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11. Adversaries and Agents
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Dalton Gregg watched silently as an orange, six-tailed Vulpix, and a lavender, large-eared Nidoran, skipped around each other happily. Completely healthy and fed, the two new friends played with gusto as their owners sat on a bench nearby, pondering their next move… or not.
Talia closed her eyes and let out a sigh as she stretched her arms vaguely upward. Dalton leaned away a bit as one of her clenched fists swung dangerously close to his jaw.
“I love, love, love this time of year,” she mused. “The weather’s absolutely perfect. Warm enough… but not too hot. And it’s not rainy like the first part of spring, either. Does it feel any different to you?”
She turned her head to look at Dalton.
“I dunno…” the boy murmured, smoothing down his black hair – a habit of his whenever he was nervous or uncomfortable. “Never really thought about it before.”
Talia grimaced. “You know… it’s okay to smile every once in a while. There’s no law against it. Not here.”
Dalton looked at Talia out of the corner of his left eye. “Was that supposed to be a joke?”
“Only sort of,” Talia answered casually. “And don’t tell me you can’t smile. I saw you smiling right after you won your match. It’s funny how much younger the simple act of moving a few muscles in your face can make you look.”
Dalton didn’t respond. His mind was always processing, always trying to take in new information and analyze it. But this latest thing was giving him a bit of trouble. This strange, new creature in front of him was something for which his mind found itself woefully ill-prepared.
Maybe it was because he’d had so many other pressing concerns at the time – far too many to pay attention. That would be understandable, wouldn’t it? He had been trying to find his way in a completely new world – a world that was literally the polar opposite of the place he had once called home. But this had been his first chance, truly, to breathe. He had won his first badge, and even though he knew where the second of the eight was located, he hadn’t had an immediate inclination to travel anywhere. Maybe the fact that he was still wearing ill-fitting cargo shorts and sandals not meant for long treks had something to do with that. So, for maybe the first time in years, he had taken two days to do nothing – to soak in the surroundings.
“Hey, Dalton, you’re spacing out again,” Talia said. Dalton gave a start. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” Dalton answered. “Just… trying to figure out what to do next.”
“Isn’t that kind of obvious?” Talia asked. “We know where the nearest Gym is, right? Nacrene City.”
Talia’s eyes sort of lit up.
“I can’t wait to see Nacrene,” she mused. “I hear it’s a hub of art and music. A place like that has to be interesting, don’t you think?”
Dalton smirked. “Unless it’s bad art and music.”
“You’re so cynical,” chuckled Talia, shaking her head. “You don’t think you’re cynical?”
“Everybody…” sighed Dalton, trailing off – but Talia was staring at him with interest, refusing to be deterred.
“Everybody around me,” Dalton said, staring right at the fountain and the two Pokémon playing around it, “thought our lives were pretty much perfect. Everything was in order. But the longer I’m here, the more I start to feel like…”
Almost involuntarily, his fists clenched with anger.
“We were lied to. All of us. And now… now I’m not sure who or what to trust.”
Talia didn’t respond right away. “What was life like… in Harmonia?”
“Well… in Azalea City, it rained too damn much,” Dalton deadpanned. That was the first thing he thought of when Azalea City came to mind – all the rain. Talia apparently found this funny and stifled a laugh with her hands. “Maybe it was just me… but it seemed to rain every day. It almost made me wonder if the Party was screwing with the climate somehow. And… of course, there were no Pokémon. Well, I take that back. There were Pokémon. It’s just that we never got to see one up close. And anybody that did usually didn’t live long enough to talk about it…”
He felt his words catch in his throat, with no warning. He shut his eyes tight.
“Were they that good at controlling us with fear?” Dalton finally asked, looking down at his hands. “Or were we all that weak?”
“You…” Talia seemed to be fishing for words. “They… I mean, everyone except you… didn’t know any better, did they? That’s what they were born into – that’s all they knew. It was comfortable for them.”
