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Pokémon The Legendarian Chronicles

Prologue
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    The story of an inevitable war, the humans that tried to stop it,
    and all the reasons their failure was written into the universe itself.




    Hello everyone, and welcome to LC, a trainer fic that was first started on December 14, 2001. Yes, you read that right, this fic is eighteen years old. You might have seen it floating around various other fanfiction websites over the years. After twelve revisions, four rewrites, and multiple hiatuses, I'm finally on track to actually finish this ridiculous, over-the-top story about Rockets, Legendaries, betrayal, conspiracy, war, destiny, timespace, and infinity.

    LC is rated PG-13 for violence, blood/gore, language, and dark subjects including torture, trauma, emotional abuse, and suicide. Individual chapters with an elevated rating will be given content warnings.

    The first six or so chapters of the fic are absolutely loaded with clichés. Don't worry, it's intentional. This definitely isn’t a normal trainer fic, and I’ve done my best to realistically explore the repercussions of the tropes that I’m using. If you like seeing characters pushed to their breaking point in increasingly bad situations, then this is the fic for you.

    LC doesn't take place in any particular canon, and is mostly an excuse to show off my various headcanons on how the Pokemon world functions. If you're curious, this fic was heavily inspired by Pokemon Special, Mewtwo Returns, and Animorphs. So if you like any of those things, you might like this.

    LC will update once a week until it catches up with Serebii, FFN, and AO3. Since my updates are biweekly over there, that means we'll eventually catch up here, although it will take some time. If you ever get impatient, feel free to read ahead on those sites.

    This is gonna be a long ride. So strap yourselves in and get ready, because I’ve reached the point where the plot don’t stop.


    This story began with the human who rejected infinity.
    It will end with the human who accepted it.


    ~PROLOGUE~

    A pair of eyes snapped open, radiating a cobalt aura and piercing the inky blackness within the depths of the sea. The true blessing of light had never reached the ocean floor, and even the rare glow of life could not break its concealment. The creature to which the eyes belonged knew this better than any other. The deep was always dark and always would be. The deep was always calm—not like the surface. The deep could always hide those who wished to be hidden. But the time for hiding was at its end.

    At once, the creature shot up from the ocean trench like a silver torpedo. The crushing depths released their hold as it flew through the water, scattering countless tiny water Pokémon in its wake. Piercing eyes adjusted to the rapid increase of light just in time to be met with the inviting glimmer of the surface right above. And then the beast rocketed out of the sea. Cool, salty air washed over its body, a sharp contrast to the water’s embrace. The sensation prickled like needles against its feathers, but still… there was something almost freeing about being able to beat its wings through the currents of wind and take gulps of sweet air that burned its unused lungs yet felt so good.

    It was so wildly different than the deep, but somehow felt just as right. Flying was, indeed, one of the simplest joys in this world. The creature effortlessly sailed through the skies, its wings stealing bits of silvery cloud from all around to shield it from the view of any onlookers, had there been any. One could never be too careful, especially these days.

    The ancient creature had spent much time within the realm of its dominion, reflecting upon the state of the world. The Order had been empowered to protect the balance, and protect it they had. For so long they had kept watch over its course. Caring for it. Guiding it. But there was a time when the balance had fallen, and the flames of war consumed the world. The creature had not witnessed that time itself, but the tale was well known amongst the Order. Even the humans had their stories from that era.

    The time for careful observance was at its end. That cataclysmic era had left its mark on the world—one that had lain dormant for nearly 3000 years. Soon the conflict would resurface, and the Order would face its greatest challenge yet. The creature had not wanted to believe it, but the events of the past few years had confirmed those fears.

    It was a strange thought, knowing that the balance of the world would soon unravel again. Would they be ready? It wasn’t as if the Order had no course of action before them. They all knew what was required. They’d known for ages. And now the search had been set into motion.

    Even as the fires of the Revolution subside, the balance that the Order fought so hard to preserve is already on the inevitable path to being torn apart once again. Seven among them—the ones who dedicated both mind, body, and spirit toward ending the war—shall be empowered to forge an alliance with humankind so that both might endure.

    Such a strange course of action, joining the two sides together. But the legend knew just as well as the others that it could not refuse to follow that path. It had seen the threads of fate with its own eyes, much as it hated to admit it. The real question was… when would the conflict reach a point that the interlopers would be forged?

    Lugia gazed down over the mainland, its mind swimming with conflicted feelings. The next seven years would be interesting, that much was certain.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    A loud ringing filled the air, which meant the end of class for the day—and it was about time, too. I quickly stuffed my books into my backpack, following after my classmates and pretending I hadn’t heard the last-minute assignment that we’d been given. It would have been just as normal as any other afternoon, except my head was still filled with rumors from earlier that morning.

    I glanced down the other end of the hallway just in time to spot my friend Ajia, a small fifth-grader with dark hair and eyes. Well, that was good—at least I’d get to talk to someone before the end of the day.

    “Hey Ajia!” I called out, waving to her from the crowd of my fourth-grade classmates before quickly making my way over to where she was standing.

    “Heya, how was class?” she asked.

    “Meh… failed a Pokéspeech quiz—you know, as always,” I replied with a smirk.

    Ajia laughed. “Yeah, that class is confusing doom when you first start out. It gets better later on, though,” she said.

    “Yeah…” I replied, my mind wandering back to what had been bothering me most of the day. “So, uh… have you seen Starr? I didn’t even see her at lunch.” I fidgeted a bit—how was I supposed to bring up the topic? “Is it really true, that…?” My words sort of died before the end.

    Ajia sighed. “I think she didn’t want to talk about it with you ‘cause she knew you’d take it the hardest.”

    “What? What does that even—ugh, I’ve got to talk to her before she leaves.”

    “She’s right outside, actually,” Ajia pointed out.

    I blinked. “Huh? She’s not taking the bus home?”

    “No, her mom’s picking her up. If you hurry, you might catch her.”

    “Okay. See you on Monday!” I yelled, immediately taking off through a pair of double doors behind me.

    The bright afternoon light stung my eyes as I raced past the areas where the younger kids would get picked up by their parents. I quickly glanced over all of the groups sitting along the ledges by the parking lot… and then spotted a girl dressed in a purple shirt and jean skirt sitting by herself off to the side. My footsteps slowed. I paused, hesitating for a bit before walking up to her.

    “Hey Jade,” Starr mumbled as I neared. She was leaning forward so that her short brown hair fell across her face—probably to keep from looking me in the eye.

    I sat down next to her, but didn’t say anything at first. She had only hinted at what was going on, and I had no idea what I was supposed to think. “So… this is really your last day at school here?” I finally asked.

    Starr nodded slowly without looking up.

    “Where’re you moving to?” I asked cautiously. She obviously didn’t want to talk about it… and I almost didn’t want to know.

    With a blank voice she replied, “Cianwood.” I had no idea where that was supposed to be.

    Everything fell silent after that. It was like nothing around us even existed. I couldn’t get my thoughts straight—all of this had come up too fast. Sure… I’d known that she was going to leave at the end of the school year, to start her Pokémon training journey. And I’d been trying not to think about it. But I’d thought we’d have three more months together. Not… this.

    “It’s not fair!” I yelled, burying my face in my arms. “Why’d this have to come out of nowhere? And moving on your birthday? What’s up with that?”

    “I don’t know… it’s all my mom’s idea, and she didn’t tell me anything. But my dad’s staying here in Viridian.”

    I slowly uncovered my face, turning toward her. “You never really see your dad much anymore… do you?”

    She shook her head.

    “Still… it’s dumb that your mom won’t tell you why all of this is happening,” I added.

    “Yeah… she keeps saying that she wants me and my brother to have a better life that we couldn’t have gotten here. Or something like that… she never really explains,” Starr mumbled.

    “Hey, that’s right—what does your brother think about all of this? Isn’t he friends with Ajia?”

    Starr sighed. “I don’t know, Lexx has been acting weird and not talking to me much lately,” she said with a bit of a scowl.

    Neither of us said anything else for a while. I stared at the floor as the time went on, feeling sort of lost.

    “Why didn’t you want to talk to me before you left?” I finally managed.

    She sighed again. “I didn’t want you to make a big deal out of it, okay?”

    “Who says I was gonna?”

    Starr laughed. “What do you think you’re doing right now?”

    I opened my mouth to say something, but realized she’d got me with that, so I glared and didn’t say anything.

    “Pfft, see what I mean? You’re such a little kid,” Starr said, smirking.

    “Don’t call me that!” I exclaimed, punching her in the shoulder, but then she just laughed even harder. Yeah, I was annoyed, but I was also glad to see her smiling.

    “So… since you’ll be in Johto when you get your trainer’s license, what starter are you gonna choose?” I asked.

    “Probably Totodile. You know how much I like water Pokémon.”

    I smiled. “Yeah? That’s cool. It just sucks that I won’t be able to start my journey for three more years. Then I could meet up with you and—” The realization hit me out of nowhere. “Hey, wait! If you’re gonna be a Pokémon trainer, that means you can travel anywhere you want, right? So then you can come visit way before I become a trainer!”

    She paused, blinking in surprise. “I… hadn’t thought of that,” she said slowly. “It’ll have to wait until I get strong Pokémon to protect me while traveling so far. But… yeah. I’ll do that.”

    My face fell. Why wasn’t she more excited about it? Starr was just kind of… staring into the distance, like she was thinking about something. She looked like she wanted to tell me something else, but didn’t say anything.

    We sat there for some time after that. It was probably only a few minutes, but I wanted it to last forever. And then Starr glanced up suddenly at a blue car that had just parked along the curb. She stared at it for a few seconds, then stood to her feet and threw her backpack over her shoulder before walking towards the car, her feet dragging a bit. She had only taken a few steps when she paused, turning back towards me one last time.

    “Bye.”

    Just hearing that one word made me feel weirdly numb. I forced a smile—it felt fake, and I could tell from her face that she wasn’t fooled.

    I didn’t watch as she got in the car.





    ~END PROLOGUE~
    A bit of an unsual prologue, I admit. Two halves that have nothing to do with each other, but which both lay important groundwork for the plot later on. And speaking of the plot, this fic might be a long runner, but the plot kicks into high gear immediately in Chapter 1. So if you're at all unsure right now, well... you'll know pretty soon if this fic is for you.
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 1: Ravaged Mountainside
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    In this fic, most kids start their Pokémon journey around age 12. It used to be a hard age limit, but I decided to remove that in favor of a softer “take two years of Pokémon handling classes and then pass the training exam.” Most kids leave at the start of summer with the intent of challenging the Pokémon League the following year.

    And with that out of the way… here we go. Get ready to dive into the plot straight away. No looking back.

    ~Chapter 1: Ravaged Mountainside~


    June 5

    Summer days were made for this—made for the blast of wind in my face and the rush of exhilaration as my bike flew down the street. The slightest twinge of fear pricked at the back of my head, but it was easy to shove aside. My eyes focused straight ahead, blocking out everything else. Teeth clenched. Fists tightened on the handlebars as I closed in on my target. Just a few more seconds and I’d pull back on the handlebars at just the right moment and—

    “Aw yeah!” I yelled, throwing a fist towards the sky as my bike flew through the air. No matter how many times I jumped that same ramp, those precious few seconds of being airborne were the greatest thing in the world. I landed several feet away with a thud and immediately veered my handlebars to double back in a wide arc, waving toward the top of the hill.

    “Did you see how much air I got?!” I yelled.

    “Big deal, I can beat that!” Rudy called out to me while speeding downward on his bike. The usual determined grin covered his tan face; his dark eyes were wide and full of confidence as he raced downward. Neither of us were really experts at this whole biking thing, but who cared? It was by far the best way to spend the after-school hours, and summer offered the promise of biking every day.

    I sluggishly pedaled upward, still watching him race toward the ramp. Which is why I never saw it coming.

    Out of nowhere, a black blur shot into the street, skidding to a halt right in front of me. I swerved instantly to avoid hitting it, but then—crap, I was heading for a parked car—had to turn! I spun way too far, my front wheel hit the curb sideways, and then I found myself toppling over into a sprawled heap on the grass.

    Well, that was random. But there was really only one thing that could have done that. Sure enough, only a few seconds passed before I felt heavy paws on my chest. Black fur covered my entire field of vision, and the air was filled with musty, hot breath and uneven panting.

    “Ow… get off, Ebony!” I yelled, shoving the Houndour away. She lumbered off, but sat down less than two feet from me, apparently fighting the urge to jump on me again.

    I sighed exasperatedly. “You’re never gonna get tired of this game, are you?” Sure, she knew me, but still felt determined as ever to ‘protect’ her home and her owner—who was now standing next to his bike, cracking up.

    “Pfft—shut up, Rudy,” I laughed, climbing to my feet and wiping the grass from my baggy shirt and jeans. “How’d Ebony get out this time?” I glanced back at the energetic puppy, who was now wagging her stubby tail with the hope that she could play with us.

    “Dunno,” Rudy said, shrugging. “I guess I didn’t close the backyard up good enough. At least Chloe didn’t follow her.” He grabbed Ebony’s collar and led her toward his backyard. The Houndour followed without struggle, though she made an exaggerated show of dragging her paws as heavily as possible.

    “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you—I get to bring Ebony with me when I leave,” Rudy spoke up casually, like I already knew what he was talking about.

    “Huh?” I said, not really sure what he was getting at. And then my brain clicked into place. “Wait, wait… You’re leaving on a training journey?”

    “Yeah, didn’t I tell you?” he asked.

    “No. You didn’t,” I said flatly, a sinking feeling growing in my stomach. Really, he waited until now to tell me something like this?

    “Yeah? Er, sorry… but you can’t be surprised. I mean, school just got out, I passed the exam—why would I wait? It’s like the most perfect time to start training.”

    Unfortunately, he was right. Summer really was the best time to start a training journey, even though you could apply to take the exam at any time after passing the required two years of Pokémon handling courses beforehand.

    “You realize you’re pretty much the only person I know who hasn’t left on a journey yet?” The words were out of my mouth before I’d had time to fully think them through.

    He shrugged. “I guess? But that’s only because I’m starting late.”

    “Getting your license at thirteen isn’t that late. My not having a license at fourteen? That’s late,” I grumbled.

    “Oh come on,” Rudy said, looking kind of bored with my complaints after having heard them a dozen times. “I still say you should just take Swift and leave, license or no license.”

    I stared at him. “I’m not gonna train Pokémon illegally. I’m not that stupid.”

    “Alright, alright, it was just an idea,” he said, waving a hand impatiently. “I’m just saying if I failed the exam twice, that’s what I’d do—just take Ebony and leave. Though it would kinda suck not getting a starter.”

    “Yeah, that’s definitely the worst part about training illegally,” I said. Then again, this was a nice place to change the subject. “So… which starter are you gonna pick, anyway?”

    Rudy gave me a look like I was the dumbest person in the world. “Do you seriously think I would pick anything other than Charmander?”

    “Right,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Because already having one fire Pokémon just isn’t enough. This way you can light even more random crap on fire.” I guess the flame-tailed Charmander would be a perfect match for him, in that case.

    “I just hope they don’t run out of starters at the League registration building…” Rudy mumbled to himself as we led Ebony along a rock path to a fenced-off area of his backyard. “Maybe if Dad takes me there today—it is Friday—but so many trainers have already started…”

    “Heyy, that’s right—Charmander is the most popular Kanto starter. You might get stuck with Bulbasaur,” I said tauntingly.

    “Shut up,” he laughed. “I don’t like grass-types.”

    Really? I had no idea.”

    We stepped onto the grass and over to the fence where Rudy opened a gate and let Ebony in with Chloe. The latter wagged her fluffy tail nonstop as she nosed up against the fence, obviously hoping for a chance to play with us. When neither of us responded, the Growlithe turned around and immediately decided roughhouse with Ebony instead. Rudy threw a glance around the rest of the backyard before suddenly clapping a hand to his forehead.

    “Oh crud! I forgot to do my chores—my dad’s gonna kill me!” he exclaimed.

    “I could help,” I said, shrugging.

    He considered the offer for a bit, running a hand through his spiky black hair. “No, if my dad gets home and sees that you’re here… I wasn’t even supposed to be playing in the first place. Help me get the ramp in and then I gotta get to work.”

    I groaned mentally as we ran back to the front yard—figures that something like this would come up. We grabbed opposite ends of the ramp and carried it to his garage, setting it in a corner next to the large pile of boxes that took up most of the space. He wheeled his bike in and slammed the garage shut.

    “I’ll see ya, Jade,” Rudy said, running to the backyard.

    “Later,” I said, swinging a leg over my bike and riding down the street to my house. Well, a perfectly good day of biking had been cut short. The only thing I could think of to pass the time was… bike some more. It seemed like a nice day to go riding around town for a little bit, in any case… just to take my mind off things.

    I grabbed my wallet from my room, quickly scribbled a note to my mom on the first piece of scrap paper I could find, and was about to head outside when a fluttering noise from the other room made me stop. The source of the noise was the Pidgey sitting atop his wooden perch in the corner, flapping his wings lightly. He gave a few chirps, not saying anything in particular but hoping to get my attention in the smallest way possible.

    “You don’t have to be so shy, Swift—you know you can come with me whenever I go for a ride,” I said, smiling and holding out my arm as the tawny bird flew over to perch on my shoulder. With that, I walked outside and mounted my bike once again, and the Pidgey took flight overhead, chirping contentedly.

    I wandered the streets of Viridian City, glancing around at the various storefronts that I passed, half tempted to stop by the card shop or the c-store, but deciding against it. I mostly just wanted to ride aimlessly under the shade of the trees, enjoying the cool breeze and the empty sidewalks that came with it still being early in the afternoon. Every so I glanced up at the sky through the trees, hands drifting from the handlebars as my mind wandered back to the previous conversation.

    Rudy was leaving. Going on a training journey, like everyone else. And as much as I hated to admit it… I was glad when he didn’t have the credits to take the exam last year.

    I’d never had all that many friends, but it seemed like for each one that left, I always had someone still here. Starr had been the first to leave, five years ago. Then Ajia three years ago, then all the aspiring trainers in my year, and then everyone I knew in the year below me. I didn’t even want to be a professional trainer; I just wanted to go with them. First I screwed up by failing Pokéspeech so many times that I didn’t have enough credits the summer after I turned twelve. Then failing the test the summer after I turned thirteen. And now this year. The crushing feeling of seeing that failing score… for the second time.

    I hated to think about it, and yet I didn’t want to do anything but think about it.

    I was now nearing the edge of Viridian city; the trees and buildings on either side of the road had grown further apart, replaced with open stretches of tall grass. I’d just reached the point where the road merged with the highway to Johto, with trails leading north branching off into the forest—this was usually where I turned around. I glanced up at the sky and was about to call Swift, but he wasn’t there.

    “…Swift?” I called out hesitantly, half expecting him to hear me and suddenly fly into view, even though the sky was completely open. Where had he gone? He had never done this before.

    “Swift!” I yelled, pedaling hard to power my bike along the route. A feeling of unease was spreading through the back of my mind. This wasn’t like him. Had something happened to him? There was no way, but I couldn’t see any sign of him in the entire… sky. I’d just realized. The sky was empty. No birds anywhere within sight, and these fields were usually full of Spearow.

    “That’s… weird…” I muttered to myself. My eyes traced the horizon, hunting for any possible clue, when I spotted a plume of smoke within the trees to the north. What was that?

    Feeling almost compelled to head that way, I turned and rode along a trail leading north—towards the forest. I reached the treeline within minutes and kept going, unsure of whether I’d be any nearer to finding Swift when I could barely see the sky anymore. Still, I kept getting a vague feeling of significance, like this was important somehow. I couldn’t explain it, and the more time passed, the more stupid I felt.

    I was just about to turn around when I caught sight of a winged figure passing over the trees above me.

    “Swift?!” I yelled, not expecting much. It could have been any bird.

    Except it wasn’t. It was him.

    “Swift!” I exclaimed, holding out my arm for him to perch. “Why’d you fly off like that? What’s going on?”

    His expression was reserved like usual, but distinctly troubled. He motioned a wing in the direction I’d been heading.

    “Did you check out the smoke or something? Is there a fire?” I asked.

    The Pidgey nodded. I glanced over my shoulder, but now that there was a thick canopy of trees above us, I couldn’t make out the smoke anymore. Then again… weren’t there a lot of fire-types living in the area? Fires had to be pretty common.

    Swift gave a low string of chirps. This time they had meaning, and I knew at least enough Pokéspeech to catch the words, “*It’s bad… come see.*”

    He took flight again towards the ridge north of us, and I followed in silence for several minutes. In time, the air was filled with a thick haze, and a horrible stench burned my nose. And still we continued on until we reached the edge of the destruction. One moment we were within the thick of the forest, and the next, there was nothing but the charred remains of tree trunks and blackened bits of what had once been grass and leaves. Flurries of ash saturated the air, stinging my eyes. And that noxious odor just wouldn’t go away.

    I stopped dead. For whatever reason, I realized that the odor saturating the air was burning flesh. These woods had been filled with Pokémon, all of them now dead. My brain really had no idea how to process any of it. Who on earth expected to see something like this on an ordinary day?

    “C’mon…” I muttered to Swift. “We don’t need to be here. We shouldn’t be here.”

    But then I caught a glimpse of flame amongst the ashes, burning feebly at the edge of a dark mass. I leaned my bike against a tree before approaching it hesitantly, my eyes widening once I got a good look at it.

    It was breathing.

    The mound was alive. It was a Charmander.

    I stared, unable to believe it. The lizard’s orange scales were burnt black, and with each breath its body shuddered, almost as if it were cold. The flame that should have burned bright yellow on its tail was little more than a tiny scarlet ember that flickered constantly.

    Shaking slightly, I reached a hand towards it. I didn’t know why—it was like my arm was moving on its own. So far, the Charmander hadn’t reacted to my presence. I took a deep breath before awkwardly attempting to pull the blackened scraps of wood and leaves away from it. The lizard jerked suddenly upon having its skin exposed to the air, and I snapped my hand back. Okay, so trying to clean its wounds was a bad idea; what was I thinking. It wasn’t like I had any water or bandages anyway. In fact, water probably would have made things worse.

    The fire-type didn’t move again after that. It was still breathing though, so I could only guess that it was out cold.

    “I wouldn’t stay here much longer if I were you.”

    I jolted at the sudden voice. Someone else was here? I threw a glance over my shoulder and sure enough, a figure was approaching me. The smoke obscured him at first, but eventually he came into view. He was several years older than me—at least eighteen or so—and quite a bit taller than me, with wavy brown hair and icy blue eyes. He was dressed in a black shirt with a long gray coat, navy blue cargo pants, and thick, gray boots. And he was currently examining me with a reserved expression that made me feel like I was being x-rayed. Somehow, his overall air was that of someone much older.

    “What did you say?” I asked.

    “You shouldn’t be here,” he repeated. “They wouldn’t want any witnesses, and”—he paused mid-sentence and suddenly asked, “Are you a Pokémon trainer? You look old enough to be one.”

    “Um, no… not yet,” I admitted. After a few seconds of awkward silence, I asked, “Are you?”

    “I’d have to be if I wanted to carry these around,” he replied, pointing to the small red and white spheres clipped onto his belt. Right—only licensed trainers were allowed to use Pokéballs.

    Now gazing at the ravaged landscape, he muttered, “Amazing how much damage humans can cause. The fire’s spread too far, though… how do they plan to keep it unnoticed?” I wasn’t entirely sure whether he was talking to me or just commenting to himself.

    “Who did this, do you know—?”

    “There’s no point trying to explain it,” he interrupted, walking further in the direction I had originally been going. “Just follow me.”

    I glanced back down at the pitiful form of the unconscious Charmander. I didn’t want to risk hurting it by moving it, but what choice did I really have? Was I supposed to just leave it here to die? I hesitated as long as possible, but then finally wrapped my arms around the lizard’s limp body, taking care to avoid its tail flame, tiny though it was. Its skin felt raw and sticky against mine and gave off a radiating heat.

    The trainer was now just a hazy figure in the distance with all of the soot clouding the air, and I had to walk quickly to catch up with him. “How recently did all of this happen?”

    “So recently that it’s still happening,” was the only response. We reached the edge of a ridge that overlooked an open valley between the forested hills. It was there that I saw what he was talking about.

    A brilliant flash of fire tore across the mountainside before stopping suddenly in the middle of the clearing and unleashing a blazing heat wave outward. When the flames cleared, I saw it. A fantastically bizarre beast stood before us, shaking its head and ruffling its long brown mane. Jagged spikes framed its back, and a silky, cloud-like tail billowed constantly. The creature whipped its head around to take in its surroundings, and when it turned in our direction, I couldn’t help but stare openmouthed. Its face was, in short, amazing—rimmed by brightly colored crests of red along the side, blue over the muzzle, and a crown of yellow over its eyes.

    Entei. The Beast of the Volcano. A Legendary Pokémon of Johto. Right here, right in front of us, for real.

    Suddenly, I heard a roar of engines to the right. A huge group of jeeps and trucks burst into the clearing, filled with countless armed adults. Entei recoiled backward, pelted by bullets—they were shooting it? The auburn beast slammed its shackled paws to the ground and let loose a wave of fire, incinerating everything within the valley. But then the flames cleared, revealing the vehicles’ protective energy shields. Around two dozen Pokémon charged forward from behind the jeeps, unleashing torrents of water at their target. Entei stood its ground with a determined glare, but I could still see it wincing in pain as steam poured off its body. I could still hear the fury in its roar as it tried to flee, gripped by the glow of something preventing its escape.

    “What… how can they…? Why…?” I stammered.

    There was a pause. Then came the reply, “Have you heard of Team Rocket?”

    I tilted my head. “Well… pretty much everyone has heard of Team Rocket, right?” The notorious organization that had run this region’s criminal underworld for as long as anyone could remember. But knowing anything about them—that was a different story.

    “To the general public,” he continued, without acknowledging I’d said anything, “Team Rocket is nothing more than a widespread group of criminal gangsters. What the public doesn’t know is that for the past twenty years, the team has been making a slow push for total control over all of Kanto and Johto. On the surface, they’re still the same thieves, smugglers, and traffickers they’ve always been. But that just hides the fact that there’s another side to the team that no one knows about.” He motioned to the ongoing struggle down in the valley.

    Words failed me. Everything he had said was kind of overloading my brain, and the only thing I could manage was, “How did you find out about this?”

    The corners of his mouth turned up slightly. “Not all Rockets are satisfied with the direction the team is headed. Some of them have their own plans. Some of them are working against Giovanni from within the team.”

    “Giovanni?” He couldn’t mean… the Giovanni? Leader of the Viridian Pokémon Gym?

    “The current boss,” he clarified.

    I shook my head. “Hang on, hang on. You’re telling me those crazy rumors that he’s involved with Rockets—they’re not just true, but he’s the boss?!

    He nodded.

    I couldn’t help staring. “You’re serious? That’s supposed to be, like… tabloid fodder for conspiracy nuts. If it’s actually true… shouldn’t more people know?”

    “You underestimate the team’s influence,” he replied with a slight laugh. “They have agents working all over. Turning him in wouldn’t do anything.”

    Well that was… unnerving. Really, what was I supposed to say to that? With a glance back at the blazing hillside, I asked, “Shouldn’t we do something? I mean, if we don’t—”

    “We?” he said, his voice tinged with amusement. “You have a pet bird and a half-dead lizard; I’d be the one doing everything. And I know my limits. I can’t stop them alone.”

    I glanced down at the dying Charmander in my arms, feeling rather miserable about all of this. Really, why did he even bother explaining anything only to flat-out tell me I was useless?

    “What would you say,” he began slowly, with an unusual tone, “if I told you that a large-scale takeover might soon be within their grasp?”

    I whirled around to face him, gaping in shock. “What?”

    “That’s why they’ve taken to capturing Legendary Pokémon. If the heads of the combat unit had Legendaries at their disposal, there would be no stopping them.” His tone was perfectly casual, as though Team Rocket being on the verge of a regional conquest was normal, everyday conversation.

    I was frozen, unable to process all of this. “…What do we do about that? Why are you telling me this?”

    He gave me a very serious look. “Are you interested in helping stop Team Rocket’s Legendary project? Would you be willing to fight them?”

    I stared. How exactly was I supposed to fight them, and how did he expect me to? Didn’t he just say that there was no way I could help? I kept waiting for him to say something like “it would be nice if it were possible,” but his expression was cold and unflinching.

    “How… what do you mean?” I asked.

    “If you were able to stop Team Rocket from catching Legendaries, would you?”

    I wanted to say “well, who wouldn’t?” but that didn’t seem like a very good answer. I found myself simply nodding.

    He considered me for a while before reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a small card. “This is your formal invitation to join a team against the Rockets,” he said, handing it to me. “I’ve been handing these out to people just starting their journey. Once you become a trainer, I want you to meet me at the location specified on the card, and I’ll tell you more.”

    “But how—?” I began.

    “What’s on that card is all I can say for now,” he said firmly. “Don’t lose it, and don’t reveal it.”

    He unclipped a ball from his belt and pushed a button on it, causing it to enlarge and open. A flash of white light burst from inside and took the form of a tall dragon. Shiny, flaming orange-colored scales covered most of its thickly muscled body, save for a massive pair of blue wings. My eyes widened—it was a Charizard, the fully evolved form of Charmander. I’d never seen one in person.

    He replaced the Pokéball and climbed onto the dragon’s back. It flexed its wings and outstretched them, flapping against the air and sending flurries of soot into my face. I shielded my eyes reflexively until the reptile had lifted off.

    “I’ll see you,” the trainer said before soaring out of sight.

    “Later…?” I said, more to myself than him. How and why I’d see him later was beyond me. I looked at the small card he had given me and read.

    If you have received this card, it is because you have been recognized as either a beginning trainer with the potential for skill, or an ambitious young trainer willing to face danger for the sake of stopping Team Rocket. If you are serious about joining a rebellion against the Rockets, then meet in Vermilion harbor prior to July 3 for further instruction.

    Talk about vague. Still, it made sense, just in case Team Rocket got a hold of one of the cards. But was he really just giving them out to random trainers? Why was he doing this? And how on earth had I gotten myself mixed up in all of this?

    I turned back to the battle that was still continuing. Everything about it was completely mind-boggling. The ridiculously powerful fire beast was still struggling to ward off its attackers, but its strength was waning. I still wanted to help it somehow, even though I knew I couldn’t do anything. It was frustrating, and I felt stupid about it. With a sigh, I sat down and continued to watch.

    And then it happened. The Rockets and Entei were now only about a hundred yards away from where I was sitting. One of the jeeps near the front of the formation suddenly broke from the group and began speeding up the hill in my direction. I stared stupidly at the vehicle racing towards me, unable to work though what it meant.

    “Don’t… don’t tell me they…” My eyes widened as the realization hit me like a brick.

    I’d been spotted. And they were coming for me.





    ~End Chapter 1~
     
    Chapter 2: Reinforcements
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    I wasn't sure who was talking in t his line, since at first I thought it was Jade, but it was surrounded by lines from Jade, too. So it was someone else, and I had to reread a few times to figure that out.
    Ah, good point, I'll just make that the same paragraph.

    Also, just a personal nitpick of mine, but it took way too long for us to know her name!
    Oh, you might have missed the bit where Starr called her by name in the prologue!

    Huh, just like that? I mean, we certainly had to get the plot started somehow, but I wonder just how secure those kinds of cards are when you think about it. For one, I mean, Jade just got spotted, so that's not good, and what happens if they see the card? What if a young, naive trainer happens to blab about it, and Team Rocket already knows the meeting that's about to happen? There's almost a whole month until the meeting date, after all, so... oof.
    Are you telling me that this meetup is going to go terribly, terribly wrong? :) Why, I never--

    I found it a bit entertaining in a morbid way that a Charmander of all things is the one burned, especially considering how they're known to deal with lava. Still, since Pokemon attacks are a different thing to deal with, what with the implicitly ethereal nature of it all, not to mention it being Legendary fire, it makes more sense.
    Heh, yeah, I was mostly just going for it being the sheer strength of Legendary fire. (On a related note, in a chapter I'm writing currently, there's the line, “I’ve always wanted to know just how much lightning it would take to hurt a ground-type. Should we test it?”)

    Thanks for the review! And now, chapter 2:


    ~Chapter 2: Reinforcements~


    I immediately took off back the way I came, mind racing. They were coming for me—why were they coming for me? Swift flew nearby as I sprinted though the woods, still completely floored by everything. I could feel my heart pounding and my lungs burning as I choked on ash, but the sudden burst of fear kept me running onward. I threw a glance over my shoulder—I wasn’t running nearly fast enough. They were gaining on me.

    My only hope was to reach my bike—nothing was more important than that. If I managed to, then I could make it to town before they caught me and then lose them on the side streets. Just that tiny bit of hope was enough, but was I too far away?

    I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder again, and—they were right behind me. What was I supposed to do now?! I wasn’t going to make it in time!

    The jeep sped past me and skidded to a stop in my path. I spun around and tried to run in the other direction, but the driver threw open the door and grabbed me by the back of my shirt.

    “No! No, stop, damn it—” I yelled, flailing as hard as I could, but it was no use. The Rocket flung open the back hatch and threw me into the rear of the jeep without saying a word. And then he climbed back into the front seat and drove off as though nothing had happened.

    I lay there in a crumpled heap, my heart racing and my breath shallow and my brain still trying to work through what the hell had just happened. I hadn’t meant to be there—I had just… been there. I willed myself as hard as I could to at least sit up and figure out my situation. But nothing in my body would respond. Not for the longest time. Until finally, clenching my teeth as hard as I could, I managed to force everything out of my mind for one moment and look over the back seat without drawing attention to myself.

    Four… there were four Rockets in the jeep. The driver was tall, burly, and looked older than most of the others—probably more experienced too, judging by a number of badges pinned to his vest. My eyes slid to his reflection in the rearview mirror—he had thick black hair and dark eyes surrounded by a stern and commanding face. Just looking at him was intimidating; I couldn’t help ducking behind the seat.

    For some reason, my brain finally registered that my arms felt warm. Right, I was still holding the wounded Charmander. It was still unconscious, but also still alive. Then my eyes wandered to the window… and caught sight of buildings? We were nearing Viridian. But why? Why hadn’t we rejoined the group going after Entei? If we drove through Viridian instead… would it be possible for me to yell for help?

    No. The windows were up now, and each of the Rockets was armed. There was no way out of this.

    I sank back against the seat, still numb with shock. How on earth had I managed to get myself into this? It was the sort of thing you always imagined would happen to someone else. I still couldn’t help trying to come up with something, anything that I could do, even though there was nothing. Nothing—that fact alone was the most paralyzing.

    After some time, I pulled myself up to look out the window again. We’d just passed the outskirts of Viridian, now heading into the forests to the east of the city. And then I saw him. Swift was still flapping his wings quickly to follow the jeep, struggling to keep up—it was almost a painful sight. Upon seeing that I was watching him, he soared downward to fly alongside the window, his eyes meeting mine.

    “Just go,” I mumbled, though he couldn’t hear me. “There’s nothing you can do…”

    I jumped suddenly at the sound of a gunshot and whirled around. My stomach melted into nothing—one of the Rockets pulled out a small handgun and began shooting at Swift. But then just as quickly, the driver held a hand up to stop him.

    “Don’t waste your bullets on a Pidgey,” he said.

    I quickly turned to look out the back window and saw Swift flying high up in the sky. When he was sure that the Rockets weren’t paying attention, he swooped low again and waved his wing at me. And I could’ve sworn I saw him nod to me before taking off to the north. I stared after him; part of me couldn’t help feeling more alone now. But what was he planning to do?

    Upon reaching a small clearing that had been stripped of tress, the jeep suddenly skidded to a halt. I couldn’t see anything more from the back window, and the Rockets in the front seats were blocking my view in front of the car. The driver got out and slammed the door.

    I leaned forward to peer out the backseat window and watched as he kneeled and lifted up a small hatch in the grass. Underneath were a keypad and a small screen. He punched in a long passcode and pressed his hand against a scanner before closing the hatch.

    And then, amazingly, the ground starting to sink, revealing a wide ramp that descended into darkness. He walked back and got into the car again before driving downward. As we neared the end of the tunnel, the entrance behind us closed, and I could see lights far ahead in the distance. And then we emerged into a massive, dimly lit underground hangar, filled with trucks, small aircraft, and on the far end, a huge jet. I stared around at it all, the realization slowly dawning on me—Team Rocket was every bit as huge as the Charizard trainer had implied.

    The driver parked the jeep in an area to the side, and the Rockets all exited the vehicle. I watched as the driver walked off toward one side of the hangar, where a heavy computerized door stood. He pulled a card out of his pocked and touched it to the scanner, unlocking it before entering what looked like an office hallway.

    And so, I was left alone in the jeep. Well, not quite alone—the Charmander was still here, after all. I looked down at where I had set it. A tiny flare flickered at the end of its tail, so it was still alive, at least. It probably wouldn’t survive much longer though. That fact made the already bleak situation feel even more crushing.

    I jolted at the loud bang of a door being thrown open. A young man stormed out wearing an irritated expression, closely followed by the driver, who was looking weirdly submissive. The former Rocket had to be higher rank or something. If they were arguing, then this would probably be a chance to find out more about my situation, at the very least. Acting more on impulse than anything, I threw myself over the back seats so I could open the back door a crack and hear them.

    “Of course no one ever feels like telling me a damn thing about the mission status,” the higher-ranked Rocket snapped. “And what the hell made you think it would be a good idea to grab some random kid who happened to see it? Sure, she reports someone poaching a Legendary, big deal. No one would have any idea that it was us. But now she sure as hell knows too much. Honestly, Tyson, I don’t even know why I—”

    “That’s not all,” the driver continued defensively. “I saw him. The one we’ve heard rumors about from the new recruits. Course, he was far off so I didn’t see what he looked like, but I know she did.”

    A very heavy pause followed.

    “Don’t tell me you’re taking that crap seriously?” his superior asked. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but all I’ve heard is that some dumbass is going around gathering a bunch of twelve-year-olds against us.”

    “I heard he was a part of the revolt.”

    Yet another pause. This time the other Rocket seemed at least slightly intrigued. “So he might know more about us than we figured. But how many others left us that day? Have any of them accomplished much? I don’t see how this is any—”

    He was interrupted by the ring of a cell phone. Tyson answered it and proceeded to listen for nearly a minute while his superior watched, still looking a bit irritated. After some time, Tyson gave a short response quietly and hung up.

    “Well?” the other Rocket snapped.

    “Shortly after I left, it was looking like Entei was going to escape into the Tohjo Mountains. And then—you’re not gonna believe this—the Johto combat unit showed up,” Tyson reported while his superior made an exaggerated sound of disgust. “They took control of the situation, and of course one of their agents was the one who threw the ball that caught Entei. Only now he’s refusing to hand over; he’s waiting for orders from the Johto commander.”

    I felt myself go rigid with shock. They had actually caught it? They’d caught Entei?

    “The idiot. Boss’s word isn’t enough for him?” his superior muttered, folding his arms.

    Tyson shrugged. “It’s the Johto force. You know how they are.”

    “Tch… always making their own terms for everything…” he scoffed. “Anyway, we’re almost ready to ship the experiments to the secondary headquarters for testing, along with the supplies and machinery.” The higher-ranking Rocket jerked a thumb toward the black plane on the far side of the hangar. “Since you’re back, and you have a… vested interest in that program, I want you on board.” At this point, he let out a sigh. “Now, about the kid…”

    “Should I just kill her?” Tyson cut in, and my heart stopped.

    “Well, if you’re convinced that she knows anything, it could be useful. But I don’t have time to question her, and I know none of the admins do.” Rather unexpectedly, he laughed. “I know, this is perfect—most of the department heads are at Celadon HQ right now. Stick the girl on the transport jet; let them deal with what to do with her.” With that, he walked off to discuss things with some of the other Rockets.

    I collapsed into let out a huge sigh of relief. My situation hadn’t improved, but just knowing that I wasn’t dead yet was enough to make me feel better. But then a few seconds later, I spotted Tyson walked back toward the jeep. I immediately climbed into the trunk and pretended like I hadn’t moved at all.

    “Well, it’s your lucky day,” Tyson said with a sneer as the back hatch opened. “If you keep your head down and answer the executives’ questions, they might not mind letting you live after all, though I’m not offering any guarantees.” He grabbed me by the wrist and jerked me out of the jeep. I racked my brain for something to do—some sort of resistance to show that I wasn’t just some helpless kid. I couldn’t think of anything.

    “Here,” Tyson said, handing me off to one of his subordinates. “Throw her in one of the containment cells on the transport jet. Don’t forget all the standard procedures.”

    “What about the kid’s Charmander?” the Rocket asked with a glance back in the jeep.

    “That thing isn’t dead?” Tyson said, raising an eyebrow. “I don’t know… we’ve got tons of Pokéballs—I’ll have someone else put it with the stolen Pokémon.”

    Tyson walked off in another direction, and the Rocket holding me started heading for the large, black airplane in the opposite corner of the hangar. Several mechanics looked to be making sure everything was in order, and other Rockets were loading supplies into the cargo hold; Tyson’s subordinate escorted me in that direction. Large crates of machinery and boxes of various supplies filled the area, and more were being loaded in. The Rocket paused to unlock a panel along the side, and then I was thrown into a small metal room. He proceeded to check that I didn’t have any weapons or Pokéballs on me—pretty much the only thing I did have was my wallet.

    “So…” he said, flipping through it and pulling out my school ID, “Jade Arens, fourteen years old. I’ll be sure to get that on file. And… what do we have here?” I felt like kicking myself when he pulled out the wad of cash I had stuffed in there. It was my birthday savings, which I’d intended to use on a training journey someday, though I had never quite figured out how exactly. A part of me had known all along that it was a stupid idea to carry it around like that, but… there wasn’t much I could do about it now.

    After having found the money, the Rocket didn’t bother looking anything else I had in there and simply tossed the wallet into a bin with what I assumed were other stolen items. He then chained my hands and feet to the wall before shutting the door.

    I was alone. For how long, I had no idea. I couldn’t see my watch. I had no way of knowing how long I spent in that cell with the only sound being the occasional clunk of more cargo being loaded onto the plane. It was nerve-wracking just standing there drenched in sweat mixed with soot and not knowing how much longer until something happened, or even what would happen. I almost just wanted to get it over with… but then immediately drove the thought from my head when I realized what it meant. Couldn’t afford to think like that—I wasn’t going to die. I was going to figure a way out of this. Except… there was no way out. What was I supposed to do?

    After what felt like hours, I heard another door shut and then the heavy thud of what must have been the cargo hatch closing. My body tensed up; the air was now filled with the steadily growing roar of engines. I felt movement—the plane accelerated suddenly, and I felt myself slant backward as it sped up the long ramp that exited the hangar. And with that, we were airborne, and I was heading off to an unknown fate.

    I wanted to clear my head, but the thoughts wouldn’t leave. What would I have done differently if I had the chance to redo this day? Going into the forest… that was probably my biggest mistake. Or maybe following the mysterious trainer I’d met. But if what he said about Team Rocket’s imminent takeover was true…

    A sudden clang jarred me from my thoughts. Footsteps neared my cell, and I tensed up instinctively. What did they want now? I had no idea what I expected to see when the cell door handle turned and opened.

    …But I definitely wasn’t expecting what I did see.

    A teenage boy about a year or two older than me stood in the doorway. He was about my height, with thick, dirty-blond hair, baggy clothes, and was currently looking rather pleased with himself.

    “Hello there,” he said. “It looks like I’m rescuing you. My name’s Spencer—I think we’re gonna be good friends.”

    I blinked. I had about a million questions, but about the only thing I could say was, “What?”

    He frowned. “That’s all the response I get? Boring.” He stood aside, allowing a sleek tan and black-furred beast to step in front of him. The final form of Johto’s fire-type starter, if I recalled correctly. “Alright Typhlosion, I need you to melt these chains, so we’re gonna need it hot.”

    The Typhlosion leaned down and grasped a bundle of the chains, holding them behind its head. Suddenly, a blazing ring of fire burst out from the red burners around its neck, torching through the metal with a wave of sparks. The room instantly filled with sweltering heat.

    Still trying to make sense out of this seemingly random turn of events, I asked, “What are you doing here? And how did you know I was here? Who are you?”

    “I already told you my name,” Spencer said matter-of-factly, folding his arms. “And, uh, I guess if you wanna know how I’m here, you’ll have to ask him.” He motioned a thumb over his shoulder.

    A voice behind him said, “Yeah, Jade, I hope you’re happy, because I hadn’t planned on getting stuck on some stupid Rocket jet like this.”

    What. That voice… it couldn’t be…

    Spencer stepped aside, revealing a rather disgruntled Rudy standing in the cargo bay.

    “How did you get here?” I asked, completely floored.

    He groaned slightly, putting a hand to his face. “Well, Spencer needed to find his Pokémon first, and luckily it was the same place they’d taken you, so we snuck on board and then we came here for you.”

    I would have clapped a hand to my forehead if it hadn’t been chained up. “Okay, just… what? That doesn’t answer my—how about you actually start at the beginning? How did you know I was here?”

    “Alright, alright,” Rudy said impatiently, as though details like that didn’t matter and he wanted to get them out of the way as quickly as possible. “It’s because of Swift. I’d walked to your house to show off my license, and I saw him pecking the windows in a fuss, and—what’s with that look?!” My jaw had dropped upon hearing the word “license.”

    “You got a license. Already?!”

    “Oh, come on. Enough questions already,” he said, waving a hand aside. He wasn’t totally paying attention, though, and was now preoccupied with staring at the ongoing blaze. The heat was getting a bit overwhelming.

    “Hey, uh, is Typhlosion almost done?” I asked.

    Almost right after I said that, the fire beast extinguished its blaze and pulled the chains apart with a snap, which was a relief. I took a few steps to stretch out my legs, the chains clattering around as I walked.

    “Guess you’ll have to deal with those for a while,” Spencer said as I stepped out of the cell. “Any closer and he’d have melted your hands and feet off.”

    I didn’t really mind—just being free was enough. Really, just them being there was enough to make the entire situation feel better somehow. I wasn’t alone in this; with three of us there was no way we wouldn’t find some way out.

    “So…” I said turning towards Rudy. “Am I even gonna get the full story as to how you got here? And how the heck do you already have a license for that matter?”

    “Oh, er… right. See, my dad got home right after you left. He would’ve been upset with me for not finishing my chores, except my test results had come in the mail and I passed everything,” Rudy said, beaming. “So, my dad took me to the place and he signed the form and I got my license and a Pokémon and everything.” He stopped there, but then realized that I was looking at him expectantly, wanting to hear the actually important part of the story. “But yeah, uh, I went over to your house, and no one was home, and Swift was flying around like crazy. From what little I could make out, he was saying you were in trouble? So I followed him out into the forest and that’s when I ran into Spencer here.”

    “Yeah, my Pokémon were stolen from me a few days ago,” Spencer explained. “I’d been scoping out the entrance to the hideout for a few days, but I had no idea how I was ever gonna get inside. Rudy showed up in the area, and then about an hour later a bunch of jeeps were returning to the base, so we took the chance to sneak in behind ‘em.”

    I stared, impressed. “You guys snuck into a Rocket base? What was your plan?”

    “No plan, really. Just kind of improvising, y’know?” Spencer said, laughing awkwardly. My face fell somewhat. Okay, so maybe my newfound ally wasn’t the most capable.

    “We hung out by a cargo area where we could avoid being seen, but still hear what all the passing Rockets were talking about,” he explained. “Then I overheard stuff about transporting Pokémon and supplies and a prisoner.”

    “And just look at this awesome mess it’s gotten us all into,” Rudy added, half-jokingly, half-accusingly.

    “You didn’t have to come and get me,” I said, a little bit insulted, even if it was true that he wouldn’t have been in this mess had it not been for me.

    He sighed. “I didn’t know any of this would happen, so that doesn’t matter now. We’re here now. This Team Rocket crew sounds like bad news, so we’ve gotta do something.”

    Easy for him to say. He hadn’t seen how dangerous they could be.

    “Well…” I said, “I guess we’re not really in any danger right now, so we’ve got time to plan.”

    “Exactly. Anyway, why don’t we start by screwing up as much of the crap on this plane as possible.” It struck me that Rudy had almost exactly the attitude that the Charizard trainer had been looking for in his anti-Rocket recruits.

    With a glance around at the crates surrounding us, I replied, “Screw up things how? I don’t think we can just go around blowing up random crap while flying.”

    “Well, for one thing… what do we do about the rest of the stolen Pokémon?” Spencer asked, motioning towards an open box filled with Pokéballs. “I already got mine back, and—”

    “Hey wait, that’s right!” I exclaimed, running over to the box. “I had a Charmander with me before I was captured. It should be in there!”

    Now it was Rudy’s turn to gape incredulously. “You have a Charmander? What in the—how?”

    “I found it out on Route 22, where I got captured. It’s… kind of a long story.” I shifted through some of the Pokéballs in dismay. “How am I ever gonna figure out which one it’s in?”

    “Here,” Spencer said, pulling out his Pokédex and opening it. I stared in fascination as he held the Pokéballs up one by one to the device’s scanning lens. After about twenty or so of them, he announced, “Here we go. Low-level, unregistered Charmander. Heh, it’s asking if I want to register it to myself. And, uh… its energy is reeaally low. I know they always say you have to defeat the Pokémon before it’ll let you train it, but come on now.”

    “I didn’t catch it,” I said a bit defensively, despite his joking tone. “It was half-dead when I found it. I’ve gotta like… find some healing items or something.” I turned to gaze vaguely around all the supply boxes in the cargo hold.

    “Alright. You fix your Charmander, I’ll go see if I can find anything useful,” Rudy said, taking the opportunity to wander off. I could have sworn I heard him mumble, “We should totally set some of this junk on fire at least.”

    I headed in the opposite direction, opening boxes and scanning their contents as I went. I’d wondered what jet was intended to transport, but now it seemed like the answer was almost anything. Most of the crates were filled with heavy machinery and old computerized devices, but then others were packed with battle enhancements for Pokémon or stronger variations of the Pokéball. Finally, I scored—a box near the front of the plane was packed with medical supplies. I picked up the first thing I could find and read the label.

    “‘Full Restore: Guaranteed to soothe burns, frostbite, poison, rashes, close open wounds, and heal any other damage done to your Pokémon’… sounds great.” I noticed the rather unappealing price tag of 3000p—good thing I wasn’t buying it.

    I held out the Charmander’s Pokéball and carefully pressed the button on its center, making it split open down the middle and let loose a burst of white light that condensed into the fire lizard’s unconscious form. It shivered, but looked to be in the same condition it had been earlier.

    I kneeled down and sprayed the liquid all over the Charmander’s skin. The lizard flinched, but soon enough, the charred flesh slowly regained its normal color, leaving only patches of scabs on some parts of its back. It was honestly amazing how quickly Pokémon could heal when given a bit of help. Still, it wasn’t enough that the Charmander’s injuries were gone. It was likely still exhausted and drained of power.

    “Hey Spencer!” I called out. “Do you know the name of the stuff that fully restores energy?”

    “Hyper Potion?” he said, in a tone that sounded more like he was asking me.

    “Not injuries. Energy.”

    “Oh right… uh, I think it’s called Elixir? Never used one before—not a lot of stores carry ‘em.”

    I dug through the box some more. “Got it,” I said, pulling out a yellow bottle labeled “Max Elixir.” I flipped the cap open and poured a small amount into the fire-type’s mouth. Within seconds, the tiny flare on its tail burst into full flame. Slowly, it opened its bright blue eyes and stumbled to its feet.

    “Hey, how’re ya feeling?” I asked.

    The lizard spun around, eyes wide with alarm. It gave a light whimper, clutching its tail tightly and glancing around at the strange surrounding.

    “This has got to be a pretty big shock. And, uh… you’re probably wondering how you got here. I didn’t mean to take you from your home. It’s just that… you were sort of… dying,” I finished lamely. The Charmander relaxed slightly, but didn’t give much of a reaction to my words. Could it even understand me? As a wild Pokémon, it might never have heard human speech before.

    “Can you understand me?” I asked.

    It stared, apparently confused at my confusion. “*Yes…*” it said slowly, in a tone suggesting that it found the question very strange.

    “Well, uh, okay—so you’ve been around humans before. Have you ever been named?”

    The fire lizard gave me a long, quiet stare, something shifting in its eyes. After several seconds’ hesitation it replied, “*Firestorm.*”

    “Alright then,” I said. “So, are you male or female?” I wasn’t quite sure if this was an offensive question or not, but I wasn’t used to Pokéspeech enough to tell a Pokémon’s gender by its voice.

    “*Male,*” he answered simply.

    I nodded, not really sure what else to ask him. After having gotten over his initial shock, Firestorm was calmly glancing around at his surrounding, seemingly unconcerned with having been taken from his home and not even very curious about his situation.

    The Charmander then said, “Mander char charmander char’charrman?” But it was longer than the previous one-word statements, and I didn’t quite catch most of it. It sounded like a question—something to do with a Pokémon trainer? I was about to ask him if he could repeat it, but then I heard Rudy call out, “Hey Jade, come check this out!”

    I stood to my feet and motioned for the Charmander to follow, although on second thought he didn’t really have to—it wasn’t like he belonged to me or anything. After navigating back through the maze of boxes, I found Rudy and Spencer, the former sitting on the ground and undoing the latches on a long metal case.

    “Oh hey,” Spencer said, giving a small wave. “Normally I’d say that warnings are meant to be ignored, but I don’t know about this.” He flashed a skeptical look toward Rudy.

    I stared blankly. “Huh?”

    “Check it out,” Rudy said, holding up the case. Engraved on the top in sleek lettering were the words: “Pokéball Containment Unit.” Beneath that, a label read, “Caution: Experimental Pokémon are extremely unstable and must be kept in the containment unit at all times unless removed by an experiment handler.”

    “Experimental Pokémon?” I said incredulously. Then again, Tyson’s superior had mentioned something like that…

    “Yeah, yeah! Just think—these could be like, super-powerful mutant Pokémon. If we used them to fight the Rockets, we’d be able to get out of this for sure!” Rudy said excitedly.

    I hesitated. “That… does seem like our best chance to get out of here, but… we don’t even know if they’ll listen to—hey, don’t let them out now!” I yelled frantically. He had opened the case, revealing several black Poke Balls encased in holders, each labeled with info on the experiment within.

    “I’m just looking,” Rudy countered. “I’m not gonna let them out. Huh… these are weird looking, aren’t they?” He pulled one of the black spheres out of its holder and rotated it in his palm.

    “Okay, okay, just wait. We’re not gonna have to fight until this plane lands, wherever it’s going. Spencer, how many Pokémon have you got?”

    “Six,” he replied, posing importantly. “Typhlosion here is the strongest, but the rest are pretty powerful too.”

    “Alright, that’s good since, uh… Rudy and I will be pretty useless in a fight.” It felt rather lame to admit.

    “Hey, what do you mean?! I’ve got two Pokémon,” Rudy shot back.

    I clapped a hand to my forehead. “Don’t be stupid, these Rockets are dangerous.”

    “How about when the plane lands, we confuse the experiments into attacking the Rockets, and then we run away during the commotion?” Spencer interjected.

    “How do we do that—?”

    Out of nowhere, an explosion of black light shot out from within our circle, knocking the three of us backward into a pile of boxes. I sat up shakily, completely stunned. What on earth had just happened?

    Spencer looked about as flustered as I felt. “Okay, just… what was that?

    I glanced around rapidly, my eyes falling on Rudy, toppled over in a heap with his eyes wide, clutching an opened Pokéball.

    “What did you…?” I gasped.

    “I didn’t open it, I swear!” he yelled back. “It—it let itself out!”

    “Wait, where’s the experiment?!” Spencer cut in frantically.

    The three of us whirled around in a panic, all eyes falling on the Pokémon that had appeared behind us. A jagged, lightning bolt-shaped tail twitched. Four paws slowly lifted a small, golden-furred mouse off the floor. No… it couldn’t be…

    “It’s… it’s a Pikachu?” Spencer blurted out, stifling a laugh. “A Pikachu?

    Except something looked… off about it. It was missing the familiar red cheek markings. And… the fur on its head was long and stiffly pointed, almost like feathers. And then its eyes snapped open, revealing a pair of piercing, birdlike eyes.

    I hesitated. “Guys… I don’t think—”

    At once, a flood of lightning poured out of the rodent’s body. I jumped backward without thinking and tripped over a box as a bolt flew dangerously close to where I’d been standing. Right after that, the experiment shot past me in an instant, bolting up to the highest point it could find before unleashing waves of electricity all around.

    “Let me see that!” I shouted, practically shoving Rudy out of the way so I could get a look at the label on the Pokéball slot.

    Experimental Pokémon 009: Hybrid series - Pikachu / Zapdos. Possesses abnormally high power level and untamable disposition. Experiment classified as failure due to undersized power capacity, unstable energy signature, and immunity to standard experiment control procedures.​

    My face fell with dread. “This thing was mixed with the Legendary Zapdos.”

    “What? No way… That is awesome!” Rudy exclaimed.

    “Hey, focus! If we don’t stop it, it could end up taking down the plane!”

    “Er, right, I’ll put it back in the ball—”

    The Pikachu turned suddenly at the sound of our voices and sent a string of lightning flying toward us, shattering the black Pokéball before we could do anything. I gaped in horror—what were we supposed to do now? Firestorm clutched at my leg in fear. Typhlosion leapt in front of our group and snarled defensively, igniting its neck blaze.

    And then, in the midst of all this, I heard the sound of a door opening.

    “WHAT. THE. EVER. LIVING. HELL?!!

    My stomach sank even lower as I turned to see an extremely pissed-off Tyson standing in the doorway to the cargo area, his jaw hanging open from shock.

    “Uhh, hey…” Spencer said awkwardly. “Could you leave for a bit? We kind of have a situation here.”

    Tyson stared at us in a sort of stupefied rage before turning his gaze on the experimental Pikachu and clenching his teeth. He then pulled one of the black Pokéballs from his belt and opened it. The flash of light from within took the form of a huge green mantis with an armor-plated exoskeleton. Blank, pupil-less eyes flared mindlessly from a vaguely reptilian head. Light glimmered off a pair of scythe-lined forearms that looked sharp enough to cut the air. Wings twitched, ready to strike at any moment. And from its perch atop the mountain of supplies, the Pikachu stared at the Scyther, eyes wide with what looked like both anger and dread.

    “Thought you’d play with the hybrids did you?” Tyson asked with a sneer. “Then have fun facing the strongest of them. Kill them, Razors!”

    The three of us couldn’t do anything but sit there, frozen in horror as the blade-armed nightmare shot toward us, too fast to even see.






    ~End Chapter 2~
    Why yes, experiment number nine IS a ridiculous concept straight out of DeviantArt, thank you for asking. Please enjoy the fact that this overpowered shockrat with the dumbest possible name (to be revealed later) will be a major character throughout the entire rest of the fic.
     
    Chapter 3: Clash of the Experiments
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    I feel like you could have done a bit more showing than telling here. I didn't really get a good idea of what the jeeps were like. Were the bouncing haphazardly over the unstable ground that is a forest? It's not like it's a traditional road, right? Or did they have really, really good shock absorbers? Stuff like that.
    Oof, sometimes when revising old-as-hell chapters, segments like that slip through the cracks--my current writing style isn't like that at all.

    Okay hold up. A few passages earlier, it was said that the windows were closed. I dunno about you, but shooting a gun in an enclosed area is going to deafen literally everybody in the place, especially if it was built for taking down Pokemon. And they'd also have shattered the windows, or... I dunno, man. In an effort to make the Rockets seem ruthless, none of the repercussions for such a stupid move were explored.
    See, this is what happens when you revise a chapter that was written in 2004 (even if it's been fixed up since then)--you become blind to certain things. I have read this chapter a billion times, and yet I never realized that the friggin windows were up. xD Needless to say, shooting the window was not my intent.

    Ahh, and here comes one of my personal gripes with first person -- we saw none of this coming aside from Swift flying off, and due to the pacing, I didn't fully realize how much time had actually passed for this to all be possible. If perspectives had switched to Spencer or something to depict what had happened a little, the pacing might have evened out a little, but as it stands, it all sort of just... happened. Since this is the beginning, it's a bit more okay to get away with it, but I hope this isn't a trend in the future.
    Heh. See, the problem there is that this story lives and breathes by concealing information from its characters. Fully exploring the feeling of having no idea what's coming next and having to roll with it--that's one of my primary reasons for writing the fic, and I can't immerse the reader in that feeling if they know things that Jade does not. That said! Most of the unexpected turns that come after this arc are the sort that get foreshadowing. Spencer showing up is probably the most wtf moment in the whole fic.

    However, if the passage of time was unclear, that's a problem, because I did go out of my way to specify that Jade spent a long time in that cell. (And in general, tracking the passage of time in-story is something I'm a tad bit obsessed with.) If that didn't come across, I'll have to further emphasize that.

    Another instance of telling and not showing, I think. I'd be much more interested in some of Jade's thoughts here, etc, than the fact that she's completely floored, which I can already infer.
    Yep, definitely worth fixing. The early chapters had a lot of that, it goes away later.

    In any case, thanks for sticking with it! Only two more chapters in this arc, and then things will get a lot better.


    ~Chapter 3: Clash of the Experiments~


    We didn’t even get a chance to move. The Pikachu immediately bolted down the crates and across the steel floor like a bullet, cutting off Razors with a string of lightning. The mantis darted out of the way at the last second before whirling around to slice at the other experiment. Too late—the electric-type was already out of reach. Both combatants raced around with such blazing speed, narrowly avoiding the other, that it was almost impossible to follow the action.

    I stood there blankly, unable to believe our luck. The Pikachu was willing to fight Tyson that fiercely, even if it wasn’t actually trying to help us. Just minutes ago, it had seemed like we’d be better off if the electric-type was taken down, but now I wasn’t so sure. If the Pikachu was able to defeat Tyson…

    “Scyythaaar!” Razors cried, slicing boxes in two. In its rush to attack the Pikachu, it was shredding through everything in its path. The electric rat leaped away just as the Scyther slashed apart the crate it had been standing on, sending a wave of debris flying toward us.

    “Whoa! We’d better hide behind here, quick,” Spencer called out, ducking into a corner behind a mound of crates. “You know, if we want to keep our heads and all.”

    “What should we do?” I asked, trying not to sound too panicked.

    “Er… I was actually hoping you’d have a plan…” he said sheepishly.

    Great, so both of us were relying on the other, who was equally clueless.

    “Ugh, what does it matter?!” Rudy exclaimed. “We’re not gonna get anywhere by just hiding!” Before I could protest, he pulled out a pair of Pokéballs and opened them, letting both of his Pokémon out. I wasn’t surprised to see the familiar black firedog taking shape, or her subsequent attempt to tackle me. No, what caught me off-guard was the small, bright blue turtle now standing next to us. What the heck he was doing with a Squirtle?

    “Oh hey, you should probably take this,” Rudy said, handing me a Pokéball unexpectedly. “I had to put Swift in a ball before sneaking on board, or else just leave him outside.”

    “This is Swift’s Pokéball?” I asked, blinking at it.

    “Well, yeah—it can’t be used on any other Pokémon now so you might as well take it,” Rudy explained. “Now, come on! We’ve got to battle our way out of this!”

    “What are we supposed to do?” I asked, throwing my arms in the air out of frustration. “We’ll just end up getting our Pokémon killed! We’ve got to leave this to Typhlosion, okay?”

    Rudy paused, gears slowly turning in his head. Like the thought of losing the battle honestly hadn’t occurred to him. He then turned away sharply, fists clenched. It was weird seeing him so determined to do something, even in a situation like this. It might not have been the smartest idea, but still…

    Meanwhile, Spencer had ducked around the corner, motioning to Typhlosion. The fire-type crept forward to get into an attack position where it would still be concealed amongst the blackened remains of boxes that now littered the makeshift battlefield. And then all of a sudden, I felt a tug on my leg and glanced down to see Firestorm standing alongside me. A twinge of guilt hit me—I had forgotten he was even here.

    “Yeah? What is it?” I asked him

    He didn’t seem to know how to say it. He kept glancing up at me, then toward the raging battle. I couldn’t help noticing the conviction in his eyes.

    “What, you want to help? No, no no no, that’s not—I mean, it’s great if you want to help and all, but that’s a bad idea, trust me. You wouldn’t stand a… well, they’re too strong; I don’t think we should get in their way.”

    Firestorm turned away, nodding distantly. So now even he wanted to help in some small way. I wasn’t the only useless one here, but I was the only one who had just given up on being able to do anything. That realization was aggravating.

    Another blast of lightning dragged my attention back to the ongoing battle, where Tyson was barking orders constantly to his Pokémon, who couldn’t seem to land a hit. The Pikachu, however, was quickly starting to wear out. It sparked uncontrollably and gasped for breath, struggling to stay in the fight. The fire was now all but gone from its eyes, and it almost looked… desperate. It was a strange contrast to its appearance just minutes earlier, and I couldn’t help feeling a sudden twinge of pity. It had been raised as a lab specimen before finally being branded as a failure. Was this mad blitz just out of trying to get free?

    The Scyther continued to hack away mercilessly, responding instantly to Tyson’s every command with an amount of precision that was almost scary. And then a sudden burst of flames shot toward Razors, striking the mantis dead-on. Yes! Typhlosion had landed a direct hit! There was no way the Scyther could withstand—but even as I watched, Razors stood up and turned sharply in Typhlosion’s direction, preparing to leap at it.

    “No! Ignore them!” Tyson barked, lunging away from a lightning burst that shot toward him the second Razors had let down his guard. The experimental Scyther obeyed instantly and pressed the attack against the Pikachu once more, while its trainer pulled out two more black Pokéballs.

    Spencer clenched his fist. “Well, crap. I thought that would be, well… super effective.”

    “I… I don’t get it… how did it withstand an attack like that? I thought Scyther were weak to fire,” I muttered, still staring in shock.

    “We’re up against freaking hybrids, what did you expect?” Rudy exclaimed like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

    With that attack’s failure, there wasn’t much else we could do while still keeping our cover behind the wall of supplies. I heard Tyson yell, “Afraid to come out of your hidey hole? That’s fine by me, Razors isn’t my only experiment!” followed by the sound of him opening the other two Pokéballs, but then—

    Lightning flew wild. The Pikachu let out a cry and sent waves of electricity flying all around—it didn’t seem to appreciate the other experiments’ arrival. Seizing the chance, Razors streaked toward it, blades flashing—but then Typhlosion took the opportunity to fire another spurt of flames at Razors. The Scyther stopped just short of slicing the Pikachu to attempt to avoid the Flamethrower. But that left it wide open. The Pikachu turned and refocused its attention on Razors and finally struck the Scyther with all its power. An overwhelming rush of fire and lightning collided against each other, with Razors caught right in the middle.

    “Scyy!” it cried out pitifully, dropping to the floor, twitching in pain.

    “We got it!” Spencer cried out, his eyes wide with relief. “I was really starting to worry there, y’know?”

    Tyson pulled out the Scyther’s Pokéball and recalled it, swearing again before ordering his other experiments to refocus their attention on the Pikachu now that Razors was down. I hadn’t even noticed them until this point, having been occupied with the rest of the chaos going on. I caught sight of the Pikachu hammering away at a Rhydon with its tail, which gave an oddly metallic clang with each strike. The rock-armored beast had its arms out in a defensive position, looking like it could endure the hits all day, while a spiky brown blur shot around the scene, landing small hits on the Pikachu that seemed to be adding up quickly.

    “Strong enough to take down my best Pokémon?” Tyson called out. “You’re more of a nuisance that I gave you credit for.”

    “Razors was your best guy? Awesome, that means we’re in charge now,” Spencer said, standing up. “Tell the pilot to land this thing and let us off. And also get us pizza,” he added as an afterthought.

    Tyson stared incredulously. “You think you’re hot stuff just cause you managed to beat one of my Pokémon with help from a crazy overpowered rat?”

    “Nah, Typhlosion is the one made of hot stuff.” How Spencer managed to keep a straight face on that comeback was beyond me.

    “What the hell are you even doing here?!” Tyson roared. “I don’t have to take this crap from some random-ass kid!”

    I glanced up at Spencer just in time to see his eyes widen with panic. Then he practically shoved me aside as he dove behind our hiding spot right before an earsplitting crack tore the air. Had—had Tyson just—?

    “He shot at me?” Spencer blurted out, picking himself up from the floor, completely stunned. I couldn’t do anything but stare back. “He actually shot at me. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but… yeah, I… I wasn’t ready for that. Er… Typhlosion, stay behind cover and only use your long-range moves,” he added distractedly.

    Fine, keep hiding, it doesn’t matter!” Tyson spat, motioning to one of his Pokémon. “Back there, kill them!”

    The spiky brown blur instantly stopped fighting the Pikachu, and in that second, I finally got the chance to identify it as a shaggy-furred rat before it bared its teeth at us and shot forward, again too fast to see. He was using a Raticate? But how the heck was it so fast?! Before I could even blink, it had cleared the length of the room before being tackled by Typhlosion, who had curled into a ball of flames. The Raticate couldn’t possibly strike back without suffering a Flame Wheel in return. But what could Typhlosion do once the experiment managed to target us instead?

    Spencer seemed to realize this at the same moment I did. “Backup, backup, definitely time for backup,” he muttered quickly, fumbling with the Pokéballs on his belt. He grabbed the first two he could get his hands on and opened them. His first Pokémon, an Electabuzz, gave a swish of its striped tail and began swinging its heavy arms in a windmill motion, causing sparks to leap off the prongs on its head. Alongside it stood a Pokémon I couldn’t recognize off the top of my head—a gray wolf with long capes of black fur running down its back. Its yellowish eyes held a bit of uncertainty, but it crouched defensively, ready to fight just the same.

    “I thought you had six Pokémon,” Rudy said, sounding a bit let down.

    With a weak smile, Spencer replied, “We’d be starting one crazy party if I let out all six of my guys in here. I don’t think the plane could handle it—this battle’s probably dangerous enough as it is.” He motioned forward, and his two Pokémon got into a defensive position on either side of us, ready to lash out at the experiment if it dared to come close. The Raticate shot toward us, recoiling backward when faced with Typhlosion’s fireball.

    And then I caught sight of its eyes, which sent a shiver running through me. They were eerily blank and soulless, almost like there was nothing there. And thinking back—I could’ve sworn that the Scyther had the exact same mindless look. What was the deal with these Pokémon?

    While I’d been staring at the ongoing action, Rudy had taken the opportunity to duck out of the small range of safety that Typhlosion could give us. He returned almost as quickly, dragging a box by its corner.

    “What was that for?” I asked, blinking in surprise.

    “Well come on, it had just been sitting over there—I’ve been wanting to grab it for the past five minutes or so,” he said, proceeding to dig through its contents.

    Really, couldn’t he ever explain anything in a straightforward way? But before I could reply, I noticed the “Technical Machine” stamp on the side of the box. Rudy was now sifting through a massive pile of discs, each of them designed to teach a different Pokémon move.

    “I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines,” Rudy continued, occasionally pulling out a disc and looking it over before throwing it back in the box. “I know my Pokémon wouldn’t stand a chance if they got hit,”—the words sounded painful for him to admit—“but if I use these to give them sweet moves and have them attack from behind cover like Spencer’s doing, they might have a shot.” I had to admit that it was a good idea. We were completely surrounded by the Rockets’ supplies—using them to our advantage would be a major help.

    A wide grin crossed his face as he pulled out a blue TM. “Dude, Surf—I gotta teach this to Squirtle.” He fumbled with the buttons on the disc’s case, but nothing happened. “Hey… it’s not working.”

    “Isn’t Surf a locked move? Like, you can only use it if you’ve registered a certain number of badges?” I wasn’t really sure of it myself, but it sounded right, in any case.

    “Tch, well it was worth a shot,” Rudy said, tossing it back into the box before digging through the TMs again. “Hey Jade, bet you’ll be more excited to see this,” he said, holding up a TM with a glossy red case and the words “Series 5: No.38” written on the front. I blinked, unsure of how I was supposed to respond.

    “It’s Fire Blast,” he said, pointing out the writing on the side. “Now hurry up and use it on Charmander before I take it and use it on Ebony.” I took it, unable to come up with a reply. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this plan was something I could get in on.

    At this point, Spencer was glancing back at us to see what we were up to. “Are those TMs?” he said in surprise. His eyes went wide as he grabbed a yellow Series 2 disc from the top of the pile. “I thought they stopped making this series! I always wanted to teach Thunderpunch to Typhlosion.” We all jumped suddenly at the sound of the Raticate’s Swift colliding with Electabuzz’s barrier—a startling reminder of the battle that was still raging.

    “Er, that is, I’ll use it once there’s a better chance,” Spencer said, laughing nervously before motioning to his Pokémon. “Electabuzz, Thunderpunch; Mightyena, Crunch!”

    In the midst of the ongoing battle, only adding to the chaos, the experimental Pikachu had given up on trying to get at Tyson and was now letting loose strings of lightning at anyone that came too close. Its movements had grown shaky. Sparks shot out of its fur at random. It honestly seemed like it had worn itself out solely by running out of power, not by getting hit by its opponents.

