|05/23/2012, 04:31 AM||#51|
JewelQuest: Well, consider that in the original, all m!Alex did was show disrespect and a bit of neglect towards Feebas, while in this one, f!Alex was shockingly abusive towards him. This isn't the last we'll see of the fallout from this abuse, either, although Alex is smarter than to let herself get attacked again.
On a general note, man this chapter required a lot of editing. I find it stunningly hard to write depressive episodes without it going too far and coming off as annoying. The problem is that "realistic depressive episode" actually lies farther out than "annoying to the audience," doubly so when trying to cram enough summary of trans issues into it for it to make sense to audiences not already familiar with the subject. I promise this is the last "put Alex through hell" episode for quite a while, though—this is her low point, and things will look up from here. Finally, this is the start of me employing my normal writing style rather than the oddball style I developed for SS—it's similar, but noticeably different (although one-scene chapters aren't planned to become the norm, this one just happened to work out that way, even if under old style this would've been a three-scene chapter). The one instance of swearing isn't going to be a fixture or anything, as well (this is mostly for the mods' sake since I know the Gym is supposed to be an all-ages place). I wrote it when I was writing the scene stream-of-consciousness style and left it in through the editing process because of how well it punctuates Alex's mental state.
So yeah, Enjoy, everyone. Standard "if you've got comments, feel free to leave 'em" applies.
Chapter 23 - Saturnine Diversion
Alex knew exactly what Kay meant when she said, rather facetiously, that there was a place downtown where the freaks all come around, but Terry’s blank look suggested he had a lot to learn. The only part of Kay’s over-the-top description that matched reality was the glitter on the floor, which, again, Terry seemed to find odd even though Alex barely noticed it.
It was, strictly speaking, a place for people with alternative gender expression, although in practice this also included people like Alex. Terry looked very out of place, but seemed genuinely reassured by Alex’s promise to stay near him.
“So are you gonna tell us exactly what happened?” Kay asked as Alex slid uncomfortably into the semicircular booth. Alex had told the two that she’d been hurt, but not how.
“I had a bad run-in with a snake,” Alex replied.
“You might want to be more specific, because that could mean a whole lot of things.”
Alex scoffed. “I finally got Feebas to evolve.”
“Congratulations,” Kay said.
Terry interjected before Alex could say anything. “That still doesn’t explain the bruises and the cracked rib.”
“I had a bad run-in with a snake,” Alex repeated. She sighed. “Turns out I was a bit too aggressive with the poffins and pokéblocks. I mean, I knew Milotic was going to be angry at me, but not enough for attempted murder.”
Hugging Alex close, Terry said, “You should’ve let me come along. Or even Kay. It’s genuinely scary to think what could’ve happened.”
Alex shook her head. “It wouldn’t have accomplished anything. Even if you did fight Milotic back, he’d still hate me. Probably even more. It’s better that I talked him down.”
“Just don’t ever do anything that stupid again,” Kay said. Alex was reminded of Nurse Joy’s admonition.
“I don’t have any more Pokémon to evolve,” Alex promised. She nodded towards the incoming server. “And I don’t want to talk about it anymore. The point of this is to have fun.”
Their server was a cute young woman who, like Alex, had apparently been assigned male at birth. She couldn’t have been older than nineteen or twenty, which sent a slight tinge of jealousy through Alex, but she didn’t dwell on it. All the envy in the world couldn’t make up for lost time. The server might have been the exact sort of person Alex wanted to be at that age but was prevented from being, but those feelings couldn’t do her any good now. Besides, she was friendly enough, making light conversation for a few moments before getting to business. No need to inject bitterness into anything.
After the three of them had placed their orders, Alex returned her attention to Kay, giving her an odd smile. “You’re sorta into her, aren’t you?”
“Wait, what?” Terry asked.
“Kay was obviously chatting her up,” Alex said.
“Was not,” Kay insisted.
“You totally were. I know that tone from you. First time I met you, remember? You came up to me and started talking just like that. And it wasn’t the last time I’ve seen you use that approach with someone.”
“All right, I thought she was cute. So what?”
Alex smirked. “Didn’t know you had a specific thing for girls like us.”
“Wait,” Kay said, slightly agape at Alex’s joke. “Did you really say…?”
Alex laughed. “I’m just messing with you.”
The server returned with their drinks, making further light conversation as she served the trio. Alex noticed that Kay seemed slightly flustered, but if anything this worked in Kay’s favour. It added a certain something to the mild flirting, and Kay seemed to have recovered by the time the server left.
All the while, Terry shot Alex a surreptitious, quizzical look that seemed to ask if this was really a good way to get under Kay’s skin. Alex’s only reply was a subtle shake of her head. It worked for Alex, but had Terry said something like Alex did, Kay would have gotten offended, both at the accusation and at making a joke he shouldn’t have. Alex could get away with it because she was part of the group in question. Terry couldn’t because he wasn’t, and to try would have meant instant death.
“So, Terry,” Alex said. “How you liking the place?”
With a shrug, Terry replied, “It’s different. Feels a little weird. Not the bad kind of weird, just… you know.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Alex said, taking a sip of her drink. She didn’t care if fruity concoctions were stereotypically girly. She liked them, and was amused by the name for the mix of gin, clear rum, pineapple juice, and cranberry juice she was drinking. Stereotypes could go do unpleasant things with a Psyduck. “I remember the first time Kay dragged me to a place like this. I may or may not have been underage.”
“You may or may not have been oblivious to that one guy’s advances if I didn’t chase him off for you,” Kay added, causing Alex to scowl.
“You drinking underage?” Terry wondered. “Gods, that’d be a sight. I didn’t think you were the type.”
“I’m sure you’ve got your share of embarrassing stories,” Alex said. “Like that one ex you keep hinting about.”
Terry frowned and muttered a very foul epithet about this ex.
“Now I’ve gotta hear it,” Alex prompted.
“Not much to tell. She seemed nice, then you got to know her and suddenly… less nice. Fairly standard stuff, really.”
Alex arced an eyebrow. “And my history’s not standard to me?”
“Fair enough. I dunno, she seemed smart and funny to start with. She was a trainer, so we had that in common too, although she wasn’t really competitive.” Terry eyed Alex. “Dye your hair black and darken your skin a shade or two and you’d actually kind of look like her. You’ve got that same kind of tall, slim model-ish look going on. Not really comfortable saying anything more than that.”
“If nothing else, better me than her,” Alex commented.
“I’ll drink to that,” Terry agreed, finishing his drink. He turned to Kay. “What about you? Anything you’d like to share?”
Kay shook her head dismissively, looking evasive.
“Come on,” Terry insisted.
“Well, there was one person,” Kay said.
“Some guy I met,” Kay explained. Alex knew where this was going. “A trainer, because gods know I only seem to meet other trainers. Kind of good at it, I guess, but nowhere near my level.”
“You’ve established few people are,” Terry said dryly. “It’s something I seem to hear every day.”
“Yeah,” Kay continued. “Probably wouldn’t surprise you to know I’ve always found it fun to razz people like that. Anyway, the problem was he was kinda sorta in a relationship with someone else.”
“Ouch,” Terry commented. “Love triangle?”
“Not as much as you’d think. I mean, there was never anything between me and him, mostly because he wasn’t really my type, and yet…”
“And yet I can’t help but think he had a certain something for me right from the get-go. I can’t help it, men and women alike are all attracted to my boundless intelligence and peerless skill. This one guy in particular was so adorable because he thought he could beat me, and challenged me to a battle right after we first met.”
“… Wait,” Terry said.
“Are you talking about me?”
Kay burst out laughing. “It took you that long to notice?”
Alex couldn’t help laughing, herself. She put her hand on Terry’s. “Relax. This is how those mysterious Pokémon known as Kays begin the courtship ritual.”
“Consider it payback for the server thing,” Kay said.
“But that was Alex,” Terry objected.
“So?” Kay asked with a wicked grin.
“Okay, that’s it,” Terry declared. “This conversation is officially over.”
Cute as Terry was when he was flustered, Alex surmised it was probably a little bit tacky to make a joke out of an incompatible orientation. Well, whatever. Any tackiness was more than made up by how hilarious it was.
The evening passed nicely enough. Now that Kay and Terry were getting along reasonably well, their bickering felt more like siblings than anything genuinely malicious. Terry said nothing further of his past, which was perfectly fair in Alex’s eyes. She had her secrets, he had his, and Kay had some of her own. Even Sam, who Alex knew better than either of her two companions, had secrets of which Alex knew nothing.
Alex lost track of how many drinks she’d had, at any rate. She knew better than to get thoroughly hammered, but anything up to that point was fair game. It gave her liver something to do, and it made the shows that much more entertaining. Sober, she could only take so many singers onstage doing bad covers of already bad pop songs.
Between shows, someone decided to take an interest in the trio. Given the venue, Alex was hesitant to assign a specific gender to the person, but ultimately settled on male. The person had long, flowing dark hair, impeccably-applied makeup, sparkling jewellery, and an outfit that could only be described as fabulous. Alex would have assigned a female gender to the person were it not for the sheer excess in that person’s expression of femininity—while Alex was merely dressed nicely, this person seemed intent to put up a show wherever he went.
“Um, hi?” Alex greeted the person as he came up to their table.
“Ah, it is you,” he replied with a broad smile, displaying artificially-whitened teeth. His voice seemed perfectly androgynous. “Alex Lindstrom, right?”
“That’s me. Not to be too blunt, but who are you?” Alex asked, hoping futilely that this person somehow knew her primarily from her Idaman gym circuit.
The person sat down opposite Alex, leaving a bit of room between himself and Kay. “We’ve never met, but I’m Hikaru. I’ve always been a huge fan of yours.”
“Right,” Alex replied patiently, ignoring Terry’s confused look. Kay, for her part, merely showed barely-restrained exasperation. Alex still hadn’t given Terry the full details of her life prior to meeting him in Hoenn, while Kay, who in fact met Alex exactly this way, knew exactly what was going on.
In Idama this time.
“You’ve been a fan of hers?” Terry wondered.
“Oh, yes, he used to be such a huge star in the Cerulean City water shows,” Hikaru said, gazing at Alex. “He’d have been given top billing as a Waterflower if he’d been a woman. I’m surprised he didn’t tell you if you’re here with him.”
Kay rolled her eyes, saying nothing. She shot a brief, inquisitive look to Alex, silently asking if she should get rid of Hikaru or at the very least have him thrown out. Alex remained impassive, not trusting herself to speak in the face of such brazen misgendering.
“Quick question,” Terry asked. “What pronoun do you use?”
“Oh, ‘he,’” Hikaru replied automatically. Alex would have been genuinely surprised had she guessed wrong.
“Uh-huh. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but she doesn’t seem to be the person you’re looking for.”
Hikaru arced an eyebrow at Alex. “You mean you didn’t tell him you’re a guy?”
“That would be because I’m not,” Alex replied in a measured tone.
“Trust me,” Terry added. “I think I know better than you.”
“Fine,” Hikaru conceded. “He… she… whatever, Alex was once a guy. Happy?”
“I’ll have you know, ma’am,” Terry emphasized the address, “that her history has nothing to do with her real gender. She was female all along.”
“All right, so he thought he was a girl and jumped ship,” Hikaru said with a slight sneer at Terry over the intentional misgendering. “From the looks of him, he went all the way with it just for the sake of some dalliance.” The statement was as brutally, hurtfully intrusive and offensive as Hikaru could possibly have made it. He returned his attention to Alex. “I’m disappointed. You know, if you were really female, you’d have known since you were like four and you’d—”
“Leave,” Kay snarled.
“—have done anything but show off your body in swimming performan—”
“Now!” Kay shouted.
“—ces. We all get older, dearie. Youthful androgyny can only last so long. Most of us accept it and age gracefully, not cling to—”
“This is ridiculous. I’m getting security,” Kay announced, shoving Hikaru aside and trudging out of the booth.
Hikaru shot Alex an insolent look as he stood up. “I’m only trying to help you keep your life on track. I used to look up to you. Looks like I made a bad choice.”
Alex couldn’t trust herself to speak, so she settled for throwing her drink at Hikaru’s face. If nothing else, it’d ruin his makeup. Kay would be by soon to get Hikaru thrown out, and…
And that was enough. Alex rose from her seat, gave Hikaru a hard shove to the ground, called him the most uncharacteristically obscene string of epithets she knew, and stormed off. In the distance, she heard Terry threaten him with violence if he didn’t leave right away, but she couldn’t have cared less.
The night air was chill on Alex’s skin, and she realized she forgot her jacket. Oh well, Terry or Kay would get it on their way out, and she could pick it up the next time she saw them. She had no intention of going back.
Why? Was the only question going through Alex’s head. Why the bloody hell can’t I escape it?
Being recognized in Kanto was fair. Hikaru hadn’t exaggerated Alex’s fame, and although she’d never been widely recognized, there would inevitably be one or two people in any respectably large crowd who could pick her out as “that androgynous Cerulean performer.” Androgyny had been her main appeal, and for the time, it had been sufficient. At one point, a magazine cover she’d appeared shirtless on had even been censored despite the fact that her chest was completely male-looking at the time, solely due to how feminine a “boy” she’d been.
The subculture she’d once nominally identified with, the one embodied by Hikaru, would see such events as failings. The point for them wasn’t to be feminine, and certainly not to be read as female, but to perform masculinity in non-traditional ways, specifically ways commonly associated with but not exclusively a part of femininity. Hikaru bristling at what he perceived to be one of his own kind associating with not only femininity but outright femaleness was emblematic of their overall attitudes towards women assigned male at birth, seeing women like Alex as “men” deluded into taking their “fun” too far.
Truth be told, Hikaru’s reaction to Alex really being female had been less painful than some of her past experiences. If anything, the protective social cocoon she’d built up around herself was nothing more than insulation against the reality that the average layperson didn’t and would never see her as female. Terry and Kay did. Her father and sister did. Her mother and most of society, however, had made their views crystal clear.
It was enough to make her want to scream.
And through it all, she was always going to be recognized. Vestiges of the false life she’d constructed would haunt her until the day she died, whether she lived in Japan or Idama or even overseas—even assuming she could get her birth records changed, record of that change would be available to anyone who looked. Worse, getting them changed involved time she didn’t seem to have and procedures she couldn’t seem to afford.
She dried her eyes on the back of her hand and belatedly realized she was crying. A year ago, she couldn’t cry even when she wanted to. It was like something physical was stopping her. Tears came easier now that she was on estrogen. Emotional release through crying was therapeutic in the long run, but felt unimaginably worse in the short run.
“I just can’t ****ing escape it,” Alex said to herself, voice cracking. Her brisk walk had slowed considerably.
Gods, I’ve been so stupid, Alex thought as a stinging pain built up in the centre of her chest. That pain was familiar to her, and she considered it an old friend of sorts. At least its treatment of her was consistent.
Thinking that simply running could accomplish anything was the height of presumption. Sure, it had helped in a way. She wouldn’t have met Terry if she hadn’t. But as nice and comforting as he was, he couldn’t actually do anything about the void inside of her. No one but her could. She had to get herself out of the hole she’d dug herself into. The problem was that by this point, fixing her life was such a difficult prospect as to be insurmountable.
Alex turned at a street corner and stormed down the sidewalk with renewed energy. She didn’t care where she went, so long as it was away. She wanted away from the pain Hikaru reminded her of, away from the pain of her own mistakes, away from her own past.
“Alex!” Kay called out from behind her.
Alex’s first instinct was to run, and if it had been Terry behind her, she probably would have. But Kay was different. Kay knew her better than Terry did, and beyond that, she even knew the pain of trying to convince yourself that your body was the right one for you when it achingly wasn't.
Many women in Alex’s position did in fact assert their identities from an early age. That Alex only realized something was wrong at puberty was “evidence” that she wasn’t “really” female. It fuelled her choices throughout her mid to late teens, culminating in her breakdown and eventual suicidal ideation. Kay might not have known these exact feelings, but she had a better idea than anyone Alex knew.
“I’m surprised you caught up to me,” Alex admitted as she turned around. She offered a feeble smile.
“I almost didn’t,” Kay said with a shrug. She indicated Raichu. “Volta had to track you down.” She grinned, holding up Alex’s jacket. “Good thing you left this so she could get the scent, eh?”
“Rai-Rai!” Volta the Raichu exclaimed proudly, her lightning-bolt shaped tail snaking back and forth.
Alex smiled feebly at Volta, then returned her attention to Kay. “Kind of a mistake on my part, I guess.”
Kay nodded slowly. “Somehow I thought it was.”
“Is Terry going to be along?”
“No,” Kay answered. She smirked. “Last I saw, security was having a few words with him. Hikaru didn’t back down even after you left, so Terry took a swing. Then a few more. At that point, some burly guys stepped in.”
“It’s just as well,” Alex admitted. “I don’t really feel like talking to him right now.”
Stepping forward slowly, Kay asked, “Do you want to go?”
“I don’t think so,” Alex replied without thinking. Honest though it was, it made little sense when spoken aloud. “You know what it’s like, at least. Having people tell you you’re wrong about your own gender. Being ridiculed like that.”
“I wish neither of us did,” Kay said. She hugged Alex. “Gods, I couldn’t imagine something like that happening to me. I wish there was anything else I could say.”
“It’s all right,” Alex said, returning the hug for a brief moment before parting. “I’m sorry for just bolting like that. Bad habit when I can’t deal with stuff, I guess.”
Kay shot Alex a lopsided grin. “At least I could track you down this time.”
“You mean Volta could,” Alex countered, offering Kay a similar grin. It didn’t exactly cheer her up, but it helped a little.
“Rai!” Volta said.
“Look, I’m… you don’t have to answer this,” Kay said. “I’m just going to ask you this because I’m worried about you. Are you okay? Really?”
Alex hesitated. To hell with keeping it bottled up anymore. Someone other than Marril had to hear it for once. “No.”
Kay nodded glumly. “Tell you what. Let’s get you back to the hotel and we can talk about it.” She offered a smile. “We can even pick up Marril if she’ll make it any easier.”
Alex couldn’t help but return the smile. Marril probably would help quite a bit.
The walk back was agonizingly slow. It gave Alex far too much time to think, and thinking never helped when she was in a depressive mood. Kay seemed to recognize this, making unrelated conversation all the while. This kept Alex’s mind from the worst of it.
Marril was more than a bit of help, as well. She was all too familiar with Alex’s depression, and knew what to say and when to say it. She also knew there were times no words could help, and all Alex needed was someone, anyone to talk to, even a Pokémon. This was one of those times. All Alex really needed from Marril was her presence.
“It’s just down here,” Kay said, leading Alex to her room. Alex followed, Marril cradled in one arm, her other hand absentmindedly petting Marril.
Once inside, Alex forced herself to put down Marril, who scurried off to talk to Volta. Volta was one of the few Pokémon not on Alex’s team that Marril genuinely liked.
“I’m an idiot,” Alex announced as she sat at the writing desk. She leaned forward over it, burying her face in her arms. “I’m a total idiot.”
In a happier situation, Kay might have facetiously agreed. Now, her reply was muted. “I wish I had anything to say other than ‘no you’re not.’”
“I am,” Alex insisted. She looked back at Kay. “You can’t tell me you haven’t noticed that I’m repeating Hoenn all over again.”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Kay said gently. “But I don’t think it’s the same thing. When you ran away to Hoenn, you were denying the reality of who you really are. If I know you at all, running away to Idama was so you could get away from reminders of your assumed life.”
“It’s still just running away,” Alex said. “I can’t seem to face a problem head-on. I just run, or rationalize it all away… anything but actually facing it.”
Kay put a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “You’re facing this one the best you can. Let’s put it this way. With Hoenn, you were trying to run away from an internal problem. No matter how far you went, it was still going to follow you. Now, you’re trying to run away from an external one. People recognize you from your performance days. That’s going to happen more often in Kanto than anywhere else, so the best place to be is, well, anywhere else.”
“A broken clock is still right twice a day,” Alex pointed out. She waved in the general direction of her right leg, bruises clearly visible. “Milotic was one big case of running away. I told myself I needed a strong new Pokémon. I gave myself every excuse I could think of to justify how I treated him… and I only faced the reality of it when Milotic was ready to kill me.”
“People make bad decisions all the time,” Kay said. She uttered a soft, barely audible grunt at how thoughtless and perfunctory the line was. “I only noticed you really talking about force-feeding him after you got that reply from Sam.”
“That’s just a convenient scapegoat,” Alex retorted. She sat up and stared at the ceiling. “There’s something I need to say, but… But I never said it, okay?”
Kay nodded and sat down on the bed, facing Alex.
“This will probably seem like I’m trying to change the subject, but I’m not, I promise. Dad and Conrad are in Idama. I’ve been in contact with them for a while now, just haven’t said anything about it.”
“Better them than your mom?” Kay tentatively attempted humour. She then offered a meek, “Sorry.”
At least Kay didn't ask any of the obvious, awkward questions Alex was afraid she would. “No, it’s good. I think. And that’s the problem.”