“Then, what made me so different? Why was I always so curious?” snapped Dalton. “I spent my whole life feeling like an outcast… like I didn’t belong. I didn’t take any pride in feeling the way I did. I just thought I looked like a freak. I don’t belong there… but I don’t belong here, either.”
“Really?” Talia asked.
Dalton was so astonished, he almost had to laugh. “I don’t belong in this world, Talia. I barely know what a Pokémon is, let alone how to live with them around me…”
“That’s not true,” said Talia, almost scoffing. Dalton scowled as he returned her gaze, but she turned away from him, smugly adding, “I’m sorry… but it isn’t.”
“Listen, just because I’ve got this… badge or whatever doesn’t suddenly make me an expert on–”
“You’ve – been – here – a week.” Talia’s voice was quiet, but sparks were shooting from her blue eyes as she rounded on him. “A week ago, you didn’t know what a Pokémon Center was. You’d never seen a Pokéball before. And now you’ve got a Gym Badge. You did more in the League in five days than people who have been around Pokémon their entire lives. Maybe… maybe you belong here more than you belonged there.”
“So you’re saying I was born about a hundred and fifty years too late?” Dalton said flatly. “That’s really comforting…”
“So I’m to understand you seek truth as well?” Dalton heard a familiar voice. He looked up. Coming toward them at a slow trudge, carrying a book of some kind, was none other than the white-coated man who had yelled at him during his Gym match. Dalton leapt to his feet. The other man saw the aggressive motion and put up his hands. “I’m not here for a fight. I am here… simply… to talk. You seem like an intelligent young man – a young man that can be reasoned with.”
“Have you been following us around?” Talia asked loudly, jumping to her feet. Almost on instinct, Dalton stretched his long arm out to block her.
The man smiled. “That’s a spirited lady friend you’ve got there.”
“Who – are – you?” Dalton asked.
“Just a simple scientist,” the man answered. “If you must call me something… call me Colress.”
“What are you doing here?” Dalton asked through grit teeth.
“I suppose you could call it ‘research’,” replied Colress. Quietly, he reached inside his lab coat…
Dalton didn’t have time to guess or wonder—
“Talia, get down!” he snarled, shoving her backward and trying to shield her from Colress’s line of sight.
“Easy, easy,” drawled Colress, yanking his hands out of his coat and holding them up to show that he had no weapon. “I don’t have any desire to hurt you… at least, not yet. I’d like to ask you some questions first.”
“You’re not bringing me in,” Dalton replied, fear and hatred twisting his face into an unhinged smile. “Not alive, anyway.”
Dalton rushed him. If Colress indeed had no weapon, it would come down to a hand-to-hand fight – a fight Dalton would win because he must. Colress jumped aside as Dalton swung wildly…
A burning pain pierced the small of his back and spread through his entire body. Muscles were seizing in tandem; his insides were on fire. Worse than a blow from a fist, worse than a bullet (and he would know). He felt himself sink despite his will to stay standing. It was as if his entire body had frozen – as if someone had locked it, then thrown away the key. He felt grit on his lips, and now the iron aftertaste of fresh blood. His buzzing ears barely registered a piercing scream of his name. He was flipping in and out of consciousness. Spots were dancing before his eyes, which were the only things that could move.
“Don’t worry – he’ll live. He’ll just be numb for a while. I don’t suppose you know the answer to my question, then, Miss…?”
Dalton struggled to move and managed a feeble sort of flail.
“What do you want from Dalton?” He heard Talia’s voice.
“What is it…?” Colress murmured. “This thing that allows a Pokémon to go past its natural limits? How did Dalton Gregg win against a stronger Trainer with a Pokémon that was clearly overmatched?”
“It’s not something you would understand,” Talia replied.
“Then help me.”
Dalton closed his eyes. He was feeling muscles in his body start to twitch on their own. Something rubbed his face and he felt wetness.
