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The Skull that Bears Seeds (Ch. 2)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Firaga Metagross, Aug 8, 2018.

  1. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    Alola is teetering on the edge of history, all it needs is a little push.

    This story is about the push.

    ----------------------

    Rated PG-13 for: Swearing, violence from combat, trauma, and generally bad things happening to the characters.

    Chapter 1
    Chapter 2
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2018
  2. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    The Skull That Bears Seeds

    Chapter 1


    From its apex in the sky, the sun beat mercilessly upon the brick and mortar building comfortably hidden on the side streets near the border of Hau'oli City's industrial section. On days like this, Fusako thanked Tapu Koko that the second floor was coated in a mild darkness with pockets of light emerging from her desk lamp and the cracks in the blinds. Where it was dark, it was cool, so Fusako didn't begrudge the lack of light. (It also helped that Channary had brought her icy little Vulpix with her, whose frigid breath solved the issue of warm, stagnant air in the office).

    Today's lunch was once again a lukewarm cup of coffee from the break room, as Fusako had data to analyze and reports to write and phone calls to make. She stared at the intel Jason had given her from his listening post a few blocks down from the Hau'oli City Police Department's main building and waited for the caffeine to override her hunger.

    "It's not good for you to skip lunch, you know."

    Fusako looked up seeing second-in-command rolling in with some sort of plastic-wrapped loaf with one end sliced off on her lap.

    "I guess it is," Fusako said awkwardly chuckling, "Did you come to bring me lunch, Kate?"

    "I know you too well, after all," Kate replied as she positioned her wheelchair next to Fusako's desk, "Lee brought in homemade cornn berry loaf today. Thought you'd like to try it."

    "I'd love a slice," Fusako said, fishing out a knife from her desk drawer, "Just put it here. I'll slice some off."

    "You brought a knife, but no plates?" Kate said with a smirk.

    "This is a stabbing knife, not a bread knife," Fusako said matter-of-factly, "And I have you for the plates."

    Kate snorted as she fished two plates out of the tote kept slung on the back of the chair. Fusako unwrapped one end of the bread and sawed off a pair of irregularly angled slices of the purple-colored homemade bread for the two of them. They both took their first bites before recognizing the problem.

    "We should have brought napkins," Fusako stated while wiping her hands on her cargo pants, covering some of the many pockets with crumbs, "Note this for next time."

    "Duly noted, ma'am," Kate said lightheartedly. They both chuckled and continued to eat, Fusako washing every bite down with coffee. As they ate, a man in full team skull attire (designated regional head of security by Fusako herself), entered the office, with a manila folder in hand.

    "Admin Nishikawa," Thomas said, then turning to Kate, "Vice Admin Jang."

    "What brings you to my office, Captain Kauila?"

    Wasting no time, he slapped the folder on the desk, which Fusako opened. Inside was a familiar-looking picture of a teenage girl in a white dress and white knee high socks with a white sun-hat; a second photo showed a picture of a small puffy purple Pokémon .

    "These are the same photos from last time, Kauila."

    "Guzma still wants you to look for these two," he explained, "Says they're of the utmost importance."

    "She looks like every other rich tourist on Melemele. You might as well ask me to look for one specific Magikarp in the ocean. We've got more important things to do than spend our limited resources looking for some girl and her Pokémon . Missing tourist children are the police's problem, not ours."

    "Regardless, Guzma still wants us to prioritize looking for her over everything else."

    As Fusako laid back in her chair and groaned, Kate spoke:

    "It's not like we haven't looked for her; Jason's listening post has been scanning for intel on her day and night, but not even the police have any leads as far as we can tell."

    "Let's try intensifying searches in Hau'oli and if it doesn't pan out, we've at least got an explanation, okay?" Kauila suggested, "It's not going to do us any favors with central to get our asses chewed out by Guzma."

    "Argh, we don't even know if she's in Hau'oli; we don't even know if she's even on this Island!" Fusako complained, "Fine, we can do this wasteful tauros-**** for a little bit, if you want. I'll leave the execution of this to you, Captain. Just don't draw any more attention to us than need be. We can't afford to rattle the beedrill's nest right now. Not after what happened last time."

    "Thank you, Admin. I won't disappoint you. By your leave," Kauila said as he exited, photos in hand.

    Fusako waited until after Kauila left before speaking:

    "By The Guardian, Guzma is trying my patience with this claptrap."

    "At least Thomas is the one handling this now and not you," Kate consoled her.

    "No one should be handling this, but it's a silver lining regardless," Fusako said, "Thanks for the cake, by the way. It's good."

    "You should thank Lee; he's the one who baked it."

    "You know what I mean."

    "Yes, I do," Kate said, pulling out some stapled papers out of her bag, "Speaking of knowing, I compiled some persons-of-interest data that I'd like to go over with you."

    Accepting the papers, Fusako grabbed her coffee cup and continued to work through her lunch break.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------


    The sun's awesome might didn't deter Fusako from going outside in her almost military style fatigues, which Fusako proudly wore in regardless of the weather. She had a long walk ahead of herself, but it was the kind of extra effort that was worth the price, in her opinion. Plus, it gave her the chance to survey the areas that she had been working so hard to liberate.

    The streets she navigated mostly consisted all the usual trappings: deteriorating apartment buildings, tiny convenience stores nestled in between pawn shops and tax-assistance businesses, warehouses of varying usage, and the occasional Church (of Arceus or Mew, mostly), with people and their Pokémon shuffling to and from all of them. Those not moving about amassed in small groups, either waiting for the bus or talking among themselves on smoke breaks. It comforted Fusako that no one paid her any mind as she fast walked in normally attention grabbing garb.

    Fusako reached her destination at an unassuming sidewalk on an unassuming road hosting a gas station and a few restaurants. Red and rusty stood a telephone box, with a payphone inside which Fusako fed a few Alolan Yen into. The phone rang the maximum number of times before being answered.

    "Whaddya want?" a familiar, grouchy voice answered, Fusako able to taste the cigar smoke from the other side.

    "Is that anyway to talk to a comrade-in-arms, Admin Figueroa?"

    "Nishikawa? I was wondering who the hell that random number was," Bill answered, "It'd be a lot easier for me if you'd just call from your office phone like a normal person."

    "Someone has to worry about operational security," Fusako retorted, "The fewer people listening in on us, the better."

    "Hahahaha! Right," Bill guffawed, "But seriously what do you want? I'm a little busy."

    "I don't know if Guzma's bothered you about this too, but he sent orders out to start searching again for Lillie, that girl with the weird Pokémon again," Fusako explained, "Any news on your end?"

    "You called me about this tripe? What a waste of time!"

    "Believe me, I know. Everyone knows, except maybe Fukuda."

    "Yeah, cuz his head is empty and his nose is brown!" Bill stated, chuckling at his own joke, "How he got to be Admin I'll never know."

    "Regardless..."

    "I've got nothing, Nishikawa. Girls like her don't hang out in the sticks. Not unless they're on a field trip or something," Bill explained, "The only rumors I've heard are about Iki, but it's the most touristy area out there, with the shrine and all, so who knows."

    "Yeah."

    "If you ask me, you're better off just searching the city yourself."

    "I figured as much," Fusako acknowledged, "On another note, I'm sure you heard the much more pressing announcement from HQ."

    "Yeah, I heard. Why do you think I'm so busy?" Bill lamented, taking another puff of his cigar, "I've been in talks with all of the local big wigs trying to calm things down and suddenly we've got this fire under our asses."

    "It's a good opportunity for us to flex our muscle," Fusako eagerly explained, "Things are too quiet around here, and people are starting to forget our name."

    "What muscle? Neither of us are exactly the Kahunas of the Island if you know what I mean," Bill said, "I have no interest in throwing my boys at the cops, just to get them all arrested. I'll leave that sort rabblerousing to the foolish."

    "You forget our cause, Figueroa! For who are we if not rabble rousing other rabble?" Fusako retorted with a scolding tone.

    "Right, right," Bill conceded so that the conversation could end, "Look, I've got some big players waiting on me in the other room, and if they pull their support, I'm screwed, so I've got to go."

    "Sounds like you're the only one with no muscle here. Perhaps you should think about not outsourcing recruitment?"

    "Don't be an ass, Nishikawa!" Bill snapped before hanging up.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Careful not become too predictable in manner, Fusako deviated from her path back to the Team Skull Hau'oli regional office by way of a "scenic route. The narrow 2-way street was flanked end-to-end by small Kantan restaurants experiencing the post-lunch lull in traffic. The pedestrians consisted of dishwashers and waiters on break, a few patrons leaving with full stomachs, and Channary, taking her Vulpix for a walk, who still need walks regardless of the temperature. Fusako struck up a conversation as she approached.

    "Having a good walk, lieutenant?"

    "Oh, ma'am, admin! I didn't see you there!" Channary sputtered out, hastily saluting, "Yes, it's fine. Crissy just needed to stretch her legs."

    "Good to hear," Fusako commented, followed by a short silence, "So, how are your new posters coming along? The art team treating you well?"

    "Uh, great, ma'am! I mean, it's not done yet, but it's fine! All the problems are quick fixes, Honest--"

    "Lieutenant," Fusako interrupted, gesturing her to stop, "I'm not here to interrogate you. We're just... talking."

