~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~
5. The Decision
Dalton Gregg was beside himself.
His bluish-gray eyes, wide with a mixture of nervousness, excitement, and awe, sprinted from corner to corner in their sockets as they tried to take in as much as possible. Even with that, though, he was at a loss for eyes to see every sight, coming up short for ears to hear every conversation.
And what interesting conversations they were! In this quite large building near the center of what his new companion told him was called Accumula Town, he had already taken in a healthy measure of mind-scrambling information. First off, he spoke with a young woman at the central desk called Joy, who explained to him that the primary purpose for a Pokémon Center was as a hospital for sick and injured Pokémon. A counter toward the front of the building sold all sorts of supplies related to Pokémon, including the red-and-white spheres that were used to hold them – appropriately called Pokéballs.
He’d seen a pair of boys, both several years younger than himself, going on about “teams” of Pokémon and comparing how many each of them had caught. There were not only people in this world that owned Pokémon, but some people owned more than one. He was sure the entire Union Party, wherever (and whenever) they were, would collectively die of shock if they ever saw this place.
Dalton observed it all from a seat up toward the top of the Center’s main floor. Socially awkward at the best of times, he still dared not throw himself into a world about which he knew next to nothing… much less with his only acquaintance not present. The red-haired girl called ‘Fox’ had gone off somewhere – she hadn’t said where, either. On top of that, both of their Pokémon – Dalton still couldn’t believe he actually had one – were being checked in the Pokémon hospital… wherever that was. Apparently, the immense pink blobs that were often seen reporting to Joy had something to do with that part of this place.
Dalton’s first question was regarding those pink blobs. A couple of feet tall and bearing egg-carrying pouches in their rotund bellies, they couldn’t have possibly been human. So, naturally, Dalton asked Joy if the cute but corpulent creatures were Pokémon. Joy, for a brief second, had given Dalton a nearly appalled look unsuited for her kind, pretty facial features. Nonetheless, she had explained that they were, indeed, Pokémon – a particular species of Pokémon called Chansey, to be exact.
Dalton didn’t know how much about Pokémon, but even he figured out that Pokémon must have had different species. After all, the Pokémon belonging to Fox and the one he had recently caught looked nothing alike. He was still trying to get his head around it all…
FLUMP. A girl sat down rather heavily on the chair right next to him.
“We’ve got a problem,” she said huffily. It took a couple of seconds for the voice to register, but the ginger hair was a dead giveaway.
“What?” murmured Dalton. He wasn’t sure his brain could deal with any more ‘problems’ for about the next year or two. The red-haired girl let out another sigh.
“It’s that time of year,” she muttered.
“What time of year?” Dalton asked, a bit irritated because he was sure she knew that he’d have no idea what the hell he was talking about. “Fox… what are you talking about?”
“Spring,” she sighed. “Or… late spring, really. It’s the time of year when new Pokémon Trainers traditionally leave for their journeys. Problem with that is… there are about three or four Trainers that came from the next town over just this afternoon – and they’re staying the night.”
Dalton tilted his head. “What’s that got to do with us?”
Fox rolled her eyes, as if Dalton should have been able to figure this out. As much as he appreciated her for helping him, that habit of hers was already starting to get on his nerves. “There’s only one room left.”
“Well… that’s perfect, isn’t it?” he uttered. As soon as he’d started talking, he got the feeling that he’d missed something; but, against his better judgment, he went on anyway. “Didn’t you say this was your hometown? You can just go back—”
The look on her face – a look of mournful blankness, almost as if she’d just seen someone die in front of her – very clearly indicated to Dalton that he shouldn’t speak a further word on the subject.
“Fortunately, it’s a double,” she went on. Then, almost as if she’d forgotten something, she added, “Two beds.”
“I know,” Dalton murmured – then his heart sank horribly when he realized what she was trying to say.
