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Pokémon Drowning

Chapter 1
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    Hello, everyone! This is a fic that I started writing close to seven years ago. After posting it elsewhere, I decided it was time to bring it here. I'm re-vamping the older chapters (mainly just editing them so they more accurately reflect my style and tie in better with the story that comes later), so these will be slightly different from the ones you would see on other sites.

    One important thing to note: this fic uses the ORIGINAL designs for Team Aqua and Team Magma. I started writing this before there was any official word of Pokemon Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire so I had the original designs in mind (and quite honestly, I prefer them, but that's just my personal taste ^_^;)

    Our very own Dragonfree did a beautiful depiction of the main character, Maressa, which you can see here.

    Any comments or criticisms are greatly appreciated! Enjoy!

    Rated PG-13 for violence and some swearing.


    Chapter 1



    The moon in the sky looked like a black canopy with a curved tear. Maressa looked over to her friend as she sat up and pushed her blonde hair out of her face. Sarah lay on her back, her blue bandanna pulled down low enough to conceal her eyes.

    "Sarah?"

    The bandanna was pulled upward as Sarah's pale eyes looked questioningly at her friend.

    "Just making sure you didn't fall asleep." Saying so, Maressa leaned back on her hands, stretching out her legs over the rounded metal top of the small submarine. The river made no noise as it flowed by; were it not for the light patterns caused by ripples, Maressa would have thought the water to be perfectly still.

    Sarah sat up as she let out a small laugh. "I wouldn't fall asleep while on watch." She stretched out her legs next to Maressa's as the duo watched the running water pass by.

    Maressa shrugged. "I wouldn't be surprised if either of us did. I can see why this position is only given to the most junior recruits." Tucking in her legs, she slid down to where her feet almost touched the water. She dipped a hand into the cool liquid, letting the current soothe her hand with its gentle caress.

    "That's because no one ever comes out here!" Sarah let loose an exasperated sigh. "I would fall asleep if it wasn't for the officers coming out to check on us. This is so boring; nothing ever happens and we know nothing will happen. It's so stupid."

    Maressa snorted. "Be careful what you say, Sarah,” she teased, “You don’t want to be charged with insubordination!”

    Sarah shook her head. "You're so weird."

    "Must be why we get along." Taking her hand out of the water, Maressa sighed as she looked at her friend. "Hey... if I tell you something, will you promise to not tell anyone else?"

    "Sure. Is it about what the commander had called you in for yesterday?"

    Maressa nodded. "I'm not supposed to tell anyone, but I'm sure you won't tell anyone, and well... I don't even know anything about what we're doing." Looking around nervously, Maressa turned toward her friend again as she said slowly, "They're taking me with them when they go to Slateport next week."

    Sarah's eyebrows furrowed. "Slateport? Who's going there?"

    "Commander Shelly is taking a group of more experienced team members there next week to explore the undersea cliff side. Apparently, there are ancient underwater craters that have been covered up over the years with rocks and debris. The commander wants to uncover and examine what's beneath the buildup."

    Sarah's eyes widened. "Really? That's awesome, good for you, Maressa! Getting up there with the champs! But really, that is cool you get to do that." Suddenly becoming apprehensive, she breathed, "Does she think it may have something to do with... with what we're looking for?"

    Raising her hands uncertainly, Maressa replied, "I don't know; all she said is that they could use me when I'm there."

    "But you don't even know what you're doing?"

    "All she needed of me was a promise to obey any order immediately and without question. Just absolute, unconditional obedience."

    "What a small thing to ask for," Sarah replied sarcastically. "Well, it's no surprise that you're the one chosen for something like this."

    Taken aback, her friend asked, "What do you mean?"

    "Come on, everyone knows you're one of the best Pokémon battlers on the team. You've commanded entire squadrons and taken down enemies faster and easier than even some of the oldest members. And when you're just using your own Pokémon, you're still no pushover."

    Maressa’s face flushed and she bowed her head in embarrassment. "It's the Pokémon who do all the work. I just oversee what they do."

    Sarah snorted. "Yes, 'the Pokémon do all the work'-- the exact same Pokémon, used by different people, who only manage to win when you're in charge of them. Just accept some credit, okay?" When her companion said nothing Sarah turned her eyes back towards the moving water, which rippled and shone almost eerily beneath the pale moonlight. "Though I guess your Golduck can take full credit for itself; he fights like a monster. Oh, sorry, I didn't mean it like that," she hurried as Maressa raised an eyebrow at her. "I just mean that even on his own, he can hold off other Pokémon really well. It's as if he can fight without anyone coordinating him."

    Maressa combed her hair thoughtfully with her sun-tanned fingers. "I guess. Golduck and I are always working together; we just don't need me to shout commands. We've been together long enough. He knows what I want him to do, and I know what his limits are so I can have him fight without pushing him to the point of exhaustion."

    Sarah gave her a questioning look before asking, "How long have you two been together?"

    "I'm not actually sure... I think... was I five? Four? Yes, I think it was four... But he was just a Psyduck then, and neither of us knew the first thing about battling. The first few years were just building our friendship; it wasn't until much later that we started getting involved in battling and training."

    Sarah sighed as she remarked, "A lot of people want a relationship like that." Seeing Maressa’s quizzical stare, she elaborated. "I, well... you just seem to always get along so well with your Pokémon. My Sealeo and I... sometimes we just don't agree on what to do or what's best for us. And I can tell a lot of other people on the team are like that also. It even happens to people not on our team; so many people are still like that. We get along, and we're still friends, but ..." She cast her eyes downward, shrugging as she finished, "we just don't work together that well all the time."

    Snorting, Maressa raised her eyebrows in disbelief. "That's your problem?"

    “What?"

    "Everyone has those sorts of problems with their Pokémon! Golduck and I argue all the time. It got so bad once that he wouldn't talk to me for two days." Huffing, Maressa cast her eyes downward unhappily. "I would have let it go, but he’s just too stubborn to apologize."

    Sarah smiled. "I guess your personalities do match each other perfectly. But you two still seem to have no disagreements when battling."

    "Because battling is something different. When we fight someone, we put aside our disagreements and work together. He trusts me to know what to do, and I trust him to do the right thing."

    Pushing herself up the side of the submarirne, Maressa lay next to her friend and gazed skyward into the moonlit night.

    Laying on her back, Sarah joined Maressa in silence as the two stared upwards. Raising her hand, she traced a path from the western horizon. "The Millennium Comet is supposed to appear in a few weeks. There'll be a lot of celebrating back at home.... I wish I could be there for it.”

    Turning her amber eyes to her friend, Maressa asked, "Where are you from, again?"

    "Mossdeep City. It's on an island far in the northeastern part of Hoenn. Growing up, we used to go down to the ocean every day." Sarah smiled as she mused, "We would collect Clamperl shells that had washed up on the shore or go exploring the mangroves that grew on the wild coasts. Or, if we were tired, we could just sit on the cliff sides and watch the Wailmer pop up near the shore; we called it Wailmer Watching. It's pretty boring on the history side of things, though. All of our old buildings and ancient architecture aren't there anymore. By the time people really cared about preserving them, they were gone. And our language and writing styles have hardly changed since the island was first civilized." A smile lit her features as she cheerfully added, "But there is the Millennium Comet. When it comes, we're supposed to have a week-long celebration, with singing, dancing and feasting around the white rock. But I won't be there for that," she finished bitterly. She turned to Maressa. "What part of Hoenn are you from?"

    "Not from Hoenn. Kanto."

    "You're from Kanto?" When Maressa nodded, Sarah gushed, "That's so cool! I've always wanted to go there; they have beautiful cities and tons of cool museums. What part are you from?"

    "It's a small, sea-side village near Fuchsia City. That's where I met Psyduck and had most of my childhood friends." Taking a small pause, she continued more quietly, "But when I was eleven, my family moved to Mauville City."

    "Oh, I'm sorry."

    "It's fine. I made new friends when I got there. And at least I still had Psyduck to always be with, right?"

    Moments of silence passed by as the two lay on the cold, smooth top of the submarine. Maressa and Sarah sat up as they heard the water splash, and four feet slap on top of the dull grey metal.

    Maressa smiled at her companion. "Hey buddy. What's up?" Giving her a high-five, Golduck sat down next to his friend. Opening its pale yellow bill, throaty noises gargled from his mouth as he communicated with Maressa. Sarah watched, fascinated, as her human friend engaged in conversation with the kappa-like creature.

    Scooting closer to her friend, Sarah asked, "What does he say?"

    "He says he got bored and decided to come talk to us." Looking past Maressa, Sarah tried to make eye contact with Golduck. As soon as her blue eyes met his red ones, she smiled and greeted him. Though his inflexible bill limited his facial expressions, she could make out the happiness in his eyes as he returned her greeting.

    Golduck said something else to Maressa. "He says that it should almost be time for our watch to end." Groaning, the two humans reluctantly stood up and walked to opposite sides of the submarine, their eyes scanning the water for any unusual disturbances. After a few minutes, however, they succumbed to boredom and began to let their minds wander. Neither took any notice as Golduck splashed back into the river. After a few minutes, Maressa heard Sarah gasp and quietly call her name.

    Turning around, Maressa saw a dark fin protrude from the surface of the water; shaped like a razor, cutting through the air, it came with alarming alacrity towards the vessel. Smiling, Maressa walked to the edge of the submarine and reached a hand out to the protrusion. A dark, scaly head bisected by a star emerged from the water and nuzzled its owner's black glove.

    "Relax, Sarah. It's only Sharpedo." Crouching down, Maressa ran her fingers along the top of her Pokémon's head, grateful for the protection her thick gloves offered her from the creature's cutting-edge scales. Withdrawing a small ball from her pocket, Maressa opened it and recalled Sharpedo, allowing the dull red light to engulf her Pokémon. After Sharpedo shrank down to pocket-size, she snapped the small sphere shut and encased him inside.

    Sarah watched her friend deposit the ball in her pocket and shuddered. "I don't know how you do it, Maressa. I wouldn't mind seeing those Pokémon from a distance, but I could never own and take care of one."

    Maressa took out another ball as her Golduck came back. "I've never had a problem with vicious-looking Pokémon, honestly. He may look mean, but...." Her voice trailed off as she withheld her words. She was about to say that Sharpedo was "really a big softy on the inside," but that would be lying; Sharpedo was every bit as ornery as he looked. Shrugging, she merely said, "You just have to learn how to deal with them." Returning her Golduck's ball to her pocket, she said, "I expect we'll be relieved any minute now." The two turned back to their respective sides and continued their monotonous task of watching the river.

    Three hours later, "any minute" became all but a dream. Too afraid to be caught napping, the pair constantly rubbed their eyes and walked around in attempts to get their blood flowing and fend off sleep. Maressa sent out her Pokémon again, only to find them asleep. After another two hours, the sun began to rise, and the duo stood together at one end of the vessel. With hunched shoulders and bagging eyelids, they stared out at the river. Their bloodshot eyes took in the scene of the rising sun spilling its light over the earth, causing the water to look like a thousand diamonds strewn across an orange blanket.

    Hearing hinges creek, the two turned as the hatch lifted up and a blue bandanna, marked with a small skeletal "A," appeared from below. Looking tired, a girl dragged her fingers through her bushy brown hair before turning her hazel eyes on the sleep-deprived duo. Eyes wide in shock, she asked, "Were you two out all night?"

    They nodded.

    "But... Sean and Mike were supposed to cover for you five hours ago."

    Maressa attempted to speak, but found that all she could do was make stuttering noises. Neither she nor Sarah could bring themselves to do more than stare as they struggled to remain awake. Confirming their condition, their teammate only said, "Well, you two can go back in and sleep now. Jana and I will take watch; we're scheduled to move out in three hours though."

    As Maressa and Sara lowered themselves into the submarine, they finally found themselves able to articulate the words they had been trying to say before:

    "What the hell."
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    So I instantly found this set-up to be atmospheric--the watch by the water, the moonlight, some lurking unease. I'm also really excited to see a golduck trainer! I don't think I've ever seen that in a fic, and golduck is such a cool pokemon, from its appearance to its psychic nature.

    I know this fic is seven years old, so I don't want to belabor anything you're already aware of, but a few points. First, we're getting a lot of exposition dumped in this conversation and the dumping feels pretty obvious. One place it especially stands out is when Sara is complementing Maressa on her skills and relationship with her pokemon. This would really be a place where showing would work better than telling. All these details are great, but we should be able to observe them ourselves when Maressa and her golduck interact, rather than learn them from Sara. The moment with the sharpedo was a good example of that. In that short interaction we at once learn that Maressa is a good water-type trainer and comfortable with all kinds of pokemon.
    Hey, thanks so much for dropping by to leave a review! I haven't gotten the comment on this being an info dump before, so I appreciate you pointing it out to me (perhaps a version 3 of this fic will be in order? XP)

    Next, the conflict. Most of the chapter is a free-floating conversation. It's only in the last few paragraphs that something seems to be wrong, with their replacements not coming. This is a great way to set up the tension, but I would lead with it! What if the chapter started with something like: "It was 2am, and the relief shift still hadn't come." That problem would then frame the rest of the chapter and give some more context for why they're talking about their childhoods to each other.
    Fair enough; thanks so much! I intended for them talking to each other to come from the fact that they were put on watch in a deserted area and they felt like there was no need. But point taken!

    Something's mismatched in the simile here. I think the order needs to be something like 'The moon looked like a curved tear against the black canopy of the sky.' Right now it feels like moon is being compared to black canopy. These first two sentences use the same main verb 'look' which is an odd repetition to start out a story with.

    Thanks so much for leaving a review! I always appreciate it :)


    Here's chapter 2! This replaces chapters 2 and 3 from the first version of this fic and, so far, is the only chapter that has been re-written from scratch. I have another scene for the end of it but I thought it felt repetitive so I decided not to include it. I'm going to tryyyyy and stick to a schedule of getting a chapter up every other week (I know this is three days behind lol). Any thoughts and critiques are greatly appreciated!


    Chapter 2


    Maressa tightened the ties of her bandanna as she stared at her reflection. Closing her eyes, she straightened up, took a few deep breaths, and looked at herself once more. She tried to keep calm but her reflection only showed how anxious she was. She paced back and forth, sat down, stood back up, said a prayer—yet nothing would fend off the anxiety that kept attacking her.

    Stationing herself before the mirror once more, she stared herself down.

    "Calm down; everything will be fine. They know you're inexperienced. They won't put a lot of pressure on you. Everything will be okay, you will not mess up. Your Pokémon will be there, they'll know what to do. Don't worr—"

    She inhaled sharply as she heard a knock at the door.

    "Come in!”

    The door popped open slightly.

    "You okay?" Mark questioned.

    Maressa breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of her friend.

    "I'm fine. Do you want to come in?"

    “Sure!” Mark stepped in, stooping so his head wouldn’t hit the low doorframe. "Nice... place you have here..."

    Maressa smiled unabashedly; the small bed, nightstand with her family picture and vanity were all that composed her "nice place." The room was bare but Maressa knew that decorating and personalizing it meant that more work had to be done when time came for cleaning.

    "Thanks. You can sit down if you'd like," she offered, gesturing to the bed.

    Mark sat down on the bed—the only place to sit in the tiny room. Maressa joined him. She tried to appear calm but couldn’t stop fidgeting with her hands and feet.

    "How do you feel?" Mark asked her.

    "Fine."

    Mark raised an eyebrow. “Maressa… I’m not quizzing you or anything, just be honest.”

    “I’m so nervous!” she immediately blurted out.

    "Don't worry about it; you'll be fine."

    "But... But what if I mess up? What if to goes wrong because of me? What if—"

    "It won't, it won't. Don't keep doubting yourself. If you want to do your best, you have to be confident. Everyone knows how you feel. We've all had first missions—you were chosen to come on this one because we know that you can handle it."

    His reassurances did nothing to deter her fear.

    "But I don't even know what I'm doing. I've hardly done anything on this team! I've never had to go anywhere for anything or do anything like... like this... " Her voice died as she gave up trying to finish her sentence.

    Putting an arm on her shoulder, Mark replied softly, "You're not going to be alone. The rest of us will be there with you to show you what to do. If you can't trust yourself, trust us and trust your Pokémon." Seeing her about to speak again, he put a hand up to stop her. "And if, for some reason, you do mess up, that's okay. We'll be there to fix it. Learn from your mistakes and they won't happen again."

    Maressa raised her eyes and saw Mark looking at her gently.

    He really just wants me to do well, she realized.

    The realization brought her hope and she didn’t feel nearly as nervous as before.

    "Thank you, Mark. I think... " She looked down at her hands, which were no longer shaking, and curled her fingers into fists. "I think I'm ready."

    "Good. It's time for us to go."

    +++++

    Maressa inhaled deeply, the salty air filling her lungs till they could hold no more. The grey-blue waves of the ocean rolled forward into the shipyard. The breeze blew her blonde hair back into a tangled nest. She couldn’t stop herself from smiling. If she ever had any doubts about working for Team Aqua, being at sea took those away. Well, maybe she wasn’t actually “at sea”—she was disappointed to learn that the majority of her squadron would get to explore the debris by Slateport’s cliffs in underwater vessels while she, Mark, and a few others had to stay on land as lookouts.

    Her heat panged with jealousy when she remembered her commander, Shelly, telling Maressa to allow her to borrow her Lanturn, Seaking and Sharpedo.

    “You’ll be on land and we’ll be in the ocean,” Shelly had explained. “They can’t be outside their Pokeballs with you, and we need the extra help.”

    Maressa loathed to allow other trainers to command her Pokemon. After spending years of building friendships and learning how to work as a team, it felt wrong to allow someone else to take them. But she remembered her promise to be obedient and handed their three Pokeballs over.

    As she looked out at the cloudy sky and windy harbor, her heart soared. The sea was still so beautiful. She always had an affinity for it and was pleasantly surprised to see how clean it was around Slateport. Maressa thought large cities would normally be laden with trash but the Slateport harbor defied those expectations. A twinge of disappointment crept into her heart when she thought of how Team Aqua could take more direct action by going to where the sea was much dirtier and more damaged. But she knew that Team Aqua was also dedicated to research and that discovering the origins of their earth and sea would be helpful for their mission of ocean restoration in the long run.

    She looked down at Golduck, who stood as expressionless as ever.

    “Come on, Golduck,” she said. “You have to love the ocean!”

    Golduck shrugged and let out a quack. He was more of a freshwater-type of Pokemon.

    “You’re just being difficult. Come on, should we take a look around this harbor?”

    “Remember, Maressa,” Mark said. Maressa turned to see him with his arms crossed and staring out at sea. It was weird to see him wearing civilian clothing instead of their Team Aqua uniform. “We’re supposed to maintain a lookout. Don’t get distracted.”

    “I know…”

    She looked at the sea sadly. Team Aqua didn’t have permission to take their vessels into private waters, but if they were going to get things done and take the marine samples they needed, they had to work on their own terms. Maressa didn’t feel guilty—the city should see the good Team Aqua was trying to do and let them have more free reign instead of imposing an overabundance of regulations that suffocated progress.

    “But come on, let’s take a look around while we can! We can stay in the area, I just want to look around this shipyard a bit!”

    Mark sighed and followed Maressa. She was like a giddy child at a theme park, looking up at the ships with wide eyes and constantly smiling. She pointed things out to Golduck excitedly and chattered away.

    “Isn’t that so cool, Golduck? I’ve never been out to sea before—going on one of these ships would be awesome! And apparently the people in charge of this port also collaborate with the Oceanic Museum—I wonder what cool things are there?”

    “Maressa,” Mark said exasperatedly as she pointed to some men giving orders to Machokes carrying crates up gangplanks and onto ships, “try not to draw attention to yourself.”

    But Mark might as well have not spoken at all, for a man wearing glasses and a weather-worn jacket stepped over to Maressa.

    “You’ve never been here before, have you?” he asked with a smile.

    Maressa was hardly aware of Mark hovering behind her. He was tense—they shouldn’t be talking to any civilians in the first place, and he didn’t know if Maressa was able to control her mouth.

    “No, I haven’t!” she replied with the same overly-excited expression on her face.

    “Where are you from?”

    “I’m from Mauville City.”

    “Ah, that’s probably why! You don’t get to see much of the ocean from way over there, do you?” he asked with a laugh. “What’s your name?”

    “I’m Maressa!”

    He held out a hand for her to shake. “It’s a pleasure. My name is Captain Stern—I run the shipyard.”

    “Wow, that’s amazing! You design these ships?” Maressa asked as she gazed at the ships docked in the harbor.

    “I commission people to design them—I more-or-less oversee everything and make the final decisions on things. We also work together with the Oceanic Museum.”

    “That’s so cool! How long have you been doing this? How did you get started? Have you lived near the ocean your whole life? What’s it like to go out on one of these ships?”

    “How would you like a bit of a tour? I’ll explain everything as we walk.”

    Maressa was only too happy to oblige; Mark and Golduck were more hesitant but followed along as Captain Stern explained his passion for the ocean and the beginnings of Stern’s Shipyard.

    “Hoenn has several artificial reefs because of us,” he explained to Maressa as they walked up to a large building overlooking the shipyard. “When ships get old, we take them out to sea and sink them. Nature soon takes over and they wind up making great habitats for Pokemon. Want to take a look inside?”

    “Do I ever!”

    Maressa followed Captain Stern into the large building, looking around her as if in a dream. The majority of the building was dominated by ship construction—Mark saw a few scaffolds while Machokes and Vigoroths ran around hauling lumber and other materials.

    “There’s a guided tour that goes down here—we’re having a slow day, so I can take you down there now.”

    Captain Stern led them down a staircase into what resembled a small tunnel. A group of civilians following a tour guide stood in the back of the tunnel. Screens lined one wall while scientists studied them and typed away at keyboards. Maressa gasped—this time, even Mark conceded to how impressive it looked.

    Several cameras showed underwater scenes from Slateport’s coast. There were several from which they could see the undersides of docks and ships from the harbor and many more that showed the wide open ocean from Slateport’s cliffs.

    “Hey, what are those?”

    Maressa, Mark, Golduck, and Captain Stern all looked at the screen that one of the scientists pointed to. Maressa’s heart plummeted as she recognized three of Team Aqua’s sea crafts descending into the rubble overlaying the bottom of the ocean. Several Wailmer, Seaking and Tentacruel could be seen swimming around them.

    “Did we authorize any visitors to come?” the same scientist asked.

    “Not that I know of,” a woman replied. “Ask Marius just to make sure. If he says no, we’ve got to tell them to get out of there.”

    Everyone jumped in the room as the door slammed. Maressa wheeled around and saw Mark standing in front of the door to the stairway with his hand on the handle. She turned her head as she heard Pokeballs opening. The room filled with flashes of white light as Team Aqua members—the “civilians” Maressa noticed before—released their Pokemon.

    “Who are you?” Captain Stern demanded. “And re-open the door!”

    “Maressa, Mark catch!” said their teammate, Shannon, as she tossed something to them.

    Maressa caught the small pouch and opened it to see a set of ear plugs. An Azumarill standing in front of her inhaled deeply—Maressa caught on and immediately popped the ear plugs into her ears.

    She wasn’t a moment too soon, for the Water-type sang and filled the tiny room with a lullaby. All the scientists slumped forward in their seats, snoring. Captain Stern, however, caught on quickly—he covered his ears with his hands while Azumarill sang. Once her lullaby ceased, he reached into his pocket and took out a Pokeball

    “Go, Sealeo!”

    A large, blubbery, blue pinniped lay protectively in front of its trainer. The Sealeo’s white mustache bristled as it growled at its opponents.

    “Ready, Golduck?” Maressa asked her Pokemon. Golduck stood in front of her and raised his shoulders while hissing at the Sealeo. “Attack him close up! Don’t use any ranged moves, or you might hit the other people.”

    Golduck did as ordered and launched himself at the Ice-type. The two of them quickly got caught in a jumble of limbs; Azumarill tried to join in, but had difficulty trying to hit the Sealeo without hitting Golduck.

    While the Pokemon were engaged, Mark ran right over to Captain Stern and punched him in the face. Stern fell to his hands and knees. The walkie-talkie he pulled from his pocket dropped out of his hand before he had a chance to speak into it.

    Grabbing the captain by the collar of his jacket, Mark called, “Maressa, come with me. The rest of you, keep fighting.”

    Maressa followed Mark as he dragged the captain—who was loudly protesting and trying to scramble to his feet—through a door in the back of the room. The trio ended up in a storage room piled high with crates and boxes. Mark roughly shoved the captain to the floor and, reaching into his pocket, pulled out a Pokeball. He opened the Pokeball and a Lombre appeared in a flash of white light.

    “Let me out of here!” Stern shouted. “Do you realize what you two—”

    “Lombre, keep him quiet,” Mark said.

    The Grass-type Pokemon swiftly punched the captain in his abdomen. The human fell to his knees, choking. Mark turned to Maressa and handed her something metallic.

    “Here. Knock him out.”

    Maressa—whose heart had been pounding rapidly with excitement this entire time—now felt like her heart would stop. She stared at Mark.

    What?

    “Use those”—he pointed to the object in her hand—“to knock him out.”

    Maressa examined the object and realized it was a set of brass knuckles. She looked at Mark, shaking slightly.

    “He’s seen your face. He knows your name. You’ve got to knock him out and let him know he can’t mess with you.”

    “But Mark, I—I can’t”—

    “Maressa,” he said sternly, “you promised to be obedient before you came on this mission. And this is an order. It’s fine if you mess up. I’ll show you how to do it properly.”

    Slipping her shaking fingers into the brass knuckles, Maressa walked over to the kneeling captain. Her insides twisted into knots as he looked up at her in disgust.

    “What are you doing? Who do you think you are to come in here and treat me and my staff like this?”

    Maressa looked over at Mark. Should she tell him they were with Team Aqua?

    Mark didn’t look at Marerssa but walked over to Captain Stern and stared down at him.

    “You’re an oceanographer. You love the sea and its Pokemon. When we’ve finished our long-term goals, you’ll be thanking us.” He nodded to Maressa. “Get going.”

    “ ‘Thanking you?!’ ” the captain roared, his eyes wide in shock. “How can you say that when—ow!”

    Maressa didn’t let him finish; she felt it was easier to try and knock him out when she was distracted. She brought the brass knuckles down on the captain’s head but didn’t hit him nearly hard enough to knock him out. The captain glared at her in rage.

    You put those down now”

    “Maressa, give them to me,” Mark said, ignoring the captain’s shouts.

    Maressa was only too quick to oblige. She took the brass knuckles off and gave them to Mark so quickly that she nearly dropped them. Mark slipped his fingers through them and brought them down on the captain’s head with amazing force. The captain’s eyes closed and he fell to the ground. Maressa was sure that, beneath his dark hair, there was some nasty mark. She couldn’t peel her eyes away from the man lying on the ground and couldn’t get rid of the feelings of guilt and dread that filled her.

    “Come on,” Mark said nonchalantly. “Let’s go.”

    ==========================================

    “And Golduck, he told me to knock the captain out! He gave me brass knuckles! Those are super illegal! I know what we were doing wasn’t legal, but we weren’t hurting anybody until then! And I said I couldn’t do it, but he told me that I promised obedience, so I—I tried, and oh, Golduck, I feel so guilty!

    Maressa sat on her bed with Golduck. The Water-type looked up at her curiously. Did she manage to knock the captain out?

    “No, I didn’t hit him hard enough—I couldn’t bring myself to! So Mark took them and knocked him out. I just… I feel so bad. I know what we’re doing is good overall, and that the clean, restored oceans we’ll have in the end will make this all worth it—but I just feel so guilty right now.” Maressa closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to get rid of Captain Stern’s angry words.

    Golduck quacked. He didn’t see why she felt so bad about it—she told Golduck to fight other Pokemon hundreds of times, and he never felt guilty about it. He even fought the Captain’s Sealeo!

    “Golduck, Pokemon battles are different. You guys are more capable of defending yourselves. I took brass knuckles—freaking brass knuckles, Golduck—and tried to knock out a defenseless man!”

    Golduck looked at Maressa sympathetically while she wrapped her arms around him. Even though he didn’t understand her feelings, he knew it was hard for her.

    He quacked. He was just glad that Maressa didn’t get hurt in any of the fighting.

    Maressa pulled back from their hug and smiled at him. “Thanks, Golduck. And I’m glad you didn’t get hurt, either. Thanks for always staying with me.”

    Maressa looked at her desk and saw the picture of her parents and sister sitting out on it. A fresh wave of guilt washed over her—what would they say? But then again, her family didn’t even know she joined Team Aqua. She received a job offer from Team Aqua working under a different name and told her family she was conducting marine research—which wasn’t entirely untrue. Maressa knew her family would never approve of her doing something illegal, so she told them that she would be in a submarine for months with no way to contact anyone.

    Her heart panged as she thought of her family. Betty would be in her third year of college by now—if she hadn’t dropped out—and Maressa knew their parents were eagerly awaiting Maressa’s return “from her submarine trip” so she could visit them again and tell them all about her life. Maressa felt guilty about lying to them—she also didn’t realize before just how much she missed them.

    But that was life. She and her parents may disagree in the present, but she would show them how good everything proved to be in the end.

    Right?

    As Maressa sat with Golduck, she kept reminding herself of what Mark had told her and tried to find comfort in his words.

    This will all be worth it in the end.
     
    Chapter 3
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    Hi! Here's Chapter 3; in my original version of this story, this was Chapter 4. That's because Chapter 3 was just a scene of Maressa and Mark that I did revise but ended up not posting because I felt like, after her scene with Golduck, it felt redundant. So this will be a chapter ahead.

    I did overall tweaks for this chapter and scrapped and re-wrote a lot of the dialogue and tried to change Shelly's character since she came off as cartoonishly evil in the first version of this, hehe. I tried to be more efficient in how I described everything since I know purple prose was a big weakness of mine when I first wrote this.

    I'm also going to update the first post because I forgot that I need to mention that this fic uses the ORIGINAL evil Team designs from Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, not Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. I wrote and posted this before the generation 3 remakes were made (or, at least, released) and I keep forgetting that most people nowadays are more familiar with the remake designs. So the Team Aqua grunts wear blue pants, the Team Magma grunts don't do the ridiculous elbow-in-the-air post, Shelly is pale with a bunch of red curly hair, and Tabitha is much leaner and opens his eyes.

    Got any thoughts or critiques on how I did with this chapter? I'd be happy to hear them! Thanks again for stopping by.


    Chapter 3



    Maressa blinked lazily as she held a hand to shield her eyes from the sun’s glare. Her other hand touched ran along the thin, wiry frame of her headset. For perhaps the twentieth time since she got it, she smiled. The excitement from being told that she was entrusted with direct communication to her commander had not died down, and she still felt sparks of joy whenever she used her new headgear. There had been little need for it so far, though. Everything on this mission had gone particularly well. From her perch near the peak of Mt. Chimney, she could see nothing but stretches of forest running before her and crags of rock laying behind.

    She glanced down by her side. Golduck sweat profusely under the sun’s harsh rays, and his eyes blinked drowsily in the sunlight. Every time she looked at him, her heart sank with pity.

    “Here, Golduck.”

    She opened her bottle of water and, holding it above him, poured it. He guzzled it down gratefully and gave a nod of thanks when she closed it.

    Sitting down, he narrowed his eyes in annoyance as he glared up at the pale sky. Maressa knew he was frustrated with everything going on, and, though things were going well for her, she would have been upset if she was in his place. Most of the orders for the missions were given on the way there; the trainers’ Pokemon had no idea what they were supposed to do until they reached their destination.

    Maressa took her eyes off Golduck and stared straight ahead. He was fit for battles but he didn’t feel like he’d gotten enough opportunities to fight. He felt locked out of the loop and that his talents were wasted.

    All she could do, however, was sympathize with him and tell him to put up with it for a bit longer. Maybe she could take him out and go swimming with him later...

    “A-squad, come in!”

    Maressa jumped as she was jolted back to reality by the voice coming in from her headset.

    “Yes?” she replied.

    “Get back here immediately. And prepare for battle!”

    “Yes ma’am.” She looked down at Golduck—his muscles were tense and eyes were wide in anticipation. “They want us over. Let’s go!”

    The two set off, hopping over rocks and up boulders until they reached a sea of blue bandanas. At the forefront of their group, Shelly stood at the edge of a ledge. Maressa made her way over until she stood a few people behind her commander. About twenty meters across from them, a swarm of red-clad people stood on another ledge. Maressa’s heart dropped slightly as she recognized the black “M” emblem on their chest. On the ground between the two groups of people, a bespectacled man nervously clutched a porous rock to his chest.

    “And this nice man is going to give us that meteorite,” Shelly said to the commander of the other team.

    “The altitude must be affecting your brain. He’s handing that over to us,” the Magma commander replied coolly.

    “Well, if it’s a fight you want, then it’s a fight you’ll get! Go, Walrein and Crawdaunt!”

    The area was bathed in splashes of white light as multiple Pokémon were released from the Pokéballs and materialized onto the ground. At Maressa’s command, Golduck jumped down to join his teammates.

    Oh no, Maressa thought when she saw the aquatic Pokémon grouped together on the sunbaked ground. Not good. She wanted to say something to Shelly, but held her tongue. Telling her commander that she was making a bad decision would only get her into trouble.

    The Team Magma commander called, "Go, Golbat and Mightyena!"

    The Walrein bared their saber-sharp tusks and Crawdaunt clacked their pincers menacingly as a horde of snarling Mightyena and screeching Golbat was sent out to meet them.

    “Commander, the meteorite!” a Team Magma grunt shouted. Maressa jerked her head; the bespectacled man ran away from the battle scene, still clutching the rock to his chest.

    “B-squad, after him!” Shelly commanded. A troop of Aqua members chased after the man while a group of Magma members did likewise.

    Shelly turned back to the Team Magma commander. “Are you ready?”

    “Yep. But you’re going to regret it.”

    “Walrein, water gun! Crawdaunt, bubble beam!”

    At Shelly’s command, the Pokémon sprayed jets of water and unleashed bursts of bubbles at their adversaries. The Golbat merely flew out of the way, and the water splashed uselessly on the rocks as the Mightyena gracefully evaded.

    “Golbat, air cutter! Mightyena, hyper beam!”

    As ordered, the Golbat sent razor-sharp gusts of air while Mightyena let loose blinding beams of energy at the Walrein and Crawdaunt.

    Golduck, Maressa was grateful to see, was agile enough to dodge the attacks. The rest of Team Aqua’s Pokemon were not so lucky: the Walrein, with flippers unsuited for travel over rocky terrain and hundreds of pounds of fat weighing them down, let loose roars of pain as they were blasted backwards. The Crawdaunts' legs were too small to allow them to travel quickly enough over the ground.

    Maressa looked around. All over the mountainside, she saw Team Aqua grunts shouting orders to their individual Pokemon while Team Magma grunts countered. The admins of each team commanded several Pokemon, and how they were doing reflected how it was going overall for their teams. None of the Team Aqua grunts seemed to be doing well and neither did Shelly.

    Golduck shot beams of psychic energy into the air at several Golbat flying overhead. The Poison-types evaded his beams easily and retaliated with air cutter attacks.

    “Golduck, focus on not getting hit! Hide if you have to!”

    At Maressa’s command, Golduck ducked beneath an overhanging ledge. The Golbat shrieked in frustration as their attacks bounced uselessly off the rock.

    “Go after him!” the Team Magma grunt across Maressa shouted. “Drive him out of there with poison fang!”

    The Golbat swooped down low and headed straight for Golduck, who crouched beneath the rock overhang.

    “Now!” Maressa shouted.

    Once the Golbat were within Golduck’s sight, his eyes glowed purple and he shot beams of psychic energy at the incoming Golbat. The Poison-types screeched as they reeled back in pain before falling to the ground.

    “Great job!” Maressa shouted as the Team Magma grunt recalled his unconscious Golbat. “Let’s go help the others!”

    Golduck joined her as they ran over the rocks and crags. Maressa ran up next to a Team Aqua member she didn’t know while Golduck went over to his Walrein.

    “Mind if we join you?” Maressa asked.

    “Please do!” her teammate replied. His forehead was wet with sweat—from the heat or stress, Maressa wasn’t sure, but she was willing to bet it was a combination of both.

    Maressa surveyed the situation: the Team Magma grunt’s Mightyena was running circles around Walrein and evading all of the Water-type’s attacks.

    “Want Golduck to hold the Mightyena still? Then your Walrein can attack it?”

    Her teammate glanced at her and nodded. “Sure—we’ll try that.”

    “Golduck, fight the Mightyena in close combat!”

    “Mightyena, use crunch!”

    Golduck and the Mightyena tackled each other furiously. Golduck wrapped his arms around the Dark-type’s neck. The Mightyena sank its jaws into Golduck’s side, but it soon let go and was gasping for air.

    “Walrein, use sheer cold!”

    The canine looked up in terror as the Walrein flopped over to it. Ice coated the Walrein’s tusks, making them so cold that the surrounding air shimmered. Once he reached the Mightyena—who was squealing and desperately trying to get out of Golduck’s grasp—the Walrein brought his tusks down on its side, sending lances of icy pain throughout the Dark-type’s body. The Mightyena stopped moving and Golduck let go.

    “Great job, you two!” Maressa called. “Come on, Golduck, let’s go help the others!”

    Maressa and Golduck helped out other Team Aqua members with whatever they needed—Golduck pinned down Golbat while Crawdaunt clubbed them unconscious and he baited Mightyena so Walrein and Sealeo could shoot them down with water and ice attacks.

    The team members that Maressa aided joined her and Golduck as they took on more Team Magma grunts. Eventually, Maressa saw that she was very near to Shelly, who was still engaged in battle with the Team Magma commander.

    “Commander Shelly!” Maressa called as she and her teammates ran up to her.

    Shelly turned to look at them and her eyes widened in surprise as she saw the group of people and Pokemon coming to her.

    “What are you all doing?” she asked sternly.

    “We fought those Team Magma grunts and took out their Pokemon! Do you want any help?”

    Shelly looked at the Pokemon she commanded and Maressa followed her gaze. The Walrein and Crawdaunt were being beat down by the Golbat and Mightyena—Walrein cried out in pain as the Golbat lashed them with air cutter and the Crawdaunt desperately tried to shield themselves from the Mightyena’s hyper beams and shadow balls.

    “Maressa salvaged our battles!” one of her teammates said. “She and her Golduck helped us out, or else we would have been done for!”

    “Do you want us all to help you?” Maressa asked again.

    “What?” Shelly looked almost insulted at having the battle taken from her. “No, I’ll be fine here—focus on taking out their grunts.”

    Maressa’s blood boiled—she knew Shelly was aware of her bad condition and was trying to save face.

    The Team Aqua commander looked worried as she watched the fighting Pokemon. It certainly was not going well for her; the Walrein struggled to get up and the Crawdaunt could do little more than use protect to ward off attacks.

    Maressa heard a crackle from Shelly’s headgear. The Team Aqua commander put a hand to it.