“Wake up… please… come on…”
Dalton’s eyes snapped open. He recognized that voice! Whatever was talking to him had taken a step back.
The Nidoran was trembling furiously and not meeting his eye.
Nina looked down at the ground for a moment. She tried to fix a hard gaze on Dalton, but fat, wet tears were obviously running down both of her cheeks.
“<I SAID YOU’RE STUPID! You’re going to die, and then what am I gonna do!?!>”
“Can you stand?” Now Talia was hovering over him, apparently distracted from Colress by his voice. Dalton felt a bit weak; he tried to rise to all fours. He moved gingerly, expecting one of his limbs to buckle under him. They shook, but they held. He staggered to one foot… then two.
“Are you alright?” This question came from a most unlikely source – Colress himself. Dalton whirled around.
“‘Alright’? What the hell did you do to me?” he snarled. Colress removed what looked like a short, black wand from his lab jacket. He pressed a button on it and a small, but very bright spark flew from the tip.
“You made things more difficult on yourself than they needed to be,” sighed Colress, putting the strange taser-stick away. “I am not looking for a fight… well, not between us. I am simply looking for answers to my questions.”
Dalton didn’t answer.
“I’m not like the rest of the sheep…” Colress said. “A good scientist knows, above all other things, to think for himself. After all, that’s one of the few ways to discover something that hasn’t been discovered before.”
“Get to the point,” asked Dalton. “What do you want?”
“The power I’ve seen from your Pokémon was beyond anything I thought possible,” Colress said. This time, making a quick move to his lab jacket, he revealed his own Pokéball. “Are we taking the wrong approach…?”
“You’re asking the wrong person,” Dalton muttered.
“Am I?” Colress stared at the Pokéball in his hand briefly. Then, without further preamble, he tossed it into the air.
Dalton watched as the Pokéball landed in front of Colress and burst open at its belly, spilling forth white light onto the cobbled ground. Even as the light began to take shape, Dalton realized he was dealing with a creature a bit larger than his own companion. The beast was black, four-legged, striped, with electric-blue eyes and a jagged mane that zigzagged up into a horn shaped like a bolt of lightning frozen in time.
Dalton frowned, going to the pocket of his cargo shorts. “What’s that?”
He pointed his new Pokédex at the unfamiliar creature. It took barely a second for a portrait of the creature to appear on one of the screens. “Blitzle – the Electrified Pokémon. When thunderclouds cover the sky, it will appear. It can catch lightning with its mane and store the electricity.”
Colress’s eyes gleamed forebodingly behind his glasses. “I’ve showed you mine – now show me yours.”
“I thought you guys’ utopia was a world where Pokémon are off-limits to human beings,” Dalton said.
“That’s what N desires, at any rate,” replied Colress. “But then, N has the idealism and purity of a child. He questions nothing. You and I, though… we’re seekers of truth. So… it’s only appropriate that we test our truths against each other.”
Dalton swallowed hard. “Nina, are you feeling up for it?”
Nina approached at his ankles, looking at the rearing Blitzle. “<Is this where I’m supposed to make some sort of speech about how you protected me and earned my undying loyalty? …Fat chance.>”
“Heh,” Colress chuckled as a smirk crossed his face. “And to think, I half expected you to back down. Blitzle, use Quick Attack!”
Blitzle reared up onto its hind legs and closed the distance between itself and Nina so fast it looked like little more than a dark blur. Nina leapt out to meet it but the Electric-type’s speed and power were too much. It slammed into the Nidoran, sending her flying through the air in a long, slow arc.
“Geez!” groaned Dalton as Nina landed on her feet in front of him and skidded back. “Nina, are you okay?”
“<Don’t get all bent outta shape. I can take a hit, you know,>” Nina replied.