“…And I’m know if I’m wild about the idea of spending a night in a room with a guy,” Fox confessed, giving Dalton an askance gaze. “…Let alone one that’s… well…”
“Yes, I know, you probably think I’m crazy,” Dalton groaned wearily. “I’m not really in a position to make an argument either way, am I? I mean, I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“You don’t have a family?” Fox asked.
“Don’t think they’d be around here,” Dalton answered, hoping Fox caught his drift. “And even if they were…”
He trailed off, shaking his head.
“…Don’t get along with ‘em either, huh?” she intoned.
“We’re not on speaking terms,” Dalton answered a bit ironically.
“I guess…” Fox sighed. “Maybe we could make it work… at least I don’t have to be afraid of seeing you naked. We already got over that little hurdle.”
Dalton felt his face go hot. Of all the weirdness that had happened to him that day, the fact that he had awoken completely in the nude was still at the top of the ‘weird’ list.
“That’s not something I’d want to repeat, though,” she reasoned. “And I definitely don’t want you trying to take a peek at me just because I saw you.”
Dalton was thinking that Fox’s outfit didn’t exactly leave a whole lot to the imagination anyway, but he had far too much sense to say this aloud.
“Don’t worry, though,” Fox said casually. “You haven’t scarred me for life or anything. I’m old enough that I’ve seen everything before.”
Dalton wasn’t sure whether to feel comforted about her honesty or not. “So how old are you then?”
“Sixteen,” she answered. “I’ll be seventeen in a month or so. And actually, I’ve known about that sort of stuff since I was about six.”
Dalton was torn between curiosity and alarm. “Six…?”
She bobbed her head and grimaced distractedly. “I… might have… played Doctor with a neighbor boy once or twice – oh, come on, don’t tell me you never did that as a kid.”
Dalton hadn’t. Even in early childhood (also known as that one happy sliver of his life before everything went straight to Hell) he hadn’t had many friends that were girls, and certainly none that were that adventurous. Kallen had wanted to do it once when she was four and he was six. Dalton, of course, had refused. Comically enough, it wasn’t for the reason it probably should have been – protecting his little sister’s innocence – but for another reason entirely. Dalton, ever the precocious and inquisitive little boy, had made the connection between doctors and surgeries – and he’d had no desire at all to let his little sister experiment with cutting him open.
“Neither of our parents ever knew about it.” Fox smiled wryly, as if success in keeping this secret was a matter of pride. “He took that secret with him all the way to Icirrus City.”
Dalton didn’t bother asking where Icirrus City was. His brain already had enough new information to try to process.
“Aaaaaaanyway,” she drawled, standing. “If we’re gonna go, we’d better do it before somebody yanks the last room up.”
He sighed and stood as well.
Several minutes later, Fox was unlocking the door and the two were stepping into a small room with a table, dresser, an adjoining room that Dalton guessed was the bathroom, and a paired bunk bed—
“I call top bunk,” Fox said breathlessly, furthering her point by climbing up the rungs at the foot of the bed and flopping onto it about five feet in the air. Dalton just looked at her, bemused.
“Glad to see one of us is having fun,” Dalton murmured, sitting in a chair and putting his feet on the table. This resulted in a silence – long, awkward… not to mention long and awkward. The young man let out a sigh.
“What’s wrong?” Fox asked distractedly, still looking straight up at the ceiling.
Dalton’s mouth set in a firm line. “Well…” he replied, and he hoped Fox understood the ‘I-can’t-believe-you’re-asking-such-a-stupid-question’ intonation he tried to put into his voice. “Let’s see… today, I had a horrible hour at school, saw my favorite teacher die in front of me, got shot – twice – ended up in some sort of Limbo, and now I’m someplace and maybe even some time completely freaking different from where I was when I woke up this morning. Yeah. It’s been a hell of a day.”
“You seem to be handling it pretty well,” commented Fox. Dalton could only groan at this.