    “Yes, what is it? ... Really? Okay, understood. We'll be there soon.”

    She turned back to Maressa. “Change of plans. If you can help out, go ahead. There are more important things happening. Take control of the battle. Everyone else, listen up!”

    Maressa was more than a little annoyed that Shelly suddenly handed the battle off when she had “more important things” to do, but that didn’t matter. Once she was told to take over the fight, she didn’t listen to anything else her commander said. Stepping up the edge of the precipice, Maressa’s heart pounded with anticipation as she surveyed the battle scene. Golduck stood next to her, ready to go.

    “Just wait here for a bit, Golduck.”

    He looked at her incredulously. Wait here?! How could he wait here when there was a battle going on? A battle they were losing and that they clearly needed help in?

    “You just fought several battles and you need to rest. Besides, I’d rather have you as back up if it’s needed.” She noticed a Mightyena standing next to the Magma commander. Even from a distance, Maressa saw that his Mightyena was larger than those on the battlefield. “I especially want you ready if that Mightyena joins the fight.”

    Golduck understood—and though he didn’t like to admit it, he did need a rest from the fighting.

    Looking back at Team Aqua’s Pokemon, Maressa noticed that they had considerably higher defenses than Team Magma’s—they just had lower speed and were unsuited for the hot, rocky terrain.

    “Crawdaunt, get in front of the Walrein and use protect to shield yourselves and them! Walrein, use aurora beam and ice ball!”

    Walls of light formed in front of the Crawdaunt and any incoming attacks deflected off them harmlessly. The Walrein launched balls of ice and rainbow-colored beams at their attackers. Mightyena howled and Golbat screeched as the chunks of ice sent them flying.

    The strategy worked for a period of time—the Magma commander quickly caught on and had the Golbat fly around to attack the Walrein from behind. Maressa countered accordingly and told the Crawdaunt to fire bubblebeams at the attackers. The Mightyena retaliated by attacking the Crawdaunt straight on while the Golbat set their fangs, dripping with poison, into their enemies.

    Maressa’s eyes scanned the battlefield as she tried to think of a way to re-organize and retaliate. It dissolved into utter chaos—the Pokemon were no longer fighting as units but locked into individual battles. Beams of ice and bursts of water shot into the sky. Gusts of air buffeted the area. Orange beams fired hectically, knocking out many Crawdaunt and Walrein. Her eyes alighted on the Magma commander who stood with his arms folded across his chest while his Mightyena fired hyper beams at the aquatic Pokemon.

    “Golduck,” Maressa said.

    Her companion leaped to his feet, his red eyes alight with excitement. Was it his time to fight?

    “Yep. See that Mightyena next to the Magma commander? Take him out.”

    As soon as Maressa gave the word, bright purple ray shot from Golduck’s forehead at the feet of the Mightyena and his trainer. The rock beneath them crumbled and the two of them tumbled off the precipice to the ground below. As they got to their feet, Golduck leapt off the ledge and onto the battlefield. He ran on all fours and charged the Dark-type.

    A high-pitched yelp met Maressa’s ears as Golduck tackled the Mightyena to the ground and swiped furiously with his claws. At Maressa’s command, Golduck whipped his tail around slammed it repeatedly into his enemy’s back. Each smack was punctured with a squeal as Mightyena scrambled in an attempt to regain his feet.

    The beat down didn’t last long—at his trainer’s command, the Mightyena fired a shadow ball and sent Golduck flying back through the air. Getting to his feet, Golduck panted as he glared at Mightyena. The Dark-type responded with baring his large white fangs in a snarl.

    Maressa grimaced as her mind raced a mile a minute. Using psychic attacks was useless, and, especially in the arid climate, she didn’t want Golduck expending any water. That left one option.

    “Meet him in close combat!”

    Golduck sped towards his opponent, dodging shadow balls as he ran.

    Baring his claws and fangs respectively, Golduck and the Mightyena leapt at each other, meeting in mid-air and falling to the ground in a scuffle. Wrapping his arms around Mightyena’s neck, Golduck held his adversary in position, jabbing its head with his bill.

    Maressa balled her hands into fists as she watched anxiously. Golduck would have a hard time lasting, and she knew that they needed to finish this battle soon. She bit her lip when she saw Mightyena wriggle free from Golduck’s grasp and sink its teeth into the water Pokémon’s upper arm.

    “Golduck, screech!”

    Placing his bill next to Mightyena’s ear, Golduck let loose a high-pitched shriek. Mightyena immediately let go of Golduck’s arm and jerked his head away in shock. Golduck halted the auditory onslaught and immediately fired a psybeam at Mightyena’s feet, blasting him several meters backwards.

    As Golduck ran to attack his foe again, the Magma commander shouted, “Mightyena, sand attack!”

    “Golduck, keep your distance!”

    “Hyper beam!”

    “Evade, and try to get as close to him as possible!”

    Their voices grew more fervent and more anxious as the humans continued to give orders. The two Pokemon did all they could to keep up with their commands. Maressa’s face grew hotter as blood rushed through her veins; her heart pounded viciously beneath her sternum as she watched Golduck run away from the Mightyena—who was now digging and flinging sand everywhere—and stand before her.

    Sweat dripped down Maressa’s face as she watched Golduck pant. He was almost bent-double as he took in great gasps of air and his eyelids opened and closed slowly.

    “How are you holding up?” she asked him.

    He turned his head, closed his eyes, and shrugged nonchalantly.

    “Do you want to take a break? I can have someone else fight for you.”

    He shook his head vehemently. Maressa wasn’t surprised to see he was angry.

    “You know, if you go on much longer, you’re going to faint.”

    Lowering his eyes, he nodded. He quacked reassuringly to let her know that he understood what he was taking on. Though shaking badly, he took an offensive stance, ready to charge again.

    Maressa sighed.

    “Golduck.”

    He turned his head around to face her as she softly called his name.

    “I hate seeing you get hurt.”

    He stared back at her for a moment, thoughtful and—Maressa hardly dared to believe—almost appreciative at her sappy words. A second later, he turned back to their foes and told her that, sometimes, he had to.

    Maressa sighed again. “If you say so.” Looking up at the Mightyena standing before the Magma commander, she suggested, “Let’s try to finish this, all right?”

    Golduck nodded and ran several meters ahead so Mightyena was within range of his attacks.

    “Hydro pump!”

    “Hyper beam!”

    A ray of fluorescent-orange energy collided with the white burst of water. For a second, the two were evenly matched as both Pokemon held their ground—then the hydro pump gave way as Golduck fell in exhaustion.

    The orange light threw Golduck’s face in sharp relief for a second—his eyes were wide in terror and his bill hung open. The beam collided with him and he soared through the air before falling flat on the rock.

    “GOLDUCK!”

    Maressa jumped off the precipice and raced over to her fallen companion. The Mightyena reached him first and stood over his unmoving form with bared fangs.

    “Get away from him!”

    Someone whistled and the Mightyena backed away from Golduck as Maressa knelt down beside her companion.

    “Oh, Golduck, no...”

    She cradled his head in her hands. His eyes were closed and his chest slowly rose up and down. He didn’t respond at her touch.

    She put her head against his.

    “I’m so sorry.”

    A shadow passed over them as the sun was suddenly blocked. Maressa looked up and gasped as she saw the Magma commander standing over her. Whipping out her Pokéball, she withdrew Golduck and got to her feet. She was about to back away when she heard a growl behind her and turned her head to see Mightyena pacing back and forth. His fur was disheveled and blood oozed from cuts and scrapes all over his body. Breathing heavily, he snarled at her.

    She turned her head back to the Magma commander as he spoke.

    “Just wait here for a moment.”

    His voice was surprisingly soft but held authority and confidence. His black eyes were half-closed and roved over Maressa calculatingly. She tensed as he stepped closer but hearing another growl prevented her from moving away.

    The commander smiled as he saw Maressa anxiously eye Mightyena. “Don’t worry; he won’t attack you unless I tell him to.”

    Maressa looked off to the side, wanting to make eye contact with neither human nor Pokémon. Sweat dripped down her face and her fingers fidgeted as she stood locked in place. She glanced up at the commander every few seconds as he talked.

    “That was a good fight; I haven’t been that thrilled from a Pokémon battle in at least a year. You certainly did a much better job than your commander—she can hardly put up a fight. What’s your name?”

    Maressa stayed silent until Mightyena growled deeply. The commander chuckled as he watched her wet her lips and open and close her mouth nervously.

    “I guess it doesn’t really matter. But you should know that your talents are being wasted. Someone as skilled as you shouldn’t be with Team Aqua.”

    Balling her hands into fists, Maressa raised her eyes to meet his. For a moment, she glared at him while his black gaze bore into her. She felt obliged to say something but words failed her.

    The commander suddenly stopped smiling and put a hand to his headgear as a voice crackled in. Turning slightly to the side, he hissed, “What?”

    His gaze hardened as he listened. He turned back to Maressa, no longer coy or smug—he was livid, and his glare sent a chill down Maressa’s spine. Her fingers fidgeted again and she swallowed nervously. Why did he suddenly change?

    “You mean they’ve already...?”

    He looked up and into the distance towards the peak of Mt. Chimney. Maressa looked over there too but saw nothing besides the rocky mountainside.

    The Magma commander turned back to Maressa. Whatever conversation took place over his headgear apparently ended, and all his attention was focused on the Team Aqua member in front of him.

    Maressa was at a loss for words.

    What just happened? she wondered.

    Seeing her confused look, the Magma commander furrowed his eyebrows. “What? Do you not know what your own team has been doing? Look around you.” He pointed to the area behind Maressa. She turned, and saw that most of the Walrein and Crawdaunt had been withdrawn from the battlefield.

    “Your own team left you to distract me while they took the meteorite and used it to make the volcano dormant. Although, I have to admit, you did put up a good fight.” Maressa turned back to look at him, and though he looked angry, there was also a sense of approval.

    As he continued to stare at her, Maressa again grew uncomfortable and looked away as her heart pounded rapidly.

    Please go away; please leave, she prayed.

    “There’s no point in staying here now that you’ve finished. But maybe...” Maressa glanced back at him and saw him studying her curiously as though here was formulating some sort of plan in his head.

    Mightyena let loose a bark and shot a shadow ball at an incoming jet of water. On the ledge where Maressa stood previously were Shelly and other Team Aqua members. A Walrein stood before them, baring its massive tusks at the snarling canine.

    “Go back to your team,” the commander told her. Maressa looked at him in disbelief as he took out a Pokéball and withdrew the Mightyena. “You’ve done a decent job for today. We’ll see each other again.” His analytic gaze lingered on her for a moment before he smiled. “I look forward to our rematch.” So saying, he turned and walked away, leaving the Team Aqua member feeling both relief and dread.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Beep.

    The heart monitor was the only source of noise in the room. All the patients slept soundly in their beds. A few groggily blinked their eyes before returning to a heavy sleep. Nearly every patient was hooked up to an IV tube, the multitude of which formed a plastic jungle. A nurse walked around, checking tubes, administering food, and adjusting pillows to make the patients more comfortable.

    Maressa clasped her hands and hunched over. It seemed that the Magma commander had been right; while she and Golduck were fighting, her team left, secured the meteorite from the scientist, and put Mt. Chimney to sleep for good. Though Shelly ordered the team to get back to work when they returned, most of the squadron put together a party. Maressa had walked into Sarah’s room to ask if she could borrow a pair of gloves and instead found people celebrating their successful mission.

    Maressa was more than a little disheartened when she saw Sarah celebrating with everyone else. She wanted a friend to talk to about how she felt letting Golduck get hurt and hoped Sarah would be available to listen. Part of her wondered if Sarah would step out of the party to talk to Maressa, but Maressa couldn’t pluck up the nerve to take her friend away from celebrating.

    A Walrein behind her let loose a deep sigh as it rolled over. Though Maressa loved her teammates, she couldn’t feel justified in celebrating with them. Their mission was a success but the battle was a disaster. She succeeded in holding Team Magma off but every time she looked at Golduck’s damaged body, the word “success” didn’t seem right.

    She checked her watch; she had been sitting there for nearly two hours. Her stomach rumbled but she wasn’t in the mood to eat. The nurse said that Golduck just needed to re-hydrate and rest for a few days but Maressa didn’t want to leave him until she saw in full health.

    Rubbing her temples, she groaned when she thought of the next assignment she had been given. She glanced up at Golduck, wishing she could stay with him, but she was due to move out in two days and he needed more time than that to recover.

    Maressa reached over and touched Golduck’s webbed hand. Bandages wound around his arm covered the needle connecting to an IV tube. His body was marred with slashes and scrapes. At her touch, he opened his eyes slightly, gave a grateful nod and then closed them again.

    “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

    He opened his eyes slightly and gave her a quizzical look.

    “This was my fault. I knew you were exhausted, and I had you use hydro pump.”

    Golduck shook his head slightly as if to say that he didn’t hold her to any blame.

    Still unhappy, Maressa took her hand away while Golduck closed his eyes again and returned to sleep.

    So this is the world we’re building...

    She found it darkly ironic that Pokémon sustained worse injuries than people on their missions. Though she was relieved to find that none of her teammates were injured on the mission, she loathed to see the Pokémon get hurt.

    Shuddering, she recalled her conversation with the Team Magma commander. For a moment, she had been scared that she may have been captured.

    Thank goodness I wasn’t.

    She had no idea what she could do if she was taken by them—getting back to Team Aqua would be difficult, if she would be allowed back at all.

    Her blood boiled in her veins as she remembered the Magma commander’s words. He had practically offered her a position on the team—her, who trained a Golduck, to work with Team Magma!

    Remembering how Team Magma attacked her team and tried to set the volcano active again reminded Maressa why the world had to be changed. Standing up, she took one last look at Golduck.

    “Don’t worry, boy,” she whispered softly enough so the nurse wouldn’t hear.

    Golduck lay unmoving, eyes still closed.

    “One day, we’ll make this right.”
     
    Chapter 4
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    So, I agree with Pen that the opening felt pretty slow here, what with it mostly consisting of the protagonists having vaguely expositional conversation whilst slightly bored. I feel like it might've been more interesting if we had more details about what exactly Team Aqua might've been expecting to find in the undersea craters rather than keeping it coy with a vague reference to "what we're looking for". Or, maybe if we were given an indication to believe that Maressa's mission might not go smoothly. (The part about her being told nothing except the need to obey all orders absolutely is a bit ominous, but it doesn't seem like Maressa has much of a reaction to it). As it is, I'm not really sure where the story's headed from now.

    I did like Maressa's interactions with Golduck and Sharpedo, and they aren't typical protagonist Pokemon, which is a nice change.
    Hey! Thanks so much for giving the reviews; I really appreciate pointing out the typos and inconsistencies that I never noticed after all these years >_< I see the opening is slow; I'm not sure how else to begin the story and since I'm still working on later parts of the story, trying to rewrite the opening into something totally new is a bit daunting ._. But I really appreciate your advice! Maybe I need to give this a more thorough revamp or scrap this edition and do another rewrite... I'll think of something.

    Anyway, here's the new Chapter 4! I tried to cut down on wordiness, but I feel like I could have done more or broken up more paragraphs. Any thoughts are appreciated. I hope you enjoy!

    Chapter 4



    The sun cast its rays over the treetops and heat the air to a scorching degree. Fanning herself with her blue bandanna, Sarah panted as beads of sweat rolled down her face.

    "It's so hot..." she moaned.

    Maressa's eyes fluttered open. "Well, this is Hoenn..."

    Keeping her back against the rock face, Maressa rose up from her sitting position and surveyed the scene before them. Despite the sweltering heat, the area was pleasant to look at. The two Team Aqua grunts stood on a rocky precipice overlooking a treetop canopy that stretched on for a few hundred meters. Beyond the green swath of plant life, the sea glistened in the sunlight like gemstones scattered across the water. The ledge they stood on was covered with grass and soft soil only interrupted by the door in its side.

    Maressa smiled. "Being on watch isn’t so bad in places like these."

    Sarah looked at her friend in concern. "Do you think you'll be going on another mission like at Slateport?"

    "I don't know... In a way, I would like to go again, but in another way, I'd rather not." Absentmindedly kicking a rock, she added, “The mission didn’t work out anyway. Apparently, they didn’t find whatever they were looking for.”

    "Why? What happened?"

    “Yeah, I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you about it…” Maressa looked up at the sunlit waters. Why was talking about it to Sarah so much harder than she had thought?

    "Sarah… I had to… I had to attack someone."

    "Attack? What do you mean? Like in a Pokemon battle? Are you and your Pokemon okay?"

    “No, like we went into a shipyard and our teammates in the sea got caught and we needed to stop them from getting caught—okay, so they weren’t caught, but they were spotted and they weren’t allowed to be down where they were—and we needed to make sure they didn’t get reported so we—me, Mark, and some other teammates—got in a Pokemon battle and someone’s Azumarill sang most of them to sleep except this one guy. So Mark took me and him into a back room and—and Mark gave me brass knuckles and told me to knock him out!”

    Sarah stared at her with eyes wide in shock. “He did? What did you do?”

    “I… I said I couldn’t, but he reminded me to be obedient, so I—well—I tried, but I was really bad and didn’t actually do anything—so Mark knocked him out instead—and oh, Sarah, I feel so guilty!”

    Sarah looked at Maressa with shock. She said nothing.

    “What do I do?” Maressa demanded.

    “Well… It sounds like there was nothing you could do. Like he said, you had to be obedient. And… Yeah, I don’t know.” The shock disappeared from Sarah’s face and she gazed at her friend with pity. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

    “It’s okay… I hope that was just a one-time thing. I can’t imagine we always do stuff like that…” Guilt knotted in her stomach as the scene played before her eyes again.

    After a moment, Maressa looked back up at her friend and gave her a grateful smile. “Thanks for talking to me about it.”

    “Sure, don’t mention it. Always feel free to talk to me if you need something—I might not be able to help,” she said with a laugh, “but I can always listen!”

    Gratitude swelled in Maressa’s heart—she was about to respond when the door opened and a stout girl with tan skin and deep, coffee-brown eyes walked out.

    Immediately, Sarah's eyes lit up and she hugged the woman. "Cloe! How've you been? It's been a while since I've seen you!"

    "I know, right?"

    She was cut off as two arms wrapped around her from behind. Cloe twisted and saw Maressa embracing her. "Hey Maressa! I haven't seen you in forever, either!"

    "I know, I've missed you so much!"

    When she first joined Team Aqua, she, Cloe and Sarah were all in the same squadron and got along immediately. Though Cloe was soon moved to a different group, the friendship between the three of them continued to grow.

    “What are you doing here?" Maressa asked.

    "My squadron was assigned to this position to keep watch."

    Sarah turned to Cloe, no longer smiling. "Why would they need two groups here? It's a pretty small outpost."

    "They're re-grouping some of the members. There's a mission planned, and some of the people in our squads are switching positions."

    "Huh," Maressa said. "So how have things been going with you? Do you have any news to tell us?"

    Cloe turned slightly more serious as she said, "Actually, I've come to relieve you of watch."

    The grin on Maressa's face faded. "Relieve me of watch?"

    “Commander Shelly wants to speak with you. I'm supposed to cover for you while you're down there." She gestured to the doorway set into the side of the ledge.

    Deflated, Maressa walked away from her friends. "It was nice catching up with you."

    “I know, I'm sorry I didn't have time to talk to you. We'll get together later, okay?"

    Maressa nodded as she turned away from her friends and passed through the doorway and into the gloomy interior. Her heart lightened somewhat at the prospect of speaking with her friend again but she turned her thoughts to the task set before her.

    What did the commander want? Was she in trouble? Or was she being called to head out on another mission? She didn’t feel quite ready to go out again. Part of the reason she joined Team Aqua was the opportunity to work with her Pokémon and, though she certainly got to do that, she didn’t want any of them to get hurt again like Golduck did.

    As Maressa descended into the depths of the base, she thought more of the possibilities her superior could have for calling her. She hardly made any attempts to conceal the fact that she didn’t like Shelly and already vented to Sarah about how frustrating she was to work with.

    Maressa liked Team Aqua otherwise—she had friends, and their goal of defending water Pokémon and preserving their habitats from harmful human actions seemed righteous enough. She did feel a little in the dark when it came to their missions, though. Though some of them were to make more homes for water Pokémon, such as at Mt. Chimney, the purposes behind other missions were not so readily apparent. She heard Mark talking about an agent in Rustboro trying to retrieve some amber, though neither she nor Mark had any idea what it could be used for.

    She suspected that there was something bigger at stake, something larger that they were working towards, that every mission they went on was just a little piece in something that would add up to something greater.

    Something, something, something...


    But what?

    ++++++++++

    Sunlight filtered through the surface of the water, sparkling on the wave tops as Maressa and her teammates descended. The submarine floated at the surface, minuscule in comparison to the infinite open ocean around them. The large columns of rock reached out from the seafloor like fingers of the earth. As though reaching upward in an attempt to escape the cold seawater and feel the warm sun, they formed avenues in the great sea. The sides of the pinnacles were lush with multitudes of coral and sedentary organisms arrayed in a rainbow of colors. Numerous Pokémon nosed their way about in search of food or else floated by idly as the current carried them wherever it willed.

    Bubbles floated upwards as Maressa breathed out through her regulator. Clenching Seaking's tail with one hand, she gazed at the scenery around them, feeling perfectly at peace. Though she was to search the rock faces for the cavern opening Shelly described, she couldn’t help but be mystified at the beauty of the tropical ocean. Her fingers relaxed as she let go of Seaking's tail and began the descent by herself and allowed her aquatic companion to scout ahead of her. She continued to stare in awe at the passing Pokémon and stationary plant life and remained still as her body began to steadily sink deeper into the ocean.

    The rocky bottom grew steadily closer. Maressa switched her gaze from the aquatic life to her companions nearby her. Some of the other divers were within a few meters, each wearing the same grey-blue wetsuit as she was. Each took care not to let himself touch the rocks for fear of harming any fragile organisms he came in contact with. Floating a few meters above the stony sea floor, they cast their eyes about, searching for a cavern opening.

    Maressa looked upward as she saw a flash of orange and white streak towards her. She put up her hands as Seaking came to her in a panic.

    Her heart raced with excitement—did Seaking find the cavern they were looking for? Maressa stared at her friend questioningly but slowly realized that it was not as she had hoped; he fluttered about nervously, darting his eyes back and forth before explaining to her what he saw.

    Maressa’s heart dropped as Seaking related the appearance of a submarine, much larger than theirs, coming steadily towards them. She motioned for her friend to continue his explanation, but all he could say was that the submarine was a deep shade of red. No divers or Pokémon were seen near it.

    Patting her companion gratefully, Maressa pointed to each of her teammates, still floating near the bottom, and then pointed upward. Seaking closed his large, benevolent brown eyes and nodded before swiftly moving to each of the team members, nuzzling them or prodding them gently with his horn before gesturing to the surface.

    Ascending slowly, Maressa's heart beat so hard and fast she felt as though it were about to break out of her chest. Spotting the small submarine owned by Team Aqua, she crept towards it, continuously looking about for the submarine Seaking described.

    She grasped the line extending from her team’s submarine and hauled herself inward, taking the regulator out of her mouth and removing her mask once she stood atop the small grey vessel. Staring ahead, she caught sight of a massive burgundy submarine, coming slowly but surely towards them.

    Mickey, who stayed on the submarine to man it while his teammates were underwater, came up through the hatch as Maressa clambered aboard. He watched Maressa push her untied hair out of her eyes and stare ahead.

    "You guys noticed, too?"

    Nodding, Maressa continued to stare ahead as her teammates clambered out of the water on board the little vessel.

    Turning to Mickey, Maressa asked, “Do you want to fight them?”

    Mickey considered the question for a moment, his emerald eyes squinting against the sun. “Nah—everyone get inside. We’ll try to leave quietly.” Turning to Maressa, he said, "I'd rather not try to fight. If they're sailing on a huge thing like that," he pointed to the burgundy vessel creeping towards them, "then they've definitely got us outnumbered. I'm going to see if we can escape them."

    "Do you think we can still escape without notice?"

    “They’d be blind not to see us on their radar. Still, I’d rather try.” Seeing Maressa still standing there, he grabbed her shoulders and exclaimed, "GO!" before shoving her down the hatch.

    As soon as Maressa got through, Mickey attempted to follow. He just started to lower himself through the hatchway when Maressa saw a burst of light and heard a splash as Mickey was blasted off the top of the submarine and into the water.

    Maressa scrambled back up the hatch and stood on top of the submarine once again. The red submarine was but a hundred meters away, and Maressa saw numerous men and women standing on the top of it, accompanied by a short creature whose head was topped by a green dome-like mushroom. Maressa clenched her fists as she glared at them. Her anger somewhat subsided as she reached down to help pull Mickey out of the water. He was all right but his shirt was torn where he had been hit. His face was taught with pain as he held a hand against his side.

    "Maressa," he commanded, glaring at their adversaries, "tell everyone to get out here now. We're going to try to fight them."

    Maressa obeyed, and soon the top of their submarine was crowded with the nine Team Aqua members. As Maressa's teammates sent out their Pokémon, their opponents did likewise, filling the air with Golbat and Swellow.

    As she heard her name called again, Maressa turned to Mickey. The fury in his face, though still prominent, had somewhat lessened.

    "I'm going to give you authority over this battle. Do you think you can do it?"

    Maressa hesitated. She expected to feel anxious—but she didn’t. When she looked up at the red submarine, she thought back to her battle at Mt. Chimney and confidence overcame any indecision. Curling her fingers into fists, she turned back to Mickey.

    "I think so."

    He nodded and encouragingly patted Maressa on the back. "Good. You got this."

    Maressa nodded and strode toward the submarine's edge, mentally enumerating the Pokémon she had to command: four Wailmer, a Gorebyss, two Tentacool, a Tentacruel, three Luvdisc, and her own Seaking. She took in the large number of bat-and-bird-like Pokémon their opponents had sent out, making special note of the single Breloom that stood with them.

    Maressa called out, "Water gun!"

    Her Seaking and a few others immediately shot water at the flock of flying Pokémon, but a number of the marine Pokémon turned to stare at her in confusion. In a few seconds, they were either blown by razors of wind or slammed by the Swellow in a flurry of feathers.

    Maressa's cheeks flushed in anger as she shouted, "You have to listen to me! Just do what I say, and don't question it!"

    Seeing their Pokémon's confusion, some of the team members stepped forward and commanded their companions to obey Maressa's orders.

    Maressa heard a harsh laugh. Looking forward, she saw the men and women on the burgundy submarine expelling bouts of laughter. Clenching her fists in fury, Maressa turned to the Pokémon in the water.

    "You three"—she pointed to the two Tentacool and lone Tentacruel—"stay up here, back by me. The rest of you are to go underwater and come up in fifteen seconds. When you come up, use bubblebeam, hydro pump, water gun, or whatever you've got on them." She punctuated the last word with a point to their airborne enemies swirling in the sky.

    As nine Pokemon ducked beneath the waves, Maressa shouted.

    "Acid!"

    High-pressured streams of hide-melting toxins spurt into the air. The Swellow and Golbat flapped around chaotically to evade the noxious liquid. As Tentacool and Tentacruel stopped their attacks, Maressa saw the airborne creatures dive towards them.

    "Stay here," she commanded the Tentacoo and Tentacruel. As soon as their enemies were almost upon them, Maressa ordered, "Constrict!"

    The three poisonous Pokémon lashed out with their tentacles, taking hold of a number of Flying-types. The unfortunate Swellow and Golbat who were caught were taken beneath the water as the Tentacool and Tentacruel dove under the waves. The rest flew upward haphazardly and had only just begun to reorganize when they were struck with jets of water. Satisfaction danced in Maressa's heart as she watched the winged Pokémon fall to the waves as they were shot down.

    "Solar beam!"

    A beam of fluorescent-green light shot the aquatic Pokémon. Maressa whipped her head around and saw the Breloom standing next to one of the red-hooded men. Grinding her teeth in fury, she turned her head back to the Pokémon in the sea. Several Team Magma members recalled their Swellow and Golbat. The Pokémon captured by the Tentacruel and Tentacool weakly flapped their wings as they gasped for air. Despite being hit with the solar beam, most of the water Pokémon were able to continue fighting. Only the three Luvdisc had to be recalled after taking full force of the blast.

    Calling Seaking over, Maressa bent down to speak to him.

    "Seaking, when I tell all of the Pokémon to go underneath, I want you to stay above water. You're going to use supersonic, okay?"

    Seaking nodded in confirmation.

    Maressa turned to her teammates.

    "When I tell the Pokémon to all go underwater, I need everyone to cover their ears. Seaking is going to use supersonic. Understand?"

    Maressa turned back to the aquatic Pokémon. They stared at her expectantly, awaiting orders. Maressa was about to speak when she heard another voice. She looked at the red submarine where one man gave orders to the Pokémon. His pant legs had white stripes—

    He’s a commander, she realized.

    While Team Magma’s commander gave orders, Maressa ordered, "Everyone, down!"

    The Pokemon ducked beneath the waves while each team member covered their ears with their hands. Maressa did likewise, watching her Seaking rise as high as he could out of the air and emit sound waves.

    In less than a second, the flock of airborne Pokémon lost all order and flew around in chaos. The Breloom danced about frantically as the Team Magma members gripped their heads in anguish. Many of them recalled more Pokémon as they knocked into each other and fell to the waves below. Feeling a sick sense of satisfaction, Maressa allowed herself a small sadistic smile as she saw her foes struggle against Seaking's supersonic.

    Absorbed in the general disorder of the scene, she failed to notice Breloom stop hopping and snap out of confusion. Her ears were covered—she didn’t hear the Magma commander call, "Solar beam!" Maressa only looked up just in time to see the bright beam before it slammed into her midriff and sent her flying into the air.

    Landing with a heavy splash, she frantically grabbed her regulator and stuffed it into her mouth. She opened her eyes and tried to make her way above water when she saw a blurry mass of orange and white approach her. Reaching out an arm, she held on to Seaking as he swam her to the surface.

    As her head broke free of the water, she removed the regulator from her mouth and glared up at the large red submarine. The Breloom stood there smugly, its arms folded across its chest just like its human’s.

    “Seaking,” she gasped, “can you take me back to the submarine?”

    “King!”

    He complied, and the two headed back towards the small grey-blue vessel when another Team Aqua member shouted.

    “Look out!”

    Mickey pointed into the air. Maressa jerked her head around in time to see a large seed erupt from the mouth of the Breloom and fly towards them. Vines several meters long burst from the seed and wrapped her and Seaking. Seaking cried out in pain as the thorny plants gripped and ripped his orange scales.

    Maressa felt the thorns suck away her energy as they tore through her wetsuit and pricked her flesh. Hanging onto Seaking, she patted his head and tried to calm him down while she reached for her Pokéball.

    “Seaking—Seaking—it’s okay! Calm down—I promise—this won’t last—Seaking, I’m here—Seaking—!”

    Her efforts proved fruitless: Seaking only continued to flail, thrashing about so violently that his Pokéball slipped from Maressa’s hands and fell into the water.

    Maressa made a desperate lunge for the ball when a searing pain lanced up her left thigh. Looking down, she felt sick to her stomach.

    Seaking’s horn penetrated her wetsuit and bore at a sharp angle into her leg. The ivory horn dug in deeper as Seaking continued to buck.

    Maressa's screamed but water flooded her mouth. Terror clouded her mind—she beat Seaking with her fists and lashed out with her legs in an attempt to remove the horn from her thigh—to stop the pain. Giving a cry as her heel dug into his eye, Seaking wiggled his horn loose.

    Maressa had no time to worry about her leg as she was blinded by light. A beam slammed into her and ripped her out of the parasitic plant’s grasp. Seawater washed over Maressa's unmasked eyes, and bubbles tickled her neck. Reaching behind her, Maressa ran her hands over the air tank and felt a knife of terror stab her heart as her fingers felt the tube that transferred air between her regulator and her air tank—snapped clean through.

    The air tank was still attached to her body—and rapidly expelling bubbles. She frantically attempted to detach the heavy tank but in her distress her fingers only fumbled about uselessly as the metal dragged her further down into the depths of the sea.

    Panic absorbed Maressa as the light above her grew dimmer and her lungs like felt they would burst. Black spots burst across her vision. She opened her mouth to take in air—but only water came in. Her body wracked with pain in every nerve and her fingers gradually stopped moving while the ocean stretched out its arms and welcomed her.
     
    Chapter 5
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    Woops, a quick thing I want to reply to that I didn't get to before:
    I'd if overdramatic is the word so much as... How do you want to characterize the seaking? How many battles has it fought in with Maressa?
    Fair enough! Another case of me not characterizing the Pokemon enough before delving into the plot. Her Seaking is much more timid and easily distressed than her other Pokemon. Her Pokemon all have backstories, but it isn't something I even noted before going in with the story. Maybe I should have expanded on them more, first. Thanks for the feedback!

    Here's Chapter 5! It's long but it was my favorite one to write at the time, hehe. I hope you enjoy, and any thoughts or critiques are always appreciated!

    Chapter 5



    Maressa inhaled deeply. Her eyes were closed. She was lying on something warm and soft. It was so pleasant…

    Something touched her leg—it brushed against it and pulled at it. Was it a bug? Was a bug crawling on her leg? Or was a Pokemon poking around at it?

    The thought freaked her out. Her eyes popped open and she flailed her hand about. It gave a meaty SMACK! as it collided with flesh. Maressa propped herself up on her elbows and looked to her left to see a man squatting next to her bed. His nose was bright red and he groaned angrily.

    “Who are you?” she demanded.

    The man put his hands up as if in surrender. “Stop, stop. I’m trying to help you. I was just taking care of your wound.”

    Looking down, Maressa saw that her wetsuit was gone and replaced with a t-shirt that was too large for her and shorts. Bandages encircled her upper left thigh and a dark stain indicated where Seaking’s horn had punctured her. Maressa glanced back at the man; he looked to be in his mid-twenties, was dressed in white scrubs, and still holding his gloved hands up. Blushing slightly, she relaxed.

    “Sorry,” she murmured.

    “Don’t worry about it.”

    As he stood up and walked away from her, Maressa took in her surroundings. She lay on a bed in a sparsely furnished room. Numerous beds, identical to hers, were the only furniture. Each bed had a curtained stand around it. The walls and floors alike were of blank metal. A door was closed immediately on her left, and on a side wall, she saw the man disappear through another door.

    Maressa glanced down at her new attire.

    I wonder where my wetsuit is... Maybe Seaking damaged it too badly to be worn again.

    Seaking!


    At the thought of her companion, a thorn of worry pricked her heart. As the man entered the room again, Maressa immediately spoke up.

    “Do you know what happened to my Seaking? Is he all right?”

    The man shook his head. “I have no idea. Sorry.”

    Deflated, Maressa lowered her eyes, wincing as she fingered the bandages around her leg.

    “What happened?”

    “I hoped you would be able to answer that. All I know is that Connor carried you in a few hours ago, bleeding and unconscious, and so I’ve been taking care of you.”

    Maressa started. A few hours ago?

    “How long have I been out?”

    “Just a few hours.”

    “Well, yeah, but...” She glanced around the room. The windowless walls and lack of a clock made it impossible to tell what time of day it was. “What time is it now?”

    “About four o’clock.”

    “AM or PM?”

    “Why would I be awake at four AM?”

    Four o’clock...

    The mission had begun in the morning; noon was the latest that she could have passed out.

    I haven’t eaten for over eight hours, she realized, though she also noted that she wasn’t hungry at the moment—just very tired.

    “So... what’s your side of the story? I asked Connor what had happened, but even he didn’t know.”

    Connor?

    Maressa didn’t know anyone on the team named Connor. H wasn’t one of the people on the mission, at least.

    Where am I?

    Choosing to answer the man’s question—she didn’t know him either, but she was hardly familiar with the team members working in the medical areas—before she posed more of her own, she told him about getting knocked off of the submarine from the Breloom’s solar beam, Seaking coming to help her, and his panic once they had been hit by leech seed. As she talked, the man paced around the room, stopping next to her bed when she mentioned Breloom.

    “You said a Breloom hit you?”

    Maressa nodded.

    He grimaced and looked guilty. “I’m sorry about that.”

    She eyed him suspiciously. Something was odd.

    “Why?”

    “Well, he used to not like battling much at all. But once he evolved, it was like he became a new Pokemon—which, I guess, he kinda did—and now just goes as hard as he can every time he’s in a fight.”

    Maressa’s heart clenched. “He’s your Breloom?”

    “Yeah. Tabitha asked me if he could borrow him, since Breloom likes fighting so much and is good at it—“

    “You’re—you’re with Team Magma?”

    He looked at her with his head cocked to the side. “I guess you wouldn’t have known, since you were unconscious—“

    His voice suddenly cut off as Maressa attempted to lash out with her legs. Bursts of pain rippled from her left leg as soon as she tried to move it; she gasped and held it while the medic stood over her, looking concerned and confused. Still holding her left leg, she kicked out with her right and hit him in the stomach. She got up, standing on her right food and favoring her left, and was about to grab the door handle when a hand closed around her upper arm. She wheeled around; her kick apparently didn’t do much, as the medic stood with his hand clamped around her arm. Using her free hand, she grabbed the arm that held hers and tried to break free of his grip.

    She usually prided herself on her strength, but with how weak and tired she was, she couldn’t even pry his hand of her arm. She grabbed his arm with both of her hands—her heart raced and panic started overtaking her.

    “Let go of me!”

    “No.”

    She glared at him and he merely stared back at her. His expression was stern but not malicious.

    Maressa struggled against him, but her strength—diminished as it was—was no match for his own. Her breathing quickened as sweat beaded on her forehead and her eyes darted rapidly around the room, looking desperately for a way out.

    “Please, calm down,” he said in a gentler tone. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

    “How can I trust someone who’s from Team Magma?”

    “Because I have nothing personal against you. I’m only against Team Aqua by reputation.”

    Maressa struggled fruitlessly again. “Why have you been trying to heal me?”

    “Because we’re people! We’re humane; we wouldn’t just leave you to die. Look at it this way—if we wanted to hurt you, why didn’t we just let you bleed to death?”

    “Because you can’t get information out of a dead person.”

    He closed his eyes and sighed. Maressa saw that he was annoyed.

    “Do you honestly believe that we would want to hurt you after we’ve been trying to heal you? Medical equipment isn’t cheap, you know.”

    Maressa averted her eyes, thinking on what he said.

    “Will you let go of me?” she asked again.

    “Will you promise to not try and hurt me or run away, but just sit on the bed and do what I tell you?”

    She loathed to consent but knew that there weren’t any other options. Swallowing her pride, she nodded, and the man released her. As she sat back on the bed, he knelt down next to her and proceeded to remove her bandages.

    As she promised, Maressa sat quietly, watching him as he replaced her bloody bandages with fresh ones. Though her heart beat at a steady, moderate tempo, her mind raced with questions.

    What’s going to happen to me?

