The chapter will be put up when I am done with it. :P
I have it all planned out already, and now I need to write it. I'm already a couple pages in. I hate making estimates, since they're almost always wrong anyway, but expect it in about a week. You'll have to find a way to entertain yourself until then. xD
This fanfic is awesome! Do you want to add me to the PM list?
There's one thing I don't get. Why does Michael suddenly have a Caterpie?
Michael has a Caterpie because Henry gave it to him. It was a small detail I mentioned in one of the earlier chapters, but I forgot which one... Darn, now I have to go look. I made so many revisions before posting some of the chapters that the scene might have gotten cut by accident.
*Searches for hours through her papers*
Yep. It got cut. I remember writing it, but for some reason it's not in any of my files either, so I'll just add a little line of explanation to Chapter Fourteen.
Thanks! And PM List updated.
EDIT: Still fixing it. My internet's been on and off these past few days, so if I'm inactive for a while, that's why.
EDIT again: It looks like my internet's back up. Yay :3 Anyway, I fixed the Caterpie issue. I edited the beginning of Fourteen with a little scene. Hope you all find it okay.
Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 11th August 2011 at 10:51 PM.
Idk if it's just that I read the last chapter so long along, but Micheal seems to have changed a great deal from chapter 13. Also, I'm really curious as to what will happen with Micheal's mom, brother and that girl. I thought she was a friend of his brother. And what will happen when it's revealed that Michael isn't a trainer. All in all I can't wait for the next chapter.
Last edited by Pokemon and DBZ son; 13th August 2011 at 4:08 AM.
Hello there Mrs.Lovette, long time reader, first time replier.
I think this is one of the best developing fics on this site. Your descriptive prowess coupled with your original characters and interesting twist on a well know region, have come together to create one great fic.
I do have a few questions, though whether you choose to awnser them is entirely up to you:
1. Are you planning to develop the personalities of Henryand Micheal's pokemon?
2. Will you have Henry and Micheal travel to Floaroma town?
3. Will Stunky be joining Micheal's team?
And, how dare you put horsea sandwiches in your fic
Looking forward to more!
If you ever thought you were a bad person because you evolved a scyther, copy and paste this into your sig (Started by Vengeful Scyther)
I looked and to my surprise, I saw questions! *Is happy* So I will answer them!
Pokemon and DBZ son: Yes, Michael has changed. It's not really a 'great deal', but he has made progress in the right direction, if you want to put it that way.
As for your questions, they're both good and valid, but I can't answer them because it'll be giving too much away... so in this case, my answer is no answer.
1.) Yes. I've gotten a few concerns about that, but rest assured, I haven't forgotten about the pokemon.
2.) No. There's no point, really. Floaroma isn't a Gym town, and there isn't much to do there anyway. Hehe.
3.) No. Stunky is too neurotic and afraid of Michael to ever want to battle for him. Sorry. :x That doesn't mean that Stunky won't be sticking around with him and Henry, though. It's a special one.
Darn it, all your replies are making me feel guilty that I haven't posted the next chapter yet.
(Notice how I cleverly passed that one-week goal I set for myself? Yeah. Yeah.)
I've had a very stressful week irl, and I've only been able to write in short 10-30 minute intermissions, so I guess writing has to take second place right now. I am working, on Chapter 1.5, though, and it will be a good one. I can promise you that.
is roots dead?
All right kiddies, this chapter is a big one. Not in terms of length, but in terms of content. It gave me a bit of trouble for some time because there were just so many things to keep track of. :P I worked my butt off, and I'm happy.
Anyways, I hope this was worth the wait. (I certainly won't be trying to type a chapter on two separate computers again, that's for sure...)
And happy last day of August.
The factory was spewing out an abundance of smoke, creating a little cloud over the hill that smeared its way into the rest of the town. Sunlight was sifted into bright patches along the road. Other than the steady grind of machinery from far away, all was quiet.
Michael was woken early by a panicked Henry, who wanted to get some more practice done before the battle. So, they went straight into the battle room and did a few practice rounds after a quick breakfast. Michael went over several scenarios and told Henry how to best counter each one, though he was fairly certain that everything would go well.
He could tell Henry was nervous, nevertheless. Long after they finished, the boy was still pacing around the battlefield, twiddling his thumbs and stealing frequent glances at the clock.
Bertha came into the battle room a few minutes late, rubbing her eyes. She had ditched the makeup, and her hair was slightly disheveled. “Sorry to keep you waiting, boys. It’s a fog day, if you haven’t noticed.” She stepped into the light and yawned.
When she saw them waiting patiently, she let out her breath. “You boys are pretty darn motivated. That’s a good asset to have. Some trainers that come here treat their stay like it’s a vacation. Then, of course, they get crushed by those that actually work.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Henry smiled, though the shaken look never left his eyes.
“So are you ready?” Bertha said.
“Well then let’s do this.”
She took her place at the battlefield, and Henry his.
“Go, Turtle!” Bertha’s Turtwig landed on the floor, fully rested from the night before.
Henry fumbled for his first pokéball. “Go, Starly!” The Starly dove out of the capsule and into the air. Bertha lifted an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.
“All right Turtle, use Razor Leaf!” The Turtwig bent back its head and sent forth a storm of leaves.
“Starly, evade! Peck it!” said Henry.
Michael watched as the Starly looped out of the way of the leaves, speeding toward Turtle with its beak leading the way. It began to peck, jabbing at Turtwig’s soft underbelly.
“Turtle, pin it down! Use Stealth Rock!”
The Turtwig rolled over onto its feet, shielding itself from the Starly’s blows. The ring of rock sprouted from the ground beneath Starly and encased it, drawing out frightened squeals. Its entire torso was trapped, leaving its wings and head sticking out.
Henry rubbed his chin. He cast a fleeting glance at Michael, as if in a silent plea for help, but right then he seemed to steel himself and looked forward again. “Starly, come on!” he shouted. “Get out of it!”
The Starly continued to beat its wings. Bertha’s Turtwig stood a little bit away, eyes narrowed in concentration as it tried to hold the stones in place. But Starly was making gains, and Henry was egging it on, shouting with impressive force.
“Come on, you can do it! Get out of it!” He watched the Starly squirm. The stones crushed ever tighter on its legs. Henry drew back, and then a sudden idea lit up his face. “Come on! Get out of it just like you wanted to get out of the net!”
The Starly squawked. Something in the Turtwig’s strength faltered, and the stones loosened by a single inch. It was enough. Starly shot out of its prison like a black-winged bullet, and collided full-on into the Turtwig, pecking every place it could find.
“Yeah!” Henry jumped with joy. Michael smiled. As he did, he felt a curious lethargy sink over him. He gave a big, Bertha-like yawn, tipping back in his seat. His gaze drifted up towards the window for a moment. It was a bright day. Or, it would have been, if not for the screen of brown fog-smoke that smudged the sun. The clouds were thick and brown, but he could still see some patches of blue hidden behind the screen. When he looked closer, they seemed to form patterns, like broken shards of a puzzle. A shoe, a blade of grass, a cup...
Michael bolted upright. He had almost forgotten the battle. Bertha’s Turtwig, still under fire from the Starly, was curling up into defensive mode. It pulled its head and limbs into the shell, becoming like a rock. Far from giving up, the Starly battered all the harder, whacking the shell with its wings and talons.
Bertha gave a soft laugh. “Wow. That’s one hell of a Starly you’ve got there. It’s like a one-man machine… I guess I’ll have to improvise a little. Turtle, return!” She held out the pokéball, and Turtwig’s shell melted away. Henry gaped.
“You can do that?”
Bertha clipped the pokéball back to her belt. “Why not? It’s not cheating, if that’s what you’re getting at.” She winked. “If anything, it’s good for you, because you get to see more of my team, and you’ll be prepared for when I send out Turtle next time. Go, Cherri!”
The Cherrim sprang from the second pokéball, all smiles and dancing petals.
“Use Magical Leaf!”
The Cherrim began to twirl in a similar fashion to Petal Dance, only this time it swept clusters of strange dark leaves around it. They shimmered as they tore through the air, with a speed and grace entirely unlike Razor Leaf.
“Starly, evade!” said Henry.
The Starly dove aside, but the leaves followed, striking its body from behind. Henry let out a cry as the Starly spun to the floor, struggling from its injured wings.
“It’s not a common attack,” said Bertha. “Cherri actually learned it last month, but I only use it every other battle… I find that keeping some cards close to my chest is better for me in the long run.”
Henry looked down at the Starly, who was still flying, though clearly struggling to stay in the air. “Starly, use Brave Bird!”
The Starly obeyed, hurling itself at Cherri with every last bit of strength it had. Michael watched the pokémon wrangle. The Cherrim fell back under Starly’s blows, squealing.
“Nice one!” Bertha said. “But we’re not through just yet. Cherri, use—” Her mouth opened to announce her third pokémon, but at that moment, she stopped.
The silence was like a brief, curious break in a strand of thought. At first, it seemed like Bertha had simply changed her mind about what she was going to say, but as the pause in words grew longer, Michael began to think that there was something wrong.
Henry caught onto the signal a moment later. He relaxed his stance, and looked to Michael in confusion. Michael shrugged his shoulders in response.
Bertha hung still, ignoring them both. She was staring at the floor. And just then, after a moment of anticipation, the slightest sound broke the silence. It came from outside, beginning as a distant rumble, and then it rose into an echo like a speeding avalanche, or a million tiny pebbles skittering down a road.
The pokémon continued to brawl along the arena, scratching and biting at each other without any regard for their trainers. The sound traveled across the horizon, and died down, bringing a heavier silence than ever before. Even the machinery seemed to have gone quiet.
The sound exploded with such force that it shook the walls of the Gym, and all three of them clamped their hands to their ears against the great vibrations. The ceiling lamps wobbled, and a picture on Bertha’s desk fell flat on its face. The Starly began to panic, beating its wings and screeching.
A second crash followed the first, ending in a low, drawn-out rumble that was louder than the first. Michael gripped the edge of the bench for support, and Henry stumbled against the wall. Once the ground steadied, Bertha pocketed her pokéball and, as if by instinct, turned to the window.
When she looked back at Michael and Henry, her face was blank.
It was coming from the factory.
Morning light sifted through a tiny window near the ceiling, illuminating Nancy’s sleeping face. Her team was sprawled out around the table in poses of varying style, having given up comfort for the sake of rest. Ned was snoring.
When the rumble came, none of them stirred. The room shook ever so slightly, and a cloud of brown dust smeared over the window, blocking the light. The sound deepened, and Nancy was stirred awake. She felt slow and groggy, as if a rough hand had pulled her from her dreams.
She barely had time to register the situation when suddenly, the door to the detainment room burst open, and a group of security guards rushed in.
“Wake up! Wake up!” One of the them shook Nancy’s shoulders. She rubbed her eyes and yawned.
“What... what is it?”
“Are you letting us go?” said Bobby.
“We’ve been ordered to take you with us,” said the guard. “There’s no time for questions. Let’s go.”
Nancy was still struggling to stay awake as the guard lifted her and rushed down the hallway. The rumbling grew steadily louder, until it escalated to such a degree that she could feel it beneath her shoes.
“What’s going on here?” she said. “Is it an earthquake?”
The guards did not answer. Two of them pushed open the doors, hands clamped over their mouths. Nancy barely caught a glimpse of daylight before her eyes reflexively closed, and she began to cough from the onset of smoke.
“Put this on. Now!” A gas mask was thrust into her hands. Nancy fumbled for the strap, tightening it around her head. The guard tugged on her arm, and she started to walk.
When Nancy opened her smarting eyes, she saw that the whole lot was swarming with people. Red lights were flashing on doors, and workers spilled out of buildings by the hundreds, pushing large crates on wheels. And above the wail of commotion, a computerized voice boomed at them like a siren:
“WARNING! THIS IS AN ORDERED EVACUATION FOR ALL ZONES. CRITICAL ENGINE FAILURE IN SECTOR U-74. THIRD-DEGREE BATTERY LEAKAGE IN THE 102 MAINFRAME. ALL PERSONS TO VACATE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY. WARNING! THIS IS AN ORDERED EVACUATION FOR ALL ZONES—”
Nancy looked up. Large volumes of thick brown smoke were gushing out from an unseen building, staining the sky like a pool of mud. Galactic workers were scurrying about like ants, lab coats flapping around their feet. No two people seemed to be going in the same direction, and yet they were all shouting at one another, a chorus of instructions and confused nomenclature. There were suddenly so many of them, that Nancy found herself wondering where they had all been hiding the night before.
“Let’s go!” The guard pulled on her arm again, and Nancy was forced into a run. They dodged the multitude of moving bodies, following what seemed like a predetermined path. Nancy caught glimpses of passing buildings, and of the guards looking around in desperation, but she couldn’t deduce where they were going. The gas mask was wrapped tight around her face, and each breath she took felt stale and deprived, as if only half of it was reaching her.
The company made a sharp turn, pulling her into what appeared to be a parking lot. Rows of trucks were lined up by a tall fence, and Galactic workers were loading them with all sorts of crates and boxes.
The guards led them towards the trucks, and among the white-coated workers, Nancy caught glimpse of a man in a black suit, one of the few who was also masked. He stood on an elevated platform with a megaphone, and was shouting at a group of truckers, arms waving.
“Leave everything! Leave everything that’s not vital to the project—I SAID LEAVE IT! No!”
He stumbled from the platform and wrenched a crate from a worker’s hands. The two exchanged a brief verbal quarrel, and then the worker stormed off, dropping it off to the side.
When the man in the suit saw the team of guards, he immediately broke away from his duty and approached them. He was shorter than the man from the marketplace, and when he came close, Nancy heard him breathe a sigh of relief.
“Great. Thank God. That’s one less thing for me to worry about.”
“Should we take them to transport, sir?” said one of the guards.
The man shook his head. “No. Our first priority is to get every living body out of here. We're not sure exactly what's going to happen yet, but we're treating it as a full-on emergency. The engines have been working overtime all night, and something in the system must have failed. I’m still waiting for a status report.”
The guard nodded, and the man turned to address Nancy's crew. “Mr. Webbs has decided not to press charges against you guys. You should thank your lucky stars, because I’m telling you, he came close. It if wasn’t for the leak, you’d all be sitting in a jail cell right now.”
As one, the team relaxed. In an instant, Nancy felt all the stress she had retained from the previous evening drain away. Ned and Bobby exchanged a high-five.
“That does not mean,” the man continued, “that we can forget what you tried to do. I want you to understand the severity of your actions. Our projects are top secret, and breaching our security is as good as a felony in this country. We have your data on file, and if it happens again, I don’t care if it’s the end of the world — you are going to jail. Understood?”
Nancy nodded, still unable to make words.
The man seemed about to say more, but at that moment, a masked worker ran up to them, panting from a long journey.
“Sir!” he said. “Both backup engines have crashed. The radiator’s leaking faster than we can plug it up. We—” He doubled over and gave a resounding cough, which incapacitated his ability to speak for several moments. “We’ve… done our best to stabilize the machine, but at this rate, I don’t think we have much time. The pressure’s building inside the chamber, and if it’s not drained soon, the whole building will explode.”
The man took this all in, and nodded. “How long do we have?”
“We’re not sure,” said the scientist. “I estimate about half an hour, but then the fumes will spread across the whole town and beyond. There’s no way to stop it. We’ve done all that was possible… The only thing left to do is to evacuate. I’m sorry.”
At the scientist’s words, the man clenched his fist and swore. “Damn… what about the XTC? Is it damaged? What about the ST Pod? And the AAC?” With each unintelligible acronym he named, the man’s voice grew more and more desperate, and the poor scientist was left stuttering. His panicked eyes darted from the man’s to the faces of Nancy and her team.
“Sir… the… no damage has been done to the XTC, and the STP is in transport. But the AAC… some of the gases inside it have leaked, and it’s corroded the metal casing… I… I gave the order to unassemble it, and—”
“—isolated all the undamaged parts to prepare them for storage, but given the state of what was lost, it’s likely that the machine will need to be reconstructed, at least partially—”
The man slapped his hand to his forehead. He muttered something, but Nancy only caught the tail of it— “… sure as hell won’t be happy about this…”
The scientist stiffened as if for a verbal blow, but the man quickly collected himself. “All right. Recover all that you can and get it onto transport asap. I’ll notify Veilstone. It might delay things, but if you work fast, then we might avoid a major stall.”
The scientist nodded. “Yes sir.”
“And the town. Tell me about the town.”
The scientist fidgeted. “Sir, I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do. We have to impose an evacuation order. I advise getting everyone at least ten miles away from here. I don’t know how severe the damage will be, but we can’t risk anything. The gases are highly reactive. Eterna could be rendered uninhabitable.”
At this, Nancy felt her blood chill. The thought of a such pure, green town turning into a chemical wasteland was difficult to fathom. It had been a long time since she had been surrounded by nature to such a degree—in fact, Nancy hadn’t seen a forest since she left her hometown of Fortree City in Hoenn, which was ten years ago. She was actually starting to feel a sort of kinship with Eterna, something she had never felt before in any city.
Nancy held her breath as she waited for the man’s reaction. His composure did not change in the slightest, and his eyes remained cold behind the glass of his mask.
“Okay,” he said, after a moment. “I’ll make sure to mention that possibility. Now go. Every second counts.”
The scientist nodded, and ran off. The man turned to face the team one last time. “Your guards will now escort you to Eterna’s train station. From there, you’re on your own. Put as much distance between you and the town as you can, and make sure your friends do likewise. Understood?”
“But can’t we just drive away?” Nancy said. “We have a van.”
“Van?” He scowled. “This is no time for vans! Do you understand the concept of spontaneous combustion, and how fast a pressurized chemical leak can spread? A van won’t get you away from that in time. You need to board a train and get the hell out of here.”
Nancy bit her lip, dreading a response. Tom nudged her shoulder.
“It’s okay,” he said. “All the equipment that matters is gone. We’d have to start over anyway.”
“Yeah, that van was a piece of crap,” Bobby added. “Remember that week when it broke down three times in a row?”
Ned also nodded his approval. “They’re right, Nancy. That van was more trouble than it was worth. If anything,” he smiled, “we’ll be able to sneak up on people better if we don’t show off our team logo everywhere we go.”
Nancy looked at them, surprised by their sudden optimism. “Who are you people and what did you do with my friends?”
Tom laughed. “It’s okay. None of us are going to back out on this because of one little thing. We’re a team, remember?” He looked at Ned, who gave a thumbs-up.
Nancy lowered her head. “Fine. We’ll take the train.”
The Galactic man nodded. “Then we have nothing more to say to each other. I sincerely hope you’ve taken what I said earlier into mind, and that our two organizations will never cross paths again.”
“I hope so too,” Nancy said before she could stop herself.
