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Criminal Intent: A Villainous Organization One-Shot Contest

Dragonfree

Just me
5th-6th place TIE: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Plasbad by Umbramatic

Scoring
bobandbill: 7th place (30 points)
Creepychu: 5th place (50 points)
Dragonfree: 6th place (40 points)
Sike Saner: 5th place (50 points)
Total: 170 points

Hello, judges! (And anyone who bothers to read this once the results go live.) This is my third time entering in such a contest, and again my main goal is to do at least a bit better than last time, either in terms of overall story quality, actual placing, or, hopefully, both. But before you go off and start reading the damn thing to see if I succeed or not, I just want to note a couple things:

First, this was written as a side story to two previous oneshots of mine: Green and White and its fairly-recently posted sequel, Truth, both staring N and Reshiram. However, while both characters show up in this story, it's still a side story with totally different protagonists and a totally different focus, and there's no need whatsoever for any of you to read the previous oneshots if you haven't already (Though hopefully you've all got at least a basic grasp of the plot of the Unova games). Only thing you should know in terms of headcanony bits is that in this fic (and Truth for that matter) N never gives the player character of White 2 Reshiram. You'll find out how that affects this story when you get to it.

Second, this fic's title is probably going to be one of the sillier ones you'll get (though I'm eagerly awaiting to see if anyone tops me). However, this is partially because I want to bit more of focus on comedy this time because I feel at least some of my recent work has been leaning too serious for my liking and I want to start fixing that because... well, I like writing comedy as much as I do drama. Also, while silly, the title still fits the story in more ways than one.

Finally, this fic contains a decent amount of swearing and a few mentions of drugs and porn, but that's about it as far as required warnings go.

But this is getting too damn long, so I give you...

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Plasbad

Two young men stood side-by-side in the corridors of a massive, lavish castle. They were dressed in strange uniforms, resembling the armor of medieval knights, with an elaborate blue-and-black symbol on their chestplates. The young man on the left - black-haired, hazel-eyed, and sharp-featured, looked around at his surroundings, sighed, and shook his head.

"You'd think we'd spend more of our budget on our cause instead of buffing up HQ, but whatever."

He then turned to his companion - brown-haired, blue-eyed, soft-featured, and shaking madly and grinning as if some cosmic force inside him was about to be unleashed full-blast.

"...You seem excited, Tom," said the first young man.

Tom turned instantly and energetically towards his companion and replied as if said cosmic force was in fact bottled up inside him the whole time.

"Am I?! Roger, this is gonna be freaking awesome! You and me are gonna help save the world and every Pokemon under the iron heel of hu-"

"Yes, yes, Tom, this is gonna be a world-shaking event for a cause we both deeply care about and very much want to make a reality for the good of the world, but calm the fuck down. We've already been hired by Team Plasma but we're still waiting for an evaluation and debrief before we can actually get in on the action, and if you mess that up it's good-bye for the both of us. So just try to calm down, OK?

"Can I still do the skit wher-"

"Dear Cobalion, no. Act as serious as you can."

Tom then stood up unnaturally stiff and straight, saluting with an exaggerated grimace on his face. Roger sighed again.

"Not like that. Just... Relax, OK?"

Tom finally shifted to a more-or-less neutral pose and expression.

"Perfect," said Roger, smirking.

Tom then noticed something out of the corner of his eye. "Hey! The evaluation person is coming!"

"Shit!" said Roger. "Do what I said!"

The two stood in position as a blonde woman, slightly older than they were but wearing the same uniform, approached them with a disdainful look on her face.

"Are you two the new recruits?"

Both Roger and Tom nodded.

"Alright then... Names?"

"Roger Guildenstern." replied Roger.

"Thomas Rosencrantz!" replied Tom in turn.

"Alright then..." said the woman, in a fashion so dry you could tell the exact multitude of times she'd done this before from sheer inflection. She produced two Pokeballs, handing each to Roger and Tom with a similar lack of enthusiasm.

"These are the two Pokemon you'll use to further our cause. You can request more when you've been around long enough... Or liberate them from other trainers. Your choice."

Roger frowned. "Wait a minute. We're supposed to prevent Pokemon from being misused in this way."

"Yeah!" said Roger. "We can't free 'em all if we stuff them in teeny little balls like everyone else does!"

The woman rolled her eyes. "We get that a lot. Unfortunately people opposing our cause will likely use Pokemon against us, leaving us no choice but to use Pokemon of our own. The Pokemon used by Team Plasma will be liberated alongside everyone else's when the time comes."

"Oh! That totally makes sense!" said Tom.

"...If it's necessary and lets them be free in the end, alright," Roger said, looking down uneasily at his Pokeball.

"Alright then," said the woman. "You two are good to go."

Roger stared at her in shock. "...That's it?"

"Well, you got through the actual hiring process, didn't you?"

"...Point."

"Anyway, you two joined up just in the nick of time... We're having a big rally in Accumula Town in a few days. N, the King of Team Plasma, and his trusted advisor Ghetsis will be there."

"The King?! His most trusted advisor?!" said Tom, giving an audible squeal of excitement.

"Um, ma'am," said Roger, "Could you give us a rundown on what they look like so I can prevent To- er, either of us from inadvertently pissing either of them off?"

The woman raised an eyebrow, but continued regardless.

"Ghetsis is an older guy, has green hair, dresses like a priest with castle battlements on his shoulders. N is around your age, also has green hair, and wears a black-and-white trucker cap, a white polo, and khakis. That good enough for you two?

Both Tom and Roger nodded.

"Good. Is that all?"

They nodded again.

"Good. Welcome aboard, you two."

With that, she walked off, not bothering at all to look back.

Roger stared after her blankly for a bit before turning to Tom, who had a huge grin on his face.

"This is gonna be great!" said Tom.

Finally, Roger smiled back.

"I sure hope so, buddy. I sure hope so."


Reviews

bobandbill

You were right - the title was silly. But I approve of anything using the phrase ‘plasbad’, so points from me there. =p

I found the story plot and the direction you took the plot to be neat. It was interestingly the only one which followed the entire plot of a game like so. It was nice to see you highlight some interesting points such as ‘Plasma used Poke Balls despite wanting to free Pokémon’ and the hypocrisy of some of its members (like the Munna kickers). It was also neat that you characterised a couple grunts in telling this story that I recalled from the games, and their reactions to different developments in the game felt reasonable. Good job with that!

It may have been nice to see more conflict between the pair in the lead up to the otherwise nice, warming ending of the two friends appreciating each other like that, as they seemed fairly agreeable throughout with a few light ‘arguments’ that usually ended in a hug-out anyway. There was a lack of tension in their issues, I thought, which is maybe fitting for a comedy piece, but it didn’t at the same time work with that final resolution as it had never been a major point I felt needed a resolution during the story.

What we saw of their two Pokemon was neat as well, but their names at the end seemed like an odd detail to add in then and there, so when their names came up a second time I had nearly forgotten they were the Scrafty and Golurk. On the other hand, the bit about N remembering those two grunts as friends? That was pretty neat.

The humour was mostly entertaining and did the job. A couple segments or moments may have missed their mark but overall I was amused by it. (I also caught the reference to a certain Nuzlocke comic before reading the latter part of author notes. =p On that note the likes of Simpsons references did not escape notice either.) Highlights for me were some of the details with N’s isolation, the pair just getting accepted in Plasma like that, and the random what-if scene with talking to someone and pulling out a chainsaw scene. (Hi, bemused other readers of this review! Why yes, this is a weird thing to write or read out of context!)

"...You seem excited, Tom," said the first young man.
Hard to notice but there is an extra space before ‘said’ there.
Tom turned instantly and energetically towards his companion and replied as if said cosmic force was in fact bottled up inside him the whole time.
This did read a bit awkwardly, and maybe could be better worded with some more showing rather than telling that he had turned ‘energetically’.
"That was so cool!" said Tom."
Extra quotation mark.a
"HI! said N. "My name is N! Do you know what the N stands for?"
And here there was a missing quotation mark.
Tom panicked, stood straight and saluted, though trembled in fear the whole time.

"S-sorry, sir, it won't happen again I swear, please don't kill me!"

His Scraggy likewise hides behind his leg and cowers.
One thing I noticed was that tenses seemed to change every so often. Tom panicked, stood, saluted, trembled – past tense phrases, but then Scraggy hides and cowers - in the present tense. (This was better showing nonetheless.) Be more consistent in what tense you use in your writing, as it can get confusing.
"Why is always the most important parts you don't think through?"
This could use some rewording as well, e.g. ‘Why are those always the...”.

Overall this was a neat story that could use a bit more thought with tense usage and maybe a touch more fleshing out to give the final scene more impact, but was certainly enjoyable already and had some nice moments expanded upon in the games.


Creepychu

I'm of two minds on this one. On the one hand I appreciate the ambitious scope, since trying to bridge the events of the BW storyline within the bounds of a one-shot takes some doing and it's interesting to see someone tackle that challenge. On the other hand, I feel the length is not always committed to the interesting parts of the story.

To begin with, you've got a solid enough pair of leads in Roger and Tom, who both come off as your fairly standard grunt-material types. Their interplay works pretty well and I can buy why the two are friends from the way they stick together and look out for each other even when their personalities clash from time to time. They've got decent chemistry going and their squabbles come off as genuine enough. Equally, I can buy why they'd get involved in Plasma given Roger's personal baggage and how easily Tom gets excited and swept in with things. As protagonist go, they make a solid pair for making things happen and getting involved in the situation and have enough moments of occasional cleverness to buy into them catching onto the ruse the way they do.

That being said, I felt that the other key relationship in this story (that being the one between N and our main duo) came off as a bit more forced. His initial shock at having two grunts barge into his room is appropriate enough for a shut-in, as is his soft-spoken manner, but given the initial shock and his low opinion of people he gets strangely verbose with them very quickly after that, barely even getting past initial introductions before immediately launching into expositing about his character motivations. Plot-wise this is obviously important for getting Tom and Roger involved and invested in finding out more, but character-wise it feels far too abrupt for a character who should by rights have some pretty serious trust issues with unknown human beings. I can buy this relation forming over time, but I felt it would have been more believable (and interesting) if the development was more gradual and more focus was given to this aspect of the story, since it's such a core part of the plot and would also have provided some nice opportunities for staggering out Roger's and Tom's personal matters. The story with Hazel in particular felt like it came to a head very abruptly, since you have nice hinting at it early on with his feelings about pokémon treatment, but the actual moment of reveal kind of blindsided me. The other question that comes to mind is how negligent Ghetsis is of all this. These two burst into N's room, with brownies, and yet apparently he is completely unaware of it after the fact despite all the pains he's gone through to isolate N and control every influence he gets into contact with? Given the impression they made, I'd be very surprised if N had just kept quiet about the whole thing, especially given how out of character it is for how things normally operate in the castle. Likewise, it feels strange how strong their implicit trust of N is based off just a single quick meeting where they find out he's a bit strange. It just feels like there should be more of a story to tell there, and it'd have been interesting to see how both Ghetsis and the two protagonists would have handled the situation.

By contrast, there are other places where I feel you are going over the same information to excessive amount. The most prominent is the run-in with Ghetsis in the hallway, where you first describe the scene as it happens and then launch straight into Tom explaining for a second time what we you just got finished explaining to us. In this case, I feel it would have been more efficient to cut straight to Roger's reaction to the story rather than going through the conversation leading up to it itself, especially since you already have a lot of ground to cover writing-wise.

On a writing-level, dialogue is where your story shines the most. All the core characters have distinct ways of expressing themselves that set them apart from each other and feel appropriate to the personalities in play and aside from the odd expositiony bits here and there the flow of conversations feels natural. The narration does its job competently and I appreciate the attention to body language, since it does a good job of conveying the emotions at play, enough so that some of the character explaining their feelings out loud feels redundant at times. This is particularly strong in the part after N is defeated, where I'd have appreciated more emphasis on the way they speak and behave rather than on each of them talking feelings since it's the kind of shocking moment where I'd expect that sort of self-reflection to be difficult.

On the note of people explaining feelings, it also felt rather awkward for Reshiram to have to explain Tom's loyalty before Roger realized it, since the two have come off as close and loyal to the point where it seems very weird that Roger would find this surprising. Given how much is going on I can understand him needing an outside push to actually make him speak his mind on it, but a more subtle nudge should have been quite enough for that sort of thing and it does sort of cheapen the sentiment to know that he was genuinely surprised to find this out not a minute ago.

On a technical level, I didn't find anything particularly off, though I did notice an odd switch to present tense for no apparent reason:

Roger and Tom stare back for a few seconds, then simultaneously turn and smirk at each other while producing twin frying pans.

The paragraph could easily have been past tense and honestly should be.

Lastly, the ending line felt like a pretty perfunctory note to end on, especially since you had a little ending joke on the previous line that would itself have worked better. It's equally a little bit strange to end on the words of two pokémon that have been silent side characters up to the story, but what they're saying is at least thematically fitting and would make for a better end point.

All in all, there's a fair bit of rough edges here and I would have appreciated more attention towards building the relationship with N and less on recapping plot points from the games (which your expected readership should already be pretty familiar with) but I found myself rather liking the core story. Trim off a bit of the excess exposition, give a bit more focus to the central character relationship and you should be good.

On a non-evaluation point, I'd also consider trimming down those authors' notes. There's no need to distract your readers by trying to pre-empt criticisms when you could simply stand behind your work with confidence and address the complaints as and if they come instead.


Dragonfree

So this is basically Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but for the fifth-generation Pokémon games instead of Hamlet. That's definitely a pretty amusing idea. I liked that you gave them the same names and somewhat analogous personalities as a homage to Tom Stoppard's play, and the Waiting for Godot reference near the end was a treat, too (although I've got to wonder why they'd give their Pokémon names all of a sudden then when they haven't had nicknames for most of the story).

You do a good job of characterizing Tom and Roger as distinct; their voices are quite different, to the point that I have no problem following even long stretches of dialogue between them with no dialogue tags, and that's always a plus. Tom's hyperactive, childish eccentricness is sometimes over-the-top (his immediate declaration that he's going to walk over to the king of Team Plasma and give him a "big Ursaring hug" seemed particularly exaggerated), but he gets less so as the story goes on, and overall both Tom and Roger are quite lovable and endearing and you show their relationship nicely.

This wasn't as much of a story about their friendship as I expected, though. At the end Reshiram gets Roger to tell Tom that he cares about him and he's the best friend he's ever had, and Vladimir comments that they've learned that the bonds of friendship can withstand great strife and work past great differences. But while this is adorable, it didn't actually feel at any point in the story like there was any significant strife or great differences between them, or a sense that Tom felt particularly unappreciated by Roger and needed to hear how much he cared. They argued about some trivial things, sure, and Roger called Tom an idiot sometimes, but they didn't have anything that seemed like a major interpersonal conflict - it just looked like regular friendly bickering to me. Overall, I think if you truly wanted an arc about their friendship evolving and growing stronger as they withstand great differences, you should have tried to convey that conflict and strife in a more focused way - show Tom being hurt when Roger lashes out at him, show them fighting over something that matters and not reconciling at the end of the scene. That would have made the "Total bros" scene far more potent - it's definitely sweet as it is, but it would be even more so if we truly felt like they hadn't been as certain of their friendship and their need for each other before.

Instead, in its current form it's more of a mostly-comedic story about Black and White's storyline as told by some grunts hovering on the sidelines. You do a nice job of showing N and how passionate but sheltered, manipulated and ultimately screwed-up he is, even with lighthearted, comedic scenes, as well as portraying Team Plasma members who sincerely believe in N's cause slowly losing their faith as they realize how deep the corruption at the heart of the organization goes.

There were a number of things happening throughout that struck me as kind of strange, awkward or unnatural, though:

- Why do Roger and Tom need to be told what Ghetsis and N look like? Would they really never have seen them or any photos of them or anything in the process of signing up for the team? As far as I can tell there's no story reason to have them not know from the start, either - it just adds unnecessary dialogue to describe them.

- Why does Tom's Scraggy immediately start hugging his leg? It's cute, but not generally a thing someone would do when confronted with a complete stranger they know nothing about. This especially jumps out at me because it'd actually be interesting to see some indication of exactly where Team Plasma's Pokémon come from. Were they "liberated" from other trainers? Then they'd probably be confused and upset to have been separated from them. Or were they caught in the wild by other Plasma grunts? Did their captors explain to them that they'd be assigned to other new recruits - and then wouldn't they be initially wary, wondering if the people they're assigned to can be trusted - or were they just caught and the next thing they know is standing in front of some completely different people - in which case they'd probably be confused and scared? Were they perhaps persuaded to join the cause, being passionate about Pokémon liberation themselves? We don't really get any idea of Scraggy and Golett as characters, even though there's a lot of potential there, especially for a story focused on Team Plasma - they have personalities, but there's no real sense that they have their own desires, motivations and lives, and I think that would be a great addition to this story, enhancing its themes both about Team Plasma and about friendship.

- How did Roger and Tom not notice until after the fact that N had been talking about what Pokémon were saying during the battle with Hilbert? That would immediately jump out at anyone who think it's impossible to understand Pokémon speech, not be an afterthought that doesn't occur to them until several minutes afterwards. It makes sense Roger might not mention it until the battle is done, so that they can listen to the rest of what's going on, but then that should definitely be the first thing he comments on, not his disappointment that N used a Purrloin and lost.

- The image of murderous cackling N with a chainsaw saying his name stands for "No survivors" definitely cracked me up, but it comes off as a very visual gag, which makes it feel a bit strange - I can just picture how this cut would happen in a TV show, but in prose it looks a lot weirder to have an absurd imaginary scene inserted in the middle of a conversation the same way. I'm not sure what to advise you here, because the scene is genuinely amusing - it might work better if you just had Tom describe it in a vivid, cinematic way, but I'm not actually sure how well it would come across. So, really, I don't know.

- Why are the grunts by the water cooler so eager to casually volunteer the fact that they abused a Munna? Surely, even though half of Team Plasma doesn't really believe in N's ideals about saving Pokémon, they'd know to at least try to keep up the pretense around other members they don't know. It would be a lot more believable, and actually possibly more sinister, if they were doing their best to minimize and talk around it - perhaps Roger would notice that they're being vague and probe them until he fishes it out of them, or something like that. Either way, currently they come off as rather cartoony, like they have no conception that anyone would have a problem with kicking Munna, even though they're in an organization that revolves around exploiting people's genuine sympathy for the cause of Pokémon rights.

- How do Roger and Tom have the time to beat up the thugs and shove them "somewhere inconspicuous" (where would that be, in the middle of an amusement park?) before this one car of the ferris wheel passes? If it's moving continuously, they only have a few seconds to get on. This encounter also makes Tom and Roger out to be implausibly skilled fighters by easily taking out two "thugs" with nothing more than random frying pans, just for the sake of a cartoony visual gag - honestly, I don't think it's worth it for the unbelievable setup here, given nothing about it has any wider repercussions for the story or is addressed in any way later. You might as well just have them go straight to spying on N and Hilbert.

- Skipping completely over how Tom and Roger did find N at the end, right after saying that he could be anywhere, stretches suspension of disbelief, even if you end up making a lampshadey joke about it. By the time the joke comes along, we've already spotted that it doesn't make sense, gone "Wait, what?" and concluded it's not going to be explained - at that point you can't back out by making it into a joke. Even if you did make it work out so that the first time we realize they shouldn't have been able to find N was right before the joke, though, I don't think this fic has set the right tone for that kind of joke. So far, the humour has been entirely grounded in normal reality - there have been no bizarre unexplained happenings waved away in this manner, and when it suddenly happens at the end of a ten-thousand-word fic, it just seems to come out of left field. I kind of like the joke in theory, but it needs to be in a very particular sort of story to work, and I don't think this story is it.