    The hybrid made one last attempt to jump over the Pokémon and blast them all, but came up with nothing but sparks. Its eyes rolled back, and it landed in a crumpled heap off to the side of the cargo bay.

    I stared at it while the battle raged on behind me. At first the experiment had seemed like our only hope. Then more like a violent wild card in the ensuing battle. But I couldn’t help sort of feeling sorry for it, and what it must have gone through to have ended up like this. Not that what I felt made any difference, but…

    Time seemed to crawl as I cautiously edged toward the experiment. I couldn’t explain why I was doing it… I just was. Five feet away, an ear twitched. I flinched. Suddenly, its face snapped toward me, fur standing on end. But the hybrid was out of power—there wasn’t much it could do to me now. Nothing came out but sparks.

    “What’re you doing?” Rudy called out. “Didn’t you see how crazy and powerful that thing is?”

    “It’s out of power,” I said defensively. “And it’s not like it’s on Tyson’s side or anything. The Rockets just tossed it off as a failure, so we might be able to—”

    My words died as the Pikachu suddenly lifted its upper body from the floor, fixing me with a murderous glare and yelling, “Pikaa’pi! Pikapi ‘chuu pipiika—”

    “Wait, wait, talk slower!” I stammered, unable to sort through the Pokéspeech quickly enough in my head.

    I honestly didn’t expect it to listen. But it paused. It actually paused, and it gave me a skeptical glare before saying, slowly and deliberately, “*First of all, I’m a male, not an ‘it.’ And I don’t need your sympathy, human. This is my problem, not yours; stay out of it.*”

    “It’s not like we asked to be involved in this,” I shot back heatedly. I was just trying to help him… and admittedly hoping that he would help us in return.

    The Pikachu didn’t reply. In fact, he was mostly ignoring me now, staring transfixed at the front of the plane with a pained look on his face. He muttered something under his breath. And then, without warning, he leaped to his feet and dashed away.

    “Wait, come back!” I yelled, but he continued racing toward the front of the plane.

    I stood there blankly, lost for what to do now. I really hoped he knew what he was doing… because I sure didn’t know what I was doing. It felt really uncomfortable just standing around and watching the ongoing battle, unable to help at all.

    “So… think it’s gonna help us?” Rudy spoke up all of a sudden.

    I shrugged. It was the only response I could give.

    Out of nowhere, something knocked me off my feet and sent me crashing to the floor. What the hell? What had just—it was like the floor had suddenly tilted forward and—my brain clicked into place. The plane. It had just violently pitched downward. Shakily, I pulled myself to my feet just in time to get a glance at Tyson storming off to the front of the plane, yelling an incoherent stream of profanity. He threw open the cockpit door and was about to rant some more but stopped short.

    “What the hell?!”

    I couldn’t resist stepping over to get a view of what was going on. I was met with the sight of the pilot on the ground, out cold. The Pikachu stood in his seat, forcing the control wheel forward, sending the plane into a nosedive.

    “Get the hell out of here, number nine!” Tyson demanded. The Pikachu glared back, sparks leaping from his fur, but he still didn’t have the power to fire any lightning. Seeing that he wasn’t in danger, Tyson grabbed the hybrid by the tail and hurled him to the ground before throwing himself into the seat and wrestling with the controls.

    “Are we gonna crash?!” Spencer exclaimed.

    “No, we’re not, now shut the hell up!” Tyson roared back, still struggling to bring the plane under control. The Pikachu’s ears twitched at his words, and a pained look crossed his face. Without warning, he took off running out of the cockpit.

    And then, for whatever reason, it hit me. Had… had he wanted us to crash?

    Tyson spun around to stare back at us in horror, like he’d just made the same realization. “Stop that thing now or we’re all dead!!”

    The Pikachu shot past me towards the back of the jet. Without thinking, I ran after him, not even sure what was driving my legs forward.

    “No, please don’t!” I yelled, unsure of what else to do.

    He paused suddenly. No way—had he actually listened to me? For some time, no one moved. Then he shot toward Spencer’s Electabuzz.

    “What is he—?” I gasped.

    “Electabuzz, stop him!” Spencer called out in confusion.

    The striped beast threw up its arms defensively and unleashed a blast of lightning right in the experiment’s face. The Pikachu didn’t even attempt to dodge—the electricity surrounded him, and he cried out in pain, tail raised high. But he just stood there, taking the attack. Almost like it was what he’d wanted. Electabuzz glanced back at Spencer confusedly before releasing its hold over the lightning. The rest of the blast flowed into the hybrid’s body. His eyes snapped open with a newfound fire, and he took off again.

    “Did… did he just absorb the lightning?” I muttered, awestruck. No one else said anything. None of us knew what to do now. Tyson’s Raticate shot past us in a blur, but even with its impossible speed, it wouldn’t catch up in time. The Pikachu glanced back at me with… almost an apologetic look and drew more energy from within himself than should have been possible. Then with a blinding neon flash, he fired all of his power into one massive lightning bolt and collapsed.

    Everything happened too fast to process. First lightning, then an explosion ripping through the back of the plane. Air rushed out, pulling me toward the hole. My arms flailed in a panic, struggling to find something, anything to hold onto. But Spencer was on it—he whipped out a Pokéball to release an icy white seal. Just seconds after it formed, its horn shone with a blue light as a jet of water streamed from its mouth, dousing the flames. Then the Dewgong followed it up by firing a bright blue beam from its horn, quickly sealing the hole with glittering ice crystals.

    I stared openmouthed. “That… that was quick thinking.”

    “Yeah? It happens sometimes,” Spencer said, rubbing the back of his head before turning to his Dewgong. “Awesome job,” he said, recalling it.

    Except… the opening may have been closed, but that didn’t change the fact that the jet was missing an engine, and we were quickly losing altitude. I whirled around, desperately hoping that Tyson had some way of making sure we didn’t crash. There had to be a backup plan, right?!

    Back in the cockpit, Tyson was hurriedly flipping switches on the panel above him. All of a sudden, large rockets on the wings flared to life, bursting out jets of stored energy. The plane rocked slightly, but then slowly began to even out, though it was still descending. Tyson gave a huge sigh of relief before flipping one last switch on the control panel and standing up. As he exited the cockpit, he glanced in our direction, sneering.

    “Not so hidden anymore, huh…” he commented to himself. His words had a menacing air.

    The horrible realization hit me—after all of the commotion, we weren’t behind cover anymore, and that meant… I threw a glance at Spencer, but he didn’t seem concerned—why not?! My eyes snapped back to Tyson; he’d just pulled out his gun. And then all I could do was stare dumbfounded as Typhlosion leapt out of nowhere and grabbed Tyson in a bear hug, knocking the gun aside.

    “What? Just… what?” I said stupidly.

    “Hey, that worked even better than I expected,” Spencer said, giving a massive sigh of relief. “It’s always great when that happens, y’know?”

    I stared. “How… how did you…?”

    “Well I knew we’d never get anywhere with him having a gun and all, so with all the insanity the Pikachu caused, I told Typhlosion to hide and take him down the first chance he got,”

    I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was too shocked by how much the tables had turned in our favor with just that one move.

    “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with?!” Tyson raged, struggling against Typhlosion’s hold.

    “I think we’re dealing with someone I just beat,” Spencer said. “You should probably recall your Pokémon now, it’ll make things easier.”

    Typhlosion flexed his claws threateningly to emphasize the point, letting waves of heat shimmer around them. Clenching his teeth, Tyson managed to unclip a Pokéball from his belt and recall his Pokémon in a beam of black energy.

    “So, how about you tell us if there’s any chance we can land this thing,” Spencer said simply.

    Tyson glared. At first it seemed like he wasn’t going to say anything. But after several seconds, he finally replied, his words extremely slow like it was painful just talking to us. “The backup jets are too weak to make it all the way to the base. They’re only for emergencies.”

    “Eh, well, the Rocket base didn’t sound fun. Anyways, you should probably figure out if we can land it anywhere else.”

    I know I would have flinched if I’d been at the receiving end of the venomous glare that followed. But still… Tyson must have realized that his only chance at survival meant saving us as well. Taking a deep breath, he said, “If I scan the area with my GPS to see if there’s a big enough clearing ahead of us… we might have a chance at making a rough landing, at least.”

    “Alright, sounds like you’ve got it under control. Typhlosion, you be his copilot, m’kay?” Despite Spencer’s bright tone, Typhlosion understood the serious intent behind the request, and released his hold, still keeping a menacing eye on Tyson.

    “And that’s that,” Spencer said rather matter-of-factly, walking back to me and Rudy.

    I stared openmouthed, still unable to believe it. “I… you… I can’t figure you out, you know that?” I said, unable to keep from laughing. “That’s it, then. We’ll be miles away from any other Rockets when we land—there’ll be nothing stopping us from getting out of here.” The shock was wearing off and my voice grew more and more excited with each passing moment. I just couldn’t believe we’d done it. We’d won. Well, Spencer had, anyway.

    “See, Jade?” Rudy said, elbowing me lightly in the ribs. “Told you we’d be able to get out of this.”

    I couldn’t help giving a relieved laugh. “You never had to see what the Rockets could really do… but I’m glad.”

    Still a bit lightheaded, I found my way over to the nearest crate that hadn’t been smashed, grateful to finally have a chance to breathe. I lay there for who knows how long, the adrenaline slowly dying down and that crushing feeling of certain death finally disappearing. We were going to make it. Now the only problem was figuring out what to do once we landed.

    Eh, I’d worry about it when the time came.

    Rudy had gone back to digging through the TM box for more moves to power up his Pokémon. It made me realize that I hadn’t even used the Fire Blast TM on Firestorm. With a glance down at the floor, I saw that the Charmander was still standing alongside me.

    “You holding out okay?” I asked.

    He nodded. Though I couldn’t figure out why he’d been glued to me throughout the whole ordeal, in an odd sort of way it felt… reassuring. It had to be the same feeling that trainers had when traveling in dangerous places with their Pokémon by their side.

    Only then did it finally hit me—I had Swift here as well. I grabbed his Pokéball from my pocket, figuring I might as well let him out. With a flash of light, the Pidgey appeared, ruffling his feathers. That was his first time being in a Pokéball, so it was probably a weird experience.

    It struck me that I should probably say something. “Uh… Swift, this is Firestorm. Firestorm, Swift.” Lame, but I couldn’t think of anything else at that point. Swift had been with my family since before I’d learned any Pokéspeech, so I’d gotten used to him being more of a pet than someone to talk with. And, well, he’d never been one to talk much anyway.

    Despite my apparent failure at figuring out how to hold a normal conversation with Pokémon, Firestorm took it upon himself to start one. “*How did you get involved in this?*”

    I laughed a bit. “Wrong place at the wrong time. Just like you, I guess.”

    He nodded softly. “*I’ve had lots of that.*”

    I wanted to know more about what his perspective was on everything that had gone on before the Rocket mess, but there didn’t seem to be a delicate way to ask. After a while I just said, “Did… did you even see what caused the fire?”

    He hesitated a bit before speaking slowly. I was glad that his words were so meticulous, otherwise I would have had a much harder time understanding him. “*The others all ran away. Some of them were shouting about the Great Fire Beast. I never saw it though.*”

    I stared downward, images from the incident still burned into my memory. The entire situation seemed even weirder when looking back on it. “That fire was caused by humans trying to catch Entei. I actually saw it happen, but I couldn’t do anything about it.”

    Firestorm looked a bit puzzled at first. “*Catch? Humans can… catch Legendaries? Just like Pokémon?*”

    To be honest, it was not something that had really crossed my mind before this point either. Sure, every school-age kid in the world had their dream team complete with their favorite legend, but that wasn’t something that could ever actually happen. And yet… it had happened. And it would probably happen again, unless…

    “You know… I met someone who was trying to stop it. He couldn’t do it on his own, but he was trying to get people to help him,” I said, more thinking aloud than actually hoping for a response.

    “*Were you planning to help?*” a voice chirped, catching me off guard. I had been so focused on the Charmander’s words that hearing a different form of Pokéspeech was a bit disorienting. I turned toward Swift and was met with a very intent look.

    “I… hadn’t really considered his offer until now,” I said, my words a bit weak. “I mean… what could someone like me do to help?”

    “*Legendaries shouldn’t be captured,*” the Pidgey replied simply. I couldn’t help staring—where had he gotten that opinion from? The topic of Legendaries had never really come up in my house, barring that two-month-or-so period I wouldn’t shut up after reading about them in social studies.

    I couldn’t think of anything to say in response to his firm statement, so I just found myself looking away sheepishly. The lull in the conversation suddenly made me aware that I could feel the plane descending quickly. It didn’t seem like we’d been flying for very long, but I’d lost track of how much time had passed since Spencer had beaten Tyson.

    Rudy had spent the time debating over training methods for his Pokémon. Spencer, meanwhile, was having an amusing discussion with his Pokémon where it was obvious that he couldn’t understand then much, yet kept responding to everything they said as if a split conversation like that were completely normal. I couldn’t help chuckling a bit at it.

    Swift twitched slightly, perking up like something was about to happen. I turned toward him in confusion, about to ask what was wrong. Then I was knocked flying headlong into the side of a crate, clutching onto it instinctively and screwing my eyes shut as loose items smacked into me. I could hear shouting and the frantic cries of more Pokémon than I could count. Claws gripped my shoulder and I cracked an eye to see Firestorm grabbing hold and refusing to let go.

    Not more than thirty seconds later, the plane grinded to a halt. I would have sunk to the floor in relief if I hadn’t already been on the floor.

    “What the heck was that?!” Rudy yelled, shoving a crate aside and standing to his feet.

    “He told me to land the plane. I landed it,” Tyson replied coldly, a smug edge to his voice. He was now standing in the doorway to the cockpit. Typhlosion immediately jumped back into position to make sure Tyson still couldn’t pull anything against us, though the latter didn’t seem to care anymore.

    “Well I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t think I’ll be flying Rocket Airlines again anytime soon. I say we get out of here now, and worry about spamming them with bad reviews later,” Spencer said, walking over.

    “Where is here, exactly?” I said, glancing around for a window. I spotted one on the far end of the hangar and started walking toward it, but Rudy beat me there. It looked like we had crash-landed on the edge of a forest, with a rocky outcropping not more than twenty yards from the plane.

    “Alright, so… for starters how do we get out of the plane?” Rudy asked.

    “Well, we could try melting through the ice,” Spencer said, jerking a thumb toward the hole that the Pikachu had caused earlier. “I’ve got two fire-types, so—”

    “You have another fire-type?!” Rudy said, looking shocked. “Why didn’t you use it earlier?”

    “I didn’t need to?” Spencer said, shrugging as he recalled his Electabuzz and Mightyena and opened a different Pokéball. The flash of light took the form of a huge striped firedog, not much different from Rudy’s Growlithe, though much bigger and stronger. The Arcanine tossed its head with a bit of a proud look upon seeing the admiration it was receiving; the motion sent a graceful ripple through its thick, fluffy mane.

    “No way…” Rudy breathed, staring at the firedog with more amazement than I’d ever seen from him. “Maybe I should’ve tried to convince my dad to let me bring Chloe too…”

    “Come on, let’s get outta here,” Spencer said cheerfully, motioning to his Arcanine.

    “What are you doing?!” Tyson demanded all of a sudden.

    “Getting out of here. Why, do you like having us around?” Spencer asked tauntingly.

    Tyson clenched his teeth. “You idiots don’t even know where we are. What are you supposed to do, wander around the forest?”

    I raised an eyebrow. What was he trying to accomplish—getting us to stay here? How on earth would that help him, given his situation?

    Even weirder was the fact that until we had tried to leave, Tyson had seemed oddly okay with everything that was going on. Earlier he’d been trying his hardest not to explode with rage. Now he just seemed… impatient.

    “You guys?” I said, lowering my voice to a whisper. “Anyone else think it’s weird that Tyson’s not pissed at us anymore?”

    “Maybe he found his anger meds?” Spencer said with a weak grin. Rudy and I glanced at each other, then back at Spencer, unimpressed.

    “Yeah, okay, that was stupid,” he said, putting a hand to his forehead. “Anyways, think he’s planning something?”

    I couldn’t really tell. He wasn’t really doing anything, although every so often he’d glance down at the small red and black handheld that he’d been using as a GPS.

    Wait… his GPS.

    “Oh crap, that’s not a phone, is it?” I said, my mouth dropping.

    Spencer and Rudy looked up at him immediately. Tyson seemed to notice that we were staring at him because he said, “It’s a GPS, idiots,” before going back to fiddling with the buttons.

    “Hey Typhlosion, I really need to have what he’s holding. Like, right now,” Spencer called out.

    “Oh, come on!” Tyson roared before being promptly tackled by the fire beast. After a few seconds, Typhlosion tossed the black device to Spencer, who caught it.

    “Give that the hell back, what do you need it for?!” Tyson raged at us from under Typhlosion’s hold.

    “I don’t think you understand—I just really love GPSs,” Spencer said as he pressed a button on the device, which had the letters “R-com” inscribed on the front. Both Rudy and I leaned in to get a look at the screen. A half-finished text message read, “Landed on schedule. Requesting your current location and—”

    “What,” I said flatly, staring at the message. “Don’t tell me…”

    Spencer flipped through the previous messages in the conversation. “Team dispatched. ETA 1815.” “Coordinates sent. Crash time approx. 1810.”

    All three of us looked up at each other incredulously. I glanced over at Tyson to see an incredibly smug grin. “I was able to call for backup as soon as I figured out where we’d land. Since we were both converging on the same spot, I bet they’ll be here any second.”

    It felt as though the air had been sucked from the room with that one statement. For several seconds, no one said anything. There wasn’t anything to say. I could already feel a hole in my stomach from dread. We had been in the clear. We were going to make it. And then this.

    “Actually!” Spencer exclaimed suddenly. “I just remembered I have somewhere very important to be, so y’know, I’m just gonna have to take a rain check on the whole battling Rockets to the death thing, so sorry I can’t make it, very urgent, hope you’ll understand, hey guys you’re invited too, let’s go now, Arcanine!

    On that last word, Arcanine barked out a blazing Flamethrower, instantly bursting clean through the ice at the back of the plane and filling the cargo hold with steam.

    “Alright, get on board everyone, or we’ll be late for our date with getting-the-frick-out-of-here!” Spencer exclaimed, recalling his other two Pokémon. Rudy nodded sharply, recalling his Pokémon and jumping up onto the firedog’s back. I motioned for Swift to follow us in the air before glancing around my feet and seeing Firestorm standing there, looking wary. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the experimental Pikachu’s crumpled form, still unconscious from having destroyed the plane’s engine earlier.

    It was more of an impulse than anything—I didn’t even know why I was doing it. I dashed over, snatched the Pikachu with my right arm before scooping up Firestorm under my left and throwing a leg over the Arcanine’s back.

    I threw a glance back at Spencer, who motioned to Typhlosion, who threw Tyson into a pile of boxes and hurriedly dashed forward on all fours, pausing just long enough for Spencer to leap onto its back. That was all I saw before Arcanine sprung through the hole in the ice, landing nimbly on the plane’s tail fin before bounding down to the ground.

    And then the screeching of tires and what sounded like gunfire tore the air. I couldn’t process any of it. Spencer shouted something as he and Typhlosion jumped through the ice hole, and then I was nearly thrown off as the firedog bolted forward with an impossible rush of speed, apparently trying to avoid something. More yelling, more gunshots. Trees flew by as Arcanine dashed up the side of the rocky ledges alongside the crash site, finally ducking down behind a large rock, closely followed by Typhlosion.

    I slid off the Arcanine’s back, feeling slightly numb as I set Firestorm and the Pikachu on the ground. “What… what is going on,” I gasped, still disoriented from the sudden rush of speed and chaos.

    “The Rockets were on the other side of the jet,” Spencer managed. “They tried firing at us; couldn’t really get a clear shot, though.”

    “What do we do now?!” I panicked.

    “I don’t know, I didn’t think they’d be here already!” Spencer exclaimed. “We could just try making a break for it?”

    “Can your Pokémon outrun jeeps?” Rudy asked, sounding honestly optimistic and enthusiastic about the idea.

    “I don’t know—maybe over a short distance?”

    At that moment, the jeeps pulled up and skidded to a stop on our side of the jet, throwing dust into the air. I peeked around the corner of the ledge to see one of the Rockets riding in the back jump out in one smooth motion and proceed to look over the damages done to the plane.

    “You know, Tyson, when you said the transport jet was gonna crash I never would’ve guessed it was because of some random stowaway kids and a prisoner you were supposed to bring to me,” she said icily. Was she the executive I was supposed to be interrogated by?

    “I—but—don’t go blaming this on me,” Tyson called out. I glanced up to see him now standing on the tail fin, looking bruised and battered. “And why didn’t you bring more backup?! Just a bunch of grunts?” He sounded on the verge of losing control.

    “Cleaning up after the mess you made of the jet sounds like grunt work to me,” she replied lazily. “That leaves me stuck taking care of the idiot kids.”

    “They’re not just kids,” Tyson said defensively. “One of them’s older than the others, and his Pokémon are a match even for my experimen—”

    “Tyson, your experiments were never all that amazing anyway,” she cut in, waving a hand dismissively. “I don’t even know why you still bother training them after all the progress that your division’s made on number thirty-six.”

    “Better than using regular Pokémon,” Tyson shot back. “And I think you’re forgetting that it’s what I was assigned to do. Of course, you wouldn’t know what that’s like because the second you joined you were—”

    “Still going on with that crap about how I was always an executive, is that it? I think you should watch what you say there Tyson, unless you feel secure enough in your position to pick fights with me.” Tyson flinched and didn’t say anything more.

    I really had no idea what they were talking about. Especially confusing was the fact that the executive didn’t sound much older than seventeen or eighteen. Could someone so young be ranked that highly on Team Rocket?

    “Anyway, if you’re done whining, time for me to fix this mess,” she said, turning and walking toward us, her heavy combat boots kicking up dirt. That was when we got our first real look at her. She had a hardened and mature look about her features, which almost made me forget that she was probably younger than most of the other Rockets there. Somehow, before she’d even done anything, she just felt more dangerous than the rest.

    “Spencer… uh, we need a plan. Like now,” I muttered, my voice shaking.

    “Gimme a sec. At least they can’t shoot us while we’re back here, right?”

    I heard the sound of several Pokéballs being opened and looked back at the Rocket to see—“Oh crap, here they come!”

    Spencer clenched his teeth, eyes wide with panic as he motioned for his two fire-types to get on our other side so they could attack our opponents from around the corner. A fierce snarling suddenly filled the air—it sounded like an Arcanine, but… it wasn’t Spencer’s.

    I glanced around the corner again to see another striped firedog, this one flashing a horrifyingly vicious expression. Typhlosion and Arcanine recoiled slightly, losing some of the tension in their muscles.

    “Crap, gonna hit us with Intimidate, is that it?” Spencer mumbled through gritted teeth. “Time for ranged moves then. Typhlosion, Arcanine, Flamethrower!”

    Simultaneous blasts of fire flew down the hill, striking the other Arcanine right in its front. It snarled as it endured the assault, noticeably bothered despite its natural fire resistance. But then a tan horse jumped in front of the blaze, scattering flames everywhere as its whole body glowed with a fiery sheen. It didn’t even seem to notice that it was being hit. In fact, the flames on its mane and tail only intensified.

    “Did that just make it stronger?! Oh crap, it must have Flash Fire. Typhlosion, stop the Flamethrower and use Dig! Arcanine—” And then Spencer’s face lit up like he had just made the best realization of his life. “Dude, I’ve got it! Typhlosion, quick—use Flamethrower on Arcanine!!”

    Typhlosion paused its sudden burst of digging to breathe out a lick of flames at the striped firedog before disappearing underground. Arcanine seemed empowered by the flames, pulling them into itself before glowing with a red aura.

    “Her Arcanine might have Intimidate, but mine’s got Flash Fire!” Spencer exclaimed, looking thoroughly pleased with himself. “Now for reinforcements,” he said, opening the rest of his Pokéballs. “Electabuzz, keep them from getting close with non-stop Thunderbolts. Dewgong, use Brine; Pidgeot, Air Slash; Mightyena, Dark Pulse!”

    All of his Pokémon got into position upon hearing the commands, Arcanine already throwing a Fire Blast into the fray, its firepower scarily bright now. But then my eyes lit up when I fully grasped that he had just let out a Pidgeot.

    “Wait! You have a Pidgeot! Can’t we just fly out of here?!” I exclaimed, pointing at the massive tawny eagle taking flight.

    Spencer paused, smiling weakly. “It’s cool that you think he’s that hardcore, but… yeah, no way can he pull off carrying all three of us.”

    “Crap… okay, how about one person rides off on Pidgeot while the others stay here protected by the rest of your Pokémon, and then Pidgeot comes back to get the others?”

    “I… guess that could work?” Spencer said, rubbing the back of his head.

    And then a flash of light blinded my eyes as an earsplitting crack tore the air. I could just barely make out a giant bolt of lightning flying overhead, striking right through the Pidgeot before it even got the chance to do anything. Feathers scorched black, the bird let out a pitiful cry before falling limply to the ground. At the bottom of the hill, a Raichu stood, clearly smirking, with sparks still leaping off its yellow cheeks. It swished a long, inky-black tail before dashing forward into the fray.

    Spencer was staring wide-eyed at what had just happened, his mouth agape. Slowly, he reached down to his Pokéball belt and recalled Pidgeot in a beam of red light. In that one moment, the real weight of the situation crashed down on me like a bucket of cold water—it had felt like we had a fighting chance to get out of here, but… we really didn’t, did we?

    “Yeah, that would have been us if we’d tried flying away,” Rudy pointed out. No one said anything as the implications of what he’d said sunk in.






    ~End Chapter 3~
     
    Chapter 4: Ace from the Past
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    Oh. I mean... yeah. Why don't they just do this from the beginning, anyway? The power dynamics between magical monsters and a freaking gun is still a bit murky here, in addition to the general durability of humans in this world.
    So the Serebii thread is full of me complaining about just how hard this chapter was to choreograph on account of Tyson having a gun, but the abridged version of it is that I had to bend over backwards to make this bit the first moment in the chapter where Tyson actually had a clear shot at any of them. ^^;

    Okay hold on HOW do you hide a Typhlosion in a cockpit?
    Ok you're not the only one who thought that, but he totally wasn't supposed to be in the cockpit! xD He jumped Tyson after Tyson re-entered the cargo hold.

    I felt like this line of dialogue was a bit delayed -- there was a bit of banter beforehand and Tyson kinda just... paused in time for a second, in a way.
    Jade wasn't paying attention to him, so it wouldn't have made sense to describe him during that bit.

    So two of her Pokemon are now rescues, more or less. Starting to see a trend. You sure she didn't want to be a Ranger?
    It's really funny that you say this as I'm currently writing chapters that revolve around Pokemon Rangers. xD

    Ahhhh I don't like this line. Show don't tell; maybe show a bit of how the other grunts seemed intimidated by her, or perhaps that her stare was intense, or maybe even just a pressure in her aura? Anything but this.
    While I’m not married to that line and have no qualms with changing it (I quite like that aura suggestion), I do want to point out that the narration should be taken as Jade’s subjective opinion. There is no narrator feeding us objective truths and expecting us to take it as fact (which obviously should be supported by evidence). It’s all her subjective experiences, sometimes based on nothing more than gut instinct.

    Anyway! This is an incredibly fast-paced chapter, but there's one thing that has been bothering me for a while regarding it and the past chapter. Everything is really fast, and characters are rapidly being introduced, but ironically the most character explanation that I've seen so far is from... Firestorm. Or maybe I'm just Charmander-sensitive. But my point is -- we've jumped into the action, and stayed in the action for so long, that I can't actually get a feel for who the characters are beyond their species and perhaps skill level. I know more about Tyson than I do about Rudy at this point. I'm hoping for a moment of calm soon so I can actually... get to know them more? I don't know. But right now, it's so rushed that I can't.
    Huh! It's interesting you say that, because last chapter really didn't have much action at all. The battle pretty much started in this chapter, and only runs through the next chapter. But I should warn you that this is an action fic, and my primary way of developing character is showing how they react to the crap that gets thrown at them. I don't think there's ever more than two action chapters in a row though (at least not until the hell that I'm currently writing, haha.)

    Anyway, thanks for the review! It's really interesting to get perspectives from such a different era of fanfiction. I'm also glad I don't have to write an essay justifying why there's a Charmander in this fic (god you have no idea how big of a turnoff the fandom used to consider that.)


    ~Chapter 4: Ace from the Past~


    I couldn’t do anything but stare at the ongoing battle, all hope dying rapidly. Really, the only advantage we had was our defensive position. That was it. Spencer’s Electabuzz tried keeping most of the executive’s Pokémon at bay with scattered bolts of lightning fired from its palms, but it constantly had to duck back to avoid the ridiculous amount of fire being thrown around. Mightyena’s ash-colored fur was now charred black; by this point, all of its moves were sluggish, and every so often its limbs would tremble from the burns. The executive’s Rapidash galloped around the outskirts of the battle, still glowing from its earlier fire boost and clearly trying to get close enough to attack us. The only thing keeping it back was the bursts of water that Dewgong sent flying into the air and crashing down on the opposition. Spencer’s Arcanine had clearly been forced to endure the most hits, and yet it still darted around the battlefield, using its Extremespeed technique both to land rapid blows and block its teammates from the relentless flames being thrown around. Even from where I was standing, the waves of radiating heat caused sweat to drip down my face constantly.

    A small bit of movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I looked down to see the experimental Pikachu twitching slightly. I had almost forgotten that I’d brought him with us—now I wasn’t quite sure if it had been a good idea or not. He pulled his limbs underneath his body and attempted to raise himself from the ground, but couldn’t stop trembling from sheer exhaustion.

    “You… you probably should save your strength,” I said tentatively.

    He turned toward me sharply, looking disoriented. Like he was trying to lash out at me, but couldn’t figure out how or why. After a few seconds, the experiment looked away to gaze at the brawl taking place and the scattered bolts and flares flying past us nonstop. The sparks intensified. Small strings of electricity started coursing through the rodent’s fur, intensifying slowly. But then they gave out at once, and he collapsed, muttering incoherently to himself.

    I let out a breath that I didn’t know I’d been holding. It was weird—I didn’t want to risk the Pikachu going on a mad rampage, but part of me knew that he was still our best chance at getting out of here.

    I heard the sound of a Pokéball opening and looked over to see Rudy giving instructions to his Squirtle. He pointed at the opposition, and his starter nodded determinedly. I wasn’t sure what he planned on doing until the turtle spat out a lopsided ring of water, sending it flying across the battlefield. It splashed into the executive’s Rapidash, who shook it off, looking annoyed.

    Rudy folded his arms. “Huh, that kinda sucked. Try it again—Water Pulse!”

    Of course—he’d been teaching his Squirtle all kinds of moves while we were on the plane. I immediately reached into my pocket and pulled out the Fire Blast TM that Rudy had given me, running a finger over the glossy case that enclosed the red disc inside. Any little bit could help turn the tide of the battle in our favor… I had to use it.

    “Firestorm… could you come over here?” I said.

    He turned toward me, looking a bit puzzled. I held out the TM, pausing so I could go over my words carefully.

    “It’s a Technical Machine,” I explained. “Spencer’s Pokémon can’t handle this alone—if we’re gonna get out of this, we need to help too—” I stopped. We? What was I going to do? Nothing—that was just it. Heck, I wasn’t even the Charmander’s trainer. I attempted to shake the thought from my head and continued, “This thing will let you focus your power into a huge burst of fire. Would you be willing to learn it to help us fight them?” I was trying not to sound too forceful, even though we couldn’t afford for him to say no.

    Firestorm nodded almost immediately. I blinked, surprised at how willing he was to fight. Did he realize what kind of dangers this would involve?

    Still confused, I held the device several inches from the lizard’s forehead, flipping a small switch on its side to unlock it and then pressing the largest button. The disc glowed for a few seconds and began spinning—giving off a sort of wave that would react with his energy signature, from what I had once read on TMs. Firestorm froze, looking like he had been seized by some invisible force. Different parts of his body started to glow faintly at varying intervals. After nearly a minute, the disc slowed; I pulled it away, but he still had a blank stare on his face.

    I stepped back so that he could get into position with a good view of the battle that wouldn’t put him out in the open. The Charmander still looked a bit dazed though, like he was locked into a trance that he couldn’t pull himself out of.

    “…Firestorm?” I asked slowly, raising an eyebrow. I’d never actually seen a Pokémon’s reaction to a TM, so I had no idea if this was normal. I took one hesitant step towards him.

    And then his gaze sharpened instantly. His eyes snapped open with unexpected ferocity and shimmering waves of heat began to leak from his mouth. At once, he spewed out a column of raging flames, sending his small figure reeling backwards from the force. With a roar, the blazing stream of fire split off into five branches, twisting off wildly in different directions.

    I stood frozen. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Firestorm’s eyes went wide, and he jerked his head, trying desperately to control the blaze, though nothing he did seemed to make any difference. Flames pouring relentlessly from his mouth, even when he tried to force it shut.

    “Did you teach the Charmander Fire Blast?!” Spencer exclaimed, running over to me.

    “Err—yeah?!” I yelled back, now frantic.

    He clapped a hand to his forehead. “Aw, crap… I should’ve warned you—pretty much everyone tries it at some point… Arcanine, make sure no one on our side gets hit!”

    The firedog let out a bark and leaped to the front of the lineup, allowing one of the branches of the Fire Blast to hit it directly. The force of the attack pushed it back slightly, but otherwise the Arcanine was unaffected. By this point, the other four strings of fire had flown off into the air, dissipating uselessly. Firestorm was finally able to sink to the ground, coughing and sputtering with brightly glowing flares still dripping from his tiny fangs.

    “Using a TM just gives a Pokémon the ability to do the move. They’re not suddenly gonna be an expert at it without any practice. That goes double for the uber ones that’re hard to control,” Spencer explained while directing his Pokémon back into battle position.

    I felt like shrinking back into a corner somewhere. What had seemed like the only way I could help had backfired completely. I glanced down at the TM case, now noticing the label along the bottom corner that read “Rating: 120 (Highly Advanced).”

    “I… I’m sorry—I didn’t know…” I mumbled.

    “It’s okay,” he cut in, trying to look optimistic. “Arcanine blocked it from hitting the rest of my team. We’re still behind, but I’m not counting us out yet—”

    Suddenly, we had to shield our eyes. A blinding flash from what looked like a raging flurry of steam and scarlet energy shot straight through the middle of the fray. The executive’s Pokémon stepped back. That gave it the opening to plow straight into the completely unsuspecting form of Spencer’s Arcanine, sending brilliantly orange shock waves digging deep into the firedog’s body. A sickening howl filled the air, and the canine’s proud and powerful frame collapsed limply.

    “I… what? What the heck move was that?” I stuttered.

    Spencer was frozen, unable to process what had just happened as he slowly reached for a Pokéball to recall his fallen team member. Now visible in the middle of the battlefield, a stout crimson fox stood panting hard, its long ears drooping and steam leaking off its body. Was… was it the one who had just attacked?

    “No. No, no, no, whyyy? That’s not fair… I didn’t even see that she had a Flareon out,” Spencer said, his words strained. He pulled out his Pokédex and pointed it at the fire-type, smacking his forehead upon reading something. “Superpower. Really? It used Superpower? Can I just forfeit now or get a handicap or something??

    No one said anything. With Arcanine down, the executive’s Pokémon were now free to throw as much fire around as they wanted. Not even Dewgong’s water was making a dent in them now—the icy white seal cried out in pain, constantly bombarded with flames.

    “I’m… I’m out of ideas,” Spencer said. “Any time you two want to reveal that you’ve secretly been ace trainers all along, I’d love to hear it.”

    I looked miserably down at Firestorm. The fire lizard was still panting badly with embers dripping from his mouth. Swift, who was standing next to him, looked almost embarrassed at being unable to help.

    “I don’t know what to do.” Just saying it made my blood run cold.

    “Stop talking like that, you guys—we can’t lose!” Rudy cried out, but even his voice was starting to break. His Squirtle was out of breath from attempting the Water Pulse move so many times.

    We all just stared at each other hopelessly with the sound of fire raging in the background. What else could we do? We could try to signal a passing trainer for help? Flying on Pokémon was a popular method of travel, after all. But there was no way Firestorm would be able or willing to use Fire Blast again, and we couldn’t afford to have any of Spencer’s Pokémon leave the fight, even for a moment. Already my brain was trying to grasp at ways that we could convince the executive to let us go, all of them equally stupid. There had to be some way out of this. There just had to.

    And then suddenly, a high-pitched sound filled my ears as a piercingly orange and yellow beam tore through the air. The beam zeroed in on the Rockets’ Pokémon, striking them with a blinding flash of light and sending shock waves running through the earth.

    “H-hyper Beam?” I muttered, my knees shaking from the beam’s not-so-distant impact. I turned my gaze upward, where I could barely make out a gray form with a long, thick tail trailing behind it. Leathery purple wings beat rapidly, pushing it towards us with incredible speed. It was an Aerodactyl. And as it neared, I could see that it had a rider.

    “Hey, Jade!” the rider yelled.

    I jerked in surprise. I couldn’t see them clearly yet, but I could never, ever forget that voice.

    “It can’t be…” I muttered. I couldn’t help staring upward, lost for words. When the winged Pokémon got within view, I could finally make out a petite teenaged girl riding on its back—fair-skinned with a bright, confident face and short, black hair blowing back with the wind.

    It really was her.

    “No way… Ajia?!” I yelled.

    I couldn’t believe it. Ajia was here. How? Why? It didn’t make any sense. But there was no doubt in my mind that the trainer flying toward us was my old friend, even though I hadn’t seen her in so long. Really, the only thing I could do was raise a hand to wave, still in shock. Grinning slightly, Ajia waved back from atop the gray-skinned pterosaur.

    “Who invited you here?!” Tyson shouted.

    “Shut up. I’m the one handling this,” the Rocket executive said, looking rather intrigued by the new arrival.

    Ajia’s Aerodactyl swooped down to land behind the rocky ledge that we’d been using as cover, easily swerving around a burst of lightning that the Raichu had shot toward it. After unbuckling herself from the Pokémon’s flight harness, she slid off its back, now standing next to me at about my shoulder in height.

    “What’s wrong, Jade? I thought you’d be happier to see me,” she said, laughing and elbowing me lightly in the ribs.

    That broke me out of my trance a little. Still, I felt more than a little overwhelmed as I struggled to find my words. “You… how… how are you here? I haven’t seen you in… over a year, at least. Not since you left to train in Johto.”

    “I wanted to visit Viridian sooner, but I got caught up with things. And… from the look of things, so did you…” Her voice trailed off as she looked over the bizarre setting, from the mangled jet plane to the crowd of jeeps, the executive still glowering at us, and the mutant Pikachu lying a few feet from me. The look she gave me next made me suddenly aware of the fact that I was still covered in soot and wearing chains around my hands and feet. “…How did you even get involved in this mess?” she asked, rubbing the back of her head.

    I put a hand to my forehead. “I don’t even know anymore.”

    “Hi guys, I love reunions, and the best way to bond at a reunion is to beat the crap out of the people that want to kill us with awesome top-class Pokémon that you totally have, am-I-right?” Spencer cut in rapidly with an overly hopeful look on his face.

    “That’s why I’m here,” she said simply, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” Spencer looked ready to collapse from relief.

    Ajia turned sharply to face the battlefield, already pulling out several Pokéballs and quickly taking in the details of the battle with an expression that had shifted into intense determination. I looked over to see Spencer recalling his battered Dewgong into its ball. Now it was just Electabuzz and Typhlosion left in the fight—the former still desperately using its lightning to keep the opposition at bay, and the latter avoiding blows by popping in and out of the ground and striking when it was least expected. The far edge of the hill had an indent cut into it from the Hyper Beam, but none of the Rocket’s Pokémon had fallen from the attack.

    “She probably had Raichu put up a Light Screen at the last second—at least, I wouldn’t expect anything less from her,” Ajia said to herself, almost in response to my thoughts. She turned to me and added, “Aerodactyl’s Hyper Beam isn’t the strongest—he’s better at physical moves. It was the best long-distance option I had at the time, though.” She paused slightly, contemplating something. “Raichu has to go down first—Pichu, you’re up!”

    She swung her bag down from her shoulder, and out leaped a small, pale yellow mouse who instantly dashed into the fray. Memories flooded my mind upon seeing her—memories of the day that Ajia had received Pichu from her dad, nearly four years ago.

    “She still hasn’t evolved?” I asked, watching the nimble rodent skillfully ducking under her opponents and letting loose small jolts of electricity at them.

    “She didn’t want to,” Ajia replied, shrugging in a way that seemed to imply that she didn’t mind. “We’ve focused all our training on getting around it.” She was already pulling out two more Pokéballs, letting out a pair of foxes. The first one, an Espeon, outstretched its lithe frame and gave a flick of its forked tail, focusing its vibrant purple eyes on the battlefield. Alongside it, an Umbreon pawed at the ground in anticipation, its long ears twitching and ring-like markings glowing faintly.

    “Umbreon, use Toxic; Espeon, Calm Mind; Aerodactyl, fly overhead and use Air Slash—be ready to dodge lightning!”

    Umbreon charged forward, squirting out a noxious liquid from its pores and hitting the Arcanine right on target. The dark fox was way too slow to dodge the overwhelming blaze that followed. But it just stood its ground against the firedog, wincing slightly from the intense flames, but looking like it could endure them all day. Overhead, Aerodactyl was ducking and rolling through the air, forcing the Raichu to waste all its energy just trying to land a hit, all while sending blades of air flying from its wingtips, keeping the Rapidash from breaking through the lineup.

    “Alright good, looks like I was right—this isn’t the worst situation to be in. And with them already being weakened by your friend, we should be able to come out on top without too much difficulty.”

    I stared, chills running down my spine. Everything that she’d said was starting to come together. “Ajia, you’ve… have you fought Rockets before?”

    The question made her pause, but then she nodded. And from the sound of things, she’d had much worse fights than this. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but the top members of Team Rocket had to be incredibly skilled trainers, fighting strong enemies and honing their skills for years, just like any other ace trainer.

    “Pichu, dodge and use Swift; Espeon, Confusion!” she called out.

    My attention snapped back to the battle at once. Pichu darted past the executive’s Flareon, easily evading the fire fox’s attempt to bite down with fangs glowing like hot iron. The Raichu kept trying to pause and charge up the power needed for one of its huge lightning bolts, but couldn’t seem to concentrate with Pichu intermittently sending stars of white energy homing in on the larger rodent’s face. Meanwhile, any of the opposing Pokémon trying to land a hit found themselves held in place by blue psychic energy from Espeon. Though it was easy for them to shake off the telekinetic control, the moment’s pause made them easy targets for the blades of wind being thrown around by Aerodactyl, who had its tongue hanging out as it looped through the air, almost lazily enjoying its role.

    I couldn’t help staring in awe of how well Ajia’s Pokémon were working together. Even though she hadn’t been giving any commands more than just the attack names, it was like they already knew what sort of strategy she wanted them to employ. Like she had already spent time training them in this sort of melee tactics. Half her team was darting around using small, scattered blows to draw attention and distract. All the while, half of the Rocket’s Pokémon were now covered in a toxic film, gradually dulling their movements the longer they had to struggle against the annoying and indirect tactics. Despite the ridiculously overpowered nature of the opponents’ attacks, they just weren’t able to pull anything off.

    A pitiful cry drew my attention to the executive’s Arcanine. It had just collapsed, having finally succumbed to the wounds and exhaustion and poison. Seconds later, a red beam drew it back into its Pokéball and out of view.

    “All right! One down!” Rudy exclaimed.

    I had to admit, it was a huge relief. Finally, a real sign that it was possible for us to win this. Ajia grinned to herself before pressing the attack—her Pokémon had switched to more direct offenses now. Aerodactyl finally got an opening to soar low over the battlefield, slicing through parts of the ledges and sending a Rock Slide cascading down over the opposition. Raichu tried to send more lightning toward the rock-skinned pterosaur, but Umbreon had taken to fighting it up close, unfazed by the electric mouse’s attacks. Espeon had leaped onto the Rapidash’s back, and though the fire horse desperately tried to buck the violet fox off, the latter continued to hit it with blasts of psychic energy.

    And then I heard the sound of a Pokéball opening, followed by a vicious howling that caught Ajia’s Pokémon off guard. No… no, it couldn’t be… I edged over to get a better view of the Rockets and—there it was. The executive’s Arcanine was back in the fight, barking out Flamethrowers and looking completely refreshed. I stared at the sight in disbelief.

    And then I noticed one of the Rockets sitting in the jeep nearest the executive, who was holding a sleek, capsule-like device almost like a rounded briefcase. I couldn’t make out what it was at this distance, but also couldn’t help feeling like it was important.

    I pointed it out to Ajia, who slapped her forehead upon seeing it. “A portable healer. They would have one of those, wouldn’t they? Those cheats.” She clenched her teeth, worry crossing her face for the first time since she’d gotten here. “Alrighty then… so they’re going to play that game. My Pokémon haven’t had to expend too much energy so far, but they can’t keep this going forever.”

    “Could… could we try to destroy the healer?” I asked tentatively.

    “Those are combat jeeps—they’ll have shields. We need to figure out a way to retreat. My Aerodactyl should be able to fly while carrying two people, at least.” She motioned to get Spencer’s attention. “Er, sorry, I don’t know your name.”

    “Spencer Dailey, at your service,” he replied with a mock bow.

    “Right, then—do you have any Pokémon that could fly while carrying anyone?”

    Spencer’s face fell immediately. “I… er, well, I did. My Pidgeot got taken out at the start of the battle. If I had some way to heal him…” He paused, looking ready to smack himself. I wondered why, but… then it hit me. We were complete idiots; there had been a massive box of healing supplies in the plane. If we’d only thought to grab some of them—I felt like kicking myself.

    Ajia raised an eyebrow at the expressions of horror suddenly crossing our faces. “Let me guess—things just got worse? Really guys, this is enough surprises for one day.”

    “It’s not that,” I said, putting a hand over my face. “We left behind a huge crate of potions and such in the plane. If we’d thought to bring ‘em with us, we could have done the same thing the Rockets are doing now. Or better yet, we could have figured out a way to escape.”

    Ajia nodded, her expression tough to make out. She observed the plane’s wreck with a thoughtful look. “So we just need to figure out a way onto the plane. It’d be too difficult for us to make it over there while they’ve got any Pokémon out.”

    “And guns. Guns are pretty bad too,” Spencer piped up.

    “Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan for that. But as for the Pokémon… since they’ll just get healed anytime we take one out…” Her eyes lit up at once. “We just have to take them all out at the same time. Then we can storm the plane while they’re being healed and get out of here no problem.”

    Her enthusiasm was rubbing off—I couldn’t help feeling a jolt of excitement, though it was swept away with doubts almost immediately afterward. “We have to knock them all out at once? How the heck are we supposed to do that?”

    “*I know how.*”

    The sudden voice in Pokéspeech caught me off guard, and I whirled around to see the experimental Pikachu finally pulling himself to his feet. He swayed a bit but fixed his eyes on us intensely.

    “…What?” At first it was all I could figure out how to say. It took me several seconds to really register the fact that he was trying to help us. “How… how are you supposed to—you’re out of power, what could you possibly do?”

    I hadn’t meant to say it so bluntly. The rodent’s lightning bolt tail twitched angrily, and he didn’t dignify my comment with a response. Instead, he called out, “*Pichu, come here!*”

    Pichu twitched her large, diamond-shaped ears upon hearing his exclamation, but otherwise didn’t respond, though she did shoot an inquisitive glance at Ajia.

    “She’s not gonna leave the battle just like that—let us know what you’re planning,” Ajia said with a faint smile. I tried making a face to warn her to be careful what she said around him, but I really had no idea how to communicate that.

    The hybrid turned away sharply, his expression fierce but twisted—like he didn’t actually know how to make any other face. Several seconds passed with no one saying a word. Finally, he started to explain. He spoke much too quickly for me to make out what he was saying, though Ajia seemed to have no trouble with it. Every so often I caught a phrase like ‘can’t hold power’ or ‘take them out.’

    Throughout all of this, Ajia remained silent, though she glanced at the battle frequently, using hand signals to direct her Pokémon’s moves. After the Pikachu finished relaying his plan, Ajia motioned to Pichu, who raced over to us.

    The experiment briefly explained something to Pichu, who glanced up at her trainer in surprise. Ajia nodded, looking serious. And then the Pikachu put a paw against one of the electrical generators on Pichu’s cheeks, screwing his eyes shut in concentration. Strings of lightning began surging across his arm, flowing into him from the smaller mouse. He recoiled in pain. Still, he kept his paw firmly in place, giving no sign that he wanted to stop, though his breathing was heavy and his limbs trembled occasionally. Sparks leapt off his fur erratically as the electricity surrounded him, causing the hybrid to grit his teeth before slowly and forcefully pulling the energy into himself.

    “Can someone tell me what is going on here?” I asked, feeling horribly lost.

    “You couldn’t understand him?” Ajia asked, looking genuinely surprised. “Oh, right… you always had trouble with Pokéspeech class.”

    “Er… well, I’m decent at it now… maybe not fluent, but I’m way better than I used to be,” I mumbled, feeling my cheeks go a bit red.

    Ajia nodded, realizing I didn’t want to talk about it. “Well, Pichu is channeling her power supply into him. He said he could absorb it—does he have the Lightningrod ability or something?”

    “I… don’t know?” I said, shrugging. What he’d been doing didn’t seem to match with any kind of special ability I’d heard of.

    Several minutes passed, during which Pichu relayed all of her remaining power supply into the experimental Pikachu. She was forced to pause frequently, as the strain of keeping a continuous flow of electricity was too much. When it was finally done, Pichu slumped to the ground, exhausted. And then the Pikachu slowly rose to his feet, fur standing on end and eyes filled with a renewed vigor.

    Still, something about his plan just didn’t make any sense. “I don’t get it,” I said to him. “I understand that your power is—I don’t know—more intense from being part Zapdos and all, but… If she’s just giving her power to you… what can you do with it that she can’t?”

    He paused heavily. And then, for the first time I’d seen, he managed to wrench his face into something other than pain or rage: an ironic smile. “*Most Pokémon can’t drain their whole power supply into one move. It’s not natural. Their bodies aren’t designed to handle it. But me? I have a hard time not doing that.*” His words were slow and strained.

    Ajia kneeled to pick up the small, sad form of her unconscious Pichu, pulling out a Pokéball at the same time. “She normally prefers being outside the ball, but with what we’re doing now…” Her voice trailed off as she recalled her first Pokémon. “So, is everyone ready?”

    The Pikachu was the first one to nod, saying, “*Raichu is the only problem. He’ll be able to make electric barriers.*”

    “Alright, so we pretty much have to screw strategy and just take out that Raichu however possible. Sounds fun. Time for sure-shot moves?”

    It took Spencer a second or two to realize that she had addressed that last bit to him. “Oh? Oh, yeah! Typhlosion, Swift! Electabuzz, Shock Wave!” he yelled, pointing straight at the executive’s Raichu.

    “Umbreon, Faint Attack! Espeon, Swift! Aerodactyl, Aerial Ace!” Ajia commanded.

    The orange rodent tried to make a break for it, but was hilariously unprepared for the barrage of attacks now honing in on him, despite his best attempts at evasion. The Rocket executive jerked backward in surprise, clearly not expecting that kind of strategy. She could only watch as her Raichu was completely overwhelmed by a flood of energy discs, strings of electricity, Umbreon phasing out of shadow right alongside him, and Aerodactyl pulling out of a dive with a rapid upward slice of its wings. Raichu cried out in pain, smacked in between one attack after another, and his trainer had no choice but to recall him.

    “Alright, it’s now or never!” Ajia exclaimed to the Pikachu, recalling her Umbreon and motioning for her other two to pull back from the battle. At Spencer’s command, Typhlosion ducked underground again and Electabuzz stumbled back to where we were standing, looking horribly exhausted and sinking to its knees the first chance it got. Rudy recalled his Squirtle, which made me realize that I’d need to do the same for my Pokémon, even if one of them technically wasn’t mine. It felt a little awkward recalling the Charmander into the ball, but I didn’t have much choice.

    And then it was only the experiment standing between us and the Rocket’s Pokémon. The executive had already passed her Raichu’s Pokéball to the grunt with the portable healer, so we only had a small window of opportunity.

    “*This ends now,*” the Pikachu said. A flash of hate flickered in his eyes.

    He raced forward into the fray, an explosion of sparks leaping off his body. It wouldn’t have even been right to describe it as bolts of lightning; it was like a flood of electricity was pouring out from every inch of his skin with no way to hold it back. The Rocket’s Pokémon tried to counter it with a rush of fire, but it was just too much. The wave of lightning broke through the flames like they were nothing, then completely enveloped the enemy lineup. One by one, all of the Rocket’s Pokémon collapsed to the ground.

    But there was no stopping the outpouring of electricity. At this point, I don’t think the Pikachu could have controlled it if he’d wanted to. Massive bolts shot out from the hybrid’s body at random, most of them flying into the air, but the others hurtling toward the Rockets. They didn’t even get a chance to move—all of them in or near the closest jeep collapsed instantly. I couldn’t help wincing—it was strange to see our attackers suddenly rendered so helpless.

    And then, without warning, the flood of lightning lessened. The shock waves thinned, giving way to erratic bursts of sparks before the Pikachu collapsed. The whole thing couldn’t have lasted more than thirty seconds, but it had felt like ages. I felt myself tense up—time for us to act.

    “Alright, that’s our cue!” Ajia said. “Espeon, use Reflect!”

    The psychic fox promptly raised a shimmering barrier of energy around us. Upon seeing it, Spencer recalled Typhlosion and turned to his Electabuzz, “Just a little more, buddy—we’re gonna need another barrier.” His Pokémon grunted a bit out of fatigue, but still managed to produce a shining yellow force field.

    “Alright, you two hop on Aerodactyl, the rest of us will follow on foot,” Ajia said to me and Rudy, gesturing to the winged reptile. We didn’t need telling twice—both of us jumped up and got positioned on her Pokémon’s back, holding tight to the straps on its harness.

    “Everyone ready? Let’s move out!”

    Aerodactyl vaulted into the air, and Spencer and Ajia raced forward beneath us, making their way down the rocky ledges as quickly as possible while surrounded by the twin barriers. Most of the Rocket grunts in the far jeep had run forward to check on their superiors, who were struck by the tail end of the Pikachu’s assault. Some of them were armed; I gripped Aerodactyl’s side when they fired at the group on the ground. But Ajia’s plan had worked—the bullets pinged uselessly off the pair of barriers. I let out the breath I’d been holding, then immediately had to hold it again as Aerodactyl tucked its wings and swooped forward, shooting straight through the hole at the back of the jet before flaring its wings outward and slowing to a stop in the middle of the cargo bay.

    My limbs shaking, I slid off the reptile’s back alongside Rudy, who looked a bit nauseous and muttered something like, “That would have been so cool if we weren’t running for our lives.”

    Not far behind us, Ajia and Spencer leaped through the hole almost weightlessly, like they’d been levitated up with Espeon’s telekinesis. Ajia paused just quickly enough to recall the psychic-type before racing forward to meet us, holding the experimental Pikachu under one arm.

    “I grabbed him from the battlefield,” she explained, handing the spiky-furred rodent to me. “I wasn’t sure if you had stolen him from the Rockets or what, but we couldn’t just leave him there.”

    I blinked confusedly, my brain taking several seconds to register the weirdness in what she had just said. I attempted to say something to the degree of, “He’s not really mine,” but Ajia cut me off by asking, “So where are the healing supplies?”

    “Oh, oh right! They were near the front of the plane last I saw them.”

    She motioned to Spencer to follow her and the two of them dashed off through the maze of boxes and crates, most of them disheveled from the crash landing. I stood there with Rudy, unable to do anything but wait. The portable healer had taken a couple minutes to heal the Arcanine, so we had at least a small window of time on our side. But the Raichu had been knocked out first, so it had a head start on being treated.

    “Found them!” Ajia exclaimed, and I heard Spencer open a Pokéball to release his Pidgeot immediately. For the next minute or so, the two of them sprayed the massive bird with nearly every medicine they could get their hands on. Slowly, the blackened skin and feathers began to heal as the potions boosted the Pokémon’s natural healing ability. When it was done, Spencer poured something into the bird’s beak, and it snapped awake in an instant, struggling to stand to its feet. The Pidgeot had a slight tremble to its movements—clearly still sore from the lightning bolt—but it was healed.

    “Alright! Time to get out of here and never get captured by Rockets again! Sound good? I thought so, now get over here Rudy!” Spencer exclaimed.

    Not wasting any time, Rudy sprinted over and jumped on behind Spencer while Ajia ran over to me and the two of us mounted her Aerodactyl. Both Pokémon outstretched their wings, and I barely had a few seconds to brace myself for the rush before we were off. Aerodactyl shot forward, straight through the opening at the back of the jet, nearly throwing me off with its speed. I struggled to lean forward and keep my grip on the reptile’s harness straps while holding the Pikachu under my arm.

    And then Aerodactyl suddenly barreled to the left to avoid a streak of lightning that tore past us, rending the air with an earsplitting crack. I barely managed to catch a glimpse of the Raichu beneath us, sparking wildly before we sped out of its range. So they’d managed to heal it in time. But then the sickening realization hit me—Pidgeot hadn’t been fast enough to avoid the mouse’s Thunder last time.

    I threw a glance over my shoulder to see Spencer and Rudy trailing behind us on the eagle’s back. Time slowed as the Raichu prepared for another attack. There was no way. They weren’t going to make it.

    And then without warning, Pidgeot accelerated out of nowhere, speeding forward to catch up with us and narrowly avoiding the Thunderbolt that was sent hurtling straight for them.

    “Hah, yeah! I knew it’d be good to give you a dose of that X Speed in there!” Spencer exclaimed wildly, patting his bird’s neck.

    I couldn’t even see the Rockets anymore, that’s how fast we were zooming away from them. My eyes were wide and my breathing hurried and I could barely believe what had just happened, but none of that mattered because we had made it.






    ~End Chapter 4~
    Got some rambles on how exactly number nine's ability works~

    Ajia asked if he had the Lightningrod ability, and the answer is... kind of. He has to be hit by an electric move in order to absorb it—sort of like Volt Absorb. However, this is not passive—he has to exert a lot of effort to do so, and it does hurt him. But he uses the power to fill up his own power supply in addition to getting the power boost from Lightningrod, which makes the tradeoff in pain easily worth it. Remember that he has an unnaturally small power supply as a side effect of his mutations (his energy signature has the natural intensity of Zapdos, but his body isn't able to handle this.) So he has to be very careful to conserve his power supply in battle. Unfortunately, this is inherently difficult for him since letting out even a small amount of power opens the floodgates—his body naturally tries to expel all of it, and it takes a lot of effort to prevent this. What he did in this chapter was deliberately take advantage of this weakness.

    What happened was: Nine was out of power and absorbed Pichu’s electricity, putting him at a nearly full power capacity, as well as giving him a temporary energy spike (the 1.5x SpAtk boost). He then used all of his power to create basically the equivalent of ten Thunders in one move. And with the side effect of Struggle (so in game terms he lost 250% of his HP and yeah this move sucks.) This technique is incredibly painful and will always knock him out, so the number of situations in which this move would even be useful are very limited.
     
    Chapter 5: Deliberation
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    Thanks for the reviews, both of you! I'll cover Virgil over on Serebii, but here's the reply for Namo:
    Okay, it looks like we're finally getting a bit of a breather, maybe, after this chapter?? Some time to talk?! Gah! I'm not used to fics starting off with an explosion and I still barely know them!
    No worries, next chapter is a breather! Although the funny thing is, when it was posted on Serebii, I actually apologized for Chapter 5 having no action and reassured everyone that the plot would be kicking back into high gear in Chapter 6. (Back then, breather chapters risked losing your audience.) Shows how the times have changed~

    That being said, the main newcomer here feels like the biggest ace of them all, so I'm curious on where that's going to go. Jade is the main character yet is totally outclassed by pretty much everyone else in the story. Boy doesn't that sound familiar~
    The fact that the main character of this story is neither strong, nor smart, nor brave, nor particularly skilled in any way is a huge part of this fic's themes, and it's the reason I have so much fun with her character arc. As much I love Ajia, this story would not work from her POV.

    There were a few moments that made me a little uncertain, particularly the TM session where it took a literal minute or so to activate during a raging battle. It seemed to be strange. As far as a multi-participant battle is concerned, a minute is... a while.
    I'd consider it pretty sketchy if Jade were actually participating in the battle, but as it was, she was just standing on the sidelines, so her focusing on something else for a few minutes didn't change much.

    I can't, either! Small world. But hey, all your old friends are showing up anyway, so get used to it.
    ahaha, you better not be thinking that Ajia's arrival is a coincidence. ;P

    Pichu then proceeds to bludgeon all of the enemy forces with a Pidgey.
    I love this.
    After looking through Bulbapedia’s list of names commonly used to refer to pokédollars, I decided to go with “pyen” as Kanto's monetary unit in LC. I wanted something without the “poke” prefix (too silly), but starting with a p (to reference the canon in-game symbol), but also referencing the Japanese games just having them as yen (which also makes it more obvious that 20,000 pyen, while a decent sum, is nothing extraordinary.)


    ~Chapter 5: Deliberation~


    “All in all, great job today, everyone. I’d say we’ve graduated to top class as far as not-getting-killed-by-Rockets goes,” Spencer said, stretching widely and flopping to the ground.

    We were resting in a small, shaded clearing in the woods some thirty minutes west of the crash side, after Spencer’s Pidgeot had proven too sore to make the full journey back to Viridian—especially with two passengers. Still, none of us protested the chance to stop and catch our breath after the harrowing escape. I hadn’t moved from the spot I’d collapsed onto after sliding down Aerodactyl’s back, utterly numb. It would have been nice to just lie there with the wind rustling the leaves and watch the sky slowly melt into red as the day drew to a close. I still had too many thoughts swirling through my head to appreciate it, though.

    I heard the sound of a Pokéball opening and then suddenly felt a strange tingling near my hands and feet. I looked down to see a blue psychic aura surrounding the shackles that were still clasped around my wrists and ankles, causing them to snap open suddenly. I had stopped noticing that they were there, what with all the fear and adrenaline that had been flooding my system all day. Now that they were gone, I was suddenly aware of the aching and itching and couldn’t help rubbing my wrists extensively.

    “That’s better, isn’t it?” Ajia asked. I noticed Espeon now sitting next to her on Aerodactyl’s back, flicking its forked tail. “So Jade… you’ve really got to tell me how you got mixed up with those Rockets in the first place.” She gave me a sideways glance—or at least, what looked sideways, given that I was sprawled out on the grass looking up at her. It was hard to tell with everything upside-down.

    I couldn’t help letting out a laugh. “Me? What about you?! How did you even know we were there?”

    “I asked you first,” Ajia replied with a playful smirk.

    Oh come on. That wasn’t fair.

    I sighed, unsure of how much I wanted to say about it. “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and saw something I shouldn’t have. That’s really all it was.” Okay, so that wasn’t the whole truth. Still, I wasn’t exactly sure if I wanted to bring up my conversation with the Charizard trainer—not just because he told me to keep it a secret, but because I was afraid of the reaction I’d get.

    Ajia raised an eyebrow, looking confused. “They kidnapped you just because you saw them doing something? That seems like a waste of time. A big organization like them shouldn’t care if some random kid saw them doing something. It’s not like you could exactly do anything with that info.”

    I paused. “Well… it wasn’t just ‘something.’ I saw them trying to catch Entei.”

    This revelation got a noticeable silence out of everyone. Rudy sat up immediately, eyes wide and jaw hanging open.

    “You actually saw Entei?” he said after some time.

    I nodded blankly, unsure of what else to do.

    “Entei. As in, Legendary beast, Entei? Makes volcanoes erupt, and all that?” Spencer said incredulously.

    “Has anyone ever captured a Legendary before?” Rudy asked, furrowing his brow like he was trying to figure something out.

    Almost immediately, Ajia responded, “No. Never.”

    I closed my eyes, now feeling oddly miserable about the topic. “They succeeded. They actually caught it. There wasn’t anything I could do.”

    Ajia gave me a weird look, like she found my comment to be completely bizarre. “Well, come on. It’s not like you could have done anything.”

    I couldn’t have done anything. It was the same way with the Rocket situation we had just been in. In both cases, I’d been powerless.

    “What would you have done in that situation?” I found myself asking, not entirely sure why.

    “What? That’s—what kind of question is that?”

    I sighed. “Never mind. It was stupid, forget it.”

    “Scary organization that tried to kill us now has an ultra-powerful fire-breathing weapon. I hope I’m not the only one bothered by this,” Spencer commented.

    I didn’t really know what to say in response so I just stared back up at the sky. It was almost night—pinpricks of starlight had started shining above us. If we didn’t get back to Viridian soon, I’d have a world of explaining to do. The idea of returning home after all of this was somehow very strange and foreign.

    “Even if you saw them going after Entei, I still don’t get why they cared so much,” Ajia continued to herself, apparently still trying to figure out the missing link in my story. “It just seems weird that they had to kidnap you even if you didn’t know all that much about them.”

    “Can… can we not talk about this anymore?” I asked, looking away. “And in any case… what about you? You never said how found us there.”

    “I saw the Fire Blast from the air. It was pretty hard to miss, actually.”

    I gave her an incredulous stare. “Um. Yeah, right. You just happened to be flying by and see us?”

    Ajia chuckled slightly. “Okay, okay, I already knew you were in trouble. I heard about the situation from a friend. It’s kind of a long story, though.”

    I raised an eyebrow. “We’ve got time. And does this have anything to do with the fact that you’ve fought Rockets before?”

    She considered the question for a bit and then nodded. “I don’t want to end up dragging you into that mess, though.”

    I couldn’t help staring in disbelief. “I’m already involved in this Rocket mess after today, so what’s the difference?”

    “Jade, be glad that what happened today didn’t pull you in too deep,” she said, suddenly looking very serious. I blinked, a bit taken aback by her sudden change in expression. It was still just too weird that she’d apparently gone through situations like this before.

    Ajia paused, seeing the look on my face. “I’m sorry. It all happened a long time ago.”

    I didn’t say anything. It was kind of obvious she didn’t want to tell me anything anyway, and I couldn’t help feeling annoyed, even if she had a good reason.

    “So… what are you going to do now? Were you on a training journey before this all started?” Ajia asked.

    “Eh… not exactly… I still don’t have a trainer’s license, so—”

    “You don’t?” She paused, suddenly looking confused. “Hang on… how did you get a starter Pokémon, then?”

    “He’s, uh… not my starter. I found the Charmander in the woods before I ran into the Rockets.”

    “Which is completely unfair, if you ask me,” Rudy interjected.

    “Yeah, yeah,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You know, I really wasn’t expecting you to choose Squirtle as your starter.”

    He clapped a hand to his forehead. “Yeah, about that… I should have known that the League registration place would be out of Charmander, so—hey, don’t give me that look, I didn’t want to wait, okay?” I almost burst out laughing at his impatience. Finally it made sense that he’d been so jealous of my finding a Charmander. Of course, then I couldn’t help feeling a prickle of annoyance—was he really that desperate to leave as soon as possible while I was stuck in Viridian?

    “So, think we’re ready to head off now?” Ajia asked, recalling her Espeon back into its ball. “Back to Viridian, right?”

    I hesitated. After the events of today, the idea of returning home like nothing had ever happened felt… strange. One thought was stuck in my mind: I hadn’t been able to do anything, either to help myself or anyone else, all day. Sure, maybe I was too weak to do anything about Team Rocket’s Legendary catching now. But wasn’t that what the Charizard trainer was aiming to change? How could I go home and do nothing after knowing what he had told me about Team Rocket catching Legendaries and seeing proof of it right before me? It was stupid, but I couldn’t help feeling that I’d met him for a reason… and that I needed to take that opportunity.

    I hadn’t wanted to get involved because I didn’t think I could make a difference. Now I wanted to join because of that. Maybe I was just insane.

    “Hey Ajia, can I talk to you about something for a bit?”

    “Sure?” she said, looking a bit puzzled when I stood up and walked away from the clearing. I guess it was kind of weird that I wanted to talk about it in private. But I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone to begin with, and I’d known Ajia the longest, so it just felt right.

    “What is it?” Ajia asked once we were a good distance from the others, who were now looking very confused.

    I took a deep breath before pulling the card out of my pocket and handing it to her. “I want to know what you think of this. I’m honestly considering joining a group against Team Rocket.”

    Something flickered in her eyes when I said that, though I couldn’t quite figure out what. “So you really want to fight the Rockets, huh? Even after what I said.”

    I nodded. Much to my surprise, she just smiled and shrugged. “Hey, if you’re set on trying to help stop them, I’ll stop trying to talk you out of it. I’d be lying if I said I regretted my decision to get involved way back when. It’s been hard… but it’s worth it.”

    Ajia proceeded to read the card several times, repeating certain bits out loud to herself as though trying to discover some hidden meaning that I’d overlooked. “This is… really vague. Though possibly just to protect the leader from being found out. It doesn’t even say where you’ll be going… I guess you’re supposed to figure that out in Vermilion. Overall, it’s suspicious, but I don’t think it’s a trap.”

    “A trap?” I said blankly. The thought hadn’t really occurred to me.

    She nodded. “There’s always the possibility, but that’d be very unlike the Rockets. What would they gain by going and finding a bunch of kids, pointlessly feeding them info, and then killing them? No, I think it’s real… though I can’t say I know what the motives are.”

    The motives? What other motive could there be other than stopping Team Rocket for its own sake? Before I could ask, Ajia said, “Who exactly gave this to you? The leader of the team, or someone working for them?”

    “Um, I’m pretty sure he was the leader. Tall guy, late teens… er, I’m not very good at describing people.”

    Ajia paused, deep in thought. She considered something for several seconds, and then said, “Make sure he really does tell you more when you get there, before you commit to anything. And I hope you’ll get to train for a while before actually fighting any Rockets. Then again, only an idiot would throw newbie trainers against them and expect anything good to come out of it. So depending on how good the training is… this could actually be a really good opportunity. But… do you need to get a license first…?”

    I clenched my fists. “I failed the test again, so I can’t. But I don’t care. I’ve wanted to be a trainer ever since you left. Heck, even before that, back when Starr left. So… I’m doing this, with or without.”

    Ajia’s expression faltered for just a second. But then her face split into a wide grin. “I don’t know whether to tell you that’s a bad idea, or tell you that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard you say.” I couldn’t help laughing slightly. “So I guess you want to go to Vermilion now?”

    I paused. This was it.

    “Yeah. To Vermilion.”

    As we walked back to the clearing, my mind already felt lighter from finally making my decision. Spencer and Rudy perked up slightly upon seeing us return.

    “So Jade, mind telling us what your ultra-secret talk was about?” Rudy asked with a bit of a laugh.

    I didn’t say anything for several seconds. Then: “Rudy, tell my mom I’m leaving on a training journey.”

    He stared at me, unable to work through what I had just said. “…Wait, seriously? Hey, I told you it was a good idea! But seriously, this is kind of out of nowhere. What changed your mind?”

    I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. I repeated that excuse in my head, but it wasn’t the whole reason. This crazy plan was my choice, and he didn’t need to be involved. I kind of already knew he’d want to be involved if I told him.

    “I guess you could say that today changed my mind.”

    I glanced around the clearing, then down at the ground where I had placed the limp experimental Pikachu. His back rose and fell lightly with each breath, but there was no sign of him waking up any time soon.

    I didn’t really know what do with him at this point. It seemed cruel to just leave him here where a predator could find him out cold. And even if it had been for his own reasons, he had helped us.

    “Well, we lost his Pokéball on the plane, so I guess I’ll just have to hold him again,” I said, picking up the rodent as gently as possible.

    “Wait a minute… you’re actually gonna keep that thing?” Rudy asked, staring wide-eyed at the Pikachu with a mixture of incredulous fear and envy.

    “Of course not,” I replied. “I’m just going to hold onto him until he wakes up, then explain the situation to him. He’ll probably leave afterwards.” At least, I hoped so.

    Ajia climbed up onto her Aerodactyl’s back and strapped herself into its flight harness, prompting the reptile to stand up and stretch its wings. I climbed on behind her, taking care to hold the Pikachu as best as I could while still keeping a firm grip on the Aerodactyl’s straps.

    “Leaving now, huh?” Spencer asked. “Take care! Nice fighting with you, or… alongside you, I guess.”

    It wasn’t like I had done much, but his words still made me smile. “Thanks for everything. I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t shown up.”

