• We're currently experiencing a minor issue with our email system preventing emails for new registrations and verifications going out. We're currently working to fix this
  • Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
  • If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders

Will Somebody Stop These Kids?

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
Holy crap I am loving this fic. Like...it was fun in the beginning. I enjoyed it. But now? Damn, you've got me hooked.

I really, really like the split perspectives between the adults and the kids, because it lets you have a dichotomy in the outlook on Team Rocket that not a lot of fics get. Like, there's usually the sliding scale between "gritty realistic villains" to "bad guys who can totally lose to kids with moxie". It's really rare to see a fic do both!

And like...in the beginning, I didn't mind our protagonist kids, but I wasn't totally enamored with them either. Jason and Travis seemed like your typical overambitious boys, and I couldn't really get a read on Krissy besides her being the more mature one, which is fairly typical for the lone girl in a trio. And then Chapter 3 happened, and then all of the fear and regret and self-doubt plaguing Travis made me immediately fall in love with him, which made it all the more heartbreaking that his Pokemon is trapped in stasis indefinitely. Also I like how Krissy is a bit more reserved than the other two, but "reserved" doesn't mean "quiet" in this case, and her zest for battling really sets her apart from a lot of similar characters

I love the random detours the narration sometimes takes to randomly throw in side details for pure flavor. I love all the worldbuilding details. Pokemon science is MY JAM, and all the detail put into the mechanics of Pokeballs was great. I love how intimidating you managed to make a Rocket grunt. Lots of fics have intimidating officers or executives, but a grunt?! That moment when they all pulled together to knock out Ursaring and then the grunt sends out another Ursaring was such a huge "holy s***!"

There's so much detail put into how Derek's job functions being that deep undercover! And I can't wait to see the details you put into the inner workings of Team Rocket (being a TR writer myself).

Man, I'm definitely following this one closely from here on out.

~Chibi~;249;;448;
Hey, thanks for making my day! :D I'm especially glad you feel that Chapter 3 made an impact. I was kind of worried while writing it and thinking "If this doesn't grab people then none of what follows will work." And with Pokeball science I was thinking "I hope this doesn't bore people," so that's a relief too if you liked it. Most of all it's hugely reassuring that you see more in Travis and Krissy than the stereotypes. I won't deny that in my head they originated as a pretty familiar template, but I want all of the main six to be their own characters by the end of the story. They have a few surprises left between them, and if everything goes to plan the best stuff is yet to come. :)

We'll see some of the inside of Team Rocket pretty soon, and I hope it lives up to your expectations. I'll have to check out your TR fic when I have time. I love the banner in your sig, very nicely done! And seriously, thanks a ton for reading and reviewing.

Just so you all know, the next chapter is coming probably within a week's time. Two games I'd been looking forward to for years came out very recently, so that took me out of my regular workflow for a bit. >_>
 
Last edited:

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Yours is a really great writing style: funny, flexible and effective, and you turn it in all the various directions in which you need it to turn really fluidly, which is even better. One particularly strong point is the way you can sketch a character in broad strokes with just a few lines of description (although of course the broad strokes end up getting complicated in all kinds of delicious ways, but I'm getting ahead of myself). You really feel you have the measure of Jason's gang just after that initial burst of dialogue (and you're wrong about that, but I'm still getting ahead of myself), and you're rolling your eyes at them because you've seen this before, and you're totally willing to follow them with raised eyebrows and an indulgent smile as they go and screw everything up. Lines like “Jason didn’t feel bad about considering this cruel possibility because a trainer had to be ready for anything” are wonderfully deadpan and very entertaining.

At the same time, though, no one is allowed to collapse into stereotype: underneath the surface that makes you go oh, I've seen this before there's all the messiness and complexity of real life. That extra chapter with Maizie and Moro is brilliant in a lot of ways, but the thing that really stands out is that it doesn't end neatly: it comes so close to a predictable ending but when it gets there you find all the edges are still raw and everyone involved is still learning. I'm always torn between the comfort of structure and the undeniable truth of formlessness, which is totally the most pretentious statement I've come up with all week but bear with me for a sec, and I feel like that same tension is made to do really productive things in this story. It's a trainer journey. There are kids trying to be what they think trainers are. But life gets in the way.

A somewhat related point: I also really like the minutiae of being on a trainer journey – whose turn it is to cook, the details about battling (the battles are really good, by the way, they're distinctive and interesting and tactical), all that kind of thing. I'm always a sucker for worldbuilding detail, especially if it adds as much flavour and character to a story as it does here. Of particular note I think is the adaptation of and expansion on pokémon behaviour from the pokédex entries, which I always love.

It's also super smooth and readable. Which sounds like damning something with faint praise, but that's not what I mean, perhaps I just read too much pretentious stuff but I like it when a text doesn't feel like it has to foreground every single trick it's pulling, so to speak. Anyway, the point is I guess that I think this is a pretty great story on that level as well.

Something unconnected from all my other observations: when they go up against the Rocket grunt, Travis finds himself wanting to say 'sorry to borrow you', which feels like it might be a typo for 'sorry to bother you'. Other than that, there really isn't a whole lot I want to pick at. This is just a really solid story by any measure of these things. Definitely looking forward to what comes next.
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[Reply to Cutlerine's comments in the spoiler tags (not a spoiler, just saving space):
Wow, I'm feeling spoiled for praise now. I've held your writing in high esteem for a good while, and it's immensely gratifying to receive a compliment about my own style from one of the masters. Fluidity is definitely something I strive for.

Really glad you liked the short with Maizie and Moro. I was hoping to bring up the morally-uncomfortable aspect of Pokemon training and approach both sides with sincerity, and at the same time add more dimension to the adult-thinking-vs.-kid-thinking theme. "[The tension] between the comfort of structure and the undeniable truth of formlessness" works too, though. :)

'Borrow' was indeed supposed to be 'bother.' I must have read that passage out loud twice and still said 'bother.' Nice catch.

Thanks a million for reading and reviewing. I'll try to make the rest of it measure up and then some!
Thanks everyone for reading!]


Chapter 5

May, 2017

Jen was sitting at a kitchen table in a cozy house in a quiet corner of Cherrygrove City. She handed a tissue to the woman sitting across the table from her, whose eyes were starting to water. The woman sniffed and said, “Thank you, Jen. I’m awfully grateful you could make it down here.”

This was Megan O’Connor, or Aunt Meg as Jen called her. Yesterday Jen had talked with her and Uncle Dan on the phone. She had told them most of the story concerning their son as she knew it, and directed them to contact the police as soon as possible. And now she was following up with Aunt Meg and at the same time trying to reassure her that everything was going to be okay, she swore, honest. At some point she asked, “And you called the Lafayettes, right?”

Aunt Meg sniffed again. “Yes. Yes, we did. We went to the station together.”

Jen stared at the wall. Barring a clerical error, that meant that both Jason and Travis should have had their Pokémon licenses voided by now. This was the exact situation that she, Hanna, and Derek had gone to such pains to avoid. She hoped that Aunt Meg wouldn’t ask her too many questions about the when and how they’d become aware of the kids’ dangerous project. How could she admit to her aunt’s face that they’d made such a high priority of not telling her anything until they absolutely had to? It felt so stupid and so childish now. How could they have worried so much about protecting the kids from their parents when so much more was at stake?

Apparently something similar, at least on the surface, was going through Aunt Meg’s head. “You know they say hindsight’s twenty-twenty. All those nights last year your uncle and I talked about if this trainer-journey thing’s worth the risk…”

Jen didn’t say anything just yet. Aunt Meg was taking that thought over a line that Jen would never cross.

“I don’t know how many times I thought,‘I never should’ve let that boy get five miles away from me.’ I was this close to putting my foot down just before his tenth birthday. I almost told him, ‘You can do whatever you want eight birthdays from now, but till then you’re staying home and that’s final.’”

Maybe Jen was too stubborn and proud, but she found herself thinking like a child again and didn’t feel ashamed of it. If she was going to pick a hill to die on, it would be that the good and right thing for a ten-year-old to do was to see the world—or at least the region—before they had the burdens of adulthood trying to lash them to one place. As for Pokémon training, Jen was utterly convinced that the magic touch needed to properly train and connect with these creatures could only be learned by a child. It you forced someone to wait until adulthood to be a trainer you were robbing them.

But still, Jen couldn’t bring herself to say this out loud, not to a scared mother. Someday when this was all just a bad memory with a happy ending she’d have a debate with her on the merits of journeying, but it would be cruel to start that conversation now. Moreover, there were grey hairs on Aunt Meg’s head that hadn’t been there a year ago. This reminded Jen that Jason’s parents had been born a little too early for the boom when youth journeying became nearly ubiquitous. People in their mid-forties could remember a time when the few children who journeyed were delinquent, neglected, or both, and a family might have only one or two serious Pokémon trainers in it. She and her aunt had grown up in different worlds.

Aunt Meg’s tears were coming out again. “It wouldn’t be like this if I’d gotten to see him just once since he left home. I’d see if something was wrong, I know it.”

This caught Jen by surprise, and she had to ask, “Didn’t he come back for Christmas?”

Aunt Meg shook her head. “We got him on the phone for an hour. That was it. We could never get him to call back more than once a month.”

Jen hadn’t known; she had spent last Christmas with the other half of her family. She’d always assumed that Jason kept in touch with home about as often as she and Hanna had. It didn’t make sense to her at first, but she didn’t have to think long about it. Jason probably knew his parents too well. If he went out of his way to avoid any contact with home, Jen’s first guess was that he was scared his mom would change her mind and retract her permission. She tried to put herself in his shoes—if she had been worried at his age that Mom would flip out at any dangerous story she told her, she might not have gone home either.

The thought sent a chill up her spine. She decided to change the subject to the other reason she wanted to talk to Aunt Meg. “That reminds me, I have an important question.”

Aunt Meg wiped her eyes and nodded.

“So we’ve reported Jason and Travis, but not Krissy yet. I never picked up where she’s from or even her last name, and we need to contact her parents. I was hoping Jason might have said something over the phone, or if you’ve talked to her yourself—”

“Hold on, I’m sorry. Who?”

There was a look of honest bewilderment on Aunt Meg’s face, and Jen’s tongue got caught in her throat for a moment. “Krissy. Their new friend. Didn’t Jason ever mention her?”

“No, I’ve never heard of her. I thought he was still just with Travis.”

Jen had assumed that Aunt Meg would have at least some information on Krissy, even if it was just her hometown. Now she was at a loss as to where she’d find any kind of lead on her.

“Tell you the truth,” said Aunt Meg, “I’m relieved they’re with a girl now. At least, I’d bet she has more common sense than them.”

Jen nodded, but in truth she thought it was a good freaking question whether Krissy had more common sense. She’d spent all of one evening with the kid and had learned almost nothing about her.

She stayed another hour at the O’Connor house and they arranged a plan to go to Cerulean City soon, where they would put up fliers and ask everyone they could if they’d seen the kids. As Jen walked out the front door, though, she had a sinking feeling that the kids were already far away from Cerulean City. She didn’t want to admit that their hopes of finding them might boil down to luck.

As Jen stood in the O’Connor front yard, she paused to look at the spot where one year ago she had given Rabies to Jason. He’d hardly believed her at first, and she had to convince him it was alright to take him. ‘Rabies has been looking forward to this for weeks, too. I can’t exactly leave him hanging after I hyped him up for it. What do you say?’ Jen distinctly remembered the look on Jason’s face after she said that, because it was a look she’d worn before as well. People, usually children, looked this way when they learned—if only temporarily—that all the cynical adults who’d ever told them that real life doesn’t work out the way it does in stories were flat wrong. Then he gave her a tight hug without her prompting him for it, which was absolutely unheard of when it came to Jason.

But that was then. If you were the ‘cool cousin’ you might get a hug, but if you had a kid’s license revoked that made you just another terrible adult. Labels aside, Jen had to wonder if Jason would ever forgive her for this. Either way, she had to bring him home first.

*********

It was early in the afternoon and Travis was sitting at the side of a paved road. Standing next to him were Jason and Krissy, who were sticking their thumbs out at a passing car which ignored them. The road was close to the traditional Route 4 path and it led west from Cerulean City. Even though Travis knew in his head that the time they saved by hitching rides back to Johto would easily outweigh any time they spent waiting for a car, he was getting anxious. “You’re sure we don’t want to find an exec in Kanto?”

“Very sure,” said Krissy. “Team Rocket’s been in Kanto forever. If there’s an easy Executive, he or she’s in Johto.”

“Let’s hope this Russo guy fits the bill,” said Jason.

‘Russo’ was the only name they had to go on. They’d found it on a single page in the Grunt’s notebook. It wasn’t explicit that the name referred to an Executive, but the surrounding text strongly suggested that it did: ‘note 2 self: report pkmn steels on time or Russo will f*ckin kill u. personaly.’ It wasn’t lost on Travis that under normal circumstances the fact that the Grunt was afraid of Russo for his life would be a good reason to avoid him. But that was the pickle: they needed to find someone important enough to have the key, but weak enough that they could handle him. However impossible it was that such a person could exist, Travis was desperate enough to trust luck rather than sense.

After what felt like an eternity, Jason tapped Travis on the shoulder. An approaching car was slowing down for them. One of its hubcaps was missing and its front bumper was bent and rusted. As it rolled to a stop and the passenger-side window came down, Travis heard what sounded like cold protests coming from the driver. There were two men in the car, and the one in the passenger seat spoke to them first. “’Sup, guys.”

He had a mess of long hair on his head and bags under his eyes, but his voice was friendlier than Travis expected. The driver on the other side of him had a thick beard and wore the expression that people did back in the days before you were allowed to smile in photographs.

“Uh, hi,” said Jason. “We’re heading to New Bark or further.”

Krissy added, “We’ll settle for part-way in that direction, though.”

The driver gave them the slant-eye. “You got gas money?” His voice was deep and his tone was curt.

But the passenger waved him off. “Come on, man, it’s good. Give a little to the universe and the universe giveth back.”

The driver fumed, and the passenger continued. “You wanna work on that karma deficit, right?”

“You owe me.” Then he said to the three of them while looking straight ahead at the road, “Get in.”

The passenger smiled, reached over his shoulder, and unlocked the rear door. It was with no small measure of caution that Travis climbed in after Jason and Krissy, but mostly he was relieved they were finally on their way. Even if that meant being confined in a small space with a weird hippie and his antisocial pal. The relief was tempered further when the car started up again and it felt like the wheels might fall off. He found himself holding tight to his backpack and wondering what happened to a Pokémon if its ball got damaged in a car crash.

“I’m Salvador, by the way,” said the hippie. “And my traveling companion here goes by the name of Marcellus.”