    "Oh Arceus, I'm sorry!" Channary replied, taking a few breaths, "Things are fine, great! And you?"

    "My work has been coming along decently," Fusako said, "...and you've helped with that, lieutenant Savong."

    "Oh, I don't know if that's true, ma'am!"

    "Are you calling me a liar?"

    "No, ma'am!" Channary replied, flustered once again, "I'm just not sure--"

    "I recommended you for your promotion because I want you there, Lieutenant."

    "Ma'am..." Channary uttered, flabbergasted and no longer attentive to Crissy who tugged at her leash.

    "I put you in charge because you're the one who understands the style and ideology of Team Skull's art best of your peers," Fusako explained.

    "You really mean it?"

    "You should act with the confidence befitting someone in your position. A youngin' like you can succeed just as much as an old lady like me!"

    "Thank you, ma'am!" Channary said, with a new found sense of self-worth, "I'll get those posters done soon, no problem!"

    "Good," Fusako replied, giving Channary a friendly pat on the shoulder, "Because you're going to be a lot more busy in the future. We've got a bunch of stuff for you to do. I'm sure Vice Admin Jang will give you orders soon."

    "Ahh," Channary voiced, deflating a little bit.

    "Anyway, I have work to get back to. Have a good rest of your walk," Fusako said, terminating the conversation and leaving Channary with her now very restless Vulpix.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------


    A couple blocks away from where she left Channary, Fusako strolled past a mix of apartments and stores on her way back to the office. One in particular stood out with a hanging sign with large red plastic letters spelling out "Celadon Garden: Kantan Cusine". Beneath it was man in an apron and somewhat unkempt "business casual" clothes wiping down one of the two plastic tables in front of the restaurant. Looking up from his work as Fusako passed, the man's eyes met hers and she stopped, recognizing the features of his soft, tired face.

    "Fusako!" he yelled, discarding his rag and running to embrace her.

    "Kris?! Is that you?" she uttered before being caught in a powerful hug. The pair tightly embraced each other for a moment before jumping right into questions.

    "I can't believe you're here! What are you doing here?" Fusako asked, a little overcome with emotion.

    "I could ask the same thing of you!" Kris retorted, "Weren't you in Kanto with your parents?"

    "That was almost twenty years ago, Kris! I've been back home in Alola for a long time."

    "Oh? I thought you stayed there after your Pokémon Journey," said Kris, perplexed, "Weren't you supposed to stay with your family after they moved?"

    "I was..." Fusako clarified, "but things got a little tense between me and my parents, so I ended up moving back here at the first chance."

    Kris tilted his head a little and pursed his lips out of concern.

    "Oh, it's fine now, mostly," Fusako explained, "We're still in contact and stuff."

    "Okay, I won't pry," Kris relented, "What about your Pokemon? last I saw of them was in your top 32 match at the Pokemon league if I recall correctly."

    "It was top 64 and I'd rather not dredge that memory back up," Fusako said mildly irked, "I can't believe my only televised match was the one where I got thoroughly wrecked."

    "Hey, I thought you fought very valiantly," Kris reassured her, "I was on the edge my seat the whole match."

    "Thirteen-year-old Kris isn't exactly an authority on this matter," Fusako jibed, "...But thanks, anyway. All of my Pokemon are doing well right now."

    "Can I see them?"

    "I'm not letting Charizard out in the middle of the road," Fusako said, "Talonflame and Skarmory are back at my apartment. Pidgeot, Fearow, and Dodrio are living with my parents because they're the only ones they can handle."

    "Ahh, maybe later then."

    "They're all just older, really," Fusako said, "...Like you! So where've you been for the past... two decades."

    "I've basically been in school the whole time, haha," Kris chuckled, "It's a pretty sad to think about."

    "I'm more impressed than anything. How does one stay in for that long?"

    "5 years of public school, 5 years of undergrad, 6 years of grad school, and a whole bunch of academic breaks," Kris explained, "Luckily Uni in Johto is state-funded or else I'd be up to my neck in debt."

    "Yeah, no doubt. Where'd you go?"

    "Olivine University. Seemed like it was affected a lot less than all the other big Johto schools."

    "Yeah, all of the universities I saw in Kanto were in ruins," Fusako recalled, "Although the war just ended like a year before, so basically everything was in ruins. What'd you go there for?"

    "I planned to only go there for a Literature B.A. and then one day, I woke up and suddenly had a thesis defense to do."

    "Oh, Congrats! Should I call you Dr. Rákosi now?"

    "Please don't. It's embarrassing," Kris explained, "It took me ten years to realize I hate academia and that's just rubbing salt in the wound."

    "Ten years?!"

    "Aww, come on. What'd I just say?" Kris complained, "Besides it's hard to reflect on that sort of stuff when you're swamped with work and relationship stuff."

    "Wait, relationship? Who are you with?"

    "Formerly with. My ex, they're... it's not something I'd like to get into. We had a messy breakup like a year ago and it only reinforced my decision to travel back home to Alola."

    "Oh, sorry, I shouldn't have pried--"

    "Don't worry about it," Kris said, handwaving the whole thing off.

    "So, you're back home now?"

    "Yeah. Wasn't going to apply for a university position, didn't know what I could do in Olivine, didn't want to stay in my ex's town, hadn't really seen my parents in like a decade... you get the picture," Kris elucidated, "Anyway, I'm working at Mom's restaurant because all I have at the moment is a piece of paper that says 'I have no job skills, but might leave for a better position at a moment's notice'."

    "Rough," Fusako sympathized, "Ever consider a journalism job?"

    "Ehhh, applying to a news agency in Alola is kind of a waste of time if you're not well-connected or, you know, Unovan. It'd be a waste of time writing resumes when I could be writing fiction or something."

    "Yeah, news work around here's definitely Tauros-****."

    "Speaking of which," Kris segued, "What do you do around here?"

    "Temp work and odd jobs," Fusako lied, "A little of this and that."

    "Oh yeah, whatever pays the bills," Kris commiserated, "I definitely understand."

    " KRISTÓF!" A voice bellowed from the restaurant, drawing both of their attentions, "Get back to work!"

    "I will, Mom!" Kris yelled back before turning to Fusako again, "Sorry 'bout that...Hey, why don't you come on in? We could reminisce over some hot Kantan tea. I'm sure Mom would be beyond happy to see you again. "

    "Sorry, I'm busy with work today," Fusako said, "Honestly, I should get going."

    "Yeah, I should probably get back to work, too. See you around?" Kris asked, opening his arms once again for a hug.

    "Definitely," Fusako replied, returning the hug.

    Fusako resumed her walk back to the office at a doubled pace. Socializing would be compensated for with more vigorous work.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Fusako leaned back slightly in her chair as she waited for everyone to arrive. Today was a longer day at the office than she would have liked and to make matters worse, she had to cap it off with a staff meeting. A moderately large table filled up most of the room, officially designated as the staff kitchen, but more akin to a meeting room with a microwave and fridge.

    "What's keeping them?" Fusako griped to Kate, who were both still five minutes early to the meeting.

    "They'll be here; don't worry," Kate reassured her as she fanned herself with her hands. The two standing fans barely compensated for the ambient heat amplified by inefficient light bulbs.

    "Admin, Vice Admin," Thomas saluted, blocking the entrance of conference room for the rest of the staff.

    "Please enter, Captain," Kate said compelling him to move and letting everyone else shuffle into place before Fusako started the meeting proper.

    "You all know why we're meeting today. There's a number of issues that I'd like to address promptly and information I'd like you all to be aware of."

    "Firstly, Captain Kauila brought it to my attention that Guzma wants us to search for a certain runaway girl and her Pokémon ," Fusako stated, gesturing Thomas to place the photos on the table for all to see.

    "She's been a real hassle to find," Jason added, "I've got nothing on her so far."

    "That's right, Lieutenant. The search so far has been fruitless and requires more effort than anyone of you should reasonably expend," Fusako continued, "That's why none of you except for Captain Kauila should spend time looking for her, even if anyone from Po Town Central Command bothers you about it. Leave this issue to Kauila and inform him or myself if you happen to see her in passing."

    The rest of the room nodded in understanding, not complaining about being told not to do additional work.

    "Secondly, I'd like to address the issue of our finances. Our revenue has been stagnant in some areas and declining in others. For example, support money paid by restaurants in the Johto quarter have been regular and consistent, but there is little expansion and I fear their loyalty may be more from ethnic ties than support for our cause. However, this is less worrying than the fisheries and cargo docks who have been paying us significantly less money lately when we need not only their money, but also their fish and transportation capabilities. I ordered these groups to be targeted specifically, so why have our relations with them soured recently?"

    "They said paying for our services was a waste of money when the mafia are more reliable," Kevin, the assistant head for finances, stated, "Our guys are getting their asses handed to them when they even bother to show up. Team Skull is a joke to them."

    "This is a dangerous trend, Captain, but one that isn't under your control at the moment. Focus on retaining what resources we have and strategize for regaining the docks with Vice Admin Zhou after he returns from central."

    Kauila waited in dread as Fusako took a moment to channel her thoughts.

