director. “We’ve managed to acquire this from an organization here in Idama.” The director paused and looked up from the documents at Sam. “You’re from Kanto, right?”
“That’s right,” Sam replied, unsure of where this was going.
“I was there briefly. It’s very nice.”
Sam couldn’t fault the director for trying to be friendly. Indeed, if the director didn’t look older than her mother, Sam wouldn’t have felt put off at all. This realization gnawed at her a little, and she resolved to overcome it.
“I’m from Cerulean, actually,” Sam volunteered. “It’s beautiful. Sometimes I’d go up north to the port and just relax by the seaside, watching the ships come and go. I could spend a whole day there and it’d only feel like moments.”
The director smiled. “That’d be up in the cape where Bill Sonezaki’s place used to be, right?”
“I used to work with him. Brilliant, but a little absentminded.”
“Sounds like you two would get along well.”
The director raised an eyebrow. “Ouch.”
Melanie snorted derisively. “Trust me, they did.”
The director looked at Melanie. “Whose side are you on?”
“Well, if that’s the way it’s going to be, I’m going to declare we have to get back to work.”
Melanie smirked in amusement.
“Oh, and Sam,” added the director, smiling, “feel free to call me Juliet.”
Juliet leaned back in her seat after Sam left. There was no denying the girl was brilliant. She even had confidence that Sam would make a breakthrough at some point in the near future.
Melanie turned to Juliet. “So?”
“Personally, I think she seemed nice.”
“You’d say that,” Juliet replied. She gathered up the documents in front of her.
Melanie smiled oddly at the door. “You know what they say about six degrees of separation? I love how it becomes about two degrees when Team Rocket gets involved.”
Juliet slid the stack of papers into an envelope. “Honestly, I don’t care whose sister she is.”
“Don’t you wonder how her brother’s connected?” Melanie asked. “We didn’t get anything like that response to Sam’s name when we put her through the system.”
“Actually,” Juliet said slowly, “given who the gag order came from, I’m not sure I want to know.”
“Even so,” Melanie said absently, “I think I’d like to keep an eye on her if that’s okay with you.”
Juliet scoffed. “Go ahead.”
The man in the military uniform was named Satoru, and his partner was Daisuke, a boy barely out of his teens. Daisuke was the more casual of the two, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and khakis.
“I understand this is your first Neo League challenge, so I’ll review this quickly,” Daisuke explained after everyone had reached their trainer platforms. The arena below them followed every standard to the letter and wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Kanto League. “Two Pokémon per trainer in this gym. You’ll find other gyms have higher or even lower bench numbers. Obviously, we’re battling two-on-two. First entire team to run out of Pokémon loses.”
“Use Wartortle first,” Terry hissed to Alex, who nodded in affirmation.
“Pidgeot, go!” Satoru shouted, throwing the ball into the field.
“Dugtrio, your turn to shine!” Daisuke shouted, throwing his ball theatrically.
Alex and Terry called out Wartortle and Flareon with much less flair than the gym leaders.
“Wartortle, Surf… uh, no,” Alex hesitated. The wave would hurt Flareon as well. She belatedly realized they should’ve practiced more. “Water Gun the Pidgeot!”
Terry was a bit more decisive in his strategy. “Flareon, Flamethrower Pidgeot right after Water Gun misses!”
Alex shot a hurt look at Terry, but her focus returned to the battle right after seeing Pidgeot dodge Water Gun easily. The flamethrower, however, hit it dead centre in the chest. The bird cawed in pain but remained aloft.
“Fly up into the air and prepare for Sky Attack!” Satoru shouted.
“Dugtrio,” Daisuke called, “Earthquake!”
Wartortle and Flareon struggled to maintain their balance through the tremors. The stalling tactic had worked, however, as Pidgeot flew down at mach speed and struck Wartortle, sending the turtle rolling across the floor accompanied by a sonic boom.
“Oh man,” Alex said to herself, recalling Wartortle. That was a rude awakening. She knew Neo League gym leaders didn’t hold back like Kanto League leaders did, but somehow she hadn’t fully prepared for the reality of it. She wondered if her best Pokémon would be strong enough. “Go, Gyarados!”
The enormous serpent floated menacingly above the ground, glaring at both opposing Pokémon. Its opponents faltered for a brief moment.
“Pidgeot, Wing Attack!” Satoru shouted.
Pidgeot flew at Gyarados, striking the serpent at eye level with its wing. Gyarados flinched and then lunged at Pidgeot without orders. Satoru smirked at Gyarados’ lack of discipline. Alex silently cursed her inability to even out Gyarados’ temper fully.
“Dugtrio, finish Flareon off with Hyper Beam!” Daisuke called.
The beam connected solidly with Flareon, sending it sprawling. Terry recalled it and sent out Espeon.
“Psychic on Gyarados!” Terry shouted. Alex shot another look at Terry, this one a look of confusion.
Espeon knew what to do and levitated Gyarados, psychically throwing it in a lunge that hit Pidgeot squarely, flattening it on the ground. It squawked piteously, unable to stand, let alone fly. Espeon then leapt up onto Gyarados’ head to avoid further counterattack.
Satoru growled slightly and recalled Pidgeot. “Rapidash, come out with Horn Attack!”
Rapidash ran at full speed from the second it materialised out of its pokéball. Alex couldn’t tell if the attack hurt Gyarados at all, but she realized as Espeon fell off Gyarados that dismounting it had been Satoru’s goal.
“Dugtrio, quickly Dig underground and hit Espeon!” Daisuke shouted.
Alex smirked. “Been waiting for this,” she mumbled to herself. “Gyarados, Surf attack!”
Gyarados raised its head into the air and roared, causing a torrent of water to engulf the entire room. The trainers and the ref were soaked, and the arena was flooded about a metre deep, leaving Gyarados floating above water level. Espeon doggy-paddled to stay afloat.
Despite the fact that the attack wasn’t meant to do damage, Rapidash was in obvious pain upon being hit by the wave. A sharp hiss accompanied a plume of steam as the horse’s flames met the water. Dugtrio failed to come up out of the ground.
Dirt stadium, Alex thought to herself, seeing the strategy working. The ground’s all muddy now. Dugtrio can’t dig through it. Rapidash will also be hurting just trying to swim. It won’t be any danger. I can’t believe they walked into that.
“Espeon, Psychic attack!” Terry shouted.
Espeon’s eyes glowed brightly, flashed, and then returned to normal. Rapidash hurtled over the water, landing on its side.
Alex smiled at this comeback, but Terry merely folded his arms and scowled.
Rapidash’s defeat meant Satoru was out of the fight. Daisuke waved at the ref.
“Yes?” The ref asked.
“Seeing as Dugtrio won’t be out of the ground for quite some time, I request to send out my next Pokémon anyways.”
The ref thought about this for a second and nodded. “Go ahead.”
The corner of Terry’s mouth twitched. Alex thought it was an odd call. Dugtrio would come up eventually, and it could hold its breath for long enough to continue the fight. Surf was only meant to delay Dugtrio’s return, not defeat it. Still, she thought, no point complaining about good luck.
“Go, Swampert!” Daisuke shouted. “Muddy Water them!”
Swampert slammed its right foot into the ground. Water mixed with dirt from the arena floor spewed at Espeon and Gyarados. Espeon doggy-paddled furiously to stay afloat even as the water level dropped. Gyarados howled in fury.
“Quickly,” Daisuke continued, “follow it up by tackling Gyarados!”
“Espeon, Psychic!” Terry shouted frantically.
Weakened by the attack, Espeon couldn’t focus its abilities enough to deflect Swampert, who tackled Gyarados into the water with a tremendous crash.
“Don’t stop until it’s knocked out!” Daisuke shouted.
Swampert, on top of Gyarados, repeatedly slammed the giant serpent with its arms and tail. Gyarados tried to struggle, its howl echoing through the room and sending a chill up Alex’s spine, but was overpowered every time.
“Flail!” Alex called to Gyarados. The serpent made one last, valiant effort to escape, but it collapsed from the beating. Alex recalled it.
Terry’s expression hardened even further. Swampert expended a great deal of energy to defeat Gyarados, but Espeon wasn’t in very good shape either. Alex knew psychic attacks took a great deal of concentration. If Espeon couldn’t concentrate, it didn’t matter how much Swampert was weakened.
On Daisuke’s order, Swampert lunged at Espeon. Espeon dodged the first lunge easily, but subsequent attacks were increasingly narrower escapes until finally Swampert connected. Espeon fell backwards into the water, now at knee level with the feline Pokémon and dropping rapidly. It struggled to stand up, shaking.
“Come on Terry, just do something!” Alex shouted.
“I don’t need you nagging me,” Terry hissed angrily. The comment stung, but Alex couldn’t deny Terry was under a lot of pressure. “Espeon, Sand Attack!”
Espeon spun around and kicked mud up from the arena floor into Swampert’s eyes. It wasn’t as effective as Muddy Water had been, but it stopped Swampert in place.
“Espeon, quickly, bite it!”
Espeon leapt up and bit down on Swampert’s shoulder. The larger Pokémon flailed blindly, trying to get the psychic Pokémon off it.
Terry smirked. “Espeon, you know what to do.”
Espeon’s eyes glowed and Swampert, in its flailing, began to sway towards the ring’s edge. Espeon’s eyes flashed brightly as it kicked off Swampert’s back, and Swampert was shoved into the arena wall before hitting the floor. Swampert didn’t get back up.
The judge raised his flag towards Alex and Terry. “This match is over. Our challengers are victorious!”
Terry, who had seemed to be building up an incredible amount of tension throughout the match, released it all in one long, deep breath.
“I think we need to work on our two-on-two,” Terry said to Alex as they went to collect their badges.
“Good job,” Satoru said as he handed an Essence Badge to each trainer.
Terry scoffed derisively. “We got lucky.”
Daisuke nodded, offering no disagreement.
Alex followed Terry back to the hotel. Terry didn’t care to try hiding his displeasure at their performance.
“Look,” Alex said for what felt to Terry like the millionth time, “we won, and that’s what matters, right?”
Terry sighed. He might as well explain the obvious since Alex didn’t seem like she was going to catch on by herself. “Two on two is about working with your partner to create teams that are stronger than just the two Pokémons’ fighting strength put together. I tried to do that and only wound up giving you bad advice. If it weren’t for the luck we had—Espeon using Psychic to attack with Gyarados, or that timing with Surf—we’d have not only lost, we’d have been flattened.”