    Aerodactyl launched from the ground and in an instant, we were off. The air was dusky and cool, and the wind whipped at our faces and through our hair as we flew onward. I lost track of how long we had to fly, but the sky had deepened into black by the time I first caught a glimpse of city lights reflecting off the ocean in the distance. Finally, the winged reptile swooped down low over Vermilion City, eventually landing alongside the Pokémon Center. I let myself down from its back slowly, my hands now sore beyond belief from all the flying we’d done today. It was difficult just holding the Pikachu now—I had to constantly shift his weight between my arms.

    “Wait here,” Ajia said, dismounting her Pokémon and running inside the large, red-roofed building. Only a few seconds afterward, she returned with a pen and a scrap of notepad paper. She scribbled something onto it and then handed it to me.

    “It’s my Pokégear number—in case you ever find yourself in too much trouble.”

    She climbed onto her Aerodactyl once more and waved lightly to me. “Good luck. I hope things work out for you. I mean it.”

    I waved. “Thanks, Ajia.”

    And with that, they were off, soaring into the night sky and out of sight.

    So now it was time for me to figure out how to handle myself on my own. Though I suppose I wasn’t on my own—I did have my Pokémon.

    And then it hit me. I had made this decision without even thinking about the fact that I still had a confused Charmander that didn’t even really belong to me. I pulled out Firestorm’s Pokéball slowly. I’d have to tell him what had happened eventually… and attempt to apologize for taking him here without his consent. No sense putting it off. A flash of white light formed into the flame-tailed lizard, who glanced around, looking puzzled.

    “*Are we safe now?*” he asked.

    I nodded. “We’re far from your old home, though. I’m not sure what you want to do, but—”

    He cut me off: “*I don’t get it. Aren’t you my trainer now?*”

    I blinked stupidly at him. If I’d been expecting anything, it wasn’t that. “I guess? I never really captured you, but…” I trailed off awkwardly. Did wild Pokémon normally act like this? I’d always heard they wouldn’t go with any human that hadn’t proven they could make the Pokémon stronger. After all, that was the entire point behind the tradition of battling a Pokémon before catching it. But then… if he did have a family and a home in that forest, it was likely all gone. There wasn’t much he could go back to, even if he wanted.

    “If you’re sure it’s what you want, then fine, you can come with me,” I said, smiling afterwards. Even though it probably wasn’t right to think of it in this light, I couldn’t deny that having a Charmander was really cool.

    An overwhelming sense of anxiety still hung over my head, but underneath it all, I couldn’t help feeling excited. Though this wasn’t the way I wanted it to happen, I was now a Pokémon trainer. An illegal one off on a mission to join a secret rebel team, sure… but a trainer nonetheless.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    A cool, salty ocean breeze ruffled through my bangs as I strolled down one of Vermilion’s coastal walkways, shopping bags in hand. I had put it off as long as possible, but eventually I’d needed to buy more clothes, no matter how much I hated clothes shopping. Would have been nice if I’d somehow known to grab some spare outfits when I left home. Of course, I’d had no idea that any of this would happen; I had just planned on riding around town while Rudy finished his chores. It was almost crazy how something so small had led to all of this.

    Almost absentmindedly, I found myself thumbing through the money in the new wallet I’d bought. It was a good thing TMs were so valuable; I’d held onto to the Fire Blast TM after I made the connection that Series 5 discs were the reusable ones. Pawning it off the second I got to Vermilion had managed to land me 20,000 pyen—probably far less than it was actually worth, but I was far too desperate to care. I had spent well over half of it within my first two days in Vermilion, but hopefully I wouldn’t need to buy anything more than food for the remainder of my time here.

    I paused just long enough to stuff the bags into my new backpack before continuing down the road alongside the bay, occasionally shooting a glance out over the horizon. I couldn’t help staring in awe at the endless stretches of sea that surrounded half the city—it was so much more open than the hilly, forested setting I was used to seeing around Viridian. Still, rolls of fog were starting to drift in from the ocean, and the day had grown more overcast as it went on. I shivered a bit as an unusual chill swept in. Better to head home for the day.

    I felt a slight pang in my chest as I walked past the Pokémon Center and its promise of a roof and a warm bed. Those things were for licensed trainers—without being able to receive the trainer’s discount, I’d have gone broke within days. I’d had no choice but to settle on… much cheaper arrangements.

    I had just reached the northern edge of the city when I felt the first few raindrops hit my arm. Breaking into a run, I took the training path away from the roads and toward the trainer’s campground that sat amidst the grassy hills of Route 6. It had the basic rest stop amenities like water pumps and restrooms, but otherwise left food and shelter up to the trainers. It was there that I’d set up the tent that I bought the first night I arrived. Because of all the trainers, camping supplies were fairly cheap and thankfully didn’t require a license to purchase. That was at least one thing that had gone in my favor.

    “I’m back,” I announced upon entering the tent, taking care to close the flap behind me.

    “*Hello,*” Firestorm replied. He was sitting patiently on the non-flammable, waterproof tarp that I’d bought to cover the floor of the tent. Swift was huddled in the corner. That just left…

    “…Where’s Pikachu?” I asked, glancing around apprehensively. Given his intimidating air, it felt extremely weird just calling him ‘Pikachu,’ but I couldn’t think of what else to call him.

    “*He went out to train,*” Firestorm answered. “*Sometimes you can see a Thunderbolt out in the field.*”

    “Just so long as he doesn’t make actual lightning strike,” I said with a nervous laugh, though there really probably wasn’t much risk—the sky was covered in more of a misty haze than storm clouds. I felt a bit relieved that he hadn’t decided to take off, but I couldn’t figure out why. Why did I care if a random Pokémon that didn’t even belong to me just decided to up and leave one day? It wasn’t like he’d said a word to any of us; he hadn’t even agreed or disagreed to staying with me.

    Firestorm was now sniffing at the shopping bags I had set down. “*What’s that?*” he asked.

    “I already told you guys that I needed to buy clothes,” I replied, sitting down. “And hey, I thought I said that I wanted you to talk fast so it’s harder to catch what you’re saying. I wanna be sure I can understand you in any situation.”

    “*Again?*” he said, raising an eyebrow. “*If you can understand me enough, then why—?*” The Charmander said all of this much more quickly, and my brain didn’t really have time to register the second half of his words.

    “See, that’s what I’m talking about!” I exclaimed, as if he’d somehow read my thoughts. He stared at me confusedly.

    “I only got through two semesters of Advanced Pokéspeech, and before that I was completely horrible at it,” I explained. Sure, I’d been doing okay with understanding my team for the past few days. But I wanted to be as fluent as possible, and the only way to do that was to practice.

    Firestorm put a hand to his chin, looking puzzled. “*Huh, that’s weird… why does it take you humans so long to learn it?*”

    “Pfft, we’re not like Pokémon; our brains don’t just ‘pick up’ languages like that.” I snapped my fingers to emphasize the point.

    “*Well alright… then couldn’t you talk with Swift?*” he asked.

    Rubbing the back of my head, I answered, “Er, not really…” Swift had never exactly been one to talk very much. Upon noticing his name come up, the Pidgey turned away shyly.

    “Now say something completely random or illogical,” I instructed Firestorm. “You know, so I don’t have context to help me out.”

    The fire lizard rolled his eyes, but then spat out a rapid string of words in Pokéspeech: “Char’ charmann‘der charmaan ‘charr.”

    Okay, sharp cutoff on the first syllable, the sentence was about me. Next the object: full syllables, a trill, a sharp pause, tone shifting down, then back up. The verb was easy. Then the first syllable repeated with that trill at the end, that switched it to a negative, so—

    I raised an eyebrow. “Did you seriously just say, ‘you’re bad at Pokéspeech’? I wanted something illogical.”

    “*That was,*” he said promptly.

    I snorted. Alright, I kinda walked into that.

    “*Why don’t you try talking in Pokéspeech?*” Firestorm asked me. “*You humans can make any sounds you want, right?*”

    I shook my head. “That won’t work. There’s no way I could get the tone changes down. It’s a lot easier for humans to learn how to hear them than to actually make them, and that’s saying something.” It was impossible to appreciate just how different Pokéspeech was from human speech were before diving into it firsthand. It hadn’t made a lick of sense at first. How could a tiny handful of syllables make up every word in an entire language? How could every Pokémon species use an entirely different syllable set to make the exact same words? ‘Char’ alone could mean a dozen different things. But eventually they’d trained us to ignore the sound itself, and notice only the way it was said. I’d been awful at it for the longest time. Even fumbling through slow and awkward conversations with Firestorm would have been completely unthinkable a year ago.

    Firestorm took that opportunity to end my practice and resume his investigation of my purchases. It didn’t take him long to grow bored of that and start digging through a bag of Pokéchow instead, though.

    A sudden flash of light drew my attention to the outside. I crawled forward and peeked out the tent flap to see scattered bolts of lightning coming from a field north of the campsite, twisting and flailing wildly into the air. When I stood up, I caught a glimpse of the experimental Pikachu darting around the grass as though tangling with an invisible opponent. Part of me suspected that he’d already defeated all the willing combatants on the route and scared away all the unwilling ones.

    “Pikachu!” I called out, feeling rather silly. “Hey, Pikachu!”

    He didn’t give any indication that he had heard me at all. The hybrid simply continued ducking and weaving throughout the grasses in a very precise and streamlined motion, occasionally leaping out and slicing his tail through the air.

    “You know, I heard when you snuck into the tent last night to steal food. You could have just asked.”

    Not a word. Not even a look. His spiky fur stood on end as he leaped forward and tail slammed the dead remains of a tree, unleashing a wave of electricity from the impact and scorching the trunk even more than it was before.

    “Seriously, I know I’m not your trainer but could you at least give me a reason you haven’t left yet? I have no idea what to think about you!”

    The rodent’s breathing was starting to grow heavier from the intense training. With each wave of sparks that leaped off his fur, he let off a narrow string of lightning straight along the ground. Compared to his previous moves, this was a lot more precise and controlled.

    “You know, in a few weeks, I’m gonna be leaving to join a group fighting the Rockets! Are you going to follow me then too?”

    His movements faltered. It was only for a moment, but he definitely paused before leaping back into the tall grass and out of sight. I waited several seconds, but didn’t see any more signs of his training.

    “Ugh, forget it,” I muttered, climbing back inside the tent and flopping down onto my sleeping bag. My eyelids started to droop and my muscles went limp, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. I’d felt similarly exhausted throughout the past few days too. Maybe it was stress—I didn’t really know.

    The wind whipped against the tent as I looked out toward the overcast gray sky. Three more weeks in Vermilion…

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    My footsteps dragged as I walked down the boardwalk for what felt like the hundredth time. I paused to lean against the railing and pulled out the card I had been given, reading it over for what must have been the thousandth time. It had seemed like a good idea when I’d first made the decision to come here. But as time went on, reality was starting to set in. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing here, or how I was even supposed to find the guy with the Charizard. For a while I’d wondered if I needed to board the S.S. Anne, but if that was the case, how was I supposed to afford a ticket? For now, my only plan was visiting the harbor each day, hoping to run into the trainer again.

    I had just turned to leave when I heard the rushing of air behind me. I spun around and was met with the familiar sight of a blue-winged fire lizard descending from above. And on its back was a tall, cloaked figure wearing a dark mask that completely covered his face. My heart caught in my chest. Finally. It had to be him—the one I’d met in the forest. Although the mask hiding his face threw me off somewhat.

    “I assume you’re here learn more about the team I’m creating,” he said as his Charizard landed alongside me.

    “What’s with the mask?” I blurted out without thinking.

    He tilted his head. “That’s right, you saw my face back then,” he said distantly. “I hadn’t been planning on picking up any recruits that day, so I didn’t take care to hide my identity. Everyone else I approached only saw me in this.” After he said that, I expected him to remove the mask, but he didn’t. It felt a bit strange being stared at by someone whose face I couldn’t see. Then again, even without being able to see his face, I still couldn’t help feeling like I was being x-rayed. Just like when I’d looked into those icy eyes of his back in the forest.

    “First of all, I need to make sure you’re willing to go through with this.”

    The words snapped me out of my thoughts. “Well yeah. I mean, after you first told me about it, I wasn’t so sure. That was because I didn’t think I could do anything, but…” My words trailed off. I wasn’t exactly doing the best job at selling myself here.

    The masked trainer considered me for some time before he next spoke. “I don’t want anyone joining because it sounds interesting and then quitting after they realize that there’s danger involved,” he said, his words slow and deliberate. “Of course, I’m not going to throw you into the fire until you’ve been trained. But one way or another, this is going to test your resolve.” His voice was harsh. Even though he had probably said this same thing to all of his potential recruits, for some reason I felt like a perfect target for it.

    And yet… I’d already been through danger with Team Rocket, and I still wanted to do this. That had to count for something, right?

    I took a deep breath. “I… I can’t just ignore what happened that day. I want to be able to make a difference.” I hoped he didn’t notice the slight quiver in my voice.

    A few seconds passed. “Alright,” he said, pulling a small, stiff sheet of paper out of his coat and handing it to me. I took it and skimmed the text quickly. No way… this was…

    “This is an S.S. Anne boarding pass?” I said, staring blankly at it.

    “How else would you be allowed on the ship?”

    “Yeah, but… if you’re giving tickets to everyone who’s joining the rebel team, then—”

    He cut me off with, “I told those in charge of the ship that I wanted specialty invites for the Pokémon trainer’s party on board and then bought a hundred and fifty of them.”

    I gawked at him. “Holy crap, you must be rich.”

    “I wouldn’t be starting something like this if I weren’t prepared,” he said simply. “Still, I spent most of my funds on the tickets and renting the stadium we’ll be using as headquarters.”

    “Which is where…?” I asked, as I’d been wondering it for a long time.

    “That’s classified until you arrive.”

    I stared. But… couldn’t anyone just check the ship’s records if they really wanted to know? This whole situation was starting to seem kind of strange, but then, there was something else that I had wanted to ask him.

    “You said you were recruiting beginning trainers,” I said. “Why? Why not more experienced ones that would have a better chance when fighting Team Rocket?” I couldn’t help thinking back to the way Ajia had battled.

    He paused, mulling the question over. “I suppose I just preferred having a blank slate to work with. I want to be able to train you all from the start in the battle style that will be most useful for our missions. As opposed to forcing an experienced to trainer to relearn everything.” That didn’t fully make sense to me. But before I could say anything, he asked, “Have you caught any more Pokémon?”

    “Oh, um… I kept the Charmander that I found that day, and I also have a Pikachu,” I said. I wasn’t entirely sure if it made sense to include Pikachu, or tell the guy about the hybrid’s nature. But it didn’t seem right to leave him out either.

    The masked trainer nodded. “Your Charmander could be a pretty good fighter once it evolves. Of course, I can’t say I’m not partial to Charizard,” he said as he mounted his fire lizard once more. “It sounds like I’ll be seeing you with the others.”

    This was it. This was really happening.

    “Yeah. I guess I’ll see you later then,” I said as his Charizard spread its wings. But before they could take off, a random thought struck me. “Hey! What’s your name?”

    He paused to consider the question. “I suppose you guys will need something to call me…” He turned away, and the last thing he said before taking to the air was, “Stalker.”

    Stalker… dodgy name for someone who wasn’t totally free of suspicion himself. Still, when going against Team Rocket, it probably wasn’t best to reveal too much. So as much as I wanted to know more, I’d have to be patient.

    I glanced back over the harbor, my thoughts swimming with both anticipation and anxiety, and the realization that I was now definitely bound to this crazy, spur-of-the-moment adventure. I had long since given up my opportunity to return home and put things right from the moment where they had first gone very wrong in the forest that day.

    But that almost didn’t matter anymore. There was no turning back now, and in a weird sort of way, I didn’t mind.






    ~End Chapter 5~
    Allllright, I think here's a good point to let everyone know that I love any and all speculation on this fic. Go nuts. :)

    Also, the following post contains a bonus scene that didn't fit in this chapter!
     
    Ch 5 Extra: The Phone Call
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    (Chapter 5 is in the previous post!)

    This is the first of several extras in the fic—scenes that either didn’t fit in the chapter, would throw off the pacing, or require a POV other than Jade. This scene didn't really fit in Chapter 5, and was actually written many years later, after I’d finished the entirely of Book 1. This fact shows from the obvious shift in writing style (much closer to my modern style) and the dramatic irony that was aimed at people who had already read the outcome of Jade’s journey.

    But since it’s intended to take place not long after Jade arrived in Vermilion, I’m posting it here chronologically.


    ~Chapter 5 Extra: The Phone Call~

    What was I doing? Why did I think this was a good idea again?

    My shoes repeatedly tapped the carpeted floor of the Vermilion Pokécenter while I continued my staring contest with the videophone. I was lucky the center even had a videophone. Lots of places didn’t carry ‘em since pretty much every trainer had a Gear these days. For years, I’d stubbornly insisted I didn’t want one if I couldn’t be trainer, but I was kind of wishing I hadn’t done that now.

    But that was beside the point. I couldn’t just leave on an impromptu journey off to fight Rockets who-knows-where and expect it not to bite me in the rear if I didn’t call home first. The last thing I needed was for my face to be on every missing kid list in Kanto.

    That was what motivated me to finally put the coins into the console and dial my home phone number. The seconds that ticked by with the dial tone seemed to drag on for an eternity. Twice I fought back the urge to slam the end call button. But no, I had to do this.

    And then my mom’s face appeared on the screen, flushed with worry that immediately melted into relief.

    “Jade! I was starting to worry. You know I don’t mind you going out biking all day with Rudy, but I’d like a check-in if you’re going to be—” She paused, frowning. “Are you… in a Pokémon Center?”

    I swallowed. “Yeah.”

    “Why?”

    Why? To make this phone call. It wasn’t as if I could stay here without a license. But that wasn’t much of an explanation. So I steeled myself as hard as I could and opened my mouth to say the five words I’d been practicing for the last hour which suddenly felt impossible to actually say:

    “I’m going on a Pokémon journey.”

    There it was. I’d made my decision hours ago, when talking to Ajia, but saying it now made it feel that much more real.

    My mom raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

    I nodded, forcing my face to look way more confident than I felt. “Yeah.”

    “And how exactly do you plan to do that?” she asked in that calm, parental, “I’ll humor you even though you have no idea what you’re saying,” kind of way.

    “Well, uh… we both know I’m never gonna pass the test. So, I decided that the best way to learn all that stuff was to experience it myself in the real world. So that’s what I’m gonna do.”

    My mom gave an exasperated sigh. “Alright, that’s a good joke, but I’m coming to get you now. Which Pokécenter are you at? It better not be the northside one, you know I don’t like it when you and Rudy bike over there.”

    “I’m, uh, in Vermilion City.”

    The amusement slowly faded as it dawned on her that I wasn’t joking, and had already taken this idea way further than I should have for just some dumb joke.

    “Are you serious? You don’t even have any Pokémon for protection, and—”

    “Yes I do!” I immediately shot back.

    My mom paused, processing what I’d just said. “You took Swift, didn’t you?”

    I nodded eagerly, glad to have proven my point.

    She sighed. “Having a Pidgey doesn’t make me that much more comfortable with you being on your own.”

    “I’ve got a Charmander and a Pikachu too.” Did I? Did I really have a Pikachu? He was unconscious. I was sure he’d run off the instant he woke up. And yet…

    Mom frowned. “How did you catch them?”

    “Rudy gave me a Pokéball,” I said. “And plenty of kids travel around with a Charmander for protection, so it’s not a big deal.” Wow, I sure sounded a lot more confident than I felt.

    “Well, it’s nice that you don’t think so, but yes, Jade, this is a big deal.” And there it was. The inevitable shutdown that bypassed everything.

    “I’m gonna be hanging out with a bunch of other kids!” I immediately protested. “It’ll be safe because there’s a lot of us and we’ve all got Pokémon.” God, I sounded like a twelve-year-old, and I knew it, but I almost didn’t care. Almost.

    “How did you meet all of them?”

    I paused. “There was this one kid who’s really good at training, and he’s been gathering this big group to help train all of us.”

    ‘Kid’ was maybe not the best way to describe the Charizard guy, who was clearly at least eighteen or nineteen. Sure sounded a heck of a lot less dodgy, though.

    My mom exhaled slowly. “Jade… it’s one thing to spend the day away from home, but this is a little more extreme than that. Have you really thought this through? Where will you sleep? How will you buy food? I can’t exactly put money in a trainer account if you don’t have one.”

    I clenched my fists, willing myself not to back down. “I’m just gonna be camping out with the rest of the kids at the trainer grounds, so I don’t need to stay in the Pokémon Center.” Well… it was just gonna be me at the campsite for now… but the other kids that he’d recruited would be here soon, right? “And, and for food, I’ve got my birthday savings.” Actually, the Rockets had stolen all my money, but it wasn’t as if I didn’t have a plan to replace it—that TM I’d stolen from them was pretty valuable, after all.

    She folded her arms. “And what if you get caught?”

    I paused. That hadn’t occurred to me yet, but… “I’d just get sent home and put on probation, right? I’d be no worse off than I already am.” Hey, it wasn’t as if I didn’t remember anything from the League unit in class. Just not enough to pass the test.

    My mom put a hand to her face, still struggling with the enormity of this revelation. “How… how did you even get to Vermilion?”

    “Ajia gave me a ride. And that’s where the training group is meeting up.”

    “Ajia’s in on this too?” she asked with a weary look. “I was expecting Rudy, but I thought she was a better influence than that.” My mom sighed deeply, taking off her glasses. “Well, I’m glad you’ve at least put some thought into all of this. But there’s a right way to do it, and this? This isn’t it.”

    “What is the right way, then? Waiting until I’m old and I can’t even do it because I’m too busy with adult stuff?” Oh geez, now the emotions were rushing to my face. I could feel my cheeks heating up and a prickle at the corners of my eyes.

    My mom’s face relaxed. “Jade. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go on a Pokémon journey when you’re a kid. It’s probably one of the most important parts of growing up. But you’ve got to get your license first.”

    “I’m never gonna get a license if I just stay in Viridian and fail the test every year. Doing it for real is a way better way for me to learn all this stuff firsthand,” I insisted.

    For several seconds, neither of us said anything. I couldn’t tell what my mom what thinking. Her expression didn’t give any indication.

    “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you so serious about anything in your life.”

    Of course I was serious about it. I’d wanted this ever since Starr left. Wanted it even more when Ajia left. With each passing month, the odds of being able to go on a journey felt more and more distant. And now, with the opportunity to join the anti-Rocket team handed to me on a silver platter, I could actually learn from a master trainer, and have the chance to put those skills to use actually helping save Legendary Pokémon. I could stop wasting my time at home and actually make a difference in the world.

    “I always thought, if getting your license meant so much to you, you would have…” My mom shook her head, ignoring that thought. Then she fixed me with a hard stare. “Do you know where the nearest League office is?”

    I sat up straight. “I could look it up on the internet.”

    “If I let you go through with this crazy plan of yours, you can’t just train Pokémon illegally forever. You can only do this if you go take the exam and get your license the moment you think you’re ready.”

    My heart jumped into my throat. “Yes! Definitely!”

    “And that doesn’t mean just putting it off forever, either. I know how you can be.” What was that supposed to mean? “I want to see you with a license by your fifteenth birthday, otherwise you’re coming straight home, you hear me?”

    I nodded even more vigorously as my entire body suddenly felt lighter than air. This was real. This was actually happening. I was starting a Pokémon journey. Finally.

    My mom’s expression softened, just a bit. “You know, I would’ve preferred if you’d told me this plan before you’d just gone and done it,” she said, shaking her head.

    “I wasn’t planning on dropping it out of nowhere like this,” I admitted. “It just sort of… happened. And before I knew it, I was… out here.”

    “Just don’t expect me to cover for you if the League sends your butt back to Viridian, alright?” she added, bringing back the hard stare. “You get put on probation, that means no license until you’re sixteen, got it?”

    I nodded.

    “And I want updates on how your training is going. This is supposed to be a learning experience, isn’t it?”

    I grinned. “Sure, I can do that.”

    “Lastly… stay safe, alright?”

    And for the first moment since I’d scored this victory, I felt my face falter just a bit. “Safe.” My mind flashed back to the moment that had kickstarted all of this. Kidnapped. Fighting for my life aboard a Rocket jet. And now I was becoming a trainer solely to learn how to fight back against the Rockets, which would no doubt involve even more deadly situations. It was probably the least safe thing I could imagine. But to stop them from capturing the Legendaries and taking over our entire region… it was worth it.

    “Yeah. Of course.”
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 6: Aboard the S.S. Anne
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    Real talk, I know that in the past apparently people hated when fics had an early breather chapter, but geez, I really needed this. I think this was the first chapter that I actually felt like I was able to actually ground myself and get to know everyone a little more, or at least Jade. Hoo. So far, this is my favorite chapter, and maybe I'm biased by saying that, but it's definitely something that I hope can happen between the action chapters.
    Man, it's still wild to hear you say, since this is one of my least favorites. It never occurred to me that the plane arc could feel overwhelming, especially since there were lengthy gaps in both chapters 2 and 3 with no action at all. Well, I can say the majority of the Rocket chapters from here on tend to lean more toward suspense than action--there's a lot more hiding and sneaking around.

    Huh, this kinda reminds me of how Mandarin works but even more extreme, unless I'm not remembering my language mechanics right...
    Ahaha, yeah, I've often described Pokéspeech as Mandarin + morse code + sign language + crack.

    Wow, what a time skip. A lot can happen in three weeks that I feel were a bit glossed over. Bonding with Fierstorm, maybe talking to Pikachu or wondering where he went, or something? Hopefully that gets alluded to or something.
    Ah, don't worry, those character arcs aren't remotely over and will get a ton of focus as time goes on.

    The number of jokes that have been made about Stalker's alias over the years will never not be hilarious to me.

    Okay so... is it just me, or is this an arc line? I'm not sure if I'm remembering wrong, but I think this came up, like, twice so far in the past few chapters, maybe three times. I think I'm gonna keep an eye out for this line in the future, just in case that wasn't a coincidence.
    You know, I hadn't thought of it before, but yeah, it kind of is. This fic is going to involve a lot of Jade questioning whether this fight is worth it.
    Time for the S.S Anne arc! This one is a lot better than the plane arc for a lot of reasons, the main one being how much better-researched it was. I spent a truly ridiculous amount of time researching ship layouts, engine rooms, emergency protocol, etc, and my browser was stuck with fifty ship tabs open for well over a month.



    ~Chapter 6: Aboard the S.S. Anne~


    The S.S. Anne was huge. It towered over nearly everything else around it, which was saying something, as the rest of the cargo ships that frequented Vermilion harbor were the biggest I had ever seen. (Not that I’d ever been to a port town this large before, but still.) I had to crane my neck upwards just to get a look at the uppermost deck and the orange-rimmed smokestacks rising from the top.

    I’d been standing in line for the S.S. Anne for about half an hour and still found myself staring at the ship. But then again, it was mostly to distract myself from the anxiety of having to stand in such a large bustling crowd. Adding to the anxiety was the experimental Pikachu, who stood at my heels with an indifferent sort of expression like he was trying to pretend he wasn’t following me, even though he clearly wasn’t here with anyone else.

    I was kind of afraid to question him at this point, as I couldn’t afford any unpredictable reactions with all these people surrounding us. Honestly, I didn’t even know if someone stepping on his tail would be enough to send him into a violent rage. It was a valid concern given how often people were shuffled between lines, getting bags checked and Pokémon registered and ID cleared and—oh crap.

    It hit me like a brick to the forehead. I had no ID on me whatsoever. No Pokédex, no passport, no anything. This single realization managed to instantly shove any vague concerns about Pikachu clean out of my head. What would they even do if they encountered someone trying to get on board with no ID? I couldn’t possibly be arrested for that, could I? My eyes immediately flew over to the armed security staff. And then, if it were even possible, my stomach melted into even more of a black hole than before. I was carrying Pokémon inside Pokéballs without a license. That was definitely illegal. But if I left now, staying in Vermilion would have been entirely pointless. This had really felt like my one chance to get out into the world and do something.

    “Boarding pass?”

    Oh crap, now I was done for. I hadn’t even noticed that I was now first in line. For several seconds I just stared at the woman at the check-in stand, completely unsure of what to do, or if it would even make sense to run away now before they could find out I had Pokémon without a license. The expression of dread covering my face must have looked ridiculous as my legs slowly carried me to the check-in booth without me telling them to. At this point I didn’t really know what else to do but hand my ticket to the woman behind the stand. She paused slightly before looking it over, apparently a bit confused by my behavior.

    “Ah yes, a specialty invite. You’ll be joining that line over there.” She pointed off to the right, at a much smaller line in front of a different entry staircase onto the ship.

    I blinked stupidly, unable to do anything but take my boarding pass back from her and mutter a distracted, “Thanks.”

    My footsteps were somewhat shaky as I wandered away from the main registration lines and down the pier toward the separate check-in booth. I glanced down at the boarding pass in my hand, vaguely recalling how Stalker had mentioned that it was a specialty invite. Still, with my luck, this had probably only delayed the inevitable ID check. I craned my neck to get a better look at the people in the front of the line, and if they needed to show ID, but I couldn’t quite tell from this angle.

    The people in this line were almost all my age or younger, which felt extremely odd. What were a bunch of kids like us even doing boarding a cruise ship, as if we were old enough to do things like that. But then… trainers were able to travel the region with only their Pokémon by their side, so I guess it wasn’t that weird.

    And then it hit me. Most of the kids in this line had to be potential recruits for the rebel team, just like me. It was a strange thought. Of course, I’d known all along that there would be others, but this was the first real evidence of it.

    After several minutes, I reached the front of the line. The uniformed man at the check-in booth gave a welcoming smile, and I attempted to look like I wasn’t dreading what would happen next as I set my boarding pass on the table. The attendant scanned it into a machine and then typed something for a bit.

    “Are you a Pokémon trainer?” he asked.

    This was it. The moment of truth.

    “…Yes?” I said tentatively, wincing.

    “I’ll need to have the Pokémon you’re bringing onto the ship recorded here.”

    I paused. I hadn’t been expecting that. “Er, Charmander, Pidgey, and Pikachu.”

    The man typed a bit more, and then a small printer next to the computer spat out a plastic card. He hooked it onto a cord and handed it to me along with an instruction booklet.

    “This is the card key for your room and we request that you wear it at all times during your stay. Welcome to the S.S. Anne.”

    And that was it. That was all it took for me to be admitted onto the ship. My mind was in a sort of stupefied shock as I slowly walked away from the check-in booth and approached the giant metal staircase that led up from the pier and into the ship.

    “They… they didn’t check ID?”

    I didn’t even realize I had said it out loud until the kid behind me in line said, “Yeah, specialty invites aren’t pre-registered or anything, so they don’t need to.” I jumped a bit at his voice, as I hadn’t been expecting a reply. Then I immediately had to banish the look of intense guilt from my face as I turned to look at him. He was a small and skinny kid, maybe twelve or thirteen, with straight, dirty-blond hair that fell to his ears and light blue eyes. He gave me a bit of an inscrutable expression, like he was trying to figure something out. “What did you do?”

    I stared blankly. “Huh?”

    “You just have this look like you did something wrong.” He laughed slightly. “What is it? Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”

    Great, just what I needed—some random kid interrogating me. I racked my brain for the best explanation that wouldn’t give anything away.

    “I just… thought they’d do a Pokéball inspection, and right now I don’t have one for my Pikachu.”

    He waved a hand dismissively. “It’s a trainer’s party, they don’t mind if Pokémon are out and about, so long as they’re not too big. Weren’t you paying attention when they announced all of this?”

    No, I really hadn’t. I had been too busy wondering if my Pikachu was going to kill anyone or not.

    “By the way, I like your Pikachu. He looks cool.”

    I didn’t bother to point out that he wasn’t actually mine, as my previous statement had sort of made it seem like he was. And really, what else could I say? No, sorry, this isn’t my Pikachu; he’s a violent half-Legendary genetic experiment that sort of just decided to follow me around.

    The kid raised an eyebrow. “You’re kind of weird, you know that? Either you have a lot bothering you or you just don’t like talking. Try to have fun at the party, m’kay? I’ll see ya later.” Here he lowered his voice to a whisper and said, “Or maybe at the place where we’re all going, yeah?”

    I blinked, unsure of how to respond. At this point we had reached the top of the staircase and were now taking our first step into the S.S. Anne. The kid gave a light wave before walking off. I waved absentmindedly, still caught off guard by what he’d said. So that confirmed it—there definitely were other recruits here.

    I took several slow, uncertain steps into the main entry lobby, immediately floored by how massive it was. I never really had any expectation for what the inside of a cruise ship would be like—it almost looked like the lobby of a fancy hotel, with bright red carpet and massive circular staircases winding their way up past rows and rows of elaborate wooden banisters. At the far end of the room, several uniformed crew members were standing on a podium and directing the passengers around. The room had to be filled with nearly a thousand people already, and there were still others entering from the registered passenger entrance to the left. It didn’t seem like we’d be able to leave the room until everyone had finished boarding, so I found the nearest staircase and walked up to the second level so there’d be more room in the entrance.

    After about twenty minutes, a voice finally rang out over the intercom. “Welcome to the S.S. Anne! We all hope you enjoy you have a fun and relaxing stay on our inter-regional cruise, no matter where your destination may be. We will now take a moment to relay the mandatory safety briefing before leaving port.

    “This ship is specially designed to accommodate and entertain Pokémon trainers, and as such, has a comparatively lax policy regarding Pokémon on the ship. However, there are still rules that must be obeyed at all times. No more than two Pokémon per trainer may be out of their Pokéballs at any given time. Pokémon taller than 6’5” or weighing in excess of 500 lbs. should only be released on the upper deck in the training grounds and battlefield C. Please ensure that your Pokémon stay by your side at all times, except in the training grounds where it is specifically permitted otherwise.”

    Well, that wouldn’t be a problem. I only had three, and they were all small anyway. Making sure that they stayed close to me, on the other hand… I glanced down at my heels to make sure that Pikachu was still there, still anxious about having him this close to a crowd of people.

    For the rest of the hour, the crew explained the remaining rules of the ship, gave a brief rundown of what events would be taking place, and demonstrated what to do in an emergency—where the exits were located, how to use the personal flotation devices, stuff like that. Finally, after what felt like forever, the crowd was dismissed and we were free to roam about the ship. Almost immediately, life returned to the crowd as everyone in the lobby began chattering excitedly, making their way to the doors that led to the rest of the ship.

    I had no idea where I wanted to start. The idea of participating in one of the many trainer’s events just felt awkward since I wasn’t a real trainer. I mean sure, they probably wouldn’t check ID since it wasn’t an official tournament or anything, but it still seemed weird. I’d have to shake that feeling if I ever wanted to learn how to battle, but it didn’t want to leave.

    I unfolded the info booklet and browsed the list of events. Even if I couldn’t work up the nerve to enter any of them, they would at least be entertaining to watch. My eyes settled on the special event starting tomorrow morning. Apparently, there would be an exclusive challenge open only to invite holders. Would that be when we found out more about the rebel team?

    As I read, I couldn’t help glancing down at the Pikachu more often than before. He was staring intently into the crowd on the floor below us. Every few seconds his ears twitched.

    I sighed and forced myself to look away. Come on, enough already. Everything was going to be fine.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Everything was not fine.

    My heart was pounding and my breath racing as I charged away from the battle I’d been watching. I kept my pace to a fast walk to avoid looking suspicious, despite the fact that I wanted to scream.

    The Pikachu had stayed by my side the whole time while I got food and browsed a shop—why had he disappeared now?! Just when I’d gotten comfortable and thought I could watch a battle all the way through without checking on him every thirty seconds. Had he seriously just been waiting for a chance? But really, he could have left at any time—whether I saw him leave or not was irrelevant. So why now?

    What was I supposed to do? My violent, unstable Pikachu was now loose because I was an idiot with no Pokéball for him. I didn’t even want to think about what they’d do if a trainer’s Pokémon attacked someone on board the ship. It was stupid for me to even bring him with me—what on earth had I been thinking? Granted, it wasn’t so much that I was keeping him as that I was afraid to tell him to leave. But that fact didn’t really make me feel any better.

    Alright, had to find the Pikachu now. Where could he have gone? My fingers were almost a blur as I unfolded the info booklet and skimmed the map of the S.S. Anne, desperately hoping for any kind of clue. The ship’s entry level was the middle deck, on the same level as the restaurants, shops, lounges, and dance room. Just above was the Pokémon Center, small arenas, contest hall, spa and suites. The lower decks held the engine room and all of the basic cabins and none of this was helpful, argh.

    I folded up the booklet and shoved it into my bag before storming off in a hurry, attempting to navigate the crowded halls. I found my way back to the main lobby pretty quickly and took a turn for the front of the ship—that seemed like as good as any place to start.

    Working my way through groups of passengers, I scanned all of the shops and training areas one after the other, stopping just long enough to get a good look at each one. It quickly became obvious that between all the trainers and the sheer number of areas, if he was trying to hide, there was almost no chance of finding him. I could only hope that hiding wasn’t his goal. Then again, I didn’t want him out in the open where it’d be more likely for someone to run into him either.

    This never would have happened if I’d just told him to go be free in the wild. I’d been afraid to say it the whole time. But did I even have a reason to be so afraid? He hadn’t attacked me or anything yet. I just didn’t know.

    At some point I made a wrong turn and found myself near the back of the ship, in a hallway devoid of passengers with only the occasional crewman walking past. I was about to turn around when it hit me. All of the areas I had searched were packed with people. And yeah, I’d been most worried about him being around people, but a sudden gut feeling told me that I should be searching the empty areas. I couldn’t explain why. But my brain latched onto that hope and wouldn’t let go as I walked further towards the back of the ship, passing scattered crew members here and there. I glanced down each hallway branching off from mine one after the other, most of them leading towards lounges or souvenir shops. I didn’t see him anywhere.

    “So much for that…” I muttered, turning around in all directions. I was just about to head back; it was my only option at this point, but then—

    I caught a glimpse of yellow out of the corner of my eye and spun around immediately. Standing at the edge of a doorway was a Pikachu—the very spiky-furred hybrid Pikachu I was looking for.

    “There you are!” I called out, running towards him and feeling more relief than I had in a long time. He gave a light glance in my direction but otherwise didn’t seem too concerned with my arrival. My footsteps slowed as I neared him, and it struck me that I’d have to do something about what had happened. Not later… now. I’d been putting off talking to him, and it couldn’t wait. Even if I was really dreading his reaction.

    “We need to talk. Now.” I winced slightly, knowing that he would hate being ordered around. Still, this wasn’t a situation where I could afford to seem weak-willed.

    The hybrid turned to glance at me over his shoulder, looking more annoyed than angry. “*Does it have to be now?*”

    I stared at him incredulously. “Kind of, yeah!”

    Much to my surprise, he merely raised an eyebrow and turned his back to me. I stood there for several seconds, not really sure what I expected him to do next, but he didn’t move. Was he… actually waiting for me? Hard as it was to believe?

    “Alright, so…” I said uncertainly, kneeling beside him. How exactly was I supposed to start this? I still felt uneasy around him, but the lack of any clear reasoning as to why made it difficult to put into words. “I honestly have no idea what to think of you; I don’t even know why you’ve stayed with me. I’ve seen too many different sides to you, and the violent, raging, mad part stands out the most.” His fur bristled slightly at my words.

    “There’s no reason why I should assume you aren’t dangerous to bring around people. And… I can’t really have you with me if I don’t know what to expect,” I finished somewhat awkwardly.

    For the longest time, the Pikachu didn’t give any sort of indication that he was even going to reply. Nearly a minute passed with only the occasional ear twitch. I couldn’t even see his face since he had his back to me.

    Finally—without looking at me—he said, “*I didn’t give you a reason for staying with you because I hadn’t decided why myself.*” His words were very slow and meticulous. “*I don’t owe you an explanation. So don’t treat me like some kind of mindless raging beast.*”

    I blinked. I guess he did have a point, in a weird sort of way. Why did I deserve an explana—no. I shook my head. No, I had to be firm on this. Even though I was already starting to question why.

    “I won’t treat you like that if you give me a reason why I shouldn’t. If you’re going to be staying with me, then I want a reason.”

    Again, he spoke incredibly slowly, with a deliberate emphasis on each word: “*You’re not in control of me. Why should my actions concern you?*”

    “If you’re with me, then I’m responsible for you, that’s why. I know I’m not in control of you. Why on earth would I think that?”

    At that point, he finally spun around to face me, staring with an expression I couldn’t read. I had no idea how he felt about my words until he said, “*You’re… strange.*” I stared blankly. His piercing, hawk-like eyes stared back. I was just about to come up with a response when he continued, “*Or maybe I just need to learn more about humans. You’re not all the same.*”

    I really had no idea what to say in response to a statement like that.

    “*I still don’t have a reason for why I followed you, but…*” He closed his eyes. “*You have my word that what you saw of me on the plane is not normal.*”

    I exhaled slowly. Alright. That was a good sign. And it did match up with what I’d seen of him the past few weeks. He’d been cold and elusive and aggressive… but he hadn’t actually attacked anyone. So even though I had no way of knowing if he was telling the truth… I still felt like I could trust him more now. At least a little bit.

    “Well… thanks for that… Pikachu,” I told him.

    His ears twitched. “*Don’t call me that.*”

    I hesitated. “Do you want me to call you number nine like the Rockets—”

    “*Anything but that,*” he immediately cut in. “*And I do have a name. I only ever used it with… But that doesn’t matter now… Call me Chibi.*”

    I couldn’t help snickering a bit. Chibi? The name sounded sort of… small and cute. Not really fitting for his personality.

    He glared a bit at my reaction. “*What’s so funny?*”

    “Nothing, nothing,” I said, not wanting to ruin the moment, since it must have taken some amount of trust for him to be willing to tell me his name.

    “*So, you’re going to show me more of the world outside of Team Rocket.*” It was a statement, not a request.

    “I… guess I am?” I said with a bit of uncertainty.

    Chibi nodded. “*Alright then.*”

    I stood to my feet, a sense of relief washing over me. “Well… should we attend the party now? You’d get to battle—and it wouldn’t be for your life or your freedom or anything,” I added with a half-smile.

    The Pikachu’s expression hardened. “*That would be nice. But there’s something you should know. The reason I wandered off—I saw someone I recognized.*”

    It took several seconds for the implication of his words to sink in. “But… you were raised by…” My voice trailed off. He’d never been around any humans other than Rockets.

    “*What’s more… *” he continued. “*I overheard a few kids reporting that their friends had gone missing.*”

    I stared at him in disbelief. They’d found us. The Rockets had found us before we’d even gathered together as a team. Before we’d even started training to oppose them. Why did this have to happen?

    “You… you can’t be serious,” I finally managed.

    “*Come on,*” Chibi said, turning to walk further down the hallway. “*Before you found me, I was searching for them. I want to see if I can find out what they’re doing here.*”

    It was obvious he was going to look into this with or without me. My legs were on autopilot as I shuffled after him, my mind still reeling with shock. It didn’t seem possible. He had to have made a mistake. But I didn’t dare question him as I followed—I could only desperately hope that we wouldn’t find anyone.

    The hybrid walked several yards ahead of me, stopping at each corner to glance in all directions before motioning that it was safe to follow. His expression was wary, but calm and collected at the same time—it had the effect of calming me, in any case. Chibi knew what he was doing. I had to put my trust in that.

    And then the Pikachu’s ears stood bolt upright. His eyes focused with laser intensity onto a supply closet before he bounded over to press a black-tipped ear against it. Not more than second later, he motioned for me to join him. My stomach twisted into a knot instantly. This was it. No losing my cool now. I cautiously tiptoed forward and put my ear to the door as well.

    “I have no idea what you’re talking about! I’ve never heard of anyone called Stalker and I don’t know anything about any rebels!” a voice cried out. A young voice—couldn’t have been any older than thirteen.

    “That’s what everyone we’ve asked has said. Why should we believe you?” This one was a lot older. Mid-thirties at least.

    “Because it’s the truth!” The voice was now growing desperate. “I’m just here for the trainer’s party! Why else would I be here? And if there really are dangerous rebels hanging around, then shouldn’t everyone know about it?!”

    So they were interrogating passengers. This had to be why Chibi overheard some kids reporting missing friends. How many Rockets were elsewhere on the ship, kidnapping more trainers?

    Several seconds passed. I could almost hear my heart thumping, and part of me was afraid they’d hear it through the door. Footsteps paced back and forth inside the room, until finally—

    “Knock her out, Machoke.” The voice was dripping with disappointment. I winced as I felt the dull thud of an impact vibrate across the floor.

    A second Rocket, younger than the first, sighed. “This is the fourth kid who’s had no idea what the hell is going on. Starting to think this is a lost cause.”

    The first one chuckled. “Don’t let any executives hear ya say that.”

    “There are hundreds of trainers on board for the party,” the second countered, sounding frustrated. “Even if the rebels are here, what’re the odds we’d find one? We can’t possibly question everyone without giving ourselves away.”

    “Yeah, but it’s not like we can just pass up this opportunity. You should’ve seen it—the head executives were freaking out when they heard that the guy organizing this was going around calling himself ‘Stalker.’”

    I heard the younger Rocket give an unimpressed snort. “Yeah, that narrows it down. Wasn’t it all but proven that the original Stalker was multiple people? I mean, I know that all happened before I joined, but—”

    “That’s just the point. We have no idea who it is, and that’s why we can’t afford to ignore him. Whoever it is knows about the revolt. He could be a deserter. He could be the former commander. Do you have any idea how important that is? If there’s even a chance we could get him, or any of the others working with him, we can’t ignore it.”

    The revolt? Former commander? Tyson had mentioned something like that at the Viridian base, but I hadn’t paid it any mind at the time.

    Chibi nudged me with his elbow. “*So you and the rest of the potential recruits aren’t their concern,*” he whispered. “*They’re trying to flush out the leader, or anyone in his group.*”

    “Huh. Well from all the times I talked with him, it seemed like he was doing this alone. I don’t even think he’s on the ship right now.”

    “*That’s good for us. They can’t act too suspiciously or else risk tipping him off and losing their chance to get him. But they can’t just do nothing. They’ve got the disadvantage here. And if I know the Rockets, they wouldn’t have started this mission without a fallback in case things didn’t go as planned.*”

    Just then, I heard a buzzing sound like a text message alert, followed by one of the Rockets rummaging through a pocket. A few seconds passed in silence. Suddenly, the older Rocket let out a low whistle. “Well then! Looks like one of our teammates caught one!” My heart jumped into my throat.

    “Really? Did they get any info?”

    “…Doesn’t look like it. Sounds like the rebels were kept in the dark about everything. The kid doesn’t know the leader’s real name, where they’re going, what they’ll be doing. Can’t really say I’m surprised.”

    The younger one’s voice broke. “So this was all for nothing?”

    “It’s too early to say that. Once we get everything set up tonight, the leader will have no choice but to reveal himself. And if he doesn’t, we can just end the threat anyway. Now come on, let’s meet up with the others.”

    Chibi leaped back from the door at once, jerking his head in the opposite direction and taking off for the nearest corner. I scrambled to my feet as quietly as I could and jumped after him, ducking out of sight the instant before the door swung open.

    Now that I got a good look at the two Rockets, I couldn’t help but stare—both of them were dressed as crew members. No wonder Chibi was the only one to notice them. And with a sinking feeling, it hit me—I wouldn’t be able to warn the crew that Rockets had infiltrated their ranks. How could I know that the person I reported it to wouldn’t be a Rocket themselves?

    Chibi was fixated on the two Rockets now walking away from us, deep in concentration. I gave him a puzzled look, but he just nodded sharply to himself. And then without warning, the spiky rodent shot forward in the blink of an eye, unleashing a blast of lightning at the older of the two Rockets ahead of us. I didn’t move from my spot on the tile floor. I could only stare in horror as the man gave an awful sort of garbled cry and sank to the floor instantly.

    The younger Rocket spun around with a look of terror on his face, but the hybrid didn’t even hesitate. He lunged forward and—no, no I couldn’t watch. But the sound of the man’s screams still gripped every inch of me.

    Several seconds passed. Hesitantly, I opened my eyes a crack. The Rocket was cowering against the wall, and—what on earth was Chibi doing?

    “Chibi?! What—?” My words just died.

    “*Tell me your mission!*” he demanded. The experiment was standing on the Rocket’s chest, holding a brightly glowing tail right up to his neck. The young man was shaking all over, eyes wide and pleading.

    “What do you want from me?!” he yelled. “I’m just a grunt!”

    Chibi hesitated slightly, raising an eyebrow in confusion. After several seconds, realization crossed his face. He turned to me and called out, “*Translate for me!*”

    What?”

    “*Come on, we need this information!*” he shouted.

    I stared at him weakly, my brain too muddled by stress to really work out what he meant. It took several seconds to process that the man wasn’t fluent in Pokéspeech.

    I opened my mouth to speak, but the words felt hollow and lifeless. “What’s your mission?”

    The Rocket gave a frantic glance between Chibi and me, but didn’t say anything. Chibi glared before shooting out a wave of sparks, causing the man to jerk backward and shout, “Our mission is to identify the rebels and their leader!”

    “*And how exactly do you plan to do that?!*” Again, I repeated the question.

    The Rocket stared at him, sweat pouring down his face—he was clearly afraid to say too much. Chibi pressed his tail harder against the man’s neck until it was nearly digging into the flesh. I had no idea what move he was using, but I had the sickening suspicion that he could have ended the man’s life right then and there.

    “We—we’re gonna use explosives to hold the ship hostage and force the rebel leader to reveal himself,” the Rocket finally managed, in between panicked gasps for breath.

    I jumped suddenly upon hearing hurried footsteps echo off the walls down the other end of the hallway. Was it just the crew coming to investigate the commotion, or was it more Rockets? Or both?!

    “Um, Chibi, I think we need to—”

    “*I hear them,*” the Pikachu said. He had just pulled a small, red and black cell phone from the man’s pocket with the label “R-com” inscribed on the front. Chibi slid the device across the floor to me, and I caught it. He then gave one last look at the captive Rocket before slamming the flat of his tail into the man’s temple and running off.

    I sat there frozen, still too stunned to work through what I was supposed to do. Chibi stopped running and turned back towards me with an exasperated look on his face. “*It’s only a matter of time before the others figure out what happened here. We need to go somewhere they won’t find us!*”

    I shook my head, trying clear the haze of panic and just think straight, for the love of crap! Somewhere they couldn’t find us… somewhere they couldn’t—

    “My room!” I exclaimed, jumping to my feet and bursting into a sprint to catch up with Chibi while grabbing the card key hanging from my neck. “It’s room B120!”

    “*Alright!*” he called out. “*I saw the stairs this way!*”

    We continued to race down the hallway, turning a corner leading to the elegant staircases nearest the main event room and bolting down them. I couldn’t hear if any footsteps were after us with all the battle sounds from the trainer’s party. Either way, had to keep running. I jumped two or three steps at a time, desperate to catch up with Chibi and constantly throwing frantic glances over my shoulder.

    We reached the right floor and didn’t waste any time sprinting down the hallway lined with cabin rooms. Just a little bit more, and—there it was! I held my card against the scanner on the door handle, unlocking the door, throwing it open, and bolting inside with Chibi before slamming it shut behind us.

    I stood there, doubled over and panting hard and trying to work through if we were safe or not. This was insane—we weren’t supposed to be in danger on this ship. How had this even happened?! How did they find us already?!

    My brain was too wracked by frustration and stress to think logically at this point. I threw my backpack to the floor and stumbled toward the bed, now completely lightheaded. I had no idea what to think about all of this, least of all if I should do anything or not. The whole thing was insane, and I really just wanted to pretend I had never found out about it.

    I vaguely realized that I’d been staring at Chibi since we got to the room. I tried to convince myself that I had no reason to be afraid of him anymore. We’d sorted things out. And now I couldn’t stop shivering just from being in the same room as him. I needed to say something—anything. For about the millionth time that night, the words wouldn’t come.

    “*I know what you must think of me,*” he said.

    I almost jumped. The hybrid gave me an incredulous look, and I immediately tried to rearrange my expression into one that was less freaked out.

    “I… just… that was kind of brutal back there.”

    His expression hardened. “*They were Rockets. I did what I had to. I’ve always done what I had to.*”

    I sighed. He did have a point. I didn’t like it, but it was a point. But then…

    “…Does that include what happened on the plane?”

    I had no idea why I said it. His eyes widened immediately—I tensed up, expecting him to lash out without warning. But I was completely unprepared to see him turn away with a tortured look on his face, body quivering slightly.

    “*Don’t bring that up. Again. Ever.*”

    “I… I’m sorry?”

    Chibi continued to face the wall, his expression torn. Slowly, he forced his eyes shut. “*Why did I think he would have wanted…?*” He shook his head sharply. “*Never mind.*”

    He didn’t say anything else after that, so it seemed best to give him a moment. His words still echoed in my mind, however. And I had to admit that until now, I hadn’t realized that opposing Team Rocket and living through it would sometimes mean striking back at them violently. I didn’t have any reason to be bothered by that… and yet it still bothered me. I clenched my teeth, feeling kind of stupid—it was the sort of thing I’d have to get over during my time on the rebel team. Ajia had done it. It only made sense that I’d have to as well.

    Ajia…

    “Ajia!” I exclaimed, bolting upright and whipping my wallet out of my pocket to grab the small, torn piece of paper she’d written her Pokégear number on. In an instant, I grabbed the phone off the bedside table and punched in all the numbers before realizing that I didn’t have a dial tone.

    Instead, a recorded voice said, “We thank you for staying aboard the S.S. Anne. If you would like to place calls during your trip, please register your bank card or trainer’s license, and you will receive the bill at the end of your—”

    I slammed the phone back on the receiver and buried my face in pillows. “Great. There goes my only hope.”

    “*Don’t tell me you plan on hiding in here all night,*” Chibi said, leaping up onto the bed. I detected a bit of scorn in his voice.

    “What else am I supposed to do? If I leave, they’ll find me. I’ll be captured, killed, whatever, end of story.”

    He gave me a piercing, unrelenting stare. “*You don’t honestly think you can just ignore Rockets being on this ship when it’s filled with potential enemies against their cause? They want to hold the ship hostage with explosives. But you said it yourself—the rebel leader isn’t here. What do you think they’ll decide to do when they figure that out? Leave and go home? Or teach him a lesson by ending the threat right here and now?*”

    Almost as if on cue, the R-com in my pocket vibrated, making me jump. I retrieved the device and tapped the main button, causing the screen to light up with a new text message.

    “Primary mission potentially compromised. All agents meet at the rendezvous point immediately. Secondary mission to commence at 0300,” I read aloud.

    Chibi nodded. “*Thought so. Do you still think you’ll survive the night even if you hide in here?*”

    I shivered slightly at his words, unwilling to look him in the eye. “What am I supposed to do to stop them?”

    “*Anything. Whatever we can.*”

    I raised an eyebrow, both incredulous and hesitant. “Are… you saying you’ll help me?”

    “*If I’m with you, then I’ll be helping you. Simple as that.*”

    I paused, taken aback by how straightforward he was being now. “I… wasn’t sure if you’d get angry if I asked for help. You were pretty angry about the idea of me being in control of you.” In retrospect, it made sense. He was raised by Team Rocket, probably without any free will.

    The Pikachu scoffed. “*It’s only fair. And even though I don’t need a human in order to battle well, it can still be useful having one around.*”

    He didn’t need a human to battle well? What was that supposed to mean? It was just sort of a basic fact that humans were better at strategic thinking. But I guess he wasn’t exactly a normal Pokémon.

    I took a deep breath. “Alright, so we’re going to stop them.”

    Chibi paused slightly, but then nodded.

    We were going to stop them. I repeated it again in my head, but it still felt fake and it was hard to ignore the fact that I just plain really didn’t want to do this. I had agreed to join the rebel team knowing that my life would be in danger, but now that it actually was, I couldn’t handle it.

    Chibi’s words still gripped every inch of me, though. No matter what, I had to do something. If I was killed while trying to stop this (I went numb just thinking about the fact that it was a very real possibility), then it didn’t matter, because if I didn’t do anything, we’d all be doomed. Yes—I kept telling myself that I had no choice. No matter what, I had to do something.

    “So the mission begins at 3am,” I said, swallowing hard just to get the words out. “That’s when we’ll make our move.”

    Chibi turned to face me, his expression softening. *Then I suggest you get some sleep.*”






    ~End Chapter 6~
    A bit of a slow chapter, but at least it sets up a lot, and brings Chibi into the spotlight, finally. Oh yeah, have I mentioned his name is stupid? Yeah? Alright, just checking. (I named myself after a comic character and then I named him after the comic character too, if you’re wondering why this happened.)
     
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    Chapter 7: Into the Fire
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    That's one thing that has me curious about this story -- just how Jade can possibly pull it off, and, perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, who it will be that steps in to save her. I mean, hey, that's what's been happening the whole time so far!
    Haha, well, this is the story of a helpless kid being thrown into danger and learning to be not-so-helpless. So the evolution of that over time is half the fun!

    Chibi is tsundere confirmed.
    He really, really is. :P

    Okay yeah! Why didn't you think about this during those two whole weeks, not even, like, a stray thought?!
    Jade is both 14 years old and also not very smart. :V (Also I know for a fact that that wouldn't have occurred to me when I was 14... given that I wrote the chapter when I was 14!)

    This seems to happen a lot, and I feel like it's starting to wear on me. Even a little passing sentence on why she'd get that sort of hunch would be better than "a sudden [unexplained] gut feeling." Or at the very least, if this is plot relevant, a remark on why she seems to be getting these gut feelings.
    Huh! I was curious, so I did a ctrl+f on various words related to that and couldn't find any other than the "this seems important" bit where Jade spots the fire in Chapter 1. Well, I have no problem with rewording this one, though I'm not sure how it happened enough to be grating. :S

    Plot twist: Team Rocket is actually a team of good guys now, and they're trying to save kids from a Stalker before he takes them to a mysterious location that they have no idea about to do who-knows-what with them.
    This almost wins best joke about Stalker's name. But this post on Serebii already exists:
    Sid87 said:
    It's funny to me, because I, too, have created a heroic character and gave him the alias "Stalker". It's really about the least noble name someone can adopt except for, say, "The Child Molestor". So I got a laugh out of this.
    Mmmm why you gotta do these "I'll explain to you later" mumblings~ Hopefully we'll get more info on that soon.
    Ahaha, this fic is 90% characters hiding things. But this one, like most of them, comes up within Book 1.

    Wouldn't it be better if they started trying to do something at, maybe, 2, or 2:30 or something, rather than precisely when it begins? For all they know, the mission is to escape before the place blows up at 3!
    Maybe! But then I'd have to describe Jade wandering around aimlessly for a half hour until the Rockets actually show up. :P
    Hey look, it's the first actually good chapter in the fic! Thanks for sticking it out!



    ~Chapter 7: Into the Fire~


    A faint beeping pricked at my ears. I blinked in the darkness before groaning and rolling over, trying to block out the sound. It wouldn’t go away… why not? And then somewhere in the cloud of sleep, my brain registered that it was, in fact, my alarm. I reached over to hit the watch button that turned it off, and then sat up, trying my hardest to clear the haze of tiredness and stress from my head. But it didn’t want to leave. And part of me kept screaming that I was insane. I was insane, I was trying to oppose Team Rocket, and I was going to fail miserably.

    But I’d already made my decision.

    By now I could see a roughly Pikachu-shaped figure in the darkness walking across the covers toward me. I blinked a few times, trying to get a better look at him.

    “*Time to go,*” he said.

    I put a finger to my mouth. “Quiet. We don’t want to wake the others,” I whispered.

    He tilted his head. “*Why not?*”

    I didn’t answer. I turned to look at the floor where Firestorm was curled up on the tarp, which was the only thing I hadn’t sold out of the camping supplies. Swift was perched on the back of a chair with his head resting under his wing, yet somehow I got the feeling that he might have been awake. I couldn’t tell.

    Chibi gave me a sideways glance. “*What good is a trainer without their Pokémon?*”

    “I’ll have you with me. So you’ll kind of be like my Pokémon, for right now anyway.”

    I watched him for a response, but he didn’t give one, so I slipped on my shoes and grabbed my room key before carefully stepping over to the door. I opened it and peeked around the corner—slowly at first, then gradually leaning my whole head out after a few seconds. The lights in the cabin hallway were dimmed and there was no one to be seen. Then again… three in the morning, most everyone was probably either asleep or in one of the all-night lounges or bars. (And with trainer’s party attendees making up the majority of the passengers, that would leave most too young for the latter.)

    I took my first tentative step outside, content with the lack of Rockets within sight, and waited until Chibi had stepped out before I shut the door behind us. We walked down the hallway in silence—I had the vague urge to say something but couldn’t really figure out what.

    “*You didn’t tell them what we were doing,*” Chibi said slowly. His tone was rather deadpan, so I couldn’t tell why he said it.

    I didn’t respond. I just stared at the floor as we walked, hoping the elaborately patterned carpet was a believable enough distraction for me to ignore his statement. I could tell he was still eyeing me, though. It was weird—even without any force from the hybrid, there was that one look that unfailingly could get me to give in and answer him.

    “It’s just…”—the more I thought about it, the more stupid I felt—“this is something I have to do. I don’t want to drag them into it pointlessly.”

    “*But if you fail, they’ll die anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference.*”

    I froze, feeling an uncomfortable tightness in my chest. “…Yeah. I guess you’re right.” He sure had a knack for jumping right to the unpleasant truth of any situation. After that, Chibi looked away, either satisfied at getting to me or content to let the topic die. Not long afterward, we arrived at the staircases that led to the other decks, which had the effect of yanking my attention back to why we were here. I had to focus—we were going to stop the Rockets. It was just a matter of how.

    “So… we know they’re going to set up explosives. What else do we know?”

    The Pikachu paused, looking contemplative. “*Not much. Though with remote-activated bombs, they could leave the ship and blow it before anyone had a clue what was going on.*”

    I mentally smacked myself. Of course he’d know about Team Rocket’s standard operations, being created by them and all.

    “*… It’s just a matter of where they’d be.*”

    “Well, we’re on one of the lower decks right now. The engine room isn’t too far away. We could start there. Blowing up the engine room would be the fastest way to sink a ship, right?”

    “*Let’s go, then.*”

    We continued down several flights of stairs until we reached the right deck, then followed the hallway to the ship’s aft. I’d spent most of last night perusing the S.S. Anne info booklet repeatedly, so at this point I knew the ship’s layout by heart. The lights were off in this area—I wasn’t sure if that was because the engine room was unmanned, or because the Rockets had done it. I could feel myself already starting to tense up. I knew I couldn’t afford to get nervous, especially before anything had even happened, but couldn’t help it.

    We were nearing the end of the hallway. Various metal hatches lined the walls, but our goal was at the end. I was only vaguely aware that I’d started glancing over my shoulder every ten seconds. Of course there was nothing there—why did I keep looking?

    Had to keep my focus—that was the only way I was going to get through this. Focus

    “*Don’t lose your nerve now,*” Chibi said, jolting me out of my thoughts.

    “I’m trying not to,” I replied, a slight edge to my voice. Still, I’d definitely noticed that he’d said it with concern, not scolding. Then I had to pause as my brain processed the fact that I wasn’t ready for his words, and hadn’t been anticipating them… but I still understood them. I really was getting better at Pokéspeech, wasn’t I?

    A dull roar of machinery was slowly starting to fill my ears, but I was honestly surprised we had gotten this close before being able to hear the engines. A few more steps and we reached the end of the hallway. A large, rounded metal door lay in front of us. Time seemed to slow as I reached out to turn the wheel. It didn’t move. No, don’t tell me… we’d be screwed if it was locked. I braced myself and turned it more aggressively, willing it to open. Come on, it had to.

    Finally, after a few metallic creaks, the door swung open, and I couldn’t help letting out my breath. We stepped inside, and I closed it behind us. From the faint illumination cast by a small, blinking light in the corner, I could tell that we were in some kind of changing room filled with goggles, gloves, and other safety gear. The door on the opposite end of the room was cracked open. I blinked at it in the darkness, seeing a dull glow coming from the other side.

    “*Careful,*” Chibi said sharply.

    I nodded, walking forward with slow, controlled steps. I pushed the door open as gradually as possible and extended a leg through the doorway.

    The engine room was huge. I mean, I was expecting big, but this was just crazy. A system of metal platforms spanned the area, with massive generators on level with me, and from what I could tell, countless tanks and pumps covering the platform below us. I couldn’t even tell what was overhead, but I couldn’t make out the ceiling—the room just seemed to keep going. The noise from the engines overwhelmed any other possible sound, and the air was hot and sticky and uncomfortably thick.

    “Well, nothing we can do but start search—oof!” My foot struck something and then I was falling. I hit the platform hard, sending a jolt of pain through my knees where they’d collided with the metal. Fueled by a burst of panic, I rolled over in a hurry and kicked the ground to push myself away from whatever I had tripped over. Except… it was soft. I froze, my blood running cold. I’d tripped over the motionless body of a man in engineer’s clothing. And… something told me he wasn’t a disguised Rocket.

    I pushed myself away from him, now breathing hard, which wasn’t very easy in such thick air. Chibi bounded over to me, looking mostly unfazed.

    “*This proves they’ve been here,*” the Pikachu spoke into my ear. I nodded weakly, my mouth still hanging open. I wanted to say something to the degree of, “Is he alive…?” but couldn’t manage the words.

    “*Come on. Don’t go losing yourself already.*” He grabbed my hand and pulled it, willing me to stand. I shook my head roughly, trying to clear my mind. The hybrid’s words kind of stung, and I didn’t want him to think of me as weak. I couldn’t let him.

    I stood to my feet in one swift motion before continuing down the platform, ahead of Chibi. I couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the engines, so I just turned in every direction, looking for anything out of place. Where were they? Had they already left this area? I rounded the corner at the far end of the room and scanned the lower level… and then got my answer.

    From this angle, I could finally see where the dim, ambient glow in the room was coming from. Its source was a small light piercing the darkness on the far end of the bottommost platform. Within it, I could make out several human figures dressed in black, and a four-legged Pokémon standing with them—most likely generating the light. I motioned to Chibi before carefully maneuvering down the stairs as low and slow as possible. It may have been fairly dark in there, but any sudden movement could be fatal.

    I reached the platform and crept closer alongside one of the many tanks inhabiting the space. My heart was pounding now, almost painfully. I ignored it and kept going. Step by step I closed the gap between us, keeping out of view until I was in position to glance around the corner of the tanks.

    I could finally make out the Pokémon with them—it was a Manectric. The blue and yellow dog stood firmly alongside a female Rocket, its spiky fur standing on end. Every so often, a string of electricity coursed through the long mane on its head.

    The Rockets were huddled closely in a circle, probably discussing something, though it wasn’t like I could hear a word they were saying. I caught sight of Chibi approaching from behind, and turned towards him.

    “Can you hear what they’re saying?” I asked.

    He scoffed. “*Just because I have better hearing than humans doesn’t change how loud it is in here.*”

    “Well then what do we do?” I hissed, my teeth clenched.

    “*Just look there,*” he said, pointing to one of the Rockets. I suddenly noticed that the man was holding some sort of small, black control device. “*I’m betting that’s the remote detonator. I can’t knock them out without the risk of shorting that thing and blowing this place up. So as soon as I get it from him, I want you to take it and run off. See if you can use it to find the explosives.*”

    I stared. “What?”

    Without another word, the Pikachu raced off into the shadows and out of sight.

    “But… what are you doing…” I whispered to no one, still staring at where he had disappeared.

    I sat there for what felt like minutes, not sure what I was supposed to be doing. Time dragged on, and all I could do was wait. It looked like the Rockets were preparing to move out—where was Chibi?

    And then I spotted him. He was… clinging to a metal overhang? How…? A crackle of electricity swept across his paws as the Pikachu slowly crawled forward, stopping to position himself above the group of Rockets. Just a few more inches…

    And then the Manectric barked out, “*Up there!*”

    Half the Rockets snapped their attention upwards. With a look of frustration, Chibi dropped to the floor suddenly, shooting out strings of lightning and forcing the Rockets to jump backwards, colliding with one another. With a wave of sparks, the hybrid Pikachu rushed off into the shadows.

    “What the hell was that?!” one of them shouted, loud enough to be heard. Most of the Rockets had pulled out guns and were preparing to run after Chibi, but then—

    “I didn’t say weapons at the ready, now did I?” a male voice called out. It wasn’t angry, just decisive—the sort of voice that wasn’t to be argued with. The Rockets immediately obeyed, halting on the spot and turning to face the one who had issued the order. “Looks like number nine has graced us with its presence after all. Firearms down. Pokémon at the ready—electric-types for defense and physical attackers for offence. Don’t want to blow the place yet, do we?”

    But before any of the Rockets got a chance to grab a Pokéball, a yellow blur shot out of nowhere, right into the heart of their lineup. The Manectric snarled and put up a shimmering electrical barrier, but the Pikachu wasn’t aiming to shoot any lightning at them. At the last second, he leapt upward, swung his bolt tail, and smacked the control device from the hand holding it. The device hit the ground with a clatter right as several flashes of light burst out of Pokéballs, but Chibi darted forward and grabbed it in his mouth, tossing it away from the group.

    “*Now go!*” Chibi cried out before a newly-materialized Nidoqueen landed a punch on him.

    I clenched my teeth and sprung forward, pausing just long enough to grab the controls before darting back the opposite direction. I could hear the crashing of lightning against a barrier, which faded amidst the constant engine noise the further I got from the conflict. As soon I reached the end of the platform, I ducked behind one of the tanks and sank to my knees immediately. My heart was pounding, but I couldn’t help feeling exhilarated—we’d gotten the controls from them. We honestly had a shot now.

    I took the moment to finally get a good look at how the device functioned. It didn’t actually have any buttons, just a small touch screen that was currently blinking with some technical statistics. I tapped the corner of the screen, hoping it would bring me to some kind of menu, and instead was met with some sort of grid-like layout peppered with small, blinking red dots.

    “Hang on…” I muttered, sliding my fingers along the screen to scroll throughout the grid. “Chibi was right. These are the coordinates for all the bombs they’ve set.” One of them was close by, from the looks of it. I held the device out like a flashlight, using the small glow of the screen to scan my surrounding for anything out of the ordinary. And then… sure enough there it was—a smooth, circular device about the size of a CD was innocently sitting on the side of the tank. And yet it was a bomb poised to blow this whole place. I gingerly reached out a hand toward it, feeling the hair on my arms raise the instant my fingertips touched it. Nothing happened.

    I let out a breath. Come on, it wasn’t like these things would blow that easily, right? Slowly, I curled my fingers around the edges and tugged at it. It detached easily.

    I held the bomb in my palm delicately, throwing a glance back at the screen to get a better idea of how many of these things there were. Too many to count… they were everywhere. I swallowed hard before gently sliding it into a cargo pocket and jumping to my feet. I didn’t have a choice—I had to get them all. Or at least… as many as possible before I was caught. I took off sprinting again, using the control’s grid as my guide and stopping just long enough to pry each bomb from the wall before aiming for the next one. It wasn’t long before lungs burned and legs went numb from exhaustion, and yet I still couldn’t think about anything other than finding the next one… and the next one…

    Several times I caught scattered flashes in my peripheral vision, probably from electric barriers. Chibi couldn’t attack effectively in such a dangerous space where one stray bolt could kill us all. And the Rockets had known that, which was why they were sticking to physical offense. But then, even if he had his electricity, how long could Chibi last through that?

    With one final tug, I pulled off what appeared to be the last bomb placed in the engine room, and by now all of my pockets were stuffed full of bombs—at least twelve or fifteen of them. It almost would have been hilarious if I weren’t running for my life. I had to get rid of them somehow… and throwing them overboard seemed like the best bet.

    I threw open the door to the engine room and sprinted back down the corridor that led there. It was like a wave of cool water washed over me, leaving the hot and stifling environment of the engine room, but my lungs still felt like they were on fire. Couldn’t pay attention to it though, had to keep going. My footsteps echoed off the walls as I flew up the staircases one after the other, finally reaching the closest deck with no walls surrounding the outermost edge. I was met with a gust of wind in the face and what felt like the early onset of a rainstorm. I stumbled over to the edge railing and began the long process of emptying my pockets, made longer by the way my hands just couldn’t seem to stop shaking. After what felt like ages, I had finally thrown the last fistful of bombs into the sea, where they sank to the ocean floor.

    And then I sank to my knees, doubled over and gasping for breath. Couldn’t stop… had to keep going. I glanced at my watch—it had been fifteen minutes since I’d last seen Chibi. I’d heard scattered bursts of electricity as I ran; they were probably outside of the engine room by now, but he was still managing to keep them from following me. I grasped the edge of the deck and pulled myself to my feet. There was no time for me to stop; I hadn’t even started on the cabin hallways.

    Except I’d just spotted a man striding towards me, dressed in the standard white crew shirt. His walk was forceful—not too quick, as if to avoid drawing attention, but with a definite sense of purpose.

    I backed away slowly, feeling a prickle of apprehension crawl up my neck. He couldn’t be…

    The man’s walk quickened. You had to be kidding me. Come on! There was no way the entire crew was Rockets! Heck, I wouldn’t even assume a tenth of them were. Why did I keep meeting all the fake ones?!