Before either of his friends could say their real names, some combination of instinct and paranoia prompted Travis to say, “Dave.”

Jason followed suit without missing a beat. “Mike.”

Krissy, however, hesitated before muttering, “Jen.”

Travis had once joked that Krissy couldn’t come up with a new name if her life depended on it, and he was angry to be proven right.

“So, what are you guys hitchhiking for? Trainers usually walk or fly wherever they wanna get.”

This time it was Travis who drew a blank, but fortunately Krissy could cover for them. “We heard about a swarm this morning. Dunsparce. If we want to catch some we need to get there in a hurry. And only Mike has a flying-type, so we needed a car.”

Salvador nodded. “Dunsparce, huh? Cool, cool. Pretty righteous. Never seen one, myself. Huh.”

Travis had to admit this was quick and good thinking on Krissy’s part. Dunsparce were indeed hard to find but they rarely excited anyone who wasn’t trying to complete a Pokédex. It was a plausible explanation which at the same time was unlikely to provoke follow-up questions. It baffled him that while Krissy could come up with a perfect excuse out of midair, she couldn’t think of a girl’s name on the spot unless it belonged to someone she knew.

At this point Salvador moved right into a different thread of conversation that Travis didn’t feel like following. It had something to do with pollution from highway-paving, and Jason and Krissy did an adequate job of nodding and going ‘uh-huh’ to keep him talking instead of asking questions. If this kept up they’d be out of here in a few hours having drawn minimal suspicion. He looked out the window and tried not to think about anything. This was impossible, of course.

Miles along they came to a unexpectedly sharp bend in the mountain road, and the force of the turn shoved Krissy practically on top of him. Then without warning, something in his mind exploded. ‘Get off! Get the hell off me! You’re not even supposed to be sitting there! I’m supposed to be next to Jason, not you! Just go back where you came from and leave us alone!’ None of it made it to his mouth, but it backed up behind his eyes and left him breathing hard.

“Yo, Dave,” said Salvador. “You good, man? You’re looking a little carsick.”

Marcellus did not take well to that observation. “Wait, what? If one of them’s going to be sick they’re out of here. Now.”

“Dude, chill, I was just asking.”

“I ain’t cleaning up their f*ckin’ mess, Sal!”

“I’m fine!” said Travis in a hurry. “Really. I’m good.” Although ‘good’ and ‘fine’ weren’t the first words he would have picked to describe how he was doing, it was true he was at no risk of throwing up. It took another minute of convincing from Salvador, but they still had a ride. In the hours that followed there were long stretches of merciful silence. Slowly but surely Travis managed to calm himself down.

Hours passed, and the sun was getting low in the sky when things took a turn for the stressful again. Without warning, Krissy jumped in her seat. “Oh, shoot!”

“Whoa, what is it, Jen?” asked Salvador.

Things had been going relatively smoothly, and Travis had no idea why Krissy was throwing that out the window now. Things only got more confused for him when Krissy said, “I left my diary back in Cerulean City!”

Travis kept his cool and didn’t ask the obvious question of ‘what diary?’ and neither did Jason.

Marcellus, meanwhile, was in absolutely no mood for this. “If you think for one second that I’m going to drive you back to—”

Krissy interrupted him. “I’m sorry, can you let us out here?”

“You sure?” asked Salvador. “Long way back.”

Jason let out a convincingly exasperated sigh. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Whatever,” said Marcellus, “It’s your feet.” He decelerated and pulled the car over to the side.

They climbed out. The air was light and clean compared to the inside of the car, but that didn’t come close to compensating for how irked Travis was. Krissy owed them one heck of an explanation for this. Before Marcellus could drive off again, Salvador rolled down his window. “Good luck, you dudes. I’m sure your diary’s in a lost-and-found or something, Jen.”

“Yeah. And thanks for the ride.”

“All good.”

And just like that, the beat-up car was on its way and the three of them were alone in the middle of nowhere again. To be sure, they were significantly closer to Johto by now, but Krissy had just burnt some considerable time.

“So what was that about?” asked Jason.

Krissy let out a deep breath and stared at the ground. “I didn’t notice until a few minutes ago. There were these hidden catches between the seat cushions… like, to lift them up and get at compartments underneath.”

Travis failed to see how the vehicle’s optional features could possibly be of significance. “You’ve been inside a car before, right?”

“Listen, that car was ancient. They didn’t sell them with moving seats like that. The only cars with secret compartments back then belonged to criminals.”

Travis didn’t buy it, and it showed on his face. It was the same with Jason.

“Didn’t you guys know that?” asked Krissy.

Travis had never so much as heard of it. Yet she had this surety about her, and she’d been right about little things like this so often before.

“Well, anyway…” she rubbed her arms before she continued. “That’s when I got suspicious. And then I kept feeling around and I… found this.” She reached into one of her bag’s side pockets and pulled out something small. It was a bullet.

“Holy crap,” said Jason. As for Travis, his eyes widened and his heartrate spiked. His body was reacting to the peril even though it was now out of sight and speeding away from them.

“They were probably crack dealers,” said Krissy. “Or heroin. One of the worse drugs anyway, I think.”

Nobody talked about what might have happened. At the same time, nobody made mention of the fact that they might have been fine. There was an unspoken consensus that this whole potential incident was best left behind them as soon as possible. Jason was the first to break the silence. “I don’t think we should hitch another ride when it’s this late. Let’s just hike for a while and then make camp.”

There was no dissent, and they walked over to the side of the road opposing the traffic before setting out. They could at least obey that rule today, even if they’d failed miserably on the ‘don’t get into a car with strangers’ one.

*********

Late that night Travis’s eyes were closed, but he was still wide awake. Eventually he quit on the idea of sleeping and sat up. He stared at the silhouettes of the trees and tried to solidify a train of thought that had occupied him for the last several hours. It concerned their third wheel: Krissy. It was getting harder and harder for him not to blame her for the predicament they were in. A part of him knew that this was probably his own bias against her, but his solid reasons for thinking so were mounting up. The reasons always seemed clearer at nighttime when there was nothing else to distract him.

A whisper came out from the dark. “That you, Travis? Can’t sleep either?”

Travis bristled at the very sound of her voice. “Yeah.”

“Do you want to talk for a bit?”

It was a good thing she couldn’t see the scowl on his face. He knew the decent thing to do would be to politely decline, considering how he was right now. But he couldn’t bring himself to be decent tonight. “Sure.”

“Is there anything on your mind? Anything you want to get off your chest?”

That settled it. If she asked for it like that, he was finally going to be cruel. He let the air sit for a few seconds. It may have been his better nature trying to stop him. “I’ve been thinking. About how you seem to know everything when it comes to crooks. Like those guys from earlier today. Or Team Rocket for that matter.”

“…I wouldn’t say I know every—”

“It was bugging me. Why someone who knows exactly what they’re getting into would go after these guys in the first place. Then I remembered you’re a stinkin’ genius so that made sense. You can probably handle yourself.”

“That’s not—”

“But that leaves me and Jason. You knew we weren’t ready for this, but you dragged us in anyway.”

“But… no, it wasn’t just me—”

Yes, it was just you!” Travis had to stop himself from yelling. He ended up speaking in something closer to a stage whisper, but Jason’s breathing went uninterrupted and he remained asleep. “You played Jason like a fiddle! He probably thought it was all his idea, but you can’t fool me!” Some part of his mind told him to be careful, to stop talking before he said something he couldn’t take back, but he didn’t listen.

Krissy’s voice was breaking up. “Travis, I—”

He didn’t let her shift the field in her favor. Even if he wasn’t nearly as smart as she was, he had the fiercer tongue and tonight it was almost moving on its own. “You just wanted some insurance. You needed a few warm bodies to take some hits for you on your dumb crusade and that’s the only reason you ever talked to us in the first place. That’s why it was Wyvern instead of one of yours. That was the whole idea.”

Those last words shook even himself, right out to his fingertips. It was so much that he was forced to let Krissy get a word in edgewise. “Travis… you have to believe me. I’d… I’d never do that to my friends. I’d never—”

Jason’s your friend. I’m not.”

And there it was: the one thing he could say and never take back. It was what he’d kept himself from saying for what must have been a year by now. Perhaps he had only lasted this long because this was only the second time Krissy had talked to him alone at night. Maybe it was because he was still sick in the head from what had happened. Whatever the case, it was said.

Travis dropped his head, deliberately rustled his sleeping bag, and shut his eyes tight. He wouldn’t be able to sleep for a while though, as he could hear the stifled sobs.

*

Next time: Both searches continue in Chapter 6. Derek and Hanna pursue a sophisticated but legally dubious route, while the kids face a potentially insurmountable setback.
 
Last edited:

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
Oh dear over the hitchhiking incident and what the kids had found out (like the voices you gave for those Salvador and Marcellus heh). What's more unexpected is Krissy's knowledge of drug dealers and Travis not considering her his friend. Yeah, pretty sure that will set back the group for a bit there.
 
Last edited:

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Woo! New chapter!

And wow. Travis dropped a pretty big bombshell there. I know he's stressed to hell and wants nothing to do with this situation but damn. Definitely feeling bad for Krissy after that.

That note the Rocket left for himself was pretty great. ;P

I’m curious how big an obstacle it’ll be that their licenses are voided. I imagine that’d get noticed if they try to visit a Pokémon Center or PokéMart.

Not too much else to say—seemed like a short chapter overall—so until next time~

~Chibi~;249;;448;
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Nice chapter. I'm actually really interested to see how long the story can continue the trend of each chapter complicating what was just about starting to feel straightforward in the last one -- it's really engaging, the way everything keeps fragmenting like that as new perspectives and new problems crop up. That you keep managing to convey how messy this all is without the story losing focus is pretty awesome.

Also, a thing I didn't mention before: your kids are great. Children are difficult to write, especially children in the kind of situation that a trainer journey would realistically place them in, and I think the confrontation scene with Krissy and Travis in this latest chapter was excellent. The way Travis stumbles into viciousness through a combination of fear and just like emotional momentum, so to speak, and the way Krissy responds by like trying to be honest but at the same time not quite giving up her usual project of appearing to be very grown up -- that's all great stuff. One way I've noticed that writers often get children wrong is to empty them out of depth, as if years were the sole ingredient in personality. It's not an accusation anyone could level at your lovable bunch of dorks.
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[Quick replies to readers' comments in the spoiler tags (no spoilers, just saving space):
Bay said:
(like the voices you gave for those Salvador and Marcellus heh)
That means you liked them more than I do, lol. I'm not convinced they really work.

Chibi Pika said:
And wow. Travis dropped a pretty big bombshell there. I know he's stressed to hell and wants nothing to do with this situation but damn. Definitely feeling bad for Krissy after that.
It was a hard scene to write, and I'm glad it had teeth.

Cutlerine said:
Also, a thing I didn't mention before: your kids are great.
Thank you thank you thank you.

Children are difficult to write, especially children in the kind of situation that a trainer journey would realistically place them in, and I think the confrontation scene with Krissy and Travis in this latest chapter was excellent. The way Travis stumbles into viciousness through a combination of fear and just like emotional momentum, so to speak, and the way Krissy responds by like trying to be honest but at the same time not quite giving up her usual project of appearing to be very grown up -- that's all great stuff.
"Stumbles into viciousness" is a good way of putting it. I wanted the readers to understand him but not necessarily absolve him from wrongdoing in their heads.
Thanks for reading!]

Chapter 6

June, 2017

Hanna was walking down a narrow, poorly lit hallway in a dilapidated apartment building. She rarely stepped foot in this part of Goldenrod City, but this was where Derek lived. Unless he changed his mind, she was going to help him track down Jason and friends using the police’s private network. It had taken a good deal of persuasion to get him to invite her over, but no threats, which she supposed was progress. When she reached the end of the hall she knocked on door number ten, which had lost its ‘1’ and now appeared to be door zero. She heard the noise from a chain lock, a dead bolt, and a doorknob lock in sequence before it finally opened.

“Hey,” said he.

“Hey,” said she.

Derek looked slightly better than she had expected. He hadn’t shaved or anything like that and his eyes looked like hell, but he was at least presentable. He was even wearing a collared shirt. As soon as she walked in he shut and locked the door all three ways again. The room was startlingly empty, and the mattress in the corner didn’t have so much as sheets on it. “Kind of Spartan, but I was worried it’d be filthy. I guess you’re doing okay.”

Derek looked confused for a second. “…Huh? Oh. Uh, no, I don’t live here. I just work here sometimes. Someone else’s name is on the lease, so it’s safer to use the internet from here.”

So they both tended to sleep where they worked. Hanna could relate, but his justification seemed odd to her. “Can’t you just use an anonymizer like D0r or something?”

“I do both. It’s not like D0r’s perfect.”

Hanna made a note not to assume that Derek’s technical knowledge was that basic. He’d clearly done his research on security and privacy topics, which made sense considering both his career and his private paranoia.

Derek gestured to the modem/router in the corner and the laptop connected to it. “There’s a spare cable you can use. There’s no wireless.”

Especially his private paranoia, she realized. Most commercial routers had vulnerabilities, of course, but she’d never known anyone to be this thorough in avoiding them. She saw there was even electrical tape over the spot where Derek had physically removed the antenna. When she took all this into account, the fact that he’d even told her the apartment’s address showed that maybe he trusted her more than she thought.

She sat down on the floor and pulled out her laptop. “So what’s the plan?”

Derek sat down as well. “Well, there are two police databases I can get us access to. Neither of which you’re going to tell anyone about.”

“Naturally. What are they?”

“One’s a citizen database. Names, photographs, addresses, immediate family. No birthdays, which is inexcusable but you can’t ask for much from these clowns. I’m hoping we can find Krissy in there along with her parents.”

“That’s a start.”

“And the other one’s… well…” Derek shifted his weight in discomfort. “It’s got every Pokémon Center transaction from Johto and Kanto for the last twenty years. Since Krissy’s license is still active, she’s probably still visiting them.”

Hanna couldn’t keep her eyes from bugging out. The only people who thought the government held Pokécenter records were conspiracy theorists.

“Like I said,” he continued, “you can’t tell anyone about these. Especially not the Pokécenter one. It’d be kind of a P.R. meltdown if it got out.”

“Yeah, I guess it would be.”

He rubbed his eyes and groaned. “I’m so dead for showing you this stuff.”

Maybe he was, but she couldn’t let him think so. “Hey, relax. Nobody’s going to know. It’s our little secret.”

Her computer was finished booting, and there was a notification from the network manager. “What’s the password?” she asked.

“Let me type it.”

She handed him the laptop, and he went out of his way to keep the back of the screen between her eyes and his fingers. She thought for a moment how funny it would have been if she had installed a key-logger on her own machine.