“Terry,” Alex said, putting a hand on Terry’s shoulder. “You’re being way too hard on yourself. Who cares if we had a lot of luck? Espeon taking down Swampert like that was amazing. It wasn’t luck at all.”
“Marril, marmarmarmar, Marril,” Marril put in.
“That too,” Alex said, smiling. “We’ll get better at this as we go along.”
Terry sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. But right now, I just want to get back to the hotel so I can get some sleep.”
Alex nodded in agreement. Terry could only imagine the trouble he was going to have in waking her up the next morning.
|10/23/2011, 12:19 AM||#16|
JewelQuest: Heh, yeah, there's a lot of recycling going on, although the plot will diverge quite heavily once the rewrite gets fully underway, as evidenced by this chapter, which is entirely original and also cements the fact that the Sam/David dynamic of the original SS is going to be replaced with something very, very different. As a minor aside, since it was the result of what I find the most interesting part of the writing process, promoting Melanie to main character alongside Alex, Terry, and Sam was entirely unplanned. As indicated by the preamble in my OP (which will as of this chapter be edited to reflect this change), I originally meant to keep the Sam/David plotline, but during my editing of the last chapter realized I had a golden opportunity it would've been foolish to waste. Once I realized the new angle, everything fell into place so completely and so perfectly that by the end you'd never guess it was a spur-of-the-moment "why not?" decision. That said, I won't deny there are those who would rather I kept two people with a contrived situation traveling together to do various game sidequests (like how David did a Battle Tower run in the original SS) as opposed to what develops in the new version. (Note: It doesn't mean David is going away, just that he's being demoted to secondary character—my apologies to any readers of the original who were David fans.)
Chapter 6 - Encircling Waltz
Sam glanced at her watch. 12:47 PM, which meant she still had a little over ten minutes before she had to get back to work. Her week picked up tremendously after Juliet gave her that study on human psychics, but yet still managed to be mind-numbing by dint of being so much more challenging than anything she’d done before.
Idly she picked at her lunch. She wished she could abandon her feelings that she wasn’t doing enough. She seemed to be the only one who thought that, and still, despite the praise she received, she couldn’t take everyone else’s denials seriously.
“Excuse me,” said a woman from behind her.
Sam turned to face the speaker. She couldn’t say she was disappointed to see Melanie standing there. If she’d been paying attention, she’d have recognized Melanie’s voice.
“Yes?” Sam asked.
“Mind if I have a seat?” Melanie asked.
Sam glanced around. There were plenty of empty tables, and she found herself glad Melanie didn’t take any of them. “Sure.”
Melanie sat down beside her. “Haven’t had a chance to see you much lately.”
“Work’s been brutal,” Sam said. She didn’t want to mention the extra hours she was putting in. Being Juliet’s assistant, Melanie probably already knew. Their previous conversations had definitely been too brief.
“It should clear up a little soon,” Melanie said. She smiled. “When it does, how about we do something together, eh? You know, just the two of us.”
Sam’s mind blanked for several heartbeats. She wondered if it was just her imagination or if Melanie was actually asking her out. If she was, her forwardness succeeded in catching Sam entirely off-guard. “Ce-certainly,” she stuttered.
Melanie grinned but didn’t clarify what, specifically, she just asked.
“Why me?” Sam wondered.
“Because I want to get to know you better,” Melanie replied. “You’re not even old enough to drink in some countries, yet you’re keeping pace with some of our best researchers. You’re a Pokémon Master and you’ll definitely make Professor once Tribo’s a success.” Her dark eyes lingered in Sam’s for an exquisitely long heartbeat. “To be blunt, I think you’re interesting.”
Interesting. It wouldn’t have been Sam’s first choice for compliments, but she wasn’t about to argue. Still, she wasn’t above fishing for further compliments.
“You make me sound better than I really am,” Sam said.
Melanie smiled. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, when you lay everything out like that, it just makes me sound so…” Sam trailed off.
Melanie placed her hand on Sam’s. “It makes you sound special.”
Sam couldn’t keep eye contact. It was flattering, if nothing else, and Melanie seemed very sincere. That sincerity made her feel even more awkward.
How messed up am I to want something and then be afraid to accept it when I get it? Sam wondered. That tendency was difficult at best to root out. More frustrating was something within her questioning whether it was something she was looking for, or someone.
“I’m certain you’re just as interesting as I am,” Sam said. “And, um, special, and… you know.”
“What, me?” Melanie scoffed. “Nah. I’m just your standard Azure Heights graduate stuck in an endless cycle of being an intern and an assistant. This place is the most stable job I’ve ever had.”
“It’s still a pretty good school,” Sam pointed out. “You have a lot of experience in the field. You’re obviously much more talented than you let on—I have a hard time believing you’re ‘just’ a regular assistant.” She enjoyed the bemused look in Melanie’s eyes as she said this. “Look, I’m gonna be honest. From where I’m sitting, I… think you’re… interesting too.”
Melanie seemed undisturbed by Sam’s awkwardness. In fact, the look on her face suggested she found it endearing.
“Well then,” Melanie said, “it looks like you’ll enjoy getting to know me as much as I’ll enjoy getting to know you.”
Juliet hated visiting David. Team Rocket arranged for decently-sized accommodations beneath the complex, but despite how normal it looked, the knowledge that they were technically underground and that David wasn’t free to leave made it feel like a dungeon to Juliet.
David sat at a table in the middle of a sparsely-adorned room as Juliet walked in, flanked by her Sneasel and Sableye. The two Pokémon were cold comfort—they wouldn’t be able to stop David in time if he decided to attack, and as much as they’d show no mercy in retribution if he harmed or even killed her, that wouldn’t help her situation any.
“Hello, David,” Juliet greeted as she pulled a chair away from the table and placed it near the wall. Slowly she sat down, one leg over the other, hands folded over her knee. “I trust you’re doing well?”
David swore at her. “What kind of gall is that?”
“I know you’d like to believe I’m some kind of monster,” Juliet said. “You’d like to think I’m some kind of sadist, that I intend to kill you when I’m done with you.”
David swore again. “I can read your mind. I know exactly what you think you are. Drop me off in some crap end of the country like nothing happened and you wash your hands of this. I'm not even human to you—just a sample, a thing to be collected, studied, and discarded.”
This was Juliet’s least favourite dynamic to their conversations. She couldn’t stop David from reading her mind, at least in any productive way. Kadabra and Hypno could block his attempts, but in the past that only made him struggle and wound up hurting him. His form of telepathy was read-only, at any rate, and surface-level at that. David couldn’t dig around in her mind for secrets, even though he could read her conscious thoughts and subconscious intentions. It was better to let him read what he could and adapt accordingly than to risk hurting him.
“I think we can avoid that,” Juliet offered.
“If you’re shooting for Stockholm syndrome, keep trying,” David taunted.
Juliet didn’t reply. David was insolent and, more importantly, intelligent. Relying on cheap psychological tactics wouldn’t work and would, in fact, only be insulting.
David eyed the two Pokémon cautiously. Juliet wasn’t sure if he was planning to attack them or not. Psychics using creative means to combat dark types was common in Pokémon battles. Juliet had no doubt that David would be immensely creative following his incarceration.
“What I’m curious about,” Juliet said, “is why Sabrina abandoned you as her student.”
“You keep track of that stuff?” David asked.
“Team Rocket has ties to certain gym leaders,” Juliet explained.
“Sabrina, Koga, Lt. Surge, Pryce…” David began, and trailed off as Juliet forced herself to think of something else. He didn’t recite any names not already known to the League.
“From everything we’ve gathered, you’re a very skilled psychic,” Juliet continued. “Telepathic and telekinetic, for one. It’s also no parlour trick to be able to defeat well-trained Pokémon on your own. I know you trained at the Saffron City gym for some time, and were apprenticed to Sabrina for a period of no less than six months and no more than a year.”
“About eight months,” David volunteered. He swore at Juliet again. “You want to know why? Fine, I’ll tell you why. Sabrina was going to tranquilize me.”
Juliet blinked. Tranquilization was a sterile-sounding euphemism for lobotomizing a psychic. It stripped them of their psychic powers, but also impaired their mental functions. The procedure was usually reserved for psychic criminals deemed impossible to rehabilitate. Had David done anything to merit such punishment, Team Rocket would have known.
“I’m sorry,” was the only thing Juliet could say. She could order someone killed if the situation called for it, and even ease her conscience over it, but the thought of ordering someone tranquilized made her stomach twist.
David’s reply surprised her. “I believe you.”
“Why was she going to tranquilize you?”
“You’re Team Rocket and you didn’t know?” David asked. He sounded genuinely surprised. “It’s because I killed someone.”
“You don’t seem like a murderer to me.”
“I’m not,” David insisted. His breathing quickened. “I didn’t mean to kill anyone. I… what happened was… I lost control. That’s the only thing I can say.”
“What made you lose control?”
David eyed Juliet. “Nothing. One moment I was reading someone’s mind, the next he suffered a stroke. There were complications. He didn’t make it.”
“Am I in danger?”
“No,” David answered. “As much as I want to hurt you for this, I don’t want to kill you.” He gave a hollow laugh. “You mentioned I’m both telepathic and telekinetic. If I were just one or the other, I wouldn’t be here. Is that why I’m so special to you?”
Juliet shook her head. “No. I’m afraid you simply had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That you’ve both abilities is merely a fortunate coincidence.”
David grimaced. It was the pained look of someone realizing that potentially life-altering pain had been visited upon them not by malice or even any sort of design, but by mere chance. Juliet couldn’t deny she sympathized.
Giovanni sat at his desk, reading e-mail on his computer. The screen’s brightness was a little too low for his tastes. The next setting up in brightness was too high. It was a minor annoyance, but a constant one.
Most interesting was a report from Executive Juliet. Her summary indicated great strides being made in Project Tribo. She even mentioned one of the new scientists by name, which struck him as odd. Was she testing him to see if he recognized the name? If so, he had no idea who this person was.
Juliet’s second report was disconcerting. Her research subject still hadn’t been disposed of. While he had no doubt Juliet could still get valuable information from experimenting on the psychic, Giovanni found the risk too great. If he personally had to send the order to terminate the subject, he would.
A message popped up on his system tray, early notification of Executive Roland’s arrival. A moment later, his phone rang. Giovanni picked it up.