    I immediately took off sprinting in the other direction, back down the staircases and jumping four or five steps at a time. My mind was racing—had to think of some way to get him off my trail. Chibi was right. I’d been stupid, and now I desperately needed help.

    I cleared one staircase after another before arriving on the right floor. When I reached my cabin, I snatched my card key and waved it across the scanner on my door, then burst inside, slamming the door behind me.

    “Firestorm, Swift, wake up!” I immediately shouted while flipping the light switch. The noise and sudden light woke them instantly.

    Firestorm jumped to his feet. “*What’s going on?*” Then his eyes widened like he had just realized that my sudden arrival meant I had left the room secretly. “*Where did you go?*”

    “Team Rocket was”—I gasped for breath—“planning to kill everyone, and Chibi seriously needs our help,” I said in a hurry, grabbing my Pokéballs and wallet and sticking them in my pockets.

    “*What? Is that why you were so quiet last night? Why didn’t you tell us?!*” Firestorm demanded. I’d never heard him speak with that much conviction.

    “I didn’t want to drag you guys into this mess and wind up getting you hurt,” I managed to say as I hastily shoved all of my belongings into my backpack, just in case I never got a chance to come back here.

    “*Pokémon are… they’re supposed to protect their trainer,*” Firestorm muttered. I ignored him.

    “Come on, we’ve got to go,” I said, throwing open the door and waiting for them to follow me. Firestorm had a weird mix of hurt and dread on his face, but he followed just the same. We stepped out into the hallway, and I threw several hurried glances in both directions. “…Alright… we should be g—” I was cut off by the sound of rapid footsteps to the left. And then I saw him—the man who had been chasing me earlier had just reached the bottom of the staircase leading to this deck. Had to do something. Had to do something.

    And then out of nowhere, without even thinking, I found myself pointing forward and shouting, “Swift, use Gust!”

    From behind me, the Pidgey’s tiny, feathery form fluttered into view, flapping his wings quicker than seemed possible. In an instant, it was like all the air in the hallway had rushed forward, throwing my hair into my face and nearly knocking me off balance. I brushed a few strands out of my eyes just in time to see the Rocket struggling against a whirlwind before it swept him off his feet and sent him crashing into the wall. The wind ceased, and he slumped to the ground, looking dazed.

    Swift fluttered down to the ground and turned to face us, tilting his head. “*I think that worked out well,*” he said, rather matter-of-factly.

    I gaped. “Not just well… brilliant. Come on, let’s get out of here before he gets up.” I motioned for the two Pokémon to follow me and then took off down the hallway. Firestorm had to struggle to keep up on his short legs.

    “*How come you didn’t have anything for me to do back there?*” the fire lizard said in a small voice.

    “The heck? What, you think I wanted to set him on fire? What could I have had you do?” The Charmander didn’t say anything else.

    I glanced back down at the control device Chibi had stolen—there were still a lot of bombs left to collect in the cabin area. I took a deep breath before resuming my search, stopping briefly to grab each bomb one by one. After a while, it was like I was incapable of thinking about anything else. Just one bomb after the next, filling my pockets with them.

    And then I had to stop and blink when I first felt my pockets full to bursting. It barely felt like I’d spent any time gathering them. Either way, time to go back to the upper deck, and hopefully not run into any Rockets for once.

    My pace was slower than normal as I made my way up the stairs, both so my Pokémon could keep up and also because my legs were nearly done transforming into jello. And then my feet had to go and catch the edge of the steps, because obviously that was what I needed right now. I had to finish this soon, or else I wouldn’t even be able to.

    My movements were on autopilot as I navigated back to the first open deck I could get to, going through the motions of disposing of the bombs yet again. When I was done, I began the descent back to the lower levels of the ship. It had been nearly twenty minutes since I’d left Chibi in the engine room. Where was he now… and was he still alright?

    I stopped suddenly. Had I just heard that? I’d been thinking about him, so it might have been my imagination… but I could’ve sworn I heard the pained cry of a Pikachu echoing throughout the deck I’d just passed. Slowly, I backtracked a couple of stair steps and approached the nearest room to find that it was the main lobby we’d first entered on the S.S. Anne. It was completely dark aside from the moonlight shining in through the windows.

    “Chibi! Are you there?!” I shouted, hoping my voice wouldn’t grab any unwanted attention.

    Suddenly, I tensed up. Footsteps. Lots of them. Heading this way.

    “Crap,” I muttered, whirling around to take off in the opposite direction. And then out of nowhere, a burst of flames shot into my path. What the heck?! I recoiled backward, narrowly avoiding the sudden blaze as waves of heat rushed into my face.

    “*Jade!*” Firestorm yelled, dashing forward to stand by my side.

    Shaking slightly, I turned to look behind me. I was met with a view of the dozen or so Rockets that had infiltrated the ship, half of them in crew uniforms and the other half dressed in what was probably a standard black mission outfit. In front of them stood the Manectric from earlier, now joined by a Ninetales. And then a crushing pain spread through me when I saw what one of the Rockets held under her arm: the burned and beaten form of a spiky-furred Pikachu.

    The lead Rocket chuckled a bit at the look of my face and said, “I suppose I should thank you for returning number nine to us.” Now that I actually had a full view of him, the lead Rocket was tall and thin, with an angular face and dark circles under his eyes, which gave his face a cold look in contrast to his ironic grin.

    “You know, we were rather… upset when you took him,” the man went on. “We need him for our experiments, otherwise we might never figure out how to break those overpowered, undeserving monsters you call Legendaries. That said…”—he held out a hand—“you have something else that’s ours.”

    I hesitated, clutching the remote. “…You’re not getting this back.”

    “*You’ll have to go through us,*” Firestorm said in a broken voice, stepping in front of me.

    I stared at him. “What. No, there’s no way you can take down their Pokémon.”

    To my surprise, Swift was the one who replied, “*You’re standing against them. It’s too late to back down. So we have to be brave too.*”

    “*We don’t have a choice,*” Firestorm added through gritted teeth. Where on earth had he gotten that determination from?

    The lead Rocket closed his eyes and chuckled slightly at our inane attempt at resistance. “Still want to play games? Alright. Ninetales, attack!”

    The large, cream-colored fire fox rushed forward, tails swirling dramatically as it leaped into the fray. It let out a battle cry and unleashed a plume of white-hot flames at its opponents. Swift took flight while Firestorm lunged to the side, barely dodging it at the last second. While Ninetales dashed forward, closing in on Firestorm, Swift down toward its face, talons outstretched. But it saw him. In one smooth motion, the fire fox turned aside and struck him on the back with its slender paw. I flinched as the Pidgey smashed into the floor with a pained cry. He just managed to flutter into the air before another spurt of fire hit the spot where he’d landed, but the superheated air prevented him from approaching his opponent.

    Firestorm tried to take advantage of the enemy’s distraction by breathing scattered embers, but Ninetales didn’t even look fazed. In fact, the embers just sank into its fur, making its whole body glow with a fiery sheen. The fox smirked, then unleashed a pitch-black pulse of energy from its body, striking the fire lizard and knocking him back. Swift saw the opening and dove down from above, ready to strike. But upon hearing its trainer’s order of “Hypnosis!” the fox lunged to the side, eyes radiating with a creepy red aura and tails swaying rhythmically behind it. Swift caught its gaze and crashed to the floor, fast asleep.

    I stared at the ongoing battle, a wave of dread slowly spreading through me. The sheer difference in skill—both between the Ninetales and my Pokémon, and between the Rocket and me—was starting to sink in. I pulled out Swift’s Pokéball and recalled him before yelling, “Firestorm, we have to get out of here!”

    Firestorm shook his head resolutely and turned back to Ninetales.

    “Here’s a fun move—Ninetales, Fire Spin!” the lead Rocket ordered.

    My eyes went wide. Ninetales breathed out a narrow stream of flame, which circled around Firestorm no matter how he scrambled to get away. It caught his leg and snaked around his body, pulling him to the center of a swirling inferno.

    “Firestorm!” I yelled, panic shooting through me. I pointed his Pokéball forward, but the flame blocked the recall beam. I could barely see his silhouette in the midst of the vortex, curled into a ball as Ninetales added more and more fire with repeated Flamethrowers. Sure, he had a natural resistance to fire, but how much more of this could he take?

    And then out of nowhere, the vortex exploded. Ninetales jumped back, fur standing on end. I shielded my eyes from the flash of light as a flood of embers dissipated into the air. And when I opened them again, I saw Firestorm standing to his feet, wreathed in a raging red aura. He growled at the Rockets, gathering a large fireball in his mouth. And then the Charmander was engulfed in white light. I blinked, staring in awe as his body doubled in height and completely changed in shape. Limbs stretched outward, heavy claws bursting from their tips. His face stretched into a dragonish snout, a single horn sprouting from his skull. The light faded, revealing deep crimson scales…

    “He’s… evolved into a Charmeleon,” I whispered in awe. I’d never actually seen a Pokémon evolution happen in person. Part of me couldn’t believe that lanky red fire lizard was really him, even though I’d seen it happen, right in front of me. Firestorm glanced back at me, his eyes smaller and more angular now. His expression held a strange ferocity.

    Ninetales blinked in stunned shock for a few seconds. But the surprise quickly wore off, and the fire fox crouched defensively and snarled.

    The lead Rocket eyed the Charmeleon with a sigh, shaking his head. “Just don’t know when to give up, do you? How are you supposed to attack us with nothing but a fire-type, even if it’s evolved now? I doubt you’ve taught it how to do anything beyond biting and scratching, and Ninetales can absorb all of its fire attacks.”

    What? It could—what?! Something in the back of my mind told me I should have known this—Ninetales had the Flash Fire ability, just like Arcanine. What on earth were we supposed to do now?!

    Thoroughly enjoying the look on my face, the Rocket said, “As much fun as it would be to slowly beat the lizard down, I say we cut playtime short.” He recalled his Ninetales and continued, “We’ve got a job to do, after all, and you’re in the way.” I tensed up. His words held a dangerous air, contrasting with his previous smooth attitude.

    He paused and reached into his belt pouch to pull out a small item, hidden by the darkness, but glinting with a metallic sheen as it caught the light of the moon shining through the windows. “I don’t think running would be such a good idea. In fact, you shouldn’t be thinking about doing anything, really… besides handing over that remote.”

    I froze, unable to do anything but stare mindlessly at the gun pointing at me. I wanted to do something, anything, but I was paralyzed, terror spreading like ice in my veins. I was trapped. There was no way out of this. If I gave the remote to him, he would probably shoot me anyway, and even if he didn’t, everyone on the ship would still die. I tried to manage some sort of response to the Rocket’s demand, but I couldn’t remember how to speak.

    “I… my pockets are full of bombs. I’ll activate this. So don’t try anything.” Words were coming out of my mouth, but I wasn’t sure I was the one saying them.

    “Mmm… somehow I don’t believe you.”

    I’ll do it. You’ll just kill all of us anyway if I give it to you. This way everyone else will still make it.”

    The man laughed. “At least they would have if we hadn’t reapplied explosives to the engine room after you so thoughtlessly ruined all our hard work down there.”

    It was like my insides just stopped existing. I tried to keep my reaction off of my face, but I already knew I’d failed because of how much the Rocket was enjoying my expression.

    But then I noticed it—Chibi had just opened his eyes. He moved his head side to side ever so slowly, so none of the Rockets would notice. And then he kept throwing meaningful glances toward the lead Rocket with just his eyes. I stared blankly, confusion now added to the mess of emotions running through my head. But then somehow it clicked into place. There was a spark in his eyes. He had to have charged up some energy in the past few minutes.

    “Well, what’s it gonna be?” the Rocket said. “You’ve got five seconds.”

    “*Now!!*” Chibi yelled, discharging all of his power into the Rocket, who slumped to the floor instantly. While I took off running with Firestorm, Chibi wrenched himself free and followed us.

    “Someone tranquilize the damn thing already!” the lead Rocket yelled, all amusement gone from his voice.

    Seconds after he said it, I heard the high-pitched whistle of something shooting through the air. Then a pained cry from Chibi, followed by the sound of him dropping to the ground. I threw a hurried glance over my shoulder and saw the hybrid sprawled out with a dart sticking out of his shoulder. Without hesitation, I turned back for him, but he yelled, “*Get out of here! They need me brought back alive, but they’ll kill you in a second if you wait around!!*”

    I recoiled backwards, staring in disbelief before snapping myself out of it and running the in the opposite direction. My legs were on autopilot, sprinting onward for what seemed like the millionth time that day, making as many turns around corners to make it both harder for the Rockets to find me, and harder to shoot if they did. I had to get away, but… to leave him back there like that…? I constantly glanced over my shoulder—mostly to see if I was being pursued, but also out of hope that I’d somehow see Chibi catching up to me. How was he planning to get away?

    Suddenly, I heard a high-pitched cry behind me and only barely turned around before I was struck down by a flash of yellow, a jolt of pain tearing through my body. I rolled over in a panic and found myself staring face to face with the Rocket’s Manectric glaring down at me, sparks leaping off its fur. Firestorm snarled at the thunder dog, daring it to make another move. But all it did was fire a small string of lightning at the remote and race off before either of us could move.

    I held an arm around my stomach as I struggled to stand, wincing in pain at the ache spreading through my insides. Seriously, what the heck was that about? Without warning, sparks leapt off the remote and I jumped back, letting it fall from my hand and clatter to the floor. I blinked at it, clutching my hand. Its screen was jumbled and glitchy, but I could just make out the words—

    “No… you’ve gotta be kidding me…” I mumbled weakly. “I spent all that time… this can’t be happening.”

    Automatic timed detonation activated.

    The screen stuttered a bit before displaying a countdown, starting at five minutes. My mind flew into a frenzy, struggling to think of something, anything to stop the detonation. The engine room was too far away; I couldn’t possibly remove all the bombs in time. I stared hopelessly at the screen, crushing despair filling every inch of me.

    It was over. The Rockets had won, and the ship was doomed.

    The ship… but if we managed to make it off in time…

    The idea hit me, and once it was there, it slowly started to spread throughout my entire mind like wildfire. Could I even do it? No, whether I could or couldn’t didn’t matter—I had to.

    “Come on Firestorm,” I said hoarsely, once again dashing for the nearest staircase. He had no trouble keeping up—in my current state, the newly-evolved Charmeleon was faster than me.

    We reached the main deck, and I froze at the sight of the rain pouring down in violent sheets outside. Somewhere in the back of my mind this seemed strange—there hadn’t been any news of a storm like this. But I couldn’t afford to focus on that right now. I hadn’t seen any of the upper decks yet, but I knew I was aiming for the topmost level.

    Only a few more staircases now. Soon I found myself in front of the sign for the ship’s bridge and couldn’t help feeling the slightest glimmer of joy at having made it this far. I grasped the door handle, threw it open, and—

    And then my legs gave out and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I was falling face first, only barely able to throw my arms out to catch myself from faceplanting into the ground.

    “What in the world—?!”

    “Kid, what are you doing here?”

    “Someone radio security, and get a medic while you’re at it.”

    Voices surrounded me. I craned my neck upward to get a look at the four crew members standing around me with mixtures of concern and surprise streaking their faces. I couldn’t tell which one was the captain. For all I knew, he might not even have been awake at this hour.

    There wasn’t much time left. I had to warn them. “Explosion… in the engine room. We have to get off the ship. Now.”

    “An explosion in the engine room? Why wouldn’t we have noticed? What were you doing down there?”

    In the background, I could hear a voice saying, “Bridge to engine control, what’s your status?”

    I felt a hand grip my shoulder, not hard enough to hurt, but firm. I couldn’t do anything but extend a shaking arm, still barely grasping the control device, and hope that someone would look at it. Less than four minutes left.

    “Captain, I’m not getting any response from engine control.”

    A heavy pause filled the room. The man nearest me—apparently the captain, now that I got a good look at his hat and stripes—turned to face someone sitting at a control monitor and said, “Run the fire emergency alarm. Send the engine crew to perform emergency response procedures on any damaged areas.”

    Fire emergency?! They’d all just be heading to their deaths!

    “There’s no time!” I shouted, tears now stinging the corners of my eyes. “There are bombs all over the lower deck! We have to get out of here!”

    In my blurred vision, I could barely make out the captain taking the control device from my hand. The color drained from his face as he stared at it. “Where did you get this? Answer me, now!”

    My head felt hazy and distant. Words didn’t feel like something I was capable of. “There’s… no time…”

    Everything hurt. I couldn’t think anymore. But we had to get out…

    The room was silent for several seconds. I had no idea if they were going to listen to me or not until then the captain stood to his feet. And I couldn’t help letting out a long, slow breath when I heard him say, “Gather all the passengers at the emergency stations. Send someone with this device to check the lower decks and report back to us the instant they can confirm anything. If that’s the case, we must be prepared to abandon ship.”






    ~End Chapter 7~
    This arc used to be riddled with all sorts of evidence that I Did Not Do The Research on ships at all. Well…now I’ve done the research, and my Google search history is filled with such odd things as “cruise ship layout,” “where do you board the ship,” “what to do if a ship's lifeboats are faulty,” “where is the engine room on a cruise ship,” “engine room layout,” “ship emergency alarm types,” “are ship engine rooms loud,” “where are the lifeboats on a ship,” and “ticket for a cruise ship looks like.” Also it might seem kind of suspicious that I’ve looked up “if the engine room explodes will a ship sink?” (I’m not a terrorist, I swears.)

    I mean, seriously. In the previous revision, they found the Rockets in a random dark hallway leading to a featureless room with the ubiquitous Storage Boxes™ that serve no purpose other than cover (hey, on the cargo jet it at least made sense.)

    So yeah, by then end of it, I was sick and tired of having three million tabs of ship research open, and not sorry to be nearly done with this arc. :P Unnnnnfortunately, the next two chapters are so bad they proceeded to kill the fic for two whole years. ><
     
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    Chapter 8: Midnight Island
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    Gotta catch 'em all, Poke Bombs!
    dammit
    But overall, I thought it was a clever combination of stealth and actual fighting, and I thought it was a good call to not depict much of Chibi's actual fighting. But that's just another personal preference of mine.
    Ah, I'm glad. The reason I did it like that was because I wanted to focus on what Jade herself was doing (since she wasn't exactly leading him into battle) and because he's so overpowered that I get more tension by separating them.
    Wow, and here I thought my Charmander evolved early~ Still, good power boost. They'll need it.
    As we'll find out soon, he was already pretty close to evolving at the start of the story. ;P



    ~Chapter 8: Midnight Island~


    “This is your captain speaking. We have an emergency situation—all passengers must report to the main deck immediately to await further instruction. Recall all Pokémon to their Pokéballs and bring them with you. If you are in your cabin, please retrieve your personal flotation device. If you are not in your cabin, do not go down to the lower decks—additional flotation devices will be available at the emergency stations. I repeat, this is an emergency situation—”

    The captain’s voice boomed powerfully over the ship’s PA system, and the crew immediately scattered in response to the orders. A desperate voice in the back of my head kept shouting at me to stand up, but I couldn’t process how to make that happen. I was probably in the way, collapsed on the floor like this, but… I just… I couldn’t figure out how to do anything about it.

    A hand firmly grasped my right hand, and before I knew what was going on, a set of claws had taken hold of my left and both were pulling me upward at the same time. I blinked twice, trying to clear my vision before seeing that both a crewman and Firestorm had a hold of me. I clenched my teeth and fought to maneuver my legs under me. The movement was sluggish and awkward, but I managed to plant one foot heavily and lean my weight on it long enough to drag the other one into place. It felt ridiculous. But I really wasn’t in a position to care right now.

    “Can you stand on your own?” the crewman asked, carefully letting go of my hand while keeping a close eye to make sure I wasn’t in danger of falling.

    My brain told me to say no, but for some reason I nodded.

    He gave me a stern look, like he didn’t quite believe me. “We’re gathering on the main deck to aid the rest of the passengers so I’ll escort you there. It’s raining pretty hard, so you should recall your Charmeleon.”

    I squeezed Firestorm’s claw to let him know it was safe to let go, then rummaged through my pocket for his Pokéball before recalling him in a beam of red light. I nodded to the crewman, and we made our way toward the bridge stairwell, which was now rimmed with flashing emergency lights. Blasts from the ship’s whistle rang throughout the air as I forced my legs down one stair at a time, bracing most of my weight against the railing. More than once, my foot missed a stair and I would have been sent tumbling down if the crewman hadn’t caught my arm just in time. One stair at a time. Just had to focus on that—nothing else mattered right now. One stair at a time. At least I only had to conquer two staircases to make it to the main deck, while everyone on the lower decks had who knows how many to go through. It was a stupid thought, but it helped.

    Somehow we reached the bottom without me noticing. From there, we only had to make it outside. The captain strode forcefully past us, continuing to repeat his emergency message into a handheld PA microphone. A mass of people was migrating up from the lower decks, and a huge weight settled in my chest from the sheer amount of panicked faces, many of them younger than me. Countless crew members got into place directing the crowd of passengers to the emergency area on the outermost portion of the main deck.

    “Captain!” a young voice called. I turned to see a crew member sprinting up an otherwise empty staircase that had been marked authorized personnel only. “You were right, the lower decks are filled with explosives. There’s no way we could remove them all in time. Most of the lower decks have been evacuated, but many passengers still haven’t made it out yet.” She was holding the control device for the explosives, which was now flashing red with a large ‘30’ displayed.

    Numbness swept over me just looking at it. Less than a minute left… but if everyone could make it up here before the bombs went off, we’d still have a shot of escaping. The ship wouldn’t sink that quickly, would it?

    The captain pulled a radio from his belt and said something into it before racing outside. The man escorting me patted my shoulder and said, “Just follow this crowd outside to the closest emergency station,” before joining the nearest group of crew members directing the evacuation.

    An awkward feeling swept over me as I stumbled over to the group. Most of them were still in their pajamas, having been asleep just five minutes ago. Now they were wearing life preservers and looking terrified. Half the crowd was tripping over each other, either pushing to get outside or running back to find their friends, all while desperately trying to be heard over the mass of panicked voices. The other half was tense, glancing around anxiously and clutching their Pokéballs with a death grip, ready to open them at any second. Part of me wanted to panic like the first half, but I’d used up the ability hours ago.

    The instant we stepped outside, we were soaking wet. It wasn’t cold, but man was it jarring. I’d been running out to this deck constantly not even an hour ago—where had this come from? The water poured down on us like a torrent, the skies were a twisting, writhing mass of gray, and no sooner had I noticed it than a burst of wind knocked me into the nearest trainer. Because we really needed things to be harder now.

    The crew inside the ship were still running around, directing everyone outside as quickly as possible. But the nearest crew members outside were shouting into their radios, looking flustered. What was going on? Wasn’t this where we’d board the lifeboats?

    Wait. No… no, the Rockets, they couldn’t have…

    “This is your captain speaking. Everyone needs to brace themselves.”

    This was it. No time left. Everyone who wasn’t up here yet wasn’t going to make it. I dropped to the ground and clenched my teeth as hard as possible.

    I still wasn’t ready for it.

    A deafening roar and the squeal of crunching metal bombarded my ears, completely overwhelming the sounds of the ongoing storm. My hands and feet vibrated from the shockwave radiating outwards, and everyone still making their way outside was knocked completely off their feet. Within seconds, smoke started billowing up from the staircases, quickly filling the enclosed part of the middle deck. And on top of it all, the rocking motion of the ship grew more violent by the second.

    “On behalf of the captain, I am relaying the order to abandon ship!” a woman close to my group shouted. “The lifeboats are gone, so the only way off is to jump overboard! If you have Pokémon large enough to carry you in the air or the water, release them now! And even small water-types should be able to assist both you and others while in the sea!”

    At these words, countless trainers pulled out Pokéballs, and flashes of white light filled the air around the deck’s outermost edge. The crowd thinned as the trainers with flying-types didn’t hesitate to jump onto their rides’ backs and take off, flying in low circles around the ship. That just left the rest of us. Sure, we were already soaked to the bone and being in the sea wasn’t gonna be much different, but the waters below us had grown increasingly violent. And I didn’t have any water Pokémon.

    Finally, a scattering of trainers worked up the courage to climb the railing and jump off. Several people gasped, but the effect was obvious—after the first few had done it, more and more had found the confidence to make the plunge as well. I couldn’t hesitate. Taking too long would only hold up everyone behind me. I grasped the edge of the railing and used my arms to swing my legs over. Then all I could do was close my eyes, grit my teeth, push myself over the edge, and oh god I was falling. I couldn’t possibly have been ready for it. The fall dragged on forever and the water was a million miles away and I was moving way too fast and my stomach turned inside out and—

    The sudden impact stopped my thoughts cold as every inch of exposed skin burned like fire from striking the water. I thrashed my arms instinctively, trying to get my bearings. I was still underwater—no good, I had to surface! I opened my eyes and spotted the surface right above me before paddling as hard as I could to reach it.

    My head burst out of the water and I immediately found myself gasping and sputtering for air. The water wasn’t frigid, but still cold enough that the tingling in my limbs didn’t want to go away. I flailed about, trying to control my movement and see was going on with everyone else. My legs wouldn’t move; it was just my arms doing all the work now.

    Most of the passengers had grouped together around the trainers who had water Pokémon. I squinted back at the ship. From what little I could see, it didn’t look like anyone was still making the plunge from the upper deck… which had to mean that everyone who was able to had made it off by now. Now we just had to weather the storm. But the rain kept pouring down in violent sheets and the rush of seawater tossed us relentlessly. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep the salty water from finding its way into my mouth—I was spending more time choking and spitting out water than making progress.

    A sudden flash of light nearby caught my attention. A girl had just released a massive blue sea serpent from its ball. The Gyarados let out a roar before leaning its head down, allowing its trainer to climb aboard. Already many of the nearby passengers were following her lead and climbing up the serpent’s thick, armor-like scales.

    I wasn’t that far away. If I could just make it to her, I wouldn’t have to brave the storm by myself. I just had to make it over there.

    Before I could do anything, the water forced my head under the surface and knocked the air from my lungs. I blinked frantically in the darkness, still reeling with shock. Which way was up? Why couldn’t I tell?!

    I burst free of the water just in time to wish I hadn’t. An enormous wave had swept in from nowhere, now looming over me. I stared blankly, feeling my limbs turn to ice and refuse to move. Even if I’d had time, I couldn’t react—what on earth was I supposed to do? I couldn’t possibly avoid something like that!

    The world dissolved into rush of water and the spray of salt and tumbling and disorientation and a burning pain now tearing its way through my lungs. I couldn’t tell how deep it had pushed me—direction didn’t exist anymore. I’d been flipped and tossed and my entire body felt like a ragdoll. Where was I? My surroundings had become an endless expanse of water and darkness. Even if there was anything to see, my eyes burned too much from the salt.

    I suddenly remembered that my lungs were on fire—it was a weird contrast to how detached the rest of my body felt. My legs still wouldn’t move—it was almost like they weren’t even there. Were they there? I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see anything.

    Somewhere in the back of my head a voice screamed to get a grip but there wasn’t anything to get a grip on. Nothing was around me. Nothing except…

    A huge, shadowy mass swept under me. Everything was dark, but this thing was dark enough to stand out… somehow. It slowly turned in my direction, and the only thing I saw was a pair of glowing blue eyes before it turned and dove further below me.

    Wait… below me! It had to be below me, right? I had no idea if that made any sense, but I knew that it was below, I just knew. Without even thinking, my arms drove me in the opposite direction—upward. I shot through the water so fast it felt like I was flying. Almost there. Just had to reach the surface. Almost there—!

    I broke free. My face hit the air and nothing had ever felt half as amazing. It didn’t last long—a round of coughing and sputtering took over as my worn-out lungs tried to expel all of the saltwater I’d taken in. Each breath sent another wave of fire running through my chest, but I didn’t mind—just breathing at all was relief enough.

    Except… this was too easy. I was just floating here breathing, and my head wasn’t being forced under the water every five seconds. The sheer relief of being on the surface had been so great that I hadn’t even noticed. It was gone. The waves, the wind, the rain… everything was gone. Clouds churned lazily above us, giving no indication of the raging storm that had just vanished. Calm skies and waters now made it easy to see the S.S. Anne tilted backward at a harsh angle, slipping down into the sea’s murky depths.

    I was close to the Gyarados now, so my main priority became drifting vaguely in that direction using as little effort as possible. Six or seven passengers were crowded onto the upper half of its body, but there was room for me to grab one of its lower fins.

    Just as my brain was trying to work through if I should ask anyone what happened, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I turned to the right and stared blankly at the sight, now even more confused. A squad of rescue boats was speeding toward us as though nothing had ever happened.

    Rescue boats. How on earth had they gotten here so quickly? An overwhelming flood of questions started to fill my head, but with my body now far beyond exhausted, I almost didn’t care if I got any answers. The Gyarados started making its way toward the boats, moving very slowly to avoid losing any of its far-too-many riders. By the time it was my turn to climb aboard, most of the passengers had been rescued, and I felt a wave of euphoric relief upon being pulled onto the deck and being able to sink to my knees.

    A bustle of movement surrounded me as the officials went about gathering information from everyone who had been rescued. I glanced upward at the man nearest me; the first thing I thought to ask was, “Where are we?”

    “Just off the southern coast of Fuchsia,” he replied. Fuchsia… that was… at the far south end of Kanto, right?

    The man held a towel in front of my face. “Here. Are you hurt? Anyone with injuries should see the medical staff.”

    Right… I was still sitting lamely on the floor, limbs shivering uncontrollably. I shook my head lightly before grabbing the deck railing and pulling myself to my feet. He raised an eyebrow, apparently not believing me but figuring that I had enough sense to get aid if I was injured (which, as I kept having to remind myself, I was not). I accepted the towel with a low murmur of “thanks” before pulling myself into the nearest seat.

    Being able to dry myself was, quite simply, heaven after braving the ocean waters. I watched the group of shivering trainers being led around by the staff, my head slowly fogging up with fatigue. I was certain there was too much noise and commotion to fall asleep, but…

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I opened my eyes slowly, then immediately blinked as my eyes burned with a bright light. I glanced around in confused before realizing that it was daytime—a glance at my watch told me that it was 8am. Well, that didn’t make sense… I could have sworn that I’d only closed my eyes for a minute or two…

    I stretched long and hard, my limbs filled with a dull, throbbing pain, before looking around. The ship was now docked in the small harbor of a coastal town surrounded by rolling plains and gleaming white beaches. The staff was busy directing people off the ship, or at least some of them—about half of the trainers were being pointed back into their seats rather than onto the dock. Feeling a bit perplexed, I wandered over to the staff.

    “What’s going on here?” I asked.

    “We’ve docked near Fuchsia City. All of the trainers who were given a specialty invite to the party are to remain on the ship until we can relay a message intended for them,” a man explained.

    Specialty invite… the tickets Stalker gave to the potential rebels? How could they tell which people he’d invited?

    Sensing my confusion, the man said, “Let me see your card key.” I handed it over, and he scanned it through a device before handing it back. “Alright, please wait around here until we’ve finished with the remaining passengers.” As I walked back to my seat, a small group of trainers behind me started making a fuss because they had apparently left their card keys behind—the staff was attempting to sort through it.

    I wasn’t sure what to think of the whole situation now. I had been frustrated at Stalker for having underestimated Team Rocket, but he clearly had a plan set into motion for an incident like this. Still, why couldn’t he have gotten an ally to make sure nothing went wrong with the voyage? Did he even have allies, or was he doing this alone?

    I wandered around the ship’s deck as the number of passengers slowly started to thin, gazing at the ocean and admiring how calm it looked, with the bright sunlight reflecting off ridges of water. My thoughts strayed back to the previous night, and how impossible it all seemed now. Mere hours ago, we’d all been so close to death… it was obviously an uncomfortable thought, but it was slowly starting to become more familiar. And this was how it was going to be from now on…

    I was just vaguely wondering how the Rockets had escaped, and if they’d had actual rockets in their backpacks, when a hand clapped my shoulder.

    “Hey Jade.”

    …What. Why on earth was I hearing that voice here?

    I spun around to stare at the olive-skinned, dark-haired face behind me. And really, all I could do was let my mouth hang open in shock.

    “…What are you doing here, Rudy?” I managed to say.

    He gave a small laugh at the look on my face and said, “Guess I should explain myself, huh?”

    “You think?” I asked, laughing a little bit myself, the air of anxiety gone just from being with a friend. “You… have no idea how glad I am to see you here… especially after last night.”

    Rudy smiled weakly. “Yeah… that…”

    I gave him an incredulous look. “I’m starting to think you have a thing for always showing up at my Team Rocket run-ins.”

    “Hey, it’s not a coincidence,” Rudy said quickly. “You know the dude who gave out the tickets?”

    I blinked. “You met him too?”

    Rudy nodded. “Sure did. I met him after I got back to Viridian. He said he’d heard about our battle with those Rockets at the plane, and that anyone who’d gone against Team Rocket was important to have as an ally. He asked me if I wanted to train under him and learn how to fight Rockets, and well…” He forced a grin, some of his normal enthusiasm shining through for a moment. “You know I couldn’t say no to getting back at those guys. So he gave me the card and that was when he mentioned that you got one too.”

    I couldn’t think of what to say. Stalker had said he’d been recruiting any new trainers with the guts to take on Team Rocket, but the idea of someone else I knew being a part of this felt very strange.

    “Course… I sort of got in trouble for being gone all day,” Rudy continued, looking down. “It’s kinda hard to be afraid of something like that after making it through the Rocket mess, though. And I was gonna tell your mom that’d you’d gone on a training journey with Swift, but… she kind of already knew? I was expecting her to be way more upset about it, honestly.”

    I smiled faintly. “Yeah, I, uh… I kind of wound up calling home later that night anyway.”

    Rudy paused. “Wait seriously?”

    I rubbed the back of my head. “Yeah. I was dreading it at first, but it worked out for the best.” I wasn’t sure if I should explain the deal that I’d made to get my license before I turned fifteen, but Rudy was still staring at me like he was waiting to tell the rest of his story.

    “Go on,” I said, rolling my eyes. Though I didn’t want to admit it, hearing him ramble was definitely helping take my mind off things.

    Rudy didn’t need telling twice. “Kay, so I started my training journey a couple days after that, and I made sure to grab the bus from city to city until I made it to Vermilion. I got there about four days before we left.” He paused for a bit and then added, “Y’know, I was surprised I never saw you around the Pokécenter or at the gym or anything.”

    “Yeah… I spent most of my time at the campsite near the start of Route 6…” I mumbled, feeling slightly embarrassed.

    “Catching Pokémon?” came the immediate reply.

    I snorted. “You know I can’t buy Pokéballs.”

    “No, but what you could’ve done was ask some random trainer to go buy them for you, and hope they don’t report you to the—”

    “Thanks for the advice—I’ll file that away under ‘what not to do.’ But what about you, did you catch anyone new?”

    “You bet! I got a Spearow and a Nidoran, and they’re made of awesome, and now I’m up to four Pokémon,” Rudy said, his voice slowing dramatically near the end.

    “Oh yeah? Pretty cool. Although…”—I suppressed a snicker—“I seem to recall you saying—what was it again?—that you’d find Mew and team up to defeat the Legendary birds within the first month of your—” I had to stop because I was laughing too hard and he was smacking my arm with a fist repeatedly.

    “Oh, oh yeah, and then at the League, the Johto guardians would be so impressed by your feat that they’d ask if they could join you, and—”

    “Hey I never said any of that… and if I did I was like ten!” Rudy said quickly, his face reddening. “Besides, I’m doing better than you, aren’t I? Four against three, so there. And hey, that reminds me—how come I never saw you on the S.S. Anne? I wanted to battle you during the trainer’s party but couldn’t really find you.”

    “I… spent most of the night in my room, actually,” I said sheepishly. I had forgotten about how I’d needed to hide after Chibi and I had discovered the Rockets.

    Chibi. That’s right—the Rockets, they had… The thought was painful. He’d been captured because he saved me. And I’d just let them take him? Why hadn’t I done anything about it?

    I was too lost in thought to pay close attention to what Rudy was saying after that. He went on about seeing me while in the ocean and trying to get my attention, but me not seeing him. In an instant, my memory flashed back to last night, and I immediately blurted out, “What made the storm clear?”

    Rudy stopped and gaped at me. “You mean you didn’t see it?”

    “No,” I replied a little uneasily. His tone made it sound like no one in their right mind would have missed it.

    “It was a little creepy, but way awesome,” he said. “This dark shadow seemed to block out everything, even the moonlight, and there was a giant gust of wind and then suddenly the storm stopped and the waves calmed down. Then this huge… thing dove down into the water. It was so fast, I couldn’t tell what it was.”

    The excitement plastered all over his face was almost too much to bear. It was enough to actually make me feel jealous that I hadn’t seen it happen, although Rudy was the one who had always wanted to run into super-powerful Pokémon. Then again… that dark figure I had seen in the water… could that have been the same thing Rudy had seen?

    At this point, it seemed like everyone had finished transferring over to the new ship. I found myself idly wondering where we’d be headed, then heard a voice calling out through a microphone.

    “Everyone here was given a specialty invite to the Pokémon trainer’s party. Those who managed to complete the invite-only event onboard the S.S. Anne were meant to be rewarded with enrollment into an exclusive training internship. In light of what happened… that event will no longer be taking place. Enrollment will be open to all of you, and we’ve been requested to send you all there now. But first, we need to relay the following message,” one of the rescue staff said. He paused for a few seconds, taking a deep breath before saying, “There’s no doubt that having to flee the S.S. Anne like that was a terrible ordeal for young trainers like yourselves to face. It’s advised that you think carefully about the special training you signed up for, and decide if you still wish to go through with it. If not, you should resume your training journey. Thank you.”

    His words were like a cold splash of reality, right in the face. A reminder that even though we’d survived, joining Stalker’s team would only mean facing even more horrible situations like last night.

    The announcement brought scattered murmuring amongst the trainers, and now that I looked around at all of them, I could see traces of doubt and regret streaking their faces. And, even worse… my heart crumpled inward when I saw a few of the kids crying softly away from the main group. The crushing realization slowly hit me—I had gotten lucky. I hadn’t even known that Rudy was on the ship, and both of us had gotten off alive anyway. But some of the trainers had to have lost friends when the S.S. Anne sank.

    Time froze as a small number of kids scattered amongst the crowd made the slow walk off of the transfer boat with an almost tangible air of shame. Several others, upon seeing that they wouldn’t be alone in leaving, hurriedly stood to their feet and followed suit.

    “Well… I know it’ll be dangerous, but… that’s the reason I joined. Fighting those guys and saving the Legendaries? I’m not giving up something like that. I can’t turn my back on something like that,” Rudy said with a decisive tone. His words had a slight edge, though. Like he was desperately trying to persuade himself that it was the right decision.

    I already knew there was no going back for me. I couldn’t return to my old life, knowing what I knew now. This was my chance to make a difference. Had to keep telling myself that.

    Around fifty kids were still on board. After several minutes had passed from the time of the announcement, the majority of the staff left the ship as well, leaving just a single young man behind.

    “We’ve managed to secure a teleporter who has your destination memorized,” he said. “They’ll be sending you there two at a time, so please line up and wait your turn.” At his words, an Alakazam stepped forward alongside him. The golden humanoid, twiddled a pair of spoons in its claws and surveyed us with a bored expression before gesturing to the trainers at the front of the group. The first two kids walked forward uncertainly, and Alakazam touched a spoon to each of their shoulders before disappearing in a sudden flash of shimmering light. Around twenty seconds later it reappeared alone with a similar flash.

    It would probably take over twenty trips for all of us, and after the first five or so, the psychic was already looking tired and had to drink some Ether. Wherever we were headed, it must have been pretty far for the jumps to tire the psychic out that much.

    After around ten minutes of this, my turn came up. I stepped forward, feeling a small twinge of anxiety in the back of my head. This was my first time teleporting, and I honestly had no idea what to expect. A spoon tapped my shoulder. A tingling sensation quickly spread across my skin, my surroundings melting into rippling waves of light. Then, just as suddenly as it came, the feeling left, and the world suddenly snapped back into clear view. That was it? It was a lot smoother than I’d been expecting.

    I glanced around at my new surroundings and found myself… on a dock. But it was obviously a completely different one—the sea was to the west rather than south, and the coastline was rocky and forested. Not to mention the nearby town was a lot smaller than Fuchsia. I still had absolutely no idea where we were though.

    The Alakazam gave a nod before disappearing from view, and I jumped off to the side so I wouldn’t be in the way of the next trainer to arrive. Rudy appeared not long after I did, and within a few more minutes we were all here, stuck together in a large group and wandering vaguely towards town. As was typical of trainers, our group eventually honed in on the local Pokémon Center.

    The center was small (it probably didn’t have to accommodate many trainers most of the time), so there was no way we were all going to fit inside. The lead nurse at the front counter blinked in surprise at our sudden arrival, but then she said, “You must be the specialty training group I was told about. If you follow the road that leads north to the edge of town, you’ll find Midnight Stadium, where your training program will be held.”

    Midnight Stadium… so that was our destination. But then, where were we anyway?

    “Where are we?” one of the kids blurted out before I had worked out whether or not it would look too stupid to ask.

    The nurse gave an amused half-smile. “Midnight Island, just off the coast from Lavender Town.”

    I wasn’t the only one who craned their neck to get a glimpse of the map on the side wall, as I had never heard of either of those two locations. It took me some time to locate Lavender Town on the large map of Kanto that adorned the wall, as it was a very small town on Kanto’s eastern coast. Sure enough, a tiny island alongside its shore was labeled Midnight Island.

    “Why couldn’t he have just told us that to begin with?” Rudy complained as we made our way outside.

    “The Rockets found out that we were meeting on the S.S. Anne, so if the headquarters hadn’t been a secret, they’d probably have targeted it too,” I said, a little exasperated.

    Rudy gaped at me. “Wait, that was Team Rocket who sank the ship last night? How do you know?”

    “I was there; I fought them, and—” I suddenly realized it. Swift and Firestorm—they’d been in their Pokéballs all night ever since I had to jump overboard. I retrieved the minimized spheres from my pocket and opened them, releasing the two Pokémon. I actually had to do a bit of a double take upon seeing Firestorm emerge from the ball—I still wasn’t used to seeing him in his larger, red-scaled form. Apparently, Rudy was surprised too, because—

    “Whoa—your Charmander evolved? Awesome!” he exclaimed.

    “Yup,” I answered, and I couldn’t help grinning. My face fell when I saw that Swift was still beaten and bruised from last night’s battle, though.

    “Crap, do you have a potion?” I asked Rudy. He rummaged in his bag before pulling one out, and I immediately sprayed down Swift’s limp wings and crumpled feathers. The injuries weren’t too serious—within a few seconds, the Pidgey shook his head and made a relieved chirp.

    “*How did we make it back to dry land?*” Firestorm asked, looking up at me expectantly. “*The ocean sounds like an awful place. Did you have to swim through it?*”

    I was about to answer, but then Rudy cut in, “Okay, hang on Jade, you’ve gotta tell me—you battled Rockets? How’d you even know they were there?”

    I sighed before launching into the events of the previous night. From when Chibi and I had eavesdropped on the Rockets to when Manectric initiated the automatic detonation. I explained everything as we walked down the road that led out of town, which eventually turned into a dirt road as the buildings grew sparse. I realized about halfway through my story that every trainer standing near us had now ceased their own conversations to listen in, but by that point I didn’t care if I had an audience.

    The sun had climbed higher into the sky by the time we arrived at a wide coliseum on the edge of the forest. It was a lot smaller than the stadiums I’d seen on TV, but still larger than any building in town. The sign on the front read “Midnight Stadium” in dramatic purple lettering.

    The front doors automatically opened as we approached, so the fifty or so trainers made their way slowly inside. We entered a large waiting room with a desk at the far end and two hallways branching off to the left and right. Posters of countless League events and training programs covered the far wall, while large computer panels lined the sides, most likely used for tournament registration or accessing the online storage system.

    “Everyone line up facing the front counter.”

    I almost jumped at the loud, booming voice that seemed to come from nowhere, realizing a moment later that it must have come from speakers. We all glanced around in bewilderment for a few seconds before arranging ourselves in several horizontal lines—I recalled Swift and Firestorm and took my place in the back line. At both far corners of the room, I spotted the cameras that were likely watching right now.

    After some time, the voice came again. “Forty-eight. That’s how many of you survived the attack and still had the determination to come here.” It was a young voice, but it sounded hardened… mature… I recognized it from our previous meetings.

    Footsteps echoed off the side hallways. We all held our breath in anticipation as Stalker walked into view, wearing the black mask and long cloak.

    “You had to endure far more than you should have in order to get here,” he said. “But now you’re here. You’ll all become valuable allies in the fight against Team Rocket.” And with that, he removed his mask and cloak.

    It was easy to sense the group’s surprise from the revelation that he was probably not much older than eighteen. Still, he gave off the impression of someone much older and more mature; in a strange sort of way, I felt childish by comparison. He surveyed the group with icy blue eyes and a reserved expression.

    “So…” he said after some time. “You all have seen my face, so now I’m in the same position as you. If Team Rocket learns my identity, I’ll be done for. But I want to be on equal terms with all of you, so I believe it’s worth it.” He paused heavily, giving us time to process it all. “I’m sure all the secrets surrounding this were frustrating. I had thought that keeping you in the dark and having you gather together, surrounded by ordinary trainers just like you, would be the best way to keep you safe. I never expected the Rockets to go so far… just to get to me.” At this point, several of the trainers—the ones who had overheard my account of the previous night—now glanced back at me.

    “You can call me Stalker,” he announced. No one commented on the strangeness of this. “And this is Midnight Stadium. It’s commonly rented for specialty training programs and casual non-League tournaments, so none of the locals will find it odd that there are so many of you here. Just remember to say that’s why you’re here if any of them ask.”

    Stalker paused to make sure everyone was listening, but he hardly needed to—we were all hanging on every word. “The first thing to do is get you signed up. I’ve got the registration computers here connected to my own personal database.” He motioned to the large screens covering the front walls of the lobby. “Once you’re done, you should familiarize yourself with the battlefield while I finalize the Rocket information with everyone one-on-one. And then after that…”—he gave what was probably the first smile I’d seen from him—“then we can get started on that training.”






    ~End Chapter 8~
    Not the best place to end the chapter, but the alternative was ending it on page 23. This means we’ll be having a couple of slow chapters in a row, but the upcoming arc unfortunately requires a ton of new information. I can say that Chapter 10 was a fan favorite, though.
     
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    Chapter 9: The Rebellion Begins
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    Time for... what used to be the other half of Chapter 8! Which means it's also not my favorite. Oh well, only one more chapter before we finally hit the first mission arc!



    ~Chapter 9: The Rebellion Begins~


    I had seen plenty of indoor battlefields on TV, but being inside one was an entirely different experience, even if Midnight Stadium was a lot smaller than the stadiums used for the Indigo League. The battlefield area was a huge, flat space with a smooth, densely-packed clay surface. Sheer concrete walls at least twenty feet high surrounded the entire area, and above that the audience seats were arranged in rows extending backward to the outer edge of the stadium. The ceiling was currently shut, though the surrounding machinery probably meant that it was capable of being opened.

    Most of the kids had finished signing up in the lobby and had moved on the battlefield by now. I glanced around for Rudy, since he’d gotten registered before me, only to see that he had already located an opponent for a practice battle. I couldn’t help laughing a bit at his impatience. He was literally bouncing up and down as he pointed forward and yelled for his Spearow to attack.

    “Hey there,” a voice behind me said.

    I whirled around to see who it was and found myself looking down at a smaller kid, maybe a year or two younger than me. He had straight, dirty-blond hair, light blue eyes, and was currently giving me an “I know something you don’t” sort of grin.

    Did I know him? His face did seem vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t sure why. He obviously knew I didn’t recognize him, but seemed content to wait until I figured it out. Where had I seen him before?

    Oh right… he was that kid I’d seen when boarding the S.S. Anne. Meeting him was the first proof that there were other recruits on the ship.

    “Oh, it’s you.” I said blankly. “Er, hello you.”

    “Mm, close, but actually my name is Darren, not ‘you,’” he said matter-of-factly. “But anyways, how was the S.S. Anne trip for you? My team and I had fun. Well… aside from the sudden ending. I don’t think anyone much cared for that part.” Even though he was clearly being sarcastic, he said it with the same sort of tone that you’d use for something dead serious, which was a little off-putting.

    “Can’t complain really. Fighting Rockets at 3am is one of my favorite things to do,” I said dryly.

    “Ah, you too? I guess we’re in the right place for that, yeah,” he said, nodding his head in a “that makes sense” sort of way. I raised an eyebrow. He paused for a second before saying, “Yeah okay, actually… I don’t think I’d say fighting Rockets is my favorite thing. That’s probably not true. It’s okay if it’s yours though. I won’t judge.”

    I really wanted to ask him to stop using that tone, but how do you ask something like that?

    “So anyway, want to battle?” Darren asked, suddenly pulling out a Pokéball. I was really gonna have to get used to that being the default greeting for Pokémon trainers.

    “Oh, uh… sure?” I retrieved my Pokéballs to let out Swift and Firestorm with a flash. I then had to mentally smack myself—you weren’t supposed to let out your whole team for a battle. Was this seriously my first ‘normal’ Pokémon battle?

    “Oh. Or we could show off our team first… that works too,” Darren said, shrugging. I was about to say that I’d just made a mistake, but he had already grabbed two more Pokéballs and opened them along with the first one. When the light faded, an Ivysaur, Sandshrew, and Psyduck now stood before me.

    “Cool, so you started out with Bulbasaur, right?” I hadn’t seen its evolved form up close before. As I knelt to get a better look at it, the flower-backed reptile drew itself up proudly and shook its leaves.

    “Yeah, ever since he evolved he’s been kind of a showoff,” Darren said, rubbing the back of his head. “It’s even worse when we’re battling and he thinks someone’s watching.” Ivysaur folded his ears back and shot his trainer a glare for that comment. Darren ignored him and continued, “So, are we still gonna have that battle?”

    “Oh. Uh, sure, we can battle. I’ll use…” I trailed off as I looked over my two Pokémon. Firestorm was obviously stronger now, which meant I should use—“Swift.”

    Firestorm’s face fell immediately. “*What? I wanted to—*”

    “You evolved last night, let’s give Swift a chance to catch up, yeah?” The Charmeleon didn’t much care for my explanation and folded his arms with a sulky expression. Swift glanced back and forth between Firestorm and me, looking conflicted.

    I waved a hand dismissively. “Ignore him, this is your turn.”

    The Pidgey blinked in surprise but then nodded before fluttering forward to stand between Darren and me.

    “Alright… I’ll use Sandshrew then!” Darren called out, pointing forward. The yellow-scaled Pokémon at his heels struck a triumphant pose before leaping in front, baring its claws with an aggressive smirk that didn’t seem to fit such a small creature.

    First real battle… okay. Didn’t have to worry about dying if I lost, so there was no reason to stress out over it. No reason to forget everything I’d ever learned in battling class.

    Except I’d learned nothing from battling class.

    “Sandshrew, use Defense Curl!” Darren ordered.

    Crap, I had to order an attack! What moves did Swift even know? There couldn’t be that many—he hadn’t been trained before.

    “Uh, use Quick Attack!”

    Faster than I could see, Swift took off from the ground and shot forward like a bullet, striking Sandshrew dead-on and sending it reeling backwards. But as Swift pulled out of the dive, the yellow shrew quickly regained itself and rolled its body into a tightly curled ball.

    “Alright, we got the first hit, now follow it up with a Tackle!” I shouted, already feeling my heart pound with excitement.

    Swift swooped back around and aimed for his opponent again, this time going for a full-body slam rather than a quick passing strike. The Pidgey slammed headlong into Sandshrew, but the thick-scaled Pokémon was braced to endure the hit—the impact barely moved it.

    “What? But why…?” I muttered.

    “*Defense curl toughened its body. It won’t be hurt easily now,*” Swift observed.

    Darren grinned. “Alright, now go for a Rollout!”

    I just had the chance to see the ground-type’s hide turn rough and rocklike before it rotated at high speed and took off rolling across the stadium floor like a boulder. Swift was flying overhead, so there wasn’t any way he could get hit, right? Wrong—Sandshrew used its momentum to leap off the ground and hurtle through the air, aiming right for him. Tilting a wing, Swift banked to the left at the last second as Sandshrew barreled past. I would have sighed in relief if I weren’t still staring, unsure of what to do now. So Swift wasn’t safe in the air. What was the best option now? I’d have to order an attack if we were to get anywhere.

    “Go for another hit, Sandshrew!”

    Crap, I had to come up with something, anything. “Uh, Swift try another Quick Attack!” Maybe if he could hit Sandshrew before it hit him?

    But Sandshrew was already mid-Rollout again. Swift glanced back at me with an uncertain look, but then dove forward too fast to see, closing in on the Rollout heading straight for him.

    This was bad—Swift was going to get hit! Why had I told him to attack like that?!

    I flinched hard when the two collided, but that didn’t block Swift’s pained cry as he tumbled backward, rolling along the stadium floor before coming to rest in a battered heap. I’d basically just told him to fly into a rock. Why?!

    I grabbed his Pokéball, ready to recall him, but amazingly, the Pidgey was already standing to his feet, shaking his head to get his bearings. It had been a powerful hit, but it was the only hit he’d had to endure so far. So we might’ve still had a chance.

    “Sandshrew, come back around for the second hit!” Darren called out, and I could have sworn its rocky armor grew a bit thicker. Was this attack seriously going to get stronger as the battle went on?

    Swift glanced back at me expectantly. I stared at him, blank confusion plastered all over my face. He nodded softly, as if trying to say that I should do something. But whatever I said would only make things worse. My mind was racing, but it wasn’t coming up with anything at all. We only had a few seconds left!

    Finally, Swift hung his head and turned back to face the oncoming Rollout. He stretched out his wings and hopped in place, waiting for it to get near to him. Then, at the very last second, he took off from the ground, letting the Rollout speed past. I watched with bated breath, knowing that it was about to turn around for another blow. But at that moment, Swift flapped his wings in a sudden frenzy, creating a blast of air that formed a spiraling whirlwind. Sandshrew’s rolling form had just leaped at Swift when the rush of wind swept under it and flung it around in the air, knocking the ground-type out of its balled-up position. It flailed its limbs in a panic, unable to resist being thrashed about by the whirlwind.

    Of course—Gust. How could I have forgotten about that?

    The Gust attack finally dissipated and Sandshrew was sent flying to the ground, too dizzy to land on its feet and instead crashing awkwardly on its back.

    “Come on Sandshrew, launch a Poison Sting at it!”

    But in that split second before it could regain itself, Swift dove forward too quickly to see and struck Sandshrew right in its vulnerable underbelly. The yellow-scaled Pokémon flew backward from the hit, and when it finally slid to a stop, it was clearly too dazed to move.

    “Dang,” Darren said flatly. “I thought Rollout would make for an easy win.”

    I’d won. But the victory didn’t feel like my own—I’d mostly just gotten in the way. I definitely had a lot more to learn from the training here than my team did. But then… the whole point of this was to make myself stronger, right?

    Darren recalled his Sandshrew in a beam of light. “So I guess that’s the last time I’ll underestimate a Pidgey. Good job! Although,” —he laughed—“it kinda seemed like that was your first battle or something.”

    I could feel my cheeks go red. I wasn’t sure if I should tell him that it was.

    Swift had fluttered down to stand next to me, but he kept staring at the ground like he’d done something wrong.

    “What’s up?” I asked.

    He paused, unsure of how to put it. “*I used moves on my own. Is that allowed?*”

    I almost laughed. “If your trainer doesn’t have a freaking clue what to do, you can’t just stand there, right?” The Pidgey blinked slowly, processing the thought.

    “Hey Jade, I just got done with my battle, and—oh cool, you had a battle too? Nice! Who won?” Rudy said all at once, appearing from behind me and brimming with excitement.

    “Swift won,” I answered. It would’ve been weird to say that I won.

    “Awesome! Anyway, my plan is to like, at least double my Pokémon’s power within the first month here, and—” He stopped mid-sentence, eyeing Firestorm and Swift in confusion. “Hey, I just realized—where’s your Pikachu?”

    My heart curled inward on itself, and I fought back the sudden urge to disappear from the conversation. Why did he have to ask about that? The memory burned a hole in my chest every time it came up. How could I have let the Rockets take Chibi? Why couldn’t I stop them? Why?

    After several seconds, I finally replied, “He left. I told you I didn’t think he’d stay with me.”

    “Aw… your cool Pikachu left?” Darren said, frowning. “I liked him.”

    “That sucks. So now you only have two Pokémon?” Rudy asked.

    I nodded, really hoping we could get off this topic as soon as possible. I got my wish when a large amount of the surrounding conversation died down suddenly. After a few seconds’ glancing around in confusion, I realized that Stalker had walked through the entrance to the battlefield, causing everyone in a twenty-foot radius around him to pause in silent anticipation.

    “There’s no need to be like that. We’re all teammates now,” Stalker said, motioning for everyone to relax. “I asked a few people individually if they knew anything more detailed about what happened on the S.S. Anne. Some of them have mentioned hearing one of you say you were there during the Rockets’ mission.” He paused expectantly.

    I glanced around the battlefield. Right… it looked like I’d have to reveal my actions. Hesitantly, I raised my hand into the air. Stalker scanned the crowd for a few seconds until his eyes fell on me. He then said, “Alright, come to my office.”

    I hadn’t really been expecting that. I gave Rudy and Darren a bewildered shrug before motioning for Swift and Firestorm to follow me, only to be met with a wide-eyed look of disappointment from the latter.

    “Oh fine, stay with Rudy and Darren if you want to battle so much, sheesh,” I said, waving a hand dismissively. Swift opted to stay too, though it was clear that he planned on observing more than taking part.

    Everyone’s eyes were on me the whole time I walked to the front of the battlefield, though the only stare that mattered was Stalker’s. His expression was impossible to make out, which only fueled the prickles of anxiety starting to fill the back of my head. When I reached him, he simply nodded before turning and walking back up the stairs leading to the main entrance. I followed him out of the battlefield and back into the lobby before he turned down the right hallway and opened the first door we came to, motioning for me to enter. The room was fairly small, and taken up mostly by a large desk that was currently covered in a wide array of computer hardware, all hooked up to a laptop. Above the desk was a bookshelf that, at a glance, seemed to mostly involve Pokémon training and mythology. The few pictures on the walls were illustrations of Legendary Pokémon.

    “So…” he said, sitting down at the desk. “I don’t know what you were involved with or how much you know. Can you tell me?” His voice was inquisitive but still had a firm tone like I didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

    I took a seat in a small black chair across from him, unable to keep from feeling at least a bit nervous at the idea of telling him what I’d done. I paused for several seconds, then finally said, “Alright.” And with that I recounted—for the second time that day—the story of my clash with the Rockets. He stayed silent the whole time, his expression inscrutable. When I finished telling it, he didn’t say anything, but simply sat there with a look of deep concentration on his face, carefully mulling everything over. I had to admit, I was feeling kind of anxious to hear what he thought of the whole incident. Heck, it would probably impact the role I would play on the team.

    “So. You and a renegade experiment managed to stop them. You did what needed to be done, given the circumstances. I wouldn’t have expected that kind of initiative from you.” I tilted my head, unsure of how I was supposed to respond to that. He continued, “I’ll have to wait until the mission report to know for sure. But from the Rockets’ point of view, they either were able to take me and most of the rebels out, or send a strong message of ‘this is what happens if you try to oppose us.’ So either way, they’ll view it as a win.” He didn’t mention why the Rockets would have been so desperate to get at him, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask.

    “So, enough about that. I might as well get you registered for Team Rocket now.” I almost laughed at how bizarrely matter-of-fact that statement was in this situation. He flipped open his laptop and began typing on it. “Your name?”

    “Oh, uh, Jade Arens.”

    He looked over his screen for a bit before saying, “Mm, here you are. Now, for your Rocket ID, I’ll be randomizing your name, birthday, hometown, and Rocket initiation, so…”—he paused to click a few things—“it looks like from now on, you’re Allie Farias from Cerulean City; first registered at Northern HQ, born on the 6th of September, 2983. Once you get your ID, you should memorize all of the information so you don’t slip up when an executive asks you about yourself. There are other things like evaluation status, rank, department, and commanding officer, but those aren’t the sort of info I can fake—they’ll be assigned to you when you make your first trip to an actual Rocket base.”

    “How many bases are there?” I asked.

    “There are four major ones in Kanto,” he replied. “Northern HQ near Cerulean, Financial HQ in Saffron, Operations HQ in Celadon, and Main HQ in Viridian.”

    Viridian. The main headquarters for Team Rocket was in my hometown, and our representative gym leader was its boss. As if I needed more reason to take the fight against Team Rocket personally.

    “I just need your photo now,” Stalker said, and I nodded. He tapped on a few things with his laptop, and it clicked when the picture was taken. “That should be everything for now. I’ll hand out everyone’s IDs before your first mission. By the way… you don’t have a trainer’s license yet, do you?” he asked.

    “No.” My voice was a bit hollow.

    “Mm, then you wouldn’t have gotten a room number registered to your license when you signed up. You’ll need this,” he said, handing me a small plastic card. “It’s a card key for a room here. And since I’m renting the stadium and letting everyone stay in it for free, you won’t be paid as much as I had originally intended,” he added.

    “Paid?” I asked. We’d get… money for this? It hadn’t occurred to me that we’d be paid to fight Team Rocket.

    “Of course. And depending on how well you act the part of a loyal, contributing member, you’ll get paid by Team Rocket, too.”

    “You have… no idea how great that sounds,” I said with more than a little relief in my voice.

    “Low on cash, I take it?”

    “Yeah, I spent it all while waiting in Vermilion,” I said sheepishly.

    Chuckling slightly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a billfold before tossing a 5000p note onto the table. “Can’t have my team members starving. And I owe you for what happened on the S.S. Anne.”

    I stared at it. “Seriously?”

    He gave me a hard look and said, “Take it.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    My feet dragged against the road as I trudged back from my trip downtown, backpack loaded up with both groceries and Pokémon food. Sweat poured down my face, making me even more uncomfortably aware of how high the sun had climbed. And it wasn’t even high noon yet. But the air on Midnight Island was thick and stifling and not at all like the mountain breezes I was used to in Viridian. Part of me wished that I had made Firestorm come with so I could have had someone else help carry what I’d bought, but it was too late to do anything about it now.

    A wave of relief swept over me as the stadium came into view, and I would have run the rest of the way if my legs weren’t still dead from last night. I was tempted to take the groceries up to my room and eat there, but Swift and Firestorm were probably just as hungry as I was. And so, ignoring the part of my brain that kept whispering promises of a shower and pillows, I walked straight to the battlefield.

    It didn’t take long to find my Pokémon, even amongst the numerous battles still taking place. Swift was easy to spot, practicing some aerial maneuvers in a relatively empty corner of the battlefield. And below him was Firestorm, sitting on the ground with a miserable look on his face while Darren sprayed him all over with a potion.

    Darren waved when he spotted me. “Hey Jade, I’m just healing him up after that last battle.”

    The Charmeleon stared up at me with a sulky expression. “*I lost to Ivysaur. Ivysaur. I feel humiliated.*”

    Darren gave me a helpless look. “I… tried to tell him that he’d be at a disadvantage without a trainer to strategize for him.”

    Ivysaur muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “*Even with a trainer, he’d have still lost,*” but luckily Firestorm didn’t hear him.

    “*I want a rematch,*” the fire lizard said, standing up the instant Darren was done healing him.

    “No, you don’t. Food. Now,” I said flatly, gesturing to my backpack. “Come on, let’s find a place to sit down.” I gave a small wave to Darren before heading off to the stairway leading to the audience stands, Swift flying close behind and Firestorm dragging his heels.

    The view from the stands let me look out over all of the rebels in the battlefield, and from the looks of their Pokémon, most of them were about the same skill level. Over half of the trainers had the middle stage of their starter Pokémon: Ivysaur, Charmeleon, or Wartortle, though there were a couple of trainers who still hadn’t evolved theirs yet—Rudy among them. Quite a few trainers had the common bird Pokémon like Spearow, Pidgey, and Hoothoot or the common field Pokémon like Rattata, Sentret, Meowth, and Ekans. But every so often I spotted a trainer with a more uncommon team member like Magnemite, Slowpoke, Jigglypuff, and one kid who even had a Heracross.

    I tore open the bags of Pokéchow and poured some out into a pair of plastic bowls I’d bought, then proceeded to hastily throw together a sandwich for myself. In between shoving fistfuls of food into his mouth, Firestorm mumbled, “*Never lost to any of the Bulbasaur at the starter house.*”

    “Holy crap, are you still going on about that?” I asked, rolling my eyes. But the important bit of info in what he’d said jumped out at me. “Wait a second… did you say starter house?”

    “*Yeah.*”

    “As in, place where they raise starter Pokémon? You were a starter Pokémon?”

    “*Yeah,*” the fire lizard said, as though nothing were more obvious.

    “But then… why were you living in the forest? Did you get separated from your trainer, or did you never have one, or…” I trailed off.

    Firestorm swallowed a mouthful of food and said, “*I had a trainer, yeah.*”

    “…Had?”

    He closed his eyes, as though he’d been expecting me to ask, but hoping I wouldn’t. “*We… only ever made it to the first city on our journey. That’s where I was stolen from him.*”

    My mouth fell open. “Seriously?”

    Firestorm nodded. “*I managed to escape eventually, but I couldn’t find him after that,*” he went on, a strange monotone to his voice. “*I didn’t have any choice other than running away into the woods.*”

    I stared at the Charmeleon, lost for words. I never would have guessed that he’d gone through anything like that. I couldn’t think of anything to say that didn’t feel hollow and tactless. Finally, I managed to ask, “Did you ever go looking for any League officials? Even a Pokémon Center employee might have been able to help you find him.”

    He shook his head. “*I was afraid to go back into the city again.*”

    “I guess I can’t blame you for that… although it’s still sad. Now that I think of it, if I was able to capture you, then your old Pokéball must have been destroyed.”

    Firestorm shrugged. “*Probably. I ended up meeting a group of Charmander living in the woods west of that city. I spent a long time there until… well, until that fire,*” he ended.

    I nodded to show that I was paying attention, but I couldn’t think of anything more to say that didn’t feel empty. Then again, it had been a long time ago, and while he hadn’t wanted to tell me, he didn’t seem especially broken up by saying it. At least the revelation that he was a starter explained his behavior on the S.S. Anne.

    “You know… I never did get to thank you,” I said distantly while lost in my thoughts. He looked up, confused. “For being so determined to protect me last night,” I clarified.

    Firestorm stared at the ceiling. “*Pokémon are supposed to protect their trainers,*” he said simply. He then gave me a very serious look and said, “*But I wouldn’t have been able to keep them from shooting you.*”

    I rubbed the back of my head a bit sheepishly. “I guess… but that situation was my fault. You can’t be expected to be able to save me from every impossible mess I get myself into.”

    He didn’t respond—he just stared at the ground with a skeptical face, like he didn’t agree with what I’d just said, but couldn’t think of how to argue it.

    “What about you, Swift? You’ve sure been quiet,” I said.

    The Pidgey turned toward me quizzically. “*I don’t have anything to say.*”

    I laughed. “Ah come on, I’m pretty sure you have a heck of a lot more on your mind than you let on.” At that comment, the feathers on his face ruffled with embarrassment, and he focused intently on his food bowl.

    “C’mon. What are your thoughts on us being here?” I asked, giving him a light nudge. “It was my decision to come here, but you guys are affected by it too.”

    “*I’m gonna get stronger right?*” Firestorm blurted out all of a sudden.

    I slapped a hand to my forehead. “Yes, Firestorm, you’re gonna get stronger.”

    “*I’d like to learn more about Pokémon battles,*” Swift said finally, looking up.

    “Oh yeah? Like what?”

    He paused thoughtfully. “*I want to understand all of the options in battle. It’s more complicated than just one attack and then another.*”

    I sighed. “That’s what I’m afraid of. Even using the simulators at school—which are nothing like the real thing, they’re more evenly paced—I could never get a handle on anything other than just… random powerful attacks, one after the other. I also don’t know most Pokémon’s strengths and weaknesses—it’s too much to remember.”

    “*Strengths and weaknesses?*” Swift asked, tilting his head. “*You mean how I would be harmed more by electricity than Firestorm?*”

    “No, I mean like how some Pokémon species can take physical hits better than special hits, and vice versa. But not always—everyone’s different, and the trainer has to know everything about how their Pokémon fight, ‘cause that determines what the best moves are, and—” I was making the situation sound more hopeless by the second. “Man, I’m screwed.”

    “*This is different from school. You’ll get it,*” Swift said, closing his eyes with a matter-of-fact nod.

    I smiled weakly.

    Firestorm was staring at the battlefield with a concerned expression, like he was still getting over the revelation that random power attacks were no way to battle properly.

    I suddenly became aware that the trainers had begun to clear out the battlefield and were making their way up the stairs to the audience stands where I was sitting. Darren plopped down into a seat next to me without saying anything. Only a few seconds later, Rudy took the seat on my other side, saying way too many things.

    “Oh man, what do you think the first lesson is gonna be, do you think he’s gonna use his Charizard, I’ve wanted to see that thing battle ever since I first saw him riding it, but then again, the rest of his team is probably awesome too, and—”

    “You wanna try telling me what’s actually going on?” I asked.

    Rudy paused, looking mildly embarrassed. “Oh, er… Stalker’s gonna start the first lesson, and he needed the battlefield empty for it.”

    I turned to look down at the battlefield and saw that Stalker was now the only person down there. By now, everyone had found a seat and all eyes were focused completely on him. Even Firestorm had stopped sulking and was now staring intently.

    “So, I’m sure the thing you’re all looking forward to most is your training,” Stalker said. “Getting stronger will be useful in more ways than one. As new members of Team Rocket, proving yourself worthwhile in combat will be the first step to making the Rockets view you as a valuable asset. This will increase how much of the team you have access to, which will make it easier to carry out your true mission of sabotaging them from the inside. As for the opposition…”

    Stalker paced back and forth in front of us as he talked, considering his words carefully. “A lot of grunts are dropout trainers looking to make a quick buck. With enough training, you should be able to take them on. Officers, on the other hand… they’re ones most often called upon to fight rebels or Legendaries. To make it to that rank, they have to be skilled at taking down enemies, one way or another. In short, you don’t want to fight them.”

    Here he paused, letting his words sink into us.

    “But if you do find yourself fighting them… what do you think would be the best course of action?”

    Honestly, I had no idea. I wasn’t sure if it was rhetorical or not either. A couple of the trainers discussed it amongst themselves for a minute before a kid two rows ahead of me stood up and said, “Exploit their weaknesses?”

    Stalker gave a tiny smirk. “Not bad. But the answer, of course, is finding a way to escape.” A bunch of the trainers glanced back and forth at each other, murmuring confusedly. Our goal was to escape? How would that help us stop them?

    Stalker closed his eyes and shook his head. “Until you’re decently experienced, you don’t actually want to be fighting any Rockets. The training for your Pokémon is just a general-purpose thing. The focus will be on your training, as a trainer. If you’re doing your job right, the Rockets should never even know you’re there.”

    Everyone stared, and you could almost feel the disappointment. Stalker stared back at us coldly, content to wait until the group was done whispering its concerns.

    “That being said…” he continued, “there are a few ways you can maximize your chance of success against a stronger opponent. How many of you watch League matches on TV?”

    Well over half the kids around me raised their hands into the air. Even I had to admit that I’d watched them a couple times.

    “How many of you watch matches from other regions?”

    Everyone’s faces fell, and the majority of the hands sank slowly downward. Had I ever given more than a second glance to another region’s matches on TV? I couldn’t imagine I’d have ever cared—they used weird rules and their battles were hard to follow.

    “I know that we’re awful fond of singles here. It’s the dominant format for all official battles in Kanto. But double battles are the primary format in Hoenn. Sinnoh runs a large number of tag battle tournaments. Unova has more than one format with six Pokémon on the field at once. These formats are collectively known as multi battles.” At this point, scattered bits of groaning could be heard from the kids around me.

    “Come onnn… multi battles are confusing, don’t tell me we have to learn those,” someone called out.

    “You’d better, if you want to stay alive.” That got everyone to shut up. “There’s a higher learning curve, but multi battles will let you get a lot more synergy out of your Pokémon.”

    Everyone stared in silence. A lot of the trainers had that look like they wanted to protest, but couldn’t figure out how to without being shut down.

    Stalker continued, “You’ll need synergy. It’s one of the things that can let you take down a foe with stronger Pokémon, which for the first couple months will be everyone. If you only have one Pokémon out, an enemy Rocket that is confident enough might only send one to meet you. But that is not always the case. If they send out more, you need to be ready to have a multi battle with them. It might be uneven.” My mind wandered back to the battles with Tyson and the executive. Huge melees with many Pokémon per side. It had been impossible for me to keep track of all the action. But after training here, would I be able to? Ajia had been able to keep her cool even in such a chaotic fight, and if I could reach that level too…

    “I know this is hard to believe. So I’ll prove it to you—watch this battle.” And with that, Stalker pulled out four Pokéballs—two in each hand—and tossed one pair toward each side of the battlefield.