“Dad let me know in no uncertain terms that he acknowledges me as his daughter… but whenever I talk to him, I always flash back to how I was as a teenager, you know? It’s like my mind’s stuck trying to convince myself I’m his ‘son.’”
“Do you feel the same about Terry and I?” Kay asked.
Alex thought about it for a moment. The off-the-cuff answer would have been no, but Kay’s question was worth more than a half second of superficial thought. Kay understood Alex better than anyone, but Alex could never confide her true identity to Kay until relatively recently. Alex’s first meeting with Terry had involved trying to act as male as she could. By the same logic that Alex felt uncomfortable with her father, she should have felt the same with Kay and Terry.
But she didn’t.
“No,” Alex said at last. “I think I know why, too. So simple.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“You two, well, know me like I am. My dad doesn’t.”
Kay offered an amused smirk. “At least the solution is obvious.”
“Yeah,” Alex agreed. She hadn’t needed Kay to show her that solution, of course, but she felt much better about taking it now that she had Kay’s tacit support. Ultimately, her goal was not to need that kind of hand-holding, but change came one step at a time, and she felt like she’d finally taken one.
|06/05/2012, 12:10 AM||#53|
All I really have to say about this chapter is that it's interesting the names I wind up using for new characters. I'm terrible at coming up with names, so I either draw on various and esoteric sources and hope no one notices, or I go to name databases and pull names at random. In this chapter I used the former, which is why we now have someone named after (though not based in any other way upon) a Touhou character.
And as a bit of bonus content, this chapter's title is entirely based upon this gif. Enjoy.
Chapter 24 - Everyday Shuffling
“You want Sam to what?” Melanie asked.
“I want Sam to take down Raleigh,” Elizabeth replied coolly.
The two of them were at Michael’s Team Rocket front in Pattaya. The place didn’t open until mid-afternoon, and the two women had sent the janitorial staff home for the day, so they were alone.
Melanie paced back and forth between the bar and a nearby booth. “I don’t think she’s going to go for it. At least not now. I’m already straining her disbelief enough as it is carting her around.”
“Would you rather she go back to Rueni?” Elizabeth asked.
“I…” Melanie began, then paused. Sam wouldn’t be safe in Rueni. Like it or not, Sam was a Pokémon Master, and even overseas she carried enough fame as to be recognizable. They’d had to account for this while hunting down Liang. All things considered, Sam was better off with Melanie. “No, I wouldn’t.”
“With the information we’ll give to you to feed Sam, you’ll have no trouble getting her close to Raleigh,” Elizabeth continued.
“What if she talks to Raleigh first?” Melanie asked. “All it’d take is the wrong line from him and the bubble would burst.”
“Then she’ll be a problem that has to be dealt with.”
“No,” Melanie stated emphatically. “I’ll do all kinds of damnable things, but I won’t do anything to Sam.”
Elizabeth eyed Melanie. “What if Sam learns you’re a Team Rocket agent? What if she deems you an enemy?”
“I don’t know,” Melanie answered honestly. “I just know two things: I won’t do anything to betray Team Rocket, and I won’t do anything to betray Sam.”
“Those two goals may well be incompatible when it comes down to it.”
Melanie kept her emphatic gaze steady. “I’ll make them compatible if I have to.”
Melanie heard the door open from the far side of the bar before Elizabeth could reply. Elizabeth didn’t acknowledge it opening, even as Melanie turned to face it. A middle-aged man with sandy blonde hair entered and closed the door behind him.
“Good morning, ladies,” he said curtly. He walked up to the bar and gave a quick nod to Elizabeth. “I hope this isn’t a bad time?”
“No, it’s not,” Elizabeth said. “I just gave Melanie her goal for the foreseeable future.”
Kenneth nodded to Melanie. “I don’t envy your circumstances.”
Well, at least Kenneth was straightforward. Melanie respected that much.
“What brings you here?” Elizabeth asked.
“Good news for once,” Kenneth said. “Things went well with Alex.”
Elizabeth smiled, a genuine expression that felt unreal to see firsthand. “I’m glad. You told her everything?”
Kenneth returned the smile. “She’ll be working with Michael directly.”
Melanie grumbled scornfully. “So can I ask something? What exactly is the story with her, anyway?”
“That doesn’t concern you,” Kenneth replied casually.
“The hell it doesn’t,” Melanie insisted. “If nothing else, her sister’s my partner—”
“Would you like a medal?’ Kenneth interrupted. He narrowed his eyes slightly. “Or would you rather put the notch for Sam right next to a certain someone’s? From the looks of it you're certainly looking to repeat history.”
Kenneth’s words felt like a slap to the face, and not only because of who he was referring to. Still, no matter what Kenneth’s reputation was, Melanie wasn’t backing down.
“Fine, I’ll go ask Alex directly,” Melanie threatened. “All I’d have to do would be to tell Sam who Alex’s—”
“Alex is the daughter of… a high-ranking Team Rocket member,” Elizabeth interrupted. To Kenneth’s quizzical look, she merely shrugged, leaving Melanie wondering just who that high-ranking Rocket was. “As is Sam, obviously, but Sam has no interest in Team Rocket and would react poorly if she learned about either of you. Alex is thankfully a bit more open-minded.”
Knowing the truth was actually somewhat of a letdown. Melanie envisioned all sorts of ultra-secret-agent scenarios in which Alex was some kind of deep-cover operative poised to strike somewhere vital at some time known only to her. Hearing that Alex was simply someone's daughter didn’t live up to those expectations.
“Furthermore,” Kenneth said, “she is not to have contact with anyone I don’t personally authorize. Should you or any other unauthorized Rocket agent try to contact her, Team Rocket won’t recognize your membership and will act accordingly. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” Melanie replied with forced evenness. She hated feeling like she’d been forced into what someone else considered her place, but pushing Kenneth and Elizabeth further was patently unsafe irrespective of being Sam’s partner. At least she got a straight answer for once, which was more than she’d gotten in the past.
“So you’re really just sending me and Sam right at Raleigh?” Melanie asked Kenneth bluntly.
“In a word, yes,” Kenneth replied. “Elizabeth explained the plan to you, right?”
“Just before she told me the point of it was to have Sam take down Raleigh,” Melanie replied.
“So you know why Sam is uniquely positioned to strike him where Team Rocket can’t access,” Kenneth said. “If we don’t get him then, our next likely shot is going to be the Neo League Championships, and I don’t have to tell you how that would end.”
“No, you don’t,” Melanie grumbled. “All right, fine, I’ll come up with a story for Sam and get her on it.”
And if she doesn’t believe it, I’m certainly not defending you, Melanie added silently, keeping any disrespect from her expression. She wondered if she’d have reacted so poorly if Juliet were the one giving the orders. After some thought, she decided she wouldn’t have.
Like the song said, the times they were a-changing.
Juliet still wasn’t fully used to Melanie’s absence. For most of the Tribo Project’s duration, Melanie had always been there, ready to offer assistance, dry humour, or both. For that matter, Juliet had also grown used to Sam. Sam’s youthful earnestness, at least in her unguarded moments, could be downright infectious, reminding Juliet what it was like to be so young.
I think that as if I’m “old” now or something, Juliet mused. Age stopped mattering after one accepted they weren’t young anymore, and became largely a physical process by which one lost the ability to do things they used to, and gained experience they’d wish they had years ago. She didn’t feel significantly different than she had twenty years prior, at least on an emotional level. She wondered if she ever would.
Juliet shook her head ruefully, prompting a curious glance from her new assistant, Sakuya. Sakuya was overly serious and seemed to have lost her sense of humour somewhere in her schooling. She was slightly younger than Melanie, but for some reason Juliet kept thinking she was older.
“It’s nothing,” Juliet promised the younger woman.
“Usually someone with a thousand-metre gaze has a story to tell,” Sakuya said.
“Some other time,” Juliet promised hollowly. She returned her attention to the incubation chamber, in which a tiny black mass rested. They hadn’t been able to create a viable egg, so keeping a fetus in an artificial womb was the logical workaround. Juliet supposed that the thing was going to start looking pretty ugly in a few weeks—they hadn’t been able to design much in the ways of looks for Tribo, outside of their genetic basis. It’d be interesting to see what the thing would look like as an adult.
Mismagius floated up to the window, grinning broadly. She looked at the fetal Tribo almost reverently. Juliet wondered how the ghost perceived Tribo.
“Did you want to get in on the birth pool?” Sakuya asked absently.
“The what?” Juliet wondered.
“A bunch of us down in the lab have a pool going on when Tribo’s going to be up and ready. We can pretty much put it down to a two-week period, but inside that, who knows?”
“I’m hardly a betting woman these days,” Juliet admitted.
“Suit yourself,” Sakuya said.
“Out of curiosity, what time are you in for?”
“The sixth,” Sakuya replied. “At 6:06 AM.”
I take back that conclusion about her sense of humour, Juliet thought. Unlike Melanie’s, Sakuya’s humour seemed the introverted type. Furthermore, the joke was extremely obscure, relying on ancient mythology. It would have been easy for a layperson to miss.
“In that case, I’ll have to put myself down for the sixteenth,” Juliet said.
“Oh?” Sakuya asked, raising an eyebrow.
Juliet turned and headed to the door. She explained as Sakuya followed, “The number of the beast you're referring to. 666 is a translation error. It’s actually 616. Therefore June 16.”
The door closed behind the pair as Sakuya said, “If you say so. Every translation I’ve read says 666.”
“I guess we’ll just have to leave it to Tribo to decide which is right,” Juliet replied.
Sakuya jumped in place at the sound of a high-pitched shriek. Juliet simply rolled her eyes and turned around to face Mismagius, giving her a stern look. The Pokémon seemed unrepentant.
“Did Melanie have to put up with that?” Sakuya asked. It wasn’t the first time Mismagius startled her for amusement’s sake.
“She got used to it eventually,” Juliet said. She smiled. “If it’s any consolation, Mismagius only does that to people she likes.”
“In the future, I think I’ll keep my own Pokémon out as well,” Sakuya said. "For my own safety."
Juliet shook her head ruefully and resumed her walk down the hallway. “Suit yourself.”
“You’re sure you don’t want to join us?” Kay asked from the hotel room doorway.
“I’m sure,” Alex replied, sitting on the bed. She felt much better compared to the previous night, but genuinely didn’t want to go out again so soon.
“Your loss,” Terry said. He gave Alex a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll try not to have too much fun without you, Allie.”
“Just don’t keep trying to pick up matching bruises,” Alex chided. “Last night was bad enough. Black-and-blue shouldn’t come in his-and-hers.”
“Pff,” Terry said as he shook his head. “Not like that stupid sissy could’ve hurt me anyway.”
“Whoa, hey, watch the language,” Kay admonished.
Alex shrugged at Kay. “Honestly, after what I called him last night? That’s nothing. Let’s just not make a habit of it.”
“Seconded,” Terry said as he put on his jacket. “Last chance to join us for fun, adventure, and profit.”
“Like you’ll have any of those things,” Alex said with a grin. “But nah. I just need some time alone. Next time for sure.”
“We’ll knock before entering when we get back,” Terry said facetiously. He ducked out of the room before Alex could overcome her surprise at the insinuation and muster a retort. Kay bade Alex goodbye, barely restraining a laugh as she did so, and followed Terry out.
Alex turned her attention to Marril once the door was closed. The Pokémon lounged on the bed, curled up into a pillow with her tail wrapped around it. She was definitely intent on staying in. Alex envied her the option.
Eh, I’ll give it a bit more time, I guess, Alex thought. Better to be safe than sorry.
One of the benefits of being a serial ceiling aficionado was that those powers could be used for good as well as evil. Even though she wasn’t in a depressed mood at all, it was surprisingly easy to pass the time by lying on the bed and letting her thoughts wander. As long as they avoided the obvious landmine trains of thought, she’d be fine.
After a little while, Alex decided it was time to get going. She left Marril on her pillow, but made sure she had all her pokéballs in her bag before setting off. She almost certainly wouldn’t need them, but after last time she didn’t want to take any chances.
The sun was just beginning to set as Alex stepped outside. Son La wasn’t particularly attractive in any lighting, but she’d seen worse. At least it wasn’t a rural area.
The Team Rocket safehouse turned out to be an actual house in the suburbs. Alex wondered what its main purpose was—traffic for discreet meetings would have been low at best. Knowing Kenneth, the explanation was probably as simple as it being rented out for a bit of extra income.
Alex was greeted at the door by a brown-haired man she didn’t recognize, who she gauged at being in his late twenties or early thirties. He looked like the rough type cleaned up temporarily, the sort who cared little for anything he couldn't eat, drink, or have his way with. Not exactly the kind of person she preferred being around, as ugly and prejudicial an assessment as that was.
“Hi, I’m Alex,” she identified herself.
The man nodded curtly. “Michael’s inside.”
“You work for him or are you one of the guys I’m supposed to meet?” Alex asked as she followed him in.
“Both,” he replied. “Michael will explain further. I’m Ryan, by the way.” As they entered the living room, he said to Michael, “She’s here.”
The living room reminded Alex of her parents’ house before the divorce. It sported old-fashioned furniture, paintings along the walls, and perhaps most strangely, barely a hint of modern technology. The clock hanging above the mantle, while analog, seemed like it had been made in the past few decades, and there was a tablet on the table, but that was it.
Michael greeted Alex, accompanied by another man she didn’t recognize. Michael smiled at her, “It’s good to see you, Alex. You’re looking very well.”
“Only looking that way, I assure you,” Alex said jokingly.
“That’s what we’re here today to sort out,” Michael replied. He indicated the couch behind the coffee table. “Please, have a seat.” As Alex seated herself, Michael asked, “Would you like anything to drink? I could put on a pot of tea.”
“Um, yes please,” Alex said. She wasn’t much of a tea drinker, but she didn’t want to be impolite by refusing. “Interesting place.”
“We’re between tenants at the moment,” Michael explained. “The last one got taken in by his family. This part of town is mostly the elderly, you see.”
It really shows, Alex thought, taking another look around. No one under the age of 80 could live in a place so devoid of modern technology. She’d go crazy in days if she had to live here.
Ryan took a seat in one of the chairs along the wall, and the third man took one opposite him. Michael returned to the living room with a tray of four teacups and set it down on the table. He handed one in turn to Alex, Ryan, and the third man, before taking the last one for himself and sitting down beside Alex.
“Fancy,” Ryan commented bluntly.
“I believe in being a gracious host,” Michael replied calmly. He turned his attention to Alex. “You’ve already been introduced to Ryan, I take it?”
Michael indicated the other man. “This is Adair. He and Ryan will be the ones doing the heavy lifting to ensure your safety in the near future.”
Adair gave Alex a quick, curt nod of acknowledgement. Alex offered a polite smile in return.
“I thought we were taking this route through the Neo League to avoid anything dangerous?” Alex asked.
“Nothing’s guaranteed,” Michael explained.
“Eh, your safety will be, I guess,” Adair said dismissively. “I think Ryan and I can babysit a damn mob princess well enough.”
“Hey,” Ryan said. “Show a little respect, eh? It might not be the most glorious job around, but if you’re looking for glory, you can pack right up and ship right out. Besides, it shows family stands for something in this organization. Hell of a lot better than the New Rockets can boast, I tell you what.”
“Lovely,” Alex said quietly to Michael.
“Adair just needs some time to get to know you, that’s all,” Michael replied gently. “His friendliness was not his selling point.”
“I hear the New Rockets are hiring idealists,” Adair shot back at Ryan.
“Shut up, the both of you,” Michael snapped. He loosened his posture a bit. “What kind of impression do you think you’re making for this young woman? That you’re a bunch of thugs who can’t see past their own machismo?”
“Sorry. Kinda got caught up in things,” Ryan mumbled. It sounded genuine enough. Adair said nothing.
“I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to,” Alex said. “If there’s something else you’d rather be doing, feel free to leave.” She offered a smirk, getting more into the role than she figured she should have. “Well?”
“All right, all right, I get the point,” Adair said.
Alex turned to Michael. “What’s the plan?”
“Nothing fancy,” Michael explained. “Ryan and Adair will pretend to be trainers doing the Neo League circuit just like you. This will allow them occasional contact with you without raising suspicion. This can easily be dropped once you reach Vientiane with the story that they weren’t as successful as they’d hoped and quit.”
“That might be a while,” Alex said. “Assuming I win my battle tomorrow, I’ll only be up to five badges.”
Michael nodded. “It’s for that reason your father’s going to get into contact with you sooner than that. The problem is that he can’t leave for a place as remote as Son La given the nature of his work.”
“You get two things out in the sticks: Safety and isolation,” Alex commented.
“Not even that, going off some of the New Rocket attacks I’ve heard about,” Adair grumbled.
“How bad does it get?”
Adair shrugged and looked down at his tea. He hadn’t touched it since setting it down. “Standard stuff, really. Rocket members both real and suspected shot or stabbed in the middle of the night. Front businesses both real and suspected torched or in some cases bombed. Cops who get in the way without being careful enough turn up dead.” He looked at Alex intently. “Make no mistake: The only reason they haven’t gone after your sister is because they’re scared of her and, probably more importantly, scared of Elizabeth.”
I like how that’s “standard stuff” to him, Alex thought with a hint of derision. “So I’ve heard.”
“Hard to blame them, I guess. Apparently she racked up an impressive Pokémon body count that day,” Adair continued. Alex couldn’t figure out his tone. It sounded mildly scornful.
“You won’t be involved in anything so dramatic, I promise,” Michael said.
“Maybe not quite so dramatic,” Alex said, “but if it comes down to it, I hope I can show them I’m no easier a target than Sam.”
Adair snorted in amusement.
“Look, I know how I probably sound when I say I want to pull my own weight,” Alex explained. “I know that fighting is the worst-case scenario, but if it happens, the last thing I want is to sit on the sidelines. There’s been a definite ‘let us do all the work’ vibe ever since I met up with Kenneth, and I don’t want that.”
Ryan smiled graciously with a hint of amusement as he finished his tea. “Gotta give you credit for that. I’ve got no problem with that. Adair?”
“Looks like the ayes have it,” Michael said. “Unfortunately, this isn’t a democracy. Being that Alex is old enough that her decision-making skills can be legally honed through liquor and perfected through voting, I see nothing wrong with accepting her vote as the only valid one.”
Alex couldn’t hold back a smile. Michael’s deadpan tone was what really sold the humour. Plus it was nice to have the kind of respect that came with comfortable, good-natured ribbing rather than stiff, forced measures of politeness and formality.
“You say that now,” Alex said, “but just you watch, I’ll be running the place before you know it.”
Michael snorted in amusement. “In a few decades, you very well could be.”
Alex blinked, unable to tell whether Michael was serious or not. He probably wasn’t, but still, the idea that he was serious wasn’t as off-putting as it should have been. Of course, by then she’d probably have her life figured out. She hoped.
|06/16/2012, 04:52 AM||#55|
The worst part of writing this chapter actually came from something that won't appear on the Gym, namely the nicknames for Alex's Pokemon I'm going to use whenever I get around to FF.net'ing this series (she continues the theme of mythological nicknames by drawing from Norse mythology, because nothing says creativity like a blonde white woman with a Swedish name whose Pokemon are named after Norse gods/valkyries). All told, I think I hit name database sites harder for this one chapter than I'd done for the ten preceding chapters. Finally, I just want to make two short comments: Frustration is a lot easier to describe than Return would be, and a Fantasy-Southeast-Asian nationalist using such a ridiculously specific Spanish cultural adjective was so amazing that I just had to leave it in (I'd originally just used it without thinking about the implications of it).
Chapter 25 - Two Pair
“Go, Meili!” Alex shouted as she recalled Golduck.
Being down a Pokémon with a bench of one didn’t inspire confidence, but Terry was still on his opening Pokémon, Flareon. The two Son La City gym leaders, Hoa and Ngai, were good, but not the best Terry and Alex had faced. They didn’t seem capable of the sheer training wizardry of Stephen and Keith.
Still, Terry eyed Alex cautiously. To him, Meili the Milotic was an unknown variable, more likely to backfire on Alex than win the battle for her. It was true that Meili still harboured deep resentment for her that wouldn’t go away any time soon, but she wouldn’t deploy him without some guarantee of his loyalty, right?
Meili materialized in front of Alex’s trainer platform, whipping his head around to give Alex a brief death glare before turning his attention to his opponents, Hoa’s Slaking and Ngai’s Togekiss. Meili gazed at them imperiously.
“Go for Togekiss,” Alex ordered.
Meili slithered over to Togekiss and grabbed him with his tail. Togekiss groaned in pain as Meili constricted him. Alex shuddered at the sight. Terry wondered why.
“Slaking, get Togekiss free!” Hoa shouted.
“Obstruct that!” Terry yelled.
Flareon leapt in front of Slaking, breathing a stream of fire at the lazy Pokémon. Distracted, Slaking swung his arm down at Flareon, who leapt nimbly out of the way.