    Tentatively, she asked, “Do you know how bad my injury is?”

    “It’s really not as bad as it looks. The Seaking’s horn didn’t go in that deep. It ripped up your skin and some muscle, but it completely missed your bones and arteries. You should be fully recovered within a few weeks.”

    Maressa’s heart skipped a beat.

    “A few weeks? But—but I’ll out of here before then, won’t I?”

    The medic glanced up at her and gave an apologetic shrug. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

    “Do you know anything else?”

    “Like what?”

    “Like what’s going to happen to me? Where’s my team? What happened to them? Is anyone else here?” The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them and a strain of panic entered her voice.

    The man looked up at the ceiling, his chestnut-brown eyes roving back and forth thoughtfully.

    “I can’t say what’s going happen to you, as I don’t know myself. As far as I know, the rest of your team got away safely. As soon as we had you, they got out of there.”

    Maressa’s heart lightened with the news.

    They got away.

    It grew heavy again as she wondered, But why did they leave me behind?

    She sat, lost in thought, and started when the man put a plate of spaghetti in her hands. “You’ll need to eat if you want to heal faster.”

    Maressa gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks.”

    He returned the smile. “I need to get back to my work. If for some reason you need something, like if your leg is spurting blood,” he waved his hand in the air, “or anything like that, just call for help. Oh, by the way, my name is Derek.”

    Maressa took the hand that he held out and gave it a strong shake. “I’m Maressa.”

    He nodded then turned and walked away. As he left the room and shut the door, it occurred to Maressa that perhaps she shouldn’t have told him her name. She shrugged away the thought; there was nothing to be done about it now. The scent of the food made her stomach rumble but her uneasiness took away all desire to eat. The panic of a few moments before left her even wearier. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

    Her eyes popped open as Derek poked his head through the doorway.

    “I almost forgot to tell you: my commander, Tabitha, wanted to see you after you woke up, so I’ll take you to over there in a bit.”

    "Do you know what she wants me for?"

    He blinked. "What?"

    "Your commander, Tabitha," Maressa clarified, "do you know what she wants to see me for?"

    "Tabitha is a guy."

    Maressa snorted. “A guy?

    “Yes,” he said simply. He checked his watch again, then closed the door.

    Maressa leaned back, the unease lessening as she smiled. A guy—a commander named Tabitha? If there was ever a name that brought the image of an old, crusty grandma to Maressa’s mind, it was Tabitha.

    Her worry abated; if that was really his name, it would be hard to take him seriously.

    ++++++++

    It was hard to not be afraid of him.

    She sat uncomfortably on the edge of a small chair in a little office. The main source of her discomfort wasn’t from the claustrophobic feel of the cluttered office or the gloomy light given off by a single lamp. Rather, it was from the calculating gaze bored into her by his black eyes. She kept her head down, trying to avoid his eyes, but she could feel them on her.

    True to his word, Derek took her from the medical room to this little office. When the office door opened to reveal the Magma commander Maressa fought on Mt. Chimney, she had difficulty containing her surprise and—she loathed to admit—dread. Now, she sat before him while he leaned against the edge of his desk, wondering what he was about to do to his new captive.

    “I told you we’d meet again. Maybe now we can arrange a little payback for what you did at Mt. Chimney.”

    Maressa glared up at him.

    “For what we did? We should be getting back at you for attacking our team.”

    “Maybe, but I don’t think the people of Lavaridge Town are quite as angry with us as they are with you.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Do you not know?”

    “… Know what?”

    “Lavaridge’s economy just went down the drain.”

    Maressa stared at him quizzically.

    “Here,” he said as he picked up a newspaper off his cluttered desk and thrust it at her. Maressa glanced at the headline that mentioned the hot springs cooling off.

    “What does this have to do with us?”

    Taking the newspaper back, he answered, “Lavaridge Town is a main tourist attraction of Hoenn. While you and I were fighting on Mt. Chimney, Team Aqua made the volcano dormant. The volcano was the only thing keeping those hot springs warm. Without hot springs, tourists have stopped coming to Lavaridge Town, and this has hurt not only their economy, but that of all of Hoenn. Peoples’ incomes are decreasing, and some who had a reasonably comfortable lifestyle before are now falling into poverty. First you made a mess of Dewford and Slateport, and now this.”

    “I wasn’t even at Dewford Town,” she grumbled.

    “But you were there at Slateport,” he said with a smug smile. “And if what I saw at Mt. Chimney means anything, then you probably had something to do with the little uproar at Slateport, didn’t you?”

    “It’s hardly as if your team is much better! You were at Mt. Chimney, too, trying to get the meteorite. And back when you captured me—my team wasn’t even doing anything wrong, and Team Magma just shows up and attacks us!”

    “I doubt it. If I know anything about Team Aqua, you’re always trying to stir up trouble wherever you go. If you weren’t doing anything wrong, then what were you up to?”

    She was about to reply but noticed that his expression had changed. It was still disgusted but also genuinely curious.

    He actually wants to know what we were doing, she realized.

    “I’m not going to tell you.”

    Her answer didn’t appear to disappoint him. He smiled. “So you’ll tell me that you weren’t up to anything, but you won’t actually prove it?”

    “No.”

    She glared at him. If he brought her here just to belittle her and ask her what her team was up to, then she thought it was a sad attempt at interrogation. He may be intimidating, but that wasn’t enough to get her to talk.

    “If that’s the best you can do,” she said testily, “then you’re wasting your time. I’m not obligated to tell you anything.”

    “You believe that this is the best we can do? This isn’t even your interrogation. I’m just giving you the option of taking the easy way out and telling us everything you know right now. If not, then in two days, I’ll turn you over to someone else. She won’t be so kind as I am, and you will tell her what you know.”

    Two days?

    That was nothing to worry about. By that time, she would be out of there and back with her own team.

    Her expression must have visibly changed. “Do you think you’ll be out here by then?” Tabitha asked. “That your team is going to come crashing in here and saving you?”

    “Our number-one rule is that no one is left behind. So there’s no way—”

    “And you were left behind,” he noted. His smile widened as he leered over her. “Do you want to know what happened when you became unconscious? As soon as your team saw Breloom hit you with that solar beam, they panicked and ran off without you. The dirty cowards were more worried about saving their own skins than following their own rules.”

    The initial impact of this words struck Maressa but then her self-pity gave way to anger.

    “Don’t call my team a bunch of dirty cowards,” she growled.

    “Fine. According to your logic, then, they’re stupid cowards.” She opened her mouth to retaliate, but he cut across her. “If they really were to come and rescue you, they would be wasting their time. Do you know why the most important rule is to make sure nobody falls behind? It’s so that nobody gives away information to the other teams. If one of my team members was caught—not that anyone on Team Magma is that incompetent—I would only try to get him back if we had something equal to offer Team Aqua for him, which would be one of their own members.

    “Team Aqua isn’t going to come for you because, as far as they know, you’ve already betrayed them and told us everything you know. If that’s the case, then you’re useless to them and they wouldn’t do much more than lock you up or keep you in the lowest rank.”

    He was no longer smiling, just surveying her with disdain. Maressa averted her gaze, not wanting to believe him. He couldn’t be right—he was her enemy, after all. He was messing with her.

    And yet, something in his voice and the matter-of-fact way that he said it made Maressa suspect he was being honest.

    “Maybe that’s what Team Magma would do,” she slowly started, “but—”

    “Our teams’ goals may be complete opposites, but I know that our structure is near-identical. I’ve done more work concerning Team Aqua than you have.”

    She forced herself to look back into his black eyes. She wanted to say something but words were failing her and all she could do was try to hide her own fear, try to push away the possibility that he could be right.

    “I can understand if you don’t want to go back to an organization like that.” His voice softened, sending a chill up Maressa’s spine. “After all, you did put up a decent fight. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t have teammates reliable enough to pull you out of trouble. It can’t be easy to deal with, can it?” He was still frowning. “Betrayal. Being left behind. Not seen as important enough.”

    Maressa glanced away uneasily. His words held mock-pity, but he seemed to be expressing some degree of sympathy. She knew he was trying to break her down and that she shouldn’t believe him—after all, she wasn’t sure that she would consider it “betrayal.”

    But was it?

    She relied on the knowledge that her teammates would pull her out of any danger she ran into—she would do the same for them if the opportunity presented itself.

    They must have had good reasons.

    But it was their number-one rule. When she first joined Team Aqua, their superiors hammered it into their heads that no one should ever leave anyone behind on any account. So why had Mickey and the others done just that?

    Is it… because I’m just a grunt? Does that make me worthless?

    Maressa’s heart sank at the thought. Being a grunt hadn’t really bothered her before—she was new and felt like she could pull herself up the ladder and make it into a higher rank with time and effort. But what if her grunt status did make her disposable?

    “What I can’t understand,” Tabitha continued, and Maressa was relieved when he leaned back and had stopped speaking so softly, “is why anyone would want to join an organization that wants to do something as insane as trying to expand the sea and whose members are too cowardly to do what they’re told.”

    She glanced up at him sharply. “What?”

    “Maybe some of you manage to do what you’re supposed to,” he sneered. “But from what I saw—“

    “No, no, not that. What did you say about expanding the sea?”

    He didn’t immediately respond. He merely surveyed her with that dark, calculating stare. Maressa tried to read his expression more closely, but his cold gaze expressed little emotion.

    “Control Kyogre and expand the sea,” he said bluntly.

    She could only stare at him, befuddled. Expand the sea? Team Aqua loved the sea—it was everything they fought for—but expand it? Anyone who knew the basics of biology, geology or physics knew something like that would only cause devastation—not to mention, it was impossible. And Kyogre? She knew she had heard the word before, but she couldn’t remember what it meant.

    The Magma commander continued to look down at her with his dark eyes as she wrestled with his words.

    “You don’t even know.” His expression suddenly changed as though something clicked in his brain.

    Her amber eyes stared into his black ones as she struggled with deciding what to do. She didn’t want to appear clueless, but what was he talking about?

    Tabitha unfolded his arms and stared at her more intensely than before.

    “Do you want to know what Team Aqua is really up to?”

    “I already know,” she shot back, but it was a lie and she knew it was a bad one. In spite of herself, she wanted to hear what he had to say. Would he answer the questions that had been on her mind for the past few days?

    “No, I don’t think you do.”

    When Maressa didn’t respond, he continued, “The oceans of our planet were formed by the ancient Pokemon, Kyogre. It’s said to have the power to cause unending rain, and Team Aqua wants to control Kyogre to expand the sea.

    “Exactly how you’re going to do that yet, we aren’t sure. We know that you need the Blue Orb to control it, but as far as we know, nobody knows where that item is.

    “That’s what you’re up to every time your team sends you out to go look somewhere—underwater caves, ruins, old temples.. You may just think that they’re having you gather information or do research, but they’re really looking for the ancient Pokémon or the Orb.”

    She averted her eyes, contemplating his words. They were ridiculous—they couldn’t be true. Nobody could possibly think that expanding the sea could be good for the planet. Kyogre was just a creature from mythology. Did the people that she worked for, that she looked up to, honestly believe that a Pokémon had created the world and could be put under human control? If Tabitha was trying to give her false information, why would he bother with something so far-fetched?

    But there was something in his voice that held an unshakeable truth. There was no malice, no pity, no derision—just plain, simple information.

    He smiled as he saw her helpless, confused stare.

    “Never thought your team would do something like that, did you? I guess I can’t really blame them for hiding that stuff from newer recruits. If they went around spreading information like that to everyone, they probably wouldn’t have nearly the same number of team members as they do now.”

    “What about Team Magma?” she suddenly asked.

    He raised his eyebrows questioningly.

    “Does everyone on your team know what you’re up to? Or do you tell them different?”

    “All of our members know that we’re trying to create more land. We, at least, don’t have a goal that’s so obviously destructive that we have to hide it.”

    Maressa cast her eyes down. She knew she shouldn’t believe him, that she couldn’t trust him to be honest, but what if he was right? And it would make sense for him to know more, since he was of a higher rank. But for him to know more about her own team than she did? But if he was right, then it was no wonder that Team Aqua was trying to keep their goals a secret….

    But it didn’t make any sense! Team Aqua was trying to help the oceans, not re-create the entire planet. And yet everything that she had just been told—that they were searching for Kyogre or for the Orb, that they didn’t care about how many people they had to hurt to achieve their goals—fit with all of the missions she had gone on since she had taken up the blue bandana.

    At last, she raised her eyes to meet his own. “Why are you telling me this?”

    “You ought to be informed about what your team is doing. At least the members of Team Magma know our basic goals—they’re easy enough to understand. You shouldn’t just blindly follow orders when it’s going to cause complete chaos and destroy a large portion of our planet. I know that you just want to do what’s right. It can’t be easy, thinking that you’ve been helping the world this whole time, when it turns out that the only intention Team Aqua has is to destroy it.”

    His voice had gotten softer, and once again lacked the denigration that it had before. She looked up. He leaned in closer, staring down at her from overhead, his heavy-lidded eyes scanning her with an intensity that made her supremely uncomfortable. She shrank back in her chair, averting her eyes and trying to escape his gaze.

    “You don’t belong with them, Maressa.”

    She forced herself to look back at him. There was something odd about those words, and she had a bad feeling that she knew where this conversation was heading.

    “Well, I signed a contract with them, so I can’t leave and don’t really have anywhere else to go, so I…” Her voice died as he smiled softly. She really wished he wouldn’t smile.

    “You don’t have to go back to them at all; you can just stay here. Think about it. If you go back there—if you ever manage to get back there—you’ll be stuck in a low rank for getting captured, and probably won’t have anything more important to do than to keep watch. No more Pokemon battles, no more missions. If you stay here, you would be much more valuable than that. As a member of Team Aqua, you must know the locations of their hideouts, the layouts of their bases, how strong their security is, the Pokémon they use—stuff that may be basic to you, but is very important and useful to us. If you were to give us this information, everything that you’ve done against us will be forgiven. You’ll be well-respected on our team and given a higher rank and privileges not permitted to the lower-ranking members.”

    The smile was still playing on his face but now there was a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

    He actually wants me to join.

    But as she listened to him, she grew angry and balled her hands in to fists.

    “You want me betray them.”

    “Of course I do; you’d be more useful to us that way. Besides, they betrayed you, and haven’t exactly given you much reason to keep standing up for them.”

    He’s right, she admitted. After everything she had gone through, she didn’t know if she really wanted to keep working for Team Aqua. She wasn’t sure that she liked them anymore, but one thing hadn’t changed: she still hated Team Magma. Besides, what would Golduck and the others think?

    Golduck.

    At the thought of her him, a light flicked on her head. Her Pokémon were still with Team Aqua, and she knew that no matter what, she had to return for them.

    “No. Maybe I could betray people I hardly know, but I could never betray my Pokémon. And I have friends on Team Aqua—you seriously think I could just turn traitor on them?” Her voice rose and grew stronger as her blood boiled hotter.

    He shrugged. “It’s just an offer. You can join us and tell us what you know now or you can be interrogated and have the information forced out of you. I’m just giving you an easier way out.”

    “ ‘Have the information forced out’? Do you really think that sounds like something with an ethical standard that would make me want to join?”

    “It’s nothing Team Aqua doesn’t do.”

    “That doesn’t make it any better!” Ignoring the pain in her leg, she stood up, her cheeks flushed in anger. “Maybe you’re right about some stuff, and maybe Team Aqua isn’t that good of an organization but Team Magma is just the same. You expect me to believe you when you make my team sound like a mass-murdering organization of serial killers and yours sound like a bunch of angels who just help out this world?”

    “I know that Team Magma is illegal, if that’s what you’re getting at.” He didn’t move when she stood up, and was completely unfazed even when she was shouting inches from his face.

    Growing more reckless by the second, she snorted.

    “And acting like I’m going to tell you everything one way or another—you can’t force me to do anything.”

    Tabitha tilted his head to the side.

    “Can’t I?”

    Maressa was not prepared for how quickly he got to his feet and pushed her against the metal wall. The back of Maressa’s head throbbed as it hit the cold metal. His hands were on his upper arms, clenching her so tightly she thought they might bruise. His dark eyes were coldly bore into her.

    She suddenly realized just how much taller he was than her, and as he towered over her, Maressa’s resolve dissolved and she shrank back from her captor.

    “This is my team, Maressa,” he said softly. “I can do whatever I want here.”

    He released his hold on her left arm and placed his hand on her thigh, right where the bandages covered the hole in her leg.

    “No!” she shouted in panic. “No, please! Don’t touch it—don’t hurt me—“

    His expression didn’t change. Maressa felt on the verge of tears—she was panicking so badly, trying to pry his hand off of her leg—but her efforts were useless. Tabitha kept his gaze locked on her.

    Maressa didn’t know how long they continued like that—her gasping and panicking and him silently staring—but he eventually let go and backed away from her. Maressa leaned against the wall, shaking slightly.

    “We reach land the day after tomorrow, Maressa. I encourage you to think about telling us what you know.”

    He opened the door and gestured for her to exit. She walked out to find Derek waiting for her.

    “What’s wrong?” he asked when he saw her rapidly panting.

    She could shook her head in reply. Steadying her breathing, the two walked back to the clinic, where they parted ways. Sitting down on her bed, Maressa buried her head in her hands, thinking on all that had been said and dreading the events to come.

    =================================

    “We have to go back and get her!”

    Sarah’s stared at Mickey—pathetic, helpless-looking Mickey. Her mouth was slightly agape as he finished telling her what had happened.

    “We couldn’t. We were lucky that they decided to go after her and not after the rest of us! Imagine how much worse it would be if everyone in our group was caught! They had us outnumbered, there was no way we could have held them off for long—“

    Sarah’s blood boiled as he explained his cowardice. “Then why did you even fight back in the first place?!”

    “We couldn’t just escape! We tried to, but they noticed us and fought—they probably could’ve torn our submarine apart in minutes!”

    Mickey panted and held his hands out in a pleading gesture. Their outbursts attracted a group of onlookers, including most of Mickey’s group, who had just gotten back. They were in the unloading dock of one of Team Aqua’s bases—it was a surprise to see Mickey’s group arrive there, as they were scheduled to return to a base further south. His excuses did not incite sympathy from Sarah.

    She turned away in disgust—she couldn’t speak to him anymore. Maressa was just re-assigned under a week ago. When Sarah had heard that Maressa was going diving and searching for underwater caverns for her assignment, she had been jealous, but happy for her friend. Meanwhile, she and Cloe had been put in a group under the commander Matt and had been doing little more than standing as lookout and undergoing training simulations for spying.

    They had only been in their new position for a few days when Mickey suddenly showed up—and had nothing to say except that Maressa had been captured.

    “Don’t you get mad us too, Sarah,” he whined. “I’m still wondering how I’m going to explain this to the admins.”

    “Explain what to who?”

    Every head snapped towards the open doorway as a tall, burly man, whose open vest flapped around a slightly overhanging belly, came striding out. Everyone stiffened and stood at attention as Matt rubbed his tired-looking eyes and said to Mickey, “Did you say you had something to tell us?”

    “Yes, it’s about... our last mission, sir.” He looked extremely agitated and his emerald eyes darted restlessly around.

    Matt’s tired eyes narrowed in confusion.

    “Why did you come to this base? Didn’t Shelly send you all out? You know you’re to report back to whoever sent you out unless told otherwise.”

    Opening his mouth, Mickey was about to answer, but Sarah could take it no longer.

    “Maressa’s been captured by Team Magma!”

    Matt turned his eyes on her. They were no longer confused or tired, but sharp and cold.

    “Who?”

    “Maressa, she was with Mickey’s squad, and she was caught by Team Magma!”

    Matt turned to the people in Mickey’s group, all of whom were looking terrified.

    “Explain,” he said quietly.

    Everyone in the room remained dead silent as Mickey gave excuses for his cowardice. He went into detail about their failed attempt at escape and the battle with the Magma members, finishing with the enemy’s Breloom sending a solar beam at Maressa and her Seaking.

    “And when I saw her Seaking swim away as fast as he could and Maressa didn’t come back up, I knew something was wrong, and with her down and her Pokémon gone I didn’t want to risk staying there and having something happen to the rest of us, so I had everyone get back in and we left,” he finished in a rush.

    Nobody spoke a word. Matt’s face was stern. His eyes glinted with murderous light, and, though she knew his anger wasn’t directed at her, Sarah was scared. She had never seen him this angry—he had always been fairly lenient and easy-going, much easier to get along with than Shelly—but now she saw why everyone warned the newcomers not to cross him.

    “Did anyone follow you?” His voice was deadly quiet and held a chill that made Sarah uncomfortable.

    Mickey shook his head.

    “No, I’m sure of it.”

    “Do you remember what the number one rule on missions is?”

    Mickey faltered. “Yes, but—“

    “Then you, Michael Angelo, are permanently stripped of rank. You will be treated as a brand-new recruit, but any mistakes you make won’t be easily forgiven.”

    Mouth agape, Mickey stared at Matt.

    “But I’ve been here for four years! I’ve worked—“

    He was cut off as Matt thundered.

    “Yes, you’ve been here for four years! You should know what our first rule is and how to follow it! You were put in charge of the mission, and you should’ve looked after the newer recruits and made sure that everyone got away safely!” He turned on his heel and tromped back through the open door. “Don’t think you’re getting off lightly; this is only temporary punishment. When I tell Archie about this, he’ll decide what to do with you.” So saying, he slammed the door behind him, leaving the room in stricken silence.

    Mickey slumped against a wall and covered his face with both hands. Many of the spectators either stared in shock or immediately left the room. Some started whispering amongst themselves.

    Sarah made her way to the door Matt exited through but hesitated before opening it. She was scared to face an angry Matt, but he hadn’t been angry at her, and he hadn’t said anything about what she really wanted to know.

    She opened the door and found Matt sitting at a smell desk, talking through a phone. He held up a hand as he noticed her and gestured for her to wait a moment.

    “He claimed there was no other way out... Yes... Yes... He—” Leaning back in his chair, Matt looked as though he was in pain, and started to relay what Mickey had said through the phone. Sarah grew slightly nervous as she realized he must have been speaking to their boss.

    “Yes sir... I don’t know, I—yes, I will... Right now? Where do you want us to go? ... Yes, sir.” At last, he put down the receiver and looked up at Sarah. “Did you want something?”

    She was relieved to see that he was no longer angry, just surveying her curiously.

    “Yes, sir, it’s about Maressa.”

    “What happens to Mickey is for him to know. If he decides to share it with anyone, that’s his choice. I’m not about to tell everyone who asks me what his punishment is.”

    “No, sir, I know. I just wanted to make sure, since you didn’t say anything about it earlier, but we are going to get Maressa back, aren’t we?”

    He averted his eyes, and after a second’s hesitation, he said, “Of course, it’s just a matter of how long it will take and what we need to do to get her back. But don’t worry. She won’t be with them long.”

    Sarah left the room, her heart considerably lighter at knowing that her friend would soon be back and safe from danger.
     
    Chapter 6
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    Maressa's in a tight spot, and--oof--without any of her pokemon! Sounds like she's on course to get back home ... but the damage will have been done. Some degree of trust has been broken. I get why you cut away, but the scene with Sarah was harder for me to get into because I'm not invested in her as a character.
    Hey! I'm sorry this is such a late reply. I've had... various things going on with my family members in real life lately and it's taken my mind out of fanfiction. I'll get around to reviewing the latest chapter of Continental Divides soon! Sorry about that ._.


    A human hand feels so different from a bug, it was hard for me to suspend disbelief on this one. I could maybe buy it more if she were drifting in and out of dreams and she imagined something from her dream grabbing her?
    Good point! I added the bug thing on a whim, not sure why I thought it was a great idea lol

    It feels like this is a source of comfort for her, like she takes it as a sign of safety, and I want to poke that a little. I can't quite tell by the descriptions if she thinks she's in a real hospital or an Aqua facility. What is Team Aqua/Magma's relationship to hospitals anyway? Do they have to avoid them because of their criminal history, or can they use them? It might also be nice to get a little inkling of Maressa's history with Aqua and injury. Has she ever been in an Aqua medical bay before? Has she been hurt on a mission before? (Seems like probably not!)
    Good questions! Maressa thinks she's in a Team Aqua facility, though she hasn't stayed in one herself yet. For the most part, the Teams get by with their own medics but can go into hospitals if needed. This gets expanded on more later, in how the Teams function as part of society and operate under different names.

    Heartbreak will happen (for her, probs not the readers lol)

    Biiig tipoff that she's not in a real hospital, if she didn't know already. I can't tell what she makes of that though.
    Heheh, fair enough. I didn't realize or really think about that when I wrote this, but after having visited a friend of mine in the hospital several times, I know that everyone's up all hours of the night.

    I like that you noticed this in your fic and changed his gender entirely lol

    I like this sentiment, but I'd reword to make it flow a little better. The office was dimly lit and claustrophobic, cluttered with __. But Maressa's real source of discomfort was his calculating gaze. I'm also very curious what Tabitha's office is cluttered with! Is he hoarding newspapers? Igneous rock? Plates he hasn't brought back to the cafeteria in a long time? Books about Hoenn legendaries? Etc. Good opportunity to sneak in more characterization for him.
    Thanks for this tip! I had always imagined with newspapers and book scans etc. I should elaborate more on it!

    I grew up on a hot spring without any volcanoes nearby, so I had to Google this to double-check. Nice way to justify that this action is a problem! The canon really doesn't offer much there.
    I think I got this from the Pokemon Adventures/Pokemon Special manga. But that also rreminded me of a funny meme I saw lol I'll post it if I can find it.

    I would've been nice to see this dropped earlier! It doesn't have as much impact hearing it for the first time now. But it would be easy to make this something Mark says to Maressa to reassure her.
    Good to know! Thanks for bringing that up!

    This doesn't ring true for me. I can't tell if the intention here is that he's trying to psych her out, or if they both think this is how it works. If they think she's given up information, it would still make sense to get her back, to figure out what exactly she told them.
    Oh for sure, and he knows that. He's trying to scare her, and even though she's fairly reasonable (or I try to describe her that way for the most part) her whole situation makes her scared and more prone to believing him.

    Part of me want him to neg her harder? Like, really plant ideas of what her team might think of her in her head, put words in their mouths. Another part of me is glad he didn't because it suuuure does seem like you're slowly nudging them together too, and that would make it harder for me to like him. He's pretty ... rough ... as-is. At this stage it would take a big shift in Tabitha for me to see him as likable, but maybe that's the plan.
    Hmmm I've gotten a lot of feedback on Tabitha and his character, so I'm just going to stay quiet about this right now and let you see you end up feeling about him :)

    Hm, I'm wondering at his lack of emotion here! Is this something he worries about? Does he think they can do it, or that they're crazy? (And what about Maressa?)
    I tried to make him stoic and not very expressive (which didn't work in the first draft because he was a melodramatic DRAMA QUEEN)

    Again, I can't tell if he's just drunk his own Kool-aid here or if we're playing Sapphire version, not Emerald, and this is Totally Fine. I would expect Maressa with her background in bio and love of oceans to make a rebuttal about more land = harming existing aquatic ecosystems.
    I don't want to say too much except that he believes that will become of it is BEST, but not necessarily beneficial... Which I realize doesn't make much sense at this point. And yes, Maressa definitely knows that more land =/= better world, but at the moment she's more caught up in her own worries with her team.

    !
    This is news! I wonder about not having anywhere else to go though. Did she have a fight with her family that we don't know about?
    She meant she doesn't have other jobs lined up in terms of "nowhere else to go;" she's on good terms with her family (as long as they don't know she lied to them about Team Aqua)

    It's not clear if it's because his smile is scary, or if she finds his smile comforting/alluring and doesn't want to.
    O_O
    Oh, yeah, I should probably clarify it to make it apparent that it's the former. She's intimidated by Tabitha, not attracted to him (I realize those aren't necessarily mutually exclusive all the time, but here she's solely the former)



    Throughout, I'm having trouble getting a sense for how authority is wielded in Team Aqua. Are people generally scared of commanders ... or not? It feels a little more casual and less authoritarian than I'd expect. Like, there's a lot of bluster, but the punishments don't seem to be that bad. And here Sarah gets to interrupt without any consequences at all.
    Depends on who it is. Shelly was MUCH stricter (though since I cut out her chapter... I guess people would no longer have a way of knowing that) whereas Matt is more laid back and this causes different character dynamics, especially in future chapters.

    Huh, yeah, we haven't seen Archie or Maxie up close yet! Looking forward to seeing what you do with them.
    Heh, I'm not super impressed with myself for how I handle them, since I wanted this story to primarily be about grunts. But they will appear!

    This didn't quite feel like a conversation she should be allowed to overhear! It also didn't add much for me, since he's repeating information we just got.
    Fair enough.
    Thanks again for the review! I'll get around to reviewing Continental Divides when I'm less frazzled. Always good to hear from you!


    Hi everyone! This is another fairly long chapter. If you have any thoughts or critiques, I'm happy to hear them! Enjoy!

    Chapter 6



    "Please?"

    Claydol groaned, firmly denying the request.

    “Come on. It’s easy, and what else are you going to spend your time doing? All you do all day is float next to me and bother me while I’m trying to work.”

    Derek turned around and faced Claydol. His numerous red eyes were half-closed and surveyed the human with amusement. In spite of Derek’s provocation, the Pokemon didn’t respond.

    “Won’t you, please? I actually have a patient to take care of for once, and you know that I hate doing inventory.”

    Looking him over with an unchanged expression—not that his expression could change much, anyway—Claydol gave another groan.

    The answer was still the same.

    Turning away, Derek sighed as he walked towards the medical room. He pushed open the door and walked in to see Maressa lying awake on her bed. She was flexing her arms, studying the muscles carefully. She was unusually brawny for a girl; while her muscles were lean and slim, they were well-defined—more well-defined than those of any girls Derek knew. Sighing, she relaxed her arms and looked up at Derek. He gave a small wave and walked to the door on the side wall.

    “Who’s your friend?"

    “Hm?"

    Derek turned to see that Claydol stopped following him and floated by Maressa’s bedside. She sat up and gazed at him with curiosity and awe.

    “Oh, that’s just Claydol. He helps me out when I need to get some stuff done.” After a second’s pause he added, “Or he just bothers me when he’s too lazy to do anything.”

    She reached up a hand, as though about to pet the Pokemon, and asked, “May I?”

    Derek nodded and Claydol rumbled his consent. Maressa ran her fingers along the earthen body, rubbing the white patterns that grooved his mid-section.

    “He’s beautiful…”

    Claydol gave an appreciative groan, but Derek noticed that there was more than just respect in her voice. There was something forlorn, some note of longing, underneath the outward awe.

    She must be upset about not having her Seaking with her, he realized. The thought stirred sympathy within him; he couldn’t imagine being stuck in one place without Claydol, Breloom or Golbat.

    He glanced at the door then moved across the room and sat on the bed opposite Maressa’s. There would be time to do inventory later. Actually, there probably wouldn’t, but he didn’t feel like doing it anyway. Besides, he couldn’t get into too much trouble. As one of the only medics on the team, he knew that Team Magma considered him too valuable to lose.

    He watched Maressa pat the large earthen doll. “I know Breloom’s a fighter, but what about you? Do you like to battle, or would you rather stay on the sidelines?”

    Claydol groaned an answer. Derek sat stiffly, a little surprised that she was talking directly to his Pokemon and not asking him. She was the first to do so. Everyone else had had met always talked to the trainer, not the Pokemon.

    “He’s not much of a battler,” Derek informed her. She turned her amber eyes on him as he spoke. “He can fight when he needs to, but he mainly helps me out in here.”

    “He knows how to do all of this medical stuff?”

    He shrugged. “A bit. I’m usually the one that handles the patients. He’ll get out or put together whatever equipment I need, though.”

    “That’s cool. I tried teaching my Pokemon calculus, but Lanturn and Sharpedo weren’t interested. Seaking showed interest, but I don’t think he really understood any of it. Golduck told me that it was a waste of time and that I shouldn’t bother trying to teach him anything as useless and boring as math.”

    Taken aback, Derek noted, “Your Golduck seems pretty… stubborn.” He thought this was an understatement, but couldn’t think of anything else to say and didn’t want to run the risk of insulting her Pokemon.

    Her brow furrowed. “You have no idea. I can hardly ever get him to listen to me.”

    “Does he battle much?”

    “All the time—he’s the strongest Pokemon I have and he works the best with me. He knows what I want him to do and does it without question. Sure, outside of battle, he can be rude, but I can tell that he doesn’t really mean it.”

    She stopped petting Claydol. Her eyes were downcast and the curiosity she showed before vanished.

    Derek couldn’t really think of what to say; he pitied her for being stuck alone and without her Pokemon, but it wasn’t something he could relate to and he didn’t think that there was anything he could do to make her feel better. He didn’t want to end their conversation on such a somber note, though.

    “You, uh… you liked studying calculus?”

    “Hm? Oh, yeah.” She snapped out of her dejection and sat upright again. “Math was always my favorite; I studied it throughout high school and college.”

    “Where did you go for college?”

    “I went to the Hoenn Institute of Technology and Architecture.”

    “Oh, decided to stay regional?”

    “Yeah, they have pretty incredible math and physics departments. Did you know that they have a particle accelerator?”

    His eyes widened. “I didn’t know that! That’s pretty cool. I guess it’s no surprise, though, since most of the top scientists and researchers in Hoenn have gone there.”

    “What about you? Where did you go?”

    “I studied at the Johto Technological and Medical Institution.”

    “Did you go to med school?”

    “I…”

    He paused—he always felt a little embarrassed when talking about this. But in his split second of silence Maressa cut across him.

    “I don’t mean to be asking anything too personal, it’s just that if—I thought that if you had gone to med school, you probably could’ve gotten a job as a doctor pretty easily, and it would’ve paid a lot better than being on Team Magma.” Her words tumbled out in a rush as though she was worried about offending him.

    “It’s all right, don’t worry about. It’s just that… Yeah, I went to med school—got accepted and started my first year and everything—but I never finished. I wanted to, but it burned me out a lot more quickly than I thought it would.”

    He shifted. He hated admitting how he gave in to burn out—he could never look back on his decision to quit without feeling shame.

    “And while I was in school, I heard about Team Magma—they said I could be a medic on the team even if I joined then right then and there. Med school is expensive, and the pay I get here is really good. It's like working early without having to pay for all of school. And it seems like my teammates were right. There hasn't been a single Pokémon brought to me that I haven't been able to cure yet."

    "What about people?"

    "To be honest, you're pretty much the only person I've really worked with. Sure, there have been cuts, burns, bruised bones, and things like that, but nobody else has had to lie in a bed for a while." He smiled. "You get to be my first long-time patient."

    “So you joined Team Magma because you were tired and wanted to pay off your college debt?”

    “Well… No, there’s more to it than that.” He rubbed his eyes with both of his hands for a moment. “I might go back to school—I haven’t decided. But I needed to leave—at least for a bit.”

    “Do you think you don’t want to do medicine anymore?”

    “No, I want to do medicine and take care of patients more than anything! It was the studying and bookwork that fried me—I spent five years in college working myself to the bone just to be good enough for medical school. But then one of my professors suggested I ‘take a year off’ and do some lab or clinical work before applying. So I did—but that ‘year off’ wasn’t relaxing. I still studied, staying up late constantly reading research papers and analyzing data to get results and compile reports. I had to study for entrance exams into medical schools, go through interviews and file more paperwork. When I got in, I went straight into school from work—it was constant studying and bookwork…” He shook his head.

    “I couldn’t handle it anymore. Team Magma offered me the chance to start doing medical work. And after over six years of burning out, it sounded like a dream—so I took it and I’m starting to pay off my dues for undergrad and med school.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “School is not cheap.”

    “No, I’ve definitely learned that by now,” Maressa said. Her voice quieted and she stared down at her feet.

    “So, why did you join Team Aqua? I told you my reasons for joining Team Magma.”

    She grimaced. “I don’t have to pay for pre-med school, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have plenty left to pay off. Honestly, being able to pay off school was a pretty big reason for joining them…” Her voice trailed off, and she shifted her gaze away in embarrassment.

    “So—in that regard—you’re in the same boat as I am.”

    “Well, it’s more than just paying off school; I enjoy what I do. I get to fight Pokemon battles and spend plenty of time with my Pokemon.”

    “If you’re in this for Pokemon battling, why don’t you enter Pokemon tournaments? They offer pretty hefty cash prizes.”

    “I don’t know… A lot of the biggest ones are televised, and I’m not really comfortable with all of that. And I like getting recognition for when I’m good at something, but I don’t think I could ever be comfortable with appearing on TV and being famous or anything. Besides, those are super competitive; the best people spend all their time training their Pokemon and have really diverse teams. I just have four Water-type Pokemon, and they are strong, but I don’t think we would really stand a chance in a tournament like that.” She shifted her eyes. “Besides, when I joined Team Aqua, I heard that I would be helping Pokemon and prevent destruction of their habitats.”

    She was no longer smiling or warm. She shrunk against the back wall and averted her eyes from his. She looked upset and confused. There was something odd about her words as well.

    “ ‘When you joined’ them, you heard that? Has that changed?”

    She shifted her amber eyes back to him. “I don’t know—well, there were things going on in my team that I didn’t know about. They never told us everything when they sent us on missions. They would just tell our squad leaders. And I was okay with it then, since I was just a grunt and I knew that obedience was the most important thing. But since then, I’ve heard stuff about what we do and I just—I—I don’t know…”

    Taken aback, Derek studied her. Slouched back on the bed with such a lost look, she seemed so pathetic that he found himself feeling a little sorry for her.

    “What did they tell you, then?”

    “Not much, really. I could tell that there was something going on that they weren’t giving us all of the details about, but I just thought it was because I was a low-ranking member and that I would be told more the longer I worked with them.

    “And then when I came here, Tabitha told me that Team Aqua’s goal is to take control of some ancient Pokemon and use it to expand the sea, and if that’s true… Well, that’ll be the opposite of everything I thought we were doing. I don’t want to work for a team like that, but my team wouldn’t really be doing that, would they?”

    She looked pleadingly at him as though she expected him to hold some answer that would refute all of her suspicions and secure her belief in the goodwill of Team Aqua.

    But he couldn’t do that. That would be a lie, and if she was living a lie the entire time she worked with Team Aqua then it was time for her to face the truth.

    “That is what your team is doing. At least as far as Team Magma knows, anyway.”

    She closed her eyes at his words, and when she opened them, she appeared more dejected and forlorn than he had seen her yet.

    “But… What about Team Magma?”

    “What about us?”

    “If Team Aqua is trying to expand the sea by controlling some sort of monster, then how are you guys going to try to expand the land? From what my team says, you guys are trying to make more land—aren’t you?”

    “Yeah.”

    “And you’re okay with that? You do realize that will cause destruction and kill a ton of people and Pokemon, right?”

    He paused. He did not believe that creating more land would be bad for the planet—all scientific models pointing to that were just theoretic, after all—but he was not interested in arguing with a Team Aqua member about it.