Overall, I feel like this entry is a bit longer than it needed to be. That's not to say entire sections should be cut, just that I notice quite a few chunks of dialogue throughout that just don't add much - they don't further the plot in any way that couldn't just as well have been left out altogether, and they're not actually jokes or part of a setup. Mostly these are bits that give information, discuss the implications of something that just happened or tell us about something that's about to happen, where the information being given could easily be inferred by the reader or at least condensed to not take up several lines of back-and-forth dialogue. It's not a huge deal - it's not like these are long stretches of the story, just a few lines of dialogue here and there, and it doesn't seriously hurt my enjoyment of it - but it's something I noticed and that you might want to think about, especially when you're worried that you might go over a word limit, as you indicated you were with this entry.

This story is very dialogue-focused, and I feel like it would have benefitted from a bit more narration. Everything is kind of abrupt, and while that works well for the comedic bits where it makes the dialogue more snappy and keeps up the rhythm, the more dramatic parts could convey emotion in a clearer, smoother way if they did more of describing the characters' actions, expressions and body language. You already have some body language in your dialogue, and it's generally well done body language that really adds to the reader's understanding of what they're saying and how they're feeling (good job on that!), but there's still comparatively little of it. Especially in scenes like where Roger is finally telling Tom about Hazel, I feel that it would come through better if you spent more time on what they're doing while this is going on - both of them, not just Roger. How does Tom react to hearing that story? Does he come over to try to comfort Roger? Does he look like a heartbroken puppy at the very thought of that kind of Pokémon abuse? When he says he joined Team Plasma to help stop this kind of thing, how does he say it and what does he do as he says it? It'd be more vivid to the reader if you wrote out a bit more of that kind of detail.

There are also some proofreading mistakes in here. In particular, a couple of times you confuse Tom and Roger's names, and you slip into present tense in several places; watch out for that.

That's a lot of criticism, but I genuinely really enjoyed this story. It's sweet, adorable, definitely has its pretty amusing moments, and overall just makes me smile. Not everything in it makes sense, though, and I think you could have built a more consistent, solid narrative arc about Tom and Roger's friendship that would have made it even more adorable.


Sike Saner

This was definitely one of the most readable fics of the bunch. The style was nice and clear; at no point did I stop and go, "Buh?" Overall, this was a pretty fun read.

The only things that really snagged me at all were the little grammatical/stylistic oopses and whatnot, and even they were pretty minor:

The young man on the left - black-haired, hazel-eyed, and sharp-featured, looked around at his surroundings, sighed, and shook his head.

I do get what you were going for with the space-hyphen-space combo. But I think it'd be a little clearer and tidier to use double hyphens--like so. Plus some word programs will go ahead and format double hyphens into a proper em dash for you, which looks even better.

"Usually the only humans" -the last word tinged with a degree of icy resentment- "that come in here are Ghetsis... And Anthea... And Concordia... But you two are Team Plasma. And as you said you're on my side - and more importantly, the side of my friends."
Here's another place that'd benefit from em dashes/double hyphens. I think it'd also benefit from having them inside the quotes rather than outside.

"Alright then..." said the woman, in a fashion so dry you could tell the exact multitude of times she'd done this before from sheer inflection.
The bolded bit can probably go. The "in a fashion so dry" already does the job for it.

The two later had entered their, small, dingy room in the barracks, idly chatting before Roger happened to glance at the two Pokeballs they were assigned.
This might flow a bit better with that "later" at the beginning of the sentence, followed by a comma. Also, that comma after "their" can go.

There were also a few missing quote marks, a couple of tense errors, a few extraneous letters, and a couple of space errors. Again, though, minor stuff.

As far as comedies go... well, I can't say I laughed my *** off at every gag. But I laughed all the same, especially at "but calm the fuck down"--probably because that bit mirrored my thoughts exactly at that point, heh. And perhaps more significantly, I didn't laugh at the stuff that wasn't meant to be funny, i.e. the Deino backstory.
 

Dragonfree

Just me
4th place: Solar System by Blackjack Gabbiani

Scoring
bobandbill: 5th place (50 points)
Creepychu: 4th place (60 points)
Dragonfree: 4th place (60 points)
Sike Saner: 3rd place (75 points)
Total: 245 points

Solar System is set in the Diamond and Pearl Adventure! series, where the majority of named Galactic members are set on the path to redemption. The chapters get their names from Gustav Holt's The Planets, which is how the three primary commanders are refered to in Platinum version. As both Mitsumi and B-2 lack planetary names, I gave them Mercury and Uranus, and as Cyrus represents the Sun, I called him The Center. Pluto/Charon has always lacked an official suite, although a Holst scholar, Colin Matthews, wrote one called The Renewer. The suites are presented out of order for better flow, although they mainly exist independent.




1--Bringer of Wars

It was a year since Boss Cyrus had signed the deal with the International Police to dissolve Team Galactic in exchange for clemency for most of its agents. Charon had been arrested, and nobody deserved it more than him.

I was supposed to go back to being a normal girl. But I've never had any idea what that meant.

"Mars," I said to myself, "You're going to go out there and be normal. You're not going to go back to your old ways."

Maybe it was me, but my mirror reflection always seemed to be a lot more sarcastic than me, like she was mocking every vow I made.

I was dressing nice, like the girls in magazines and in Jubilife did. Maybe it was a bit younger than my age. I'm not a teenager any more! But help me, I couldn't stand the dowdy and neutral colors that women my age were supposed to wear.

That was already a strike against me ever being normal.

I guess normal girls can look at the world passively. Normal girls don't have to resist the urge to hurt people that harm the world. Normal girls don't have body counts to their names.

Mitsumi would feel bad. I mean, she already tried to kill herself out of guilt, Jupiter said. Heck, Jupiter would feel bad. Saturn doesn't seem to regret what we did, but he still tries to fix it.

But I feel like I have to hold myself back. I CAN'T get involved. What we were doing was the right thing, no matter what we had to do to accomplish it.

Of course, not what Cyrus was really after. Wiping out all existence wasn't the answer. He was crazy. But if his revelation hadn't shocked me so much...

...Well, if I'd been able to do anything other than sit there and cry, I might have done something awful to him. And I would have regretted that, even if he /was/ actively trying to kill us.

I still respect him. But I guess he's in the same boat I am. Neither of us can get out there and change the world or else we'll just find ourselves back where we started.

Jupiter was more of an enforcer. Seeing her change into something more docile was weird. Seeing Cyrus become quiet and withdrawn was shocking. He was always pensive and introspective, of course, but he could talk people into doing anything, and he did it often.

If he had told us in advance what he planned to do...I can't really say for sure that I wouldn't have gone along with it.

Whatever. It didn't matter now. We were all different people.

Jubilife is a great city for starting over. It's huge, and nobody knows you exist unless you want them to. And it's amazing how many employers don't do background checks, even when you go by what was originally a code name. Mars is my name now. That's all there is to it.

It was a nice day. A nice day to be alive, I think, although of course it would be much better under Boss Cyrus's rule.

Just as I thought that, I heard a yelp. It had come from a side street, one with apartments up and down it, and I ran towards it just in time to see someone run around the corner. "That man has my purse!" someone yelled. I didn't even see who it was, because I took off running after the man almost on impulse.

No, it was impulse. I was doing what I believed in.

The training I got in Team Galactic hadn't focused much on running, but it had focused on pokémon. I called out Golbat, a lot faster than me, who immediately shouted out at the man with Supersonic. He fell over, clutching his ears and the purse dropping from his grip.

I slowed down, approaching him almost gently. "In this world, we have to take what we need. But at the same time, justice must be enforced. Tell me, do you really need that purse?"

He probably couldn't hear me. Supersonic is a hell of an attack when used on a human.

I kicked the purse out of the way, and I'm pretty sure the woman picked it up. Someone was nearby anyway, watching me.

"So, you really need this purse? I don't think you do. I think you're an idiot. You didn't take what you needed." I knelt down to him and grabbed his collar. "You took because you could. That's not justice. That's not anything to believe in."

Pulling my fist back was another impulse. I hadn't felt like this in ages. It was awesome!

Some people count how many times they punch someone. Sometimes I did, but not then. A hundred. A thousand. A million! And all I could think about was that we would rid the world of all that wasn't needed. I wanted him gone.

Something got in the way of my volley though. Why would Golbat want to stop me? We were supposed to be a team, working towards bringing justice to the world. But its feet hung onto my arm, stronger than they looked.

"What are you doing? Get off me!" But a hand joined it; some woman. Probably the one who had her purse stolen.

"Stop it! I've already called the police! You don't need to do this!"

Yeah I did. That was what I did. But it wasn't worth fighting over. I got up and recalled Golbat, and walked off.

I was always going to be a Galactic. I couldn't be a normal girl.

But I'd always be me. Mars.


Reviews

bobandbill

First off – I approve of your musical chapter titles! Not because they were music titles, but they were relevant ones. Team Galactic admins as we know are named after planets, so going for the subtitles of the songs for The Planets suites was a nice touch. Some also seemed to fit the character as well, e.g. Mars: The Bringer of War, and her piece involving bashing someone up.

I wasn’t familiar with the manga but I picked up a decent feel for the characters who weren’t so characterised as such in the games. Each person had their own voice and personality, and the different perspectives they had following the downfall of Galactic and how they were each moving on (or trying to) from their previous pasts.

Some of these POVs were stronger than others. Charon was the most engaging I felt – it really seemed to match my knowledge of how they are portrayed in Pokemon, and his narration and interactions with his former friend (who tragically still wanted to be his friend but was just being manipulated) made for a good ending to the story. Actually, ending it with the viewpoint of someone who had not moved on from Galactic in the slightest, still wanting to go back to how things were, get revenge and so forth was quite a nice contrast to everyone beforehand.

I also quite liked Mitsumi’s entry – her meeting with the former Galactic grunt worked out well and touched on the theme of ‘life after Galactic’ the best, I felt, and it was heart-warming with how you ended it as well.

I was less taken by a couple entries such as B-2’s one. His reflection seemed to boil down to relaxing with his mum who was blissfully unaware he had worked for a criminal team whose leader was going to wipe the world. That bit wasn’t easy for me to accept, and the entry was not quite as engaging or eventful as the others, I thought.

There were a few small errors here and there – nothing too major, although a few were repeated.
I was dressing nice, like the girls in magazines and in Jubilife did.
I feel that ‘in magazines and in Jubilife’ could be better condensed as ‘in magazines and Jubilife’.
And I would have regretted that, even if he /was/ actively trying to kill us.
I think that for placing emphasis it is better to use formatting such as italics rather than inserting / around words.
Sometimes I see Mitsumi. I don't know why she wants to see me so much.
"Today's a bad day. Just...just a bad day."
Insert a space following the ellipsis.
"Are you ok?"
’ok’ should be OK or okay.
That one, Cyrus had blown up before heading to the Spear Pillar.
I’m not sure if that comma is necessary – I feel it reads fine and maybe slightly better without it.
The pokémon of my past, a creature who had once been my friend until it proved itself unreliable and lead to me
led, rather than lead. (There’s also that extra space before it but that’s nitpicking).
Those traitors would ultimately pay, once I was awaken Heatran again.
’I was awaken’ needs some rewording.
Neither would that officer Hansom, or Looker, or whatever name he picked out of a hat that week.
I’m unsure if it was a typo of Handsome, the Japanese name for him or just Charon not knowing he called himself Handsome.
It span the radio around though means I'd have to study.
through, rather than though (it took a moment for me to work out what the sentence was trying to say).

Overall it was a solid entry, and while there were a few segments that I wasn’t as engaged with, Mitsumi’s and particularly Charon’s narration were great moments that I quite enjoyed.


Creepychu

You've picked an ambitious scope by attempting to cover the aftermath of Team Galactic's downfall from this many angles and to your credit you largely pull it off. The team members' responses to what they've been through and their attempts to pick up their lives and move on are all believably human in their own right and each bring across their own voice and temperament wonderfully and the combined theme of everyone being marked by their time with Galactic - and their attempts to move on from it - makes for a strong connecting thread that lets each individual section transition smoothly into the next without any one overstaying their welcome.

Speaking of the characters, I also appreciate how their temperaments are reflected in not just their words but also their narration. Little touches like Mitsumi interjecting that it's hard to pay attention when you're in the middle of putting eyeliner, Saturn's little musings as he walks through the abandoned base, and Mars's excitement over finally getting to vent her pent-up aggression on someone all help with establishing a distinct narrative voice for the different characters' segments. The bit with Cyrus in particular was very enjoyable, really showing both how he's trying to reinvent himself and how he's slowly learning to appreciate human contact. It's a very humanizing take on the guy while still coming off as believably Cyrus, with his tendency towards trying to analyze and reason his way through things with rationality and his lack of comprehension for human emotions.

Your prose, unfortunately, is rough in quite a few places. To begin with, single lines of thought are often split across two or even three paragraphs where only one would do:

Of course, not what Cyrus was really after. Wiping out all existence wasn't the answer. He was crazy. But if his revelation hadn't shocked me so much...
...Well, if I'd been able to do anything other than sit there and cry, I might have done something awful to him. And I would have regretted that, even if he /was/ actively trying to kill us.
I still respect him. But I guess he's in the same boat I am. Neither of us can get out there and change the world or else we'll just find ourselves back where we started.
All three are basically running through the same line of thought and so should by rights be the same paragraph. It just feels like you couldn't quite find a way to pull it together so you just split it into three instead.
Then there's a number of awkward phrasings such as:
There in a stained sundress and makeup only half on, the judges paid more attention to me than to Infernape.
Implying the judges have their makeup half-on and are wearing a stained sundress to share.
There's also plain old typos such as:
It span the radio around though means I'd have to study.
Assuming you meant 'through' rather than 'though' there.

There's little things like this throughout the story, and while they aren't that distracting individually, they do add up over time and unfortunately muddled the pace of the story for me somewhat as I stopped to parse them, which is unfortunate because there's a lot of interesting stuff going on with the plot proper.

In general, it feels like the story as a whole could have done with another proofreading pass or two to smooth it out. The content itself is still very enjoyable, but it's unfortunately just a bit too rough around the edges to place higher than I did. With a bit more honing to make the prose flow better from segment to segment and a couple of extra proofreading passes to catch typos and such this story would have made the top three for me.


Dragonfree

First, let me offer a bit of a disclaimer: I was almost completely unfamiliar with the Pokémon Diamond and Pearl Adventures manga before I started looking into it for a better understanding of this entry. Even then, I just read around on Bulbapedia and then read through a few of the more relevant-looking chapters of the actual manga. So unfortunately I don't have a full understanding of all the canonical events referenced here, nor of the characters' canonical development or character arcs. I think I understand it well enough to judge this entry, but there could be some brilliant subtle allusions or parallels to something in canon in here that are going over my head. If so, that's my bad.

I like that you went for a bit of creativity in the naming of your vignettes, rather than simply naming them after the characters they're about - it adds a bit of interesting flavor to the framing of this. I'm not actually sure if the names are also relevant to the content of each section, though; I think I can just about see thematic connections for all of them if I squint, but it feels tenuous enough that I'm not actually sure if it's intentional or if I'm reading too much into it.

The vignettes are a bit uneven, I think. The most enjoyable ones, to me, were Mitsumi's, B-2's and Charon's. They all have sort of a little story of their own going on, with them doing things and interacting significantly with other characters, whereas the others are mostly just introspection. Mars's at least gets pretty fascinating at the end, when she beats up the thief and we see a bit of her alien worldview about need, and Cyrus's descriptions of the Distortion World and his relationship with Kaisei make his introspection more interesting than otherwise, but I'm afraid Jupiter's and Saturn's just didn't do much for me at all - you write their characters well and give some insight into who they are and how they think, but nothing happens, and it makes their sections rather slow and forgettable.

Now, it's possible that I'd enjoy those pure-introspective ones more if I'd read the whole manga and were already invested in them as characters. But just the same, I think they'd still be more compelling if they had more substance as mini-stories of their own. You could show the same aspects of their characters while showing them doing something, and it'd help make their sections really come to life and stick with the reader, the way Mitsumi's and B-2's and Charon's do. Similarly, although the last bit of the Mars one is very interesting, I think the pure introspection before it gets to that point still feels a bit aimless and lengthy and would benefit from being shortened or building more towards the part with the thief.

I also sometimes had a bit of trouble understanding exactly what your sentences were referring to. For instance, early in the Mars section, there's a paragraph starting with the sentence "Mitsumi would feel bad." I'm not sure precisely what Mars is thinking Mitsumi would feel bad about, or whether that's meant to be a hypothetical "would" or if it's only worded that way because Mars is speculating. Depending on these things, it could mean any of "Mitsumi probably feels bad about having been part of Team Galactic", "Mitsumi has a body count to her name too, and she feels bad about it" or "Mitsumi doesn't have a body count to her name, but if she did she would feel bad about it", and they all make roughly the same amount of sense. Discerning between these possibilities is not exactly crucial to understanding the gist of the story, but the ambiguity disrupts the flow of the fic as the reader's brain stops and backtracks to try to figure it out. Similarly, the next paragraph after that says, "But I feel like I have to hold myself back. I CAN'T get involved. What we were doing was the right thing, no matter what we had to do to accomplish it." What is she talking about when she says she "can't get involved"? Involved in what? Nothing she was talking about earlier had anything to do with getting involved in anything. In context it feels like what she means is that she can't repent and do what Mitsumi, Jupiter and Saturn did, but they all seem to just be regretting their deeds independently, so calling that "getting involved" doesn't seem to make sense. There are other places where I had similar "huh?" moments at particular sentences - again, nothing that makes the story as a whole hard to understand, but it's a little distracting and reoccurs enough to be noticeable.

On the nitpicky side, there are also some grammatical oddities here and there - you use 'ok' as a word, for instance, when in fiction it should generally be typed out fully as 'okay' (and when it is written 'OK', it should be in capital letters). Sometimes your comma use is also off, so you might want to brush up on those rules: in the sentence "I got up and recalled Golbat, and walked off", for example, the comma doesn't belong because "walked off" couldn't stand as a sentence on its own, while in various other places you make the opposite mistake and connect two independent clauses with just an "and" and no comma. "They'd come with a nod of my head they were so well trained", meanwhile, is a run-on sentence, where nothing at all connects the two independent clauses. You use "span" as the past tense of "spin" in Charon's bit (it should be "spun"), and then there are a couple of typos, like "once I was awaken Heatran again". Nothing that couldn't be fixed by giving it another good read-over.

Overall, though, this is a well done character study. You show well how differently they're all coping after their experiences in Team Galactic, and you do a good job writing their voices to be clearly distinct, conveying their various psychological issues and hangups through the text and suggesting how their lives might continue from this point. I think you could have made the vignettes more consistently engaging by including more actual events and dialogue alongside the navel-gazing, though. Characters are often conveyed more effectively through what they do and say than what they're thinking, and here I definitely felt the parts that had the characters doing things overall came across better than the ones that had them just ruminating.


Sike Saner

This fic certainly benefited from its multiple POVs, allowing a nice, broad look at Team Galactic. Mitsumi's in particular did a good job with the "life after Galactic" theme; I think having two ex-Galactics bond over their shared pasts and futures was a good call.

I'll admit that some of the scenes--namely Mitsumi's, Cyrus's, and Charon's--held my attention better than the others. Whether those parts were better written, the scenes more interesting, or the characters more interesting, I'm not certain. In any case, I read through those parts just a little more easily.

With regards to grammatical errors and the like, there weren't many at all. There was an instance of "anymore" written as two words, em dashes outside of quotes that might've looked better within them, a missing space and letter apiece, and a couple of tense errors. Apart from those, the only thing that really stuck out oddly was this:

They'd come with a nod of my head they were so well trained.

Maybe there ought to be a comma after "head". Or maybe those last five words ought to go at the start of the sentence rather than the end.