“Just run past it!” Hoa shouted.
Slaking took one look at Flareon and hunkered down on his side. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for a moment.
“Keep at it!” Alex ordered. The battle was type A, which meant anything short of killing the opposing Pokémon was allowed. All Meili had to do was constrict Togekiss until he blacked out.
“Hyper Beam!” Hoa shouted, evidently seeking to remedy the range problem.
Without needing to be ordered to do so, Meili threw Togekiss out of its grip and into the beam. Togekiss took the hit full-force, rebounding off the far wall before hitting the ground. Meili moved over to Togekiss, obstructing Ngai’s line of sight and preventing recall. Togekiss tried to get up, but Meili slammed him hard to the ground. Meili reared back and breathed an ice beam at Togekiss, freezing him in place, and struck the jubilee Pokémon repeatedly and without mercy.
Meili has to know what type A means, Terry thought. “Flareon, Incinerate!”
Terry couldn’t keep his focus on Flareon. Meili’s savage beating was simply too horrific to watch. Togekiss was screaming in pain, obviously begging for Meili to stop, but this accomplished nothing. Terry looked to Alex, who was frighteningly impassive.
Then it occurred to Terry. Of course Meili knew what type A meant. Killing Togekiss wasn’t Meili’s goal. Hurting him was. As far as Terry could tell, Meili was taking perverse enjoyment out of Togekiss’ suffering.
Terry had seen Alex’s Gyarados on a rampage before. It could only have been described as burning, nigh uncontrollable rage. That kind of rampage was intimidating, but it wasn’t terrifying like Meili’s. Meili wasn’t driven through raw anger, but through calm, seething hatred. He didn’t want to defeat Togekiss, but to cause him pain. Terry wondered what could drive a member of a gentle species like Milotic to such violence.
“That’s enough!” The ref yelled. “Stop your attack and allow Togekiss to be recalled!”
Meili glared at the ref as if demanding to know who he was to interrupt his fun. Still, he relented and pulled away from Togekiss, who was convulsing uncontrollably on the floor, sobbing and piteously flapping an obviously broken wing.
“Oh my gods,” Terry gasped as Ngai, obviously shaken, recalled Togekiss. He turned to Alex. “You trained him to do that?!”
“No,” Alex replied. She leaned forward against the railing. “He’s actually less violent than when I first started training him.”
“What did you do to him?” Terry wondered.
Alex shrugged. “I made a mistake. Now I’m living with it.” She turned to face Terry. “Look, I had two choices: Train Meili to embrace and control his nature, or drop him from my team. There was no third option. I can’t change how he grew up. There’s no magic reset button that’ll change Meili into a happy, well-adjusted Pokémon.”
“Fair enough,” Terry said, mainly to end the debate. The gym leaders looked like they were ready for the battle to resume following the interruption.
It was true that the only formalized rule of type A was not to kill the opposing Pokémon, but the underlying gentleman’s agreement denied severe injuries as well. Meili’s actions, while technically legal, were indicative of very poor sportsmanship not only on Meili’s part, but on Alex’s for encouraging it.
Terry was definitely going to have to have a talk with her later.
“Ice Beam!” Alex shouted right as Ngai sent out a Fearow.
“Flamethrower it once Ice Beam hits!” Terry ordered. The rapid oscillation in temperature would add even more damage to Flareon’s attack. Both attacks struck Fearow in turn, first building up a layer of ice around her joints, and then melting that ice before boiling away the residual water. Fearow hit the ground hard, but wasn’t out of the battle yet.
A Hyper Beam from Slaking attempted to forestall Fearow’s inevitable defeat, but a shimmering barrier appeared in front of Meili, protecting him from the attack. Due to Slaking’s truancy, he would never be able to penetrate Meili’s protective barrier.
“Just burn the thing!” Terry said, frustrated.
Flareon hunkered down and expelled a trail of wispy fire, which enveloped Slaking, charring his fur and burning his skin. The pain from the burns would only intensify over time.
“Aqua Tail!” Alex shouted.
Meili wasted no time and closed in on Fearow. The bird took to the air in a panic, but couldn’t escape Meili’s reach, and he struck the bird to the ground easily. For a moment, Terry feared another display of stomach-twisting brutality.
He was partly right in his worry. Meili didn’t go to such savage lengths as he had with Togekiss, but he still struck Fearow more times than necessary. The morbidly interesting part to Terry was Meili’s focus on Fearow’s wings. Meili ensured both of Fearow’s wings broke in the onslaught, and once this goal was accomplished, he moved away, allowing Fearow to be recalled without further incident.
“Time!” Hoa shouted. The ref raised his flags in response, signalling a temporary pause to the battle.
Alex turned to Terry. “So I’ve been wondering something. Why do you mind Meili so much when you’ve never once complained about Gyarados?”
“Because…” Terry began, and trailed off. It wasn’t due to Meili’s savagery—Gyarados was much more violent. He’d actually seen opposing Pokémon more severely hurt by Gyarados than Meili. No, this ran deeper. “Because this kind of behaviour from a Milotic is wrong.”
“Yeah,” Alex admitted, sounding mildly annoyed. “I messed up. I took what was meant to grow up into a creature of beauty and warped it into… that,” she waved at Meili with one hand. “It’s my mistake and I have to deal with it. Quit badgering me about it already.”
And I’m the one who has to put up with that kind of wrongness, Terry added silently. It was an ugly, selfish thought, but the first one to come to mind.
“The gym leaders forfeit the match!” The ref announced after a few more moments of consultation. “The winners by default are our challengers!”
I sure hope you’re happy, you manipulative sow, Terry thought angrily at Alex. His prior frustration was understandable, but this definitely wasn’t. He turned his attention to Meili as Alex recalled him, wondering how much Meili’s empathic abilities were affecting him. He felt foolish for not realizing it sooner.
Terry shook his head. Alex was right, of course. She made a mistake and was taking responsibility for it in a mature way. There was no point in dwelling on what already happened. He sighed to himself as he descended from the trainer platform to go collect his resolution badge, feeling thoroughly tired. The worst part was he still needed to have that talk with Alex later.
What was Raleigh thinking?
Kim shook her head as she left the meeting, baffled at her leader’s decisions. So far, the foreigner had been an acceptable leader, keeping Team Rocket from obliterating the New Rockets. That such a nationalistic group as theirs was led by a Japanese person was ironic, but tolerable. Raleigh was simply a guide of sorts, after all. Foreign taint hadn’t crept down too far through the ranks yet.
That “yet” part concerned Kim the most.
“Looks like you’re about as happy as I am,” Linh commented. She kept pace with Kim easily as the two women strode down the hallway.
Kim shrugged. “I don’t mind the part about easing off on Chiang Mai. After that second Officer Jenny turned up dead, even I can see it’s getting too bloody to keep up.” She sighed. “What I don’t agree with is having to take orders from someone I’ve never met who isn’t even in the country yet.”
Linh nodded soberly. Another layer of leadership being placed above their heads wouldn’t sit any better with her than Kim. Linh slowed and put a hand on Kim’s arm, bringing both of them to a stop near the elevator. “Can I ask you something? And get an honest answer?”
“Doesn’t it feel like once we took on the ‘New Rockets’ name that we started becoming Team Rocket?”
“Yes,” Kim answered without hesitation. “And it’s more than just adopting their methods. We’re slowly becoming foreign, just like them. Or the Neo League.”
Linh smiled grimly. “At least you agree.”
Kim pushed the elevator call button without looking at it. “So what are we going to do? Sitting around angry isn’t going to help us.”
“Only thing we can do,” Linh suggested. “Get rid of Raleigh.”
“What you’re really saying is we dissolve the New Rockets and go our own ways again,” Kim translated.
“Oh, no, nothing of the sort,” Linh promised. “We just don’t need his foreign support anymore, no matter how useful his Team Rocket double agents are. I’m thinking we can get him right after the League conference in Vientiane.”
With a smile, Kim replied, “I think I know who we can get for that. Tell me more.”
Kim glanced across the room briefly before stepping in. It wasn’t a precaution she strictly needed to take, but better safe than sorry. The Hat Yai gym leaders were keenly sympathetic to the New Rocket cause, but weren’t able to do more than give moral support and send positive karma and all that other useless crap.
Sunan met Kim as she stepped into the gym’s foyer, which was empty owing to the late hour. He was a fairly average-looking man whose age Kim couldn’t begin to guess. The only way she could remember what he looked like was the odd, zigzag part in his hair.
“It’s a pleasure to have you,” Sunan offered a greeting accompanied by an extended hand.
Kim shook Sunan’s hand absentmindedly. “Likewise.”
“So, what can I do for you today?” Sunan asked with a hint of sarcasm.
“I need access to the League buildings at Vientiane.”
“I’m serious,” Kim said.
“Oh, I know. I wasn’t laughing at your request. I just didn’t think you’d actually want to assassinate League officials to make a point. That’s a bit too terrorist-y for the New Rockets, no?”
“I’m not after anyone from the League,” Kim promised.
Sunan leaned against the front of the registration counter. “You want information?”
“I want a way in.”
“A well-placed bribe will get you that far.”
Kim frowned. “If it could, I wouldn’t be here.”
“If it couldn’t, I wouldn’t be here,” Sunan countered.
Money truly did make the world go round. Kim bit back a sharp retort that, while satisfying, would ruin her chances of getting Sunan’s help. Hat Yai’s gym leaders were the only ones in the country who’d ever give this kind of support to the New Rockets, or at least to Kim and Linh. If Sunan attached a price tag to his help, then so be it.
“Just tell me how much,” Kim said curtly.
Sunan named a figure, causing Kim’s eye to twitch. It was obvious he knew she didn’t have anyone else to ask for this.
“Good,” Sunan said with a smile. “Now, you know finding a specific person outside the seminars is all but impossible, right?”
“Obviously. I’m not an idiot.”
Sunan waved for Kim to follow him as he headed towards the gym’s main arena. “It’d be a lot easier for me to help you if you’d tell me who you wanted.”
“I’m not looking to have anyone killed,” Kim insisted, trailing behind Sunan. It wasn’t a lie per se. She wanted into the League so she could learn more about Raleigh’s longer-term political plans. It wasn’t enough simply to kill him—she could have done that without Sunan’s help. She needed him so she could get access to Raleigh’s presentations to League officials and investors. With that, she could dismantle the legacy she knew would keep plodding along without him.
“Creating a fake identity as a low-level League official is easy,” Sunan continued. “Giving you access to where you want to go might be a lot harder.” He injected a measure of smarmy sarcasm into his voice. “You need to work with me before I can work with you.”
“Fredricsson Company,” Kim said sharply. It was the first name to come to mind. “I need to know what their plans are with the League.”
Sunan looked thoughtful. “Well, that’s enough questions from me, I think.”
Kim wondered just what she really said to make Sunan shut up. She didn’t know the first thing about Fredricsson except that it existed and that it was a League sponsor. She’d assumed that’s all they were, and any implications to the contrary were simply a bluff. Oh well, she’d dug her hole and now she had to live with it.
The two arrived at the main arena. Walkways to either side led to the trainer platforms, and a waist-high fence served as a barrier between them and the arena proper. An Aggron and Meganium sparred under the oversight of a rail-thin woman with dark hair at the right-side trainer platform. The woman waved to the two as they walked towards her.
“Getting in some practice?” Sunan asked once they were in earshot.
The other gym leader, Van, nodded. “Meganium’s been a little slow lately, so I’m drilling her on her patterns. I’m hoping it’s just a bit of performance anxiety.”
Sunan cocked his head towards Kim. “You know the League forces us to stay within a certain win/loss range?”
“I hadn’t heard that,” Kim answered.
“It’s true. Anything less than forty percent and you’ll find yourself up for review. Anything more than seventy, same thing. And you’d better believe they make sure you aren’t throwing any fights. It’s just a stupid way of enforcing their ‘elite’ attitude.”
“I doubt she’s here to listen to your whining,” Van pointed out. She barked orders at Meganium before returning her attention to the two humans. “So why are you here this time?”
Kim scoffed. “Can’t it just be a social call?”
“If you weren’t a New Rocket, maybe.”
“I’m here because I need access to the League facilities at Vientiane. Sunan’s agreed to help.”
Van rolled her right shoulder, massaging it absently with her left hand. “Sounds easy enough. I can probably get it done in a week, two tops. Or is there a time limit on this?”
“Two weeks will be cutting it pretty close,” Kim replied.
“I only work as hard as my motivation. How much are you offering?”
While it would have been interesting to give Van a different total than Sunan had requested, it would’ve complicated the matter more than Kim wanted to deal with. She didn’t relish the thrill of the hunt like some of those under her command. Haggling was more suited to Linh, but Linh didn’t have the same rapport, such as it was, with the Hat Yai gym leaders that Kim did.
Kim quoted the sum to Van, who replied, “Well, a week it is. For that much, you’ll be about as much of a someone as I can make you without arousing suspicion.”
“As long as it holds up,” Kim said.
Van grinned. “I’ve never let a paying client down yet.”
Money makes the world go round indeed, Kim mused bitterly as she shook Van’s hand. Times like this, she felt the love of one’s country was an antiquated, quixotic ideal she was foolish for clinging to. But if she couldn’t protect her homeland, she wasn’t any good to anyone. That thought alone kept her afloat in the plutocratic sea she’d been cast aside into.
|07/04/2012, 05:42 AM||#57|
Two things combined to delay this one: Vacation and writer's block. SS is (I think quite obviously) written off the cuff—to the point where some chapters are actually done entirely stream-of-consciousness with no prior planning—and only the major plot points are defined in advance. This makes it very awkward when you figure you're about 3-4 chapters from the major stuff (I play pacing by ear) but have nothing to tide you over. I tried to avoid doing things like "yet another lesbian romance + exposition scene" simply because it gets repetitive, but it wound up being unavoidable (what can I say, I write the kinds of stories I like to read, so this ain't the last Sam/Melanie romance scene we'll be seeing). This all led to perhaps the most rewrites I've ever given a chapter of SS. Oh well, I've got the next plot arc planned out and good to go, so no harm no foul.
Apropos to nothing: I never cease being amused by the thought of just how ineffectual Ash and company would be in the SS universe, both in terms of getting plot done and in terms of battling (Stephen and Keith only worked magic with unevolved Pokemon through cameo power). Then again, Alex and company would probably be pretty ineffectual in the Pokemon anime universe, so fair's fair.
(Side note for American readers: 40 degrees Celsius is 104 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Chapter 26 - Smiling Reconciliation
Alex winced slightly as she sat down beside Terry and across from Kay. It was the first time the three of them had the chance to have a proper outing since that one disastrous night—the fallout from the gym battle had the effect of souring things between Alex and Terry for a day or two, but they’d since made up.
Kay arced an eyebrow quizzically at Alex. “Have another bad encounter with a snake?”
“Shot day,” Alex replied uneasily.
“I thought you were on those little green sublingual pills?” Kay wondered. Sublingual pills and intramuscular injection were the two most common delivery methods for estrogen, each with their upsides and downsides. Injections were supposedly more effective, but pills fit a traveling Pokémon trainer’s budget much better.
“Shot day,” Alex repeated, glancing between Terry and Kay. “I haven’t had any bad encounters with snakes in a while.”
Kay frowned. “Well, whatever.”
Despite that it had been the better part of a week since Alex’s breakdown, she still didn’t feel like going out to do anything major. The single meeting with Ryan and Adair following her introduction to them had taken all the energy she could muster, so this outing was simply a light lunch rather than anything too involved.
“So anyway,” Alex said once they were settled in, “it turns out my dad’s got business in Vientiane and he was wondering if we could arrange to meet him.”
“If ‘we’ could?” Kay asked, raising an eyebrow.
Alex smiled. “Yeah. He wants to see you too. And, of course, he wants to meet Terry.”
“How ominous,” Terry said.
“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” Alex promised. “Unlike Marril, he doesn’t bite.”
Terry chuckled and drew Alex close. “Well, you’ve been known to bite from time to time.”
“Anyway,” Alex said as she pulled away from Terry, mildly flustered, “I told him sure, we’re at five badges already and can get the other three on the way there.”
Kay scowled, looking up to the ceiling pensively. “That’d be… Ha Tinh, Salavan, and Phayao, right?”
“… Yes, it would be,” Alex said. “How’d you know that?”
“I’m awesome,” Kay replied.
“That’s not awesome. That’s freaky.”
“Freaky awesome,” Kay insisted, grinning. “But nah, I memorized what gyms were what and where back when I was trying to solo them. The Neo League’s only got about 30 gyms anyway, so it’s easier than trying to memorize what Pokémon League gym is what.”
“To this day I still don’t remember Misty’s whole lineup,” Alex mused. “We didn’t exactly get along that well anyway—she thought I had a crush on Lily and never let me live it down.”
“No,” Alex said with a sigh. While it would’ve been tacky to say in front of Terry, at the time Alex did think Daisy was… rather attractive, to say the least.
“You’ll have to show me a video of one of your performances sometime,” Terry said. “They sound interesting. Be nice to see you in your salad days.”
Alex shot a sideways glare at Terry, letting the look speak for her.
Terry mouthed an obscenity. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” He hugged Alex. “I didn’t mean it’s because I want to see you, you know, before. My bad.”
“I’m fine with you seeing them if you look them up on the Internet or whatever,” Alex said. The only real problem she’d ever have with the idea would be if Terry was the type to see her as actually having been male before her transition. But he wasn’t, so that was a non-issue. “I just don’t want to be a part of the experience.”
“Well, getting back to something less touchy,” Terry continued, “you said you were rerouting us again?”
“It makes sense even if you take my dad out of the equation,” Alex explained. “Getting to Vientiane early means we can spend the time until the League competition in civilization rather than crawling around backwoods one-Tauros Idaman towns.”
Kay scoffed. “Back and forth and back and forth.”
“Well, it is her first time seeing her dad in years,” Terry pointed out. “I certainly can’t argue that.”
“Yeah,” Alex said. “It will be.”
I need to be more discreet in the future, Adair thought. Reporting to Raleigh always carried some element of risk to it, but he wasn’t used to having to deal with Michael’s constant scrutiny. Getting out of town was impossible, so his only choice was to stick with Ryan and Alex and hear from Raleigh indirectly.
And oh, did Raleigh ever have things to say about Alex.
E-mail correspondence through Internet cafés had its downsides, but Adair was able to coordinate the next few weeks’ worth of events with Raleigh easily enough. All he really had to do was tell Raleigh who Alex was and more importantly who she dragged behind her like a kite. Michael was the second largest danger to the New Rockets, behind Kenneth himself. Michael being tied up protecting an inconsequential young woman was an unexpected boon.
Adair logged off his anonymous guest account and slowly stood up as the computer returned to the login screen. Thinking of Alex as a young woman rather than a young man was somewhat awkward, but he couldn’t deny that Alex looked and sounded mostly female. Everyone else saw fit to treat her… him… whatever, her like a woman, so Adair took the path of least resistance.
Adair pondered over Raleigh’s words as he headed back to the safehouse. The overall idea was that it’d be most expedient for him to frame one of the local New Rocket factions for Alex’s murder. That way, the New Rockets would only lose expendable resources, and Raleigh could establish a stronger presence at the head of the organization. It wasn’t enough simply to be the de jure leader, Raleigh explained. One had to be the de facto leader as well.
“Sup,” Ryan greeted Adair with a grunt as the latter stepped into the foyer.
Adair slipped out of his shoes. “Not much.”
“Out seeing a local girl again?” Ryan guessed. “Or maybe a local boy?”
Adair swore at Ryan and headed into the kitchen. He needed a drink badly. “You’re never going to get tired of that, are you?”
“Nope,” Ryan answered casually. Adair glanced out into the living room, and saw the other man casually watching TV, sitting on the reclining sofa with his feet up
“I was at an Internet café playing World of Pokécraft,” Adair shot back sarcastically. The best way to lie was to blend in enough truth that the actual lie became only a trivial part of the story. Adair was good at it. He opened the fridge and tried to remember which shelf Ryan said was his.
Ryan scoffed. “Why do I believe you?”
“Because you’re gullible?” Adair suggested sarcastically. The second lesson of effective lying was to get someone to associate what you didn’t want them to think with humour. In that way, undesirable thoughts became a joke. Ryan was nauseatingly idealistic, so as long as Adair could get Ryan to believe what he wanted him to, manipulating him was easy. Michael was slightly harder to fool, but Michael paid less attention to Adair than he did to Alex.
Right, the top one, Adair thought. He grabbed a beer can from the middle shelf and closed the refrigerator door.
“Whatever, man,” Ryan replied. “Just thought I’d let you know Alex sent me a message earlier. We’re heading out in two days.”
“Let’s hope Michael finds us another nice safehouse,” Adair commented. He leaned against the refrigerator and opened his can. He brought it to his lips slowly. “I’ve been stuck in some real Rattata-traps in my time.”