    Maressa apparently wasn’t one for pauses and quickly cut through the silence.

    “You want to take care of people and do what’s best for them but you’re supporting a team that’s only going to get them killed?”

    “No, I don’t think that creating more land will hurt people—“

    “But what about the stuff you guys do? Team Magma terrorizes people and towns! Doesn’t that matter to you? Doesn’t the path to completing your goal matter just as much as the completion itself?”

    He paused. She stared intently at him, her amber eyes blazing. He couldn’t think of much else to say—of course, he didn’t want to make ends meet by doing something unethical, but after all, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He just took care of the sick.

    “I just take care of the wounded. I don’t see anything wrong in that.”

    “You’re doing it for a criminal organization when you could be doing it for anyone else!”

    Blood rushed to his face and he balled his hands into fists. Maressa glared at him and he glared back. He swallowed—he wanted to say something—how could she say that about him? She didn’t know his life. But he couldn’t think of how to put it into words.

    “Dol…”

    The two humans started as Claydol rumbled. Derek forgot he was there and floating inches from him as he had talked with his patient.

    Seeing this as an opportunity to get out of the uncomfortable conversation, Derek stood up.

    “You’re right, Claydol, we should get back to work.”

    Ignoring the Pokemon as he blinked his several eyes in confusion, he turned to Maressa.

    “We need to get back to work,” he said, ignoring the Pokemon’s protestant rumblings. Derek turned and walked across the infirmary to the supply door.

    “Derek?”

    He was about to exit when Maressa called. He turned and saw her looking at him—the fire was gone from her eyes. She sat upright on her bed, her leg stretched out, shoulders slumped, looking at him sadly.

    “Thank you for taking care of me.”

    Derek sighed. Maressa looked sad—even a bit apologetic and she really did seem grateful.

    His anger abated and he smiled at her. “You’re welcome.”

    +++++++++++

    The door swung open easily as he gave a gentle push. Derek peered inside to see Tabitha sitting at his desk, his face hidden in his hands, his violet hair stuck out in several different directions. Random pieces of paper were strewn across his desk—some covered in writing, others with diagrams of the earth’s layers or stellar movements.

    Tabitha looked up. “Come in. You can take a seat.” He gestured to the empty seat before his desk.

    Nodding thankfully, Derek sat down in front of him.

    “How is she?” Tabitha asked.

    “Maressa?”

    He nodded.

    Derek shrugged. “Not any worse than when we found her. Her leg is healing, though it’ll be a while before it’s back to one-hundred percent.”

    “How is she emotionally?”

    “She seems okay, not breaking down into hysterics or anything.”

    Tabitha nodded again, and lapsed into silence. His baggy eyes glazed over as he stared at the corner of his desk. The lids of his eyes drooped heavily, and his hair was unusually untidy.

    “Are you all right? You look like you need sleep.”

    Tabitha bobbed his head up and down. “I probably do, but I there’s stuff that I needed to get done. I’ve been trying to reach Courtney for hours but she won’t answer.” He grimaced and passed his hand over his face as though trying to rub the sleepiness away.

    Derek started. “You mean Crazy Courtney? Why are you calling her?”

    He immediately regretted his words; though he considered Tabitha a friend and would joke around with him, he realized that referring to a commander by the nickname the grunts had for her was probably a bad idea.

    His concern was needless, however. Tabitha merely smiled for a moment before replying, “She’s typically the one that interrogates any captives we have. The sooner we get something out of Maressa, the better.”

    “ ‘Typically’? Has this happened before?”

    “We’ve captured a few Team Aqua members and one scientist that we needed information from.”

    Tabitha didn’t seem to notice Derek’s discomfort. It was as though taking captives was nothing to the commander. But Derek couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those held as prisoners.

    Silence stretched between the two again but some shard of discomfort urge Derek to ask, “Why do you have to hand her over to Courtney? Didn’t you already interrogate her?”

    “I gave her an offer to join Team Magma. Maxie says that he prefers Courtney to handle interrogations, so I’ve been trying to get a hold of her.”

    “What does she normally do to them?”

    “Whatever she wants. I usually don’t watch, but I know she likes to get her Ninetales to help her.”

    “If we’re going to hurt Maressa, why have you been having me treat her?”

    “When we first fished her out of the water, I was more concerned with keeping her alive, so I left her in your care. Besides, even if she won’t join us or doesn’t have useful information, keeping a Team Aqua member captive is still good for us—whether for trading or setting an example. Unless there’s something you can do to her to make her stop recovering, I didn’t see any other options.”

    “She won’t just stagnate, she either gets better or she gets worse.”

    Tabitha shrugged. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. If you want, we can move her out of that room and just lock her up somewhere. Or does she still need you?”

    Something about these words bothered Derek. He wasn’t quite sure what Tabitha meant, but he sensed that Maressa’s future wouldn’t be very pleasant.

    “I should probably keep looking after her for the next few days, to make sure her wound doesn’t get infected and she doesn’t get sick or anything.”

    Tabitha nodded and rubbed his eyes hard. “Well, if that’s all there is with you, I’m turning in for the night.”

    Standing up to leave, Derek asked, “Is that all you wanted me for?”

    “That’s it. Oh, by the way, do you like Soda Pop?” He gestured to a pile of cans standing in the corner of the little office.

    “Where did you get all of those?”

    “Some of the teammates were having a party and I confiscated them. I don’t drink it, but my Mightyena loves that stuff. You can have some to give to your Pokemon, if you’d like.”

    “Claydol doesn’t have a mouth, and Breloom’s hyperactive enough as it is, but I’ll see if Golbat wants any.”

    Picking up a can, he waved goodbye to his friend and made his way out of the office. As he walked down the corridor, his mind buzzed with questions and concerns.

    It’s happened before…

    So they had captured other Team Aqua members and interrogated them. Where were they now? Was Team Magma holding them somewhere, or had they been sent back to Team Aqua? If so, what did their own team do with them? Were they still allowed on missions or were they regarded as useless? And what about Team Magma—had any of their members been caught by Team Aqua? Derek grew uncomfortable at the thought of his teammates lying in a dark room with little to eat, without their people or Pokemon. And as he thought about the possibilities Maressa might face, a chill crept down his spine.

    What is my team actually doing?

    ++++++++++++++++

    Maressa waited, her body growing tenser with anticipation every waking moment. Were it not for her overall weariness caused by the gash in her leg, she didn’t think she’d be able to sleep.

    But the night passed and Tabitha didn’t come. She had asked Derek about it, but all he would do was shrug away the question and claim he didn’t know.

    Derek provided a surprising amount of comfort. Perhaps it was because he was the only living being Maressa had contact with, but she soon found that he was entertaining to talk to and be with. Whenever she heard footsteps sound in the hallway, terror clutched at her heart, but its grip always vanished whenever he appeared in the doorway.

    “But I need to get back outside,” she said the next morning as he sorted through bottles of liquids and pills. “I gain weight like crazy if I’m not actively working out.”

    Derek smiled skeptically as glanced at Maressa’s trim, athletically-fit form. “I’m sure you don’t.”

    Maressa lay on her back with her hands on her belly a she stared disdainfully at the pale pudge. “I do, though. A lot of girls say that they’re fat and that they gain weight really quickly but I’m one that actually does.” She huffed as she inspected her arms and legs. “I’m also losing my tan; I had to work for days to get rid of my tanlines and even out my skin tone. And I’m losing all my muscle—I’m so out of shape. If I don’t get back outside soon and stop eating, I’m going to be a fat albino!” She covered her face with her hand as she lay on her back and let out a moan of despair.

    Derek snorted as he attempted to stifle his laughter. He turned away and tonelessly said, “We hardly feed you anything.”

    When silence greeted him, he thought that was an end to their conversation. As he turned away again, he indistinctly heard a muffled voice strain out, “I’m going to get a muffin top...”

    As Derek let out a burst of laughter, Maressa raised her hands from her face and gave a smile in return. Eventually, she descended into laughter with him and the room echoed with peals of their voices. It was odd for Derek; he had never expected to enjoy his time with an Aqua member as much as this.

    Although, he realized, she isn't really an Aqua member anymore. Only their higher-ups considered her to still be affiliated with them.

    And what they think is all that matters, he realized as he thought darkly about the future Maressa was about to face. For the rest of the afternoon, the thought set a damper on his mood, and the joy that he had experienced a moment ago made the realization all the more painful.

    ++++++++

    Derek lay awake, racking his brains.

    There has to be a way…

    There had to be a way to get Maressa out—to let her out without anyone knowing he had helped her. He shuddered to think what would happen to her if she was to be put alone with Courtney. At least her own team wouldn’t be as bad when she got back to them.

    Or would they?

    His eyes popped open as he realized that he didn’t know how Team Aqua would react if Maressa was ever returned to them. Would they trust her and let her continue to work for them? After all, being captured was something that could happen to anyone. Wouldn’t she be able to return to the same position she had before?

    But inside, Derek knew that couldn’t be true. If a Team Magma member had been captured and returned, the best that could happen to them was to be kept in the lowest rank, used as only a janitor and perhaps a watch-person. The worst that could happen…

    She has to get out of here.

    But even if she did get out, then what? Would her team really let her continue to be with them as she did before? They must—someone who had managed to escape from an enemy base must be invaluable as a team member. But would they believe she had actually escaped or would they suspect her to have turned traitor? Would they think that she had chosen to work for Team Magma and that they planted her back in Team Aqua to work as a spy or to sabotage them?

    I’m overthinking this, Derek told himself as he sat up and ran his fingers through his hair. I just have to get her out and everything else will take care of itself. With this thought, he laid back down and tried to sleep but sat back up as horrible images and ideas came to his mind.

    What’s wrong with me? he wondered. Team Aqua wouldn’t do that, not to one of their own members.

    Would they?

    He closed his eyes in dismay. He knew the security of these teams, and he knew that if Maressa couldn’t give Team Aqua a reason to trust her again, then she was could very well be subject to whatever treatment was reserved for traitors.

    But what could he do? The only thing that came to his mind was if Maressa gave Team Aqua information about Team Magma and it proved to be right. As this thought came to his mind, he saw a bunch of faceless, blue-clad people and Water-type Pokemon attack a small base in the depths of the rainforest. If they managed to force out information from those people and attain knowledge of other bases, they could very well overrun their entire organization and Team Magma would be finished.

    He couldn’t betray the whole of Team Magma and risk the destruction of their team—that would leave Team Aqua more powerful and could very well bring about the destruction of the world if they ever succeeded. But neither could he just leave Maressa in this base and have her suffer for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    He got out of bed, hastily threw on some clothes and made his way over to the medical room. He opened the door and flicked on the light, preparing to talk to Maressa, but saw that she lay on the bed fast asleep.

    The tension that built up inside him eased as he laid eyes on her. Her hands were partially covering her face, and her brow was slightly furrowed. Her eyelids twitched and the blanket was twisted around her feet, making he appear exposed and vulnerable. Derek sighed. He didn’t want to wake her up but it appeared that sleep was doing her little good at the moment.

    Unsure of how to approach the topic, he decided to get into a comfort zone. Snapping on some gloves, he bent down and started to examine the wound in her leg. He had checked it and replaced the bandages only a few hours ago, but at least this injury was something he knew how to approach, something he knew how to handle.

    Maressa stirred as Derek’s hands brushed her thigh.

    “Derek?”

    Derek glanced at her as she sat up. Her face was lined from lack of sleep, and her eyelids were drooping—though with sleepiness or worry, he couldn’t tell.

    “What’s up?” she asked tiredly.

    He paused, his hands still holding bandages as he stared at the hole in her leg.

    “Maressa,” he said slowly, “If I asked you to make me a promise, would you?”

    “What?” She rubbed her eyes. “A promise? What for?”

    “I’ve been thinking,” he stated, still staring at the exposed flesh, “and I can’t just let you stay here. I’ve decided that I’m going to find a way to get you out of here.”

    She stared at him, her amber eyes wide in shock. “What—Why?”

    “If you stay here, things are going to go bad for you—really bad. And I—” he bowed his head, taking in a deep breath. “I can’t just let that happen to you with a clear conscience. So I’ve decided to help you make it back to Team Aqua, and to make sure that they’ll still trust you and won’t think that you’ve turned spy for Team Magma, I’ll give you some information about us that you can give to them. Which is why I need to know: can you promise me, that if Team Aqua attacks any Team Magma members, to not let them go too far? Will you hold them back and make sure that, if they succeed, they won’t end up doing anything that will cause lasting damage to my team?”

    The words tumbled out in a rush. As he ended, he raised his head and looked directly into her eyes.

    “Maressa, please,” he begged as she remained silent. “I just need your word.”

    “But why would I try to hold Team Aqua back?” she asked slowly. “Why would you expect me to try and stop them from succeeding?”

    “Because I know you’re not one of them anymore! You said it yourself—you didn’t want to keep working for a team that was willing to drown the world.”

    “Derek…” She gazed at him, and this time he allowed her time as she struggled with her words. “Why… why are you helping me?”

    Now it was his turn to stare at her in shock.

    “Why? Why do you care? Don’t you want to just get out of here however you can?”

    “I do! But—when I was working with Team Aqua, I don’t think I would’ve ever helped a Team Magma member. If you say you’re still working with them, why are you doing this for me?”

    He sighed as he turned his eyes back to her leg and began winding bandages around it once more.

    “We’re all human. I want to help people out any way I can, and I don’t think your escape will cause any lasting damage to Team Magma.”

    “But what about you? If I escaped, then you would be charged for treason.”

    “Only if people knew that I helped you escape. It’s not as if I would go shouting something like that around for everyone to hear.”

    “Even then, you’re the one who’s supposed to be watching over and taking care of me. If I escaped—even on my own—it would be your fault for letting it happen. You would still get into huge trouble.”

    He shook his head. “Nah. Everyone would be upset at me, sure, but I’m one of only four medics on this entire team. I’m too valuable for them to lose. What would be my punishment—that I’m not allowed to heal their Pokemon anymore? No, the worse they would do is dock some of my pay. Even if it’s my fault that you escaped, I don’t think they would stop paying me completely.”

    Finishing, he stood up and looked at her, smiling softly. “I promise I won’t do anything to hurt you. I just want to make sure that Team Aqua won’t completely destroy Team Magma. Which is why I’m asking you: do you promise to stop them from going too far? All I need is your word, and then I can work on setting you free.”

    Her amber eyes stared into his chestnut ones, and as she contemplated his words, her gaze softened. Closing her eyes, she nodded.

    “I promise.”

    +++++++++++++++++

    “Tomorrow?!”

    Tabitha flinched as he held the receiver a few inches away from his face. As if Courtney’s voice wasn’t already shrill enough, talking over a phone made it so much worse.

    “No, I’m sorry, but that’s just not possible. My squad left the day before yesterday, and there’s no way I can get over there before the end of the week.”

    Putting the receiver back to his ear, Tabitha responded, “A week? But they’ll have evacuated their bases and relocated by then.”

    “Unless you planned on attacking Team Aqua the moment you had captured that team member, then they would probably have evacuated already anyway. You know it only takes a few hours.”

    Tabitha faltered. “But the larger bases…”

    She cut across him. “Look, if it’s so important to you, why don’t you just interrogate her yourself?”

    “When I told Maxie we captured an Aqua grunt, he told me to bring her straight to him and to ask you if you could come by and do the interrogation.”

    “Yeah, no. He sent me out on this crazy scouting detour or whatever-this-is at Rusturf Tunnel. Nevermind that the tunnel isn’t fully excavated yet and there are Whismur everywhere. Do you realize how hard it is to do anything when the slightest noise upsets them and they start screaming so loud that it causes avalanches?”

    Tabitha sighed. He did what Maxie told him to—he asked Courtney if she could come interrogate Maressa, and the answer was no. He didn’t want to overstep Maxie’s orders, so the next step was to bring her to Maxie and see what he would want done with her.

    “Okay,” he said to Courtney. “I should be at Maxie’s base in a day and a—“

    “No, I’m not done. I’m not just trying to work around hair-triggered Whismur, I’m working with the stupidest grunts I’ve ever met! Several of them are thieves, and some haven’t even done Pokemon battles before! Why on earth did we let them join us? And some had absolutely no respect for me. But I showed them. Seriously, I haven’t had to use my knife or sic Ninetales on this many new recruits before. Who picked these guys?"


    Tabitha closed his eyes and held the receiver a few inches away from his face. He hated it when Courtney went into a tirade. It happened every other time they spoke on the phone. He wasn’t interested in her personal issues—he wanted business done and was wasting time listening to Courtney when he could be doing work.

    But he knew that talking to someone helped her. And if it was the opportunity to vent that she needed, he could spare a few minutes to listen.

    … Except that a few minutes quickly turned into thirty minutes. He kept his face close enough to the receiver while shuffling through paperwork, occasionally saying “Yeah,” “that sounds hard,” “sorry you have to go through that,” and other phrases to make her feel heard. Tabitha heard Mightyena exhale deeply. He looked over and saw his companion lying on his bed, staring at him with crimson eyes. The canine opened his mouth and widely yawned while Courtney prattled away.

    He glanced at an old scan he had taken from a book a while back. The page detailed aspects of the Millennium Comet, which was last sighted in the early 1000’s. The time of year for the Comet to appear was rapidly approaching; every year around this time, Maxie grew anxious—it had to appear soon. Tabitha had never heard of the Millennium Comet before working for Maxie, but if Maxie had this much faith in it, then it must be real.

    “… and then I told her to not worry, that if Maxie is right and everything works out, my grudge will finally be gone and we can live normal lives.” She sighed. “Anyway, Tabs, I think I gotta dip out now. I’ve got an early morning tomorrow.”

    Tabitha picked up the receiver as he felt a twinge of annoyance. “Don’t call me Tabs or any variation of it. Can’t you and I be more professional with each other?”

    “We can be more professional with the grunts, sure, but with each other? Come on, Tabby Catty, I’ve got to have someone to have fun with!”

    Tabitha sighed and lowered the phone as he heard a click from the other end. He looked over at his bed, where Mightyena lay fast asleep. One of Mightyena’s back legs moved in slow, circular motions, and his nose was twitching. Occasionally, he let out a small whine.

    Tabitha smiled as he sat on the bed and rubbed Mightyena’s shaggy black head. “You and I both have a lot on our minds, boy. But don’t worry, everything will be all right.”

    Soon, the Pokemon stopped his restless moving and finally drifted into a peaceful sleep. Tabitha leaned back, his thoughts turned to Maressa.

    Courtney was right. With a hole in her leg, no Pokemon or teammates, and locked inside a room, there wasn’t much chance of her escaping. And she had Derek watching over her.

    At least his Pokemon are decent battlers, he recalled, thinking of how Breloom had effectively fought when they captured the Aqua member. He had given Breloom back to Derek as soon as the battle was over, but he wished that he could have fought with Breloom a bit more.

    If only more people on our team had Pokemon that could fight that well.

    Tabitha lay down next to Mightyena. His heart ached. He hoped the Team Magma would accomplish their goal soon and all this fighting could end.

    But even if it didn’t end soon, he would hold out with Maxie for as long as they needed.
     
    Chapter 7
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    Hi everyone! Here's the next chapter. Hope you all enjoy! ^_^



    Chapter 7


    Derek’s thoughts whirred about as he walked along deck, the salty wind whipping his face. He eyed a number of large fiberglass canisters.

    At least he knew how to get Maressa out of there. The problem would be framing her for her own escape and avoid getting himself into trouble.

    He grimaced as he looked out over the waters. The slate-grey clouds completely blocked the sky. He hated being out at sea, and, especially on days like this, he longed for a bit of sunlight. Though he couldn’t feel the motion of the ship, he would rather have his feet planted on solid ground. Pity stirred inside him as he thought of Claydol, Breloom and Golbat; as unsuited for the ocean as he was, they were even less compatible with it. Except for when he sent Golbat out to scout over the waves, the Pokemon remained inside all day, cut off from fresh air but too scared of the ocean to come out.

    A pang of guilt hit him as he remembered that he had yet to tell his Pokemon about his plan to free Maressa. Would his Pokemon support it?

    It doesn’t matter, he told himself. They wouldn’t have to agree with his decision; after all, they were still his closest friends. He knew they wouldn’t be too angry or label him a traitor for choosing to set Maressa free.

    Sighing, Derek took mental note of the position of the canisters holding the life rafts and made his way to his room. Once there, he let his three Pokemon out of their balls.

    “Listen,” he said, ignoring Breloom’s protests at being woken up from a nap. “I’ve got something to tell you.”

    As he told the Pokemon his intentions, they remained silent—they didn’t make any objections or appear even the slightest bit surprised. Breloom looked smug and cheekily asked if Derek had any other ideas for betraying Team Magma.

    “What? No, I’m not turning traitor—”

    At least not permanently.

    “Will you calm down? Anyway, I need to think of a way to get her out of here without any of us getting caught. Do any of you have any ideas?”

    The three Pokemon thought quietly for a moment, but it wasn’t long before Breloom was spouting out his thoughts. Eventually, Derek had to tell him not to give anymore suggestions, as the most reasonable of the Fighting-type’s ideas involved gun powder, vegetable oil, and glitter.

    “What about you two?” he asked Claydol and Golbat, ignoring Breloom as he sat sulkily in the corner.

    “Dol…” Claydol moaned as Derek felt the Psychic-type connect a telepathic link between the two of them. Over the mental connection, Derek saw Claydol’s visions, felt his every emotion and listened to his every idea. Claydol poured out his observations and ideas, trying to immerse his trainer in his thoughts and convince him to follow his plans. But Derek knew Claydol too well and had been working with him too long to fall so easily into the depths of his Pokemon’s mind. Eventually, as Claydol’s ideas proved to hardly be saner than Breloom’s, Derek had to pull away. Claydol was very disappointed.

    “Can you think of anything, Golbat?” he asked hopefully. Though Golbat wasn’t as strong as Breloom, and not as intelligent as Claydol, he had more common sense than the other two combined, and his ideas weren’t often as roundabout or convoluted as theirs.

    The bat-like creature ruffled his wings and stretched them out thoughtfully. Through a series of high-pitched “eeks,” he suggested giving a diversion while Derek took Maressa away to escape.

    “What sort of diversion?”

    The Poison-type suggested that, while on watch some night, he could grab a Wingull, bring it inside, and chase it around the interior of the ship. That, he figured, should distract the guards—at least for a little bit.

    Derek considered this and his heart lightened. Wingull were everywhere on the open ocean; it wouldn’t take long for Golbat to chase a small one onto the ship. And besides, wild Pokemon always made their ways inside bases somehow—it wouldn’t be obvious that Golbat had chased it in on purpose.

    Looking up at Golbat, Derek asked, “Do you really think you could do it?”

    Golbat nodded.

    “Thank you,” Derek said, and a heavy weight was lifted off of him as he stood up. He held out his arm, and Golbat hopped happily onto it. “Since I don’t want anyone to see me rewarding you after you chase a wild Pokemon around the base, I’m going to treat you right now. What do you want for dinner? Calm down,” he told Breloom and Claydol as they moaned in disbelief. “I let you both choose last week; it’s Golbat’s turn anyway. I’ll go get started on the food.” With that, he and the bat-like creature left the others.

    While he walked, Derek contemplated Golbat’s plan. It seemed as good of a plan as anything he was able to come up with.

    I just hope it works.

    +++++++++++++++++++

    Evening came, and Derek smiled at Maressa as he entered her room.

    “How are you doing?” he asked her.

    “I’m okay,” she replied, and she really did seem okay—her smile was genuine, and there was a sort of hope shining in her eyes that, until recently, had been absent.

    “Do you remember everything I told you—about our base and team members?”

    She nodded.

    “Okay, just please be careful with that information. If anyone finds that I told you that—“

    “Don’t worry,” she cut him off. “It’s not as if I’m going to tell everyone that I escaped with the help of a Team Magma member, and that he gave me the information I have.”

    “I know, just…”

    He shrugged uncomfortably.

    “I understand. Don’t worry; your secrets are safe with me, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure everything will be all right.”

    He smiled at her. “The ship has stopped moving now, but there’s a current going south. It should carry you to Mossdeep City by morning.”

    She nodded but didn’t seem too keen on getting in the ocean. Derek couldn’t blame her; he could hardly stand being in the sea, and her last experience in the ocean made him sympathize greatly with her.

    The two descended into silence until Derek voiced aloud a concern.

    “I’ve been thinking,” he wondered, “since you don’t really want to be part of Team Aqua, what are you going to do once you get out? What will you do once you get to Mossdeep?”

    Maressa sighed. “I’ve been thinking about this, too,” she said at last. “At first I was thinking I would go straight to the police—”

    “Don’t do that.”

    She eyed him, a little annoyed at being interrupted.

    “I’ve changed my mind since, but why do you think I shouldn’t do that? If I was to go, I would only give away information about Team Aqua. I don’t have anything to say about you guys other than what you’ve told me and the fact that you own a boat.”

    “It’s not just that I’m worried about you betraying us. But I know that Team Magma—and maybe Team Aqua too—have members infiltrating Hoenn’s police force, giving them false leads and wrong information to keep them off our trail. If one of them got wind that you were there, you could end up as a prisoner again.”

    Looking taken aback for a moment, she stared down at her feet, apparently lost in thought. Judging by the distressed expression on her face, Derek figured that she didn’t know this. Anger burned in him. Just how much information did Team Aqua keep hidden from their low-ranking recruits?

    “Well,” she said after a momentary silence, “I decided that I’ll return to Team Aqua anyway. Even if I did go to the police, I don’t know how much I’d be allowed to help outside of giving them info. My Pokemon are still with Team Aqua, and I’m not going to leave the team unless they’re with me.”

    As she spoke, her worry quickly faded and was replaced by calm determination. Derek smiled; he worried about the possibility of her getting caught as a traitor to Team Aqua, but he admired the dedication she had for her Pokemon.

    “And what will you do afterwards?”

    She shrugged. “Whatever I can to slow them down. I’ll have Golduck, Lanturn, Sharpedo and Seaking with me, so they’ll have ideas and we’ll figure out where to go from there.” She looked up at him, her face shining with gratitude. “Thank you for everything, Derek. I don’t know what I would do otherwise.”

    “You can thank me after you’ve gotten off this ship.”

    But he smiled warmly all the same.

    He checked his watch. “It’ll be dark outside by now. We’ll hear Golbat and the Wingull once they fly in here. Claydol is in the hallway, keeping watch. Once the coast is clear, he’ll let me know. Golbat will chase the Wingull past here. You and I will head the other way and we’ll get you out of here.”

    Maressa looked confused. “How does Claydol let you know?”

    Derek tapped his head. “He makes a mental link between us, so if he wants to tell me something, he just has to connect our minds and let me know what he wants to.”

    “Are you always connected that way?”

    “As long as Claydol isn’t in his Pokeball, the link is always there, but not always open, you know? Like…” He scratched his head. “It’s hard to explain, but he can pretty much telepathically communicate with me whenever he wants to. And as long as the link is open, I can communicate with him.”

    Maressa nodded and the duo descended into silence. Derek glanced at her; the cool, determined air she held a moment ago was gone. Her eyes were downcast and she slouched slightly. He wondered how she was when she was with her Pokemon. He imagined she wasn’t always this concerned or distressed. Perhaps, when this fight was over, they could still be friends, and he and she and their Pokemon could all get together.

    When this is all over…

    But just when would it be over? And when it was, how would the world be—conformed to Team Magma’s ideals, or flooded in accordance with Team Aqua’s plan? Or would it be the same as it was now, and everyone had given up?

    Definitely not the last one, he thought bitterly. He knew the boss too well; though he had seldom seen Maxie, the few times he had, he noted a powerful, confident aura emanating from him. And Derek knew that Tabitha would stay by Maxie until the end—he wouldn’t stop at anything until Team Magma’s goal was achieved.

    A pang of guilt hit him when he thought of Tabitha. His friend was sure to get into trouble for Maressa escaping under his watch, and everyone else in the unit was going to have a rough time as well.

    He shook the thought from his head. They may get in trouble from those of higher rank, but it wouldn’t be as bad as what Maressa would have to go through if she stayed. He tore his mind from the subject and let his thoughts wander elsewhere until he heard screeching.

    The screeching continued, rising in volume as it grew closer. Soon, however, it was drowned out in the numerous voices filling the hallway.

    “Get them out of here!”

    “Whose Golbat is that?"

    “Look out, there’s another one!”

    Derek opened the door and stuck his head into the hallway just in time to see a streak of white closely followed by a blue blur. A few Poochyena bounded past, followed by their trainers. The Magma members were commanding their Poochyena to attack the two flyers, but Golbat and Wingull were far too fast for them and sped away. Shouting excitedly, Breloom bounded out of the room and ran after them.

    One of them, a sandy-haired man named Nate, suddenly stopped. “Derek, isn’t that your Golbat?”

    “Was it?” Derek tried to appear mildly concerned, silently praying for Nate to leave and follow the commotion deeper into the ship.

    However, Nate didn’t have enough time to reply before a deep, furious squawking echoed through the halls. The two turned, and Derek’s heart sank as he saw a large Pelipper hurtling towards them, its wings so large that it could barely move about in the hallway. Derek ducked back into the medical room and Nate flattened himself against the wall as the avian flew past, screeching angrily.

    “I think that’s the Wingull’s mom,” Nate said.

    “It’s mom?!

    “Yeah! The Wingull that flew in here was pretty small, and I saw that Pelipper sticking pretty close to it, so the mom is probably still looking after it."

    Golbat!

    Fear filled Derek. He knew that Golbat would have been able to handle a scared Wingull, but he wasn’t confident that he would fare well against an enraged mother Pelipper. Without a second thought, he sprinted down the hallway, Nate following slightly behind him.

    It didn’t take long to get to the fighting Pokemon; their screeches, combined with the voices of angry Magma members, echoed throughout the halls. Derek felt something brush against his consciousness, but he ignored whatever Claydol was trying to tell him and overrode it with his own thoughts.

    Claydol, get over here! Golbat might be in danger!

    Wedging his way through a crowd of red hoodies, Derek got to where the Pokemon fought in the middle of a hallway. The door to the security room was wide open, and the guards had their own Pokemon out with their backs turned to the camera feed.

    “Numel, use Take Down!”

    “Watch out for its Water Gun!"

    “Gloom, Sleep Powder!”

    The Wingull zipped around, screeching in fear. The Pelipper, with its massive bulk, shrugged off all attacks that hit her. When the Gloom released a green powder into the air, the Flying-type flapped its powerful wings, pushing the dust away from her and into a crowd of Magma members and their Pokemon. The trainers and their companions fell to the ground, all fast asleep. The Pelipper turned her attention back to Golbat, who flew around and dodged all attacks aimed at him.

    Derek bit his lip, at a loss of what to do. He didn’t want Golbat to use Haze or Supersonic in the confined space, but he couldn’t just let Golbat grow tired and be beaten.

    Suddenly, Claydol appeared, floating into the midst of the battle serenely. Derek breathed a sigh of relief at seeing his friend. The command barely formed in his mind before Claydol obeyed. The Pelipper and Wingull suddenly stopped moving, held in place by the Ground-type’s psychic power.

    “Good work, Claydol!” Derek turned to the two guards, Lloyd and Stephen, standing in the doorway, who both appeared taken off-guard by Claydol’s sudden appearance. “What do you want him to do with them?”

    Lloyd shrugged. “Just take them outside and set them loose again.”

    “Yeah,” Stephen agreed, eyeing the Pokemon frozen in mid-air with distaste. “Thanks, by the way.”

    “Sure thing.” Derek decided to not apologize for his Golbat being the reason for the two of them flying in in the first place; as long as he cleaned up the mess he made, everything would be okay. “Come on, Claydol.”

    He led his Pokemon down the hallway while the other Magma members tried to wake their sleeping teammates up. He had only been walking for a minute or so when another member came sprinting down the hallway, hollering at the top of his lungs.

    “SHE’S ESCAPED! THE AQUA MEMBER ESCAPED!”

    The man stopped right in front of Derek, panting heavily, his hood slipped off his dark brown hair. A lead weight sank to the bottom of Derek’s stomach.

    “What?”

    “The Aqua Member—went overboard—fell in water—escaped—” the team member panted out, pointing a shaking finger to the hallway behind him.

    Maressa, no.

    Derek sprinted down the hallway at top speed. In his concern for Golbat, he had completely forgotten about her. He prayed that she had figured out how to open a canister and take a life raft off, that she would most likely make it to Mossdeep all right. If she hadn’t…

    Derek flew out onto deck, where the starry sky stretched out endlessly above the calm, black sea. No life raft canisters were in sight—she had gone to the wrong deck.

    “Maressa, oh, Maressa, no…”

    His shaking hands gripped the rail as he stared over the waters going by beneath them, devoid of any sign of life.

    She’s gone. She’s gone and dead.

    He barely noticed when Breloom bounded out onto the deck. Claydol followed and blasted away the Wingull and Pelipper with psychic energy. The doll floated next to Derek, moaning questioningly.

    “She’s gone, Claydol. She’s gone and dead because of me. If I hadn’t told Golbat to chase that Wingull—if I hadn’t left her… She’s gone. She’s gone and she’ll die.” He couldn’t bring his voice to rise above a whisper, couldn’t bring himself to do anything but stand at the railing at stare at the starlit waters, hoping beyond hope that he might see a blonde head bobbing on the surface.

    But there was nothing. There was only the sea, empty and oppressive, swallowing up everything while a twinkling sky winked innocently down at them.

    He heard footsteps pounding through the halls behind him and was dimly aware of voices shouting over the ship. Claydol moaned once more, and Breloom urgently chirped, but he ignored them both. He stood, in silent dread and sorrow. As he breathed, he noticed the air suddenly turn thick with spores. As he breathed them in, his consciousness slipped away, and he let go of the railing as he fell to the ground, wondering why Breloom chose to put him to sleep.

    ++++++++++++++++

    When Derek had sprinted down the hallway after Golbat with the other Magma member trailing behind him, Maressa could only sit and stare in shock. Derek promised to stay with her, to guide her to deck and help her take off—not leave her alone. What was she to do now? But this might be her only chance to get away from Team Magma—she had to do something. Getting up, she made her way over to the door and looked both ways down the hall. It was completely empty.

    She paused, thinking for a second. Turning the opposite way Derek had run, she made her way down the hall, going as quickly as her injured leg would permit.

    Her eyes darted around anxiously as she increased her speed. Walking in the halls made her feel vulnerable, exposed, and at every turn she made, she expected to come face-to-face with a Magma member.

    She stopped at an intersection, thinking hard. Derek had briefly gone over where they would go to get out, but she had trouble remembering his instructions.

    As she thought she heard footsteps approaching, she wheeled around, heart beating furiously in her chest. Did she really hear footsteps? Or was she so anxious that her mind was playing tricks on her? Either way, she had to make a decision. She went straight, and continued along as quickly as she could, in constant fear of being discovered.

    The smell of salt hit her as soon as she stepped outside. And, though the danger was far from over, a smile broke over her face. She stepped over to the railing, breathing in the salty air, filling her lungs with it, feeling so elated, so free. The ocean flowed calmly beneath the still ship, and as she leaned against the rail, closing her eyes, all anxiety melted away as tranquility washed over her.

    Opening her eyes, she looked around the deck. Derek had said there would be life rafts, but she couldn’t see any. The nervousness came back as she looked around. Had she gone to the wrong deck?

    She looked back out at the dark waters, wondering if perhaps she could trust the current to carry her somewhere safely without a life raft. But as she stared into the black depths, memories of her last venture into the ocean returned, and a fear drove deeply into her heart.

    She backed away from the rail, slightly shaking.

    Get a hold of yourself. Now is your chance to leave. You don’t want to be stuck here.

    Forcing herself to approach the rail again, she gripped the cold metal bars. Hoisting herself up, she put both feet on it and settled in a crouch, preparing herself to jump as she stared into the waters. She had never been afraid of the ocean before—but up until a few days ago, she had never come close to dying in it, either. None of her Pokemon were with her this time. Could she live in the ocean alone, even for a short period of time?

    “You have to go,” she told herself. “Time is running out, and if you don’t go, Derek and Golbat will have done all of this for nothing.”

    In spite of her words, she couldn’t bring herself to go into the waters. As she gazed at them, she could almost feel the weight of the air tank dragging her down, of her leg bursting with pain, and of her lungs about to burst. Already, the water seemed to come up to her, and she could see herself sinking, drowning, dying…

    Who am I kidding? she realized. She got off the rail and backed away, overcome with fear. Sure if I stay here, I’ll suffer, but if I go into the ocean without a raft or boat, I’ll die.

    Inhaling deeply, she turned away, and realized just how badly she was shaking. She didn’t want to face whatever Team Magma had in store for her, but compared to death, it was preferable. She prepared to go back inside, wondering if she could get in without anyone catching her.

    As soon as she turned around, her heart stopped in her chest. A red-hooded man stood in the doorway through which she had come, staring at her in shock.

    “HEY!” he shouted as he lunged towards her.

    Without thinking, Maressa turned around, climbed onto the rail, and launched herself off of the ship. Before she hit the water, she realized what she had done, and panic engulfed her as the salt waterr swallowed her up. Her leg stung horribly in the water, and primal fear devoured her as she felt the current carry her away from the ship.

    Sticking her head above the surface, she took in great gulps of air, her heart racing in a panic. For a few moments, her arms and legs beat frantically, but then her habits overcame instinct and she treaded her arms and legs steadily. The current swiftly carried her. It was a calm night; there was little wind. The stars shown serenely out of the sky and illuminated the seascape with an ethereal light.

    She turned her head and watched the Magma ship steadily shrink until it appeared as little more than a speck on the horizon.

    Maressa floated on her back, staring up at the star-strewn sky. She hoped that no carnivorous creature would be attracted by the scent of her open wound, but fear would do her no good now. All she could do was wait for the current to carry her to any nearby land and try to stay alive.

    +++++++++++++++

    Derek blearily opened his eyes, blinking in the bright light. He sat up, wincing as his head throbbed. Why was his head throbbing? As he rubbed the back of his head, he suddenly remembered the events of the previous night.

    He looked around but could not see his Pokemon. He was lying in his bed and Nate stood in the doorway.

    The blonde man nodded to Derek. “It’s about time you got up. You were out for a while. What happened? Did you faint?”

    “No, I…” He rubbed his head, trying to remember. “It was my Breloom; he used spore on me, and I fell asleep.”

    “Why did he do that?”

    “Good question…”

    “Probably to save you from Tabitha. He was furious when he found out that the Aqua member had gotten away.”

    Was furious? Is he fine now?”

    “No, he’s still really mad, but he’s cooled down some. I’m supposed to go tell him that you’ve woken up. He wants to talk to you.”

    “Great,” Derek grumbled as Nate walked out.

    He sat for a moment on his bed and thought about what happened. He wanted to know why Breloom knocked him out. He reached in his pant pockets, but they were empty. No Pokeballs were on his nightstand, either. Worry gnawed at him—had they taken his Pokemon away from him?