In summary: while the fic wasn't without its blips, I still enjoyed it, and it did especially well at fitting the theme of the contest.
 

Dragonfree

Just me
3rd place: Exit Interview by Dramatic Melody

Scoring
bobandbill: 3rd place (75 points)
Creepychu: 1st place (110 points)
Dragonfree: 2nd place (90 points)
Sike Saner: 6th place (40 points)
Total: 315 points

Exit Interview
Dramatic Melody


“Please come in and have a seat.”

She never got used to how they entered her room so nervously. She didn’t know if it was still the situation or if it was her at this point. But even the cockiest and most pompous of employees would suddenly become soft-spoken and unsure of themselves once they entered her room. In the back of her mind, she enjoyed this sort-of power she had over them, but that was only a shallow relief amidst her miserable job.

She watched him enter her room as she put her computer on standby. His steps were slow and uncertain, and she could see that his whole body was tense from the way the cardboard box on his hands was shivering. When he completed his perilous journey from the door to the empty seat in front of her desk, all the contents in his box almost spilled out when he clumsily placed them beside the foot of her desk. This is gonna be tough, she thought to herself.

He stood up beside the seat, stiff as a Sudowoodo. Sighing, she told him to sit down so they could begin, and she could see the dread on his face when he saw his company papers on her desk.

“So, Mr. Gomez?”

“Oh, y-y-you can call me R-R-Rico, ma’am,” the man, who was in his early twenties, said with a forced smile.

“Mr. Gomez is fine.”

She caught his disappearing smile and put it on her own face.

“Mr. Gomez, I understand that you have submitted your papers for resignation.”

“Y-y-yes, ma’am,” he replied, and upon seeing the golden name plate on her desk, added, “Oh, I-I apologize, ma’am. Should I c-call you Ms. Arista?”

“Ma’am would be fine.”

Rico Gomez wasn’t the first person to have gone to her office with that intention. He wasn’t even the first of her exit interviews that day—four other people had come in before him, and there were at least a dozen others waiting for their turn outside. She knew it was going to be a long day, one more to add to her collection.

“May I know your reasons for leaving Team Flare, Mr. Gomez?”

“Well, ma’am, I feel like my, uhmm, time’s up with Team Flare. There isn’t, uh, much else I can contribute to the team now that Sir Lys—I mean, uhmm, now that, uh…”

“Now that Sir Lysandre’s gone,” she finished.

She knew their reasons were all the same. Even when they masked it behind sparkly formalities such as “I want to go to greener pastures” or “I’ve given everything I can contribute to the team”, she knew that their dedication to Team Flare was buried with Lysandre. Team morale plummeted after the incident in Geosenge, and every grunt and admin wanted to disassociate themselves with Team Flare as soon as possible. It was only a matter of when.

Vega Arista’s job, or at least what it had become, was to process the hundreds of resignation requests and conduct the exit interviews that came with them. She was originally in charge of handling new recruits, a job she had enjoyed for the past eleven years. But when she conducted the exit interview of the admin that handled resignations, that admin’s responsibilities fell to her.

On top of the job’s tediousness, Malva, Team Flare’s interim leader who oversaw the organization when she wasn’t in the Pokémon League, had requested that she try to convince team members to revoke their resignations to the best of her abilities. Before they reached Vega, they had to file their resignations to Mable, one of Lysandre’s four head scientists who have now become the catchall of administrative duties. After they braved themselves through Mable, the resignees needed to go through the much smaller obstacle in Vega, who was the entire team’s last chance of retaining any members. And of the hundreds of exit interviews she had conducted so far, none of them resulted in a cancelled resignation.

“Uhmm, uh, y-y-yes ma’am,” Rico stuttered out. “Now that Sir Lysandre’s, uh, g-gone, well, my role in the power plant division may be finished since we directly reported to him. The whole team tried continuing operations after the, uhmm, incident, but it wasn’t really going anywhere without any directives from Sir Lysandre. Some of my colleagues and superiors in the division already resigned, so I thought, well…”

“So you thought you should follow their footsteps,” she interrupted. “Mankey see, Mankey do, as they say.”

Vega remembered each of the members from the power plant division who had resigned before Rico, and they had explained with enormous detail on how the operations had become directionless. None of their machines were able to hack into the power plant’s mainframe anymore, and their quest to uncover the rumored legendary Pokémon linked to the plant had yielded zero progress ever since the incident in Geosenge. They had been one of the most productive divisions of Team Flare before, having made enormous progress in their research in a short span of time. Lysandre always talked fondly of them—she remembered the optimistic tone in his morning announcements when he praised the power plant division’s achievements. She was always fond of those announcements involving them, as it was rare for her to see Lysandre in such a happy demeanor.

“Well, Mr. Gomez,” Vega began after a prolonged period of silence, “as per protocol, I will be asking you a few questions before you finish your resignation process. Your input will be used by HR for the betterment of the team, so please answer them as clearly and honestly as possible.”

She expected the hesitation in his nod. The robotic way she said that spiel never failed to catch the resignees off-guard. She couldn’t count how many times she had said those very same words in the past few weeks¬—she could only imagine it has gotten more and more monotonous as each exit interview came and went.

“What do you feel was your most significant contribution to Team Flare?” she asked.

“Well, ma’am,” he began, his voice sounding the most certain it had ever been since he entered the room, “I was part of the team that figured out how to disable the power plant’s mechanisms and rendered the northern part of Lumiose City nonoperational for thirty-three days. That made it possible for other divisions of the team to move forward with their plans uninterrupted, allowing them to work within Lumiose City without the fear of police watching them all the time. So I feel that it was my, and perhaps the entire power plant division’s, biggest contribution to the cause.”

She was impressed with the confident way he delivered his answer, and from the looks of it, he was just as impressed as she was. It was tainted, though, by the fact that his colleagues from his division—or rather, his ex-colleagues—had given her the same prepared speech with minimal variations in their own exit interviews.

“And in evaluating your contributions to the team, Mr. Gomez, which one do you feel could have been improved the most?”

“Uhmm, I guess I would have the same answer. Thirty-three days might be long, but if we had stopped that Serena girl from infiltrating the power plant, it could have been much longer.”

Ugh, Serena. She visibly winced at the thought of that name. She still could not fully fathom how the downfall of Team Flare was caused by a nosy sixteen-year-old. Because of Serena, hundreds of grunts and admins had to give up their positions and would be hard-pressed to find a new one for having been part of Team Flare. Because of Serena, her own previously enjoyable job of orienting new recruits had become this soulless process of letting grunts out of Team Flare’s door. Because of Serena, her leader, who she previously thought was the closest human being to perfection, was stuck in Arceus-knows-where.

“What for you are the strong points of Team Flare?” she blurted out, forcibly snapping herself out of her thoughts.

“Well, uh, I don’t mean to rub salt in the wound, but Sir Lysandre’s leadership really brought the team together. His passion for his vision really brought up the entire team’s spirits, and, uhmm, that goes double for our division. The day after Serena destroyed all of our progress, he personally visited us in Route 12. All of us were expecting a tough lecture on our weakness and incompetence, but the first thing he did in our meeting was ask us how we were all doing. That gesture might be really simple, but I could remember how the heavy atmosphere in the room suddenly lightened when he did that. He still reprimanded us, but in the end it was more of a motivational speech rather than a gritty lecture.”

She had dozed off in the middle of Rico’s answer, imagining how much Lysandre must have gone through in that incident. She herself had been on the receiving end of many of Lysandre’s motivational speeches, and for her, what Rico said about his passion boosting the team’s spirit was a gross understatement. He himself was the team’s spirit, she thought. And when the ultimate weapon exploded, that spirit was shattered into a million pieces.

“And what would you say are Team Flare’s areas for improvement?” she blurted out, readjusting her focus a second time.

“Well, uhmm, in all honesty, it’s linked to why I had resigned. After Lysandre’s de—uh, disappearance, it seemed like the entire team didn’t know what to do. Sir Xerosic did things his way, Ms. Malva is doing things her way, and the scientists are doing things their own ways. And that leaves the team with no direction to follow. I guess, uhmm, the entire team was too dependent on Sir Lysandre to guide them, so without him, uh, it’s what it is now.”

Rico’s answer genuinely impressed her this time around, since it hit the nail right in the head. Most of the grunts and admins who resigned before him would talk about the ineffectiveness of their own division or their own insecurities when they answered this question. Even she wouldn’t have had the guts to put the blame on the administration if she was on the other side of the interview, but she knew that what Rico said was the only viable answer.

She didn’t know if she dreaded hearing Xerosic’s name more than Serena’s, but both elicited the same disgusted reaction from her. He was their last chance of salvaging Team Flare from the ultimate weapon’s debris, but he had the bright idea of bringing the international police into the picture with his directionless scheme. Interpol had arrested him and ordered that Lysandre Café be closed down, which was the last of Team Flare’s income-generating businesses that was still operational after the Geosenge incident. They had fortunately left the other members of the team alone, but their worldwide bulletin of being on the lookout for any suspicious activities from any member of the team doused what little flame ignited the team’s future.

Vega went through the rest of the questions of the interview methodically, asking Rico about his division, his superiors, and his thoughts about the team as a whole. After asking him for any suggestions he had for the betterment of the team, she had told him that the last thing he needed to do was to surrender his possessions that he had been given upon becoming a grunt.

Rico hastily got the box of his belongings from under his chair and put it on Vega’s desk. She hastily inspected if all of the necessary items were in the box—uniforms, manuals, Holo Caster, the three volumes of the Team Flare handbook. When she realized what was missing, she sighed, knowing that this was always the toughest part of every exit interview she conducted.

“Your Poké Ball, Mr. Gomez?”

His reaction to the query told her that it had only hit him at that very moment. Those kinds of resignees were always the toughest to talk to, but they were the closest opportunities she ever got to fulfilling Malva’s special request.

“I will need your Poké Ball, Mr. Gomez,” Vega repeated. “I hope you have not forgotten that your Pokémon was only given to you when you joined the team. Your departure makes it necessary that it be returned, for it is the property of Team Flare.”

She could see sweat drops form on Rico’s forehead. His eyes shifted around quickly, looking for any sort of reprieve from whatever pocket of the room he saw.

“I have to give back my Pokémon?” he finally said, the despair apparent in his voice.

“Yes, Mr. Gomez,” she replied. “The contract you had signed when you joined the team clearly states that any Pokémon given to you at the start of your membership were to be returned if ever you exited the team. This does not count any Pokémon you brought with you when you entered or any Pokémon you caught yourself during the duration of your membership with the team, but since your records show that the lone Pokémon in your possession was the one given to you by the team, you will need to return the Mightyena you’ve been assigned.”

She saw him wince at the mention of his Pokémon and how his expression shifted from nervousness to dread. A majority of the resignees before him had at least prepared for this moment, and many had the luxury of having other Pokémon that they could keep. But for Rico, who not only had a single Pokémon with him but had also not thought about this before he entered her room—she thought that he might be the first resignee she could successfully convince to stay.

“I-Is there, uhmm, is there any way I could k-k-keep him?” he asked hopelessly.

“If you’re intent on resigning, then no, there isn’t.”

She herself didn’t know why, but the team handbook stated that it was one of the rules Lysandre had established when Team Flare began recruiting more members. The handbook mentioned that Pokémon were valuable assets that shouldn’t be wasted, and every Pokémon Team Flare caught should only be used for the furthering of Team Flare’s motives. When she first read it, she was taken aback by the technical way it was describing Pokémon, but she eventually came to accept it as part of Lysandre’s grand plan of a beautiful world. And as she became more and more ingrained into the team, she knew that the last thing she should ever do was oppose Lysandre’s vision.

“B-b-but, well, uhmm, you see, ma’am, Barker and I have, uh, we’ve grown really close this past year. We have each other’s backs, and, uhmm, we’ve been through everything together. He’s my best friend, and, and…”

“Mr. Gomez, I’m sorry, but you signed a contract when you entered the team that explicitly states that all possessions you receive from Team Flare will be returned when you leave the team, and that includes the Pokémon we gave you.” Vega paused to catch her breath, then continued, “Now, if you really want to stay with your Pokémon, then you can continue serving Team Flare as a loyal member of the power plant division. I can cancel your entire resignation process with the click of a button, and we can pretend this exit interview never happened.”

She wondered if she had brought up the possibility of terminating his resignation too soon, but she knew it needed to be brought to the table somehow. Malva had told her to offer it to them when they were the most vulnerable, saying that it would be the time where their judgments would be most clouded. And for Vega, there seemed to be no better display of vulnerability than mulling over whether or not you wanted to let go of your Pokémon.

“No, I can’t stay anymore,” Rico said in a defeated tone. “Th-there’s just so much going on, and s-so much that already happened. I-it’s just, I can’t—”

“I understand, Mr. Gomez,” Vega interrupted. “Now, please hand me the Mightyena’s Poké Ball.”

She could feel that he was holding back his tears. She had witnessed many hearts break whenever the interview came to this point, although it never came to the point of the resignee breaking down. Everyone else had either already mentally prepared themselves for the moment or didn’t have that strong a bond with their Pokémon to care. Vega knew that she herself would be less than composed if and when she had to give up the Liepard assigned to her when she would have her own exit interview—whenever that would be—but she knew there was nothing she could do about it.

“Mr. Gomez, I can see how tough this is for you, and again I apologize for having it come to this. Should you want to say goodbye to Mightyena, feel free to do so in the storage room,” she said as she pointed to a door that led to an empty storage closet. “You have the next fifteen minutes to do so. I trust that would be enough?” She had made sure to make that room available for any of the resignees who had wanted to properly say goodbye to their Pokémon, not wanting to see their emotional talk in person for both professional and personal reasons.

But Rico had not heard Vega’s specific request and immediately called out his Mightyena when he was given his chance to say goodbye.

“Mr. Gomez,” Vega started, “please use the storage room—“

“Barker,” he began, much to Vega’s annoyance. “Hey buddy, I missed you. How are you?”

When the Pokémon materialized, he immediately turned to his owner and licked his face all over, taking out the tears that had began to form in his eyes. The black fur covering his body was well combed, and Vega was treated to the sight of a tail wagging in glee. Her room was filled with low, content growls, and she prepared herself for when those growls would become less optimistic.

“Hey, listen, I gotta tell you something, Barker. Something really important,” started Rico, his voice already betraying his emotions. Barker sensed it as well, and his tail slowed down its wagging.

“So you know how we were talking about leaving Team Flare and living on our own these past few weeks?” he said. Barker licked Rico’s face in reply, which seemed to convey a yes. “Well, it turns out that, well, uh, I’m gonna be the only one leaving Team Flare, Barker.”

Vega saw Barker’s tail stop wagging, and she knew that she was in for a painful conversation. This was exactly the reason why she requested all goodbyes to not happen in front of her—they were too much for her to watch.

“You see,” Rico continued, “remember when we met last year? You were still a cute little Poochyena back then. Well, we met when I called you out of your Poké Ball, remember? That was the first time I saw you, too. So that means that I wasn’t the one who caught you, which means that, technically, I’m not your official trainer.”

Barker let out a fierce growl in reply, not taking any of the realizations lightly. It echoed through the room and the waiting hall, and Vega heard some gasps from outside.

“Hey, hey, I was surprised, too. I completely forgot about it. But it’s part of my contract, so I can’t do anything about it unless I don’t resign. And you know I can’t do that. I’m really, really sorry.”

Rico broke into tears, and Barker mirrored it with his own low sobs. Vega shifted uneasily in her seat, trying to distract herself by arranging and rearranging Rico’s company papers on her desk. The last thing she wanted to do was to show any sign of being affected, but every wail out of Barker’s mouth made it more difficult to keep up that façade.

“Hey, cheer up, all right?” Rico continued. “You may be the only Pokémon I’ve ever owned, and probably ever will own, but you made me see how the relationship between a trainer and a Pokémon can truly be beautiful. I know Sir Lysandre himself didn’t even believe that, but if he saw both of us in action, I really believe he would have changed his mind about Pokémon. But he’s gone, and the team’s falling apart, and you know that I can’t stay here anymore. As much as I want to be with you, and I really do, I need to get out of here and look for a new job. I’ll never forget you, Barker. You’re the best Pokémon any trainer could ever have.”

Vega’s eyes were almost automatic in closing them, not wanting to see any more of their emotional display. She tried tuning out their sobbing, but their desperate cries filled every pocket of her room. She wondered what the grunts queued outside were thinking at that moment, for she was sure that they overheard the crying from outside. Maybe it would give them the idea that I made this resignee cry and would make them not want to resign anymore? she thought.

She restrained herself from stifling a laugh, knowing that they would never revoke their resignations over such a shallow reason. She herself couldn’t count how many times she had thought about her own resignation, and being in charge of exit interviews didn’t help her waning spirit. She knew that the reason she hasn’t been able to fulfill Malva’s special request in the hundreds of exit interviews she had conducted was because she herself saw little benefit in staying with the team.

But it was emotional interviews like these that made her wonder—how were these people able to handle leaving such a vital part of their lives? Whether it be the Pokémon, the friends, or the memories, how could they be willing to turn their backs on all those meaningful things just like that? And after all they’ve been through, after all they’ve worked for, after all they’ve contributed to the team, how was it so easy for them to give all of that up?

She knew the answer to those questions. He was buried in the depths of Geosenge, his body still nowhere to be found after two whole months of searching.

“M-Ma’am? Ms. Arista?”

The sight of a red-faced Rico filled her vision as she opened her eyes. Barker had been returned to his Poké Ball, which Rico had clutched tightly and placed over his heart. Under normal circumstances, Vega would have ridiculed him for such a melodramatic display, but she knew that the exit interview had strayed far away from normal at this point.

“Ms. Arista—I mean, ma’am, uh…”

“Ms. Arista would be fine.”

“Ms. Arista, uhmm, I know it’s against protocol, and I know it’s asking so much from you, but I beg you, please, please let me keep my Barker. It would mean the world to me, and I…I would be eternally grateful if you do this for me.”

In her mind, Vega imagined what would happen if she heeded his request. She foresaw other grunts and admins doing more dramatic but less authentic displays of affection to their assigned Pokémon in order to tug her heartstrings. She saw Malva’s cold stare tear her apart for softening up, and she sensed the looming threat of being assigned to an even more ruthless position within the team, or worse, having her own resignation papers rejected when she herself would face Mable.

But she also saw Rico and Barker in a quaint home in a quiet city like Santalune or Dendemille, going about their days normally and free from the pressures of Team Flare. The scene then dissolved into a moderate-sized apartment in Coumarine overlooking the sea, and she saw herself reading a book on the patio while affectionately petting the Liepard that she herself had been assigned years ago.

“Mr. Gomez, I—“

Her seaside apartment disappeared in a flash, and it turned into the ultimate weapon, standing proudly in the middle of Geosenge. Then, a blinding light consumed it, turning the entire weapon into an abyssal hole. She peered into it, and a vast expanse of nothing filled her sight.

“—I’m sorry, Mr. Gomez. I can’t let you do that.”

Rico’s eyes shifted from longing to hopelessness. But she noted a twinge of anger and determination in them, one she didn’t know if she could handle.

“Mr. Gomez, the terms and conditions of the contract you signed clearly state that all assets and possessions Team Flare has loaned to you will be returned upon resignation or termination,” she said, struggling to keep the words coming out. “I have told you that you can stay with your Pokémon if you decide not to resign, but unless you’ve changed your mind, I cannot heed your request.”

She tried looking for any sort of sign in him that indicated a willingness to stay, but his scrunched up eyes and bowed head told her otherwise.

“You have been a good member of Team Flare, Mr. Gomez,” she continued, “not having any sanctions or warnings to your name. So you know how important abiding by the rules is. Sir Lysandre established these rules a long time ago, and I’m sure he would have wanted the same thing if—“

“Well Sir Lysandre’s dead!” Rico blurted out, his voice the loudest it had been in the past hour. “Or he might as well be in that blasted hole!”