With that, the man turned on his heel and hurried back to the podium. Nancy didn’t have time to watch the proceedings, for the guards immediately began to steer her in the opposite direction. They were led to the factory gates, which had been thrown open for smaller vehicles, and for workers running for their lives.
Beneath the hill, the town was stirring.
“Yes. Hello? This is Bertha Herrida. I want to — no, you listen to me! I don’t care about your stupid rules, I want you to transfer my call to that goddamn factory right now, and I want to know why the hell a bomb just went off in my backyard! Hello?”
Bertha tapped the receiver with her manicured nails, but there was evidently no response. Outside, the air was growing dense with brown smoke, and it was beginning to smear the windows of the battle room with soot. Michael placed his hands upon the sill, trying to see past the growing cloud.
Henry, meanwhile, was chasing the Starly across the battle floor, trying to catch it while it repeatedly sought to escape him. It had begun to screech and flap in evident agitation, and had backed itself into a corner where it lay trembling.
“No. Bad Starly. Bad. Come here. To me, Starly.” Henry tried various tones, from gentle to harsh, but the Starly seemed unwilling to leave its hiding place. In manic rage, it dove out from under the bench and bumped its head on the water cooler, falling back down again.
“What’s wrong with him?” Henry said. "Starly's never been like this before."
“He’s probably loaded,” Michael snickered. “Are you sure that pokémon food of yours is safe?”
“Not funny,” Henry said. He unclipped Starly’s pokéball and aimed it. “Sorry, buddy. You’re going back.” In a torrent of white, the Starly was sucked back into the capsule. When it was done, Henry looked at Bertha. “Did you call them?”
“Not yet,” Bertha said. “They’re giving me the damn hold.” She waited several minutes, stealing glances at the window. "It's probably another stupid experiment the Galactics are trying."
"Can we go check?" said Michael.
"No way. I'm not letting you outside when there's smoke from God-knows-what in the air. You'll get sick." Bertha twisted the thick cord with her finger. Finally, her face lit up, and she spoke into the phone. “Well it’s about time! What—”
She froze. The person on the other end was talking loudly and hurriedly, and though Michael couldn’t decipher the words, he could tell by Bertha's expression that it was something bad. She put down the phone a minute later.
"What is it?" said Henry.
“Follow me. Let's go." Bertha went for the door. Confused, Michael followed her up the stairs. Henry ran along behind, gasping.
“Wait! Bertha, what’s happening?”
Bertha did not answer. They ascended to the main level of the house, and when they reached the front door, Bertha led them outside. Instantly, Michael was consumed by a flood of noise.
Eterna was in chaos. Screams and bangs blended with the wail of sirens, and torrents of people were moving down the road as if in a protest march. Some carried luggage bags, others went empty-handed. They were pushing and shouting, all running from the factory, where a giant black cloud hovered like a hole in the sky.
“Whoa!” Henry pointed. “Look at that!”
Michael turned to the north, and nearly did a double-take at what he saw. The factory loomed over them like a huge injured beast, belching a mix of fire and soot from its towers that rained down upon the masses. As of by instinct, Bertha gripped their shoulders and pulled them close.
“They’ve finally done it. They’ve finally crossed the line. It was only a matter of time.” She lowered her head, closing her eyes. “Oh God…”
The gates to the factory were wide open, and people in white coats were spilling out like a waterfall. Some had already reached the bottom of the hill, and were running through the streets, their eyes wide with panic. Michael realized who they were—Galactic workers.
“Get out!” one of them yelled as they passed. “This is an ordered evacuation! We’re releasing toxic fumes into the air! The whole building will explode in twenty minutes! You have to leave, now!”
The stream of workers pushed through the Eterna residents, repeating the same warning. The streets were thrown up into a chorus of angry shouts, and the Eterna folk began to push and jab at the workers.
“Damn you, Galactic!” someone said. “Go burn in your own waste!”
There was a roar of approval. A mob swarmed around the inflow of Galactic workers, blocking them from view. Michael heard more screams.
Bertha gritted her teeth. “Get your stuff, boys. And be quick about it.”
“Wait,” Henry said. “You mean all these people have to leave? How?”
“The train station,” Bertha replied. “It’s the only way. Now go on. Hurry.”
She went back inside with them, and they scrambled to gather their things. Michael scooped his belongings into his backpack, and Henry gathered his tote bag and the Stunky’s cage. Bertha took a little bit longer, and met them by the door with her purse and a strange briefcase. She quickly pushed them outside to join the mass of people moving forward.
“We’ll be going to Hearthome City,” she said. “I have business there, and you’ll be able to get to your next Gym.”
“But Bertha,” said Henry, “what about my battle?”
Bertha tightened her grip on their arms. “Worry about that later. Let’s go.”
She pulled them down the street, into the town center. The whole of Eterna seemed to have wakened from the disaster. People were peering out of windows, stepping out of doors to see what all the commotion was about. When their eyes moved over to the factory, their eyes widened in shock, and they withdrew, later throwing open their doors with armfuls of luggage. And then they joined the flow of traffic, becoming a part of the movement themselves.
Bertha wove through the crowds, keeping an iron grip on their shoulders throughout. Michael stole frequent glances at the factory, and each time he looked, the cloud overhead became thicker and darker. A line of trucks was moving downhill from a side exit, bearing crates stamped with the Team Galactic logo. They followed the road, then turned unseen into a separate direction. The distant wail of sirens that rose up with the noise and fog sounded like the tolling bells of the apocalypse.
On top of that, Galactic workers were coming into the town by the hundreds. After the initial outpour, the remaining workers walked in an orderly, almost mechanical fashion. They kept their distance from the Eternians, marching forward with their heads ducked down, like students in a fire drill. Most of them carried luggage of their own, and all of them wore gas masks. They could have been soldiers, or policemen.
As they passed, the Eternians looked upon the workers with sour loathing, and instantly began to shout all sorts of verbal abuse at them. Several people even stopped to throw sticks and pebbles. And yet the workers walked, keeping a mystic sort of air about them, impassive to the jeers of the masses.
At one point, Bertha leaned over to whisper in Michale's ear. “You might as well stop looking. After this, I hope you realize that Galactic’s not all what it makes itself out to be, and that those workers are the same tormented idiots as the rest of us. This town has done a lot of things for them, and they’ve never given back.”
Michael barely remembered the next few minutes, save for more noise and shouting, the rapidly darkening sky, and more people joining the movement. It all felt surreal, as if he was stuck in an extended dream that he couldn't wake up from.
The Eterna train station, when they reached it, was the most crowded building in town. The majority of the traffic was directed inside, and though it was huge, the building clearly wasn't designed to hold the entire population of Eterna at once.
Nearly all the seats in the lobby were occupied, which left a multitude of people to stand against the walls, moving aside the decorative plants and statues. Bertha managed to find two vacant chairs, albeit not very good ones, and left them to settle down while she went over to the counter. A private seating area was arranged for the Galactic workers, some with belongings of their own, and many of whom were still wearing their safety gear.
Michael watched their movements carefully, and though none of them spoke, he wondered what was running through their minds at that moment. Their factory was burning, and whatever they had been working on had been reduced to cinders.
As the old Space Race-obsessed part of his mind kicked in, Michael felt anger blossom within him. First Deoxys, and now the factory… it seemed that the very universe was conspiring against him, and his will for Sinnoh to gain victory. He wondered when the news would reach the rest of Sinnoh, if it would at all. Then he thought of his friends again, Cory and Brendan, but this time their faces no longer made him dream of home. He felt detached from his old life, somehow, as if all those old memories were no longer his.
From the seat beside him, Henry spoke. “This is really scary,” he whispered.
Michael nodded. “I guess.”
In truth, he was slightly unsettled at the sight of the panic, for he had not expected that a place like Eterna could produce so much mayhem in so little time. He looked down at the Stunky, which was pacing around the cage, its tail twitching. It kept looking up at the windows and sniffing, as if it could already sense the onset of poison gas.
Henry looked at the people in the lobby, and to the crowds outside. “All these people… they’re losing their home. It’s sad."
“Be thankful they’re not losing their lives.”
Henry’s gaze fell to the floor. He did not speak until Bertha came back.
“Listen, boys.” She knelt down beside them. “The trains are loaded. I managed to get us spots on the ride to Hearthome, but since everyone is traveling out of the city, they have to stagger the departures. The Galactics will leave first, on the train to Veilstone. Then the train to Solaceon—”
“Wait a minute!” Henry looked up. “The Galactics are leaving first? Isn’t it a little rude of them to leave before everyone else, since they’re the ones who are behind the problem?”
Bertha closed her eyes. “Look. I don’t like it either. But that’s how it is right now, and you’ll have to deal with it.”
“Still!” Henry said, rising. “It’s not fair!”
“Life isn’t fair,” Michael retorted. Henry gave him a glare, but sat back down.
“Unfortunately, he’s right,” said Bertha. “Don’t worry. If anything, we’ll sneak aboard a train to some other town and go from there. What’s more important is your safety. All right?”
Henry nodded, resting his chin in his hands. Bertha rubbed his shoulder. “What’s the matter?”
The boy let out a long sigh. “We never got to finish our battle,” he mumbled.
Bertha rolled her eyes, but at the same time she smiled. “Kid…” She pulled the Forest Badge from her purse and placed it into Henry’s hand. “Here. It’s yours.”
Henry gaped. “What? But I… but I didn’t win! We never… I…”
Bertha chuckled. “I don’t need to finish a battle to tell a good trainer from a bad one. Hell, I can get by just by watching how a person prepares. I’ve seen you and Michael working your butts off for my battle, and I’m proud of you for that. What impressed me even more is how you battled today. You persevered, and you led that little Starly in battle like a freaking military commander. If our match had been just a bit longer, you definitely would’ve beaten little Turtle.”
Henry beamed. “Wow. I didn’t know you could… I mean, that you were allowed to do that!”
“It’s called leader discretion. If I think someone deserves the badge, I’ll give it to them. Usually, it’s settled by a complete battle, but it doesn’t always have to be. What I liked most,” Bertha continued, “is the way you and Michael worked together. I’ve seen a lot of kids come in groups to my Gym, but none of them are quite like you two.”
Michael blinked in surprise. “Really?”
“Definitely. All the other groups I see end up quarreling and starting these stupid rivalries with one another. But you two are the first pair I’ve seen that actually works together and shares the benefits.”
Michael and Henry exchanged a glance. “Thanks, Bertha,” Henry said.
Bertha smiled. “No problem. Now...” She checked her watch. “I’m going to make a quick call. You boys stay put, all right?”
“Okay,” Henry said.
Bertha left. They sat alone for a while, watching more and more people file into the lobby. Michael was happy to return to his thoughts, when Henry suddenly perked up again.
“Hey, I have an idea!”
“There should be a pay phone somewhere here, right? We should call home. Just so our parents know what’s happening.”
Suddenly, Michael’s mood darkened. It was as if a switch had gone off inside of him, bringing a sudden reminder to the forefront of his mind. Michael passed off this sudden shift with a shrug. “Mmm.”
Henry bounced up from the chair. “Come on. I have some coins.”
“I’ll pass,” Michael said. “I’ll call home when I get to Hearthome.”
Henry frowned. “Well okay. I’ll be right back.” He bounded off. Several nondescript minutes later, he returned, happily holding his coin bag. “All done! My mom’s glad I’m okay. She says to be careful in Hearthome and stuff, but other than that, she’s excited that I finally got past Byron.”
“Whoop de doo.”
Henry sat down beside him. “You should call home too.”
“I said I’ll pass.”
Michael sighed. “Just… nothing.” He turned away from Henry, indicating that he didn't want to talk any more. The trains to Veilstone and Solaceon were called, and the troupe of Galactic workers shuffled out of the station, along with a great number of Eternians.
Several minutes later, the call for Hearthome came.
“Attention!” came a voice over the loudspeaker. “All passengers to Hearthome City please board! All passengers to Hearthome City please board!”
Michael stood without preamble. “Come on.”
“Wait!” Henry said. “We should wait for Bertha. She's not back yet.”
“Too late. Let’s go.”
They grabbed their belongings and rose with the other Hearthome passengers. The train awaited them outside, stretched out beneath the sun. The smoke had advanced completely over the town, and what little light there was left shone feebly over the station.
The passengers huddled on the platform together, and boarded one by one. The air in the train was hot and stiff. Michael went as far back as he could, picking a compartment well off from the others. He plopped down next to the window, and Henry beside him.
"All right, what is the deal with you?" said the boy. "Why are you so mad all of a sudden?”
Michael remained silent.
"Talk to me!" Henry nudged his shoulder. "Is something wrong? You can tell me. What is it?”
“Can’t you just be quiet for once?”
“Not until you tell me what’s wrong.” Henry put his hands on his hips, and Michael groaned.
"When I left my house and went to Route 203, I didn't exactly have my mother's permission to go."
"What do you mean?"
"Urgh, I ran away from home, okay?" This came out pretty loudly, and Michael was instantly grateful for the thin wall that separated them from the others. "I can't let my mom know where I am. If she finds me, she'll bring me home and put bars on my window."
Henry's eyes widened. "You ran away from home? Why?"
"Because." Michael gritted his teeth. "She grounded me. And I didn't want to waste my summer in my room."
"But why didn't you just wait it out? What's the worst she could have done to you?"
"Will you stop asking questions? You don't know shit about my home life. I had it ten times worse than you ever will."
"Well, maybe if you talked about it..."
"That's the thing, dweeb. I don't want to talk about it. For once, I want to leave my old life behind me and start fresh. It's the big mouths like you who get in the way!"
"But your mom and dad probably miss you. They want you home."
Michael looked away, clenching his fist. "I don't have a dad. Now if you don't shut that mouth of yours, I'll do it for you."
Henry fell silent. Outside, it was bright and hazy. The land on his side was undeveloped, except for a strip of fencing that bordered the station's property. From his seat, Michael could see all the way up to the mountains.
The train started with a loud roar that shook the walls. The landscape began to roll by. Michael closed his eyes.
Over the hum of the engine, he heard a whisper.
"... Neither do I."
“Ow! Ow, that was my foot! Stop stepping on me!”
“You’re the one stepping on me!”
“How is your shoe on my foot me stepping on you?”
“Shut up already,” Nancy groaned. “I’ve been humiliated enough this week. I don’t need your contribution.”
Tom and Bobby fell silent. Ned stepped between them and opened the compartment door. “Here. This is far enough.”
The team shuffled into the empty compartment, placing the various luggage bags on the floor around their feet. As everyone sat down, Bobby peered out of the glass. “Wow. I just saw the hottest chick walk by…”
Tom nudged his shoulder. “Shut up and look straight, will you?”
Bobby chuckled. “What? I have a weakness for blondes. And this one’s a fox… she looks like she could be a freaking model. Holy shit, she’s coming this way.”
Bobby turned away from the window just in time as a tall, curvy woman stopped in front of them. She took a quick peek into their compartment, and turned back to sit in a vacant one across from them. She closed the door and pulled down the blinds, hiding her silhouette from view.
“Secretive much,” Bobby muttered. “I wonder what she had in that briefcase.”
“Maybe she’s a spy from Team Galactic,” said Tom.
“Guys,” Nancy said. “Please.”
Bobby stopped. “Oh. Right.”
But Nancy wasn’t in the mood to take it further. She slumped in her seat, leaning against the window. “This sucks.”
Nancy looked at her teammates, and simultaneously they looked at her. They were silent. Outside, the chugging motor could be heard as the train sped through open land.
“Well, what now?” said Bobby.
“What do you mean? We just survived an encounter with Team Galactic and made it out of a nuclear apocalypse. I think that’s more than enough reason to appreciate life as it is right now,” said Ned.
But Nancy shook her head. “No, he’s right. I have to think… We need a story before the twenty-fifth… We need a place to look.”
“Well, Hearthome’s pretty good,” said Tom. “They have the Contest Hall, and the Game Corner, and… loads of places. Right?”
Nancy turned towards the window, which had only just begun to smear with train smoke. She could still see the town behind them.
Suddenly, there was a chorus of gasps. Nancy looked towards the factory, just in time to see one of the smokestacks fall, snapping off from its base like a twig and falling onto the buildings below. It exposed a bare, blackened pit, where bright-orange flames licked the edges of ruin like the tongue of hell.
At that point, there was another great boom, and a torrent of fire and smoke swallowed the factory whole. For a few seconds, the whole of the hill was engulfed by a black cloud, where tiny trails of smoke trickled down like magma from a volcano.
Nancy heard muffled movement from the other seats as people pressed their hands to the glass to watch. The sight was both beautiful and terrifying. The flames caught on trees, and smoke drifted atop houses. Flocks of Starly took off from the trees, flapping and screeching.
Nancy did not tear away her gaze until the town was reduced to a flaming speck on the horizon. The tingle inside of her never quite went away, even when she turned from the window and looked at her hands, convincing herself that it all didn't matter. Then the train entered a stone tunnel, and a black wall was dropped over everything, blocking her sight of the world for good.
Just like that, Eterna was gone.
Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 1st September 2011 at 8:44 PM.
wow great chapter! those galactic guys really screwed up this time huh?
also one little error:
im prety sure that its supposed to be HEMichael watched their movements carefully, and though none of them spoke, hel wondered what was running through their minds at that moment. Their factory was burning, and whatever they had been working on had been reduced to cinders.
Woots! Roots is back at last!!
This was a pretty impressive chapter and it was probably worth the long time you put into compiling it.
Nancy and her crew now seem close to interacting with Michael and Henry, so that's gonna be interesting.
I'm also curious about the blonde. Is she the same woman Michael met in one of the previous chapters?
All in all great work Mrs. Lovett, although i couldn't help but notice these :
Shouldn't this be "then"?The he thought of his friends again, Cory and Brendan
I'm not sure but i think it should've been "starting".All the other groups I see end up quarreling and staring these stupid rivalries with one another.
So I was reading through this and I was thinking "Okay, so we got another gym battle and Henry will win and then we go off to the next town" But that was a nice twist that you added. Its good to see that the plot is moving along quite nicely. Nothing like a good old disaster to get things going! But I do really like your writing so far and this is probably the best fic i've found on SPPF at this point. Keep up the good work!
Thanks to ninetails012 and menonabhi123 for finding those typos! I didn't even realize that any of them were there when I read over the chapter before posting. I've fixed them all up, so it should be good now.
Bertha took a little bit longer, and met them by the door with her purse and a strange briefcase.I showed Bertha's arrival on the train from someone else's point of view because I wanted the previous scene to be more between Michael and Henry. And Bertha has other things to take care of besides the boys, as you may have noticed... More on that later.“Secretive much,” Bobby muttered. “I wonder what she had in that briefcase.”