“Well, what the else can I do?” he remarked hopelessly. “Now, I guess… I need to get back.”
“Where? To Johto?” Fox asked. “I’m not saying I believe you… at all… but if your theory’s true – if you’ve, you know, somehow… traveled through time – what good would going to Johto do? It wouldn’t look anything like you remembered it.”
“But the Ilex Forest would still be there,” Dalton remarked thoughtfully. “Maybe that weird birdhouse thing would still be there, too…”
Fox sighed. “What if there’s no way back? What then?”
Dalton looked down at the table blankly. As little as he liked it back home, it was home. He didn’t belong here. He shook his head. “I just… I guess I’d just check out.”
“Are you joking?” Fox had sat bolt upright. Somehow, he hadn’t expected her reaction to be that…strong. Surely, she’d understand that a man out of his own time was better off not existing. “How… what’s wrong with you?”
“What do you care?” Dalton asked languidly, staring up at the ceiling. “I’m just some stranger to you. Probably your random act of kindness for the week. Not that I’m not thankful, but still…”
“You had one friend. I think you said his name was… Evan?” Fox asked, calming down. Dalton nodded. He wondered what Evan was being told about what had happened to him. “Weren’t you strangers at one point?”
This seemed to be a rather obvious question from Dalton’s point of view. Of course, he and Evan had been strangers at one point. They met in Year Twelve of school – not long before they started college together.
“Everyone’s been a stranger at one point,” Dalton shook his head, muttering.
“Right.” Fox nodded. “But if you fear the unknown, you’re never going to know much of anything.”
From what little he knew of Fox, this seemed strangely sagely; he looked up at her. A mild smile crossed her face, and she suddenly looked years younger than her age.
“It was something my dad always said to me,” she explained. “He used to travel all over the place – so he’d know.”
“So you’re close with your dad?” Dalton asked.
“I was…” Fox’s reply was short and morose. “He left one day about three years ago and never came back.”
“Oh.” Dalton was going through the motions of sympathy, but was having a hard time seeing how her father’s abandonment measured up against his being unceremoniously dumped by both his parents and then bouncing through a series of unstable homes. “I’m… sorry.”
“Don’t treat me like he’s dead – because he’s not,” Fox said suddenly, looking down at Dalton, her blue eyes shining with defiance. “He’s out there, alive, somewhere… and I’m going to find him.”
They exchanged glances for a while. Dalton frowned and then turned away.
Fox sighed. “Do you like your home that much?”
Dalton scoffed. “No. It sucks. Except, maybe, for Loretta…”
“Loretta?” A tone of curiosity tinged Fox’s voice. “Your girlfriend?”
That, Dalton thought, was a very good question.
“She probably would have been…” he murmured. “…if things hadn’t gone completely nuts.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” Fox said tentatively. She couldn’t see Dalton’s face, but he was rolling his eyes again. Usually, when someone preceded any statement with that, it was going to be something the hearer wasn’t going to like. “…I can’t picture a guy like you having a girlfriend.”
Dalton grimaced nonchalantly. “Yeah… I was just as surprised as you are.”
“So she’s the main reason?” Fox asked. “The reason you want to go back?”
“I don’t know,” Dalton groaned, standing up and starting to pace the room.
Fox spoke again. “But isn’t it against the law to have a Pokémon where you come from? You have a Pokémon now.”
“I’ll just let it go.” Dalton shrugged its shoulders.
“…She won’t like that very much,” Fox said after a couple of seconds.
Dalton turned his head to look up at Fox. “Why not? She’d get to go home ag—wait a second. How do you know my Pokémon’s a ‘she’?”
“It’s a Nidoran,” Fox explained. “I asked Nurse Joy – I’d never seen one before. They’re not native to Unova. It just happens that Nidoran’s one of the easiest Pokémon to tell… its gender, I mean. The males look completely different. They’re purple, their ears are bigger, and their horns are long and sharp. But the females are bluish, just like yours.”