“Sir, Roland is here to see you,” said his receptionist. Giovanni smiled.
“By all means, send him up,” Giovanni replied, and hung up. He stood and turned to face out the window. He had a spectacular view of Viridian City, and the sun was still high enough in the sky not to obscure this view with glare.
Roland didn’t knock, but instead let himself in without announcement. Giovanni hardened his features and turned to face the heavyset executive. As a conventional crime boss, Roland lacked the outward grace of more specialized executives like Juliet, Kenneth, or Stein. He had a menacing presence and a hardened look to his eyes, representative of what he was capable of doing should Giovanni order it.
When he ordered it.
“It’s a pleasure to see you, Roland,” Giovanni said, extending his hand. Roland shook it, his grip tight.
“Likewise,” Roland said. “I wish this could be under better circumstances.”
“Things aren’t going well in Idama?” Giovanni asked.
“I’ve come here to request to take care of the situation personally,” Roland said. He glanced past Giovanni’s shoulder and out the window. “Various gangs in Idama have formally announced that they’re banding together under the name of Team Rocket. Their first act was to strike our location in Darkwood City. There were no survivors.”
The corner of Giovanni’s mouth curved downwards in a scowl. “They’re taking our name?”
“I’m more surprised that no one else has tried that yet,” Roland said. “Imagine if Team Galactic operated under our name. Then think of what these people will do.”
Giovanni’s memories of Team Galactic were anything but fond. He didn’t like the thought of them diverting police attention and resources towards Team Rocket while simultaneously riding the notoriety of the Team Rocket name. That they had imitators in every country in which they operated was distasteful, yet there was no eradicating the copycat complex from individual criminals. That there was an enemy group now officially operating under the Team Rocket name was unthinkable.
“You don’t have to say any more,” Giovanni said coldly. “Take whatever men and materiel you deem necessary and wipe out this false Team Rocket. I don’t care about the means.”
Roland smiled. “Yes, sir.”
“Just the two of us” turned out to be somewhat misleading, although completely accurate. Sam found herself expecting something relatively quiet—perhaps dinner, perhaps simply hanging out at either of their places. Instead, Melanie’s idea of a date involved taking her to one of the local clubs. Sam couldn’t deny it wasn’t atmospheric. Nor was it a low-class establishment. The table they sat at was made of a rich, polished wood, the décor was lovely, and the music, she had to admit, was pretty good. She was glad that Melanie’s comment that she was too young to drink in certain countries didn’t apply to Idama.
“I didn’t think this’d be your kind of place,” Sam said as she looked down at her drink. She barely knew what was what, so Melanie ordered something for her. Melanie also proceeded to insist on paying for it, making Sam feel that much more awkward.
“Do you have anything in mind for what you thought ‘my kind of place’ was?” Melanie asked.
“Uh,” Sam admitted. “Not really.”
“You should try guessing next time something like this happens,” Melanie said, leaning forward in her seat. She was dressed much more nicely than Sam was. “I’d love to see what you come up with.”
“Probably nothing good,” Sam admitted. “It’s so much out of my league it’s not even funny.”
Melanie smiled. “Let me guess, you spent most of your teenage years wandering around training, then went to school and hit the books so hard you didn’t have time for anything else, and now you’re turning into a workaholic?”
Sam winced. “Basically my life story, yeah.”
“Trust me,” Melanie said. “Bad idea. I look forward to helping coax you out of that shell you’ve built up around yourself.”
I look forward to it too, Sam wanted to say. Instead all she could manage was a slightly sheepish smile.
Sam couldn’t say the experience was unpleasant. Her fear that Melanie would try to push her too hard and too fast into something so outside her normal experience turned out to be unfounded. More than once, Melanie checked to make sure that Sam was comfortable and even let Sam know that if she started to feel uneasy, they could go, with no hard feelings.
About an hour later, Sam noticed that Melanie suddenly started to seem distracted. She kept looking at a man sitting at the bar. There wasn’t anything overly special that Sam could see. Before Sam could ask why Melanie was so preoccupied with the man, he got up and walked over to their table.
“Hello, Ryan,” Melanie greeted the man. Her tone was forced—clearly she wasn’t happy to see him.
Ryan glanced at Sam. “Well, far be it from me to interrupt this girl’s night out you've got going on, but I was wondering if I could talk to you for a moment.”
“Jealous ex?” Sam guessed. She had no interest in men herself, and had assumed the same of Melanie, but it was possible Melanie’s attractions ran towards men and women both.
“Not quite,” Melanie said. “Former work partner, actually.” She eyed Ryan warily. “What’s this about?”
“Nothing your new petite amie needs to hear,” Ryan said condescendingly.
Melanie groaned. “I’ll be right back. Promise.”
Sam watched as Ryan took Melanie over to a far corner. From what Sam could see, Melanie’s annoyed expression turned to anger and then to confusion. Eventually she stormed away from Ryan, who didn’t pursue her.
Melanie swore profusely as she sat back down. “Look, I know you’re going to ask what that was about. It’s… complicated. I’m sorry I can’t tell you any more than that.”
They say relationships are built on trust, Sam thought. “All right. I won’t press you.”
Melanie smiled. “Thank you.”
“Still,” Sam added. “You look really shaken up. I’ll ask you no questions and you’ll tell me no lies and all that, but I just wanted you to know,” she took Melanie’s hand, “I’m here for you if you need me.”
The thankful look in Melanie’s eyes said more than words ever could.
Last edited by Marril; 10/23/2011 at 04:21 AM. Reason: Cleared up some minor ambiguity in one paragraph.
|10/23/2011, 11:37 AM||#17|
I think that it is going well. I liked the David thing, but I can go along with the story in a different way. As long as you still do Orthan Marril, I'll be fine.
Jolteon Flareon Vaporeon
|10/23/2011, 06:04 PM||#18|
Well... I do and I don't. There's no denying anthro!Marril was one of my favourite characters in the old SS, and I looked forward to writing her interactions with F!Alex and Terry. Draft versions of a few posted chapters even referred to the Orthan Project. The problems I ran into were twofold. The first is that anthro Pokémon don't fit at all with the new SS. Even within the context of the old SS, it wasn't so much "anthro Pokémon" that I wanted so much as I wanted anthro!Marril as a character. The second was that, like so many other aspects of the old SS, it was highly contrived. Sam being sent to adventure with David was very forced, which is why I instead paired her up with Melanie, which feels much more natural for both characters. Marril being kidnapped and made anthro and returned felt like the most contrived element of the entire original SS.
My solution to these problems with respect to Marril was keeping the core aspects of anthro!Marril's character and transplanting them onto a human character. I think you're going to like the new character—she's just as funny as anthro!Marril, and she's better suited for serious scenes. Plus she gets to interact with Pokémon!Marril.
Edit: I'll also give this hint to readers in general: I think that whether or not you like Alex being trans is a good indicator as to whether you're going to like the above-mentioned new character.
"I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me." —Dave Barry
Pokémon SS - You know you want to read it.
Last edited by Marril; 10/23/2011 at 06:16 PM.
|10/24/2011, 12:39 PM||#19|
Jolteon Flareon Vaporeon
|10/29/2011, 01:55 AM||#20|
(Minor author's notes: When I was naming Terry, I actually forgot that the second city was originally called Terri City, so now it's Yala City, as if yet further to stymy those who try to use the old SS as a heuristic for the new one. Also I imagine "Rueni" basically sounding like "renny," for those wondering how you're supposed to pronounce it. Similarly, "Tribo" is pronounced "treebo." Finally, a few more setting details have been added to the OP as of this chapter.)
Chapter 7 - Within Vices
Juliet heard a knock at the door. In the aftermath of losing the Team Rocket base in Darkwood City, Ryan took charge of making sure a similar thing didn’t happen in Rueni. Unfortunately, he hadn’t seen fit to confer with her in matters of security. Odd that he chose now to start.
Oh, why not? Juliet thought to herself. Although she wasn’t tired in the least, she laid her head down on her desk and feigned being asleep. Might as well have some fun with Ryan.
The sound of the door unlocking surprised Juliet—she hadn’t realised it was locked, and she didn’t know Ryan could pick locks. She kept up her act regardless.
“Stop that,” Ryan said as he stepped into Juliet’s office. “You’re not fooling me.”
Juliet muttered a few choice words as she sat up.
“Did you come here just to show off your lock-picking abilities?” Juliet asked. “Or do you have an actual purpose?”
Ryan smirked. “Oh, I have a purpose. You see, Executive Roland’s decided to take me on as an elite agent for his operations in Idama.”
Juliet found it interesting that her first thought was that Roland’s arrival meant she was no longer the only executive in the country. Immediately following was the more pertinent realization that she was going to have an unpleasant battle of rank-pulling ahead of her, especially since he seemed keen on appropriating one of her agents. Neither executive outranked the other, and Roland was almost certain to try to take charge of all Rocket operations in the country.
“Furthermore,” Ryan said, “he’s decided to promote me. Not to mention give me unilateral authority over local Rocket security.”
Juliet had to suppress a smile. Ryan was doing this entirely to jerk her chain—a foolish misstep she was going to have to capitalize upon. He was new to this game, while she wasn’t. Even without much in the ways of raw talent, she mused, age and experience trumped youth and skill.
“Of course,” Juliet said. “Did you have anything in mind I should know about?”
She was careful not to provoke him or to tip her hand in any way. He couldn’t do anything to her directly—Tribo was just as much Giovanni’s pet project as it was Juliet’s, and Giovanni assigned her personally to lead it. Until and unless Giovanni saw fit to remove her, she would remain in charge.
“Two things,” Ryan said. Juliet would have bet all the money to her name that she could name them. “First, have you disposed of your psychic test subject yet?” He smirked. “I do remember Roland telling me Giovanni ordered it of you personally.”
Halfway there. “Yes,” Juliet lied.
“I’d like to see the body,” Ryan said.
“Impossible. His remains are to be used for research.”
“As a Rocket agent attached to the Tribo Project, access to any research specimens is granted at my prerogative.”
Juliet raised an eyebrow. “But you’re not attached to the Tribo Project anymore.”
The look on Ryan’s face gave Juliet no small measure of satisfaction. The newly-minted elite looked like she just slapped him.
“Secondly, operational security needs to be increased. To put it bluntly, having Rocket members… liaise with civilians is too great a risk,” Ryan said.