By the way, I've been waiting to blow up the Galactic factory since Chapter 11. Hehe. It's like the release of all the tension that's been built up in the previous Eterna chapters. I had fun with it.
Thank you, thank you for the replies!
These chapters just keep getting longer and longer... This one's actually over the character limit, and it couldn't be contained in one post, so I had to split it up into two. I didn't mean for it to be so long, but it just wrote itself that way. I apologize in advance, and I hope the break isn't too distracting. I'm also working on getting myself to speed up the update time so I can get the chapters posted in a more timely manner.
The train chugged into the tunnel, and for several hours afterward, the windows were masked with black. In response, the lights in the compartments flickered on, bathing the interior in steady orange light.
It was the first time Michael had been underground. The sensation was peculiar, and his mind somehow likened it to being underwater. He sat with his legs spread out on the seat, facing the window. His eyes lingered on the black; it was the purest shade he had ever seen. Darker than tires. Darker than the night.
Against the lighting, Michael could see his reflection in the window, almost like a mirror. His eyes were narrowed into slits, and his hair was sticking out oddly at the sides. He saw Henry's reflection too, from the seat across from him.
The boy was facing the compartment door, fiddling with the edges of his shirt. On the whole he seemed unoccupied, though occasionally he took out random items from his tote bag and turned them over in his hands. Pokéballs. Tissues. Pencils. He had brought a book as well, nearly as thick as his arm. Michael wanted to ask him if he had another, but decided against it. Henry didn't look in Michael's direction. Not once.
After a while, the train's jerks and jumps became tiring. Michael decided to occupy himself with his chart. He added a new heading for 'Flying', and listed it as Effective against grass. But other than that, there was nothing to do.
He did not know at what point he and Henry had begun to talk. It was sometime around noon, which he could tell because Henry started taking out a small sandwich from his tote bag and a bottle of water. He tried with many grunts to open it, but the cap wouldn't budge. Finally, the boy sighed.
"Would you open this please?" He held out the bottle to Michael, who took it and opened it with ease.
"Thanks." Henry began to drink greedily. When he lowered the bottle, it was half empty.
The two boys looked at each other for a while, in total silence. It seemed like an invitation to talk.
"You say you don't have a dad either?" Michael began. "What happened to him?"
At first, it seemed like Henry wouldn't answer. He put the water bottle into his bag and took a bite out of his sandwich.
"He left. I was only four, and my mom caught him with another woman. They argued a lot, and he just packed his things and left. I remember. They got a divorce. My mom explained everything to me when I was old enough, and she said that it was time to move on. So we did." Henry paused. "She got another job, and she still had a lot of money so she could send me to a good school in Floaroma."
Michael nodded. "That's good. That you moved on like that, I mean. Wish my family could do that..."
"What happened to your dad?" Henry inquired.
"He died,” Michael said, surprised by his impassive tone. Henry flinched.
"Wow, I'm really sorry. Are you... better now? How is your family?"
"Well, my two brothers left, so now it's just me and my mom. Of course, I left, so now it's just my mom."
"Why did your brothers leave?"
Michael scowled. "Brian was a know-it-all. He went to some fancy-shmancy boarding school, and I haven't seen him since. And Richard... he left because he wanted to start over."
Henry studied him. "And you left too, because you wanted to start over."
"So... did you have any friends back home?"
"Two. Cory and Brendan." Michael smiled. "Awesome guys."
"They probably miss you."
"I guess. But they'll understand why I left. If I had told them the reason, then they'd understand me perfectly."
They fell into silence again, though Michael felt more relaxed than before. He leaned against the window and closed his eyes, ignoring the train's bumps and shudders. His only concept of time was the flick of turning pages.
Then there came a knock on their compartment door. Through the glass, Michael saw Bertha. She slid open the door.
“Mind if I scoot in? Sorry I took so long, boys, but I had some things to look over.”
Michael slid over to make room, and she sat down, clapping her hands together.
“All right, so we’re officially headed for Hearthome City. Fortunately, you won’t have to wander around all by yourselves, because I’ll be sticking with you. At least, for a while I’ll be.”
Henry beamed. “That’s awesome!” Michael was also pleased, for he had grown to like Bertha over the few days they had been together.
“But it won’t be all fun and games, I’m telling you,” Bertha warned. “If I ever catch you two goofing off, I’ll take away your badges and you’ll have to battle me all over again. And this time, I’ll be using a Golem, a Hitmonlee, and a Steelix. So you better watch it.”
Michael and Henry began to laugh. Bertha smiled, but Michael could tell that her heart wasn’t really in it. Her face was sullen, and she looked as if the last few hours had drained away all her energy. And he didn’t have to ask why.
It had been scarcely three days since they had left Oreburgh for the quiet, leafy neighborhood of Eterna. In his mind, Michael could still picture the town as it had been before, with its cracked roads and cozy buildings. The thought that the whole town was now flooded with toxic waste was almost an absurdity. He still half-expected to see Bertha’s sunny home again, and go to sleep staring at the patterned wallpaper of the guest room.
But just like that… boom.
Even now, a part of him wondered if it had been some bizarre case of bad karma, and if the explosion wouldn’t have happened if he had never set foot in Eterna. Michael knew this was irrational, and could comfortably put aside the thought, though he couldn’t quite get over the feeling that something inside of him had shaken, had moved from its place when he laid eyes on the burning Galactic factory.
It’s just a town. You’ll be in hundreds of others. It’s just a town.
But it wasn’t just a town. And he knew it. The tiny purse in Bertha’s lap was only a fraction compared to what she had lost.
Henry looked at Bertha in concern, as if he had been thinking the exact same thoughts. “Bertha, what about your house?” said Henry. “If you go to Hearthome with us, you won’t have a place to live.”
Bertha shrugged. “This is all I need, really.” She patted her purse. “My pokémon, my wallet, my Gym credentials, and some makeup. Home away from home.” She smiled, though dimly.
Henry began to wiggle his feet, and, as if by accident, his toes touched the briefcase. “Then what’s in there?”
Bertha let out a breath. “Nothing that concerns you two. But if you really want to know… I’m starting a petition. I’ll be collecting the signatures of all the Gym leaders, and some of the League staff if I can get my hands on them. Then, I’m going to send it to the Sinnoh President. Enough is enough. If Galactic doesn’t change their ways soon, then the Pokémon League is as good as dead.”
Michael frowned. “But Team Galactic’s got nothing to do with the Pokémon League. The Space Program is what’s putting money into the economy. Wouldn’t that be good for the League?”
Bertha snorted. “That’s only the half of it, Mr. Space Race. You know that Team Galactic runs on federal funds, right?”
“And you also know that the League does too?”
Bertha continued. “Now the League’s been around since 1750. That’s 213 years in the business. Know any family-owned restaurants that go back that far?”
Henry gaped. “Wow.”
“That’s right,” Bertha said. “Of course, I don’t know much about how it operated all those years ago, but right now, the League is a federally-owned system. It has its own department and everything. What keeps it alive is the money the government sets aside every year. That money is used to build Gyms, hire Gym leaders, staff, build hotels, the whole works. The League gets a little bit of money from trainer fees and merchandise, but only a small percentage. Without federal support, it wouldn’t exist. Now Team Galactic,” she eyed Michael, “also runs off of federal funds. It’s a fairly new company. I’m not sure exactly when it came around—”
“1951,” Michael said.
“—Okay, so 1951. That’s about… twelve years. Twelve years ago that the government decided that it wanted to start shooting giant hunks of steel into the air and started the Space Program. And those rockets are expensive—I bet they cost about two million apiece. That doesn’t include all the workers Galactic hires, or the ridiculous salary they probably earn for keeping everything they do a secret. So for those twelve years, the federal government has been setting aside nearly half of its budget for Team Galactic. And as a result, less money gets to the League.”
“But wait,” Michael said, “If the League’s out of money, how can it afford to maintain all those hotels? What happened to them being rich?”
“The League is rich, but it won’t be for much longer. It’s been getting steadily poorer over the years, actually—it’s just that for now, the increments are tiny, so it’s easy to cover up. But if the government continues to do what it’s doing, which is sacrificing us in favor of the Galactics, then the League will suffer.”
“So where does your petition come in?” asked Henry.
Bertha folded her hands in her lap. “I want the government to cut some of its funds from Team Galactic and give the League back the money it deserves. To put it bluntly, it’s the only way to make a change.”
Henry’s jaw dropped. Michael’s did too, but for an entirely different reason.
“They can’t cut money from the Space Program!” he blurted. “That would be like cutting Sinnoh’s throat! Team Galactic is what’s leading progress, and if you take that away, then Hoenn will—I mean, then we’ll have nothing to uphold the country!”
Bertha smiled. “You sound exactly like a friend of mine at the town council. Yeah, it’s true that Team Galactic is doing some good. But so what? Sinnoh got along just fine without it. And if the Galactics got paid a few hundred thousand dollars less every year, I don’t think it would matter to them. They’re big enough to get by, but the League isn’t. If the government keeps cutting our funds, there will be no more trainer hotels. No more free battles. No more prize money. Nothing. All those fancy Gyms will crumble, and unless the cities are rich enough to maintain them on their own, then there will likely be more of my Gym.”
“But then it wouldn’t be the League anymore!” Henry said. “Everything would be different!”
“Well, like it or not, but that’s what will happen. Heck, that’s what’s happening already. You’ve seen the evidence right here.” She spread her arms out wide. “My battle room was a frigging basement. Now, I managed to get by, but what about all the upper-division Gyms who have an entire team of staff running things? They won’t stand a chance.” She looked at Michael. “It’s kind of odd that you’re arguing against the League, kiddo, since by being a trainer you’re practically a part of it right now.”
Michael remained still.
Bertha pulled up her briefcase and spun the dials on the lock, taking out a clipboard and a pen. “Anyways… now that you know what I’m doing, I might as well ask a favor of you.” She looked at the boys, now seriously. “I know it’s a lot to be asking, but could I have your signatures? Legally, I need at least one hundred thousand from Sinnoh citizens, but I’m not taking any chances. I’m going for two, maybe even three. It’ll be one hell of a job, but if I can get around well enough, I might be able to do it. I won’t force you if you don’t want to, so don’t worry.”
Henry immediately grabbed the pen and scribbled his name onto the next open slot. “I want to do something about this,” he said. “It’s not fair for Team Galactic to be taking money away from us, especially since practically everyone follows the League. All my friends are official trainers, even!”
Bertha offered the clipboard to Michael, who shook his head.
“No. I can’t.”
Bertha sighed. “I can respect that. But if you ever change your mind, I suppose, just tell me.” She placed the clipboard back and locked the briefcase. “I had to do some editing on it, though. Originally, the second part of it was about getting rid of the Eterna factory too, but as we can see, there’s no point now.” Her eyes trailed over to the window. Though there was nothing to see, she seemed to be pondering something in the darkness.
“It’ll be another two hours, I guess,” she said after a while. “When we arrive in the city, no matter what, stay close to me. I’m friends with the Gym leader, so hopefully I’ll be able to introduce you to him and get your battles booked. Until then, relax.” Bertha took a deep breath. “I should relax too… all this commotion has made me realize how much sleep I’ve been missing lately.” She yawned. “Wake me up when we get there, all right?”
“Sure,” Michael said.
Bertha placed her belongings to the side and closed her eyes.
Michael did not know at what point he felt the train slow. It happened gradually, and as the rhythm of the engine faded, a string of tiny lights appeared behind the window, illuminating the walls of a widening tunnel.
Michael leaned to peer out of the glass. The train had brought them to an indoor platform, which was plain and crudely carved from cement. Huge lamps hung from the ceiling, bringing light to the masses of people walking about.
Bertha shifted beside him. “We’re here,” she said. “This is the Hearthome subway.”
When the train came to a complete stop, Michael, Henry, and Bertha rose from their seats and stepped off the train along with the other passengers. The air in the subway was hot and stiff, and in the greenish light, everyone’s skin took on a pale, sickly appearance.
The Eternians huddled together on the platform, whispering to each other. Some went their own way, but others remained, bewildered in their new surroundings. Bertha, in contrast, seemed perfectly comfortable in such a large crowd, and for the most part knew where to go. She often stopped to look at signs, as if checking for a change that might have been made at some point, but overall, Bertha led the boys swiftly around the terminal.
They reached a long flight of stairs that led up to the lobby. Here, breathing was easier, and the station’s sleek architecture was on full display.
The lobby was organized and efficient, far removed from the plain, low-ceilinged building in Eterna. Torrents of people were filing in and out of several archways, beneath digital charts of departures and arrivals. Concession stands and service stations were spaced across the enormous floor, and the walls were decorated with banners and advertisements. Directly across from them, on the other side of the lobby, were two sets of glass doors that led into the city.
“All right, here’s what’s going to happen.” Bertha tightened her hands around their shoulders. “We’ll walk to the hotel. I’m pretty sure I know where it is, but I’ll get a map just in case. Then we’ll rent a cab and go to book your battles. Okay?”
Bertha took a map from a rack near the wall, and they went off to the doors. When he stepped outside, Michael was immediately overwhelmed by a flood of noise and movement, the familiar environment of the city. The subway station was located in the middle of a busy street, which was jammed with both people and cars. The familiar wall of buildings that enclosed him made Michael think of Jubilife City, and he felt a brief shock when he realized that he was now on the other side of the country. And yet, everything was the same… the sunglasses perched atop mounds of hair, the faces peering out from glittering cars instantly reminded him of home.
Michael looked aside, and saw that Henry, as usual, was wearing a smile. Every time they passed a flashing panel of lights or saw a particularly impressive car, he pointed, his mouth forming an ‘O’ of surprise.
“Look at that! That’s so cool!”
“It’s not when you keep pointing,” Michael muttered. “That’s what the lame people do.”
Henry pouted. “I’m not lame.”
“If you do lame things, then yes you are. It’s time you learned how to be cool.”
“But I don’t know how,” Henry said. “And if you know so much about it, then why don’t you tell me?”
Michael shrugged. “What’s there to tell? If you want to be cool, then just be cool. Walk normally, as a start. Take me for example. Sure, I look around at stuff, but I don’t go pointing and jumping like a third-grader. Just relax and be casual.”
Henry began to imitate Michael’s stride, shoving his fists into his pockets. They were slightly too small for his hands, so he improvised again and let his arms hang by his sides, rounding his shoulders. Henry grimaced. “This feels weird.”
“That’s because you’re copying me. Don’t. Find your own groove.”
Henry puffed out his cheeks and exhaled. “This is hard. I’m going to walk my own way again.” He drew himself up and went back to taking short, choppy strides. Michael shook his head.
Bertha, who was walking slightly ahead of them now, made a sudden stop. “Whoa. We’re here.” She lowered the map, and Michael did a double-take.
Right in front of them, surrounded by a large parking lot, stood an exact replica of the Oreburgh Trainer’s Hotel. The resemblance was striking—same ten floors, same window shades, same paint. They had even gotten the sign right, only this time the letters spelled ‘THE HEARTHOME TRAINER HOTEL WELCOMES YOU!’ In addition, a second, a smaller structure was attached to the main building. It had a long pink roof and sliding glass doors — a Pokémon Center. They would at least be spared the trouble of walking.
What surprised him even more was that he was the only one staring.
Bertha turned around. “I take it you’ve seen this building before? What’s the matter?”
“It’s the same hotel as in Oreburgh!” Michael said.
“Obviously,” Bertha said. “That’s the beauty of the League. National uniformity.”
Michael shook his head. “This is getting weirder and weirder…”
Bertha chuckled. “Well, come on. Let’s get to it.”
They went inside. The lobby was identical to the Oreburgh Hotel in size and structure, and the only real difference was that the old set of staff had been replaced by new ones. A few trainers were scattered around the lobby, but there was currently no line at the counter. Bertha approached the clerk.
“Hello,” said Bertha to the lady. “Two rooms, please.” She slid forward her Gym leader I.D.
The clerk studied it for a moment, then looked up. “Thank you, Miss Bertha! That’ll be thirty dollars for the three of you. As a reminder, on the fifth floor we have a complimentary practice room, and according to hotel policy you must keep your pokémon with you at all times. There’s also a pokémon park not far from here that’s free to use, exclusive to Hearthome City.”
Bertha thanked her, and handed over the money in return for the keys.
“Wait! You didn’t have to pay for us,” Henry said. “Michael and I could’ve pitched in.”
“Too late,” Bertha said, placing back her wallet. “Besides, what’s thirty dollars? Just don’t expect me to pay for your souvenirs.”
They went up to the elevator. By sheer luck, they had gotten two adjacent rooms on the fourth floor. These were also carbon copies of the Oreburgh hotel, and Michael found it oddly funny that he and Henry entered in much the same way as last time, picking the same beds.
Once Michael finished unpacking, he went almost robotically to the TV in the corner and pressed the power button. He expected a struggle, but to his relief, it flickered on almost instantly.
A pink auditorium filled the screen, blaring a chorus of applause. A crowd was seated around a glittering stage, clapping madly.
“—aaaaaand the winner of this week’s Poké-fashion Knockout Round is… STACIE FENDER!!” The audience began to cheer. The camera panned across the stage, where four contestants were lined up with their pokémon. One of them threw up her arms in victory, a Monferno at her side. She embraced the announcer, and then turned to the panel of judges, who were also applauding.
“Congratulations, Stacie!” said one of the judges. “You and Winnie gave a spectacular performance. This round has made you eligible to compete in the 1963 Contest season!”
Michael leaned away from the monitor, one eyebrow raised. “What the hell?”
Henry came over beside him. “What is this? I’ve never seen this channel before.”
Stacie Fender was handed the microphone, and began to blubber a tearful sequence of thank-yous. Once she finished, she was escorted down the stage by a troupe of dancers and dressed-up pokémon. A peppy song began to blast through the speakers, while the audience clapped and danced along.
Michael snorted. “Oops. This must be the sissy channel.” He was about to change it when Henry stopped him.
“Wait!” he said. “I think I know what those are. Those are the Pokémon Contests!’
“And why should I care?”
“Because it’s this competition they have once every three years in Hearthome City. I know it because my mom watches it, and I remembered just now — the next season is going to be this winter! That’s why they do all these pre-rounds. It’s to decide who will compete next.”
Michael looked back at the TV. “Well that sounds like one hell of a drag. What’s with all the pink and the girly frills everywhere?”
“I guess that’s just what the Contests are. You know. Fashion.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “If you think that that’s cool, then you seriously have some issues.” He leaned over to the TV set again. “Allow me to demonstrate the proper use of television.”
He scrolled through the channels, pressing the arrows until he found News 5. The frills disappeared, the music was silenced, and now he saw the familiar anchorman sitting behind his table, reading stacks of papers in his monotonous voice.
“And now for the latest updates on the Space Race.”