    On the left side, two dragons emerged, one of which was the Charizard I’d seen him riding several times. The fire lizard flapped its wings and took to the air, swinging its flame-tail aggressively and exhaling scattered embers with each breath. The second was a tall, bulky, golden-scaled dragon with small teal wings, and the moment I registered what it was, my jaw fell open. A Dragonite. He actually had a Dragonite on his team. One of the rarest and most powerful Pokémon around, and the hardest to train at that.

    Facing them down on the opposing side was a pair of armored dinosaur Pokémon. The first one, a Tyranitar (another rare and powerful Pokémon!) took a low bow before drawing itself proudly up to its full height, showing off the impressive spikes jutting from its green, rock-armor plating. Its partner, on the other hand, was clad in metallic plating with a trio of horns atop its head. It swung its heavy black tail side to side, looking excited to start the fight

    A wave of murmuring filled the stands, and it wasn’t hard to see why—the latter side had the overwhelming advantage. Even I knew that two rock-types against two flying-types was a bad matchup. And Charizard was a fire-type too! Its flames would barely do anything here.

    Stalker motioned to each of the four combatants in turn. “Charizard and Dragonite versus Tyranitar and Aggron. Battle start.”

    Not even a second later, Charizard roared and began flapping its wings, sending a rush of superheated air toward the opposing side of the field, cloaking the armored dinosaurs in a haze of shimmering heat. Tyranitar regained itself first and stomped the ground, tearing loose chunks of rock and sending them hurtling through the air at the dragons. Aggron staggered backward from the first attack, parts of its armor glowing red-hot from the heat, but after a few seconds’ hesitation, it also managed to send a Rock Slide at its opposition.

    Alright, so Charizard had been fast enough to get the first move off, but what was it supposed to do now? There was no way it could dodge all those rocks. But for some reason… it didn’t even look like it was planning to? Behind it, Dragonite had begun twisting and turning in midair, making a sort of rhythmic, tight-circled flight. Sparkling red and green embers quickly started to sweep across its body. At the last second, Charizard dove forward in front of the oncoming rocks and folded its wings tightly around its body. A shimmering translucent wall of white energy instantly formed in front of the fire lizard. I stared in awe—rocks smashed into the wall one after another, but none could even touch Charizard. Its partner was struck by a few of the more far-flung boulders, but didn’t look nearly as hurt by them as I’d have imagined.

    Darren leaned over and whispered to me, “Oh man, I think Dragonite just used Dragon Dance. It’s gonna be way faster and stronger now. Ha, the other side better take it down fast or they’re screwed.”

    I still couldn’t get over the fact that both dragons were still in the fight. I had thought for sure that the double Rock Slide was going to be the end of it.

    Aggron charged forward toward the opposition, gathering a huge amount of flashing red energy around its head. Tyranitar stood its ground and took a deep breath before blasting out a jagged blue beam of ice crystals—what, Ice Beam? Seriously? Tyranitar could use Ice Beam? Dragonite didn’t look concerned, though. The bulky dragon just swooped low over the battlefield, folding its wings around itself, and then the same shining wall of energy formed in front of it. Jagged strings of icy energy shot off the barrier when the Ice Beam struck, but not a single one could touch Dragonite. Not a second later, Aggron smashed its head into the dragon with a sickening crack… and somehow the barrier absorbed the entire force of the attack? What?

    A giant orb of blue and white energy flew in from the side, striking Tyranitar while it was preoccupied with its attack. The spiked dinosaur recoiled backward, howling in pain before sinking to its knees from the shock of the blast. I turned my head to the left side of the battlefield to see Charizard’s claws glowing faintly from having launched the orb.

    Charizard was the one who had done it. Charizard had brought Tyranitar to its knees. It didn’t seem possible, but I’d just watched it happen.

    Dragonite took that opportunity to shoot back into the air, its small wings carrying it impossibly fast. Without warning, it dove down and slammed its feet into the ground, letting loose a shock wave that rippled out from its center. The waves travelled across the floor striking both opponents and shattering the ground underneath their feet. Amazingly, we could barely feel the impact up in the stands. Then again, it made sense for modern stadiums to be protected against things like that.

    Tyranitar was struggling to stand after two powerful hits in a row, but Aggron managed to stand up long enough to stomp the ground, sending jagged blades of stone ripping up from the ground and digging into Dragonite, stopping its flight cold and sending the dragon plummeting downward. But right at that moment, Charizard sent another wave of scorching heat flying at the opposition, and though both dinosaurs managed to weather it for a few seconds, eventually they both collapsed to the floor and didn’t get up.

    No way. They’d done it. They’d actually pulled off beating two rock-type Pokémon.

    Everyone burst into cheers and applause the instant the battle was done, and I couldn’t help but join them, clapping furiously until my hands hurt. Sure, I didn’t know what half the moves being used were, but what did that matter?

    Dragonite slowly struggled to its feet and gave a curt nod, while Charizard spread its arms wide, letting the praise wash over it. I couldn’t help noticing Firestorm clapping even harder at that point, his eyes wide with admiration.

    Stalker recalled the two fallen combatants, then waited a bit for the applause to die down before he recalled the two victors.

    “I should tell you right now—that battle was staged,” he said, pacing in front of us. “But I wanted it to demonstrate something. Even if you have the disadvantage, there are still options in every fight. And you can exploit those options to put yourself in a better position. So, yes, while you shouldn’t really be fighting any Rockets… you are going to learn how.

    “Over the next few months we are going to train—not just your Pokémon, but yourselves—physically and mentally. Some of you will be taking an active role in making sure their field missions don’t succeed. Others will take on a more covert role gathering information for us to use against them. Both are equally important. In agreeing to join this cause, all of you have shown a lot of nerve, and that’s already been tested with the S.S. Anne attack.”

    And in that moment, for what felt like the first time, I felt a glimmer of pride for being a part of all this. Last night had been awful, but I’d managed to make a difference, hadn’t I? And I finally had an opportunity to make sure I’d be able to handle things better next time.

    Stalker finally stopped his pacing and turned to face us directly. “Once I think you’re ready, you’ll get the chance to put everything you’ve learned to the test and infiltrate a Team Rocket base. It’ll be your first real mission as members of this team.”

    “What are we gonna be called?” a voice called out from the crowd. Stalker paused, as though he hadn’t considered that.

    “Yeah! We need a team name!” someone else yelled. And with that, more and more of the kids built up the courage to let their excitement pour through and start throwing out ideas.

    “How about Team Midnight, ‘cause we’re on Midnight Island!” one kid exclaimed.

    “No, we could be the Team Rocket Rebellion!” another shouted.

    “That’s too long, just the Rebellion! It sounds more mysterious!” a girl yelled excitedly.

    “I like the sound of that,” Stalker said all of a sudden, his face breaking into a grin. “All in favor of the Rebellion, raise their hands!”

    Over half the kids shot their hands into the air.

    “Well, that settles it. In a few months, the Rebellion will be a force to be reckoned with.”






    ~End Chapter 9~
    Yes, I will admit it straight up: that battle at the end there was 100% me going "Double battles are AWESOME and single battles are lame let me gush about this." I can't help it, I love double battles, and the tactics involved in them really do strike me as the most useful thing for the rebels to learn.

    Oh yeah, and this time around we'll actually get to SEE the rebels training. Unlike the old version which just unceremoniously skipped everything interesting with a single-paragraph recap.
     
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    Chapter 10: Welcome to Team Rocket
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    I actually didn't like this chapter at all when I first published it, but since then I've grown to like it a lot (the fact that it wound up being a fan favorite helped.) Hope you enjoy!



    ~Chapter 10: Welcome to Team Rocket~


    My feet pounded against the dirt as I ran, ducking and weaving around trees. The beating of wings and the thud of claws on the ground followed not far behind. I had to be nearing the end of the forest—it felt like I’d been running forever. A quick glance at my watch showed that twenty minutes had passed since we started. Alright, not too bad. I was making good time. Just had to keep going.

    A rustle in the bushes to the left caught my attention and I froze. Swift noticed it and launched into a series of powerful flaps to stir up a Whirlwind in that direction. The force of the winds was a lot stronger than I was used to—I had to plant my feet firmly on the ground not to lose my balance. Still… nothing flew out. But I didn’t let my guard down. There was something nearby—I could feel it.

    The crunching of leaves behind me. That was no mistake.

    “Everyone dodge now!” I called out, jumping aside as a group of Pokémon leaped out at us from behind. I whirled around in an instant to size up our attackers. Nidorino, Spearow, Wartortle—alright, our opponent definitely had to be Rudy.

    “Swift, use Sand Attack on Wartortle. Firestorm, Scary Face!”

    “Water Gun, Fury Attack, Peck!” Rudy yelled, jumping out from his hiding place.

    Firestorm stood his ground and flashed a horrifying snarl at Nidorino. Spikes quivering with fear, the poison-type’s movement slowed, letting Firestorm easily jump out of the way. Swift then swooped low over the ground to kick up a rush of sand at Wartortle before he could do anything. The turtle stumbled backward, rubbing his eyes. Spearow rushed in and jabbed Firestorm in the back with her beak while he was busy avoiding repeated blows from Nidorino’s spikes. The flame-tailed lizard whirled around to scratch with his heavy claws but was caught in the leg by the Fury Attack. Swift beat his wings forcefully to send a Gust attack flying forward, throwing Spearow’s flight off-balance and letting Firestorm focus on avoiding the—

    I almost didn’t notice it. The soft padding of paws on the ground behind me. I lunged to the side just before Ebony went hurtling past me. The black firedog landed nimbly on the ground near the ongoing battle, looking rather disappointed that she’d missed. Judging by the mischievous grin on her face, she wasn’t planning on giving up so easily, though, and I had to duck behind the nearest tree to avoid another lunge from the Houndour. Meanwhile, Wartortle had just washed the sand from his eyes and proceeded to tackle Firestorm to the ground, pinning the Charmeleon under his shell.

    Rudy grinned confidently. “Water Pulse!”

    “Er—use Ember!” I blurted out, trying to keep a good view of the battle.

    Firestorm was faster. As Wartortle was inhaling, the fire lizard spat a flurry of red-hot flares right into his face. The turtle recoiled backward instantly, coughing and sputtering in pain, feathered ears smoldering a bit.

    The sound of excited panting turned my attention back to Ebony, who was still in hot pursuit. But then out of nowhere, Swift shot forward like a bullet and struck her with a Quick Attack. The Houndour was completely bowled over from being struck by a bird so much larger than her.

    “Alright, that’s one hit on each of ‘em, time to run!” I called out.

    Firestorm immediately jumped out of the battle area and rushed over to my side. Swift banked hard and soared back towards us, his crimson head feathers trailing in the wind. I spun around and dashed off with them. Rudy’s Pokémon weren’t far behind.

    “Use Pursuit!” he ordered.

    Crap, I should have been ready for that. Had to avoid it somehow.

    “Use Smokescreen!” I called out.

    Firestorm spun around and quickly spewed out a thick cloud of black smoke behind us, completely obscuring Rudy’s Pokémon. Alright, that would probably do the trick.

    Nope. A red-winged bird shot clean through the smoke and struck Firestorm just as he had turned tail to run again. Swift pulled back to go for another attack, but Spearow had already vanished after getting her last hit in. Firestorm growled in frustration.

    Great. Rudy was the second trainer in the lineup who had managed to land a hit while we were escaping. The whole point of this exercise was to not get hit.

    “*Evasive tactics like Smokescreen won’t work on Spearow—she has Keen Eye just like I do,*” Swift pointed out.

    “Right. I forgot.” Keen Eye. A lot of birds could see right through stuff like Smokescreen and Sand Attack. “But then how are we supposed to avoid Pursuit from them?”

    Swift didn’t answer. He seemed to be in deep thought over the question. Either way, it was best if I didn’t focus on it right now. We still had to finish the exercise, and there were two more trainers to fight in this forest. At least Firestorm and Swift were still in decent shape after that battle. Good thing too, cause I didn't have many healing supplies left. Just two potions and a handful of berries.

    Salty sweat stung eyes my eyes as we ran, and I brushed it out for what felt like the hundredth time. The burning hot August sun beat down us from above, and even the shade couldn’t keep out its oppressive heat. After about three minutes, I started scanning the trees for signs of our next opponent. They had to be around here somewhere, and I didn’t want to be caught off guard.

    Twin blurs of orange shot out of nowhere. Swift barreled upward at the last second to avoid the first, but the second one landed a glancing blow on Firestorm, who spat out a flurry of embers reflexively. The attacker slowed to a halt after being scorched by the flares, and only then could I see the sleek, two-tailed otter now blocking our path.

    Rustling all around us. I spun around in all directions, hoping to get an idea of what Pokémon we were facing. The shaggy-furred rat that had initially jumped out at us was still bouncing around, trying to land a hit on Swift. Swift kept a safe distance from it, dodging each of its tackles one after the other. But then a large, brown owl shot out of the trees straight for him, forcing the Pidgeotto to make an awkward dive straight down, only narrowly missing the ground.

    “Use Quick Attack when you get the opportunity! Firestorm, back him up with Ember!”

    Firestorm had just opened his mouth when he was suddenly tackled into the ground out of nowhere by the leaf-necked dinosaur that had been hiding in the bush right next to him.

    Buizel, Raticate, Noctowl, and Bayleef… Liam? Pretty sure our opponent had to be Liam. He was the only rebel with a Johto starter.

    Sure enough, a tall, pale boy with spiky black hair stepped out from behind a tree, pointed at us, and ordered, “Noctowl, use Hypnosis!”

    “Firestorm, use Smokescreen!” I yelled back.

    The Charmeleon immediately filled the clearing with a thick black haze. Alright, hopefully that would give us a better chance at dodging their moves. I could make out a large flapping shape hovering over the battlefield—probably Noctowl, judging by the forked crest on its head. It whirled around to face its opponents one after the other but couldn’t seem to lock eyes with any of them in order to pull off a Hypnosis. Good, one less thing to worry about.

    “Not bad with that Smokescreen,” Liam said. “Guess we’ll have to kick it up a notch. Bayleef, Razor Leaf; Buizel, Aqua Jet; Raticate, Quick Attack!”

    Swift made a last second lunge to avoid the Buizel surging toward him in a torrent of water, but wasn’t fast enough to dodge the Quick Attack from Raticate. Firestorm rushed forward to help repel his attackers but then was caught in a flurry of razor-sharp leaves, slicing him all over. The fire lizard growled and slashed wildly at the leaves before breathing out a burst of embers, burning up most of them.

    “Come on, use Ember on Bayleef!” I called out.

    Firestorm whirled around, sending a spurt of scattered flares in the direction he’d been attacked from, but Bayleef wasn’t there any more—it had retreated back into the shrubbery.

    “Good job, Bayleef. Raticate, Buizel, don’t let the Pidgeotto get an opening. Noctowl, use Confusion,” Liam said calmly.

    “Swift, use Gust behind you! Firestorm, aim your Ember upward!” I yelled, desperately hoping it would work. The fight was taking way too much time, and we’d be screwed if we didn’t finish it quickly.

    Swift flipped backwards in an instant and flapped his wings to send a spiraling vortex of air straight at his pursuers. They were so close on his tail that they didn’t even have a chance to avoid it—Buizel and Raticate were both swept up by the Gust and thrown into the nearest tree, and the rush of wind thinned the smoky haze somewhat. Firestorm craned his neck upward and shot another Ember straight up into the air, scoring a direct hit on Noctowl, who was right in the middle of charging up a wave of psychic energy. And then, without me saying anything, Swift dove straight into a Quick Attack, aimed at one of the bushes nearest Firestorm. Bayleef looked up in alarm at being spotted, right before the tawny bird struck it headlong, throwing it to the ground.

    “That’s all of them! Time to run!” I called out, my heart pounding with excitement. In an instant, the tables had turned in our favor. Firestorm spun around and didn’t waste a second running after me, and Swift didn’t take long to regain his flight speed and catch up to us.

    Liam grinned. “Bayleef, Magical Leaf; Raticate, Pursuit.”

    Crap. Not Pursuit again. No matter how many times we tried running from it, fleeing only made Pursuit stronger. What were we supposed to do? Running away wasn’t an option. That only left… standing our ground?

    I locked eyes with Swift, and it was obvious we were thinking the same thing. The Pidgeotto banked hard in order to land facing our opponent, wings outstretched. He stood there, tensing up as the orange-furred rat shot forward, cloaked in dark energy. And then at the last second, he leaped aside and smacked Raticate with his wings, sending the rat face-planting straight into the ground.

    I pumped a fist into the air. “All right! Now dodge the—”

    Too late. A whirling storm of multicolored leaves zeroed in on Firestorm despite his best efforts to avoid them. The fire lizard sank to his knees, flailing his arms around trying to knock the leaves away, but they didn’t want to stop. Moving as quickly as I could, I dashed over and grabbed him roughly by the claw, trying to ignore the tiny cuts being inflicted on my arms by the leaves.

    “Come on!” I exclaimed, pulling him to his feet and attempting to run with him in tow. And with Swift flying alongside us, we finally managed to flee the battle area without getting hit by anything else.

    It wasn’t until we were a good distance away that we paused to catch our breath. I leaned against a tree before sinking to the ground, feeling dazed.

    “Well, so much for our escape,” I said, still breathing hard. “Come on, let me spray you both with the potions.”

    Swift fluttered over and I pulled the first Super Potion from my bag and sprayed it all over him. He shook his head and ruffled his feathers, looking relieved. Firestorm was still standing a ways away, staring at the ground.

    “Your turn,” I said, and the fire lizard finally wandered over to let me spray him as well. He’d sustained a lot more injuries from the battle, but at least it looked like they’d all be healed by the potion.

    “*That was stupid. Can’t believe I got hit so much,*” Firestorm muttered while the slices on his crimson scales closed up. “*And how did a grass-type’s moves cause this much damage?*”

    “Ever think it might’ve been ‘cause we were caught off guard?” I asked, giving him a hard look.

    The Charmeleon snorted but didn’t say anything.

    I sighed. “In any case, that last part was my fault. I think Magical Leaf is a sure-shot move. They’d have followed you even if you dodged in time.”

    I quickly guzzled some water from a bottle before replacing it in my bag with the empty potions. Time to run again. We set off along the marked path towards what would hopefully be the last battle. Within a few minutes I finally started to recognize the scenery. We were near the stadium—we had to be. That meant we’d almost reached the end of the course! But that also meant there was probably another fight coming soon.

    Sure enough, in a clearing up ahead, I spotted my opponent.

    Oh man—it was Ray. Figures he’d be one of the enemies—he almost always got assigned to that role. He wasn’t even hiding or anything. He was just standing there out in the open wearing the same frustratingly calm expression he always wore before completely destroying you.

    My heart was pounding. “Swift, use Gust; Firestorm, go for a Scratch!”

    His Charmeleon and Luxio lunged forward the instant we were within range. Swift flew into position and stirred up a blast of wind at the opposing fire lizard. But then he wasn’t able to dodge the electrifying tackle from Luxio seconds later. The Pidgeotto cried out in pain as sparks coursed through his feathers. Meanwhile Firestorm and the other Charmeleon had collided with each other, growling and slashing at each other in a ball of claws and flames and crimson scales.

    “Scary Face,” Ray ordered. His Charmeleon responded by flashing a terrifying grimace at Firestorm; the latter recoiled backwards, his movements growing sluggish.

    “Firestorm use your own Scary Face; Swift, get out of range and use Sand Attack on Luxio!” I called out, mentally smacking myself for not thinking of it sooner.

    And then for whatever reason, it hit me. He was only using two Pokémon. Crap… that could only mean—

    No sooner had the thought entered my head than a huge violet snake burst out of the trees above Swift, unfurling its hood and flashing the bright face pattern at him. The Pidgeotto dropped to the ground at once, frozen in shock. And then a crazed ball of tan fur and gangly limbs jumped into the fire lizard brawl, landing repeated blows on Firestorm.

    What, seriously, Mai too? It wasn’t bad enough we had to fight Ray at the end here, but now Mai too? There was no way we’d be able to get past both of them! I mean… yeah, we were still fighting a total of four Pokémon, but… seriously Ray and Mai?

    At least this exercise was in the woods so she couldn’t use her Gyarados.

    Anyway… I had to focus. Swift’s best trait was his speed, so I desperately needed to cure his paralysis. I just hoped that Firestorm could handle being the only target for a few seconds. I whipped out Swift’s Pokéball and recalled him before immediately re-releasing him next to me and giving him a cheri berry. He gulped it down and then bolted back into the fray, already whipping up a Gust around the other combatants. The swirling winds pulled them apart from each other, allowing Firestorm to wrench himself free from the melee, looking bruised and bloodied. He lashed back at his opponents with his tail, striking both of them with the flame. Ray’s Charmeleon was barely fazed, though the Mankey’s fur was singed.

    “Poison Sting,” Mai said coolly. And then I caught sight of Mai’s Arbok slithering up the tree nearest Swift while he was focused on the others.

    “Swift, look out!” I yelled.

    He whirled around in an instant, but it was too late. The snake opened its jaws and fired a wave of poisonous needles at him. The Pidgeotto recoiled backward, flapping his wings frantically to get out of the line of fire while also staying out of Luxio’s range. The thunder cat made another lunge at Swift, electricity coursing through its pointed black mane. But it couldn’t manage the height needed to land a blow.

    “Swift, Quick Attack; Firestorm, Ember!” I called out.

    “Dragon Rage.” Ray’s voice was confident, but intrigued, like he almost wanted to see if we’d make it through the fight.

    “Karate Chop.” Mai, on the other hand, just looked like she just wanted the fight to be over as soon as possible.

    Meanwhile, Firestorm had to duck and weave in an attempt to dodge blows from Mankey, who wasn’t giving him a moment to breathe. The fire lizard’s movements were still slow and forced from before, and his injuries certainly weren’t helping. Swift barreled to the left to dodge the spurt of blue flames from Ray’s Charmeleon but then finally got the opening he needed to shoot forward and strike Luxio right after it landed from a failed pounce. The blue-furred cat was knocked reeling backwards.

    And then Arbok made the mistake of closing in on the melee just as Firestorm spun in a circle, spouting embers all around just to keep his attackers at bay. A few flares managed to hit the violet snake and that was it—we’d landed at least one attack on all four of them! I couldn’t believe it. Swift and Firestorm realized it as soon as I did, because I didn’t even need to say anything before they both took off from the battle as fast as possible. Firestorm was still struggling to keep going. But before I could say anything, Swift whipped up a huge whirlwind behind us, knocking back our opponents and preventing them from giving chase. I still kept expecting a hail of sure-shot moves to follow us even as we ran.

    And yet… nothing? I glanced over my shoulder, unable to believe it, but they really weren’t following us. Maybe they didn’t have any sure-shot moves? Or maybe the Whirlwind had worked better than I expected?

    Well, the fight was miserable, but at least it was over quickly. I could see sunlight piercing the edge of the treeline ahead of us. We stumbled out of the forest weakly, and a rush of joy swept over me now that training was over. Except it wasn’t over. Stalker was waiting next to the stadium, his cold blue eyes focused on us, and a look of calm expectation on his face. I had no idea how he could still wear that long overcoat in this kind of heat.

    “How many times were you hit while escaping?” he asked.

    I took a deep breath. “Three. But that’s only because everyone was using Pursuit. And I figured out how to deal with that! But I still don’t know what to do about sure-shot moves. I mean… they’re impossible to dodge, right?”

    He didn’t answer. He just motioned for us to step forward.

    I swallowed hard. It wasn’t going to be a real battle. I knew that much by now. He could wipe the floor with the entire Rebellion at once, so a real battle would have been pointless. Even the idea of a mock battle was intimidating. But we still had to do it.

    I pulled a handful of bright blue oran berries from my bag and fed them to both of my Pokémon. Firestorm in particular gulped them down ravenously, and his wounds slowly scabbed over.

    “Are you ready?” Stalker asked.

    I clenched my teeth and nodded.

    I didn’t even see him throw the ball. There was just a sudden white flash, and then a tall, bright green reptile was bounding toward us. Firestorm rushed forward to meet it, brandishing his claws and slashing wildly. But Sceptile leaped straight over the fire lizard with a midair somersault before landing behind him and spinning in place, smacking him face-first into the dirt with its leafy tail. It glanced up suddenly to see a tawny-feathered blur closing in from above, but then dropped to the ground to dodge the blow before jumping up and striking with its pointed arm leaves.

    Stalker shook his head. “Come on. Will a direct attack really work in this situation?”

    No… no of course it wouldn’t. Why had I let them?

    Sceptile landed nimbly from its attack and made a “bring it on” motion with its claws.

    “Firestorm, use Scary Face; Swift, Sand Attack!” I really wished we had better disruption moves, but that was pretty much it right now. And even with its movements slowed and sand in its face, Sceptile was still impossibly agile and precise. Firestorm rushed in, mirroring the forest reptile’s leaps and bounds as best as he could. The grass-type grinned wildly and increased its speed slowly, seeing if the Charmeleon could keep up. Firestorm was panting hard but refused to let the opposing reptile get away from him.

    “Good, now use a Metal Claw, I know you’ve been working on it!” Stalker called out.

    Firestorm clenched his teeth and drew his arms back, claws glowing. He lashed out wildly, Sceptile blocking each blow with its leaf blades. It didn’t seem different than any ordinary attack, though.

    The fire lizard growled in frustration. “*It’s hard to concentrate.*”

    “Of course it is!” Stalker shot back. “You’re changing the composition of your claws—it’s going to be hard!”

    The Charmeleon let out a snarl and pressed the attack harder. The sounds of frenzied slashing and the dull thud of claws striking leaves filled the air. Swift circled the battle overhead, waiting to see what the outcome would be.

    And then the light faded from his claws to reveal a silvery sheen, and the strike against Sceptile’s block reverberated with a metallic clang. Firestorm froze in shock, staring at his claws with wide eyes.

    “You did it!” I yelled, unable to keep the excitement from my voice.

    Stalker nodded approvingly. “Good. Now it’s your turn,” he said glancing up at Swift. Sceptile suddenly jumped back from Firestorm and launched a flurry of leaves into the air, forcing the Pidgeotto to drop down to ground level to avoid them. With a powerful flapping of his wings, the tawny bird sent a vortex of air rushing at his opponent. The forest reptile crouched low to weather the attack.

    “Put more power and rage into that Gust!” Stalker called out. So he was hoping Swift would be able to pull off that move finally?

    The Pidgeotto closed his eyes in concentration, wisps of energy trailing through the wind from his wings. But it faded before it could reach the swirling column of air.

    “Get closer to your opponent,” Stalker instructed. “Use the adrenaline to your advantage.”

    Swift put on a burst of speed before making a tight circle around Sceptile, who made occasional swipes at the bird. Energy streamed off his wings once more, but with a final burst of flapping, the Pidgeotto was able to force it into the gust. The winds suddenly intensified into a cyclone of white energy tearing at Sceptile, who leaped out of its center and landed some distance away before flashing a thumbs-up at Swift.

    “Not bad, I wasn’t expecting you to pull off a Twister for another week at least,” Stalker said, holding a hand up to show that the exercise was over.

    Firestorm sank to his knees, still panting hard but with a look of crazed triumph on his face. Swift landed next to him with a reserved, yet clearly self-satisfied look.

    “Oh man, I’m so proud of you guys,” I said, jogging over to them. It was hard to believe, but we were actually making progress.

    Stalker walked over with what looked like a pleased expression, but as always it was hard to tell. “You’re improving. Keep practicing the things you know you need work on.” He paused, then continued, “Oh, and you shouldn’t even be trying to dodge sure-shot moves. Just brace yourself for it. They’re weak—enduring the hit puts you in a perfect spot for a counterattack.”

    I nodded before recalling both of my exhausted Pokémon.

    That was when I noticed the rest of the trainers that had already finished the exercise, all standing off to the side near the entrance to Midnight Stadium. I had been so single-mindedly focused on training with Stalker that I’d completely overlooked them. They likely had been watching my battle, but now that it was over, most of them had turned away and started chatting amongst themselves.

    “There’s only one more person running the course after you, right?” Stalker asked.

    I thought back to when the group of us had started the run on the other side of the forest. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I was second-to-last.”

    We didn’t have to wait long. Within a few minutes, the final trainer in the lineup stumbled out of the forest—a small, skinny boy with scruffy blond hair and large green eyes, currently wearing the most frustrated and incredulous expression. Alongside him, a Meowth dragged its paws and a Zubat struggled to stay aloft. Even his Voltorb didn’t look like it could roll anymore.

    After a few seconds he just sort of dropped all pretenses of finishing the training and sank to the ground. His Pokémon looked more than happy to stop.

    Stalker folded his arms. “You don’t look very ready to fight me, Reed.”

    Reed stared up at him in disbelief. “Why did we have to fight Ray and Mai at the same time? Everyone knows they’re the best.”

    “You just answered your own question.” That got a few laughs from the crowd.

    A girl with long, braided hair walked over to help pull him to his feet. “Maybe if you trained more often this wouldn’t happen,” she said, snickering a bit.

    “I train plenty,” Reed snapped. “I’m just not crazy enough to do double time like you, Kris.”

    “Well, since you’re in no shape to fight now, we’ll postpone our battle,” Stalker commented. “Next time there’s a training session, you’re getting special attention.”

    Reed groaned but didn’t say anything.

    Stalker turned to face the rest of us. “By the way, this was the last exercise limiting the Rocket players to double your team number. Next time they can use their full team—even if they’re tag-teaming you. Be ready for it.”

    Figures that would happen eventually. I really had to think about adding another Pokémon to my team. Maybe Rudy could buy me some Pokéballs at some point.

    Stalker turned to walk away from the gathering. “Have a rest, everyone. I’ll be giving an important announcement in the battlefield in one hour.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    After a shower on my part and a quick stop by the healing machine for my team, we were back in the stadium and eagerly awaiting the announcement. Even though he hadn’t explicitly said it, everyone was pretty sure it was gonna be a mission announcement. I mean… what else could it be? We’d been here for over a month, and the days of generalized battling lectures were mostly over and replaced by one-on-one training sessions like today. And I’d actually improved. That fact alone was mind-boggling. I mean… yeah, that was one of the reasons I’d even joined the Rebellion, but the idea of it actually happening was still weird and foreign.

    “Hey Jade!” Rudy shouted, running over to me. “That was an awesome fight earlier! Ha, I bet you thought you were gonna escape from me without getting hit.”

    I snorted. “Yeah, well, at least it went better than our previous battle. Besides, I figured out how to deal with Pursuit, so there.”

    “Aw, you did? Lame,” he said, frowning. “Guess I’ll have to try harder next time. But anyways… what are the odds we’re getting our first mission now? I’m thinking at least 150 percent.”

    I rolled my eyes. “I don’t think it’s that high—more like only 110 percent.”

    “You’re on!”

    I stared. “How… how do we even tell who wins that bet?”

    Rudy was spared the details of trying to figure it out when Stalker walked into the battlefield and waved an arm to get everyone’s attention. The entire crowd instantly stopped what it was doing and turned to face him. I was pretty sure he’d never be able to enter the room without it being a big dramatic deal to everyone.

    “So, today’s the day you finally get your first mission.”

    The reaction was immediate. The entire group let out a cheer, most of them throwing a fist or two into the air, and it wasn’t hard to see why. We’d finally be getting the chance to put everything we’d learned to use.

    “I’ll be formalizing your mission groups now,” Stalker continued. “Rockets are generally assigned one or more partners for carrying out small-scale activity, and we’ll be doing the same. I’ve settled on groups of three, so there are sixteen mission groups. Twelve groups will be assigned to sabotaging the Rockets’ upcoming mission. The remaining four are going to be stealing some of their resources for us to use against them. Either way, you’ll all be infiltrating the ranks and putting on the appearance of a genuine Rocket. So this will test everything you’ve learned from me over the past six weeks.”

    I clenched my fists. If this was a test, then I felt ready. As unbelievable as it was, I actually felt prepared to show that we could make a difference in this fight.

    “When I call your name, come up and get your ID and a Rocket Communicator. Group 1—Ray, Mai, and Sasha.”

    No surprise the two best trainers on the team would be in the same group. Sasha was a bit unexpected though. I’d seen her hanging out with the other two occasionally, but her Pokémon choices were… a bit weird. I mean, no one else had a Farfetch’d.

    “In my absence, the members of Group 1 are in charge,” Stalker said. “I want everyone to report to them during multi group missions like this one.” He then proceeded to call out group members as the rest of us waited with bated breath for our names to be called.

    “Think we’ll be in the same group?” Rudy asked after a few groups had gone up.

    “It seems like he’s grouping people together based on their usual training partners, so yeah, I’m guessing we will,” I said.

    We didn’t have to wait long to find out. After a few minutes, Stalker’s voice rang out saying, “Group 12—Jade, Darren, and Rudy.”

    I barely had time to react to the high five that Rudy threw my way. We wasted no time in walking forward through the crowd to claim our IDs, Darren joining us along the way. Upon receiving it, Rudy stared at his ID like it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen. And then it hit me—here I was training Pokémon without an ID, and I had just received a Team Rocket ID first. It was ridiculous. But somehow kind of cool at the same time.

    As for the R-com… I had already seen them before, on the Rocket plane and the S.S. Anne. Still, it would be interesting to actually own one. I pressed the only button on the front, waking the device up and causing it to display the message: “To begin, scan user RID card.”

    I tapped my ID to the port on the top of the device and it immediately brought up a digital record of my information: “Name: Allie Farias; Born: 6 September 2983; Registered: 11 July 2998; Rank: Trainee.” Flipping through the various apps, it looked a lot like a cheap Pokégear from what I could tell, aside from the fact that the texting and calling was limited to other R-com devices.

    “And lastly, Group 16—Reed, Wes, and Kris,” Stalker called out, snapping my attention back to what was going on. The last three trainers walked forward, Reed and Kris shoving each other lightly along the way and Wes looking like he desperately didn’t want to be involved in any of it.

    “Take this moment to add your mission partners to the contact list on your R-com,” Stalker announced once they were done. “For security reasons, don’t add everyone on the Rebellion. Group 1 will be in charge of keeping contact between everyone on multi-group missions.”

    That was easy enough. The contact number was just our agent ID. I punched in the numbers and the device showed that I had successfully registered “Toni” and “Andy” as their Rocket names were called.

    “Which Rocket base are we going to?” one of the rebels nearest Stalker asked.

    “Groups 1, 5, 12, and 16 will be going to Cerulean,” he replied. “Groups 2, 6, 9, and 13 to Viridian. Groups 3, 7, 10, and 14 to Saffron. And groups 4, 8, 11, and 15 will be going to Celadon—those are the ones that will be recovering supplies and Pokémon for us. With so many groups going, that does mean you won’t all be able to leave today. We’ll space it out over the next few days so you don’t all show up at the bases at once.”

    He had warned us previously that we’d never all be going to the base at the same time. Obviously, it’d be completely suspicious if we did. But it was still kind of frustrating—I was almost certain out of the Cerulean groups it’d be Ray’s group going first, so ours would have to wait a few days. Rudy didn’t seem to have pieced that together quite yet, otherwise he would have looked way more disappointed.

    But then… there was one important detail Stalker hadn’t exactly revealed yet. I glanced around at the crowd, and it was obvious from their wide-eyed stares that everyone was in suspense over the same thing. Finally, one kid spoke the words everyone was thinking: “What mission are we going to stop?”

    The edge of Stalker’s mouth curled into a faint grin. “Within the next two weeks, Team Rocket will attempt to capture a Legendary Pokémon. Your job is to find out which one and do whatever it takes to stop them.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Team Rocket’s Northern HQ was a rather unassuming office building right in the heart of downtown Cerulean. Stalker’s Charizard and Dragonite dropped us off in a nearby park and then we walked the remaining couple of city blocks to the base. It had been a while since my last time walking through such busy streets, and I found my attention constantly grabbed by all the sights and sounds of the city after spending over a month in a quiet island town. It felt even weirder to be here since we’d gotten dressed in our Rocket uniforms ahead of time, though at least we had vests to hide the signature logo on the shirt.

    “I wasn’t expecting it to be so out in the open,” Darren said, tilting his head as the building came into view.

    “Stalker did say that Team Rocket’s not exactly a secret, just the Legendary-catching regional takeover stuff is,” I said, shrugging.

    “I wasn’t expecting it to look so boring,” Rudy added once we’d gotten a closer look at the headquarters. “Kinda wish we’d been sent to Celadon. I heard that base is inside a casino—how cool is that?”

    I wasn’t even going to bother with a comment, but Darren countered with, “If we’d gone to Celadon, we wouldn’t be involved in the Legendary mission.”

    Rudy’s face fell immediately. “Alright, forget I said anything! Let’s just go in.”

    The front lobby was a stark contrast to the outside of the building, with shiny black stone tile floors and sleek, red-papered walls covered in gaudy decorations. Something glinted in my peripheral vision and I had to stop myself from jumping upon seeing the life-size Persian statue perched on a pedestal next to the entrance.

    Alright, I couldn’t stare too much—any ordinary Rocket who’d gotten registered in Cerulean would have been here before. Though at least it would be expected that I hadn’t seen much more than the lobby and an office or two.

    Straight ahead of us stood a glossy marble front desk with a lone receptionist seated at it. She hadn’t looked up when we entered, and still had her face glued to the book she was reading. I wandered forward vaguely, unsure if she had noticed us enter or not.

    “Hi, uh… we’re new recruits and we’ve been assigned training at Northern HQ,” I said awkwardly.

    The receptionist looked up at us slowly, and it was obvious that she’d known we were there but was just waiting for us to say something. In a flash, she shut the book and assumed a more professional posture.

    “Do you have your IDs already?” she asked.

    I nodded, and we each handed them over. She inspected them closely and ran them through her scanner before handing them back.

    “Alright, I’ll call a recruitment officer up and they’ll give you the tour. You can wait over there in the meantime,” she said, gesturing to the couches along the side of the wall.

    Well, that was easy. Not that we’d been assuming it would be hard or anything. The three of us wandered over to plop down onto the couches, which were unbelievably squishy and made of leather.

    “We’re in a Rocket base right now,” Rudy said quietly, like he was still having a hard time believing it.

    “Don’t say anything you’ll regret,” Darren warned him with the slightest bit of a taunting edge to his voice.

    Rudy shrugged. “Wasn’t gonna. It’s still weird and cool though.” I almost laughed at how quickly he’d changed opinions of the base. Still… I had to admit that being inside one was a lot more surreal than just seeing it from the street. We were actually here, inside a Rocket base, and it was perfectly okay. I still half-expected someone to appear out of nowhere and chase us out.

    After several minutes, the elevator on the far side of the lobby dinged, and out walked a man in his mid-thirties wearing a black Team Rocket uniform with white boots. He had rather frazzled brown hair and the worn face of someone with too much on his plate. The officer guzzled the remainder of a coffee before tossing out the cup and walking over to us, tablet in hand. He paused in mild surprise upon seeing how young we were but didn’t seem too taken aback by it. Rockets our age were a bit uncommon, but nothing unheard of.

    “My name’s Warren, I’m a recruitment officer for Cerulean HQ, heard you were just assigned here?” It was all said a lot more quickly than I was expecting.

    “Yeah, we’ve already been registered,” I replied as we held out our IDs for the second time.

    “Right, that’ll make my job easier,” he said, tapping the IDs to a card scanner on his tablet. “Let me just pull up your files.” He swiped through a few pages on the screen, reading the stats out loud to himself.

    “Toni, Allie, and Andy… looks like you all applied for membership a month ago, got your executive approval all in order, background check good…” He nodded approvingly. “Alright, welcome to the team. It’s my job to give the new recruits the rundown on how things work around here, so I’ll be showing you around and explaining things as we go. You’ve already been issued an R-com, right?”

    I held mine up to answer his question.

    “Alright, good. It looks like all three of you already have Pokémon, so we won’t need to loan you any. And before you ask, grunts are not issued firearms. Agents who reach officer rank on the combat unit can apply to receive one, but it’s no guarantee.” Owning a gun was not exactly on my priority list. Good to know that the average grunt shouldn’t be expected to have one, though.

    He led us to the elevator on the far side of the room and pressed the down button. Once it arrived, he held the door open and motioned for us to enter.

    “The top floors are mostly offices and public relations,” Warren said, pushing one of the elevator buttons. “You’ve never seen any of the floors where the real activity is, have you?”

    “No, not really,” Darren said.

    “Looking forward to it though!” Rudy added.

    Warren chuckled. “It’s good to see enthusiasm in new recruits.”

    The elevator doors opened to reveal a huge lower lobby full of Rockets going about their business—some of them carrying goods or paperwork around, some of them accompanied by Pokémon. They all sported a wide variety of uniform types, from the standard black clothes and gray boots, to white boots with red stripes, to white uniforms, to completely unique outfits with rank patches and equipment belts.

    “Typically only grunts in training or on active duty spend a lot of time at the base,” Warren explained. “But since we have a high-level operation coming up in the near future, you’ll see more members than usual on active duty right now. Mostly combat unit types—we’ve got the second largest combat unit on the force,” he said proudly, motioning for us to step out of the elevator.

    Warren led us through the bustling main room towards one of the hallways, which was significantly less crowded. As we walked, he continued with his explanation on the workings of the team.

    “So, as a member of Team Rocket, you’ll be expected to serve the team’s best interests in whatever you do, whether it’s carrying out missions or performing base duties. The team is divided into several divisions all working to further the team in different ways. Of course, the majority of Rockets are assigned to acquisitions—obtaining and selling goods and Pokémon. But the others are equally important. The business division keeps large corporations in check and allows us to fund our projects. The tech division breaks new ground in science and technology, strengthening our forces with new equipment and enhanced Pokémon. And the combat unit enforces our will against those who would threaten us, as well as handling the acquisition of particularly rare and powerful Pokémon.”

    It had a somewhat rehearsed feel, like he’d definitely said all of this many times, but still believed in it.

    “All new recruits go through orientation and training, so I’ll be assigning you an officer to watch you and track your progress,” he continued. “Once initiated, grunts carry out tasks for their officer. All officers report to a senior officer, who reports to an executive. Everything a Rocket does is a reflection of those higher than them. So you see—you work hard not for yourself, but for those who have taught and guided you… and for the overall good of the team. And if you prove your loyalty and dedication, you could even become an officer yourselves… once you’re old enough, that is.”

    “Old enough?” Rudy asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “Age limit for officers is 15. For executives, it’s 17—adults only.”

    “Is executive the highest rank?” I found myself asking. I’d already run into at least one executive previously… was she the toughest kind of opponent I’d ever encounter?

    Warren paused. “Not quite… the boss has an inner circle of admins who run things behind the scenes. They plan most of the important missions and delegate authority to the executives in control of the different branches, bases, and units. Oh, and the head of the combat unit normally holds the rank of commander… though the Kanto force doesn’t have a commander right now. Executives are pretty much the highest ranked agents we’ll ever see, though.”

    More questions were suddenly jumping out at my mind—the few things that Stalker hadn’t told us. “Have you ever seen the boss?”

    “Well… he runs things from the Viridian HQ, so… no. And I’ve heard that he’s always surrounded by the top executives there, so even the Viridian Rockets don’t see much of him. But everyone says he commands the respect and awe of everyone around him.”

    A bold feeling suddenly struck. This was the second time I’d heard mention of the commander, and I had to know. “Why doesn’t the Kanto force have a commander?”

    Warren jerked slightly, taken aback for just a second before regaining himself. “He resigned. Apparently there was some drama involved, so it’s not talked about often. I don’t know the details.” He stared straight ahead as we walked and didn’t say anything more. Rudy flashed me a look that clearly read “what are you doing?” while Darren just gave a cheeky grin and a thumbs up.

    Warren led us to the end of the hallway where a huge pair of double doors stood. He pushed through them, and suddenly we were in the middle of a battlefield, much smaller than Midnight Stadium, but a lot more high-tech. The walls and ceilings were lined with passive energy fields to absorb stray blasts, and the far corner had training dummies for practicing moves on. Warren glanced around at all the various faces in the room until he found who he was looking for.

    “Hey Karen, I heard you were looking to train up a few subordinates.”

    A young woman with waist-length black hair turned to face him upon hearing his words. She had a piercing expression and small, dark eyes that seemed to bore right through us. Her uniform was of the white clothes with dark boots variety.

    “Did I say that? You’ll have to refresh my memory,” Karen commented dryly.

    Warren raised his hands in a disarming manner. “I’m just here to make good on my offer. Got three new recruits for you.”

    She gave us a dismissive glance before staring at him. “I wasn’t planning on training a bunch of kids.”

    “All the lower-ranked officers currently stationed here are already maxed out on grunts,” he said simply.

    “Send ‘em to another base then.”

    “Their training in Cerulean has executive-level clearance,” he said, giving an innocent shrug with just the slightest bit of a smirk.

    Karen stared incredulously. “Okay, now I know they’re just screwing with us.” She sighed. “Fine, I'll train ‘em. You owe me for this one, though.”

    Warren chuckled a bit and then turned back to us. “This where I leave. Welcome to Team Rocket. May you and your Pokémon prove to be useful assets to our cause.” He gave a slight wave and then walked off. I kind of didn’t want him to leave—he seemed a lot friendlier than our new officer… even though that was probably because it was literally his job to be accommodating.

    “Alright, you three, agent numbers, now.”

    That got our attention in a hurry. I scrambled to pull my ID from my pocket, as she already didn’t seem like the sort of person we’d want to keep waiting. One by one, we announced our agent numbers. Karen whipped out her R-com and entered them in. She then pocketed the device and gave us a long, hard stare.

    “Listen up, kids. The way this works is I train you, teach you how to succeed, you work hard for the team, and that reflects good on me. Mutually beneficial, right? And then maybe I can finally get that promotion I was promised six months ago only to have it withdrawn at the last second because I ‘didn’t have enough experience leading subordinates.’”

    I gave Rudy and Darren sideways glances. I… wasn’t really sure what that had to do with us.

    Karen sighed and regained her composure. “So why did you join Team Rocket?”

    Easy, I’d had an answer prepared weeks ago. I had run away from home after failing the trainer exam, stolen some Pokémon, and then found myself unable to get by without being able to take part in League-sanctioned battles, so I had to turn to Team Rocket.

    I opened my mouth to speak and got cut off immediately.

    “Actually, I don’t care. You can keep your past to yourself because it doesn’t matter now. You’re a Rocket. All that matters is that you’re serious about serving us now.”

    I stood there feeling more awkward by the second. I guess overall it was a good thing that she wasn’t interested in prying into our personal matters, but I still felt increasingly uneasy about having her as our officer.

    “Pokémon out now!”

    Okay, I was just gonna have to get used to sudden demands out of nowhere. I grabbed my Pokéballs from my pocket and fumbled with the buttons, trying to be quick. Rudy and Darren had theirs open first, and I let out Firestorm and Swift to join their teams. Firestorm took one look around the Rocket battlefield before drawing himself up in a tall posture with a very serious expression.

    Karen paced back and forth in front of our nine Pokémon lineup, mumbling to herself.

    “I don’t have time for kids who can’t battle. Lucky for you, it looks like you already know a thing or two about fighting. That’ll make things easier for both of us. Good type coverage going on here too. You’ll be a decent unit… once you’re cleared for actual missions that is. You’ve got a long way to go until then.” She stopped in front of us and paused, looking contemplative. None of us dared say anything unless she addressed us first. Finally, she crossed her arms and gave an affirmative nod.

    “Alright, I think I can work with this. Get used to the way things work around here today. Watch and learn. You’re Rockets now. We’ll start your training tomorrow.”






    ~End Chapter 10~
    I hope the rebels’ training was interesting! I tried my hardest to keep the battles quick and lively, and the exact format of the training was something I toyed with many times before finally settling on “try to escape the fight without getting hit.” Obviously they’ve all still got a long way to go before actually fighting any Rockets, but I’m a lot happier with the gradient of improvement in this Revision compared to the last one.
     
    Chapter 11: Undercover
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    So, I feel that the first scene went on for a bit longer than it probably needed to. We’ve kinda already seen fights going on, y’know? But that might just be my bias against repeats of mook fights/training montages. Definitely in favor of summarizing or having them happen offscreen at this point.
    Ahh, sorry, but the old version had the training happen offscreen, and it was definitely in the top five list of things to fix in the last revision. >< (There are few things I hate more than "we got stronger/learned X/figured out how to do the thing" without being shown it, and readers were in favor of adding it.) This was really the only instance of training for training's sake though. I generally try to have all fights serve a purpose in the story or character arcs (and recently cut a small battle from 17 that failed on both accounts, which basically everyone called out, haha.)
    God, so many humans! I am not gonna remember what they all look like if that was described, let alone all their contexts. Maybe some of them aren’t important? I have no idea.
    Ahaha, if it helps they should be regarded as basically the same as the miscellaneous Hogwarts students that get mentioned from time to time in Harry Potter. (And you definitely don't have to remember what everyone looks like--hell, I don't even remember it half the time.)
    Entering the Rockets’ lair and all that was pretty interesting, although this chapter was surprisingly on the slower/mellow side. But not in a bad way—and I know there were battles, but they weren’t really high-stakes for me to call them frantic or anything. Overall, it was good setup for actually transitioning into the infiltration and sabotage!
    Yeah, this arc is definitely a slower one, at least until we get to Chapter 12, but I'm glad it managed to stay interesting! I had a lot of fun with writing all the Rocket lair stuff.


    ~Chapter 11: Undercover~


    “Come on, faster! Your target’s getting away!”

    My legs burned as I willed them to keep going, despite every corner of my brain telling me not to. Firestorm sprinted alongside me, a look of fierce determination on his face—no clue where he’d gotten it from. Rudy, Darren, and their starters raced along with us, Wartortle’s cloudlike tail streaming behind him and Ivysaur taking big bounding leaps to catch up. Meanwhile Karen’s Houndoom was so confident we couldn’t catch it that it was practically running circles around us. Firestorm clenched his teeth in frustration and breathed out a blast of red-hot flares, but none of them came even close to hitting the dark-type.

    Karen smacked a hand to her forehead. “Disable the target first, then go for the knockout, is that really so hard?!”

    I locked eyes with Darren and it was obvious we were both thinking the same thing—he had the best Pokémon out of any of us for disabling.

    “Sleep Powder!” he called out, and Ivysaur leaped forward into position, releasing a cloud of blue powder from his flower bud. But the black firedog was way too quick and dodged it easily.

    And then it hit me. I felt like an idiot for not realizing sooner.

    “Firestorm, use Scary Face!”

    The Charmeleon twisted his face into a horrifying grimace, meeting Houndoom’s eye and making the dark-type flinch, its movements growing sluggish. Ivysaur took that moment to rush in close and let out another burst of Sleep Powder, and this time the firedog got a face full of the stuff. Its eyelids drooped, and it stumbled once before toppling over, sound asleep.

    “Alright, now!” Rudy yelled, and Wartortle’s eyes widened, realizing it was time to make his move. The turtle planted his feet firmly and took a deep breath, spitting out a ring-shaped pulse of water at high speed… which flew clear over the prone form of the sleeping Houndoom.

    “How could you miss a sleeping target?! What the hell is wrong with you?” Karen shouted, fixing him with an intense glare. Wartortle froze with a devastated look on his face before staring at the ground and not saying anything.

    Our officer muttered incoherently to herself while striding over to her Pokémon, pulling out a bottle of blue liquid and spraying the firedog all over. At once, its eyes snapped open and it jumped to its feet with a manic expression, ready to resume the training.

    “You’ve been discovered, make a getaway!” Karen announced with a smirk.

    Oh crap, I hated this part. We immediately spun around and took off running towards the opposite end of the training field. Houndoom would be on us in seconds, we had to put as much distance between it and—

    I almost tripped over myself as a pulsing shock wave of black energy shot past me, no more than two feet to my right! The attack was obviously intended to miss, but the sight of it passing so close still sent my heart jumping into my throat. We were supposed to get used to being in the line of fire—why did it still catch me off guard every time? I had to act now if we were gonna pull this off—a getaway never meant just escaping in this kind of drill.

    “Firestorm, Smokescreen!” I shouted. Firestorm spun around while running and spewed out a thick cloud of black smoke behind us, hiding our pursuer from view. We only had a few seconds to act now. Rudy and Darren raced in opposite directions to take a stand on the left and right sides of the smoky area. Firestorm and I stood our ground at the front. Any second now…

    Houndoom burst through the smoke cloud and our Pokémon all acted at once! Firestorm breathed out a shimmering ball of blue dragon fire, Wartortle spat another ring of water, and Ivysaur rushed forward and struck the firedog headlong in a full-body Take Down. The dark-type was thrown backward from the force of all three attacks catching it off guard, and when the smoke cleared, it was lying on its side, unconscious.

    Karen raised her eyebrows, like she hadn’t expected to be impressed. “Not bad.”

    I hated to admit it, but I was actually learning. And Stalker had probably been counting on that. Her lessons were similar to the things he’d been teaching us, just more… in your face. I didn’t even want to think about what enduring her training would have been like without the prior experience from Stalker.

    “I suppose that was passable at the end there, so we’ll call it early…”

    Rudy pumped his fist in the air a little too soon, but I knew by now that she had something else in store for us.

    “…On your training,” she finished. “My unit brought back some new assets from a mission. They’ll need someone to catalog everything, won’t they? Sounds like grunt work to me.”

    ‘Assets.’ That was code for they’d stolen some Pokémon and needed someone to scan and sort the Pokéballs depending on whether they’d be sold or trained and loaned to other Rockets. Not hard, just tedious and time consuming, especially considering it was nearing dinnertime and food was starting to become the only thing I could think about.

    Almost as if she’d read my mind, Karen handed me a tablet and said, “Better get started if you wanna eat anytime soon.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Everything hurt. My feet dragged against the tile floor as I stumbled into the mess hall, Rudy and Darren not far behind. We swiped our IDs one at a time at the front counter, unlocking the fridge and allowing us to grab one of the cheap, pre-packaged lunch boxes available for grunts. I was pretty sure the cost of meals here just went on a tab that would eventually get taken from payments for successful missions… that is, if we were normal Rockets intent on doing any missions. Apparently it was pretty common for new recruits to rack up a sizable debt during their training, and we were told not to worry about it.

    It was just a simple boxed lunch of meat, vegetables, and rice, but after the training we’d just endured, it was like a feast. All three of us wolfed down our meals like they were nothing.

    “So far I think the best part about being a Rocket is the way-too-long hours and always getting yelled at,” Darren said in between bites of food.

    I snorted into my bowl. “No, I think the best part is getting stuck with all the jobs that no one else wants.”

    “Well I don’t know what’s wrong with you two, because I hate those parts,” Rudy grumbled.

    I didn’t bother pointing out to him that we were being sarcastic. He didn’t care.

    “It would be kinda nice if we could get through a lesson without someone’s Pokémon getting chewed out,” I said, knowing full well that “someone” in this case almost always meant “Rudy.” “She was really laying it on thick with Wartortle this time. Is he gonna be alright?”

    “Ah, you don’t gotta worry about him, he’s tough,” Rudy said, waving a hand dismissively. “Well… as tough as a water-type can be, anyway.”

    I rolled my eyes. More backhanded ways of saying he’d have preferred having Charmander as a starter. He only had himself to blame for not getting one. And it was more than a little ridiculous that he hadn’t been able to shut up about Ebony getting yelled at yesterday but barely acknowledged the same thing happening to Wartortle today. Then again, when our Pokémon weren’t completely exhausted, it was obvious that they were getting stronger. The training was working, no matter how much we didn’t like it.

    At that moment, all three of our communicators buzzed with a text message alert. I pulled mine out and read, “Grunt quarters 7 is free. We’ll meet in 15 mins.” It was from Ray.

    “Looks like we’re finally having that meeting.” He’d sent out another text to every rebel earlier that same day telling us to expect it. It was a bit exciting, knowing that everyone on the Rebellion was currently in a Rocket base and ready to start gathering information. And at the very least, it was something to focus on other than how much training sucked. The rest of the meal didn’t involve any more complaining.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    It was late enough in the evening that we were all done with our tasks for the day, but early enough that most of the other grunts were still at dinner. Perfect time to get all the rebels from all the bases in on one chat.

    We were huddled together in one of the grunt quarters, all twelve of us. Group 1 (Ray, Mai, and Sasha) had obviously been the first ones sent to this base, and Group 5 (Zoe, Alec, and Liam) had gone next. Then it had been me, Rudy, and Darren, and finally Group 16 (Reed, Wes, and Kris) a few days later. Mai stood guard at the door, her dark eyes scanning the hallway outside so no one could walk in on us without warning. Meanwhile, Ray and Sasha worked on getting a group call set up with the rebels at the other bases.

    I was sitting on one of the many double bunks that filled the cramped space, Rudy and Darren alongside me. Across from us sat the members of Group 5. Zoe, a tall, pale girl with short brown hair and amber eyes, had volunteered to take notes, and was already scribbling furiously despite the fact that the meeting hadn’t even started yet. Liam had been trying to coax a conversation out of his teammate Alec, a short, chubby kid with curly red hair who I hadn’t really seen much of until now. Couldn’t really tell if they were a boy or a girl either. They were hunched over a book and every so often flashed a half-hearted smile at Liam, in that reluctant “I really don’t want to talk but don’t know how to say no” kind of way.

    Reed and Kris were both hanging upside down off the top bunk nearest me, excitedly swapping battling tips. Their partner Wes, a short, quiet boy with dark skin and tightly braided hair, was busy brushing his Vulpix’s fur and occasionally shot an incredulous glance at his teammates’ antics.

    “I think we got it,” Sasha announced, holding up her communicator. “We started a three-way video call. My R-com is linked to the Viridian groups, and Ray’s is linked to Saffron.”

    “Awesome! Can you guys hear us?” Reed called out.

    “Sure can,” one of the Viridian rebels replied, waving to us from the tiny screen.

    “Sweet, I wanna be in the video call,” Kris said, rushing to climb down from the top bunk and nearly falling on Wes in the process.

    “Not if I get there first!” Reed called after her, immediately falling straight to the floor with a loud thud.

    “Can everyone be quieter?!” Mai hissed, eyeing the outside hallway suspiciously. “We don’t want everyone in the base hearing us, do we?” Zoe snickered a bit at the commotion but then stopped when she saw the look on Mai’s face.

    “So how are things going in Viridian?” Sasha asked the group chat.

    “Really tough,” one of them replied. “I swear everyone here is on the combat unit, and they’re constantly jumping in to make our training tougher—like our officer wasn’t doing a good enough job of that already.”

    “What, really, you guys get to battle?” one of the rebels in Saffron asked. “We haven’t gotten to battle at all since we got here, and I’m pretty sure the other three groups in Saffron haven’t either.”

    Another kid chimed in, “It’s all like… lectures on how to get goods and Pokémon for Team Rocket and, like… profit analysis crap.” That got a solid round of laughter from almost everyone in the room. Sure, I hadn’t been too fond of the training so far, but at least it was preferable to that.

    “I wandered into a meeting on how to get businessmen to do what you want,” a third Saffron rebel added. “It was… uh… interesting?” Her teammates started snickering.

    “You know it’s not that great, getting to train here,” Reed spoke up in a too-loud voice. “It’s crazy hard—makes Stalker’s training seem like cake.”

    “Considering you couldn’t even finish Stalker’s most recent training, how are you still alive?” a Viridian rebel asked.

    Reed’s face fell. “Ha ha, real funny.”

    “Come on, guys, seriously?” Mai groaned exasperatedly. “We don’t have forever in here, we’ve gotta keep this short.”

    Sasha chuckled a bit. “Gotta admit she’s right. Anyone heard anything about the mission?”

    An awkward silence fell over the group, and everyone glanced around to see if anyone else had been successful.

    Ray shrugged. “I didn’t expect anyone to have found anything yet.” About half the rebels let out a sigh of relief. It was kind of funny to see the reactions everyone normally reserved for Stalker being projected onto Ray now that his group was in charge and Stalker wasn’t around. It wasn’t hard to see why though—he had the same cool and collected air and intense expressions.

    “At least it seems like we all got set up on the team without too much trouble,” Liam offered, and there was a murmur of agreement from everyone.

    “We should focus on figuring out which of us have officers assigned to the mission,” Zoe added. “Then we know who to target for info. If you find out your officer isn’t on the mission, then just ask around. Play the noob card, like you just wanna know what’s going on with the higher-ups.”

    That sounded doable. Granted, Karen wasn’t the most approachable Rocket around, but the idea of hunting for rumors amongst the other grunts didn’t seem too bad.

    “I’ll send out a mass text when it’s time for the next meeting like this,” Ray said. “Hopefully by then we’ll have something to work with.”

    Sasha nodded. “Sounds good to me—everyone else got that?”

    “Yup!”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    It was the middle of a training session. Karen had just shown us some tips for quickly ganging up on and incapacitating a target, and now we’d gotten a rare moment to rest and catch our breath. I just had to take advantage of it and try getting some info on the Legendary mission. It was the only opportunity to come up all day.

    “So, we heard there was a huge combat unit mission coming up?” I said, trying my hardest to make it sound as casual as possible. Maybe a bit too hard. Dangit.

    “Yeah? What about it?” Karen asked dully. Good, she hadn’t noticed.

    “What kind of mission is it?”

    She scoffed. “That’s not exactly the kind of thing they tell those of us who aren’t assigned to it.”

    “You’re not?” Rudy blurted out.

    Her eyes twitched. “No. Even though I’m more than qualified, some people don’t seem to think I should go anywhere on this team.”

    I clenched my teeth. If there was one thing we didn’t need, it was Karen going on another one of her rants on how the higher-ups were determined to see her fail.

    Darren jumped in with, “But you’ve heard rumors about it… right?”

    Karen laughed. “Oh man, take it from me, kid, the kinds of rumors you’ll hear around the base are nuts. And what’s it to you? It’s not like you’ll be on the combat unit any time soon. It takes years to qualify.”

    Well that was some shut down. Was there any way to ask what she knew without it seeming totally suspicious? Nothing was coming to me. I locked eyes with Rudy and Darren, but from their expressions, it seemed they were just as clueless as I was.

    “Well don’t just stand there,” Karen said, giving us an impatient look. “Let’s run through that drill one more time.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Every conversation with Karen ended the same way. There was absolutely no way we were going to get any information out of her, and I could only hope that the rest of the rebels didn’t have such disagreeable officers. Either way, it meant that grunts were our best bet.

    Rudy, Darren and I were sitting in the mess hall during an ordinary lunch, watching the other Rockets. The problem was that none of us actually wanted to go first. We’d been sitting here staring for fifteen minutes, and it was starting to get a bit ridiculous.

    “So we should probably try actually talking to people,” I finally spoke up.

    “Do we have to? They’re Rockets,” Rudy whispered.

    I put a hand to my forehead. “You were all excited about it yesterday. What happened?”

    “Well… I was, but then I thought about it.”

    “That’s gotta be a first.”

    I winced from a sudden punch to the arm. Yep, couldn’t say I was surprised; I kind of deserved that one.

    “You should do it, anyway. You’re the oldest,” Rudy said simply. Darren nodded in a “that makes sense” kind of way.

    I groaned. “Fine, I was gonna do it anyway.”

    At least it was easy to identify who was a grunt based on the uniform—black pants and shirt with gray boots. I scanned the crowd for any nearby grunts who were eating alone, and caught sight of one two tables down and across from us. Alright, now was as good a time as any. I got up from our table and wandered over, trying my best not to look completely awkward.

    “Hey, uh… I’m new here,” I said, sitting down alongside the grunt.

    “‘Sup?” she replied, not looking up from her lunch.

    I paused for several seconds, not really sure how to proceed. “So, uh… is it cool if I ask you some things about how stuff goes around here? My officer’s not too talkative.” Not entirely true. Karen was plenty talkative—just not about anything we wanted to know.

    “Sure. Fire away,” she said, finally looking up.

    Alright, had her attention. Now I just had to think of what questions to ask. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead. The first thing that entered my mind was, “How long does it take before newbies can get assigned to actual missions?”

    The Rocket paused thoughtfully. “I didn’t go on my first mission ‘til I’d been here for two months. And even then, it was just a simple heist.”

    “What kind of missions have you done since then?”

    She shrugged. “All sorts. Bigger heists, catching rare Pokémon, added muscle during business negotiations—I actually got to rough up a few guys on my last job, that was fun.”

    It was… really weird hearing someone talk about Team Rocket activity so nonchalantly. Still, I kind of needed to expect that by now. Time to push the topic further.

    “Do you know what kind of missions the higher-ups go on?”

    “Depends on what department,” she replied through a mouthful of food.

    “The combat unit, of course.”

    Her face split into a grin. “You’ve heard the rumors, haven’t you? About the combat unit planning a big mission soon?”

    I nodded. “No one seems to know anything about it. Is it really that big of a secret?”

    “Well yeah. Course, word gets out anyway. You shoulda seen the base two months ago.”

    Two months ago… I had a feeling I already knew what she was talking about, but I couldn’t let that on. “I take it there was a big mission then?”

    She lowered her voice. “Hell yeah, the combat unit was gonna catch Entei.”

    I widened my eyes to put on the look of shock that she’d be expecting. But I almost didn’t have to fake it at all—the memory still burned just as brightly as the day I saw the attack unfolding right in front of me.

    “I know, right?” she said upon seeing my expression. “That was my reaction when I first heard. Sucks that those Johto assholes got to it first.”

    I let out an exasperated sigh. “Okay, what’s the deal with the Johto force? Is there some kind of rivalry going on?”

    The Rocket groaned and put a hand to her forehead. “Buncha crap went down last year—Johto force came out of it way better off, and they never let us forget it.”

    Well that was… interesting. But none of this would help us on our mission—and we already knew the Johto force had Entei.

    “Anyway, my break’s over, good luck with your training.” She grabbed her empty lunch tray and gave a small wave before walking off.

    Well… that hadn’t gone terribly… but it hadn’t exactly paid off either. Might as well try again with someone else. I glanced around the crowd once more, searching for another conversation target. Eventually my eyes fell on a grunt who looked to be staring off into space. He seemed as good an option as any.

    I wandered over, trying to look as casual as possible before sitting down and going, “Hey.”

    “Shh!” He pointed forcefully at the TV in one of the upper corners of the room.

    I blinked, a bit taken aback. The TV was muted and had captions on, since it would’ve been too hard to hear it in such a busy area anyway.

    “There’s… no volume,” I said, confused as to why he wanted quiet when there was nothing to hear. The Rocket ignored me, staring intently at a pair of trainers on the screen. I shot a helpless glance back at Rudy and Darren, who just kind of gave a clueless shrug.

    I turned back to the TV, where a Nidoking and a Blastoise were locked in combat, each of them shoving against the other, trying to get an opening for a move. Blastoise threw its weight around in an attempt to get Nidoking on the ground so it could aim the water cannons on its back, but the armored, rabbit-like beast refused to budge. Both fighters were panting hard with exhaustion, but eventually Nidoking pulled back enough to fire a sudden bolt of lightning from the horn on its head, and the opposing water-type collapsed.

    The screen cut away from the trainers and switched to a pair of excitable commentators, and that’s when the Rocket came out of his trance and realized that I was still there.

    “The hell do you want? The semifinals started today; I’m not missing a second,” he said.

    I blinked. “The semifinals of what?”

    “…The Indigo League?” he said, staring at me like I was super dense.

    I barely had time to react before being shoved aside by Rudy rushing over and yelling, “That’s going on now?!”

    The Rocket laughed. “Second week of August—when else would it be?”

    Rudy grabbed my shirt sleeve frantically. “How did we forget?”

    “I… we’ve been busy?” I managed in response, glancing back up at the TV, where slow-mo replays of key moments in the match were being displayed.

    “I know Connie is the favorite to win this year,” the Rocket continued, “but I’m a fan of Derek. I’ve got a lot of money riding on him,” he said, laughing a bit nervously.

    I tilted my head. “Do they take bets on the League here, or…?”

    He laughed. “Are you kidding? Team Rocket makes a killing on bets during tournament season.”

    Darren tapped my shoulder and pointed at Rudy, who was now staring at the screen with a level of wide-eyed enthusiasm that didn’t seem possible, even for him. I had to stifle a laugh. Guess we wouldn’t be getting anything done now.

    The rest of the afternoon was spent watching the semifinals. I had to admit, it was a nice change of pace, not to mention it had been ages since I’d watched any League battles (having missed them last year due to sulking in my room most of the summer.) Still, it didn’t exactly help us get any closer to our goal. During the intermissions, we tried chatting with a couple other grunts also watching the matches, but didn’t have much success.

    Oh well. At least this was only the first day of trying.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    It was frustrating. Two weeks at the base and we barely had anything to go off. Two weeks of intense training, Karen dodging all our questions, and random grunts not knowing anything we didn’t already know.

    “Not looking forward to being the only ones who didn’t find anything,” I muttered as Rudy, Darren, and I walked down the hallway to the grunt quarters for our upcoming meeting.

    “I don’t think we’ll be the only ones. There might be one or two other failures,” Darren said matter-of-factly.

    “Yep. That definitely makes everything better,” I said, groaning. I don’t know what I’d been expecting, really. That Karen would just cheerfully tell us everything she knew, and also that she’d get assigned to the mission and ask us to come along? I knew that was ridiculous, but I still had imagined we’d be slightly more useful on our first mission.

    “I guess we could have been caught—that’s one way things could be worse,” Darren added, shrugging.

    I couldn’t argue with that. And with my luck, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

    We arrived at the door to the grunt quarters and opened it to see the familiar sight of the other three groups of Cerulean rebels scattered across the bunks.

    “Good to see ya!” Zoe called out brightly, waving to us from across the room. “We’re just getting the call started, so hurry on over.”

    Mai shut the door behind us and took up her usual guard post. The three of us sat down across from Ray and Sasha, who were busy with their communicators. We didn’t have to wait long before hearing the voices of the Viridian and Saffron rebels coming from the speakers. From my vantage point, I could see several kids huddled together to be in view of the cameras.

    “Everyone ready?” Ray asked. Upon hearing or seeing confirmation from all the rebels, he went on, “Alright, we’ll start. Since our last meeting, my group found out that our officer was actually being considered for a spot on the mission.”

    “Unfortunately…” Sasha continued, “that means he’s super paranoid about messing up his chances and wouldn’t spill any details.”

    Out of everyone in the room, the members of Group 5 were the only ones who didn’t look disappointed. They glanced back and forth at each other for a bit before Zoe stood up and announced, “Well I’ve already told some of you, but our group’s officer is confirmed to be on the Legendary mission.”

    “No way!” several rebels cried.

    “Not only that,” Liam added, “but whatever their target is, they’ve been following it for a while. He wouldn’t say what it was. But he said there’s actually a small team out there that’s been chasing it down for the past week. We think the full attack is gonna happen pretty soon.”

    All eyes were staring at Group 5 in admiration. And here I’d gone and thought we’d be screwed, but this was already a promising lead. Zoe sat back down, beaming.

    Sasha nodded. “That’s a good start. Anyone got anything on how the mission’s gonna go down?”

    One of the Viridian rebels spoke up. “Our officer talked to another Rocket about their electric Pokémon being borrowed for testing their attacks against some new tech that had to be ready before a big mission.”

    Sasha’s eyes widened. “Whoa, really? That’s huge. That narrows it down a ton, right?”

    “Who knows the most about Legendaries out of us?” Ray asked, surveying the room.

    “Alec does,” Liam said firmly, giving his teammate a light nudge with his elbow. Alec glanced up at him with an anxious look, but Liam just gave a reassuring nod.

    “Right, so, uh… the only electric Legendaries that live anywhere near us are Zapdos and Raikou,” Alec said slowly. “Zapdos is… well, it’s thought to roost in Kanto, although it’s been spotted flying over a couple other regions. Raikou constantly roams across Johto, but it’s also been spotted in Kanto sometimes.”

    Zapdos or Raikou… Either one would be a huge boost to their forces. But out of the two, my brain kept latching onto Zapdos. Team Rocket must have encountered it before—where else did they get the DNA to make a Zapdos-Pikachu hybrid?

    “They’ve gone after Zapdos once before,” I said slowly. “They might be trying to catch it for real this time.”

    “Wait what?!” Reed exclaimed, gaping at me. “How do you know that?”

    “Jade used to have a totally awesome Zapdos-Pikachu hybrid!” Rudy exclaimed, jumping in front of me.

    Reed snorted. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

    “It’s the truth!” Rudy shot back. “How else do you think we escaped from that Rocket jet?”

    “I never thought that story actually happened. Not the way you tell it, anyway,” Mai said, adding an eye roll for good measure.

    “Actually… I have a picture of him,” Darren said all of a sudden.

    We all turned to stare at him at once. Seriously? He’d gotten Chibi’s picture? On the S.S. Anne?