“By the way,” said Derek, “And you’re gonna think this is pretty terrible… but I was simplifying a bit when I said there were two databases.”

“Oh?”

He continued typing after he entered the password, which was arguably a breach of etiquette but she let it slide. “Here. You’ll see.”

He handed it back to her, and she found an open window with a directory of over forty separate databases. When it became apparent what the deal was, she was as miffed as Derek suggested she would be. “Are you kidding me?”

Derek sighed. “No.”

Each town has its own two?”

“Yup. Each police department is responsible for its own data. All different software, all different schemas, all different names and conventions. Nothing’s centralized, some of them are down half the time, and they’re all on hardware that’s older than Bill. Sometimes when no one else is using them I can get the results from a simple query in forty seconds.”

Hanna suddenly felt a renewed appreciation for her own job. She never had to work with systems that were in such disarray. “But how—”

Now Derek was fuming. “Look, it’s a miracle our department has access to the other towns’ data at all. You don’t know what it’s like working with these people. Our tech support never gets back to me in less than a day, and they barely know how to reboot the freaking servers. Hell, I had to buy my own laptop! For work! My boss doesn’t know what attachments are, he makes his secretary print out his goddamn email—” He dragged his hand down his face and took a deep breath. “…Sh*t. Sorry.”

Hanna wasn’t offended at his outburst. She’d probably go postal in his shoes. “Sore subject. Got it.”

Derek took a moment and then continued. “Anyway, the last dumb thing we have to deal with is that the Pokécenter databases use trainer IDs, but we can’t look up the actual trainers by their IDs. That’s all in another system they haven’t given me access to. Usually when I’m coming in here I already have a suspect’s ID from somewhere else. If we want to find where Krissy last was we’ll have to figure it out based on whatever else we know about her.”

“So we can’t use the answer to one of our questions to figure out the other. They’re separate.”

“Yeah. If you and Marie can try to tackle the Pokécenters, I’ll start going through everyone whose nickname might be ‘Krissy.’”

So she had the hard problem while Derek had the tedious problem. She decided she’d rather be stumped than bored, but it was daunting all the same. She stared at the list of databases and then had a thought that could potentially make her own problem much simpler. “Do you think she could have taken Jason and Travis’s Pokémon in with her?”

“Not a chance. Their balls are tagged with their trainer IDs. The cops would be on her before she got ’em back.”

Hanna clicked her tongue. In that case she was definitely going to need some extra help for this one. She reached into her bag for Marie’s Pokéball, but as soon as she touched it she felt a familiar, dismissive vibration in her head. ‘Oh, great,’ she thought. That meant Marie was too tired to help her piece through the data. Five years ago Marie could do this every single day for a month, but lately she was crashing every few weeks and hard. Hanna made a mental note to dial down Marie’s workload again, but there was nothing to do about today. As this meant they were going to be here even longer than she thought, she asked Derek, “Think you can order pizza?”

*********

Around the same time and miles away from there, Jason was sitting on a rock and trying to ignore the soreness in his ankle. Nearby were Travis and Leviathan, the Quagsire. Travis was massaging one of his Pokémon’s fins where he had a sprain. You had to be careful where you stepped in the badlands at the base of the mountains to the northeast of Violet City. A combination of forest fire and rock slide several years ago had left the place uniquely inhospitable. This suited Jason fine in the sense that it was a good place to keep a low profile, but poorly in the sense that they were banged-up and tired enough already. Worse yet, it had been more than two weeks since they set out and they were still short on clues.

Krissy was not present. At the moment she was either still at the Violet City Pokémon Center or on her way back. “Maybe she’ll overhear something this time,” said Jason. “There are enough Rockets in Violet. We just gotta get lucky once and then we’re in the clear.”

Travis said nothing in reply to this, which didn’t surprise Jason. It felt like they couldn’t get more than ten words a day out of Travis lately. Jason couldn’t wait until they finally got to Russo, if only because it meant they might finally have something that resembled the real Travis again. Until then Jason wasn’t going to push the issue. He couldn’t imagine what Travis was going through.

Off in the distance there was a shrill bird-call. It sounded like a Fearow, which under normal circumstances would make Jason excited at the prospect of catching a new species. But they couldn’t afford to go looking for fights; not when they were having enough trouble fending off the ones that came to find them. At this rate they wouldn’t be remotely fresh when the time came. “I don’t think we’ll have to beat Russo outright,” said Jason. “We just have to make it more trouble than it’s worth for him to hold onto that key.” It occurred to Jason that he had said basically the same thing the week before, but it was tough to come up with new topics of conversation when Travis wouldn’t contribute anything.

When he turned his head, though, Travis was staring in his direction with dread on his face. Rather, he was looking over and behind him for some reason. Then Jason heard the call from the Fearow again only this time it sounded much closer, and Travis yelled, “Look out!”

Jason scrambled forward in a panic, and before he made it two yards he heard the Fearow touch down behind him and strike the spot where he’d been with its beak. He got himself turned around and there it was: wings spread, long neck stretched out, and entirely too close. It screeched at him at a pitch and volume that hurt his head. Jason stumbled back further, and the Fearow stepped forward in turn. It may have been smaller in stature than his own Noctowl, but its wings were wider and everything about it looked more dangerous, especially its long, sharp beak.

“I don’t got this, Jason!”

He knew it. Leviathan may have been out of his ball but he wasn’t in fighting shape. Jason fumbled for the balls on his own belt. Specs was still recovering and could barely fly, and Ali would get torn apart by the type-matchup, so that left Rabies once again. Jason dropped Rabies’s ball in front of him while still backpedaling, and for the first time in his career he didn’t call his Growlithe’s name as he sent him into battle. At the same time the Fearow lunged and snapped with his beak, and it would have caught up to him if the sudden appearance of another Pokémon hadn’t taken it off guard.

“Use Roar!”

Rabies put his whole throat into it, but it was still more of a squeal than a technical Roar. His voice was spent from overuse. The weak outburst was enough to convince the Fearow to flap a few paces back, but that was it. The fight was still on. Jason desperately tried to seize the initiative. “Flamethrower!”

Rabies’s reserves of fire were deeper and more powerful than his voice. He sent a jet of billowing but directed flame toward the Fearow. His aim was just high, but he singed one of its wings, and more importantly this seemed to discourage it from taking to the sky to attack. Rabies gave it another round, and this time he was on target. He put a fierce burn on the Fearow’s breast, and forced it to defend itself with its wings.

Things appeared to be going as well as Jason could hope for, but something strange caught his eye. There was a faint shimmer around the Fearow’s feathers. It was almost like the glow of fire on glass, and it flickered on and off. Then he remembered something from the Pokédex and nearly went into a panic. In the heat of the moment he realized they needed water, and fast. “Travis, you gotta soak us!”

Jason ran back to Travis and Leviathan, and Travis understood immediately. “Leviathan, Water Sport!”

Leviathan pounded his tail against the ground, opened his mouth, and spewed a copious amount of water all over Travis and Jason. Both boys dove to the ground in the nick of time. Jason’s face was covered and he couldn’t see it, but the shimmers coalesced as a sheer plane of glass. An opposing stream of flame shot out from it: Mirror Move. Jason felt the searing heat just above his back despite his drenched shirt. The Fearow wasn’t even aiming for Rabies.

Jason just managed to keep his head and realized that he’d played right into the Fearow’s obvious strengths. That wasn’t how Krissy would handle it. She would neutralize the enemy’s advantages and then pound its weaknesses. Only one weakness came to mind, and he gave a new order without looking. “Rabies, use Bite! Go for the neck!”

It wouldn’t have worked if the Fearow had already taken off, but moments later Jason heard a pained squawk. He pushed himself up again, which wasn’t easy with his heavy clothes and the scrapes and mud on his hands. Rabies had clambered onto the Fearow’s back and had its neck in a death grip with his jaws. The Fearow clearly wanted none of it, and finally started to flap its wings again. Jason realized in horror that Rabies was climbing along with it. “Drop! Come back down!”

For once Rabies listened the first time at the word ‘drop,’ and he fell onto a rock with a thud.

“Roar again! Big one!”

The Fearow was ten feet in the air when Rabies tried to yell again. This time a little more of the deeper end of Rabies’s range broke into it. Whether it was because the Roar itself was more persuasive or because of the deep marks in the Fearow’s strong but thin neck, the wild Pokémon flew off. It was heading back where it had come from, and the fight was over.

Jason stood still. His heart was nearly pounding out of his chest. At length he felt his back to see if he was burned. It didn’t hurt, but the back of his shirt was noticeably drier than the front. He didn’t know how much more of this he could take.

*********

It was getting dark when Krissy finally returned. Jason, Travis, Leviathan, and Rabies were sitting around a small campfire closer to the edge of the forest than they had been earlier. The boys were only slightly damp. “Took me a few minutes to find you,” said Krissy. “Why are we over here now?”

“Long story,” said Jason.

The short version of the long story was that they didn’t want a rematch with what was probably a highly territorial Fearow. Krissy however didn’t seem too interested in either version of the story. She sat down at the fire with nothing more than a non-committal ‘Hmm.’

There was a stretch of silence, and it ended when Jason decided that he wanted to tell the long story even if Krissy didn’t want to hear it. They had to talk about something or he’d go nuts, and in any case it was important that everyone knew the whole situation. He described the battle beat-by-beat and put especial emphasis on how Leviathan may have saved them from the Mirror Move. When he was finished, Krissy finally spoke again. “I wondered why you spent all that time teaching him Water Sport. It’s not a move a Quagsire usually learns. Guess it paid off.” There was something missing in her voice, either energy or attitude, and Jason thought it sounded like she was trying to impersonate herself.

Travis said nothing, and just continued rubbing Leviathan’s hurt fin. Now that Jason thought about it, he wasn’t sure Travis had said anything to Krissy in particular for days. Surely that was just his imagination. “So what about you?” he asked Krissy. “Learn anything today?”

Krissy stared into space for several seconds before answering. “No.”

Jason bit his lip. They needed to make progress soon or they’d lose any chance they had. This used to be so much easier. For a while it had seemed like all they had to do was spend two days watching a road and they’d run into Rockets that they could track or fight. It had never taken more than a week, much less two. Maybe they’d just been on a terrific run of luck that had to run out eventually. “There’ll be one of them on the road tomorrow,” he said. “Got a good feeling.”

Krissy didn’t seem to be listening to him, and stuttered before saying, “Oh. I went shopping. Here.” She reached in her bag and brought out a few Potions, which she handed to him. One of them she should have handed to Travis, Jason thought, but then again Travis was on the other side of the fire and maybe she was too tired to get up. He tossed him one in her stead.

“I also got you one of these.” She handed him an empty Pokéball. “In case it helps you end a fight early.”

Jason was glad to take it. A Poké Doll was far more effective for that purpose—even considering how good Jason was with a Pokéball—but those were expensive. With the extra money they’d had to spend on medicine lately they didn’t have that much to spare. Jason fished around in his bag for some coins, but Krissy said, “We’ll settle up in the morning. I’m… tired.”

Jason shrugged. “Whatever you say.” He didn’t see how it was tiring to get reimbursed, but she didn’t seem to be in the mood to argue. For that matter, no one seemed to be in much of a mood for anything. Even Rabies didn’t react much when Jason applied the Potion to a cut on his side and rubbed it in. Later Jason even he had to convince him to drink some extra water for his throat. He remembered something from Jen about how when a Pokémon starts to refuse water it’s getting ready for death, and he was afraid for a minute. But Rabies drank. He just needed some rest.

They let the fire die, and at some point the sleeping bags must have come out because Jason was lying awake despite his best efforts to fall asleep. Once again he heard the same nagging question in the back of his mind of whether he was really doing his part. Lately Krissy was carrying them through this ordeal nearly single-handedly, and not just because she was the only one who could step into a Center or Mart without walking right by a “MISSING” poster with her face on it. The nighttime doubts asked Jason if he was just slowing her down; if Krissy was more likely to save Wyvern by herself.

The doubts were dispelled quickly. Even if they were a burden on her now, he knew that when the critical moment finally came the task would call for more than one trainer. Even if he and Travis were just there as warm bodies, two warm bodies might be enough to make the difference. Still, he wanted to do more in case one real battler and two warm bodies weren’t enough, but he had no idea what he could do or how he could do it.

His eyes were heavy now and things in his head weren’t entirely clear. He vaguely heard something rustling near his sleeping bag. Krissy was in that direction, and in his drowsiness he assumed she was mistaking midnight for morning. It was too early to get up, and they all needed their rest for tomorrow, so he muttered something to the effect of “Go to sleep, Krissy.” Then he finally nodded off.

He slept without dreams until he woke up with the sun, or at least what little of it passed through the clouds. He got on his feet, stretched his sore back, and rubbed his eyes. It was a gray, damp morning of the sort that made you want to go right back to bed, preferably indoors. This may have been why it took him a minute of staring at nothing until he realized that they were short one sleeping bag. He blinked once and then his eyes went wide. Krissy was gone and so were all of her things. They all knew better than to go wandering off without saying anything, so he was at a loss.

“Travis.” No response. “Travis! Get up!”

Travis slowly pulled himself out of his sleeping bag, and as with Jason he didn’t see what was wrong right away. Then he started to ask, “…Where’s—”

Jason waved his arms in exasperation. “I don’t know.” There was no trace of her. If he hadn’t been here the night before he would have thought it was a two-person campsite. But then he spotted one thing that was different: there was a note under one of the rocks in the fire ring. He wasted no time in swiping it up and brushing it off.

“What’s it say?”

He read it aloud. “Dear Jason and Travis—”

Travis made a dismissive noise with his lips and shook his head. But his expression turned more serious as Jason read the rest of it.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that our combined teams aren’t in suffi—suf-fi-cient-ly good condition to continue. It’s not your fault and you guys were doing well, it’s just too hard for anyone to keep this up without proper rest for their Pokémon. I was thinking last night and I figured out a lead to get to Russo, and I decided it would be best if…” Jason trailed off for a moment. What followed didn’t make sense to him. “…if I went after him by myself. You can count on me to get the key to save Wyvern, but you guys need to go to a Pokécenter as soon as possible. I know it’ll be hard, but I think you’ll get your licenses back someday.

“It wasn’t right of me to put you in this situation in the first place, and I hope this makes up for it, even if you don’t think it’s for the best right now. You’re my best friends and I—

“I’m not reading the rest of this.”

Jason seethed. He crumpled the letter, but shoved it in his pocket instead of throwing it on the ground. “There’s a whole paragraph of tearful-goodbye bullcrap. Where the hec—hell did this come from!”