Michael grinned. “Finally.”
“…it has been confirmed that Team Rocket has discovered a new pokémon inhabiting outer space. The Charon VII, which was launched from the Mossdeep Space Center on March 28th, has brought back pictures that have now been released to the public. The pokémon has been given the name ‘Deoxys’ by the scientists, and is currently undergoing intensive testing. A Rocket spokesperson from the Space Center was available for comment…”
Michael sat up abruptly. “What? They’re just repeating the same news from last time! That’s totally cheap!”
He turned to Henry, who was lying on his stomach, absorbed in the news. Michael shook his shoulder. “Dude, shouldn’t you have watched this already? It was on the news practically last week.”
“No,” the boy retorted. “I think it’s interesting.”
Michael scowled. “Well I don’t. There used to be like three updates a week. Now it’s just the same thing over and over again.”
“Maybe there aren’t any new updates,” Henry said.
“Or maybe Team Galactic’s decided to slack off, more likely. They can’t take a hit, so now everyone’s watching Hoenn. What a waste of time.” Michael turned the TV off.
“Hey, I was watching that!” Henry pushed his arm away, trying to reach the power button. Michael pushed back. The boys wrangled for a moment, but just then, there came a knock on the door.
“It’s me!” came Bertha’s voice.
Michael stood up, letting Henry plop down on the carpet. As he opened the door for Bertha, the Space Race began to blare again through the room.
“Don’t get too comfortable, Henry,” Bertha said. “We’re about to get going in a minute.”
With a grumble, Henry turned the TV off again.
“What should we bring?” Michael asked.
“Just your I.D.s will be fine. We’re going to book your battles.”
The boys gathered their things. Before they left, Henry tossed in a few more bits of food for the Stunky, which was currently sleeping with its head tucked under its tail.
“There you go, buddy.” He patted the cage, and went to join them by the door.
“Come on,” said Bertha as she led them out. “I have a taxi waiting for us already.”
The taxi cabs of Hearthome City were unique in design from the other cars, which made them very distinctive when they were out on the road. Their design was smooth and rounded, and they were painted with a black-and-yellow checkered pattern. Jubilife had taxi cabs as well, though their designs were plain, and they usually consisted of previous-year models that blended in with the rest of the traffic. They also didn’t wait for you if you took too long to appear, which Michael had noticed on various occasions.
Michael and Henry assumed the back seat, while Bertha got in the front, handing the driver an address on a slip of paper. They drove through the city for several minutes, and Michael was able to admire its size and beauty.
At one point, they passed a large building that stood separate from the others. Michael would not have noticed it if it weren’t for the sudden, painful glare cast by its steel roof. It looked to be some sort of opera house, with a curved body and a roof that splayed open towards the sky like the petals of a flower. The building was surrounded by a circle of pillars, which—he couldn’t help but notice—were adorned with thick pink ribbons, the same vomit-inducing color that had been on the TV.
A few people were gathered on its lawn, hanging back, taking pictures. When the building passed out of view, Michael shuddered silently.
“That’s the Contest Hall,” said the driver, casting a brief glance aside. “A lot of newcomers like to see it, but it’s not much right now. Wait till the season starts. Then this part of town will get abso-lutely crazy.”
Bertha smiled. “I’m not a big fan of Contests. I’ve always found them too girly.”
Michael was immensely relieved she had said this.
“Whoa, wait.” Bertha held up her hand. “That’s it. Right there.”
The driver slowed. He turned, and they pulled into the parking lot of a large office complex. Michael looked through Henry’s window, and saw that the buildings were all identical—square, and made of mirrored glass.
“This is the Gym?” he said. “Are you sure?”
Bertha shook her head. “This is just the leader’s office. Let’s go.” They climbed out, and entered the complex. The buildings in were numbered from 1900 to 2700. They found a sign that stood near one of the doors, and Bertha picked out a location from the list of office suites.
“All right, it’s here. We need the third floor.”
Rather than taking the stairs, they took the elevator by silent consent. Bertha led them down the third-floor hallway and stopped in front of a glass door that read:
Hearthome City Gym Services
Inside, they found a waiting room of sorts. Rows of blue chairs were spaced along the walls, surrounding a coffee table piled with outdated issues of Pokémon League Weekly magazines. The room was empty. There was a window on the opposite wall, much like in a hospital waiting room, though there was no one sitting behind it. The door to the office, however, hung slightly open, and Michael could hear the faint sound of rustling paper coming from within.
“Hello?” said Bertha. “Anyone here?”
“Come in!” answered a voice.
Bertha pushed open the door, leading them into a sunny office room. The space was dominated by a large wooden desk, and around it stood various file cabinets that had been randomly opened, often halfway. The man sitting behind the desk was so overwhelmed with paperwork that he seemed to be buried in it. One hand rested on his forehead, brushing his hair from his eyes, while the other worked tirelessly over a document.
He did not look up at their arrival. He finished a final paragraph, signed his name and heaved a sigh, rubbing his eyes.
The man looked up at the sound of his name. “Bertha!” he said, immediately rising. “I didn’t expect you to arrive this quickly. You sounded so worried on the phone that I thought something had gone wrong.”
“Something did go wrong, believe it or not,” Bertha said.
They met in a brief hug, clasping hands. When they parted, the man took his seat behind the desk again, and Bertha grabbed the vacant chair in front of him.
When she saw that the boys were still standing by the door, Bertha beckoned. “Boys, I’d like you to meet Mr. Bradford. He’s the Hearthome Gym leader.”
The man smiled at them. “Call me Jerry. How do you do?”
“Hey,” Michael said. “I’m Michael Rowan.”
Henry waved. “I’m Henry McPherson.”
Jerry nodded, and leaned back in his chair. “So to what do I owe this little visit, Bertha? You weren’t too descriptive this morning. Tell me what happened.”
Bertha sucked in her breath. “There was an explosion at the factory. We barely got any notice of it. There was some sort of battery leak that caused some machine to fail and that caused something else to fail, and… well, now the whole town’s covered in toxic waste. There’s no chance of going back. Everyone’s been evacuated, and that includes me and my Gym.”
Jerry’s eyes widened. He tapped the pen against the table. “An explosion?”
Bertha nodded. “And right when I was about to get somewhere with the council, too. So now, my Gym is basically homeless.”
“Bertha, that’s terrible,” Jerry said. “Can I do anything to help? Do you need Gym space? We can double up for a while. I don’t think it will have any effect on the League’s operations.” He uncapped the pen again, but Bertha waved him down.
“No. Its fine. I—” she paused briefly. “I’ve decided to take temporary leave.”
Jerry balked. “Leave? In the middle of a season? Well, you might as well hand them your resignation letter! What on earth made you want to do this?”
“There’s something more important I have to attend to,” she continued. “It’s for the League of course, but it involves a lot of traveling. And I can’t fulfill my duties as a Gym leader if I have to keep relocating.”
“And what would this project be?” Jerry said. “What could possibly be so important that it calls for canceling your operations this very minute?”
“I’d prefer it if you kept this only between us,” Bertha said. “Michael and Henry know already, but they’re trustworthy and they won’t tell anyone.”
Bertha brought forward the briefcase and withdrew a document bound in a plastic folder. “I’m petitioning the government. You know what’s happening with the funding. In the past two years, they’ve cut twelve percent in favor of Team Galactic, and it’s killing us. Look at the facts: We have my Gym town, which should be a shame to every trainer who sets foot in it, Oreburgh, which Byron and the city have to pay for all by themselves, and Pastoria, which from the letter their leader sent me, I hear is going under as well. It’s not just a town-by-town thing anymore, Jerry. It’s the whole damn country. If we don’t put an end to this soon, then the whole League will go bankrupt, and then we’ll be taken over by those astro-heads.”
Jerry’s expression clouded as he read over the papers.
“We can’t keep taking this quietly,” Bertha pressed. “Eterna took it quietly, and… well, it ended up a ruin. I don’t want the League going down the same way. Like it or not, but someone has to do something about this. And if that someone’s going to be me, then so be it.” She crossed her arms. “Team Galactic has sucked the life out of one thing I loved. And I’m not about to let it do the same to the other.”
Jerry looked back up at her. “What’s your plan?”
“I want to collect the signatures of all the Gym leaders, all the League Coordinators, and any other League staff member I can get. I also need at least a hundred thousand signatures from Sinnoh citizens, which is where the traveling comes in. But I can’t get in touch with everyone I need without your help. You’re the one with the connections.”
“That’s true,” Jerry said with a smile. “I don’t always like it, but it’s true.”
“So will you help?” said Bertha.
Jerry looked down at the desk. “This is a serious thing to do… I hope you realize it. I agree, something needs to be done, but I never thought about making an attempt…” He smiled. “As usual, you’re the one with the ideas, Bertha. All right. I’ll help.”
Bertha beamed. “Great.” She brought out the petition, and Jerry took a long look at it.
“This is the correct form… Very good. This is exactly what we need. But be sure to make copies. Make multiple, and don’t keep them all in one place. You never know what may happen.” Taking out his pen, Jerry signed his name in the third slot, beneath Bertha’s and Henry’s names. Then he closed the folder and handed both to Bertha, who locked them in her briefcase.
“Now what we need to do is get in touch with the rest of the Gyms,” Jerry said. “I think it would be best for us to get as many signatures of League personnel as we can before announcing our intentions to the public. I’ll give you the contact information of Solaceon’s Gym, Sunyshore, and Canalave. Anything else?”
“Snowpoint,” Bertha added. “I need Snowpoint as well.”
Jerry scribbled down the names on a sheet of note paper. “Solaceon, Sunyshore, Canalave, Snowpoint. I’ll get those to you by tomorrow. Do you have the backing of any other Gyms?”
“Nope. I’ve said something about this to Byron, and he agrees with me, but I haven’t flat-out told him about the petition yet. Either way, I’m pretty sure he’ll back it. Obviously, we have the support of the Eterna and Hearthome Gyms, so that just leaves those four.”
Jerry nodded, and placed the paper into a file on his desk. Then his eyes found the boys, who had slumped into the chairs by the door several minutes ago, and were watching the conversation detachedly.
“I haven’t forgotten about you two,” he said. “Looks like we have another pair of people on a Gym quest. I don’t think we should keep them waiting any longer, Bertha. You brought them here to book their battles?”
“That’s right,” Bertha said.
“I think it would be best if we did that now. Come on over, boys.”
Michael and Henry approached the table. Jerry opened a day planner and thumbed through the pages. “All right, let’s see what we have... June third... Right now, my schedule’s completely booked till next Saturday. I’ll be at my Gym from eight in the morning to nine in the evening. Can you imagine that? Eight to nine. That’s why you gotta love your job.” He chuckled. “I always take Sundays off, but I’ve got a couple slots open on Monday the thirteenth. How about then? I can squeeze the both of you in on one day.”
“Sounds good,” Michael said.
“Same!” Henry gave a thumbs-up.
“All righty.” Jerry uncapped his pen again and took out a fresh file folder, and two clean documents. “Michael Rowan and Henry McPherson. May I see your I.D.s, please?”
Michael froze. During his period of hesitation, Henry skipped forward with this Trainer Card, and opened his badge case for Jerry to see. He examined both, and gave a thumbs-up. “Great. And Michael?”
“Uh… one sec.” Michael heaved his backpack to the ground and began to dig through it. The pockets had accumulated their fair share of junk over the days, and as a result, his badges, money, and papers were all jumbled up together. He managed to produce the Forest Badge, and the Coal Badge after much searching, and stumbled over to Jerry’s desk.
“Here. My badges.”
Jerry inspected them under the light. “And your I.D.?”
Michael’s pause was shorter this time. His brain had been scrambling for a good excuse, and in that final moment, he clung to the first one that seemed plausible. “I lost it.”
Jerry’s eyebrows climbed. “You lost it? That’s not good. I can’t book a battle for you unless I can be certain that you’re a legal trainer.”
“But…” Michael began again, trying to keep his voice steady, “obviously if I have badges from before, then I’m a legal trainer, right? Byron okayed my card and everything before I battled him, but I lost it on the way to Eterna. We were kind of in a hurry, and I left some things behind at the hotel.” He scratched his head. “I know, it’s not one of my best moves, but it’s true. I’m not good with traveling.”
“He’s right,” Henry piped up. Michael actually turned in surprise, because he did not expect to be defended. The boy paused, then added, “He told me about it.”
“What?” Bertha turned around to face them. “Why didn’t you tell me about this before, Michael? Losing your Trainer Card isn’t like losing a library card, you know. Without it, you can’t participate in the League. Without it, you can be fined. You should have told me immediately when you booked your battle! Do you understand that since you obtained my badge without your Trainer Card then your battle can be voided?”
“Voided?” Michael drew back. “But you saw me battle!”
“It doesn’t matter.” Bertha shook her head. “If someone were to press charges against you in court, then you would lose. I’m not saying that your battle is automatically voided right now, but it can be. And being a Gym leader, I’m required by law to turn in anybody that I suspect of committing fraud.”
“She’s right,” Jerry added. “Why just last week, I had to turn in two girls who tried to fake their badges. They came in with copies of Bertha’s badge, but when I asked them where her Gym was, neither of them could answer. Fraud is a serious offense in the League, and we take it seriously.”
Michael took a step back, trying to calm his pounding heart. Scarcely a moment ago, everything had been fine, but the tables were now turned on him in the worst possible way. The combined stares of Bertha and Jerry were too much for him. Even Henry was looking at him uncertainly, as if waiting to see what Michael would do next.
In response to his silence, Bertha leaned forward. “Tell me the truth, Michael. Did you honestly lose your Trainer Card?”
Michael steeled himself against her gaze. “Yes,” he said. “I did. I just haven’t had the chance to get a new one yet.”
Bertha studied him carefully. “Okay. I’ll hold you to your word. But get the card, all right?”
Michael nodded. “I will. I’ll… get it tomorrow.”
“That’ll be great,” Jerry said. “After you do, come here and show me. Remember, I have to see the card before the battle.”
Bertha rose from her seat. “All right, then I guess everything’s settled. Thanks for your time, Jerry. It means a lot.”
“Not at all,” Jerry said. “It was nice meeting you two, boys. And it was great to see you again, Bertha, though the circumstances aren’t the best right now.”
Bertha inclined her head. “Well, that’s what we’re about to change.” She and Jerry shook hands one last time, and Michael took the moment to draw a deep breath to steady his shakes.
“We’ll talk some more tomorrow morning,” Jerry said to Bertha. “So, see you then.”
“See you then.” Bertha smiled.
She led them out of the room, and Michael tried not to walk too quickly.
Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 1st August 2013 at 3:21 PM.
When Michael and Henry got back to their hotel room, there was little to do, so by mutual consent they decided to go outside. They got directions to the local trainer park at the front desk, and set off with their belongings under the blazing afternoon sun. Henry decided to bring along the Stunky to give it some fresh air. They walked along amiably, not talking.
Amity Square was wide open field bordered by a high wrought-iron fence. A stone path ran along its perimeter, breaking off into little roads that went into the lawn. It had lots of hills and benches, where people sat and talked, and a large fountain as the centerpiece. As Michael looked around, he saw that an unusual number of people had brought their pokémon as well.
The entrance to the park was guarded by a security officer, who was leaning against the fence. Seeing the boys, he lifted his cap. “Whoa there!” The guard held out his hand to block them.
“Is there a problem?” Michael said.
“First off, welcome to Amity Square,” the guard said. “Second, this is a pokémon park, fellas. Caging our buddies is not permitted.”
Michael looked down at the Stunky. “We can’t let it out. We don’t have a leash and it’ll run away.”
The guard shrugged. “Sorry, but rules are rules. You can’t go in unless you have a pokémon with you.”
Henry tapped his chin. “Wait!” He reached into his tote bag, rummaged a bit, and pulled out his pokéballs. “How about this?” He opened each capsule one by one, and his entire team—Burmy, Starly, Clefairy, and Pachirisu—landed at his feet, pushing and chattering.
Following his example, Michael took out his own, releasing Turtwig, Caterpie, and Machop. He left Goldeen in his backpack, for obvious reasons. The horde of pokémon converged, some chattering and others shaking themselves awake.
Looking pleased, the guard stepped aside and let them through. Michael felt slightly foolish with a whole party of pokémon walking by his feet, and kept having to look down to make sure he didn’t step on Caterpie.
They made their way down the path slowly, for they had to accommodate everyone and make sure the group stayed together. Michael and Henry flanked the group of pokémon on either side, making sure there were no stragglers. Michael had to keep an eye on Machop, which kept stopping either to pick at something shiny on the ground or to smell the dandelions.
After their fifth pause, Michael had reached the end of his string. He grabbed the Machop by the hand and began to tug it along behind him, grumbling. The pokémon was no taller than his elbow, which made him feel like he was walking with a toddler.
The sight must have been funny, for as soon as he saw this, Henry burst into a fit of giggles. Michael gritted his teeth. “If you tell anyone about this, I will throw you into a fountain.” Henry quieted down at once, though Michael still caught the wayward snicker here and there.
They followed the path for a while, dodging the other park-goers, who kept trying to stop them and introduce their pokémon. They reached the fountain, where benches were spaced around the long stone ledge. The water shimmered as it cascaded down from several stone basins, which were stacked on top of one another to create a soothing waterfall.
Michael guided the group towards the benches and sat down. Henry plopped down beside him. For a while, they watched the other park-goers wander about, playing with their companions. While the boys sat, their pokémon sprawled out on the ground before them, finding their own occupations.
“This is a really pretty park,” Henry said.
Michael twiddled his thumbs. “I guess.”
For a while, he watched as Henry’s Burmy tugged at the leaf on Turtwig’s head. Then he looked at Henry again. “Why did you defend me?”
“You know. For the Trainer Card thing. You know I don’t have one.”
This seemed to set the boy thinking. “I don’t know. I guess it’s because you’ve been a good friend to me and you’ve done a lot, so I felt that I had to repay you.”
“For a second, I half-expected you to rat on me.”
“I wouldn’t do that!” said Henry immediately. “I’m not that kind of person. At least, I don’t want to be anymore…”
“Elaborate?” Michael said.
Henry fumbled. “I don’t know. It’s just that this competition’s been really weird for me so far. When I first came to Oreburgh, a lot of people were mean to me. Then I met Sebastian and his friends, and they were real friendly, which I liked, and we promised to help each other out for the battles. But after I lost, I kind of ditched them…” Henry adjusted his position, sitting on his hands. “I wanted to go home, but then I met Chester and Veronica, and they sort of let me hang around and practice with them. But all they really wanted from me was to know how to beat Byron. And you know, I wouldn’t tell them. So they just kind of kicked me around.”
Michael processed this, and nodded. “The League means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”
Henry looked up at the sky and smiled. “Yeah.”