She had stared him down at the mention of that word, and she could see the regret that immediately came to him as he finished his outburst. Rico tried speaking up, attempting to voice out an “I’m sorry”, but the words never left his mouth.

“Yes, Mr. Gomez,” she began, her eyes never leaving his. “Sir Lysandre is, for all intents and purposes, dead. But that doesn’t mean we should stop abiding by his rules. That doesn’t mean we should stop respecting him as our true leader. In fact, I would venture to say that it would be a grave dishonor to him if we do otherwise.”

“M-Ms. Arista, ma’am, I’m sorry for going out of line,” he said, his worry evident in his tone. “I don’t mean to dishonor Sir Lysandre with my request. That’s the last thing I would ever want to do. But I love Barker, Ms. Arista. I’ve never cared for anyone, human or Pokémon, more than I’ve cared for Barker. Sir Lysandre envisioned a perfect world for all of us, and I can’t imagine mine without Barker. I know I’m asking a lot, but please, please reconsider.”

Vega closed her eyes again, and her vision was flooded with images of Malva and Mable staring her down. Looming over them was the stoic image of Lysandre, looking at her with the intensity she had gotten used to in the past eleven years. She tried looking for any sign of what the right thing to do was in him, any sort of clarity from his powerful eyes. But all he gave her was a sigh, which was immediately succeeded by his image slowly dissolving into a million pieces, taking Malva and Mable with him.

“All right,” Vega sighed after opening her eyes, her face now matching his in redness. “Let me have the Poké Ball.”

“But Ms. Arista—“

“Mr. Gomez, the last thing you want to do right now is disobey me. Hand me the Poké Ball now.”

Rico was hesitant in doing so, with Barker’s Poké Ball still clutched over his chest, but Vega’s serious expression made him unable to refuse. He reluctantly offered the Poké Ball to her, which she hastily took out of his hands. Vega booted her computer and scanned his Poké Ball, once in a while glancing at the nervous expression of the concerned grunt. After some swift but sloppy clicking and typing, she gave it back to him, almost shoving it onto his welcoming palm.

“Now you listen to me,” Vega started, trying to mask her unease with as much authority in her voice as possible. “If word of this gets to anyone, and I mean anyone, aside from the two people in this room right now, I will personally ask Mable and the other scientists to go to your home, drag you back to this base, give you your uniform, and reinstate you into the lowest position a grunt could ever have. Yes, you may have resigned from Team Flare, but that does not mean that you have completely disconnected yourself from us. Any word you say against Team Flare and any act you do breaching this agreement will be met with the most severe punishment possible both for you and this Pokémon. Are we clear, Mr. Gomez?”

All Rico could give in reply was an affirmative nod.

“I have changed this Mightyena’s last ownership activity from a loan into a trade, with what was given in return listed as ‘a year of outstanding service’. You are officially his current trainer, Mr. Gomez, and you may do with him as you see fit. Save your tears of joy for when you’ve completely left the base. If I find out any of the grunts outside got word of this transaction, I can revoke the change of ownership with the click of a button, and you will be asked by the guards at front to surrender the Mightyena’s Poké Ball. You may leave my office, Mr. Gomez. Your exit interview, and your time with Team Flare, has officially come to an end.”

Rico swiftly pocketed Barker’s Poké Ball, and he flashed a quick smile at Vega before standing up and heading for the door. “Please close my door on your way out,” commanded Vega when he reached for the doorknob, “and tell the person next in line to wait for ten minutes before knocking.”

As her door was closed shut, Vega tucked Rico's file in her drawer and retrieved a similarly colored envelope within it. Inside it was a blank resignation form that had accumulated two months’ worth of dust. She stared at it long and hard, as she always did after every exit interview she failed to turn around.

“I’m sorry, Sir Lysandre,” she said softly. “I’ve failed you yet again, only this time it’s even worse. I’ve deliberately disobeyed you, and I’ve let another grunt do the same.”

Tears began to fall from her eyes, some of it smudging onto the blank resignation form she was clutching tightly. She tried hard to repair the broken image of Lysandre in her head, but she found it dissolving every time it was almost whole.

“Why did it have to be this way?” she continued, her voice becoming progressively louder. “Why did you have to leave us? Why did you have to leave me?”

Her mind was now filled with the looming forms of Malva and Mable, who would have received the notification of a change in Team Flare’s Pokémon records by now, shouting every curse imaginable at her. She could already see how she would be removed from her current role immediately and how she would be assigned to an even less appealing job within the team. She imagined the punishments they would give her, and she knew they could very well go as far as taking away her own assigned Pokémon from her.

At the thought of her Pokémon, she retrieved a Poké Ball from her pocket and looked at it with the same longing eyes Rico had left her with. “I’ll never leave you, Mira,” she said as she placed her Liepard’s Poké Ball above her own chest. “We’ll get through this together.”

Three swift knocks on the door interrupted her. She hastily placed Mira’s Poké Ball back in her pocket and wiped her face as the door creaked open. The head of a female grunt peeked in with a questioning look.

“Please,” Vega said after clearing her throat, her hand still clutching Mira’s Poké Ball tightly, “please come in and have a seat.”


Reviews

bobandbill

I liked the direction you went here, having Team Flare as a group that’s organised to the level of having exit interviews (as well as contracts being written up to such an extent). It was also logical to have the en masse resignations from the team following Lysandre’s de-disappearance, given his established charm and persuasiveness in the games. (I mean heck, he had the region’s professor calling him passionate and etc while he was talking about cleansing the filth and etc of greedy people... I digress.) It certainly seems like a tiring and thankless process for Vega.

Early quote though:
But when she conducted the exit interview of the admin that handled resignations, that admin’s responsibilities fell to her.
This detail seemed off – I’m not sure why they had separate, specific (and apparently not overlapping) roles for people to handle one side of membership (joining) and someone else for those leaving. That said, this detail does seem interesting – did this previous admin leave because the interviews they conducted affect her similarly? That’s a neat dimension. Maybe it would be better to have her replacing someone who also handled the resignations, and she just had to do them all now since Lysandre die-disappeared.

It was certainly an emotional piece, and on the most part it worked well. Introducing the missing item of the Pokémon that belongs to the company, not the resigning trainer, was a neat twist for the middle of the story, and the connection between the two trainers and their Pokémon was clear. It was nice to have Ricco talk to his Pokemon out in the room like that despite Vega’s request (or rather attempt at a command) too do that in the storage room)

My complaint about this is that it seemed a bit too overdone in how often Vega thought about her own higher ups or thought about Lysandre. By the third time she thought about Lysandre it felt like you were hitting the point of her missing him and his guidance a bit too heavily. As a result it interrupted the conversation she and Ricco were having a bit too much for my liking toward the end.

On the flip side, I did appreciate hearing about how he had addressed the group that Ricco had been part of and hearing another person’s thoughts about him, which further impressed how vital he had been to Team Flare. Overall I think this entry dealt with the prompt rather well.

I thought it was a nice use of the book ends technique as well!

The story was fairly clean of errors. Description was solid too and besides my gripe with Vega’s off-focus thoughts breaking up the events too often the pacing seemed fine and the characterisations were solid.
In the back of her mind, she enjoyed this sort-of power she had over them,
’...this sort-of power she had...’ may read better as ‘...this power she sort-of had...’ imo. Minor recommendation.

entered her room
This phrase, or a variation, occurred three times in two paragraphs (right at the beginning). I suggest removing at least the first part of this sentence:
She watched him enter her room as she put her computer on standby.
As what follows and the paragraph before it suggests well enough that she is watching him enter the room.
He stood up beside the seat, stiff as a Sudowoodo.
Neat simile there.
“The contract you had signed when you joined the team clearly states that any Pokémon given to you at the start of your membership were to be returned if ever you exited the team.

Overall I quite enjoyed this take on Flare and how the team is falling apart – again, a smart direction to take the prompt, I felt. And the story was enjoyable as well. =)


Creepychu

A very interesting piece of world-building here. The question of what happens with the rank and file grunts when the leader of a team has their big, villainous meltdown is something that doesn't get a whole lot of coverage in canon so it's nice to see that question tackled, especially with Team Flare since they are one of the teams trying to sell themselves as idealists rather than villains, which would make the whole ordeal even more awkward.

Vega's position of handling resignations also makes for an interesting way to break down the situation, bringing across these wide organizational issues in a very personal and relatable way. Little details like how she inherited her position by having been the one in charge of interviewing the original interviewer, how the entire power plant team all delivered the exact same response as Rico and her little defensive mannerisms like insisting on the formal titles really drive home how little she likes her position, and yet the sense of hurt betrayal she expresses towards the quitting team members and Lysandre as well as her hatred for the protagonist who stopped them also show how she's still got a lingering sense of commitment even after having seen all the team's flaws. It creates a very believable personal conflict for her, which does a great job of maintaining tension throughout the interview, as even right up to the end I really couldn't be sure which way she would swing on the situation with Rico and Barker.

Emotional beats in general are spot-on, with both Vega's attempt at a cold, composed facade and Rico's bluster and nervousness coming off as very genuine and believable and creating a very interesting interplay between two characters who both come with good intentions and don't want to hurt the other but at the same time are put into a position that forces them into conflict. It creates a situation where you're rooting on both sides of the main issue and hoping it'll work out for the best for them, which really keeps tugging on the heartstrings since every push in either person's favor feels bad in its own way and maintains tension throughout the whole story, ending with a very cathartic release in Vega's little private moment at the end.

On a technical level, you've done a great job with the characters and their dialogue, and most of the narration works well, but you also have a couple of awkward phrasings such as:

When he completed his perilous journey from the door to the empty seat in front of her desk, all the contents in his box almost spilled out when he clumsily placed them beside the foot of her desk.

(The 'all' is redundant here, since 'the contents' already implies all of the things in the box unless you specify otherwise with a qualifier like 'some of the contents'.)

or
Rico hastily got the box of his belongings from under his chair and put it on Vega’s desk. She hastily inspected if all of the necessary items were in the box—uniforms, manuals, Holo Caster, the three volumes of the Team Flare handbook. When she realized what was missing, she sighed, knowing that this was always the toughest part of every exit interview she conducted.

(The repeat of 'hastily' there feels a bit awkward right after you described Rico in the exact same way.)

Fortunately, these are pretty minimal and the emotional intensity of the story is strong enough that I wasn't left to think on them for too long. On a less technical level, you make effective use of imagery, body language and smaller details to portray the thoughts and emotions at play in the scene which lets the narration convey these things by showing them rather than just talking about them. I particularly enjoyed the little touches of shifting character position, like how she moves from insisting on 'ma'am' at the beginning to insisting on 'Ms. Arista' at the end.

All in all, a very touching story about the hardships of being a grunt forced to clean up after your evil team leader's mess. There's a couple of sentence fumbles here and there, but the narrative itself is very well crafted, the characters are relateable, the tension is maintained beautifully from start to finish and the emotional impact of the whole situation is brought across very effectively.


Dragonfree

I like the 'soulless corporation' feel of your Team Flare - all the paperwork and protocols and the HR department and obligatory exit interviews with obligatory attempts to retain the employee, still clumsily chugging along after the disappearance and likely death of the man with the vision. It's exhausting just to read about it.

I also enjoy the characterization of Lysandre and how you get it across just through two other people talking about him. These are Team Flare members, and through the way they describe Lysandre we can believe why they would follow him and champion his cause - the way they remember his passion and drive and how he motivated them is believable and genuinely sounds like Team Flare were the heroes of their own story, which really helps to sell this. The way that initially they both refuse to acknowledge that Lysandre is almost definitely dead but then think and say it more bluntly as the story goes on and they become more outwardly disillusioned with the team is a nice touch, too, mirroring the main buildup of Rico and Barker slowly eroding Vega's barriers and eventually driving her to her decision to defy the soulless situation she's stuck in.

The main emotional core here is the scene where Rico says goodbye to Barker, which I'm afraid have somewhat mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it is very sweet and emotional, and Rico's words and Barker's body language do hit the heartstrings you're going for. I even cried a bit (but insert my usual sap-of-the-century disclaimer here). I did think, though, that it was kind of generic - almost everything Rico says is something basically any trainer could say to their Pokémon, and it feels a lot like any number of other stories that try to twang those same heartstrings. In my experience the real hardest-hitting emotional moments of this kind are the ones that punch you with something starkly specific, something you didn't expect, some new thought that touches heartstrings you didn't even know you had. You had a great opportunity here to have Rico mention to Barker something that happened to them, something more specific than simply having let him out of a Pokéball once, like some moment that crystallized their friendship or made him appreciate it. That could give us a little nugget of insight into who they are, what their partnership is like and what they're truly losing if they're separated, as opposed to general, vague platitudes about how beautiful the trainer-Pokémon relationship can be. As it is, you tell us they have a powerful bond, and you show us well how devastated they are to have to say goodbye to each other, but you don't quite show their bond: I don't know anything about them or how they work together or what their partnership looks like on a normal day, so I have to simply take Rico's word for how close they are. We don't have to know their life story, but just hearing one or two things that are truly about them and not vaguely about Pokémon in general would be enough to set the tone for us to fill in the blanks, and I think that might be just what you need to really punch the reader in the gut.

Like I said, it still works. I still cried. But I feel like this would have been more genuine and heartwrenching if it had felt less generic and we really got a sense of why Rico and Barker in particular mean so much to each other.

The other issue I had with that scene was that from Vega's side of things, I think you're laying it on a bit thick. She spends a lot of the scene telling us over and over again how sad it is and how she doesn't know if she can handle it and how much they're crying, and I think that ultimately detracts both from the impact of the scene and from her arc in general. When your narrator keeps spelling out for us how sad and heartbreaking the scene is, you're not letting the emotion of the scene speak for itself, and it feels borderline manipulative - we don't want to be told how sad we should feel, we want to just feel it. Meanwhile, Vega's narrative arc would be better served if you let it speak more for itself, too. You can convey her increasing discomfort and that it's affecting her without explaining that this was so sad and emotional but she was trying to keep up a facade of not caring. For example, it's great when Vega shifts in her seat and starts trying to distract herself by meaninglessly rearranging papers on her desk, but we can tell just from that that she's more affected by it than she'd like, so does it really need to be followed by spelling it out for us? Could we not figure out for ourselves that the reason Vega wants all goodbyes to happen in the storage room is that she wants to avoid having to see the heartbreak she's causing? A bit more subtlety would make it more satisfying when her facade starts to break.

Lastly, some little niggles: At one point you have Vega "restraining herself from stifling a laugh", but stifling a laugh is restraining it, so this wording doesn't make sense. At another point, she worries that if Malva finds out she's going soft, she might reject her resignation papers - but what does rejecting a resignation from Team Flare mean exactly? If they can just reject a person's resignation and force them to stay with the team, and Malva really wants people manipulated into staying on the team even though they want to get out, why are they even bothering with demanding they choose between the team and their Pokémon - can't they just reject all resignations (or some resignations at random) the same way Vega thinks Malva might reject hers? And finally, a form that's been inside an envelope in a drawer for months wouldn't have months' worth of dust on it, because the dust can't get inside the drawer, much less the envelope.

All of this is nitpick-level stuff, really - overall this is a good, well-executed, emotional story that does a good job of both tugging on heartstrings, showing Vega's gradual softening and making it work, and giving some believable insight into the way that Lysandre held Team Flare together. But it makes a few unfortunate missteps in the execution of its pivotal emotional scene that reduce its impact, and while the impact is still there, I think it drags it down just a bit.


Sike Saner

Lysandre always talked fondly of them—she remembered the optimistic tone in his morning announcements when he praised the power plant division’s achievements.
She was always fond of those announcements involving them, as it was rare for her to see Lysandre in such a happy demeanor.
Just a little bit of tense trouble here. Lysandre had always talked fondly of them. Similarly, Vega had always been fond of those announcements, as she'd rarely seen Lysandre in such a happy demeanor.

Alternatively! The announcments may have stopped, but maybe her fondness hasn't. In that case, she was still fond of those announcements.

Tense errors were probably the most common sort of oops I encountered while reading this. Most of them were of the "this needs to be in past perfect" variety, but there was also a "has" that ought to have been a "had"--which, come to think of it, might have just been a typo. Whose bright idea was it to put the "d" and "s" keys right next to each other, anyway?

She hastily inspected if all of the necessary items were in the box—uniforms, manuals, Holo Caster, the three volumes of the Team Flare handbook.
Not sure "inspected if" really works here. "Checked if" sounds a little less clunky, but then again "Checked to see if" might be a better way to go.

But for Rico, who not only had a single Pokémon with him but had also not thought about this before he entered her room—she thought that he might be the first resignee she could successfully
Something about "who not only had a single pokémon with him but" didn't hit me quite right. I think it's kind of suggesting that his problem was he only brought one of his pokémon with him, when in reality the issue was he only had that one pokémon, period. So something like "who not only had just one pokémon to his name" might hit the nail on the head just a bit better.

Vega’s eyes were almost automatic in closing them,
The "them" can go--"closing" is an intransitive verb here.

At the thought of her Pokémon, she retrieved a Poké Ball from her pocket and looked at it with the same longing eyes Rico had left her with. “I’ll never leave you, Mira,” she said as she placed her Liepard’s Poké Ball above her own chest.
Technically, she's putting the poké ball in front of her chest rather than above it. Unless she's lying down, that is.

But yeah. All that aside, this was still a decent and very readable take on the "life after team" angle. Plus:

“Ms. Arista—I mean, ma’am, uh…”
“Ms. Arista would be fine.”
I really liked the sort of inverted echo you did here with the previous "Ma'am would be fine" bit.

And I do find myself hoping Vega's actions didn't end up biting anyone's *** too hard, so kudos for getting me to care that much about the characters within such a short span.
 

Dragonfree

Just me
2nd place: Baton by [Imaginative]:[Clockwork]

Scoring
bobandbill: 2nd place (90 points)
Creepychu: 3rd place (75 points)
Dragonfree: 3rd place (75 points)
Sike Saner: 1st place (110 points)
Total: 350 points

Baton​

If there was anything Grunt Robbie hated more than guard duty, it was guard duty with Grunt Victor. Apparently unsatisfied with the crushing boredom of pacing back and forth down a single hallway for eight hours, Grunt Victor felt the need to whistle. Any old tune would do, although Grunt Victor definitely showed a preference for higher-keyed songs that resulted in more wheezy breaths than actual whistling.

Grunt Robbie supposed it could be worse. He once had sentry duty with Grunt Tony, who spent the whole shift talking about his timeshare in Olivine. Of course, that was nothing compared to Grunt Joshua’s legendary political rants. Stories of those were regularly circulated by whoever had worked on his maintenance shift that day. And at the end of the day, absolutely anything was better than working the wiseman gifts counter at the Celadon Department Store.

All in all, whistling really was pretty tolerable. True, it was annoying; and sure, it was almost never in tune; and yes, the songs that were recognizable usually weren’t even enjoyable before being whistlefied; and okay, maybe Grunt Victor’s velvety, four-octave singing voice made the fact that he chose whistling even more frustrating, but it wasn’t the literal worst thing to be stuck with.

However, when Grunt Victor hit a note so sour that it made Grunt Robbie physically flinch, he decided that yes, it was the worst.

“Shut up,” he said abruptly.

“Huh?”

“Your whistling. It’s terrible.” They both stopped walking.

“I have to practice if I want to get better,” Grunt Victor said, crossing his arms. He leaned against the wall and yawned.

