Well, turns out that what SS actually stands for is taken by one chapter in the "Surf's Up, Pikachu" part of Toshiro Ono's comic. Oh well, I made it up myself and so coincidence is of no concern to me. Well, on with the chapter then. ---------------------------------------- Executive Thompson picked up the phone on the third ring. “Yes?” He asked, his voice containing certain hardness even though he hadn’t intended any. A man of roughly fifty, with greying blond hair that was thinning on the top, and a tall, thin build, he was certainly an odd site to behold in an Executive’s uniform. Thompson listened for a bit with the occasional acknowledging murmur. He’d boiled Juliet’s entire proposal down to a simple statement: an Elite was flexing his muscles, as it were, and she needed another Executive to circumvent his orders. Thompson licked his lips in deep thought. It wasn’t a good idea, since an Elite usually curried more favour than an Executive in the eyes of Giovanni, but then again, Thompson had never had any respect for the Elites. “Certainly,” Thompson said. “I’ll send the paperwork over to you for finalizing.” Thompson listened for another few seconds, then replied. “Are you sure you want Orthan in my division? Professor Sebastian is indeed over here, and he’s not quite, ah, who we’d like regarding such delicate matters, given his history and all.” Thompson nodded at Juliet’s reply. “Of course.” Juliet hung up her phone. The way she understood it, Ryan wanted her to axe one of her projects due to an overspending in one facility. Now she’d killed that argument altogether. She allowed a victorious smile. Ryan would be, of course, furious, Juliet mused to herself. However, there wasn’t anything at all he could do. Alex sat on the edge of the bed in the hotel room, hugging his knees to his chest while watching the TV. Their battle the previous day had made it onto the television. Tschel, who was lying on his side on the bed with his right elbow putting a deep dent in the mattress (“If we decide to stay here another night, that’s your side,” Alex had said), watching as the show’s announcer recapped a few clips from the battle, caught on the gym’s security cameras. “You know,” Tschel said, “it doesn’t look nearly as bad from that angle.” “Oh stop beating yourself up,” Alex said, dropping his left leg over the side of the bed so he could turn to Tschel. “We won against some of the toughest gym leaders in any League.” Tschel heaved a sigh. He couldn’t see any point in arguing with Alex, and quite frankly, he was beginning to see what Alex meant. “So you wanna head off to Terri City after this is done?” Tschel asked after the show was about half done. “Sure,” Alex replied, “but first I want to see about some stuff in town.” “Kay. Just don’t make me wait ten hours.” Alex laughed. No, he thought, he only looked like a girl, he didn’t shop like one. The place was hot, humid, and Alex immediately regretted entering it. The name of the place was Aurora Fishing, located near the ocean and it was supposedly one of the best shops in the world for anything related to water Pokémon. Fishing comprised only about half the store, Alex saw as he looked around. The place was well stocked; it had racks and racks of fishing rods, bait, tackles, and lures. He picked up something that was marked as Gyarados bait. Somehow, he thought as he looked at it, he couldn’t imagine his Gyarados ever liking it. Of course, calling Gyarados out of its ball in the store to check was out of the question. “Can I help you?” A salesman asked from behind Alex. “No, just looking,” Alex said. “Oh, wait, you don’t sell Lure Balls by any chance, do you?” “Of course we do,” the salesman replied. “Right over this way.” He led Alex to a nearby rack of pokéballs, where they also sold Level Balls and Fast Balls. Each type of ball was marked at five hundred yen each, or ten for forty-five hundred. Alex having decided to buy five balls, the salesman had obviously decided to try and get Alex to buy more stuff. “We’ve also got a very good deal,” he explained after leading Alex to a large tank at the front of the store, “on some fish Pokémon we’ve just caught only last week. Magikarp for one thousand yen, Goldeen for fifteen hundred, and Chinchou for twelve hundred.” Alex pointed to an ugly fish floating at the back. “How much for that?” The salesman hesitated. “Quite frankly, we don’t know what it is.” Alex dug his pokédex out from his backpack and pointed at it. “Unknown Pokémon,” it said. Alex rarely used it, and forgot it only had entries up to Dragonite. He’d simply not bothered to get it updated. “Tell you what,” the salesman said, obviously eager for a quick sale, “five hundred yen for it.” Alex glanced at it. It sure was an ugly little thing, floating there and not moving. He shrugged. “Yeah, sure, I’ll take it.” The salesman gave Alex the Pokémon’s corresponding pokéball and Alex recalled it. Alex wasn’t quite sure why he’d bought it, aside from the pity he’d felt for the thing. It would probably have spent its life in the tank like most of the Magikarp would. Eevee tackled Umbreon to the ground, which came as a surprise to Tschel. Umbreon had the size and speed advantages. He was watching the two wrestle at each other from the park bench as part of Eevee’s training. Eevee handled itself pretty well, all things considered. At the very least, it had appeared to have gotten over the trauma of its mother’s death. Poor thing, it of all the Eevees was hit the hardest, and had refused Tschel’s water stone. “Hey watch out for…” Tschel started to say to Eevee, but Umbreon flipping Eevee off of it was faster than Tschel’s warning. “Too late.” It was an odd thing, seeing two Pokémon battle without orders, but Tschel knew that the less he walked Eevee through a fight, the more Eevee would get overall. It was already learning, as it was dodging more and more of Umbreon’s attacks and was hitting more and more often. Then things started to get interesting. Whether Eevee had intended for things to work out that way or not, Tschel didn’t know. However, with its back to the sun, it forced Umbreon to face it and therefore have much reduced visibility. It was an advantage