The boy shrugged. “I’ve been into it for a while. Ever since I was five all I wanted to be was a trainer. You know, like Ricky Sheldon. All the money and the fame. My dream was to beat the Elite Four, and now I finally have a chance to do it. My mom will be proud of me, and so will all my friends.”
“But you’re not doing it for your mom or your friends.”
“No, I’m doing it for myself.” Henry fidgeted again, kicking at the dirt on the ground.
For the first time, Michael understood. The League was a calling, a universal sign of achievement. For Henry, the underdog, it probably meant the world. And for him…
I’m just a kid running from his past, Michael thought grimly. He had stumbled upon the League entirely by accident, and in retrospect, he wasn’t even sure he had been willing to commit to it in the beginning. His real goal had been to put as much distance between himself and his house as possible. But now there was no going back. He had gotten himself into a mess, and the only way out was to think it through.
“We need a plan,” said Michael aloud, rubbing his hands together.
Henry turned. “Huh?”
“We need a plan,” Michael repeated. “If we want to win this, then we’ve got to get our act together. I barely pulled through at that last battle, and if it hadn’t been for that Starly, Bertha would have sent me packing. You have a lot of work ahead of you too. We both do.”
“I agree,” Henry said. “We should train more.”
“Not just that. We need to train wisely.” Michael pulled out his chart and a pencil. “From now on, we’re going to gather as much information about pokémon as we can. We’re going to find all the types and match them with their strengths and weaknesses. We’ll do what no other trainer has done before.”
Henry began to rock on his hands. “Are you sure it’ll work?”
“It has to. Think about it: All we need to beat each Gym is to know what pokémon the leader is using, and what their effective counters are. From there, all we have to do is catch the types we don’t have, and train them.”
“But getting information like that is against the rules! I know you know, but…” Henry dropped his voice. “I just don’t want to get into trouble.”
“We won’t. We just have to watch our step, is all. We’ll get my I.D. tomorrow, if we can find a place that gives them out first, and I’ll spin the same yarn as last time. Then, all my badges will be legal and we can keep going. No one will know a thing. As for this,” he patted the chart, “no one will be able to guess. We’ll just move from town to town as quickly as possible to minimize the chance that we’ll be recognized.”
“But what about Bertha?” Henry said. “She’s not exactly stupid. Won’t she catch on? And won’t she think it’s odd that we have the perfect counters for each and every Gym we battle?”
Michael shrugged. “Not unless she’s in the battle room with us, which I doubt, because she’ll be too busy with her petition to watch us. And again, if she ever suspects anything, we can just say that we want to broaden our knowledge of the pokémon species or whatever to become better trainers. We just have to be convincing.”
Henry bobbed his head in a nod, taking it all in. “Okay. Sounds like a plan. But where are we gonna start?”
Michael was getting ready to answer, when something tugged at the hem of his jeans. He looked down, and saw that the Caterpie had latched onto his foot with its teeth. With a shout, he sprang to his feet, kicking and flailing in an attempt to shake it off.
“Get off! Get off, you little—” Michael reached down and pried the Caterpie off with his hands. He tossed it aside without really caring where, for his attention was now on the torn denim on his right pant leg.
A second later, he heard a scream. Michael looked up.
By accident, he had thrown the Caterpie directly onto Machop’s head, which had been a big mistake. The pokémon scrambled to its feet, frantically groping at the fins on its head in search of the invader, while the others frantically dodged its footfalls. Finally, the Machop caught the Caterpie in its fist, and slowly brought it down to examine.
A second later, Machop let out a scream.
The Caterpie had sunk its teeth into its thumb, leaving behind an oozing cut. Machop flicked it off with a powerful swipe. Then, as if by instinct, it hurled itself at Michael’s waist and began to bawl into his shirt. Michael held up his hands, cringing.
“Aw, come on!” He tried to wriggle free, but the Machop’s grip was iron. “Why do you have to be such a frigging baby? Let me see.” He examined the Machop’s injured hand. The cut was still bleeding.
“Do you have a bandage?” Michael asked Henry. The boy took one out from his tote bag, and Michael wrapped it around Machop’s thumb. “There. Good as new. Now go.”
He gave the Machop a push, and the pokémon he looked at its hand, still blinking back tears. It slowly turned away, head drooping, as it went to investigate the new specimen. It plopped butt-first into the grass.
“Aw, that’s cute.” Henry smiled. “Look, he’s showing his friends!” He pointed as the other pokémon crowded around, eyeing Machop’s bandaged hand as if it were a natural wonder. Even the Stunky was sniffing at the bars, its eyes studying.
“Eh.” Michael gave a one-shoulder shrug. He sat back down, thankful that the park was sparsely-populated and that no one had seen the incident.
“I always thought it was neat how pokémon have their own personalities,” Henry said.
“I never noticed.”
“Well, you should spend time with them. We could come here more often.”
“Hey, you know what I think?” Henry said.
“We should let out Stunky.”
“Did we not have this conversation before?” Michael said. “It’ll run away, I told you.”
But Henry shook his head. “I don’t think it will. I think it just wants to have fun.”
Michael leaned back, clasping his hands behind his head. “Suit yourself. But if it takes off, you’re going after it.”
He watched as Henry kneeled down and unlatched the cage’s lock. The Stunky drew back a little, its tail twitching, though the fear that had filled its eyes before was gone now. It looked sane.
Slowly, Henry opened the door, and the Stunky stepped out onto bare ground. Michael gripped the bar of the bench, ready to spring into action if need be, but to his surprise, the Stunky didn’t run. It settled down among the other pokémon, who seemed to rejoice at its presence. They formed a sort of circle around it, exchanging sounds and gestures.
Michael watched it for a while, in wonder. The Stunky turned around, marveling at its new companions and the touch of something other than cold metal beneath its paws. Then its eyes locked on Michael’s, and for a moment, Michael had the feeling that it remembered all that had happened between them and knew exactly where they were now. It made him uncomfortable, and it gave him the feeling that he was being screened, which he did not like. But at the same time, it made him curious.
So Michael simply rested his elbows on his knees and watched, wondering how big of a blockhead Cory and Brendan would think he was for observing pokémon.
Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 10th December 2011 at 12:15 AM.
nice big chapter! i didnt spot any errors in there. keep up the good work!
cant wait for the next one!
Nice to see new chapters posted, it always makes for a good read on lazy weekends :P
Few things I was glad see, especially when I read that Michael can now get a Trainer Card of his own.
Also, Stunky being let out of the cage was a good gesture by Michael, albeit convinced by Henry hehe...
Couple of errors I think:
Shouldn't there be an "a" between was and wide?Amity Square was wide open field bordered by a high wrought-iron fence.
That should've been omitted right?He gave the Machop a push, and the pokémon he looked at its hand, still blinking back tears.
Aaah, I guess there were a few errors after all. You know, the strange part about that was that they weren't there when I wrote my early draft, but then they appeared when I posted my final draft. Weird things like that happen when I'm posting a story
I'll just go fix those right away.
Also, I'm glad you liked the part about Stunky being released. I was happy for that too, (it was another one of those things I've been waiting to do since practically the beginning), and the Trainer Card means that now Michael is more involved in the League than ever before...
Glad you stopped by! Thanks for reviewing.
By the way, I managed to get a head start on the next chapter, so my weekend was far from lazy... hehe. Anyways, I'll try to get it up before the end of the month (like around the 28th), but if not, then during the first week of October. (Is it just me, or are these months flying by really fast?)
The wail of a siren sounded high over the hubbub of morning traffic, and for a moment, the usual proceedings of the Hearthome morning were disturbed by a red ambulance shooting down the road, its spinning tires a blur.
The vehicle flew past three intersections and hit a bump on the curb, skating through a puddle and splashing water and mud all over the sidewalk. The spray missed a woman’s shoes by inches, but before she could turn around to assess the damage, the noise of the sirens fell away into the distance.
Nancy Bryan squinted as she watched the vehicle speed off into the horizon. She looked back down at her heels, which were only slightly soiled with mud. “Great. And I just got these too.” She sidestepped the puddle, and looked back, facing the team members who had lagged behind. “Are you coming or what?”
Ned, Tom, and Bobby rushed to catch up with her. Even though the burden of their equipment had been relieved of them, it turned out that traveling was no faster.
As Bobby came up to the curb, he adjusted his baseball cap and rubbed his neck. “Whoo. Sure feels good to be back in the city, doesn’t it?”
“Not really,” Nancy said. “This place reminds me too much of Jubilife.”
“I hear ya.”
They waited for the traffic lights to go red, and then the four of them crossed the street. Nancy had a map with her, but after nearly a lifetime in the city, navigation was almost second-nature to her. All she really needed to know was the destination’s relative location, and the rest she’d be able to deduce from the surroundings.
In a few minutes, the tip of the Hearthome Contest Hall appeared on the skyline. As they approached the building was revealed in full glory, like a rose rising out among barren leaves. The building was enormous, shoving aside the lean towers around it to make room for itself.
The team stopped in front of it for a moment, taking in the sight. Everything about the building indicated vacancy, from the clean parking lot to the neatly-trimmed grass, which looked as if it hadn’t been stepped on in months.
“So, why are we coming here of all places?” said Ned. “Hoenn’s contests are like preschool birthday parties. Why should Sinnoh be any different?”
“It doesn’t matter how bad they are,” Nancy replied. “We just need something that has the potential to grab interest. And lots of people follow Contests. When I was little, the papers were filled with stories about them. It’s normal, it’s conventional, and most importantly, it’s marketable.”
Tom raised an eyebrow. “So how did you just randomly jump from far-out controversial to normal and marketable?”
Nancy sighed. “I just think we should give this a try. Galactic didn’t exactly work out for us, so maybe there’s a grain of truth in the old saying ‘boring is interesting’.”
Bobby scoffed, and Nancy rolled her eyes. “Will you please? Come on, we’re going. I made an appointment, so we might as well.”
She led them to the doors, which against all odds, were open. The lobby was painted a salmon pink, color-coordinated in every imaginable aspect. There were rows of chairs lined against the wall in mind of a multitude of occupants, but today, there were none. The lobby was utterly empty—there wasn’t even a clerk at the front desk.
“Hello?” Bobby tried. “Anyone home?”
“This doesn’t make sense. I made an appointment…” Nancy began to pace around. She tried several doors, but all were locked.
As a last resort, she lifted herself over the counter and tried the door that was behind the desk. It was locked as well, but when she pressed her ear against it, she heard faint sounds coming from the back.
“Hey!” she called, pounding on the door. “My name is Nancy Bryan! I’m here by appointment!”
It was a few minutes before the answer came. There was a rush of hurried footsteps, and someone yelling, “Coming!”
Nancy backed away, and the door swung open.
“Heeey!” came a breezy voice. In a rush of fabric, a dressed-up woman stepped out to greet them, bearing a dazzling smile. Her face and arms were doused with glitter, and the skirts of her dress were nearly too thick to fit in the doorway. With all the bewildering colors, looking at her was like trying to look directly at the sun.
The woman grasped Nancy’s hand in a firm handshake.
“Welcome! You must be with Sinnoh Now. My name is Leah. We’re just about to get started with our dress rehearsal. Everyone’s already in the back, so if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you the stage.” Leah swept her gaze across them. “Did you bring cameras, equipment, anything like that?”
“I brought a notebook,” Nancy said.
Leah winked. “Perfect. Follow me.”
It was about as warm a welcome as Nancy could have wished for. Leah led them down a long hallway into an auditorium. The lights were off, though Nancy could still make out the details. The design of the Sinnoh Contest houses were similar to those of Hoenn’s—walls decorated with ribbons and streamers, gleaming banisters, and balloons lining the ceiling like some sort of mesh material. As a whole, the room looked like it could seat one thousand people.
At the head of the room, the stage glittered like a gem against a frame of red curtains. The spotlights were focused on a young woman at the moment, who was performing a silent tap routine with her pokémon, a Kricketune. She tapped and twisted, the huge skirt of her yellow dress swishing rhythmically, but she stopped midway as the baton her pokémon was holding slipped from its hands and clattered to the floor.
“No no no!” she said, dropping her arms. “Casey, you promised you’d get it right this time! Ugh!” The Kricketune hummed angrily in response.
The pokémon picked up the baton again, and the pair started over. A few seconds in, Leah cleared her throat loudly, and the woman stopped to look at them. Immediately, her face broke into a smile.
“Hi! Oh my gosh, you must be the news crew!” She hopped down from the stage. Up close, Nancy could see the thick mask of makeup that covered her face. Her black hair was so saturated with spray that it seemed to gleam in the darkness.
“Miss Bryan wants to do coverage of our rehearsal,” Leah explained. “Think about it, that’ll definitely shoot us to the top this year!”
The black-haired woman squealed. “Totally!” She turned to the team. “My name’s Loretta, by the way. And didn’t you say you guys were from Hoenn?”
Nancy nodded. “I did.”
Loretta clapped her hands over her mouth. “That is far-out. How are the Contests there? Are they any different?”
Bobby placidly surveyed his surroundings. “Nah, they’re pretty much the same.”
Leah and Loretta seemed to think that this was the coolest thing in the world. They leaned close and began to whisper excitedly, and right then, Nancy began to feel slightly foolish for coming here.
Just then, a door slammed somewhere behind the wings, and a troupe of dressed-up girls descended the stage steps. Nancy saw lots of spun hair and poofy dresses, but also noted that there wasn’t a single guy among them. (Even in Hoenn, where Contests were largely a female endeavor, there were always three or four male coordinators who survived to the finals.)
The girls waved and clumped together into a semicircle before the team. Leah pointed and introduced them in turn.
“All right, meet our little groupie! We have Anne, Tammie, Alice, Becky, and Marilyn. We’re all best friends, and we’re all going to audition for this year’s Pokémon Contests.”
“That’s why we’re spending every minute we can in here,” said Loretta. “It’s so we’ll be at the top of our game when we enter the Knockout Rounds!”
“So we were hoping,” continued Anne, “that you would spread the word. You know, like when your story gets published, a lot of people would read about us and look for us when we appear on TV.”
Nancy pursed her lips, looking at the girls with a newfound pity. Here they were, just another group of amateurs trying to make it in a competitive world.
They don’t stand a chance, she thought to herself. But then again, she wasn’t so different.
“All right,” Nancy said finally. “We’ll watch.”
The girls were elated. The troupe disappeared into the wings, and a few seconds later, the curtains slid closed. Nancy took a seat in the second row, her team members around her. She took out her notebook and scribbled the date and the location in the dark.
Bobby kicked up his feet. “Wake me up when it’s over,” he yawned.
Nancy elbowed him. “Stop it! For one thing, it’s completely rude, and for another, we need a story. Don’t screw this up.”
A minute later, the curtains flew open to reveal the dazzling light. Loretta stood in the center, surrounded by Anne, Alice, and Tammie, who were posing like ballerinas with their skirts spread gracefully along the floor.
The music began, and the girls broke apart, revealing Casey the Kricketune at Loretta’s feet. The two began their tap routine on center stage, while the other girls swayed and leaped around them. The Kricketune passed the baton swiftly between its two tiny hands, stepping in synchrony with Loretta.
When the number ended, the dancers assumed the poses they started off with, then briskly fled from the stage, making way for Leah, Becky, and Marilyn. Their song was more upbeat, and along with their pokémon, they began to dance in rhythm. Leah had a Buizel, and was spinning with it in circles, while Becky and Marilyn were partnering with a Pachirisu and a Happiny.
Overall, Nancy thought it was a mediocre performance. She took notes, though she did not bother to ask her teammates for their opinions. Bobby had fulfilled his promise of falling asleep, and though Tom seemed to be doing his best to pay attention, he often turned to exchange a murmur with Ned.
After about half an hour, the curtains closed, and Leah’s voice announced the performance’s closure. There came a round of applause from the stage, and the curtains opened again, revealing the cast as they took their bows. Nancy took the time to stretch, closing her pen.
When the girls met them in the seating area again, they were all smiles and cheers. Leah bounded up to them, grinning.
“Well, how was it? I think that my pirouette could use some more work, but that’s just me.” She giggled. “So did you get everything you need?”
Nancy nodded, patting her notebook. “It’s all right here. It might take a while, but if your story gets published, I’ll let you know.”
“Great!” said Leah. “Well, I hope you had fun!”
“Yeah, hope you had fun!” said Loretta.
The girls waved. Nancy shook their hands, and after a few more parting words, the team of Sinnoh Now exited the auditorium.
When Nancy got outside, she was greeted by a faceful of blazing sun. Traffic was now in full swing, and so was the noise. Unable to contain her swelling excitement, Nancy scurried over to a nearby bench and opened her notebook, scanning her notes.
“Let’s see what we’ve got,” she muttered.
What she saw came like a cold slap in the face. What had seemed like a boatload of information was now as bland and wispy as cotton, entirely baseless. Her words were dull and scattered, barely amounting to three pages in total.
Strangely, Nancy clearly remembered writing vivid description, even giving her wrist a break from a writing cramp, but now it was as if a giant monster had sucked out the filling of what she had wanted to say, leaving only a vague sketch of her previous thought patterns.
Her shoulders drooped. As the rest of her team crowded around her, Nancy leaned back, running her fingers through her hair.
“Well that was a boring show.” Bobby yawned. “So what did you get, O Supreme Writer?”
Nancy shook her head, her voice flat. “Kill me. I can’t write about this.” She slammed the notebook shut.
Bobby laughed. “Dude. No one can write about this. Stop beating yourself up.”
“Yeah, honestly I can’t see something like that turning into a good story that SNN will care for. Or anyone, for that matter,” said Ned.
“Hmph.” Nancy leaned back, staring up at the sky. Her head was utterly devoid of ideas, just a blank sheet of blue with occasional bursts of thoughts, as empty and weightless as the clouds themselves.
She swallowed. Oh God, I think I’ve got writer’s block.
The notion was so silly and fitting that it made her laugh in spite of herself. It had been a long time since she had felt that annoying hindrance, since her mind had been heavily trained to work efficiently towards a product. But now it seemed that the exhaustion was finally catching up to her.
When SNN had announced the terms of their probation, they hadn’t specified exactly what kind of story they would accept. From past experience with the station, Nancy knew that they liked big, scandalous stories, and were pretty damn good at getting them too. She wanted to be like them and yet be different, less of a muckraker and more of a teller, a bringer of events, fearless in the face of a changing world.
She wanted to be a reporter.
When Nancy saw that her team was staring, waiting for her words, she broke the long silence and stood. “Okay, well let’s get going. We’ve got a whole town to look over, and I’m sick of standing in this heat.”
The men nodded their agreement. So Nancy walked with them, tucking her notebook under her arm and did what she did best— move right along.