    Derek gasped as he remembered Maressa and passed a hand over his face as he closed his eyes. He didn’t have time to dwell on it before his commander appeared in the doorway.

    Derek glanced up as Tabitha slammed the door shut. His eyes burned lividly, and the glare he gave Derek sent chills down his spine.

    “What happened?” he demanded.

    As truthfully as he could, Derek recounted everything that happened from the moment he first heard Golbat screeching through the hallway, though he didn’t say that Golbat intentionally chased the Wingull inside.

    “Once I heard there was a Pelipper, I got scared for Golbat and ran after him—”

    “And you just left the door wide open while Maressa was fully conscious?”

    “Yes, I did. I forgot about her; as soon as I heard Golbat was in trouble, I forgot about everything else.” He met Tabitha’s dark gaze. “I’m sorry.”

    The commander continued to glare down at him, disgusted, but eventually his darkened look passed. Sighing, he turned away.

    “What am I going to do with you, Derek? I can’t let this pass without punishing you, but we can’t really have you anywhere other than where you are now.”

    “What will happen to me?” Derek asked curiously.

    Tabitha shrugged. “I’m not sure… I’ll talk to Maxie about it. What you can do or where you can go will probably be more limited, but I can’t see much more happening than that. After all,” he turned back to Derek, and his gaze had softened considerably, “you were acting out of concern for your Pokemon, so that much is understandable, at least. Just pay more attention in the future.

    “Also,” Tabitha said as he crossed his arms and leaned against the opposite wall, “what about Maressa? Do you think she’ll live in the ocean without her Pokemon?”

    Closing his eyes, Derek shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know, but death is likely. There are millions of diseases and bacteria in the ocean; even in a short span of time, her wound can easily get infected. If she does make it to land, she could just as well die from that.” As he said the words, the reality of them hit him again, and he bit his lip to try and stop them quivering.

    Tabitha nodded and stood for a few moments. He stared off into the distance and said nothing.

    Standing up straight, he walked over to the door and made to leave. “I’ll talk to Maxie about what to do with you. Until then, just try to rest. You hit your head pretty hard when you passed out.”

    “Tabitha!” Derek exclaimed suddenly as his commander was about to walk out. The purple-haired man looked questioningly at him. “Do you know where my Pokemon are?”

    “Stephen’s holding onto them. You can have them back after I’ve talked to Maxie. They’ve all been returned to their Pokeballs, and none of them were hurt.” With that, he walked out, shutting the door behind him.

    Derek sank back down into the bed, more worried than before.

    You can have them back after I’ve talked to Maxie…

    What did that mean? If their boss saw fit to punish him, then would he not see them again? Would Golbat, Claydol or Breloom be punished for what he did?

    His heart sank, and he knew that he would not be able to sleep. Maressa escaped, but everything had taken a turn for the worse.
     
    Chapter 8
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    Hello! This is a day late, but here's the latest chapter! It's long... again. These things will get shorter at some point, I promise. I hope you enjoy!



    Chapter 8


    The sun beat oppressively down on the seashore. The pale sand burned beneath Maressa’s feet as she struggled up the sandy coast. Her head was light and pounded horribly. Her tongue felt bloated. Even though she was dripping wet, her throat and mouth were dry. Her muscles were so cramped and exhausted that she just wanted to curl up on the ground, but she had to keep going... She had to get back to her Pokemon…

    One foot…

    Then the other…

    Left…

    Right…

    She stopped and gazed blearily ahead. Everything seemed green, but it was hard to tell. Her vision blurred and suddenly everything went black as she lost all feeling.

    ++++++++++++++

    Wisps of blonde hair floated in front of her face as the cold seawater ran gently by her. Her body slowly sank into the dark depths of the ocean below while the orange light of a dimming sun sparkled above. Her limbs hung numbly at her side as she felt the caress of the saltwater, its little eddies kiss her cheeks, and the gentle rocking of the sea. Turning to face downward, she could not make out the ocean bottom, but only beheld a black pit below. Eyes half-closed, she peered into the chasm as her body sank further downward into the maw of the great pit.

    Closing her eyes, she could only feel her body dragging itself deeper and deeper into the depths of the sea. No heart beat within her, no blood ran through her veins, no air circulated in and out of her lungs. She was one with the element around her, allowing the waters of the ocean to pull her as her mind delved into the bliss of oblivion.

    She opened her eyes again. The sparkle of the sun seemed much farther away as the blackness grew around her. Dimly aware of a change in scenery, she absentmindedly turned her head to her side. Numerous figures rose from the darkness below. Few at first, they came in great multitudes: black, shapeless objects that climbed up through the water to greet her.

    She watched them curiously, trying to perceive what they were. They were beginning to take shape—


    Beep.

    She inhaled deeply and her world was black for a moment before she opened her lids and saw a bright light shining overhead. Her brow furrowed; the last thing she remembered was falling on the beach but that bright light came from a ceiling lamp.

    She looked around. She lay on a bed much like the one she had been on when she was with Team Magma but her bed was the only one in this small room. An IV tube was connected to her arm, and a heart monitor sat next to her. A small tube was connected to a wrap wound around her index finger with red light emanating from it. She licked her lips—they were still dry, and she was horribly thirsty.

    Blinking, she sat up straighter. This was definitely a hospital—and not a Team Magma one—but where was she?

    Gazing through an open window, she saw the green treetops before a bustling city. She felt a thrill of hope—had she made it to Mossdeep?

    Her attention was torn away from the window as a young woman dressed in dark blue scrubs walked through the door. She smiled at Maressa.

    “Good, you’re awake! How are you feeling?”

    Maressa started at seeing someone else so suddenly. After a moment, she croaked, “Not too bad, just tired and really thirsty.”

    “I’ll bet, after being out in that sun! I’ll go and ask the doctor if you’re allowed to have anything to eat or drink.”

    Maressa watched in bewilderment as the woman left. If she wasn’t allowed to drink, then why on earth did she have an IV tube in? She sighed and leaned against the pillows.

    In a moment, the nurse was back, holding a styrofoam cup. “Here you go.”

    Maressa gratefully took it—fumbling a little with the awkward tube on her finger—and drank. Never had anything tasted or felt so good.

    Finishing her drink, Maressa asked, “Where am I?”

    “On the fourth floor of the Mossdeep Hospital.”

    Mossdeep!

    A grin split Maressa’s face, and an immense relief overcame her. She made it—she was here, she was free.

    Derek and Golbat, you guys are incredible.


    “Some woman walking along the beach found you this morning. Good thing we got you here; you were really dehydrated and that hole in your leg was looking really bad.”

    Maressa had temporarily forgotten about the wound in her leg. At the mention of it, she took the blanket off to see she was wearing nothing but an apron. Quickly getting over her embarrassment—the only other person in the room was another woman, anyway—Maressa examined her leg. Fresh, clean bandages were wound around it, but it didn’t hurt at the moment.

    “How am I?” she asked the nurse.

    “The doctor says you should be fine. Your strength should return soon, and he said that your leg should heal all right. How did you get that, by the way?”

    Maressa paused. She hadn’t thought of making up any stories or aliases for when she got back to civilization. Deciding to start with the truth, she merely told the nurse that Seaking’s horn had punctured it. When asked for elaboration, she said that she had been surfing on him when they ran into a pack of Tentacool, and Seaking had gotten into a fight.

    At the mention of Seaking, her heart panged with sorrow.

    Soon, she told herself. I’ll see him soon. And when I do, I’ll apologize for this whole mess and make it all up to him.

    But to see him, she had to get to Team Aqua. And to get to Team Aqua, she had to get out of the hospital.

    “And how did you end up here?”

    Maressa was jerked out of her thoughts. The words poured out of her mouth as she made up a story. “I was surfing—on Lanturn, this time—just north of Route 124. We were planning on doing some training, so we started a battle with a young Wingull. I hadn’t noticed that its mom was in the area though, and after we attacked the Wingull, this huge Pelipper came flying at us. It was too much for Lanturn, so I tried to recall her, but the Pelipper knocked my Pokeball out of my hand and I fell off of her.”

    As she spoke, she could see herself riding Seaking back towards Team Aqua’s submarine before the two were ensnared in Breloom’s leech seed.

    “Before the current carried me away, I saw her still struggling. I don’t know what happened to her…”

    The nurse smiled warmly. “I’m sure she’ll be fine. The ocean is her natural habitat, after all. And don’t worry, you’ll see her soon.”

    Maressa looked up into the nurse’s warm eyes. “How can you be so sure?”

    “Pokemon have a way of knowing where their trainers are. When I was a little girl, I got separated from my parents when we were in the city once, but our Cacturn found me in almost no time. And Pokemon are closer to nature than humans tend to be; I’m sure your Lanturn noticed which way the current was flowing. She’s probably waiting just off of Mossdeep for you now.”

    Maressa looked down at her hands. Could it be true? If so, would Seaking have known that she was on Team Magma’s ship—would he know that she was here? Her heart pricked with guilt as she remembered seeing Seaking swim away in a panic, still entangled in the life-sucking vines.

    “What’s your name? We didn’t find any credentials with you.”

    Maressa hesitated for a second, then said the second name that came to her mind: “Elizabeth Llyr.”

    “And your address? I assume you’ll want the bill mailed, correct?”

    “Yes,” Maressa said with a small smile, thinking of her younger sister’s reaction on seeing a hospital bill she had never planned on getting. “The bill will be fine.”

    +++++++++++++++++++

    A few hours later, Maressa was still fiddling with the tube attached to her finger. Though she was grateful for the professional medical care and attention she was receiving, she had to get out of here, and soon. But how was she supposed to get to the ground from a fourth story? And where was she to start looking? She was pretty sure that Team Aqua had a base near Mossdeep, but she had never been there and wasn’t sure of the exact location.

    She looked down and pursed her lips. Even if she did have all of that figured out, she would need clothes before she did anything else. And she was terribly hungry—maybe she could wait for food first…

    She gazed outside. The sunlight filtered through broad leaves, dappling the tiled floor of her room green. How to get down from the fourth floor…

    A sudden weight dropped to her stomach: what if they had put her on a higher floor on purpose? Did they suspect that she was a member of a criminal team, and they put her far above the ground to try and prevent any chance she had of escaping?

    Her heart pounded furiously in her chest. If they had looked up Betty and thought she looked too different from Maressa and realized that the real Maressa Llyr had not been heard from for months, they just might realize who she was. Once they recognized her as a Team Aqua member, they could just as well send her off to prison.

    I’m practically a prisoner already, she thought as she looked around the room.

    That settled it. There was no time to get food, get clothes or heal. She had to leave the hospital and get back to her Pokemon now.

    She was about to get up and walk over to the window when she realized the tubes were still attached to her. Would the nurse be alerted immediately if she took them off? She suspected so—but staying in the hospital was too risky.

    Glancing back and forth between the window and the tubes, she breathed steadily, readying herself to be more active than she had in days. Taking the IV tube out of her arm and ripping the wrap off of her finger, she sprang out of bed and bolted to the window. Unlocking it, she breathed a sigh of relief when it opened with ease. She quickly got on the sill and grabbed hold of the tree branches. She placed both hands and feet on the thin branches as she slid closer to the trunk where the tree’s limbs were thicker. Descending slowly, she tried to climb down steadily, but she was weak and tired and hadn’t been tree-climbing in months. Though she made it past the third and second stories, she had only gotten halfway down the first story before she slipped and fell to the ground. She groaned as she landed on her leg, and sat up, clutching it.

    Standing up, she looked around. The hospital stood in the middle of a large parking lot, but in front of her and to her right she could see only empty cars. To her left, along the building, she saw a street and people passing by.

    She took in a deep breath, closed her eyes and steeled herself for what she had to do. The faster she went, the sooner it was done, the better. Opening her eyes, she took off, not quite at a sprint, as her leg was still too damaged for that, but going as fast as she could despite the pain. Her face burned as she made her way into the open, and she could see people pointing at her and hear them give shouts of surprise and laugher as a woman in nothing but a hospital gown streaked by.

    She stopped as she saw two men standing in front of a truck staring at her in utter confusion. One of them had a lanyard hanging out of his pocket. It was almost too easy, but at this point, she was willing to do anything to get out of the open.

    “What do you think you’re—”

    “I’m sorry,” she cut him off as she stepped in front of him. Yanking the lanyard out of his pocket, she drove her free fist into his solar plexus, causing wind to rush out of him and him to double over.

    “Hey!” the other man started, but didn’t have time to do anything before he was also bent over, dropping his coffee as he clutched his stomach in pain.

    Clambering in as quickly as possible, Maressa started the truck—fortunately it wasn’t a stick shift. She jerked her head back to the window to find one of the men trying to open the door, which she had thankfully locked.

    Starting the car, Maressa was drove down the road in a flash, constantly checking to make sure she didn’t go over the speed limit. She prayed no one would notice her and it seemed like she melded in with the rest of traffic just fine. No one seemed aware that she had just committed a felony, and everything was going smoothly.

    Woo-woo-woo-woo.

    Or not.

    “Dammit!” she whispered as she looked in her rear-view mirror to see flashing red-and-blue lights following her. She heard them giving her orders to pull over, but she ignored them and drove onward.

    Sweat beaded her forehead as she realized the police were quickly gaining on her. Soon they would overtake her, and she would wind up captured—again. But it would be impossible to outdistance them if she was to stay within the speed limit.

    “Idiot!” she shouted as the realization hit her. Stepping on the gas, she drove onwards, going into the heart of the city where traffic quickly thickened. And not just vehicular traffic—people swarmed the streets, filling every alley and lane. Flags and other decorations hung from buildings. Elaborate streamers and paper decorations bedecked every wall and spanned the gaps between buildings. Maressa stared in awe for a moment, and she actually had time to appreciate the beauty and effort, for the traffic had come to a standstill.

    She looked back. Vehicles filled the lanes for as far as she could see, and the police cars were out of sight. People continued to pour past in a massive crowd. Without a second thought, Maressa opened the door and plunged into the thicket.

    Heart hammering and face flushing, she shoved her way through people as quickly as she could, ignoring those who called or stared after her. Making her way through the streets, she wound her way into an alley, and soon ended up in one of the nastiest buildings she had ever been in. She briefly considered going somewhere without such a foul smell, but perhaps the smell kept people away and would take the police off of her trail.

    Stepping slowly downstairs, she stopped before a closed door covered with graffiti and grime. Wrinkling her nose against the funky smell that permeated the air, she quickly stepped inside and softly shut the door. She saw why she was the only one in that restroom: the smell was absolutely horrendous. She considered heading back outside when she heard two voices.

    They spoke softly and indistinctly but they sounded urgent. Maressa didn’t want to face any people, but she was in a women’s bathroom, and she did need clothes…

    She was disgusted with herself but desperate enough to creep over to the handicapped stalls from which the voices came. Going into the stall next to it and standing on the toilet, she peered over the top, and soon saw why the bathroom smelled worse than it looked.

    A Gloom stood on the ground, white nectar dripping from its half-open mouth. Two fully-grown men stood by it, and as she studied their filthy skin and stained clothes, Maressa figured they contributed to the stench.

    This is the Pokemon you decided to bring?!”

    “You said that your products would work on any Pokemon. This Gloom has been keeping me out of prison for sixteen months, and I need him to get stronger.”

    “He smells awful! How can you work with this?”

    Ducking back down, Maressa took in great breaths through her mouth, trying to keep out the noxious perfume. What were men doing in the women’s room? It didn’t matter; she didn’t think she could take them on, especially not if they had a Gloom with them. She was deciding what to do when she heard the door burst open.

    “Ugh, I would have been able to follow this stench by myself! Come on, Linoone, she can’t be far away.”

    Maressa’s heart stopped. Those must have been police searching for her, and with Linoone’s odor sleuth, it wouldn’t be hard for it to trace her once it caught her scent. And since they knew the truck she had stolen and she had left it unmoving in the middle of a street, it wouldn’t be too hard for the Pokemon to pick up her scent and sniff her out.

    The two men burst out of the stall and halted right before Maressa, but their eyes were fixed on the policeman and the striped creature standing beside him.

    Before the policeman had time to say anything, the slightly trashier-looking of the two men shouted, “It’s a cop! Gloom, get us out of here!”

    “Glooooom…” The Grass-type started to emit dark green spores from the flower on its head, but it had barely begun to do so when the Linoone bowled it over, swiping furiously at it.

    “What are you doing that for?” the Gloom’s owner shouted at the police officer.

    “Telling your Pokemon to attack us—”

    “We didn’t tell him to attack you, I just told him to get us out of here!”

    The two continued to argue while the third man tried to slip away.

    “Hey!” the officer shouted as he noticed the dark-haired man trying to slide by. As soon as he was noticed, he took off at a run, only to be tackled to the ground by the Linoone. Shouts echoed all throughout the little room, and all the while Gloom remained sitting where it had been tackled, still puffing out the green powder.

    A lightbulb went off in Maressa’s head. Taking a deep breath, she rushed out of her stall over to the purple Pokemon. The others started in shock as they noticed her, but she paid them no attention. Grabbing Gloom, she held her breath and bolted to the other side of the room, waving the Poison-type up-and-down to diffuse the powder more quickly. The police man had just grabbed her arm when his grip suddenly loosened, and he fell to the ground in a deep sleep. His Pokemon and the other men soon followed.

    Maressa put Gloom on the ground and stepped away, turning her head away to take in a quick breath. The Pokemon didn’t seem to notice or care that its trainer had fallen asleep; it just stood where Maressa had set it, puffing out spores. For some reason, Maressa felt a sense of sympathy stir within her. With how little it seemed to care at knocking its own trainer out, Maressa wondered why it took orders from him in the first place. Would it take orders from just anyone?

    “You can stop now, Gloom,” she said. The Pokemon turned towards her, but its uncaring facial expression didn’t seem to change—it did, however, stop emitting sleep powder.

    After a few seconds, the dark green powder settled out of the air and formed a green carpet on the floor.

    “Thank you,” Maressa said, giving the Pokemon a warm smile before bending over the unconscious lot. She grimaced; her choices were to be a street rat or a police officer. Taking the latter option, she shook off the green dust and pulled on clothes that were too large over her, tightening the belt as much as possible. At least these were clean and didn’t smell nearly as bad. She took off the badges and insignias as best as she could, hoping she could pass by in plain blue clothing.

    She rifled quickly through the thieves’ pockets. She found some cash alongside questionable-looking bottles with hand-written labels, as well as a single Pokeball, but nothing else.

    “Looks like they aren’t very good thieves…” she mused.

    She felt slightly guilty at taking their money, but it was probably stolen, anyway. That made it okay for her to take—right?

    Her heart pounded rapidly in her chest. She needed to get out. She opened the door and headed back up the stairs, listening to the plodding gently behind her—

    She wheeled around, her heart racing. No one was there. Just the thieves, police officer and Linoone lying on the ground.

    Maressa jerked her head about and saw the Gloom standing on the step below her.

    “Did you follow me? No! I need you to go back—or stay here—well, this place is pretty dingy. Okay, you can come with me for a bit, but once we’re out of here, you need to stay away!”

    She went back to grab the Gloom’s Pokeball from the man’s pocket—what she would do with it, she didn’t know, but she didn’t want to leave it. She made her way back up the stairs, Gloom following closely behind.

    The duo emerged from the bathroom, and once they got back out onto the street, Maressa only saw a few people pass by. Keeping her head down, she made her way towards the edge of the city, avoiding police officers and as many people as she could.

    In spite of her desperation to get out, she couldn’t help but wonder at the bustle of the city. Surely it couldn’t always be this busy. And with the decorations adorning so many of the buildings, she figured there must be some sort of festival going on.

    Maressa made her way through the busy alleyway. She had never been to Mossdeep City and knew nothing about the layout of it. He didn’t even have a plan as to what she would do. She had to get a clear head—she needed to sit down and think about things.

    Up ahead, she saw a stone archway marking the entrance to a park. Several winding paths led though stretches of bamboo. Couples stood on small stone bridges hanging over tiny creeks. Stone tables with seats were scattered in different areas.

    Maressa started towards the park. It seemed relatively relaxed compared to the rest of the city, and maybe Gloom would finally stop following her.

    Walking through the overhanging arch, Maressa went down the pathway, occasionally passing people. Plants of all sizes and colors stretched out their leaves, and flowers of all varieties opened their petals. Everywhere she went, Maressa saw little signs naming plants and describing details about them. She soon saw a little path that led to a tiny patio completely surrounded by overhanging greenery with a stone bench.

    Maressa sat down on the bench. Gloom followed and tried to do likewise but he was too short to pull himself up. Bending down, Maressa grabbed him—it took all of her effort to not gag at his stench—and set him on the bench next to her. She inhaled deeply—which she immediately regretted with Gloom right next to her—and tried to think.

    It took a few minutes for her heart rate to go down and the excitement to wear off. The adrenaline that coursed through her veins gradually subsided, and all the aches and pains came back to Maressa. Her leg throbbed horribly; she was thirsty; she had a headache; and she was so exhausted. She wished she could lie down and sleep—but she was still too wired to do that.

    She still couldn’t believe what happened—she escaped from Team Magma, escaped from a Mossdeep hospital, left her sister with the bill, stole a truck, and knocked out a police officer. Nothing looked good for her. In spite of what she believed about Team Aqua, the thought of going back to them made her feel much safer.

    But how could she get back? She scrunched her eyes thought.

    She first found out about and joined Team Aqua through a recruiter from “Ocean Incorporated,” which turned out to be a publicity front Team Aqua created to keep their true motivations hidden. She knew there were more—Sarah joined under the company “Blue Seas,” a public relations firm.

    “That’s it!”

    Gloom turned his head to look up at Maressa as she voiced her thoughts aloud.

    “Sarah’s from Mossdeep, and she joined under a company called ‘Blue Seas.’ I just have to find them, and then I’ve found my team and I can go back and get my Pokemon!” She looked down at Gloom. “That makes sense, right?”

    Gloom made no response but faced Maressa with the same expressionless face. White drool dribbled from his mouth on to the bench. The sight of it grossed Maressa out—but she felt a twinge of pity.

    “You poor thing. Here, let’s get you a bit cleaned up.”

    Using her sleeve, she dabbed away some of the white drool. She glanced at the white stain left on her clothes.

    Great, she thought. Now these clothes are going to reek until I get changed.

    But she had a lead—she knew what to do, and the thought was immensely comforting. She glanced up at the rays of sun peeking through the leaves. She didn’t want to get up—this park bench was so peaceful. Getting up and walking around was going to be painful, and the thought of going back into public where people would be hounding her filled her with anxiety. There was also something oddly comforting of having Gloom be with her—maybe it was just the feeling of being with a Pokemon companion.

    But she had to go. She needed to get back to Team Aqua. If she was captured by the police, she’d probably be arrested for everything she did—if she betrayed Team Aqua and tried to give them away and the Team Aqua members infiltrating the police found out, she could wind up as a prisoner with Team Aqua—

    Or they might do something to my Pokemon.

    Maressa clenched her eyes shut. No, that couldn’t happen—it wouldn’t. She’d get her Pokemon back and the five of them would be a family again. After she got her Pokemon back…

    One step at a time, she told herself. She had no idea what she was going to do, but it wasn’t worth worrying about yet.

    Inhaling deeply, Maressa stood up, pushing herself off the bench for extra support. Her heart pounded anxiously again and her leg hurt horribly.

    It’s easy. Find Blue Seas, and then go from there.

    She walked through the foliage back on to the main path. Glancing back, she saw Gloom jump off the bench and waddle up to her.

    “Gloom, no!” she said firmly. “You need to stay here. I can’t take you with me.” Turning around, Maressa walked away from him. She heard his footsteps on the path as he followed after her. The thought of him following her tugged at her heartstrings, and she wanted nothing more than to pick him up and hold him in her arms as she walked, just like she used to do with Psyduck.

    She stopped and looked down at Gloom. To be fair, a park might not be the best place to drop him off. It wasn’t really a natural habitat—she could at least try to bring him to the outskirts of the city, couldn’t she?

    Sighing, she reached down and picked him up. As Gloom’s stench wafted to her nostrils, she grimaced and nearly went back on her decision to cuddle him. But holding him in her arms filled her with a kind of warmth—did it make him happy, too? It occurred to Maressa that he might have been mistreated when with those thieves. He certainly seemed ready and eager to leave them for a complete stranger.

    The thought of it filled Maressa’s heart with pity, and as she glanced at the Pokemon in her arms, she cared about him even more. Her eyes watered from the stench—maybe that was why he hadn’t been cared for. Perhaps it was a circumstance of his birth that turned people away from him.

    Maressa’s heart twisted. She wouldn’t be able to care for Gloom in the long run, but maybe she could make him at least feel wanted in the present moment.

    She told him whatever came to her mind—not her current plan, for fear of eavesdropping passerby’s—but of growing up in Mauville City and what she thought of Mossdeep.

    “… and my friend, Sarah, is from here. I wish she was here.”

    She smiled grimly as she remembered Sarah wishing that she would be there, too, for the week-long celebration. Maressa suddenly realized that this celebration must be the reason for the decorations and heavy traffic. And, it seemed, she had arrived just in time to be smack in the middle of it all.

    As she exited the park, Maressa recalled festivals and fairs that she attended when she was a child. The colorful costumes, eating little else but pastries, and running off with Psyduck and Betty while her parents yelled at them to come back…

    “What do you think, Gloom?” she asked. “A festival sounds like it would be a lot of fun, but I don’t think we’ll have time for that. Maybe someday, though, we could come back here with Sarah. And her Pokemon and my Pokemon and you could all get together. Wouldn’t that be fun?” Gloom made no reply, but just sat contentedly in Maressa’s arms.

    +++++++++++++++++

    A few Wiscash floated idly in the water. Marill splashed about playfully, and Lombre lay on dirt at the edge of the water, soaking up sun from the open roof.

    Golduck sat on a spit of dirt and looked at the other Pokemon. They were all at ease. Their trainers had been with Team Aqua longer than Maressa had—they were accustomed to being in this place. They were in a large tank filled with fresh water with small areas of dry land at some edges. Parts of the roof were open so the Pokemon could feel natural sunlight.

    Looking over the edge of the tank, Golduck saw other ones, some of which were filled with salt water. The tanks formed a hallway in the Team Aqua base. Between them, Team Aqua members milled about. Some walked past the tanks without glancing at them while others went right up to them and spoke to their Pokemon through the glass.

    Golduck curled his tail around his feet. He didn’t like this. He knew that, in one of those saltwater tanks, Lanturn and Sharpedo were there. But he couldn’t survive for long periods of time in salt water, so he was put in a fresh water tank with a bunch of other Pokemon.

    But he shouldn’t be there. His place was with Maressa and Seaking. His mood further soured when he remembered how she told him to stay behind.

    “Don’t worry about it, Golduck,” she said with a gentle smile. The two of them were in her room. Maressa sat on her bed while Golduck stared at her in shock and anger. “It’s just a scouting expedition—it shouldn’t take more than a week! We’re not doing anything dangerous, just exploring the area. It should be a lot of fun! And—“

    Golduck cut her off. But why did he have to stay behind? She couldn’t go without him! There were dangerous Pokemon in the ocean. If she ran into trouble, she would need him to protect her.

    “I’m not alone. I’ll have Seaking with me. I know, I know, he’s really timid, but when I told him he seemed all for it. He’s plenty capable of fighting.”

    But that didn’t explain why he, Lanturn and Sharpedo couldn’t go with her!

    “It’s just what the admins told me—Shelly said she wanted you guys to stay behind and for only Seaking to come with. Don’t look at me that way. Maybe they just want to see if I can follow orders—I’m still really new at this. And if this goes well, it could be really good for us here!”

    But they were supposed to be friends—best friends! And she suddenly thought it was okay to leave three of them behind just because someone else told her to? Since when did Maressa care so little about them?

    “Why are you angry at me?” she snapped. Her smile was gone and her hands were balled into fists. “This isn’t my fault! I don’t want to be separated from you guys! If it was up to me, we would stay together all the time. But it’s not my choice.”

    Golduck quacked angrily and turned his back to her. Maressa always had a choice! She couldn’t blame someone else for her own actions.

    Maressa sighed.

    “Golduck.”

    He turned around. Maressa’s eyes drooped and her shoulders slumped. She looked tired and sad.

    “You are my best friend. Don’t make this harder for me than it already is.”

    Golduck was slightly abashed. He hadn’t realized Maressa was just hiding her own sadness.

    But he was still upset. He let out a throaty croak. Why were they separating? He and Maressa had been together their whole lives, and until now, they had never separated for anything.

    “I know. I don’t like it, either. But whether or not I like it, I need to learn to trust them—to trust that they know better than I do.”

    “Poliwhirl!”

    Golduck shifted his eyes to see a Poliwhirl floating in the water, staring at him curiously. She wanted to know if he would play with her.

    Golduck said nothing but looked away and flicked his tail. The only Pokemon he wanted to interact with were Sharpedo and Lanturn—but they were in a different tank. He never knew how they took the news that Maressa was leaving with Seaking. The last time he saw Maressa was when she told him they were to be separated.

    He looked up at the sky. Maressa would be gone for seven sun cycles—maybe less. It was the third sun cycle. It was already too long.

    Curling up his legs and his tail, Golduck watched some Team Aqua members dump lettuce into the tank. The Wiscash and Lombre swarmed as they ate the food, but Golduck had no desire to eat.

    He just wanted Maressa back.
     
    Chapter 9
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    Hello! I am a day late (again...) but here is the latest chapter and it is mercifully much shorter than the previous! My life is about to go through some big changes so I should be able to hit the next two-week mark, but after that... we'll see. I'll do my best! Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy.

    Chapter 9

    “… and that was when Sharpedo got really mad. Ever since he came with me, he and Seaking have been like brothers. Which is kinda weird, since they have such opposite personalities, you know? You’ll understand when you meet them. Anyway, Sharpedo really didn’t like these other Pokemon picking on Seaking, and when he saw how upset Seaking was getting, he got super defensive and started to really rip into the others. I mean, I’ve seen him get aggressive in battling, but I’ve only seen him get this vicious a few times. But you won’t have anything to worry about,” she said with a smile as she looked down at Gloom. “I’m sure that once Sharpedo meets you, you two will get along great.”

    Gloom sat silently in Maressa’s arms as she chattered away. She talked partly to keep her mind off of the anxiety and nervousness that kept attacking her. Having someone else to talk to and focus on helped—at least a little.

    She glanced up at the buildings all around them. For being the lone city on an island, Mossdeep seemed to be quite the metropolis. People bustled around her; sounds of cars and hustling people rang in her ears; scents from street foods and waste filled her nostrils; the urban jungle seemed to sprawl on endlessly. Though Maressa grew up in Mauville, she at least lived in a townhouse on the outskirts of the city—it was not nearly as hectic or crowded as this. How was she supposed to find one company?

    Maressa quickly went in and out of a convenience store to buy Mossdeep City Visitor’s Guidebook that came with a map and directory. The bulk of the book was about the city’s history and the white rock that it was noted for. Maressa skipped by it—it was all unimportant—and went down the directory until she found “Blue Seas” and located it on the map. It wasn’t too far away—they should be able to make it on foot.

    An hour and a half of walking later, and Maressa wished she had taken a bus. She stood outside a large office building with several different logos on it—and one of them was “Blue Seas.” Her leg was sore and protested in pain every time she put weight on it. She just needed to hold out for a few conversations—she could do that, right?

    “Okay,” she said as she turned and faced Gloom. He stood on the concrete next to her. In the ninety minutes it took to get to “Blue Seas,” he followed Maressa the whole way and she didn’t have the heart to push him away. She fully intended to soon, though—once they were out of the city.

    “I’m going to walk in there and ask to speak to a recruiter. I’ll—I’ll tell them I was hired under ‘Ocean Incorporated’ and was working on a joint project with them. And I got separated from my company and I’m trying to make my way back. That sounds reasonable—right?”

    Gloom didn’t respond. But it helped Maressa to voice her thoughts out loud to someone else.

    “I think it’ll be best if you stay inside your Pokeball, Gloom. I’m not sure what they would think of me with a Grass-type Pokemon.”

    Recalling him into his Pokeball, Maressa shoved it inside her shoe. The shoes were too large for her, and if she put it in the end and scrunched her toes up and didn’t mind the discomfort, then she could hide it reasonably well.

    Maressa closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, trying to calm her nerves. Opening them, she walked over and opened the door. A woman sat at the reception desk inside, her eyes roving up and down a computer screen in front of her. She looked up and smiled at Maressa.

    “Can I help you?”

    Walking up to the desk, Maressa smiled back. “Hi! Can I talk to a recruiter? I was hired under Ocean Incorporated and was working on a joint project between them and Blue Seas.”

    “A recruiter? Let me see…” She clicked on the computer screen and scrolled up and down, gazing at it. “Do you want to talk to one of our higher ups? We have a few people from Ocean Incorporated here who might be able to help you more. I’m not sure how much our recruiters can tell you—and this week they’re visiting schools, so it doesn’t look like they’re in.”

    Maressa’s heart pounded ferociously in her chest as she blurted out the first things that came to her mind. “Ah—I guess anyone here who’s working with Ocean Incorporated. I met a recruiter from Ocean Incorporated at the Hoenn Institute of Technology and Architecture this past January.”

    “Hmm… I’ll try asking Sean…”

    The receptionist picked up the phone next to her and dialed in a number. “Hello, Sean. I have a young woman here who says she works with Ocean Incorporated. She wants to talk to someone who’s working on a joint project they have with Blue Seas… Okay, sure…” She took the phone away from her face and looked up at Maressa. “Do you have your Ocean Incorporated ID with you?”

    Maressa’s face turned red.

    “No, I don’t.”

    The receptionist put the phone back to her face. “She said she doesn’t have it…” She took it away once more and looked up at Maressa. “What’s your name?”

    “Maressa Llyr.”

    “She says her name is Maressa Llyr…” The receptionist raised her eyebrows slightly as she listened to whatever the person on the other side said. “Oh, okay. Got it, thanks.” Placing the phone down, she smiled at Maressa. “If you come with me, I’ll take you to Sean’s office.”

    Maressa followed the woman into the elevator, up a few floors, and down a hallway. She stopped before a glass door, took out a fob and held it up to a scanner to unlock the door. They passed through it and continued down the hallway and stopped before a door that was cracked open. The receptionist knocked on the door a few times.

    “Sean? Maressa is here to see you.”

    The door was pulled wide open and a thin, bald man who looked to be in his late twenties looked down at Maressa. He smiled at the two of them.

    “Thank you, Peggy. I’ll take care of things from here.”

    Without another word, Peggy walked down the hallway.

    “Come in to my office!” he invited Maressa. “And close the door behind you, if you don’t mind.”

    Sunlight poured in through the window and illuminated the small office. A computer sat on a desk, facing away so people in the doorway could not see the screen. Bookshelves lined a side wall but there were only a few books and picture frames on them. A door stood slightly ajar on the other side wall.

    Sean went over to this door and poked his head in.

    “Lucy? Can you come and give this woman a pat-down?”

    He turned back to Maressa. “I’m sure you understand—we have to make security a priority, especially in the city.”

    Maressa didn’t quite understand but didn’t know what to say. She stood there numbly as a sour-looking woman came out of the side room and swiftly patted Maressa down. Maressa’s gut clenched as the woman felt around her feet, but she didn’t examine Maressa’s shoes. After a minute, she looked up at Sean.

    “She’s clear,” she said and went back into her office without another word.

    Sean looked down at Maressa with dark blue eyes. Maressa gazed back. She didn’t know what to do—her heart beat rapidly with apprehension. Her mouth was dry. All she could do was stare back at him.

    He smiled. “So!” he said as he walked over to his computer. “You’re Maressa Llyr, right?”

    “Yes.”

    He typed into the keyboard and turned the monitor around to face Maressa.

    “Does this look familiar to you?”

    A smile of relief broke out on Maressa’s face. Team Aqua’s skeletal “A” insignia was on Sean’s monitor. Still smiling, she looked up at Sean.

    “So you’re a Team Member, too?”

    He nodded. “Gotta keep quiet about it—not everyone in this building is with us, and we can’t be too careful.” He typed into the keyboard as he spoke and pulled up a profile of Maressa—the picture she had taken on her first day with them along with facts and features about her.

    “Once you disappeared, I was notified—I’m not as high up as Shelly or Matt, but I’m a step above the grunts. I was told to keep my eye out for you. Have a seat!”

    Maressa sat in the chair he gestured to. She sighed—in the past few nerve-wracking minutes, she had forgotten how sore her muscles were. Leaning her back against a chair felt luxurious; taking weight off of her legs was bliss.

    “You look worse for wear,” he noted. “What happened to you?”

    Maressa’s heart clenched. She met Sean’s curious gaze with uncertainty.

    “Where should I start?”

    “I know Team Magma captured you on a mission four days ago. After that, though, it’s all a mystery. Do you wanna eat while we talk? You look terrible.”

    Maressa glared at him for a second before catching herself. She didn’t like being told she looked terrible, but she needed to show respect to her superiors. And besides, the offer of a full meal was too much for her to pass up. Sean placed an order for sandwiches over the phone and Maressa began her story.

    She told everything as truthfully as she could but removed her interactions with Derek and Gloom. When she mentioned how Derek left her to check on his Wingull, Sean shook his head.

    “That’s a crappy medic—can’t watch his Pokemon fight without worrying about them and forgetting to guard his prisoner,” he said as he drizzled mustard over his veggie sandwich. “Typical Team Magma.”

    Several minutes later, the two of them sat before empty plates and Maressa finished her account. Sean smiled.

    “That’s quite a story you’ve got! I’m impressed you managed to find us out here—and I’m glad you did. I can’t imagine being stranded in a random city without knowing how to get to any of our bases.”

    “What do you guys do here?” Maressa asked. “Sarah and I were recruited into Team Aqua under company names—is this just an undercover Team Aqua base?”

    Sean wiped his face with his napkin before replying.

    “It’s a bit more than that—you can think of it as one of Team Aqua’s public relations branches. Archie is head over all these companies. Everyone knows that. But a lot of Blue Seas’s employees think it’s only an environmentalist media company concerned with publishing info about the environment—things like ocean acidification, Pokemon migrations, and stuff like that. They know that we’re partnered with other similar companies like Ocean Incorporated, but they don’t know about Team Aqua or what we’re trying to do. And the Boss is having me do a bit of both—I’m Team Aqua member first, but he also wants me to supervise Blue Seas. Make sure things are quiet, you know? And if any news about Team Aqua is leaked, I’ll be more likely to hear about it from here.”

    Maressa frowned.

    “How do you decide which employees to tell about Team Aqua? I was prepared to just work for Ocean Incorporated—I had never heard of Team Aqua until the recruiter suggested it for me.”

    “We try to gauge it in each employee. If they’re more into Pokemon battling—which it sounds like you are—we explain a little bit about Team Aqua and see how interested they are. If all they want is a desk job, we don’t usually mention it. If they’re passionate, and I mean really passionate about the ocean, we might suggest Team Aqua anyway, even if they’re not a Pokemon trainer.