“Alright, then… Scratch!” Dalton responded. Nina launched herself forth, bouncing her body off the Blitzle, who staggered backward a bit but didn’t appear to be too damaged. Her fangs bared in a snarl and she threw herself at Blitzle again, raising a claw. This time, with a panicked whinny, Blitzle jumped. Nina passed under it and hit the ground hard, rolling to a stop. Relentlessly, she bounced to her feet and again charged Blitzle, whose flank was exposed.
A pained screech was the signal that this latest attack had hit its mark. Blitzle staggered sideways, shakily teetering on spindly, unstable legs.
“Hold your ground, Blitzle! Quick Attack!” Colress shouted.
Reacting quickly, Dalton cried, “Dodge and use Double Kick!”
Nina leapt as high as her small, stubby legs would allow – just high enough for Blitzle to miss. Then, with a crunching thud, she drove all four of her feet into Blitzle’s back once – then again. She leapt away to Dalton’s side of the field.
“Careful, Dalton!” came a warning shout from Dalton’s left. In the heat of battle, he’d almost forgotten Talia and Sionna were there. “Nina’s getting tired!”
Dalton looked down at his Pokémon and, indeed, her breathing was heavy and labored.
Dalton knew he had to end things quickly.
“Nina, use Double Kick!” he shouted. Nina took a couple of deep breaths, steeled herself, then took off after Blitzle. For some reason, though her movements appeared sluggish, as if some unseen force was resisting her every motion. Blitzle dodged easily and, for good measure, sunk its horn into Nina’s back, sending her skyward, where she landed in a nearby fountain with a loud splash. After a tense second, Nina emerged, spitting and spluttering.
“Well, looks like you’re all wet,” said Colress, a thoroughly malevolent smile crossing his pale face.
“No!!” shrieked Talia, suddenly and desperately. “Dalton, Blitzle’s an Electric-type!”
It took less than a second for Dalton to connect the dots. “NINA, MOVE!!”
“Shock Wave, Blitzle!!” Colress snarled. The lightning-bolt horn on the equine Pokémon went a dazzling electric blue and began to crackle ominously. Zigzagging blue light struck the struck the water almost faster than the naked eye could track. Nina had jumped, trailing water back down into the fountain. The thunderbolt zigzagged upwards from the stirred waters, catching Nina in midair.
“NOOOOO!” roared Dalton, his cry mingling with a hair-raising shriek of pain. He watched helplessly as his Nidoran fell, limp, into the fountain.
“Hmm… it seems I’m left with more questions than answers,” Colress said a bit blankly, returning Blitzle in a red flash of light.
“Nina!!” Dalton exclaimed, sprinting to the fountain and leaping into it to retrieve his Pokémon. His hands tingled a bit as they grasped her and lifted her from the water. She was shivering and convulsing.
“I don’t necessarily agree with Ghetsis’ point… but I see it,” Colress muttered, seemingly to no one in particular. “To separate Pokémon from all human beings may be a bit extreme… not to mention terribly impractical. However, perhaps the world would be better off if we were to…”
He looked up at Dalton through his gleaming glasses.
“…Take that responsibility away from those not competent enough to handle it.”
He turned on his heel and started away from them.
Dalton fumed, eyes watery, snarling against the massive lump in his throat as he held Nina’s twitching form in his arms.
“Vool-vool-piiiiiix,” mewled a worried-sounding Sionna.
“Is she okay?” asked Talia next.
“Okay?” snapped Dalton, shooting Talia a dirty look. “Let’s douse you in water and pump you with a million volts and we’ll see if you’re ‘okay’…”
“Alright. Don’t bite my head off,” said Talia uncomfortably.
“Well, that was slightly embarrassing, wasn’t it?” a low, silky voice sounded as Dalton waded his way out of the fountain, Nina in his arms. Both he and Talia turned toward the bench where they had been sitting a few minutes before. Relaxing there, arms and legs splayed wide, was a man with golden hair, a black fedora, and several days of stubble that didn’t quite add up to a full beard.