I could set a clock to him, Juliet thought. “You’re referring to my assistant and one of my researchers, correct?”
As far as Juliet was concerned, Melanie’s relationships were her own private concern, and as long as they were kept separate from her work, Juliet couldn’t care less who Melanie “liaised” with. For the most part, Melanie met that singular restriction.
“That’s right,” Ryan said.
But still, perhaps Juliet misjudged Ryan’s animosity towards Melanie. While he could barely stand to work with her and freely used her as a pawn in a weak attempt to get to Juliet, there was still the fact that one of the first things Ryan did after learning about the Darkwood attack was tell Melanie she was in danger. Not only did he tell her before he told Juliet, but he wasted no time at all in doing so—grousing about the latter featured prominently in Melanie’s retelling of the event.
“I’ll look into it,” Juliet replied.
The corner of Ryan’s mouth twitched. “You’ll do more than look into it.”
“Your suggestion will be taken under advisement,” Juliet repeated. “I should remind you that you hold no authority over me, nor my project. Until such a time as Giovanni declares Roland the superior executive, I will act as I deem necessary for the good of the project. Do I make myself clear?”
Ryan’s snarled “yes” told Juliet all she needed to know.
Alex sat on the edge of her hotel bed, hugging her knees to her chest while watching TV. Their battle made it into television. Granted, most gym battles did, but the announcer gendered her correctly—something she hadn’t experienced in the Kanto League. Hearing the right pronouns in reference to herself made rewatching the battle very enjoyable.
“You know,” Terry said, the elbow he was leaning on putting an impressive dent into his bed, “it doesn’t look nearly as bad from that angle.”
“Oh, stop beating yourself up,” Alex said, dropping her left leg over the side of the bed so she could turn to Terry. “We won against two gym leaders in the toughest League in the hemisphere.”
Terry heaved a sigh. Alex took that as a sign to drop the subject. She’d explained the obvious for what felt like a million times, but Terry simply didn’t seem to get it. The Rueni gym was behind them. They had no control over it. Focusing on future gyms should have been the priority.
“So you wanna get ready to head off to Yala City after this is done?” Terry asked during a commercial break.
“Sure,” Alex replied, “but first I want to see about some stuff in town.” She smiled to herself. “If I’m right, I’m about to do something awesome.”
The place was hot, humid, and Alex immediately regretted entering it. The name of the place was Aurora Fishing, but that was an overstatement. Their stock obviously came from fishermen offloading chaff Pokémon while fishing for valuable ones. Alex allowed herself a bit of pride—she came from a city world-famous for water Pokémon. She knew what the score was when it came to them.
Fish comprised only about half the store regardless. For the purpose of fishing itself, the place was, Alex had to admit, well-stocked. It had racks and racks of fishing rods, bait, tackles, and lures. She picked up something that was marked as Gyarados bait. Somehow, she thought as she looked at it, she couldn’t imagine her Gyarados biting with that on the lure. For a brief second she considered calling out her Gyarados to ask it. The thought brought a smile to her face.
“Can I help you?” A salesman asked from behind Alex.
“No, just looking,” Alex said. Mentally she kicked herself—her affectation of an Idaman accent sounded horrible. She wished she’d practiced more.
The salesman didn’t take the hint. “We’ve got a very good deal today on some fish caught only last week. Magikarp for a thousand, Goldeen for fifteen hundred, and Chinchou for twelve hundred.”
Alex pointed to an ugly fish floating at the back. “How much for that one?”
The salesman hesitated. “Quite frankly, we don’t know what it is.”
That confirmed multiple things to Alex. First, it meant that the store bought the fish in bulk without inventorying them first. Second, it either meant the owner was terrifically lazy or that Alex was the first to inquire. There were dozens of pokédex programs floating around online, and any one of them could easily have identified the fish.
“I have a Gyarados, you see,” Alex explained, “and keeping it fed is hard work.” She flashed a knowing smile to keep the salesman’s attention. The trip would be a waste of time if he went to identify the fish. “You know how temperamental they can be.”
“Tempestuous,” the salesman said poetically. “For a delicate waterflower such as yourself to master a Gyarados—you are truly a great trainer.”
Alex suppressed a laugh. She was used to “waterflower” referring specifically to the Cerulean City gym leaders. The word was sometimes used as a compliment to female water trainers elsewhere in Kanto and Johto, but she hadn’t expected to hear it overseas.
Idle flattery as it was, Alex still enjoyed the validation of her femininity. She wished she could’ve heard it from someone she cared about instead, but she could be content for the time being hearing it from a total stranger.
“You’ve been to Cerulean City?” Alex asked.
“I make it a point to go there every year,” the salesman said. It was clearly a lie—if he did, then Alex wouldn’t be having this conversation.
“I’ve always wanted to go, myself, but just can't seem to make it work. You know how it is,” Alex said.
“I hope you can make the time at some point. It’s truly beautiful,” the salesman said. “But I’m afraid we digress. To return to your original question, I’ll sell it to you for five hundred. I’ll even throw in some Magikarp for seven-fifty a head if you like.”
Alex glanced at the fish. It sure was an ugly little thing. It didn’t move as it floated at the back of the tank. She’d seen Magikarp die without going belly-up, and had she not known better she’d have thought that fish dead too.
“I’ll just take the… whatever-that-is, please,” Alex said, almost slipping and saying what Pokémon it was. The incredulity she felt at the salesman suggesting she feed Magikarp to a Gyarados stunned her. Anyone who raised a Gyarados knew they only resorted to cannibalism in the most extreme circumstances. Gyarados were, in fact, known to protect Magikarp quite fiercely from predation.
Alex paid for the Pokémon and was given the fish in a large bag of water. She waited until she was out of the store to put it into a pokéball. The fish didn’t resist. She couldn’t fully restrain a laugh, both at how strange it felt playing the “naďve tourist girl” stereotype to the hilt and at how a store dedicated to fishing didn’t know what a Feebas was. It would have been a bargain at a thousand times the price, even before the hefty conservation taxes for purchase of endangered Pokémon.
Alex shrunk the pokéball and put it into her bag, grinning all the while.
Eevee tackled Umbreon to the ground, which came as a surprise to Terry. Umbreon wouldn’t give its sibling any quarter, even in a training bout.
Terry watched the two wrestle each other from the park bench as part of Eevee’s training. Eevee acquitted itself well, all things considered. At the very least, it appeared to have gotten over the trauma of its mother’s death. Of all Terry’s Eevees, it took its mother’s loss the hardest. Perhaps that was what delayed its evolution.
“Hey watch out for…” Terry started to say to Eevee, but Umbreon flipping Eevee off of it was faster than Terry’s warning. “Too late.”
It was an odd thing, seeing two Pokémon battle without orders, but Terry knew that the less he walked Eevee through a fight, the more Eevee would learn. It was already making progress, as it was dodging increasingly more of Umbreon’s attacks and was hitting increasingly often.
Then things started to get interesting. Whether Eevee had intended for things to work out that way or not, Terry didn’t know. However, with its back to the sun, it forced Umbreon to face it and therefore have much reduced visibility. It was an advantage Terry himself didn’t think of until Eevee had already started using it. He wondered if Eevee somehow knew Umbreon had great visual sensitivity to light.
Umbreon was caught off guard by the sun’s glare, but scored a lucky kick with its right back leg, sending Eevee rolling towards Terry.
“Nice kick, Umbreon,” Terry said. “And Eevee, you did really well yourself.”
Terry glanced up and saw Alex heading towards him. She’d taken longer than expected. It was an odd recent development, to say the least—back when she was presenting as male, the problem with Alex’s timing was that “he” was always too early, always too quick. Nowadays, the opposite was true.
The two Pokémon stepped aside as Alex headed to the bench and sat down beside Terry. They looked up at Terry, expecting orders.
“Just rest for a moment,” Terry said to them. He turned to Alex. “Now do I get to know what your big plan was?”
Alex dug out her cell phone and brought up the pokédex app. She showed Terry a picture of an extraordinarily ugly fish. “You know what that is?”
“Food for your Gyarados?” Terry guessed.
Alex laughed. “No. It’s a Feebas.”
“You know what a Milotic is, right?”
“Well then,” Terry said. Rare, powerful, and beautiful. A stray thought surfaced that this also described Alex, but he quashed it. “That’s an impressive find.”
“Got it for five hundred,” Alex said, grinning. She was downright stoked, her sheer energy a stark contrast to Terry’s memories of her previous self.
“I wish I could be a Venonat on the wall when the guy who sold it to you realizes what he did,” Terry said. “Planning on evolving it, I assume? Or were you going to resell it?”
“Oh, I’m training the thing. It’ll probably become one of my star Pokémon,” Alex said.
“Marril-mar-mar!” Marril interjected.
“Don’t worry, you’ll always be my number one, shining bright for everyone,” Alex said, petting Marril and scratching behind its ears.
“You have somewhere to get all the blocks you’re going to need to force-feed that thing?” Terry asked.
Alex raised her free hand. “Hey, one thing at a time, eh?”
Ryan glared at the Rocket agents around him. There were a dozen in the back of the vehicle, plus himself and the driver, bringing the Rocket force to fourteen. He wondered if it would be enough, if they’d make to Rueni it in time. Under normal circumstances, he’d have been elated to be put in charge of an entire squad, but Roland’s reaction to his mistake in provoking Juliet soured his mood.
“Hey, Ryan,” said a Rocket agent beside him. If he remembered right, the agent’s name was Adair. “How did you put up with Executive Juliet, anyway?”
“I didn’t,” Ryan grumbled.
Adair lowered his voice. “You know, accidents can always happen.”
Ryan scoffed. “They could, but you couldn’t pull it off. Just stick to Roland’s orders.”
“Even if there’s a lull in the action?”
Ryan leaned back, listening to the hum of the engine. “I don’t care what opportunities present themselves. Gods know we can’t use any distractions.”
It was enough to make Ryan wish he was working with Melanie again. She was depressingly mercenary, but her inexperience and weak stomach for violence kept her reserved. Adair was a common thug, a trait even more unbefitting a true Team Rocket agent.
“It’s just a quick in-and-out,” Ryan continued. “Don’t act like it’s anything but. You’re a Rocket, so act like it. Got it?”
“Funny,” Adair retorted darkly, “I could say the same to you.”