Several miles away from the Hearthome Trainer’s Hotel, the city skyline rose, and the roads became wider, accommodating a thickening crowd of cars and people. In a small
section of the upper city, the grandeur of the downtown was utterly lost, stripped away from the signs and lights to reveal bare urbanity. The gutters beneath the sidewalks were stuffed with washed-out debris, and the buildings seemed to slump over the streets, their bricks brown and cracked.
Michael had made the decision to devote the entire day towards attaining his Trainer Card, and at any cost. He had done his fair share of procrastinating on school assignments in the past, but this was something he wanted to get off his chest as early as possible, so that he could start training for his battle without having to worry if it would actually happen or not.
That morning, Michael had approached the lady behind the concierge desk, who gave him directions to a local trainer store where replacement cards were given out. He and Henry had set out in pursuit of their destination, armed with a map and a small supply of candy Michael had purchased the previous evening.
They spent a good hour wandering through the town, in what seemed to be an endless drag of turns and crossings. Often, when Michael saw a building that stood out, he was stricken by a brief disorientation as his mind took him back to Jubilife City and rejected the unfamiliar surroundings. This did not help him in the slightest, and as the streets around them began to get dingier and narrower, Michael solidified his belief that they were utterly lost.
Henry remained surprisingly patient throughout their walk, but in these new surroundings, he seemed to be losing it. When they passed a dirty sewer, he shook with disgust, and whenever they passed a bar, Henry quickened his pace, forcing Michael to run up ahead of him again.
As they passed by a shop window, a shady-looking man peered out at them from the inside, leering. At that point, Michael felt a tug on his sleeve.
“I don’t like it here,” Henry whispered.
“Neither do I, but it’s no use complaining. Just keep walking.”
“Maybe we made a wrong turn,” the boy said. “Seriously, I think we did.”
“That’s impossible,” Michael replied. “We’ve followed the directions perfectly.”
“But doesn’t this seem like a weird place to have a trainer store?” Henry countered. “This place is just… bad.”
Michael took a look around. Henry was not entirely wrong — the streets had a tired, run-down appearance that was miles apart from the pulsing city center they had left an hour ago. Even in broad daylight, the alleys seemed darker, the people rougher and colder. Every other building they passed was either a bar or casino. But if this was what he had to do in order to get his Trainer Card, then he’d do it.
“Relax,” Michael said with a smile. “If anything, we can just send out our pokémon and beat the crap out of whoever tries to bother us. Right?”
Henry puffed out his cheeks. “I guess.”
They reached another intersection and went right. Henry kept as close behind Michael as possible, flinching away from the passerby.
The smell of food and music wafted around Michael with every open door he passed, and he found it hard to keep going when there were so many things tugging at his attention. Hearthome’s streets were narrower than Jubilife’s, making everything seem close and compacted. He strained to read the store signs, but the pokéball logo refused to reveal itself from among the masses.
When Michael realized that Henry was lagging behind again, he stopped. “Will you at least help me? We could’ve passed it ten times already and I wouldn’t know it because I’m the only one looking.”
“I’m sorry!” Henry snapped. “It’s just that my feet hurt. Can we at least sit down for a while?”
Michael groaned. “Fine.”
They found a vacant bench nearby and sat down. Henry began to retie his shoes and adjust his socks, while Michael leaned back, watching the people go by.
All of a sudden, his eyes locked on something familiar — the pokéball. He sat up, just in time to see a boy run past, his shirt flapping in the breeze. It was a pokéball shirt, to which he had a matching cap and backpack. A group of three other boys rushed to keep up behind him, pushing and shouting.
“Hurry, come on!”
“It’s this way!”
Michael stood up, following the logos on their backpacks with his eyes. “Trainers!”
The group of boys ran to the end of the lane and disappeared behind the corner. Henry sprang up. “Maybe they’re going to the store too!”
“There’s only one way to find out,” Michael said. “Let’s go.”
They ran after the group just as they crossed another street. In the distance, Michael saw the boys stop beside a building, and after crowding around its sign to make sure it was the right one, they hurried inside.
Michael ran as fast as he could, stumbling to a stop in front of the door. To surprise, it wasn’t a trainer store. Instead, the row of flashing lights above the door spelled out: “POKéMON GAME CORNER”.
“A game corner?” Michael perked an eyebrow. “Hey, cool! I think Jubilife had one of these!” He made a step towards the door. When he realized that Henry wasn’t following him, he turned. “Well, come on. What’s the matter?”
Henry shook his head. “I don’t think we should go in.”
“Oh, come on. It’s not like we’ll be gambling or anything. We just have to find those guys and ask them where the store is. They’re bound to know something, for Pete’s sake. Their entire outfits are League merchandise.”
“I still don’t want to,” Henry said.
Michael’s shoulders sagged. “What, would you rather ask that guy who looked at us earlier? I don’t mind. Maybe he’s still there, come on.” Michael feigned a jog in the opposite direction. His pestering worked its magic — Henry bit his lip and pulled him back immediately.
“Okay, okay! We’ll go in. But remember what Bertha said. I don’t want to be scammed.”
Michael snorted. “Relax.”
They went inside. Entering the Game Corner was like stepping into instant nighttime — the lights in the room were dimmed, but there were so many flashes from the slot machines and arcade games that lamps were unnecessary. Strings of red Christmas lights were lined against the ceiling, blinking.
Michael waded through the crowd, barely aware of his own breathing above the noise. He tried to follow the boys’ path as best as he could, though walking was hard with Henry’s hands gripping his backpack, steering him. If Michael had yelled at him to get off, Henry wouldn’t have heard him.
As he maneuvered his way through the arcade, Michael noticed to his surprise that its crowd consisted entirely of children — trainers, from ages nine to twelve. They stood by the slot machines and the card tables, gambling tiny gold coins, at games tailored to their age. Michael saw signs like Pokéball Bonanza, Champion’s Chance, and Poké-basketball.
Henry leaned over to yell something in his ear, but the boy’s voice was lost in the noise.
Michael turned. “What?”
“I said this is a Trainer’s Gambling Corner!” Henry shouted. “There was one in Floaroma but it got closed down!”
Michael waded through an aisle of Pokéball Bonanza slot machines, narrowing his eyes against the dizzying lights decorating their boxes. He looked around for any sign of the trainer boys, but against this camouflage, finding them seemed next to impossible.
He felt another tug on his sleeve. Henry pointed to a table off to the side, surrounded by a small crowd of trainers. The boys with the red caps were among them. At the head stood a man with a microphone, calling over the general noise. He wore a black vest over a red polo shirt, most likely the employee’s uniform. He was one of the few adults present in the room.
“Step right up, trainers!” he said. “Today’s your chance to win big with the new Poké-Roulette! Three spins, three speeds, one grand prize! Hey there, what’s your name?”
He handed the microphone over to one of the red-cap boys, who grinned. “Chad!”
“Chad! Wa-hey! How would you like to win fifty dollars, right here and now?”
The other trainers began to whisper in jealousy. Chad nodded eagerly. “I’d love it!”
The man stepped over to Chad. “Great! You’ll be my demonstrator today. What you’re going to do is select a speed by pressing one of these buttons.” He pointed to a row of buttons on the machine numbered from one to three. “Then you’re going to put the money into the center… right there, that’s it.”
Michael watched as Chad placed three dollar bills into a small metal pit at the center of the wheel.
Three dollars? That’s cheap! Michael moved closer to examine the wheel in detail. As a whole, it looked like an ordinary roulette wheel. The colored slices varied in amount rather than thickness. There were three of each color, and black, the jackpot, had five. On the whole, it seemed like an unusually fair game.
Chad chose a speed and placed a white ball on the edge of the wheel. Instantly, it began to spin on its own, the slices blending into a bewildering whirlpool of color. Michael looked to the metal pit in the center, and saw that a glass dome had been placed over the money while Chad wasn’t looking.
The wheel continued to spin for about a minute, and then it slowed. Chad watched with a grin as the ball seemed to travel across the wheel’s circumference. As the wheel slowed, the pointer began to tick.
“All right, all right, here’s where it ends!” said the man. “Get it on black, and win fifty dollars! But don’t get it on green, or it’s game over!”
Chad leaned over the wheel eagerly. A dozen pairs of eyes watched the tiny white ball as it skipped past black, then blue, then yellow, then red. Finally, it slowed. The white ball began to tip over to the black slot, but then something strange happened. The wheel paused and gave a tiny jerk in the opposite direction, rolling the ball over to green. The break was tiny, almost too easy to miss. The wheel master’s smile slowly broadened.
Chad looked up at the glass dome, just in time to see the metal bottom collapse, and his money fall into a hole. A loud buzzer sounded, and the crowd groaned.
The man stepped back, grimacing in feigned pity. “Oooh, better luck next time! Sorry, kid!” But the man did not look too sorry about it. As Chad left , the other kids pushed past one another to get their turn.
The wheel’s second customer, a girl of about ten, ended up at the front of the line and placed her bet into the pit—six dollars for two white balls. She chose the slowest speed, and the wheel began to turn. The pointer clicked past the marks, and the balls rolled from one color to the next. The balls settled into one green slot, and one yellow slot without a problem. The buzzer sounded again.
“You get a free spin, young lady!” the wheel master said. “One ball only.” He removed the ball that had landed on yellow, and the girl spun again.
The wheel continued to turn smoothly, and Michael began to wonder if it had been just a trick of the eye. But no—the ball again came close to landing on black, only to be jerked by the wheel into green. The buzzer sounded again, and the girl’s money fell into the pit.
With a groan, the girl stormed off, and the other kids pooled together to fill her space, pulling out their wallets. A couple more kids went, and all of them lost. At least half of them came inches away from getting their pointer on black, only to have the wheel bounce back at the critical moment. After seeing the same phenomenon several more times, Michael elbowed Henry.
“I think I’ve got it!” he said. “The game’s rigged so you can’t get on black. Every time the wheel hits a black spot, something in its inner construction stops it from spinning. The money’s sealed in so you can’t get it out.”
“That’s completely unfair!” Henry responded. “Those kids are being tricked into losing their money!”
“It’s not unfair if you’re the guy managing the game,” Michael said. “Three dollars multiplied by an average twenty suckers a day who decide to play is sixty dollars a day per one game. And if you multiply that by seven days for a week, that’s already four-hundred twenty dollars. It’s a winner.”
Henry shook his head in disdain. The wheel master was getting more energetic by the minute. The crowd replenished itself as some kids left and others approached, but gradually it began to thin when the trainers realized that no one was winning.
And yet the man was constantly searching, scanning everyone over with his poisonous smile. “Step right up, trainers! See if you have what it takes to win!”
As if by accident, his eyes locked on Henry. He approached. “Hey there, little fella! Three dollars for a game?”
“No,” Henry said, flushing.
The man seemed surprised, but not dejected. “Why not? If you win, you get fifty bucks! And if you win twice, you get an extra hundred!”
“I said no.” Henry stepped away, hands behind his back. “Your game’s a cheat.”
The man began to laugh. “Kid doesn’t know what he’s talking about… isn’t that precious? Come on, let’s play.”
“No!” Henry backed up again.
The man followed him, now with a slight hint of annoyance crossing his face. “Come on, it’s not that hard! It’s just a wheel! People play it all the time!”
Henry continued to trail through the aisle. Their little game of chase continued until Henry retreated behind one of the slot machines, ducking down. The man swore under his breath, though not altogether quietly, and turned instead to Michael.
“How about you, kid? Want to win?”
Michael cast away his gaze. “Not particularly.”
The man jut out his lower lip. “Why not?”
“Because I’m the son of a billionaire and I get whatever I want all the time. I have people like you scrub my floors.”
The man gritted his teeth. Taking advantage of the opening, Michael ran up to the wheel and slammed his palm against the highest speed. The pointer hit a black slot, and bounced back with a sharp twang, rotating in the opposite direction from the barrier.
The trainers gasped. “The wheel’s a joke!” Michael called. “Watch!” He gave it another spin, and the wheel groaned, ricocheting off of its own momentum. “You can’t get it on black!”
Catching on to the trick, the trainers erupted in anger.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” one girl called out. “I want my money back!”
A wave of hands began to pound the table, trying to force open the glass dome. The wheel master ran up to them, his face panicked. “Stop! No! Stop!”
Michael began to laugh, slinking off to the side. Several Game Corner staff rushed to the scene, parting the crowd, forcing the kids away from the wheel. Amid the commotion, the wheel master jerked a finger at Michael, shouting to anyone that would hear: “GET HIM! GET THAT KID!”
Michael was about to bolt for the door, when he remembered Henry. He scanned the area, but the boy was nowhere in sight. Inch by inch, the entire Game Corner was thrown into a mini-riot as people pushed past one another to see what was going on. Still, a rare few kids, completely oblivious to their surroundings, kept right on playing.
Henry’s voice rose out momentarily from the wails, but its source was lost. Michael cupped his hands around his mouth to respond, but just then, he was shoved rudely aside against a slot machine, falling on his knees. A line of men rushed past.
“Out of the way! Out of the way! Hearthome Police!”
A line of policemen forced its way through the aisle, and as the children caught glimpse of their badges and guns, they paled and shrank against the walls. The noise died down in waves, and the Game Corner staff froze in their tracks, their arms splayed, unsure what to do.
Suddenly, the deafening music stopped. As one, the cha-chings of the slot machines froze, as did the Poké-basketball stands, and the videogames, their lights blinking and dying as if the entire room had been stricken by the same glitch. The ceiling lights flickered on, bathing everything in stark white light. A nervous murmur rose in the room, and Michael wondered what the hell was going on.
The policemen reached the roulette wheel, and the crowd of children parted, as if by backing away they would remove the blame from themselves. The wheel master stood still, the microphone dangling from his fingers, mouth hanging open in disbelief. Police officers were standing at every corner of the room, moving large groups of trainers against the walls.
A voice rose out from the silence. “Excuse me, excuse me.”
Michael turned. A tall man was making his way through the path cut by the officers, gently moving the trainers aside as they passed by him. He had a neat, calm composure, and a crew cut that meant business. He walked in powerful strides straight for the roulette table.
As if by instinct, the wheel master jerked back, eyes wide with recognition. “You again! I told you, I have nothing to say!”
“The Hearthome City Police seemed to have a different story,” replied the newcomer. His voice was calm, but behind his glasses his eyes were blazing. “They were under the impression that your little Game Corner was complying to federal regulations, but apparently, you felt the need to persist with your schemes. I told you that the next time I saw you step out of line, I’d make sure that your little joint gets shut down, didn’t I? And now I’m following through with my promise.”
The wheel master’s face contorted. “You can’t do this!” he sputtered. “You can’t prove anything!”
“Can’t prove that you’ve been running an illegal practice right under their noses? I’m afraid I can.” The newcomer smirked. “And if scamming young trainers is your idea of fun, then in truth, my complaints against the League are justified. It’s people like you that are to blame for its decline, end of story.”
Michael looked around. The policemen were cuffing the Game Corner staff, who had tried to trickle into a back room and hide. At this, the wheel master gritted his teeth in fury.
“All the money you ripped from these children, every last cent of it, will be repaid by you and your associates,” the newcomer said.
Michael grinned, and he made sure that the wheel master saw it as the police officers cuffed his hands behind his back. As they led him out, the wheel master struggled against their grip.
“You slime!” he yelled. “You think you can just prance around and shove your nose into everyone’s business! I tell you, this isn’t over! You’ll be hearing from my lawyer!”
The man chuckled. Once the wheel master had been dragged out of the building, he stepped back to address the whole room. “As for you, trainers, I am disappointed. Gambling is not how you spend your parent’s money, or the money that you’ve earned through battles. It’s dishonorable, and often leads to legal consequences. Fortunately, none of you are under arrest today, because it is my firm belief that you were lured in here by advertisements, or from following your friends. However, since you all have assumed the great privilege and responsibility of traveling by yourselves to compete, you should all use a little more common sense when making decisions.”
There was a low murmur, and some of the trainers stared down in shame at their shoes.
“The police will now escort you out, and you can continue with your daily activities. Thank you.”
The remaining officers led the trainers out, like farmers tending a herd of sheep. Michael remained where he was, and when everyone was gone, he stood up, brushing the dust from his jeans.
“Henry!” he called. “You there?”
“Yeah!” came the reply. Henry jumped out from his hiding place and ran up to Michael. The man had neared the exit, and when they approached, he held the door open for them.
“Whoops. We’ve got two more.”
Michael and Henry ducked under his arm and stepped out of the building. When they were outside, Henry looked up.
“No problem,” the man replied, letting the door swing closed.
“I meant for calling the police,” Henry said. “It was you, wasn’t it?”
The man seemed surprised at Henry’s gratitude, though he nodded.
“How did you know to call them?”
The man sighed, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his coat. “I’ve had my eye on this place for a while now. It’s a shame what the League’s turned into. Ten years ago, it used to be an honest competition, but now it’s transformed into a commercial hoopla. These Game Corners have sprung up in practically all the Gym towns, and they’ve even trickled into regular ones too. They’re supposedly here for a good cause, to give a percentage of their profits back to the League, but all they’re really doing is raising money for themselves by scamming children like you.”
“How do you know all that?” Henry said.
“I’ve been around,” the man replied with a shrug.
“Do you work for the League?”
His man’s eyes twinkled. Michael caught a smile that almost, but did not quite cross the man’s face. “No, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out right from wrong. Sometimes, though, you have to really pay attention to make sure you’re not being scammed.”
“The wheel thing was rigged,” Michael put in, and the man turned. “I don’t think a lot of the kids realized it. Then the guy kept trying to get me and Henry to play.”
“But we told him we didn’t want any of it,” Henry added brightly. “We told him to shove off.”
The man seemed genuinely relieved. “Good. Good job on your part for not giving in. But I’m afraid there are plenty of people like those guys, always looking to trick trainers into doing something they don’t need to be doing. The League was founded upon a good principle—you can’t buy success. Of course, some of the things they’ve been doing lately have contradicted that, but the core purpose remains the same.” The man looked at them for a moment, his face grave. “You can’t buy success. Remember that, okay?”
Michael nodded. “Sure. Thanks.”
“Thank you,” Henry said.
The man smiled. “Don’t mention it. Now run along. I have other things I need to take care of, and the police chief told me that they’ll be closing down the premises soon. So we better not stick around.”
He walked off. A line of police cars was blocking the road, and barriers had been set up for a detour. Most of the trainers of the Game Corner were gone now, though some still lingered to observe the proceedings. Michael watched the man stop to have a word with a group of officers, then he took out the map that had been folded in his pocket. Henry came up behind him.
“So we’ll be sticking with the directions this time?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah.”
The trainer store appeared a bit further down the street from the Game Corner, sandwiched between a diner and a boutique store. It was a completely nondescript building, unrecognizable save for a small window sign and a pokéball logo. When Michael noticed it, he immediately led Henry after him.