Dalton went to step forward, but Talia pulled him back. Shooting a glare at the fedora-wearing man, she snapped, “I don’t know who you are, but we don’t have time for you right now. C’mon, Dalton. Let’s go.”
And Dalton took off back toward the city at a sprint. Talia made to follow him, but stopped and whirled around.
“If you’re following us… don’t,” she warned the mystery man, backing away before turning into a run.
The first sign (other than Nina trembling and shaking violently) that something was seriously wrong was that Nurse Joy had taken one look at Nina and then had her ushered to the Pokémon Center’s Urgent Care Unit. Thus, Dalton and Talia ended up in the white-walled waiting room, which looked ominously more like a hospital than the rest of the Pokémon Center that Dalton had seen. In fact, this small, quiet room with hard-armed chairs and magazines seemed like the sort of place where good news was hard to come by.
Dalton sensed Talia’s presence in the chair to his right. He’d spent nearly the whole time staring at his knees. A news channel played from the hanging television on the opposite wall, but as Dalton didn’t recognize any names, places, or things on the broadcast, it quickly became little more than background noise.
“A new development in the case of the strange radical group that has been seen holding anti-Pokémon rallies across the region…”
Dalton finally looked up. A suited man was explaining the situation, and Dalton caught sight of a flag with a very familiar symbol.
“Without giving many details, the Chief of the Goldenrod City-based International Police said that the group was, officially speaking, classified as an activist group, protected by Unova’s dissent laws. He intimated, however, that a few known members of the group were being investigated for connections to several cases of Pokémon robberies – and that Interpol was closely monitoring the sect, as they do with all political extremists, for any potential ties to terrorist activity.”
Dalton’s head dropped again. None of this information was new – nor did it surprise him at all.
“Maybe…” he muttered. He shook his head. He couldn’t allow himself to think like that. But it was too late. Talia had heard and was staring at him.
“…Maybe all that stuff Ghetsis said…” he murmured in his quietest voice, as if ashamed of the notion. “Maybe…”
Talia shook her head furiously. “No,” she said. “Of course not.”
“Maybe Colress had a point, then,” said Dalton morosely. “At least people who can’t take care of Pokémon… shouldn’t have them.”
“Pokémon get hurt, Dalton,” Talia said, putting a hand on his shoulder with the air of trying to explain a heavy topic to a small child. “It’s part of –”
“The territory?” interrupted Dalton. “All part of battling? Why the hell are we battling, then? How can we – how can I…?”
He buried his face in his hands.
“Pokémon are living creatures,” he said quietly, shakily. “What if… what if your own family told you to go fight another family’s kid while the rest of the town stood and watched? That’s your idea of entertainment around here. It’s cruel.”
Talia took a deep breath. “It’s only cruel if you don’t see what happ—”
“NO!” cried Dalton, leaping to his feet and away from Talia. “How can you… how dare you… there’s nothing you can say to justify this!!”
“Mr. Gregg?” a very soft but very close voice uttered directly behind him. Dalton whirled around. He was staring right into the white hat (given the height difference) of Nurse Joy. She was half-smiling, seemingly realizing she’d walked in on an awkward situation. “Your Nidoran’s going to be just fine. Her injuries aren’t as bad as we originally feared. I’d probably recommend that she stay the night to rest up, but she should make a full recovery.”
Dalton felt himself go weak-kneed with relief.
“Also…” Nurse Joy added as a postscript as she walked away. “She wants to see you.”
And, in a moment, Dalton felt steel return to his spine as his mind settled on a decision.
It was horribly jarring to see Nina stretched out on a white bed, wires attached to machines streaming from her body. But Dalton thought of the alternative, and was instantly content – perhaps even a bit thankful. He slumped into the chair next to her bed, trying not to look at her.
“<Are you okay?>” He could now hear and understand her speech as clear as a bell. There might as well have been another human being speaking to him.