Travis stared at the ground, and then he said something in the smallest voice Jason had ever heard him use. “I… I did this.”

This did nothing but add to Jason’s confusion. “What do you mean?”

And then came the explanation. He had never thought about what Travis and Krissy might say to each other while he wasn’t listening, so Travis’s account of this one conversation hit him like a truck. Every last detail threw him for a loop, not the least being the suggestion that fighting Team Rocket had been Krissy’s idea. That was wrong, wrong, wrong. They had come to that decision together, at least he and Krissy had. He was certain about this. But the worst, least explicable part came at the end. “What? Why? Why would you say that?”

“I don’t know. I was mad. And cause we’re not. We’re not friends. I don’t even like her. You knew that!”

“No I didn’t! I mean, that was all a year ago! You… You got used to her!”

Travis was shaking. His fingers dug into his sleeping bag and he wouldn’t look Jason in the eye.

Jason asked him, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“What would you have done if I did?”

Jason didn’t know what that was supposed to mean.

“Would you have kicked her out?” asked Travis. “Would it be just the two of us again?”

This question had never, not once occurred to Jason. And why should it have when it broke the most important rule? Any question about your friends was supposed to be easy. ‘Will you do (good thing) for your friend?’ and the answer was always supposed to be yes. ‘Will you do (bad thing) to your friend?’ No. Every time. Was he supposed to believe that one friend had to be miserable unless he left another friend on her own? It was a fake question, and there had to be a different answer.

“I’m sorry,” said Travis. “I tried. I really did.”

He’d better have, thought Jason. At the moment he couldn’t think of why anyone wouldn’t try to be friends with Krissy. He had entirely forgotten all the time he’d spent agonizing over how much better a battler she was, or how much it bugged him that she didn’t have the competitive decency to celebrate a victory like it came as a surprise. She was a friend—their friend—and that was all there was to it. “Well, you’re gonna have to try harder! And don’t tell me you’re gonna let a girl save your Pokémon without your help! Are you?”

“…No.”

“Thought not.” Even if they discounted pride, it would be unconscionable to let Krissy run into this with no other trainers to help her. The good news was that she couldn’t get rid of them that easily, not even with that big a head start. He pulled Krissy’s note from his pocket and Rabies’s ball from his belt. He let him out, and as soon as the pup had his bearings he waved the paper under his nose. “Find her, Rabies. Where’s Krissy? Go find Krissy.”

“Wait a sec!”

They’d forgotten to pack up their stuff. They broke camp in record time as Rabies bounced around in anticipation. Jason took it as a good sign that Travis didn’t slow them down. As soon as they were ready Jason held the paper in front of Rabies again. “Okay, this time for real! Where’s Krissy?”

Rabies snatched the letter right out of Jason’s hand and darted into the woods. “Good boy!” Jason ran after him, and Travis was close on his heels.

*********

Hanna’s eyes were having trouble focusing and her leg had fallen asleep at some point. She got up to walk it off, and in the process she knocked over two empty cans of vending-machine coffee from Derek’s stash. They’d been enough to carry her till four in the morning, but the remaining two and a half hours she’d pushed through by force of will alone. The payoff was that after running on fumes for so long she’d narrowed the field down to four trainer IDs, and four places that Krissy and the others could have visited recently: Cianwood City, Violet City, Pewter City, and Lavender Town. In other words, they could be anywhere from the extreme western end to the extreme eastern end of greater Johto/Kanto.

There was a part of her that had gone into this endeavor with the mindset ‘Hey, it can’t be that hard! First narrow it down to whoever has both a Sneasel and a Bayleef, and then the rest should be easy!’ She felt embarrassed to still have such hubris at her age. Even the first step was harder than it sounded, as there were over a hundred such trainers spread throughout both regions. To complicate things further they wouldn’t all necessarily drop off both of those Pokémon in the same trip each time, she had to query each town manually and separately, some of the databases played things fast and loose with timestamps thereby limiting the potential for meaningful correlations and pivoting, some of the ‘databases’ were in fact spreadsheets full of typos…

Suffice to say, Hanna could talk for an hour about everything that was wrong and difficult about the task, but the only one around to listen was Derek and he was even more familiar with this maddening hodgepodge of systems than she was. On that note, she decided it was as good a time as any to check on his status. He was still hunched over his laptop on the floor, and his eyes looked even more sunken and dismal than she imagined her own did. She walked over (rather hobbled over, as her leg was still waking up), took a knee, and craned over his shoulder to see his screen. “Where are we at?”

Derek moved his head an inch, took a quick glance at her, and then to her immense surprise he laughed. This was a rare phenomenon even under normal circumstances. “What?” she asked.

“When your head’s right where it is…” He sounded sort of drunk or maybe high as he trailed off. It was hard for Hanna to tell when she was so tired. He continued, “When you’re right there you’re like, literally my shoulder devil. Y’know, all telling me to divulge police secrets ’n sh*t. Heh.”

Hanna rolled her eyes and gave him a shove. “F*ck you. I’m your shoulder angel. Now what do you got?”

The half-smile vanished from Derek’s face, and he stared at the screen again. “Got a one-in-a-million or whatever chance that this wasn’t a waste of time. Here goes.” He clicked on a line in the Cinnabar Island window, and after several seconds there came up a page with the title “CHRISTIAN, LAURA JESSICA” and a photograph of a woman in her late fifties or early sixties. Derek put his head in his hands and kept it there for several seconds. At length, this is what he said: “She’s not here.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean she ain’t. F*ckin’. Here.” He shut his laptop’s lid with enough force to possibly damage it. “I went over all of them, and there ain’t a single person in Johto or Kanto whose first name, middle name, or last name could conceivably be shortened to ‘Krissy’ who looks like our Krissy.”

Hanna didn’t believe it. There were so many people who fit that description that he must have missed a few of them. But he seemed so certain in the finality of his investigation, and she didn’t see any problem with his methodology. Regardless, this was looking worse than she thought. “So are the records incomplete or something?”

“They’d better not be. More likely she’s from Hoenn or Sinnoh or somewhere, and moved here after she got her license. Or maybe she pulled her nickname out of thin air, I dunno.”

Derek covered his eyes again. Hanna had never seen him like this. He often looked tired of whatever life through at him, but never this beaten by it. It was more disconcerting than she thought it would be. His voice was hollow when he asked her, “So what about you?”

“I’m close,” she said, trying to sound more confident than she was. “Really. It’s one of four. I just need to think of a few more ways to narrow it down.”

“Hmm. Lemme see.”

They moved over to her machine, and she tried to think of where to start her explanation and how to frame it in the most optimistic way possible. While she was bringing up a few windows to show the general trajectory of her four candidates, she had the first turn of good fortune in their entire session.

‘Check rxxxshhchxhx. Check shhhxxrchhrs. Check srcchchshxx,’ came Marie’s voice. It was too complicated an idea for her to convey from inside the ball.

‘Where were you four hours ago?’ asked Hanna through her head.

‘I sleep. You knew.’

Hanna found herself laughing a bit as she took out Marie’s ball and opened it. The Alakazam stretched her back and bent her spoons in circles to get herself ready for work.

“I wasn’t gonna ask why you didn’t bring her out earlier,” said Derek.

“I don’t mind telling you. It’s cause she’s a creaky old lady, and sometimes you can’t move her an inch.”

Marie made a deep growl with her throat instead of her mind, presumably so Derek could hear her disapproval as well. “Point taken, Marie,” said Hanna. “Mind giving us a hand?”

Marie didn’t mind at all, and without another word Hanna saw the familiar blue glow in her peripheral vision. Apparently her Pokémon had been paying half-attention for about an hour, and had spotted no fewer than ten combinations of date and location where there might be inconsistencies with Krissy’s profile. Hanna had already checked hundreds of such intersections, and dozens of them were off from these by only a week, but somehow she’d missed them. She started typing away. At one point she became conscious that Derek was staring at the glow in her eyes, but other than that she was in the zone. After checking the first seven intersections, only one candidate remained.

“Violet City,” said Hanna. She leaned back on her hands and let out a deep, exhausted breath. “They’ve been in—no, probably around Violet City for at least the past week. Krissy’s last Pokécenter visit was toda—yesterday, so they’re probably still close by.”

If there had been a single flash of relief on Derek’s face at this news, Hanna had missed it. To her surprise and dismay he said, “Oh, f*ck.”

She didn’t really want to know, but she asked anyway: “…What’s ‘oh, f*ck?’”

“They’re after Russo. Mariano Russo. Maybe they don’t know they are, but that’s where they’re angling.”

“How bad is that?”

Derek sighed. “I’d say top-five worst ways they could go about this. Most of the Executives are in charge of one city, and he’s got three. Goldenrod, Violet, Ecruteak. His mansion’s outside Violet. Man’s got ice-blood. He’s the only Johto Exec the Kanto-Rockets don’t joke about.”

Hanna couldn’t judge for herself just how bad this was, but the look on Derek’s face and the dread in his voice were more than convincing. “We gotta find them right away, then,” she said. “Search all around Violet. I can take all the time off work we need—Bill gave me his okay. And we just need to call Jen and she’ll be ready to go.”

Derek looked away before nodding. “Right.”

Without warning, Marie brought a thought from Derek’s head into Hanna’s ear. ‘If I don’t report in soon, they’ll start asking questions. Two weeks is bad enough, but I can’t put off my job for three weeks. I’ll get fired. I can’t get fired. I can’t get fired.’

Hanna swallowed. This caught her so off guard that she forgot to chastise Marie for eavesdropping. She didn’t believe for a second that Derek would give up on saving the kids even if his job was at stake, but this was still yet another reason for them to hurry.

*

Next time: In Lucia, it is late March of 2016 when a young girl has anxiety about her upcoming birthday among other things.
 
Last edited:

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
God, I love Derek's rage at the awful incoherence of civic data storage. Such a wonderful image of bureaucracy in transition. I feel you, Derek.

I like how you take minor details from Johto's geography and use it to inject a little more life and flavour into the place. I think Johto's one of the better regions when it comes to making its routes and landscapes interesting, but it never hurts to have a little extra help there. And it's always nice to see people taking the regions, which up till Alola were mostly just towns connected by thin strips of path, and filling out the gaping holes in between all these things to create actual cohesive bodies of land.

Also, another very cool battle, full of environmental stuff and creative move use. You keep coming up with fights like that, which is awesome. I did think it was slightly odd that the fearow didn't seem to want to use its main advantage, flight, even after it got a little singed -- surely it would get more cautious as it got injured, rather than less? -- but really, it was still excellent.

I'm also intrigued by the direction the whole Krissy thing is taking; I had a feeling something was off about her from very early on, but I couldn't put my finger on why, so I can only assume you put in some nice subtle hints really early on before you started hinting more broadly at it in the recent chapters to lay the groundwork for this latest revelation. I think the technical term for that is 'good writing'?

I've mentioned this before, but I'd like to expand on it: the way you make the stakes a little higher with every chapter is just perfect. You never get the sense that more is being added to the story, it's just that, as you'd expect from life, more and more threads get pulled in as events escalate, and more of the tensions that were already present in those events become more and more apparent as further strain is put upon them. Weirdly, it reminds me of farce more than anything, where things wind up further and further and further until they explode, but perhaps because it's a little slower-paced or perhaps because of your subject matter it's much less stressful. Which actually I prefer. Farce makes me anxious as hell; this, on the other hand, is just an agreeable ratcheting up of the tension. I don't quite know how you've managed to get so much mileage out of increasing the tension without making it stressful to read, but you have, and it's great.
 
Last edited:

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
Jason and Travis's encounter with Fearow there I thought was enjoyable, like how Jason was thinking like Krissy near the end of the battle there. For some reason, I like the paragraph with the "Even if he [Jason] and Travis were just there as warm bodies" line, maybe because of how the prose there addressed the kids' situation well there. Figured that Krissy would try to go against Russo on her own, and sounds like he's the real deal.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
I am still loving all the random details in this fic. Derek’s apartment being “door zero.” Him mutilating the router to kill the wi-fi even though he exclusively wired into it anyway. Government databases using old-*** hardware and all the typical bureaucracy BS being slower than mud to update. Pokécenters keeping records of all the trainers that visit. In fact, I really like that last detail because it’s something I had to bring up in my fic with a character who’s trying to avoid TR debating how to get a new ID number so TR couldn’t track their Pokécenter visits (but also having a problem in that all the fake ID providers they were acquainted with… also had ties to Rockets!)

I also really liked the acknowledgement that in the kids’ situation, with few resources and without access to Pokécenters, a simple wild Pokémon battle has become a tremendous obstacle. That and just how much strain has been put on normal, everyday social interactions between the three of them. I swear, the tense, high-stress atmosphere was just tangible. Jason gets special mention here—his reactions to the tension, and his desperation to keep the group from falling apart were very believable and it was easy to feel for the guy.

Especially once Krissy left. It was only a matter of time, after Travis’s outburst. And Jason’s stupefied shock at learning how Travis really felt, and the fact that there really is no simple way to navigate the situation of having a friend who can’t stand another of your friends. At least, not without doing wrong by one of them.

And it’s just...really refreshing, you know? How often do you see such a nuanced conflict between friends get explored in that way? That it’s possible to try your best to do right by others and still come across conflicts that you can’t solve?

Also… A+ portrayal of Derek and Hanna’s mental states after being up all night doing tedious, mind-numbing work.

And I think it’s worth pointing out that you’ve made the idea of these kids confronting an executive as terrifying as it deserves to be. We haven’t even seen him yet and I’m already sweating bullets! Krissy better have a plan, that’s for damn sure…

~Chibi~;249;;448;
 

GastlyMan

Ghost Type Trainer
Excellent couple of chapters!

I felt so bad for Krissy when Travis blew up at her. And yet...Travis' motivations did make sense. While I know what he did was pretty disrespectful, I can still understand him, and that's really cool. I think that's a hard thing to do as a writer, yet you're doing it wonderfully so far. With Travis and Derek, both. I hope that the friends can make up.

Also, Derek and Hanna have a great interpersonal dynamic. Hopefully it doesn't become a repeat of Derek's last friendship though! :)

It should be interesting to see how the plot continues to pan out. Keep it up!
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[Quick replies to readers' comments in the spoiler tags (no spoilers, just saving space):
I gotta say, the flurry of reviewing on Serebii FF as of late is inspiring. I'm fortunate enough to have been on the receiving end for a while (thanks, you guys!), so I may hold off work on the next installment for a few days to do some reading and reviewing!

Cutlerine said:
God, I love Derek's rage at the awful incoherence of civic data storage. Such a wonderful image of bureaucracy in transition. I feel you, Derek.
Not gonna lie, some of the frustrations from my real-life job made their way in there.