    "Third, I'd like to address the issue of laxness in our security ranks," Fusako said turning to Kauila and his lieutenants, "As Captain Cordova pointed out, fighting forces, the muscles of Team Skull which allow for action, are a "joke" to the people we are trying to support. Defeat is one thing, but breaking the trust of our people is quite another."

    "You can hardly fault them, Admin," Kauila tried to explain, "You rarely give them enough time to get anywhere. An hour is not enough time for my people to stop what they're doing and show up for a fight. Most of them can only show up for things on the weekends."

    "I can't suddenly pick the times that the police are going to crack down on us, or the Mafia are going to encroach on our turf, Captain."

    "With all due respect, ma'am, it's too much to ask volunteer soldiers to show up when most of them have regular jobs. I've got maybe 30 people who are free all the time, but the rest have to use their days off to work for us, which they have to schedule in advance. We've got to support them if they're going to support us."

    "We need money to pay them to get them to protect the people who won't pay us unless we protect them with soldiers we can't pay," Fusako summarized and dragged her hands across her face in frustration, "This is a shitty situation we've found ourselves in. Thoughts, Vice Admin Jang?"

    "If we need to spend more money to bolster our position, we've got the savings to do it," Kate pointed out, "Letting the whole situation spiral out of control is the worst thing we can do. Better to lose some money now, than to lose all our credibility, strength, and money later."

    "We've still got some assets in reserve at the moment, but It'll take some time to turn it all into cash," Kevin added, "Still, it's worth using up some of our emergency assets considering this is an emergency."

    "Alright, Cordova work on getting some cash together. I want this issue dealt with ASAP," Fusako ordered, "Captain Kauila, I want you, and tell Vice Admin Yamashita this when you see him, to round up every reliable fighter you've got in the area. Tell them to report for training ASAP. We've got a gigantic event coming up and I need everyone available for something protracted. And tell them they're getting paid! Tell them whatever will make them show up and stay!"

    "Of course, Admin!" replied Kauila, "By the way, ma'am, what sort of thing is coming up, if you don't mind me asking."

    "Only the biggest Team Skull operation to date," Fusako stated, clearing stating it for all to hear, "There's going to be a nationwide strike."

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Welcome to the fic forum; I don't think I've seen you around here before. And what an entrance it is you've made! This is great. Skull is one of the more interesting teams, conceptually speaking, and there's so much room for fascinating reinterpretations and revisions of them and their cause; an organised Skull, in which their directionless anger is actually harnessed, is an excellent idea. Like, abject assholes organising against the system that created them? That is so much my thing that it makes me a little envious I didn't write it first, and a lot glad that someone else thought to do it anyway. Interestingly, though, it looks like Skull is still at least partially under Lusamine's control, if they're hunting for Lillie – and also that Guzma hasn't actually told anyone that, which … man. That's going to be rough. Fusako clearly really believes in Skull as a project – and who can blame her, honestly; with a little more rigour than it had in the games Skull could have been something special – and I doubt she'll be thrilled to realise where exactly these orders to find Lillie are coming from.

    Anyway, it's one thing to have a great idea, and quite another to present it in as accomplished a way as you do here. The set-up in an opening chapter usually makes or breaks a fic, but here, though there is a lot you need to tell us, it works very well; you handle the introduction of new information, the building out of the world and the set-up of the plot very deftly, letting everything emerge as and when it becomes relevant. It's quite heavy with data, but you've arranged it so organically that it really doesn't feel that way. On a line-by-line level, too, your prose is pretty solid, which is always welcome to see. Honestly, yeah, this looks like the start of something great. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this to see where you plan to go with it.

    Anyway, here are some nitpicky things and also a couple of blow-by-blow reactions:

    This is something that crops up a fair bit throughout the chapter – these are two separate sentences that Fusako is saying, not one long one broken up by the dialogue attribution in the middle, so the comma after 'retorted' needs to be a full stop.
    You've got an extra space after 'Pokémon' here.
    Melemele must be a pretty wild place, if someone with the zany design ethos of a pokémon game main character doesn't stand out from the crowd. :p
    Interesting currency system. Is the yen a global currency in this version of the world, with specific variants around the world? I suppose that is what the games imply, although I've always taken that to be a representational device.
    This comes up a couple of times – 'bigwig' is usually written as one word.
    You're missing a closing set of quotation marks after 'scenic route'.
    This feels like a clunky way to say this, mostly because of the repetition of the word 'walk' and the fact that that second clause is technically attached to 'walk' rather than 'Vulpix' as intended.
    I feel like that might be meant to be 'young 'un', but like, I have literally never come across the word 'youngin' before, so possibly it's just one I'm not familiar with.
    Interesting. I suppose I would've thought that some of those would have died by now; birds are notably long-lived for their size, but like, falcons and stuff are like fifteen years, give or take. Possibly things are different for pokémon in this interpretation. That's cool if so! (Forgive me for getting stuck on pointless details, but these are the kind of things I'm really interested to see other people's interpretations of.)
    Not sure why 'uni' is capitalised here – I don't think it needs to be.
    This sentence could probably benefit from a comma after 'said'.
    I feel like there should probably be a comma after 'said' here.
    This question is missing a question mark, and I don't think it's the kind of question that doesn't need one, if that makes sense.

    Anyway! As I said, this is a really strong start that could go in all kinds of directions. I'll definitely be waiting eagerly for more!
     
  4. TheAlpar

    TheAlpar Journey Enthusiast

    Ohhhh now this looks interesting! This isn't a version of Team Skull I've ever seen before, especially not while appearing so competent. I'm curious to see just how much more trouble they can cause while being a solid, organized unit instead of a bunch of goons goofing around.

    Fusako is great; she's got the confidence and grit needed of someone in her position, but she's also got quite a bit of sass which makes her fun to read. She seems to know a lot of people and know exactly what to say to each one to keep things going smoothly. All the side characters and plots you've introduced were swallowed easily thanks to her, I think.

    This fic has potential; I'll be following it from now on :D
     
  5. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    Thanks for the wonderful reviews. I was a bit worried that my stuff might have been a bit too out there or whatever, so I appreciate it.

    Cutlerine

    Awww thanks. I wish I could have written "Go Home", so the feeling is mutual. Your writings are why I returned to the site (my last posts here were from 2009 IIRC), since I saw your stuff on FF.net first.

    Oh good, I'm glad it wasn't too overwhelming. My expansion of canon's pretty detailed, but I'm definitely used to explaining stuff to people out of the know, so I try to make the chunks manageable. Also good to hear you like my prose. Fiction isn't something I read or write a lot of so I'm glad it works.

    Not exactly the most fun or easiest part of fiction writing for me, so thanks for the crits.

    Her design came off to me as a less generic version of the Hoenn Lady class or something like that. A sundress and hat (the boots really stand out tho) seemed pretty reasonable.

    My interpretation is much like Game Freaks': hope the reader doesn't notice that the life cycle of Pokemon is held together with old masking tape haha. It's one of those "don't think to much about it too much or canon falls apart kinda thing" since it's not really my focus and it feels a little weird having Pokemon die and stuff.

    TheAlpar

    Glad you like it so far. Fusako's more or less the POV character so I'm glad she's interesting to follow around. I try to introduce a lot of the details of the world through her dialogue with other characters because that feels like the most organic way to introduce the world. The amount of new details will probably decrease over time, but I'm glad that none of its overwhelming. I definitely introduced a lot of named characters in the chapter because it's a good way to add ethnographic texture, but I tried really hard to make sure the names don't get too confusing.

    I appreciate the reviews and hope to see more of stuff from you two in the future as well.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2018
  6. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Welcome to the forums! It's nice to see another Alola-centric story here; we've been seeing some great ones lately, and I don't think I'll ever get tired reading about Team Skull, heh.

    And this is definitely a new take on the team! At the beginning of the story I definitely thought Fusako and her crew were police who'd been charged with investigating Team Skull, with some of them being undercover, so it was a surprise, as the chapter went on, to realize that they were actually members themselves. From the hints we've gotten so far, I get the sense that this Team Skull is still a refuge for the downtrodden, or concerned with them specifically, but clearly it's made up of more than teenage outcasts. My impression is that Fusako would have exactly zero patience for the kind of dancing we see from a lot of Skull grunts, haha, but it seems like she wears the uniform proudly. It looks like we'll be taking a close look at how Team Skull actually works and fleshing out its members in this story, which should be a lot of fun.

    It's also nice that you have a sense of the larger world going on with this story, with mentions of war in Kanto/Johto, there apparently being a mafia of some kind active in Alola as well as Team Skull, and the story's concerns so far being oriented away from the trainer sphere and more towards issues that reflect the ones in our real world: jobs, higher education, family and ethnic ties. But characters like Lillie and Guzma are still around! I'm curious to see how the typical Sun/Moon storyline does (or doesn't) interact with these elements, how similarly things will play out. Or perhaps you're going to go in a completely different direction!