“Don’t say things like that,” Dalton muttered, still struggling against the lump in his throat. He stole another glance at her. She was laying on her side, curiosity in wide-open red eyes. But the sight of the dozen or so cords streaming from her tiny form made his decision that much more clear. Whether she would like it or not, he didn’t know… and, frankly, he no longer cared. He took a deep breath. “I’m letting you go.”
“<Wait… what?>” Nina seemed very much shocked.
“I’m going to release you back into the wild,” Dalton repeated. “Where you belong.”
“<Wh-what?>” Nina’s voice turned into a heart-wrenching squeak. Dalton dared not look at her; he knew just by the sound of her voice that the tears were coming. “<Why? What did I do? Was it because… was it because I keep losing? Was it because I’m not good enough?>”
“No,” Dalton tried to answer firmly, but found his own voice breaking as well. He tried to keep his eyes focused on the opposite wall. “It’s because I’m not good enough. I can’t do this. I can’t watch you keep getting hurt. I just… I just want you to protect you from getting hurt.”
“<And you’re doing a great job, by the way,>” Nina responded bitterly. “<And after you throw me away in the nearest field a million miles away from home, then what am I supposed to do?>”
“You can fend for yourself just like you’ve always done,” said Dalton.
“<How can you say that?>” replied Nina. “<You know I can’t…>”
“Then find another human, then,” snapped Dalton, jumping to his feet and making for the door. “One that will treat you a little bit better.”
“<Do you hate yourself that much?>” Nina asked.
Dalton stopped dead.
“<I thought you had a dream,>” Nina said.
“Yeah, I did, too,” Dalton answered. “But what right do I have to give a Pokémon orders? To tell it to do things that might get it hurt? Pokémon are our equals…”
“<You don’t believe that,>” Nina growled.
Dalton turned around.
“<You don’t believe that,>” she repeated flatly. “<If you did, you’d let me decide what kind of job you’re doing as a Trainer… you know, since I’m the one that’s getting beat up and knows what it feels like.>”
“I don’t need you to tell me how bad a job I’m doing,” Dalton answered. “You’re here because of me.”
“<I’m here because of you,>” Nina repeated. “<I’m here because someone cares enough to make sure I get help whenever I get hurt. I didn’t have that on the outside. I haven’t had it… since…>”
She shut her eyes tight and made a pained, choking squeak.
Dalton felt his heart sink. “It’s okay. You don’t have to…”
“<No… you need to know,>” she replied. Staring blankly ahead, she said, “<When I was really young, I lived with my parents near one of your huge camps. ‘Cities’, I think you call them. Your city kept getting bigger… and there was less food for us. Then, one day, my mother and father went looking for food… they never came back. Ever since then, I’ve been on my own.>”
Dalton’s face fell as a terrible confirmation struck him; the gun turrets on the walls of Azalea City were never meant to be used on other human beings…
“So, no family…” Dalton murmured. “Kind of like me…”
“<The day we met…>” Nina went on. “<I thought you were going to die when you were lying there.>”
“Then why’d you come back?” Dalton burst forth, realizing that he’d meant to ask this question ever since that fateful morning. “Why’d you come back after I told you to get away?”
“<Because… I guess it was my way of saying thank you, to be there for you while…>” Nina trailed off. “<You didn’t deserve to die alone. Of course, we sort of got attacked by a strange Pokémon when…>”
“What?” Dalton uttered. He hadn’t seen anything like that…
Suddenly the door swung open. A head with flaming ginger hair peeked inside, wearing a serious face.
“Dalton,” she said, “you might want to come out here.”
And she whisked out again.
Dalton stood. “Nina, you don’t owe me anything.”
She had closed her eyes. She opened them. “<Has your leg healed yet?>”
Dalton had to look – this seemed like such an out-of-left-field question. “No… it’s scarred over…”
“<I’m sorry I hurt you,>” Nina murmured. Dalton thought this was a strange apology for her to make, seeing as neither of them had brought it up. “<I was trying to…>”
She trailed off and turned her head away from him. She had been trying, if Dalton remembered correctly, to climb up on his knees.