    “I thought he looked cool,” Darren said, shrugging. “You don’t see a Pikachu like that every day… well, I guess you did, when he was with you. I didn’t know he was part Zapdos.” He grabbed his Pokégear and tapped a few buttons before holding it out to the rest of us. Sure enough, there was Chibi, standing on the boarding platform. The photo was blurry, but you could definitely make out the pointed head feathers and the intense, bird-like eyes.

    Liam paused thoughtfully. “Well, okay… so if that’s true, then Zapdos is probably what they’re after.”

    “Hey everyone, sorry we’re late!” a voice from the chat suddenly announced. “I kept messing up at training and our group got held overtime.”

    “No worries,” Zoe said brightly, “we just figured out that Zapdos is probably the target.”

    “Zapdos? Why Zapdos?” the rebel asked. “Hasn’t it been spotted flying over a lot of different regions? It doesn’t seem like the easiest Pokémon to find.”

    Kris snorted. “And Raikou would be easier to track?”

    “Why are we so sure it’s an electric Legendary?”

    One of the other Viridian rebels shot back with, “You weren’t here so you didn’t hear the reason!”

    And with that, the entire chat broke out into squabbling, most of it between the various groups of Viridian rebels, although Reed and Kris weren’t helping things much on our end either.

    “Actually, I know another reason it’s probably electric!” a voice called out suddenly, forcing everyone to pause. It had come from one of the Saffron rebels.

    “No offense, but are there even any Rockets on the mission in Saffron?” Kris asked. “They don’t exactly keep the combat unit stationed there. I’m not even sure why Stalker sent anyone there.”

    With an exasperated groan, Mai stormed away from her watch post and growled, “Kris, for once in your life can you be quiet?

    Kris froze, looking like she’d been slapped. Reed seemed to be using every ounce of willpower he had not to burst out laughing. For several seconds no one said anything, and Ray just kept his face buried in his palms.

    “Uh, we’re good here now, you can keep going,” Zoe told the Saffron group.

    “Oh. Right, so… in one of the ‘cost effectiveness’ presentations, they had a thing on using Pokémon energy. I guess electric Pokémon’s power is the easiest to absorb and use… that makes sense, right? And if we know they’re testing electric attacks on new tech, that prob’ly means they wanna use it on the easiest target before going for other types of Legendaries.”

    There was a moment of silence as everyone paused to consider the new info.

    “They didn’t exactly have the easiest time with Entei,” I added. “It would have escaped altogether if the Johto force hadn’t intervened.”

    Everyone stared at the floor. The story of Entei’s capture was common knowledge amongst the Rebellion by now. The memory of it only served as a reminder of how we couldn’t afford to mess this up, otherwise the Rockets would have two Legendaries at their disposal.

    “How did they catch Entei anyway?” a small voice asked. I looked up to see Alec glancing around at their teammates dejectedly. “It’s a Legendary. Pokéballs don’t… shouldn’t work on them.”

    “Oh, um… I think I know how,” a voice piped up from the R-com. “There was some kind of budget meeting on that. Did you guys know that Team Rocket owns the Silph Company?”

    “What?!” several voices exclaimed at once. The biggest brand name in trainer tech belonged to the Rockets? What?

    “I know, right? And they’ve been dumping tons of money into mass-producing Master Balls.”

    A chill suddenly fell over me. Master Ball. It’d been a long time since I’d heard that term.

    “Oh. Guess that explains it,” one of the other kids replied blankly.

    Pretty much everyone had heard the controversy—that Silph Co. had invented a Pokéball that could catch any Pokémon without fail. There’d been a ton of protests from Pokémon rights groups saying that it totally invalidated the training pact—it was practically the only thing our teachers felt like talking about for a few weeks way back when. Then Master Balls were banned in most stores, and they made it so you couldn’t even get one without a special license, so most of the chatter died down. Still, even now, it felt more like a myth than a thing that could really exist.

    Zoe glanced around at all of the glum faces in the room and smiled weakly. “C’mon, enough pouting—how do we stop them?”

    “Obviously the Viridian rebels sabotage the new tech.”

    Someone in the chat snorted. “How do you expect us to do that?”

    “We don’t even know where it is,” another added.

    “You just find someone who looks like a scientist and follow them back to—”

    “Okay, stop just… throwing out random suggestions,” Ray said, putting a hand to his forehead. “We need a solid plan.”

    Sasha crossed her arms. “Ray, I don’t actually think we should be making too many plans ‘til we see how the mission is really gonna down. We need to know what we’re up against first. Blind strategies are useless.”

    Ray frowned. “I like being prepared. And right now, we don’t even know where it is.”

    “Why don’t we just have someone follow ‘em?”

    Not the voice I had expected to hear. Everyone whirled around to see where it had come from, and eventually all eyes fell on Wes.

    He glanced around sheepishly. “Well, we know at least one guy on the mission, right? Why doesn’t the group assigned to him just… tail him to the mission site, let us know where it is and what it’s like? And then while the Rockets are still getting set up, the rest of us head over and stop ‘em?”

    Everyone paused to consider the suggestion.

    “Well…” Liam said slowly, “that’d be me, Zoe and Alec. Anyone else?”

    “Our officer’s on the mission,” a Viridian rebel replied.

    “Good. Whoever gets there first, use your GPS app to get the location and send it to me. I’ll text it to everyone else after that,” Ray said.

    “How do the rest of us get there once we know where it is?” another Viridian rebel asked.

    “Same way we got here,” Zoe replied. “We might not have access to Stalker’s Pokémon, but I think between all of us we have enough fliers and teleporters to pull it off.”

    Sasha nodded. “So long as it’s not like… clear across Kanto, my Kadabra should be able teleport everyone in Cerulean one at a time.” A couple Viridian and Saffron rebels voiced their agreement and their various methods for getting there.

    “So it sounds like we have a plan,” Ray said, looking satisfied.

    We had a plan. This was really happening. It had felt like we were just a bunch of random kids in over our head, and now we actually had a concrete plan for stopping Team Rocket from catching a Legendary. It was unreal.

    Darren nodded. “See? Told you we weren’t going to singlehandedly ruin everything.”

    I couldn’t help laughing. “I guess not.”






    ~End Chapter 11~
    So fun fact, the old version used to just skip straight from them arriving at the base to starting the Legendary mission. Which was a little ridiculous, because it made the rebels…completely pointless in the grand scheme of things. Adding this chapter let me actually show the rebels doing things and allowed for a fun mixture of both childishness and competence from them.
     
    Chapter 12: The Incarnation of Thunder
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    First Legendary mission. Here we go.



    ~Chapter 12: The Incarnation of Thunder~


    I felt movement. My eyes snapped open suddenly, blinking in the darkness of the grunt quarters. The tiniest sound of something vibrating caught my ear. Somewhere in the back of my mind, beyond the cloud of sleep, I realized that it was important. But… why?

    Wait. It was my communicator. That was definitely important. My hands fumbled around, trying to find where I’d stashed it, before brushing against the device hiding under my pillow. I cupped my fingers over the screen so it wouldn’t light up the room as I checked it.

    I’d gotten a text from Liam. And from the looks of it, he’d sent the message to everyone on the Rebellion: “Just got to the mission spot. Check the coordinates on this message. I already told Stalker it’s on now.”

    My breath froze in my chest. The mission was on. Right now? What time was it? 3 in the morning. No wonder there was a faint voice in the back of my head saying I shouldn’t be awake.

    The room, though still dark, had a faint glow about it. I turned to glance around and saw a couple of other rebels checking their communicators. Suddenly, another message appeared—one sent by Sasha to all of the Cerulean rebels that were still here: “We need to leave one at a time to avoid suspicion, so text the group when you’re leaving, and then again when you make it outside. I’ll go first.”

    Minutes crept by in the darkness. Every so often my ears caught the faint sounds of someone removing their covers and tiptoeing across the room. Then a small wave of light from them opening the door out into the hallway. I hardly dared to breathe. Part of me still expected a Rocket to barge in all of a sudden and demand to know why we were awake.

    But nothing happened. Three rebels had left the room so far. Sooner or later, I’d have to join them. And then, if we made it out of the base, we’d have to make it to the mission location. And then, once we were there, we’d still have to be on guard to not get spotted. This was all way too much to handle at 3am. Yeah… the fact that it was 3am was the problem. I could’ve handled it at any other time.

    Somehow, I still didn’t believe that. But I’d been able to keep my nerves on the S.S. Anne, and I’d been alone then, not surrounded by allies. Then again… I hadn’t been alone, had I? I’d had Chibi with me. Up until the point when he—no. I didn’t need to think about what had happened to him. Not now.

    This wasn’t helping. No more thinking, just doing. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and then texted the group that I’d be going next.

    I slid myself out of bed as carefully as I could, taking care not to wake any of the grunts in the room that weren’t rebels. I grabbed my Rocket uniform and quickly got dressed in the locker room before slipping out into the hallway.

    It was late enough that almost no one else was awake. I could hear the faintest sounds of a few Pokémon training in the battlefield, and some voices coming from the mess hall, but that was about it. Perfect, now I just needed to make it to the elevator without anyone seeing me, and—

    The moment the thought entered my head, a Rocket stepped out from one of the side rooms and strode down the hallway in my direction. Almost every muscle in my body froze, save for my legs, which were on autopilot. What was the best way to not look suspicious? Should I walk like I had somewhere important to be? Try to keep it casual? I was just getting up for a midnight snack. No, that wasn’t it, the mess hall was in the opposite direction. Think! There had to be some reason I was out of bed. Anything? I was almost about to pass him with the most clueless and guilty face in existence.

    But the Rocket walked right past me, his eyes glued to his tablet, not even giving a side glance in my direction. I blinked. That was it? He didn’t even care?

    Then again… did any random Rocket going about their business have any reason to suspect anything of another random Rocket? I guess if I’d run into Karen or something, that would’ve been bad. But what were the odds of her being up this late?

    I shook my head slightly. I was being stupid. As far as everyone was concerned, I was a Rocket. I had every reason to be here, and I was just going for a late-night walk to get some fresh air. That was it.

    I swiped my ID to use the elevator back to the main floor, then cautiously stepped out into the lobby. It was dark and deserted… good. While there was nothing wrong with a handful of grunts leaving the base one after the other at this hour, it was still impossible to shake the fear that if too many of us were seen too close together, it’d raise some red flags.

    The front entrance was locked for the night, so I slipped out the members-only side exit, emerging from the Rocket HQ into an empty city alleyway. Streetlights and the occasional car headlights illuminated the darkness. The sidewalks were nearly empty, with the closest person being two city blocks away.

    I was outside the base. I leaned against the building and let out the breath I’d been holding. The warm summer night’s air swept over me, and I couldn’t help closing my eyes and inhaling deeply. I could actually feel the tension leaving my body from being outside and away from the constant need to be on guard.

    Still, much as I wanted to, I couldn’t relax just yet. We had a mission.

    I joined the Group 1 rebels in the park across the street, and within fifteen minutes, the rest of the Cerulean rebels had all gathered outside, glancing around nervously and waiting for Sasha’s Kadabra to return (it had gone with the Group 5 rebels to memorize the mission location before coming back to get the rest of us.) Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long until the golden humanoid appeared before us in a flash of shimmering light, twirling a spoon between its claws.

    My turn came up sooner than I would have liked. There was no going back now. My heart pounded in my chest as I stepped forward to teleport with the psychic-type. Just like last time, my surroundings dissolved into light and all of my senses disconnected before everything suddenly snapped back into focus.

    I now stood in a densely forested area. Darkness hung over the surrounding—there wasn’t even any moonlight. In fact, the only light at all was the glow cast by what looked like spotlights off in the distance, beyond the trees. The rest of the Rebellion was scattered in that direction; Liam waved the newcomers over.

    “Okay, so here’s the deal,” one of the Viridian rebels said as soon as we had all gathered around. “They’ve got a strike team out there hunting it down right now, herding it to this location so they can nail it with all their Pokémon at once.”

    I took my first look at the Rockets’ setup. Twelve flatbed trucks sat in a wide circle around a clearing not far from us. Each of them carried a large piece of machinery in the back, which opened at the top to reveal a tall, black antenna surrounded by thick, silver coils. The coils gave off a low hum. I shivered; just looking at them struck me with an uneasy feeling.

    “That’s the new tech they’re gonna use to trap it,” Liam said. “I heard someone call it the Thunder Field.”

    Which meant that our mission would almost definitely involve sabotaging it. The only question was… how hard would that be?

    “Also… we were wrong about the target. It’s Raikou.”

    Raikou? A guardian of Johto, just like Entei. Sure, Alec had said that it sometimes roamed Kanto as well, but why were the Kanto Rockets going after the Johto beasts? Wouldn’t it be better to leave that to the Johto force?

    All around the clearing, officers and executives worked to finish setting up equipment. In the end, one Rocket each was left to man the Thunder Field components on each truck. That was a problem. How would we get over there without being seen?

    Rudy wandered over to stand at my side, his eyes wide. “Holy crap, this is intense. We’re actually going to see a Legendary, right here.” His voice was shaking—with enthusiasm or fear, I couldn’t quite tell. Probably both.

    “Try not to get too excited. We’ve got to keep it from getting the crap kicked out of it, after all,” Darren said simply.

    “Not if Raikou kicks the crap out of the Rockets,” Rudy countered. I couldn’t really argue with that, although I highly doubted it. Not after what I’d seen happen to Entei.

    “Alright, we don’t have much time left, time to get a plan together,” Sasha announced, grabbing everyone’s attention.

    “Is Stalker going to be here?” a small voice asked. It had come from one of the youngest kids on the Rebellion. The question caught me off guard. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me to wonder whether or not he’d be helping us, but now it seemed like a completely obvious question.

    “He’s not coming,” Ray said flatly. If he was frustrated or content with that fact, I couldn’t tell. “It’s way riskier for him to get caught than any of us.”

    I raised an eyebrow. It… really didn’t seem right to put it like that. I mean, I guess in a way it was true—if Stalker was discovered, the Rebellion was over, while if one of us was spotted, the rest of the team would still go on. But… seriously? Our goal was to make sure that none of us got caught.

    But no one said anything. Zoe patted a few of the younger rebels on the shoulder reassuringly, while Liam just glared at Ray, his usual optimism gone.

    Mai groaned. “Come on, everyone. What do you think you’ve been training for? We can do this without Stalker.”

    “What she means to say,” Sasha cut in through gritted teeth, “is that there’s a lot of us, and they’re not expecting any sabotage, so we’ve got the upper hand for now.”

    I glanced around at the rebels. It was pretty obvious which ones, like me, hadn’t actually considered if Stalker would be here or not. Everyone else’s faces were streaked with fear and disappointment.

    “I… guess if we’re making plans now, it’s a safe bet we’ll need to destroy the Thunder Field?” I asked, hoping to move things along.

    Sasha nodded. “We’ll have to sneak over and knock out the technician manning each truck without being seen, so sleep moves are probably best. Which groups have at least one Pokémon with a sleep move?”

    I raised my hand, along with several others. After all, Darren’s Ivysaur had Sleep Powder.

    Sasha counted out nine groups from the rebels who had raised their hands. “Alright, you guys will take one truck per group. Sabotage as much as you can without calling attention to yourselves. As for everyone else…” She paused, looking uncertain.

    “Someone’s gotta make sure Raikou doesn’t get caught by the time you guys get the Thunder Field down… right?” a Viridian rebel offered.

    “How are you gonna do that?” another asked, tilting her head.

    “Well, it’s gonna be chaos with that many Rockets all fighting Raikou at once, right? I hardly think they’ll notice if a few extra Pokémon slip into the lineup.”

    Ray looked skeptical. “The fight’s gonna be brutal. Your Pokémon would have to stay out of Raikou’s way, and also not get spotted helping it.” I shivered. That sounded way more intimidating than just knocking out a single Rocket.

    “My Pokémon all know Dig,” the same rebel replied proudly. “And I think a few ‘accidental misses’ aren’t exactly gonna be obvious in that kind of melee.”

    “You’re in charge of that squad then. Make sure no one does anything stupid or obvious—I can’t be everywhere,” Ray ordered.

    “Target is nearing our location. Pokémon out now!” an executive called out.

    I tensed up instantly. Everyone on the Rebellion froze. This was it—the battle was starting. Every Rocket in the crowd on the opposite side of the clearing threw out two or three Pokéballs, releasing a massive lineup of enemy Pokémon. At least thirty or forty of them now stood in a widespread crowd off to one side of the area within the Thunder Field. And these were combat unit Rockets—they almost definitely had more Pokémon in reserve that were being saved for later in the battle.

    A distant rumble of thunder echoed throughout the air. Gusts of wind howled over the forest, and between the rustling treetops, I could just barely make out the violently churning cloud cover rolling toward us. So it was true, then… what they said about Raikou being able to generate thunderstorms.

    Sudden flashes of light, each one brighter than the last, caught my eye, dragging my attention to the opposite end of the clearing.

    It was here.

    A massive beast shot through the trees in a burst of lightning, skidding to a stop in the middle of the clearing and throwing a glare back at its pursuers. Its gigantic, muscular frame tensed up beneath a thick coat of golden, black-striped fur. A jagged, lightning bolt tail twitched anxiously. The beast swiveled around, taking in the details of the surrounding trap, and then I got my first good look at its face, from pointed black ears to steely blue whiskers to the nightmarishly long saber teeth. Piercing reddish eyes fixed on the Rockets’ Pokémon lineup, and the electric-type let out a deafening roar, echoing like the crashing of thunder and gripping every inch of my body. The sound faded, but my arms and legs wouldn’t stop shaking.

    This was the Legendary Beast of Thunder.

    The Rockets stood frozen on the spot. There was no way they could go through with this. Not now that they’d seen its terrifying presence firsthand. No way.

    “Trappers at the ready!”

    Several Pokémon within the lineup—most of them ghosts—started glowing with an eerie red aura before fixing Raikou with a piercing stare, causing the same red aura to form around the Legendary’s body. It was trapped now—that aura would prevent it from straying too far from the source.

    I clenched my fists. They were seriously still going to try it?

    Raikou didn’t try to run. It clearly understood what had just taken place, and shook its head ever so slightly. For the longest time it just stood there, staring down the Rockets’ Pokémon, daring them to make a move. Finally, the tiger opened its mouth and spoke, its words a low, reverberating growl, “*The humans are the ones responsible for this. Stand down, and you will be spared.*”

    Some of the Rockets’ Pokémon shifted uncomfortably, but none moved from where they were standing. The front of the lineup took a fighting stance, the traces of fear in their eyes overshadowed by determination.

    Raikou stared, its expression impossible to make out. It gave a slow, solemn nod.

    “*Then I shall not hold back.*”

    Sparks leaped off the violet, cloudlike mane on the tiger’s back, giving way to a flood of lightning shooting every direction and covering an area half the size of the clearing. But just seconds later, the electricity was wrenched towards the trucks encircling the clearing, absorbed into the coils of the Thunder Field. Raikou’s eyes widened with shock before narrowing again. It snarled and crouched low, gathering more electricity around itself, this time firing it in a single thunderbolt, striking the heart of the machine. Jagged strings of lightning leaped off the impact point, but within seconds, the attack was completely absorbed just like the first one.

    Raikou bared its teeth, frustration crossing its features for just a second. It then turned back toward its opponents and let loose another blood-curdling roar before lunging. A golden blur shot forward almost too fast to see, colliding with the Rockets’ lineup and knocking down the first Pokémon it met with its oversized claws. The target, an Ursaring, lashed out at the tiger with a glowing fist, but couldn’t land a hit before seven-inch fangs tore open its neck. The bear’s eyes widened with shock as blood gushed from the wound, soaking the ground before it collapsed in a heap. Muzzle splattered with crimson, Raikou pulled back from its target right before a horde of five or six enemy Pokémon all leaped onto it at once. The beast fell to the ground, snarling viciously and flailing its claws at anything coming too close. A handful of enemy Pokémon recoiled backwards, clutching wicked gashes to the side or face, but sheer numbers won out, and the tiger was overrun.

    I couldn’t look away. It was impossible not to stare at the spectacle unfolding before us. My eyes hurt from being open so long. Every inch of my body had gone numb. But I was still staring stupidly at the carnage, unable to think. What was I supposed to be doing? How could we possibly do anything to affect the outcome of a battle like this?

    “Come on. They’re all focused on the battle, time to move,” Ray said bluntly.

    I blinked, feeling like I’d been jerked from a stupor. Groups of rebels were breaking off from the main gathering and bolting towards the trucks. With their black uniforms and the cover from the trees, they were almost invisible.

    Rudy shook my arm to grab my attention. I jerked suddenly, spinning around to face him.

    “We gotta go,” he said urgently.

    “You can panic later,” Darren added.

    I took a few deep breaths to steady myself before nodding. No time to panic. We had to do this. The three of us crept towards one of the trucks that hadn’t yet been targeted by one of the other rebel groups. A single Rocket stood on the truck bed alongside the control panel for the Thunder Field. He faced away from us, watching the battle.

    The chaos and commotion of the fight was easily loud enough to mask the sound of a Pokéball being opened. Ivysaur materialized in front of Darren, who motioned to the rest of us to step back. At his command, the grass-type crawled forward until he was right alongside the wheels of the truck before unleashing a cloud of sparkling blue powder from the flower bud on his back. The Rocket jerked slightly upon inhaling the powder. For a few brief seconds he glanced around as though trying to figure out where it had come from before slumping to the ground, out cold.

    The problem was that now the entire truck was surrounded by sleep powder, and we couldn’t risk breathing it in ourselves. Except… wait, I’d fought enough powder users to have an easy fix for that. I whipped out a Pokéball and released Swift.

    “We need a Gust to clear out the Sleep Powder over there,” I said. The Pidgeotto nodded wordlessly before taking flight and flapping his wings rapidly to produce a swirling vortex of wind around the truck. With the violent sounds of the ongoing battle and the rumble of the overhead storm, you could barely hear anything. That was at least one thing we had in our favor.

    Once the last trace of powder had been swept away, I walked over and pulled myself up onto the back of the flatbed truck, now face to face with the massive, boxy machine at the foot of the lightning rod. Every hair on my body stood on end—the prickly feeling of the static charge around the machine was impossible to ignore.

    “Alright. Sabotage. Sounds fun, where do we start?” Darren asked once he had climbed up.

    Good question. I glanced around the glowing control panel on the front of the mechanism, which was covered in way too many dials and switches. Somehow I didn’t imagine pressing all of them at random would be the best course of action. But on the far back, near the grate that kept the antenna out of reach, I spotted a very large, important-looking switch. If any of these was gonna be an off switch, it was that one. I grabbed it with both hands and pulled hard. It swung heavily towards me and clicked into place.

    I leaped back from the machine, staring up at the lightning rod. Seconds passed, but… nothing appeared to have happened. Lights still glowed on the console, and the machine continued to hum.

    “Of course. I don’t know why I expected it to be that easy,” I grumbled.

    “Good try though,” Darren said. I couldn’t tell if his tone was mocking or sincere, and honestly didn’t care at the moment.

    Rudy stepped in front of me. “Alright, my turn! Water fries electronics, right?” he said, releasing Wartortle. “Water Gun, all over the controls!”

    The turtle nodded and spat out a powerful stream of water all over the console with a violent splash. The spray of water filled the air as Wartortle kept up the blast, although after several seconds he tilted his head, looking a bit perplexed. He glanced back at Rudy uncertainly before stopping the attack. Water dripped down the front of the machine harmlessly; the lights continued to glow.

    “What, nothing? That’s stupid!” Rudy stomped a foot against the truck bed. “Let’s just set it on fire, no way it’ll survive that.”

    “I think the Rockets might notice something if we set it on fire,” Darren replied. “Which is cool if that’s what you’re going for, but probably not?”

    Rudy folded his arms and didn’t say anything more.

    A horrifying snarl snapped my attention back to the battle. Raikou had just broken free from the horde of enemy Pokémon and sprinted away from them as fast as its legs could carry. But it barely managed to clear thirty yards before crashing to a halt, its entire body gripped by the red aura of Mean Look. Raikou glared back at the Pokémon already charging at it before rushing in and locking its jaws around the gaseous body of a Haunter, fangs cloaked in dark energy. The ghost immediately cried out and went limp, but just as it was recalled, three more Pokémon leaped onto the tiger, pinning it down.

    Raikou shook off its attackers and sprang back, crouching defensively and putting up a shimmering wall of light around its body. A Rhydon pulled back a glowing arm, slamming it into the electric-type. A resounding thud echoed from the barrier diffusing the force of the attack, and the tiger didn’t waste a second. It rushed forward and tore into the armored beast’s vulnerable underbelly, giant claws shredding through flesh and splattering blood onto its face until it was wrenched off by the rock-type’s teammate.

    It hit me with a sickening realization. Raikou had no spread attacks other than its lightning. Without that, it was reduced to attacking things one-on-one, with a flurry of claws and fangs and even a distorted light attack I couldn’t identify. There was no way for it to take out all the Pokémon trapping it at once.

    Then again… it wasn’t like the Rockets weren’t suffering either. Any Pokémon unfortunate enough to take even a single blow from Raikou was instantly knocked out. Some of them could still be recalled. Others couldn’t.

    The chaos of the battlefield was working against them another way. The huge melee made it difficult for those on the outside to land a blow without hitting one of their teammates… but I could have sworn the ghost-types trapping Raikou were pelted by stray moves slightly more often. And by now the ground underneath them was littered with holes from Pokémon using Dig—it was hard to see, but when I fixed my eyes on one hole in particular, I caught sight of a paw swinging in Raikou’s general direction, but missing and tripping one of the Rockets’ Pokémon instead.

    So a few of the rebels had managed to infiltrate the lineup. Maybe this wasn’t a lost cause.

    “This is crazy, we should be doing something,” Rudy muttered through gritted teeth.

    “Well yeah… but what?” I asked. But then I saw Darren fumbling with a panel on the console. He pulled it free, revealing a tangled web of wires in the heart of the machine. I almost felt like kicking myself. Of course we needed to get at its insides. How stupid could we be?

    Darren grabbed a Pokéball off his belt to release his Sandshrew. The yellow-scaled Pokémon drew back its clawed forepaws and slashed repeatedly at the wires inside the machine, sending sparks flying everywhere. I leaped back to avoid a sudden wave of them, then glanced back at the machine excitedly. Several lights on the console suddenly went dead, and my heart skipped a beat. But then… the lightning rod continued to give off the same low, electric hum. The same static charge filled the air. Nothing had changed.

    “Huh. I thought that’d work,” Darren said, frowning.

    The brief glimmer of hope sputtered and died. What were we doing? We couldn’t even figure out how to sabotage one machine. Were the other groups doing better than us? I glanced back in the direction of the forest and could just barely make out dark shapes moving from the trucks back to the meeting spot. Great, the others were regrouping. That could only mean they’d succeeded… or that they’d failed just like we had.

    “I’m thinking we probably should’ve come up with ideas before splitting up,” Darren said flatly.

    I clenched my fists. He was right; we really hadn’t thought this through at all. I’d just figured we’d come up with something once we got here. But… wait. If any of the others had figured out how to take these things down, then they could let the rest of us know how to do it, right? It was worth a shot, at least.

    “Come on, let’s regroup with the others,” I said, gesturing in that direction. “Maybe some of them figured out a way to take these things out.”

    Rudy gaped at me. “Seriously?”

    “Well it’s better than just standing here doing nothing!” I shot back.

    He didn’t have a retort for that. He just folded his arms and muttered, “Ugh, fine.”

    The three of us recalled our Pokémon. My legs were on autopilot as we jumped down from the truck and made our way back to the rest of the group. By now most of the rebels had returned, save for the ones still helping out in the battle.

    “Any luck?” Sasha asked everyone.

    “No good, we threw everything we could think of at it, but it’s still going,” one of the rebels replied. “We were kind of afraid to go too far and get captured or something.” Several other groups muttered similar excuses. I didn’t want to say anything. I kind of just felt like melting into the ground.

    Anyone?” Mai demanded, looking more anxious than frustrated.

    One mission group raised their hands. “All the lights went dead on ours and it stopped making any noise,” one of them said. “I think we broke it?”

    “Same here,” a second added. Behind them a third group of rebels raised their hands.

    “That makes… what, three of ‘em dead?” I asked. Three out of twelve. Would that be enough? How could we tell?

    “Also, I’ve been thinking about something… even if the Thunder Field does go down, how do we let Raikou know?” Liam asked.

    I blinked. That honestly had never occurred to me at all. No one else had an answer either. And all the while, the battle continued to rage on. The Rockets’ lineup was noticeably smaller now, but with fewer Pokémon to get in each other’s way, they were getting bolder. The rebel Pokémon amongst the lineup had no choice but to hang back now—there were nowhere near enough fighters for their sabotage to go unnoticed.

    Chunks of rock tore themselves up from the ground, burying Raikou in avalanche of boulders. Muffled snarls resounded from underneath the rock slide just before the ground erupted with a burst of energy almost like magma. The electric-type struggled to pull itself free of the heap only to be struck by a blast of flames.

    And then a Pokéball hurtled through the air toward the battlefield. Raikou’s eyes widened with shock right before it lunged out of the way, letting the ball fly past where it had stood not a moment earlier. The Legendary circled around the opposing Pokémon lineup as quickly as it could, putting as much distance as possible between itself and the Rockets. But its movements were slowing, its muscles quivering, pelt soaked red with blood in between scattered patches of blackened fur. More Pokéballs flew through the air.

    I felt my insides vanish. The Pokéballs were purple. I’d only ever heard of one purple-colored Pokéball. The Master Ball. The Saffron rebels were right—Team Rocket had Master Balls.

    None of this was supposed to happen. This wasn’t like last time, with me standing alone, watching Entei get mobbed and being powerless to stop it. There were thirty-six of us here. We’d been training for weeks. And yet we still couldn’t stop them?

    “Why don’t we just blow up the antennas?” Reed asked.

    I almost snorted. After all this time, somehow the concept of “don’t get spotted” still hadn’t sunk into everyone.

    Mai facepalmed. “Are we trying to advertise ourselves to the Rockets now?”

    With a shrug, Reed replied. “Not if they don’t see us do it. And that way Raikou will know it can go free.”

    Sasha opened her mouth to protest, but then froze, like she couldn’t believe she was actually considering it.

    I blinked. Wait… the whole problem with an explosion was that it would instantly give us away and we’d have Rockets on our tail. But if we could somehow destroy one from a distance and never be seen doing it, they’d have no idea it was an inside job. Plus, it’d mean that by the time they figured out what had happened, we’d all be long gone.

    Realization dawned on Ray’s face. “That’s… actually not a terrible idea,” he said slowly. “How do we pull it off?”

    “Launch all of our attacks at it at once?” Kris asked.

    “Hyper Beam!” Rudy called out excitedly.

    Mai rolled her eyes and turned to her teammate. “Got anything, Sasha?”

    “So I’m the plan one now?” she replied, raising an eyebrow. “I never volunteered to be.”

    “You’re good at it,” Mai said bluntly.

    Sasha laughed. “A compliment? From you? I’ll take it.” She then paused, furrowing her brow in deep thought. “Does… does anyone have a Pokémon with Self-Destruct?”

    A huge grin spread across Reed’s face. “I’ve got Voltorb!”

    “I have a Geodude,” another rebel added.

    “I actually caught a Pineco the day before we left for the base,” a third said. “I haven’t trained it much, but I can ask if it knows Self-Destruct?”

    “But how do we recall our Pokémon after the explosion without being seen?”

    Everyone paused. That was a tough one. While the rest of us could easily stay out of view, it wasn’t like we could just leave the Pokémon behind. But there had to be some way to recall them quickly without becoming a massive target.

    “I’ll do it,” Ray said all of a sudden. “I can fly down, recall them all in midair, then fly away. The rest of you can all hide and they won’t ever have to know there was a group here.”

    Sasha raised an eyebrow. “How will you escape?”

    “My Fearow is fast.”

    “Uh uh, no, that’s stupid. You’re taking Kadabra whether you like it or not,” she said, thrusting the Pokéball into his hands.

    Ray blinked at it a few times, but then shrugged and pocketed it without complaint. Throughout the crowd, five rebels had released their Pokémon and were explaining the situation before recalling them and handing the Pokéballs to Ray.

    And with that, the rest was up to him. Ray pulled his hat so low over his face that he was unrecognizable before sprinting forward to the closest truck and releasing his Heracross and Reed’s Voltorb. While Heracross dragged away the body of the unconscious Rocket at each truck, Ray planted the Self-Destructing Pokémon at the five lightning rods farthest from the main grouping of Rockets. When he was done, he recalled his bug-type and released his Fearow. The shaggy bird stood nearly as tall as he did, outstretching a pair of long, narrow wings as he climbed onto its back. It almost didn’t look like the Pokémon would be big enough to carry him, but with a few powerful wingbeats, the two of them were airborne.

    Silence fell over everyone. Even the sounds of the raging battle in the background barely seemed to exist anymore. All eyes focused on the Pokémon on the trucks, which would have been barely noticeable from here if we didn’t already know where to look. Any second now…

    Ray swung his arm into the air, and the reaction was immediate. Five explosions, one after the other, engulfed the Thunder Field machinery in a bright flash of yellow energy as a loud crunch and the squealing of metal filled the air. Waves of sparks shot out of the devices, and—holy crap one of them was actually tipping over! The lightning rod swayed side to side, metal groaning before finally giving way and swinging down towards the battle. It struck the ground with a heavy thud, sending half the Rockets’ Pokémon leaping into the air with shock.

    I’d say that definitely got Raikou’s attention. It also got the Rockets’ attention. A loud string of curses rang out from the opposite side of the clearing as the Rockets immediately scattered, trying to find the source of the destruction.

    And then Ray’s Fearow shot downward in a crazy dive, pulling up at the last second to soar just inches above the ground. In an impossibly fast motion, he whipped out one Pokéball after another, recalling the fainted Pokémon at each truck while still flying. I couldn’t help staring—even though he’d planned to do that all along, it was another thing seeing it in motion.

    Fearow pulled up from the ground just in time to shoot over the Rockets’ heads, and Ray threw in a dramatic wave for good measure before the two of them flew off. The reaction was immediate. At least a dozen flying-type Pokémon appeared in a flash of white light, pausing just long enough to let their trainers mount before taking off in hot pursuit.

    But the Rockets wouldn’t catch him. Ray was speeding away in the opposite direction of our main group. Now all he had to do was land and use Sasha’s Kadabra to teleport a safe distance away. And such a massive distraction would definitely give the rebels in the Rockets’ lineup the chance they needed to recall their Pokémon and quietly disappear into the forest. So as far as the Rockets knew, they were thwarted by a single rebel acting alone, and not the combined efforts of all of us. They had no reason to suspect it was really their new recruits.

    We had actually done it. It didn’t seem possible, but it had just happened right in front of me.

    All the nonflying Pokémon had stayed behind to contain Raikou, but the beast was now staring at the smoking remains of half the Thunder Field, eyes widening. It turned back to face its enemies, and I could have sworn I saw its face break into a manic grin right before a huge wave of electricity flowed out from every inch of its body. The remaining lightning rods managed to draw some of it, but there was just far too much for the few of them to handle. I screwed my eyes shut to block out the blindingly bright flash, but I wasn’t ready for the chilling screams of the Rockets and their Pokémon filling the air.

    Raikou had every right in the world to do that. And we’d given it the ability to. So why did I want so badly for it to stop?

    Seconds passed. Hesitantly, I cracked an eyelid open. Only a few electric or ground-type Pokémon remained standing in the clearing. The rest lay scattered across the ground—unconscious or worse, I couldn’t tell. All I knew was that my entire body was shivering. This was what it meant to challenge a Legendary.

    The Legendary Beast of Thunder surveyed the scene with cold eyes and a face like stone. It then let out a deafening roar at the remaining Rockets and their Pokémon before bolting away from them in a golden blur too fast to see. It took several seconds for my brain to register that ‘away from the Rockets’ in this case meant ‘in the direction we were hiding.’ My stomach tied itself into a knot. Raikou was escaping this way.

    We were all hidden amongst the trees. There was no reason for it to notice us. No reason for it to consider us enemies. Please, don’t notice us.

    And then Raikou slowed to a stop the instant it neared the area where we were hiding.

    Time slowed to a crawl. I couldn’t move. I hardly dared to breathe. It was right there. Standing not even five yards away from me, blood still dripping from its defeated face. I was frozen on the spot, staring at the fantastic beast for what felt like an eternity. It knew we were here. It knew we were here.

    Finally, it spoke. “So. It seems the interlopers have arrived.”

    And in the blink of an eye, Raikou disappeared, rushing off to the west in a flash of lightning, echoes of thunder trailing behind it.






    ~End Chapter 12~
     
    Chapter 13: Encounter in the Hideout
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    I think overall it lingered a little bit in the part where they were trying to figure out how to break through the machinery. And I'm sort of not sure why destroying a bunch of internal wires didn't break the thing, because I feel like pulling out organs would usually do it unless they had a ton of redundancies, and even then... Eh. It's whatever. It's a minor gripe compared to the rest of it.
    Yeah, the sabotage bit has gone through a few revisions and it's still a bit ehh. The general idea was that those wires were the controls for the thing, and cutting off the control unit just caused the antenna to default to its main program (i.e. sit there and absorb). If they'd wanted to power it down, they'd have needed to cut the lines between the antenna and the power cells, which stored all the energy that was taken from Raikou. I've been toying with a way to make that bit more satisfying.
    I KNEW IT! Maybe they should grab meeee for the rebels.
    xD Gotta admit, I liked that bit in your previous review.
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but is this the most brutal attack we've had so far? Goodness, it certainly came up suddenly, as far as I'm concerned. I don't necessarily mind, but I was a bit surprised to see it.
    You know, it hadn't occurred to me, but I think it was! Well, there's gonna be a lot more of it in the future. :V
    Ohh that's interesting for two reasons. First off, it's a good little hook into what might be the overarching plot, which had only really been hinted at in the prologue so far and then forgotten about... But you know what's more interesting? I don't know if this was on accident or not, but did Raikou... say that in the human tongue? Or was that a formatting error? I'm not sure. But it's so significant, I feel like this was intentionally done that way. In which case... that's just another interesting little layer.
    :) :) :)

    As always, thanks tons for the review!



    ~Chapter 13: Encounter in the Hideout~


    “When we made it to the mission location, we discovered that Team Rocket was chasing Raikou into a trap, and had machines to absorb its electric attacks. We split into groups with some of us focusing on helping Raikou, and the others attempting to sabotage the Thunder Field. When it didn’t work, we decided that the best plan would be to outright destroy part of the field, so Raikou could take out the Pokémon keeping it trapped there with Mean Look.”

    Sasha’s words dominated everyone’s attention. Ray and Mai stood alongside her as she gave the mission report. The rest of us waited behind them at the entrance to the Midnight Stadium battlefield. And of course, Stalker watched all of us from the center of the room, his gaze intense and focused as he took in every detail of our mission.

    “I took everyone’s Self-Destruct Pokémon and planted them in the trucks,” Ray continued, picking up where Sasha left off. “After the explosions, I recalled them and flew off on my Fearow to give the Rockets a target to chase. That way they wouldn’t suspect a whole group of their own recruits was behind it.”

    “They never saw any of us there but Ray. And by the time they got back to base, we were already back in bed,” Sasha said.

    In the end, it was Ray’s group that made the biggest difference, along with the trainers who had the Self-Destruct Pokémon. The rest of us had been there for support, but ultimately hadn’t contributed much. It was kind of expected, in a way. With thirty-six of us there, it wasn’t possible for everyone to share in the glory. The sheer numbers had just helped increase the chance that some of us could be useful. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t gotten to do much.

    Yeah, I kept telling myself that, but I didn’t actually believe it. I just hadn’t let myself express how much it bothered me. Rudy was already doing a good enough job of that, anyway. He’d complained the entire way back to Midnight Island. Darren was the only one who seemed fine with it.

    Everyone on the Rebellion was silent as Stalker carefully considered the mission report. He paced back and forth in front of us in deep concentration.

    “I think…” he finally began, making everyone hold their breath, “you all did well.”

    An audible sigh of relief swept throughout the crowd, myself included. I didn’t know why I’d felt so nervous. We’d succeeded. And how would Stalker know exactly which of us hadn’t done much? Even he wasn’t that good.

    Stalker chuckled a bit under his breath upon seeing our reaction. “I’d already heard the Rockets’ story of what happened. I just wanted to hear it in your words.”

    Rudy snorted next to me. “He could’ve told us that.”

    “The next Legendary mission won’t go as smoothly as this one did,” Stalker said, folding his arms. “The Rockets weren’t expecting you—next time they will. You avoided a direct confrontation this time. Next time it will be inevitable.” His expression had hardened back into its usual intensity. The idea of fighting Rockets was still an uncomfortable one, even after all our training. But still—that’s why we were here, wasn’t it? To get to the point where we could actually do it and come out on top?

    “Of course… that likely won’t be for a while,” Stalker went on. “There’s plenty of things to do in the meantime. Now that you’re established Rockets, you’ll need to make semi-regular trips to headquarters—don’t want to get flagged as inactive. But that’s a good thing, because it will give you opportunities for smaller missions, minor sabotage, and gathering information.” He paused upon noticing several rebels off to the side who were literally bouncing up and down with excitement.

    “And while we’re on the topic of non-Legendary missions… I think the Celadon rebels have something to say.”

    Of course—the Celadon rebels hadn’t even been a part of the Raikou mission. They’d had a mission of their own… something about getting supplies? Honestly, our mission seemed way cooler than that. Then again, maybe they’d all gotten to be useful during theirs.

    The group of twelve all stepped forward, dragging two large boxes with them. From where I was standing, I couldn’t tell what was inside them, but apparently it was pretty great? Most of them couldn’t help glancing over at the boxes every few seconds and grinning broadly.

    “So there we were, in the dead of night,” one of them began dramatically. “We followed an unsuspecting group of Rockets to their giant warehouse where they keep the Game Corner prizes…”

    “We didn’t really need to. I mean, we already knew where it was,” a second rebel added. The first one shot her a glare before continuing.

    “After several days of spying on them to find out the right time to strike, we expertly infiltrated the—”

    “We had the access codes,” another rebel cut in flatly.

    “That’s still infiltrating!” the storyteller yelled, face turning red. “And we had to have someone standing guard and everything, and we had to avoid the cameras. Totally infiltrating. But we managed to keep our cool and locate the goods, and sneak out before anyone saw!”

    Everyone in our group was silent. Somehow not one of them had actually managed to get the point of the story across. I think one of them realized that, because they hastily added, “Right, so we got Pokémon and TMs for everyone, the end.”

    I couldn’t help bursting out laughing at the suddenness of it. An immediate commotion ensued as everyone rushed forward all at once to see inside the boxes. We were seriously getting new Pokémon? Just like that? I was actually having a hard time believing it. Apparently a lot of rebels had thrown questioning looks at Stalker, because at that moment he said, “You’re not going to have much time to search for Pokémon anywhere other than on the island. I figured this would give the team a boost.”

    Well, it was a boost I sorely needed. New moves and new Pokémon. I honestly wasn’t sure which one I was more excited for. Sure, I desperately needed a new team member. But new moves would be a huge benefit to Swift and Firestorm, neither of whom had many interesting tricks.

    “Most of the TMs aren’t reusable, so be careful how you use them,” Stalker told everyone. “No more than one non-reusable TM per Pokémon. But more importantly, everyone has to learn this.” He held up a series 5 disc with a glossy white case. “This is a reusable copy of TM17, and it’s the most important move you'll ever learn—Protect.”

    Everyone stared. I couldn’t quite remember what that move did, other than something involving protection, obviously.

    Stalker went on. “It allows your Pokémon to guard itself from almost anything for a short time. You’ve been training for multi battles for over a month—you should be able to see the value in that. Protect is the single best way to buy yourself time, find out more about your opponent, land a free hit with another teammate, and allow your Pokémon to guard you from almost anything. We’ll be practicing all of its applications over the next few days.”

    Well alright then. If it was really that useful, then I’d be sure to teach it to my team… after I got my new Pokémon. It just made more sense to get a new team member before deciding what moves the rest of your team needed.

    “Everyone gets one Pokémon!” a Celadon rebel shouted. “And we’re all picking randomly, so it’s fair. So no cheating!”

    Everyone in front of me had grabbed a Pokéball and retreated to somewhere away from the crowd, so I finally had a chance to reach down and grab one for myself. A new Pokémon. It felt unreal. I hadn’t gotten a new Pokémon ever since this adventure started. I barely had a chance to get five feet from the box before being ambushed by Rudy.

    “Hey! All three of us should open ours at the same time!” he exclaimed, grabbing me and Darren by the shirt sleeve and dragging us away from the main group. I didn’t bother fighting—there was no point trying to protest once Rudy had his mind set on something.

    “I’m guessing you just want someone to brag to,” Darren pointed out.

    “Whatever,” Rudy said quickly, letting go of us. “On the count of three, we open ‘em, alright?”

    I rolled my eyes. “If you say so.”

    “One… two… three!”

    Three bursts of light appeared in front of us at once. My eyes widened as the mass of energy in front of me took on its true shape. The light started to fade, revealing a yellow body. It was…?

    My face fell. A golden-furred mouse now stood in front of me, stretching its limbs and raising a lightning-bolt tail. A Pikachu. I had another Pikachu. A replacement for Chibi, in other words. I felt a sudden tightness in my chest and turned away quickly. The last thing I needed was for the Pikachu to see my face and think it had done something wrong. And in any case… I did have a convenient excuse for what to look at right then—Rudy and Darren’s Pokémon.

    “No. Way.”

    At Rudy’s feet stood a small dinosaur covered in rocky green armor. It blinked its large, violet eyes and looked around, obviously confused by its surroundings. Rudy stared at the rock-type with a mixture of shock and total adoration.

    Seriously? He’d gotten a Larvitar? I mean, in a way I kind of expected Team Rocket to be selling rare and valuable Pokémon, but… Larvitar?

    “That’s it. I won. I got the best Pokémon.” Rudy reached down to pick up Larvitar and admire it, but got as far as wrapping his arms around it before realizing that the tiny reptile was much heavier than it looked. He then settled on kneeling down and shaking its stubby arms. The rock-type stared back at him, eyes half-lidded, looking totally bored with the attention it was receiving.

    “I don’t think I did too bad. My team has a teleporter now,” Darren said. On the ground next to him sat a golden humanoid resting its claws in its lap with its thick tail wrapped around it. An Abra—not just a teleporter, but a powerful psychic.

    “Mine’s got a type advantage, so I won,” Rudy said, smirking.

    Darren didn’t really seem to care. “Once it evolves. Do you have any idea how hard it is to train a Larvitar to its final form? Cause I’m thinking you don’t.”

    “Stalker’s got a Tyranitar.”

    Darren shrugged. “He’s Stalker.”

    Rudy didn’t have a comeback for that one. But at that moment he glanced in my direction, probably because I hadn’t been saying anything. He opened his mouth like he was about to say something, but then his eyes fell on my new Pokémon. “You got another Pikachu? Lame, I’ve always wanted one. Of course… Larvitar is still way better,” he added quickly.

    Darren made eye contact and tilted his head with an odd expression, almost like he knew what I was thinking and wanted to comment. Then again, the disappointment was probably written all over my face. Rudy just hadn’t noticed because he was Rudy.

    I glanced around the stadium to see everyone else meeting their new Pokémon excitedly. Pikachu and Abra looked to be pretty common amongst the prize Pokémon, along with the spiked Nidorino and Nidorina, the dainty Clefairy, and the six-tailed Vulpix. I only spotted one other Larvitar amongst the group. Similarly rare was the snakelike Dratini—only two kids had gotten one. A few rebels even looked to be trading their newfound Pokémon, probably in cases where they’d gotten a Pokémon they already had. In a way… that was kind of what my situation was. Would it be worth it to try to trade my Pikachu?

    I looked back at Pikachu. The electric-type mostly looked weirded out by everything that was going on. “*Who are you all supposed to be?*” it asked.

    Well this was awkward. What was the best way to explain it? “You guys were gonna be given out as Game Corner prizes, but then a few members of our team… rescued you and now… we’re your new trainers? If you want?” I finished lamely.

    “*What?*”

    I groaned. Should I even be introducing myself as its trainer? If I was already considering trading with someone? But the only reason I felt that way was because of Chibi, and I didn’t have him anymore, so it wasn’t like I could use the excuse that my team already had a Pikachu. And it wasn’t fair to this new Pikachu that I was still fixated on what happened to my last one.

    But… what had happened to him? After they took him. I still didn’t know. That was the worst part.

    “I’ve got to go ask someone something,” I announced suddenly, marching away from the group and leaving everyone staring at me in confusion.

    Stalker. Stalker would know what had happened to him. Stalker knew everything about Team Rocket. Okay, that was a silly over-exaggeration, but I didn’t care.

    I walked straight up to Stalker, painfully aware of how miserable I probably looked. “Hey, can I talk to you?” I asked.

    Stalker raised an eyebrow but nodded all the same, and the two of us walked off to the side of the battlefield, away from the main group. Once we were a good distance away, he turned to me and said, “You look distracted. What’s on your mind?”

    I fidgeted a bit, unsure how to bring up the topic without sounding ungrateful to get a new Pokémon. “I… it’s just… I got a Pikachu from the Pokéball box.”

    The reply was immediate. “You’re worried about number nine, aren’t you?”

    I blinked, completely taken aback. “How’d you know?”

    “You stole him from the Rockets. Then you showed up here without him, and the Rockets reported his successful recapture. It wasn’t hard to put together.” I mentally smacked myself. Figures that he’d be aware of what happened. That’s what I’d been banking on, after all.

    “You… mentioned we’d get plenty of chances to go on small missions.”

    He nodded.

    It suddenly hit me. I knew what I needed to do. “I… I want to rescue him.”

    Stalker paused to consider my words, his icy blue eyes staring through me. For several seconds, he didn’t say anything, until finally: “Alright. But when you do, I’ll need you to do something for me as well.”

    That was unexpected. But I didn’t really have much choice, did I? The only thing I could do was nod.

    “I want you to get information on experiment number thirty-six.”

    Thirty-six. I’d heard that number mentioned by Team Rocket before. But what was so important about it?

    “I… sure? What is that?”

    “Number thirty-six is the big one. Their most groundbreaking experimental Pokémon yet. And almost all the info on it is being kept completely hush. I need someone to get inside the room where it’s being kept and copy all of its data, especially regarding what its power is like, and whether or not they’ll be able to control it like they did the other experiments. Number nine is currently being used to test Legendary control technology, so getting it out of there will be additionally helpful for us, because controlling Legendaries is one thing we do not want them to be capable of.”

    A chill ran down my spine. Controlling Legendaries. That didn’t even seem possible. But they’d apparently been controlling the other experiments—after all, Chibi was the only hybrid I saw on the plane that didn't have that creepily blank, expressionless stare. Still… controlling Legendaries? Somehow, I had never wondered how the Rockets planned to actually do anything with their captured Legends. Suddenly it all made sense. That was why they needed Chibi. And I’d let them take him.

    “But first,” Stalker continued, “training. The next few days are going to involve some of the most important lessons yet. And Team Rocket base activity needs the chance to settle down a bit. You can go on your mission in three days.”

    I gaped at him with what had to be desperation all over my face. Three days?

    “I know this is important to you. But it needs to wait.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Sparks flew as bolts of lightning shot through the air one after the other, crashing against a shimmering wall of energy that went up at the last second. Rudy crouched low behind the barrier as strings of lighting leapt past him on all sides. Wartortle stood firmly in front of him, arms spread wide and a look of anxious concentration on his face as he maintained the shield in front of them. Across the battlefield, Pikachu paused the offense for a few moments to let Wartortle recover before pressing the attack once more. The electric rodent lunged to the side and fired several more bolts at Rudy, who ducked back behind Wartortle in a flash. The turtle recoiled slightly from the lightning flying towards him, but still managed to throw up a shielding Protect at the last second. Scattered bolts flew past the shield, forcing Rudy to huddle closer to his starter to avoid getting hit.

    “Might wanna tell Pikachu to ease up a little bit; that last one almost got you,” I said.

    Rudy waved a hand dismissively. “Nah, she’s just making it tough for Wartortle, that’s all. And that’s the point, isn’t it? To make sure we can protect ourselves even when they’re trying to hit us?”

    I got the feeling from the mischievous glint in her eyes that Pikachu wasn’t so much making the training tough as she actually wanted Rudy to get hit with a Thundershock. Not in a malicious sort of way, but in a wouldn’t-this-be-hilarious sort of way.

    I’d let Rudy train Pikachu for now. It wasn’t fair to her that I was still hung up on losing Chibi and couldn’t handle battling with her. And besides… if all went well, I’d be returning to the base with Chibi later tonight, and then Rudy could go ahead and keep her.

    “Dang. 45 seconds again,” Rudy said, glancing at the timer on his Pokégear and frowning. “Haven’t been able to break that with Wartortle.”

    “Didn’t Stalker say that 30 seconds or so was the minimum before you can use Protect again?” I asked.

    “I guess, but the rest of my team is down to 40 seconds.” Given that he trained the rest of his team far more often than his starter, that was hardly surprising. “What about you? How short of a wait is your Charmeleon down to?”

    To be honest, I couldn’t remember. My upcoming mission was occupying almost every space of my mind. I still gave it my all at Stalker’s lessons, but after hours? No way. In any case, Swift and Firestorm had been practicing their new moves on their own (Shadow Claw for Firestorm and Aerial Ace for Swift).

    “Well, enough with Wartortle for now. Time to train Larvitar some more,” Rudy said, recalling his starter and pulling out a different Pokéball.

    I snorted. “Haven’t you been training Larvitar non-stop since you got her? I was actually surprised to see you giving Wartortle a shot at all.”

    “Yeah, well Darren’s right, I’ll never get her evolved if I don’t train with her a ton,” he said resentfully. I was still pretty sure that even with all the training in the world, it’d be months before her evolution. In fact, it was pretty rare for the average trainer to get a Pokémon like Larvitar or Dratini to reach their final form at all.

    I watched Rudy train for the rest of the night, offering commentary when he asked for it and taunting when he didn’t. At 10 pm, it was time to leave. I waved goodbye and set off for Stalker’s office, my heart already beating a bit more quickly in anticipation for the upcoming mission. I had just left the battlefield and rounded the corner towards the left hallway when I heard a voice behind me.

    “You’re off to get your cool Pikachu back now, aren’t you?” I stopped walking and turned around. It was Darren.

    I’d finally told Rudy and Darren the truth about Chibi. How he hadn’t really left, he’d been stolen. There was no getting around it—how else was I supposed to explain why I was going on a mission out of the blue?

    “You didn’t really have to keep all of that a secret, you know?” he said. “I mean, you’ve known Rudy a lot longer than you’ve known me, and even he didn’t know.”

    I bristled. “I don’t like dragging other people into my problems.”

    He chuckled a bit. “Well that’s kind of dumb. As teammates, isn’t it our job to get dragged into each other’s problems?”

    Teammates. I’d always been thinking of this in terms of myself. The things I had to do. Just like when I hadn’t told Rudy I was joining the Rebellion.

    “I’m not asking to come with you or anything,” he said, holding his arms up. “It’s your business, and all that. I’m just saying you might want to try telling the people you’re fighting Team Rocket with about stuff that happened with Team Rocket?

    Well, putting it that way made it sound really stupid that I hadn’t. Heck, the only reason he even knew about the plane incident was because Rudy had told literally everyone the first week we got here. The more I thought about it, the more I was unsure why exactly I’d been keeping so many secrets.

    I sighed. “Okay, you’re right. When I get back, I’m telling everyone what happened, whether it goes well or not.”

    Darren blinked. “Huh, that was easier than I expected. Alright, I’ll stop keeping you so you can go get him. Try not to die,” he said brightly, giving a wave before walking off. I stared as he left, at a loss for words. But then, I’d long since learned to not put too much thought into half of what he said.

    Stalker’s office wasn’t far ahead. I strode down the hallway and knocked twice on the door before opening it. Stalker was seated at his desk, reading something on his laptop. He glanced up at me when I entered.

    “You ready?” he asked.

    I nodded. Stalker stood up and walked past me, motioning for me to follow him.

    “I finished modifying the permissions on your Rocket account. You’ll have access to bases other than Cerulean now, plus high security areas that would normally reject your ID card.” He handed me the card along with a flash drive. “You’ll also need this. It has a script on it that will automatically copy all the relevant data on number thirty-six when it’s plugged into the computers in that room.”

    The two of us stepped outside, and as always, I was never ready for the burst of warm, humid air that hit even at this time of night. It was probably my least favorite thing about Midnight Island, and it made me miss the cool, breezy nights in Viridian.

    Stalker pulled out a Pokéball and opened it to release his Charizard. In a flash, the orange dragon appeared in front of us, her tail flame piercing the darkness. Darren’s Abra wasn’t quite experienced enough for long-range teleportation yet. So for now, flying was still the best option. I climbed up onto the fire-type’s back and wrapped my arms around her neck.

    “The base will be quiet this time of night. But that’s no reason to let your guard down,” he said, his voice stern. “Don’t be seen doing something you’re not supposed to. This is a stealth mission.”

    A stealth mission. I wasn’t going to be seen. The Rockets would never know I was there. All I had to do was grab Chibi, get the data on number thirty-six, and get out. Simple.

    “I’ve got this,” I told him, and for once, I meant it.

    Stalker nodded, and his Charizard spread her massive blue wings before launching into the air. The air rushed past us as the dragon flapped aggressively to gain altitude as quickly as possible, finally leveling off her flight once we reached a comfortable soaring height.

    The flight to Celadon didn’t take long. That, or I just had really bad awareness of time right then. Either way, it felt like we had just left the familiar sights of Midnight Island before the dazzling glimmer of Celadon’s nightlife greeted me on the horizon. Stalker’s Charizard dove down in a wide spiral over the city, zeroing in on the most densely populated part of downtown before landing in a deserted alleyway. I climbed off the dragon’s back and waved as she took flight once more and disappeared into the night sky, leaving only her tail flame visible.

    Watching my ride leave like that gave the whole mission an air of finality. I was here, and wasn’t leaving until I succeeded. No going back now.

    I grabbed both Pokéballs from my pocket and opened them, releasing Swift and Firestorm in a flash of light. They glanced around at the unfamiliar surroundings apprehensively.

    I took a deep breath. “I’m just letting you guys know that we’re at the base. The next time I let you out might be in a fight, so be ready to lead with Protect, okay?”

    Swift gave me a quizzical look. “*Why do you think you will have to battle?*”

    “I don’t think that,” I countered. “I mean, I’m hoping this will just be a run in, grab Chibi’s Pokéball, run out kinda deal. I just know something always goes wrong.”

    Firestorm stared pointedly. “*Then you have to let us out if you get in trouble.*”

    “I just said I was going to,” I said, laughing slightly.

    Firestorm snorted in a ‘sure, whatever’ kind of way, and I rolled my eyes before recalling both of my Pokémon. Then I took a deep breath and stepped out of the alleyway.

    Cerulean had been full of businesses, and even the downtown area by the Rocket base felt clean and open. Celadon was… nothing like that. The alleyway opened into a dingy street lined with the seediest clubs, casinos and bars I’d ever seen. Bikers, gamblers, and the occasional Rockets filled the walkways, and I couldn’t help stepping back to stay out of view. My pulse quickened. Nothing about this felt safe. I was a kid with only two Pokémon completely surrounded by adults in the shadiest place imaginable. Why did I think this was a good idea again? My limbs went rigid and refused to move, so I just stood there at the edge of the building, my mind swimming in anxiety and frustration. I hadn’t even made it to the base yet and I already had problems.

    Then again… I was visibly dressed as a Rocket. That carried a lot of weight around here, right? No one was going to bother a Rocket heading to base. I didn’t have anything to worry about.

    Nothing to worry about. I repeated it to myself three times. Finally convinced, I clenched my fists and stepped out onto the sidewalk, doing my best to appear confident and in my element despite feeling so completely out of place.

    The Rocket Game Corner looked like it was trying its hardest to stand out from its surroundings, and it was succeeding. The building, with its sleek black walls and gold and silver-painted accents combined with flashing neon signs and cheesy posters everywhere, had a fake-elegant air to it. It also had a distinct lack of graffiti—but then again, who would have the guts to vandalize it? With how influential the Rockets were in this area and how well-known their presence was?

    I ducked around the corner of the building and scanned the wall for the members-only side entrance, spotting the card reader standing out against the black paint. I retrieved my ID from my pocket and tapped it to the reader, which flashed a green light and caused the heavy door to swing open. Beyond the door lay a dimly lit flight of stairs leading down.

    That was all it took for me, a rebel, to get into Team Rocket’s base. It was almost funny how easy it was. Then again, I could only do it with Stalker’s resources. And I still had no idea how he pulled off half the things he did.

    My footsteps echoed off the walls as I descended the staircase. At the bottom, I was greeted with a red curtain—brushing it aside revealed the entrance to the base.

    The main lobby looked just as fancy as the casino above it, with black and white tile floors, large monitors along the walls, and plenty of gold-painted statues of Pokémon decorated throughout. Honestly, it sort of looked more like a lounge than the entrance to a base. But I guess it fit the mood of the area? Not to mention it was after hours and everyone was off-duty. The few Rockets in the room were laid back on the couches and chatting with each other while having a smoke. A couple of them glanced up when I entered but didn’t pay me any mind. I took that opportunity to sit down on the nearest unoccupied couch and pull out my R-com, bringing up a map of the HQ.

    This base was structured totally different from the Cerulean base. It was a lot bigger and more spread out, with fewer floors. Judging by the map, it looked like it was broken into divisions, with the main lobby, cafeteria, and acquisitions on the top floor; tech development, Pokémon experimentation and storage spaces in the second basement floor, and all the offices and quarters on the lowest floor. My eyes traced the map of the second floor, moving from one label to the next until finally settling on the experiment containment facility.

    That had to be it. Time to do this. I set off down the stairs and into the depths of the base.

    The fancy atmosphere was completely gone on the second floor and replaced with a high-tech, metallic appearance. And even with a map, the layout was confusing. The moving walkways probably made it faster for Rockets to reach their destination if they actually knew what they were doing, which I didn’t. Twice I found myself taking the wrong path at a branch and winding up in a storage room clear on the other side of the floor. Good thing there was no one else around, otherwise I’d have looked completely stupid and more than a little bit suspicious.

    Finally, I was pretty sure I’d made it to the right area. I checked the map again. Yes, this was definitely it. There was no way an ordinary grunt would ever have access to a high-security room like this. Good thing I wasn’t an ordinary grunt. I tapped my ID card on the card scanner and the door slid open.

    I flipped the light switch to reveal a room completely lined with computerized panels. The majority of the floor space was taken up by giant test tubes and strange machinery I couldn’t identify. A thin layer of dust covered most of them, although the computer workstations had clearly been used recently—unfiled paperwork and a few food wrappers sat alongside the keyboards.

    On the far side of the room stood a heavy metallic door with a small window. I walked over and peered through it to see dozens of cells that were most likely for housing Pokémon. Each cell had a bed, a feeding station, and what looked like barrier projectors on the cell doors.

    But no one was in there. And I was so sure I’d been onto something, too.

    Kicking the ground in frustration, I turned around to try a different section of the base. And then I saw it: a sleek metallic case clipped to the control panel along the wall. It looked… familiar. As I approached it, recognition suddenly hit me. It was a Pokéball containment unit, like the one we’d seen on the plane. That had to be it… the experiments must have been kept in there.

    My fingers shook slightly with anticipation as I reached out to undo the latches on the sides of the case before slowly opening it. Three Pokéballs. Two of them normal. One of them black like Chibi’s ball had been. Could it be him? What were the odds?

    I clenched my teeth. Yet another instance where a Pokédex would be useful, and another instance for me to feel like an idiot for not having one. I didn’t have any way of checking the balls’ contents without opening them. And that was a huge risk.

    I stared at the Pokéballs. It was a risk I’d have to take. Otherwise this whole trip would have been pointless. I slowly reached my hand out to grab the black one, fingers trembling. I grasped the ball and tugged it free from its slot, rolling it in my palm.

    “Here goes nothing.” I pressed the button.

    A burst of black energy surged out of the ball, taking the shape of… no. No, not that one, anything but that one. A glimmering green armor-plated exoskeleton… bladed forearms… a pointed, reptilian face…

    I’d barely registered what I was looking at before it rushed me headlong and tackled me to the ground, knocking the Pokéball from my hand. My back slammed to the floor, sending a jolt of pain up my spine and knocking the air from my lungs, and then I immediately found myself faced with the razor edge of its scythe poised just inches from my throat.

    My brain froze up and my limbs went numb. I struggled to pull away, but the Scyther had me completely pinned. I couldn’t even make a sound—I was still coughing and sputtering from having the wind knocked from me. Stupid! Why had I let this happen?! I couldn’t do anything.

    Time seemed to crawl. I lay motionless, gasping and wheezing for air and waiting for a death that didn’t seem to want to come. All I could do was stare helplessly at my attacker’s face. Its piercing blue eyes glared back at me. And then they blinked, looking almost… skeptical. I didn’t understand. What was it waiting for?

    But… wait. When we’d fought Razors last time, its eyes had been completely blank and soulless. The fact that it even had any sort of expression at all this time… if it wasn’t just a mindless slave, but instead more like Chibi…

    I swallowed hard, trying to get better control of my breathing now that it seemed like I actually had a glimmer of hope. If I could just say something, anything, to let it know I was trying to help the experiments… But my mouth didn’t seem capable of forming any words, just random stuttering. And still the mantis held me down, considering me carefully.

    “*I remember you,*” he said slowly, the words very meticulous. “*You’re not a Rocket. What are you doing here?*” His voice was… weird. It was a complete monotone, with no emotion whatsoever.

    “I…”—damn it, why wouldn’t my voice stop shaking—“I came here to find Chibi.” It was really all the response I could give.

    The experiment surveyed me all the more intensely after I had said that. “*You know him by that name?*”

    “…Yeah?” Again, all I could figure out how to say. My heart was starting to hurt from pounding so hard.

    He paused, as though considering something that he hadn’t quite realized until now. “*So then you were the one who took him that day. But how did he end up back here?*”

    “He was taken from me,” I said, my voice a bit dead. An uneasy feeling had crept over me from talking to him. How could I know that he was on Chibi’s side, just because they were both experiments? Should I have even told him I was looking for Chibi?

    “*Why did you let that happen to him?*” he asked.

    “I didn’t mean to! He was just… trying to protect me…” I trailed off, again filled with the biting pain of that memory. And it was weird, but… was that an edge of concern in Razors’s voice?

    The Scyther stared at me for some time, eyes boring right through me. Sweat dripped down the sides of my face. My mouth had gone dry, and I couldn’t swallow anymore. No matter how hard I tried to stop, my eyes kept tracing the edge of the blade hovering over my throat. I just wanted him to do something. The suspense was tearing me apart.

    “*You’re obviously not on their side,*” he said thoughtfully. “*And he must have trusted you… for some reason.*”

    And then he withdrew his scythe and stepped away. I sat bolt upright immediately, coughing hard and inhaling deeply as my brain suddenly realized how little I’d been breathing for the past few minutes. My fingertips tingled with numbness, and I had to clench my fists repeatedly to regain feeling in them.

    Razors was still fixing me with an intense stare. “*Did he change… after you took him from the Rockets?*”

    I flinched. “…Yeah?”

    His eyes studied mine intently. “*That’s good.*”

    “You seem different now… compared to back then.” The words were out of my mouth before I’d even thought about them.

    A long pause followed. Something shifted in the Scyther’s eyes. They had a strange heaviness, almost like he was exhausted just thinking about it. “*Long ago, my mind was taken from me. I stopped existing. It was like a dream that I couldn’t wake from, with the Rockets directing my every move.*”

    I stared. So he really had been under their control that whole time. But then… this changed everything. Chibi’s desperation on the plane. The anguish he’d shown when asked about it. The two of them… they’d once been close… hadn’t they?

    “How do you have your mind right now?”

    “*This was the first time I’ve been let out of my ball by anyone other than my handler,*” the mantis said simply. “*He carries a device that resonates with my mind. All the experiment handlers do. It’s how they control us.*” He paused. “*The same thing happened to all the hybrids except Chibi.*”

    My face fell. “And now that he’s back here, they’re trying to do it to him too. All so that they can control Legendaries.”

    Razors nodded.

    One thing still didn’t make sense though. “What were you doing here?”

    His eyes slid to the floor. “*I’m… not sure. I believe they borrowed me for mandatory testing. A lot of my memories are hazy. It doesn’t even feel like they’re mine. I suppose they’re not.*” I didn’t really know what to say to that. The Scyther stared downward for some time before fixing me with another piercing gaze. “*You want to find Chibi?*”

    I nodded. “I also need to get into the room where they’re keeping experiment thirty-six.”

    Razors paused, looking thoughtful. “*Then I’m coming with you.*” The way he said it made it very clear I didn’t get a choice in the matter. “*But we’ll need help finding him.*” He spun around, eyes landing on the other Pokéballs in the containment unit. “*Only two others? I thought there would be more.*” He sighed, reached out a bladed forearm, and gently tapped the front button of both Pokéballs.

    Twin flashes of light burst out, taking the shape of two large Pokémon—an emerald-green dragon and a snowy white beast. The dragon glanced around in confusion, its dark green antennae swaying behind it. A pair of red-lensed, bug-like eyes fixed on Razors with an incredulous stare.

    “*Did… you let us out? Where’s your handler? What’s that human doing here?*” The Flygon froze as though he had just realized something. “*Wait… are you conscious? I thought your mind got frozen.*”

    “*This human freed me, and wishes to free Nine,*” Razors said matter-of-factly.

    “*What?*” the Flygon blurted out, sounding completely baffled. “*The human…?*”

    “*Stay on topic. You know about Nine, right?*”

    The bladed, white-furred beast—an Absol, if I remembered correctly—stepped forward, looking unimpressed. “*What does that have to do with us?*” she said bluntly.

    “*We want to rescue him. Will you lend us your help in exchange for gaining your own freedom as well?*”

    The two experiments turned to face each other, looking completely taken aback. For several seconds they glanced back and forth between Razors and each other, almost as if they were having a wordless conversation. Finally, the two nodded to us.

    “*I heard Nine was in the Legendary control testing facility,*” the Flygon said.

    “*Then that’s where we’re going.*”






    ~End Chapter 13~
     
    Chapter 14: Double Agents
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    That's pretty clever, though thirty seconds, oh boy. I wonder how fast-paced battles go if that's converted into "every other attack" or something like in canon, at least for total success. Either way, I don't know if having the specific number of seconds is necessary for the sake of narrative, but it's good to at least have a specific limit given.
    It's basically my way of doing the 'every other turn' thing yeah! I've waffled a bit on the timing over the years--it used to be 20 seconds, now it's 30, I'll probably bounce it back to 20 at some point--the exact number isn't too important, only the fact that it's not spammable.
    And yeah. Protect. Good. I don't know how common this is for trainer fics, but I'm glad I'm not alone with utilizing this lovely technique
    I'm not sure how common it is either, but it was a great day when I realized just how amazingly useful Protect was going to be in this kind of fic.
    Are you daft
    do not underestimate just how godawful I was at battling when I was 14. :V
    Okay! So! I didn't quite realize this until now, but... Chibi! I'm sort of surprised that Jade hadn't really thought about her until now, like, at all. He's gone and I can't quite recall any idle thoughts about him even slightly, or if they were, they were so in passing that I felt like... I dunno. Like maybe even at night she didn't perhaps wonder about how he's doing? Might've bogged the pace a bit, but that's something I realize was oddly absent.
    I did have her think about him a couple times (when arriving on the island, when meeting Darren, and when going on the Raikou mission.) I wasn't sure how often would get too tiresome, especially with so many other things for her to worry about.
    How much inside info does this guy have so easily?! This level of ease of hacking is crazy. A script that can lift specific files! Why not just make a script that can do it generalized if that's the case, put 'em in folders! Weh.
    leaving this here for later~
    Orre intensifies. Boy, this Pokemon Go Shadow Pokemon update must have been a hoot for you, eh?
    ahaha, it sure was!
    I just find it strange and perhaps almost offputting how the trainers are treating the Pokemon like prizes rather than, well, rescued creatures. And the Pokemon all didn't seem to care, either. So I guess they weren't stolen after all? No old trainers, what? That whole scene was weirdly surreal to read through and I feel like I'm missing something there. Or the Pokemon are. Or the trainers are? God I just can't get over how weird that scene feels to me.
    This is 100% a fair point, and I waffled on how I wanted to address this, because on the one hand, I kind of wanted to characterize the rebels as immature kids who are caught up in the excitement of getting new Pokemon. But I went way too far in that direction. Immature or not, the kids have still been raised to view Pokemon as people, and I can have them be excited to get new team members without jumping the gun on consent. I think the easiest way to fix this is simply to say that the Celadon group who stole the prize mons actually... y'know... talked with the mons and released anyone who wasn't cool with having a trainer.
    Anyway, aside from that, I liked where this is heading. Finally, we have a shot at seeing Chibi again! Aside from Firestorm, he's probably my favorite.
    Ah, glad to hear it! :D He's one of my faves too~



    ~Chapter 14: Double Agents~


    I couldn’t figure out how to feel about the fact that I was surrounded by three experimental Pokémon willing to help me find and rescue Chibi. On the one hand, three new powerful Pokémon as allies was undeniably reassuring. On the other hand, the fact that Razors was the friendliest of the lot wasn’t exactly comforting.