Ryan laughed. Adair wished Ryan was visible from the kitchen, because he wondered if Ryan’s face was really as humourless as Adair imagined it. “We’re working with the big shots now,” Ryan said. “I think they’ll accommodate us well.”
Sam leaned back in her chair, letting the fan blow over her. The weather had taken a turn for the hotter lately, plunging average temperatures nearly to 40 degrees. Heat was one thing, but this was unbearable. The thermometer outside the hotel room window showed a reading Sam wished she hadn’t seen. She imagined Alex could have Marril spew water or ice to help cool her, but none of Sam’s dragons were capable of doing either on a small enough scale to help.
Slowly, she drew her hand across her forehead. She glanced at it and saw it had come back glistening before she wiped it on her jeans. This was going to be a long day.
Sam reached over to the table and grabbed her water bottle. She drained it quickly and lamented that she’d have to refill it for the sixth time that afternoon. It wasn’t even late afternoon either.
She exhaled slowly and took her tablet PC off the table. She swivelled her chair around and swung her legs up and over the armrest, letting the fan catch her from the side. It offered little relief over facing the fan head-on. At this rate, she’d have to go jump in the shower, set it as cold as possible, and stay in there for the better part of an hour.
Yeah, hypothermia in this weather actually does almost sound like a good idea, Sam thought as she tapped the screen idly, opening up her e-mail. There were three new messages: one from Alex, one from Sakuya, and something from the Neo League. She went through each in turn.
Alex’s message wasn’t anything interesting. She seemed excited that their father was in Idama, but that excitement didn’t extend to Sam. Sam sent back a perfunctory reply and moved on.
The one from Sakuya simply informed Sam that they were past her spot in the birth pool. Nothing she didn’t know already. Sam deleted it without a second thought.
According to the Neo League’s e-mail, her speaking slot at the conference had been bumped up an hour. If anything, this was good, because it put her as the first speaker after lunch break. This meant more people would actually pay attention and remember what she had to say. Given how dry her presentation was going to be, this could only be a good thing.
Autohypothermia not being quite as good an idea as advertised, Sam instead loaded up a movie and set to watching it, hoping it’d take her mind off the heat. She was halfway through by the time she heard someone open the door. For a brief moment, Sam considered staying as she was, but decided the razzing from Melanie wouldn’t be worth it. She reached over to the bed, grabbed her shirt, and pulled it over her head as Melanie stepped in.
“Well, glad to see you’re decent,” Melanie commented dryly, noting the obvious haste in which Sam put on her shirt. She held up a take-out bag. “I brought some Greek if you’re interested.”
“Sure,” Sam replied. “I don’t mind food I can’t pronounce as long as I can tell what’s in it.”
Melanie gave an exaggeratedly sceptical look to the bag. “… Then I dunno about this one, Sammy.”
Sam laughed. “Come on, don’t leave me hungry, Mel.”
Melanie shook her head derisively, a grin on her face as she handed Sam some type of food no human being in the world could spell. It tasted good enough, though.
“So,” Melanie asked as she sat down at the foot of the bed, “anything new?”
“They moved my time slot again,” Sam complained. She frowned into her food. “Least it’s not a crap one this time.”
“That’s good,” Melanie replied absently. “Speaking of time slots, wasn’t your birth pool time this morning?”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “Whiffed it like Alex at the Indigo League. Not really surprising. Juliet’s is looking most likely by now.”
“I’m just glad Sakuya’s stupid 666 didn’t pan out,” Melanie commented.
“That would’ve annoyed me too,” Sam agreed. “Gods. Now we just have to miss Juliet’s 616 and we’re golden.”
Melanie affected a hurt expression. “But that means missing mine.”
“Like I said, we’re golden,” Sam repeated, grinning. She groaned in realization of something. “Aw, crap.”
“I just realized I’ll be in Vientiane on Alex’s birthday,” Sam explained. “I’d kinda wanted to visit her.”
“Nothing you can do,” Melanie said. “At least she’s got that Kay person, right?”
“Interesting you didn’t say Terry, all things considered.”
Melanie scoffed. “This is the part where I make light of casual misandry by saying nothing good comes from men.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t work from someone who’s attracted to men as well as women,” Sam pointed out.
“I try,” Sam said with a smirk. She got up, took her water bottle, and headed off to refill it. “So, anything new with you?”
“Nah. Or, well, Juliet apparently had another run-in with that Team Rocket guy harassing her, but I just kind of expect one every little while by this point.”
“And you’re sure we can’t just get rid of him?” Sam asked as she stepped back into the room. She sat down beside Melanie, who took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“That’d just risk more violence,” Melanie explained. “You’ve gotta cut off their heads first, then deal with them.”
Sam shook her head. Well, no point having this argument again, so she decided to change the subject. “The other thing is that my dad’s in Idama now, apparently.”
“That’s… good?” Melanie guessed.
Sam shrugged. “I dunno. Part of me wants to go visit him just because he’s my dad, but the other part of me is like… we were never that close anyway, so it’d just get awkward really quickly. Alex was the daddy's girl, not me.”
“Honestly, I think you should anyway. He’s your father. You only get one.”
Sam chuckled to herself. “Well, two, kinda. He remarried a few years after the divorce, so technically I’ve got a mom and two dads.”
Melanie shook Sam lightly, an amused grin crossing her face. “You know what I mean.” She put an arm around Sam. “I know what it’s like to be in your position, thinking that you can put stuff off because it can wait, because you don’t really feel like it… then it’s five, ten years later and you realize you can’t ever get that time back. People have moved on or died, and you’re stuck never seeing them again. That’s when you find you miss them the most.”
“I guess,” Sam replied lamely. “After the League conference for sure. I promise.”
“That’s my girl.”
Sam scoffed derisively. “Hey now.”
“Oh, you like it,” Melanie replied, gently stroking Sam’s hair. Sam didn’t quite understand Melanie’s fixation on doing this, but she definitely didn’t feel like objecting.
“Tell you what,” Sam offered. “I can hack the TV to let us watch some of the more… interesting movies for free. That should take our minds off this heavy stuff, eh?”
“I told you if we ever had to hack anything, you’re our woman,” Melanie said with a smile. “Sure, go ahead. I’m sure we can find something we’ll both like.”
Sam kissed Melanie on the cheek before setting off to complete her appointed task. She reflected that it wouldn’t be hard to find such a movie at all.
Last edited by Marril; 07/04/2012 at 05:48 AM. Reason: Fixed an awkward sentence construction.
|07/14/2012, 02:36 AM||#59|
It's probably bad luck of me to say this, but I'm kind of surprised I got away with the previous chapter. The jokes seemed to me like they wouldn't pass 'Gym muster, even though none are really that bad by the standards of my non-Pokemon writing. Then again, some of the stuff I got away with in the original iteration surprise me to this day. Maybe I'm just skittish and my worry's just overcompensating for what I'd like to write but obviously can't (suffice to say, if I wasn't rating-capped, we'd have gotten detail of what movie Sam chose and how the rest of her afternoon went). We'll see, I guess.
I don't have a whole lot to say about this chapter specifically, though, outside of that I hope Kay doesn't venture into Mary Sue territory here. I'm also not a fan of the whole "nonstop action" thing, but it just kind of worked out that way (at least it lets me do the sixth gym battle in something approaching a new way).
Chapter 27 - Hollow Victories
Kay shook her head, trying to clear it. Every large city had some kind of regular battle activity—in Japan, they tended towards outlandish settings like the Battle Tower, Battle Frontier, Battle Park, and even the Battle Subway. The Idaman ones, like most things in Idama, they tended towards the low-budget and the practical. In this case, several enterprising residents of Ha Tinh operated a “coliseum” out of an abandoned warehouse on the poor side of town. Seedy, sure, but it was what Kay needed at the moment.
Finishing off two opponents in a row was a bit tiresome. It didn’t give her the same thrill of soloing gym leaders, nor was there any sense of accomplishment. Battlers were sorted into pods of eight people, who battled single-elimination, the winner receiving a cut of all eight trainers’ entry fees. Needless to say, it didn’t attract many good trainers. Kay stood to make a good deal of money if she kept at this, but she needed stress relief more than some extra cash at the moment.
“Go, Staraptor!” Her final opponent shouted as he sent out his first Pokémon. Kay hadn’t bothered to commit the man’s name to memory. In a few moments, she’d never have to acknowledge his existence again as long as she lived.
“Fermi, you’re up again,” Kay said impassively.
Fermi the Gardevoir stepped into the open area between the two trainers. He hadn’t been recalled since Kay started battling, and if Kay got her way, this battle would make his seventh to ninth defeated Pokémon in a row. Other trainers gathered along the marked perimeter in the room, watching Fermi as he glided gracefully towards his opponent.
“Long range it,” Kay ordered. Battles here weren’t judged by referee, and started whenever the trainers were ready. They were nominally type A, but accidents happened from time to time.
Fermi’s eyes glowed a bright azure, then switched to a fierce red. The air seemed to bend around Staraptor, and his movements appeared sluggish. Kay reflected that they wouldn’t have seemed that way to Staraptor himself, but time dilation was an unavoidable effect of a psychically-induced quantum singularity.
An invisible force struck Staraptor, which was followed by another one as Fermi shocked him with another blast containing immense psychic energy. Staraptor, naturally, fainted from the repeated blows.
“One down, two to go,” Kay said to herself. Even she could tell how dull her voice was, which was aggravating since she was so frustrated that it seemed it was all she could do not to jump into the fight herself.
Her opponent switched out his Staraptor for a Tauros. Kay sighed to herself. For this one, she didn’t even need a specific pattern.
“Fermi, just Focus Blast the thing,” Kay said.
Fermi held out one of his thin arms, a blue ball swirling into existence around his hand. Tauros’ only option was to charge, which meant he ran headlong into the ball as Fermi shot it at the bull. Tauros roared in pain and collapsed, skidding along the ground a few metres and coming to a stop well clear of Fermi. He didn’t get back up.
“Tell you what, Fermi,” Kay said. “You figure a blitz will take down his next one?”
Fermi closed his eyes for a moment, reading the future, and then nodded. It was a distinctly human gesture. Of all Kay’s Pokémon, Volta might have been the most relatable, but Fermi was the easiest to communicate with. Furthermore, Fermi’s future sight was a very useful ability to draw upon, even if it unsettled Kay by proving the reality of determinism.
“Go for it.”
Existential issues aside, Kay’s opponent sent out a Simisear. She watched with a smirk on her face as Fermi first threw out a wave of thunder to paralyze the monkey, followed by a psychic attack that pushed her back and disoriented her. Fermi finished off the pattern with a Hyper Beam that knocked Simisear out before she even got a chance to attack.
“I’ll be needing that money now,” Kay said to the man organizing the fights.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, counting out a number of bills. “If you want, you could go again and I could just take the entry out of this.”
“I’m good,” Kay replied. She took the money once it was offered and headed out.
Fermi followed his trainer closely as the two stepped out into the hot afternoon outdoors. Kay winced slightly at the glare from the sun. After blinking a few times, her eyes adjusted, and she continued on her way.
Or at least she tried to. Fermi stopping in place was Kay’s first indication that someone had followed her. Kay sighed and turned around to see her first-round opponent, some man who’d introduced himself with a name Kay couldn’t be bothered to remember. Shin? Shan? Chen? Whatever.
“So what’s the deal?” The man asked. “You’re just going to cut and run? You think you’re better than us?”
Kay laughed, a much more malicious sound than she intended. “I’m a four-time Pokémon League regional champion. I can defeat Neo League gyms by myself. I can stand up to Pokémon Masters. I am better than you.”
“Like hell you’d waste your time here if you really were a champion,” he retorted, bile in his voice. “You’re just some guy with a chip on his shoulder and delusions of grandeur.”
The man grabbed a pokéball, but jerked in place and dropped it to the ground before he could open it. Fermi’s eyes glowed as he stepped between his trainer and her would-be challenger.
“You’re not worth my time,” Kay said icily as she turned and left. Behind her, she heard a grunt followed by a thud, presumably as Fermi threw the man to the ground. She didn’t turn around to check—Fermi knew better than to cause anyone serious injury without very good reason.
Please tell me what troubles you, Fermi said psychically to Kay as the two walked away.
“Same thing as always,” Kay replied, not breaking stride. Unlike Alex, Kay didn’t mind the occasional pronoun mix-up—if anything, she revelled in it, so that part improved her ailing mood rather than worsened it. She groaned. “Worst thing is I can’t even let that jerk know about it. Just gotta put on a smile and pretend to be so happy I want to puke.”
Your feelings are strong, but your friendship with Alex would survive if you told her the truth.
“Really? You see that working in the future?”
I cannot see that far ahead.
“Then shut it,” Kay snapped. She sighed. “I’m sorry. I really am. I’m just stressed out, is all.”
Perhaps you should have Volta approach Marril, Fermi suggested, unfazed. Strictly speaking, Kay’s apology was unnecessary. Gardevoirs constantly read emotion simply as a form of communication. Kay’s feelings of contrition were her real apology, but she would have felt awkward and slightly callous if she didn’t apologize in a way more familiar to her.
“Marril’s way too loyal to Alex,” Kay countered. “She’d just tell her everything. I’ve gotta bide my time, is all. Maybe after she sees her dad. I mean, I don’t want to hurt her, so I should wait until she can take this kind of blow.”
Fermi didn’t reply. However, Kay started to feel slightly better, and as she looked over to Fermi, she saw his eyes glowing a pale green.
“Thank you,” Kay said to the Pokémon before recalling him. The psychic pick-me-up was just what she needed to keep her all-smiles-and-happiness façade as she met Alex and Terry that evening.
Using his connections to meet with Idaman Neo League officials was, Richard reflected, probably a gross misuse of a few favours he was owed. It was potentially unnecessary. But unlike his previous experiences with the game, his daughters were now involved. Alex was proving herself a solid player, and Sam was a Pokémon Master with a clever partner, but that didn’t change the fact that a single misstep could result in either or both winding up hurt or dead.
That thought never ceased to terrify him.
So he decided to play it safe, which was why he now sat at a meeting table in a boardroom, flanked by several ignorant assistants and one very trustworthy Team Rocket agent. Across from him were two of his Idaman counterparts, one an investment banker and the other a partner in an auditing firm. His Neo League contacts unanimously agreed that pursuing those two businessmen would result in a spectacular domino effect.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” Richard said. He took a sip of water and set the glass down gently in front of him.
“With all the money changing hands under your facilitation, it’s our pleasure,” replied Somchai, the investment banker, with a hint of levity. “But in all seriousness, it really is our pleasure.”
Not for much longer, Richard thought scornfully. Ah, the hell with it. “Not for much longer,” he repeated the thought aloud.
“This regards our investments and derivative contracts with Fredricsson and Shin Corporation,” Richard explained. He nodded towards Thaksin, the auditor. “In fact, it also regards your associate here. You see, it has come to my attention that Mr. Thaksin’s unmodified opinion of the previous year’s financial statements constitutes either contributory negligence or outright fraud, as my private auditor here,” he indicated Adrian, his Team Rocket accomplice, “discovered while reviewing your firm’s corroborating evidence.”
“Absurd,” Thaksin exclaimed. “Why wouldn’t you come to us before making open declarations?”
“The egregious and frankly pervasive nature of Shin Corporation’s misstatements, combined with the lack of corroborating evidence paints such a stark picture that we deemed that unnecessary.”
Thaksin swore. “You know as well as I do that we can’t release every detail due to the nature of client relationships.”
Richard turned his attention to Somchai. “Furthermore, it’s my understanding that Fredricsson has engaged in strategic investment of companies controlled by the New Rockets. As such, it’s our intention to liquidate all common shares in these companies back to their issuers through the agreed put option. Bonds will be held until maturity. Derivative contracts will be sold at book value.”
Somchai’s shoulders slumped forward. “I understand.”
Richard’s lingering worries that Adrian would linger too long before taking action were abated as Adrian stood up, offered a bow to the Idaman businessmen, and drew a gun. Richard looked at him, jaw agape, eyes asking the question his mouth couldn’t.
“I’d hoped you were wrong,” Adrian said. His performance was admirable, but Richard couldn’t take the time to appreciate it. Instead, he slowly moved his hand toward his jacket pocket while Adrian’s attention was focused on the Idamans. “You got caught, but the New Rockets can’t let this transaction go through. We need the money more than we need you.”
Adrian fired three shots, hitting Somchai, Thaksin, and one of their assistants. He whirled around to face Richard, but was too late to stop Richard from calling out his Ninetails. Adrian had to dodge a jet of flame from the fox’s mouth, resulting in his shot taking Richard in the arm.
Swearing, Adrian charged toward the door, taking shots at Richard’s assistants. He only hit one, which made Richard wince. The man wasn’t a Team Rocket agent, but he was still a loyal employee of one of their subsidiaries. He wasn’t expendable.
“Follow him,” Richard ordered. Ninetails yelped an affirmative and charged out of the room after the agent.
Gods be with you, Richard prayed silently. Adrian was likely to escape despite Richard’s token attempt to stop him, but that wasn’t the issue. Adrian’s face would be all over the media now, his assumed identity known to police across the province at least. It meant Team Rocket would have to get him back to Japan for his own safety.
Still, the benefits greatly outweighed the costs. Not only was Richard going to be free from suspicion of direct involvement, but a great number of New Rocket businesses would be under investigation. The police would come to the conclusion that Adrian was a New Rocket operative placed close to Richard to keep an eye on their investments, and that his mission was to silence all parties involved that day. Thanks to his actions, the police were going to have a great number of leads to work with. The financial blow alone was going to be tremendous, and any arrested agents would drain their manpower.
Richard set out to reach security and call emergency services. The police were going to need a full report of the day’s events, and he intended to give them everything they needed.
Wow, I could actually pull this off, Kay thought to herself as she watched Volta down her opponent’s Skarmory. Sure, she still had a Reuniclus to deal with, as well as another benched Pokémon each from gym leaders Quan and Vinh, but she still had a bench of her own.
This little solo challenge wasn’t an official match, but after seeing Kay’s extraordinary Pokémon League battle rating, the Ha Tinh gym leaders found the prospect of an after-hours two-on-one battle too interesting to pass up.
“All right, incapacitate that Reuniclus,” Kay ordered.
“Rai-rai!” Volta exclaimed, dropping down on all fours. She shot a thunder wave at Reuniclus, which hit right as Quan sent out a Lucario. Kay was interested to see how well Lucario could use his aura abilities, or if he was simply trained in martial arts.
That was, however, a concern for the future. Kay watched as Volta continued to assault Reuniclus by whipping her thunderbolt-shaped tail into the psychic’s face, kicking off his face to put distance between the two.
Kay didn’t have time to warn Volta about the aura sphere headed her way. Thankfully, Volta saw it in time and with merely a split second of focus, a body substitute appeared in front of Volta to take the blow.
“Focus on Reuniclus,” Kay said.
“Chu,” Volta said in acknowledgement.
Lucario’s attacks proved difficult at best for Volta to dodge, and she was only spared a painful defeat by Reuniclus’ paralysis. Volta focused on keeping as much distance between herself and Lucario as possible, leading the lupine Pokémon around behind her like a kite. Occasionally, Volta stopped to fire bolts of electricity at Reuniclus.
This strategy worked for several moments, right up until Reuniclus finally managed to focus a psychic attack to hit Volta. The force of the impact sent Volta sprawling.
“Volt Tackle!” Kay shouted as Lucario rushed in to finish Volta.
“Rai-Raichu,” Volta grunted. Without hesitation, she leapt at Reuniclus, electricity arcing around her body. This charge erupted as she impacted Reuniclus, resulting in a near-deafening crack and a flash of light that made Kay recoil.
“Good job, Volta,” Kay said as she recalled her Raichu. The attack had taken out Reuniclus as well, which meant Vinh was down to his final Pokémon, a Machamp.
The gym leaders now had absolutely no chance of winning.
“End it as fast as you can, Fahrenheit,” Kay ordered as she sent out her Blaziken.
Fahrenheit offered a visible smirk as he crossed his arms in front of his chest, glaring at Lucario. He leapt into the air to dodge an aura sphere, spinning around in an intricate dance before landing. He didn’t give Lucario a chance to react, rushing in and sending Lucario up into the air with a powerful uppercut.
Still aloft, Lucario turned his side toward Fahrenheit, hands together beside his body. He thrust his hands out, sending a Hyper Beam directly at Fahrenheit. Fahrenheit all but ignored the attack as he leapt up into the air after Lucario, body ablaze. He plowed through the beam, suffering no ill effect before reaching his opponent and striking him hard with a blazing kick. The blitz combined with the resulting fall proved more than Lucario could handle.
Machamp attempted to rush Fahrenheit as he landed, but Fahrenheit blocked every single punch from his four-armed opponent. Fahrenheit caught Machamp with a palm to the chest, followed by a blazing kick to his midsection. Finally, Fahrenheit tucked his arms in close to his body. A blue glow surrounded him as he leapt towards Machamp faster than Kay’s eyes could follow, and the aura exploded, enveloping Machamp while also sparking over Fahrenheit’s body.