I did think it was slightly odd that the fearow didn't seem to want to use its main advantage, flight, even after it got a little singed -- surely it would get more cautious as it got injured, rather than less? -- but really, it was still excellent.
Yeah. That occurred to me partway through writing it, but I thought it was taking me too long to write it already. In hindsight, the picture in my head of the Fearow's behavior was more like it was defending a nest and therefore trying not to fly out of the way. So I think the explanation is that its nest was a few feet away in the rubble and Jason and Travis didn't notice it. I'll probably make an edit later that makes this official somehow. Glad it didn't ruin the fight.

I've mentioned this before, but I'd like to expand on it: the way you make the stakes a little higher with every chapter is just perfect. You never get the sense that more is being added to the story, it's just that, as you'd expect from life, more and more threads get pulled in as events escalate, and more of the tensions that were already present in those events become more and more apparent as further strain is put upon them.
Thanks! Mostly I think I'm just trying to put something worthwhile in each chapter, but if that's the end result then I'll definitely take it. I'll try to make that continue, and hopefully just doing my thing does the trick.

Bay said:
For some reason, I like the paragraph with the "Even if he [Jason] and Travis were just there as warm bodies" line, maybe because of how the prose there addressed the kids' situation well there.
I like that one too. It's one I hope works best when people have the chance to read the chapters back-to-back instead of waiting, as "warm bodies" is the language Travis uses to accuse Krissy of using him and Jason.

Chibi Pika said:
And it’s just...really refreshing, you know? How often do you see such a nuanced conflict between friends get explored in that way? That it’s possible to try your best to do right by others and still come across conflicts that you can’t solve?
I'm really glad that came across. From the early planning stages I wanted the real conflict in the story to be between people who are on the same side.

And I think it’s worth pointing out that you’ve made the idea of these kids confronting an executive as terrifying as it deserves to be. We haven’t even seen him yet and I’m already sweating bullets! Krissy better have a plan, that’s for damn sure…
Well, I don't think you'll have to wait too long, so I hope he doesn't disappoint!

GastlyMan said:
I felt so bad for Krissy when Travis blew up at her. And yet...Travis' motivations did make sense. While I know what he did was pretty disrespectful, I can still understand him, and that's really cool. I think that's a hard thing to do as a writer, yet you're doing it wonderfully so far. With Travis and Derek, both. I hope that the friends can make up.
I'm very pleased to hear that. I wasn't sure while writing I could get away with making people feel really sorry for Krissy but at the same time not hate Travis.

Also, Derek and Hanna have a great interpersonal dynamic. Hopefully it doesn't become a repeat of Derek's last friendship though!
Ooh, I dunno, Derek's pretty bad with friends. Stay tuned to see if he still has any by the end of the story! :D
Thanks for reading!]

Lucia

April, 2016

Lucia Russo was hanging from a pull-up bar. Her elbows were locked and it had been a solid minute since she’d gotten her chin remotely close. Her arms felt like they were going to fall apart at any second, but she knew that if she didn’t get at least one she would regret it badly. Without thinking about it she began to move her legs to get some kind of momentum.

“Arms only.”

In that case, she couldn’t do it. She kept hanging there, and every attempt she made from then on at bending her elbows only wore her out further. Sweat rolled down her face as she wondered how long it would be until she was allowed to quit. A minute passed, and then half of another until finally she heard this: “Time’s up.” She let go and landed off-balance. She could feel her own pulse in multiple places, and it was difficult to breathe. She put her hands on her knees and stared at the basement floor, but when she heard the footsteps she forced herself to stand up straight. It was important to anticipate what came next and try to take herself out of it as much as possible.

The slap stung her cheek. By her best guess it would look red for two days but she’d stop feeling it by nighttime.

“Explain,” said her father.

What she said in reply was half acting and half habit. “I didn’t try hard enough, sir.” This answer had been drilled into her head countless times, and a small part of her still believed it.

“Go get changed. Battle practice is next.”

Lucia often wondered how her father managed to use his words and tones to make someone feel like they were simultaneously unworthy of this attention and deserving of his active contempt. However he did it, she knew he did it on purpose. “Yes, sir.” Slowly she walked out of the exercise room and headed to one of the changing rooms in the western wing of the basement.

Before she got out of her gym clothes, she went to the sink and splashed some water on her sore cheek. It didn’t feel better. Then she just barely heard some voices on the other side of the door, so she shut off the water and listened carefully.

“…meant was that she’s still only nine, sir. If I recall, I couldn’t really do a pull-up until I was eleven. If I may, my opinion is that this isn’t a reasonable expectation.”

“Your opinion is noted, 604, but you are mistaken. It is not relevant whether the expectation is reasonable or even realistic. The price of failure is the same irrespective of one’s ability, and this lesson is essential for anyone who would rise above the rank-and-file of Team Rocket. You could stand to heed it, yourself.”

“Of course, sir. Excuse me, sir.”

The voices left the vicinity and Lucia took out her regular clothes. The woman who’d been speaking to her father was Alessa, and she was a ‘Grunt.’ Not that Lucia’s father would ever condone the use of such a term. The issue wasn’t that ‘Grunt’ was undignified, but rather that it could be interpreted as even minimally endearing. Her father and the upper members of his staff addressed the Grunts with numbers, instead—the higher the number, the less one mattered in the organization. Lucia however never called Alessa ‘604,’ but just ‘Alessa.’ As Alessa was essentially Lucia’s keeper, her father permitted some level of familiarity as a necessary evil.

Suffice to say, Lucia despised her father. It had gotten to the point where she never mentioned her last name to anyone she met if she could help it. ‘Lucia Russo’ could give the wrong idea to anyone who happened to be familiar with Mariano Russo. In fact, her plan was to take it a step further when her birthday arrived in a few days’ time. As soon as she left home with Chikorita, she intended to hide behind a new name altogether. She’d already narrowed the first name down to two possibilities, but she kept drawing a blank on what her new last name would be. In all likelihood she would cross that bridge when she came to it, and in the meantime she had practice to attend to.

The practice gym was in the eastern wing of the basement. It was a bright, plain, and spacious room with a thick glass window for observers. It wouldn’t be obvious at first glance, but after having practiced here every day for months Lucia knew exactly which of the tiles in the floor were trap-doors for surprise encounters. Their purpose was to limit the amount of time she had to adapt to the circumstances of a battle, and they reminded her of a book she’d read once on the Colosseum in Rome. The key difference was that instead of tens of thousands of amazed spectators watching there were only her father and Alessa looking in from the other room. Still, Lucia imagined that her father wouldn’t object to Pokémon fighting to the death with themselves or with people here if it held some utility for him.

She glanced over to the window, and Alessa snuck her a smile, a wave, and a wink. Lucia knew better than to give her any of those in return while her father was watching.

“Just one today,” said the man through a tinny loudspeaker. “Send out your Pokémon to the middle of the room.”

“Yes, sir.”

Lucia took Chikorita’s ball and threw it per instruction. She said the words, ‘Go, Chikorita!’ in her head but did not dare say them aloud.

‘Do nothing to create attachment between yourself and your tools, whether they are objects, Pokémon, or people. When it becomes necessary to dispose of them to accomplish your goal you must do so without hesitation.’

She hated those words, and she hated that she could remember them verbatim. He had said them to her many times when she was awfully young, and even now she faltered when trying to come up with a name for Chikorita other than ‘Chikorita.’ It was a relief that Chikorita didn’t seem to mind. When she appeared in the middle of the room in a flash of red, she looked eager as ever to get to work.

“Begin.”

Three trapdoors opened in a triangle around Chikorita, and out of each came a single Rattata. Given the distance between the doors and her Pokémon, as well as the predictable moment of hesitation while the opponents got their bearings, Lucia intuited that she had two seconds to come up with a plan. She did so in a little over one and a half. The following—in too many words—is a summary of the rapidly-firing gut feelings and memorized strategies that came into her head:

A melee against three Rattata would leave Chikorita too exposed to flanking. Going after only one of them with a ranged attack would also leave her vulnerable to the others. They had to either force or draw the enemy into a more favorable configuration. The Rattata appeared to be either wild or recently caught, and without trainers present they could be counted on to be poor decision-makers, so if Chikorita got on the outside she could probably run fast enough and long enough to get them bunched together. Then Chikorita could hit them all with Razor Leaf. The only potential issue was that Chikorita did not have the advantage in speed that Lucia would have liked.

The two seconds passed, and the Rattata began to move. They made a beeline for Chikorita. Lucia’s eyes widened and a hint of a smile found its way to her face as she saw that one of them was a touch slower and a hair smaller than the others. That was the quiet weakness that turned her strategy from a good bet to a done deal. “On your right! Break through him!”

Chikorita turned on a dime and took off on a collision course with the one Rattata that seemed marginally weaker. “Keep on going!” yelled Lucia while there was still time to react, just to make sure her intent was clear.

Chikorita followed through exactly as she wanted. She made impact with the Rattata not head-on but rather just enough to outmuscle it. While the enemy was knocked down, Chikorita kept on moving. She was outside the triangle. “Go to your right! Don’t stop!” The other two opponents adjusted their course without any surprises, and by the time the first one was on its feet again all three were nearly close enough to each other. “Sprint!”

With Chikorita’s second wind, the gap stayed constant just long enough for the Rattata to get themselves perfectly bunched. She had them. Lucia’s head was filled with the image of a Sharpedo smelling blood in the water off the coast of Hoenn. The only way to describe it was as a delicious excitement. “About face! Razor Leaf!”

Chikorita flung out a cloud of small leaves from the large leaf on her head even as she skidded to a halt. Scarcely a one of them was wasted. Each of the Rattata was covered in tiny cuts and they all stumbled from the surprise as much as anything. The two that hadn’t already taken a hit came to their feet again, but before they could get close another volley of Razor Leaf took care of them. There were three knockouts and the only wear on Chikorita had come from her own efforts.

Lucia let out a satisfied breath. She was this close to breaking out into a big grin, but a sharp feeling in her stomach stopped her. She knew what she would hear if she smiled about a win in this room, and there was nothing she wanted to hear less. The loudspeaker crackled to life again, and her worst fears for the moment came true. “Well done. I see thoroughness, efficiency, and a killer’s instincts. Keep and refine that approach and you will go far in Team Rocket.”

‘Killer’s instincts.’ It didn’t hurt quite as bad as the slap, but she knew it would stick around much longer. Did she forget to keep her expression in check again? ‘I don’t enjoy this for the reason you think I do. I don’t. I don’t. Only monsters like you think like that.’ The Sharpedo and the blood in the water came back to her, and she felt sick.

Chikorita had walked over to her feet without her noticing. Lucia shook off everything in her head and let her Pokémon back into the ball without a word. There was no one in the window now, but the door opened behind her and in came Alessa and another Grunt. The other one rounded the defeated Rattata into Pokéballs, and Alessa walked over and clapped a hand on her shoulder. “Great stuff, Lucy! Textbook as always. I keep wondering when the old man’s finally going to trip you up. But I guess that’s not likely with only two days left.”

That was what Lucia needed to hear: that she’d done great, but framed in a way that she’d gotten the better of her father rather than played right into his hands.

Alessa asked her, “You hungry? It’s getting on dinnertime.”

Lucia nodded. “I’m could use some water, too.”

“Say no more! Let’s head upstairs.”

On their way to the kitchen they passed through the main hall. Lucia didn’t see why all of her father’s visitors went nuts over it. It wasn’t nearly as big as Giovanni’s in his mansion by Viridian City, and the gold trim on the tapestries was duller, too. As they were walking, Alessa kept her voice down as she asked her, “So, did you get to the showdown with Ignatius yet?”

“Almost, I think. I’m at the part where Krissy and Erin find out about Saul’s past.”

“Oh, that made me cry when I first read it!”

They were talking about Cloudburst, which was the third installment in a series of novels about a trio of teenage vigilantes and their Pokémon as they waged war against the nefarious (and brazenly allegorical) Astral Society. Books of this kind were banned in the Russo household, and Alessa had smuggled them to Lucia with the utmost discretion. “I don’t suppose you have book four in paperback?” asked Lucia.

“You want it for the journey?”

Lucia nodded. It’d kill her if she had to wait too long to find out what happened next.

“Sorry, I only have the hardcover. And I don’t think I can make it into town before you leave, either.”

“Oh.”

“Hey, don’t let it get you down. You’ll be so busy having your own adventure I bet you won’t even miss it.”

When she put it that way, Lucia supposed she would live after all. For that matter, and if things went according to plan, her journey could be more similar to the books than Alessa would guess. It would be nice to tell her this, so Lucia found herself wishing as she often did that Alessa’s shirt didn’t have that red ‘R’ on the front.

*********

One day and several hours later Lucia was alone in her room. It was a quarter to midnight, her things were all packed for her departure in the morning, and she although she was in bed she was wide awake. To be clear, the primary reason she was still awake was because of the flashlight she had on under the covers. This was her last chance to finish the book, and she could only hope there wasn’t a cliffhanger. There were only twenty pages to go and the ending seemed disappointingly far away.

She had just finished a scene where it was finally put out in the open that Krissy didn’t reciprocate Saul’s feelings for her. This was all well and good to Lucia. She wasn’t a fan of the whole love-triangle aspect of the story, especially because it was totally obvious that Erin and Saul were made for each other. Maybe after another two books of developments Krissy would be ready for love, but as things stood she was still kind of an ice queen. Heck, it had only been a book and a half since Erin brought her over to the good side. You couldn’t go from bad guy to serious love interest for one of the original duo after only 700 pages.

Putting her caustic, abrasive personality aside, the reason everyone loved Krissy was because of what she brought to the battles. Even if it was a little cheap that the author let her predict the obviously unpredictable, she had all the coolest strategies and the most powerful Pokémon outside of the most dangerous of the villains. It was for this reason that ‘Krissy’ was one of the two finalists for Lucia’s new name. She would have to channel some of that tactical genius to defeat her father someday.

On the other hand, Erin’s strengths were perhaps where she needed the most improvement. If there was one thing the first three books of the series had taught her, it was that going it alone would be impossible. She needed friends, strong ones and close ones. At present she had one friend who was stuck with the enemy and none besides. Erin’s singular charisma and social magnetism would be invaluable, if she could imitate it. She wasn’t sure if she could deliver a speech on the topic of friendship as well as Erin, but maybe it wouldn’t come to that.

So that settled it: as soon as Lucia was on the road she would be Erin. It was an exciting thought, but then she remembered that she needed a new last name, too. It wouldn’t do to go with the character’s surname of ‘Skye,’ as this would be too obvious to anyone who’d read the books. She thought hard about what else she could use. It took five solid minutes without a single idea for her to decide she’d just have to go by her first name, and wing it if the question ever came up.