Last edited by Marril; 11/11/2011 at 02:56 AM. Reason: City renaming retcon ACTIVATE!
|11/03/2011, 11:16 PM||#22|
Chapter 8 - Gentle Storm
“Hitmonlee, get rid of those two!” Melanie shouted.
Ryan’s warning that their location was next on the false Team Rocket’s target list turned out to be accurate. The attack began swiftly and brutally—Electrodes detonated at ground level, followed by ground types using Earthquake to try and collapse the building. This sustained attack was supported by a wide variety of other Pokémon aiming at the building’s key points: storage, the server room, and the labs. The testing lab was already in ruins. Escape, not resistance, was foremost on Melanie’s mind.
Hitmonlee leapt forward at its opponents, a Golem and a Sandslash. It kicked the Sandslash into a wall and proceeded to kick the Golem down the hallway. There were no trainers accompanying the two Pokémon. Melanie used the distraction to slip into the research lab, Hitmonlee following her.
As of Ryan’s departure, Melanie was the only Rocket agent working directly under Juliet. Ryan brought a small continent back with him from other cities, consolidating Idaman Rocket combat presence into Rueni. This was the only reason they hadn’t been completely overwhelmed, although the hallways were filled with enemy Pokémon. She estimated there were dozens overall.
Melanie surveyed the damage. At a glance, none of the equipment was salvageable, but formal assessment would have to wait for later.
“Lee!” Hitmonlee shouted. Melanie spun around as Hitmonlee kicked Sandslash back into the hallway with a furious “Hitmonlee!”
I’m not cut out for combat, Melanie thought. Nor, for that matter, was she cut out for any of Team Rocket’s criminal endeavours. The sole reason she wasn’t working directly alongside Sam and the other researchers was that Juliet took a liking to her.
Melanie tried to clear her head. Sam would be with the other researchers. With the facility’s equipment destroyed, its researchers would become the primary target.
“Hitmonlee,” she said. “Follow me.”
“Lee,” Hitmonlee said.
Melanie led Hitmonlee back into the hall and toward the main entrance. She couldn’t imagine the false Rockets wouldn’t concentrate their presence there, but any other entrance was inaccessible.
“Hitmon-Hitmonlee!” Hitmonlee shouted. Again, Melanie whirled around to see Hitmonlee kick an ambushing Pokémon—this time Golem—back through the hall.
Melanie glared at the fallen Golem. “Hitmonlee, take it out of the fight permanently.”
“Leeeeeeeee,” the Pokémon drew out the sound as it advanced on Golem. It raised its foot into the air, leg stretched taut, and broke Golem’s rocky shell with a brutal axe kick. Golem roared in pain. A swift kick to Golem’s face silenced it.
Melanie turned back toward the main entrance. “Good job, Hitmonlee. Keep an eye out for that Sandslash if it comes back.”
Sandslash didn’t return, and Melanie made it to the main entrance moments later. She could see a number of trainers through the glass doors. For a moment she considered trying to double back and find another exit.
“All right, Hitmonlee,” Melanie said. “You’re going to have to hit fast and hard. Blaze Kick through the door—the shrapnel and sudden heat should disorient those trainers and their Pokémon. You’ll need some really impressive close combat timing to pull this off. Think you’re up for it?”
“Lee,” Hitmonlee said in affirmation.
“Get to it. I have faith in you.”
Hitmonlee raised its right leg and flames swirled around its foot. It touched its right foot to the ground for a fraction of a second to balance itself, and leapt at the main doors. The glass shattered easily as Hitmonlee soared through it, shards cutting deep into the enemy Pokémon and their false Rocket trainers alike.
Hitmonlee ducked a swing from a Cacturne and used the momentum to throw a kick at a Zangoose. Not even a heartbeat later, Hitmonlee refocused its attention on Cacturne and pelted its face with a flurry of kicks. Melanie couldn’t keep track of Hitmonlee’s movements as it spun around again and kicked Cacturne into one of the false Rockets.
Melanie didn’t even notice the Absol trying to capitalize on Hitmonlee’s distraction until her Pokémon kicked it into the air. Hitmonlee whirled around and extended its leg, catching the other false Rocket in the face before kicking Absol away before it could hit the ground.
Hitmonlee staggered as if struck by an invisible blow immediately before a Gallade leapt down and slashed Hitmonlee with its arm blades. Melanie uttered more than a few profanities. Hitmonlee was able to take down three Pokémon and two trainers with the element of surprise, but it couldn’t fight a Gallade under normal circumstances, let alone following an ambush.
Gallade swung again at Hitmonlee, who dodged the blow. Its eyes flashed azure and Hitmonlee staggered, allowing Gallade an easy shot at Hitmonlee’s body. Hitmonlee attempted to retaliate, but its blazing foot was stopped by a glowing shield inches from Gallade’s body. With Hitmonlee off balance, Gallade swept in close, peppering Hitmonlee with countless light blows.
Melanie watched as Hitmonlee hit the ground, still conscious but clearly out of the fight. Rather than deal the final blow, Gallade stood up straight. A bolt of electricity arced at it from out of Melanie’s field of vision, but dissipated against a psychic shield. Another electric blast dissipated against the shield, and another. Finally one got through, and Gallade staggered.
Melanie moved closer to the door, and got a view of the intervening Pokémon. An Ampharos stood at the base of the steps leading from the sidewalk to the building’s entrance. It wasn’t Ryan’s reinforcements saving her, but Ryan himself.
“Ampharos, Signal Beam,” Ryan ordered. He ascended the stairs as a beam of light shone from Ampharos’ tail, temporarily blinding Gallade. “Thunderbolt.”
Gallade convulsed as electricity coursed through its body. Its eyes glowed a furious crimson as it glared at Ampharos. The electric Pokémon broke off its attack as it squealed in agony. Gallade stood up straight—not fully recovered, but still in fighting shape.
Hitmonlee was back up on its feet, but its balance was tenuous at best. It shook as it tried to raise a leg.
“Don’t worry,” Melanie said. She glanced sidelong at Gallade. “I have an idea.”
Ryan didn’t look too happy with his Ampharos’ prospects for victory. His eyes widened as he saw Gallade’s eyes begin to glow a faint azure. “Ampharos, Light Screen!”
A feeble screen appeared before Ampharos, but shattered quickly. Its shards faded into nothingness before they could hit the ground. Gallade ran toward Ampharos and slashed at its long neck. Ampharos fell to the ground, breathing ragged.
“Tackle Gallade,” Melanie ordered.
While Hitmonlee couldn’t balance itself for a dextrous kick, it had little trouble leaping at Gallade, tackling the psychic pugilist down the stairs. Gallade struck the stone steps hard, Hitmonlee on top of it, and landed on the sidewalk headfirst. Hitmonlee slowly stepped off Gallade’s body.
Melanie leaned on the handrail at the top of the stairs. “Good job, Hitmonlee.”
“Leeeee,” Hitmonlee drew out feebly but triumphantly.
Ryan clapped his hands slowly and methodically as he walked toward Melanie. “Impressive. I actually mean that.”
“Really,” Melanie replied flatly.
“Ultimately, I guess whether you believe me or not is irrelevant,” Ryan said. He recalled his wounded Ampharos. “The researchers are huddled by the side entrance. Obviously, I can’t send any of my men that direction, but I don’t think they’re helpless.” He looked Melanie directly in the eyes, gaze unsettlingly intense. “Do what I can’t. Go to them, if only for her sake.”
The building shook. The lights flickered. Sneasel and Sableye looked perturbed, but Mismagius was perfectly calm. The three were Juliet’s personal Pokémon. As much as Kadabra and Hypno’s presence was a familiar part of her routine, they would be with the group attempting to repel the attack.
It was a futile, impotent gesture to fight back, but one Juliet understood Team Rocket had to take. Though there was no saving the facility, Juliet knew they had as yet untapped resources about which their assailants knew nothing.
Juliet stepped into the holding area, in hand a belt with four pokéballs attached to it. David would want them back, and Juliet knew the Pokémon would be overjoyed to be reunited with their master.
The psychic sat on his bed, looking at the ceiling. He paid no attention to Juliet as she crossed the sparsely-adorned living area. He paid her no more attention as she rapped the open doorframe with her free hand.
“I can’t make heads or tails of it,” David admitted suddenly, as if speaking to some invisible third party. “It’s definitely not an earthquake, or at least a natural one.” Finally he acknowledged Juliet’s presence, looking at her sidelong. “I can’t figure out why you’re so calm,” he paused a heartbeat, “in the throes of a rival gang’s attack.”
Once, Juliet might have been annoyed at David so casually reading her mind. Now that she knew David better, she was thankful for being saved having to explain the situation.
“I want you to understand something,” Juliet said, her voice weighted. “As of today, you’re deceased. Keep your head low and do your best to avoid Team Rocket.”
“Absolution won’t come to you so easily,” David countered. Juliet tossed him the belt, which he caught with one hand. “Sins can’t be erased. If you’ve learned nothing else from me in the past two weeks, you should have learned that.”
Juliet smiled sadly. “Not without death. Not until I exist only in memory.”
Both humans shook as the room shook and the lights flickered. Sneasel and Sableye easily maintained their balance.
“Do you truly want to die?”
“You could read my mind to see.”
David stood and put on the belt. “When you gave me my Pokémon back, I stopped being your prisoner. In your mind, I was no longer a thing and became a person once more. I won’t read your mind. Not anymore.” He afforded her a hollow smile. “But if I’ve gotten to know you a fraction as well as I think I have in the past few weeks, I’d say forgiveness isn’t worth death to you. Not when you can convince yourself that yours is a hole out of which you can still climb.”
Juliet glanced at her Pokémon. “Some religions say that great works won’t save you from damnation. Personally, I think whether or not they do relies entirely on how you’re remembered—the thought of a tangible afterlife makes me laugh.”
“You honestly believe that?” David asked. The lights flickered off again before returning, this time staying off for several seconds. “You honestly believe there's nothing grander than us?”
“If any gods truly existed, they abandoned us long ago,” Juliet said. She looked vacantly past David. “They say Arceus created the world. Myths and legends say Kyogre created the sea, and Groudon the land. Other fables tell of Lugia, guardian of the sea, opposed to Ho-oh, guardian of the sky. I hear that in some countries, Mew is regarded as the progenitor of life.