    “Anyway,” he said as he suddenly stood up, “This has been a fun chat, and I’m happy I got to meet you, but you really should get back to a proper base. Others will want to hear everything you told me.”

    Maressa’s heart skipped a beat at these last words—she didn’t want to repeat her story again.

    “Is there a base nearby?” she asked.

    “The nearest one is by Lilycove. I’ll have my Tentacruel take you—I know it’s not that fancy or comfortable, but we need to keep you under the radar, and you’ll blend in perfectly with all the trainers surfing on their Pokemon between these two places.”

    Maressa nodded and stood up reluctantly. Her muscles ached in protest. The thought of spending the next who-knew-how-long clinging to a Pokemon and surfing the ocean made her want to cry. All she wanted to do was sleep.

    Maybe she could sleep later. Looking up at Sean, she smiled gratefully.

    “It was great to meet you, too. Thanks for helping me out.”

    +++++++++

    The sun beat down heavily on the azure waves. Maressa gazed ahead, her arms wrapped around the upright part of the Tentacruel’s bell. She wanted to talk to the Pokemon, but his face—if you could call it that, as it seemed to be just a pair of eyes—was beneath the water as he quickly made his way through the salty sea. She glanced at his brown tentacles and shuddered. The way they undulated and rippled gave her chills, and she knew that each carried a devastating stinging power. She cringed at the thought of being ensnared in them and felt pity for whatever poor ocean-goers had.

    Sean said that Lilycove was a day’s worth of surfing away but Maressa didn’t know whether that applied to a fast Pokemon like Tentacruel or whether he would make the journey more quickly. Judging by her inability to see any land in any direction, Maressa guessed that they still had a long time to go.

    For what felt like the thousandth time, Maressa went over in her head what she would say to her higher-ups once she got back to base. Her mouth went dry at the thought of lying to Shelly or—her heart skipped a beat at the thought—her boss. Could she really go through with it? She felt like it would be so much easier to keep going the way she was, to just keep working for Team Aqua. After all, they were searching for the stuff of legends, things that didn’t exist. Wouldn’t they just keep on searching forever, ultimately accomplishing nothing? How much harm could they really do?

    Suddenly, images of knocking out the Slateport scientist and of Team Magma attacking her teammates at Mount Chimney appeared before her eyes. Though the teams may be conducting a search where the only option was failure, the amount of damage they could do to civilians was undeniable.

    Maressa grimaced. Suddenly, abandoning Team Aqua didn’t seem enough. As a former member of Team Aqua, with knowledge of their bases and plans, shouldn’t she do what she could to actively bring them down?

    Pushing the thought aside, she decided to talk about it with her Pokemon later. As much as she looked forward to meeting with them again, there was also a sense of dread. She would tell them her plans to leave Team Aqua, and whether or not they would join her was their choice. They always readily carried out orders they were given while on the team—she just hoped that they hadn’t become so attached to Team Aqua and the other Pokemon that they would rather stay there than with her.

    She glanced at her leg—ocean water had splashed over it and made it sting horribly—and her heart clenched when she thought of Betty receiving the hospital bill. While it seemed funny on a whim, Maressa suddenly realized that her younger sister was receiving a hospital bill with no context whatsoever. And what would happen then? Betty would call them about the mistake, and they would bring up the account of Maressa being there and escaping. Betty would eventually piece things together and their family would find out that Maressa was a criminal.

    Maressa’s stomach churned. How would they react to finding out that a child in whom they had put so much hope was breaking out of hospitals, stealing vehicles and running around with a criminal gang?

    She didn’t want to think about it.

    Closing her eyes and hugging Tentacruel’s bell more tightly, Maressa wallowed in the worry and anxiety that had been with her the past few days, considering all the different things the future could hold and what she would have to do about each potential path.

    After a while, she opened her eyes again and looked up. Whatever would come would come, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to meet it when it did.
     
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    Chapter 10
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    I'm (barely) not late this time! Here's the next chapter, finally featuring the big man himself (that's not really a spoiler lol). I hope you enjoy!


    Chapter 10


    Night hung over the world like a stellar cloak by the time Tentacruel and his passenger reached the shores of Lilycove City. Maressa let out a sigh of relief; after riding over the ocean waves for hours, her throat was parched, her head pounded, her eyelids drooped, and she was soaked to the bone. The sandy shores were tantalizingly close—if she was not so tired, she may have jumped off Tentacruel and swam for shore herself.

    But as the shore neared, Tentacruel changed his direction and swam north toward a large outcrop of jagged sky-scraping rocks. Maressa instinctively clutched Tentacruel more tightly as he approached the formation. The water shot in fast, vigorous currents through the stones, and waves slapped aggressively against their sheer, weather-beaten sides. Many times, water engulfed the Pokemon and his person, and terror coursed through Maressa as she emerged coughing and sputtering. Each time the water covered them, she felt certain that she would never resurface, but Tentacruel always managed to get her breathing again. Even with the rough currents, he was able to use his powerful tentacles to traverse the treacherous waterways and avoid slamming into the rocks too forcefully.

    Maressa could barely see anything around her. Panic rose—she wanted to scream. But before long, Tentacruel made his way out of the roaring waterways and Maressa felt him riding along a much smoother current. The dimming night faded to total darkness. The sound of waves echoed all around them—they were in a cave.

    Marerssa’s arms still clamped Tentacruel with an iron grip. He rose up out of the water and stopped moving forward. After a moment of her holding on uncertainly, the Pokemon jerked forward and Maressa’s feet slipped off his bell. She sharply took in a breath and her heart fluttered frantically in her chest for a moment before she felt her feet hit solid rock. Making sure that her footing was secure, she let go of Tentacruel’s bell and listened to him slither back in the water. She watched his spectral outline diminish into the distance against the dim light of the cave entrance.

    Her heartbeat gradually slowed and she took a deep breath to calm herself.

    What’s wrong with me?

    Sure, she had been frightened out in the ocean before, but only when she was far from shore or caught in inclement weather. Back then, it had been a realistic fear that she and her Pokemon would get hurt or stranded—not the constant, ever-growing terror that ate away at her for the past day. She tried to reason that it was because her Pokemon weren’t with her, that it was because she was with a stranger whom she didn’t know well.

    She sighed inwardly at her own flimsy excuses.

    I can’t blame Tentacruel. He knew what he was doing.

    She continued to stare at the cave entrance—which brightened as the stars awoke and shone over the earth—pondering the source of her fear when a glow caught her eye.

    Glancing down into the water, she made out two lavender orbs shining with an ethereal light. Heart skipping a beat, she turned away as fast as she could, determined not to fall victim to any Pokemon’s hypnosis.

    Her heart raced. She had a Pokemon trying to hypnotize her, and she had to find Team Aqua—was this their base? She couldn’t see anything but the stars. Shouldn’t Team Aqua have lights or someone on watch in case team members came?

    Turning away from the cave entrance to face the uniform blackness, she tentatively called out, “Hello? Is anyone there? I’m a member of Team Aqua, and Sean told me that I could find your base here.”

    No answer returned, but suddenly the waters lit up with several bright yellow lights. She looked down at the water, and gave a cry of delight as she saw numerous Chinchou floating beneath the water’s surface, illuminating the cave with the bioluminescence from their anglers. Kneeling down to get as close the surface as she could, she hungrily searched through the Pokemon. She spotted a few Lanturn—none that she could see were hers, but what if her Lanturn was there, lighting up the cave to welcome her companion back?

    Maressa only had a few more seconds of searching before she saw a Politoed’s head emerge from the surface. She met his gaze as he stared at her quizzically for a moment before his eyes lit up with a pale purple light.

    Maressa only had enough time to curse her own stupidity before falling asleep.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++

    She stood on the brink of rock high above the open ocean. The sky and waters alike were pitch black, melding into each other so that she could not tell where one began and the other ended.

    The sea below suddenly lit with a thousand of pinpricks of light. Chinchou and Lanturn filled every layer of the water column, shining like nautical stars. Maressa bent down, looking through the water desperately for her friend. There were so many, but none was the one she wanted to see most. She couldn’t clearly make out those farther below the surface. She got on her hands and knees to peer more closely into the dazzling depths. As she got down on all fours, her hands slipped, and she plunged into the sea. All the living lights went out, and she felt herself sinking deeper into the now-empty ocean.

    The air was gone from her lungs. She couldn’t breathe. She felt as though fabric was pressed against her nose and mouth as she sank deeper into the void.


    Her eyes popped open, and she saw that there really was fabric pressing against her nose and mouth. Lifting her head off of the pillow, she looked down—she lay in a bed.

    The walls and floor alike were of a blank metal, similar to that of the Team Magma base. Though she was again in the only occupied bed in a room full of cots, the arrangement of furniture and layout of the room was different from the previous base.

    Breathing a sigh of relief, she laid back down on the pillow before immediately sitting back up. She wasn’t in the Team Magma base, but where was she? Had she gotten to Team Aqua, or had she been captured by the police and was to meet whatever sentence they had for her?

    A wave of terror rushed over her and she tore off her left shoe. Shoving her hand inside, she breathed a sigh of relief as she felt the Pokeball still stuck inside.

    Maressa released a shuddering breath. Gloom was still with her—that much, at least, hadn’t gone wrong. A pang of guilt hit her heart when she realized that she had yet to release him. But she had gone straight from the city to the open ocean—where was she supposed to let him go?

    As soon I’m outside and no one else is around, I’ll let him go, she told herself.

    Maressa looked around. If she was captured again, perhaps Gloom would be able to help her get out. It was worth a shot.

    Getting out of bed, she walked over to the door only to find that it was locked. Forcing herself to remain calm, she sat back on the bed and buried her face in her hands. Anxiety and worry beat rapidly in her chest, and she was finding it increasingly difficult to not panic. She couldn’t bear the thoughts of being captured again, of having to wait for whatever punishment was chosen for her, of having to escape again.

    Taking her head out of her hands, she clasped her fingers as her heart rate slowed. She knew her Pokemon were somewhere out there, and no matter how many times she was captured, she would find another way to escape—and she would be with them again.

    As speculations of her current situation roamed through her mind, the door opened. She jerked her head up, and a smile split her face as she saw a man wearing a black-and-white striped shirt and a blue bandana standing there.

    Falling back on her bed, she spread her arms out as the smile lingered on her face. She glanced back at the team member and leaped off her bed with joy.

    “You’re a Team Aqua member!”

    “Well, yeah, I—”

    “Then I’m at a Team Aqua base!”

    “You’re Maressa Llyr, right?”

    “Yes! Yes, I’m Maressa, and I’m here, I’m back, I can see my Pokemon again…” Her voice trailed off as she strode restlessly about the room, her arms held wide out in childlike glee.

    “Well, you’ll have to talk to our boss first before you can see anyone else.”

    Maressa’s arms returned to her sides as she turned curiously to her team member. “What do you mean? Do I have to talk to Shelly or someone about everything I went through?”

    “No. You have to talk to our boss.

    Maressa’s heart skipped a beat as the final word fell on her ears.

    “You mean Archie? He’s here?”

    The man nodded. “He’s scheduled to go in… and do something soon,” he said cautiously. “But he said he’ll talk to you while he’s here.”

    “When do I go see him?”

    “Right now. If you weren’t already awake, I was supposed to wake you up.”

    Her mouth going dry, she followed the guy out the doorway. He glanced at her as they walked.

    “I’m Noah, by the way. Are you nervous?” he asked with a smile.

    She shrugged. “A little.”

    “Don’t worry too much about it. Archie’s not bad, really. Show respect, definitely, and if it’s your first time meeting him, don’t joke around too much at first. But I’m sure he’ll warm up to you; he likes everyone once he gets to know them.”

    “Do you work directly with him often?”

    He nodded. “Just whenever he comes here. I’m in charge of this base, so whenever Archie comes I have to be the one to make sure that whatever he wants is here and everything is ready for him.”

    “Do you think he’s easy to work with?”

    “Let me put it this way: have you worked with Shelly before?”

    She grimaced. “Yeah.”

    “Then you won’t have a problem.”

    They stopped before a set of double doors.

    “Wait here,” Noah said before he walked through them. He was gone for a second before he reappeared and gestured for Maressa to go inside. Heart fluttering rapidly, she was about to open the door when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see Noah looking kindly at her.

    “Don’t be nervous. Everything will be fine.”

    Giving him a smile in return, Maressa steeled herself and opened the door.

    Three people stood around a desk looking over maps. One was dressed as an ordinary grunt, while another wore a dark coat and black pants. The other was Shelly, who alone noticed Maressa come in.

    “They just can’t go that deep,” the grunt was saying.

    The man in black looked disappointed. “Hmmm… Have we heard anything new about Stern’s Shipyard lately? Hm, what is it?” Shelly nudged him and indicated Maressa standing in the doorway.

    The man turned around and smiled as he saw Maressa. Striding forward, he held out a hand.

    “So, you must be Maressa! I’m Archie.”

    She relaxed as she firmly shook her boss’s hand. She couldn’t think of what to say—seeing him—the big guy, the boss, the linchpin—with almost no warning was so surreal. Looking up at him, she smiled with her mouth half-open and said, “Hi."

    Archie turned to the other grunt in the room.

    “Could you leave us for a moment, please? This won’t take long.”

    The grunt nodded and walked out without a word.

    “So!” he said as he sat in a high-backed wheelie chair. “I’m sorry that you had to be knocked out before we could take you in, but it’s a necessary precaution.”

    “Why? Have civilians shown up here?” Maressa couldn’t help asking.

    Shelly looked furious at this interruption, but Archie merely shrugged. “More often than we’d like. Even with sharp rocks and fast currents, some people insist on exploring this area, in which case we’ll usually have our Pokemon take them out.”

    A chill went up Maressa’s spine at these words, but she said nothing.

    “Sean sent word to me that you were coming here. Some members from our team recognized you and we pulled up your profile and information. If you weren’t a Team Aqua member, then you wouldn’t be in here now.

    “But enough of that. I want to hear everything that happened to you! Sean said that you were captured by Team Magma, and they’re not likely to just let a Team Aqua member go without getting some inside information first.”

    “I didn’t tell them anything, sir. I escaped.”

    “I trust you did. And I want to hear everything that happened to you while you were there, how you got out and how you got here.”

    Maressa paused before beginning. Archie seemed amiable enough, but the atmosphere was strained. Her boss appeared to be inspecting a number of small bites on his arm, but she could tell that his attention was focused on her. Shelly stood by his chair, staring straight ahead, but Maressa was willing to bet that she was also paying close attention to her every move. The air was thick with tension and Maressa knew she was treading dangerous waters.

    One wrong word, and I’m done for, she realized.

    She took a deep breath, and launched into her story, telling everything as truthfully as she could but omitting the conversations she had had with Derek and his Pokemon and of taking Gloom with her.

    When she finished, she looked up to see her boss staring down, his eyes drifting out of focus. Without looking at her, he asked, “Everything that Magma Commander, Tabitha, told you about us—do you believe what he said?”

    Here was the test. Knowing her fate hung on the next words, she slowly said, “I don’t know what to believe, sir. I’ve never heard that Team Aqua would do those things, but I know that we fight for the good of the ocean, and making it larger would make sense.”

    She met his gaze. His pale blue eyes bore into her, and she tried to appear as sincere as she could. She was speaking the truth, after all, and she hoped that he would elaborate on what Tabitha had told her. But she couldn’t control her nerves—her heart pounded so furiously within her chest that she worried someone would hear it.

    After a moment, Archie stood up and made his way to the door.

    “Come with me, Maressa,” he said, and with a nod to Shelly, he made his way out.

    Maressa followed the Aqua leader through the metal-lined walls of the corridor. She broke out into a nervous sweat—had he seen through her? Where was he taking her? Was he about to hurt her? She prayed it wasn’t the last; he was much taller and heftier than her, and she didn’t fancy trying to hold her own against him.

    After walking up a few staircases, he opened a small door. The sound of waves smacking stone and the kiss of the sea breeze met the duo as they stood on a small rocky precipice facing the open water. There was no rail between the humans and the edge of the rock. Maressa glanced over the edge and immediately took a step back as her stomach churned. She inched away until her back was flat against the door.

    Archie raised an eyebrow. “Is something wrong?”

    “I don’t do well with heights.”

    “Ah.” He stepped forward to peer down at the violent waves below. “Yeah, it’s a pretty long way down. Don’t fall.”

    Maressa didn’t answer. She just stared out at the deep blue waters that appeared so calm from a distance. Archie glanced at her then turned his gaze seaward.

    “Do you understand why we fight for the ocean, Maressa?”

    “Because we need it to live?”

    “Because it sustains this entire planet and everything on it. Many creatures spend their lives in the ocean without ever seeing land—some live without even seeing sunlight. Entire civilizations have built their culture around the ocean, adjusting and shaping their lifestyles to work with it.”

    Maressa couldn’t see his face, but as his voice took on a reflective tone, she felt as if he had almost forgotten about her.

    “My own family was one that lived at the ocean’s edge. When I was thirteen, we left. Eleven years later, I made my way back to that same spot where we lived, and it was completely gone. All the plants that grew there, the rock formations, even peoples’ homes—gone. The water ran right against a sandy shore with hotels and beach houses.”

    Maressa tensed; Archie’s tone had hardly changed, but a deep anger flowed from him. Underneath his words was a touch of malice. But when he turned around, his eyes held no cruelty or vengeance. They were hard, and he appeared that of a man filled with self-righteous indignation.

    “The oceans are dying, and it’s because humans decided to change this world to make it more convenient for them. Have you ever been to Lilycove?”

    She was surprised at the sudden question, but just shook her head in response.

    He averted his gaze. “It’s right beyond this rock formation. And with cliffs and sea stacks like these, you’d expect the edge of the city to be the same, wouldn’t you?” He shook his head. “It’s covered in this sand that they imported from the southwest shores of Hoenn. The rocks are gone, and it’s become a large beach resort.”

    When he didn’t say anything for a few moments, Maressa put in, “The sand won’t last long, will it? Especially if Lilycove has an erosional coast—it’ll just wash away.”

    He nodded. “And so they keep bringing more. It’s a short-sighted goal that will make them a bit of money for the moment. But it’s also altered the environment in such a way that it’ll take years for it to recover. There used to be tons of Pokemon in the tidepools and colonies of Corsola living there, but now it’s almost completely dead. Other Pokemon have tried moving in, but it never lasts. And every time someone gets bitten by Sharpedo, people make a big fuss and wonder if the ocean is safe for anyone. But the next week, they forget, and the beach is as crowded as ever.

    “It’s as if people no longer care to live together with Pokemon, as if all the technology and activist movements that have happened have been for nothing. I know there’s a fad where children will get a Pokemon while they’re young and challenge different Gyms in a region, and that the people who promote this say that the whole point of is for the kid to grow together with his Pokemon and learn what it means to cooperate with them. But even then, the goal they’re aiming for is to be the Pokemon Champion, as if they rule over Pokemon.” He shook his head. “It’s just a façade that the people in power are trying to put up so it looks like living and working with Pokemon is still possible, but it won’t last for long.”

    His expression hardened. “And the Gym Leaders and Elite Four—people act as if they practically run this place, but for all the influence they supposedly have, they haven’t done jack shit about protecting the Pokemon they claim to love.”

    Maressa stood in silence for a moment, taken aback. He had said much more than she expected, and as she thought on it, her heart sank. She didn’t actually know enough about the Elite Four or Hoenn’s rulers to contradict or confirm Archie, but she couldn’t deny the environmental changes she had noticed. While the ocean had seemed fine when she was riding Tentacruel, she had heard reports of people on Mossdeep planning to tear down the mangrove forests and start aquaculture. And she remembered being a nine-year-old back in Kanto, watching lakes be filled in and forests be torn down to make room for more housing.

    Maressa took a step forward, feeling the chill wind whip her hair back. The lake she had first met Psyduck in was gone, and who knows what had happened to Seaking’s home? Sharpedo’s old family was bound to meet trouble if it was going to keep moving in-shore, and Lanturn’s old home at the bottom of the ocean was trawled away…

    “They’ll have nowhere to live,” she murmured. Archie looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “The ocean habitats are being destroyed. The Pokemon will either be killed or left homeless.”

    Her boss clapped a hand on her shoulder. “And that’s why we have to do what we can to fight for it and return it to its full livelihood once more. People say that global warming is causing ice to melt and the seas are already expanding.” He sighed. “Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t help us. The waters may be growing, but the ocean is dying. This is why we have to keep fighting people like Team Magma, who would see the ocean shrunk down to make more room for land.”

    “Sir, may I ask something?”

    He nodded. “Don’t bother asking if you can ask. If my answer was ‘no,’ you would have already defied orders.”

    “How will summoning Kyogre help the ocean? I don’t know much at all about this Pokemon,” she hurriedly added, “but I find it hard to believe that a single creature can right everything that millions of people have been doing for years.”

    Archie didn’t respond immediately but kept gazing out at the ocean.

    “Kyogre is unlike any other Pokemon on this planet. It was here while the earth was still young and when the oceans were acid. It brought rainwater, made the oceans fresh and suitable for life. And by making the oceans habitable, land became habitable as well. As the ocean has lived and governed this planet, so has Kyogre. It isn’t just a Pokemon; it’s the embodiment of the sea itself.”

    Maressa said nothing. She had no idea how Archie could have known all this, but decided not to voice her skepticism and just silently accept what he said.

    Archie turned to her.

    “A Pokmon of this power won’t be locked away in a Pokeball and become a slave to a person’s will. People in ancient times made the Blue Orb to control Kyogre, and using that Orb is our only hope.”

    Maressa’s heart skipped a beat.

    Tabitha was telling the truth.

    The boss went on, “If we can find Kyogre and find that Orb, then there’s hope that we can return the seas to their natural state and prevent humanity from destroying them ever again.”

    “So where do we find Kyogre and the Blue Orb?”

    He sighed. “That’s what we’re working on. And trying to stop Team Magma while doing that is no easy task.” He turned to Maressa, his eyes filled with sorrow. “We can’t let them get the Red Orb and control Groudon, Maressa. They would drain the oceans and tear this world apart.”

    She nodded. “I’ll do whatever I can to help stop them sir.”

    He turned back to the sea and, putting his hands on his hips, replied, “That’s what I like to hear. You can be very useful to us, Maressa.”

    “I know where one of their bases is and how we can get in,” she said in a rush.

    Archie turned his head towards her, his pale eyes piercing. “What?”

    “It’s true. I heard one of their commanders talk about it with another member.” And she quickly told him everything Derek had relayed to her.

    The Team Aqua boss said nothing, but stared at her keenly.

    He doesn’t trust me, Maressa realized with dread.

    “Are you sure about this?” he asked slowly.

    “Sir, I will stake everything on this.”

    Archie turned back to the sea and a smile split his face. “Then let’s show them what we can do.”
     
    Chapter 11
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    (Finally) Here's chapter 11! Sorry for my lateness; I'm also not sure how punctual I will be in the future, as I'm going through some big (but good) life changes at the moment. I'll do my best to stick to the every-other-Monday format!


    Chapter 11



    Once Archie dismissed her, Maressa made her way back to the room she woke up in. Now that her nervousness and anxiety were ebbing away, weariness was settling in again and she wanted to sleep. She just turned a corner when she was intercepted by Noah.

    He smiled when he saw her. “Here you are. They were held at one of our bases near Slateport, so we decided to bring them for you.”

    He held out his hand and a smile split Maressa’s face when she saw her Pokeballs. However, her joy didn’t last, and she looked back up at Noah with a small frown.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “There are only three Pokeballs here. I have four Pokemon.” She checked them; Seaking was missing.

    Noah shrugged and shook his head. “The people at the other base told me that was all of them. But,” he quickly added when he saw Maressa’s look of terror, “it’s possible that your other Pokemon was separated from the rest. You can check with the head of your squadron and see if they know anything about it.”

    Maressa nodded, her spirits rising slightly. “Do you know where Shelly is?”

    “Should be somewhere on the lower levels. I also brought a uniform for you so you can change.”

    Without another word, Maressa took the uniform, ducked into her bedroom to quickly change—remembering to pocket Gloom’s Pokeball—and took off down the hallway. In her excitement, the pain in her leg didn’t bother her so much. Making her way down staircases, she eventually came into a room with several large tanks. Pokemon drifted about idly in the water while some of their humans stood before the tanks or else sat in the water with them. Maressa spotted Shelly standing before a large tank with a few other grunts, examining a Mantine.

    “Shelly!”

    The Aqua Commander turned around, her expression sour at the interruption. Maressa felt a slight twinge of guilt; she forgot to pay her superior respect, but she pushed the feeling aside and walked over to her commander.

    Shelly said nothing but raised her eyebrows questioningly.

    “Do you know where my Seaking is?”

    “Why would I know that? You’re one of several grunts I’m in charge of. I can’t keep track of everybody’s Pokemon.”

    “Yes, but I just got these three—” she held up her Pokeballs—“back, and Noah said that I should ask you where my Seaking might be.”

    “Where did you last see your Seaking?”

    “He was fighting with me when I was captured by Team Magma.

    “And do you know what happened to him afterwards? Was he captured, or did another Team Aqua member take him?”

    Maressa traced her steps through her memory as she recounted, “He was caught in Breloom’s leech seed, and I kicked him when his horn punctured my leg, and then I was hit by the solar beam…” She looked back up at her commander. “That’s all I remember.”

    “What about his Pokeball? Did you keep that with you?”

    “No, that… fell in the ocean,” she whispered as realization took hold of her.

    Shelly’s eyebrows climbed higher on her forehead. “Your Seaking was caught in a leech seed attack, and you dropped his pokeball in the ocean, and you’re hoping to find him at a base?” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Maressa, but it sounds like your Seaking’s gone.”

    Maressa froze; the world stopped.

    Gone?

    Seaking couldn’t be gone. How could he be? Seaking, who was so timid and yet so cheerful, who was the only one willing to try and learn calculus, whom she had saved from people who saw him as only an object.

    And she felt all those moments she spent with him: holding him, singing lullabies to him at night when he was too nervous to sleep, withdrawing him in the middle of a battle when he was getting too scared to keep fighting, having him play with Golduck, Lanturn and Sharpedo, steadily building his trust and feeling him love her in return.

    All of those moments were ripped away.

    Tears came hot and fast. Maressa’s chest constricted. She knew people were staring at her, but it didn’t matter.

    Shelly put a hand on her shoulder, gazing at her subordinate with more pity than Maressa had ever seen.

    “I’m sorry.”

    Taking a few deep breaths, Maressa slowly asked, “But we can find him, right? We have plenty of aquatic Pokemon. They can search for him, can’t they?”

    Shelly grimaced and shrugged. “The ocean is a big place, Maressa. Yes, we have Water-type Pokemon, but if we send them too far out into the sea, it’s possible that even they could lose their way and not return.”

    Each word Shelly spoke was like a hammer beating a nail deeper into Maressa’s heart.

    “But he won’t just be anywhere out in the ocean—he knows what our bases and submarines look like—he’ll come find one—“ she stopped as her voice cracked.

    “If that’s the case, then maybe he will come back. But I can’t promise anything. We’ll keep an eye out for him, though,” she added with a soft smile. “How about you spend time with your other Pokemon? I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you.”

    Maressa looked down at her shaking hands and at the small balls. Closing her fingers around them, she nodded, and made her way over to a tank at the far end of the room where only a few Corsola sat on the bottom. She paused, torn; part of her just wanted to curl up by the tank and sob, but the desire to see her Pokemon overrode it.

    Tapping on each of the balls to enlarge them, she tossed them into the air where they burst open and released her friends in flashes of white light.

    They shook their heads when they first came out and blinked their eyes. Upon seeing her, their faces became radiant with joy, and Maressa’s spirits rose. She placed her hands on the glass as Sharpedo and Lanturn swam right up next to the side of the tank. Her grief at Seaking’s absence was shunted aside as she let loose a laugh of relief. Reaching up, she caught hold of the edge of the tank and swung herself over the side and into the salty water. Her leg wound screamed in protest, but that didn’t matter. She reached out her arms and embraced Lanturn and Sharpedo when she felt a third being clamp itself tightly around her midriff.

    She smiled as she saw Golduck’s shaking form embracing her tightly.

    “It’s good to see you too, Golduck. All of you, really,” she said with another laugh. Her tears flowed, but they were no longer of sadness.

    Sharpedo let out a soft growl, letting her know much they had missed her.

    Golduck finally looked up, and Maressa saw that his eyes were slightly bloodshot. He quacked with anger, telling her to never leave them alone like that again. Had she known how much worry and anxiety she had put them through?

    Maressa smiled gently. “Don’t worry; I don’t plan on ever doing that again.”

    Lanturn chirped up as she nuzzled Maressa’s palm, adding that it would be so good to have Maressa and Seaking back again.

    At the mention of Seaking, the painful realization came back and Maressa started sobbing again. Her three Pokemon looked at her, worried and confused. What was she crying for? Hadn’t she brought Seaking back with her?

    Maressa was about to explain but suddenly became aware of the Corsola watching them at the bottom of the tank and of the voices of people drifting to them from around the corner. She didn’t feel ready to talk about it in front of others.

    Forcing herself to calm down, she quietly said, “I’ll tell you soon; let’s go somewhere more private first, though.”

    ++++++++++++++++++

    Soon, she wore a full-length wetsuit emblazoned with the Team Aqua logo and sat atop Lanturn out in the ocean. It had been difficult getting the wetsuit on—her leg still hurt quite a lot, and trying to squeeze it into a body glove had been no painless task. Still, she had managed, and went with her Pokemon out to the tranquil, azure sea where the sun shone down on them cheerily. Her Pokemon drifted in despondent silence; news of Seaking’s disappearance hit them as it had hit her.

    Sharpedo’s eyes angled in anger, and he let loose an angry growl. He couldn’t spend any more time sitting there—if Seaking was out in the ocean, then he had to go and find him and bring him home safely.

    “Sharpedo, wait!” Maressa called as her companion shot off. He stopped, and the worried, anxious look he gave Maressa tugged at her heartstrings.

    Lanturn swam over to Sharpedo, telling him that he wasn’t alone—they would all search for Seaking together!

    “No, we can’t just leave and search for Seaking!”

    Golduck quacked angrily—why couldn’t they search for him? He was part of their family. What could possibly be more important?

    “Nothing is more important, I know! But there’s so much to tell you guys, first."

    Sharpedo interjected. Whatever she wanted to say could wait; Seaking had to be found now.

    “It can’t wait! I need to talk to you all right now!

    The shark-like creature let loose a horrible roar. Seaking had been stuck alone in the ocean for the past week—he could be starving or hurt, and was surely lost and confused. Yet all Maressa wanted to do was talk. She didn’t want to look for him, and Seaking’s disappearance was her fault in the first place!

    Lanturn and Golduck stared in silent shock at the two. Sharpedo’s eyes were a deep shade of red, and the water around him frothed as he growled. Lanturn cautiously backed away, and Golduck swam protectively between her and Sharpedo. But Maressa didn’t seem the least bit intimidated. Tears trickled down her face again as she let out a sob.

    “I know it is.”

    Lanturn crooned sympathetically. It wasn’t Maressa’s fault—nobody ever meant for Seaking to get lost.

    “It is my fault, Lanturn. Whatever happens to any of you is my responsibility. I made this promise when I became your trainer—to protect and care for all of you. And I didn’t. If it wasn’t for me, he would still be here.” She gazed at Sharpedo. “I’m so sorry. If there was anything I could do to bring him back, I would. But we might be in danger. Sharpedo, please come over here and let me explain everything.”

    The water around Sharpedo calmed and the red in his eyes died down. Though he still looked unhappy, he swam closer to Lanturn and Golduck, the latter of whom eyed him warily.

    Maressa glanced down at the extra Pokeball on her belt. Taking a deep breath, she recounted everything that had happened while she was gone. She told them everything she told Archie, but included everything about Derek and his Pokemon as well as meeting Gloom.

    Golduck was startled; she brought another Pokemon—one that couldn’t even swim? One that would most likely die if Team Aqua’s goals came to fruition?

    Maressa sighed. “I didn’t mean to! He started following me when we knocked out his previous owners—I don’t think he was cared for, and I haven’t found a good place to release him. As for Team Aqua, well… there are things about that that I need to tell you. But don’t you want to meet him first? Don’t worry,” she said gently as she saw their looks of skepticism, “I know what I’m doing.”

    Sharpedo interjected. Did the Gloom know that she was with Team Aqua?

    “I told you, I’ll tell you about that part later. But please meet him; until we can get him somewhere proper for Grass-types, I would really love it if you all made him feel at home.”

    Sharpedo and Golduck still looked uncertain, but Lanturn joyfully leapt out of the water. Maressa should bring Gloom out at once!

    Smiling at Lanturn’s enthusiasm, Maressa detached the Pokeball from her belt, and soon Gloom stood on top of Sharpedo’s head.

    “Gloom,” Maressa said gently.

    The Pokemon looked up at her briefly then faced the water again. He stood completely still, as if he was afraid of falling. Maressa reached out, grabbed hold of him, and held him on her lap. Lanturn gleefully chirped a greeting. Golduck did the same, and Sharpedo added his disgruntled greetings to theirs.

    Maressa smiled at Gloom looking curiously at each of the Pokemon.

    “These are my Pokemon, Gloom. They’re my best friends. We’ll take care of you until we make it back to solid land, and then you can live in a forest with other Grass-types. Don’t worry about the water—I’m not out on the ocean all the time. Golduck knows; he spends a lot of time inside with me, and now you can, too!”

    The Grass-type Pokemon turned and looked up at her, and for the first time Maressa thought she could detect something other than indifference. Even though his eyes were closed and his mouth was permanently frowning, something gave her the impression that he was confused, and almost a little hurt.

    Maressa smiled wider and hugged him closer. “Don’t worry, we’ll protect you and make sure that you’re treated well. I’m sorry that you couldn’t meet the last member of our family…” She trailed off for a moment and sniffed. “But you can still be with the rest of us! How does that sound?”

    Gloom turned away from her and stared out at the water, as if contemplating all she said. A breeze blew and the waves turned choppy. Maressa was caught off balance for a moment and gripped Lanturn tightly with her legs to stay on. She returned Gloom to his Pokeball, not wanting to run any risk of him falling into the water.

    Once the Grass-type was back in the small sphere, Golduck and Sharpedo cast her uncertain, worried looks.

    “Don’t look at me like that!” Maressa snapped. “I didn’t mean to drag him out here—but I couldn’t just leave him in the city, and I can’t really tell anyone else on Team Aqua about him, can I? They don’t care about Grass-types, they want to drown them!”

    Her three Pokemon stared at her in shock. Sharpedo growled—drown Grass-types? They never heard anything about this. Wasn’t Maressa just fighting for Water-type Pokemon everywhere?

    Maressa bit her lip. Here was the hard part. She had just gotten back with her friends, and she might lose them again. She tried to steel herself for rejection, but after a few seconds stopped trying. It didn’t matter what tears she tried to push back; she knew that she was a wreck without her Pokemon. Nonetheless, she had to tell them her decision, and go with it whether or not they decided to stay by her.

    Maressa related everything Tabitha told her and of her conversations with Derek afterward. Her words tumbled out in a rush: how she had thought through everything she was told, and how she came to the decision that she would no longer be a Team Aqua member.

    “And I don’t think that they’ll let me out, so I’d have to escape without them knowing. And I really want you all to come with me. But this is your choice to make; I understand if you don’t want to betray them, and that you wouldn’t want to come with me for being a traitor, if you didn’t want to be with a human who was too much of a coward to finish what she started—” she cut herself off. Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply for a moment, trying to ready herself for whatever response they might have for her.

    When she opened her eyes, all three Pokemon were looking at her—but not with disgust or disappointment. Lanturn looked sad and hurt by her words; Sharpedo looked annoyed; Golduck’s eyes were narrowed in disbelief.

    Sharpedo rolled his eyes and growled in exasperation. Did she really think that they wouldn’t want to be with her anymore just because she didn’t want to be on Team Aqua? Did she really think so little of their friendship?

    Maressa floated on the waves, speechless. Golduck quacked, telling her that they never had any love or loyalty Team Aqua. They were there because she was. Why would she think they would leave her?

    Lanturn chimed in, saying that they would follow Maressa wherever she went, whether it was back to Mauville, back to Kanto, or even to a whole new region. They would never leave her or abandon her!

    Maressa couldn’t say anything. All she did was slide off of Lanturn and wrap her arms around the Electric-type in a hug. She felt another pair of arms wrap around her, and Sharpedo’s snout nuzzling her side.

    “Thank you,” she whispered.

    They let go of each other, and Sharpedo dove underneath and resurfaced below her so that she was sitting atop him.

    “I’m going to make this work,” she told them. “We’ll get out of here and away from Team Aqua, and we will find Seaking and we can all be a family together again.” With a pang of guilt, she added, “And I’ll go to my parents and sister and explain what I’ve really been doing these past few months and make everything up to them.”

    Golduck looked skeptically at her, asking if she could trust anything she heard about Team Aqua from Team Magma.

    “I was thinking the same thing. At first, I thought Tabitha was just lying the whole time, but then I realized that everything just fits. I don’t think he was ever lying to me, even when he offered me a position on the team. I mean, he showed interest in us when he fought us at Mt. Chimney. And after all, he told me more about Team Aqua than anyone on our team ever did.” Her voice faded as she reflected on the curious relationship that existed between a grunt and enemy commander. He had seemed willing to tell her anything about Team Aqua; she wondered if she should have asked more questions, and if he told her more information than he told his own underlings…

    Snapping back to the present, she lamely finished with, “And the Team Aqua leaders already confirmed everything he said, anyway.”

    The Pokemon said nothing, but just floated along the waves, each lost in his or her own thoughts.

    “I think we should leave soon,” she informed them. “Before we’re sent out on any more missions. And if we do, we won’t have to join in on the attack on Team Magma.”

    Lanturn looked concerned. If Derek was counting on Team Aqua to attack them at that moment, shouldn’t she go with them like she promised?

    “What—Why?” Maressa asked in disbelief. “I want to help Derek, and attacking Team Magma and assisting Team Aqua is just going to put them all in more danger!”

    But he had told her that information so that Team Aqua wouldn’t accuse Maressa of treachery, Lanturn explained. He knew that Maressa had escaped; if she didn’t follow through with the attack, then he might assume that Team Aqua didn’t believe Maressa or that she had died on the trip to Mossdeep.

    As Maressa sat on Sharpedo, her thoughts rolled along while she bobbed up and down on the waves. It never occurred to her that Derek might have left her for dead.

    “Do you really think he’ll care about knowing whether I’m okay or not?”

    Golduck piped up—if he cared enough about her to give away information about his team and put them at risk, then he would definitely want to make sure she was okay.