She returned her attention to the book. By this time it was midnight, she was ten years old, and there were only eight pages left until the inevitable cliffhanger.

*********

It was the following morning, and Lucia was alone in the main hall inspecting her pack once more for good measure. She was reasonably sure she had enough water, and now that she’d quintuple-checked that her compass was in the top pocket she was ready to go. The grandfather clock in the corner struck nine. She was scheduled to leave approximately two seconds ago, but Alessa wasn’t there yet. There was no reason she couldn’t just walk out the door that very moment, but it seemed wrong to leave without saying goodbye.

The sound of footsteps came from the stairs above. Lucia felt a fleeting sense of relief, but when she turned around she saw only her father. In that instant what should have been a momentous occasion felt crushingly normal. She looked away and slung her bag over her back.

“Lucia.”

She turned around once again and stared at his suit jacket. It had been a while since she’d looked him in the eye. “Where’s Alessa?” she asked.

“She’s on an errand. She should be back tomorrow.”

Lucia’s eyebrows tightened on their own, as this was obviously no accident. It only fit the pattern that he would take every last chance to cut her down until she was free. The door was only a few yards away.

Her father continued speaking. “I was going to inform you of the schedule on which you are to report your status.”

This was no surprise either. It wouldn’t be difficult for her to lie if things came to that, however.

“But I’ve changed my mind.”

That was the first surprise of the day, and it caught her off guard enough that she made the mistake of looking at his face. When most people met her father they were fooled by the superficial. They saw a fine example of poise and grooming, but she knew better. It was hard to see unless he wanted you to, but his eyes were like those of an Arbok or a Persian. He could freeze any foe in place as long as they made eye contact. She was stuck.

“You see, schedules and reporting are a means of establishing trust. You have already earned mine.”

That was impossible. Lucia knew she wasn’t that good at pretending, and only a simpleton could mistake her shallow obedience for loyalty. Her father was no simpleton, so he could only be lying. The question was why.

He continued. “This may not come as a surprise to you, but I’ve never seen anyone so young who was so ready to join Team Rocket. It is plain just from the way you fight. None of the meaningless battles these child trainers stumble through will ever be enough for you. You want something with stakes—with teeth—and you know you can only find it here. You’ve already smelled the blood in the water.”

She swallowed her tongue.

“Go and build your skills, and come back whenever you think it’s time. I’m looking forward to it.” Her father turned away, and without another word he went off to attend to some business of his own.

Lucia was alone now, but his words burrowed into ears like long, thin worms. Or maybe they had been there the whole time. How else could he know what was inside her head? ‘Blood in the water’ was exactly it. She had to wonder, even if only for a moment, if he was right. Wasn’t it possible that blood-suckers like him could smell their own kind? What if there was no hiding from them, even if you could fool yourself?

She shook her head and took deep breaths. That was probably the whole idea: to make her think that she couldn’t hide and that the rest of her life was already written the way he wanted it. It was a lie. It was just one more lie that followed hundreds, and he couldn’t fool her anymore. The door was unlocked, and there was nobody standing between her and it. She slung her bag over her shoulder and checked that the Pokéball was firmly clipped to her belt. Then she finally turned the knob.

Erin walked out of the mansion and onto the road into town. It was a warm morning and the sun was shining.

*********

Violet City was bustling with activity when Erin reached the Pokécenter a few hours later. There was the expected foot traffic to and from the Sprout Tower to the north, but what had her attention were the considerable number of trainers out trading, shopping, and milling about the local gym. All of them seemed to know what they were up to and how they were going to spend the day, while she herself could only stand in place and hold the straps of her bag. Now that it came to it she found herself lacking momentum.

‘Just stick to the general plan,’ she told herself. ‘Find some potential friends and work on establishing a constructive relationship.’

She decided that the first place to look in earnest would be inside the Pokécenter. As she moved toward the glass doors she kept her eyes on a gang of potential friends off to her right, and as a result she accidentally bumped shoulders with another potential friend who was exiting the facility.

“Watch where you’re going.” It was an older boy with confidence in his posture and thinly veiled annoyance in his voice. His status as a potential friend seemed questionable now.

While Erin muttered an apology in embarrassment, the older boy went on his way. Two girls who appeared to be twins followed after him and both gave her a look of sharp disapproval, which meant they were another two potential friends wasted. Based on what Erin had learned from her reading, that disapproval could be a sign that she wasn’t dressed sufficiently fashionably. She wondered if her skirt was too long or if her jacket’s material was unexciting. But she didn’t have anything better with her, and she wasn’t about to waste her money on clothes, so she continued on indoors to hunt for more prospects.

There were two teens by the counter, a guy and a girl, but they looked kind of like a couple. They would not likely be interested in a third wheel. Over in the corner though were three promising candidates sitting on some couches and chatting. They were all girls who seemed younger than thirteen but older than ten, which was perfect. Erin decided they would be her first attempt, so she steeled her nerves, got ready to smile, and approached them.

“Hi!”

One of them stopped speaking mid-sentence as they all turned to her with blank expressions on their faces. She had forgotten to wait for a lull in the conversation, but it was too late to do anything about that now. The only thing to do was to press forward and act with the self-assurance that everything she did and said was completely normal. “Mind if I sit here? This is my first day!”

There was a pause that came dangerously close to becoming an awkward silence, but then one of the girls smiled back and patted the spot next to her on the couch. “Sure, it’s all yours.”

‘Brilliant!’ thought Erin. ‘Everyone acts bubbly and excited on their first day, right? That was a perfect explanation for any unusual behavior.’ She took her seat and hustled to think of something else to say, but fortunately the girl next to her kept speaking.

“I’m Sierra. That’s Lauren on the right, and Miss Smiley there on the left is Natalie.”

Lauren grinned and said, “Hey!” while Natalie remained straight-faced, rolled her eyes, and waved.

“I’m Erin. It’s nice to meet you!” It seemed this group so far had two sunny personalities and one that was colder. Three-to-one sunny might be imbalanced, so Erin made a note to dial her own sunniness back if she could hang around with them for more than a few days

“So who’s your starter?” asked Sierra.

“Oh, uh, one sec.” Erin unclipped her ball and held it out in front of her. “Go, Chikorita!”

Chikorita appeared on the floor, ready for action that wouldn’t come. Immediately every eyebrow except Erin’s was raised. Sierra whistled, and Lauren said, “Man, I’d love to see what car you get for your sixteenth.”

Somewhere in the back of her head Erin had already known that only rich kids started out with such a rare Pokémon, but for whatever reason it hadn’t occurred to her that Chikorita would be such an obvious mark on her. She fought back the instinct to show any hint of discomfort, and instead she decided to turn the focus on their difference in experience. “How big are your teams? Have you caught any rare Pokémon?”

Have we?” said Lauren with overflowing confidence. “Check this guy out!”

Lauren released a Scyther onto the floor in front of Chikorita. The ‘Mantis Pokémon’ towered over her, spread its wings, and flashed its bladed forearms. Chikorita braced herself and crouched down to attack, but Erin recalled her before anything regrettable could happen. “Wow, where’d you find him?” she asked.

Lauren was more than eager to tell the whole story, and this story dovetailed into several more stories that took the better part of an hour to cover. Erin found no difficulty in nodding along and listening. After Natalie offered her twelfth factual correction to Lauren’s string of tales—this one addressing Lauren’s inflation of her latest score in the National Park Bug Catching Contest—Sierra looked at her watch and stood up. “Well, we ought to get going. Don’t want to burn any more daylight.”

There were nods from the other two girls, and Scyther was recalled. This was the moment Erin had been keeping a lookout for, and she was ready to go full-steam ahead. She came to her feet along with Lauren and Natalie and asked them, “Do you mind if I tag along for a while? I haven’t been able to decide where to go first.”

There was another pause, this one even closer to becoming an awkward silence than the first. Natalie tangled her fingers in her hair and made an apprehensive “Um…” noise, but Sierra cut her off.

“Don’t see why not. You guys cool with that?”

Lauren gave a toothy smile. “Sure! The more, the merrier!”

It took another second, but Natalie shrugged and acquiesced. “Fine.”

Erin’s new friends gathered their things, and then they were off. This was going even better than she could have expected, and she had a light step as she followed them to Route 31 leading east of the city. The noise of the crowd was replaced by the chirps and clicks of hidden bird and insect Pokémon. The shade under the trees wasn’t too dark and the sunlight wasn’t too harsh: it was a perfect day.

Little of note happened the rest of the afternoon. Erin directed Chikorita through her first encounter with a wild Pokémon, a Bellsprout, and it did little to excite her as they had gone through so many training battles already. She did leave an impression on Sierra and Lauren, though:

“Man, that Chikorita’s gonna be pretty fierce someday.”

“Yeah, and you know some good tricks for a newbie!”

Natalie didn’t add anything. In fact, she even looked a little annoyed after the fight. Erin couldn’t blame her, as none of them knew she was working with a head start. Anyway, all it meant was that her friendship with Natalie would take a little more work than the others.

Evening came, and with it came the next critical point. Lucia figured that if she could camp out just one night with them, then her position in the group would be nearly secured. The entry was going smoothly so far, but if they happened to split up before nightfall then this would be a wasted effort. Worse yet, they were just coming up to the point in Route 31 where it divided into two, which was a natural place for them to go their separate ways. She figured if she just acted casual everything would work out.

And sure enough, “Hey,” said Sierra, “We’re going on ahead to Dark Cave tomorrow. You up for that?”

“Sure!”

Natalie rummaged through her bag and pulled out a lantern. “I say we make camp now. I know a good clearing a little ways north.”

There was no disagreement, so they followed Natalie off the path. Erin stumbled a few times on roots before she realized she had to keep an eye on the ground and take higher steps. Fortunately by the time they reached the flat stretch of grass she had avoided falling on her face and looking like an idiot. Just one more test passed out of the dozens of per day you had to pass to establish a lasting friendship.

*********

Lucia wasn’t awake. She knew she wasn’t awake because no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t move any faster than a slow walk. She could half-remember that they had eaten dinner and then gotten out their sleeping bags, but now she was trying to run up a mountain trail. The knowledge that she was dreaming did nothing to lessen the frustration of trying to move with feet that felt like blocks of lead.

This wasn’t the first time she’d had this dream. Any second the other three were going to show up. No, that wasn’t right, she only thought it was three because three had been the number during the day. The number was two, and there they were. Two other kids her age were at her right and her left. They could move in any direction they wanted and as fast as they wanted, and they did. They moved almost faster than her eyes could keep up with, even though their gait was effortless. This dream was always the same, which meant that soon they would head on up the mountain and out of sight.

But then they stopped. They stood in front of her and looked her in the eye. One of them was Saul from her favorite books, and the other was Erin from the same. That didn’t make sense because Lucia was Erin now. Erin looked at Erin’s face and wondered why it wasn’t Krissy in front of her instead if she was Erin. Her confusion nearly led her to miss the next thing that had never happened before in the dream: The other Erin was offering her hand.

Erin was too startled to take it at first, but she knew this was what she needed and reached out. She half-expected her arm to be too heavy to move, or for the other Erin’s hand to stay two inches out of reach even though it stayed in place. But she grabbed it. The hand was solid and real, and now it was pulling her along. The weight in her feet was gone, and soon they were all moving up the trail as if she were awake. Then the mountain was gone, and so was the daylight, and she was lying on her side but the hand was still there. It was truly, absolutely real.

Erin’s eyes opened with a start. She yelped and pulled her hand free. It was fuzzy, but Sierra’s face was close in front of her and lit by a dim lantern.

“Oh shoot, you’re awake?”

Sierra wore a crooked smile. Erin didn’t know what was happening, but it scared her.

“Dang.” That was Lauren’s voice. “So close, too.”

Erin bolted upright and saw Lauren sitting behind Sierra. She was smiling too, but it was the same smile she had worn all day. Erin’s mind raced to figure out what they were so happy about and why it made her stomach churn, and then she noticed what was at Lauren’s feet. It was a bowl full of water. Whatever was happening, it involved a bowl of water and Sierra grabbing her hand while she was asleep.

Even as groggy as she was, it was obvious to her now. She felt her eyes fix themselves into a glare, and her jaw clamped shut like a vise. She got out of her sleeping bag and started rolling it up. It was still dry, and she intended to keep it that way. So she was going to sleep somewhere else.

“Hey, c’mon,” said Sierra. “It’s just a prank. And you woke up before we could do it, anyway.”

Lauren chuckled. “Holy crap, she looks like she totally wants to kill you!”

Erin made sure she had all of her things, and then she stood up and walked away with tears in her eyes. She couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t vile, so she said nothing.

“Ugh…” came Natalie’s voice from her sleeping bag. “…What’s going… Oh my god. What the hell, you assholes?”

Sierra and Lauren just laughed. Erin was now past the edge of the clearing and just wanted to get away from their voices as fast as possible.

“Erin, wait!” It was Natalie again. “We’re sorry! It’s okay, you can come back! They’re not going to do anything!”

Erin bumped into a tree in the dark. It seemed like everything was spinning even though she couldn’t see. But she kept moving and only heard two more things from Lauren and Sierra.

Pfft, ‘sorry?’ Speak for yourself!”

“Just trying to show her she ain’t queen of all creation. Would’ve done her a favor, really.”

Erin tripped, fell, and scraped her knees. It felt like it tore a hole in her pajamas. She pushed herself up and wiped her face with a dirty hand. If she weren’t so angry she probably could have fallen asleep on the spot. Eventually she found herself back on the main path. She lost track of where she was walking as she tried to piece together where she had gone wrong. In a haze the first thing that came to her was that she picked the wrong name. That was why the real Erin showed up in the dream. She must be Krissy instead. If she were Erin she would never have a problem making friends with people she just met.

At some point or another Krissy must have found another place to lie down, because she was curled up in a ball on top of her sleeping bag. She cursed in her head and told herself that she would have to go this alone after all. There was no alternative if she mixed with other kids like oil in water. Her job then was to spend every minute for the next five years or however long it took training with her Pokémon until she was utterly indomitable—like the real Krissy, only better. She had to be good enough and tough enough to win alone because she was always going to be alone. This last thought repeated itself in her head until she was finally asleep.

*********

Eventually the sun was poking through her eyelids. It was morning, but not early. Krissy stretched out of her uncomfortable position and tried to sort out the sore spots in her back. She stared up at the leaves, and slowly some measure of calm and perspective settled in. It became apparent that there were mistakes in the conclusion she’d drawn the night before. Her new name was indeed Krissy (‘Erin’ just felt off, now), but there was no reason she should give up so soon and resign herself to a solo mission. The only thing yesterday proved was that she needed persistence along with continual revision to her approach.