“All these legendary Pokémon are just that: Pokémon. Many can and have been caught in ordinary pokéballs. Rare and powerful as they may be, they’re still mere animals, worth no more worship than any human.” She smiled humourlessly and looked to the ceiling. “We aren’t worth anything that could be called gods.”
“If that’s what you believe, then I won’t try to sway you. This is neither the time nor place for a sermon,” David replied. “Lost as you are, I have no doubt you’ll find your way when you’re truly faced with the prospect of being reduced solely to memory. You don’t strike me as a death seeker eager to throw away her life.”
Another tremor shook the room, and the main lights stayed out this time. The emergency generators kicked in a moment later, bathing the room in a hazy, pale glow.
“When my time comes, I’ll face it without hesitation, but I find no reason to rush toward it.” She laughed to herself. “Good things come to those who wait, as the proverb goes. I guess we’ll have to see.”
David stepped past Juliet, not breaking stride as he patted Sneasel on the head. He turned to her once he reached the door.
“I hope to see you again, Juliet Askacia,” David said. “I hope by then we’ve both earned each other’s forgiveness.”
Juliet looked to the ceiling as David left. The tremors stopped, and the main lights went back on.
Melanie’s blood chilled as she saw a Dragonite and Salamance in the fray. The false Rockets certainly used powerful, evolved Pokémon, but she hadn’t expected dragons. Ryan’s reinforcements and the facility’s psychics wouldn’t be a match for them.
As she turned to Hitmonlee, desperately trying to think of a way to fight the dragons, she heard Sam shout, “Enkidu, Dragon Tail!”
The Salamance flapped its wings several times, stunning an attacking Aggron, Tangrowth, and Heracross before slamming all three Pokémon with its tail. They flew across the street and hit the far sidewalk hard. None stood following the blow.
“Gilgamesh, Draco Meteor!” Sam ordered.
The Dragonite flew into the sky and howled. Meteors fell from around Dragonite onto an Electivire and Gigalith, knocking them out instantly. The tremors from the meteors striking the ground stunned the remaining attackers and even threatened to knock Melanie off her feet. Hitmonlee seemed unaffected.
“Sam!” Melanie called.
Sam nodded sharply to Melanie, but said nothing to her. “Gilgamesh, Hurricane!”
Her Dragonite still in the sky, it beat its wings until a tremendous wind built up, harsh enough to knock away the remaining assailants. At a glance, Melanie saw a Bastiodon, Rhyperior, Breloom, Machamp, and Marowak. She also saw what she thought was a Nidoqueen.
“Enkidu, Dragonbreath!” Sam ordered.
Salamance breathed a torrent of flames along the street, bright enough that Melanie was forced to look away. She started towards Sam, spots in her vision forcing her to tread carefully. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Pokémon blown away by the hurricane now alight in the blaze.
Sam dropped her voice. “Gilgamesh, Dragon Rush.”
Dragonite swept down from the sky, scattering the flames and striking the burned Pokémon with its claws and tail. The Rhyperior still had an ounce of fight left in it, but Dragonite tackled it to the ground and struck it with its tail. Rhyperior convulsed uncontrollably, and Dragonite stilled it with one final blow.
“Gilgamesh, stay close and don’t let any stragglers through,” Sam said. “Enkidu, make sure none of the enemy Pokémon have any fight left in them.”
As the dragons moved out to perform their respective tasks, Melanie finally reached Sam and drew her into a tight hug. Sam stiffened for a moment, but relaxed as she returned it.
“Here I was getting all worried about you for nothing,” Melanie said. She parted from Sam, keeping her hands on Sam’s shoulders. She glanced at Gilgamesh and Enkidu. “Dragons, eh?”
Sam smirked. “I am a Pokémon Master. You mean to tell me you looked me up but didn’t see my winning team?”
“It didn’t seem important,” Melanie admitted. She stepped back several paces before losing her balance. Hitmonlee caught her before she could hit the ground.
Sam knelt and took hold of Melanie, helping her to her feet. “Are you hurt?”
“No,” Melanie said. She was exhausted and had a number of close calls, but was physically unscathed. “Just…” She smiled at Sam thankfully. “I’m not a Pokémon Master.”
Melanie could hear sirens. Emergency response time in Rueni was fifteen or twenty minutes—long enough for the false Rockets to do their job and even for some of them to escape. She hoped Ryan and his reinforcements also knew to escape. A known Pokémon Master fighting off the attack was much less suspicious than a dozen trainers out of nowhere.
The fire department was first to arrive. Paramedics were second, and the police, led by Rueni’s Officer Jenny, were a distant third.
Melanie couldn’t deny a dislike for Officer Jenny that ran beyond the professional. All jokes aside that Officer Jenny and, by extension, Nurse Joy were simply very humanoid Pokémon, Melanie found it intensely creepy that every city in every country seemed to have one, and they were all completely identical. Some were older and some were younger, but every Officer Jenny shared the same appearance, personality, and profession. Thankfully the lead researcher was conscious and fit to be the one to talk to her.
Minutes later, Juliet stepped out of the ruined building, surrounded by her Pokémon. She blinked at Sam’s dragons, halting momentarily, and then continued towards Melanie and Sam.
“Where were you?” Melanie asked after Juliet reached them.
Juliet glanced at Sam. “I had things to attend to.”
“We could’ve used you in the fight.”
“I think Sam did well enough,” Juliet said.
Melanie shook her head. “If the attack had been a little more unified for a sustained offensive rather than shock and awe, I doubt even a pair of dragons would have been enough.”
“I doubt we’ll be seeing that level of cohesion from them. Anyway,” Juliet said. “I wasn’t in the fight because I was trying to learn who attacked us.”
Juliet nodded. “It was Team Rocket.”
Last edited by Marril; 11/11/2011 at 02:56 AM. Reason: I always notice SOME random minor thing...
|11/11/2011, 02:55 AM||#23|
(Author's notes: New plot arc, new narrative style, in a few ways. Although you could argue that this is just the denouement of the first arc. Whatever. Two things applied retroactively: First is that I'm going to be renaming most of the Neo League cities to be in line with the overall setting I envision, and second is that I'm going to start using gendered pronouns with Pokémon who'd logically have their genders known. So for instance a random gym leader's Pokémon would be "it," but Marril is going to be "she," in the same way real-life pets are given pronouns when they're familiar. As a related aside, I honestly don't know what that thing on Sneasel's head is, but Bulbapedia says it's feather-like so I'm going with that. Also I'm going to make a conscious effort to overcome the kind of subject-verb-object repetition that made the last chapter's execution fall so flat. What can I say, SS is always a work in progress. PS I realize I epically misnumbered the last chapter. Oopsie.)
Chapter 9 - Earned Respite
While Melanie expected Sam to go along with her “let me see you home safely” request, she hadn’t expected Sam to invite her in once they got to Sam’s place. As unexpected as Sam’s request was, Melanie couldn’t say it was unwelcome.
To Melanie’s understanding, Juliet had helped Sam find a decent-sized condo in the Rueni suburbs. It was very spacious for one person, and had Sam not been unwittingly working for Team Rocket, she’d never have been able to afford it. Firms without such illicit attachments couldn’t afford to pay as well as theirs.
Sam’s furnishings were typical of trainers who weren’t yet used to a stable life in one city, with a dash of what she’d expect of students too used to dorm rooms. One room was empty except for a few stacks of boxes, and Sam’s living room had only a TV, an obviously secondhand loveseat, a small coffee table, and a computer desk in the far corner.
Man, all that unused space, Melanie thought, noting solidly a third of the living room was bare. She doesn’t even really need to get anything else. She just needs to use the space better. Oh well, there’s another lesson to plan, eh?
“So, um,” Sam said as Melanie sat down on the loveseat, “would you like a drink, I guess? I mean, I only have, like, water, but… I dunno. I’ve never really had anyone over before.”
Sam truly was adorable when she was flustered. “No,” said Melanie, “I’m fine. Thanks for the offer.”
That bit of routine pleasantry aside, Sam sat down beside Melanie a moment later and set a bottle of water on the table. Sam stared at it distantly.
“Is something wrong?” Melanie asked.
“No,” Sam replied. She hesitated a moment and grabbed the bottle, twisting off the cap. “Yes. I just keep thinking ‘why me?’ I mean, Team Rocket just keeps following me around, don’t they? First I get tricked into working for them, then they follow me overseas like that. Some kind of paranoia, isn’t it?” Sam took a sip of water and set the bottle back down on the table. “World just has to revolve around me. I just have to be their target. It can’t be for any other reason, oh no.” She turned to Melanie. “I don’t understand why, is basically it.”
Melanie shrugged. “To be honest, I don’t either. Juliet might, but good luck getting her to talk. She isn’t even telling me anything.” She scoffed lightly. “Maybe she’s secretly working for Team Rocket and forgot to give them their cut.”
“I don’t think they’d attack like that just over a missing cut,” Sam said. “Besides, I once worked for a firm with Rocket connections, remember? There’s no way we’ve got them.”
Melanie ruffled Sam’s hair. “I was joking anyway.”
Sam winced, obviously feeling embarrassed over not catching the sarcasm. Still, she afforded Melanie a smile as she straightened her hair back out. Kind of a shame, figured Melanie—Sam’s short, chestnut brown hair looked so cute when tousled.
Melanie slipped an arm around Sam’s shoulders. To her surprise, Sam didn’t pull away or tense up nervously, so Melanie drew her closer, enjoying the warmth of Sam against her. Sam laid her head on Melanie’s shoulder.
“Well, whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter anymore,” Melanie said. “They didn’t accomplish anything except destroying property—all data’s backed up offsite, and there wasn’t anything unique on location. The police know to look out for them now. Before you know it, this’ll just be a bad memory you can throw into the pile and forget about.”
Melanie wished she could be the strong one, but found she needed comfort just as much as Sam did. There was no doubt Sam could tell—if Melanie nearly collapsing earlier wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the uncertainty creeping into her voice sealed it. Part of her fear was that Sam would discover she was a Team Rocket agent, but what truly ate at her was the knowledge that if it came down to it, Melanie knew she was mature enough to choose Team Rocket over Sam. Had she been Sam’s age, she might not be so pragmatic. She found herself longing for that kind of youthful naďveté.
She mused that had she been older she might have known better than to get involved with Sam in the first place. Had she not cared for Sam as deeply as she did, she might have been strong enough to break it off before it could get more dangerous.