    I do think it might have been better to hold off on some of the worldbuilding and character introductions, though, until you'd set up a clearer idea of who Fusako is and what her story's going to be. Most of this chapter was her walking around and interacting with various characters, who are presumably going to be important to the story. You did a nice job bringing out the different personalities of these characters in their respective scenes, and also getting some info about the world across, but there wasn't a great deal to *connect* them. Fusako just kind of happened to run into them/they approached her, and they talked. I don't have a good sense of what Fusako's actual goals are, what she might be hoping to accomplish and how this story might interact with those desires. I feel like I have a good handle on her personality, but not what makes her tick, which makes it difficult to put the people she interacts with in this chapter and what she learns in context. For example, are these people likely to help or hinder her in the long run? Might the events in Kanto have some bearing on what happens in this story?

    Obviously we don't need to learn everything about the protagonist right away, and we don't want to have it spelled out exactly how the story's going to go. At the moment I just feel like you're erring on the side of not enough of that kind of information. What I'd like to see is a little more concrete direction. Fusako obviously believes pretty strongly in Team Skull, but it isn't clear why that is, or what exactly what this Team Skull stands for. There's this strike coming up, which is going to be a huge event, but why? What does it mean for Team Skull's mission and for Fusako personally? Ultimately what I'd like is some sense of where the plot's going, the thread that's going to tie everything in this chapter together, and I'm not seeing it yet.

    One thing I noticed throughout the chapter was that you have some trouble punctuating dialogue where one sentence is followed by narration, then another piece of dialogue. You end the narration with a comma when the dialogue is one sentence that's been split into two parts by the narration (for example, "I don't know, Mom," Mariah said, "that seems really unlikely.") but when the first piece of dialogue is a complete sentence, the narration should end in a period. For example, these paragraphs:

    In each of these cases, the narration should end in a period, rather than a comma. The correct version would be:

    This happens quite frequently throughout the chapter; I just picked an example of it happening three times in a row.

    Just want to capitalize "Team Skull" here.

    I think the "wore in" here is just a typo (should just be "wore"). The wording also strikes me as a bit fancy in this sentence; "The sun's awesome might" seems like a kind of grandiose way of putting things when the sun isn't really that important to what's actually going on in the sentence.

    This is an interesting line of dialogue to me, since it could mean a lot of different things. Obviously the Team Skull we see in the games are rabble and rabble-rousing, but from what we've seen of Fusako so far she seems like possibly the least likely person on the planet to do any rabble-rousing. Presumably she's being sarcastic/teasing by saying this, but how does her part of Team Skull relate to the noisy loser side of it? Are they kind of a smokescreen for the team's real operations? Are they an unfortunate result of poor management in some other divisions? Something else? It'll be interesting to see how this version of Team Skull works as we learn more over time.

    This sentence has a misplaced modifier. "Looking up from his work" refers to the man's eyes, not the man himself, who of course is the one who's actually looking up. Fixing this would probably require fairly extensive rewording; something like, "Looking up from his work as Fusako passed, the man locked eyes with her..." or "The man looked up from his work as Fusako passed, and when his eyes met hers she stopped..."

    There were also a fair number of typos along the lines of missing words or punctuation marks, formatting errors, etc. It might be worthwhile to try another round of proofreading, or reading your work aloud to yourself as part of your editing process. Reading aloud can really help you identify clumsy or convoluted sentences, because they'll be hard to follow verbally, and also slows you down so you may have an easier time spotting typos.

    Overall, this is a promising start! You obviously have a different take on the Alola region, and I look forward to seeing how it will interact with the familiar storyline (or at least familiar characters, like Lillie). I'm not sure what kind of story this will end up being just yet, but I'm definitely interested enough to want to find out. Welcome again to the forums, and if you're looking for other stories to check out, you might enjoy Beasts and Beauties, which is very Skull-centric and focuses specifically the relationship between Lusamine and Guzma. Feel free to check out the fanfic forum Discord if you want to hang out with some of the other writers on the forum, and the yearly fanfic contest has also been announced if you're interested in a little competition!

    Best of luck with your writing. I look forward to seeing how this story unfolds.
     
  7. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    Wow, this took a lot longer to write than I anticipated. Hopefully, I'll get the next chapters out quicker. I've tried to incorporate the critiques into my story (thanks for the reviews btw).

    --------------------------------

    Chapter 2



    Fusako rose at 5:30 to get the advantage over her enemies and the day itself. Today marked the first day of their improved training program and Fusako prepared to strike out its flaws on the first blow. But first she had to strike down her own hunger and drowsiness.

    Fusako threw the bowl of rice she readied the previous night into the microwave for a minute and boiled just enough water for a mug's worth of tea. Her breakfast complete, Fusako sat down at the one table she managed to fit into her apartment and alternated between sips and bites. In her off-hand, Fusako held open a used paperback copy of "No Desert Begins Barren: Kalosian Mining Corporations in Orre", occasionally flipping to the next page with her thumb.

    Fusako's analog wristwatch read 5:54 by the time she finished every last grain of rice and the remaining tea was only the grainy sludge at the bottom. The mental fog that slowed her mind began to dissipate, so she returned to her room to begin her daily labor. But first, she changed out of her pajamas into her work clothes. She only had a few sets of them, but Fusako always made sure she had a clean and ironed set of military fatigues, which in her opinion were practical and stylish and suited to both deskwork and fieldwork. She stared into the full length mirror, tightly squeezed between her dresser and a densely-packed & narrow bookshelf, and adjusted her uniform before getting to work at her desk.

    As the sun slowly filtered in through the blinds covering her small window, Fusako reviewed the old battle reports under the gaze of her poster of Rachid ash-Shalouri, his likeness depicting his thoughtful seriousness as he strategized with his generals in Fiore's wilderness. Every report that Fusako read, every casualty and failure that she noted evoked ash-Shalouri's missteps and failures and his eventual assassination just ten months after the liberation of his homeland. She knew that every step of the way could bring setbacks or disaster or failure or death and she vowed to be wiser and more vigilant than her predecessors.

    Lost in her own thoughts about the failures of herself and her team, Fusako didn't notice the time passing until it was already 7:15, or fifteen minutes past feeding time. She grabbed her three Pokeballs on the her night stand from their plastic holding tray, right in front of a photo of the whole team, posing with Fusako right outside of Indigo Plateau. Fusako re-entered to her combination kitchen/dining room/living room and retrieved a large bag of cheap Pokemon food and three bowls from under the cupboard before exiting the front door.

    The first thing Fusako noticed as she walked out into the hallway was Jason lethargically standing in a t-shirt and athletic sweatpants, cupping a mug of coffee in both hands, while his Meowth groomed himself. Fusako uttered a good morning as she passed him to access the hall closet where she kept Charizard's food. Coming to his senses, Jason responded in kind.

    "Oh, hey Nishikawa. Didn't see you there. Good morning," he said before taking a sip of his coffee.

    "We may be neighbors, Lieutenant Okada, but that's not an excuse to be lax with acknowledging rank," Fusako chided the intelligence officer as she pulled out an empty bucket and a 50-pound bag of Charizard food. "Could you help me with this bag?"

    "Yeah sure... Admin," he said, grabbing one end of the bag with his free hand while Fusako directed the other end towards the bucket. "Dusty, could you lend me a hand?"

    Jason's Meowth walked up to the bag and, with a casual flick of the wrist, sliced open the corner of the bag, causing large processed pellets to spill out into the bucket. Fusako and Jason filled the bucket to the brim while Dusty returned to grooming himself.

    "Thanks for the help, Lieutenant. Charizard's food has always been a hassle."

    "Yeah, no problem," Jason said before letting out a huge yawn. "Sorry, just really tired."

    "Did you stay up late last night?" Fusako asked as she returned the bag to the closet.

    "Sorta. Well, yeah, but not because I wanted to. My family flew in from Fuschia to visit me, so some of them are staying at my place and we had a dinner party at my place, so that already took up most of my energy, and my sink's got a leak we had to deal with and...anyway, it was a pain in the ass."

    "My apologies, Okada."

    "Yeah, no problem. I just need to get out of the house for a little bit."

    "I have to feed my Pokemon down in the courtyard. You can join me if you'd like," Fusako offered, holding containers of Pokemon food in each hand.

    "Sounds alright, ma'am."

    The route from the hallway to the entrance of the apartment block dragged on, despite the two of them only being on the third floor. The elevator was out of order for the past week, so Fusako and Jason and Dusty took the stairwell instead, which itself had peeling paint and the constant reek of mold. The smell followed the two of them into the lobby, where a security guard with shades and a handlebar mustache eyed them cautiously all the way to the door.

    The fresh air was a welcome reprieve, despite the poor air quality in their corner of the city. The two of them walked from their decrepit, off-white apartment tower, good only for its cheap rent and proximity to the office, to the small park only a few buildings over. Despite the presence of discarded cigarette butts and bottles in a few of its corners, the place was generally clean (and secluded) enough for Fusako to let out her Pokémon. After inspecting the park for suspicious people, Fusako tossed her three Pokéballs into the air.

    Charizard, Skarmonry, and Talonflame all emerged on the grass, ravenous for the Poké-chow Fusako scooped into each of their respective dishes. Talonflame pecked away at the pellets one by one, while Skarmory bit down in the general direction of the food and messily scooped it up. Charizard, allotted a significantly larger portion of his own special food, merely grabbed the whole bowl and dumped the whole thing into his mouth over the course of a few seconds, before tossing the bowl back on the ground, which Fusako begrudgingly filled up halfway and shot Charizard a only-this-one-time look. Jason watched the whole thing happen with an unusually distracted look for an observer of his caliber.