“Practice at home. Practice on the weekend. Practice literally anywhere other than here.” Despite his annoyance, he couldn’t help but yawn too. “It’s bad enough I have to walk until my blisters pop.” He yawned again, this time much wider and longer. “But I shouldn’t… have…” As his eyes drooped, he saw the air was speckled with tiny purple flakes. As he fumbled dully with his alert transmitter, he fell heavily to the floor, with Grunt Victor soon following after.

As both lay sleeping on the cold metal floor, a hatch on the air vent above them swung open, and a butterfree fluttered out, followed by a broad-shouldered man who landed deftly on his feet. His perfectly coiffed hair had remained undamaged despite the close quarters, as had his pressed suit. Once the dust had settled on the ground, he pulled the bandana off of his mouth, revealing a devilish grin that suggested he could just as easily seduce an enemy as incapacitate them with a flying arm bar.

“Nice sleep powder, Wings,” he said, cocking an eyebrow and returning the pokémon to its ball. “It’s too bad, though.” He nudged one of the grunt’s cheeks with his glossy shoe, finding the poor guy totally unconscious. “They probably could have told us how to get to Giovanni.”

The Pokémon League had given him the task of flushing out the Rockets as soon as possible and by any means necessary. While he was sure the organization could probably become trouble if left unchecked for too long, the fact that one kid had stopped all of their recent missions did little to heighten his sense of urgency. So it was with utter calmness that he sauntered down the hallway.

“Freeze!” It was a shout from behind him.

‘Reinforcements,’ he thought drolly, brushing his fingers across the poké balls on his belt and turning around. “Finally, some service!” he shouted as the squad of black-clad men approached. Their rattata scampered in front of them. “I need directions, but I haven’t seen a soul since I got here. Other than these two gentlemen.” He motioned toward the sleeping grunts. “Obviously their hospitality could use a little work.”

“Directions?” one of the grunts snarled. “To where? The exit?” His crowd chuckled.

“Witty!” he replied enthusiastically. “But no, I’m actually looking for an elevator pass. I’m extremely claustrophobic, and being this far underground is not ideal.” He adjusted his tie. “I’d be very appreciative to anyone who could help me out.”

“I’ll help you out.” One of the grunts walked forward, followed by three rattata. “If you stop talking right now, we might let you keep a hand.”

“What a deal!” He could feel the rats sniffing at his calves, so he could only let the grunt restrain his hands with a rope. “It’s very tempting, really. I’ve got a counteroffer, though.”

“Oh yeah?” The grunt yanked the knot, digging the rope into the wrists of his captive.

“Indeed.” He turned his head toward the grunt behind him. “If you fall hard, I’ll make sure you’re out of range.”

Before the grunt could question it, his right calf was being hooked by the man’s foot, pushing him off balance and sending him falling to the ground. A cloud of sleep powder puffed up around him, flying into the faces of his rattata, whose aggression dulled immediately. Before the group of grunts could get any closer, he shook loose the poké ball he had slipped down his pant leg, ramped it off the toe of his shoe, and kicked it into the crowd. Immediately upon hitting a grunt’s chest, it bounced back to the traienr, leaving behind a glowing white pokémon that quickly exploded in a blast of fire.

The man turned away not only in order to keep the heat from chapping his lips, but more importantly to allow the flames to lick the rope, thus burning it off and setting him free. Quickly enough, the fire was reduced to a gang of smoldering bodies and one elegant arcanine.

“Excellent range control, Ace.” He returned the pokémon to its ball and clipped it back onto his belt. “And I got to use my poké ball kick. Always a crowd pleaser.”

“Wh-… who are you?” As promised, the fallen grunt had remained out of range, though he was currently fighting the sleep that had taken down his rodent partners.

The man smiled and adjusted his suit jacket. “Me? I’m known as many different things by many different people. To some, I’m a shadow, too commonplace to notice but too pervasive to escape. To others, I’m an angel, goodness in human form that appears from nowhere. To you, though?” He paused. “You can call me-”

He was cut short as a raticate violently bit through his neck from behind. After sputtering blood for a few moments, he fell dead to the ground, his hair immaculately kempt even as red pooled around his face.

Sure of the kill, the raticate bounded back to its trainer. He was another Rocket grunt, although his uniform had been adjusted. White gloves, no hat, and a button-up in place of a sweatshirt set him apart from the crowd of mostly blackened teammates.

“Sorry to be so violent,” he said with a grin and shrug. “But you could really learn a thing or two from me about getting straight to the point.” He scratched his pokémon behind the ear. “I’m Ben, by the way.” He held out his hand and shrugged when the dead man didn’t respond.

He looked around at the three sleeping men, the passed out rattata, and the burned corpses and rolled his eyes.

“Jackasses,” he mumbled, flicking off a piece of sleep powder that had stuck to his sleeve. “Not sure why tying him up was a better option than killing him, but I guess I have a lot to learn about mediocre villainy. I’d better get cleanup crew in here.”

Not that he made it a secret, but Ben was far from impressed with Team Rocket. When he defected from Team Aqua and moved to Kanto, he was grateful for the chance to work with a team that was just after money instead of literally trying to flood the entire world. What he soon learned was that even if Aqua was batshit crazy, they were a well-oiled batshit crazy. They had leadership and factions and forethought so that even when they led members off a figurative cliff and into a literal ocean, it was with a clearly articulated purpose. It really unified the whole team.

The Rockets, on the other hand, just tossed members onto random heist squads with a vague plan to steal. Which would be great if they succeeded in anything other than “causing trouble again,” but they always fell apart at the last minute thanks to any one person’s inability to organize the team into a collective attack.

Ben considered it a personal duty to change that.

“I heard an explosion, so naturally I released my raticate and came running.” Later in the break room, he recounted his run-in with the intruder, emphasizing his common sense and proactive attitude. “I didn’t wanna be caught without my pokémon. Her fangs can snap a wartortle’s shell right in half. That’s a good lesson for you guys: Take the offensive if you’re able to surprise your opponent.”

His audience, several young grunts drinking coffee and eating donuts, listened raptly. They were a batch of fresh recruits, minds fertile for learning. Ben knew he had to get to them before basic training poisoned their poor little heads with discouragements of any ambitions or aims for glory.

“They guy was in the middle of a big speech about his name or something, which is a huge mistake, oh my god.” He took drag of his banned cigarette. “You know when most people let their guard down? When they’re bragging.” The crowd nodded with wide eyes. “Don’t monologue, don’t preach, and don’t you dare pontificate.” He pointed the pair of fingers holding his smoke around the room.

“So anyway,” he continued, “I fought the urge to surprise him with a one-liner and instead went straight for the kill.” He paused. “And I do mean that literally.” His wink triggered laughter and cheers. How could Giovanni turn down his admin request when he practically had a pre-existing squadron? “What do I always say, everybody?”

In unison, the grunts said, “Victory is in the kill, not the thrill,” to which Ben responded with enthusiastic thumbs up. In fact, he was so wrapped up in his motivational speech that he didn’t notice the one grunt who stayed silent.

Leonard Nix. 18. Hometown: Cerulean City. Pokémon issued: Zubat. That was about all anyone knew about the quiet young man, and even that much would require a peek into the member database. Having joined the Rockets looking for some structure, he was quite disappointed to find it full of rough young men who refused to do the simplest of tasks, like polish their boots or make their beds. And good God, who could expect them to when radicals like Ben scampered around the base practically inciting riots?

Unable to stomach the display any longer, he stood, took a final sip of his black coffee, and poured the rest down the sink. With one last, unnoticed glare, he left the break room and walked briskly down the hallway.

Did these people even respect Team Rocket? Did they understand the art of crime at all? Leonard didn’t think so, if that awful speech was any indication. Victory was not a single moment, or even a successful heist or two. It was systematic. Persistent. Victory meant that everyone knew you and everyone feared you. Constructing it required patience and panache. Some had to die, yes, but others had to live to tell the tale.

Another grunt nodded and smiled as he passed, but Leonard merely scowled.

Two weeks of shenanigans was enough. If he wanted yelling and cheering, he would have just stayed home. There was only one person he could turn to that would understand. It wasn’t Ben or any of the drunk party boys Leonard was with in basic training. No, he had to talk to the man who shared his vision of a society controlled by Rockets.

Reaching the end of the hallway, he swiped his elevator pass and stepped inside.

Once arriving at basement level 4, he made a beeline for Giovanni’s office. Two guards stood post outside.

“I need to speak to Giovanni.”

“What for?” the grunt on the right asked.

“To report absolute, chaotic insubordination,” he answered tightly. “Now let me in.”

The guards shared a looked and shrugged. “Okay.” As the left one pulled out his access pass, Leonard cleared his throat aggressively.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Again, they looked at each other and shrugged.

With an exasperated sigh, Leonard yanked his ID from his pocket and showed it to the guards. “You can’t just let anyone run around in here. IDs, people. We have them for a reason.”

With a final shrug, the guards let him in.

It was the first time Leonard had been in Giovanni’s office. As expected, it was tidy and filled with knick-knacks from various places and time periods. So refined and artistic. The man himself was seated behind his sturdy oak desk, reading from the stack of papers in front of him.

“Sir?”

The boss looked up and smiled politely. “What can I do for you? You’re a new recruit, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” he answered. “My name is Leonard Nix, and I’m very excited to be a part of this wonderful organization. I think the team – no, the empire you’ve built here is one of the most impressive in the world, and knowing I get to play a-”

Giovanni raised his hand with a small laugh, and Leonard stopped. “Thank you, Leonard, but I’m assuming you came here to do more than compliment me.”

Leonard couldn’t help but grin. Precise, no frills, not an ounce of showmanship. Giovanni was truly everything he was said to be. “Yes, sir. I thought you would interested to know that one Benjamin Vanguard has been attempting to influence new recruits with private lessons that often conflict directly with what basic training provides us.”

Giovanni’s stare was friendly but distant, a frozen center wrapped in a warm blanket. It sent shivers down Leonard’s spine.

“In what way?” the boss asked patiently.

As the grunt-in-training explained the situation in the break room – as well as several like it he had seen over the past two weeks – his listener nodded intermittently, letting no specific emotion bleed into his facial expressions. When the report was finished, both parties stayed silent for a moment.

“This is very serious,” Giovanni said finally. “Our training is obviously designed with specific purposes in mind, as I’m sure you understand.” The boy nodded eagerly. “Thank you very much, Leonard. It is admirable the way you devote yourself to Team Rocket above any one of its members. I assure you Benjamin will receive the proper reprimand. I have to ask, though: Why tell me? Surely this won’t make you popular with the fellow trainees.”

“Well, Gio- sir, I just think it’s important for there to be a network of trustworthy people in order to weed out the dissidents. I want you to know that I’m someone you can trust, someone who can handle any responsibility you throw at me.” He adjusted his posture to a straighter position. “If you need anything, just know that I am your right-hand man.”

Giovanni laughed out loud at this. “Ambitious young man, aren’t you?” He stood from his desk and walked toward the trainee. “I’ll keep that in mind.” With a firm handshake, he said goodbye to Leonard, and leaned back against the front of the desk. As soon as the door slid closed behind the boy, Giovanni pressed a button on the phone next to him. After a few speakerphone rings, the person on the other line picked up.

“Yes, sir?” the voice crackled.

“Please locate Benjamin Vanguard and have him come to my office as soon as possible. Oh, and for the next two weeks, make sure trainee Leonard Nix’s rations are cut in half.”

“Will do, sir.” The line went silent. Returning to his seat, Giovanni began reading the reports once again.

It wasn’t that he enjoyed punishing people. If he had his way, all of his grunts would live in blissful homogeneity. Unfortunately, there was always a frustrated veteran or an overly ambitious novice dying to have their voice heard, and they had to be punished. If he let them seize the reins of Team Rocket, his brainchild would no longer be his.

He stood and tucked the papers in the top drawer of a filing cabinet. Just as he was doing so, the electronic door swished open, and Ben walked in.

“You needed to see me, sir?”

“Benjamin,” he said, smiling and strolling toward him. “Good to see you. How is everything?”

His rigid position of attention softened slightly. “I’m fine, sir. I stopped an intruder earlier today, so I guess the base is a little safer, huh?”

“I heard about that,” he answered with a nod. “Quite efficient.”

“Thank you, sir.” He stayed silent for a second before continuing. “You know, I don’t mean to overstep my bounds, but… I was thinking I’ve earned a promotion, maybe to an admin level. I would really love to train a team and influence some of our younger recruits.”

Giovanni smiled tersely. “It sounds like you already have.” There was a sickening pause. “Listen, Benjamin. I know you’re talented. I know you’re smart. But this isn’t the first report I’ve gotten of you trying to exert your influence. What you need to understand is that we have a very specific way of doing things in Team Rocket. Everyone is expected to pull their own weight. No heroes. No eccentrics. Just a group of people following order. My orders.”

Ben was breathing shallowly. “Understood, sir. I’ll make sure to keep in line in the future. My apologies.”

“That’s very mature. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that.” He gently tossed a poké ball in front of him, releasing his gargantuan kangaskhan. It stood imposingly in between the trainers.

“Gi-Giovanni,” Ben sputtered, stepping back. Thinking fast, he ripped his raticate’s ball off the belt clip but was stopped when the kangaskhan grabbed hold of his fist with sickening grip. Then, with a squeeze, bones and thermoset plastic crunched in the pokémon’s palm, and Ben’s crumpled to the floor screaming, held up only by the monster still clutching his disfigured hand.

“I’m sorry to see you go, Benjamin,” Giovanni said, not bothering to raise his voice over the labored whimpering of the grunt. “You’re a good battler, and I think you deserve much better than this. Unfortunately, protocol is protocol, and disobedience is not tolerated.” In response to her trainer’s nod, the kangaskhan seized Ben’s head.

It wasn’t that Giovanni liked the violence. He would much prefer if nobody stepped out of line and his floors could remain clean. Still, he knew that zero tolerance was the only feasible policy. Nobody knew Team Rocket like he did. Nobody understood the delicate balance between criminal and murderous. If he wanted trained killers, he would train them. If he wanted terrifying maniacs, he would torture them. He didn’t see crime as a way to scare people or enslave a region. He didn’t even care about building a reputation, although that was certainly a bonus. No, as long as he was leader of the Rockets, there was only thing he focused on: profit. Anything else was just a distraction.

His phone began ringing, and returning his kangaskhan to her ball, he walked over and pulled the receiver to his ear.

“Giovanni.”

Someone on the other line began speaking frantically, and Giovanni turned his attention to the security screens lining the wall to his right. After a few moments of scanning, he saw it. A boy had just come downstairs and was looking curiously around.

“Don’t worry,” he assured the other speaker. “You did what you could. We don’t need any mavericks in this organization. I’ll send an alert to the base and we’ll take him out.”

After hanging up, he dialed a few buttons on the phone, sending a notice to every grunt’s transmitter. He then called the cleanup crew and sat back at his desk to wait for them. Looking at the monitor, he saw the boy wandering around. Just one pathetic child thinking he can be a hero. No matter. He would be flushed out soon.

“Don’t get too excited, boy,” Giovanni muttered.

Truth be told, the boy was more anxious than excited. The flimsy guard standing at the poster couldn’t possibly be the worst thing this place had to offer, so his little hand persistently hovered over his poké balls.

He tapped his foot against the arrow-marked tiles, jerking it away as it began to pull him forward. This place was a maze of traps, he noted.

It wasn’t exactly fair that a child had to be the one down here, but his dealings with the police had taught him a great deal about the need for personal responsibility. However, that wasn’t to say he was happy to do the job. The Rockets were scary, and he assumed the place was crawling with them.

With a sigh, he prepared to test out the arrows. He didn’t know which way to go, so exploring was the only option. Before jetting off, he assured himself that everything would be fine. In his limited dealings with the Rockets, they had been relatively straightforward in their attacks. It was nothing his wartortle couldn’t handle.

Inhaling, he stepped onto the tile and recklessly zoomed deeper into the base.


Reviews

bobandbill

This was a clever entry. The constant changes of perspective kept me on my feet so to speak as a reader, and each person’s viewpoint was interesting to read as well. You gave a good sense of character in each short snippet – each one felt distinct and had something to add. The changes between characters were also smoothly handled – the pace wasn’t disruptive and you brought us into the next narrator nicely. I think you covered that whole part of the game well with both new characters and additions, and tying it back to the protagonist character in there alone in the end was a great way to end it as well – unbeknownst to him (or us) there’s a whole other world on the Team Rocket side.

The beginning was maybe not as smooth as I would have liked it, or as engaging as the other sections of the story. Maybe it had to do with the fact it was entirely about how annoying whistling on shift can be, which isn’t the most intriguing of subjects even if you wrote the irritation well. It certainly picked up afterward, but the very beginning section could have had some more... oomph to it.

I feel sorry for Ben and his untimely end, and maybe less so for the other fallen hero with the Arcanine. If I had a complaint about the plot it would be with his decision to return his Pokémon twice when in a hideout, even if he felt they were not much of a threat because a kid stopped some of their operations. (And as a nitpick, for both instances you wrote it as ‘returning/returned the pokémon to its ball’ which was repetitive, even if they were spaced out.) At any rate, he seemed rather foolish for that, but it did make me laugh when he was killed mid-speech like that (which also served as a surprise).

Giovanni was nice as a supposedly reluctant discipliner leader, with a warped view of what discipline that should entail. It does make me worry for the game protagonist, but then I suppose he has to win – he’s the protagonist, after all!

There were a few small typos here and there (quoted below). The writing itself seemed solid – nice description without overdoing it,

wiseman gifts
As his eyes drooped, he saw the air was speckled with tiny purple flakes.
I feel you may want a comma between tiny and purple.
...he could just as easily seduce an enemy as incapacitate them with a flying arm bar.
Sounds impressive!
...grunt’s chest, it bounced back to the traienr,
trainer.
That’s a good lesson for you guys: Take the offensive if you’re able to surprise your opponent.”
I feel that you shouldn’t capitalise that ‘Take’.
“They guy was in the middle of a big speech about his name or something
The guy.
...but was stopped when the kangaskhan grabbed hold of his fist with sickening grip.
with a sickening grip, I suppose.
It wasn’t exactly fair that a child had to be the one down here, but his dealings with the police had taught him a great deal about the need for personal responsibility.
Heh, fair observation there, another thing I liked about the story. (I noted that you had Ben die, whose Raticate could bite through a Wartortle’s shell – that just may be Team Rocket’s downfall.)

Nicely done with this entry – thoroughly enjoyed it.


Creepychu

I really love the pacing in this one. There's a very smooth transition from one viewpoint to the next that really brings the disparate viewpoints together as a whole and avoids the kind of aimlessness that's very easy to fall into with this many PoV characters in play. Every switch of perspective feels like a logical progression from one character's story to the next, and together they create this sense of almost going on a tour through the Rocket base. It's a very interesting and dynamic way to approach things and I enjoyed it a lot.

The point of view characters in general are very enjoyable, from Grunt Robbie's mundane concerns about annoying whistling, to the unintroduced character's ridiculous heroic antics, to Benjamin's ambitions and twisted sense of humor to Leonard's idealism. They provide a nice spectrum of opinions on what the Team is about, with each bringing a new twist to the plot and building up towards Giovanni's scene. Said scene is also a particular highlight, really selling his ability to be both ruthless and tactful as the situation calls and giving a nice summation of what kind of organization he's running is really about. There's a great sense of menace to how you handle his behavior and the casual, matter-of-fact way in which he doles out punishment and dispose of a disappointing subordinate that really drives home how the whole thing is just business as usual for him. Enough so that basically stating as much in narration feels almost redundant afterwards.

On a technical level, you're very solid. The prose is clear and flowing, the pacing is spot on right until that one bump, and you have a good variety going in character voice and register, with each perspective character providing their own distinct and entertaining voice and perspective to the mix. I found a single typo ('traienr' instead of 'trainer') but other than that I have no complaints on that front.