I’m so selfish, Melanie thought. As much as she could know, intellectually, what she should do, there was no way she could go through with it.
“You know,” Sam said, smiling up at Melanie, “I think I’m on my way to that whole ‘chuck it in the pile and forget about it’ thing.”
Melanie kissed Sam’s forehead lightly. “Give it some time and we'll both be there.”
Juliet wished she could have enjoyed the opportunity to rest and put her feet up once she got home, but even that was beyond her. Her couch was perfectly comfortable, and her feet were definitely thankful to be off the ground, but she’d developed a nagging restlessness over the course of the day that nothing but time would cure.
Perhaps Sneasel sensed Juliet’s discomfort, or perhaps he simply wanted to see his mistress. Whatever the reason, Sneasel crept up to Juliet, who was lying on her couch and staring at the ceiling, and prodded her side gently.
Juliet smiled at the Pokémon. “Yes, boy?”
“Sel. Sneaaaaa. Sneasel.”
Petting Sneasel, she said, “Don’t worry about today.”
“Oh, all right,” Juliet said.
Sneasel deftly climbed up and onto Juliet’s stomach. He curled up as she petted him and sighed happily as she gently preened his head feather with one hand. Sneasel’s body temperature wasn’t low enough to be any discomfort.
Juliet shook her head derisively as Sneasel closed his eyes. He’d be asleep in moments. As much as Juliet might have been jealous of her Pokémon’s ability to rest after their day, she figured Sneasel might help her relax if not sleep.
Besides, she kept her Pokémon out of the fight. That in and of itself was something to be proud of. They saw too much combat. Pokémon were more than animals to be trained to fight—surprisingly, a common attitude amongst members of Team Rocket, but not, it seemed, very common in Idama.
If the Neo League had one lure above all others over the Pokémon League, it was that they put effort into ensuring ease of direct travel between cities with official League locations. Alex and Terry’s difficulties in getting from the port to Rueni were the only old-style hiking they’d likely have to do.
This wasn’t to say that the trip was exciting, at least insofar as Terry found the middle of nowhere after the sun mostly set to be disappointing scenery for the bus ride. There were trees. In the distance there were mountains. If Terry strained his eyes, he could see some wild Pokémon, ten for a yen.
Worse, he’d gotten sick of the books he packed. This left him nothing to do except try to get himself lost in thought while ignoring Marril’s prodding.
“Marril, stop that,” Terry hissed to the Pokémon after she batted his arm with her tail one time too many.
Marril batted at Terry again. He caught the Pokémon’s tail in his left hand and didn’t let go. After a few seconds of struggling to free herself, Marril took a deep breath. Terry released her tail, not wanting to play chicken with a creature that could very well give him frostbite or worse.
“Marril would’ve done it, too,” Alex commented. She was deeply engrossed in texting and didn’t look up. “She hates having her tail grabbed.”
“You know, you’ve been at that for like an hour now,” Terry commented. “I doubt your sister’s that interesting.”
Alex scoffed. “Trust me, she isn’t. I’ve talked to her like twice since we left Cerulean. She picked this morning to tell me she’s had a job in Rueni for the past few weeks. Like, right the moment it was too late to visit her. Her timing was always crap like that. Apparently it’s because I ‘never asked.’”
“So if it’s not Sam, who is it?” Terry asked.
“No one,” Alex said. “And before you say ‘well it’s clearly someone,’ obviously I mean it’s no one you know.”
Terry frowned. “No fair doing my side of the conversation too.”
“Marril-ril-ril, Mar,” Marril said. Alex laughed.
“Marril said she’ll do your side of the conversation if you prefer,” Alex translated.
“Did she really say that?” Terry asked. “I have a hard time believing she’s smart enough to hold a conversation but not smart enough to speak English.”
Marril batted Terry’s arm with her tail again.
“Okay, fine, I get the point, it’s ‘gang up on Terry day’ or something,” Terry said.
Alex sighed. “Look, if you really want to know, it’s just an old friend of mine. I haven’t talked to her in a while. Not since… you know.”
“Ah,” Terry said.
“We were tossing around ideas for meeting up at some point,” Alex continued. “She’s doing a Neo League run, too.”
“I’d be fine with structuring our circuit around it,” Terry offered.
“No need. Apparently she’ll be in Darkwood City a little while after we were planning on leaving. It’s just a case of sticking around for an extra few days.”
“Cool. Maybe she’ll give Marril someone else to annoy.”
Alex smirked and petted Marril. “Oh, you’ll see how those two get along. Won’t he, Marril?”
“Mar!” Marril said.
“Anyway,” Alex said as she put away her phone, glancing out the window. It had darkened significantly since Terry last checked. She then reached into her bag and pulled out a travel pillow. “It’s getting late enough to justify this, so I’m gonna do that thing where I knock myself unconscious and hallucinate for a few hours.”
“Have fun,” was Terry’s only comment.
Terry checked the time. They were still hours out from Yala. He made a mental note to pick up a few more distractions for the trip to Darkwood. Still, nothing he could do about it now. He considered trying to sleep, but he lacked Alex’s affinity for it.
Alex’s newfound lack of energy in general took a lot of getting used to. She once offered a theory that it was simply her body not being fully used to metabolizing estrogen rather than testosterone. Still, thought Terry, back when Alex’s endocrine system was testosterone-dominant, insomnia had been the sleep problem “he” had to live with—neither acknowledged it aloud, but both could tell this was due to extreme depression. Terry wondered if Alex’s newfound hypersomnia was at least partially the product of such depression-based insomnia going away.
He found himself looking at Alex’s sleeping form. He didn’t know why Sam had reacted as she did—Alex looked nearly identical to how she looked before. Despite that, there was a certain something he couldn’t put into words, a combination of what seemed to be dozens of tiny changes, inconsequential on their own, yet adding up to the point where Terry simply couldn’t see or even think of Alex as male anymore.
Alex often expressed self-consciousness about her height, her lack of figure, and her relatively strong facial features, but Terry didn’t mind those at all. She had a certain kind of tall, slender beauty, and given her currently androgynous-leaning-feminine looks, Terry had no doubt that as time went on and hormones continued to do their thing, Alex would look like a model, statuesque and striking. That or Terry was simply biased—if he had a “type,” then tall and slender was definitely it. Alex being blonde didn’t do anything to hurt matters either.
Which was, ultimately, the problem he was going to have to face head-on.
Well, he thought, let’s do it this way. I won’t run away from it anymore, so let’s just reason our way through it, eh?
He couldn't deny it anymore—Terry was definitely attracted to Alex. With that mental dam burst, Terry found himself wondering just why he’d been so scared to admit it to himself in the first place. It had nothing to do with the way Alex was born. That part was a non-issue as far as he was concerned, and only entered his mind so he could tell himself not to try to use it as a feeble scapegoat.
The mental excuse that he simply hadn’t thought of Alex like that before and that it felt awkward to start now didn’t hold up. If he had to put it into words, Terry would have settled on the fact that his past relationships never ended well, and that he didn’t want to jeopardize his belated attempt at a “normal” life by trying one with Alex. Plus he didn’t know whether Alex was attracted to men or women—the latter would be unfortunate, but Terry was prepared to accept it.
But still, Alex wasn’t like anyone he’d been with before, romantically or otherwise. Terry’s feelings weren’t going to go away on their own, either. It was probably best to get everything out in the open, for good or for ill, rather than cramming his feelings away.
Terry petted Marril, who was drowsing on the armrest between himself and Alex. Marril looked surprised but didn’t react further. Terry leaned back in his seat and took another look out the window. Now it was totally dark.
|11/21/2011, 02:57 AM||#25|
(Author's notes: Nine days. Ouch. Guess it didn't take long for me to start slipping. Midterms will do that to a person, though. Also I think this chapter marks the first completely new plot-relevant character in this iteration. Huzzah.)
Chapter 10 - Second Crescendo
Yala City simply felt enclosed. It was surrounded on all sides by extremely dense forest, with only a few roads leading in or out. The architecture was old-timey, with narrow streets and nearly nonexistent sidewalks. Every building seemed to be made of stone or brick, tending toward open windows and wooden doors. Buses left and arrived three times a day, at least one of which arriving late at night, as Alex and Terry found out the hard way.
At least Terry had the foresight to book a hotel in advance this time.
While Alex found the city more scenic than the comparatively modern Rueni City, it was a bit rural for her tastes. She was no stranger to rural areas, even if the last time she was in one was a night spent in Pallet Town on the way to the Indigo Plateau. Her attitude toward them was generally to leave as quickly as possible.
Owing to the fact that Yala had a gym, there was a great deal of resources for local trainers. Upon Alex’s discovery that this included contest supplies, her first priority wasn’t to register a challenge at the gym, but to drag Terry along on a shopping trip.
“I sure hope you’re not going to buy this overpriced crap,” Terry commented, examining a blue pokéblock.
“Nah,” Alex said. “The markup on premade is horrible.”
“Going the berry route?”
Alex nodded. “I thought I could try my hand at the whole poffin thing.”
“Have you ever actually made any before?”
“You know how to make them, right?”
“More or less.”
“You at least have a poffin case to store them?”
Terry sighed. “Seriously, Alex, did you plan this out at all?”
“Look, I wasn’t expecting a Feebas,” Alex said. She looked through the berry stock, most of it fairly dire. Oran berries were very affordable, though she doubted she’d get anywhere near enough of a supply. Wiki berries were in stock, but while Alex wasn’t quite sure about the yen-baht exchange rate, she suspected they were grossly overpriced. “All I knew was that fishing place looked amateurish enough that they wouldn’t know how to value things. I was expecting maybe a cheap Staryu or something, maybe a Wooper or Barboach.”
“Fair enough, I guess. But still, Whiscash doesn’t seem your type,” Terry commented.
“What, and Qua-a-a-a-a-a-a-agsire does?” Alex asked, drawing out the name in what she figured was a fair approximation of how Quagsire sounded.
“Quagsire are cute.”
“No arguing that,” Alex admitted. Had Marril been there, she might have thrown a minor fit at Alex calling another Pokémon cute. Alas, the store didn’t allow Pokémon inside. The thought of Marril’s complaints and Terry’s inevitable longsuffering reaction made Alex smile. Despite the joke, she had to agree that the prospect of training a Whiscash didn’t appeal to her—after Magikarp and now Feebas, she figured herself done with fish Pokémon.