“<In the forests where I grew up…>” she said, still turned away from him. “<We used to mark things. So when other Pokémon came along and saw the mark, they’d know someone had already claimed it. I was the only one of my species in the forest. So everyone else knew, when they saw my claw marks on something… if something ever happened to it, I’d make them pay.>”
Dalton blinked blankly as he stared at Nina’s back. He reached up and stroked her. “I’m not sure if I should be touched or scared.”
“<Shut up,>” she said quickly. “<You’re not going to get rid of me that easy. If you leave, I’ll just chase you down.>”
“You’re so stubborn,” sighed Dalton, standing up and heading toward the door.
He had barely crossed the threshold back into the hallway when he saw an unwelcome sight – or at least, half of one. Talia was standing there (she wasn’t the unwelcome half), leaning against the wall as the fedora-wearing gentleman that had taunted him earlier stood there. Now that Dalton saw the man on his feet, he saw that he was a bit larger than average – about Dalton’s height, maybe an inch or two taller, and with quite a bit more bulk to him. But Dalton wasn’t so much concerned about the man’s size…
“Took you long enough,” the blond man chuckled, finally removing his fedora. His hair was slicked back off his forehead, stopping right about his neck, at the borderline between ‘medium’ and ‘long’. “What were you doing in there – having some sort of deep conversation?”
“Who are you?” Dalton got right to questioning, eyeing the man distrustfully. Looking down the hall, he added, “And how the hell did you get back here?”
“On foot,” the man answered wryly. Dalton rolled his eyes.
“I mean, past Nurse Joy.”
“Gimme a break,” the man said sourly. “You think pretty, dainty, little Nurse Joy could stop someone if they really wanted to get in here? She’s gotta be a hundred pounds soaking wet.”
Dalton’s eyes widened.
“Don’t worry – Joy’s perfectly safe,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “But it does prove my point about how lax security is in these Pokémon Centers.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Dalton said, undeterred.
“Let’s just say, being me has its privileges,” the man said.
“And who are you?” Dalton asked again.
“Not a small-talk sort of guy, are you? Right to the point. I like that,” he replied, extending his hand. “Special Agent Phineas Assad – International Police, Unova branch.”
Dalton stared at the hand for several seconds.
“You’re Interpol?” Talia asked incredulously, walking around Phineas to Dalton’s side. She had her arms folded. “Prove it.”
“Didn’t take my word for it, huh?” Phineas replied, going into his long jacket and pulling out a gleaming, silver badge. Not that Dalton would have known, but it sure looked well enough made to be real. “Not bad. They’ll have a hard time stuffing you into a van.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Talia asked, hands on her hips.
“It means it’s a good thing you have a decent head on your shoulders, because being pretty and stupid is a really bad combination. Anyway,” Phineas replied, turning to Dalton after saying this all very flatly and in one breath (Talia folded her arms and huffed very loudly), “it’s you I’m primarily interested in – completely from a personal and professional standpoint, you understand.”
“I’m going to pretend you didn’t make things worse by saying that,” Dalton replied. “What do you want?”
“Well… I’ve been monitoring your movements…” Phineas started – that’s when Dalton threw up his hands and groaned an oath. Phineas ignored it. “And I noticed you’ve rubbed shoulders with the group calling themselves Team Plasma a fair few times.”
Dalton frowned. “So what?”
“So most people that come into contact with them think they’re just a bunch of reactionary nut-jobs that celebrate Halloween year-round,” Phineas said. “Every time you come across them, you like to pick a fight. It’s pretty obvious you know something about Team Plasma that ‘most people’ don’t. But you’re not affiliated with any police force or investigative agency. In fact…”
He paused significantly.
“I’ve done a bit of digging and there isn’t much record of your activity before you showed up about a week ago to register for the Unova League,” he went on. “The League Registry says you’re from Johto. Is that true?”