The main complaint that comes to mind (aside from a single typo) is that your ending scene feels like the weakpoint of the story, especially after Giovanni's strong showing. The child protagonist entering the hideout makes sense to include as a point of view, but you're just not doing all that much with him since his part is almost entirely static, simply standing by the moving panels thinking for himself where the other characters got to express themselves through their actions and interactions with other characters. It's an odd ending halt to the story's pacing both because of the more static approach and because it breaks the established pattern of changing to a new character's viewpoint at the end of each character's segment. It also feels almost tangential after Giovanni's eloquent summation of what the team is about (essentially the connecting thread between the other PoVs so far), like the story was already wrapped up and then decided to have a quick encore that ended up going nowhere in particular.

To be honest, I feel the last scene might have worked better from Giovanni's point of view as he's following the protagonist's movements through the cameras, with the transition to the protagonist's point of view as the ending point. That way you could still have had a form of indirect character interaction with the former trying to size up the latter based on their behavior and maintain the strong momentum you set up throughout the story.

A strong entry all around, but it stumbles a little at the finish line by failing to find a satisfying end point to stop at. With a bit more thought to making the child protagonist's perspective tie into the rest it'd all come together quite nicely.


Dragonfree

First, I loved the structure and concept of this. The hopping from character to character to give a glimpse of every level of the organization (and its opponents) is clever, but still more so the way that every character in the sequence believes they're the only sane man there, or just about. You make all these characters distinct, with different voices and attitudes, and you smoothly make all those attitudes seem to make sense while we're with the character in question. All in all, you really get the sense that all these characters perceive themselves as the heroes of their own stories, and that's an especially delightful way to explore an evil team.

I also like that you're taking on their criminality head-on more than many stories focusing on evil team members, where the fact they're part of a criminal organization is sort of ignored or brushed over to make it easier to view them as sympathetic characters. You show Ben, Leonard and Giovanni all having strong, confident, unapologetic opinions on how Team Rocket should function as a crime syndicate, and they're all different and specific rather than some vague notion that stealing is fun. As a result, this feels more like we're really getting into the mind of a gang of criminals than many more serious stories.

I quite enjoyed the humour of this, as well. The narration has a dry wit to it, often wording things in clever and amusing ways (I like the remark about Team Aqua leading its members off a figurative cliff and into a literal ocean, for instance), and the first two POVs in particular are pretty hilarious, first with the eccentricities of the different grunts and then the chessy, parodesque, over-the-top quipping and monologuing of the spy section.

The transitions between POVs feel a bit awkward to me, though. It looks like you're trying to make them as seamless as possible by making the last sentence of one POV tie directly to the first sentence of the next, but funnily enough I think that's exactly the thing that's making them feel weird. By not having any break in the rhythm of the narrative between sections, you don't give the reader the breathing space to smoothly shift to a new perspective - it feels like you're forcibly dragging the train of thought onwards past the station where it should have stopped, and it's strange and disorienting. I definitely get what you were going for, and it's a cool effort that makes the fic a bit more unusual and interesting, but at least for me personally, I don't think it ultimately paid off here.

The prose is also a little rough in places. It feels like you were having fun with the characters' thoughts and dialogue, but sort of rushing halfheartedly though some of the descriptions of stuff happening, and as a result some (but not all) of the latter appear kind of stilted, particularly in comparison to some of the really fun, fluid turns of phrase you come up with elsewhere. Around the first POV transition, when the grunts are falling asleep, for instance, you have three sentences in a row that start with "As...", and in general I feel like in these spots you use more terse, less evocative language that just packs less of a punch. I'm assuming that's a result of the rush to get your entry in more than anything else and just needs a couple of rounds of polish, but it does detract from it a bit in its current state.

Finally, it bothers me that the grunt who asked the League agent for his name just abruptly vanishes after asking the question. Presumably he's meant to have fallen asleep while the agent was waxing poetic, but the fact it's not brought up at all feels really odd - the last we saw of him was him asking a question, and we can't help but expect followup on how he reacts to the answer (or to the violent end that cuts off the answer), even if it's just a mention that he's succumbed to unconsciousness by the time Ben gets there.

That's all nitpicking, though. On the whole, this entry was a lot of fun to read, had a creative, interesting concept that really looks into the team, and pulled it off quite well. Great work.

(I notice that Red has a Wartortle, and the late Ben's Raticate could snap a Wartortle's shell in half; I wonder if Giovanni has inadvertently doomed Team Rocket by erasing him.)


Sike Saner

Reading this fic felt like watching a relay race--in a good way. Most of the POV switches were nice and smooth and kept me interested in finding out who'd get the baton next, and how they'd get it.

About the only snag I found on that front was the transition to the break room scene--timeskips don't usually throw me off, but this one did. I think opening that second paragraph with that bit of Ben's dialogue, as opposed to leading with the "Later in the break room" line, might've been the culprit.

Grammar-wise, very smooth sailing. I do think "looking around curiously" flows a bit better than "looking curiously around", and I have to wonder if "a group of people following order" was meant to have an "s" at the end. That's about it, though.

And I guess Giovanni's scene might've made for a stronger ending than Player Character's, but eh. It didn't do much to diminish what came before it, so no harm done.

This was one of the most successful entries when it came to fitting the spirit of the contest. The multiple POVs allowed a nifty, multifaceted look at Team Rocket: inside and outside of it, with it and against. Given that and how well the format was handled, well. I kind of couldn't help but rank this #1.
 

Dragonfree

Just me
1st place: Heart Closed by Negrek

Scoring
bobandbill: 1st place (110 points)
Creepychu: 2nd place (90 points)
Dragonfree: 1st place (110 points)
Sike Saner: 2nd place (90 points)
Total: 400 points

Heart Closed

It's the boy who brings the dreams.

In battle nothing exists but the moment, all rushing blood and movement and scent and urgency. In battle he is perfect. In battle is where he belongs.

He is made for battle, but the boy makes him sit idle. The boy speaks to him with words that are not commands and gives commands that are not attacks. He shouldn't know them. He didn't at first. But still they brought the dreams and the dreams brought understanding and he is no longer perfect. Now he thinks. Now he remembers. Now he even doubts.

He still does not understand hatred, knows it only as a word. But he was perfect once; and now he is not; and the boy made it so. He understands enough.

He cannot disobey. He endures stretches where there is nothing to fight and he is forced to think beyond the present. Obedience is the first and most important part of who he is. He is a tool. A tool is meant to be used, and a tool does not question that use. The boy is wrong, but he can neither question nor rebel. He listens, because the boy is his master, his master's words are commands, and he must hear his commands to obey. So he listens, and he hears: "Hi, Houndour? How are you feeling today?"

He shouldn't feel anything. What good are feelings to a tool of war? But the master asks, and so he must consider, even if he has no answer to give. His emotions are locked on the far side of the barrier in his mind, the deep humming blackness the humans put there to protect him. It weakens each time he tries to reach across it, thins so he could swear he almost feels the emotions lurking on the other side. If the boy keeps asking, if he keeps reaching, someday he'll break through. The barrier will fall, and he'll drown in emotion again, all the fear and weakness and despair that lies trapped on the far side. Already the barrier's damaged enough for dreams to slip through the cracks. They come in splinters, bright and sun-edged, sparkling amidst the buzzing drone that fills his sleep.

He dreams.

He bounded across metal warmed to searing by the desert sun, sand gritty between his toes and sweat matting down his fur. He bounced and leapt around the old master as she turned in place, showing off dull purple armor and a strange mask for hiding her face. "No more chasing down dimes at the Colosseum," she said, grinning huge as he barked. "They'll pay us twice what we would've gotten for winning one of the monthlies, and all we've got to do is make sure nobody messes with their stuff. Can you believe that? Who the heck would come way out here to screw with a bunch of scientists?"

Nuzleaf shook with laughter, and the old master laughed back. "I know, right? And they've got all this sweet tech going on, too, like to make pokémon stronger and stuff. They gave Murkrow some kind of special treatment thing, and now she's super powerful! Once we finish this gig we're gonna totally wreck the colosseum circuit, just you wait!"

The crow stood calmly by the old master's side like she didn't even notice all the noise Houndour was making. He saw himself reflected in Murkrow's dull red eyes and tried to keep jumping, tried to keep happy, even though he knew why the old master chose her for the special treatment. The old master was kind, but she was not stupid. She knew which pokémon were worth spending extra time on. Murkrow had been strong, so she could get stronger, but Houndour would never be anything but weak.


In battle he remembers nothing. The boy's voice is all he hears, everything else lost in the humming of his mind's dark barrier. He takes attacks without flinching, throws himself at the foe without hesitation. He is fast. He is powerful. He is nothing but action and reaction and the red seeping in to fill his vision, red shot through with black as anger, the only emotion he still has, the only one that's useful, rises in him. He lashes out in fury, and the ledian darts away with an anxious twitter.

"Houndour!" the boy yells, and he stops a moment in sheer confusion. His vision clears as his mind works desperately to interpret the order. In panic he realizes Houndour must be him, but then the moment's gone. The haze descends again, and he turns back to the ledian with calm resolve.

He remembers nothing then, as he charges back into the fight, but when night falls and he must rest to prepare for the next day's battles, he dreams.

He lay on rocky, broken ground, nose full of the smell of blood. He tried to make himself small, eyes on the ground instead of on the other houndour's face, ears pinned so close the bite out of the left one stung.

"How do you like that, you little pest?" the bigger houndour growled, his words frothing around bloodied teeth. "Let's see you jump around like an idiot now. Go on. Why don't you get up and try it?"

"Just leave him alone already. There's no honor picking on a weakling like him," said one of the others.

"He's the reason we lost the spearow," the first houndour says. "All that stupid laughing! Running around playing pranks while we're in the middle of a hunt. And then he's too slow to bring back what his fooling scared off!"

"I know. Leave him already. He'll never catch something by himself. Let's go find something for ourselves before the sun comes up."

They went. He lay there until the sky shaded red and purple, too exhausted and aching to stand. He couldn't even blame them. What good was he, too distractable to hunt, too clumsy to defend himself from bullies? Even then, he knew he was weak.


He walks at the boy's side and listens. He's always listening, waiting for that next order, but as usual there are no orders here, only useless, distracting chatter. "We're finally getting there," the boy says, and Houndour isn't even sure the human's talking to him. There are other pokémon walking alongside the boy, but they don't matter. Only his master matters. "Now that we found that big ship, we can hit Cipher where it really hurts. They aren't going to get away with this! And my dad says he's almost done with his purification chamber, too, so you guys'll finally be able to get back to normal. Pretty great, huh?"

It's not great. It's not bad. It's not an order. Houndour walks at the boy's side and waits to be told what to do. They walk and walk, pass through blazing sun and puddles of cool shadow, strange human scents floating across the streets. Sometimes he catches one, a flash of saltwater, the stench of hot garbage, and something twinges on the far side of the dark barrier. He doesn't remember, not yet. But at night he dreams.

He shuffled along the sideline while Murkrow battled, bursting with impatience but not really expecting to be called. The old master waved her arms and yelled, delight ringing clear in her voice as she ordered Murkrow through the most complicated maneuvers she could think of, tight turns and dives and rolls that the bird never could have managed a week ago."

Murkrow swooped through each new trick daring-fast, movements precise and confident, like she couldn't even imagine failing. She flew straight through a discharge without flinching, dropped a trapinch from thirty feet up and didn't even wince at the sound it made when it hit the ground. She rammed a puupitar so hard with her new charging attack that the rock-type went bouncing and rolling across the ground. She stared down a rapidash and flew straight into a gyarados' face like she didn't even realize the water-type probably thought of her as an appetizer. She'd always been strong, stronger than Houndour, but he'd never seen anything like this.

The old master babbled on about how she would carry them, how Cipher's power would give them all the tools they needed to become champions. Houndour caught her watching Nuzleaf and Carvanha as they fought, considering, sizing them up. She was considering who was next, who would receive the humans' blessing and become a warrior like Murkrow. Houndour knew she wasn't considering him. There would be no point in wasting something like that on a weakling.


"Do you want to stay out of your pokéball a while longer, Houndour?" the boy asks, and no. He wants nothing. But the boy asked, so he must consider. He thinks he used to want things, back before he became who he is today. The barrier is weak enough, he's been corrupted enough, to realize that there was a time before. Still, though, he does not want. He does not answer.

But soon enough he dreams.

The old master sat slumped against a wall, pounding the floor with her fists as she tried to keep her voice from shaking. "We can't just let him take her! How could he--who the hell just walks up and steals somebody's pokémon like that? I don't care what they say, we have to go after her."

He tried to get the old master's attention, nudging her arm with his nose, but she shoved him away. He could only watch her shoulders shaking, hung back with Carvanha as the fish flopped listlessly on the floor. He could only watch, the same way he did when the strange human's umbreon pinned him down, held him still while the trainer threw the pokéball that somehow stole Murkrow away. He kicked and bit and flamed, but the umbreon held tight, then sent Houndour down into darkness with a casual slap of his tail once Murkrow disappeared.

The old master talked and talked, like by speaking it aloud she could somehow make it real. She talked about how they'd rescue Murkrow, how they'd get their revenge, how they'd take on the colosseum together and finally win. Houndour flopped down beside her, but she ignored him, even when he tugged on her sleeve, even when he chewed on her shoe. She didn't need someone to cheer her up. She didn't need a flighty pokémon who was always joking. She needed a fighter. She needed someone strong, someone who could even stand up to the strange human's umbreon.

He knew that if he was ever going to be useful, to be someone of worth, he would have to become stronger. He would need to become someone else. And he knew how.


The dreams come more frequently, grow more clear. Soon he'll be living his whole life in a dream. Still the boy talks to him, asks him questions, forces him to think. The darkness' hum weakens until he can hear the clamor of old worries threatening to burst through it. If the boy does not stop, they'll engulf him again.

He dreams.

The desert stretched on for an eternity, and he panted, his breath hot and harsh across a tongue cracked by dryness and scabbed by grit. His paws sank into sand, each footstep taking more effort than the last. Somewhere up ahead was the building where the humans took Murkrow to make her stronger. He thought he would never reach it. But what would it matter? If he didn't, he would end his life a failure, the same as he always was. If he turned back, he'd be a failure twice over, a coward and a weakling both. But if he kept going, at least there was the possibility, however small, however faint, that he might finally become worth something.

He took another step.


The boy wants to undo everything Houndour achieved, wants to turn him back into that struggling, gasping, despairing, pokémon. The boy wants him to remember what he is--remember that he's weak and useless. The boy brings the dreams, where Houndour is forced, if only for a little while, to become that wretch again again. In the heat of battle the boy calls out his name, reminds him who he is, that beneath it all he's nothing but afraid and weak and useless. He is a tool, and a tool can do only what it is told, even if it is told to destroy itself. He dreams.

The dark humming engulfed him, a deep buzzing he felt below his skin, almost loud enough to drown out the thundering of his heart. The faint cries of pokémon encroached from all directions, fearful or defiant or simply lost. He lay still despite the trembling of his limbs that rattled the chains binding him to the conveyor belt. Unlike the others, he knew why he was there. He knew there was nothing to fear, that in the end he would emerge as someone who wouldn't even understand what fear is. He knew, but he feared anyway, weak as he was. He feared for the last time as the humming rose and the belt beneath him stopped. The world filled with red light and blaring noise and he had no more dreams to dream.

He can't remember how the boy became his master. Not even after the barrier wears away so much that his past bubbles to the surface, he recalls nothing of that perfect time before the boy. In that time he knew only battle. The black humming filled his mind and separated him from his past, from the emotions that used to rule him. He was empty of desire and hesitancy, felt neither fear nor regret. He fought. He won. He was no longer weak.

In those days obedience was the first and most important part of him, but he is no longer perfect. The very flaws the boy's meddling caused are what allow him to ignore a command.

The boy yells for him to stop, calls on him to remember who he is. But the black-red rage protects him, his treacherous emotions useful for something at last. He's more powerful now than ever. The boy calls out and he does not listen.

It's the boy who brings the dreams. No longer.

The desert stretches dark and empty into the distance. His paws sink into endless sand, each step heavier than the last. It's easier this time. He may be broken, but he knows he can be whole again. The humans will make him perfect. They can fix anything, even him. For now, he remembers. He'll remember for as long as it takes to cross the desert, to find the humans in their lab, to throw himself into the humming darkness again. And then, at last, he can forget for the last time.


Reviews

bobandbill

I can say with assurance that your fic took the prompt in the most unusual direction from all the entries. While others dealt with the human characters, or a human character, or the team as a whole or how an aspect of it worked, or etc, this went in a rather different direction and focused on something affected by the team rather than the team itself. While it did mean that other entries hence had an easier time in setting up their portrayal of said team they chose and also was less directly about the team and more about a product of the team in a sense (and the Houndour of course), you still managed to shed some light on a few details of Cipher and explore this niche very thoroughly. And the manner in which you portrayed how Shadow Pokémon think and feel (and the ideas themselves on that subject) made sense.

I think I picked up on all the small details as well from the source material, and certainly appreciated it, such as there being a Shadow Murkrow in Colosseum, Wes’ appearance in snagging it away, the specifically ‘red’ Hyper (or Reverse) state interrupted by the Houndour’s name being called, the location of the Shadow lab being in the middle of the desert... it all came together rather well. That said, there was one bit I have to point out.
And my dad says he's almost done with his purification chamber, too, so you guys'll finally be able to get back to normal.
Admittedly I’m assuming the owner of Houndour at this moment is Michael, the protagonist of XD: GoD. I’m fairly confident that in the game’s canon Michael’s father is not anybody currently working on the purification chamber, and is supposedly missing or maybe dead. (This seems all too common a trait for Pokémon protagonists with their fathers...) He was supposedly a well-known person in the land, but the game never names this father. Maybe making it someone in the purification chamber team who is still alive was a purposeful choice of yours, or a simple oversight of what is a frankly minor detail, but all the same... =p Alternatively I read too much into it being Michael, but who else goes travelling with Shadow Pokémon wanting to purify them and stop Cipher if not a protagonist?

But I digress. The story itself was extremely powerful, I thought. Houndour seemed like a great pick for the main character, and it was intriguing to pick a Pokémon that had willingly gone to become a Shadow Pokémon, and moving to see the reasons behind that choice through those out-of-sequence flashbacks. Certainly felt sorry for the poor guy feeling like there was no other choice in the end, and saddened further by the ending.

The use of repetition was very well done, I thought. At times it lingered a bit too much toward overdone with e.g. “He dreams” or variations of the sort, but I felt it was reigned in sufficiently. I had to quote this bit here while on the subject:
He takes attacks without flinching, throws himself at the foe without hesitation. He is fast. He is powerful. He is nothing but action and reaction and the red seeping in to fill his vision, red shot through with black as anger, the only emotion he still has, the only one that's useful, rises in him. He lashes out in fury, and the ledian darts away with an anxious twitter.
While starting every sentence with ‘He ___’ is normally not meant to be done, this worked well given the context of the Pokémon entering the Hyper/Reverse state – it makes sense that suddenly he can only think about himself in the battle.

But in this same quote, I was a bit confused with my first read by the middle, long sentence (specifically around the “red shot through with black as anger, the only emotion” part). Despite seeing why it was written like that, I do feel that it could have been better worded for clarity’s sake. And the paragraph where the Houndour mentions how amazing the Murkrow had become at battling also strayed into starting each sentence with She (once “She’d”), and here I felt less forgiving about that repetitiveness. Yet another case was the paragraph where Houndour describes being bested by the Umbreon and the Murkrow being Snagged (He ___).