“Your Pokémon’s not a… Nidoran, then?” he asked.
Fox shook her head. “Her species is called Vulpix. They’re not native to Unova, either.”
“Really?” Dalton asked. “Where’d you get it—her?”
“A few years ago, my dad sent her back to me from a business trip he’d taken to Goldenrod City.” There she went again, expecting Dalton to know the unsaid information and fill in the blanks. This time, however, he was perfectly capable of doing it. Goldenrod City was the huge metropolis that was right across the forest from Azalea – and apparently that held true here as much as it did at home.
“Do you… battle with her?” Dalton remembered the vulpine creature’s appearance. Sionna had been so – well, so cute. He couldn’t picture something like that having any inclination to fight, let alone actually fighting.
“Sometimes,” Fox answered. “Sionna needs to blow off steam every once in a while.”
Dalton was starting to put something together. “So, did you give her the name Sionna?”
Fox nodded. “Sure did. A lot of people that own Pokémon name them. It gets sort of impersonal calling them by their species name all the time. Not to mention, it’s easy to screw up and call them by the wrong name once they evolve…”
“Evolve?” he repeated bemusedly.
“Yeah, sure,” Fox explained. “Sometimes, Pokémon change form and become a different species within the same family.”
“How?” Dalton asked. Fox, for a brief second, had a look on her face that suggested that she had been hoping Dalton didn’t ask that question.
“Lots of different ways,” she sighed. “Some, after you battle enough with them. A few, like my Vulpix, evolve when they’re exposed to certain rare stones. There are even a few that can only evolve when they’re cared for by a Trainer they love very much.”
“Love?” Dalton repeated uncertainly. “Pokémon can… love?”
“Love, hate, everything in between,” Fox answered, nodding. “Just about anything you could feel as a human being, a Pokémon can feel, too.”
“But how do we know that?” asked Dalton impatiently. “It’s not like we can communicate with them. They don’t… well, they don’t speak our language. Do they? Can you understand what your, er… your Vul-pit says?”
“First off, it’s Vulpix,” Fox corrected him. “And… yeah. I can understand everything she says.”
Dalton slumped back in his chair. “That just doesn’t seem possible.”
“I’m sure it doesn’t where you come from,” Fox said.
There was a long silence after that. Dalton stared straight ahead at the opposite wall. “Humans… and Pokémon…”
To Fox’s surprise, Dalton stood up a moment later.
“Where are you—?”
“I need some air,” he muttered, darting to the door and closing it behind himself.
In his more curious moments, Dalton Gregg had always questioned exactly why it was that Pokémon and humans were not allowed to have contact with each other in his society. His sudden transport to this new world, where everything was flipped on his ear, had done nothing to answer these questions. In fact, it had made him question the state of his home world even more. He had no idea where he was walking in this somewhat large town. When he reached the town square, though, he somehow knew he had arrived at his destination – or at least, at a destination.
In the middle of this town square was a very small but very green park. It was lined with verdant bushes around its edges, and as a shrine to nature, it stood out in the town of paved roads and contemporary buildings of every shape and size – all monuments to man’s advancement. Dalton felt a small pang of pain as he took a seat on a nearby bench. McCourt would have liked a place like this.
His quiet time with his thoughts did not last long. The relative silence of the park (there were people around, but none of them seemed to be making much noise) was broken when a rather loud conversation started heading his way.
“I can’t believe he didn’t even stay the night,” mused a high and likely feminine voice that sounded very morose.
“Well, that’s Blake for ya,” a boy’s voice answered as if unconcerned. “He moves with purpose.”
“That’s really tactful of you, Cher,” another girl’s voice – more vivacious and perhaps more aggressive than the other – laughed. “I’d just say he has absolutely no patience – a little like someone else I know, huh?”
“First of all, never call me that,” the boy answered irritably. “And second, I have patience – just not for people that are late all the time.”