    Flygon kept tilting his long neck to look at me from different angles, sizing me up. “*So, uh, what’s your deal, Rocket? How’d you get all buddy-buddy with Eight?*”

    I folded my arms. “I’m not a real Rocket, and number nine was stolen from me, so I’m trying to get him back.”

    “*Wait, you’re the one who stole him?*” he asked. I nodded, and the bug-eyed dragon gave a swish of his tail fan. “*Well, aren’t we lucky? We’ve been graced by the presence of Nine’s rescuer.*”

    “*Shitty rescuer if he just ended up back here anyway,*” Absol added.

    I bristled. But at the same time, I didn’t feel like arguing. Not with experimental Pokémon whose good side I really wanted to stay on. My eyes couldn’t help tracing the obsidian blade running along the left side of her face… but no. It was no use thinking of all the things they could do to me, and besides—they needed me. I could walk around the base freely—they couldn’t.

    “So… you two are also experiments, right? What were you mixed with?” I asked.

    Flygon gave me a puzzled look. “*Huh? We’re experiments all right, but we’re not hybrids. We’re clones.*”

    I blinked. “Clones?”

    “*Copies of other Pokémon,*” Absol clarified. “*Though I believe all of the clones that came after us were modified or enhanced in some way.*”

    The emerald dragon turned his head sharply toward her. “*Hey. Just because we’re copies doesn’t mean we’re not stronger than the Pokémon we were copied from.*”

    “*No, actually, it kind of does,*” she muttered dully.

    If it wasn’t crazy enough that Team Rocket had created genetically modified hybrids, turns out they’d been making clones too? And these were just the regular clones—there were also super clones? This mission just got weirder and weirder.

    “*Let’s focus on our task,*” Razors cut in. “*Do you know the layout of this base?*”

    “I’ve got a map here,” I offered, pulling out my R-com.

    The two clones moved in close to look at it, and I couldn’t help flinching a bit. I didn’t really want to get any closer to either of them than necessary.

    “*So we’re here? That means take a left, a right, go that way… and it should be down this hallway,*” Flygon said, pointing a claw at a point on the map. “*It’s usually full of humans though.*”

    Razors nodded. “*I’ll have to be careful. If an experiment handler shows up, they could easily take control of me again.*” A chill ran down my spine. I hadn’t considered that.

    “*Right, right, so we’ll be the muscle if it comes to that, yeah?*” Flygon said dismissively.

    “If we even have to fight,” I pointed out. “With how late it is, I should be able to just walk in and grab him.”

    Absol snorted. “*You must be new here.*”

    “*Wonder how long it’ll take for that optimism to get crushed,*” Flygon added, leering.

    I scowled at them. Come on, I’d gotten this far without being discovered. They had to realize that much.

    “So if that’s all, then I should recall you now. You’d kind of be spotted instantly,” I said flatly.

    The two clones hesitated, throwing skeptical glances at Razors. “*I don’t like this. Even if she did steal Nine from them,*” Flygon said, his wings buzzing with agitation.

    “You don’t think this is a trap?” I said exasperatedly. “It should be obvious I’m not a Rocket.”

    “*That’s not it—competency is the concern,*” Absol said, her face completely deadpan.

    I closed my eyes and exhaled through my nose, trying my best not to let their comments get to me. Even if they did have a point.

    Razors ignored their concerns. “*This is our best option, both for freeing Nine and escaping from this place,*” he said firmly.

    They both stared at him for some time, flickers of anxiety and uncertainty crossing their features, before finally—

    “*Alright, you’re the boss here. You better be right about this,*” Flygon said with a defeated tone. He tapped a claw against the button of his Pokéball and dissolved in a beam of red light. Absol followed suit right after him.

    I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and pocketed the two Pokéballs before walking over and picking up Razors’ ball from where I’d dropped it earlier. The Scyther nodded, and I recalled him.

    Next thing I knew, I had slumped into the nearest chair, letting out a huge sigh of relief. That had gone way, way differently than I thought it would. But not in a bad way. It could have gone a lot worse.

    I sat there for some time, letting my heart rate settle back to normal. Even after the immediate danger with Razors had passed, the entire conversation hadn’t stopped feeling tense. Especially with the new experiments who didn’t exactly seem too keen on helping a human. Still, selfishness had to win out in the end—I mean, I was helping them too, right? Either way, I couldn’t keep thinking about that. I had to keep going with the mission. Mainly because the sooner I finished it, the sooner I could get out of here. And I really didn’t want to spend any more time here than I had to.

    With that, I forced myself out of the chair in one swift motion and took another look at my R-com to remember where my destination was. On the other side of the floor, apparently. Great. Time to get going, then.

    It didn’t matter that I was in uniform and technically had all the permissions to be here—it was impossible to shake the feeling that I’d be in big trouble if I was spotted. Of course, slinking around like a suspect and checking the coast at each corner was arguably more noticeable than just walking around like I was supposed to be here. But it made me feel better, at least trying to avoid running into anyone. Besides, a random kid grunt still had no business being in the experimental division at this time of night. So stealth was definitely not pointless. Yeah.

    I glanced at my communicator. Looked like I was getting close. And sure enough, the sign on the door ahead of me read, “Legendary control testing facility.” This was it.

    I crept closer to the door, keeping my back to the same wall. Almost there… I reached the edge of the door and slowly craned my head up to peek over the edge of the window.

    The room was empty.

    Pfft, of course it was. What was I so worried about? I shouldn’t have let the experiments get to me. I tapped my ID to the card scanner, feeling more than a bit self-satisfied as I walked in. The lights automatically flipped on when I entered, revealing a large computer lab with at least a dozen workstations. Half of them were in sleep mode, so this place had probably been in use recently. The usual giant monitors covered the walls, and what would have been the few bits of open wall space had spreadsheets pinned up all over the place. I took a closer look at one and it seemed to be some kind of Pokémon energy level chart. Or something to that effect, anyway.

    Alright, I’d gotten here without any trouble. I pulled out the experiments’ Pokéballs, both because they deserved to know and also because I kind of wanted to rub it in their faces. The three of them appeared in a flash of white light, scanning the room apprehensively but then relaxing upon seeing that the coast was clear.

    “*Huh, you weren’t kidding when you said you could do it,*” Flygon said, fixing his red-lensed eyes on me. “*I dunno what kind of magic you pulled to get in here without tripping an alarm, but keep at it.*” Holy crap, a compliment. Now that felt unreal.

    Razors glanced around, his face the same neutral as it had been, but his movements anxious. “*We need to find Chibi.*”

    Right, where was he? I whirled around, scanning all the machinery until my eyes fell on a black Pokéball housed within a glass chamber hooked up to one of the computers. There were no other Pokéballs within sight.

    “This has to be him,” I said, reaching forward and flipping the glass open before removing the ball. An angry beeping suddenly rang out from the nearest computer. I nearly jumped a foot in the air. What the hell? Why had—I froze, feeling my face go numb. Flashing violently on the screen were the words: “Unauthorized Experiment Removal. Admin Clearance Required.”

    “*Nice job,*” Absol said flatly.

    What?? No, not now. Not after things were finally going right! I practically threw myself into the chair, yanking the keyboard toward myself and hammering on it. A login prompt appeared. I punched in my ID, feeling like an idiot. Password… I didn’t have a password. Trying to guess anything to put there wouldn’t even make sense. And trying to guess the admin password was useless without an ID. What was I supposed to do?!

    “*Fix it!*” Flygon cried.

    “I don’t know how!” I yelled back. They couldn’t read what it said—they had no idea I couldn’t do anything about it. Without a card scanner, I had no way of getting access to anything. And I’d only gotten access because of… Stalker! Like lightning, I whipped my R-com from my pocket and flipped through my contacts, searching for his name. He’d know what to do. He’d be able to fix this.

    I froze. The sound of footsteps… right outside. If anyone saw me here, I was done for. Without thinking, I dropped to the floor under the desk just as the door suddenly burst open. Holy crap, that was too close for comfort. I wormed my way around, hoping to get a look at what was going on. A pair of officers stood at the door, Pokéballs at the ready, but they froze in their tracks upon seeing three experiments who were very much not supposed to be here.

    “What the hell?” one of them blurted out. “How—”

    Flygon flipped the closest table straight at the door, sending a wave of electronics flying around the room, crashing into monitors. Both Rockets jumped back out the door to avoid the cascade of sparks shooting through the air, right before Absol leaped over the fallen table, her body melting into shadow. Panicked footsteps and shouting echoed through the doorway, and then—

    Flashing lights! And a blaring alarm out of nowhere. What now?! Several seconds later, Absol strolled back through the door, looking nowhere near as concerned by this as she should have been.

    “*I could have got them before they triggered the alarm if this idiot hadn’t scared them off,*” the dark-type said, fixing her crimson eyes on Flygon with an annoyed stare. The latter rolled his eyes and smacked her with his tail fan.

    “*What now?*” Razors asked, calmly turning to me.

    ‘What now?’ How could he ask that like it was such a simple question?! What to do. What to do. Could I just recall the experiments? And be discovered standing here in the middle of a trashed room with no other possible culprit? Maybe if I wanted to be an instant suspect. As it stood right now, I had to keep up the appearance of a Rocket at all cost. That was my only chance on getting out.

    “*In case you hadn’t noticed, now is the time to be doing something,*” Absol said.

    I bristled at her tone. But she was right, I couldn’t freeze up. Not now, dammit. Not after all my training. Had to get away from here. I vaulted over the table in front of me and dodge-stepped around all the ruined computers, aiming for the door. If we got out of here in time, we could find a place to hide, and—

    “Not that way!” I shouted, jumping back from the door like it was on fire. Another squad of Rockets was already racing down the hallway toward us. “We need another path!”

    “*Don’t gotta ask twice!*” Flygon exclaimed, turning around and charging up a pulsing ball of violet energy in his mouth. The bug-dragon waited until it was as big as he could handle, then blasted out a writhing shockwave of dragonfire at the opposite wall, tearing a gaping hole through it with a loud crash.

    I stared at the wreckage, speechless with shock. Had he seriously just done that?

    “*The hybrids never had me along on their escape attempts, otherwise they would’ve made it for sure,*” the bug-eyed dragon said proudly. He vibrated his wings and shot through the hole, shortly followed by Absol. Razors paused just long enough to tilt his head in a “come on” gesture before following the two clones. I sighed and pocketed Chibi’s Pokéball. No turning back now.

    The experiments sprinted down the hallway ahead of me, and the moving walkways had been deactivated, so I had to fight to keep up. But then… did I really want to catch up? Wouldn’t it look better if I was chasing them instead of running with them?

    “Stop right there!” I yelled with as Rocket-like a tone as I could manage. Hopefully that would sell the act harder.

    Footsteps behind me. Apparently the Rockets had already discovered the convenient hole we’d left behind. Which meant I definitely wouldn’t get a chance to recall the experiments now. Not until we managed to get out of sight and—

    “Out of the way, grunt!” a Rocket behind me shouted.

    Crap. Something told me I did not want to ignore the order. I threw myself to the ground right before the high-pitched whistle of tranquilizer darts tore through the air. Ahead of me, Absol whirled around and raised a shimmering Protect around herself at the last second, causing the darts to ping uselessly off the barrier. And then more Rockets appeared at the end of the hall. This was impossible. We were trapped.

    Flygon shot forward and launched a spurt of dragonfire at the second group of Rockets, forcing them to release their Pokémon immediately to block the attack. The pause that followed seemed to last forever—both clones looked at Razors imploringly, and then he made eye contact with me. I stared back at his deep blue eyes that betrayed no emotion whatsoever. And then, without warning, the mantis shot forward too fast to see, flying straight over the scattered Rockets ahead of us. I caught a glimpse of a green blur rounding the corner at the end of the hall, and then he was gone. Flygon and Absol glanced back at each other and nodded before they both melted into shadow, slipping under the Rocket lineup, reappearing on the other side, and rounding the corner.

    I stared, unable to work through what I’d just seen. I kept blinking, expecting I’d just imagined it or something. They’d left me behind? Had that seriously just happened? Why? I’d trusted them.

    Except… my cover hadn’t been blown. None of the Rockets were charging toward me, weapons at the ready. They were just… standing around, arguing, completely oblivious to my presence. Maybe being left behind was a good thing. And Razors had known that. That final look he gave me… he knew our only chance was to split up. But how would I find them again?

    I was vaguely aware of one of the officers now shouting at me to join one of the other squads to help locate the experiments. Fine by me. I mumbled something that hopefully sounded like an affirmation before pulling myself to my feet and wandering over to stand next to a few other grunts, trying my best to give off ‘don’t talk to me’ vibes. I didn’t plan on sticking with them long. The first chance I got, I slipped away from the rest of the squad and wandered off in the opposite direction. There were Rockets scattered all over the floor by now—no one was going to notice a random grunt off on their own.

    First things first—I had to know what had happened to Chibi. It couldn’t wait, especially now that I’d lost the others. I would probably need his help getting to them… if he was capable of it. In my quest to find a secluded place to talk to him, I basically just walked in circles until I located an empty hallway, then ducked inside the closest storage room I could find. I found myself in a dingy concrete room lined with shelves containing practically everything—old machinery, Pokémon enhancements, ammo, you name it. This would work. I grabbed the black Pokéball from my pocket and then, as a bit of an afterthought, grabbed my other two Pokéballs as well. Just… something felt comforting about having Swift and Firestorm by my side when I finally saw Chibi again. Mainly because I was afraid of what I would find.

    I let out those two first. The Charmeleon and Pidgeotto materialized in front of me, tense at first, but then relaxing when they saw that the coast was clear.

    Firestorm’s eyes immediately fell on the black Pokéball in my hand. “*You got him?*”

    I nodded wordlessly. Swift must have noticed the hesitation in my expression, because he asked, “*Is he alright?*”

    “We’re about to find out.” I shakily held out the black Pokéball and opened it. The burst of light took the shape of a small, yellow-furred rodent lying on the floor. Pointed head feathers, no cheek markings—it was definitely him. He wasn’t moving.

    “…Chibi?” I asked hesitantly. Nothing happened.

    I clenched my fists, a knot starting to form in my stomach. What had they done to him? I repeated his name, and this time the hybrid’s ears twitched. Several seconds passed, and then finally: “*That name… how do you know…?*”

    I let out a sigh of relief. “It’s me, Jade. Can you stand?”

    The Pikachu very slowly pulled his arms under his body, struggling to lift his upper body from the floor. At the same time, he turned to face me. His eyes had a dull and distant look, heavily glazed over. They hadn’t succeeded in taking his mind… had they? The fact that he’d said anything at all seemed to disprove that, but still…

    “Can you understand me?” I asked cautiously, not sure I wanted an answer. Either way, I didn’t get one. Chibi just collapsed back to the ground, breathing heavily, his eyes wide and staring.

    My heart sank. I turned helplessly toward Swift and Firestorm. The latter walked over and crouched low next to the hybrid’s crumpled form, poking him with a single claw.

    “I don’t think that’s going to—” Before I could finish, the Charmeleon had gone and touched Chibi with his tail flame. The Pikachu sprang into the air with a pained cry, clutching the scorched fur on his back.

    I shot the fire lizard an incredulous glare. “Really, Firestorm?”

    “*You wanted him to react,*” he mumbled defensively. Whatever, that wasn’t important right now. I snapped my attention back to Chibi, who blinked a few times and jerked his head around frantically as though he’d just come out of a trance. Suddenly, his eyes snapped onto me in disbelief. His mouth fell open.

    “*You? It’s really you?*” The hybrid stared at me for several seconds before collapsing against my knee, muttering, “*It’s too late. There’s no hope now… I wasn’t strong enough. I should’ve fought harder… it’s all my fault.*” He buried his face against the fabric of my jeans, continuously mumbling, “*It’s all over…*”

    I recoiled slightly, completely unprepared for this kind of reaction. I’d never seen him like this before. How was I supposed to deal with it?

    “Er… it’s okay,” I said awkwardly. “What happened? What did they do?”

    He didn’t answer. He just kept shaking his head and making a strangled sobbing noise.

    I gave Swift and Firestorm another pleading look. Firestorm just responded with a clueless shrug. But Swift slowly walked forward and rested his head on the Pikachu’s back.

    “*Try to calm down,*” the Pidgeotto said. “*We have to leave this place. Are you out of power?*”

    The experiment stared up at us with a look of crazed desperation. “*Ha, I wish. I can feel it, I’ve charged up some since I was taken off the machine. It’s not much, but it already hurts. It was kind of nice being hooked up to that thing. No pain, for the first time in so long.*”

    I gaped at him. “What??”

    Without warning, Chibi’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he fell forward flat on his face. I stared at him miserably. That wasn’t exactly how I’d hoped our reunion would go. I had come here to help him… I just hoped that he wasn’t beyond help.

    “I’m not sure what to do now,” I said to no one in particular.

    Firestorm folded his arms. “*You can’t just recall him and leave?*”

    I sighed. “That would be nice, but… I haven’t finished Stalker’s mission. And what about the other experiments?”

    Swift tilted his head. “*Other experiments?*”

    “I got help from Razors and two clones.”

    Firestorm gaped at me. “*Razors? The mad Scyther from the plane? Seriously?*”

    “He’s not mad anymore, he was being controlled back then,” I explained.

    “*What?*” The Charmeleon’s face scrunched up with incredulous skepticism. “*How did you figure that out?*”

    “I… talked with him,” I said, immediately realizing how that made it sound worse.

    “*That was really stupid.*”

    I groaned. “Whether it was stupid or not”—and it was, it definitely was—“he helped me get this far and we had a deal.”

    “*Then you should honor that deal,*” Swift said firmly. Firestorm gave the Pidgeotto a sideways glance.

    Thank you,” I said exasperatedly, just happy to be done with the topic. “Now come on. I’m gonna go find them.” I was just about to reach into my pocket for their Pokéballs… but then I paused. Why did I suddenly get the feeling we were being watched?

    “Heya, kiddo. What do you think you’re doing in our base, huh?”

    My blood ran cold. The voice was right behind me.

    In an instant, I leaped up from where I’d been sitting and whirled around to see a Rocket standing there—a slender girl with pale skin, long, curly hair, and a pointed face, currently fixing me with a devilish grin. How long had she been there? How did none of us notice her walk in?!

    My eyes fell on the red stripes on her boots and gloves—officer rank. And really young for an officer. Like, right at the age limit young. Which pretty much meant one thing—she was a powerful trainer.

    “Firestorm, Smokescreen!” I called out. No way I was gonna fight her if I didn’t have to.

    “Not a chance!” the Rocket yelled, and a dark green lizard shot out of nowhere, punching Firestorm square in the jaw right as he inhaled for the Smokescreen. The Charmeleon recoiled backward, coughing and sputtering as the opposing lizard backflipped away before he could counterattack. It landed nimbly in front of the Rocket, bouncing lightly on its hind legs and leering at us with bright yellow eyes.

    Fine then, if she wanted a fight, she’d get one. My eyes traced the leaves on its head, arms, and rear—a grass-type, most likely. Both my Pokémon had the advantage against a grass-type, so if they could tag-team the lizard with both close and long-range moves, it’d be screwed.

    “Firestorm, Ember! Swift, Aerial Ace!” I ordered.

    “Dodge ‘em, Grovyle,” the Rocket said playfully.

    Growling, Firestorm shot out a flurry of red-hot flares at the green lizard, who leaped aside at the last second with a smirk on its face. Behind it, Swift shot downward like a bullet, beak glowing white. Grovyle spun around, its eyes going wide for a split-second right before launching itself out of the way. No chance! Swift pulled out of the dive the instant Grovyle leaped, then followed up with a blindingly fast down-up strike, clean across the lizard’s back.

    All right! I knew it couldn’t dodge the Aerial Ace! But then the grass-type spun around in midair and… grabbed hold of Swift’s talon? What? Grovyle drew back a forearm and its leaves lit up with green energy, extending into long blades right before slashing Swift’s underside. The Pidgeotto cried out and kicked his legs to shake the reptile free, but it had already jumped down to avoid more embers from Firestorm.

    Dammit—it knew it couldn’t dodge the Aerial Ace so it took the attack and went for the immediate follow-up. The same technique I’d learned from Stalker.

    “Swift, pull back and go for Gust; Firestorm, get in close and use Fire Fang!” Firestorm could take hits better and Swift had better aim—they needed to switch roles.

    Firestorm opened his mouth wide, fangs glowing like hot iron, and lunged forward at the grass lizard, who immediately jumped up and clung to one of the topmost supply shelves, out of reach. It stuck its tongue out at the Charmeleon, but then was forced to cling tighter as a sudden burst of wind whipped all the air in the room into a swirling vortex. Swift hovered in the center, adding more power to the frenzied winds, knocking scattered objects off the shelves while Firestorm attempted to climb up and reach his opponent.

    I held my hair tight against the wind and squinted at the action as my eyes dried out. I saw Firestorm lose his grip and drop to the ground. Saw the Rocket observing the battle with a carefree expression. And her Grovyle still leaping around like a madman. Why was it just running away?! I thought we were the ones trying to escape! If it was going to keep doing that, then could I just make a break for it?

    And then Firestorm suddenly dropped to all fours, eyes wide and limbs trembling. The fire lizard coughed a few times, his tail flame rapidly dimming.

    “What?!” I exclaimed, throwing a glance at Swift. The Pidgeotto had landed on one of the shelves, clutching it with quivering talons.

    “Lucky me! They’re both poisoned!” the Rocket sang.

    Poisoned?! When had the Grovyle used any poison attacks? I shot hurried glances between the two of them—sure enough, both Firestorm’s jaw and Swift’s legs had a sickly purple tone. But how?

    I had pecha berries—I could heal their poison. But by now the Grovyle was advancing on me, blades lit. I jumped back from where I was standing, then suddenly found myself pressed up against the wall, both the Rocket and the Grovyle between me and my Pokémon, both of whom were struggling to stay standing. All while the Rocket kept leering at me with a devilish grin.

    “You’re part of that rebel team that started up recently, aren’t you?” she asked. “Sneaking into our base, messing with our plans… I bet the executives will be pretty happy with me for catching you.”

    Oh hell no—she knew I wasn’t just some random thief, but part of the Rebellion?! What else did she know about us?

    And then she burst into a fit of laughter out of nowhere. I stared stupidly at her, unable to process what had just happened. She was… laughing? Why?

    “Oh man! You should see the look on your face! It’s freaking gold, I swear!” she cried, doubling over. Even her Grovyle was laughing now.

    I stood pressed up against the wall, my breathing heavy and my heart pounding at a million beats a minute. What the hell kind of game was she playing?

    “I… don’t get it,” I said finally.

    She took a few seconds to wipe her eyes and get her laughter under control before saying, “Come on, it’s not obvious? I’m just screwing with you. I’m not gonna turn you in, dumbass.”

    I blinked, my head starting to hurt. “You’re—you’re not?”

    “No, but could you imagine? You’d be totally dead if I were anyone else!”

    I stared blankly. “What’s your deal?”

    The Rocket giggled slightly before standing up straight. “Alright, alright—your team leader’s an old friend from when I was a newbie on the force. He asked me to join his resistance, and I had to decline, but I agreed to help out where I could with the new rebel team.”

    What? Was that true, or just another trick? “So… you’re also trying to stop Team Rocket, or—?”

    “Leeeet’s not get ahead of ourselves,” she cut in. “I’m just trying to stop the Legendary project, and if that ends up causing a bit of chaos with the higher-ups, then all the better. Things have gotten a little boring around here with most of the other double agents gone.”

    I tilted my head. “So you’re… a Rocket who’s against Team Rocket’s main goal?”

    With a dark grin, she said, “This wasn’t always Team Rocket’s main goal, you know. It started as nothing more than just a Pokémon crime gang.” It was bizarre hearing her nonchalant tone. “Course, that was long before I joined,” the Rocket continued. “Ya see, for a long time, the whole Legendary conquest deal wasn’t out in the open. Sure, the executives knew about it, but it wasn’t until recently that the team was openly pushed towards that goal. That’s when I started having second thoughts.”

    I raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

    “I’m not looking to be a part of some Legendary war—screw that,” she replied with a scoff. “So if I get to keep my position, screw with the higher-ups, and throw a wrench in that crazy-ass scheme, then that sounds pretty good to me. Besides, it’s not like you guys are aiming to completely destroy the team, not that you could even if you wanted.”

    I didn’t really know what to say to that. Nothing about this girl made any sense at all.

    “So then why did you join Team Rocket in the first place?”

    “Because it’s fun,” she said simply, curling a lock of hair around her finger. “I wanted to get stronger, have some power, and make easy money doing it. Simple as that. I follow orders, do ‘em well, and when I was old enough, I got promoted to officer. You prob’ly noticed, but I’m also a qualified experiment handler.” I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t exactly seen enough Grovyle to know what was different about hers. Unless it had something to do with magically poisoning my Pokémon without using any poison moves.

    “I always did feel kinda bad for the experiments—that’s why I offered to train two of ‘em. So fortunately for you, I want to help the ones that got loose.” Her face split into a grin. “Call it a common interest.” An endless list of Team Rocket activities to object to, and testing on experiments was somehow the only thing that registered. Okay.

    “What’s your point in telling me all this?” I asked, folding my arms.

    “My point? Not everyone’s satisfied with the direction Team Rocket is going in these days. The fact that your rebel team even exists is proof of that.”

    “So if you’re gonna help, then help,” I said, unable to shake the feeling that I was still being toyed with. That this entire conversation was a game somehow. “Do you know where the experiments are?”

    “Not at the moment,” she said in a singsong tone. “But I could probably find out.”

    I groaned. “Alright, then text me when you do,” I said, holding out my R-com. She shrugged and pressed a few buttons on hers before holding it out. The lights blinked a few times as the two devices swapped info, then my screen displayed a message that I had added Stracion Decora to my contacts. I looked back at her face and was met with yet another trollish grin. It didn’t exactly make me feel any better about all of this.

    “I get the feeling you just wanna watch me make a mess of things.”

    She snorted. “That’s true. Anyway, you’re good to go, yeah? Cause I should be getting back to the others.”

    Good to go? Seriously? With Chibi out cold and both my Pokémon poisoned? “I… don’t exactly have any Pokémon to battle with.”

    Stracion leaned over to get a look at look at the unconscious Pikachu lying behind me, as well as the Charmeleon and Pidgeotto who had been watching her very carefully this whole time, the former giving her a nasty glare.

    “Right… you should probably wake up number nine. Try this.” She pulled a revive out of the pouch hanging from her belt. “Suppose I owe you an antidote too, while we’re at it. Sorry to say, I’m fresh out.”

    “Yeah, you… really didn’t need to poison them,” I said flatly.

    Stracion shrugged and tossed me the revive. “Nope, I really didn’t. Laters.” She gave a quick wave before running off.

    I just kind of stared at the doorway after she had gone, still trying to wrap my head around what had just happened. I’d been cornered by a double agent whose only real agenda seemed to be causing discord. And she was willing to help me… kind of. If poisoning my Pokémon for no real reason was helping.

    Firestorm scowled at where she had left. “*I don’t like her.*”

    “Not too sure how I feel about her myself,” I admitted.

    “*Likable or not… I do not believe she lied to us,*” Swift said, turning to face me. “*And you will need her help to find the others.*” He was right.

    I sighed and pulled some pecha berries from the pouch on my belt. “Here, I’ve got these at least… sorry I couldn’t give ‘em to you sooner.” I waited for them to finish eating before I recalled them, then refocused my attention on Chibi. He was still lying in a crumpled heap, breathing irregularly. Well, here goes nothing… I knelt down and cracked the shell of the revive crystal to activate it before gently holding it against his forehead. Then I waited. It wouldn’t take long to react with his energy signature and wake him up, but time had slowed to a crawl, and the suspense was agonizing.

    And then the Pikachu’s eyes snapped open.

    “Chibi!” I exclaimed, feeling my spirits instantly lift.

    The hybrid blinked at me a few times before slowly pushing himself into an upright position. “*Nnn… what’s going on…? My head feels like it’s in a vice,*” he said, rubbing a paw over his face.

    I clenched my teeth. “You were practically delusional earlier. How are you doing now?”

    Chibi paused. “*I… I don’t remember that. Everything feels hazy.*” He shook his head as though trying to clear it before looking up at me intently. “*How did you find me? And… why?*”

    I smiled weakly. “I met up with Razors and two other experiments. They led me to—”

    “*Razors?*” he gasped incredulously, his mouth hanging open. “*How—what… Razors??*”

    “He… was being held in a containment unit. I guess they borrowed him from Tyson so they could do tests on him or something,” I answered. From what Razors had said, it was obvious that at one time they had to be fairly close. Which made Chibi’s blind rage during the plane incident all the stranger. Hadn’t he tried to kill Razors?

    Chibi stared at the wall, eyes wide with a tortured expression. “*It’s been so long. I’d… after he was taken from me, I’d lost hope. I took him for dead, so having to constantly fight his mindless shell… at the time, it seemed better if he actually were dead. But now…*” It was really weird to see him looking so… vulnerable.

    “They’re loose in the base right now,” I pointed out. “If we find them, we can all escape, and then he’ll finally be free.”

    Chibi nodded distantly, his expression inscrutable. Again, he asked, “*Why did you come here for me?*”

    “Why? What does that mean? You think I’d let them keep testing on you if I knew there was anything I could do about it? I never forgave myself for letting them take you that night.”

    The hybrid raised an eyebrow and surveyed me intensely. “*Don’t try to pretend we had some deep trainer-Pokémon bond. Why risk yourself for me?*”

    “You… saved my life that night.” It was all I could bring myself to say.

    A long pause followed. Finally, his expression softened somewhat. He seemed to consider the matter settled, because he then asked, “*So, who were the others?*”

    “An Absol and Flygon,” I replied.

    Realization spread across his face. “*Twenty-four and Twenty-five… *”

    I tilted my head. “Why do the experiments call each other by numbers?”

    “*It’s what the Rockets always called us,*” the Pikachu said simply. “*Of course… Razors and I did have specific names that we used around each other. The head experiment handler heard us once and jokingly referred to Razors by his nickname for a while, but then it stuck.*”

    Huh… I guess that made sense.

    I jumped at a sudden buzzing against my leg—oh right, it was just my R-com. Which meant I’d hopefully just gotten a text from Stracion? Sure enough, the message read: “Experiments last seen in D block on B2. Better go now before everyone else gets there!”

    Chibi tilted his head at me. “*What is it?*”

    I pocketed the R-com. “We’ve gotta go now. I need to find the others as soon as I can, and I might need your—” Wait. I’d just been assuming that Chibi was going to come with me… just because I’d found him again. But had he ever really been on my team to begin with? Sure, he’d stayed with me during Vermilion, but he had even admitted that was only because he didn’t know what to do with himself yet.

    I took a deep breath. “I might need your help saving the others. Will you come with me?”

    The Pikachu blinked, looking taken aback. Then something like realization crossed his face. “*I’d forgotten how many stupid questions you like to ask. Yes, I’m with you.*”






    ~End Chapter 14~
    In case you feel cheated by the “threat” in this chapter turning out to be a non-threat… next chapter will fix that. Trust me. We meet the primary antagonist for the rest of Part 1 very, very soon. >:D
     
    Chapter 15: Mewtwo
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    There's an Extra on teleport mechanics in the previous post!



    ~Chapter 15: Mewtwo~


    No one questioned me as I made my way towards D block, moving as quickly as possible without outright running. Stracion’s warning had come at the perfect time. The rumor that the experiments were in D block obviously hadn’t reached any executives yet, because there were way fewer Rockets here than the other departments. But ‘fewer Rockets’ still meant ‘Rockets.’

    I stopped and leaned against the wall, pretending to fiddle with my R-com while I watched the others out of the corner of my eye. The fact that no one had seen the experiments in a good ten minutes probably meant that they’d stopped running and hid at some point. Also… the room they were hiding in had to be unlocked. There was no way it couldn’t be—otherwise there’d be obvious signs of forced entry.

    But that also meant it would be pure luck whether or not I stumbled across the experiments before the Rockets did—not a comforting thought. I couldn’t just go searching randomly. I needed a plan.

    I ducked inside the first unlocked room I could find—an office of some sort—and released Chibi. The Pikachu appeared in a flash of white light, immediately clutching his head with his paws.

    “Are you okay?” I asked.

    “*I’ll be fine,*” the hybrid muttered, not making eye contact.

    He didn’t look fine, and it still didn’t seem right to send him out when he was like this. But I didn’t really have a choice at the moment. I needed his help.

    “The other experiments are nearby. But I don’t know where. We need to draw the Rockets away from that area so I can search without someone else spotting the others as soon as I find them,” I explained.

    “*You’re asking for a diversion,*” Chibi said bluntly.

    I… honestly wasn’t sure what I was asking of him. But now that he’d said it, a diversion did seem like the best course of action… if he was in any state to be making one.

    The Pikachu gave a self-satisfied nod. “*Thought so.*” He glanced around the office, his eyes falling on a door opposite the one I’d come in through. His expression turned thoughtful, like something had just occurred to him, before he walked over and pressed an ear to it.

    “*There’s no one on this side,*” he said, gesturing for me to follow him.

    I tilted my head. What was he planning? I walked over and opened the door to reveal a dimly lit passageway lined with several other, similar doors. From the peeling paint and chipped tile, it looked like it hadn’t been used in years. Just how big was this base?

    Chibi glanced back and forth down the passage, nodding to himself. “*I should have enough charged up for at least one… *” he muttered. One? One what?

    I soon got my answer. Sparks leaped off his golden fur, soon giving way to scattered strings of electricity, and then finally a jagged lightning bolt shooting across the hallway. It was tiny compared to his usual Thunderbolts, but it still blackened the opposite wall and split the air with a resounding crack.

    I stared at him, completely floored. “What was that…?”

    “*Your diversion. Now recall me and get out of here. Hurry!*” he hissed. I didn’t need telling twice. The instant his form dissolved into the Pokéball beam, I bolted in the opposite direction as fast as I could.

    The previous hallway was already clear, as all the grunts had run off to locate the source of the lightning. Which meant I only had a few minutes, if that, to blitz through as many unlocked rooms as possible. I threw open door after door, stopping just long enough to scour each room before moving on to the next. Good thing all three of the experiments were so big, otherwise it would have been impossible to search each room quickly enough to make it through them all. But I still hadn’t seen any sign of them yet. Where were they?

    After the tenth room with no luck, anxiety was starting to creep up on me. Were they even in this department? Stracion’s info could have easily been wrong. Or she could have tricked me. Or they could have just left before I got here —there were a dozen ways I could potentially fail to locate the experiments.

    A few minutes had passed. I was almost out of time, wasn’t I? Come on! I had to find them now! Another door, another computer lab, another failure. I wasn’t gonna find them, was I? But I couldn’t just stop… I had to keep trying.

    I threw open a closet, prepared for more nothing… and completely unprepared for the sudden rush of claws and blades flying right at me.

    “It’s me, it’s me!” I cried, leaping back and throwing my hands in front of my face. They’d stop themselves in time, right?!

    A few seconds passed and I apparently hadn’t been mauled, so I dared to open my fingers a crack, just in time for a pair of claws to grab me by the shoulders and drag me into the closet before the door was slammed shut behind me. I tried to jump back, but there was no space—the experiments were all crammed into a too-small closet, and I was now waaay too close to all of them for comfort. Especially considering the size and wingspan of the Flygon pressed up against the wall to my left. Razors had tucked himself into the corner, his scythes folded in front of his chest so they wouldn’t accidentally slice the others—I appreciated his effort, since my arrival meant there was now even less space. And Absol… Absol lay flat across the floor of the closet—I almost didn’t notice her at first.

    Still breathing heavily, I managed to ask, “What are you guys doing in here?”

    “*We didn’t have a choice. This guy here basically risked our escape just cause you had Nine,*” Flygon hissed, facing me with an accusing scowl.

    “And that’s my fault why…?” I asked slowly.

    The bug-dragon paused, as though he hadn’t considered that, then shot a glare over his shoulder at the mantis sitting behind him.

    Razors stared back, his expression perfectly neutral. “*I won’t defend myself,*” he said simply. The hybrid turned his gaze on me, and I couldn’t help flinching. “*Do you still have Chibi?*” he demanded, a slight edge to his voice—anxiety, maybe?

    “He’s right here,” I said, holding up the black Pokéball.

    The mantis relaxed slightly. “*Then we need to get out of here.*”

    I clenched my teeth. “Hang on. There’s something else I need to do.”

    The two clones fixed me with suspicious glares, but Razors simply nodded and said, “*You mentioned Thirty-six.*”

    “*Thirty-six?*” Flygon asked, looking alarmed. “*What’s the human planning to do with Thirty-six?*”

    “I’m just copying information from the computer,” I countered, a bit too quickly. The emerald dragon tilted his head incredulously.

    “*What is your plan for getting out of here?*” Absol asked, licking her mane and generally looking bored with the discussion.

    “I haven’t got one yet,” I admitted.

    “*Well you’re a brilliant one, aren’t you?*” she said without looking up at me.

    “I wasn’t counting on the base being on high alert! That was you guys’ fault!” I regretted the words the instant they were out of my mouth.

    Absol paused her grooming to give a very deliberate brow raise, but Flygon bared his fangs, hissing, “*Watch that tone, human.*”

    “*Twenty-four, this isn’t helping,*” Razors said flatly. His intense stare was fixed on all of us, though.

    Flygon recoiled slightly under the Scyther’s gaze, but then turned away, mumbling, “*I just don’t feel comfortable with any of this.*”

    I groaned. This had gone on long enough, and that Flygon was really starting to get on my nerves. “Look. They still think I’m a Rocket, and it’s going to stay that way. So if you go in your Pokéballs now, then I can freely walk around the base until I feel like leaving, alright?” Which meant I could then complete my mission and they couldn’t do a thing to stop me.

    Flygon opened his mouth like he was going to protest, but couldn’t think of anything to say. Absol just shrugged and went back to grooming, now licking her oversized obsidian claws. Several moments passed, then Razors finally broke the silence with, “*So long as all of us, including Chibi, make it out of here… do what you must.*”

    He didn’t need to tell me twice. I immediately felt better once the three of them were inside their Pokéballs.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    “Just what is so special about thirty-six?” I asked, unable to hide the annoyance from my voice. “Everyone makes such a big deal about it. What is this thing?”

    “*I’ve never seen it before—none of us have,*” Chibi replied. “*But if the rumors are true… we’re gonna need to see it to believe it.*”

    The two of us were sitting in an empty lab five doors down from the cloning lab. I’d had to duck in here to avoid the search team currently scouring this department. And I wanted to avoid another Stracion situation, so I had Chibi out since he could most quickly incapacitate anyone who snuck up on us.

    Chibi’s ears twitched. “*A lot of Rockets just left the area.*” His ability to monitor the happenings outside our room was also useful.

    I slowly crept closer to the window and peeked out into the hallway. A few grunts passed by, then rounded a corner on the other side of the door.

    “*And that was the all clear,*” Chibi said, walking over to stand alongside me.

    I nodded. “Alright, gonna make a break for the lab now,” I said, recalling him.

    I took a deep breath and opened the door a crack, just to be sure that the hallway was indeed empty. No one was in sight, and the only voices within earshot sounded distant and growing fainter still. Perfect. I hopped to my feet and slipped out the door, shutting it quietly behind me before striding across the hallway as quickly as possible. Within seconds I was there, standing in front of the heavy black doors to the Pokémon Cloning Lab.

    A chill ran down my back. This was it. The home of the mysterious experiment number thirty-six. I’d finally get to see it, and get its data, and get the hell out of here. I tapped my ID to the card scanner, and even though I’d been finding my way into off-limits rooms all night, I still half-expected this time to be the one where my card would get rejected. There was no way I could just walk right into a room like this. And yet… the scanner light flashed green and the door slid open, just like the rest. Having admin rights was crazy powerful.

    The room was dimly lit, with black tile floors and dark metal walls. Ceiling-high computers with dozens of screens completely covered the right wall, currently displaying shimmering, multicolored data graphs of some sort. Huge glass tubes covered the opposite wall, all of them empty and lined with a creepy orange residue. But then, in my peripheral vision, I caught sight of something far more interesting. Seated on a cylindrical platform, hooked up to dozens of tubes and wires, was a Pokémon. And man, was it bizarre. Tall, gangly, and humanoid, with thin, wiry arms and huge legs. But strangely… cat-like? The pointed ears, rounded paws, and short muzzle all reminded me of a cat… a creepy hairless humanoid cat. And yet, despite everything, there was something… powerful about it. I couldn’t explain why, it just was.

    My legs carried me closer to the Pokémon without me telling them to. It was weird, but the air around it felt… heavier than it should have. Like there was some invisible force exuding from it that made the hair on my arms stand on end.

    My eyes slid to the display screen closest to it. There, in the top left corner, were the words: “Experimental Pokémon 036: Mewtwo.”

    Mew… two? This thing was… an enhanced clone… of Mew? A Legendary so rarely seen it was practically a myth. But if Team Rocket made an enhanced copy of it… that meant that it pretty much had to exist, right? That… also meant that I was basically standing next to a Legendary Pokémon.

    Its eyes were closed, and it gave no indication that it was aware of my presence. Of course Team Rocket wouldn’t keep a super clone in their base without having it restrained in some way. Still, standing this close to it felt… uncomfortable. I held my breath as I slowly backed away from the clone, keeping my eyes glued to it the entire time. I wasn’t sure how standing ten feet away from it as opposed to five was supposed to be safer in any way, but it made me feel better.

    The computers opposite of Mewtwo probably held the information that Stalker was after, and the sooner I got it, the sooner I could leave. It’d be best if I had Chibi out while I was in here, too —just in case I was discovered. As soon as the hybrid materialized from his Pokéball, his eyes went wide at the sight of the clone.

    “*Is that Thirty-six?*” the Pikachu asked.

    I nodded. “Its name is Mewtwo.”

    “*Mewtwo… *” he said slowly. “*So it really is a Legendary experiment, just like me. A clone of Mew… *”

    “You know about Mew?”

    “*Just stories. Stuff I’ve heard from non-experiments who used to live in the wild.*” He tilted his head, frowning. “*Does it really look like this?*”

    “I think the original is smaller… and less humanoid.” At least, from what I could remember. Mew photos tended to be even lower quality than other Legendaries. I mean, with how many legend spotters were out and about, there’d be a few photos of the Johto beasts or the Kanto birds every few months or so. But Mew? A lot of people thought it might not even exist anymore.

    I sat myself down in a huge desk chair and pulled out the flash drive Stalker had given me. As for which computer to plug it into… well they were all wired together, so any one of them probably had access to all the others. I shrugged and plugged it into the closest one. A login prompt appeared, but then immediately disappeared as soon as the drive lit up. Huh. Well I was glad Stalker had thought ahead on that one, because I was not in the mood to have a repeat of what happened when I grabbed Chibi.

    The only thing on the flash drive was a single executable file. I clicked it, a window popped up with a progress bar, and the drive immediately started to fill itself with files taken from the computer. And that was pretty much it—I just had to sit back and let it do its job. I rotated the chair around to face Chibi, who was still staring at Mewtwo in reverent fascination. The two of them really did have a lot in common, didn’t they? Both created by Team Rocket… both part Legendary… both destined to be used against the Legendaries if it weren’t for the Rebellion.

    All of a sudden, the hybrid snapped his head toward me, eyes wide. “*He’s talking to me. In my mind.*”

    I stared blankly at him, unable to work through what he’d just said. He didn’t mean… Mewtwo?

    “…What?” was all I could say.

    “*I told him that I’m an experiment just like him. Hang on, I’ll ask him to include you.*”

    He was going to what? How? Tension flooded my body in an instant. What was about to happen and how was I supposed to brace myself for it?

    A sudden wave of resentment filled my mind. But that didn’t matter. Nothing I’d been thinking about previously mattered, I just wanted to know what I was doing here. I wasn’t supposed to be here. Why was I here?

    Wait… what? What was going on? Confusion… but it was distant. Smothered. Unreal. What was any of this? I was still in the lab, but at the same time I wasn’t. I was… somewhere else. Somewhere less real… the kind of place that only existed between thoughts.

    <This one wishes for me to speak to you, human.>

    I was not ready for that. Mewtwo’s telepathic voice echoed throughout every corner of my mind. Resounding. Powerful. How had I not known he was psychic? I should have known, even before seeing him. Nothing was more true or obvious in this world. I mean… logically there was no way I could have known that. But I still should have just known. It didn’t matter how.

    <Why is a human child here?>

    <Because she freed me, and she’s fighting against your creators.> Wait, that was… Chibi? It sounded like him. But I didn’t hear his words at all, it was more like I… felt them. Or something.

    <My… creators.> That one was Mewtwo again, and his words were followed by what felt like a sigh. A wave of frustration reverberated throughout my mind. So this was all Mewtwo’s doing, then? He was broadcasting our thoughts to each other?

    But then, from the way he’d said it, he clearly knew he’d been created. Did he know what the Rockets were planning to do with him?

    <Do you… know what you were created for?> I thought, hoping Mewtwo could hear it. It didn’t really feel any different than just thinking something to myself, so I kind of doubted that I’d get a response.

    But then a wave of icy resentment washed over me. <I know that I was created to fight. Created to dominate others like myself.> God, Mewtwo’s presence was overwhelming. I couldn’t tell what I was feeling anymore. Too many things. Too hard to process them all. My thoughts dragged like mud. What was I doing here?

    “*Are you alright?*”

    I blinked. I’d almost completely forgotten about my other senses in the midst of the bizarre psychic conversation. Chibi was staring at me with his usual intensity, but there was a touch of concern in his expression. Something about looking at him and seeing him with my eyes felt weirdly unnatural right now.

    “My head hurts,” I muttered.

    “*Do you want to stop?*”

    Yes. But this was important. I clenched my teeth and said, “No, anything we can find out from him could be useful.” Then, to Mewtwo, I asked, <Are you able to move or use your power at all?>

    The tiniest chill of despair pricked at the back of my neck a few seconds later. <No. I have looked upon the world with my own eyes only once, when I was first awakened. The humans have kept me in this artificial sleep ever since. Speaking through the mind uses only the tiniest amount of my strength.>

    Realization flashed across Chibi’s face. “*Thought so. That machine he’s on is an energy inhibitor. Most of the early testing done on me involved one of those.*”

    Daggers of impatience suddenly dug into me. <If you are not aligned with my creators, then what are you doing here?>

    I took a deep breath. Right, all I’d done so far was ask him frustrating questions without really explaining anything at all. I had to make it clear that I was on his side.

    <I came here to get information. They—er, your creators—they want to use your power to capture the Legendary Pokémon. My team is trying to stop them, and this info might help us do that.>

    I felt Mewtwo give a cold, ironic chuckle. <Legendary Pokémon… I have heard talk of them. The most powerful beings of this world, and yet the humans regard them as nothing but pawns… pieces of a plan that must be obtained.> His thoughts turned darkly serious. <These ‘Legendaries’ are in danger, that much is certain.>

    I swallowed. So he already knew that much. <They’re powerful, yes… but not invincible. Which is why they need our help.>

    Amusement. <And what help could a human child give?>

    I hesitated. <We’ve already stopped the Rockets once before. And we’ll keep doing whatever it takes.>

    <Why?> His tone felt skeptical.

    <Because we don’t want their powers abused by the Rockets!> That was it, right? The reason why I’d joined the Rebellion. I couldn’t remember, and the idea of trying to dig up the memory felt like wading through a bog right now.

    Mewtwo didn’t respond for some time. I felt a sort of… perplexed curiosity from him. <You said you were going to stop them from using my power. How do they plan to do that? They are afraid to even wake me.>

    I was hoping I wouldn’t have to explain that. But I’d been dancing around it earlier in the conversation, and he was bound to notice. <They’ve taken over the minds of some of the other experiments, and they’re trying to do the same to the Legendaries,> I explained. <But they haven’t figured it out yet, and their main test subject is free now, so if we can just—>

    <It’s too late.>

    I blinked. The words were Chibi’s. What did he mean, it was too late?

    Mewtwo was silent for several seconds, until finally: <Explain.>

    Anger and shame flickered across the Pikachu’s expression, and he turned to face away from me, though his emotions still reverberated through the psychic link, clear as day. <I’m part Legendary,> he told Mewtwo. <I was the test subject for the Legendary control technology. They recently had a major breakthrough… they hadn’t gotten to try it on me yet, but… > He clenched his fists, feathers quivering. <The next time you open your eyes… it probably won’t even be under your own power.>

    I gaped at the hybrid. So that’s what he’d been rambling about while delusional? They’d really done it? They’d figured out how to control Legendaries?

    A long pause followed. Shock had paralyzed my thoughts, slowly giving way to a river of cold dread that permeated every corner of my mind. And it was coming from Mewtwo.

    <If you have nothing more to say or do here, you should leave.>

    Out of nowhere, the feeling vanished. Just like that, Mewtwo’s presence faded from my mind, and it was like a humongous weight had been removed. The air still felt thick and heavy just from being near him, but I could breathe again—and my thoughts and feelings were mine and mine alone.

    I shot a bewildered glance at Chibi. “We’re not gonna leave just like that, are we?”

    At first, the Pikachu didn’t respond. He was still staring at the floor, fists clenched and body shuddering. Finally, in a low voice, he said, “*You got what you came here for, right?*”

    I glanced over at the monitor, where a completion alert had popped up. “I guess so, but…” My words trailed off as my eyes slid back to the machine where Mewtwo was contained. “Shouldn’t we… do something?”

    “*Like what?*” he asked without looking at me.

    “We… we could, I don’t know… capture him?”

    That got his attention. He gave me a look as though I’d just spoken the dumbest words he’d ever heard. “*You know the entire team would be on us in a second if he were removed from that machine.*”

    I smiled weakly. “They’re already after me.”

    Chibi folded his arms. “*Do you even have an unused Pokéball?*”

    I sighed. “No.” Honestly, for all I knew, Mewtwo was probably already linked with a Pokéball. I guess there really wasn’t anything I could do. Not now, anyway.

    I turned back to look at the clone one last time. It was bad enough that Legendaries were being captured and brainwashed, but the idea of that happening to one that had never even gotten to do anything in its life…

    “We’re going to get you out of here. Maybe not right now, but someday,” I whispered.

    I wasn’t expecting a response. Not to something I’d said out loud. But then a rush of conflicting emotions—hope, despair, rage, and helplessness—hit me all at once, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t mine.

    <Leave,> Mewtwo said icily.

    I sighed. That was the end of that, I guess. I leaned down to retrieve the flash drive from the computer before walking over to the door.

    “I’d better recall you again,” I said to Chibi. “The next time I let you out, we should be out of the base.”

    “*With our luck, I’m not counting on that,*” the Pikachu said right before his form dissolved into the ball. I took a deep breath before opening the door to the cloning lab and venturing out into the base once more.

    I’d accomplished what Stalker had asked of me. I’d succeeded at my own personal mission too. But the encounter with Mewtwo had left a sour taste in my mouth. The Rockets basically now had another Legendary at their disposal, and one that they’d soon be able to fully control. Not only that, but they’d be able to use him to take down and capture other Legendaries. How were we going to sabotage any missions from now on?

    I guess that was for Stalker to figure out. That was the whole reason I was gathering this info for him. He’d figure something out.

    “What the hell are you doing here, grunt?!”

    My heart jumped straight into my throat as I spun around wildly, trying to locate the source of the noise. It wasn’t hard to find—down the other end of the hallway, a Rocket was sprinting toward me. My legs instantly tried to run, but then it hit me—I still looked like a Rocket. Getting in trouble as a random grunt was way better than being caught as a rebel.

    As the Rocket neared, I was able to get a better look at her—a young woman with short, auburn hair, a tough build, and stern features. Not the sort of person I’d like to cross. High-ranking too, from the looks of her uniform. She wore a tight black tank top with a thick vest, loose capri pants and heavy black combat boots. Sure enough, both her vest and cap had the executive symbol emblazoned on them.

    But then an eerie feeling washed over me. Why did I feel like I recognized her from somewhere?

    It hit me like a hammer out of nowhere. She was the executive that cornered us at the plane crash. I hadn’t seen much of her that day, but that voice and overall demeanor was unmistakable.

    “This area is strictly off-limits right now! We’re in a high-alert situation and no one’s allowed in this department!”

    She still thought I was a Rocket. Good—I had to take advantage of that. I did my best to make a submissive sort of face as I said, “Sorry, I’m new here and I got lost.”

    The executive’s footsteps slowed to a stop. She stood there for several seconds, examining me carefully with the single, sharp green eye that wasn’t covered by her bangs. And then a slow look of surprise and recognition spread across her features, followed by a horribly unnerving grin.

    “Don’t try making any dumbass excuses—I know who you are. You’re the kid who stole number nine when our transport jet crashed. You’ve got a lot of nerve showing up here now. Either that or you’re just stupid.”

    It felt like the air had been sucked out of my lungs. What? How? How could she possibly know it was me? It took every ounce of concentration I had to keep my face neutral with the sudden wave of dread spreading through every inch of my body. Had to play dumb. She had no proof. Had to keep it that way.

    “I… really have no idea what you’re talking about.” And given my level of confusion, I was pretty confident that my response didn’t seem like acting.

    “Think you can bluff your way out of this? You probably don’t even know how I know that you’re a rebel. I might not have seen you at the crash site, but we have your photo from when you were captured. And I never forget a face.”

    I stared in horror, all pretenses of posing as a Rocket utterly dead. She knew. She knew.

    The executive smirked, clearly enjoying the effect her words had on me. “Looks like we have rebels infiltrating our ranks after all. The other executives were skeptical, but it makes perfect sense. Your team was responsible for Raikou going free, weren’t you?”

    I gave her the most defiant glare I could muster, to let her know I wasn’t going to play along.

    She rolled her eyes. “It had to be your team,” she spat. “None of our old enemies would have been able to get the info soon enough—it had to be someone currently working against us from within. Of course, there are a few more things I’d like to know, and you’re going to tell me.”

    I hesitated. “…What makes you say that?”

    The executive laughed. “You really don’t know who you’re talking to, do you?” When I didn’t say anything, she went on, “My name is Astrid. I’m head executive over the entire Kanto combat unit.”

    I clenched my teeth, desperately willing my face to stay neutral. Couldn’t let her know how much dread I was feeling right now. Of course I’d run into the head executive with every reason to hold a grudge against me. I should’ve known I’d used up all my luck with Stracion being the first Rocket to corner me today.

    My hand hovered over a Pokéball. Maybe I could… no. No, there was no way I could ever hope to beat her. But I couldn’t let her know that.

    “Yeah well… I’ve got number nine, and he beat you and your entire crew last time!” I yelled, holding out his Pokéball. That was pretty much the best show of bravado I could think of.

    Astrid rolled her eyes. “I’ll pretend that wasn’t the biggest fluke in existence. Anyway, who said I wanted to battle? I think it’d be faster for me to just knock you out right here, drag your stupid rebel ass to a detention cell, and force you to tell me everything I want to know.”

    My eyes unconsciously slid to the gun holster hanging from her Pokéball belt, sending another jolt of ice coursing through my veins. No, what was I thinking—she had just said she planned to take me alive. But only because I had information. And after she’d gotten that information out of me…?

    No. No matter what, I couldn’t be captured. I’d be as good as dead. No matter how stupid a plan I came up with, it couldn’t possibly be worse than letting her take me without a fight. But what could I possibly do? Chibi was out of power. Or… was he? He’d said he’d charged up a little bit in the small amount of time he’d been off the machine. It wouldn’t be enough for a battle. But for a single cheap shot…?

    I swallowed hard. No choice. I had to try it. With trembling fingertips, I pressed the button on Chibi’s Pokéball.

    Astrid’s face lit up with rage. “What the hell are you—?!”

    Before the light had even started forming, I called out, “Thundershock!”

    Chibi’s body materialized and he immediately let loose a string of lightning at her. She screamed, and I bolted in the opposite direction faster than I’d ever run. My legs were on autopilot. Had to get away, had to get away. Nothing else mattered.

    Chibi came racing after me several seconds later. He threw me an accusing glare and yelled, “*What’s going on?! Why did you give us away?!*”

    “She already knew it was me, I didn’t have a choice!”

    “Damn it, you’re dead now, you little sh‌it!!” Astrid’s enraged voice echoed down the hallway.

    The sound of a Pokéball opening reached my ears, followed by paws striking the ground, rapidly approaching us. I didn’t dare turn to look, but suddenly my spine tingled. It felt like… static?

    “*Crap. It’s that Raichu,*” Chibi said, an actual twinge of fear in his voice.

    I didn’t get a chance to say anything. A flash of neon yellow blinded me and then my senses dissolved into a torrent of pain, twisting and writhing and burning through every inch of me. Limbs went numb, and suddenly I was tripping over useless hunks of dead weight. The floor rushed up to hit me, but I didn’t feel it. Couldn’t feel anything but the piercing sting of lightning.

    As soon as it struck, it ended. Was… was it over? Did I still have a chance to escape? I wanted to move, but my body refused to listen. Every inch of me felt numb. I blinked a few times, forcing my eyes to focus on my fingertips. Come on, move! I didn’t have time for this!

    Sparks shot past my field of view, and I flinched, expecting another burst of pain. But nothing happened. Slowly, I opened my eyes again. Chibi stood rigid in front of me with his arms spread wide, shielding me with his body. He was panting hard and wincing in pain; sparks leaped off his back at random.

    He’d protected me… I couldn’t just lie here, I had to do something. Slowly, painfully, I put every ounce of strength I could gather into forcing my limbs to move again. I didn’t know how, but somehow I managed to pull my legs underneath me to stand up. And then I locked eyes with Astrid, who was looking somewhat frazzled, but still wearing that stupid smug expression of hers.

    “What was that about number nine being able to beat me? I know perfectly well its Lightning Rod doesn’t work right—hit it with a big enough shock and it’ll feel the pain just like anything else.” Her face split into a sadistic grin. “Speaking of which, how did you enjoy it?”

    I glared at her, my fists clenched so hard my nails dug into my palms. I’d stopped caring about hiding my emotional state from her. I wanted her to see my reactions and know how I felt.

    “There’s plenty more where that came from. Personally, if I were in your position, I’d surrender right here and now. But it’s fine if you don’t want to. I could listen to your screams for the rest of the night,” she said icily. Sparks leapt off Raichu’s cheeks at her words.

    My thoughts didn’t want to flow straight. I couldn’t tell if it was from the lightning or from the rolling fog of anger clouding my mind. What was I supposed to do now? She had us completely trapped.

    Except… wait. Chibi had taken the tail end of the Thundershock for me. It had still hurt him, but he could absorb electricity. Which meant he probably now had enough power for a stronger blast that could knock her out. But the Raichu would protect her if I tried it. I needed something to distract it. One of the experiments? They’d probably kill me if I tried to give them battle orders.

    But what if I didn’t need to? What with her attitude of attack first and ask questions later? And… what type was Flygon again…?

    I gripped his Pokéball tightly, my mind made up. It was my only option. I threw the ball forward.

    “Not this shit again!” Astrid yelled, immediately pointing forward for Raichu to attack the newcomer.

    Lightning struck the burst of energy before it even got a chance to materialize. But then it took the form of a dragon. He flared his wings in alarm upon realizing that he was under attack, but then tilted his head in confusion and glanced around, trying to figure out what the heck was going on. The electricity wasn’t harming him at all. So he was a ground-type!

    There was a split second where Astrid’s eyes widened with the realization that she’d been tricked, right before Chibi sent a Thundershock flying right at her. She didn’t even get a chance to scream—the force of the attack knocked her unconscious in a second.

    Raichu whirled around to see its trainer on the ground and let out a distressed cry before turning back toward Flygon and hissing. It drew back a forepaw and focused energy into it before charging at the dragon.

    Okay, there was no reason for us to be fighting this out when the Raichu’s trainer was unconscious. While Chibi rushed in to block the punch with his tail, I bolted around them as fast as I could, grabbed Raichu’s Pokéball off Astrid’s belt, and recalled the orange mouse in a beam of red.

    I barely had a second to feel relieved before Flygon rounded on me with an offended glare. “*What was that?! Don’t do that again! I never agreed to battle for you!*”

    I recoiled backward, throwing my hands up in defense. “I just needed something to distract Raichu so Chibi could get her! I knew you wouldn’t be hurt by it!”

    Flygon snorted and turned his back to me without saying anything. It took me a few seconds to realize that he was done with the conversation and probably wanted to go back in the ball. Fine by me—I recalled him.

    I sank to the ground, still not even sure how I’d managed to stand in the first place. The pain was starting to catch up with me. Yeah… everything hurt now. I don’t know how long I sat there, breathing heavily, every nerve in my body firing on overdrive. I’d been so close to getting captured. Way too close.

    “*We don’t have much time,*” Chibi said, walking over to me. “*Once someone finds her lying there, they’ll know there was a rebel in the base.*”

    I glanced over at Astrid’s fallen form and winced. Even the most intimidating person looked kind of sad and pathetic just lying there in a crumpled heap. Now that the rage and adrenaline was starting to wear off, I mostly just felt creeped out sitting so close to her. I couldn’t help edging away.

    “*I’m going to recall myself so I’m not seen. Try to recover quickly.*” Chibi tapped the button of his Pokéball and disappeared.

    Suddenly finding myself alone was the kick I needed. Not to mention the fact that I really didn’t want to be seen sitting next to an unconscious executive. I slowly struggled to my feet, every muscle fighting me the entire time, before setting off for the stairs.

    My mission was done. After all the unexpected running, hiding, battling, and other crap, it was actually kind of hard to believe I could actually leave Celadon HQ now. Finally. Nothing had ever sounded more appealing than getting out of here and never coming back.

    At least after all this, I had a pretty good idea of how to navigate B2f. Crossing the floor to reach the stairs took half the time it had previously. I was about halfway up the stairs when my R-com started buzzing in my pocket. I grabbed it, took a look at the screen, and… I was getting a call from Stracion?

    I tapped the screen and hesitantly held it to my ear. “Uh… hello?”

    “Yo, you dead yet?”

    I snorted. “Obviously not.”

    Stracion chuckled. “Just checkin’. Didja find them?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Shweet. Anyway, you’re gonna have a hell of a time getting out—the base is on lockdown. No one’s allowed out.”

    Great. Just great. I swallowed and said, “What if I just wait until the whole mess blows over? There’s no reason for them to suspect my Rocket identity.”

    “Maybe so, but that’ll just make them more paranoid. And what if they run a Pokéball inspection?” I hadn’t thought about that.

    “What do you think I should do?” I asked slowly.

    “Good old-fashioned breakout? You’ve got experiments with you, in case you hadn’t noticed,” she said flatly.

    “Wouldn’t that be… really noticeable?”

    “You’re kinda past the point of subtlety here, kid.”

    “My name’s Jade,” I shot back, tired of being talked down to. And by someone close to my age, no less.

    “Alright, alright,” she said dismissively. “Anyway, this is getting to be a pain. I’ll start a rumor that I saw something weird on floor B3. That should draw most everyone who’s not assigned to be on guard. Use that opportunity, cause you’re not getting another one.” And with that, she hung up.

    I put a hand to my forehead and exhaled long and hard. As if this night needed more complications. Alright, time to see how bad the entrance was. I walked up the rest of the stairs, doing my best to look casual despite how hard my heart was pounding. A commotion of voices echoed from the lobby, and my body tensed up. It sounded like maybe a dozen or so Rockets had gathered there. My immediate instinct was to spin around and go anywhere else. But… no, I had to give Stracion a chance. It was the only shot I’d get.

    Minutes crawled by as I stood alone in the stairwell, waiting. Suddenly, the voices from the other room rose in volume with a tone of alarm. Had the message finally reached them?

    Footsteps echoed off the walls, racing toward me. Without thinking, I pressed myself against the wall just as a six-person squad raced past me down the stairs. It felt so incredibly awkward just standing there as they ran past, but they were looking for rogue experiments, not rebels. I had to keep telling myself that.

    Once I was certain they were gone, I crept forward down the hallway to the entry lobby, the last room between me and my freedom. I took a deep breath and glanced around the corner. Six Rockets, all of them armed. Four of them had a Pokémon by their side as well. There was no sneaking past them. And trying to persuade them that I, a random grunt, should totally be let out… didn’t sound like a good idea either. It was like Stracion said—our only way out was by force.

    I retreated back to the stairway where I could open Pokéballs without anyone hearing the sound. Three flashes of light materialized into Chibi and the two clones.

    “Long story short, the base is on high alert and the entrance is heavily guarded,” I said before anyone could ask.

    “*How many are there?*” Chibi asked unflinchingly.

    “Six Rockets and four Pokémon.”

    Absol and Flygon exchanged skeptical looks, but Chibi just stared down, as though in deep thought. “*There’s no way they’ll shoot to kill any of us experiments. We’re too valuable. That’s our advantage here.*” He closed his eyes and lowered his head in concentration, occasionally muttering to himself while the rest of us stood there and waited. Waited for what could be our only ticket out.

    “*I’ve got it,*” the Pikachu suddenly announced. “*I’ll rush out there with Agility. While the Rockets are focused trying to hit me, you two will slip behind them with Feint Attack. We take out the Rockets first, then go for the Pokémon.*”

    Absol and Flygon nodded, and the three of them wasted no time getting into position at the end of the hallway. Chibi began racing around in a tight circle, his movements quick at first, but rapidly increasing in speed until he was little more than a yellow blur in the middle of the hallway. Suddenly, the hybrid shot forward into the entry room, practically appearing out of nowhere from how fast he was going. He paused there, letting the Rockets get a good look at him before racing off. And the reaction was instantaneous.

    “Number nine is loose too?!” one of the guards shouted.

    “Number nine is at the entrance, send backup now!” another yelled into a radio.

    The room exploded into chaos. The Rockets’ Pokémon dashed forward, claws and fists and teeth glowing, but their target was moving way too fast for them to get any idea of where to aim. Darts shot through the air as the Rockets desperately attempted to tranquilize the lightning-fast rodent. In front of me, the two clones nodded to each other before melting into shadow and streaking across the floor. I had to creep closer to get a look at what was going on, but getting called out by the Rockets was… not really a concern anymore with all the chaos going on now. Absol and Flygon materialized from the shadows behind the Rockets, immediately slamming two of them into the wall. One of the agents spun around at the noise and fired on them, but Absol was ready for that. She jumped in front of Flygon and produced a shimmering Protect barrier.

    And that was the opening Chibi needed. After dodging blows from both a Raticate and Machoke, a wave of sparks leaped from his fur, giving way to strings of electricity, and then—

    And then it hit me—if he planned to use Discharge, everything in the room was a potential target… including me.

    I dove out of the room just as a blindingly bright flash and a resounding crack split the air. When I looked back, three more of the Rockets had slumped to the ground; the one left standing had managed to duck behind her Sandslash for protection. Chibi was crouched low in the middle of the room, panting hard with sparks leaping off his back. A Nidorino picked itself off the floor and launched a flurry of poison darts at him while he was prone, but then Absol appeared out of nowhere and struck it in the back of the head with paws cloaked in dark aura. Sandslash drew back a forepaw and slashed at her, right before Flygon rushed at the ground-type, breathing out a lick of dragonfire in its face. Chibi dodged another vicious bite from Raticate, and then the last remaining Rocket stood up to take another shot and immediately got nailed by a Thundershock.

    “*Go now!*” Chibi called out to me.

    What, now?! They were still fighting! Except… with the Rockets down, I couldn’t be shot, and they could fend off the enemy Pokémon long enough to escape. That’s what he was banking on!

    In an instant, I jumped out from behind the corner and sprinted toward the door as fast as my legs could carry me. A few of the Rockets’ Pokémon glanced in my direction, but Flygon took that moment of distraction as an opportunity to smash them into the floor. Heart pounding, I raced up the stairs, the alluring sight of the exit finally within view. We were going to make it, we actually were going to—I slammed into the door with a painful thud. It wouldn’t open… why not?! Because the base was on lockdown?

    “*Out of the way!*” Flygon called out behind me.

    I barely had enough time to process his words and jump to the side right before the bug-dragon slashed clean through the door hinges with flaming claws. The door crashed to the ground with a heavy clang, revealing the way out.

    Holy crap. Now, more than ever, I was glad to have Flygon on our side.

    We burst out into the alleyway, joined immediately afterward by Chibi and Absol. We were all out! Now we just had to get out of sight before the Rockets could catch up, and—

    Out of nowhere, Flygon shot into the air, his red-lined wings vibrating impossibly fast as he tore through the alleyway and into the night sky.

    Wait, what?! Was… was he leaving?

    “Where are you going?!” I cried.

    “*Away from here! I’m finally free!*” the dragon called out.

    “*Get back here!*” Chibi barked at him. “*You have to carry Jade.*”

    Flygon almost tumbled over from stopping so abruptly in midair before whirling around to face Chibi with a shocked and disgusted look. “*What?! I’m not letting a human on my back!*”

    “*She has our Pokéballs—if she escapes, so do the rest of us,*” Absol pointed out.

    The bug-eyed dragon stared at her, completely taken aback. “*But, but—*”

    I could hear the Rockets charging up the stairs after us. In just a few seconds, they’d burst through that door, guns at the ready, and—

    “*Quit arguing and just do it!*” Chibi ordered.

    “*Alright, fine!*” the dragon roared before shooting back toward us and hovering alongside me. Any hesitation I might’ve had about riding a Pokémon that clearly didn’t want to be ridden flew straight out the window. I recalled Absol and jumped onto the dragon’s back, and was about to recall Chibi, but then he leaped on with me, gripping my shirt with his claws.

    By the time the Rockets burst out into the alleyway, we were gone.






    ~End Chapter 15~
     
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    Chapter 16: Reunion
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    ~Chapter 16: Reunion~


    The flight home felt much longer than the flight to the base. I made Flygon head west of Celadon to start with, that way the Rockets wouldn’t know that the base was to the east. Even a vague hint like that could be disastrous later on. Practically every instruction I gave was met with some kind of complaint from the Flygon, but at this point I was too tired to care, and he ended up following them in the end anyway.

    Finally, after everything we’d gone through to get this far, we were met with the glorious sight of Kanto’s eastern coastline, with the silver light of the full moon glimmering off the waves. Just beyond that lay Midnight Island, and it had never looked more inviting. I’d only been gone for a few hours, but it had felt like forever. What time even was it? I pressed the button on my watch to illuminate its face, but nothing happened. Well, that was strange. Not that it really mattered what time it was—either way, the answer was “way too late.”

    I pointed Flygon in the direction of Midnight Stadium and we drifted down toward it, his diamond-shaped wings buzzing with a lot less vigor than they had at the beginning of the flight. Finally the dragon touched down on the ground with a clumsy thud, immediately collapsing onto all fours.

    “*Damn it, why’d we have to fly so far?*” Flygon gasped, his wings drooping. He’d probably never flown that far in his life. I almost would have felt bad for him… if he hadn’t tried to leave us all behind at the Rocket base.

    “I already told you this is the safest place for us right now, unless you wanted to sleep in a random forest somewhere.” That got me shaken off his back in a hurry.

    Chibi hopped a few feet from me, shaking out his fur while I picked myself up from the dirt and brushed off my pants.

    “*Alright, I did my part, I got everyone here. Now let out the others,*” Flygon grumbled, folding his wings against his back.

    I shrugged and grabbed two Pokéballs from my pocket, one red and one black, opening them to reveal twin flashes of light that took the forms of a white beast and a tall green mantis. And then Chibi froze, staring wide-eyed at Razors in total disbelief. In all the time I’d known him, I’d never seen him look so stunned. But then, this was his first real reunion with Razors in… how long? Years? How many years had Razors been brainwashed? How many years had Chibi been forced to view his companion as the enemy?

    “*Jade said she’d found you, but… some part of me didn’t believe her,*” the Pikachu said quietly. “*There’s no way. It can’t really be you.*”

    The Scyther stared back, his expression impossible to read. Finally, he gave a gentle nod and said, “*I’m real.*”

    With slow, hesitant steps, Chibi walked over to him, not breaking eye contact the entire time. He then reached out and placed a trembling paw on the green edge of Razors’s scythe.

    “*I’ve probably imagined this a million times. When you were first taken… I told myself I wouldn’t give up hope. That I would spend every day trying to free you.*”

    Razors didn’t respond. He just stared downward, blinking slowly.