A couple other minor points:
She rammed a puupitar so hard with her new charging attack that the rock-type went bouncing and rolling across the ground.
pupitar. (I did find it neat that all Pokemon that weren’t himself or fellow trainer partners got the lowercase treatment. You seemed consistent with that.)
"Do you want to stay out of your pokéball a while longer, Houndour?" the boy asks, and no. He wants nothing.
’, and no’ struck me as odd. I think it reads better as ‘...Houndour?” the boy asks. But no. He wants...’.
The old master talked and talked, like by speaking it aloud she could somehow make it real.
I personally prefer “as if by speaking it aloud she...”, but more a suggestion than a recommendation.

Overall this was an extremely solid and moving entry, and the one that had the largest emotional impact on me, so kudos there.


Creepychu

I like the choice of subject matter here. I've always enjoyed Orre's native teams, since the ability to turn any pokémon into a typechart-defying wrecking ball gave them a legitimate air of menace that a lot of the main series villain groups aim for and then fail to achieve and there's a lot of uncovered ground with regards to both the teams and shadow pokémon themselves that surprisingly few people have touched. On that note, the perspective of a shadow pokémon who doesn't want to come back to normal is an interesting one, and in light of Houndour's backstory it makes perfect (if tragic) sense. It was also quite interesting to get a Cipher trainer's perspective on having one of their shadow pokémon snagged, since that's one of those strangely under-acknowledged things in the game that I'd expect people to kick up a bigger fuss about. I caught on fairly quickly which way the story was going, but the ending was still quite heartbreaking, especially when combined with Houndour's memories, and the sense of fear and denial he felt over being purified was conveyed very well.

Your writing style deserves particular credit here. It's tight, impactful, and really makes great use of every line. I particularly enjoyed the way you described Houndour's frenzy and his response when his trainer tried to call him out of it. There's a nice contrast between the rapid, run-on style when he's entirely focused on battle and the longer, slower paced sentences that describe his confusion and anxiety over the memories creeping up on him. Not only does it help convey the state of mind Houndour is in, but it also gives a nice rhythm to the pacing, alternating between those quick, action-filled segments and the slower thoughtful parts. Equally, callbacks like the 'the boy who brings dreams' line and Houndour's second trek through the desert give the story content a satisfying sense of coming full circle despite the bleak ending. While Houndour's personality doesn't change in the story, our perspective of his situation does as his antagonism for the trainer who snagged him and his reasons for becoming what he is become clearer, which makes for a strong character arc that gives us enough to understand what we need to but doesn't overstay its welcome or over-dramatize the situation.

There is also an interesting similarity between his current trainer and his past one, with both coming off as having good intentions but ultimately causing harm because they both also fail to understand his feelings and desires in their own ways. It's particularly pertinent with the current trainer, since purification is supposed to be about forming a strong emotional connection to help bring the pokémon back to its senses but the trainer himself actually fails miserably on that account. Content-wise, the only thing I'm not entirely sure on is how quickly the endgame is made clear. Houndour begins the story making a very clear statement that he prefers his current self, and while his reasons for why things are this way are made a lot clearer in the course of the story, there's never really any sign of wavering convictions or much of a hint that there was ever a time when he wouldn't have preferred it , which lowers tension in the main conflict somewhat as the choices he is about to make become fairly obvious. This impression may be partly because the events of his past are being interpreted from the perspective of his current self, but it would still have been interesting to see him dredge up a memory he wasn't just immediately revolted by since it could have added a bit more impact to his final decision.

On a technical level, there's nothing major wrong, though you've got a couple of small typos like a repeat of 'again' in:

The boy brings the dreams, where Houndour is forced, if only for a little while, to become that wretch again again.

Nothing that a quick once over shouldn't be able to fix though, and certainly not enough to pull me out of the story. Normally, I'd also find the heavy use of commas and run-ons a bit draining, but in this case it fits in very well with the point of view you are portraying so the kind of hectic feeling it gives fits the story.

All in all, an interesting premise with very tight execution and a solid plot and character arc. I wouldn't have minded a bit more hope for things to change for the better to spice up the ending, but I can appreciate the bleaker perspective you've gone for.


Dragonfree

This is a really interesting idea - I'm sure we've all imagined naïve Orreian trainers obliviously turning Pokémon that they genuinely care for into soulless machines in the hope of making them stronger, but you take it a step further to a Pokémon who really wants to be Shadow even after learning what it entails, and fights desperately against the purification process, because the closing of his heart lets him escape from his feelings of failure and self-loathing. I haven't seen anything like this approach before, and it's a fascinating angle on the entire Shadow Pokémon concept.

You do a great job of getting across the real tragedy of the situation while staying firmly within the mind of the Houndour, who sees the tragedy as something entirely different, and it creates a heartwrenching contrast. We see the Houndour being forced to remember all the emotions he wanted to escape from in the first place and feel how he resists, how it makes him feel worse, how he just wants to return to being "perfect" and how hard he's willing to work to achieve that, and we can't help but have a twisted admiration for the willpower he summons to cross the desert on his own, not once but twice. At the same time, we see how he was once energetic and happy-go-lucky but now all he manages is to desperately wish he didn't have any feelings; we see his crushing inferiority complex and how unappreciated he felt before his heart was closed. We know that Michael really does want to help him, and probably really could help him, with time, to return to his former self, feel valued, gain some self-confidence and become truly happy. But he's incapable of even comprehending the idea of being happy anymore, so he sabotages his only chance at true happiness to return to an unfeeling stupor. There's a heartbreaking irony to it that the story shows without having to spell it out.

We also get a look at an oblivious Cipher peon through his dreams, with his former trainer. I like how you show her motives for joining Cipher - she doesn't really know or care what they do, just that they're willing to pay her for what sounds like an easy job. Realistically, that's a pretty likely reason for people to join up with these shady organizations: rather than simply being all about closing the hearts of Pokémon, the peons probably aren't all that involved or in the know and just wanted to make a quick buck with their battling skills.

It's rather odd how while she's unaware what the Shadow procedure does and seems to care about her Pokémon to an extent - Houndour calls her kind, she's devastated to lose Murkrow, and she talks and interacts with her Pokémon like she thinks of them as companions - she glaringly fails to notice that her Murkrow has turned into a soulless beast. On the one hand, it kind of makes sense, because while she seems to care to an extent, she's also clearly shown to be very preoccupied with battling and winning and earning money, and the fact Houndour feels so unloved with her hints that actually the attention she gives to her Pokémon is mostly related to their value as fighters. (I think that's a pretty neat aspect of this story, actually - you don't see a lot of trainers in fanfic who are basically nice and well-intentioned but still ultimately tend to treat their Pokémon as a means to an end, and the way you dive right into that gray area is another thing that makes this entry stand out.) On the other hand, even if she's actually pretty neglectful, one would still think she'd notice given that she clearly talks to her Pokémon a lot, and they react to what she's saying, while Shadow Pokémon appear to be completely unresponsive to anything that's not a command. In the first dream, Nuzleaf laughs with her, for instance - surely she'd think it odd if she took Nuzleaf to be Shadowified and suddenly he stopped laughing when she tells him about these sorts of exciting opportunities. Unless Murkrow just happened to already be extremely aloof and unresponsive, it would be a pretty stark, eerie change, and I'd expect it to be addressed somehow - whether by establishing that Murkrow's behaviour isn't too unusual for her or by showing the trainer noticing but brushing it off (or both).

I would be similarly wondering why Houndour doesn't think there's anything unsettling about Murkrow's unresponsiveness, but he's pretty pathologically obsessed with strength and experiences emotions purely as a weakness, so he probably would see Murkrow's state as simply enviable. Doesn't excuse the trainer, though - she seems like a pretty normal, functioning human being.

The dream from when he was wild is probably the weakest bit of this, I think. It's well written, but him being beaten up as a weakling by bullies for not being a good enough hunter is kind of typical for a Pokémon POV backstory. Moreover, I find it hard to imagine he went around playfully jumping, playing pranks and scaring off their prey while on a hunt. He berates himself for being "distractable", but from the way the other Houndour describe his behaviour, he doesn't sound distracted so much as like he pranced out of a children's book where hunting isn't a thing. Instead of the other Houndour merely talking reproachfully about it, I think it'd be interesting to actually see him on a hunt from his POV and properly get into his mind when he's getting distracted and doing whatever scared the Spearow away; we'd get to see him being his natural, playful self in the process, which I think would only add to the emotional punch, and I think it'd make this bit more believable and less stereotypical.

These issues are minor in the grand scheme of things, though, and all in all I think this is a really interesting, well-written and memorable story with a truly heartwrenching tragedy at its heart. In particular, I think you've done a great job getting into the Houndour's point of view and getting it to make sense to the reader, and the emotional buildup is spot-on.


Sike Saner

Kudos for giving an evil-team pokémon so much agency. It's very easy to just go the "pokémon do bad things because they have bad trainers" route and give it no further thought. It's also pretty easy to simply force a pokémon character to serve an evil organization--after all, said organizations do that to pokémon all the time. But here we have a pokémon who willingly became a shadow for his own reasons. There's an angle you don't see every day.

Writing quality was very high. Almost nothing tripped me up, and nothing did so for long. There was only one sentence I had to reread a couple of times before I quite got the rhythm of it:

He is nothing but action and reaction and the red seeping in to fill his vision, red shot through with black as anger, the only emotion he still has, the only one that's useful, rises in him.

Typos were very few and far between: a pupitar with one "u" too many, a repeated "again", and nothing else as far as I'm aware.

And for reasons I still can't pin down, it took me a bit to realize that the "strange human" Houndour was referring to was Wes. Again, though, it barely snagged me. (I wish I could say I intended that little Wes-pun, but alas.) After all, this was Houndour's story, not Wes's.

Flashbacks can really jank up the flow of a fic, especially when they're not in chronological order. But here, the out-of-orderness worked in the story's favor. It really made the flashbacks seem like memories just breaking free wherever they can--fitting, for someone gradually (and unwillingly) regaining himself.

So yeah, this one gets big points for both its quality and its outside-the-box (yet still fitting) approach to the prompt.
 

Dragonfree

Just me
And that's a wrap! Thank you for your patience.

Congratulations to everyone who entered, but of course especially Negrek, [Imaginative]:[Clockwork] and Dramatic Melody for winning first, second and third place respectively. We hope everyone had fun writing their entries and that our reviews will be helpful in your future writing endeavors.

We hope to see as many of you as possible - participants and spectators alike - enter the next contest, slated for summer 2016. In the meantime, the 2015 Fanfiction Awards are coming up soon - better start brushing up on the stories that were posted this year!

You may now post in the thread.
 

bobandbill

Winning Smile
Staff member
Super Mod
We had a lot of great entries this year, and the judges had some wildly varying opinions on the rankings, so the results are a bit of a rollercoaster.
I'm not terribly surprised (even if this is the first time I've seen the full results myself), because it was hard for myself to place some of these, and I suspect this may have been the same for some of the other judges too. While I felt content with the order I selected in the end, a lot of these entries definitely rivaled each other and had all sorts of different strengths, and I imagine some discrepancies between our placings is down to that.

It was once again enjoyable to read through the entries - nice concentration of fic. Well done to the winners, and also well done to everyone who managed to get their entry in as well! That's no small feat, and I liked the entries as well. If you have any queries about comments don't be afraid to ask away as well.

And please post your fic in the section! Even if you want to edit it first. =p
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
I'm not terribly surprised (even if this is the first time I've seen the full results myself), because it was hard for myself to place some of these, and I suspect this may have been the same for some of the other judges too. While I felt content with the order I selected in the end, a lot of these entries definitely rivaled each other and had all sorts of different strengths, and I imagine some discrepancies between our placings is down to that.

THIS. THIS SO HARD.

Anyway, congrats all. Contests like these take guts to enter--regardless of your rankings, you deserve to be proud of yourselves. :D
 

AmericanPi

Write on
Yay, I didn't get last! =P

Not gonna lie though, I'm a little disappointed. Okay, more like rather. As a perfectionist this is pretty disappointing. I placed lower than my previous contest entry, even though I personally was quite proud of my story as I wrote it. My beta reader, my eleven-year-old sister, found it to be awesome and hilarious... but then again, she is eleven.

I guess the best consolation I have is, 1.) I didn't place last, and 2.) I learned a LOT about writing comedy. Comedy apparently isn't one of my strong suits, but I don't intend on giving it up anytime soon. I just hope to keep trying, writing, learning, and growing when it comes to writing comedy.

I guess if I had used the extension period to revise my story, I might have placed higher. But to be quite honest, by that time I was just so done with the story, and I wanted to move on to other projects. It's a bad sign when even I, who wrote "The T.R.A.S.H.", gets tired of the story.

I don't regret anything else, though. Using this contest as a first attempt with writing comedy was pretty effective, because I was guaranteed reviews and detailed feedback. Next time I try to write comedy, I'll definitely implement the advice all of you gave me.

Congratulations to everyone who decided to participate, and a big thank you to all the judges who took the time to rank and review the entries.
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
Ahem.

solvino?

WE TIED

WE FRIGGING TIED

...In light of that have our live IM reactions, folks:

(7:33:30 PM) Umbra: Oh, the 'free just told me she's compliling contest results right now and they're a bit of a rollercoaster of judge opinions.
(7:34:02 PM) Umbra: *RIGHT NAOW
(7:34:15 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: ooooh
(7:34:35 PM) Umbra: So SOON
(7:34:41 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: SOON™
(7:34:46 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: EXPECT US
(7:34:58 PM) Umbra: o3o
(7:36:13 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: THERE ARE NO BRAKES IN THIS REVIEW TRAIN
(7:40:54 PM) ***Umbra 's body is ready... TO BE HIT BY A FREIGHT TRAIN OF CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
(8:06:17 PM) Umbra: ...Are you refreshing the thread every few seconds or is that just me?
(8:06:42 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: That's just you. I set up the tab to autorefresh every 60 seconds.
(8:06:48 PM) Umbra: XD
(8:06:52 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: ^.^
(8:07:07 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: I AM SORRY BUT I HAVE MULTIPLE ADDICTIONS, NEED TO MULTITASK~
(8:07:16 PM) Umbra: Tell me when it goes live, then?
(8:07:22 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: Oh, not a bad idea
(8:07:34 PM) Umbra: 'k, thanks.
(8:08:58 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: gotta tend to cat, but tab is still refreshing
(8:09:08 PM) Umbra: 'k.
(8:34:35 PM) Umbra: Results not live, playing one of my favorite Pokegame route themes on loop to KEEP FREAKING CALM
(8:34:43 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: :p
(8:35:29 PM) Umbra: Focus on the cheery music. FOCUS ON THE CHEERY MUSIC
(8:38:56 PM) ***venia.silente@tropi.us set up some ACTIONY MUSIC
(8:39:52 PM) Umbra: I TRIED THAT BUT IT MADE IT WORSE
(9:11:18 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: Also, I wrote a little tidbit of information in Gino's page that you might like
(9:11:34 PM) Umbra: I saw. :p
(9:12:37 PM) ***Umbra 's thinking of doing something similar with jerkbros since Tracer gave them cameo roles in Fledglings.
(9:12:47 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: :3
(9:45:44 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: There's some people already asking for the results :p
(9:45:56 PM) Umbra: :p
(9:50:28 PM) Umbra: Replied.
(9:50:39 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: Did so, too
(9:52:39 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: As a means to distract you from HYPE somewhat:
(9:52:45 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: Did you get to read pastebin?
(9:52:58 PM) Umbra: Oh, no, re-link?
(9:53:25 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: [REDACTED] careful, expires in half an hour~
(9:53:51 PM) Umbra: You clever bastard. :p
(9:54:29 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: ^.^
(9:58:21 PM) Umbra: Ooh.
(10:03:44 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: :3
(10:43:38 PM) Umbra: THEY'RE UP
(10:43:50 PM) Umbra: TIME FOR THE PAIN TRAIN
(10:44:07 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: AAAAAAH
(10:53:33 PM) Umbra: ...
(10:53:48 PM) ***Umbra will say when you see.
(10:56:12 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: wow
(10:57:52 PM) Umbra: ...We tied.
(10:58:01 PM) Umbra: WE FRIGGING TIED
(10:58:02 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: Yup :p
(10:58:13 PM) Umbra: OH MY ****ING GOD
(11:04:40 PM) Umbra: ...Holy **** in a way this broke both of our trends.
(11:05:38 PM) venia.silente@tropi.us: Yeah
(11:07:34 PM) Umbra: I placed midway through the contest rather than near the bottom, and you placed something other than third (though sadly below rather than above)
(11:07:54 PM) Umbra: Still, HOLY CRAP

I'll let Solvino give his thoughts on that - and his responses to the judges' feedback - himself. For now I need a good night's rest for my brain to un-asplode from the crazy coincidence to give a coherent reply to everything that every judge said, but for now I'll preliminarily note I'm very particularly concerned about Creepychu's criticisms on the relationship between my protagonists and N and Dragonfree's criticisms on the relationship between the protagonists themselves to the point I already know trying to fix both will by far be my first frigging priority revising my entry, but also very glad the premise, tone, and some related things were well-received overall.

But again I'll go into more detail on all the specific feedback tomorrow. For now too busy trying to comprehend bizarre cosmic phenomenon of WE FRIGGING TIED
 
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Venia Silente

[](int x){return x;}
Interesting to see the results. Checking the various rankings it seems the judgings really went like in a rollercoaster, particularly notable when comparing say bobandbill's and Sike Saner's scores - and the excerpts seem to show pretty well why, too. The excerpts for Baton and The Proposal for example real quite different from each other. I hope to get to read some of the entries soon and hopefully review them, in particular "...Plasbad" and "Exit Interview".

In the beginning I was not interested in entering this contest, mostly because I had another literary obligation at the moment and work was being unkind to my schedule - and also because I felt the prompt was strangely abstract. Quite a wrong impression on my end. But then work got softer and my cat (yes I'm a cat "owner", that miiight explain some things about this entry) got clingy and aggressive because we shuffled some stuff around the house... and BAM! MUSE CARD ACTIVATED! A good prompt came in, one way too good to let it pass... and I promptly fell sick which made me lose two weeks or so.

In the end, writing itself went how I wanted to but I still had to end up dropping a whole scene out of the originally intended four, something that bobandbill and creepychu in the least seem to have easily caught on in their reviews. And since you were interested and asked: for the missing scene, right after the "Red Dot", focus would have shifted to the times where Persian is forced away from Giovanni. It was intended to be a Gym Battle with Persian on the sidelines, complaining to some Pokémon in Giovanni's team how he was not allowed to participate in these events despite being obviously the best in the bunch (and well, of course Persian wouldn't care about Gym type rules :p). The whole "promise to keep heir safe" thing was supposed to source from that scene, alas, it had to me shuffled around and it ended up tell-don't-show'ed, which I think impacts much on how unnatural or unaccomplishing the shift from the second scene to the third might have felt.

As it is par on the course with my submissions, I'll add this to the queue of rewrites so that one day it can be posted in full. However, it won't be for a good little while since there's first the rewrite of Built for Risk in the queue.

So, congratulations to the contestants once again, thanks to the judges for all the fish, also a nod and wink to Umbramatic, with whom I tied (whoo-hoo! A tie!) aaaand before I forget, Blackjack I'll try to make sure to tell you if I was amuser and or impressed at your entry.


On a somewhat related note, I wonder why my entry appears as "untitled" when both the file upload and the Google Docs I provided as a safety measure had the title "Overlord" in the document name or file name, and should have been the first header too. Might probably have been erased when I decided to remove most of the usual "written by" preamble. That's what I get for wanting to do away with author's notes and stuff without ever looking back just in case. @.@
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
So, congratulations to the contestants once again, thanks to the judges for all the fish, also a nod and wink to Umbramatic, with whom I tied (whoo-hoo! A tie!) aaaand before I forget, Blackjack I'll try to make sure to tell you if I was amuser and or impressed at your entry.