“Hey! Why are you looking at me?” the first girl moaned. It wasn’t long before the presumptive owners of the three voice emerged into view on the left of Dalton’s bench. They were all kids – or perhaps teenagers, judging by their heights, demeanors, and somewhat semi-developed forms. The first one to catch Dalton’s attention was a pale-skinned girl. Her hair was flaxen and, Dalton thought, rather unfortunately styled; if not for the green hat on her head, she might have looked somewhat like a golden mushroom. She was conservatively dressed, almost to the point of absurdity. How could anyone travel in an orange-and-white dress? She’d even bothered to match her handbag with her hat. She was looking at a boy, her face screwed up in indignation.
The boy, who followed a step or two behind, had his hands in the pockets of his blue jacket. Much like Dalton himself, he was tall, dark-haired, and almost painfully thin, and the outfit he had chosen did not help matters. Under his blue jacket was a white shirt that appeared to have a large red “Y” in the middle, the main beam of which fell right down the middle of his skinny midsection. His black pants seemed to be form-fitting, highlighting his long, stick-like legs. His black hair limply framed his bespectacled face, save for a cowlick that curled straight up into the air in gravity-defying fashion.
“Weren’t you late when Professor Juniper sent us the package?” this boy asked. “Seriously – how does that happen? You live next door to Whit’s house, Bianca.”
“I had to sneak out when my dad wasn’t looking, Cheren – you know that!” Bianca explained bracingly. Just after, her face turned to one of paranoia as she looked over her shoulder.
“He’s not here, Bee-Bee. Don’t worry.” The girl with the vivacious voice strode into view. She was tall, but not as tall as Cheren. She had piercing, blue eyes, and long, wild, brown hair that seemed to be bunched up into her white cap. A black vest and white tank top covered her top half. Sliver-like short shorts on her bottom half left just enough to the imagination, while showing off nearly every inch of her long, pale legs. It was a bit of a wonder to Dalton how parents could let a girl her age out of the house while dressed like that, to be completely honest.
Her provocative clothing aside, though… she did look vaguely familiar.
“Besides,” the brown-haired girl laughed. “How long do you think it’d take your dad to catch up if he wanted to chase us all the way out here? He’s kinda… well… out of shape.”
“Whitlea!” moaned the blonde. “That’s not very nice, you know.”
“Well, the truth hurts sometimes,” Whitlea snickered.
“It’s probably a good thing, though… that he didn’t come up this way, I mean,” Cheren murmured, his face still very serious as he stroked his chin. “What with all that weirdness with those guys gathered around here earlier…”
“You’re right…” muttered Bianca. “That was strange.”
“They had absolutely no fashion sense,” Whitlea commented, her hands on her hips. “I mean… those outfits looked like something from a few hundred years ago.”
“Is that all you girls pay attention to?” Cheren piped up suddenly, sounding irritated. “Don’t you find it strange, what that guy was saying? ‘Pokémon liberation’? ‘The Age of Harmony’? What the hell was all that about?”
Dalton’s ears perked up.
“What do you mean?” asked Whitlea.
“Whit wasn’t paying attention,” sang Bianca, a knowing smile crossing her face. “She was too busy trying to get that green-haired boy to look at her. I mean… I guess he was kinda cute, but…”
Cheren groaned audibly and buried his face in one of his hands. Bianca appeared to have ignored him.
“…Don’t you think he was a little bit… old for you?” Bianca asked.
“What?” Whitlea uttered defensively. “I don’t mind older guys. Besides… you couldn’t tell if he was old. He was just tall. Cheren’s tall, too, and he’s our age.”
“What does this have to do with me?” Cheren groaned.
“I’m just making a comparison,” Whitlea answered. “Anyway, he did give Rikki and me a great battle. Erm…what was his name again?”