    “Yeah… I just don’t want to have a part in this anymore.” As she said this, her thoughts turned to Seaking. She would give anything in the world just to know that he was okay, and though her relationship with Derek was quite different from hers with Seaking, she could imagine how much pain and uncertainty he was going through.

    She looked back to her team. “Let’s do it.”

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Moonlight shone on the tall pearlescent rock. People crowded around it, trying to touch the historic, mystical stone. They attached small tags to it on which were written the contents of their hearts, from their trivial desires to fervent prayers. Many standing closest to the rock gazed at it, giving a respectful moment of awed silence before moving back into the heavy throng. One boy stood before the rock, oblivious to everyone else crowding around it, not moving out of the way—for no one would demand a Gym Leader to move aside for themselves.

    Tate stood with one hand on the rock, his mind connected with the presence inside it. It was nothing more than a whisper of a thought, but it was there. For as long as he or anyone else could remember, this rock had been nothing more than a shrine for people to come and put their wishes or respects to. It was the oldest symbol of Mossdeep, but had been overshadowed by the space shuttle and science center in recent years. Now, with the Millennium Comet coming, people were flocking to Mossdeep City to partake in the celebrations.

    It had only been within the past few days that whenever he walked by the rock, Tate felt something call out to him. The first few days it hadn’t even been a whisper, just another consciousness brushing against his mind. It was completely unfamiliar to anything he had ever felt—nothing like the mind of a human, and much different from those of Pokemon such as Solrock or Xatu. And every time the consciousness contacted his own, he sensed a deep longing and loneliness emanating from it.

    “I don’t get it,” Liza said once when Tate was standing by the rock by himself. “Your psychic powers are, like, the exact same as mine.” She walked over the rock and put her hand on it, her brow furrowed as she stretched out her thoughts in search of the alien presence. “How come you can feel it and I can’t?”

    “I don’t know,” Tate replied, and he really didn’t. Ever since birth, he and Liza had been on the same level—except for a brief spell when she suddenly gained a surge in power before him, but he soon caught up to her afterwards. No matter what he did, no one else seemed to be able to feel the presence. He had opened his mind between the presence and others, such as Liza or his Pokemon and used himself as medium between them, intending to let them interact over his mind. But every time he did, the Pokemon or his sister would tell them that they could feel nothing.

    Tate never considered that he was going crazy. The presence was there; he could feel it, he knew it! It had been growing stronger every day, and contacting with it made him feel so happy, even though he couldn’t explain why. And as the presence grew more prominent, more complex, his joy grew, for he sensed that he would soon meet whatever lay beneath the surface of the stone.

    And as he stood with his hand pressed against the moonlit surface, he could hear a small voice echo through his head.

    The star…

    His eyes opened as the voice faded.

    Star? What star? he wondered. With a thrill of hope, he thought The Millennium Comet?

    From the alien presence came a rush of joy, surging through Tate in affirmation. A grin split his face. That’s only a few days away! he thought. With this thought, happiness emanated from the presence, and Tate’s spirits lifted.

    From the back of the crowd on a small ledge overlooking the people, Mildred spectated the scene. Her pale eyes rested on the small boy who had never failed to come to the rock each night. As she saw the boy smile gleefully and press both hands against the rock, excitement coursed through her.

    He had to be the one. No one else had the same pervasive joy that he did when they went to that rock and no one else was going to it as often as he. Most people were only interested in having their own wishes granted to fulfill whatever frivolous desire infected their souls—but this boy always looked as though he was reuniting with a friend whom he had not seen in a long time.

    Mildred furrowed her brow as she toyed with the Skitty icon in her keychain. The Millennium Comet was still days away, but it was imperative to get the group ready as soon as possible.

    She smiled as she watched the boy close his eyes with his hands on the rock, his face peaceful. Hardly anyone believed in legends, and that left almost no one to protect them. Even the police standing around the rock were just there to keep the traffic flowing and make sure the crowd was under control. They didn’t expect anyone to steal anything, for to them—and at least ninety percent of the rest of the people there—it was only a rock.

    Absentmindedly putting her hand in her pocket, her fingers found a coin and stroked its circular edges. She frowned as she caught snatches of conversation from people making their way past her, complaining about how life had taken an inconvenient turn or how they couldn’t afford the new model for a car and had to settle for a slightly less expensive one.

    Soon, people of Hoenn, she thought as she traced the jagged black ‘M’ on her coin, you’ll wish these were the only problems you had.
     
    Chapter 12 New
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    Hey everybody! It's still Monday somewhere in the world, right? So I'm technically not late on this... right? Here's Chapter 12, and I hope you enjoy!


    Chapter 12


    Maressa walked through the metal doors of their base on Route 123. Her head throbbed—partly from the exhaustion, and partly from her burning anger. She heard Golduck’s footsteps as he plodded happily alongside her, but she was too angry to talk to him.

    She and a group of other Team Aqua members followed Matt into a small room. Maressa only half-listened as he gave them instructions for getting ready tomorrow; she just wanted to lie down and rest.

    “… You are dismissed,” the Aqua commander finally announced.

    Without another word, Maressa walked into the hallway while Golduck followed her. She didn’t get very far before two voices squealed “MARESSA!” and she was thrown off-balance by the force of people hugging her.

    As they pulled back, Maressa smiled as she saw Cloe and Sarah standing before her. Both of their uniforms were clean and they looked excited; evidently, neither had been on a mission recently.

    Cloe’s eyes scanned Maressa and her smile fell. “What happened to you?”

    Maressa’s outfit was torn and dirty, and her forearms were littered with burns. Her bandana and left glove were nowhere to be seen, and an acrid smell hung about her. Most noticeable was her hair, which was black and charred at the bottom edge. Golduck stood next to her, and though he had scratches and bite marks on him, he seemed significantly less put-out—even pleased.

    Rubbing her eyes wearily, she said, “I’ll talk to you guys later. Let me put on a new outfit.” She glared down at her Golduck. “And I need to have a talk with you.”

    Maressa and her Pokemon walked down the hall. Sarah and Cloe heard the Water-type quack nonchalantly. Maressa angrily replied, “When I said ‘make sure they’re okay,’ that doesn’t mean ‘encourage them to start spitting fire at me’—”

    The duo entered Maressa’s room and she slammed the door behind them. Golduck shrugged. Maressa got out just fine; what did a bit of fire matter?

    “I LOST TWO INCHES OF HAIR BECAUSE OF YOU!”

    Maressa flopped down on the cot, glaring at Golduck, who stood in front of her and acted as though nothing was wrong.

    “Do not tell me that everything was a success. Yeah, we made sure those Team Magma members got away, but half of our squad is pissed at me because you led us on a wild goose chase through the rainforest, because you just HAD to insist that the one Linoone who ran away had the Card Key that we needed to access the information, and so I had to run after you and take along another seven people and get absolutely nothing done. Have you forgotten about my leg?!” She pointed to her left leg, and though the cut was hidden beneath the fabric of her pants, it throbbed horribly. “Walking is a pain, not to mention trying to run. But I had to run after and take along half of the squad to make sure that Team Aqua didn’t completely overpower Team Magma.”

    Rolling onto her back, she sighed. “And that base was teeny—Derek had nothing to worry about. Even if we did manage to take any hostages, I doubt it would really matter. That base was in the middle of nowhere and doing nothing.” Her eyes narrowed until they were but amber slits in her face. “And then your psybeam ‘missed’ Team Magma while they were escaping and hit the opposite cliff face, completely blocking us off. Seriously, Golduck, whose side are you on?”

    The ease and amity vanished from Golduck’s face as he glared at his trainer. Whose side was he on? Whose side was she on? Maressa was the one who said she no longer wanted to be part of Team Aqua or do anything that would help them.

    Shifting her eyes, Maressa replied, “Yeah, I know. It’s just that after everything we’d done, the admins were starting to be impressed with us and thought we would have done a pretty good job. But after that embarrassment, they would never think about promoting us…”

    Golduck quacked angrily. This wasn’t about Maressa or the admins or what anyone thought—it was about keeping her promise to Derek. She had successfully attacked a small base and managed to keep both herself and any Team Magma members involved safe. Without the team suspecting her of treason, she could take the other Pokemon and get out of there, find Seaking, and live a normal life again.

    At the mention of Seaking, her heart panged. She sat up and mulled over what Golduck said. It was true—as far as she and Derek had planned, the mission was a success. No one from Team Magma had been captured, but she had “proved” to the higher-ups of Team Aqua that she hadn’t betrayed them. What was to stop her from leaving?

    “I suppose that’s true. I just hope no one found your horrible battle performance surprising. But Team Aqua did end up getting Team Magma’s Key Card—we’re going to find out something that they know.”

    Golduck waved a hand dismissively. Whether it was Team Aqua or Team Magma who had the upper hand—none of that mattered now. For all that mattered, the two of them could go on fighting each other until the end of time.

    His vermillion eyes glanced curiously at her. Did she have any plans or preferences for when they were going to leave Team Aqua?

    Maressa stared downwards, rolling a Pokeball between her hands. “Well…”

    What? he demanded.

    “I really wanted to see Sarah and Cloe before I left and hang out with them a bit.”

    Golduck shook his head, quacking furiously. She couldn’t take time to say goodbye to some friends—she had decided to leave Team Aqua, and that meant cutting off contact with everyone involved.

    “I just want to say goodbye before I leave them for good.”

    That was the point! If she was going to make some tearful farewell, then they would know something was up and their plan for escape would be ruined. He knew that Maressa cared for her friends, but she was duty-bound to her Pokemon—her family—first. And as a family, finding Seaking was their immediate priority. Stamping his foot, the Water-type cast her a heavy glare. He refused to do anything that would endanger any of the other Pokemon on their team.

    Looking downcast, Maressa stopped rolling the Pokeball between her hands. Her face was strained, and she was reluctant to say anything. But a moment later she murmured, “You’re right. The sooner we get out of here, the better.” Holding up a Pokeball, she said, “And we haven’t even said ‘hi’ yet to Gloom today.”

    She tossed the Pokeball in the air, and Gloom appeared before them in a burst of white light. Getting off the bed and sitting next to the Grass-type, Maressa put on a smile and greeted him. “Hey, Gloom!”

    The furious glare vanished from Golduck’s face as he quacked hello.

    Gloom looked at them both then started glancing uncertainly around the room.

    “I’m sorry I haven’t let you out of your Pokeball at all today, and I’m sorry that you haven’t been outside. But there are guards all around the perimeter of the base, and we’re not allowed to go too far outside it. So we’ll just have to make do with this,” she finished with a wave to the bare bedroom.

    Gloom had stopped looking around and just stood before her, his face still fixated in a small frown and expressing no further emotion.

    Maressa smiled. “Don’t worry—we’ll be out of here soon, and then you can play outside all you want! Does that sound good?”

    No response. The Pokemon stood there while Maressa smiled at him and Golduck fidgeted uncomfortably. The Water-type shot a glance at Maressa—what were they to do? This Gloom clearly didn’t have any interest in talking to either of them.

    Still smiling, Maressa reached out to the Poison-type and picked him up. As she brought him over to her lap, the stench from his flower nearly overwhelmed her. The rotting odor brought tears to her eyes, and she was struggling not to gag. She could have sworn that he hadn’t smelled this bad before. Maybe the stench he gave off had something to do with his mood? But he seemed just the same as before. Perhaps it was due to a difference in stress levels? She had no idea, though it at least seemed possible that a constantly-changing environment was making him stressed out.

    She glanced down at the Pokemon in her arms. The way he sat unmoving, staring at something off to the side, reminded her of how Seaking was shortly after she had met him. A pang of sorrow hit her heart at the thought of it, but it also gave her an idea.

    Cradling Gloom in her arms, she leaned her head back and softly sang the lullaby she frequently sang to Seaking a few years ago.

    O hush thee, my baby
    The night is behind us
    And black are the waters that sparkled so green
    The moon o’er the combers
    Looks downward to find us
    At rest in the hollows that rustle between

    Where billow meets billow
    And soft be thy pillow
    O weary wee flipperling,
    Curl at thy ease!
    The storm shall not wake thee,
    Nor beast overtake thee
    Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas


    Maressa sang softly, repeating the last line a few times and swaying slowly. As she sang, she could feel the current of Route 119’s river flow by as she crouched in the water, holding Seaking and trying to calm him; she envisioned the moonlight shining over the dark waters, and felt Seaking’s smooth scales beneath her fingers.

    As she finished, she opened her eyes to see Gloom staring straight ahead, his body trembling. Peering over to see his face, Maressa was surprised to see tears fall from his eyes. She glanced up and saw Golduck staring at the Grass-type in shock, looking uncomfortable.

    Golduck quacked uncertainly. What was Gloom’s problem?

    Maressa shrugged. “I couldn’t tell you.” She hugged the Pokemon more tightly to her, managing to ignore the stench for the moment. “But don’t worry about him—he’ll be fine. He’s just had a lot to cope with.”

    She dimly heard the patter of footsteps outside the door, and automatically whipped out her Pokeballs to recall the two Pokemon. They returned in a flash of red light just in time for the door to open and Matt to stand there, staring curiously at the space that was previously occupied. He smiled down at Maressa as she hastened to her feet.

    “Relax,” he said with a wave of his hand. “You can have your Pokemon out and chill with them. I don’t mind. I was just coming in to see how you were feeling after that last mission.”

    “Really?” Maressa asked with relief. As she played with her singed hair, she sourly admitted, “It could have gone a lot better.”

    Matt chuckled, slapping overhanging belly with a meaty hand. “Your hair will grow back, it’s no big deal,” he said to Maressa’s annoyance.

    “Did you guys find anything on the access card?”

    Matt shrugged. “It was mostly just archives of weather patterns. They weren’t only from Route 120, though, which makes me think that they probably stole those records from the Weather Institute. There were also some simulations recorded on there, so our team is looking into that now. Anyway, I wanted to tell you that you did a good job. Your Pokemon were pretty exceptional.”

    “They’re usually much better—I promise,” she answered with a grimace.

    “Not at all! Your Golduck might have made a few mistakes, but everyone does from time to time, and his intentions were good. Besides, him chasing that Linoone all around the base and shooting attacks provided enough distraction for us to go in and get the access card without much trouble. Even when he did do something wrong, I could tell that you knew what to do. I think I’d like to keep you around,” he finished as he gave her an approving smile.

    Maressa perked up. “Does this mean I don’t have to work with Shelly anymore?”

    “I’m going to ask permission to transfer you to my group, and I’m pretty sure it’ll be approved.”

    “Really?”

    “Yep. The boss honestly doesn’t care that much which grunt goes where—you’re all pretty much the same to him. I’ll contact you later with any new assignments once I hear about it. By the way,” he mentioned as he leaned on the door frame and surveyed Maressa with his pale eyes, “do you want to hang out this evening? A couple of the grunts and I are having drinks. You’re more than welcome to come!”

    “Really?” Maressa asked again, her eyes alight with excitement. “I’d love to! Thanks for the invite.”

    Matt smiled back. “I’ll see you then.” With those words, he turned away and closed the door.

    As soon as the door shut, Golduck popped out of his pokeball, arms crossed and staring intently at where the commander had just stood.

    “You heard all that?” Maressa asked her Pokemon.

    Golduck nodded and quacked sourly. Matt was tactless.

    Maressa shrugged. “I guess. Almost as tactless as you,” she added bitterly as she combed her fingers through her hair.

    Golduck glanced at his trainer and quacked again. He didn’t like Matt.

    “Well, you’d better, because I’m really hoping that we’ll get to work with him and be free of Shelly. Oh, come on,” she begged when Golduck didn’t react. “He can’t be that bad. I’m sure you’ll prefer things with him. Why don’t you like him?”

    Golduck glared daggers at her. She was supposed to get out of Team Aqua as fast as she could, and Matt was clearly focusing attention on her. Being re-assigned to him would make it all the more difficult to leave quietly.

    Sighing, Maressa answered, “I know. But don’t worry—we’ll get out of here as soon as the coast is clear. I promise.” As the Water-type continued to stand with arms crossed, she pressed, “What else is wrong?”

    The Pokemon glanced back at her but this time with concern. He quacked, telling Maressa that he just wanted her to be careful and stay safe.

    She smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. Besides, we need to be more concerned about his safety,” she said as she held up Gloom’s Pokeball. “Maybe I can find enough time today to get outside and release him when no one else is watching. I’ll have to check on where the guard is stationed, though—I know there are a lot of watchmen stationed on this river.” She turned back to Golduck. “Anyway, you should take a rest. I know things didn’t go the way I planned to, but you earned this. I’ll see you after I shower.”

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Evening came. Maressa walked through the corridors, her heart fluttering with excitement. Her pockets were empty—she knew Golduck didn’t like Matt, so she decided to leave him behind. Besides, she was just hanging out with some teammates—it was nothing different from what she did before.

    As she walked into a room, she saw Matt and several grunts she didn’t know sitting around a table. Nearby tables were likewise surrounded by grunts playing a variety of games: poker, crazy eights, bridge, and several others. The room was full of cheering and groans of despair as people succeeded or failed in their attempts.

    Matt glanced at her, his pale eyes alight when he recognized her.

    “Maressa! Glad to see you came. Come join us!”

    As Maressa sat down at the table, other grunts reached out to shake her hand. She didn’t recognize any of them.

    “This is one of the squads I normally work with,” Matt said offhandedly. “We do a lot of research and work in the southeast, around Dewford and Petalburg.”

    “Not so much of the ‘scientific’ research, if you know what I mean,” a small man said with a shifty smile. Several other grunts around the table laughed—Maressa tried to awkwardly laugh along, although she had no idea what he was referring to.

    “Ever played crazy eights before, Maressa?” Matt asked.

    “No, I haven’t. How do I play?”

    “Easy. Each player takes up five cards…”

    Maressa barely played cards growing up, but as the night rolled on, it became evident that, while she wasn’t very good at cards, she felt a burning need to win every round and fought viciously.

    “You can’t put that one down!” she yelled at a grunt named Katie. “That’s a spade, and we’re playing clubs now!”

    Katie “humphed!” as Maressa took her card off the pile and flung it at her. Maressa put down an eight, declared, “hearts!” and put down her final card.

    A grunt named Jason took the hearts card off the top of the pile and handed it back to her. “You can’t put that down right away; you need to wait for your next turn.”

    “What? No I don’t! That’s my final card—I win!”

    No, you need to wait until the next round!”

    “No, I don’t!”

    “Yes, you do!”

    “Maressa, you really do,” Matt said with a laugh.

    Reluctantly, Maressa picked her card up. Jason, who had also been on his last card, put his down and was declared the winner.

    Maressa glared at him when she felt a nudge from Matt.

    “Do you wanna step outside?”

    Nodding, she got up and followed him. The outside air was warm and muggy, and the sounds of barking Linoones could be heard in the distance. The starlight shone on the nearby river, giving the water a soft sheen.

    “You’re pretty competitive, huh?” Matt asked with a smile.

    Maressa blushed and smiled. “I guess a little.”

    “I think it’s entertaining—it’s good. I always like it when people are trying their best. None of that mediocre ‘I’ll go easy on people so nobody gets upset.’ I’m really competitive, too—that’s why I just facilitate games now. I kept on getting into fights with the grunts, and as an admin, I shouldn’t really be doing that.”

    You? You got into fights with grunts over card games?”

    Matt chuckled. “Yeah…”

    The two of them kept talking—for how long, Maressa had no idea—but as the night went on, Matt eventually suggested they go back inside.

    “You did a good job today,” he added as they parted ways in the corridor. “Get some rest, and I’ll be seeing you again soon.”

    Maressa smiled at him. “Thanks—and I’ll see you soon!” As she strode down the hallway, her heart was light and fluttery—part of her wanted to gush to her Pokemon about how much fun she had. But she knew how Golduck felt about Matt. Maybe it was best to wait until he warmed up to him a bit more.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Maressa’s eyes darted back and forth from the cards in her hand to the ones on the table before her. Across from her and on her left, Cloe and Sarah were rapidly removing cards from their hands and picking up new ones from their decks. On Maressa’s right, Mark was looking uncertainly at the cards on the table and the ones in his hand.

    Through the windows, the only visible sight was a sky as black as pitch—any celestial bodies were obscured by curtains of cloud. A small light on the ceiling illuminated the gameplay on the table below as the four people rapidly picked up and placed down cards in a game Sarah had dubbed “Peanuts”—which, as far as Maressa could tell, was just four-way Solitaire.

    “How are you feeling about your new position?” Cloe asked Maressa. Once she had cleaned up, Maressa had lunch with her friends and filled them in on what had happened to her, telling them the same things she had told Archie. Even now, she felt the weight of regret at betraying her friends’ trust.

    “I’m kinda looking forward to it,” Maressa admitted as she continued to slam cards on the table. “It’ll be great no longer having Shelly tell me what to do all the time.”

    “But won’t it be just the same with Matt?”

    “No, Matt is way better than Shelly,” Sarah butted in. “He’s a lot less pushy and in your face. If you do something wrong, he’ll tell you and get mad at you for it, but otherwise he’s really chill.”

    “I like Shelly,” Mark admitted.

    ”How?”

    “She really knows what she’s doing, and her sassiness is actually really funny. She can also be nice—sometimes.”

    “If by ‘sometimes,’ you mean ‘never,’ then I can agree with that,” Maressa murmured.

    “Hey, if you’re looking to work with nice people, then you got the raw end of the deal,” he shot back.

    “What do you mean by that?”

    “You said that Matt is sending you out to the Northwestern part of Hoenn, right?”

    “What about it?”

    “Those people are thugs, Maressa.”

    She glanced at him skeptically. “You know this organization isn’t exactly legal…”

    “I get what he’s saying, though,” Cloe added. “He’s talking about people who are only in Team Aqua for the money."

    “This is our day-job. We all get paid.”

    “Yeah,” Sarah said, “but people like us are in Team Aqua because it’s right—it’s what we believe in and we’re fighting to help other people. But the team members who are sent out on small assignments without their commanders are only on Team Aqua because they want to get paid. They don’t care about their Pokemon or about this world. They don’t care about what they’re told to do—they just do it because they want their money.”

    “Yeah, well,” Maressa muttered, “that seems to be the kind of people teams like this one want the most.”

    “Maressa,” Mark said sharply, and she glanced up at him, slightly worried. His dark eyes were narrowed as he asked, “where is your Peanuts pile?”

    Maressa looked down at the table and suddenly realized that her deck was completely depleted. “I win! PEANUTS!”

    “NO!” Cloe slammed her hand of cards down on the table. “I had one card left—one card! I was so close!” She sighed as Sarah began to collect the rest of the cards on the table and tally up everyone’s points.

    “That leaves Maressa with seventy-nine, Cloe with sixty-seven, Mark with sixty-three and me with thirty-two… How do I only have thirty-two points?”

    “It’s because you suck,” Mark said simply.

    Sarah snorted. “Thanks, Mark. Maressa, I can’t believe you won three rounds in a row. You’re so lucky.”

    “For real, though,” Cloe agreed. “I can’t believe you managed to escape from Team Magma and then came here and got to go on a mission right away!”

    “I can’t believe it either,” Maressa murmured. As the words left her mouth, her thoughts turned to Derek. How was he doing? Had he been punished for her escape? She hoped that he was able to figure out that she was okay.

    “Well,” Sarah declared as she stood up, “Hopefully your luck will hold out for a while yet. I need to get to bed.”

    “What? Why? It’s only nine p.m.!”

    “I’m supposed to be up and ready by six tomorrow morning.”

    “But this could be our last chance to talk for a while!” Maressa whined as Cloe and Mark also stood up.

    “Maybe for a few days, but we’ll see each other again soon. Besides, we’re both under Matt now—we’ll be seeing each other more often, if anything!”

    “Why do you look this upset?” Cloe asked.

    The regret and guilt was weighing heavier on Maressa’s heart more than ever before. She longed for nothing more than to tell them the truth, to tell them everything that had really happened and all about meeting Derek and just stay up all night talking to them just like she used to.

    But she couldn’t.

    “It’s just—I feel like I just got back and already I have to leave again. It’s like we never get enough chance to talk to each other anymore.”

    “Well, if your Pokemon weren’t so good at battling, then you could have stayed at the bottom of the team ranking with us and stayed on watch for hours,” Cloe said.

    Sarah snorted. “Poor Maressa, your Pokemon are too strong and you’re being promoted. You have it so hard.” She smiled at her friend. “Hey, maybe if my Sealeo can get back to training, then we can get promoted as well and be with you more often!”

    The four of them walked into the hallway, wishing each other well before heading in their own directions.

    “Cheer up, Maressa,” Cloe said. “It’s not as if we won’t see each other again. We’ll talk soon.” Giving her friend a hug, she and Sarah departed down the hallway as Mark walked down a different corridor.

    Maressa watched their forms recede into the darkness, a sorrow weighing in her as she reflected on her friend’s parting words.

    “I wish it was like that,” she whispered.
     
    Chapter 13 New
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    CHAPTER 2 REVIEW

    This chapter was pretty short, but quite a bit of stuff happened in it worth talking about.

    I think you did a good job showing how nervous Maressa was at the beginning of the chapter. Her interaction with Mark was also pretty nice. I wonder how the two became friends.
    Hmmm maybe it would've been better for me to show development of friendships while in Team Aqua? I wanted to get the plot rolling so I started out with characters on the teams being friends.

    The Slateport scene was pretty wholesome until shit suddenly hit the fan when the Aqua gang revealed themselves. Things got pretty intense when Mark tried to get Maressa to knock Stern out. Poor scientist lad. Prior to this I'd thought that your depiction of Team Aqua was going to be a less obviously evil group one than the one in the games, so I was a bit surprised to see you're going this route.
    It'd probably be better if it was something less obviously evil, but I wanted to at least show Maressa starting to have doubts about the morality of the Team by the time this fic starts.

    I wonder if the events of this fic will be closely tied to how they happened in the games, or if the chain of events will be wildly different to the Team Aqua we know. In any case, I look forward to seeing more of Maressas growing dilemma of being in Team Aqua.
    You'll see ;) Thanks so much for leaving a review! I always enjoy seeing comments from you; they make my day! :D

    Here for Catnip!

    Well this is ANOTHER blast from the past! I remember following this fic back on Serebii back in the day, and here is a good place to kinda start over with it.

    I remember this intro distinctly, and I have one overall conclusion to draw about it:

    View attachment 272
    LOL good to see you back! If you're here for any romance or shipping, this fic is going to be quite a disappointment then, heh.

    It's real nice to see a good character dynamic right off the bat, even if my tired brain kept mixing up the characters. It's also real good to see how you handle the Pokemon characters, I like it a lot. I will say the stuff about certain Aqua operations is a bit yikes given what happens next but not like, in a bad way.

    I will try to catch up with this fic again later! Just not now. I am tired.
    Thanks again for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed the first iteration and I hope all is well!

    Here's Chapter 13 (on schedule, for once)! I don't have much else to say about it, but I hope you enjoy!


    Chapter 13


    The streets bustled with people while the colorful garlands hanging from the buildings swayed in a gentle breeze. The sky was dotted with winking stars, occasionally covered by the passing cloud. Though it was night, the lanes were packed with vendors and stalls.

    The large white rock stood apart from the mass of buildings. The throng of people gathered before it was larger than ever, each person desperately trying to stick a tag on it. Now the rock had hundreds of little wish tags hanging off its sides, some of them getting caught in the breeze and flying away. People jostled to and fro, and a hum of excitement filled the air.

    Tate stood before the rock, more excited than he had ever felt before. He sensed the presence within the stone strongly now—a powerful, joyous presence that was so much different than any he had ever known, but at the same time just happy to be alive. His hands were splayed on the rock’s smooth surface, a large smile on his face.

    “Tate! Aren’t you going to go look at the stalls?”

    His twin sister came running over to him, carrying a number of paper decorations as well as a bamboo stick with a tag stuck to it.

    “Are you still looking at that rock?” Liza’s shoulders slumped in disbelief. “This is the first night of the Millennium Comet, and Mom and Dad took me shopping and say they want to take you too! Come on, you haven’t even written your wish!” Putting down her bamboo stick, she grabbed her brother’s hand. “Come on…”

    “Stop it, Liza!” Tate jerked his hand away from hers. “I don’t want to make a wish, I just want to stay here!”

    “But you’ve been standing at that rock all day for weeks! I can’t sense anything, and neither can our Pokemon, and I heard Mom and Dad talking and saying that you need to get away from that rock soon!”

    Tate turned back to face her, ready to retort, but stopped himself. A large number of people around the rock were singing. Something about it, whether it was the lyrics, the music, or just the voices themselves, calmed Tate. Looking back at the rock, he felt a deep peace and joy rise from within him. There was a strong urge for him to join in the singing, so ignoring his sister’s whining, he added his voice to the song.

    Sasa no ha sara-sara
    Nokiba ni yureru
    Ohoshi-sama kira-kira
    Kingin sunago

    Goshiki no tanzaku
    Watashi ga kaita
    Ohoshi-sama kira-kira
    Sora kara miteru


    “Are you listening to me?”

    The song ended, and Tate finally turned around to see Liza glaring at him. Why couldn’t she relax and just enjoy the festival and let him do what he wanted? She was always so bossy and making things go her way and now, when he just wanted to leave her alone, she still had to make everything worse. Tate was about to shout at her when people all around him started pointing at the sky and giving cries of joy. He looked up and saw that a cloud had passed, revealing a brilliant, shining orb hanging in the sky with an immensely long tail streaking behind it, pouring forth its celestial light.

    The Comet!

    Tate turned back to the rock—the source of the cry. The light the comet threw on it made it look as if the rock was glowing a bright, pearly white. As Tate continued to stare, he realized that the rock actually was glowing. The joyful presence within the rock was overwhelming, and Tate gave a gasp of delight as he saw a piece of the rock detach itself and hang floating in the air before him.

    Standing under a tree on a ledge a few hundred feet away, Tabitha watched the scene, petting Mightyena. He had abandoned his uniform for civilian clothes, and as he saw the rock begin to glow, he pulled up the green sleeve of his hoodie to rub the goosebumps away.

    It was true.

    Of course it was—Maxie wouldn’t have put his faith in it otherwise. All the same, it took the Magma admin an enormous amount of effort to do anything but stare in awe.

    “All right, team. As soon as it takes form,” he said into his headgear. He kept his dark eyes fixated on the glow ahead of him, sweat beading on his forehead. He couldn’t afford to mess this up—not since Maressa had escaped and Team Aqua had destroyed one of their smaller bases. Both were small slip-ups—but both happened so quickly, and both were his fault. He knew Maxie was becoming angrier with him—the man who had given Tabitha a new life was on the verge of punishing him. He shuddered at the thought.

    Tabitha snapped back to the present day as a chorus of “Yes, sir!” came through his headgear.

    “Ready,” he said, and he felt Mightyena tense beneath his hand. He scanned the crowd, and though he couldn’t see them, he knew that a number of other Team Magma members disguised as civilians were there with their Pokemon.

    Taking his eyes off the people, he turned his attention back to the glowing spectacle. The rock that had detached began to take the form of three large points with a small body attached to it. The light never truly faded—if anything, it seemed to grow brighter, and it took on a golden hue as the Pokemon became visible. Everyone in the crowd had gone silent and stared at the Pokemon, who gazed down at the boy before it with dark, benevolent eyes.

    Tabitha had but a moment to inspect the Pokemon before jets of flame covered it from each side. The creature of a horrible cry of anguish, and people started screaming and running away from the floating ball of flame.

    “Now!”

    At Tabitha’s command, a swarm of Golbat erupted from the tree next to him, each leaving behind streaks of smog. A black swirl of energy collected between Mightyena’s jaws, and he opened his mouth to shoot the shadow ball at the newly-awakened creature. In the distance, the glass of building windows shattered as small explosions erupted in the air.

    Tabitha leapt off the ledge and made his way through the crowd of people to the white rock. The area was a mass of chaos and confusion; most civilians were running away, and police were trying to find the sources of the flames. But they were hopeless. Every man and woman with a uniform was the target of some attack—whether they were hit with energy balls, punched out, or on the receiving end of sleep powder, they and their Pokemon were quickly put down.

    The Mossdeep Gym Leaders were the only people still at the rock. The girl had dropped her things and grabbed her brothers’ hand, trying to get him to leave. Beside her, a Lunatone floated, its eyes glowing blue as it formed a barrier of solidified light between the trainers and the flames. A Solrock was doing likewise, hovering protectively before the trainers as it tried to shepherd them away from the fire.

    “I can’t leave him!” The boy was crying, looking desperately at the fire. “He’s hurting so much—I can hardly feel him anymore!”

    He stopped crying and gave a yell as he saw Solrock collapse to the ground, tendrils of smoke emanating from it. The twins froze in place as they saw a large, black canine charge them.

    “Lunatone, stop him!” Liza shouted.

    The lunar Pokemon immediately got between the Gym Leaders and oncoming Mightyena and shot a pale blue beam from its beak. Mightyena responded with a hyper beam, and the two attacks collided, forcing both Pokemon to stand their ground in an attempt to gain the advantage. Lunatone’s ice beam caused crystals of frost to coat the grass, whereas the blades near Mightyena’s feet were singed from the sheer intensity of the energy.

    Although the Pokemon were occupied, the humans weren’t. While Mightyena was trying to gain advantage over Lunatone, Tabitha continued running right past the Pokemon towards the twins. Liza gave a terrified scream once she saw him and tried to drag Tate with her, but the boy kept looking worriedly at the flames—which were now a column of roaring, twisting fire—in which his friend lay.

    Tabitha ran up, grabbed the boy’s head and delivered a swift punch to his abdomen. Tate gave a sort of choking cough before falling to his knees.

    Liza screamed as she punched Tabitha’s sides. “What are you doing? Let go of him! Stop it! Stop—”

    But her shrieks were silenced as Tabitha gave her the same treatment he gave her brother. As he lay her gently on the ground, he gave a discontented sigh. He gazed at the twins lying sprawled next to each other, his mind going a mile a minute. It would be so much easier to take her with them. He knew that she wasn’t the one Jirachi appeared for, but it was dangerous to leave her behind. She had seen him, and though she was about ten years old, she was still a Hoenn Gym Leader. And if she was anything like the siblings Tabitha had known, she would hunt her brother to the ends of the earth.

    But Maxie said to only bring the boy and the Pokemon, and Tabitha knew that more trouble would come from disobeying Maxie.

    “Enough!” he said into his microphone. The flames immediately died down, and a pack of Houndoom trotted forward from multiple directions, inspecting their work. Tabitha gazed at the Pokemon lying in the middle of the charred dirt. Its once-brilliant countenance was now dark and burned. The large eyelid on its belly was mostly closed, but through the half-open lid Tabitha could see the eye roving back and forth in delirium.

    Suppressing a shudder, the Magma commander bent down and picked up the creature in his arms. His heart beat rapidly beneath his chest and a cold sweat broke out. He was holding Jirachi. There was simply no other creature in the world like it. What had he, Tabitha, ever done to deserve to hold this Pokemon?

    Nothing. Instead, he had orchestrated its kidnapping, and he knew nothing good would come of it. He glanced down at the empty Pokeball that hung from his belt before closing his eyes and shaking his head. He couldn’t bring himself to try.

    “Are we all set to go?”

    He turned around to see Nate come trotting up, likewise wearing civilian clothing and carrying the boy in his arms. Liza was still lying on the ground.

    Tabitha nodded. “Yes. Whether or not everyone’s ready, we need to go.”

    The duo made their way to the wilder parts of Mossdeep, carrying their new prisoners through deep underbrush and around large trees until they found their helicopter waiting for them.

    As Tabitha boarded the aircraft, he checked out each of the team members. Everyone was there, and all seemed to be in order. At his word, everyone got aboard the helicopter and they quickly took off.

    Nate came up to him. “Tabitha, what do you want me to do with the kid?”

    “Bring him over here. Come on, Mightyena.”

    Going into a store room in the back, Tabitha told Nate to lay the Gym Leader down. Once Nate did so, he exited the room.

    “All right Mightyena, I need you to stay with him at all times. You got that?”

    Mightyena looked up at his trainer, the tips of his ears drooping slightly and his tail hanging low.

    “Oh, don’t look at me like that. I’m not leaving you behind. It’s just that I need a Dark-type to stay with the kid until we reach base. Okay? It won’t be that long, I promise.”

    The Pokemon let out a large huff of breath through his nose, and lay down on the ground, resting his head on Tate’s stomach. He looked up accusingly at his trainer, and though he was being obedient, Tabitha could tell that he was still unhappy.

    Feeling a little guilty, he exited the room, still carrying Jirachi in his arms.

    +++++++++++++++++++

    The door automatically opened as Tabitha walked up to it. Inside, Maxie sat at a chair, talking to a computer screen. From it, Tabitha could hear Courtney’s voice firing off information.

    “So that woke all of the Whismur up, and they started this whole racket and there was no stopping them. The only thing left to do was seal off the entrance to the cave, and Team Aqua immediately left, but there were only five of them so it didn’t take them long and then we got out of there as soon as we could. But that stupid Azumarill shot water on me and knocked me down about thirty feet—I’m perfectly fine, it didn’t hurt. We had to leave a lot of our equipment behind, but it seems like the entire project was going nowhere—we were there nearly a month and couldn’t find anything—”

    Maxie glanced up as Tabitha entered the room, and his dark eyes immediately looked hungry—eager. Looking back at the computer, he said, “Courtney, we’ll continue this later.” With that, he stood up, looking expectantly at Tabitha.

    “We have them,” the commander said.

    “Show me.”

    Tabitha led Maxie out of his office and down several flights of stairs to the very basement of the base. Maneuvering his way around large crates and boxes, the commander led his leader to a small door, which he unlocked. He flicked the light on to show one of the Mossdeep City Gym Leaders, Tate, sitting on the ground, with a Mightyena resting his large head on the boy’s lap and two Houndoom sitting around them. The kid looked utterly terrified, and he winced as the light turned on, turning his large eyes over to the Team Magma members. His gaze shifted to the canine lying on him, and he looked on the verge of fainting.

    “This is the kid Jirachi woke up for.”

    “And where is the Pokemon?”

    At the mention of Jirachi’s name, the boy’s eyes flickered up to them, filled with concern. The fear wasn’t totally gone, but now there was a great deal of anger.

    Turning away from him, Tabitha exited the room and walked between the crates to another small room. Unlocking it, he opened it and flicked on the light to reveal two Pokemon. One was lying unconscious on the floor, its silver-and-gold body tarnished with burn marks. The teal tags on its head were charred. Its eyes were closed, and it snored softly as a Breloom stood over it, shaking his tail to keep a constant stream of sleep-inducing spores over the burned Pokemon.

    Tabitha moved aside as Maxie walked into the room, gazing steadily at the sleeping Pokemon with a sense of impatience. The commander shivered as his leader stepped closer to the legendary—even in sleep, Jirachi gave off a soft golden glow, and Tabitha felt a mystic energy radiate from it, filling the room and impressing on his mind.