“Yes,” answered Dalton.
“But something doesn’t add up…” Phineas said. “A seventeen-year-old from Johto just suddenly up and decides he wants to train Pokémon and just happens to butt heads with Team Plasma along the way? What’s your angle, really? Are you really gonna try to take down Team Plasma by yourself?”
“If I have to,” Dalton said.
“Why?” Phineas asked.
“I have my reasons,” replied Dalton.
“This is such a pain in the ***,” Phineas said, shaking his head. “Officially, Team Plasma is an activist group and not a criminal organization, so officially, to bring you in for questioning would be a huge kick to the Unova Constitution’s balls.”
“Not to mention, you probably know more about Plasma as they are now than I do,” Dalton muttered.
“‘As they are now’?” replied Phineas, shooting Dalton a questioning look. He shook his head. “Never mind. What I can tell you is that, ‘as they are now’, Plasma are a very strange group. Potentially dangerous. So watch your ***.”
Dalton frowned as Phineas turned away from him. He was expecting to find out something he didn’t already know.
“Don’t think you’re the only one that knows Plasma’s bad news, either,” Phineas added once he was several paces down the hallway. “If people know you’re fighting against Plasma, some of them will try to help you.”
Dalton noticed the warning tone in his voice and replied, “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
Phineas sighed heavily. “Let me put it this way. You already have a good number of allies. Just make sure you find the right ones. Oh, and another thing; I know she’s cute, but you might want to think long and hard before dragging her along with you into this.”
Without any further explanation, he walked away.
Dalton’s lip curled. “I hate guys like that. What’s the use of having a conversation with someone if you’re gonna leave them with more questions than answers?”
“Was he…” Talia uttered haltingly, walking up to Dalton’s side, “trying to hit on me?”
“If he was, then that’s pretty sad,” Dalton said, rolling his eyes. “First off, I think he’s about thirty…”
“Not thirty. No way he was thirty,” Talia interrupted. “And even if he was… I could pass for a young-looking twenty-year-old… couldn’t I? I mean… I look old enough. I think…”
Talia’s eyes flickered down to her chest region before she looked up at Dalton again. Dalton, however, didn’t see this. “Uh… isn’t that beside the point? He doesn’t know you. It’s creepy.”
“Almost as creepy as you hitting on a fourteen-year-old,” said Talia wryly, folding her arms.
“Okay, I wasn’t hitting on Whitlea. Jeez. How many times –?” Dalton sighed. “Why are we having this conversation?”
“Because I enjoy seeing you get flustered,” Talia replied, grinning. “It’s entertaining. So… are you okay?”
“She’s going to be fine,” Dalton uttered. “Probably pretty soon. She’s back to cracking snarky jokes at me again…”
“Oh… she’s the sarcastic type? Why am I not surprised?” laughed Talia. “But… are you okay?”
There was a long pause.
“I don’t know.”
Talia frowned. “You look confused.”
Dalton swallowed hard. “I am confused.”
Talia paused for a second. Then, before he could react, she engulfed Dalton with her arms. She had a deceptively strong grip – Dalton wasn’t sure if he could have escaped even if he’d wanted to.
“What was that for?” Dalton asked as she stepped backward.
“For earlier,” she answered, not meeting his eye. “I mean… I know it turned out Colress didn’t have a gun, but… it’s the thought that counts, right?”
Dalton swallowed hard. “I’m hungry.”
“Me, too,” Talia said very quickly. “Lunch?”
Dalton nodded wordlessly. Talia stepped closer to him and ducked, tilting her head. “You gonna talk this time?”
Dalton’s lip twitched. “Maybe.”
Talia smiled, apparently satisfied with his answer, and traipsed down the hallway. Dalton took one last glance over his shoulder, to the door to the room where Nina was recovering…
Can a Pokémon choose a human being, then? I still don’t understand. Or, I don’t understand enough.
I guess I have to keep going, then.