“Did he give us one?” Cheren asked. “He just said he was called ‘N’ or something… what a weirdo…”
“What?” Dalton blurted out before he could stop himself. The three teenagers turned to look at him. They had evidently just noticed that he was sitting there. Whitlea tilted her head and approached Dalton.
“Were you talking to us?” she asked, a demure smile on her face. If Dalton hadn’t known any better, he would have thought this little girl was trying to flirt with him.
“Did you say the guy called himself ‘N’?” he asked again, starting to feel hot around the face.
“Uh… yeah,” Whitlea answered. Dalton shook his head.
“Idiot’s gonna get himself killed,” he murmured. “N’s the name of Harmonia’s monarch. He keeps going on like that, he’ll end up in front of the Party in court.”
“Wh… what?” Whitlea uttered, looking at Dalton as if he’d spoken in a foreign language.
“Leave him, Whit.” Cheren’s voice came insistently from the background. “You know how these guys are… life on the streets makes them all…”
“Hey!” Dalton shouted. He was on his feet. Whitlea jumped back in fright, even though Dalton’s eyes and extended finger were trained on the black-haired boy several feet away from the both of them. “I don’t need that from you right now, kid – okay?”
Cheren looked Dalton over for a second. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Apparently, that must have been a bad sign, because the blonde walked over and grabbed hold of his arm. “Cheren, don’t…”
“It’s rude to point,” Cheren simply said matter-of-factly. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you manners?”
“My parents weren’t the teaching type,” Dalton said brusquely, his temper rising. “Did your parents teach you never to make assumptions?”
Cheren’s face tightened. “You leave my parents out of this. C’mon, Bianca, Whitlea…let’s get outta here.”
The two girls began to follow him. The brunette was much less eager. There was something familiar about that name…
What was it?
Dalton’s eyes widened—
“Whitlea!” he had blurted out before he could stop himself. The young girl’s wild, brown hair swung behind her in a wide arc as she whirled around. Her eyes had grown wide and curious, and she looked like she was blushing a bit.
“Y-yeah?” she stammered, not sounding at all like her normal, confident self.
“You’re named Whitlea, right?” Dalton asked.
“That’s what you just called me, isn’t it?” She seemed to get some of her swagger back, and was now eyeing him suspiciously.
“Yeah, but some people go by their middle names,” Dalton said dismissively. “What’s your real name?”
Whitlea was now looking at him very suspiciously. “Why should I tell you?”
“You don’t need to, just let me have one guess,” Dalton answered quickly. “It’s not…Hilda, is it?”
Whitlea’s jaw unhinged for a second. She started to mouth silently. “What the f—”
Oh, my god… I was right, Dalton thought to himself. His mind was racing. The dates line up. She knows a guy named ‘N’… she looks like she’s about the right age… she’s got long, brown hair…
“Why are you staring at me like that?” Whitlea asked uncomfortably.
“Uh-err…” Dalton stammered. What was he supposed to tell her? He wasn’t even sure if his guess was completely correct. Maybe it was a very long string of coincidences… “Sorry… you’re pretty.”
He wanted to crawl in a hole and hide as soon as the words came out of his mouth – and yet, he hadn’t been completely lying. She was good-looking for her age. Apparently, though, she wasn’t used to being complimented, because she went very pink and giggly. “You… you think so?”
“I mean…” Dalton groaned to himself. “Uh… Hilda’s not a bad name. Why don’t you like it?”
Apparently the random compliment Dalton had given her had put her into a talking mood. Nevertheless, she looked down at her shoes. “It sounds stupid and old-fashioned. My mom said it sounds regal. As if I’d ever be a queen or anything like that…”
“Well,” Dalton murmured, “you never know…”
Whitlea gave him another stuck look.
“Whit!” Cheren’s voice exclaimed from a distance. “Stop flirting and let’s go!”
“Don’t mind him – he’s just jealous,” Whitlea said casually. “I guess I’ll see you around, uh…yeah.”
And she turned on her heel and jogged away, leaving Dalton more or less alone again.