    “Enough,” Maxie commanded the Breloom. The Grass-type stopped shaking his tail, and moved back to stand with Tabitha. Reaching down, the commander patted the Pokemon’s mushroom-domed head as he waited and stared at the Steel-type with anticipation.

    The wait wasn’t long—in a moment, the eyes on Jirachi’s face flickered open and it sat up, stretching its arms and slowly rocking its head from side-to-side. It gazed up at the duo, and within his head, Tabitha heard a voice echo.

    Where’s Tate?

    Tabitha glanced at Maxie—the voice wasn’t his own. It was soft, childlike, and sounded very confused. Had his leader heard it as well?

    Apparently, he had. Staring down at the Pokemon, Maxie answered, “He’s here. And you’ll see him once I tell you what I want.”

    I want him now. With that, the Pokemon floated upwards and drifted over to the other room where Tate sat.

    The boss was not pleased. “You don’t want to do that,” he threatened quietly.

    With a cry, Breloom sprang forward. Jirachi didn’t even turn around, but kept on drifting towards Tate’s room. Breloom was about to tackle the Psychic-type when he suddenly stopped in mid-air and was blasted backwards into Maxie, sending the two toppling over.

    Tabitha raced over and lifted Breloom off his leader. Within his head, he heard the voice again—filled with anger, and sending chills down Tabitha’s spine.

    Get away from him.

    The Magma members and Breloom hurried to the other room to see Jirachi floating in from of Tate, gazing murderously down at Mightyena and the Houndoom. The Dark-types were completely unfazed. They were prepared that this would happen, and Mightyena was doing exactly what Tabitha had told him to. He stood over the boy, his teeth right by Tate’s neck, a soft growl emanating from his throat. The Houndoom crept closer to Jirachi, fangs bared and hackles raised.

    Straightening up, Maxie said, “Perhaps now we can negotiate.”

    Jirachi turned towards Maxie, and Tabitha felt a weight pressing heavily down on his mind. The sleeves of his shirt and legs of his pants fluttered from the pure energy Jirachi radiated. Turning towards Maxie, he saw his leader stood perfectly still, staring at the legendary with a level gaze.

    Let him go.

    “Or what? You’ll kill me and tear this place apart? Look at the position you’re in. I have no doubt that you could teleport yourself out of this room, but those Dark-type Pokemon will prevent you from taking the boy along. And if you try anything, he will rip out that boy’s throat. None of your psychic powers will affect these Pokemon, and if you think you’re fast enough to attack him before he attacks the kid, you can try your luck.”

    The weight on Tabitha’s mind became lances of pure agony ripping through him. He gasped and leaned back against the wall behind him. Maxie was lifted into the air, and Jirachi floated right up to his face, glowing so bright that it blinded Tabitha. Tabitha’s clothes and hair fluttered madly, and Breloom gave a small squeal of fright.

    Tabitha heard the leader gasp out, “You woke up just for him. Can you live with him dead?”

    A moment passed, and the bright light died down and Maxie was lowered to the floor. He stood gasping, staring at Jirachi loathsomely.

    “Can’t bear it, can you?” he choked. “Six days of loneliness, tearing everything apart before you become a solid rock for one thousand years again. Though I imagine that you’ve been through all of that before.”

    Jirachi turned to Maxie—Tabitha had only just noticed the Pokemon had been facing Tate—and glared at the Magma leader. The voice echoed harshly, with a note of despair. What do you want?

    “Give me the Red and Blue Orbs,” Maxie said, and has he spoke, he could not help but allow a glint of hunger into his eyes.

    I can’t.

    Maxie paused. “You can’t? Do I need to remind you what is at stake here?” Mightyena punctuated the end of his sentence with a soft growl.

    I can’t! the voice screamed desperately. The Orbs belong to Pokemon who were here when the earth was made—I don’t have power over them. Humans made the Orbs were made with some sort of magic that I can’t do anything about.

    The Pokemon and Magma leader glared at each other. Tabitha desperately wanted to speak—he believed wholeheartedly that the Pokemon told the truth, but he knew better than to say something at a moment like this.

    Now it was Maxie’s turn to be livid. He glared unwaveringly at the creature floating in front of him before shifting his gaze to Tate and Mightyena. As he did so, Jirachi turned to them as well, its gaze incredibly soft and gentle, filled with tenderness and fear. Tabitha then realized that Maxie wasn’t really looking at Tate, but was studying Jirachi’s expression.

    At last, he spoke. “Fine. If you can’t do that, then go find a Team Aqua base and destroy it.” The Pokemon hesitated, but with a growl from Mightyena and a stern, “Now” from Maxie, Jirachi gave Tate one last look and vanished into thin air.

    Once it left the room, the weight lifted from Tabitha’s mind. His body felt heavier, and the room was much dimmer than before. He didn’t realize it, but beads of sweat had appeared on his face, and his heart was pounding rapidly.

    Turning, Maxie said, “Come with me,” and exited the room. With Breloom trailing, Tabitha turned to follow him, giving one last look to Mightyena and Tate. The Dark-type stood there, ever faithful, gazing at Tabitha. Whatever fear the canine may have felt didn’t show in his eyes, and Tabitha gave him a grateful nod before turning the light off and departing.

    Tabitha was going to tell Breloom to go back to Derek, but the poor Pokemon was shaking so badly that he took pity on him and let him walk with him and Maxie. The trio went back to Maxie’s office, where the leader sat down, wringing his hands and pursing his lips. This was not how he had planned it at all.

    He was about to speak when he eyed Breloom huddling next to Tabitha. “Whose Breloom is that?”

    “Derek’s. He’s trustworthy.”

    Maxie nodded. Eyes downcast, he sighed. “Make sure the boy goes nowhere and that there is a Dark-type Pokemon with him at all times.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “This wasn’t a complete waste,” he said, though Tabitha had a feeling he was more trying to convince himself. “If we hadn’t captured Jirachi, then the Gym Leaders could be using it to look for us and destroy us. We can’t let them have a Pokemon that powerful on their side.” He glanced up. “Have I given you your next assignment?”

    “Yes, sir. Lilycove.”

    Maxie nodded. “I may change that soon, though…” he muttered. He sat for a moment in contemplative silence, one elbow leaning on his desk, chin in his hand, his eyes flickering back and forth. “It’s only for a week,” he murmured. “But this will be quite a week. We’ll need to stay on our toes.” Eyes turning up towards Tabitha, he ordered, “No more screw-ups.

    “No, sir. I’m sorry about that.”

    Maxie waved a hand. “It’s in the past—we’ll move on. You’re dismissed.”

    “Sir,” Tabitha spoke up. “Do you really think that using it is a good idea? That we shouldn’t just keep it asleep for the next week? It might decide to alert the Hoenn authorities.”

    Maxie shook his head. “It won’t. You saw its relationship with the boy. For this week, it’s alive because of him. There have been millennia in the past where Jirachi never woke up, most likely because it didn’t have someone to latch on to—a sort of ‘friend’ for it to be with. No, as long as we keep the boy under constant threat, Jirachi will do whatever we want it to.”

    “But do we have to use the Orbs and Groudon to do this? If Jirachi really can grant wishes, can’t we just wish for the land to grow on its own? We can’t it directly return the damaged and polluted parts of nature to their original states and get rid of people?”

    Maxie glared at Tabitha. “Groudon is the only Pokemon we will be using to do that. Besides, Jirachi will only be here for a week. Once we awaken Groudon, it’s ours for as long as we want. But we can’t use Jirachi to find Groudon or the Orbs… We still don’t have leads on those. Courtney says the Cave of Origin doesn’t hold information to their whereabouts, only how they were made.” He sat, lost in thought for a moment, before he indicated the door. “You may go now. I have a lot to work on.”

    Tabitha and Breloom left the office though the commander’s mind was still abuzz. There were countless things that Maxie could do with Jirachi, and the fact that he was just using it to attack Team Aqua—something Team Magma could do on their own at any time—was infuriating for Tabitha. Even if Jirachi couldn’t directly get the Orbs, there were a number of ways they could use the Pokemon to make a clear path to them.

    Tabitha shook the thought from his mind; Maxie knew what he was doing. Doubting him was useless, and besides that, he was so stubborn that trying to change his mind would do no good.

    He turned to Breloom and told the Pokemon to go back to Derek, but the Breloom was still shaking and chirped pitifully. Tabitha tried to walk away, but the Grass-type wouldn’t stop following him. He didn’t want to be left alone! Heaving a sigh, Tabitha began to walk towards the clinic. He knew he shouldn’t be such a pushover for Pokemon, but sometimes, he couldn’t help it.

    He opened the clinic door to see Derek sitting on a chair, staring at a group of bottles filled with pills and chemicals. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his chestnut hair was a disorganized mess on his head. His dark eyes were half-open and didn’t even look up until Breloom had hopped on his lap.

    “Wha—oh hey, you’re back! No, stop that, you’re too big to do that anymore!” In spite of his complaints, he put an arm around the Pokemon and patted him fondly. He glanced up as Tabitha walked over. “You’re all done with him?”

    The commander nodded. “I think so. If I need him again, I’ll let you know.” Looking critically at Derek, he asked, “What’s been happening here? You look terrible.”

    The medic shrugged. “I’ve just had a lot to think on.”

    Tabitha sighed. “Don’t tell me you still feel bad about letting the Team Aqua member get away. I told you, it doesn’t matter anymore. Everyone else has already forgotten about it, so just let it go. Nobody’s still upset at you.”

    Derek looked up at Tabitha, incredulous. “You’re just going to accept that somebody died and expect me to move on?”

    “We’ve all got to die at some point—I know it’s a lot to take in, but don’t feel guilty about it. It was her fault; she chose to escape. Also,” he added as he was about to depart, “we have a prisoner down in the basement in the room off to the left. My Mightyena and some Houndoom are guarding him at the moment. I’ll switch the Pokemon out but I’ll just want you to go down there twice a day and feed the guy.”

    Derek nodded. “Got it.” Normally, Tabitha would expect Derek to pose further questions, but he seemed too detached from reality at the moment.

    “Thanks. I’ll be in my office—let me know if you need anything,” Tabitha said and closed the door behind him.

    Nudging Breloom off of his lap, Derek stood up and glanced at the clock. It was nearly three a.m. He knew he should have been asleep long ago, and he would be regretting it tomorrow. But he couldn’t stop dwelling on how Maressa had gone to the wrong deck and fallen into the ocean with a deep, open wound. If only he had been there to make sure it all went all right…

    Changing into his night clothes, he tried to shake the thoughts from his head. Tabitha was right, it wasn’t good to dwell on the past—though he didn’t really want to admit it.

    Sitting on his bed, he beckoned Breloom over. “So, Breloom,” he asked, “what happened to you today?”
     
    Bonus Chapter New
  • Starlight Aurate

    Just a fallen star
    Location
    Route 123
    Partner
    mightyena
    Responding to Chapter 10! Nice to get a glimpse of your Archie so soon after finishing my Archie chapter! Sounds like she just keeps getting herself in deeper despite her doubts.
    I also thought it was neat we posted chapters about Archie at around the same time! From what I've read so far of yours, I quite like your take on him! And oh yeah, Maressa is super indecisive when it comes to picking something and following through with it.

    I’m not opposed to adverbs as a general rule, but in this case I do feel like your verbs are already doing so much more for you. Shot and slapped are great words to show the force and violence of the water. I also like the world-building aspect that this cave is hard to get to, or at least not an appealing route to travel.
    Fair enough (I feel like I say that soooo much in my responses haha). This chapter wasn't heavily edited, so your later comments about my word choice are also explained by that. Looks like it definitely needs a more thorough tweaking; thank you for pointing these out! Also the image of "Tentacruel PCR" is hilarious/gross/kinda creepy hahaha.

    It would be nice to know what makes her lantern stand out to her, or at least how she knows these ones are wrong. Fins too long? Missing the scar from when XYZ? Body too stubby? Etc.
    Hmmm I haven't thought of pointing those aspects out, but her Lanturn is definitely the kind that would have a stubby body! uwu

    Ah, yes, a good punny name.
    While most of my puns are intentional, believe it or not, this one was random. I took the name from the fastest swimmer on my high school swim team and just ran with it ^_^;

    I like all the suggestions you gave here about Archie and others impression of him--I appreciate the tips! I could have done more with showcasing him both in other peoples' perspectives and outside of them.

    LOL thanks, Archie. Great advice.
    Yeah he's the best boss ever.

    Maybe not fresh though, since it’s still salt water.
    Well, I was thinking of "fresh" in terms of "not so acidic that only bacteria can live in it."

    Argh! These always get me!!

    This is definitely in part the influence of reading a John le Carre spy novel in a frenzy the past few days, but—I wanted Archie to sweat her a little harder. She has a few moments of nervousness, but he still accepts her story rather easily. Might be nice if her info about these bases felt more like something she was offering up pleasingly rather than an afterthought.
    I first read that as you wanted Archie to swear a little harder (like a drunken pirate) and I thought "But I almost never use swear words...?" and then I read more carefully and NOW I see what you mean. Totally fair! I wasn't confident in my ability to write a not-totally-friendly-but-no-proof-of-betrayal interrogation, so I held myself back.

    I enjoyed Archie though! We love a monologue about the ocean. I’m wondering what those bites are about though. Too much “love” from his pokemon?
    It was kinda to add to his appearance of a roughened-up sailor and someone who gets his own hands dirty. I imagined they came from him doing too much hands-on work with his own Sharpedo and Carvanha and occasionally fighting them himself (he always won fights with them, btw). Thanks again for your review! Always happy to see something from you :)

    I decided to do a bonus chapter! This fic was originally about the low-key lives of grunts, and I wanted to write a bit more about that, even if it isn't the main focus of the meat of the fic. You can skip this chapter without missing anything plot-important; I just wanted to make more use of some characters I had already made and fleshed out. Enjoy!


    Bonus Chapter



    Sarah’s blue eyes focused on the Team Magma member ahead of her as he gave out orders.

    “As Team Magma members, the bond we share with our Pokemon is very important. They need to listen to us—and we need to listen to them…”

    At her feet, Zigzagoon yawned and shook his fur. Sarah wished she could have brought Sealeo with her, but the Ice-type had no place in a Team Magma base. As she listened to the Magma member’s comments and commands for them to group off in pairs, the anxiety that had been pounding in her heart started to die down.

    She could do this. Shelly wouldn’t have sent her off on her own if she thought it was too dangerous for her.

    “It’s a small base of theirs in central Hoenn,” the Aqua commander had told Sarah when she brought her to her office. “What with Team Magma capturing Jirachi, we need to be more aware of their motives and plans than ever. There aren’t any commanders there, just a few members slightly higher-ranking than grunts. They wouldn’t be holding Jirachi there, but it’ll be good for us to know what it’s being used for and whether they have any future plans for it.

    “You’ll only be there for three days. Avoid talking to Team Magma members as much as you can. Take a quick look, send us photos of their base maps, and I want reports at the end of every day.” She smiled at Sarah, her red eyes glinting with approval. “You show a lot of promise, and I’m excited to see where you go from here.”

    Sarah relished the feelings of excitement and affirmation she experienced in those moments—Shelly trusted her! Matt had referred her, and she was good enough to do this on her own! She was actually helping Team Aqua!

    She snapped back to the present as she saw her Zigzagoon face off against a male Team Magma grunt and his Zubat.

    “Zubat, use leech life!”

    “Zigzagoon, growl!”

    The Normal-type bared its tiny fangs and let out a growl at the incoming Zubat. The Zubat’s ultra-sensitive ears picked up the sound and the Poison-type reeled.

    “Now, bite him!”

    The room all around Sarah echoed with growls, yelps, squeaks, and the occasional embers. She glanced around. Most of the grunts had very young or inexperienced Pokemon: she saw several Poochyena and Zigzagoon, a few Baltoy, the occasional Cacnea and even a Magby. Her eyes swiveled back to the front of the room where the commanding grunt stood and her body went numb in shock.

    A second man stood next to the commanding grunt, his arms crossed as he surveyed the new recruits. He held himself confidently and there was an air of authority about him. He was dressed similarly to the grunt but his pant legs were marked with white stripes.

    A commander.

    What was a commander doing out here? Commanders didn’t drill or train the newest recruits—did they? At least, Sarah, Cloe and Maressa were all interviewed by low-ranking officers in Team Aqua and didn’t even see Matt or Shelly until they had already worked for Team Aqua for a few weeks. And this was everyone’s first day with Team Magma.

    What was he doing here?

    She snapped back as she heard Zigzagoon bark and saw that the small Pokemon held Zubat, who was flapping his wings madly, between his jaws and jerking his head around.

    “Zigzagoon, enough!”

    As the other trainer reached out his arm for his Zubat to perch on, he smiled at Sarah. Jovial eyes shone from his round face. “You fight really well!”

    “Oh, thanks,” Sarah said quickly, then took Zigzagoon to pair off with another team member.

    For a few hours, the trainers and their Pokemon fought each other, seeing who would land the first hit. Sarah was grateful for Zigzagoon—even though she wasn’t a very adept Pokemon battler, the Zigzagoon Shelly lent her was definitely capable of holding his own. Sarah kept her eyes averted from the Team Magma commander—seeing him made her so scared. It was harder to focus on the task at hand knowing he was there, but as long as she gave orders to Zigzagoon, she blended in perfectly.

    “Everyone, stop,” the leading grunt commanded. “Your Pokemon need a break. Recall them and take time to rest. I want you all back in here at 5 p.m.”

    Looking down at Zigzagoon, she saw his tongue lolling out of his mouth as he panted. She felt guilty—she hadn’t even realized how hard he had been working. Taking out a Pokeball, she recalled him and made her way to the door with the other grunts.

    “Hey, hey!”

    Sarah kept her head down and eyes forward, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone, until a woman next to her tapped her arm.

    “I think he wants to talk to you,” she said, indicating someone behind them.

    Reluctantly, Sarah turned and saw the first grunt she battled walk over to her. He was still smiling.

    “Hey—you did really well! What’s your name?”

    “Sarah,” she said quickly and turned around.

    “That’s a beautiful name! I’m Samuel. Do you—do you want to hang out? We can get lunch together.”

    Sarah’s heart clenched and her stomach did flips. Glaring up at Samuel, she said, “No, I’m not interested.”

    Samuel’s face fell and he suddenly looked guilty. “Oh, I—I didn’t mean it like that, I just thought, since we’re both new—“

    No,” she said firmly, and turned around again.

    “Sarah,” a different voice said. She looked around and her heart nearly stopped when she saw the commander. His cold, calculating gaze was directed straight at her. “Wait here for a moment, please.”

    Sarah numbly stood beside him as she watched the rest of the people leave the room, feeling as if the world was falling apart around her. This was it. She had been found out. They knew she was a Team Aqua member and she was going to be their prisoner.

    The group of people quickly became a trickle and soon, she and the commander were the only ones left. The door was still open, and she could hear the people mill about in the halls.

    He looked down at her—her fear must have been visible. “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble. I saw that other Team Magma member talking to you. Is there anything there that I should be aware of?”

    Sarah stared at him for a second in disbelief. So she wasn’t found out? He was only concerned about the possibility of her and another grunt getting too close?

    Regaining composure, she quickly said, “Oh, no, sir, it’s not like that at all. I’m not here for relationships—I’m not about to do anything like that."

    The commander nodded. “Was he bothering you?”

    “Oh, no! I think he was honest—I think he just wanted to make friends.”

    Tabitha gazed at her coolly for a second before averting his eyes and looking at the door. “I’m glad to hear that. I want you to know, Sarah, that if ever someone tells you do to something you don’t want to—if anyone threatens you, or does something to you and tells you to not repeat it—come directly to me. I have no patience for that sort of behavior among our team. If it’s a petty dispute or disagreement between grunts, then sort it out yourself. I have no time for that. But if it’s more serious, let me know. I try to travel between bases frequently.”

    Sarah nodded, feeling as if an immense weight was lifted off her chest. “Yes, sir.”

    “Thank you. You may go, now.”

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    As a new Team Magma grunt (or so they thought), Sarah was given a small bedroom in their little base. There was nothing in the room but a bed and a few drawers, but it would be plenty for the three days. Bending down, she removed two electric devices from her pack. One looked like a miniature computer that was small enough to fit in one hand. The other looked like a cell phone from the 1980s, with a simplistic screen and a number pad. She then removed a small grey box and some tape. The box was the exact same shade of grey as her Team Magma gloves.

    Removing her gloves, she took out a sewing kit and some tape and set about making a hole in the fabric of the gloves and attaching the miniature camera in there. As she worked, her thoughts turned to the events of the past day.

    Everything turned out to be going smoothly so far, even with the commander there! The plan had been simple: show up to a recruiting event for Team Magma, display her abysmal battling skills (although, she admitted with amusement, that part wasn’t completely a lie), and be assigned to a small base in the middle of nowhere.

    Even if the base was small and would ultimately be unimportant, Sarah felt very affirmed by getting to go as a spy. Who knew? Maybe, if she got all of this right, she could eventually spy on larger Team Magma operations…

    Once she finished hiding the camera in her glove, she examined her handiwork. It didn’t look half-bad; only by close inspection could someone see a miniature lens hidden in the fabric.

    Turning to the miniature computer, Sarah accessed the camera and turned it on. Now everything the camera picked up was recorded and sent to her small computer—it was just a matter of getting images of the base.

    Sarah opened a drawer and stuffed her belongings inside, being careful to hide the electronics under her pack. Standing up, she took Zigzagoon’s Pokeball and attached it to her belt as she headed out the door.

    In the late evening hours, the base was silent—but not dark. Ceiling lights illuminated the hallways, filling them with dull, lifeless light. Sarah kept going, her heart pounding with anticipation, just hoping that she wouldn’t come across the commander, hoping that he had already left their little base.

    She didn’t expect to encounter much; if she could just find a layout or map of the base, that would be enough. But all she saw around the corner was another empty hall.

    She didn’t want to spend too much time out and about, so she walked around with her hand on her chin or held uncertainly before her so the camera could get a clear view of the halls. At one point, she peered around the hall and immediately jerked back: a Loudred stood with his trainer. Both were at ease, leaning against the wall, looking bored. Probably a higher-ranking grunt keeping watch to make sure the newer recruits weren’t getting into trouble at night. He didn’t seem to notice Sarah, but she didn’t want to push her luck.

    After an otherwise uneventful walk-through, she returned to her room and pulled out her small computer, typed up a quick report to send to Shelly, and turned on the other electric device. She dialed a few numbers into it and soon heard it hum. Shelly told her the Magneton steel in there would block any interference, so whatever defense a small base like that would have against transmission, the device should be able to stall it so her report to Shelly could get through.

    Sarah kept it on long enough to hit “Send,” then turned it off again. Her heart still pounded with anticipation—she knew nothing would go wrong, but the nature of her work was new to her and it was still nerve-wracking.

    As she lay in bed, she thought of all the possibilities that would happen. Was she doing a good job? Would her report get through to Shelly? Did she make a convincing Team Magma grunt? What would tomorrow bring?

    As her brain wrestled with these questions, she fell into a fitful sleep.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    The next morning passed similarly to the first, with the commanding grunt—Sarah learned his name was Connor—giving orders to them and their Pokemon. Today had the trainers and Pokemon work together in doing a series of sprints through the room.

    Sarah hated it. After just one round, she was sweaty and panting hard. Why did Team Magma wear such infernally hot hoodies? And after spending so much time in pants for Team Aqua’s uniform, she felt uncomfortable walking around in a mini-skirt. A really, really short mini-skirt. How was it practical at all?

    At one point, she looked up and her heart jumped to her throat when she saw the commander standing with Connor again. Why was he still here? Wouldn’t he leave soon? At any rate, it didn’t make her job any easier knowing she would have to dodge him.

    Once night came and the rest of the grunts were in their beds, Sarah set up as she did the previous night. She just had to get through the rest of today, then tomorrow, and then she was out of there! As much as she looked forward to finishing, she couldn’t deny that it was exciting to be on spy missions. Setting up her cameras and writing reports made it feel as if her work was tangible—like she was really contributing to Team Aqua’s efforts.

    Heart pounding in anticipation, she walked through the hallway as before, keeping her eyes peeled for any map or directory of any sort. She walked down an unfamiliar hallway she had yet—

    “Sarah?”

    She jerked her head around at the sound of her name, but her fright turned to annoyance when she saw Samuel standing there. His Zubat was perched on his shoulder, its wings folded around its little body. Samuel looked tired and looked at her curiously.

    “What are you doing out here?”

    “I’m looking for the women’s bathroom—I didn’t see one anywhere near my room.”

    “Oh, I’m pretty sure it’s in the opposite direction. It should be at the end of the hall from the women’s rooms; this is the men’s area.”

    Sarah smiled, but inside she was disappointed in herself. “Oh, thanks for telling me that.”

    Samuel bobbed his head. “No problem. Listen, I really want to apologize for the other day—“

    “No, don’t mention it,” Sarah cut him off. She was not interested in making relationships with any Team Magma members—platonic or otherwise—or holding idle chit-chat with them.

    “I just really felt like I came off the wrong way. I want you to know that I was just trying to be nice, and make friends—“

    “Don’t mention it,” she said more firmly, dropping her false smile. “I’m going to bed now. Goodnight.” She turned tail and walked down the hallway, leaving Samuel looking slightly crestfallen. Not that she cared—she was upset at being forced to turn in early for the evening. But it couldn’t be helped. Better to call it quits early than to get in trouble with Team Magma, right?

    As she rounded a corner, she jumped in surprise at the sudden appearance of a Loudred. It looked up at her suspiciously. Behind it was the same trainer from the other night, leering at Sarah with a small smile.

    “What are you doing up so late, I wonder? New recruits are supposed to be in bed.”

    “I know, I know—I didn’t know where the bathroom was and got lost.”

    “Sounded like a little disagreement back there,” he gestured with a nod of his head. His small eyes stayed on Sarah, leering at her over his smug smirk.

    Indignation rising, Sarah said firmly, “It was nothing. I’m going to bed now.” She tried to walk past him but he sidestepped, blocking her way. She glared up at him. “Excuse me.”

    “What are you up to?” he asked with the small smile on his face.

    “I’m going to bed.”

    “But are you tired? You want to hang out here with me for a bit?”

    “No, I don’t. Now let me go.”

    “Or what? You don’t have any authority here.”

    “I’ll scream,” she threatened.

    He scoffed. “See my Loudred there? His soundproof ability stops all sound we make from going through these halls. Go ahead and scream, kick—anything you want. But no one will be able to hear you.”

    As Sarah glanced back at the Loudred and saw the Team Magma grunt approach her, her heartbeat raced. She reached for Zigzagoon’s Pokeball and released him in a flash of white light. But Zigzagoon had only just appeared when Loudred delivered a swift punch, sending him flying against a wall.

    “Zigzagoon!” she gasped. Zigzagoon yipped and struggled to stand back up.

    Sarah looked up as the grunt stood over her and the blood in her veins turned to ice. She wanted to scream, but in her terror, she was reduced to numb silence.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    “These are their IDs, sir.”

    “Thank you, Connor. You may go.”

    Connor left Tabitha alone in the small filing room, a folder with IDs from the new recruits lying open on the table. Tabitha swiftly glanced over them. He partly wished he could have done interviews with prospective Team Magma members—getting an idea of what everyone’s thoughts and views were always intrigued him and was something he enjoyed the most. But with the hectic workload lately, it was better for him to hand it off to Connor. Still, he wanted to do a swift glance over their paperwork in case anything was overlooked.

    Mightyena was sniffing around the various files and folders lying about in the room. Tabitha grimaced as he glanced—he would have to scold the secretary for letting the room get in such disarray.

    As he checked the IDs of the new recruits, his eyes lingered on that of SARAH ARONNAX. Her ID said she was born 25 years ago in Petalburg City. He scanned the other ones, seeing people in their late 30’s as young as 18 from a variety of cities—mostly in Hoenn, but a few from neighboring regions.

    He stopped. Something seemed off. He picked up Sarah’s ID and one belonging to GREG STEIN and held them up next to each other. When they were together, Tabitha saw that the printing on Sarah’s ID was lopsided a little bit and the corners weren’t as rounded as the rest. He lightly squeezed both in his hand; Greg’s ID stayed rigid, but Sarah’s bent fairly easily.

    He looked at her ID. A fake? But why?

    With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he thought of several possibilities as to why—and none of them were good. Pocketing the ID, he made his way out the door and toward the women’s rooms, Mightyena trailing his footsteps.

    He stopped outside Sarah’s assigned room and hesitated. He really, really hated walking in to a woman’s room without at least knocking first—but in this situation, announcing his presence would do damage. Looking down at his canine companion, he asked, “Can you go in there and check? Please?”

    Without a word, Mightyena slipped into the shadows cast by the hallway as if they were liquid. Tabitha only waited a few seconds when Mightyena poked his head back out.

    Sarah wasn’t in there. The room was empty.

    Tabitha immediately opened the door—unlocked—and stepped in to her room. Her bed looked used, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Was she on just a quick bathroom break? That would be the best-case scenario, but something told him there was more to it than that. He glanced at his watch; it was well past curfew, and all the new recruits were supposed to up early tomorrow morning.

    “Mightyena, can you try to sniff her out? I’m going to look around in here.”

    Tabitha heard the padding of Mightyena’s feet as he left the room, letting out whuffs of air as he sniffed. Looking around, Tabitha shuffled the objects in Sarah’s room to see if she had anything suspicious.

    He opened the drawers of her dresser—she hadn’t unpacked her things yet, and her backpack was stuffed into the bottom drawer. Tabitha pulled it out and saw a light emanating from the back of the drawer.

    Reaching in, he felt two objects and held them up. One looked like a crude cell phone. The other was a small computer that was turned on—the image was moving rapidly, and he couldn’t make any sense of what it was supposed to show. Tapping the keyboard, he was able to exit the moving image and found what looked like a miniature desktop screen. There were only a few portals: “NOTEPAD,” “CAMERA,” and “CONTACTS.”

    Tabitha hit “CONTACTS” and it took him to a very brief address book. A few names were listed: “Boss,” “Shelly,” “Mattimeo,” and “Oscar.”

    He flipped back to the homepage and hit “NOTEPAD” as his heartrate quickened. In it were a few simple sentences.

    “Day 1.

    “Went through new recruit training regimen. They had us pair off and do practice Pokemon battles. Saw male Team Magma commander. He noticed me and told me to let him know if I need anything. Walked through the halls after curfew. Didn’t find anything of interest. Spotted another member. Probably on watch. Went straight back to my room.”

    Tabitha released a breath of air. Flipping the computer closed and putting the other device—probably something used to block signals—into his pants pockets, he hurried into the hall.

    They had a spy. And while this base was small and had nothing of interest, they needed to root out spies as quickly as they could.

    Tabitha barely made it into the hall when Mightyena came scampering around the corner.

    He yipped—Sarah was already found! Lucius and his Loudred were detaining her.

    “Lucius? Can you take me to them?”

    Something didn’t sit right with Tabitha. Lucius was perceptive—which was why he was asked to be a guard—but if he realized that Sarah was a spy, why didn’t he alert Tabitha immediately?

    Mightyena set off at a brisk trot and Tabitha followed at a jog. Before long, Mightyena stopped at a corner and Tabitha peered down the hall.

    A Loudred stood at the end of the hallway with its back facing Tabitha and Mightyena. A small fluff of brown and white was sandwiched between Loudred’s foot and the floor. Between Tabitha and the Loudred were a pair of Team Magma members—one tall one forced a smaller one against the wall and they were struggling.

    The sight of it flipped a switch in Tabitha’s brain and, without thinking, he tore down the hallway as fast as he could. Rage and disgust coursed through his veins as he met the duo—the guy didn’t even look up until Tabitha wrenched his hands off the woman, lifted him and slammed him into the opposite wall. Lucius looked angry, but once he saw Tabitha pinning him against the metal, his eyes widened and his face turned pallid.

    Tabitha turned his head and saw Sarah slumped against the far wall. Her hood had slipped off her head; her blonde hair was messy; her face was white and she was shaking.

    “Are you okay?” Tabitha asked.

    She nodded mutely.

    He turned back to Lucius.

    “What were you doing?”

    “Nothing—nothing! I saw her after curfew, so I pulled her aside—I wasn’t trying anything—!”

    He was cut off and the air wooshed out of him as Tabitha kneed him in the navel. Lucius slumped to the ground, taking choking breaths of air.

    “Don’t lie to me. I’ll deal with you later.” He looked at the Loudred. It stood with its back flat against the metal wall as Mightyena growled at it—neither of them had fired any attacks. A little Zigzagoon lay limply on the floor nearby them.

    Tabitha got down and inspected the Zigzagoon: the little guy was knocked out, but he would be all right. Turning to Mightyena, he said, “Can you look after Lucius and his Loudred? I’ll be back to take care of them. I’ll get someone to help that Zigzagoon soon—he’ll be fine if we leave him as he is for now.” He then looked at Sarah. “Follow me.”

    Tabitha walked through the halls to his temporary office, hearing the soft plod of Sarah’s steps behind him. The anger in him quickly died down; more than anything, he felt bad for Sarah. Considering the location, he figured this was probably her first assignment as a spy and was just doing as she was told—and already, she had been assaulted by a Team Magma member and found out.

    Tabitha realized that the sound of Sarah’s footsteps had stopped. Turning around, he saw her standing in the hallway, hugging herself and staring ahead blankly. Her knees shook badly.

    “Do you need help?”

    Sarah didn’t look at Tabitha but just blinked a few times and slowly shook her head. Standing up straight, she walked again and followed Tabitha into his office.

    Tabitha moved a stack of papers off the center of his desk to leave a clear area in the middle. He gestured to an empty chair across his desk. “Take a seat.”

    She obliged. Her deep blue eyes stayed down; Tabitha thought he saw tears well up in them. He turned away—he felt so bad. The poor girl had just been harassed, and Tabitha had saved her only to tell her that she would now be their prisoner. His heart twisted—he couldn’t bring himself to do it yet.

    Spying the kettle in the back of the room, he asked, “Do you want some tea?”

    She nodded.

    Tabitha boiled the water and set leaves in two cups—mainly to give her time. Once the water was heated, he poured it and allowed the leaves to steep. Returning to his desk, he sat the cups down, pretending not to notice her hastily wiping tears away from her face.

    The two of them sat in silence for a while, quietly sipping their tea. It seemed to be doing her some good; she held her mug just below her mouth with her eyes closed, deeply inhaling and exhaling.

    Tabitha knew the time had come. There was no use in delaying it.

    “I actually brought you here for a different reason.”

    For the first time, Sarah looked directly at him. Her head was slightly tilted and her brow was furrowed.

    Reaching into his pockets, Tabitha took out the two electronic devices and set them on the desk between them. At the sight of them, Sarah’s face fell. She lowered her mug onto the desk and stared at the electronics with her mouth slightly agape.

    “I need you to tell me everything you know. Please make this easy—I don’t want to use force.”

    Sarah closed her eyes. Tabitha would never attack her himself, but it would be more effective to let her think about the different possibilities of what he could mean. He knew it was cruel—but she was still his enemy and he needed to get information from her.

    “Just start with how you joined Team Aqua. Everything from then until now.”

    Tabitha waited in silent patience while she told him. He watched her body language carefully, but she seemed to have accepted defeat: her shoulders were slumped, her head hung, and a few tears leaked from her eyes. There was nothing extraordinary about her story; most of what she said about their internal structure was what Tabitha already knew.

    “Are there any other spies here that you know of?”

    Sarah shook her head.

    “Thank you.”

    Tabitha turned on the phone on his desk. He believed Sarah had totally accepted defeat and had told him everything she knew. There was no point in holding her there any longer, even if he did pity her.

    “Naomi, please come to my office. I need you to take a woman to room 12C.”

    He hung up. Sarah stared silently at his desk while the two of them waited.

    Before long, a Team Magma member came in. Her long, dark brown hair fell out of her hood and spilled over her shoulders. A Numel trailed behind her, puffing out whisps of smoke from the hump on his back. “Yes, commander?”

    Tabitha stood up. “I need you to take Sarah, here, with you. I don’t think she has anything on her but check her just in case. Make sure no one has any contact with her. Give her food and water. I’ll give you further instructions later.”

    He turned to Sarah. “You’ll be kept in one of our rooms in this base. You’ll be provided with food, water and clothing. Let Naomi know when you want to use the shower.”

    Without another word, he exited his office, heading back down the hall to where Mightyena kept guard over Lucius and Loudred. Even though such behavior disgusted Tabitha, dealing with people like Lucius did provide him with a form of stress-relief: there was little thinking involved and he got to expend energy.

    And even though Sarah turned out to be a Team Aqua member, Lucius would not be on watch again.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Cloe’s eyes scanned the river from her vantage point behind some trees. Looking down, she saw her Corsola splash about with some wild Barboach. Maybe she should have kept Corsola in her Pokeball—if anyone saw a Corsola in a river, they’d know there was a trainer about.

    She dismissed the thought. No one was around. The place was totally deserted, just like everywhere else she kept watch at. A small town could be seen not too far off, and sometimes the inhabitants like to explore the area. But it was blazing hot, the air was thick with humidity, and bugs crawled around everywhere. Who in their right mind would be out and about at this hour? What need did they have to keep watch?

    Sighing, she looked behind her. Past the thicket of trees, ferns and wild grasses, she knew a Team Aqua base lay well-hidden. And she knew that what they did was important—collecting data on rainfall, soil temperatures, and running simulations on soil absorbancy. But it was the scientists who got to do cool stuff like that. She, a grunt who had only joined a few months ago, got to stand outside and make sure nobody interrupted their ‘illicit’ experiments.

    And it was hard to not feel unimportant when she thought about Maressa and Sarah. Maressa and her Pokemon had really climbed ranks—she got to work with Matt and go on missions with him! She did things so important that she wasn’t allowed to repeat them! Cloe knew it came at a cost, and she was worried about her friend; ever since Maressa had returned from being Team Magma’s captive, she was crying about losing Seaking or else looking extremely nervous. Cloe was no therapist and wasn’t going to pretend to be one—but she could be there for her and hear her out whenever she needed someone to talk to or just a shoulder to cry on.

    Even Sarah had gotten higher up in the Team’s rankings. Matt put her through spy training, and she always came out at the top of her class with high marks. Whether or not she was actually going on a mission, she was not allowed to say. But it had been a few days since Cloe had seen or heard from her, and she figured that Team Aqua would want to put her friend’s skills to good use.

    As Cloe gazed out at the carpet of green grass dotted with vines, ferns, and an assortment of flowers in every color of the rainbow, and as she glanced at the sun glinting off the river to make it look like flowing glass, melancholy settled in her heart. She was happy for her friends, but she felt lonely. She wanted to be important like the others—and no matter how many times Shelly and other older members told her that every bit of work for Team Aqua mattered, Cloe didn’t feel like it.

    Sitting down, she leaned against a tree trunk, her eyelids slowly closing in the warmth radiating from the noonday sun. Guess this was just the life of a Team Aqua grunt.
     
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