She got up, stretched some more, and changed out of her mostly-ruined pajamas. She assumed those other kids from yesterday would still be going to the Dark Cave, so she decided she would spend the day going south in the direction of Cherrygrove City instead. And she wouldn’t sweat it if she didn’t meet any new friends today, as there was really no reason to hurry. After all, if she talked to four new people a day that would be twenty-eight in only a week. That meant she could go through a lot of duds like Sierra and company without wasting much time at all. The important thing was to be prepared for temporary failure.

The whole day passed by in a blur. She had a few encounters with wild Pokémon and she went through the motions with them. She passed some other trainers on Route 30, but she didn’t stop and greet any of them. That could wait until when she was entirely herself again. And this made her aware of another flaw in her plan: if she tried to channel the traits of her fictional heroes too closely, she would always be lacking an element of genuineness in her interactions, and that could effect an insincere friendship. She could fake a name, but trying to be an entirely different person was self-defeating.

Later when she was sitting with her back to a tree as the sun was going down, she settled on her new strategy: be Lucia, go by Krissy, don’t try to force a friendship that isn’t there, and be patient. She was able to sleep much better that night.

And just like that, Krissy’s third day as a trainer began. Actually, scratch that, she decided it would be better if this were her first day as a trainer. The previous two days were mulligans. She hit the trail again while the grass was still wet with dew, and continued her way south at a leisurely pace. Things felt good that morning, so she decided to at least talk to the first kids she met. Though she would keep her expectations in check.

It wasn’t long before she spotted some trainers in the corner of her eye off the main path. They were two boys messing around by a pond, and they both looked about her age. One of them was roughhousing with a Horsea in the water, but he didn’t splash too hard and seemed to let it win. Krissy thought that was sweet of him. The other was standing next to a Growlithe and checking his Pokédex. Krissy thought she heard it say ‘Ledyba,’ and sure enough there was one on a nearby tree.

This second boy began to speak, and Krissy decided she could get away with staring and eavesdropping a little while. “Hey Travis, wanna see something amazing?”

The boy in the water, presumably Travis, sighed. “I already know what you’re talking about but you’re—”

“Gonna catch this one with one shake, first try.”

“—probably gonna say it anyway.”

Krissy was taken aback by the audacity of the claim alone. One shake instead of three? It was known to happen on rare occasions, but every source she’d read before claimed it was a matter of pure luck. There was no way he could make it happen on command, much less with only one attempt, was there?

The boy called for an Ember and the Growlithe complied with gusto. Krissy found herself getting terribly excited and rooting for him despite herself. There was something in the way he carried himself with a Pokéball in his hand that made it seem so possible that he might pull it off. And if he did, that would make him way too interesting to ignore.

There was a great deal of barking, and suddenly the boy was all poise and focus. He wound up, and she crossed her fingers.

*

Next time: In Dad's Old Gym, a slightly younger Jen takes a trip down memory lane and finds things different.
 
Last edited:

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
Oh wow, so all of this explains how Krissy knows so much about Team Rocket and her always a strategist with Pokemon battles. I think you did well showcasing wanting to show her excitement in battles but had to restrain herself due to how she was raised. And yeah, I agree that those two girls she was hanging out with were very rude to her and uncalled for. Poor Krissy.

I do like the "shark and blood" lines relating to Krissy's father as it gives a glimpse of his personality. However, part of me felt he was a bit too trusting with her since a lot of folks are less trusting of their own kids than that. If I were him, I would have a grunt or someone spy on her, but he's your character not mine lol.

With this big reveal now the outcome for what's next sounds even more serious. I already read Dad's Old Gym and told you my thoughts on it long long ago, so I probably won't repeat my thoughts there when you post that unless you made some significant changes. Either way though, keep up the good work man.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
In fact, her plan was to take it a step further when her birthday arrived in a few days’ time. As soon as she left home with Chikorita, she intended to hide behind a new name altogether.
……………..oh my God.
She hated those words, and she hated that she could remember them verbatim. He had said them to her many times when she was awfully young, and even now she faltered when trying to come up with a name for Chikorita other than ‘Chikorita.’ It was a relief that Chikorita didn’t seem to mind. When she appeared in the middle of the room in a flash of red, she looked eager as ever to get to work.
Oh my God this is why she had a hard time nicknaming her back in ‘Different Ways to Win’. OH MY GOD I JUST REMEMBERED CHIKORITA’S NAME.
Three trapdoors opened in a triangle around Chikorita, and out of each came a single Rattata. Given the distance between the doors and her Pokémon, as well as the predictable moment of hesitation while the opponents got their bearings, Lucia intuited that she had two seconds to come up with a plan. She did so in a little over one and a half. The following—in too many words—is a summary of the rapidly-firing gut feelings and memorized strategies that came into her head:
Oh my God this is why she’s such an ace trainer.
Lucia let out a satisfied breath. She was this close to breaking out into a big grin, but a sharp feeling in her stomach stopped her. She knew what she would hear if she smiled about a win in this room, and there was nothing she wanted to hear less.
Oh my God this is why she turns into a totally different person when she battles. This is why she doesn’t know how to act surprised when she wins.

Oh my God, even making friends is a strategic decisions for her. Literally everything about her every interaction is detached and calculated because that is how everything in her life has had to be up until this point. Even Chikorita immediately sees another Pokémon as a target and my heart is breaking. And she literally designates them as “new friends” after successfully navigating one single social interaction. Everything for the rest of the day is a series of obstacles to be analyzed and navigated to obtain the desired outcome. And then Lauren and Serena wound up being the jerks and the cold and aloof Natalie was the one who was sympathetic towards her. But it was too late, and then for a moment she was completely convinced she had to go at it alone, and my heart

No wonder we've never seen her POV in the core chapters of the fic. The narration bounced between Jason and Travis's POV, but never hers, and I can't believe I never noticed, because that would have given it away instantly. No wonder everything about her always seemed a little flat with the very big, obvious exception of her battling, and I cant believe I never asked why. Of course she'd come off as flat if every single interaction has to be carefully rehearsed because that's the only way she ever endured her childhood. Of course she's willing to leave Jason and Travis behind to go infiltrate the Russo mansion alone.

I... just...

Krissy is my favorite character now. Hands down.

~Chibi~;249;;448;
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Oh man, what a great chapter. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been expecting a similar twist -- it would have been weird if it had turned out that Krissy had zero relation at all to any of the figures or organisations previously introduced -- but I have to say it didn't actually occur to me that she'd actually be Russo's daughter. You brought out the claustrophobic nuances of her relationship with him really excellently, I think: the pressure, the insinuation of his voice into her own internal monologue, the necessity of calculation. And of course, it makes Travis' accusation all the more devastating in retrospect; there's nothing that would hurt her more than to be accused of using people as instruments the way her father taught her. Really great stuff, seriously.

And what else is interesting is the potential impact this might have on (a) the search for an executive and (b) Hanna and Derek's investigation -- because correct me if I'm wrong, but you haven't actually said what name Krissy is registered under at all, which raises the interesting question of what traces, if any, she actually has in the Pokémon Centre system. Plus of course what could happen if her real identity was uncovered. There's just so much stuff that could happen, you know? One of the really great things about this fic is that at the end of each chapter, you're always left with a sense that something big is on its way and very often there are at least two options as to what that something could be. You do a fantastic job of keeping the reader guessing, and it's been a while since I've enjoyed being kept guessing this much. Definitely looking forward to the next chapter!
 

DreamSayer

Name's Adam.
Chapter 1 review

I heard some people talking about this story of yours, so I decided to give it a shot. I must say, it’s a good story, that’s for sure. I don’t know if this story is supposed to be taking place in an existing timeline in the games (which I doubt it is) but I liked the whole Team Rocket involvement in the story.

The narrative shifts between Derek and Jason is also a nice touch. We get to see the story from two perspectives; one from a cop and the other from a foolhardy trainer who’s way over his head. You did both of them well and I enjoyed it.

I feel sorry for Derek that he had to give in to Hanna’s blackmail. But she was right though, and he might really need her help in the long run. He should’ve been more careful where he dropped his bag though, there are always people who can’t help but check people’s bags for stuff.
 

Psychic

Really and truly
Holy smokes, have I been enjoying this fic!

You had me from chapter one. I’m not normally one for crime fiction, and while I normally like Team Rocket stories, it was definitely the characters and the writing that initially drew me in.

I love your characters and how we slowly learn about each one. Everyone feels like a fleshed-out and fully-realized character, and it’s clear that you put a lot of thought and care into each one. Even the kids, who can be so hard to write, feel real (if perhaps a bit older than 11). It’s been especially cool reading the interstitial chapters delving into their histories, which, while an unconventional way to write, really makes the reader appreciate and care about each character. They add a lot of context, while also being great stand-alone stories.

Derek is the one who initially got me hooked – I had no idea you’d be switching perspectives over the course of the story, and while I love the way you do it, I would definitely have kept reading even if you didn’t! I found his grouchiness but commitment to doing good really likeable. Learning how he’s basically just been a kid getting over his own anxieties and fears (much like Travis, actually) has been really rewarding, and he is proving to be a real badass. The scene with his Larvitar was especially fun – a lot of writers struggle to show what makes pseudo-legendaries so special and hard to train, and I appreciated this interpretation of that.

I also really like Hannah, as well as Marie. As a fan of psychic-types, the way you portray their relationship and the way they work together is awesome and makes me ridiculously happy. The idea of them working together in these ways is super cool, and seeing Hannah have to constantly remind Marie to stop “eavesdropping” in people’s heads.

I especially need to give shout-outs to your depiction of Krissy. It took me until the scene where the kids leave the van to figure out that Krissy had to have some kind of criminal background, but you 100% blew my mind revealing that she’s Russo’s daughter. So many pieces fell into place in the Lucia interstitial that just felt so satisfying as a reader! Just starting the chapter wondering “why is there a chapter named after Krissy’s Chikorita?” and getting that realization is so good. Everything from the excellent strategizing (and your depiction of that process) to her being conditioned not to emote when she wins fall so nicely into place. (My only nitpick in that chapter is that it seems a bit excessive that her father both watches over so many of her training and issues the punishments is a bit surprising – how does he have the time to do that while running a sizeable wing of a crime syndicate?)

Your plot is really intriguing! It constantly feels intense without having to be on an epic scale. As has been mentioned, you find a way to seemingly up the stakes each chapter without it feeling like it’s adding tons of complexity – more like it’s adding nuance, really. Seeing both the kids’ perspective and adults perspective is neat – I found myself feeling different ways about the impending danger based on the perspective, even while knowing the seriousness of the situation. I feel more excited than anxious about what will happen next, though my biggest worry is definitely seeing what happens to Krissy when she comes face-to-face with her abuser after having finally escaped him.

I just love your world-building and the universe you’ve created. Everything from Krissy’s Chikorita being a status symbol to Derek's job to the way Hannah and Marie work to how Pokéballs function are interesting and feel like a lot of thought was put into them. It leaves me constantly wanted to learn more about this world!

Your writing itself is also excellent. You deliver information about the world in a very organic and seamless way, so it feels like we learn things naturally as characters just happen to be reflecting on them. Your writing itself is also very smooth and easy to read, and it’s easy to get absorbed in your scenes. I only noticed a couple of mistakes:

“One of them is, at least,” said Krissy. “I’ve heard that’s a big problem for organized crime. Hard to keep everyone in line when you can only recruit people who don’t have much respect for authority.
Missing the end quotation marks here.

It was Jen calling, and Jason had forgotten that she even knew his number.
Since these are two different thoughts, I would make them into two sentences.

As the older kids walked away, Jason barely heard either Denise or Vicky saying something to the effect of “I don’t know why she keeps those losers with her.”*
I would phrase this as “As the older kids walked away, Jason just made out either Denise or Vicky saying something…”

It had something to do with pollution from highway-paving, and Jason and Krissy did an adequate fob of nodding and going ‘uh-huh’ to keep him talking instead of asking questions.*
“Fob” here should be “job.”

Erin was too startled to take it at first, but she knew this was what needed and reached out.
This is missing the “she” in “this was what she needed.”



I’m usually super bad at reading longer fics, so either I’ve had way too much spare time at work lately, or your story is really hooking me in. (Can’t both be true?) Either way, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

~Psychic
 

bobandbill

Winning Smile
Staff member
Super Mod
NInja'd me in reviewing this today, Psychic! =p

But yes, I echo the sentiments in this thread - this is fantastic. I figured your work would be a good place to start a long-overdue catch-up on fics and damn. Really well structured thus far. Bonus points for it using a lot of the one-shots - and themes - I've read of yours already (I was already intrigued when I saw from the chapter list what the next article would be) - it's really doing wonders for the world-building and including shorts as well is great too. It's certainly a great strength of yours and seeing you explore more themes throughout, either in-depth or in passing, is neat.

But easily the most enjoyable chapter was the latest about Krissy. You could see something coming from numerous hints earlier, but I couldn't piece it together until the reveal, and when it happened I could see how it all fitted in without feeling cheated or the like. And it was just a great chapter by itself too, but the punchlines from it were fantastic. Bravo.

Characters are diverse and interesting and I particularly like Derek whenever he shows up, but what I've also really enjoyed are the interactions between the people and the Pokemon, battles included. Each one feels fresh, realistic and well thought-out, and you've explored interesting dynamics such as other ways to catch Pokemon beyond weakening them (the Sneasel battle). Larvitar training was also a fantastic segment imo, with a great one-liner to end the chapter and deliver comedy.

Complaints... the car scene is sorta important after reflections (and reading Psychic's review) to further raising alarm bells about Krissy, but... some things felt a bit off to me about it. I guess it felt too obvious to me that the scene was a set up to point out that 'Krissy knew stuff only criminals or the like would be into, isn't that weird?' to me, complete with finding a bullet lying around in the car. Bit too much of a jump from the curious hints (e.g. 'hey I don't know her last name whoops') to this.

The second part of it is Travis' reaction to her in the car (thinking 'get the hell off me!') and then later that night just didn't feel natural, and I feel it was because it didn't seem obvious enough to me he had such a dislike for her before this chapter. He didn't seem very friendly like him and Jason, but the most that suggested this to me was the scene of him saying to Jason she's following them, which came off as more comedic than anything to me. More hints about this in earlier chapters to better indicate that something isn't right about the two's relationship. Of course maybe I missed such things, but if so it wasn't nearly as well executed as the Krissy reveal was.