Heh, brave bird, Kay thought appreciatively as she watched Machamp fall. Fahrenheit was actually far more hurt than he let on, and the recoil from that last attack could have knocked him out too had Machamp been able to land a hit. Still, the pun with the last attack’s name amused her more than it should have.
“Zi-ken,” Fahrenheit grunted as he rose from his knees, triumphant.
“That was truly impressive,” Kay said to Fahrenheit before recalling him. She’d trained all her Pokémon well, but Fahrenheit was heads and shoulders above any normal Pokémon. A truly solo win over two Neo League gym leaders lifted her spirits considerably. Victory had taken every Pokémon Kay had, as well as a fair bit of luck, but now she could say she’d soloed yet one more gym.
“Take it,” Quan said with a smile as he handed Kay a temperance badge.
“Yeah, that wouldn’t get me arrested for tournament fraud,” Kay replied sarcastically, looking warily at the small metal pin in Quan’s hand.
“Of course it won’t,” Quan promised. That guarantee was what Kay sought, and having it, she took the badge graciously. “After all, your partner hasn’t officially dropped from the Neo League circuit. We’ll just take a second badge out of stock and pretend the both of you won this battle officially.”
Kay nodded to Quan. “Can’t say as I deserve it, but thanks.”
“You really need to challenge more gym leaders like this,” Vinh said with a smile. “That was a lot more fun than I usually get.”
“Next stop is Salavan City,” Kay said. “You figure the gym leaders there would take a challenge like that?”
“Salavan, you say?” Quan said. “They will after I tell them about tonight.”
Kay smiled politely, thanked the gym leaders for their time, and headed towards the entrance. She actually had more badges stocked up than she admitted to Alex and Terry—this win made her fourth, although the count was useless seeing as she couldn’t participate in the League championships. Originally, she hadn’t mentioned her under-the-table gym battling to the pair because it would have been bad luck. Now that she’d built up a fair bit of resentment towards them, it would simply give them ammo to use against her if things hit the fan.
That resentment bugged Kay as she headed to the bus stop and rode to the terminal. It wasn’t that she wanted those feelings. She’d known Alex for about seven years. Alex was her best friend, and understood Kay on a level most people simply couldn’t. Terry wasn’t a bad person, poor first impression aside. But Kay couldn’t put her feelings aside. The two irrationally grated her, and she had to pretend nothing was wrong.
Well, whatever. She put the thought from her mind as the bus pulled into the terminal. Alex and Terry were going to meet her there, and as far as she could tell, Fermi’s empathic reinforcement was still holding. This wouldn’t be too bad.
“Hi,” Alex greeted Kay with a smile as Kay stepped off the bus.
“Sup,” Kay replied.
Terry’s right arm was around Alex’s shoulders, so he checked his cell phone with his left hand. The possessiveness was a bit odd visually given that she was taller than him. “Before you ask, the bus going downtown’s going to be another ten minutes.”
“Could be worse,” Kay said. She looked around. “So, what have you two been up to?”
“Same old,” Alex said. “We set up a gym challenge earlier.”
“Cool. From what I hear, the leaders in this city are pretty easy.”
“Let’s hope so. I want to get all eight badges in one long winning streak.”
Kay scoffed. “With Terry? Well, I guess I can tell you some of my gym-soloing strategies.”
“Ouch,” Terry said.
“Now, now, play nice,” Alex admonished the two of them gently. “You don’t want me to break out the Marril again, do you?”
Marril, at the very least, didn’t make it onto Kay’s list of barely being able to stand someone. It was uniquely hard to hold resentment against a Pokémon, especially one like Marril.
“Tell you what,” Kay said. “Peace offering: I kicked some people around in one of those battle rings earlier, so I’ll cover the food, and Terry can pick what series to marathon tonight. I won’t even complain about anime night being in your room as long as you’ve cleaned up.”
“One time, one time I leave some things out…” Alex kvetched in a longsuffering voice. Suffice to say, that one unanticipated mess told Kay a lot more about Alex and her interests than she’d have believed secondhand.
“Your funeral,” Terry said with a shrug. “Just have to pick the worse one I can find now.”
“And I saw a promising-looking Indian place on the way out this morning,” Kay replied, “so we won’t be hurting for spiciness.”
“So am I the only one who comes out of this happy?” Alex wondered. She didn't mind bad entertainment as long as it was still entertaining, and had an unhealthy obsession with her food being as spicy as possible. Those tastes served as a nice intersection to keep Kay and Terry grounded.
Kay broke into a smile, one she couldn’t tell whether it was genuine or not. “That does seem to be the outcome, doesn’t it?”
Alex grinned. “Well, then I’m not complaining.”
Neither am I, Kay thought. Not even if I wanted to.
|07/14/2012, 03:00 PM||#61|
It was a set-up, basically. Richard's plan was to go to some businessmen who had New Rocket ties, pretending to "expose" them (since Richard's actual, real job is in finance and investment, he can do this on an official level), then have Adrian pretend to be a New Rocket member whose job was to silence everyone who knew the New Rocket cover had been broken and cover up the evidence (while also implying that Adrian "infiltrated" Richard's company somehow). As Richard's narration notes, his plan will presumably result in all kinds of investigations, arrests, etc for the New Rockets while keeping Richard's Team Rocket involvement hidden. Richard intentionally had Adrian shoot him non-fatally as well as killing one of Richard's assistants (who wasn't a Team Rocket member, just an employee of Richard's company) to make the act more convincing, while having the New Rocket businessmen killed because, well, Richard and Adrian are Team Rocket members. They don't play nice. That scene's primary purpose will become apparent next chapter, but its secondary purpose is also to show what the face of the Team Rocket/New Rocket gang war is really like—violence between the two has been described secondhand several times before, but this is the reader's first time seeing the actual ruthlessness of it.
I might not have made that as clear as I should have in the story itself, since obviously as the writer I know the full implications of everything, but that can mean trouble if I'm a bit too subtle, unclear, or vague on a point. Sorry for the confusion.
Edit: I also realized on rereading that section that it's actually spelled Ninetales. How that "Ninetails" typo survived my proofreading process, I have no idea.
"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; 07/14/2012 at 03:09 PM.
|07/14/2012, 03:07 PM||#62|
And it's probably not your fault that I didn't get it, I tend to skim unintentionally then wonder why something is not making sense.
The only difference this time is that I couldn't figure it out after re-reading it several times.
Jolteon Flareon Vaporeon
|07/25/2012, 02:01 AM||#63|
One of the more annoying things about finally getting around to playing Pokemon Conquest is that I keep wanting to slip some kind of reference to it into SS. I probably won't, but still, it's strongly tempting (and it'd make more sense than the Dragon Age reference from a while back). Oh well. On the flip side, I did actually consider choosing the male hero in Conquest and naming him Terry just for the fun of it. The novelty would've worn off pretty quickly though.
A few notes before we get started this week. In case anyone's wondering exactly what that one outfit in this chapter looks like, this is it. I also admit the pride parade backstory thing is a bit unclear, but there's no way to explain it in-story in a way that wouldn't sound forced, so I'll just drop the explanation here: Sexuality in this world is a complete non-issue, but gender variance and trans people and so on aren't as well-accepted, so it would've been just a trans pride event, not an LGBT pride one (and this explanation is longer than the passage it's explaining). Finally, for everyone thinking "Adair must be a total idiot for not realizing Alex and Richard have the same last name," I think the official explanation I'm going to settle upon (not canon until it's in story though) is that Lindstrom is actually Alex's mother's last name, so Richard would have a different one than Alex.
Chapter 28 - Quotidian Procession
Ha Tinh had better be a step up from Son La, Adair thought. He needed a city he could get well and thoroughly lost in for a few days to calm his nerves after he’d heard about the Team Rocket agent who, posing as a New Rocket agent, killed several New Rocket businessmen and nearly killed a foreign investor.
It wasn’t Adair’s concern, strictly speaking, but he couldn’t help but obsess over that blow. That Team Rocket agent’s façade was nearly flawless, and it took the New Rockets days to begin piecing together the story. Gods only knew what they’d find later. It all left Adair wondering who else was only pretending to be on his side.
Adair shot a surreptitious glare to his right. Ryan was so oblivious, so trusting that Michael couldn’t make mistakes. Hope sprang eternal that at some point Adair could end Ryan just like that Team Rocket agent ended Somchai and Thaksin. What a mistake on Michael’s part letting Adair roam around unfettered would be.
Ryan said something, breaking the silence between the two men. Most of Ryan's attention was focused on driving, which was fine by Adair, who spent his time listening to music and staring into space, but it meant his sparse interruptions caught Adair by surprise. Ryan’s words were muffled by Adair’s music. Adair thumbed the pause button and asked, “Eh?”
“I said there’s a town about twenty klicks up,” Ryan repeated himself. “Should probably stop there for lunch.”
Ryan shrugged. “Hey, man, I’m just trying to keep you in the loop, you know?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Adair said before turning his music back on. He wasn’t especially hungry, but they wouldn’t make it to Ha Tinh before evening, and he’d regret it later if he didn’t eat now.
Ryan was annoyingly immature, his friendliness grating and hollow. Adair wished he’d just shut up altogether. The age disparity between the two wasn’t that great, but it felt to Adair like they were a whole generation apart, with Adair as the wise and reserved elder and Ryan as the naďve and outgoing child.
Yeah, that characterization isn’t completely self-serving, Adair thought to himself sarcastically between songs.
They reached the aforementioned town a little under 15 minutes later. Like everything else in Idama besides the scattered few bastions of civilization, Xam Neua looked primitive and backwater. It wasn’t really the Idamans’ fault, but Adair needed a target for his frustrations, and they were the easiest ones, unfair as it was. Idama was hardly a third-world country, after all.
Hand-painted signs marked various shops, restaurants, and other establishments, few of which Adair could read. It didn’t matter in the long run—Adair picked up lunch from a street vendor and ate it idly as he trudged down the dirty sidewalk. The food’s taste was inversely proportional to its cost.
All right, Adair, think about what we know for certain, Adair tried to get everything straight. He didn’t have to act like a happy little Team Rocket member when Ryan wasn’t around, and he had a little under an hour to himself before he had to go back and meet Ryan.
The fact that Raleigh couldn’t unearth any information about the assassin meant the assassin didn’t actually have any New Rocket ties. Raleigh said he could count the number of people who knew about Somchai and Thaksin’s New Rocket affiliation on one hand, including himself. That much helped Raleigh, but it did nothing for Adair.
Gods, I need to stop worrying about this, Adair told himself as he finished his food and surreptitiously tossed the empty container and disposable chopsticks aside. Littering was a misdemeanour, but if the cops didn’t see it, well, then he didn’t do it.
Now that he thought about it, would a hole-in-the-wall like Xam Neua even have an Officer Jenny? He figured it probably would. Those things were everywhere.
Focus, damn it, Adair thought.
The assassination was Kenneth’s doing. Even if the executive wasn’t personally responsible, one of his elites was. The New Rockets acquitted themselves well against Roland’s open gang warfare, and had been blindsided by Kenneth’s corporate approach. Hitting Team Rocket in the same way would prove difficult as they integrated themselves very well with the surge of foreign investors following the formation of the Neo League. For every Team Rocket business, there were scores of legitimate ones.
Exploiting Alex to get to Kenneth was in Adair’s mind a prudent strategy, but Raleigh forbade it. Keeping an eye on him… her… whatever, on Alex and Michael would be more valuable in the short run. Adair agreed on a rational level, but not an emotional one. Some primal corner of his mind cried out to weaponize Alex against Kenneth now, not later.
Rein that in, Adair admonished himself. He reached into his jacket pocket and dug out his secondary cell phone. It was a cheap model, intended to be easily disposed of if Adair needed to hide anything. Moreover, it was his sixth such phone.
Nothing new from Raleigh. It figured. Adair decided nothing good would come of dwelling on recent events, and set off to find Ryan. Ryan’s naďveté aside, he wasn’t bad company per se. There were people he wanted even less to spend his time with.
An hour later, the two of them were on the road to Ha Tinh again, Adair’s mood calmed significantly.
“Did I tell you that you actually managed to surprise me this time?” Kay asked as she met Alex just outside some clothing store or another in downtown Ha Tinh. It wasn’t exactly the most upscale place, at least by Kay’s standards. The exterior was grimy and the windows were reinforced by sturdy-looking bars.
Alex shrugged. “It’s meant to be uncharacteristic.” She nodded over her shoulder before turning and entering the store. “I needed to be sure Terry wouldn’t want to invite himself along. Hence the clothes shopping.”
“In this place?” Kay wondered as she looked around. Mannequins littered the floor, each in a different pose. The walls were lined with distinctly Idaman clothing which Kay couldn’t imagine Alex actually being interested in.
“I needed to be sure Terry wouldn’t want to invite himself along,” Alex repeated. She sighed and sorted through a nearby clothing rack with one hand. “We had another… disagreement after the gym battle a few days ago.”
Kay fought back the urge to roll her eyes. This was typical Alex behaviour. She preferred to run from her problems, and this included dealing with Terry. Alex apparently couldn’t handle telling Terry to buzz off if he tried coming along, hence why she engineered such a contrived outing. Kay wanted to point this out to Alex, but couldn’t think of any way to say it that wasn’t completely jerky.
“I thought you won?” Kay asked, keeping the conversation on a subject she could be civil about.
“We did,” Alex said. “That’s the problem.”
“Let me guess,” Kay said. “You used Meili again and Terry got mad?”
“No, it was Gyarados that set him off this time.”
Alex nodded. She picked up a tunic and held it against her body, looking down at it. “The battle was type B, so I wasn’t going to risk getting disqualified by Meili. Gyarados’ teeth wound up puncturing Skarmory’s hide. Now Terry seems to think I’m trying to make brutality into some kind of gimmick.”
Kay leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. “Are you?”
“Of course not.”
“Then I don’t really know what to say. These arguments are a new thing, right?”
“They started with Son La,” Alex said. “At first I thought it was just some empathic spillover from Meili. Now it happened again without Meili.”
Kay shrugged, a knot forming in her stomach. “I have a theory, but first, can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer if you’re uncomfortable.”
“Now that’s ominous,” Alex said.
Kay indicated Alex’s wrists, which were ringed by sore-looking reddish-pink marks. “Did you get those from Terry?”
Alex glanced down at her left wrist, right obscured by a tunic draped over her forearm. She chuckled uneasily. “This is from before the gym battle. Nothing to worry about, I promise.”
Yeah, that’s what I thought. Awkward, Kay grumbled internally. Well, better awkward than abuse. “It seems to me Terry’s just getting stressed out by the battles themselves. You two haven’t had any real fights outside them, right?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Alex said.
“Well, then it’s Terry’s problem, not yours,” Kay said. “He’ll have to be the one to get over it.”
“Doesn’t make it any easier for me,” Alex said. She held up two different tunics, one green, the other blue. “Which one do you think would look better on me?”
Kay arced an eyebrow. “You’re actually going to buy something?”
“Why not? I might as well since I’m here.”
“Right,” Kay said, momentarily stunned by Alex so transparently taking the opportunity to use shopping as a brief escape from reality. “Um, the blue one. Emerald green’s a bit too bright for you. Try a darker green if they have one. Maybe a leaf green? Celadon? I dunno.”
Alex scoffed lightly. “Just for that, I’m going out of my way to find a cerulean one.”
Kay rolled her eyes. She didn’t share Alex’s pride in being from Cerulean City, although she’d been to Cerulean Pride more than once. On one occasion she even dragged Alex along, although Alex was still closeted about her real gender at the time and thus pretended she had no reason to attend.
The two continued to make light conversation as Alex made the rounds, picking out a small armful of outfits. Eventually, Alex announced, “All right, now for the boring part.”
“At least you’re honest,” Kay said as she followed Alex to the change rooms. “I’ve shopped with people who think this is the best part for the spectators.”
“Yeah, I don't subscribe to that kind of falseness,” Alex said. She disappeared into one of the change rooms, and Kay took a seat on one of the adjacent benches.
Kay shook her head and took out her phone. She loaded up a game to pass the few minutes she knew it’d take Alex to figure out how to put on a traditional Idaman outfit. Smart as Alex was, fashion was never a strong point for her. Kay could probably keep to two hands in counting how many times she'd ever been clothes shopping with Alex.
Kay noticed the change room curtain open and paused her game. She looked up and saw Alex wearing a cerulean ao dai. It was such a departure from her normal jeans and t-shirt kind of style that Alex could have conceivably passed for a different person.
“You should switch out the pants for white ones,” Kay suggested. “You’d match with Marril and everything.”
“So that’s a negative?” Alex asked.
“No, actually, I think that one looks good on you. Just don’t wear white pants with it while Marril’s around.”
Alex rolled her eyes and closed the change room curtain again. Kay briefly unpaused her game, getting a good two minutes’ play before Alex came back out with an outfit slightly different in style and colour. This process repeated itself several times before Alex finally settled on the original cerulean outfit. As much as Kay razzed Alex about it, Alex did actually look good in that ao dai.
And as much as Alex’s mood did seem improved as they left the store, Kay wished she could do something other than assist in a temporary solution to a much greater problem.
Well, in the end, she has to help herself, Kay thought. She wished Alex would mention what was almost certainly the real thing bothering her—according to the news, at least, a Team Rocket agent had worked his way into Alex’s father’s company, killed several of his business partners, and injured him. Arguments with Terry were certainly something to be concerned about, but didn’t explain why Alex was suddenly in some kind of recluse mode like that shooting would.
“Hey,” Alex said as they walked down the street. “Um, Terry’s going to be out for the day, so if you’d like we can get back to the hotel and I could make you lunch. Just kind of a thank you for dragging you around and all.”
Alex’s very presence annoyed Kay lately, but she still couldn’t stand to see Alex in pain. Apologizing for an outing was something Alex only did when her depression flared up enough to make her seriously think her mere presence was an imposition upon others. Annoyance and sympathy created a very strange emotional mixture.
“Sure,” Kay said. “Sounds fun.”
Juliet slowly opened the incubation chamber. The infant Tribo, a small black mass with spindly arms and legs, looked at her curiously. It didn’t flinch as Juliet extended her hand, and crawled up onto it once it was close enough.
Smiling, Juliet picked up Tribo carefully, cradling it in one arm. “This,” she said, “is a momentous occasion.”
“I’ll say,” Sakuya commented dryly. “This means Elle wins the birth pool.”
Incubation took longer than expected, and the date was June 19, a full three days later than any of the scientists had guessed. The winner was actually a person from the accounting department who had no data to go upon and merely picked a random date and time in June.
“Maybe someday we’ll be in the history books,” Juliet said, looking down at the infant Pokémon.
“The Mewtwo team didn’t make it, so I doubt we will,” Sakuya said.
“True, but Giovanni didn’t intend to patent everything related to Mewtwo,” Juliet said. She nodded to Sakuya. “Come on, we need to get Tribo to the lab, make sure it’s healthy.”
Sakuya nodded and followed Juliet. “Ugly little thing, isn’t it?”
Juliet didn’t break stride. “It’s a face only a mother could love. Maybe in the next generation, we can focus on artificial Pokémon’s appearance.”
The two women entered the lab, a spotless room with a stifling antiseptic atmosphere. It had a wide range of medical equipment for Pokémon, ranging from devices that could be found in every Pokémon Centre worldwide to proprietary machines meant to measure psychic activity.
Juliet tried to set Tribo down on a small observation table. However, Tribo tried to climb back up her arm as she released it, and after a few moments of struggling, Juliet gave in and balanced Tribo in one arm while readying some ECG leads.
“Mind giving me a hand with this?” Juliet asked.
“Sure thing,” Sakuya said. She tried to stick several electrodes onto Tribo, but it hissed at her angrily. “Um, you might wanna take this one, boss.”
“Interesting behaviour,” Juliet said as she connected each lead without a hint of resistance. “I’m guessing we made it imprint correctly. It doesn’t seem to trust anyone it doesn’t think is its mother.”
“Let’s hope it works that out a bit,” Sakuya said. “It’ll be a little hard to work with if you’re the only one who can do anything.”
“I wonder something,” Juliet said as she dug through her coat pocket. She pulled out a pokéball, decided it was the wrong one for the job, and dug out another. Double-tapping its eye, she released Sneasel onto the observation table beside Tribo.
Tribo emitted a high-pitched hiss and raised its spindly arms aggressively, nearly tearing off the ECG leads in the process. Sneasel flashed his claws, not backing down. The two Pokémon stared at each other for several long moments before Tribo relaxed. Sneasel did the same.
“At least I can probably get my Pokémon to help,” Juliet said. “Sneasel, can it communicate?”
“Sel-Sneasel-snea-Sneasel,” Sneasel said to Tribo. Tribo tilted its head. “Sneasel-Sneasel.”
Tribo’s reply was a gurgling hiss.