“Maybe I had you all wrong,” a familiar voice prompted Dalton to turn his head. The ginger-haired girl that had helped him earlier was striding toward him, Sionna the Vulpix skipping along happily at her heels. “…Although I’d probably start a little older if I were you. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, ‘Fifteen will get you twenty’?”
“Wh—” Dalton was stuck for a moment until he figured out what Fox meant. “No, it wasn’t like that. We were just… talking.”
“Just talking, huh?” Fox came up to stand alongside him. “So, who was she?”
Dalton took a deep breath.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “And even if I was… you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~
They returned to the Pokémon Center. Dalton retrieved his new Nidoran on the way and got confirmation from Nurse Joy that she was indeed female. From there, he and Fox went up to their room. He heard familiar, giggly voices from the room next door and quickly realized that the three teenagers he had met – or, at least the two girls – must have been staying here as well.
They soon resumed their previous positions, with a couple of deliberate differences. Nidoran was pacing around the room, sniffing at the carpet whilst Dalton sat at the table. Fox had taken up her spot on the top bunk again, with Sionna curled up on her belly after apparently promising not to set anything on fire. They sat in awkward silence again as Dalton listened to the muffled laughing and giggling on the other side of the wall. With a pang of panic, he wondered whether the rather animated girl talk going on in the other room had anything to do with him. Fox obviously heard it, too.
“Sounds like your little girlfriend’s over in the room next door,” Fox said. “Why don’t you visit her?”
“It’s not like that,” Dalton groaned impatiently, burying his forehead into his hand. “Besides… she’s already taken.”
“You know that for sure?” Fox asked.
Dalton didn’t know how to explain his theory to Fox without it sounding completely insane. So he answered, “…It’s complicated.”
“Of course it is,” replied Fox, her voice a bit deadpan. “Hey, Dalton, your Nidoran…”
He turned to look at the rodent creature and, to his great chagrin, found that she had sunk her large teeth into the carpet and begun to gnaw. The young man grimaced as he murmured uncertainly. “Hey, uh… Nidoran, stop that.”
The rodent creature looked up at Dalton. Her red eyes were downcast as she ambled over to Dalton’s chair with her head down, looking very much like a child that had just been scolded. She began sniffing at his leg and then reared up onto her hind legs –
“Ow!” the boy groaned, wincing as he felt small but sharp claws digging into his leg. Nidoran backed away and then turned away from him, looking furious with herself. It occurred to Dalton what Fox had said earlier to him that day – Pokémon could feel just about any emotion felt by a human. As Dalton observed Nidoran, he realized that they often even showed their emotions in a similar manner, too. He guessed she was only trying to apologize… or something like that… and obviously felt terribly about hurting him. “Don’t be like that. It’s okay…”
He reached down to pick her up from the ground, careful not to cut his hands on any of her spines. As she felt her feet leave the floor, she let out a surprised squeak of “Ni—?!”
Sincerely hoping and praying that her claws didn’t become overexcited, Dalton placed the Pokémon on his knees. She somehow seemed to realize the significance of this, as she looked up at him surprised for a moment, and then curled up there, looking quite comfortable and content.
“I hope you realize how lucky you are,” Fox commented.
“What, to have a Pokémon?” Dalton asked, rather distractedly stroking Nidoran’s flank.
“To have one that likes you so much right off the bat,” Fox corrected him. “Usually, they put up a fight for the first few days, but this Nidoran… it was like you two were made for each other.”
“Mmm…” Dalton murmured. Nidoran did indeed look very happy lying on Dalton’s lap. As much as Dalton hated to toot his own horn about anything, he wondered whether it had anything to do with the fact that he had saved her life.
“You should give her a name,” Fox suggested.
“You think so?” Dalton glanced at the small rodent Pokémon curled up in his lap, and then up at Fox. He frowned. “But I’m no good at that kind of thing…”
He stared down at the Nidoran for a few moments.