    "Are you okay, Lieutenant Okada?" Fusako asked after cleaning up her Pokéfood and collecting the bowls.

    "No, not really. Just a little overwhelmed at the moment," Jason admitted as his Meowth ran off to play with Fusako's flying companions. "My sister vomited a bunch last night and has been lying on my bed since then."

    "Was it the water?"

    "Yeah, I tried to tell her that the water quality is **** compared to what they've got in Kanto, but she had a glass anyway," Jason wearily recounted. "My parents were stressed out the whole night because of it."

    "I'm surprised someone from Kanto is that reckless with drinking as it is. Twenty years ago, most of the wells were still near toxic, if I recall correctly."

    "She was born after the war, so she basically doesn't know a life prior to the joint government's massive water purification project and thinks that tap water's always safe to drink."

    "That explains it."

    "Like I'm not any more resistant to the stuff, I just know to drink coffee and tea and juice and booze instead," Jason said. "My husband's been here since birth and even he doesn't **** with tap water."

    "Well, I hope your sister feels better," Fusako sympathized before snapping at Skarmory, who was seconds away from tearing up one of the park benches. She prematurely returned her Pokémon to their containers before anything else could go wrong.

    "I hope so, too," Jason said, downing the last of his coffee. "If she's well enough to get up, maybe I can convince her to buy me the parts to fix the sink."

    "You know, Team Skull has a program for housing repairs. One with a budget for parts and handymen doing pro bono work."

    "Wait, really?"

    "Yeah, you didn't know, lieutenant?" Fusako asked, taken aback. "We had a big push for it a year and a half ago."

    "I vaguely remember, I think."

    "I'll bring it up with Vice Admin Jang. Clearly our community outreach programs aren't working if even our own people don't know about it," Fusako noted.

    "Well, it's a huge weight off my shoulders either way. Maybe I can get some help with the toilet, too."

    "I'm sure we can fix any problems you have," Fusako said as the two began their return to the apartment. "Except the elevator, I suppose."

    The two of them retraced their path almost exactly to where they had started and parted on professional terms. Fusako dove back into her work as easily as she left it. Training was only a few hours away and Fusako wanted to make sure Vice Admin Yamashita ran things tightly.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Fusako soared through the sky on the back of her Charizard and thought about how strange it was that it was no longer strange to see other people flying on the back of their (rented) Charizards. The purchasing of valleys where Alola's few Charizards made their nests and the subsequent exploitation of their populations for cheap transportation by WingService Inc (a subsidy of the corporate leviathan, Unovan-Kalosian PLC) incensed Fusako just thinking about it, but being able to fly freely without attracting too much attention was a nice silver lining.

    Charizard certainly appreciated the opportunity to soar as his darted about the sky. Only concern for his trainer, who latched onto his back and wrapped her arms around his neck, stopped him from loop-de-loops and other aerial maneuvers. Fusako nevertheless enjoyed seeing her companion enjoying himself in the limited time he had in the air. Not as rambunctious as Charizard, Fusako's Talonflame steadily glided about in the general vicinity, occasionally circling over random spots. Seeing the pair of them enjoy their rare free time made Fusako feel guilty for not letting Skarmory join them. She was too much of a identification risk to be let out anywhere outside of Ula' Ula or Poni Island, but if anything she needed more time out than the other two because of her irritability when confined.

    Fusako focused on the forest on the ground as Charizard began his descent into an open patch of land populated with a few humans in black and white uniforms. Charizard plopped onto the ground while upright, careful not to jolt Fusako too much as Thomas and his associates stopped what they were doing to greet her.

    "Admin Nishikawa, what a surprise to see you here, ma'am!" Thomas said as all of them crisply saluted her, with Fusako quickly saluting back and returning Charizard to his ball.

    "Where's everyone else, Captain?" Fusako asked, scanning the tree line.

    "Oh, my men are just a short walk from here. They're just in an area that's a less visible from the sky, for safety's sake," Thomas explained as he led everyone into the woods.

    "How many showed up?"

    "About seventy-ish at the moment. Vice Admin Yamashita arrived with over two hundred. Had them come in on buses from the city and elsewhere."

    "Excellent!" Fusako exclaimed. "This portends well for us. Are they nearby? I'd like to watch the troop exercises."

    "...That should be fine, Admin," Thomas responded with an inscrutable expression. "Yamashita should be up ahead with the main group."

    As they advanced into the forest, Fusako could more clearly hear the sounds of mass movement: footsteps crushing twigs and dirt, the flapping of wings, grunting, sporadic chit-chat, and hushed orders. At the apex of a raised embankment, Arata oversaw the maneuvers with his own clique of officers. He mildly contorted his face when he noticed Fusako's approach before quickly saluting.

    "What are you doing here, Nishikawa?" Arata asked with the bare minimum amount of respect needed to speak to his superior.

    "I'm here to inspect our forces, Yamashita. I need to assess the strength of our forces before we can commit them to battle."

    "I believe that the all of the necessary information will be in my report of the training exercise. Seeing the troops before they've trained isn't necessary, Admin," Arata contended.

    "As I'm sure Captain Kauila informed you, our forces no longer command the respect of our foes and our allies. It is very much my business to make sure that they're top shape before I entrust command of them in battle to you," Fusako countered, not raising her voice but raising the tension, the lieutenants present silent and not wishing to provoke either party.

    "Team Skull's soldiers fail because of a lack of resources, not a lack of leadership or courage or skill. We've finally got a budget for once and now I've brought in hundreds of soldiers. Give me more money and a few more weeks and I'll bring in hundreds more," Arata argued. "If you've got problems take them up with Vice Admin Zhou. He's the one who's always skimping on our budget."

    "Is this true, Captain Kauila? Has this operation run seamlessly?" Fusako asked, turning her direction to Arata's subordinate.

    "Yes, Ma'am. Training's been smooth sailing the whole time. Only hiccup was that I found that some of the new recruits were actually Unovan--"

    "--And I handled them in a swift and appropriate manner. As I always have," Arata interrupted. "Kauila and myself are more than qualified to handle Team Skull's security affairs. Isn't that right, Captain?"

    All eyes on him, Thomas responded as diplomatically as he could muster.

    "R-Right. Yamashita and I have everything under control. I think that it'd be best for everyone if we could focus on whipping the new recruits into shape with minimal...distractions," Thomas said. "Perhaps, Admin Nishikawa would be satisfied by watching one of the exercises before returning to Hau'oli to do much more important things?"

    Fusako eyed Arata, who had stared at her with arms crossed and tapping his pointer finger, and muttered "fine" before the three of them resumed what they were previously doing. Arata shouted and the lingering junior officers to get back to work while Thomas lead Fusako down a cleared path towards the sounds of training. Out of earshot, Fusako spoke.

    "Thanks, Thomas," She apologized, "Sorry for imposing."

    "It's not a problem, Ma'am. And please, 'Captain Kauila' is fine."

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    "I remembered the napkins this time."

    "Excellent preparation, Vice Admin. You make Team Skull proud."

    Kate and Fusako chuckled amongst themselves while their two companions continued serving themselves food from the myriad plastic containers which Kate had filled with leftovers from a family function earlier that week. The food lay in center of a large blanket which Kate, Fusako, Arata, and Guanyu sat on top of in a quiet pocket of a public park in North Hau'oli. Fusako normally didn't hold high-level strategic meetings in the upscale communities home to Skull's enemies, but Kate insisted that they spend time in town that day.

    Hoping to avoid unwanted attention, the four leaders of Team Skull's South Melemele branch dressed their best. Kate ditched her baggy Team Skull attire for a fashionable sundress, small earrings that brightened her eyes, and a little more make-up than usual. Arata had thrown on "business casual" shirt and pants. Guanyu wore the same, but made it look stylish. Fusako had even forsaken her military fatigues, opting to wear the one fancy outfit she owned, a jacket and some polyester dress pants with extra pockets crudely stitched lower on the legs.

    With everyone's plates sufficiently filled with leftovers, Fusako opened the meeting-luncheon with her own remarks.

    "Now that everyone's back in Hau'oli, I'd like to go full steam ahead on preparing for the strike that will commence in seven weeks," Fusako stated. "Vice Admin Zhou, since you just returned from Central Command, give us a brief overview of what you learned about the strike and a general idea of what Guzma's Plans are."

    "Of course, honey," Guanyu said, taking a moment to eat a bite of his square piece of pizza adorned with chucks of pinap berry. "All the Admins/ vice Admins there got a pretty basic description of what was announced last week: The agricultural workers are planning a strike nationwide, including berry farmers, ranchers, fishers, and such, the whole shindig's happening in two months, Team Skull will be providing some muscle for the whole thing, and everybody's gotta be ready."

    "That sounds pretty straightforward," Kate remarked as she stabbed her fork into her salad, spearing a sliced yache berry. "I'm surprised that we already have the approval of the workers to help them out."