“Sel,” Sneasel announced. That was a no. Tribo’s instinctual communicative skills hadn’t taken hold, but as long as its mental abilities were intact, it could learn to communicate the hard way.
“It was a thought,” Juliet said. She’d intended to have Sneasel describe the procedures Juliet was going to perform and tell Tribo to stay calm and still. Now, they just had to hope Tribo would cooperate without knowing what was going on. “Sakuya, mind getting these readings?”
“Sure,” Sakuya said. She copied some data into a laptop connected to the ECG machine and saved it. They had no way of knowing what normal readings would be, but assuming Tribo was healthy, they could establish a baseline over the next few days.
“Tribo’s a lot clingier than I thought it’d be,” Juliet commented, looking down at the spindly black Pokémon still holding onto her arm tightly.
“Maybe it needs some affection from its mom before we continue,” Sakuya suggested.
Juliet scoffed at being called a mother, yet as she thought about it, she realized Sakuya had a very good point. Tribo was a living being in addition to an expensive science project. Clinging to her, shunning other human contact, and only barely tolerating Pokémon were probably just part of some kind of parent-child bonding.
Once again, I forget living creatures are in fact alive, Juliet thought as she mentally kicked herself.
“You’re right,” Juliet said. “Tell you what, I’ll, uh, go do whatever mothers do with newborns for a few hours, then we can continue.”
Sakuya smiled. “Sounds good to me.”
|08/12/2012, 02:38 AM||#65|
The only comments coming to mind this time is that I want World of Pokecraft to be a real thing, and that Pokemon Conquest is spectacularly addicting.
Chapter 29 - Closing In
Salavan was significantly worse than Ha Tinh.
Oh, Adair could imagine why someone would label Salavan superior just because it was much larger and more modern, but that provided significant downsides to someone in his position. It was a lot harder to escape casual scrutiny in a place like this, and while relying on others’ apathy not to meddle in his affairs was a sound strategy, he’d rather avoid the risks entirely.
The prevalence of Internet cafés in Idama did, however, mean that Salavan had a lot of them, and as a result of the competition, prices were mind-bogglingly low. Adair wondered just how many Idamans actually had home Internet and how many simply spent their free time in their favourite café, especially given the amenities offered by particularly upscale locales.
For a while, Adair seriously considered opening a World of Pokécraft account just to have a cover story for parking himself at the same café for several days in a row, but decided against it. The last thing he needed was to find himself getting addicted despite his best efforts.
He rubbed his temples as he read Raleigh’s latest message. He was tired after a long day, but this was the only time he could slip away from Ryan given their latest endeavour was to attempt to root out any New Rocket cells in Salavan. It was such a futile effort that Adair didn’t even need to obfuscate anything.
We’re close to discerning the location of the elite Team Rocket member known solely as Conrad, Adair read the message silently. Elizabeth remains at large, while no opportunities to remove Juliet have presented themselves. Size and composition of Kenneth’s Team Rocket detachment remains unknown.
That last part was the most galling. Alex knew every member of Kenneth’s group, but Adair hadn’t been able to get her to mention any of them. She even refrained from mentioning Elizabeth, even though she knew Adair was aware of Elizabeth’s existence. Of all the times to show any kind of prudence, Alex picked the absolute worst.
Well, there couldn’t have been that many he didn’t know about. Any more than seven or eight people and Kenneth would run into problems with secrecy. There did, however, have to be more than Kenneth, Elizabeth, Conrad, and Michael, owing to the exploits of at least one other as of yet unknown agent.
Past that, the only curiosity left to Adair was who specifically Alex was the daughter of. The most likely candidates were Kenneth or Elizabeth, if only due to passing resemblances to either, but Adair wasn’t able to narrow it down any further. The issue wasn’t important, at any rate, but curiosity nagged the back of Adair’s mind all the same.
“Um, are you busy with something right now?” Came a somewhat deep, husky voice from behind Adair. Its pitch and tone were undeniably feminine, however, and Adair only knew one person who sounded anything like that.
Crap, crap, crap, Adair thought. His blood chilled. The e-mail from Raleigh was still open. Adair pretended to file it away in his inbox before swivelling his chair around to face Alex. Noticeably taller than most women, she actually looked rather imposing as she towered over him.
“Just catching up on some Team Rocket business,” Adair replied. He felt proud that he was able to keep his voice perfectly steady, without a hint of his nearly overwhelming panic creeping into it.
Alex smiled. “You guys work way too hard, you know that?”
“You can blame Michael for that,” Adair commented with a shrug. “Truth be told, this is the first night I’ve found some free time for quite a while. You have no idea how close I came to springing for one of the private terminals.”
With an understanding grin, Alex said, “The night’s young. You still can. Gods know you need some real relaxation—Ryan sent me here to talk to you and I find you catching up on work in your time off? Really? That’s terrible.”
Adair grimaced. “What does Ryan want me for now?”
“He was going to come himself, but I insisted he didn’t,” Alex explained. “He just wants to pass on a message from Michael.”
“He could’ve just sent me a text,” Adair pointed out.
“He tried,” Alex said. “Apparently you’ve got your phone off.”
“Then he could’ve waited.”
“It’s a bit too urgent for that,” Alex said. She leaned in close to Adair and whispered a rather chilling message—a New Rocket had revealed the identities of several New Rocket agents posing as members of Team Rocket, and Kenneth was undertaking a cleanup operation. One of those New Rockets was in Salavan, and might decide to attack Adair if he wasn’t careful.
Adair grunted in annoyance. He was the only infiltrator in Salavan, a point Raleigh made abundantly clear. His cover hadn’t been blown yet, but it would be soon if Alex’s words were true. He fought back a growing sense of fear. While it was the natural response, it wouldn’t help him as much as calm, rational thought would.
“No need to panic,” Alex assured him. “Just relax. If Ryan finds anything, you’ll be the first to know. Just play some World of Pokécraft or something—Ryan tells me you’re into it. And, you know, watch your back when you leave.”
Adair snorted in amusement. “I think I will. Anything else you need to scare me with?”
“Nah, I’m good for now,” Alex replied. She turned to leave and waved over her shoulder as she walked away. Adair couldn’t deny that Alex’s androgynous figure did in fact look a bit feminine if one was predisposed to see it that way, if only due to how slim she was. “Have fun.”
While Sam didn’t share the same view many foreigners did of Idama as some backwards country in drastic need of civilization, Vientiane simply felt like a better place to be than everywhere else she’d been. Her place in Rueni City never felt like an actual home, but she could see herself living in Vientiane if it came down to it.
The city itself was extremely modern-looking, sporting familiar architecture and layout. It was as if someone transplanted a small piece of Kanto overseas. It was familiar, comfortable, and pleasant. Which was specifically why the Idaman government fostered that appearance. The Neo League was, as its name suggested, a new organization, and it had lofty goals. To accomplish them, it needed significant amounts of money, and that meant attracting foreign investors and creating as many ties with the Pokémon League as well. Every time Sam looked out her hotel room window and swore she could’ve been in Saffron City, she couldn’t help but wonder how Vientiane was before the Neo League took over.
The most notable difference between the two Leagues was that the Neo League was headquartered directly in Vientiane, rather than outside the city in some analogue to the Indigo Plateau or even Ever Grande City. As such, the conference she was attending in several days took place in a convention centre attached to the Pokémon coliseum in the city centre. If nothing else, it meant getting there and back was easier than with the Indigo Plateau.
“You’re going to be fine, right?” Sam asked Melanie as she gazed out the hotel room window, transfixed by the cityscape.
Melanie stepped up behind Sam and snaked her arms around Sam’s waist, drawing her into a tight hug. “I promise, Sammy,” she said as she nuzzled Sam’s hair affectionately.
Sam couldn’t help but smile, and she turned around to return Melanie’s hug. Melanie stroked Sam’s hair gently and kissed the crown of her head. The two women stood embracing each other for several long moments Sam wished could last forever.
“So,” Sam said as they parted, brought down by reality but unable to keep a smile from her face, “you ready?”
Melanie nodded, returning the smile. Her hands were still on Sam’s shoulders. “I wish I didn’t have to do this,” she said as she slid her hands slowly down Sam’s arms. “If I’m caught, you’re the one who’ll be punished worse than I ever would.”
Sam grimaced slightly, giving Melanie’s hands an affectionate squeeze before letting go. “Then don’t.”
“And let Juliet get sucked further into the mob?” Melanie asked. “I started this, and I’m finishing it.”
Sam nodded. “If there’s anything more I can do, just let me know.”
“Be there for me no matter how this ends,” Melanie said.
“All right,” Sam promised.
Their plan, worked out over the previous few weeks, was to use Sam’s access to give Melanie free reign of the Neo League. Melanie could then use her oddly amazing investigation skills to locate the Team Rocket boss in charge of the area undercover as a League official and silence him. Melanie made it sound so simple that Sam almost stopped worrying about the outcome.
Sam and Melanie left shortly thereafter. Melanie kept close to Sam on their way to the Neo League headquarters. Sam couldn’t begrudge Melanie her emotions. Even Sam’s constant self-reassurance that she was a Pokémon Master and could therefore handle anything wasn’t working as well as it used to.
The League headquarters itself was an imposing, twenty-storey building attached to an enormous, open-air stadium that could seat hundreds of thousands of spectators. Inside the building’s public areas were a Pokémon Centre, department store, breeding centre, tutors, and any number of other services. The restricted areas were divided into several access levels, with the lowest simply being for authorized trainers and the highest being only accessible to League officials, Pokémon Masters, and other high-level personnel.
Sam handed Melanie her master card once they were inside. It was simply a reissued trainer card with a fancier design and an RFID system instead of a magnetic strip. “This’ll get you through any door you want,” she explained. “It’ll also register your movements as me, so don’t do anything to attract attention and make security wonder why I’m in restricted areas rather than meeting conference organizers.
Melanie took the card and quietly slipped it into her pocket. “Quit worrying, eh? I mean, you could always loan me Shamash if you’re that worried.”
Sam offered Melanie a grin. Requests to borrow Shamash were somewhat of a running joke ever since the Rueni trade show. “Maybe some other time.”
Melanie smiled and gave Sam a goodbye kiss before heading off.
While Sam would technically need her card if she had to open any doors, it wouldn’t be that hard to convince someone else to do so in an “after you” fashion. Leaving once she was done wouldn’t be a problem since the doors were only locked from the outside.
Sam waited at the far end of the foyer for just under ten minutes before she was greeted by two men. One of these men was tall and lean, with medium-length brown hair only a few shades darker than hers. His long coat and knee-high boots made an odd but striking fashion statement. The other man was somewhat older than Sam, looking to be in his mid-thirties. He had short, jet-black hair and wore formal Idaman attire. Had Sam not already been a Pokémon Master, she might have assumed the second man to be the Master she was scheduled to meet, but her time with the Pokémon League was a lesson that almost no high-ranking trainers were completely normal.
“You must be Raleigh Camulus,” Sam said as she stood up from her seat. She offered her hand to the brown-haired man, who shook it.
“That’s correct, Ms. Lindstrom,” Raleigh said. “This is my associate, Lien, event coordinator for the trainer conference.”
Sam smiled at Lien. “It’s a pleasure to meet you in person.”
“It is,” Lien said. The two of them had exchanged hundreds of e-mails apiece, but had never even seen what the other looked like. Lien was probably the responsible for repeatedly shuffling around the time slot for Sam’s presentation, although Sam couldn’t be sure since his Pokémon League liaison, Raleigh, was also responsible for event planning. Raleigh was a Pokémon Master who Sam had only met once before, at a similar trainer conference at the Indigo Plateau. She didn’t remember much if anything about him.
Sam politely waved Lien and Raleigh at the door, beckoning for them to take the lead. Raleigh took out his trainer card and swept it across a sensor. The door slid open silently.
“You two aren’t going to change my time slot again, right?” Sam asked.
Lien laughed as the three of them stepped through the doorway. “No, no, we’ve finally got a schedule that works. If you don’t believe me, Raleigh can tell you I’m not lying.”
“He’s lying,” Raleigh said deadpan. “We’re going to randomize the schedule every day, twice on Thursdays, then cancel the conference the night before.”
Sam rolled her eyes. Every high-ranking trainer had their own special quirk, and based on that and Raleigh’s further attempts at making jokes, it seemed Raleigh’s was a grating sense of humour. They reached Lien’s office without incident, and Sam was glad that they could finally start talking about something useful.
“We won’t be here long,” Lien explained. “I just need to get the key fob you’re going to need for access to the backstage area.”
Sam nodded. “Also, before we set off on the tour of the facilities, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you.”
Lien paused while digging through a desk drawer. “Oh?”
“There’s been a new development,” Sam explained. “Last night, our experiment proved successful. I’d like to change my topic from the theory behind artificial Pokémon to the application of that theory.”
“I don’t see any problem with that.”
“Got yourself a Castform Mark II, eh?” Raleigh said.
“Something like that,” Sam replied. The proper comparison would have been Genesect or Mewtwo, mention of the latter being strictly verboten. Either way, playing Tribo down as being an equivalent breakthrough to Castform was the smart decision, as no one really needed to know how ridiculous she’d helped make Tribo’s battle abilities.
“I look forward to hearing more,” Raleigh said.
And I don’t, Sam wished she could say. In fact, she came dangerously close to verbalizing it, but caught herself at the last second. She figured this to be the most intelligent decision she’d made all day.
Juliet had just finished cooking dinner when she got a call that she needed to head back to the lab right away. Sakuya wouldn’t summon her after hours without good reason, so Juliet fed Sneasel and Sableye, then grudgingly but hurriedly packed up and refrigerated her meal before heading out.
Fifteen minutes later, Sakuya met Juliet at the building entrance. The younger woman seemed visibly distressed, which kept Juliet’s mood low enough that she took Sakuya’s news surprisingly well.
“Tribo’s killed someone,” Sakuya said.
That one took a few moments to sink in. Tribo was certainly powerful enough
“Great, just great,” Juliet grumbled. “Well, take me to it and explain on the way.”
Sakuya nodded curtly and strode through the halls at such a fast clip that Juliet had trouble keeping up. “It was one of our tranquilized psychics. He was bringing Tribo some food, and didn’t return. We sent someone else in to check, and found… you’ll see.”
They arrived at the lab, where several well-armed, sturdy-looking individuals stood alongside equally sturdy-looking Pokémon. The security was more to reassure the after-hours staff than to protect against any real threat—Tribo could take down such a small contingent with little effort.
“Anything I should know?” Juliet asked the security chief.
The security chief shrugged at her. “We haven’t actually looked inside except to confirm the tranquil’s actually dead. Tribo lashed out at us but didn’t injure anyone.”
“All right,” Juliet said. She took out Banette’s pokéball and released the ghost. Like the security detail for the staff, Banette was little more than a placebo for Juliet’s fears. Banette’s presence worked surprisingly well, however, and Juliet wasn’t afraid at all as she opened the door and entered the room.
Something must have severely agitated Tribo, as the observation equipment had been totally destroyed. Electronics lay strewn across the floor, broken shards of glass glittering in the fluorescent light. The dead tranquil, who’d been known to Juliet solely as Robert, was huddled in one corner of the room, blood pooling around his body. After a few moments’ inspection, Juliet discovered Tribo in the opposite corner, similarly huddled, and trembling. It hissed rhythmically at itself.
Juliet nodded to Banette, who kept several paces behind Juliet as she approached the genetic Pokémon slowly. She knelt down and extended her arm towards Tribo, saying in a hushed voice, “It’s me. Are you hurt?”
Tribo emitted a high-pitched hiss and leapt at Juliet’s arm, latching on tightly. Its hisses turned back into that steady, rhythmic form which Juliet belatedly realized was crying. Did Tribo feel remorse over the kill, or was this something else?
Banette approached, and Tribo gazed at her fearfully. This fear couldn’t possibly have been because Tribo felt physically threatened. It could have defeated Banette in mere seconds were that the case. This had to be something else.
“It’s okay, I promise,” Juliet said to Tribo in a hushed tone. “Banette isn’t going to hurt you.”
Tribo continued to cry, but seemed to accept that Banette was no threat. Juliet gently stroked the back of its head as she stood up. Sakuya stood leaning against the doorframe, looking at Juliet inquisitively.
“I want you to get the lab’s psychics,” Juliet said. “I think Hypno’s going to be our best bet. Something terrified Tribo and Hypno can probably find out what.”
“Could Hypno even communicate with it?” Sakuya asked. Tribo was part dark type, which meant in theory that a psychic Pokémon would be unable to communicate with it. That aside, Tribo was also part psychic type, which meant telepathy was its primary form of communication. Such a combination wasn’t known to exist naturally, so there was no way of knowing how it would work in practice.
“Can’t hurt,” Juliet said. “If my theory’s right, Tribo will warm right up to Hypno.”
“What’s your theory?”
“It’ll take too long to explain now. Just get me Hypno and remove all tranquilized caretakers from Tribo’s staff.”
Sakuya shrugged helplessly. “You’re the boss. I just hope I’m not the next one we find dead.”
|08/13/2012, 10:11 AM||#67|
I like this story.
That is all
2nd place IL States 2012 with Terrakion/Landorus WITHOUT OWNING EXES
3rd place St. Louis Regionals 2011 with Tyrannitar
52 Champ Points 2011-2012, #57 NA in Seniors
|09/01/2012, 02:30 AM||#68|
It was a really weird experience playing Pokemon Conquest and realizing at some point that the reason Nene stood out so much to me was that she looks a lot like how I imagine Sam looking (although Sam's obviously not a ninja and looks a little less moe). And on that note, I'm probably leaping a bit too far with how Conquest slots into the overall Pokemon canon as some kind of mythological epic, although the third scene in this chapter was actually planned months in advance, well before I started playing Conquest, so the whole warrior thing and comparing Juliet to Mitsuhide (though the actual dynamic there isn't explained overly well in Conquest itself) were entirely on the fly.
No attempt will be made to explain how Mewtwo being in Ransei would work in the story.
Anyway, now that I have regular computer access again, I should be able to write more and thus avoid 2+ week gaps between chapters.
Chapter 30 - Self Discovery
There was no way around it. Adair had to act now.
It had been two days since Alex barged in and saw the e-mail from Raleigh, and in that time, Adair had to downplay or obfuscate several clues that he was a New Rocket member. It had even gotten to the point where Ryan started jokingly making reference to Adair’s true allegiance—the exact kind of joking façade Adair used extensively. Worse, Michael seemed to involve Adair in less and less, as if he knew Adair’s secret.
It was possible it was all paranoia, a product of guilt building up and boiling over. Ryan’s jokes could very well have been genuine. Michael might not have been ignoring him after all.
Yeah, and Grumpigs could fly the Miltanks home.
This left Adair with one very clear course of action: Eliminate Alex while he could still operate, and go to ground, preferably overseas. Lining up a new identity in China would be simple given his connections. It wouldn’t be the first time, either. Sometimes, Adair wondered if anyone alive could connect him to his birth name anymore, if anyone knew him from before he joined the New Rockets. It was doubtful.
While “kill Alex and run” was a simple plan, actually going through with it involved more steps than anticipated. In the end, Adair settled for calling Alex in to the Team Rocket safehouse on a night Ryan was out—a reversal of the way Alex nearly blew Adair’s cover. The reason he gave her for coming was that Ryan had found the New Rocket operative and was pursuing him, but that Alex was the current target and had to come to Adair for protection.
Not the best plan I’ve ever come up with, Adair thought as he checked his automatic pistol’s magazine and loaded it, but it’s good enough.
Alex wouldn’t take long to arrive. Adair paced back and forth in the safehouse’s living room. It was a fairly standard if cramped Idaman place. The floor was made of a cheap hardwood, with straw mats covering it. The couch was Miltank leather and the table was some kind of light-coloured wood Adair couldn’t identify. There were no adornments, no other furniture, and Adair couldn’t imagine more than one person living in such a space. It amazed him that this was considered suitable for a family of three.
Adair picked up his cell phone and checked the time. It was 9:13 PM. Ryan said he’d be back by midnight at the latest. With all of Adair’s preparations, he had plenty of time. Unfortunately, time was as much his enemy as his ally at the moment, as a million doubts and fears crept into his mind. What if Alex didn’t show up? What if Ryan came back too early and stumbled across Adair? What if Michael and Kenneth tracked him down before he could flee the country?
Focus, damn it, Adair told himself. Now was the absolute worst time to let his imagination run away with him. Alex was coming, and eliminating her—killing her, Adair reminded himself, because he wanted to avoid thinking of it euphemistically—was the immediate goal. Nothing else mattered until after that was accomplished.
Adair nearly jumped at a knock at the door several minutes later. He took a moment to collect himself before calling out, “The door’s open. Let yourself in.”
Adair kept his gun pointed squarely at the thin plywood door. In theory, he could have simply shot through it, but he needed to be sure to have enough stopping power to take Alex to the floor, and pistols were notoriously bad at that even at the best of times.