And here she was competing in the Neo League, which all but mandated that either you train your Pokémon very well, or you used naturally powerful Pokémon without regard for trainer preference. She had a feeling the championships would be a mix of both, which was why she was so keen to evolve Feebas as soon as possible, and why she put such a priority on coaxing Wartortle to evolve. As it stood, her combat-ready team consisted solely of Gyarados, Golduck, and Gastrodon.
I really, really need to get Milotic or Blastoise to break up that G nonsense, Alex thought. There was also the option of catching a sixth Pokémon, as Marril wasn’t registered for competitive battle, but the thought of trying to train three Pokémon on the fly in a league way above what she was used to didn’t appeal to Alex.
Terry poked through some pecha berries. “You know, I might pick up some of these.”
“Your Pokémon like sweet berries?” Alex asked.
“No,” Terry replied, grinning. “I do.”
Well, there was no denying that some berries were better eaten by trainers than their Pokémon. Alex couldn’t deny she was considering picking up a few rawst and aspear berries for herself.
You know what, Alex thought. I think I will.
Sam was so engrossed in reading e-mail that she didn’t hear Melanie come up behind her. She jolted in her seat as Melanie caught her with a hug from behind.
“Whoa, hey, it’s just me,” Melanie said.
“I… I know, it’s just…” Sam trailed off. She turned her chair around to face Melanie. Sam had no idea how to explain that she was fine with the previous night but needed a bit more time to be ready for spontaneous physical contact.
Melanie smiled. “Something got you worked up?”
“Not really,” Sam gave the only politic answer. She was too embarrassed to say outright that this was her first “real” relationship, and that she was having a harder time going forward than she let on. Not that her act seemed to fool Melanie any, but being dragged ahead was better than being too scared to take the steps herself.
As much as the Team Rocket attack was proving difficult to move past, it gave Sam a chance to see Melanie more. Melanie took the opportunity to help Sam redecorate and make her place seem more like an actual home rather than simply somewhere one lived. Her living room already more than lived up to the name. Sam wondered what Melanie had in store for the other rooms.
“So,” said Melanie, glancing at Sam’s screen, “you’ve been at this for a while now. Is your brother that interesting?”
Sam shook her head. For some reason, no one ever figured Alex to be a woman going on name alone. “My sister, actually. She’s doing a Neo League challenge. I actually wanted to invite her over at some point while she was still in Rueni, but work got hectic and then yeah, there was that Team Rocket stuff.”
Melanie looked oddly amused as she scanned the screen. The e-mail itself was simply a few paragraphs from Alex about their trip out to Yala, about Alex buying an underpriced Feebas, and about Terry getting sick from eating too many berries the previous night. Sam had to admit the Feebas story was slightly funny if nothing else.
“It’s a shame,” Melanie commented. “I’d have liked to meet her. This Terry guy seems interesting too.”
“Meh,” Sam said. “I’ve met him. I don’t know why Alex chose him as her partner.”
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Melanie said. She patted Sam on the shoulder. Sam tried to let herself enjoy it. “Come on, now, you said you’d be ready for lunch in ‘just a minute’ an hour ago.”
“Fine, fine,” Sam said as she got up and turned off the monitor. Once again she cursed herself for her excessive anxiety—she’d been looking forward to this lunch date, and now she’d feel all afternoon like she ruined it.
Just when it seemed like things were finally going right, she thought, something had to come along and ruin it. Story of my bloody life.
Alex reached into the bathtub and swirled the water around a little. She was careful not to disturb it too much. She only needed Feebas’ attention. The fish’s mood was nearly impossible to determine, as it did little else but float in whatever water she put it. It was only with some experimentation that she discovered Feebas preferred warm water to cold.
“Marril-mar,” Marril said from the edge of the tub. She sat with her tail dangling into it, bobbing on the water’s surface. Feebas paid the buoy no mind.
“Oh, come on, Feebas,” Alex groaned, holding another poorly-cooked poffin out at the fish. “These are good. You liked these before, right?”
Feebas, naturally, didn’t respond, unless Alex was to count floating helplessly as response. It ate the first few poffins Alex offered it the previous night, but today didn’t seem hungry. Alex wondered if it somehow knew about Terry getting sick.
“Mar-Marril,” Marril said, asking if she could try to feed Feebas.
“Yeah, sure, go ahead,” Alex replied, giving the poffin to Marril.
Marril nibbled one of the ends off the poffin, chewed for a few seconds, then spat out the bite in disgust. “Mar-mar-Marril. Ril.”
“I get it, I’m a lousy chef,” Alex said. Marril’s reminder stung more than it should have. “Tell me something I don’t know. I mean, look, Feebas doesn’t have a sense of taste, does it?”
“Maybe you’d have better luck asking it.”
Marril turned to Feebas. “Mar-Marril-ril-ril?”
Feebas didn’t move, but its eyes glanced at Marril for a brief second. It replied with a few weak glub-glub sounds.
“All right, so Feebas is a he,” Alex said. “Did he tell you anything else?”
Alex sighed and leaned dejectedly against the edge of the tub. This plan was a lot simpler in her head, but somehow got a lot harder in its trip to real life. She reached over to the side, where Feebas’ pokéball lay leaning against the wall, and picked it up without looking at it. She recalled Feebas and drained the tub.
“So was it really that bad?” Alex asked as she stood up.
Disbelieving, Alex took the same poffin Marril tried and bit off the other end. She choked that small bite down and felt no desire to have a second. While it was tempting to blame the berries themselves, the aspear berries she had the previous night were delicious, and the one oran berry she snuck wasn’t bad either.
“Well, you’d still eat them anyway if you knew they’d make you evolve into something like Milotic,” Alex pointed out.
“Ril,” Marril replied. “Marril-Marril-Marril, mar-mar.”
“Why do I talk to you, again?” Alex wondered. Marril’s response was simply to restate its reason for not evolving, which was that the transition from Azurril to Marril was bad enough, and that going from Marril to Azumarril would be even worse.
Alex knocked on the doorframe as she stepped out of the bathroom. “Hey, Terry, doing any better?”
Terry swore at Alex, which made her smile as she saw him lying on his bed, back to the window. If anything lent credence to the “bad berry” theory, this would be it.
Marril hopped up onto Alex’s bed and looked at Terry. “Mar-mar?”
“Don’t,” Terry groaned before Alex could offer a translation. “I don’t want to hear it.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Alex said truthfully. Marril’s comment wasn’t even about Terry so much as it was a short complaint that staying inside was boring.
“Good. I shouldn’t have to put up with that crap right now.”
Alex sat down on the edge of the bed, facing Terry. “Relax. I know you feel like we pick on you a lot, maybe even to the point where it stops being funny.”
“It stopped being funny ages ago. Seriously, you couldn’t tell? Or did you just not care until now?”
Alex winced. Combined with Marril’s comment from earlier, Alex could now feel the beginnings of a real depressive mood coming on. She fought off the urge to dwell on the fact that hurting people seemed like all she knew how to do. Her voice was low as she said, “I’m sorry. I really am. I’m sure Marril is too.”
“You see?” Alex said, hoping Marril would keep quiet and that Terry couldn’t tell Marril actually said no.
Terry sighed. “I can’t stay mad at you anyway.”
“Tell you what,” Alex said. At that point she’d have said anything to make Terry feel better. “I won’t bug you to mess around once you’re better. Gym challenge, bam, on to Darkwood. Sound good?”
Terry managed a smile. Small comfort, but better than the alternative. “Yeah.”
For some reason, David found it nearly impossible not to read the mind of his New Rocket contact, Raleigh. Raleigh was a lean man, barely older than David, sharply dressed in a somewhat odd outfit with a long jacket and knee-high boots. This part struck David as odd given Hat Yai City’s tropical climate. David found the heat of the city centre nearly unbearable, but Raleigh seemed to think it was pleasant.
“It’s dangerous meeting me in public like this,” David commented.
Raleigh shrugged. “I needed to be sure of you. We can’t be sure of every prospective ally to show up at our door, even ones who’ve been in Rocket custody against their will. Come, walk with me.”
David followed Raleigh down the street. He caught a flicker of Raleigh’s thoughts, which gave the locations of several New Rocket operatives keeping watch before Raleigh’s mind buried it. David couldn’t understand why he kept reading Raleigh’s mind even when he tried not to. Did his encounter with Juliet change him so much?
“It was impressive that you survived our operation in Rueni,” Raleigh said casually.
“‘Operation,’” David replied flatly. “That’s what you call it?”
“We needed to shut down Team Rocket’s research and development. The operation was carried out successfully—for the time being, anyway. I admit Samantha Lindstrom’s involvement was something we should have foreseen.”
“Even so, you’ve dealt several massive blows to Team Rocket in only a few short weeks,” David said. “They’re out of Hat Yai. They have no more presence in Darkwood. You’ve got them cornered in Rueni. I think it’s looking pretty good for you.”
“Good, but good isn’t enough. We need to kill Team Rocket entirely or our efforts will be a complete waste.” Raleigh stopped on the sidewalk. “You know, your ‘death’ in Rueni could prove useful. We have an idea of where the Team Rocket executive in charge of retaliating against us is holed up. You could potentially get close to him.”
Roland. David knew the name from a stray thought of Juliet’s. She hadn’t been a fan of him. “I think I can manage that. What do you want me to do with him?”
“How comfortable are you using your psychic abilities to their fullest?”
“If you asked me that a few days ago, I’d have told you where to shove it,” David said. “As it is, I think I could be persuaded to use them.”
Saying those words felt like stepping off a precipice. He hadn’t forgotten his exchanges with Juliet—quite the contrary, he saw them in a new light. Team Rocket hadn’t started viewing him as human. In Roland’s eyes he’d be some inconsequential Other, an opponent to be defeated and forgotten. To humanize him would be to give him a commanding advantage.
“Good,” said Raleigh. “You’ll be the one to lead the next operation. Don’t toy around with him. End him.”
“What if this escalates?” David asked.
“Roland is the biggest gun they can bring to bear,” Raleigh explained. “But by all means, if Giovanni himself steps in, I’ll be more than happy to take him on.”
David nodded. Agreement felt heavy on his shoulders. More than once he considered taking Juliet’s advice, but a larger part of him was opposed to such cowardice. “If you do,” he said, “I’ll be at your side.”
Last edited by Marril; 11/21/2011 at 03:02 AM.