    "Guzma unilaterally declared his support, but I don't know if anyone's actually saying they want us there," Guanyu clarified. "I'll get in touch with the fishermen's union ASAP."

    Fusako scarfed down a few slices of roasted belue berry before interjecting.

    "Contact strike leaders on the rest of the island, too. We can't entrust their defense solely to Admin Figueroa. Not with how much we have to risk."

    "Well about that," Guanyu started, his tone and hesitation evoking dread in Fusako. "At the meeting, the announcement that caused the most murmuring was Guzma's 'regional autonomy and decentralization order', which in simple terms means that Admins can't move their troops into someone else's district without his say-so."

    "What."

    "Guzma said it was an issue of 'certain Admins' moving using their forces for 'non-revolutionary' activities instead 'protecting their own people'," Guanyu explained. "Basically, he says people aren't minding their own business and starting kerfuffles where kerfuffles don't need starting, so everyone's on lock down."

    "Does he not realize that we're going to have to move our forces between districts for the strike? Most of the farmers are outside of our district, and we've got the biggest force on the Island. It's a total mismatch!" Fusako griped, letting out a "Uggggh" in frustration.

    "It seems really egregious," Kate said. "We haven't had any trouble with Figueroa, so I don't know why we're affected."

    "No one dared let out so much as peep in complaint in front of Guzma or Plumeria, but I could tell from the mood of the room that the decision was unpopular, to say the least," Guanyu recalled as he served himself a couple scoops of rice and vegetables. "I can't say I understand what's going on in the boss's noggin."

    "Guzma clearly stated the reason!" Arata blurted out after he wolfed down a slice of pizza. "He's just upset that about abuses of power within the system. He cares just as much, if not more, about our successes, in the strike and outside of it!"

    "Really, Yamashita? I was there at Po Town and Guzma looked even more annoyed than usual during the big meeting," Guanyu pointed out. "I could feel the irritation radiating from him."

    "Of course he must have seemed annoyed. The announcement of the strikes was very sudden and poorly timed. Leader Guzma's right to be angry that the unions decided to strike without our approval," Arata countered.

    "It's not our job to tell the workers to suffer for our own convenience. Especially given our less than stellar perception in some circles. I'm disappointed too, but we'll simply have to work with what we've got," Fusako said.

    "Could they have at timed it so it doesn't coincide with a joint Unovan-Alolan military exercise?" Arata said.

    "It's something we'll just have to deal with, Vice Admin Yamashita," Fusako replied, emphasizing his rank. "You can complain about this another time. Instead, why don't you tell us all the results of today's combat exercises?"

    Arata took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose before continuing.

    "Fine... Our maneuvers in the forest went off without any major hiccups. Kauila and I were able to bring in a few hundred grunts and officers today. In general, they're pretty green and lacking in strong Pokémon, but morale is high and they performed well during our exercises. Our officers are still getting used to handling so many people at once, but that's to be expected when our forces are experiencing rapid growth. I can definitely bring in more soldiers in the near future, but I'm very confident that Kauila and myself are quite capable of handling it."

    "It's going to cost us a pretty penny to compensate all of these hypothetical soldiers you'll be bringing in," Guanyu said, raising his eyebrows in doubt.

    "They're necessary expenses, Zhou. In times like these, our fighting capabilities take precedence over everything else," Arata said, gradually raising his voice. "You forget that we're going up against forces that are much bigger than us: the police, and probably the military. We have to get as many people on board ASAP so that we can properly organize and train everyone. You complain about money, Zhou, but if anything we need to be spending more on this because, frankly, nothing else matters!"

    "We're not going to have a fighting force, if we blow all of our cash preemptively!" Guanyu countered, matching Arata's tone. "We can't afford to indebt ourselves to anyone else. We're not a government and our finances are already shoe-string, as it is."

    "We still haven't exactly gained much more community support recently either, and therefore, not much in the way of addition revenue," Kate added. "This isn't exactly my field of expertise, but perhaps we should hold off on larger expansions until we get our financial situation all sorted out. As I recall, that was the point of these exercises in the first place."

    Everyone shifted their attention to Fusako's hand, lifted in the air and palm faced outwards. She knew to where this diversion would lead.

    "Let's get back on track, Vice Admins," Fusako ordered. "I understand your concerns about Yamashita's comments and, Yamashita, I understand your justifiable fears about being defeated militarily in the future. Arguing about these things further isn't going to get us anywhere."

    Fusako paused to take a bite of what remained on her plate, letting her subordinates cool off for a moment before she explained her plans.

    "I think the clearest course of action is to start pushing the Mafia out, now that we've got the numbers to do so. The quicker we do this, the sooner we'll get to a point where we can start expanding our forces again and fully prioritize preparation for the strike, " Fusako proposed. "Everyone okay with this?"

    The three of them all nodded and voiced enough support that Fusako could get around to assigning orders.

    "Yamashita, I'm entrusting you a job that's vital for the organization," Fusako said, staring Arata directly in the eyes. "If you can succeed in proving our strength, in restoring our reputation as defenders of the common Alolan, I'll consider your plans to expand our military might. Otherwise, I'll find someone else more capable."

    "I'll succeed, of course," Arata said, not breaking eye contact. "You won't find anyone else in Skull more capable, anyway."

    Fusako fixed her eyes on her insolent lieutenant for a moment more. Her personal disdain for this cocky asshole would have to take a backseat. The team came first.

    "Right. You've got my trust. For now."

    "Oh, one last thing," Arata said. "A few of our troops strayed away from the rest during the maneuvers. Not a problem itself, but they were confronted by some people from the Aether Foundation saying that they were trespassing, that those lands were a Pokémon sanctuary under Aether's protection."

    "Wait, what's the Aether Foundation doing out there?" Fusako asked. "Didn't you choose that location specifically because it we wouldn't be noticed by anyone?"

    "That's what I thought, too! They're supposed to be Admin Figueroa's problem! According to Vice Admin Zhou's reports on Aether, they shouldn't have any land on the southern half of the island," Arata exclaimed, shooting a glance to Guanyu as he spoke.

    "Hey, I'm just as blindsided by this as everyone else!" Guanyu defended himself. "Aether doesn't have legal standing to set up shop in our corner of the Island yet. It's just as likely that they're trampling over the law to speed up their plans."

    "Of course, it's also possible that the government's turning a blind eye to the whole thing. Historically, there's plenty of precedents," Kate added.

    "It's a cause for alarm either way. We can't afford to have what little rural land we can safely access be ripped from our clutches," Fusako concluded. "We'll have to be more careful in the future, knowing that that section of the forest is potentially compromised. Thanks for bringing that up, Vice Admin."

    "It's also troubling because restrictions to that area means restrictions on where we can catch new Pokemon," Arata pointed out. "Our new grunts mostly bring a narrow variety of weak Pokemon. If we can't access areas where we can catch strong Pokemon en mass, we're going to hit roadblock when developing our forces any further. This problem definitely needs to be solved in the coming weeks."

    "I'll work on it like everything else, Vice Admin," Fusako replied. "Until then, you should bring anymore problems like this up with Zhou."

    Fusako then turned her attention to Guanyu and Kate, giving the pair a look that accurately conveyed her displeasure.

    "I talked with Lt. Shaw this morning, and he said that he hadn't heard about our home repair program, despite it being one of our flagship community outreach efforts!"

    "It's possible he just forgot about it. It's not exactly his department, after all," Kate replied, picking away at the last of her meal.

    "That's not the point! I'm sure he's not the only one who's forgotten," Fusako said, clearly agitated. "We're supposed to be a pillar of the community. If we're not helping the common Alolan out, what are we even doing. No wonder they don't even bother to tell us that they're going to strike."

    The Vice Admins could only look in silence as Fusako ended her small tirade and caught her breath. Kate was the first to break the awkward silence.

    "Fusako, if this means that much to you, I can re-prioritize that program again," Kate offered, shifting to a soothing tone.

    "It's not... that program isn't really the issue," Fusako explained. "It's only one facet of Team Skulls' image problem. People don't know what our organization can do for them."

    "If they don't know, then we should tell them," Kate suggested. "Why not hold a public meeting of some sort?"

    "I've already got people I need to meet with. I could easily invite them to a Team Skull assembly," Guanyu added.

    "It is the best way for us to engage with the public directly," Fusako conceded as she began mentally planning what exactly this gathering would look like and how to best portray Team Skull. "I'll give the idea some thought and we can whip up something later."

    "Sounds alright. We finished now? I've got to tend the fires back at base," Guanyu expressed as he finished cleaning up his plate.

    "Ah, crap! It's already late!" Fusako swore after checking her watch. "Help me clean up and put all of this stuff into Jang's van. We should have left like ten minutes ago!"

    The Admins all gathered the containers for Kate to reorganize (she was always much better about those sorts of things) before cleaning and folding the blanket into a compact triangle. Fusako attributed the quickness of their clean up to effective organizing and delegation of duties. She wished this were true the rest of the time.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Today's girl time meant bravely venturing into enemy territory to fill holes in Kate's wardrobe. Neither Fusako nor Kate spent much time in Hau'oli's Palmfields shopping mall, a unnervingly pristine construct of metal and glass circumscribed by asphalt and located in affluent and touristy North Hau'oli. Through the main gate, the pair saw every inch of wall space occupied by storefront after storefront. There were expensive apparel stores, expensive jewelers, expensive gift shops, and expensive frozen creameries. The latest fashions from Kalos, Unova, and Sinnoh filled the racks of each clothes store, all sold at a hefty profit. Even a little bit of Alolan fashion was present, stripped of its national character and ready for consumption like all the rest.