The door opened and Adair fired four shots without looking. As the ringing left his ears, he saw that it wasn’t Alex at the door, but a bleeding Milotic. This image lasted for maybe half a second before Alex’s Milotic rushed at him, knocking the gun from his hands with its tail. Before Adair could respond, Milotic worked its tail around him, constricting him to the point where breathing was nearly impossible.
Alex stepped into the room a few heartbeats later. She shook her head at Adair and said nothing.
“What the hell?” Adair shouted. He couldn’t inhale to refill the air lost from his lungs. He felt like kicking himself over his stupidity—wasting air like that while being constricted made the situation even worse.
Alex shrugged. “I let Michael and Ryan keep chasing after other people because I knew you’d try something stupid like this. Simple as that.”
That sow actually pulled something like this off? Adair thought in amazement. It was unreal. This situation felt like it simply should not have been happening. A portion of his brain actually refused to accept these events as real.
“So what?” Adair asked. “You’re gonna give me to Michael?”
Alex scoffed darkly. “Of course not.”
Damn it. Alex was smart, but apparently not perceptive enough to realize that Adair really would trade information for his life now that he had no other option. He’d been beaten by Alex’s cleverness, but it was her stupidity that would kill him.
Well, either way, he still only had enough air for one more sentence, maybe two. If he was to say anything, he had to make it count.
“Hey, Alex—” Adair began.
An annoyed grunt from Alex cut him off. “Just finish him, Meili.”
Adair’s shock at what Alex just said stunned him long enough for Milotic to tighten its grip around him, choking out what little air he had left to make an offer for his own life. Alex watched him with an impassive look on her face as his vision began to darken. A sharp pain shot through Adair’s chest as a rib gave way.
Alex was still watching Adair as he lost consciousness.
Alex struggled once more against what were now dry heaves. Watching Adair die, remembering what that constriction felt like firsthand, had stunned her at first, forcing her to watch the entire ordeal. The sickening thump of Adair’s body hitting the floor had snapped her out of this daze, and within moments she felt like throwing up. She’d barely made it to the bathroom in time. The heaving had yet to stop completely.
She hadn’t even had the time to recall Meili. Gods only knew what the Milotic was doing without her supervision. He wouldn’t leave the premises, but the thought that he might do something to desecrate the body tore at her. Calling Michael took every ounce of determination she could muster, and she didn’t even perceive the passage of time until he arrived. Or at least she hoped it was him. Whatever it was, she heard a loud crashing sound from the living room.
I swear to the gods… Alex let the thought linger as she stood up and stumbled out of the bathroom. Meili stood in the centre of the living room, glaring at Michael, Ryan, and a man who Alex supposed was another Team Rocket member.
“Meili,” Alex called. “That’s enough.”
Meili shot a defiant glare at Alex before tensing his tail. Alex grabbed Meili's pokéball and recalled Meili before his attack could reach the Rockets. With Meili gone, Alex could relax slightly. Her breathing was ragged, and her balance was surprisingly unsteady.
“You neglected to mention the Milotic,” Michael said. Although his tone was deadpan, Alex detected a hint of derision in his voice.
“Looks like that thing did a number on Adair,” Ryan commented, prodding the body with his foot.
Michael turned to Ryan. “Please don’t make this harder on Alex than it already is.”
Ryan hesitated slightly and then said, “Eh. Sorry.”
While a prompted apology was worthless, it sounded sincere enough, which made Alex feel slightly better. Not that standing mere metres from the body of someone she’d had her Pokémon kill—that she’d killed—was a baseline from which any kind of improvement was possible.
“You two get this mess cleaned up,” Michael said to Ryan and the unnamed Rocket before motioning for Alex to follow him.
“Where are we going?” Alex asked dully once they were out into the cool night air. Michael’s car was parked out front. It was a nondescript, navy blue vehicle, and very obviously used. Such a car wouldn’t attract any attention on the Salavan streets.
“Away,” Michael said. He sighed. “I suppose you’ll have to return to your friends or they’ll get suspicious.”
Alex shrugged and leaned against the window. Her seatbelt cut into her neck slightly, but she didn’t care. “I dunno. Terry might ask questions if I’m out too late.” She laughed, a hollow, bitter sound. “The worst part is I know the exact story I’d tell him: Someone attacked me on the way home, I couldn’t get my Pokémon out in time, and things went bad from there.”
“Inventive,” Michael said. He paused briefly. “How does it compare to what really happened?”
“Pretty similar, except I got my Pokémon out in time,” Alex said. She sighed. “A few days ago, Ryan sent me off to deliver a message to Adair. Fairly normal thing. He was at an Internet café, and I guess I snuck up on him or something, because he was e-mailing stuff he shouldn’t have known to people I assumed he shouldn’t be talking to. Then there was all that stuff about a New Rocket guy running around… I figured it might be him, but I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want him running away. So when he called me earlier tonight telling him to come by, well, I knew what was up. Turns out I was right, since I had Meili at the door, and the first thing Adair did was shoot him. Then, well… yeah.”
Michael nodded somberly, not taking his eyes off the road. “I wish you’d come to me with this. Ryan and I didn’t even suspect him. He could very well have killed you and slipped away before we realized anything was wrong.”
“He seemed to be a step ahead of you,” Alex said dumbly. All this statement did was repeat what Michael said back to him, but she couldn’t afford to dwell on it. “I didn’t want to risk anyone.”
“Anyone but yourself,” Michael retorted calmly.
The words felt like a slap to Alex’s face, but Michael had a point. She’d recklessly endangered herself just to keep Michael and Ryan safe. But what if she’d failed? Then Terry, Kay, and Marril would all have to come to terms not just with her death, but the circumstances leading to it. It would’ve been an unreasonable burden to place upon them.
“Yeah,” Alex agreed quietly. “I guess that’s how it went.”
“Now that it’s over,” Michael said slowly, deliberately, “do you stand by your decision?”
“I guess,” Alex said. “I can’t really think of anything else I’d do differently without, you know, hindsight and all that.”
“That’s good,” Michael replied. He checked over his shoulder and pulled over. After a moment of looking around, Alex determined that they were just around the block from her hotel. “I’m going to be honest with you,” he continued. “I won’t say you did the right thing, but you did handle the situation very well. You made a hard choice and stuck with it. That’s commendable—most people in your position wouldn’t have been able to do the same.”
“Look at me,” Alex said. “I’m a gods-damn wreck over this.”
“I’d be worried about you if you weren’t,” Michael replied quietly. “I’ve seen more than one person, new Team Rocket members who had some idea of what they were getting into, completely break down as a result of their actions. If anything, the gods smiled upon you tonight.”
Yeah, right, the gods. Belief in them was so ingrained into Alex’s culture that she couldn’t help but use religious language, yet the thought that the gods actually existed and that those world-shaping beings would descend from on high to help one specific person survive a bad situation was laughable. She didn’t have anyone other than herself to thank or blame for her own successes and failures earlier.
“The gods smile on murder?” Alex wondered aloud, incredulity slipping into her voice.
“In self-defense,” Michael answered evenly. “Ultimately, nothing I say will make this any easier for you. All I can do is help you in the long run by reassuring you that regardless of anything else, when it came down to you or him, you made the right call. Dying for no reason is worse than anything you can do and live. Remember that.”
Michael’s words made sense on a logical level, but on an emotional one, Alex still felt she was moments away from more dry heaving. If experience with negative emotions had taught her anything, it was that she wasn’t in danger of any physical reactions at this point besides maybe lethargy. Now everything would be emotional.
Alex nodded glumly. “Yeah. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Sakuya treaded cautiously as she entered the lab which had been remodelled into a more habitable living space for Tribo. Juliet supposed she couldn’t begrudge the younger woman her caution. After all, Tribo had already killed one tranquilized psychic, and had grievously injured another before having been stopped. That would put a healthy fear into anyone.
“I take it Tribo’s more stable now?” Sakuya wondered as she eyed Juliet cautiously. Juliet sat on a couch with Tribo in her lap, cradled in her arms like a toddler. The artificial Pokémon grew quickly—only recently it had been the size of an infant.
“Tribo was always stable to begin with,” Juliet said. She indicated a chair along the wall. “Please have a seat.”
Sakuya pulled the chair closer to Juliet before sitting down in it. Juliet could see plain distrust in Sakuya’s face. Again, it wasn’t something she could judge Sakuya too harshly for. “Well,” Sakuya commented dully, “it looks more stable now.”
“It always was,” Juliet repeated. “It took me a while, but I figured out why Tribo reacted as it did. It has to do with how Tribo communicates. You see, it constantly reads thoughts and emotions from those around it. This is apparently subconscious—Tribo has no way to shut this off.”
“Most psychic-types do that,” Sakuya pointed out. “I’ve never seen a case of a psychic becoming enraged by a tranquil before.”
“As I said, Tribo has no filters. It can’t shut out the mind of a tranquilized psychic. It experiences the pain tranquils are put through as part of their procedures. Tribo’s experience of this pain never ends, never dulls. Worse, it hurts on a deeper level than it does for conventional psychics. It lashes out as a result of stimulus overload.”
“The obvious question is how you figured this out,” Sakuya replied.
Juliet smiled knowingly. “It was a lengthy process. Interpreting our psychic Pokémon isn’t always easy. In the end, I could only get the details from Tribo itself.”
“I’m not sure I understand. I thought Tribo couldn’t communicate verbally?”
“It can’t,” Juliet said. “I’m not sure how, but over the past few days, I’ve noticed I could feel Tribo’s thoughts and emotions in a way similar to how I imagine it can feel mine.”
“A psychic link?” Sakuya asked. “I thought that was something only psychic humans could do. Normally you just have to train the psychic Pokémon to communicate verbally, don’t you? Or are you telling me you’re psychic now?”
“I’m not,” Juliet assured Sakuya. She stood up slowly, Tribo still in her arms, and set the artificial Pokémon down gently. She kept her gaze on Tribo, who looked up at her in return. Juliet mentally focused intent upon Tribo rather than verbalized words, and the Pokémon bobbed its head up and down slowly as it tried to tell what Juliet wanted.
After a moment, Tribo crawled towards Sakuya cautiously, deliberately. Sakuya looked increasingly nervous as Tribo got closer to her, but she didn’t rebuke the Pokémon’s advance. Tribo stopped at Sakuya’s feet and looked up at her. Sakuya flinched in surprise as Tribo hissed gently at her several times.
“What’s it doing?” Sakuya asked.
“I asked it to go over and say hello,” Juliet explained.
“Cute trick,” Sakuya said. “Can you please get it away from me?”
Tribo didn’t need to be told by Juliet to leave. Evidently it sensed Sakuya’s negative reaction to its presence and left on its own. Tribo scampered back to Juliet, who picked it up with one arm.
“I imagine my link with Tribo will only increase as it matures,” Juliet said as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.
“Why do you keep calling it a link?” Sakuya asked. She paused for a moment. “… Wait, do you really mean like Ransei-style linking?”
“I don’t think I’d go quite that far,” Juliet said. “After all, Tribo’s psychic. We’re not talking about linking with a non-psychic or anything. It’s just a convenient term that’s easy to understand.”
“Good. If you start calling yourself a warlord, I’m quitting.”
Juliet laughed. “Because I’m a real Mitsuhide, right?”
“No real reason,” Juliet said. In truth, she saw herself as Mitsuhide in the same way she saw Roland as Nobunaga, although she dared not elaborate on that to anyone other than Tribo. In the end, Ransei was an irrelevant legend, and comparison of her to Mitsuhide a passing fancy. She wasn’t a warlord or any other kind of mythological figure. She was a Team Rocket executive, living in the here and now, and her actions were hers, not a reflection of some kind of fate bound to myth and legend.
“This is gonna cause some real problems with mass production,” Sakuya commented, changing the subject.
“It’s fixable in the long run, although now that I’ve experienced the actual link, I can definitely see advantages to it. At the very least, we should look into whether or not this kind of link is replicable.”
Sakuya sighed and leaned back in her seat. “Yeah,” she said under her breath. “A whole race of custom-made Tribos that’ll turn anyone into Pokémon warriors. That’ll end well.”
Juliet chose to ignore Sakuya. There wasn’t any point in arguing at this point.
Last edited by Marril; 09/01/2012 at 02:35 AM.
|09/15/2012, 01:17 AM||#70|
Yeah, Conquest is pretty addicting. Unfortunately there isn't really any way to work it into this story any more than I already have, since I think the warrior dynamic is pretty cool. It's a little ironic in a way considering that I made Pokemon Stadium of all things into an actual thing in-universe. On that note, it's not really plot-relevant, but the reference to Red isn't a reference to Ash, since one of the quirks of my own personal canon is that I mash together the games, anime, and manga with reckless abandon.
Chapter 31 - Not Around
“Hey, Kay,” Terry said as he and Alex were almost ready to leave after anime night in Kay’s room. “Mind if I stay a moment and talk to you?”
“Uh, sure,” Kay said, obviously curious.
“Is this something I should be in on?” Alex asked.
“Oh, no,” Terry replied, hoping evasiveness wasn’t creeping into his voice. “This won’t be long. I’ll meet you back at our room, okay?”
“You got it,” Alex said as she left.
Now, all Terry had to do was actually talk to Kay. He wasn’t completely distant towards her, but most of the time it felt like the only reason he really ever spoke to her was because he was Alex's partner. This thought didn’t engender confidence in Terry.
Terry sat down wearily. “There’s something I’ve been hoping you can answer for me.”
“Oh?” Kay asked, sitting on the bed.
“I mean, I know Alex tells you stuff she’ll never tell me,” Terry explained. “I’m okay with that. I don’t want to pry, but things have been getting serious and I really do need to know if she’s told you anything.”
Kay frowned. “How ominous.”
“She’s, well… her depression always varies, but lately she’s been downright distraught over something I know is serious. She just denies anything ever happened.”
“I noticed it too,” Kay said quietly.
“So she hasn’t said anything?” Terry asked.
Kay sighed and took a slow deep breath. “She has. At least, she’s told me part of it. From what I know, I don’t think she’d even tell Marril the whole story.”
“Can you at least give me what you’ve got?” Terry asked.
“No,” Kay said as she shook her head. She grimaced. “It’s better that you don’t know. I probably shouldn’t have said even this much, but I just… look, trust me, okay?”
Trust you? Why the hell should I do that? Terry thought. Kay wasn’t the one who had to deal with Alex at her worst. Kay had never held a sobbing Alex in her arms, in agony over the knowledge that nothing could help her at that moment. Terry had thought that the worst of it simply meant those cases sporadically going from once or twice a week to three or four times a week, but lately, Alex was totally inconsolable. For a few nights in a row, she’d had to sleep curled up at the far side of the bed from him. He couldn’t stand being completely unable to be there for her, if not emotionally then at least physically.
And now here Kay was, telling him that not only couldn’t he know what was going on with her, but that she trusted Kay more than she trusted him. Too many times had Terry been forced to comfort an eerily silent Alex, he unable to tell what troubled her and she unable to say. Those nights were the worst. They were a reminder that on some level, Alex still couldn’t open up to Terry. To hear now that those most private fears and pains could be so freely shared with another was a rank insult.
“I can’t,” Terry said at last. His voice was quiet, deliberate.
“Sorry?” Kay asked.
“I said I can’t,” Terry repeated as he stood up. “I get it, you two can’t trust me. Whatever. That’s Alex’s decision. But what I need to make it clear to you, and to Alex, is that my trust has limits.”
“So, what, you’re going to make demands of her?”
“If all she’s going to do is take, take, take, then I—”
“Oh, shut up!” Kay shouted. She was on her feet in seconds, and although she was shorter than Terry, she looked downright intimidating. “It’s hard for you. So what? What do you think Alex has gone through? Do you really think that anything you’ve suffered is even a fraction of what she has? What gives you the right to complain?”
“What do you think Alex would say if she saw you whining?” Kay continued. “How much do you think that would hurt her? Do you even care?”
“Sorry,” Terry grumbled, mostly in an attempt to defuse the situation. He’d never seen such naked anger from Kay. Whatever was bothering Alex was clearly worse than he’d thought. One way or the other, he was going to have to figure out what it was.
“Tell you what,” Kay said firmly. “I don’t want to hear another word of this for a good long while. If you care at all about Alex, you’ll drop it.”
Yeah, right, you presumptuous clown, Terry thought angrily as he turned to leave, a scowl forming across his face. He wanted to bite back a sharp retort, but couldn’t think of anything, so he simply walked away, resolving not to talk to Kay at all in the near future unless absolutely necessary.
Kim looked across the table to the Pokémon Master she’d succeeded in pulling aside for a proper conversation. She couldn’t deny Sam Lindstrom looked much better in person than in pictures. Her chestnut-brown hair looked very well cared for, and her hazel eyes had tiny flecks of green in them, pretty enough to make eye contact an altogether pleasant experience.
Shame Sam was already taken…
Kim shoved that idle fantasy from her head. Such a dalliance would be interesting, but unproductive.
The two of them were at a café attached to the Vientiane coliseum’s Pokémon Centre. Neither was particularly hungry, although Sam had ordered a drink in the name of propriety. The place was brightly lit and the tables were well-polished. The cleaning staff definitely deserved praise for their work.
“So,” Sam said, “what was this proposal of yours, Ms… uh…?”
Kim smiled. “Kanda,” she said. She’d been using that name for so long that it almost felt as natural as her real one.
“Right,” Sam said. “I’m bad with names sometimes.”
“It’s no trouble,” Kim replied. “Anyway, I had the thought that it would make an interesting side event to have exhibition matches between Pokémon Masters. You and Raleigh Camulus would make for a truly amazing battle, and I’m sure that with the other Masters present, we could even make a full-on side tournament of it.”
Part of the identity Sunan and Van had provided Kim was a role in event organization. Technically, Kim was supposed to be a minor functionary, but what Sam didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Obviously, Kim couldn't possibly set up what she was suggesting, but again, what Sam didn't know wouldn't hurt her. All Kim needed to do was stall for time and keep Sam preoccupied.
“Kind of a Prime Cup challenge?” Sam asked lightly. The joke didn’t work as well as Kim supposed it did in Sam’s head, seeing as the Pokémon Stadium in Kanto had long since fallen out of favour amongst competitive battlers.
“Something like that,” Kim replied graciously. “We’re only at the interest-check stage right now, of course.”
“Well,” Sam said after a short pause, “I’d probably just get knocked out in the first round. I didn’t do very well at that one League expo, if you’ve looked into my battling history.”
“I did,” Kim said. That much, at least, was true. Part of preparing for any cover role was thorough enough research that one could recite not only the knowledge and statistics of one’s position, but also its idiom and trivia. “You swept your first round and then lost to Steven Stone. No shame in that.”
Sam shrugged. “I dunno. I could beat some of the guys here, I guess. It could be fun.”
“That’s the spirit,” Kim said with a smile. “Should I mark down your support?”
“Go ahead,” Sam said dully.
“Excellent,” Kim said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about that legendary of yours—Shamash, I believe you nicknamed it?”
“Yeah. I’ve never used it in official competition before. Wouldn’t it be banned, given League restrictions?”
“Those only apply to the main League tournament,” Kim assured Sam. Tournament rules did in fact ban legendaries, or at least as many as had been confirmed caught by trainers. If there was one thing the Neo League did better than the Pokémon League, it was to ban legendaries before some yahoo with a Darkrai or a Latios or something could sweep the entire tournament.
“Now I’m more interested,” Sam said.
Kim smiled. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Sam left the café, unsure of what to think. The Pokémon Centre was even more brightly-lit than the café, and threatened to give Sam a headache if she stayed there too long. The bustle of trainers dropping off and picking up their Pokémon didn’t help.
Sam started a little as someone grabbed her from behind, but relaxed once she realized it was just Melanie greeting her with an ambush hug.
“Don’t do that when you know I’m stressed,” Sam said.
“Sorry,” Melanie apologized. She put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Wow, you’re tense.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“So what’d she want?” Melanie asked.
“She wanted to set up an exhibition match between Raleigh and I. Then she suggested the idea of some kind of Pokémon Master tournament.”
“With all six of you?” Melanie wondered. “Well, it’s a better cover than I’d have thought. Whatever she’s after isn’t something minor. Why do you figure she wanted to have you fight Raleigh?”
“To get me out of the way or something?” Sam suggested. She didn’t like that answer, but it seemed logical. If Kanda was in fact a Team Rocket agent, making Pokémon Masters unable to fight could be beneficial if they were planning on violence.
Master-level combat was almost unrecognizably different from normal combat. It was downright brutal and involved decision-making at both a rate and complexity beyond the grasp of the average trainer. Not even Alex’s Champion friend Kay could fully get a grasp of it even if it was explained to her.
Of course, reflected Sam, becoming a Champion simply meant winning a regional tournament. Becoming a Master meant winning a national tournament against much steeper competition. It was possible, although unlikely, to become a Champion without having actual talent. Kay was not among that crowd, but the company she kept within it was tainting by association. By contrast, it was impossible to become a Master without exceptional skill and ability.