“How about… Nina?”
“Ni?” The Nidoran lifted her head up, her ears twitching attentively.
“Nina,” Dalton repeated. She stared up at him with her big, red eyes.
“I’ve heard way worse,” Fox remarked. “Like in the lobby earlier. This one girl named her Lillipup ‘Mr. Fluffles.’”
“Mr. Fluffles?” repeated Dalton, fighting an urge to burst into laughter.
“Well, she looked like she was about seven – but still…” Fox snickered. “Can you imagine being in a Gym battle and giving orders to a Mr. Fluffles?”
“Hmm,” Dalton uttered noncommittally, nonetheless allowing a smirk to cross his face. “So… what are Gym battles?”
“You serious?” Fox asked quickly.
“I’m dead serious,” he answered.
“I… Oy…” Fox buried her face in her hands in exasperation. “Unova has several official Gyms. Each of them specializes in a certain type of Pokémon. There are… um… how many was it? Damn, I could have sworn I read it somew—seventeen! There are seventeen types of Pokémon. A type is… well, it’s almost like the kind of energy that fuels a Pokémon’s essence.”
Dalton was right there with her until she started explaining types – or attempting to explain them, probably presuming that Dalton would ask. “Sounds complicated.”
“Not as much as you’d think,” Fox explained. “For example…”
She sat up, drawing Sionna closer to her. “Sionna is a Vulpix. Vulpix are the Fire-type. Your Nidoran – Nina… she’s… I think, a Poison-type.”
Dalton went white for a moment as he looked at the creature curled up on his lap. “P-poison?”
“Don’t worry, I don’t think she has any interest in trying to poison you,” Fox reassured him. “Anyway, these Gym Leaders each specialize in a certain type of Pokémon, and they battle challengers to test their strength. If you win, you get a badge as proof of your victory. And if you get eight of those, you can go to the Pokémon League and challenge the Elite Four and the League Champion.”
“That’s what a Trainer does, huh?” he asked after Fox was finally done with her explanation. She nodded. “So that’s probably what that girl’s gonna do?”
A grimace crossed Fox’s face. “I don’t know how it works wherever you are, but here, it’s not normal for a guy your age to be asking so many questions about a girl her age.”
“I don’t know how old she was,” Dalton answered, sounding irritated. “Maybe fourteen, if I had to guess…”
“And you’re, what? Twenty?” Fox asked nonchalantly. The ‘what the hell’ expression Dalton gave her in response was utterly spectacular.
“I’m seventeen,” he droned. “I thought I mentioned that.”
“Oh… okay. Well, it’s still weird – but not as weird,” Fox commented. “So, do you always have a thing for younger girls, or is she just special?”
“Never mind… I have a theory. Don’t ask me to explain it. You’ll think I’m crazy,” Dalton said quickly, still absentmindedly stroking Nina while he looked up at the girl and her Vulpix, who both returned his gaze curiously.
“News flash? I already think you’re crazy,” Fox scoffed. “I found you naked under a tree, screaming and babbling on about countries and timelines that don’t exist. How can you possibly shock me any more than that?”
As somewhat brusque as Fox was being, Dalton couldn’t help feeling a bit comforted. She was right. He knew that if the roles had been reversed, he wouldn’t have found much she did or said surprising after that point.
He didn’t know if he was making the right decision. He didn’t know if there was a ‘right’ decision for this situation. After all, if everything Dalton had seen and heard today was real, he was in territory uncharted by human beings. Not to mention, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was here – in Unova and apparently about a century and a half in the past – for a very particular reason.
And if it wasn’t real… at least he’d have the chance to live out something he never would have been able to do at home. If this was a dream, he could at least afford to be a bit more adventurous for as long as it lasted. He looked down at Nina.
Above all, now was the chance to see if he was right to question the Harmonian way.
“I want to become a Pokémon Trainer.”