Inside, it looked like nothing more than a stale convenience store. The space was divided into aisles, the shelves bearing things like trainer wear, pokéball belts, and backpacks. There was only one register at the counter, and one man on duty. When Michael and Henry entered, he was sitting with his back turned, reading a newspaper.
Michael tapped the surface of the counter. The man turned suddenly, his eyes popping open as if from a daydream.
“Huh? Wha? Oh.” He swiveled around, tossing the newspaper off to the side. “Hello. Can I help you?”
“I need a new Trainer Card,” Michael said. “When I was in Oreburgh, my old one got—”
The man held up his hand. “I get it. You lost it. Happens.” He shrugged. “Pay two dollars for a new one?”
Michael nodded. The man opened a drawer beneath the desk and took out a sheet of paper. “All right. Just fill this out for me then.”
He handed Michael a pen. To his relief, the document was simple. It had a blank space for his name, the badges he currently possessed, and which starter, if any, he had received. Michael filled out the form and handed it back to the man, who stood and led him to a small photo booth in the back.
Michael sat down on the bench, against a blank white background. The man took down a camera from one of the shelves, fastening the strap around his neck.
Michael put on a half-smile, and the man made a couple of shots. Then he disappeared behind another door with the paper in hand, and several minutes later he came out with a freshly-laminated card.
“Here you go.”
For a moment, Michael looked at it. The Trainer Card resembled a passport, with his name at the top in huge black letters, and his photo on the left hand side. On the bottom row were eight slots that stood for the Gym badges, where the man had applied two stickers for the Coal Badge and the Forest Badge.
So that’s it? He turned over the card, and saw that there was a black strip on the back, but nothing else. After all the panic of the previous day, he had received his card with all the nonchalance of a class picture.
“You can get the rest of the sticker package for ninety-nine cents,” the man offered.
“No, it’s fine.”
“All right.” The man went back around the counter, and Michael paid him at the register. The man gave Michael a transparent case for the card, and with his new merchandise in hand, Michael left the store.
As he and Henry walked back, Michael placed the card into the innermost pocket of his backpack and zipped it up. “Huh. So it’s that easy?”
He looked to Henry, but was puzzled to see the same expression of surprise on the boy’s face.
“I guess,” Henry said. “I never saw how they made the card, because when I went to the place in my town they were out of laminates. They had to mail it to me instead. But now that I think about it, if it really only takes ten minutes, then why did I have to come on a weekend?”
Michael shrugged, brushing off the question. He was too busy basking in relief to analyze anything, and he was fairly certain that there wasn’t even a problem to mull over. “At least I don’t have to worry about fraud anymore,” he said aloud. “All I have to do is get this to Jerry, and then we’re set.”
When they entered the parking lot of the Trainer’s Hotel, Michael saw a woman leaning against a car. Her head was bent back towards the sky, the sun reflecting off of her sunglasses in two searing smudges. It was Bertha.
When the boys approached, she smiled at them. “Hey. I finally got around to getting a rental car. Walking is just too annoying, and for someone like me who’s on the go a lot, this is just the thing. You like?” She stepped aside, revealing the automobile in full. It was a baby blue Buick, in pristine condition. Its tires were coal black, and its windows were spotless.
Michael brushed his finger against the hood, over the chrome insignia. “Nice.”
Bertha laughed. “The other cars were either filthy or didn’t go past twenty miles per hour. So I asked them to give me a new one.”
“Can it take us to Jerry’s?” Michael said. “I got my Trainer Card.”
Bertha perked an eyebrow. “That fast?”
“Yeah. We got directions to a store from a lady at the hotel.”
“Hmm. Well that’s good. Don’t like to procrastinate, do we?” Bertha smiled. “Can I see the card?”
Michael took it out of his backpack and handed it to her. Bertha looked it over, lifting her glasses. “Looks okay to me. Just one thing…” Her face clouded.
Michael tensed. “What?”
Bertha did not speak for a few seconds. “You should’ve done a better smile,” she said finally. “You look like you’re in pain.” She brightened, and Michael felt a surge of relief.
Bertha unlocked the front door to the Buick and climbed inside. “Hop in, then!”
Michael and Henry got into the backseat, and she pulled out of the parking lot.
They drove to Jerry’s office, and the Gym leader was happy to see them. He took Michael immediately over to his desk, and Michael handed him the Trainer Card. Jerry examined it under the light. “Looks good! You’re all set, Michael. Battle’s next Monday, don’t forget.”
“No problem,” Michael said. “I won’t.”
He was immensely relieved when he got back into the car. Michael settled down in the backseat, content with watching the town roll by. They reached the road on which the hotel was located, but instead of turning, Bertha continued to go straight, passing the next intersection.
Michael leaned forward. “Uh, Bertha? Where are we going?”
“Relax, kiddo. We’re making one more stop.”
“Where?” asked Henry.
She maneuvered through a strange, jumbled sequence of roads and turns, letting the buzz of downtown fade behind them. They entered a sparse, quieter part of the city, where the road was bordered by trees and the buildings became longer and shorter, resembling apartments.
Bertha parked near one of the buildings and led them to a door. Clearing her throat, she knocked twice.
“Who is it?” came a voice.
There was a pause, and then the door was opened by an older woman. Her brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and she looked rather tired. When she saw Bertha, however, she smiled. “Ah. Bertha. It’s been a while.” Her face fell slightly. “I see you’ve left the Gym.”
“Only temporarily,” Bertha replied. “Something’s come up, and I want to talk to you about it. Can we come in?”
“Certainly.” The woman allowed them inside. Her home was plain and undecorated, furnished to the absolute minimum, as if she spent most of her time somewhere else. The house was sleek and clean—so much like a magazine picture that it made Michael uncomfortable.
The woman guided them to a small sitting area and sat down in an armchair, brushing back loose strands of hair. Bertha took the other chair, leaving Michael and Henry to the couch.
As they settled down, the woman lifted a cup of tea that had been sitting on the coffee table and took a sip. The silence of her house was so arid that each movement seemed to produce an echo.
She stared at the opposite wall for a while, then spoke. “So. How have you been, Bertha? I heard what happened in Eterna… and I must say I’m not surprised. I just hope that whoever that building was insured to didn’t get too much money back.”
Bertha laughed. “You of all people would know.”
The woman nodded coolly. She sipped her tea again.
“I had a hunch you’d be here,” Bertha continued, “but I wasn’t sure. Your schedule is pretty erratic. How much longer do you think you’ll be staying in Hearthome? You look like you’ve packed already.”
The woman shrugged. “There isn’t much to pack. I’m only supposed to be here till the end of the month. Then it’s back to Veilstone.”
Michael looked at her in amazement. Even in the suburbs, life in Veilstone was notoriously expensive. Most of the people who were lucky enough to be there were only passing through, or else were short-term residents on business duties. The real residents of Veilstone were people who were extremely rich, not exactly the type who would live in a cramped apartment in Hearthome City just for the heck of it.
Noticing their bemused expressions, Bertha turned to explain. “Sorry, I don’t think I’ve introduced my friend here. Boys, this is Anita. She works for Team Galactic.”
Michael and Henry balked in unison.
“That’s right,” said Anita with a sly smile. “Any questions? Any big company secrets you want me to reveal? I’m all yours.”
Bertha snorted. “Come off, Ann. They wouldn’t have the guts to ask you even if you forced them to.”
Anita stirred her tea, chuckling. “Well, I wouldn’t be able to say anything important anyway. I work for the supply division, which coordinates the purchase and transport of materials,” she told the boys. “It’s a boring job, but it pays.”
A portion of Michael’s questions were satisfied, but now that he was aware that he was in the presence of a Galactic worker, his mind raised a hundred more. But he chose to remain silent, and again Anita spoke.
“So what is it you wanted to tell me, Bertha? Is it something to do with your Gym?”
“Indirectly, yes.” Bertha opened her briefcase. “I’m petitioning the federal government. I want them to cut some of Team Galactic’s funding—which if you don’t mind me saying has reached a ridiculous amount—and give the Pokémon League back the money it deserves. If the government keeps cutting funds from the League in favor of Galactic, then the League will die. And I thought that—”
“You thought that since I work for them that I’d be able to help you?” Anita lowered the cup.
“Yes,” Bertha replied. “In any way you can. I’m aiming for about nine hundred signatures, but to really make an impact on the President I need signatures and letters of approval from at least twenty qualified people. I’ll be getting a bunch from the Gym leaders and other League staff, but I also need someone from within Team Galactic itself who knows what’s going on and supports my goal.”
Anita leaned back, crossing her legs. “Bertha, what you’re asking is for me to defy the policies of my company in order to pay my allegiance to your cause. You do realize that if anybody higher up than me finds out and interprets this the wrong way then I can lose my job? You’ll be in trouble too when they learn that you’re the one perpetrating this. So much of this depends on chance, and I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Team Galactic doesn’t have the best sense of humor.”
Bertha held up her hand. “I know. That’s why I came here as your friend, not as a businesswoman. You don’t have to help me, but I would really appreciate it if you did. That’s all I’m saying.”
Anita leaned back on her elbow and traced her gaze across the ceiling, as if to catch a thought that was drifting there. She looked at Michael and Henry, then back at Bertha, as if drawing a sudden connection between them. “Team Galactic is a force to be reckoned with. They generate more than one-third of the federal government’s revenue. If they decided to break ties with us, then the whole economy would be thrown off-balance, and it would take one hell of a comeback to bring us back up to speed.” A somber smile crossed her face. “Winning the Presidential election might be a tad easier, Bertha.”
“That’s why I need all the help I can get,” Bertha said. “I’m not asking for Galactic to change their entire policy. I just want them to be mindful of their surroundings so we don’t have another Eterna City on our hands. I mean that in every way. They’re destroying nature, and they’re hindering the League, which is pointless when both should coexist. But the thing that’s preventing that from happening is all these heads and bosses and people who tell us what to do. But if we can just show them what they’re doing wrong, then I’m sure we can fix their old mistakes before it’s too late.”
Anita smiled. “Fighting for what’s right, as usual. I agree, Team Galactic and the Pokémon League can and should find a common ground. But it’s risky… oh, Bertha, I don’t know.”
“Hey,” Bertha said. “This isn’t entirely risk-free for me either. I went on leave to do this, and per the League rules, I’m not supposed to do that unless there’s a genuine emergency, so...” She shrugged, turning up her palms. “I guess I could lose my job too. But you know what? It’s worth it. At least I’ll know that I tried something.”
Anita tapped her chin, staring at Bertha intently. Finally, she sat up. “All right. You’ve convinced me. I’ll write you a letter, and I’ll give it to you before I leave town.”
Bertha inclined her head. “Thank you.”
The women rose. Anita led them out, waving as they got into the car, then disappeared swiftly behind her door.
On the drive back, Henry leaned over to Bertha’s seat. “You have a lot of friends, Bertha.”
Bertha threw her head back and laughed. “Wait till you meet my cousin Bernie. He’s an Elite Four.”
Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 26th October 2011 at 9:40 PM.
Love it. 10char
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well, im a bit late, but good chapter! no mistakes i think.
btw, why dont nancy and co. do a story on the fact that eterna is a wasteland now?
im actually genuinly exited about when berthas cousin bernie gets written in
cant wait for the next chapter!
Doing a story about Eterna's explosion would involve getting close to the topic of Team Galactic, which the crew doesn't want to do right now... but as for the news topic itself, word will spread. I was actually going to write in the news break in one of the following chapters.
As for Bertha's cousin, you'll just have to wait and see what happens. ;)
Thanks for stopping by! Chapter 18 is painfully close to getting done... thanks to part of it having been written for almost two months now. I love things like that. You know, when you have so many ideas for future events in a story that you just have to write them down? That happened a lot for many of the things in these Hearthome chapters.
By the way, I'm expecting to post it sometime Monday-Wednesday of next week. Stay tuned...
Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 9th October 2011 at 5:31 PM.
Hello there. I'm sort of early this time, but after spending an extra two days with my final draft, I decided that there was nothing else to stuff in here and it was good to go ahead and post. (One of the scenes I've had a plan for months back, actually, so half of it pretty much wrote itself anyway. :P)
Before I get started with this chapter of mine, I will bother you with only a few brief things.
Firstly, I hope you don't mind me sticking a little visual aid in here. I wanted to draw Michael's chart for you guys, but since there's no table tool here, I settled with having it as an image.
Secondly, this chapter is nice and short, unlike the previous one which for some reason ended up being so long that I couldn't even include a comment before the text. It's almost refreshing to be back in the 12-13 page range again. And I never thought I'd say that.
One more thing.
As with most cities, days in Hearthome passed quickly. From sunup to sundown, Michael did little but work, going over battle plans with Henry. They made plans for training, plans for what to do when they got to the next Gym town, and plans for making plans. It was like a sick, twisted form of a school project, only now the stakes were higher and Michael didn’t have much room to procrastinate.
Bertha left them alone for the most part, departing at around ten each morning and coming back at six in the evening. She slipped little notes under their door from time to time, to let them know that she was still around, and to let them on to how her petition was coming along. Bertha never gave them the details, but she did tell them the kinds of people she was corresponding with and how many in-advance signatures she had been promised.
Henry followed her petition’s progress with full support, even suggesting places for Bertha to visit and asking about how she planned on getting so many signatures in a constrained amount of time. Much of their talk took place over dinner at the hotel’s cafeteria, meals during which Michael sat back in silence, focusing on his food. He was the same fan of Team Galactic he had been for the entire Space Race’s duration, and knew that it would always stay that way. The thought of Galactic suddenly losing funding from the federal government and turning into corporate backwash was sickening, and would be like him losing his whole childhood. It was out of respect for Bertha and pity for Henry that he didn’t comment on the petition when the subject came up.
In times like these, his thoughts drifted back to home, where Cory and Brendan were still stuck in the Jubilife suburbs, spending the rest of their summer vacation doing God-knew-what. With the sudden pause in space updates, they had probably moved on to other things, perhaps hunting more pokémon or having adventures out in the city.
The dawn of June 4th marked the one-week anniversary of the Deoxys discovery’s announcement, and as the days crept into the 5th and 6th, Michael began to scourge the newspapers on the lobby racks, hoping for any sort of update. But there were none. Each morning and evening when he turned to the news, all Michael would see was the same rerun of the Space Race, with the same guy in the same suit, reading off the same paper.
It confused him to no end, but as the battle drew nearer, Michael didn’t have time to get carried away with his thoughts. He and Henry had refined their strategies, coordinating their teams to their best potential, but the one thing they were still missing was Jerry’s type preference. Depending on what it was, they could either continue with the pokémon they had, or would have to start over and catch new ones.
And for the most part, Michael wasn’t in a pokémon-catching mood. On his frequent strolls around Hearthome, he didn’t see many places where wild pokémon could live, even if they wanted to. Other than the occasional Pachirisu scampering about near a tree, the selection wasn’t too great.
The city did have one advantage, however, in the park of Amity Square. Here was where Michael and Henry spent most of their time, observing what pokémon were brought in each day. Michael habitually brought his notebook and pencil along, and together with Henry, he would walk around and inquire passerby about their pokémon. They often met a trainer or two, but in such a public, leisurely place, a battle would have been unfeasible.
So Michael simply became content with asking questions, walking around like some sort of reporter and asking for people to comment on their pokémon’s type, movesets, and any other miscellaneous information about their natures. His questions raised many eyebrows, but on the whole, provided him with much useful information. Henry would gather information as well, and at the end of the day they would pool together their notes, and Michael would write them down on a separate sheet of paper. The information they collected about pokémon accumulated, and eventually the tiny, crammed chart he had drawn was no longer big enough to hold all his new data. So Michael flipped over to a clean page and drew his table anew.
So far, he had catalogued eight types, based on everything he had observed up until then in his battles. He made sure to leave several slots open at the bottom, for where he would fill in any new types he encountered. As some of his notes on specific pokémon were too lengthy to copy, he left those pages alone. Michael flipped back to them from time to time, and wondered when they would ever come in handy. He had calculated every scenario he could think of, but the rest, he knew, would be a matter of luck.
On the morning of Thursday, June 9th, Jerry prepared an unexpected treat. Normally, Michael, Henry, and Bertha would have their meals at the hotel, but that day Jerry had a two-hour break, and wanted to use the time to talk to Bertha about her petition. So he took them all out to Kiera’s Breakfast Place, where the tables were nice and clean and large windows let in a generous amount of light. And after eating the same breakfast for several days straight, Michael was grateful to go someplace else for a change.
There was a small crowd populating the café despite the early hour. The four settled down at a decent-sized table, beside a window overlooking a small garden. The café had a built-in buffet, which Michael took advantage of to get the best food possible. He returned to the table with a colorful tray of milk, cereal, a muffin, and pancakes. Henry’s plate was similar.
The four of them ate together for a while, picking from a center bowl of fruit, while Jerry and Bertha discussed the goings-on.
“So I managed to talk to the leaders of Solaceon and Pastoria,” Jerry said. “You’ll be happy to hear that they're willing to consider your idea."
Bertha smiled. “Wonderful. Now all that’s left is to visit them. I sent a letter to Byron, and he just got back to me with his signature, so that’s one Gym down already. What about the others?”
Jerry stirred his coffee, blending it with cream. “Snowpoint’s been difficult to contact, but they promised me that they’d get back to me within the week. Sunyshore is interested, and I haven’t had the chance to contact Canalave yet. On the whole, though I’d say our operation is going pretty smoothly so far.”
“That’s great to hear,” Bertha said.
Michael was only half-paying attention to their conversation, being preoccupied with trying to squeeze the last drop of maple syrup from the annoying plastic bottle onto his pancakes. When he finally got it, the bottle made a loud sucking noise that brought a brief silence to the table. Henry let out a giggle.
As if on cue, Jerry turned to Michael. “So how goes the training, boys?”
Michael shrugged. “Good.” He didn’t bother getting into the details, nor did he feel the need to add that he was in the process of assembling a chart that would counter any type imaginable. He simply settled into a satisfied silence, and Henry did the same.
“I hope you’re really working your butts off,” Bertha said. “The Gyms get harder with every town, and Jerry’s no exception.”
Jerry chuckled. “Bertha tells it how it is, fellas.”
Henry smiled, and looked down at his plate. He had been strangely silent for the duration of their breakfast, and now more than ever he seemed to be weighing something in his mind. Finally, he looked up again. “Jerry, how long have you been a Gym leader?”
Jerry tapped his fingers together. “Ten years, just about. I joined the League when I was eighteen as an Apprentice trainer, and then I got offered the post of the Hearthome Gym when I was twenty.”
“Is there an age limit on when you can join?” Henry said.