    The whole complex was packed to the brim with people. But not just any people, these people were people of means. Tourists roamed the halls, allured by the status of the mall as a world class hotspot, just as described in the tourist handbooks and depicted in the travel advertisements. These people wandered from store to store and remarked to each other how exotic all the foreign brands were.

    The local wealthy, too, perused shops in the same space as their foreign counterparts, separated only by physical features and the invisible barrier of nationality. The Alolans were just as eager to flaunt their status or at least show that they aspired to status, but they still received curious and sometimes suspicious glances.

    Although separate, these two groups were homogenous in Fusako's mind and she could tell by the less than kind looks her and Kate received from them both. The Unovan rich saw the Alolan rich as peculiarities, but they saw Fusako and Kate as loathsome aberrations, a view which the Alolan rich held as well. They weren't the right kind of class, the right kind of Alolans, or the right kind of women. Their makeup and fancy dress didn't stop them from receiving a kind of scrutiny from the patrons and mall cops unheard in South Hau'oli. Feeling their eyes inspecting every inch of her, Fusako wished for her uniform and the courage to punch everyone else here in the ****ing teeth.

    Kate lead Fusako to "La Moda", a clothing store just high-end enough to fit in the mall, but cheap enough that they'd be willing to spend money there. The two of them navigated the aisles as deftly as they could, Kate doing her best to avoid blocking the way with her wheelchair and feeling noticeably ashamed whenever she did. This was an occurrence they were both used to and, yet, it still stung. Just one more thing to fret over.

    " Look here, Kate," Fusako said in a more upbeat manner, drawing attention to the assorted dresses in her arms. "I got some stuff you might like!"

    "Oh, thank you," Kate responded, cheered up a little by the gesture, but clearly feigning interest in the dresses. Fusako didn't mind. She knew Kate had different fashion standards.

    Fusako let Kate drag her around while she picked out more fashionable clothes to try on. Among the pile accumulating in Fusako's arms were a couple long navy dresses, a few short-but-still-modest in brighter colors, and even a pitch black one with a plunging neckline that Fusako knew she couldn't pull off half as well as her comrade.

    Kate fit herself into La Moda's singular handicapped fitting room, which was still one more than had by La Moda's competitors, and took her time fitting changing into a crimson halter-top that Fusako picked out. When Kate rolled out in her new attire, Fusako had nothing but kind words.

    "Wow, you look stunning in that. It really suits you."

    "You think so?"

    "I know so. I wouldn't have picked it out if it weren't good for you."

    "Har har. I guess broken clocks are right twice a day."

    "Hey, I pick out the ones that accentuate your best features," Fusako explained. "Your arms look great in that!"

    "Yeah, I guess they do," Kate agreed, then flexing both of her well-defined arms. "All that exercise isn't for nothing."

    "By the Guardian, I swear you get more ripped every time I check! Maybe I should've put you in charge of security instead of Kauila," Fusako japed.

    "That's right! Just point me at the enemies of the people and I'll thrash 'em!" Kate said as she jabbed at imaginary foes.

    "If there's any foes in arms reach, I'll let you handle them," Fusako commented wryly.

    "Oh, I'll just have you push me over so I can punch 'em! Or better yet, I can roll myself faster, so I'll handle the movement and you can hitch a ride on back and hit them with a club or something."

    "Hahaha, are you sure that'll work?" Fusako said, gradually losing her composure.

    "Yeah, you're right! I'm way stronger than you! I'll carry the bat! You do the pushing!"

    Fusako almost made a retort, but just guffawed instead. Kate, too, started laughing and clearly looked like she had lost a weight on her shoulders, if only for this moment.

    "I think I'll keep this one," Kate decided.

    "Try on others I picked out. They'll be great, I'm sure."

    "I'll try them on when I get to them," Kate responded, still maintaining a small smile as she returned to the changing room.

    Fusako spent the next twenty minutes rating Kate's dresses until only the Crimson and Navy ones remained. At the checkout counter, Kate lamented the stress on her wallet while Fusako tried and failed to make sympathetic small talk with the cashier. Regardless, they were both glad to be finished with the store. Fusako proposed treating themselves to ice cream and Kate seconded the motion.

    After getting a couple cones at the cheapest place (chocolate for Fusako and twist for Kate), they both found a table at the edge of the food court where they could enjoy their ice cream in peace. As she licked her soft serve, Fusako gazed out into the food court, which contained a microcosm of all the people associated with the mall. The usual patrons of the mall ate and chatted only meters from the people whose labor made this possible: not just the cashiers and cooks who jumped between stress and boredom regularly, but also the invisible workers. One such worker caught Fusako's attention as he listlessly shuffled from spot to spot, eyes on the ground as he swept litter into a bucket. Fusako remained silently transfixed on him until Kate diverted her attention.

    "Something the matter?"

    "That guy over there reminds me of my time working at the Sun & Wind Hotel back in the day," Fusako recalled. "It was the same sort of work: sweeping, cleaning, pruning, dusting, heavy lifting without Pokémon to help. The days always dragged and I came home every day feeling like my energy had been sucked out of me. The pay was awful, too. I'm glad I got out."

    "Sounds terrible all around," Kate empathized.

    "Yeah, no kidding. Fortunately, I wasn't trapped there forever. Not everyone else was that lucky. Most of my coworkers were there because that was the best they could get. It's sad to see them waste away there," Fusako said, letting her ice cream slowly melt in its cone.

    "Well, it just gives us something else to work towards."

    "Yeah, every immiserated worker I see lights the fire in my heart a bit more, makes me want to tell them 'there's a better life for us, all we have to do is seize it!' or something like that," Fusako said, getting worked up. "I was ignorant once. I had points in my life where I thought my lot in life was cleaning up after the kinds of people we see shopping here. I wouldn't have known better if one of my coworkers hadn't told me otherwise."

    "Was he in the old Land and People of Alola Movement?"

    "Kurt? Yeah. Well, when he was still alive," Fusako reminisced. "He was a real dedicated guy. He used to talk to me about Alolan history, about politics, about the raw deal we were getting, and about how we could do something about it. It all seemed so fantastical to me at the time. And when he died during martial law and the Movement was dissolved, it only felt more fantastical. But I guess he must have planted a seed in my head, or else I wouldn't be here now."

    "I don't think you mentioned this to me before."

    "I didn't really see a need to tell anyone. Also, it's not something I like thinking about," Fusako explained. "I spent years after that disillusioned and still ignorant. A decade or so down the drain. You're lucky you figured it out early."

    "I spent my days devouring history and philosophy in the library and then hanging out with Thomas. It was bound to happen. You know what he's like," Kate pointed out, taking small licks of her dessert in between sentences.

    "Yeah, no one resents Unovans like he does. He's certainly diligent about weeding them out of the movement. I have no idea he maintains such a professional and orderly manner with all that acid boiling inside."

    "I think he's just chosen to repress his feelings on the matter," Kate speculated. "I don't know if that's necessarily healthy, though... Your ice cream's running by the way."

    Fusako swore and quickly started licking the sides of her now very deformed looking blob of ice cream, eventually getting a paper napkin and cleaning off her now somewhat sticky hands.

    "You could have told me earlier."

    "And interrupt your story?"

    "Touché," Fusako conceded. "Let's head out soon. I still have my talk with Admin Puniwai before we leave and I don't want to be late."

    Kate nodded in response and the pair more hurriedly and more attentively ate the rest of their ice creams. Biting through her waffle cone, Fusako mentally readied herself.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Fusako hoped that Kaleo had remembered the exact place and time of their meeting. She promised him a discreet phone conversation at the end of the day and he promised her that they'd try calling from one payphone to another. Fusako stood in the phone booth right outside of the mall, counting down the seconds on her wristwatch, while Kate sat nearby, keeping an eye out of snoops and eavesdroppers. The clock struck 6:45 as Fusako punched in the numbers for the phone on 289 Davis St. in Heahea City. The phone rang once before a voice responded.

    "Hello, Finkel & Buehler Business Solutions, how many I help you?"

    "Wow, I'd almost believe that you work there. Sounds like an actual generic business," Fusako said, cracking a grin.

    "We aim to please, ma'am," Kaleo responded more casually, letting his Alolan accent poke through a bit more.

    "Well, Admin Puniwai, if you want to help so much, perhaps we should get to talking. I heard that you were at Guzma's big meeting up in Po town. You heard the news first hand, I assume."

    "Yeah, I heard about the order, too. This district lockdown seems overly restrictive, but I get the purpose," Kaleo said.

    "Wait, you agree?"

    "Admin Sorensen's been encroaching on my territory from the north for the past year or so with his fighters. Any rule that puts an end to that is good in my book," Kaleo explained. "I'm sure Guzma feels the same way. I know Plumeria's been complaining about Fukuda's forces outright skirmishing with hers at the edge of Tapu Village. He probably just wants that issue resolved once and for all."