Tschel himself didn’t think of until Eevee had already started using it. Umbreon was caught off guard by the sun’s glare, but scored a lucky kick with its right back leg, sending Eevee rolling towards Tschel, knocked out. “Nice kick, Umbreon,” Tschel said. “And Eevee, you did really well yourself.” Tschel recalled Eevee and signalled to Umbreon for it to follow him. “Come on Umbreon, we’re going to the Pokémon Center.” Umbreon followed Tschel out of the park and into the streets, darting about so that no random inattentive person would trip over it. Tschel glanced at the girl coming out of a potions store. No, he thought to himself, it couldn’t be. He looked closer and saw that he was right the first time. She had the same purple jacket, the same inane message on the black t-shirt underneath it (“All the funny messages were taken”), the same faded jeans, and the same brunette ponytail. Yep, it was Alex’s crazy sister, Sam. Tschel signalled to Umbreon and the two turned off to walk a different route. He knew he was judging Sam prematurely but he had a good feeling that she’d flip him off quite rudely. Sam watched Tschel go down a different street. She blinked—she had no intention of saying anything to him anyways, although she guessed that he didn’t know that. Still, it was rude of him. It also meant that Alex was in the city. It was tempting to call him up, but then she realised that she’d said she’d not talk to him until he’d finished with the Neo League, and she didn’t want her brother to have any small victory. Tschel entered the Pokémon Center, Umbreon following him. Alex was at a table in the cafeteria, eating a sandwich. Eevee’s injuries weren’t severe enough to have Nurse Joy look after them—just a few bumps and bruises—and he’d ironically headed here to wait for Alex. “Oh, hi,” Alex said as Tschel walked in. “Anything interesting happen?” Tschel decided not to tell Alex about seeing his sister a few minutes ago. “No. You?” “Bought a whatever-the-heck-this-is,” Alex said. “Oh?” “Yeah. Joy’s off doing some surgery, otherwise I’d have asked her what it is.” “Let me see.” Alex held up the ball and opened it, the ugly fish materialised on the tabletop. “Oh my,” Tschel said. “Heard about these. They’re really, really rare.” “Really?” Alex said, as if two of the same word wasn’t enough. “Bought this for only five hundred yen.” “Well,” Tschel said in awe, “you made out like a bandit.” The fish flopped on the table, looking around. “What is it, anyways?” Alex asked. “Well it…” Tschel began to say, but was cut off by the Pokémon. “FEEBAS!” It shouted as it jumped at and devoured the second half of Alex’s sandwich. “It’s a Feebas,” Tschel said. “Although you probably figured that out already.” Alex laughed and recalled Feebas. “Well, I bought it hoping it’d evolve into something not quite as ugly. Same reason I caught Magikarp, really.” David shoved past a fat, balding man on the street. “Hey, Sam!” He called. Sam turned around to see him. “Oh, hi David.” “You weren’t trying to lose me, were you?” David asked. Sam sighed. “No, no. You’re really clingy all of a sudden, though.” David looked at the sky. “Well, I have no idea where anything is around here, and most people think I’m a freak anyways. You don’t. So I guess that’s why.” Sam was annoyed by David’s clinginess but she couldn’t hold the sentiment against him. She felt really sorry for him. “Oh, good news though,” Sam said as an afterthought. “Oh?” David asked. “You told me you wanted to compete in a Battle Tower tournament,” Sam said. “Turns out there is a Neo League one.” “Where?” “Kirara City,” Sam said, after a second of trying to remember the name. “It’s a ways away though. We’ll have to stay here for tonight again.” David muttered a few swear words under his breath. “We checked out of the hotel this morning, remember?” “Oi,” Sam said, rubbing her temples with her right thumb and forefinger. “Guess we’ll have to find a place with a vacant room.” David nodded. “I’ll go check some places.” “Er,” Sam said, grabbing Tschel’s arm. “I’m the only one here with a sense of direction, remember?” “Oh, right.” “Single bed,” Sam muttered as she walked into the room, David following her. “Figures it’d be the only vacancy.” “I’ll take the floor,” David offered. Sam started to agree, but hesitated. She started and hesitated again before saying, “No, we’ll flip for it.” “Okay,” David said as Sam dug out a fifty-yen coin. “Tails.” Sam immediately thought, as the coin was in the air, that David might influence the coin’s flipping. However, she also noted that he was a rather pessimistic person and that he was convinced he’d go insane if he so much as made a blade of grass twitch psychically. It was, however, tails. “Dang.” David looked around, feeling an odd psychic presence as Sam turned away, muttering. He wasn’t especially trying to sense anything, it was just there. He highly doubted there were any psychic Pokémon hiding in the room, and it didn’t feel like there was anything there at the time. He sat on the bed and the feeling intensified. Odd, he thought to himself. Why would it do that? “Ho-kay, David,” he thought to himself, “Guess you’ll just have to risk actually trying to figure this out, or you’ll go mad.” He tentatively reached out psychically, pulling back instantly. No, he thought, being afraid wasn’t something he should be doing. He tried again. Yes, there was a faint impression of a presence whose actual body was gone. More like an afterimage of someone who’d been in this room before. David concentrated harder. Son of a… The room they’d gotten was the one that Alex and Tschel had shared. ---------------------------------------- Actually one reader guessed that the ugly fish was a Relicanth. Which is good, considering you're not supposed to know it's a Feebas until it steals some food. Wonder how obvious the random signals Alex has been sending at Tschel over these last few chapters are. Eh, well, it's not like Tschel's picking up on them either. And as an afteredit, no, nothing not-G-rated in that last few paragraphs. Reread it and suddenly realised that with a dirty enough mind you could think stuff, but hey, that's just my mind and, erk, I'll shut up now.