“Yes, but it’s really only a formality. If you’re good enough, then they’ll take you. The youngest Gym leader was fifteen years old, in fact.”
Henry munched on his cereal for a moment, and swallowed. “So… what’s your favorite type of pokémon to use?”
Michael looked up. So that had been Henry’s plan. He had to admit, it was pretty good thinking, catching Jerry off-guard at such a casual moment. For a minute, Henry’s flickered over to Michael, and Michael quietly cleared his throat.
Don’t mess this up… he thought, fiddling with the corner of his napkin.
Jerry thought for a moment, biting his lip. “I have to say I like the Psychic type the most. They’re pretty sneaky, and it takes a really clever battler to learn how to manipulate them. Normally, I don’t like to confine my battle team to a single type, but as per the League rules, I have to state my official Gym type. And I chose Psychic.”
“That’s really cool!” Henry said. “I like Psychic pokémon too.” He flashed an innocent smile, and quickly went back to eating his food.
Suddenly, a faint flicker crossed Bertha’s face, and she seemed to tense ever so slightly. Or maybe Michael had imagined it. She made no comment as she sipped her coffee, and then as if nothing had happened, she turned back to Jerry.
“I talked to a friend of mine the other day,” Bertha continued. “She’s a lower-division employee of Team Galactic, but she asked me to keep her name anonymous, at least for now.”
Jerry nodded. “And?”
“She gave us her support.”
“Bertha, that’s wonderful! Having the support of someone on the inside will really make this thing hit home.”
“That’s what I’m thinking too. If the President sees the signature of a Team Galactic worker on a petition about Team Galactic, then he’ll really have to consider that something’s wrong.”
Jerry smiled slyly. “You never told me that you had a friend from Team Galactic. How long have you known her?”
“A while now,” Bertha said. “Long before I knew she worked for the company, actually. We met while I was still going through my examinations for becoming a Gym leader. I didn’t have a clue until I saw the stitch on one of her coats, and then she just flat-out told me. I was shocked, and even more so at the fact that she could keep it hidden so well.”
“That’s interesting… but predictable, to say the least.” A strange expression of pity crossed Jerry’s face. “I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for her. Does she travel a lot?”
“Naturally. Sometimes I feel like she has to avoid the world when she’s on duty, and I feel sorry for her, because she loves Sinnoh.” Bertha shook her head slowly, half-smiling. “Honestly, how long does Blue think he can keep this shit up anyway?”
“As long as he wants to,” said Jerry. “A better question would be when will he have no choice but to face the world.”
Michael, who had settled into detached listening, blinked in confusion. “Blue? Who’s Blue?”
“Blue,” Bertha repeated, looking at him. “Thealus Blue?”
Michael shook his head, and Bertha chuckled. “For someone who loves the Space Race, kid, you sure don’t know your stuff. Thealus Blue is the founder and owner of Team Galactic.”
Michael gaped. “You serious?”
“But what kind of name is that?” Henry piped in. “It seems so weird.”
“Weird guy, weird company. What’s there to get?” Bertha crumpled her napkin. “At any rate, I wouldn’t care if his name was Sunshine Smith. He’ll have a lot to answer to at the rate he’s going.”
Henry frowned. “What do you mean? Are you talking about what Team Galactic’s doing in the Space Race?”
“More than that. I’m talking about the whole company. Blue’s practically turned it into the eighth wonder of the world. There’s so much speculation and rumors going on, but no one knows the truth about anything. Not even about him.”
Henry put his elbows on the table. “But why wouldn’t they know about Blue? If he’s the head of Team Galactic, then wouldn’t he be doing press conferences and stuff?”
“That’s the thing,” Jerry said with a smile. “He doesn’t. No one’s heard anything from or about him in almost twenty years. He could be dead for all we know. If he stepped down and put someone else in charge of Team Galactic, no one would be able to tell.”
Henry’s eyes widened. “Wow. It must be hard to stay out of the public eye like that.”
“It is,” Bertha said. “Especially in these days. I don’t know if he does it all by himself, or if he just forces his associates to keep quiet for him, but whatever he’s doing, he’s doing a hell of a good job. No one ever knows what Galactic is up to. Ever. Even the people who live in Veilstone City don’t know exactly where the headquarters are located. They say it’s up in the mountains.”
“Then how do you guys know about him?” Michael asked.
“Oh, his name comes up every so often,” she replied. “But it’s always in the context of his position, like ‘Mr. Blue’s corporation’ this and that. The guy’s never actually given his voice for an interview before. Almost no one in Galactic has.”
“Actually, that’s not entirely correct,” said Jerry. “You probably don’t remember this Bertha, and you two wouldn’t know this at all,” he pointed to the boys, “but fifteen years ago, Blue actually made a public statement. It was brief, and there weren’t any pictures, but he commented on an operation Team Galactic was undertaking. It was controversial... I think it had something to do with investigating certain rare pokémon species, but whatever it was, it threw the whole nation into an uproar. Protests, boycotts, the whole works. Some of the Galactic heads even got death threats. At that point, I guess Mr. Blue decided he had had enough, and withdrew his company from the public. He took it off of national records, ended all correspondences, and closed down the original headquarters.”
Michael balked. “What could be so bad that they actually got death threats?”
Jerry shrugged. “Beats me. But the minute he went silent, all the press reports died down. No one knows if Galactic even finished their operation. I think, especially now with the whole Space Race thing going on, Blue’s hoping that staying anonymous will hide Galactic’s true motive for going into space.”
“But isn’t it already obvious what their motive is?” Michael said. “They want to explore and bring back discoveries. What else could they possibly want?”
Jerry smiled. “No one knows. And that’s what’s keeping everyone on their toes. Galactic’s looking for something, and they want to make sure the Rockets don’t get there first. All those little pictures of the moon they put up on TV are just stalling tactics to make everyone think that there’s progress being made.”
Michael looked down at his emptied plate, his thoughts churning a storm in his mind. All those months he had been keeping score with Cory and Brendan, cheering every time Sinnoh seemed to be winning... had they really just been playing fool the whole time? Was the entire Space Race a sham?
He didn’t have time to get carried away, for at that moment, Bertha rose from her chair. “Well, we better get going. I want to get some paperwork done, and I know you have to leave soon, Jerry.”
Jerry nodded. “Thanks for joining me today, Bertha. You too, boys.” He looked at Michael and Henry and winked. “When the battle rolls around, though, I might not be so nice to you.”
Michael was steady under Jerry’s gaze. He returned the leader’s smile, but it quickly got lost as his thoughts overrode his words again. When they left, he was still deep in thought.
“Good morning Sinnoh. This is Freddie Horner with the Sinnoh News Network, bringing you the top news from all over the country. We are now entering the ninth of June, and my, it is truly a lovely day today. Tales of my Triumph is enjoying its second week at the top of the box office, and not coincidentally either, with the start of the Contest season right around the corner. So folks, if you’re looking for a good movie to see with your friends this weekend, Tales would be it. And for all you music fans out there, the Gallade Renegade will be starting its tour at the end of the month, and I’m told they’re planning one big show…
“For some, however, this month has marked the beginning of disaster. Last week, on Friday, June 3rd, residents of Eterna Town woke up to find their home up in smoke, and were told to evacuate in advance of an explosion that would destroy their homes. This explosion has consumed the entire town, and the smoke from its aftermath has spread to neighboring routes, though it is likely that it will dissipate before it reaches any other major city.
“Rescue teams have been dispatched and are currently searching the remains of the town, hoping to find some clues as to what happened. It has been confirmed that the building from where the explosion originated was a factory owned by Team Galactic. The cause is unknown, but investigators are scrutinizing every possible detail, not ruling out the possibility of a criminal operation. Several Eterna residents claim to have seen a group of unidentified individuals walking towards the factory the night before the explosion took place. No other evidence can be provided, but as rescue workers probe the building’s remains, they hope to discover anything they can. Team Galactic was unavailable for comment.
“As of now, there have been no reported fatalities due to the incident, but our hearts go out to the families who have lost their homes in the tragedy. We will be bringing you more as the investigations continue. This has been Freddie Horner, live from Jubilife City. Thank you.”
Outside, the sun beat down relentlessly on Hearthome City. Amity Square was a vivid patch of green amid a landscape of gray asphalt, and was populated with a generous crowd despite the heat.
Presently, Nancy Bryan was leaning against a lamppost while her Loudred was having a private moment behind the bushes. Her sunglasses were sticking to her face, and already she could feel the sweat rolling down her hairline and smearing her makeup. About a minute later, the pokémon hobbled back to her, its eyes perpetually wide and round.
“What?” Nancy slurred. “Wahddre you lookin’ at?”
Loudred’s ears perked, as they always did when Nancy talked like this to him, and his mouth parted in a half-clueless gape. This elicited a giggle from her.
Loudred was a funny-looking creature, with a square body, stubby limbs, and large mouth — and a hell of a good voice to go along with it. He was two heads shorter than Nancy was, and being with him made her feel almost like a mother. He was her only pokémon, since she moved too often from place to place to commit to any more, and his presence always calmed and reassured her.
Many of the other park-goers had stared when she sent him out — Sinnohans, apparently, didn’t see many Hoenn pokémon in their daily lives. Most of them walked around with Drifloons, Pachirisus, and Bidoofs, all familiar faces, and then here she was, breaking the status-quo.
Ned, Tom, and Bobby were strolling about with their pokémon as well. Ned was with Volbeat, Tom with Flygon, and Bobby with Seviper. After a good few days of being stuck in their pokéballs, apart from routine feedings and breaktimes, the pokémon were clearly relieved to be let out for a change.
Tom’s Flygon was currently doing somersaults in the air, the sun gleaming off her wings and muscles. Seviper was hunting for something in the grass, and Bobby was following, egging him on. Volbeat had drifted off to a flowering tree, sniffing at the blooms.
“Come on, buddy, let’s go say hi to our friends.” Nancy beckoned to Loudred, and led him over to Ned and Tom, who were sharing a bench. They looked up as she approached, and Nancy let out a sigh, stretching her arms out under the sun.
“Well, this definitely feels good. I think this is the first break we’ve had all month.”
Ned, who had been dozing, rubbed his eyes. “Says Mrs. Works-a-Lot? Who brought her notebook along?”
Nancy looked down at her purse, which was lying at the foot of the bench. She had brought her notebook, but she wasn’t really planning on using it. It was more of a habit than a hope.
In reply, Nancy brushed a strand of hair away from her face. “Aw, shut up.”
She sat down beside them, and Loudred lumbered over to join her. Leaning back, Nancy casually swept her gaze across the park. When she wasn’t on the hunt for stories, she loved to people-watch, just sitting back and observing life’s daily proceedings. Amity Square was generously populated with people, some of whom had arrived in full workout uniform, and were jogging with their pokémon along the paths. Others were just strolling about in the grass, among the hills and flowers.
She sat still for a moment, then glumly blew a strand of hair away from her face. “So, did you guys see the news this morning?”
“Yeah,” said Ned. For a minute, he too grew somber. “Well, there’s nothing much we can do now. We’re on the other side of the continent.”
“I know,” Nancy said. She had tuned in to the SNN station that morning, out of partial-curiosity-mostly-resentment, and was mildly surprised to see the coverage of the Eterna explosion. Of course, the news would have eventually spread anyhow, but there was something in Freddie Horner’s tone that she did not like. Nancy had shuddered slightly when he had mentioned the band of mysterious individuals, and though she had enough common sense to know that the incident could never be traced back to them, it still made her appreciate how close she had really come to ruin. None of her story-getting plans had exactly worked to her liking before, but none of them had gone so horribly, embarrassingly wrong either. The sooner all the hype about Eterna would end, she decided, the better.
Nancy bent her head back and let the rest of her thoughts escape in a long, greedy yawn. Wiping her eyes, she silently resumed her survey of the park.
This time, by random chance, her eyes alighted upon a boy who stood by the fountain, looking out at nothing in particular. His appearance was slightly rowdy, like the type of kid who would sit in the back of class and throw paper balls, but in the park setting, he looked calm and focused. She watched him for a while, but he didn’t seem to be doing anything interesting, so she turned her attention elsewhere.
About a minute later, however, the boy reappeared. This time, he was on the move. Unlike the other park-goers, this kid walked with purpose, as if on a mission. She caught sight of him from time to time, never in the same spot, and from certain angles she could see that he was carrying a notebook.
Nancy sat up, watching as the boy approached a lady, who was walking a Luxray on a leash. He talked with her briefly, jotted down some notes, then walked off in search of someone else. A smile tugged at her lips.
That must be what I’m like, she thought. The boy met four more individuals in a similar way, often even kneeling down to look at their pokémon. And then a second boy, slightly shorter, appeared from behind some trees and ran up to the first. He was carrying a notebook too, and when they met, they exchanged a brief conversation.
Nancy leaned forward, her curiosity now getting the better of her. “What are those kids doing?” she muttered.
Beside her, Ned looked up. “Hmm?”
Nancy bit her lip, and shook her head. “Nothing.” She settled back down.
Suddenly, a long, deep croon echoed through the park. Up in the air, Tom’s Flygon finished her last loop and came sweeping down, her large wings spread wide to adjust her altitude. Tom whistled, and Flygon glided over to him, stirring the grass and leaves in her wake.
All around them, people turned and watched in awe as the dragon settled into the grass, its stocky green body barely raising a whisper as it met the ground. Several people stopped in their tracks to watch the marvelous sight. The black-haired boy was among them. As he watched Flygon’s descent, a strange expression crossed his face, and for a moment his blue eyes seemed to light with a deep, hidden fire. As more people arrived, he was obscured from view.
Nancy looked around. “Heh. We’re practically famous around here.”
Tom laughed. “Yeah, someone should do a story about us.”
At that moment, Bobby appeared with Seviper sliding by at his feet. As Seviper passed by Flygon, his pink tongue flickered out, and Flygon hummed something in reply. Bobby surveyed the crowd with a mock-perplexed look, and plopped down beside Nancy.
They basked in the attention for a moment, and then the crowd began to trickle away. The boy, however, remained. When enough people were gone, he approached, notebook tucked under his arm.
Tom was lying on his belly, talking to Flygon and picking at the grass. The boy stopped beside him and opened his notebook. “Hey.”
Tom looked up. “Oh. Hey.”
“Can we help you?” said Nancy.
The boy shrugged, and once again, he resembled a slacker schoolboy. “Not really. Cool Flygon, though. Girl or boy?”
“Girl,” said Tom, raising an eyebrow. “You know about them?”
To Nancy’s surprise, the boy nodded. “Yeah. They’re called the Desert Spirit because they live in Hoenn’s deserts. They’re pretty fast too. They were pitted against each other in races in the seventeenth century. They’re… the second-fastest fliers of all the dragons, I think.”
“Third, actually,” Tom corrected, though he was clearly impressed at the boy’s factual knowledge. Then, he asked the question that Nancy had been keeping in her mind as well. “Are you from Hoenn?”
“No,” said the boy. “I just know from this book I read once.” He looked around at the pokémon surrounding Nancy and her team. “Do you battle?”
Tom rubbed his eyes. “Uh, not anymore. I used to when I was young, but then I decided to take my life in a different direction. And I met these guys over there.” He jerked his thumb towards the bench with a smirk. Bobby rolled his eyes in return.
“You can’t live without us and you know it, Tom,” he hollered.
Tom dismissed him with a wave, turning back to the boy. “So are you a trainer?”
The boy nodded. As he paced carefully around the group of pokémon in the grass, Loudred, in his curious nature, drew near, ears flicking. The boy stopped as Loudred approached, and somewhat tentatively reached out with his free hand. The pokémon flinched back for a moment, then allowed the boy to stroke the top of his head.
“He’s pretty cool,” said the boy.
Nancy smiled. “Thanks. He’s got pretty good endurance too. He helped me fend off a couple of pesterers once. Remember, Ned? Back in Floaroma?”
Ned began to laugh, and the rest of the team joined in. The boy, however, suddenly became serious. As Loudred nudged his elbow, he faced Nancy again. “Helped, how?”
Nancy stifled her giggles behind her palm. “Well, we were back in Floaroma looking for someone to interview, and we had to battle a group of trainers to get into this special club. The guy we wanted was inside, but they wouldn’t let us through because apparently the club was for battlers only. We had let our pokémon out for some fresh air, so they were with us too. We tried to negotiate with the trainers, but then out of nowhere they just whipped out their pokeballs and started to attack our pokémon. So we fought back.”
“And won,” said Ned with a smile. “Though the club turned out to be a real bore…”
The boy nodded. “So, what kinds of moves does Loudred use? Do you know any?”
Nancy rubbed her chin. “Well, he knows Uproar. That was definitely useful... I think he used Supersonic once too, but I can’t be sure.”
The boy wrote all this down. “What about Flygon?”
Tom tallied the moves on his fingers. “Flamethrower, Sandstorm, Dragon Claw, Earthquake, Hyper Beam, Sand Tomb… that’s all I can think of right now.”
The boy turned to Bobby, who tilted back his cap. “Hey, what’s with the 20 Questions?”
The boy shrugged. “I’m researching for my next Gym battle.”
“Researching for a Gym battle?” Bobby whistled. “Holy snap, look at this kid. You got a name?”
“Michael Rowan,” the boy replied.
“Nice to meet you, Michael,” Bobby said.
“Likewise.” The boy closed his notebook for a moment. “So… are you guys like a traveling TV show or something? Like Rising Trainers on SNN?”
Nancy fought back a cringe. “No. We’re uh, a TV station crew. Sinnoh Now.”
“Never heard of it,” the boy said.
“Yeah, but you will,” Bobby cut in. “Just wait. We’re on the hunt for the story of the year. One day you’ll be watching TV and bam—we’ll be there.”
The boy smiled. “But you need a story first, don’t you?”
Nancy did a mental double-take. “That’s… true.”
The boy rocked on his feet for a moment, his eyes drifting up towards the trees. For a minute, it seemed like he was about to say something, but then he simply shrugged. “Well, good luck.” He raised his arm in a lazy sort of wave, and backed away.
Nancy smirked. “Thanks. Good luck with your battle.”
The boy nodded, and walked off. It was just then that Nancy noticed a Turtwig scamper over to him from behind a small bush, its leaf twirling in the breeze. Its skin was a pale blue-green, and its shell was a light, almost gleaming brown.
Nancy leaned forward to get a better look, but the pair quickly retreated down the path, and she could only spot the minor details. Still, they were enough to puzzle her. It was a peculiar sight, and it gave Nancy a peculiar feeling, causing her to wonder if maybe she had seen something like it before.
She rummaged through her mind a bit, but after a moment, she snapped back to reality. It was her day off, for goodness’s sake. If it was anything worth remembering, it would come to her eventually.
For now, she was happy to put it aside.
Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 13th July 2013 at 10:14 PM.