    "I get your point, but this is the worst possible time he could have implemented it," Fusako conceded.

    "There's not much we can do about it now, regardless. We might as well enjoy its benefits."

    "It's just one more thing I have to worry about. Guzma ordered us to prioritize searching for that Lillie girl, too," Fusako said, switching topics. "I sure as **** don't have the manpower to waste on things like that. Not with such a big showdown on the horizon."

    "Unfortunately, thinking orders are bad doesn't make them optional. I've already got one of my best agents on her on the hunt for her," Kaleo said. "If she's so important to the boss, then capturing her has benefits for me as well."

    "Wait, you're going along with this nonsense, Puniwai?" Fusako almost yelled into the phone.

    "I'm sure our leader has a reason for wanting to capture this girl and her mysterious Pokémon. I chatted with one of the research techs up in Po Town and I got the impression that there's more to this Pokémon than meets the eye," Puniwai explained. "And even if there isn't, there's no harm in getting in the boss's good graces. You could certainly stand to have your reputation improved at central command."

    "Maybe I'll understand the positives of wasting my time with this after understanding the positives of being unable to materially collaborate with my island's only other Admin," Fusako spat back.

    "Hey, at least you won't have to hear about factional squabbling anymore. Having the Admins all fighting over their own little fiefdoms hasn't been good for either of us. Hearing the general public talking about how Team Skull is no better than the rowdy crooks we struggle against really puts a damper on my plans. Can't really do recruiting or community outreach with bad PR."

    "It's a ****ing disgrace, Puniwai," Fusako lamented, her sharp tongue briefly drawing Kate's attention. "They're all opportunists with no sense of discipline or commitment. It disgusts me."

    "No disagreement here. There are days when I feel like the I'm the only one running an actual organization with an actual structure. I'm proud that I can assign my people a task and they'll do it instead of, say, getting drunk and being public nuisances. Can't say that about some other group leaders I could mention."

    "I feel the exact same way, Admin. By the Guardian, it's like we're the only ones in charge of Skull who are actually change Alola for the better."

    "I'd like to think that's not the case," Kaleo said as neutrally as possible. "After all, the people who are the most effective at and dedicated to freeing Alola from its shackles should be the ones in charge, right?"

    Paused for a moment to process what she had just heard, narrowing her eyes before pressing further.

    "Are you saying that we should be in charge instead?"

    "Those are your words, not mine," Kaleo replied, having retreated into a more lawyer like manner of speech. "I'm sure Leader Guzma has the best of intentions and the best of plans. After all, if he doesn't, we'd have no reason to keep him around as head of Team Skull."

    "..."

    "Well, we might not be able to move forces from one area to another, but we can still collaborate in other ways, right?" Kaleo said, switching topics. "Feel free to call me at any time. I mean it. We've got only like, what, seven weeks 'til the big event? This is the time to be working together."

    "That's good to hear, Puniwai. I need all the help I can get."

    "No problem," Kaleo said, remembering something important. "By the way, could we work out a better system for talking in the future? The random-pay-phone-as-designated-by-day-of-the-week method of contact is sufficiently secretive, but perhaps a bit too much of a hassle to be useful over a long period of time. I've got an office phone for my business. Feel free to call that one instead, Nishikawa."

    "I'll think about it," Fusako said. "Goodbye and good fortunes, Admin."

    "Good fortunes for you, too."

    Fusako stood motionless in the booth for a couple seconds as she processed their conversation. As much as she enjoyed venting her issues to one of the few sympathetic ears, Kaleo's words towards the end of the conversation burrowed into her mind and would not leave. His ideas dug up memories of the back-stabbing and factionalism that had hastened the downfall of the old Alolan liberation movements. Fusako hated having to relive old mistakes.

    "Sounds like you've got your hands full with Puniwai."

    Kate had crept up to Fusako's side and, holding her shopping bags in her lap, stared at Fusako with sympathetic eyes.

    "It's the end of the day and he dumps one more thing on my stack of things-to-worry-about," Fusako laments. "I'm just exhausted, Kate."

    "At least, he trusts you."

    "It's a silver lining, I suppose."

    "Men with clear hearts and candid minds are more precious than diamonds," Kate quoted.

    "Pulling out ash-Shalouri quotes for a man who has neither isn't going to win me over," Fusako returned. "But I understand the sentiment, I suppose."

    "I''m just trying to help, Fusako. And maybe Puniwai is too, in his own way," Kate said. "It's worth thinking about."

    Fusako only nodded in response. She could worry about Puniwai later. More pressing work would greet her at home and, then, hopefully sleep would too.
     
  8. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Oh, a new chapter! I guess it must have got a little buried with the recent surge in activity. Still, I've finally noticed it, so let's get down to the review. I think I have to note that there's not too much in the way of plot development here; aside from the shadow of the strike action and what Skull's planning to do in support of it, the plot hasn't really suggested itself yet. I assume it's going to have something to do with the dissatisfaction with Guzma that seems to be spreading among his subordinates – and not without reason; like, it's made clear he's got his reasons for doing what he's doing, but at the same time, giving people who work for you what appears to be pointless busywork without informing them why it's so critically important is kind of bad leadership, and actually I like that things are complicated like that – but we only get a little hint of it in this chapter. I guess I kinda agree with Negrek that things seem kind of unfocused; there's still a lot of promise, all the ideas bouncing around are great, but there hasn't been much movement yet, and for the second chapter that seems a little slow.

    That said, I like that we've got a clearer picture of what Fusako's all about now. This chapter has crystallised some of my suspicions about her – that she's really earnest and believes very strongly in Skull as a force for social change, that she is the kind of person for whom the intricate and murderous relations of the world are always present and visible everywhere she goes and who can't rest until she's managed to unmake them. Like, she's trying to do solidarity stuff with someone working retail in a shopping mall, someone who just wants to make it through to the end of that particular interaction, and she's the kind of person who goes on a little too long and loud and leaves all her subordinates looking at her in awkward silence, you know? Someone whose passion burns fiercer than she can entirely manage. So like, while the broad brushes of the plot are maybe less tight than I'd like, I can't deny that there's a lot of really good detail work here, in the characters and their interactions, and I absolutely love that kind of thing.

    And to expand on a point I made earlier, I also really like how things are complicated. Like, it's easy to get behind Fusako's ambitions, but Skull's project of capturing strong pokémon en masse stands in stark contrast to her own rather less ethically dubious relationship with her partnership. And there are so many instances here where things look two ways depending where you're looking from: Fusako looks very different from inside her head or from the point of view of her subordinates; Skull is a serious organisation or a bunch of clowns (side note: I love the idea that what we see in-game is a result of Skull's image problem, that's a great touch); finding Lillie is either completely pointless or incredibly important. Image and (potentially incorrect) perception are emerging as clear themes of the story, and I'm very interested to see how you plan to develop them.

    Aside from all that, here are a few typos and stylistic things that I noted as I read through:

    Book titles are italicised, rather than placed in inverted commas.

    Using an ampersand here seems kind of weird; I'd just use the word 'and'. Also, I can't put my finger on why, probably because I don't really know how the rules of adjective order work exactly, but I'd say that 'narrow' ought to come before 'densely-packed'. I'd probably also separate them with a comma, rather than an 'and', but I guess that one might just be me.

    Sometimes, as here, your sentences are slightly awkwardly arranged – like, the intrusion of that subordinate clause into the middle of the main one breaks up the flow of the sentence. I'd rearrange it like so:

    This comes up a fair bit throughout the fic, so maybe that's something to look out for in future.

    Given that this refers to the experience of moving rather than the physical route itself, I feel like 'trip' or 'journey' would be better fits than 'route'.

    That should be 'an' rather than 'a'.

    I don't have a quote to attach this one to – I think I ran out of space in my notebook – but I feel like sometimes that the expository dialogue contains a little too much exposition to be believable dialogue; like, when Jason talks about his sister drinking the water, I feel like the explanation about the purification project would fit better into a little bit of narration subsequent to the dialogue than the dialogue itself.

    'Just thinking about it' shouldn't be here; I'm finding it really hard to explain why, sorry, but I think it's to do with the use of the word 'incensed' and the particular structure you've chosen.

    That should be 'he', not 'his'. Also, I feel like you only need to say either 'soar' or 'darted about the sky'; this doubling up of information happens a few times and slows things down a bit.

    'She' shouldn't be capitalised here, and that should be a full stop after 'apologized'.

    I feel like several different sentences from different drafts have ended up bumping into each other here, and I'm not quite sure which one you intended to be the final version.

    Missing an 'al' at the end of 'additional' here.

    Missing an E at the end of 'masse' here, and I guess there's an argument to be made for italicising en masse, depending on how integrated into English you consider the borrowing to be.

    'Any more' is two words.

    The apostrophe here should be before the S, rather than after.

    That should be 'changing', rather than 'change'. Or possibly there's a 'trying to' missing before 'change'.

    So yes! Lots of good stuff here, and everything continues to be intriguing. I'll have to keep a closer eye on this for updates in future; I wouldn't want to miss out like I almost did with this chapter!
     

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