“I don’t think so,” Melanie said. She craned her head towards the hallway. “Come, walk with me.”
The hall was mercifully less bright than the Pokémon Centre. Sam didn’t know where Melanie was headed, but the most likely possibility was simply away. Talking too long in front of the same crowd was an invitation to disaster.
“Honestly,” Melanie explained once they were out of earshot of the Centre, “I think it’s a distraction. She’s going to do something or another while everyone’s distracted on the new big spectacle. It’s the only explanation that fits the facts: They want you, with Shamash, to fight Raleigh, one of the best Masters to come out of Johto in years. You have any idea how much attention that’ll bring?”
“Steven vs Red levels?” Sam speculated. After defeating her, Steven eventually lost to the world’s most powerful Pokémon Master in the finals. The resulting battle was one of the most watched in recent history.
Of course, Sam didn’t have Shamash at the time. If she had, it might've been her versus Red, although Shamash still probably wouldn't have been enough to defeat him.
“It’d be the perfect opening,” Melanie said.
“Opening for what?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out. It’s not the usual Team Rocket MO of bribery and extortion—they don’t need any cover for that. We know they’re involved to some degree in the Tribo Project, so maybe they’re trying to distract you or something? That doesn’t fit.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “Did we finally stumble across something you can’t figure out?”
Melanie scoffed. “Give me time. I still need to get to the bottom of a few things.”
“Far be it from me to complain,” Sam said. In reality, she wasn’t always much a fan of Melanie’s truly improbable investigative and social engineering skills, but at least Melanie put them to use for good purposes. Even if her current purpose was resembling vigilante justice as of late.
“So if that Master tournament actually becomes reality, should I participate?” Sam asked.
“I don’t see any reason not to,” Melanie said. “Just make sure you win.”
Sam offered Melanie a lopsided smile that was half smirk. “I always win.”
For her boasting, Sam’s reward was Melanie once again ruffling her hair. Now that she was used to it, she had to admit to liking it quite a lot.
Melanie was barely able to catch Kanda before she was able to slip out of the coliseum. Without Sam present to force Melanie to downplay her true affiliation and skill, the gloves were off.
“How can I help you?” Kanda asked once Melanie made it clear that she wasn’t going to accept being ignored.
“Who are you? Really?” Melanie countered.
Kanda shrugged. “I thought Sam would’ve told you.”
“That was strike one,” Melanie said coldly. “You don’t want to get to strike three.”
“Of course not. Well, what do you want to hear? That I’m a Team Rocket agent?”
“Strike two,” Melanie said. “You’re a New Rocket. But that’s nothing I didn’t know already.” She glanced around to make sure no one was eavesdropping. “I want to know what you’re doing with Sam.”
“I imagine ‘organizing exhibition matches’ would get me shot,” Kanda said.
“In public? Don’t be absurd.”
“You’ve made it work before.”
Melanie frowned. Did this person just refer to the man she killed at the trade show? It was entirely possible, but if so, why would someone who knew about that make the mistake of admitting it? Information was power, and even the slightest of implications could be disastrous. Whoever Kanda really was, she’d just piqued Melanie’s interest that much more keenly.
“Yes, I’m a New Rocket,” Kanda continued. “My goal has nothing to do with causing harm to Sam or even to Team Rocket as a whole.”
“Your goal has nothing to do with the New Rockets’ entire raison d’ętre?” Melanie asked.
“Don’t be so selfish,” Kanda chided. “Any organization as large as ours will develop other business in due course. The fact of the matter is that we have immediate concerns greater than Team Rocket at the moment,” Kanda paused briefly, as if considering her next words carefully, “and as such, we have no interest in impeding your action here.”
“How would you even know what that is?”
Kanda shrugged. “That I can’t say.”
“Tell me how your business is so different.”
“We’re here solely to ensure continued Idaman presence in ongoing processes,” Kanda explained. “I remind you that we are not an anti-Team Rocket group at our centre. The good of our country comes before any individual squabble.”
We’re here to kill your leader of all people, Melanie thought in amazement. You know this. Why wouldn’t that matter to you?
The answer hit Melanie so hard that she honestly felt stupid for even wondering it in the first place. Notwithstanding anything else about the man, one could tell simply from his name that Raleigh Camulus wasn’t an Idaman name. If what Kanda said was true, and the New Rockets’ real goals were primarily nationalistic, then it was likely the Idaman New Rocket members wouldn’t care if a foreigner, even an influential and powerful one, were to die.
Melanie didn’t want to trust Kanda out of sheer principle. After all, Melanie hadn’t gotten this far through blind trust. It would’ve been simpler to kill her and be done with it. But if Kanda wasn’t lying…
“All right,” Melanie declared. “You’re free to go, but if I see you around here again, that’s strike three. Got it?”
Kanda smiled. “I understand.”
Last edited by Marril; 09/16/2012 at 03:50 AM. Reason: Noticed I used a comically wrong word in one part.
|09/15/2012, 08:05 PM||#73|
Well, we'll see, won't we?
"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.
|10/08/2012, 01:48 AM||#74|
Because this is SS, and nearly every action has consequences. As the cast is learning to various degrees. But putting my characters through hell is a recurring theme—life's a dog and then you die, after all.
And Silver refers to Giovanni's Team Rocket-hating son, for the record, who I imagine is some kind of high-profile trainer in this continuity.
Chapter 32 - Shared Secrets
Alex’s father visiting her felt like a sick reversal of the last time she’d been able to see him. Rather than meet him at his place, he opted to meet her at hers. Terry was out doing whatever he did during the day, and she’d told him not to come back until she gave him the go-ahead. This made him a lot angrier than she’d expected, but given the circumstances, she figured he could take that anger and shove it where the sun didn’t shine.
Richard’s greeting at the door was simply to hug Alex tightly in a wordless embrace. This proved to be surprisingly comforting, even though it did make Alex want to cry. She couldn’t, of course—she’d long since run herself out of tears both alone and with Terry. In truth, precious few were for the events her father was here to discuss.
“I’m sorry,” Richard said as they parted.
Alex shrugged. “There was no way you could’ve known. Michael’s done the best job he could.”
“Not that. I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’m sorry I left everything to Michael instead of being here for you.”
Alex shook her head and offered her father a smile. “It’s better that you weren’t. I know how these things go. It’s hard enough for Michael to be objective about things given the position he’s in. Imagine how hard it’d be for you. I don’t blame you for anything—hell, I appreciate that you were able to make that choice.”
How many of those words were forced? Alex had no idea. She was so focused on saying whatever she could to comfort her father that she hadn’t put any thought into what she really felt. She could know on an intellectual level that it was Tauros crap, but internalizing that lesson was another matter entirely.
“Tell you what,” Alex said. “Why don’t you come on in?”
Alex tried to ignore Richard’s smirk of amusement when he noticed that it was a single-bed room. With any luck, he’d stay quiet on the subject, if only to give Alex some kind of break. Alex took a seat at the foot of the bed, and Richard in the swivel chair at the writing desk. Marril peered out at Richard from behind Alex. Apparently satisfied with the knowledge that the visitor was only Alex’s father, Marril returned to dozing behind Alex.
“I wish I had anything to tell you that’s not one of the standard lines,” Richard said after a few moments’ silence.
“I’ve been hearing too many of those lately anyway,” Alex said.
“I told Kay some of the details. She doesn’t know anything to do with Team Rocket, but she knows I was attacked and had to defend myself with lethal force.”
It seemed Marril was following the conversation after all, as she chose that moment to climb into Alex’s lap. Alex petted Marril absentmindedly.
“How’d she take it?” Richard asked.
“Scarily well,” Alex said. She offered Richard a shrug. “Obviously, she doesn’t know enough to mean it when she says I ‘did what I had to do’ or whatever, but… I dunno.”
“That sounds like Kay’s non-judgemental nature to me,” Richard said. “What about Terry?”
The slightest of winces from Alex probably told Richard more than her words did. “He doesn’t know anything yet. It’s not that I don’t trust him, it’s just that I… can’t tell him about it.”
Richard scoffed lightly and scowled. “Sounds you’re trying to rationalize away not trusting him. I know it’s not going to sound like much, but I do know the feeling you’re talking about. You’re telling yourself the same thing I told myself with your mother. Every day it tears me up that I could never tell her what was such a big part of my life. Believe me when I say it only hurts more in the long run to keep it from your loved ones. Ultimately, something has to give on either end.”
“I know he wouldn’t take it well,” Alex said. “If I left out the Team Rocket stuff, he’d just get super worried and clingy. If I included it, well… he wouldn’t take it well. Anything to do with me and Team Rocket would end it right away.”
Richard’s scowl deepened. “If he ever does anything to hurt you, the consequences will be dire indeed.”
“I hope you’re limiting that to the bad kind of hurt,” Alex said. It wasn’t as funny a joke spoken aloud as it was in her head, but she had to try. Anything to lighten the mood before depression could crash back over her like an inexorable wave.
Richard snorted in amusement. “There are just some things that’ll always sound weird coming from your kids. Needless to say, I don’t need that much information.”
“Well, you’ll get it anyway,” Alex replied. She followed this with a sigh. “But seriously, it’s hard to keep this stuff in, you know?”
“Mar!” Marril interjected. “Ar-ril Marril ar-mar-Marril!”
Richard ignored Marril’s protestations that Alex did in fact confide in her. “Team Rocket is like that. There’s so much you wish you didn’t have to face alone, but you have to. This, however, isn’t one of those things. All of us are here for you, Alex.”
“That’s the problem,” Alex muttered.
“Everyone’s going out of their way to do stuff for me while I go about pretending to have a normal life. I run around battling, and Michael’s always there behind me with people whose only job is to keep me safe. I feel so worthless like this.”
That last sentence, spoken without thought, struck Alex as rather interesting. It was true that she felt powerless, to be certain. Having wrested definitive charge of her life in order to transition to live as female, she now felt she was back in the situation of living as others decreed. Functionally, little had ultimately changed there beyond her presentation now lining up with her real gender. But to feel specifically worthless was a word she couldn’t explain.
“I wish I had anything I could say to that other than ‘you’re not,’” Richard said.
“It’s not really anything you’re doing,” Alex explained. “It’s what I’m doing. I just put everything out of my mind for ages while Ryan and Adair did their thing, then when I… killed Adair… I realized what the situation was really like. I could’ve been killed, myself, but I did something. I guess what I’m saying is I want to do more. I don’t want to sit back and do nothing, you know?”
Richard was quiet for a while. Marril looked back and forth between the two humans. She opened her mouth to say something at one point, but trailed off after squeaking a short “Mar…”
“If that’s what you want,” Richard said at last, “then I have to realize I can’t treat you like a child anymore. But what I do want is you to make this kind of decision knowing the reality of the situation, the full consequences of your actions, both with regards to the New Rockets and with your sister.”
“I know Melanie’s a Rocket agent,” Alex said. “What more is there?”
Richard offered Alex a hollow smile. “The information you indirectly gave us through Adair let us know the identity of one of the New Rocket’s leaders, who’s currently in Vientiane. Melanie is using Sam’s League access to close in on this man.”
“I see,” Alex said lamely. “Sam’s still safe, right?”
“I wouldn’t have let Melanie pursue this plan if there were any chance Sam was in real danger. Melanie’s a much better agent than you’d think—our best and brightest don’t exactly get put in the spotlight for everyone to see, after all.”
Alex couldn’t say that this entirely comforted her, but she was long since used to the fact that Sam’s partner was a Rocket. She was even used to the fact that Melanie was using—abusing, she figured the proper word would be—Sam’s trust and resources to further Team Rocket’s goals. Why draw the line here? If this meant they could cut their stupid gang war short, Alex could look the other way for as long as she had to.
“The second part isn’t something I can make any easier for you,” Richard continued. “So I want to ask if you’re absolutely sure you want to hear this from me.”
“I am,” Alex said.
“You’re absolutely sure?” Richard asked. “I can’t overemphasize the gravity of what I’m about to tell you. Once you’ve heard it, the die will truly be cast. You won’t be able to go back.”
“I’m sure,” Alex repeated. Her voice was unexpectedly steady.
Richard exhaled slowly. “First, I want to ask you one thing: How much do you know about Terry’s past?”
“Terry?” Alex wondered. “Uh, Team Rocket apparently killed one of his Pokémon a few years ago. He’s had some bad run-ins with a few agents. He hasn’t really told me any more than that. It’s only fair, really, given… you know.”
“Well, suffice to say, it’s much more complex than he’s told you,” Richard said. “I don’t think even I know the full extent of it. But even the basics… I’m sorry, but if you’re to go forward with this, you have to know.”
“I can handle it,” Alex promised.
By the time Richard finished explaining everything, Alex truly wished she hadn’t made that promise.
“Raleigh Camulus,” Melanie announced to Sam after they left the League headquarters, “is a member of Team Rocket.”
“You’re sure?” Sam asked.
“A surprisingly high-ranking one, if this evidence is to be believed,” Melanie said.
Melanie gently pulled Sam aside, away from passers-by. In the shade of the great stone-and-concrete building, she pulled out a small USB drive. “I copied as many of his files onto here as I could. It’s the most solid evidence anyone is ever going to get.”
“And you’re giving it to me?” Sam wondered.
Melanie smiled humourlessly. “If we went to the police, one of two things would happen. Either Raleigh would flee before they could even get going, or they’d conveniently get paid off and their investigation would find ‘nothing.’ I’m giving this to you because you’re a Pokémon Master. I don’t know the full resources someone like Raleigh has access to. You do. And I trust your judgement on this one.”
Sam hesitantly took the USB drive and looked at it curiously. The files therein would hold up to all but the best scrutiny. Melanie didn’t like having to fake evidence of something real, but Sam would never accept the real evidence Kenneth discreetly forwarded Melanie. Nor would Sam appreciate it if Melanie’s myriad talents started extending to assassination—Sam was already beginning to wonder awkward things.
But if there was one thing Sam had that Melanie didn’t, it was a strong sense of right and wrong, a drive towards justice in place of Melanie’s inherent cynicism, amorality, and apathy. Having to take advantage of that was unfortunate, but Melanie would do all that and more a dozen times if it meant decapitating the New Rockets before they could take any more lives.
“I’ll give this a once-over,” Sam said. “Then, well, I know someone who can help us.”
“Marita Gartner,” Sam said. “One of the other Pokémon Masters here. She’s exactly the kind of person who can take a step past the line to keep Raleigh from running, and she’s got the influence to keep Raleigh from paying off the right people.”
“She must owe you a hell of a favour,” Melanie commented.
“Less that, more the fact that she hates Team Rocket. She really takes after Silver like that. A corrupt Pokémon Master? He’s not going to get any mercy.”
“I’d hope not,” Melanie said distantly. “The last thing we need is mercy for someone like him.”
Alex’s fear that Terry and Kay would be instantly at each other’s throats on meeting Richard for dinner were thankfully baseless. Terry didn’t acknowledge Kay’s presence, but that was par for the course. Kay ignoring Terry was somewhat less obvious, if only due to Kay being slightly more tactful about it, although there was no pretending that the two were on speaking terms except for what was necessary.
If either of them got it in their heads to do that TV sitcom thing where they’d speak to each other only through Alex, she reflected that she was going to have to knock some heads together. Or just get Marril to Ice Beam some people. Either or.
Richard was waiting at their table at the restaurant, a higher-end place in downtown Salavan that Alex would never have been able to afford normally. Given her father’s Team Rocket connections, she wondered if Richard even cared about the expense of paying for everyone’s dinner. If it even registered as an expense to him.
“Hey there, Mr. Alex’s Dad Person Guy,” Kay said as they got to the table.
Richard’s reply was a soft grunt of annoyance followed by a dry, “Your hair was only one colour the last time I saw you.”
Kay shrugged as she sat down. “It’s three times better now.”
Up to four, Alex thought, if those roots are any indication. Kay’s hair was variously green, pink, and purple, but she hadn’t kept up on maintaining it as diligently as she should have, so her dirty blonde roots were visible now.
“Four times better,” Richard commented, echoing Alex’s thoughts. “You might want to do something about those roots.”
Well, Alex thought, at least it’s nice having someone else who can keep up with Kay. Terry’s attempts were often lacklustre or mired in bitterness, even before whatever falling-out they had lately. Terry himself was oddly silent now, although Alex supposed this might have been due in part to meeting Alex’s father for the first time.
“I’m still giving it a little time before making that declaration,” Kay said.
“If you want, I could make it right now,” Richard offered.
Inasmuch as Sam was her mother’s daughter, Alex was very much her father’s daughter. Not only did the two share a number of physical features, they even shared many personality traits, including a somewhat wry sense of humour. It must have been an odd sight for Terry to behold, but Alex’s train of thought was cut short by Richard suddenly taking an interest in Terry’s presence.
“So,” Richard said. “You must be that Terry fellow I’ve heard several things about.”
“Should I be afraid?” Terry asked.
“That, of course, depends on whether what I’ve heard of you is true or not,” Richard said. It was perfectly clear to Alex that Richard meant Terry should only be afraid if what he’d supposedly heard was wrong, but the implication being the exact reverse seemed to put Terry on edge.
“What have you heard?”
“For one, that you’re a fine, upstanding young gentleman with naught but the purest of intentions towards my firstborn daughter,” Richard replied with a slightly facetious air.
“Not in as many words, but that sounds right.”
Richard leaned forward. “I’ve also heard that you’ve treated her with nothing but respect and kindness and have never even entertained the thought of causing even the slightest harm to her. Does this sound right?”
“Good,” Richard said with an utterly predatory smile, his tone still pleasant but facetious, yet carrying a sinister undertone. “Because should I discover that you’ve lied to me, or that your conduct falls behind the utmost exemplary,” his voice dropped, becoming downright menacing, “you’ll vanish off the face of the earth and they’ll never find the body.”
Silence hung between the two men for several lengthy, awkward moments. Terry looked downright terrified. Finally, Richard broke the silence by laughing, a genuine, friendly laugh which served as sharp contrast to his malicious-sounding threat. He leaned back, a smile on his face.
“I can’t believe both my daughters are in their twenties and this is the first time I’ve had occasion to give that speech,” Richard said. “The look on your face was priceless.”
“This is normal for him,” Alex assured Terry.
“That was a hell of a first impression,” Terry said breathlessly.
To Alex, the most interesting part of this was just how layered it was. Richard spoke with the gravity and conviction of a senior Team Rocket member, the exact tone which he’d have used when he was actually serious about threatening someone’s very life. The fact that he could very easily have backed up that threat was unaddressed, leaving the entire thing to be taken as a joke for being outlandish and unrealistic.
Given what Terry had done in the past, Alex was amazed that Richard didn’t do anything anyway just out of principle.
“You should’ve seen me when I threw him off trying something similar with me,” Kay said. “‘You’re seeing my daughter?’ ‘Uh, no.’ ‘Well then, as you were.’ It was great.”
“That whole spiel doesn’t work nearly as well when its recipient isn’t actually Alex’s partner,” Richard admitted.
“I can imagine,” Terry said.
“Lighten up,” Richard said with a smile. “Trust me, I don’t bite… boys your age… anymore…”
Kay snickered. Terry’s shoulders slumped slightly, as if he was wondering just how much more exasperating his situation was going to get, just how many more people associated with Alex he’d meet that shared her brand of humour. So far, the only one to break the mould was Sam, who he’d met for all of an afternoon months ago.
“So,” Terry said. “I thought Alex said you were really busy in Vientiane lately? What brings you all the way out here?”
Richard sighed. “Alex didn’t tell you?”
Terry shook his head.
“Um. If it’s what I think it is, I told him,” Kay said in a small voice. “Sorry, Alex.”
Well, that explained a lot. The fact that Alex turned to Kay rather than Terry for support was probably more galling to him than anything Kay could ever have done to Terry personally. That naturally left the question of why Kay told Terry something Alex insisted be kept between the two of them, but now was unfortunately not the time to ask such questions. It was clear she needed to have a talk with Kay later.
This is why Marril really should be the only one I trust with this crap, Alex thought. She can actually keep secrets.
“So you can sympathize with why she’d need the additional support right now,” Richard said. The veiled barb was wholly unnecessary, but Richard apparently felt the need to twist the knife for what was ultimately a very good reason, even if Terry would likely assume “sympathize” to be simple odd word choice rather than a subtle reference to past events.
For his part, Terry nodded solemnly, saying nothing.
“I know you’ve been having a rough time lately,” Kay said. “But you don’t have to face these things alone. If there’s anything at all more to this, then trust me, we’ll understand.”
Alex couldn’t suppress a sad smile. She wished she could tell anyone other than her father what was really going on, but it might strain Kay’s acceptance too far, and Terry would react very poorly indeed. Better they think everything was one enormous case of bad luck.
Like everything else, her problems were best handled when they weren’t shared with “understanding” people who ultimately wouldn’t.