On a somewhat related note, I wonder why my entry appears as "untitled" when both the file upload and the Google Docs I provided as a safety measure had the title "Overlord" in the document name or file name, and should have been the first header too. Might probably have been erased when I decided to remove most of the usual "written by" preamble. That's what I get for wanting to do away with author's notes and stuff without ever looking back just in case. @.@

WE TIED

(Also, yeah, I've read Solvino's entry and it should be titled Overlord. Giovanni's Persian demands it.)

Also also, I'm intrigued by a lot of the entries in this contest and do dearly want to see them when they go live, so no offense to anyone else in that regard, but Negrek: I was so pleasantly surprised you took home 1st place with a Cipher fic when I was expecting Rocket to hog the top spots, and the concept of your fic is absolutely FASCINATING (Shadowfication's usually depicted as severe mental tourture, so exploring the mentality of a mon who'd WANT to go through that for totally sympathetic reasons is really unique and interesting) and while I haven't read full entry yet due to brain being too focused on FRIGGING TIE right now, I'll read it tomorrow after I respond to judges on mine and give feedback privately, and will gladly review yours (and some of the others) once they're posted in the main fic forum...

...If I get through my black hole read-and-review backlog first. >_>
 

Dragonfree

Just me
Yay, I didn't get last! =P

Not gonna lie though, I'm a little disappointed. Okay, more like rather. As a perfectionist this is pretty disappointing. I placed lower than my previous contest entry, even though I personally was quite proud of my story as I wrote it. My beta reader, my eleven-year-old sister, found it to be awesome and hilarious... but then again, she is eleven.
Don't feel bad! First, the overall quality was quite high in this contest; you can't compare rankings from one contest to another, because that ignores the fact your competition is different. Secondly, you were dipping your toes into a genre you'd never tried before, so of course you were at a disadvantage - it doesn't mean you've gotten worse, just that you were out of your element. And it's pretty cool to challenge yourself to do something different, even if it means the final result will be rougher than if you chose to tread familiar ground.

Also, your entry had some pretty great ideas (I stand by my comment that you had the most creative concept in the contest) and I totally friendship M and the interrogator. Sure, the humour was uneven, but of course it was; you've never written comedy before. Please don't feel discouraged! Just coming up with a contest entry and writing it is a feat in itself, and even if you place low, it doesn't mean you suck; it just means some other people did better this time.

This all goes for everyone who's disappointed in how they placed. Entering a contest isn't about winning - sure, it'd be awesome if you placed highly, but mostly it's a fun learning experience where you challenge yourself to write something fitting a theme. There's a reason we write detailed reviews of all the entries rather than just ranking them - we want you to be able to see what worked out and what didn't, from multiple different critical perspectives, and hopefully learn something fun and useful from it.

Also, writing something that your sister enjoys the hell out of is awesome, regardless of what a bunch of contest judges think.

solovino said:
On a somewhat related note, I wonder why my entry appears as "untitled" when both the file upload and the Google Docs I provided as a safety measure had the title "Overlord" in the document name or file name, and should have been the first header too. Might probably have been erased when I decided to remove most of the usual "written by" preamble. That's what I get for wanting to do away with author's notes and stuff without ever looking back just in case. @.@
Oh, whoops, I didn't realize that was supposed to be the title (in the filename; the document didn't have a header, just a curious blank line before it began). I'll edit in the correct title in a moment. Sorry about that!
 
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This is so exciting! Thank you to the judges for the detailed reviews, and of course congratulations to everyone. As someone who wouldn't have been able to enter this contest without the extension, I know very well how much of an accomplishment just writing an entry is.

Personally, having been a little mixed on my own entry, I'm pumped to see it placed well. I definitely agree with some of these criticisms and will hopefully be able to smooth them out a little before posting it. In particular, Creepychu's comment the final scene caught my attention. I mostly included that scene to show that a single mindset isn't necessarily ideal when running a large organization, and because only one person making is decisions, a child now has the opportunity to bring the whole thing down (which is why I included the detail that Ben's raticate would have been able to beat Red's wartortle). I can see how it feels a little tacked on, though, so I'll have to revise it a little to make it flow better with the rest. As for some of the sloppy prose, that will for sure be worked on as I revise. It's may be partially due to the fact that I was rushing to get this done, but I think Dragonfree nailed it when she said I was focusing more on conveying personality than what was actually going on.

Anyway, I had just as much fun as I did last year! I can't wait to see what the next theme is!
 

Blackjack Gabbiani

Clearly we're great!
Fourth place. Not bad, but I can't believe it's due to stupid mistakes. I write everything in .txt format so thats why i emphasize with / instead of italics (you would have recieved it in that format though, so even if i had put italics they wouldnt have shown up...). The one that confuses me is the repeated statement that "ok" needs to be capitalized. I know it's technically an abbreviation but nobody insists on writing it with the period dots...

Mostly though I'm glad it got people to look into DPA. Hardly anyone read it and I feel like we'd have more variety translated if more people had. I'm curious if anyone had any questions on that front.
 

JX Valentine

Ever-Discordant
The one that confuses me is the repeated statement that "ok" needs to be capitalized. I know it's technically an abbreviation but nobody insists on writing it with the period dots...

Nobody ... insisted on period dots? ._. In any case, what bobandbill and Dragonfree said is actually legit, weirdly enough. You can check out the full explanation here, here, here, and a little bit here, although keep in mind YMMV concerning the, er, "purity" of the use of the full word compared to the abbreviation. (Note: Links provided might gloss over the topic of "ok," but the general point's basically, "Dictionary says 'OK' is capitalized." First link says it for certain.) Long story short, though, it actually is capitalized if abbreviated, and keeping it lowercase is actually kinda considered a misspelling.

In any case, congrats to the folks who placed! This was a fascinating contest to watch, and judging by the reviews (admittedly, I've yet to peek under the spoiler cuts), all of these fics sound like interesting reads.
 
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Blackjack Gabbiani

Clearly we're great!
Yeah, nobody insisted on period dots is my point. Writing it in uppercase is because it's an acronym, but we also don't write it O.K..

I know it seems like I'm harping, but I'm legit confused by that point. Most of the other stuff makes sense but that and the thing about slash marks confuse me (as I said, they recieved it in .txt format so italics wouldn't have shown up anyway...).
 

Dragonfree

Just me
Well, people don't insist on writing most initialisms with periods. Like, USA, NSA, FBI, etc. usually get written that way, too, with no periods, but no editor would let you get away with writing usa in lowercase (which makes it sound like it's supposed to be pronounced as a word, like 'you-sa').

The thing about the slashes, on the other hand, is because while you sent it to me in .txt format, I stuck all the entries into Word documents for the sake of consistency - the other judges wouldn't have been aware of exactly what format you actually sent your entry in. Apologies for the misunderstanding!
 
Really, really happy with how "Exit Interview" did. Like Umbramatic, I had a small streak going of staying in the middle of the ranks in the first two contests I entered in (with the first one actually ending me up in the literal midpoint), and when my previous contest entry ended up being fourth I was pretty sure that I wouldn't top that. So you could imagine my surprise. (I know that they're two different contests and therefore not directly comparable, but still.)

In any case, congrats to the eight other contestants! It's been said a lot in the previous posts, but joining a contest in itself deserves a lot of commendation. Sure, I'm happy with how I placed and it does mean a lot to me, but the criticism I got from these four judges mean so much more. I'm excited to read all the entries when you post them - the judges' reviews point to some really interesting fics!

And speaking of which, gonna give a huge thank you to the four judges for running such an awesome contest. Working on my main project and reading several fics on here that could've been entrants really made me appreciate the villainous characters all the more, so I'm grateful for the opportunity to explore them through this contest. (And if anything, it was fun writing about a villainous team grunt that wasn't Magma or Aqua for once. Haha.) I can't wait for the next one! :)

Gonna reply to the reviews of the judges, so I'll be putting them in this spoiler to avoid a wall of text:


bobandbill said:
This detail seemed off – I’m not sure why they had separate, specific (and apparently not overlapping) roles for people to handle one side of membership (joining) and someone else for those leaving. That said, this detail does seem interesting – did this previous admin leave because the interviews they conducted affect her similarly? That’s a neat dimension. Maybe it would be better to have her replacing someone who also handled the resignations, and she just had to do them all now since Lysandre die-disappeared.

Hm, good point. I would imagine that there were several of them in HR handling this, but you're right in that the applications and resignations wouldn't be exclusive to a particular person in their department. Gonna do something about this, thanks.

bobandbill said:
Introducing the missing item of the Pokémon that belongs to the company, not the resigning trainer, was a neat twist for the middle of the story, and the connection between the two trainers and their Pokémon was clear.

Thanks. I was actually worried that I might've introduced that point of conflict rather late or that it might have an effect of making the first parts dragging, but I'm glad that you thought the timing was okay.

bobandbill said:
My complaint about this is that it seemed a bit too overdone in how often Vega thought about her own higher ups or thought about Lysandre. By the third time she thought about Lysandre it felt like you were hitting the point of her missing him and his guidance a bit too heavily. As a result it interrupted the conversation she and Ricco were having a bit too much for my liking toward the end.

Ah, duly noted. Funny because after running the piece through with [Imaginative]:[Clockwork] (who was a great beta!), one of my major revisions for the first draft of the piece was to expand on this aspect of Vega because it wasn't too pronounced. So I guess I overdid it a little this time around. I'll be sure to strike a balance when I revise it!

Huge thank you for the comments on prose and grammar, although there's that one quote about the contract in your review that doesn't seem to have a comment…?

And one last thing:

bobandbill said:
(I mean heck, he had the region’s professor calling him passionate and etc while he was talking about cleansing the filth and etc of greedy people... I digress.)

I'm pretty sure Sycamore saw more than "charm" and "persuasiveness" in Lysandre. ;) Thanks for the review, bobandbill!


Creepychu said:
Vega's position of handling resignations also makes for an interesting way to break down the situation, bringing across these wide organizational issues in a very personal and relatable way. Little details like how she inherited her position by having been the one in charge of interviewing the original interviewer, how the entire power plant team all delivered the exact same response as Rico and her little defensive mannerisms like insisting on the formal titles really drive home how little she likes her position, and yet the sense of hurt betrayal she expresses towards the quitting team members and Lysandre as well as her hatred for the protagonist who stopped them also show how she's still got a lingering sense of commitment even after having seen all the team's flaws. It creates a very believable personal conflict for her, which does a great job of maintaining tension throughout the interview, as even right up to the end I really couldn't be sure which way she would swing on the situation with Rico and Barker.

Thank you so much! I'm happy that those bits of characterizations I put in worked out. It's something I've been practicing on a lot in my recent one-shots, so I'm glad that it pays off here. And I'm glad I got the tension down - I was a bit worried that there would be some parts that were dragging. So thanks for saying that.


Creepychu said:
Emotional beats in general are spot-on, with both Vega's attempt at a cold, composed facade and Rico's bluster and nervousness coming off as very genuine and believable and creating a very interesting interplay between two characters who both come with good intentions and don't want to hurt the other but at the same time are put into a position that forces them into conflict. It creates a situation where you're rooting on both sides of the main issue and hoping it'll work out for the best for them, which really keeps tugging on the heartstrings since every push in either person's favor feels bad in its own way and maintains tension throughout the whole story, ending with a very cathartic release in Vega's little private moment at the end.

Thank you! I tried to make sure I balanced the presence of both Vega and Rico in the story, so I'm glad that it elicited this sort of comment. I didn't want one to overshadow the other, which proved a bit odd when I realized that Rico would be doing all the talking and Vega would just be internalizing, hence that last scene with Vega alone in her office in the end. It's great you liked that last bit, too! Was one of the things I revised heavily before submitting it.

Thanks for pointing out the grammatical fumbles, and thank you in general for the really nice review, Creepychu! I'm glad you liked it. :)


Dragonfree said:
I also enjoy the characterization of Lysandre and how you get it across just through two other people talking about him. These are Team Flare members, and through the way they describe Lysandre we can believe why they would follow him and champion his cause - the way they remember his passion and drive and how he motivated them is believable and genuinely sounds like Team Flare were the heroes of their own story, which really helps to sell this. The way that initially they both refuse to acknowledge that Lysandre is almost definitely dead but then think and say it more bluntly as the story goes on and they become more outwardly disillusioned with the team is a nice touch, too, mirroring the main buildup of Rico and Barker slowly eroding Vega's barriers and eventually driving her to her decision to defy the soulless situation she's stuck in.

Thanks! I could only imagine how devastated those members of Team Flare would've felt after the Geosenge event, since I really thought that it was a team that was only held together by the presence of Lysandre.

Dragonfree said:
The main emotional core here is the scene where Rico says goodbye to Barker, which I'm afraid have somewhat mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it is very sweet and emotional, and Rico's words and Barker's body language do hit the heartstrings you're going for. I even cried a bit (but insert my usual sap-of-the-century disclaimer here). I did think, though, that it was kind of generic - almost everything Rico says is something basically any trainer could say to their Pokémon, and it feels a lot like any number of other stories that try to twang those same heartstrings. In my experience the real hardest-hitting emotional moments of this kind are the ones that punch you with something starkly specific, something you didn't expect, some new thought that touches heartstrings you didn't even know you had. You had a great opportunity here to have Rico mention to Barker something that happened to them, something more specific than simply having let him out of a Pokéball once, like some moment that crystallized their friendship or made him appreciate it. That could give us a little nugget of insight into who they are, what their partnership is like and what they're truly losing if they're separated, as opposed to general, vague platitudes about how beautiful the trainer-Pokémon relationship can be. As it is, you tell us they have a powerful bond, and you show us well how devastated they are to have to say goodbye to each other, but you don't quite show their bond: I don't know anything about them or how they work together or what their partnership looks like on a normal day, so I have to simply take Rico's word for how close they are. We don't have to know their life story, but just hearing one or two things that are truly about them and not vaguely about Pokémon in general would be enough to set the tone for us to fill in the blanks, and I think that might be just what you need to really punch the reader in the gut.

Like I said, it still works. I still cried. But I feel like this would have been more genuine and heartwrenching if it had felt less generic and we really got a sense of why Rico and Barker in particular mean so much to each other.

Really great comment, and I agree 100% with it. Reading it again, it does seem like a generic feelsy monologue that just wanted to touch emotions, but that scene was supposed to show how they achieved that kind of bond in the first place (especially since there's no room for flashbacks here, so all I'll have is that short break from interview). I'll definitely put reworking that section to the top of my list of revisions. Thanks so much for this comment!

Dragonfree said:
The other issue I had with that scene was that from Vega's side of things, I think you're laying it on a bit thick. She spends a lot of the scene telling us over and over again how sad it is and how she doesn't know if she can handle it and how much they're crying, and I think that ultimately detracts both from the impact of the scene and from her arc in general. When your narrator keeps spelling out for us how sad and heartbreaking the scene is, you're not letting the emotion of the scene speak for itself, and it feels borderline manipulative - we don't want to be told how sad we should feel, we want to just feel it. Meanwhile, Vega's narrative arc would be better served if you let it speak more for itself, too. You can convey her increasing discomfort and that it's affecting her without explaining that this was so sad and emotional but she was trying to keep up a facade of not caring. For example, it's great when Vega shifts in her seat and starts trying to distract herself by meaninglessly rearranging papers on her desk, but we can tell just from that that she's more affected by it than she'd like, so does it really need to be followed by spelling it out for us? Could we not figure out for ourselves that the reason Vega wants all goodbyes to happen in the storage room is that she wants to avoid having to see the heartbreak she's causing? A bit more subtlety would make it more satisfying when her facade starts to break.

Hm, very much noted. I admit that I didn't notice I was verging on being too tell-y here. I guess I was trying too hard in expounding on Vega's side of the story that I neglected to find a balance between sharing her thoughts and letting her actions do the talking. You'd think I'd learn something after doing that last Quarterly Challenge, but alas. Definitely gonna improve on this aspect of the story. Thanks!

Dragonfree said:
Lastly, some little niggles: At one point you have Vega "restraining herself from stifling a laugh", but stifling a laugh is restraining it, so this wording doesn't make sense. At another point, she worries that if Malva finds out she's going soft, she might reject her resignation papers - but what does rejecting a resignation from Team Flare mean exactly? If they can just reject a person's resignation and force them to stay with the team, and Malva really wants people manipulated into staying on the team even though they want to get out, why are they even bothering with demanding they choose between the team and their Pokémon - can't they just reject all resignations (or some resignations at random) the same way Vega thinks Malva might reject hers? And finally, a form that's been inside an envelope in a drawer for months wouldn't have months' worth of dust on it, because the dust can't get inside the drawer, much less the envelope.

Ah, thanks for pointing these out. I admit I overlooked that part about resignations - I should definitely clarify what that meant. I tried to show that while the team, being a professional organization (or at least trying to maintain that stature), is poised to accept filings of resignations, it is still up to the admin's discretion as to whether or not these filings have valid reasons. Saying that "Because Lysandre is dead" would obviously be rejected, which is why there's that whole "greener pastures" reason that Vega says she's tired of hearing since that's the default reason. For Vega, having disobeyed her commander is punishable, and in the situation they're currently in, I thought, it would make sense for Vega's punishment not to be terminated but its exact opposite.

But yeah, it's still a wonky plot point, so I'll definitely work something out to make it seem smoother. Thanks so much for the comments, Dragonfree! :)


Sike Saner said:
Tense errors were probably the most common sort of oops I encountered while reading this. Most of them were of the "this needs to be in past perfect" variety, but there was also a "has" that ought to have been a "had"--which, come to think of it, might have just been a typo. Whose bright idea was it to put the "d" and "s" keys right next to each other, anyway?

Duly noted on this, and thanks for pointing out all the errors you found. Will definitely give the revision a thorough proofread before posting this. I admit that the past perfect tense is something I still find hard to use correctly, so I'm glad that you brought this up.

(And I think that wasn't a typo, but more of something I missed editing out on since I did change a lot of has's to had's in proofreading. Haha.)

Sike Saner said:
Something about "who not only had a single pokémon with him but" didn't hit me quite right. I think it's kind of suggesting that his problem was he only brought one of his pokémon with him, when in reality the issue was he only had that one pokémon, period. So something like "who not only had just one pokémon to his name" might hit the nail on the head just a bit better.

Ah yeah, I could definitely see the problem with the wording here. I do mean the latter, so I'll try to reword it. Thanks!

Sike Saner said:
I really liked the sort of inverted echo you did here with the previous "Ma'am would be fine" bit.

And I do find myself hoping Vega's actions didn't end up biting anyone's *** too hard, so kudos for getting me to care that much about the characters within such a short span.

Thank you! I'm glad that the echo worked out well - it was something that just suddenly came into mind writing that last scene, and I thought it would've been a great indicator of Vega's situation at this part of the story.

And I could only hope for the same thing myself. Thanks for the review, Sike Saner! :)
 

JX Valentine

Ever-Discordant
Yeah, nobody insisted on period dots is my point. Writing it in uppercase is because it's an acronym, but we also don't write it O.K..

Er, not to offend, but that's because ... it's not exactly a common way to spell it. And it's kinda acceptable to use periods, so it's not like anyone's telling you you must use them in the acronym. Truth be told, the more common way of spelling it is without (hence why the last link I'd offered earlier, a literal dictionary, does not include the period dots), and spelling it with is done only according to style books that aren't commonly used by the average writer (namely the one the New York Times follows—and, incidentally, this link leads to a rather interesting article about the subject as well). This post breaks it down a little further to clarify which forms are acceptable today.

Point is, no one's insisting that you have to use periods because it's not really on the table. The most common form of OK is literally the one without anyway. But this is kinda apples and oranges because while the subject of periods can be up for debate (like, you could make an argument that says "but Wikipedia says this is okay" and "but I saw it this way in The New York Times"), what's not is whether or not you should capitalize the abbreviated form. As in, that's always done except in an informal setting.
 
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