    “*But as the years went by, I lost hope,*” Chibi went on, breaking eye contact. “*I thought you were gone forever. I…*”—his voice broke—“*I tried to kill you.*”

    “*I know,*” Razors replied, his voice the same monotone as usual. “*So did I.*”

    Something flashed through Chibi’s eyes. “*That’s not the same. You weren’t you.*”

    Razors chuckled. The sound was hollow and utterly joyless. “*Does it make any difference? The outcome would have been the same either way.*”

    The Pikachu shook his head. “*That doesn’t… that’s not…*”

    “*What’s done is done,*” the mantis said firmly. “*Neither of us can take it back. But it didn’t come to that—we’re both still alive.*”

    Chibi opened his mouth like he was going to protest, but then froze, staring at the other hybrid. Slowly, his wide-eyed, desperate expression faded as he dropped his gaze to the ground and closed his eyes. “*We’re both still alive…*” he said quietly.

    “*Alright, this is all very touching, but where are we, and what are we going to do now?*” Absol cut in, stepping forward and glancing between the hybrids and me.

    “This is my team’s base,” I answered. “As for what you’re going to do, we can ask Stalker in the morning.”

    The dark-type tilted her head. “*Who?*”

    “My team leader.” I tapped my room key to the card scanner and the front door to the stadium opened up. I stepped a foot inside so the door wouldn’t shut itself, then turned back toward the experiments. They were still staring at me, perplexed. I made an expectant face and gestured inside.

    Flygon glanced around suspiciously. “*I’m not going in there.*”

    I rolled my eyes. “Then sleep outside. I don’t care either way, just make up your mind so I can go to bed.”

    I got the feeling from his expression that he was going to be offended either way, and just couldn’t decide which option was more worth getting offended over. Which meant that basic comfort won out—the bug-dragon slowly shuffled in through the entrance, making sure I saw how much he didn’t want to. He was closely followed by Absol, who rolled her eyes at the fuss he was making. Finally, Razors and Chibi stepped in together.

    I walked across the lobby and pushed open the double doors that led to the battlefield. “You guys can stay in here. If any kids wake up before me and see you guys, Chibi’s in charge of explaining how you all got here.” The rebels had at least heard of him, unlike the other experiments. Still, the first kid to wander into the battlefield was probably in for a big surprise.

    I left them there and made a beeline for the elevator, only vaguely aware of riding it to my floor, stumbling down the hallway, and scanning my card key into my room at last. My shoes thudded against the wall, kicked off the instant I walked through the door. And then, with my last ounce of conscious thought, I let out my Pokémon for the night.

    The Charmeleon and Pidgeotto appeared in a flash and took fighting stances, relaxing upon noticing we were back in our room.

    “*You made it out,*” Swift said, his voice almost sounding proud.

    “*Did you get the experiments? What about Stalker’s mission? Did you fight any more Rockets?*” Firestorm demanded, his eyes wide.

    “Yes, yes, and… yes,” I answered. And before either of them could say anything else, I collapsed onto the bed.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    “I’d like to thank you for a mission well done.”

    Twigs and leaves snapped under our feet as Stalker and I walked along the trail that ran through the forests near Midnight Stadium. It was a bright, cloudless day, and the September air was cool and breezy now that the oppressive summer heat was finally over. It was hard to appreciate the perfect weather, though. The idea of briefing him on what had happened in the base had been eating away at the back of my mind, refusing to let me think of anything else.

    “I wouldn’t call it well done with all the trouble I got into,” I said.

    “You made it out alive,” he said matter-of-factly. “Not to mention rescuing four experiments and recovering the Mewtwo data.” He held up the flash drive I’d given him to emphasize the point.

    I grit my teeth. No sense holding back any longer.

    “I ran into an executive… Astrid.”

    Recognition flashed through his eyes. “And you escaped. That’s impressive.”

    I nodded. “But not before she figured out my identity. She recognized me from the plane incident.”

    Stalker paused, considering the information carefully. “I’ll keep an eye on your Rocket account and see whether or not it’s been flagged for suspicion. But just in case, stay away from any Rocket bases for now.” That was going to be a problem.

    “But I’m due for grunt work in Cerulean next week,” I protested. And my supervisor was… not exactly the kind of person I wanted to upset.

    He gave me a pointed stare. “The last thing you want is to be captured inside a base.”

    I couldn’t argue with that. It was frustrating, but I didn’t have any alternative.

    I glanced at my watch for about the millionth time that day only to be met with the same blank face. I’d realized at some point that it was probably dead from Raichu’s lightning, though I didn’t seem capable of remembering that fact for more than five minutes.

    And then, for whatever reason, it hit me. My watch wasn’t the only sensitive device I’d had on me at the time.

    Stalker’s gaze fixed on me. He obviously noticed my expression take a sudden nosedive, because he asked, “What’s wrong?”

    “The Mewtwo data’s probably gone. It… might have gotten… exposed to some lightning.” Stupid. Why didn’t I just say that she’d hit me with Thundershock? But then… the memory burned. That feeling of being cornered, unable to do anything, facing down a vastly superior opponent who could do whatever she wanted to me. It was… humiliating.

    “I take it that was Astrid’s doing?” Stalker asked, looking vaguely amused by my choice of words.

    Right. I’d already told him I’d run into her. He obviously had to realize what had happened.

    “Her Raichu is infamous,” he went on, “but you don’t have to worry about the Mewtwo data. That script wasn’t just copying the data to the drive. It was uploading it to an online storage. I actually read some of it last night.”

    I gaped at him. “Wait, seriously?” Did he ever sleep?

    “It wasn’t my idea—you can thank my friend who wrote it.”

    “So if you’ve read it… what did you find out?!” I asked excitedly.

    Stalker paused, gazing off into the distance. “Mewtwo is more powerful than we could have ever thought. Much stronger than any of the Legendaries on record.”

    My face fell, and the ridiculously overbearing presence of Raikou and Entei flashed through my memory. To think that Mewtwo was even stronger than them…?

    “Chibi told me that they figured out the Legendary control,” I said slowly. “They’ll be able to use it in the next Legendary mission. If that’s true, then… I don’t know how we’ll stand a chance at stopping them.”

    Stalker gave me a pointed look. “Don’t lose hope. We’ll have to change our tactics for the next mission, but I’m confident we can stop them.” I was glad he had that much confidence in us because I sure didn’t.

    “Not to mention, we have some new allies…” he continued, trailing off at the end. We’d just stepped out of the trees into the clearing around Midnight Stadium, and were met with the sight of half the Rebellion still crowded around the experiments like they had been when we left. I couldn’t help chuckling a bit under my breath at how much everyone was admiring them. Most of the experiments didn’t seem to care about the excessive attention, although Flygon was starting to grow agitated.

    The crowd of trainers parted as we approached, allowing Stalker to step forward and talk face-to-face with the experiments.

    “Up until now, you’ve lived your entire lives for Team Rocket, haven’t you?” Stalker asked.

    “*They made us, so yeah,*” Absol said flatly.

    “Well, it’s up to you what you want to do with your lives now. I suspect none of you have ever spent time in the wild, so you’re welcome to stay here with us. But in return, I’d like to make a deal.”

    Chibi and Razors stared unflinchingly while Absol and Flygon exchanged skeptical glances.

    “You already know that we’re fighting against the Rockets. Will you lend us your strength? We could use the extra help from strong Pokémon.”

    “*I don’t want to have a trainer,*” Flygon said gruffly.

    “You won’t have one,” Stalker said, raising his hands disarmingly. “You’d just be free Pokémon who happen to train with us and fight Rockets with us.”

    “*I was already going to do that,*” Chibi said simply.

    Absol closed her eyes. “*Whatever.*”

    Flygon glanced around uncertainly, as though looking for some excuse to not have to say anything. Finally, he put on his best disinterested face and said, “*I… guess I wouldn’t mind still getting to fight.*”

    Razors was the only one who hadn’t responded. The mantis just stared at the ground quietly, as though deep in thought. His eyes slid to the Pikachu at his feet, who was watching him expectantly. Then, slowly, he nodded.

    “It’s settled then.” Stalker turned to face the rest of us. “Experiments eight, nine, twenty-four, and twenty-five will be joining the Rebellion,” he announced, to a wave of excited chattering from the crowd.

    “*We’ve escaped from the Rockets,*” Absol said with a huff. “*We’ll never be tested on again. Those identities are meaningless now.*”

    Stalker folded his arms. “I see. Do you have preferred names?”

    “*Razors and I do,*” Chibi said. “*These two don’t.*”

    “*Never needed them,*” Flygon added.

    Stalker nodded. “Alright then. I will give you new names.”

    The two clones blinked in surprise. They clearly weren’t expecting that, but neither of them protested. Stalker proceeded to pace back and forth in front of them, rubbing his fingers on his chin while they eyed him curiously.

    “You’ll be Aros,” he said to the Flygon. He then turned to face the Absol. “And you—you’ll be Stygian.”

    Absol—or rather, Stygian—tilted her head a bit, but then just shrugged. Aros paused to consider the name, like he was trying to find something wrong with it, but he wound up nodding in the end.

    I couldn’t help feeling really, really proud. Not only had my mission resulted in four experiments being freed, but they were also joining us? This pretty much completely made up for my inaction at the Raikou mission.

    “Do you still have their Pokéballs?” Stalker asked me. Right, there was no reason for me to hold onto them if they were going to be free now. I dug through my pockets and retrieved the minimized balls, handing them to him. He gave them a curious look before saying, “I’ll keep them in my office. Having the option to recall them in case of emergencies could be useful.”

    And then, for whatever reason, my brain caught up with my hands and realized what I’d done. Without even thinking about it, I’d handed him Razors, Aros, and Stygian’s Pokéballs, but not Chibi’s.

    Chibi, who’d stayed with me all through Vermilion. Who’d inspired me to act aboard the S.S. Anne. Who’d protected me just like a member of my team.

    “Hey, Chibi… can I ask you something?” I asked, gesturing away from the crowd.

    The Pikachu glanced up at me with a puzzled expression, but then followed me as I led him off to the side, close to the trees. I couldn’t help noticing how slow his steps were, and the wince that followed each one.

    “Um… are you okay?” I asked.

    “*I’m fine, everything just hurts… I’ve got to get used to that again,*” he muttered.

    I tilted my head. “Still?” He’d been off that Rocket machine for over twelve hours by now. If the effect was lasting this long…

    “*It’s normal for me,*” Chibi said, cutting off that train of negativity and replacing it with another.

    “…What do you mean?” I asked warily.

    The look on his face plainly said that he didn’t want to explain. Despite this, the hybrid took a deep breath and said, “*My Zapdos energy is too strong for this body. The feeling of generating power… it’s always hurt, as long as I can remember.*”

    He was… always in pain? And that was normal for him? How come I never noticed? Was I just that unobservant, or… was he just that good at hiding it?

    “*That’s the reason I train so often,*” he went on. “*Releasing the energy is one of the few things that feels good. Although once I start, my body tries to let it all go at once.*”

    “Like when you finished the battle at the plane,” I said slowly. He had been able to absorb Pichu’s entire store of electricity and fire it off in a single move.

    He nodded distantly. “*That felt amazing…*”

    I stared at him, lost for words. I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it was a thing. And the kind of thing that nothing could change. I couldn’t help him. No one could.

    Chibi glanced up at me and glared when he saw my expression. “*I don’t need sympathy. I’m like this because they made me this way. It’s as simple as that. In any case, you’re stalling. You wanted to ask something. So ask it.*”

    I hadn’t even realized that’s what I was doing, but he was right. I still had absolutely no idea how to word the thing I wanted to ask, and I also had no idea how he was going to react.

    Finally, I just took a deep breath. “Last time I saw you, you were kind of stuck with me. I’m not sure how you felt about that, but I just… wanted you to know that I’m glad you’re here. And I know you never really got a choice to stay with me before, but…”

    “*I could have left at any time,*” the hybrid said simply. “*I didn’t.*”

    I fidgeted uncomfortably. “Well… yeah, but…”

    “*I’ll stay by your side. It’s the least I can do to repay you for what you’ve done.*”

    Honestly, it didn’t feel like I’d done anything special. Anyone on the Rebellion could have done what I did. But would they have? I guess that’s what it all came down to—the fact that I’d wanted to. Still, I couldn’t deny that I was really, really happy that he was alright with staying with me. I couldn’t even explain why.

    By this point, Aros and Stygian had been dragged off to our outdoor battle area while the rebels fought over who got to battle them first. Razors had turned down several battle requests and was now sitting off to the side, quietly watching the others. I couldn’t help noticing Chibi gazing at him with… probably the most content expression I’d ever seen on his face.

    “You’re really glad he’s free, huh?” I asked.

    For several seconds, the Pikachu didn’t acknowledge that I’d said anything. Finally, in a weary tone, he said, “*For the first half of my life… he was all I had.*”

    I nodded. He didn’t need to say anything else. In spite of whatever had happened in the past, things were better now. And that was true for the Rebellion as well. And for me.

    No more fixating on the past. Time to move forward.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Two weeks passed and September was suddenly almost over in what felt like no time at all. No news of any upcoming Legendary missions had reached us, and the atmosphere of the Rebellion had become fairly relaxed.

    Which was why it was weird that Firestorm still insisted on training like his life depended on it, every day, long after the rest of us had quit. I’d left him alone most of time because I figured he’d get it out of his system and stop on his own eventually, and any attempts to ask him why never seemed to get anywhere. But after two weeks, I was kind of starting to get worried.

    It was dusk, and the Charmeleon was training on the edge of the forest. He’d found an old log amongst the trees and had set it up as a target, practicing all of his moves on it. Back by Midnight Stadium, Stalker was giving a demonstration on setup moves with his Charizard and Dragonite. Which made the whole situation even weirder because Firestorm loved watching Stalker’s demonstrations. And, yeah… occasionally he did stop to glance over at it—largely to stare at Charizard, I couldn’t help noticing. But then he immediately went back to what he was doing with a renewed vigor.

    I didn’t know whether or not to say anything this time. Would it do any good, or would he just brush me off like last time? Then again, I was his trainer. It was kind of my job to take care of my Pokémon. I couldn’t just ignore that.

    “Really, Firestorm, you’ve been at this all afternoon,” I finally said.

    The Charmeleon paused, pretending like he’d just noticed me, even though I’d seen him glance in my direction when I’d first walked up.

    “*Yeah, and you’re my trainer, why am I training without you?*” he asked flatly.

    “Because I already did my training for the day,” I said, folding my arms. “You just keep insisting on doing double time.”

    “*Lazy.*”

    I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, well, when you battle yourself into exhaustion, see if I care,” I said, turning to leave.

    The fire lizard snorted and went back to his training. I didn’t really plan on leaving, of course, but he ignored me after that, so I opted to just sit and watch him for a while.

    He took a fighting stance in front of the log and brandished his claws before lunging forward and slashing deeply into its surface, faster than I’d seen him move before. He drew his arms back for a second strike, and his claws suddenly glowed with a metallic sheen right before cleaving deeper gashes into the wood. A third strike, and his claws were cloaked in wispy tendrils of purple smoke.

    I hadn’t seen his Shadow Claw look that well-developed before. But I didn’t have much chance to appreciate it before the Charmeleon leaped back from where he stood and breathed out a flurry of embers. The attack lasted a few seconds before he frowned and stopped. The fire lizard closed his eyes in concentration, inhaling deeply. He then spat out a half-dozen small fireballs that burned brightly in midair before going out in a puff of smoke.

    He really was getting better. But there was something almost… desperate about his expression and movements throughout all of this. Like he didn’t just want to be doing this, but felt like he had to, for some reason. Maybe I was just reading too much into it, but… it reminded me of something.

    The time he’d been desperate to help at the plane incident. The time he’d been completely shut down on the S.S. Anne. And, more recently…

    “This is about what happened with Stracion, isn’t it?”

    The Charmeleon froze mid-move, losing his balance and faceplanting into the dirt. He picked himself up with a huff, shooting a glare in my direction, but then turned away and sagged his shoulders. He wasn’t denying it.

    “*Even after all the training here… I didn’t stand a chance. Swift at least got a few hits off, but I…*” His voice trailed off.

    I exhaled slowly. So I was right. I’d kind of figured as much, but this trend of him being obsessed with being useful in battle was starting to get out of hand. I’d originally chalked it up to the time he’d spent as weak little Charmander, but the past two months of being a Charmeleon hadn’t really helped much.

    “You know, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re useful to me. I still want you around,” I pointed out.

    “*Whatever,*” the fire lizard muttered, standing up and giving a few half-hearted slashes at the log.

    I sighed. This wasn’t the sort of problem that was going to sort itself out. And if he was upset about losing battles, then that wasn’t all on him anyway. They always said that in competitive battling, a Pokémon was only as good as their trainer—and as a trainer, I was failing him. The question was, what was our biggest weakness right now? During the fight with Stracion, he hadn’t been able to land a hit. Part of that was because her Grovyle was so fast, but the other part… was not having any decent fire moves to hit it with anyway.

    “Alright then… I’m your trainer, I need to be training you. We need to get you some new moves,” I announced suddenly.

    Firestorm whirled around in surprise to stare at me incredulously.

    “Don’t give me that look, I’m serious,” I said. “All this time you’ve been stuck with Ember. I think that’s the source of a lot of our problems—the lack of a good fire move. And I know we’ve tried working a bit with Fire Fang, but—”

    “*I don’t like Fire Fang. It’s too hard to land a hit with it.*”

    I groaned. If he could just stop complaining for two seconds… “Well alright, then we’ll need to try something different.” What other fire moves were Charmeleon capable of using? I’d know if I had a Pokédex. Technically I could go back to the stadium and look it up, but I wanted to figure this out on my own.

    Let’s see… he did know Fire Blast, but… we’d only tried it once since he’d learned it from that TM, and it was still every bit as unpredictable and impossible to control, even now that he was a Charmeleon. I’d been afraid to try it again ever since… at least not without Rudy’s Wartortle standing by. But there were other options…

    “Flamethrower is one of the best fire moves,” I said, thinking aloud. “Powerful, easy to aim. Takes a lot of energy though, so it’s not a low-level move.”

    Firestorm’s eyes lit up. “*I wanna try it.*”

    I nodded, taking a few steps back. “From what I remember, it’s basically just a long stream of fire. Like Fire Blast, but way thinner, and you don’t have to get it to split into five, so it should be easier to control.”

    Firestorm planted both feet firmly on the ground, digging his claws into the dirt and taking a deep breath. He then exhaled a large burst of flame that billowed outward in the air before splitting off into wisps and then vanishing completely. The Charmeleon blinked a bit in surprise, then let out two or three more spurts of fire with similar results. The flame was impressive—it just wasn’t going anywhere.

    “It keeps fading before it travels far enough. Try making it hotter,” I suggested.

    Firestorm closed his eyes in mild frustration before blasting out an even bigger fireball, but this one travelled even less distance before fizzling into smoke. The Charmeleon stamped his foot against the dirt and tried again, and again, but the more force he put into it, the more it just kind of… scattered all over the place, until finally one attempt didn’t even catch fire in the air, but just sputtered red-hot flares across the ground.

    “*This is stupid, why can’t I just use Fire Blast?*” the fire lizard growled, right before inhaling deeply and—

    “Don’t!!” I shouted, lunging forward to grab his arm as the fiery glow rose up from his throat. At the last second, Firestorm snapped his jaws shut, smoke leaking out of the corners of his mouth.

    “Just… don’t. We’re not there yet,” I said quietly.

    Firestorm stared at me in surprise, blinking several times before staring downward. “*Alright, fine…*”

    I gave a heavy sigh of relief. “Besides, how would we even use Fire Blast indoors? I mean, stadiums are all well and good, but the average Rocket battle isn’t exactly gonna be in a regulation battlefield.”

    The Charmeleon folded his arms and gave a slight huff, but he didn’t complain, which was generally code for when he knew I had a point but didn’t want to admit it.

    Alright, so his fire breath wasn’t controlled enough for Flamethrower yet… what else could we try? I racked my brain for fire attacks, half-tempted to just drag Firestorm over to Stalker and ask him directly.

    But then the idea struck. This whole time, he’d been way quicker to pick up physical moves than long-distance ones. Slash, Metal Claw, Shadow Claw—he was getting good at all of them. But the instructions I’d been giving him in battle didn’t really reflect that. Were we wasting our time trying to figure out how to pull off ranged moves when he already had a solid foundation for close-quarters fighting?

    “Can you generate fire around your fist?” I suddenly asked.

    Firestorm stared blankly. “*How on earth would I do that?*”

    “Just try focusing your energy into it,” I suggested.

    The fire lizard shrugged and held a fist up in front of his face, staring at it. After several seconds, he clenched it tighter, tensing every muscle in his arm. His brow furrowed, his breathing grew heavier, every ounce of concentration pouring into it. I squinted, trying to make out if anything was happening. A spark, a shimmer of heat, anything…

    “*Yeah, this is stupid,*” Firestorm said, letting the arm drop to his side.

    I sighed, really wishing he wasn’t so quick to dismiss things. I was definitely onto something with idea of focusing on physical moves—I was sure of it.

    Then again… he’d been able to breathe out decent fireballs. They were just fading away too quickly in the air. But if they couldn’t be used as a ranged move, maybe they could work in a different way…

    “Try breathing a fireball onto your fist.”

    “*What?*” Firestorm asked, gawking at me like I’d just gone insane.

    “I’m serious, try it.”

    The Charmeleon held his fist in front of his face and gave it an incredulous look, like this couldn’t possibly work. Still, he went ahead and blew out a small fireball onto it. The flames surrounded his claws, not really doing anything at first. But then he stopped adding fire with his breath and the flames… actually stuck around for a few seconds before going out.

    Firestorm’s eyes went wide. “*Did you see that?!*”

    “I did—try striking with it next time!” I said excitedly.

    With the most enthusiasm he’d shown all night, the fire lizard breathed a huge fireball onto his fist and immediately concentrated on holding it there. The fireball shrank considerably after the first few seconds, but it was still there, flickering away. Firestorm stared at it excitedly, then remembered that he was supposed to be doing something with it and swung the flaming fist at the log, striking it with a solid punch that sent a wave of flares flying away from the impact. It had worked!

    “There we go! That’s the start of a decent Fire Punch!” I exclaimed.

    Firestorm stared at the log, like he could hardly believe was he was seeing. But then the shock wore off and a grin started to creep across his face.

    I patted him on the back. “Not bad. Now come on—is that enough success for the night? Ready to stop?”

    Firestorm glanced up at me with a sort of weary exhilaration. Like he was too excited to stop, but had also just realized how tired he was. “*Yeah. Alright.*”

    I gave him another pat and turned to walk back to the stadium, motioning for him to follow me. The Charmeleon plodded along after me, slowly at first, then jogging to catch up.

    “*Hey, um… thanks,*” he mumbled awkwardly.

    “Don’t mention it,” I said. But then one more thing occurred to me, and I couldn’t just let it go without saying something. “So I saw you staring at Stalker’s Charizard a bunch. What’s with that?” I teased.

    Firestorm’s eyes went wide, and he immediately looked away. “*Nothing, she’s just… really strong, and I wanna be strong like that someday,*” he mumbled. Sure, that’s all there was to it. I definitely believed that, except that I didn’t.

    I nudged him playfully in the ribs but didn’t press the matter any further. The embarrassed look on his face was more than enough for me.






    ~End Chapter 16~

    Next chapter has ALL THE PLOT.
     
    Chapter 17: The Ruins
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    I have applied a hotfix to chapter 8 to fix the great teleport debaucle once and for all! The S.S. Anne was supposed to host a special event for invite holders. Those recruits who proved themselves by completing the event would then be teleported to Midnight Island. Since the Rocket attack happens before the event, all the survivors are then teleported to the island without needing to qualify (since it would be… kinda dickish to force them to prove themselves after going through that.)

    This is really only a patch job. I still intend to go back and add more later (like editing Jade’s initial conversation with Stalker to make it clear that he does intend to test the recruits before allowing them to join his rebel team.) But that can wait until the next proper revision after Book 2 is completed.
    And with that, it's probably time I finally follow up on all that important-sounding Legendary plot from the prologue, huh?



    ~Chapter 17: The Ruins~


    Firestorm took a fighting stance in front of me, claws flexed, flame-tail swinging back and forth. Across from us, Darren gave a confident smirk while his Ivysaur posed as tall as he could on his stubby legs. And opposite the both of us was Rudy. It was the perfect three-way matchup. All three of us had a different starter Pokémon, each with an advantage and disadvantage over one of the other two.

    Except Rudy still had yet to send out Wartortle.

    He shuffled a bit with a look of hesitation. “I still don’t see why I can’t use Ebony.”

    “Cause we’re having a starter battle? Last time I checked, Houndoom aren’t starter Pokémon,” Darren replied.

    “Well… yeah, but she was my first Pokémon.”

    “And Swift was my first Pokémon,” I said exasperatedly.

    Rudy glanced back and forth between me and Darren and groaned. “Alright, fiiine,” he said, replacing Ebony’s ball on his belt and pulling out another. He tossed it forward to release Wartortle before folding his arms in a huff. The bipedal tortoise laid eyes on his opponents and flinched slightly, but with a glance back at his trainer, he forced himself to take a more confident stance.

    The only question now was who would make the first move? Should I be the one, or would it be better to lead with Protect and wait for an opening? Go for the easy target in Ivysaur, or try to stall while Ivysaur took out Wartortle? The other two hesitated similarly. Rudy’s eyes flickered around, but then settled on me for just a second too long…

    And that was the sign I needed.

    “Now! Water Pulse!” he yelled, pointing at me.

    “Dodge and use Scary Face!” I immediately countered.

    Firestorm had already broken into a run by the time Wartortle took a deep breath and shot out a pulsating water ring at him. The fire lizard easily avoided the water move, then spun around and flashed a menacing snarl at his opponent, making the water-type freeze out of shock.

    “Razor Leaf!” Darren called out.

    While the other two were focused on each other, Ivysaur was free to launch a flurry of razor-sharp leaves at his opponents, catching both of them with tiny cuts all over. Firestorm braced his arms in front of his face and weathered the storm, but the leaves dug deeper into Wartortle’s scales, forcing the tortoise to withdraw into his shell.

    “Come on, Water Pulse again!” Rudy called out.

    “Er… Protect?” I ordered.

    I wasn’t totally sure if Firestorm was even the target, but sure enough, another ring of water shot right at him. The fire lizard had plenty of time to produce a shimmering white barrier around himself, deflecting the attack with a spray of mist.

    Rudy stared incredulously. “The hell? Come on, you’ve gotta attack sooner or later!”

    “You’ve got the type advantage, of course I’m not just gonna rush in blindly against—” My words were cut off by the whoosh of another Razor Leaf.

    “Hey guys, it’s cool if you just wanna keep attacking each other the entire time, but I thought this was a multi battle?” Darren asked, his voice dripping with mock innocence.

    Eh… right.

    Rudy glowered at him. “Fine, use Bite on Ivysaur!”

    Fangs bared, Wartortle charged ahead as fast as he could before lunging at the grass-type, who made no attempt to dodge. The tortoise clamped down hard onto Ivysaur’s leg—the latter winced, but stood his ground until his trainer gave out the command, “Stun Spore!”

    So that’s why he’d taken the hit.

    Ivysaur gave the slightest trace of a grin right before tilting his body so the flower bud was facing forward and unleashing a cloud of yellow spores all over Wartortle. Firestorm paused as the cloud started to spread out and drift toward him. But then, without any orders from me, the fire lizard spat out a flurry of embers, which snapped and crackled as they burned up the paralyzing spores.

    “Good thinking!” I called out. “Alright, time for a Fire Punch!”

    The Charmeleon breathed out a fireball onto his claws and lunged forward at Ivysaur, catching the grass-type in the side with a flaming punch. He jumped back just as fast to avoid a counterattack, but then Ivysaur’s vines suddenly shot out from all around him! Firestorm lashed out with his claws, but soon found himself completely tied up with his arms pressed against his sides.

    “Try dodging Sleep Powder now,” Darren said with a smirk.

    Crap. If Firestorm got put to sleep, he’d be a sitting duck just asking to get hit with a Water Pulse. And there was Rudy, pointing forward, ready to call out another move. Had to do something, and fast!

    “Ember!” I blurted out. Ivysaur’s eyes went wide as he realized his mistake, right before a burst of flares hit him right in the face. The vines slackened for just a second—enough for the fire lizard to untangle himself. But not before a blast of water struck him head on. The fire-type reeled backward, coughing and sputtering. The culprit, Wartortle was already prepping for another water move.

    It had been long enough since the last time Firestorm used Protect, right?

    “Protect!” I yelled.

    It took a good second longer than the last time, but Firestorm barely managed to raise the white barrier in time to block the second water ring that flew towards him.

    Rudy was dumbfounded. “What?! Come on! Why are you only blocking my attacks?!”

    “Well if you’re just standing there ordering Water Pulse the entire time, it’s kind of predictable!” I countered.

    “I’m just gonna use Razor Leaf again, if that’s alright with everyone,” Darren said, pointing to his Ivysaur.

    Ugh. Yet again, Rudy had gotten me to only focus on him in the battle. But of course Darren didn’t want Wartortle to go down first. That was his best shot at Firestorm getting defeated. He’d been sticking to spread moves and single targeting Firestorm. No reason to think that was gonna change.

    Come on, think… there was a solution there, I just knew it.

    “Alright Wartortle, use Rapid Spin to dodge the leaves and then Water Pulse right in Charmeleon’s face, before he can Protect again!” Rudy yelled.

    That was going to be a problem.

    Wartortle ducked into his shell before zooming along the ground at high speed, deflecting most of the leaves that had been sent his way. The tortoise closed the distance with Firestorm way quicker than I’d been expecting. He sprung out of his shell, ready for the attack—!

    …and then dropped to his knees, his muscles twitching from paralysis.

    “Are you kidding me?!”

    It took me several seconds to realize now was the time to make a move. Something—not a fire move, not something that would just bounce off Wartortle’s shell, something like—

    “Dragon Rage!”

    Firestorm breathed out a lick of sparkling blue and green dragonfire onto the downed water-type, who fell onto his back and didn’t move.

    “Whaaaat?!” Yep, that was pretty much the response I’d been expecting. I ignored Rudy and turned my attention to my sole remaining opponent, who folded his arms and said, “Well that’s exactly what I was hoping wouldn’t happen.”

    I laughed and said, “Hey, I’m not complaining.” Then I motioned to Firestorm and called out, “Fire Punch!”

    The Charmeleon grinned and breathed out a fireball onto his claws before lunging. Darren had his fists clenched in concentration, waiting for the fire-type to draw near. At the last possible second, he ordered, “Protect!”

    Firestorm’s punch collided with a barrier out of nowhere, scattering red-hot flares throughout the air.

    “Don’t let up! Fire Punch again! Ivysaur can’t keep that up forever!”

    Darren frowned. “Drop the Protect and use Sleep Powder!”

    Trying to catch us off guard? But Firestorm was too quick and already had his attack ready. The instant the shield went down, he connected with a flaming uppercut that scorched the grass-type’s scales. Ivysaur stumbled backward, struggling to stand, and then finally collapsed.

    I had won. I had… actually won.

    Firestorm turned around with an equally stunned expression, which slowly faded into a wild-eyed grin.

    “You did awesome!” I exclaimed, giving the Charmeleon a thumbs-up.

    “Alright admit it, you totally had the advantage there,” Darren said, giving me a snide look.

    I snorted and was about to ask what he meant, but then noticed him ever-so-slightly tilt his head. Right… the Pokémon that Firestorm was weak to in that match also had a trainer completely uninterested in training him.

    “Okay, seriously, that was ridiculous, I’d have won hands down if you just let me use Ebony,” Rudy grumbled, walking over to us.

    “You’ve been using Ebony in every battle since she evolved,” I said, rolling my eyes.

    Rudy was unimpressed. “Well yeah, Houndoom are awesome and she always wins.”

    I wouldn’t have said always, but he definitely had a pretty good record with her. When the two of them battled, they were almost perfectly in sync. Which was why I didn’t really feel like arguing against his point.

    “Aw whatever,” he said, wandering off. He barely got five steps away before grabbing a Pokéball and letting out Ebony, who glanced up at him, tongue hanging out of her mouth.

    “Ready to kick some more butts?” Rudy asked.

    The firedog barked out an overexcited, “*Yeah!*” before running circles around him. Twice as big as she had been as a Houndour, now sporting a full set of horns and skeletal spines—still just a pup at heart. Finding an opponent right now was likely gonna be hard, though. Most of the rebels outside were currently watching the experiments battle.

    Stygian only liked fighting the stronger rebels like Ray and Mai—right now the latter had pitted her Arbok and Primeape against the dark-type. Aros, on the other hand, would battle pretty much anyone at any time, bragging constantly about beating Pokémon half his level. I wasn’t too sure how helpful that was, but Stalker hadn’t made him stop. And the dragon never hurt anyone too badly. Mostly just egos.

    Razors stood off to the side, watching the others. I still had yet to see him battle with anyone here, which was kind of a shame. I’d been looking forward to seeing his fighting style when he wasn’t controlled by Team Rocket. But he always turned down any battle requests.

    By now, Darren had let out the rest of his team members and was busy discussing the afternoon’s training plan with them. The freshly-healed Ivysaur sat apart from the others and glowered at Firestorm, still sore from his recent defeat. Sandslash gave the grass-type a reassuring pat before gesturing for him to join the others. Psyduck and Kadabra welcomed him over while Sneasel, the newest addition to the team, listened to Darren with starry eyes.

    “C’mon, let’s see if we can get Psyduck to evolve today,” he said to his team before the group of them walked off into the forest.

    “*When am I gonna evolve?*” Firestorm’s voice suddenly cut in.

    “Is that the only thing you think about? I dunno, Stalker said you still had a ways to go, so I’m gonna trust him on that.”

    Firestorm scoffed. “*He always says that.*”

    “Then it’ll keep on being true until he says otherwise.” The fire lizard snorted but didn’t argue.

    At some point the two of us joined the rest of the group watching the battle between Mai and Stygian. The Absol’s movements were sluggish, and her left foreleg bore a purplish tinge—poison, most likely. Still, the white-furred beast kept deftly dodging punches from Primeape like they were nothing, following up with slashes of pink energy from the blade on her head.

    Heavy wingbeats behind me caught my attention, and I turned to see a Pidgeotto approaching me from the trees. Swift! I hadn’t seen him all day. Earlier I’d been wondering where he’d flown off to, but had forgotten about it with the events of the day.

    The Pidgeotto landed on the ground (he was much too big to land on my arm like he used to as a Pidgey) and glanced up at me with an inquisitive look. “*Can you help me with something?*”

    I tilted my head, bemused. “Sure?”

    He glanced down and shifted his wings a bit, unsure of how to follow through with his request. “*There’s writing on the walls of the quiet place that I like. Can you read it to me?*”

    Was that all? Well, that was no big deal. “Sure, I guess? Is it in town?”

    The tawny bird shook his head. “*It’s in the forest.*”

    What? A walled place with writing in the forest? Why was there…?

    Swift hesitated upon seeing my change in expression. “*It’s fine if you don’t want to—*” he started.

    “No, you’ve got me curious now. Let’s go see it,” I said.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    The crisp autumn air swept through the trees, scattering multicolored leaves that blanketed the forest floor, resulting in a hearty crunch with each step I took. I was walking too slow for Swift to keep pace with me in the air without making constant circles, so the Pidgeotto glided from tree to tree, landing on the lowest and barest branch of each one. I hadn’t asked how far away his quiet place was, but he was leading me deep into the heart of the island, in a completely different direction than the Rebellion’s usual training path.

    “So you fly out here often?” I asked him.

    “*Sometimes,*” the bird replied. “*I like having a quiet spot to think. And it’s an interesting place.*”

    I still wasn’t quite sure what could possibly be so interesting way out here in the forest, but that’s why I was going with him in the first place.

    Every so often, various wild Pokémon took notice of Swift and leaped out of the brush to challenge us. The wilds around here knew the local trainers were always up for a battle. And Swift was happy to oblige, striking his opponents down with his wings, dazzling them with his speed, and stirring up impressive whirlwinds with only a few flaps. After his third opponent, an energetic Raticate, was sent running with a rapid combination of Aerial Ace and Quick Attack, I couldn’t help feeling my heart swell a bit with pride. Just two months ago, he’d been a tiny Pidgey, and now…

    “You’re getting pretty strong, you know that?” I said, unable to keep that pride out of my voice.

    “*We all are,*” Swift replied matter-of-factly.

    It seemed silly to include me in that statement, but in a weird way, I still appreciated it. Compared to the others my strategies still felt… really basic. And I took too long to come up with orders on the spot. Still, I couldn’t deny that I had gotten better. My mind wandered back to the downright laughable first battle I’d had with Darren, the day that we’d all arrived on Midnight Island. The way that I’d just stared blankly at Swift, unable to come up with any orders. Anything was better than that.

    “*Strength is nice, but it’s not everything,*” Swift said, with an airy, offhand tone like he was thinking aloud. “*Training here has let me learn so many things. I want to know how everything works.*” He paused, looking down. “*It’s not something Pokémon are supposed to think about, though.*”

    I tilted my head. “Why do you say that?”

    For several seconds, he didn’t acknowledge that I’d said anything. Finally, in a soft voice, he replied, “*They said I asked too many strange questions.*”

    Now that was hard to imagine, Swift asking too many questions. He’d barely ever talked at all until we’d started this journey together. But then… maybe that was because of the way his fellow Pokémon had reacted.

    “That was before I found you, right?” I asked.

    The Pidgeotto nodded. “*I do not remember much from that time, though.*”

    He had been only a few months old when I’d found him. It was around six years ago, but the details of it still shone just as brightly in my memory as the day it had happened. Seeing the small, crumpled form of a Pidgey lying alone in the grass after what had probably been his first time flying far from home. Frantically biking home with one arm curled around a warm, trembling body. Getting told to drop him off at the Pokécenter, but staying there the entire time he was being treated. Releasing him the next day, only for him to return to my house every day after that, following me everywhere I went.

    “You know… the last time I asked you why you came back, I couldn’t understand you that much. Why did you?”

    Swift paused to consider the question. “*I’d been curious about humans for a while,*” he said finally. “*Humans make so many interesting things. Humans do so many interesting things. I felt ready to join that world.*”

    I stared at the ground sheepishly. “I guess you couldn’t have asked me much about how things work back when I lived at home. I was too bad at Pokéspeech.”

    Swift’s eyes brightened. “*I was glad when you started to learn Pokéspeech, even if it took a long time.*”

    It was weird… it seemed like just yesterday that I had to focus all my effort into catching a few words out of Swift’s chirps. And now we were conversing like nothing was more natural.

    “I’m glad too.”

    The two of us continued on through the forest as the afternoon stretched on. After some time, I couldn’t help noticing a gap in the trees ahead of us.

    “*This is it,*” Swift announced after landing in a tree far ahead of me.

    I jogged a bit to catch up with him and then the two of us emerged into a large clearing—one that was far from empty. In front of me stood a massive stone structure comprised of a wide, flat platform ringed by rectangular pillars twice my height. Crumbled chunks of moss-covered stone surrounded each pillar, like they’d once been supporting something even larger that had collapsed with age. All of the stone had a weathered and worn look that made the whole place feel downright ancient.

    “Holy crap… this has been here the whole time? I had no idea…”

    Movement, out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to the left and caught sight of a violet gas ball drifting lazily amongst the trees before crossing the clearing and vanishing through a pillar.

    A Gastly.

    Then again, that wasn’t too surprising. The island was full of wild ghost-types (something about being close to Lavender Town). But we never saw ‘em during the day. This was… weirdly early to see one out and about.

    Swift must have noticed my bewildered expression because he piped up with, “*They come out early here. It’s normal.*” I guess they couldn’t have been too troublesome if he’d been coming here alone all this time, no problem.

    The Pidgeotto flapped forward to perch on the closest pillar as I walked up the stone steps that led inside the ruins. Though the outside had been worn, the inside was practically untouched—not even any dirt or leaves littered the stone floor. The inward-facing sides of the pillars each featured a single, intricate symbol carved into their surface. But that was nothing compared to the far wall, which was completely covered with carvings in dozens of different scripts. Some of them vaguely familiar, most of them totally foreign. This had to be the writing Swift had been curious about. But even the familiar scripts were from languages that no one had spoken in, what, a few hundred years? Just how old were these ruins?

    “I, uh… don’t think I’m gonna be able to read any of this stuff. It’s gotta be hundreds of years old, maybe more, and—”

    I blinked. On one of the slabs was some writing I could actually read. At first, I was sure my eyes were just playing tricks on me, but there it was—words written in the Tohjoan alphabet. But there was no way that I’d be able to understand it; it’d likely be some ancient language that just happened to use the same—

    It wasn’t. It was actual, honest-to-god, Tohjoan.

    This shrine stands here to honor those among the Order of the Legends who have fought to protect the balance of the world as an extension of the original purpose bestowed upon them. Yet even as the fires of war subside, the balance that they fought so hard to preserve is already on the inevitable path to being torn apart once again. Seven among the Order—the ones who dedicated both mind, body, and spirit toward ending the war—shall be empowered to forge an alliance with humankind so that both might endure. The seven are bound by their duty to seek out the interlopers to protect the balance of power in the coming era. For though none may prevail, what is set into motion shall be much greater indeed.

    Legendary Pokémon. It was a message about Legendary Pokémon. But it wasn’t written like a story… it was written like it was something that had actually happened. Something that would happen again. A war involving Legendary Pokémon that had happened once before and was going to happen again.

    A prophecy, in other words.

    “*What does it say?*” Swift asked.

    I read the inscription out loud to him. The words sank deeper into my mind upon reading it a second time, and it was impossible not to wonder if it was more than just a legend.

    “*Do you believe there is any truth to it?*” He’d said the words I’d been thinking.

    “I… don’t know.” A great disaster that would force an alliance between humans and Legendaries… the idea sent an uncomfortable shudder running through me.

    But… it couldn’t really be a prophecy. Could it?

    I shivered and started rubbing my arms as a chill swept through the ruins. The sky was reddening into dusk. And the ghost-types had grown more numerous, their gaseous bodies floating in and out of the shadows cast by the ruin pillars in the light of the setting sun. I wasn’t too worried about them—Swift was strong enough to take on almost any wild Pokémon on the island, and most of the ghosts’ moves couldn’t even touch him. But there was no denying the chilling atmosphere they brought with them, or the way every hair on my body now stood on end. Right about now, the other kids were probably winding down for the night. Returning to the warmth of the stadium and curling up in the lounge to watch famous League battles with the rest of my teammates sounded particularly appealing at the moment.

    I motioned to Swift. “Let’s head back now.” The Pidgeotto spread his wings and took off for the trees, and I hastened to follow him. There was something weird about that place. Something I couldn’t quite pin down. And it wasn’t going to stop bothering me until I got a chance to ask Stalker about it.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I didn’t have to go out of my way to find Stalker to ask him about the ruins. In fact, he was the one who approached me the following day, flagging me down in the stadium as Rudy, Darren, and I returned from grabbing breakfast in town. I told the other two I’d catch up with them in a bit before making my way to the audience stands, where he was watching the rebels train.

    “I’ve got an update regarding your last mission,” Stalker said as I approached him.

    I couldn’t help flinching. Right, I’d almost forgotten. It had always been too much to hope that my little misadventure in Celadon wouldn’t have any consequences.

    “While your Rocket ID was never officially flagged for suspicion, it’s likely they left it alone in the hopes that you’d use it to get into another base and be an easy target.”

    Of course. Why reject my ID at the door when they could just let me think everything was perfectly fine only to walk right into an ambush?

    “I can always get you a new ID and bypass the background checks like I did with everyone originally, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re more likely to be recognized now. So any missions where you’d interact with Rockets as one of them, those are all off the table now. You’ll be limited to stealth missions.”

    Honestly… I was kind of okay with that. The idea of going back to Cerulean now and going about my grunt business like nothing had ever happened… wasn’t very appealing.

    “And I want a teleporter with you at all times in case things go south. One of your partners has a teleporter, right?”

    “Yeah, Darren’s Abra is a Kadabra now and they’ve started practicing long-range jumps,” I said. “But I thought all the Rocket bases had teleport blockers?”

    “They do, but it’s still useful for making a getaway once you’re outside.”

    I paused. Something was starting to feel a bit weird about all of this. It almost sounded like he’d be needing me to visit a Rocket base soon.

    “Why bring this up now?” I asked. “Is there a big mission coming up?”

    Stalker folded his arms. “I have a few suspicions. That’s why I needed to figure out a way to continue to use you.”

    “…Specifically me?”

    “You have the single strongest Pokémon on the Rebellion now,” he replied simply.

    I blinked. I… kind of did, didn’t I? It seemed obvious now that he’d pointed it out, but I never would’ve made that realization otherwise.

    “I’ll let everyone know once I have more details. For now, keep training, and be ready for the next mission… it could be a big one,” he said, turning to leave.

    Hang on, I still needed to ask him about the ruins. “Wait. Before you go, I was wanting to ask something,” I said quickly. Stalker turned back to face me, a curious look on his face. I honestly wasn’t sure what the odds were that he’d know any more than I did. But it was worth a shot.

    “I was taking a walk through the forest, and I… found something. Some kind of ruins.”

    At once, Stalker’s eyes lit up with interest, and for a second it was like his calm, guarded air had just vanished. “What did you think of them?” he asked, the slightest edge of a grin crossing his face.

    I blinked. That wasn’t the response I’d been expecting. “You knew about them?”

    “Of course,” he replied. No explanation. Why wouldn’t he know about them?

    “How come you never mentioned them?” I asked.

    “I didn’t want everyone going there all at once, disturbing them,” he said offhandedly. “I figured a few of you would stumble across it eventually though.”

    Huh. Well, I guess he was right about that.

    “Those ruins are the reason I chose Midnight Island as the base location,” he continued. “I’m fascinated by Legendaries and everything to do with them.”

    A glimmer of excitement was starting to build within me. “What did you think of the legend carved there?”

    Stalker paused, considering the question carefully. “I believe it refers to the wars that tore through multiple regions 3000 years ago.”

    My eyes widened. “What, you mean the cataclysmic era?” I hadn’t realized the legend could be referring to that. It was kind of a big deal—the only time in history that basically the entire world was caught up in wars. It was the start of our calendar and everything.

    “You know about it?” Stalker asked, looking intrigued.

    “Well yeah. I mean, I’m not an expert on it, but pretty much everyone’s heard of it, right?” I paused, as the implications of that knowledge suddenly hit me. “Wait, hang on… if that legend was talking about something that actually happened… then what was with the ending?”

    Stalker didn’t respond for quite some time. Finally, in a low tone of voice, he said, “The writer obviously believed that history repeats itself.”

    Well that was unnerving. At least the odds of someone managing to accurately predict the state of the world 3000 years in the future was pretty ridiculous. Unless it really was a prophecy. Which it probably wasn’t. Hopefully.

    “Now it’s my turn to ask you something,” Stalker said.

    I tilted my head. I hadn’t been expecting that, but I nodded for him to go ahead.

    “Why did you join the Rebellion?”

    I raised an eyebrow. “What? That’s a… weird question.”

    “Everyone joined this team for their own reasons. I want to know yours,” he said matter-of-factly.

    I immediately opened my mouth to respond, but then stopped. Why had I joined the Rebellion? I’d been vaguely in favor of the idea when I first met Stalker in the forest the day that Entei was captured. But it wasn’t until after the plane incident that I’d really started to consider it for real. I’d told myself it was about protecting the Legendaries, but… that wasn’t it, was it?

    “To be honest… it was for entirely selfish reasons,” I said slowly, more thinking aloud than really answering. “I wanted to get stronger. I heard about the fight and wanted to make a difference. I wanted to feel… important.”

    “And do you?”

    I glanced up at him. “Huh?”

    “Do you feel important now?” Stalker asked, gazing at me intently.

    I stared at the ground, mentally repeating his words to myself. “I… I guess so?” I mean, I hadn’t helped any Legendaries yet, but I’d freed the experiments. That had to count for something, right?

    “Good. Now’s the time for morale to be high,” he said, walking past me. “We’re doing something important here. I don’t want anyone forgetting that.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Throughout the following week, my mind kept straying back to the ruins. Talking to Stalker really hadn’t helped me stop thinking about them. In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect. Especially considering that I had a strong suspicion that Stalker knew more about the ruins than he was letting on. He certainly had a way of answering questions without actually providing any info.

    That said, I felt really, really stupid as I trudged through the woods in the direction I remembered Swift taking me. I mean, really… what was I doing? I had already read the legend. I remembered what it said. I just… couldn’t stop thinking about it. Seven Legendaries had ended the cataclysmic era 3000 years ago, and now it was supposedly going to happen again, and if that was true, then wasn’t it the sort of thing people should know about?

    I had no idea what returning to the ruins was supposed to accomplish, but if going back there would help my brain shut up, then it was worth it.

    I stepped into the clearing and was greeted with the familiar sight of the ancient stone structure. And just like last time, the place was crawling with ghost-types. Orblike Gastly weaved in and out of the pillars, flicking their long tongues and leaving trails of purple mist in their wake. It was still weird seeing them out this early, even if Swift said it was normal. I couldn’t help keeping one hand on Firestorm’s Pokéball as I approached the ruins, just in case any of the ghosts decided I looked like a target. But at the sound of my footsteps, they all scattered to the trees.

    Something felt off about the place. More than the last time I was here, with Swift. I couldn’t explain why, but an air of unease settled in as I walked up the stone steps into the center of the ruins. The great wall covered in writing loomed ahead of me. And then my eyes fell on the gaping hole currently in the middle of it.

    What? That wasn’t there last time.

    My legs carried me closer to the opening without me telling them to. A thick groove was set into the stone floor where the wall segment had slid out of view. I leaned forward, peering down the passageway.

    Stairs. Leading downward.

    The urge to turn around and pretend I hadn’t come back here suddenly struck. But part of me had to know what was down there. Especially if it offered more insight into everything that was written up here. And especially if Stalker didn’t know this was here. Maybe he did… but the fact that he might not was what drove me to take the first step into the passageway. And then another. I shivered. The air in the stairway was drastically colder than the outside, making the hair on my arms stand on end. But soon I couldn’t see them any more as the light from outside faded, leaving me in near total darkness. I braced my hands against the wall and took it one step at a time. Slowly, my eyes started to adjust, and I caught sight of a glow ahead of me. Just a few more steps now.

    I emerged into a small, dimly lit stone chamber. The walls were absolutely covered in writings. And in the center of the room sat a waist-high pedestal. A jagged, crystalline stone sat atop the pedestal, giving off an eerie sheen.

    I exhaled slowly, then coughed as I tried to breathe in the stale air down here. Just how old was this chamber? And that stone… had it been here since the ruins were built? Slowly, I stepped forward into the center of the room, turning around in a circle to look at all of the writing on the walls. And just like last time, my eyes fell on a portion of text that I could read. What in the world was modern Tohjoan doing in a place like this?

    For several seconds, I didn’t move. But curiosity won out in the end. I leaned forward, squinted at the writing in the dim light, and read:

    Only one who is marked may remove this orb from its resting place, for none should have their fate bound that have not already chosen it for themselves. Three orbs were forged from the birth of this realm, and each has been sealed away so that the realms might remain separate forevermore. They lie in wait, sensing only the essence of those who would seek to restore balance to that which was never meant to exist. Though the seven patrons have been tasked with forging an alliance with humankind, they cannot prevent the fires of the Revolution from swallowing the land. When they have made their stand, joining the orbs together will be the only means to light a path to the truth that was hidden from this world.

    A chill swept over me. Another legend. And this one didn’t sound so pleasant—whoever wrote this one sure wasn’t very optimistic about the future. It basically just made it sound like everything written upstairs was dead wrong. An alliance between humans and Legendaries? Nope, the world is screwed either way.

    Then again, if Stalker was right, and it was written after the major multi-region wars that restarted the calendar, it was probably hard for anyone to be optimistic at the time.

    As for the… orb? (It looked more like a stone to me. It wasn’t round enough to be an orb.) It was impossible not to get the feeling that it was important, though. Sealed away in a secret chamber underneath ancient ruins with a foreboding message. Come on, that was the epitome of suspicious. But how was it still here? How come no one had found it and taken it after all this time?

    ‘Only one who is marked may remove this orb…’

    Well that was fine. It wasn’t like I had any reason to steal a random artifact that I’d just stumbled across. Still, it’d be interesting to ask Stalker about it.

    I turned to look away from it… but my eyes didn’t want to leave. I blinked a few times, nonplussed. Okay, yeah, it was interesting, but there was nothing else to see here. I had to leave.

    My body didn’t move. I wasn’t really going to just leave, was I? Not without investigating it closer. Even if the writings were just a myth, there was no denying that the orb, right here in front of me, was real. My legs carried me closer to the pedestal, and I leaned forward to stare at it closely. The orb’s amber, crystalline surface caught the light shining down through the entryway, glinting with an oddly silvery sheen. Without entirely knowing why, I reached my hand out to run my fingers along it. The orb was cool to the touch, and it left an airy, tingly feeling in my fingertips.

    I wanted it.

    The writings? I wasn’t sure what to think of them. But the orb? The orb was important. Somehow, nothing was truer than that.

    My fingers slowly traced the edges of the orb. Encircling it. Clasping it. Lifting it. It took more effort than I expected. Like it was actually made of dense metal. Yet part of my brain expected it to slip right through my fingers like gas.

    Wait.

    Okay, no, what was I doing? Grabbing some random artifact from a cave and taking it? Yeah, that was a good idea—no way could anything bad ever come from that. In fact, even just being here felt like a bad idea. I still had no idea why the chamber had opened up (by itself?), and something told me I wouldn’t like the answer. I was going to leave now.

    Also the orb was still firmly clenched in my right hand. So I was going to set it down, then leave.

    …Any second now.

    No. I couldn’t. I needed it.

    Somehow, I was outside now. I hadn’t noticed myself leave the chamber. And the orb, where was the—it was in my pocket now. Why had I taken it again? I couldn’t remember. There was definitely a reason—an important reason—but…

    Exasperation prodded at the back of my mind. Who really cared if I took the orb? It had been sitting down there for who knows how long, and if I wasn’t supposed to have it, then the chamber shouldn’t have opened in the first place.

    The sun had already slipped out of view. Streaks of red and gold painted the clouds overhead, and the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon had appeared on the horizon. How long was I down there? I glanced back at the passage I’d apparently just exited, now feeling a tingle of unease. The stone entryway had already shut itself behind me.

    “I… really need to show this to Stalker,” I muttered to myself, reaching into my pocket to run my fingers along the orb’s surface. But even as I said it, I knew I wouldn’t. I couldn’t show him. I couldn’t show anyone. No one could know that I had it.

    A sudden chill fell over the surrounding. I barely had a chance to register it before an icy gale swept through the ruins, throwing my hair in my face and chilling every inch of exposed skin.

    “Explain your presence here, human.”

    I froze. The words were ice. They gripped my senses and resounded in my ears long after they had been spoken. Even stranger, the speaker was absolutely not human… but the words were not Pokéspeech.

    Behind me. That’s where the voice had come from. I’d have to look sooner or later. No matter how much I didn’t want to. My movements dragged like mud as I forced myself to turn around. My eyes fell on the speaker. And my heart instantly jumped into my throat.

    A slender beast stood atop the stone archway at the entrance to the ruins. Diamond-spotted cobalt fur covered a lithe frame with muscles poised to strike at any moment. Twilight glinted through crystalline antlers, casting sea-green highlights across the stone floor and making the ruins feel even more unearthly. But the weirdest thing was how its violet mane and ribbon-like tails constantly billowed through the air… like it was surrounded by its own personal whirlwind.

    I’d only ever seen pictures… but it was unmistakably Suicune. The Legendary Beast of the North Wind.

    It felt as though the air had gone from my lungs. I wasn’t sure it hadn’t really happened. Suicune. Right here, right now. Not across a clearing, being hunted by Rockets. Standing right in front of me, focusing on me and only me. Why was a Legendary focusing on me? I was nobody.

    Except I was a nobody who happened to be standing here right at this moment, in a place I obviously wasn’t supposed to be. What could I possibly say against that?

    The beast spoke. “How did you get into that chamber?”

    “I… what?” I stuttered, feeling my stomach dissolve. The chamber. If the ruins weren’t off-limits, the chamber definitely was. And the orb. Oh god, I’d stolen the orb.

    “How did you get into that chamber?” it repeated.

    I had to tell it something. I swallowed hard and, with every effort to keep my voice from trembling, said, “I… I don’t know.”

    “Do you honestly believe you can lie to me?” the cobalt beast replied icily.

    My heart was pounding. “I’m not lying! It—it opened by itself.”

    Piercing crimson eyes bored into me. But then their owner tilted its head ever so slightly, and for just a second, it looked somewhat intrigued. “What was down there?”

    I couldn’t tell it about the orb. Wait, what? Why not? It was a Legendary Pokémon. Ancient treasures and prophecies and the like were supposed to be their area of expertise. At least, that’s how all the stories went…

    The North Wind continued to stare at me expectantly. Right, I hadn’t answered its question yet. What was down there?

    “More writings. Like the ones up here,” I finally said.

    “What did they say?”

    I opened my mouth to speak… and found all memory of the legend completely gone.

    “I… don’t remember.”

    Anger flashed through the beast’s eyes, and the air around it whipped into a frenzy. Oh god I’d done it now, angering a Legendary right to its face. I screwed my eyes shut, half expecting a frigid burst of wind to freeze me to the spot.

    “Leave now. Do not return,” the Legendary barked.

    My eyes snapped open, and I stared at the beast in disbelief. I was so stunned that it took several seconds for my brain to register that I was going to be okay, I just had to leave immediately. Slowly, shakily, I took one step back. Then another. Then my legs finally got the message and I found myself bolting in the opposite direction as fast as they could carry me.

    I reached the trees and ducked behind one, doubled over from the sudden rush of panic and my heart beating painfully fast. It wasn’t following me, was it? I glanced over my shoulder to see that Suicune had leaped down from its perch and was now investigating the stone wall that had opened for me.

    I sank back against the tree and let out a huge sigh of relief. I was in the clear. Unbelievable. Part of me had been so convinced that it was going to attack. I closed my eyes and focused on calming down and regaining control of my breathing.

    Four. I’d seen four Legendary Pokémon so far. Entei, Raikou, Mewtwo, and Suicune. All four of them had the same overwhelming presence. All four gave off the same impression of pure power.

    And then it properly hit me for the first time—for as amazing as the Legendary Pokémon were… they were absolutely terrifying.






    ~End Chapter 17~
    LC is a Chosen One fic. After what you just read, this is hardly a spoiler. It’s been a Chosen One fic since Revision 2. The Prologue references it. All my advertisements reference it.

    Chosen One fics come with a unique set of pitfalls, and I know readers might be concerned that this fic is about to plunge into several. LC is intended to be a hardcore deconstruction of the Chosen One Pokéfic genre, and as such, I’ve taken care to address a lot of the common issues that plague a lot of other Chosen fics:
    • None of the Chosen are predestined.
    • The legend was written by a specific character who will be identified later.
    • Said character has a logical reason for knowing what they know.
    • The majority of the legend is things they want to bring about, not things that are fated to happen.
    • The Chosen are not fated to succeed because destiny.
    • The orb has a non-arbitrary reason for existing. (I’m sure you all already know what it is anyway. I wasn’t subtle about it.)
    • There is a concrete explanation for why Jade was able to pick up the orb.
    • The Legendaries have a clear motivation for wanting to take on a Chosen and arguably benefit more from the partnership than the humans do.
    • No characters currently alive in the fic’s universe fully understand the legend (i.e. no one is withholding information for the sake of drama.)
    That said, this is the chapter where speculation becomes possible! Friendly reminder that I love speculation of all kinds. Give me all your speculation.
     
    Chapter 18: The Titans of the Elements
  • Chibi Pika

    Stay positive
    Staff
    Location
    somewhere in spacetime
    Pronouns
    they/them
    Partner
    pikachu-chibi
    ~Chapter 18: The Titans of the Elements~


    Viridian base. The primary headquarters for all of Team Rocket, and the one which all other branches reported to. Where all the highest-ranking agents worked. Where Giovanni himself worked.

    It was also the base that Darren and I were currently infiltrating.

    “Right, so… no problems so far. You sure you’re bad luck, Jade? The way you were talking earlier, I was expecting to get jumped the second we set foot in the place.”

    I gave him an unamused stare. “Look, it always starts off fine, okay? Then before you know it, you’re running for your life and you don’t even know why.”

    The last time I’d been to a Rocket base, it had been nearly deserted. This time couldn’t have been more different. All around us, Rockets of all divisions and ranks rushed about, followed by Pokémon carrying assets for them. Almost all of them had combat unit patches on their uniform. After all, Viridian base did have the largest combat unit on the force. Normally this would have been the worst time to sneak around a base, but with how crucial it was that we be here right now, we didn’t have much of a choice.

    Like Stalker had feared, there was indeed a big combat unit mission coming up. The only problem was, we had absolutely no idea what it was. None of the infiltration teams had been able to gather anything. None of Stalker’s allies had gotten anything. We were flying blind.

    Well, except for two things.

    Mewtwo had been transferred to Viridian yesterday. That would have been a red flag all by itself, but then Entei had been transferred as well. The Kanto force borrowing assets from Johto was apparently unheard of, and Stalker had been particularly concerned about it. The second thing was that Saffron had reported huge amounts of money being poured into tech development. Way more than normal. That, combined with tons of shipments of… something coming from Cerulean, had to mean they were building something.

    And that’s why we were here. To figure out what the hell was going on, before it was too late. Not that that was a hopelessly vague mission or anything.

    “Right, so… Group 2 found the room where Mewtwo was being held. Key word: was,” Darren said, reading the rebels’ group chat.

    Great, we still didn’t have a read on Mewtwo. Finding him would’ve solved a lot of mysteries at once, plus we could’ve waited and seen what they were doing if they moved him again. But if he’d already been moved… did that mean we were too late?

    Darren nudged my side. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but almost everyone’s been coming and going from that same hallway.”

    The Viridian base was one floor and all sprawl, with a central area connecting eight hallways branching off in all directions. Railways and moving walkways sped up transport between each division of the base. The primary entrance had been a nondescript warehouse on the outskirts of Viridian, but there were other entrances scattered all over northeast Viridian, including the official gym itself—although that one was only for the boss’s inner circle.

    The two of us had been sitting at a table in the mess hall part of the commons, which wasn’t a separate room like in Cerulean. That way we had a clear view of the goings on in the base without being in the way or looking suspicious. The hallway Darren had pointed out was the largest of the eight, with the most railways going in and out from it.

    I brought up a map of the base on my R-com. “That’s the transport wing. Think we should check it out?”

    “No one else has checked it out yet, so we might as well. Who knows, maybe we’ll find the new tech before anyone else—that’d be cool.”

    The two of us left our watch post in the mess hall and sauntered in the direction of the eighth hallway, avoiding eye contact with any other Rockets and trying to give off an air like we knew what we were doing. Not that there was much chance of us standing out with how many Rockets were busy with their own thing at the moment. Unfortunately, we soon found out why none of the other groups had investigated the transport wing—namely, the guards posted out front.

    “Right, they’re checking ID at the entrance. Something tells me they’re not gonna accept my admin rights as easily as the card scanners,” Darren said sheepishly.

    Which meant we’d need another way into the transport wing. Yeah, there was the forest entrance near the runway, but that’d be… more than a little conspicuous.

    Wait. Spread out as the base was, there were connections between divisions. And the transport wing was so large that it ran alongside the adjacent wings. Which ones were they…? I grabbed my R-com to check the map again. The storage wing and the office wing. My eyes widened. I knew for a fact that there was a connection between the office wing and the transport wing. I’d seen it the day I was kidnapped and brought into the Viridian base so long ago.

    “I think I know another way in,” I said slowly as the realization hit me. “We have to get into the office division.”

    “Even if we make it in, I think they might notice two random grunts wandering around looking lost,” Darren pointed out.

    Hm. He did have a point there. Unless…

    “Not if we look like officers.” The idea had struck out of nowhere, and to be honest, I was rather proud of it.

    “Won’t we, uh… look a little young for officers?”

    I shrugged. “I’m only a month away from being old enough, and I’m tall, so from a distance I could pass. If you stick with me, you’ll just look like a member of my squad or something.”

    “What, so I get to be your subordinate?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

    I snorted. “Sure, if you put it that way.”

    Five minutes later, we’d tracked down and unlocked a supply closet with spare uniforms, and I’d swapped out my boots and gloves for the white with red stripes that signified officer rank at a glance. With that, we set off for the seventh hallway. The office division wasn’t nearly as busy as the rest of the base. It was still early enough that the lights were dimmed, and aside from the occasional executive sipping coffee, we didn’t see many Rockets still around. Which was good for me, because I kept having to stare down at my R-com to not get lost in the maze of hallways.

    “Hey Jade, you’re, uh… about to hit a wall,” Darren whispered.

    I glanced up just in time to freeze with my face inches away from what would have been embarrassing at best and cover-blowing at worst.

    “Er… right,” I said sheepishly, rubbing the back of my head.

    In any case, I was pretty sure we were close. All of the offices in the asset management and transport coordination departments had access to the transport wing. I glanced around, my eyes tracing the titles of each door one after the other… hang on, there it was—the asset management department. And sure enough, amidst the various office doorways, I spotted a larger metal door with a card scanner.

    “Right here,” I said pointing it out. He’d have to be the one to open it since my old account—the one with admin rights—had been compromised.

    “What kind of officer need a grunt’s help to get through a door?” Darren asked wryly.

    I only barely managed to stop myself from snorting out loud. After a quick scan of the area to make sure no one was nearby, I turned and said, “You expect an officer to lower themselves to opening a door when there are grunts around to take care of it?”

    “Oh man. Got me there. Right away, officer.” With an exaggerated look of defeat, Darren pulled out his ID and held it to the scanner. The door slid open, revealing a massive concrete room. And then a powerful wave of déjà vu hit me in the face. This was where I’d been taken the day that I met Stalker in the woods. The day that I’d seen Entei under attack. The day it all began. Last time I’d been here, I’d been a helpless captive of the Rockets. This time I was here to find a way to ruin them. That realization was… undeniably empowering.

    The transportation hangar was a lot fuller than the last time I’d been here. It didn’t have any aircraft this time, but the space was full of a dozen or more semi-trucks. Most of the Rockets stood clustered around the loading bay, which connected to the storage wing on the far side of the hangar. Darren and I made our way over to the trucks, moving as quickly as possible without looking totally suspicious. Just had to make it out of sight without anyone getting the wrong idea. Nothing strange about an officer and a grunt walking towards the trucks that weren’t currently being loaded. And no one was close enough to see that we didn’t have combat unit patches. No reason for anyone to raise the alarm.

    After what felt like an eternity, we slipped out of view behind the closest truck, and I let out a huge breath that I didn’t realize I’d been holding. It took me several seconds to realize that we now had a perfect view of the truck’s contents. And all I could do was stare.

    Inside the truck was a hulking black machine—sleek, shiny, and covered in armor. Its wide flat base was supported by four splayed-out legs currently folded up away from the floor. The midsection gave way to a swivel joint topped by a long, cannon-shaped section, flanked by twin shields supporting six folded up antennae on either side. The entire machine was held in place by thick wood blocks spanning the walls of the trailer.

    “What… is… this…?” I muttered.

    “Whatever it is, I think Stalker’s gonna want to see it,” Darren said, climbing into the trailer.

    I climbed in after him, taking care to step lightly so I didn’t alert the Rockets. Meanwhile, my teammate had pulled out his R-com and started snapping photos of the mechanism. Whatever it was, it looked like a weapon. But for what?

    Voices nearby. I froze, throwing a wide-eyed look of panic toward Darren. He hadn’t noticed—he was still focused on taking pictures. I couldn’t say anything—not with Rockets approaching. But I had to do something, and fast. Which meant awkwardly tiptoeing over to him, now very aware of the sound each footstep made against the metal trailer floor, and waving a hand in front of his face. Darren blinked a few times at my behavior and tilted his head in total confusion. I gestured wildly out the opening, feeling like an idiot until his eyes widened slightly and he mouthed the word “oh.” Finally!

    We had to hide. But the only cover available to us was the giant machine itself. Which meant climbing up onto its flat base, crouching low behind the cannon and desperately praying that we were out of sight. I strained my ears to hear the voices I’d caught earlier. Were they still approaching? What if the only reason they headed over here in the first place was because they’d noticed us?

    Oh man, the voices were getting louder. I screwed my eyes shut and clenched my fists. Come on. Leave. Each second dragged on like an eternity. I had no idea how long it’d been. Long enough that my legs had gone numb from kneeling. But I didn’t dare shift my weight to regain feeling. Not until they were gone.

    I jumped at a sudden metallic scraping sound. What was that?! Wait… it was the trailer door. They were shutting it?! We’d be trapped!

    We were frozen. We couldn’t move without giving ourselves away, but I couldn’t just let this happen!

    Darkness enveloped the trailer. Aside from a few pinpricks of light from the seams, I couldn’t see anything at all. And man was it unnerving. I wanted out, immediately. But if we forced open the trailer door… we had no way of knowing who would see or hear us. That was not a gamble we could afford to take.

    Darren sighed. “Yeeahh, I guess we’re stuck here now.”

    No. No, no, no.

    “Just once I wanted to get through a mission without something going wrong,” I muttered through clenched teeth, holding back the urge to slam a fist against the wall.

    “It’s not that bad. Not like they discovered us or anything.”

    I whirled around to face him incredulously. “You’re not scared?”

    Darren laughed. “No, I’m totally scared. But there’s nothing I can do about that right now. So I might as well try not to let it get to me.”

    I opened my mouth to say something… but then found that I couldn’t think of anything to counter his point. It just seemed ridiculous not to worry. Not when there was so much that could go wrong.

    “I guess that wasn’t very convincing, huh?” Darren asked.

    I took a deep breath. “No… you’re right. They haven’t found us yet.”

    Darren nudged my shoulder. “Yeah. Now come on. What do you think we should do?”

    He was asking me? How should I know?

    “Well, for starters, I hate not being able to see,” I said, pulling out Chibi’s Pokéball and opening it. The flash of light briefly highlighted Darren and the machine, but the moment it took on the spiky-furred Pikachu’s shape, the trailer was plunged into darkness once more.

    “*It’s dark… where are we?*” the hybrid asked.

    “In a Rocket truck. Can you light it up with Flash?”

    At once, I had to screw my eyes shut as I found myself staring directly at the piercing glow emanating from the electric-type’s body. I blinked a few times, willing my eyes to adjust until I could make out the silhouettes of Darren and Chibi, highlighted against the blackness.

    Darren nodded approvingly. “Alright, what next?”

    I raised an eyebrow. “Why are you asking me?”

    “No reason,” he said innocently. A little bit too innocently.

    “You’re just trying to get me to focus on making a plan instead of panicking,” I said as the realization hit me.

    “Well yeah. Is it working?”

    I paused. It… kind of was, wasn’t it? Just having Chibi out and being able to see already made the situation feel a lot brighter. Even if nothing else had changed. Not that I felt like admitting that his plan had worked. Although I didn’t really need to—from the smug look on his face, he’d already noticed.

    “Right, so… we need to know when the coast is clear outside,” I said quickly, hoping to change the topic. “Chibi, you’ve got the best hearing out of us. We’ll need you to listen for sounds from the outside.”

    The Pikachu nodded and hopped over to the trailer door, pressing one long ear against it and closing his eyes in concentration. “*There’s voices outside. Distant, but a lot of them,*” he said. That made sense—most of the Rockets had been on the other side of the hangar. But would they hear us if we tried to force open the trailer door now?

    “Ugh, if only we could teleport out,” I muttered.

    “Believe me, I’ve been wishing that same thing,” Darren said.

    What were our options? We had a couple of Pokémon that could easily cut through the thin trailer walls—Firestorm and Sneasel came to mind. Of course, if anyone saw the hole, it’d be an automatic giveaway that there were rebels in the base, but if we got outside before everything was put on lockdown…?

    “*There’s something else,*” Chibi spoke up suddenly. “*A smaller sound, nearby. I’m getting movement from it too.*” He paused tilting his head in confusion. “*Hang on… is someone in the cab?*”

    A low rumble suddenly spread throughout the floor. All three of us went rigid as the truck slowly began to creak forward, drawing a low metallic groan from the machine as its weight pushed against the restraints holding it in place. Slowly at first, then more quickly, our ride started to accelerate. This was followed by the distinct feeling of everything leaning backward as the truck travelled up the huge ramp leading outside.

    The truck was leaving the base.

    “Well, scratch everything. I guess we’re calling Stalker now,” Darren said, pulling out his R-com.

    “No kidding,” I muttered. Our simple recon mission had suddenly become a lot less simple.

    Darren held his R-com out in front of him so we could all see when Stalker’s face appeared on the screen. “We’ve got an update. Um…”—he glanced back at me awkwardly—“we’re trapped.”

    Stalker gave a small chuckle at the bluntness of Darren’s report. “I see. Where are you right now?”

    “The back of a truck headed who-knows-where,” I answered.

    “The good news is you wanted us to find what they’ve been building, and, well…”—Darren rotated the R-com so that the machine was visible behind us—“here it is.”

    Stalker nodded. “I’ve been studying the photos you sent. It’s some kind of barrier, like the Thunder