Couple other things not mentioned by Psychic already:
It was of exceptionally fine build to boot, and one the rare occasions when it didn’t work a simple reboot and quick recalibration was always enough to resolve the issue.
'and one of the rare occasions'.
She sat down at the fire with nothing more than a non-committal “Hmm.”
I feel the full stop should be after the quotation mark here.

Definitely keeping my eye for further updates. Do keep it up.
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
This makes me so happy: my reply-to-the-readers section would have put the next chapter post over the character limit, so it's going here. :)

Still putting this in spoiler tags because now I'd say there are actually spoilers for the story so far.

Bay said:
However, part of me felt he was a bit too trusting with her since a lot of folks are less trusting of their own kids than that. If I were him, I would have a grunt or someone spy on her, but he's your character not mine lol.
I was thinking hard about this while writing and still am, and I tend to think of it as "confidence" rather than actual "trust." I'll try to have this make more sense in future chapters.

Chibi Pika said:
[...]oh my God[...] (5x)
This put a smile on my face from for basically the whole day, if I recall. :)

No wonder we've never seen her POV in the core chapters of the fic. The narration bounced between Jason and Travis's POV, but never hers, and I can't believe I never noticed, because that would have given it away instantly.
Not gonna lie, I was really worried someone was going to complain that Krissy was the only one who didn't have a chapter with her POV yet, and then I'd have to be all "please please bear with me i swear i know what i'm doing." I guess as a writer you dwell on this kind of thing more, especially if you're straining to plan and balance how much attention each character gets over the course of the story.

Cutlerine said:
I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been expecting a similar twist -- it would have been weird if it had turned out that Krissy had zero relation at all to any of the figures or organisations previously introduced -- but I have to say it didn't actually occur to me that she'd actually be Russo's daughter.
I always worry that a twist will seem cheap, so I definitely wanted to leave some clear hints that there's something amiss with Krissy that pertains to the criminal world. Basically have people anticipating a twist, but wondering what it's going to be rather than having a really specific guess. So I think your reaction is near exactly what I was hoping for. (whew)

And what else is interesting is the potential impact this might have on (a) the search for an executive and (b) Hanna and Derek's investigation -- because correct me if I'm wrong, but you haven't actually said what name Krissy is registered under at all, which raises the interesting question of what traces, if any, she actually has in the Pokémon Centre system. Plus of course what could happen if her real identity was uncovered. There's just so much stuff that could happen, you know?
Sorry if this wasn't completely clear, but where Hanna and Derek are right now is that they think they've gotten everything they can out of the Pokecenter system, so they're going to try a traditional search around the city where they estimate (correctly) the kids are. The consequences of the revelation will definitely play an important role in chapters 7 and 8 on both sides of the story, though. In the meantime, I hope you find this update's more self-contained story worthwhile.

DreamSayer said:
I heard some people talking about this story of yours, so I decided to give it a shot. I must say, it’s a good story, that’s for sure. I don’t know if this story is supposed to be taking place in an existing timeline in the games (which I doubt it is) but I liked the whole Team Rocket involvement in the story.
Hey, thanks! It doesn't take place in a canon timeline (the years would be off, at any rate), but the main canon that I'm drawing from for the setting I would say is the Gen II game canon.

Psychic said:
Even the kids, who can be so hard to write, feel real (if perhaps a bit older than 11). It’s been especially cool reading the interstitial chapters delving into their histories, which, while an unconventional way to write, really makes the reader appreciate and care about each character. They add a lot of context, while also being great stand-alone stories.
I keep telling myself "don't forget they're eleven" while writing, and man you're right is it hard. I was hoping to keep them believably eleven, but that was always a stretch in my book so I'll definitely take "real." Really glad you like the stand-alones, and I hope you like this one coming up just as much. :)

Learning how he’s basically just been a kid getting over his own anxieties and fears (much like Travis, actually) has been really rewarding, and he is proving to be a real badass.
I'm so glad you noticed how much of a kid Derek is. We'll have to wait and see how much each of them grow in that regard...

(My only nitpick in that chapter is that it seems a bit excessive that her father both watches over so many of her training and issues the punishments is a bit surprising – how does he have the time to do that while running a sizeable wing of a crime syndicate?)
Hmm, that hadn't occurred to me, but now I see where you're coming from. I'll say here that he sees her as an investment. After all, the role of a manager/executive is to get the most out of their human resources. (I feel kind of slimy putting it that way, actually...) I might do something to address this issue.

I just love your world-building and the universe you’ve created. Everything from Krissy’s Chikorita being a status symbol to Derek's job to the way Hannah and Marie work to how Pokéballs function are interesting and feel like a lot of thought was put into them. It leaves me constantly wanted to learn more about this world!
This is amusing to me, as in my mind this is basically just the regular Pokemon world but with a few more explanations for some things you see in the games and anime. I mean, in the game Professor Elm calls your Johto starter "rare" and most trainers don't have one, and there must be a reason why the police is so ineffective at stopping Team Rocket, and in the anime there's at least one unofficial "gym" that I remember, and so on. Basically what I'm saying is I think most of the work has actually been done for me in this regard, and whatever I'm doing is just a few small steps removed from the official material. The marvelous thing about Pokemon is that the existing world is just full of neat things to explore in fiction!

I fixed a few of the things you pointed out, and I'll fix the others when I sit down and decide the best way to. Thanks a ton for picking this up and reviewing!

bobandbill said:
Really well structured thus far. Bonus points for it using a lot of the one-shots - and themes - I've read of yours already (I was already intrigued when I saw from the chapter list what the next article would be) - it's really doing wonders for the world-building and including shorts as well is great too.
It's a huge relief to hear you say that. I kind of wanted this to be the "definitive version" of a bunch of ideas and stories I'd worked on before but not to my satisfaction. I feel like the biggest challenge so far has been charting out where the shorts should fit between the chapters and who gets the narrative perspective when, so if you think it's well structured so far that's great because I was worried that would be a huge liability, and still am for the remaining chapters.

Characters are diverse and interesting and I particularly like Derek whenever he shows up, but what I've also really enjoyed are the interactions between the people and the Pokemon, battles included. Each one feels fresh, realistic and well thought-out, and you've explored interesting dynamics such as other ways to catch Pokemon beyond weakening them (the Sneasel battle). Larvitar training was also a fantastic segment imo, with a great one-liner to end the chapter and deliver comedy.
The Larvitar training I think was my favorite part to write. :)

the car scene is sorta important after reflections (and reading Psychic's review) to further raising alarm bells about Krissy, but... some things felt a bit off to me about it. I guess it felt too obvious to me that the scene was a set up to point out that 'Krissy knew stuff only criminals or the like would be into, isn't that weird?' to me, complete with finding a bullet lying around in the car. Bit too much of a jump from the curious hints (e.g. 'hey I don't know her last name whoops') to this.
I agree. I was wracking my brains over how to get the developments I wanted out of that scene without it feeling contrived. Eventually I settled for the least-contrived option I had so far, but if this ever gets a revision that would definitely be a scene I rework.

The second part of it is Travis' reaction to her in the car (thinking 'get the hell off me!') and then later that night just didn't feel natural, and I feel it was because it didn't seem obvious enough to me he had such a dislike for her before this chapter. He didn't seem very friendly like him and Jason, but the most that suggested this to me was the scene of him saying to Jason she's following them, which came off as more comedic than anything to me. More hints about this in earlier chapters to better indicate that something isn't right about the two's relationship. Of course maybe I missed such things, but if so it wasn't nearly as well executed as the Krissy reveal was.
I was hoping that the scene where Krissy was following them could serve double-duty as comedy and establishing Krissy as a wedge between Travis and Jason in Travis's mind, but now that you mention it I can see that might have been optimistic. I know I wanted Travis's animosity toward Krissy to intensify after Wyvern was kidnapped, but in the process I may have hidden the animosity too deeply prior to the kidnapping. I don't know if it's the first thing I'll change, but I'm definitely taking this under advisement.

Huge thanks for the kind words and the crit, my man.

Thanks so much for reading, all y'all. Sometimes you need that extra motivation to put your all into writing something, and you guys are giving me that in spades and I don't take it for granted.

See below for the update!
 
Last edited:

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[(See above for replies to readers' comments)

A few Author's-Notes-type words here: what follows is a revision of a one-shot I wrote last year for a PokeCommunity contest, and it also happened to be Jen and Hanna's first appearance. Just as a road-marker, counting this chapter there are 3 standalone chapters and 6 numbered chapters left in the story. (Letting you know because when you read a book you can see how many pages are left.) Enjoy!]


Dad’s Old Gym

August, 2014

It was early one summer afternoon when Jen Brooks was sitting in the forest next to her old friend, Hanna Maris. Jen had her back to a tree while Hanna was lying on her stomach and staring intently through the underbrush. The woods were perfectly quiet until Jen whispered, “Has he done anything yet?”

“I think he’s a she, and no,” whispered back Hanna. She was referring to a wild Stantler in the clearing a few dozen yards away from them.

Jen looked over her shoulder to see that Hanna was carefully tapping some notes into her Pokédex as she spied on the deer-Pokémon. So far the two of them were doing a good job of going unnoticed. It would be a shame for Hanna to miss something because the Stantler got startled and ran off, or worse yet hypnotized them. Being stealthy didn’t make for the most exciting vacation, but in a way that was part of the point. Their Pokémon journey back when they were kids hadn’t always been riveting either, and at age twenty-five Jen appreciated how much nicer it was to sit in the fresh air than at a desk in a cube.

For one thing, you weren’t allowed to drink at work. Jen reflected on this as she closed her eyes, took a sip from her hip flask, and let some of the tension from the past year ease out through her skin.

Still, she was getting tired of doing nearly nothing. She leaned over again and tried to read Hanna’s notes. “You said this is in beta now?” Immediately, Jen wondered if she should have opened the floodgates.

“Alpha, actually. We’ll put our revision in full beta when the natural language processing cluster works, probably Q4 2016. Then we’ll be able to automatically identify duplicates in the user submissions, and once we weight the duplicate-count with the individual users’ trust-scores…”

Hanna rambled on, at a whisper of course, for somewhere north of ten minutes. ‘Oh god, she’s trying to explain the math now.’ Between all the numbers and the liquor, Jen was in serious danger of falling asleep.

“…sub-scores based on subject matter expertise. Bill’s working on a machine-learning model to calculate those values holistically…”

It just kept going.

“…real game changer for accuracy and the time it takes to verify and publish corrections…”

(Yawn.)

“…and now kid trainers can really feel like they’re contributing to science. Oh, and the interoperability we’re getting with the PC Storage System now is fantastic. It can identify new forms and variations on individual species as trainers catch them and push out the new data to every Pokédex as soon as they connect to Wi-Fi.”

Hanna finally slowed down enough for Jen to get another word in. “You, Bill, and Oak can do whatever you want to Dexter as long as he still talks. You get rid of that and I’ll riot.”

“I told you, it’s going to be same Pokédex, just less dumb.”

After listening to that mountain of technical gibberish, Jen wasn’t in the mood to hear Hanna talk for hours about literally every tiny factual mistake in the Pokédex. She had to steer the conversation in a more tolerable direction, so she went to one of her old standbys. “Hey, so this is a little out of nowhere, but did they have any independent gyms around Olivine when you were growing up? You know, not with the Pokémon League?”

“Yeah. Two, I think.”

Before Jen could follow up, Hanna continued. “Is this going to be your patented spiel about old, crappy gyms? I remember a lot of it from the last time I heard it. Was that two years ago?”

Jen was at peace with her own transparency. “Hey, you just had—”

“Shhh.”

Jen had started to rise above a whisper. She corrected herself and tried again. “You just had your turn, so now I get to bore you.”

Hanna nodded. “That’s fair. Go for it.”

That was all Jen needed to hear, so now she opened her own conversational floodgate. “Have you noticed how Leader-centric all the League gyms are? There’s really nothing there for folks our age. Like, who has time to raise as many strong Pokémon as kids do? Back when there were more than just the eight gyms you could always find someone at your skill level at a gym, even in Blackthorn. Try going to a gym there today with only one or two Pokémon.”

Hanna scratched her back, which was the most pronounced movement she had made in over forty minutes. “You don’t need to go to a gym to find someone to fight. There are trainers all over the place.”

“It’s not the same, though!” (Whoops, too loud.) “…It’s not the same, though. What about tournaments? If we tried the Indigo Plateau today we’d get laughed out of the qualifiers, but the minor-league gyms had tournaments for basically every skill level. Pro, semi-pro, amateur, under-tens… and they always drew at least an okay crowd. My dad was one of the top trainers in the Forest League before it folded.”

“Yeah, I remember you telling me that. That was just Mahogany Town and Ecruteak, right?”

“Violet City, too. But man, North Ecruteak Gym was the best. It was all outdoors, and they held their big matches at night and sold popcorn—it was something.”

Hanna motioned for the binoculars that were lying next to her bag, and Jen handed them over as slowly and delicately as she could. “Just spotted a Forretress in a tree over there,” whispered Hanna. “Anyway, you’re the only one I know who actually misses those gyms. My parents wouldn’t even let me step foot in one—said they had more drug dealers than trainers. And I think one of my friends got tetanus from the bleachers at Olivine Beach Gym. That showed her to sit on a bench that’s fifty percent splinters and rusty nails in short shorts.”

“Lies. I wore short shorts in the bleachers at ours all the time and didn’t get tetanus once. And there were hardly any drug dealers at all.”

Jen didn’t add ‘I think’ to the bit about the drug dealers, and for the next ten minutes she proceeded to bury Hanna’s skepticism with details about the wonders of North Ecruteak Gym. She covered such topics as ‘…most beautiful part of the forest…,’ ‘…groundskeeper had a Ponyta and let you ride her…,’ and ‘…I had my first battle there, it was so cool…’

Jen still had a lot of things to say when Hanna got up and crept back over to her bag. Apparently they were almost done here, so Jen decided to cut to the chase. “You know, if our plan’s to reach Ecruteak tonight and spend most of the day around there tomorrow—”

Hanna interrupted as she rummaged through her bag. “Do you want to go check out an abandoned gym and see a bunch of nothing?”

It was always a good sign when Hanna didn’t explicitly shoot down an idea right away. “Yes. Super yes.”

“I’m fine with that. We’ve got ten whole days on the trail, after all.”

Jen silently pumped her fist as Hanna pulled out an empty Great Ball and unclipped the lone Pokéball on her belt. “First let me see if I can catch one of those two and get some more data…”

*********

A few hours later Jen was staring at the stars as she tried to fall asleep. She and Hanna never stayed in a Pokécenter overnight if it wasn’t raining or freezing. This was mostly because it was always too bright in the Pokécenters to sleep well, but also because their free lodging policy was obviously written with children in mind. Better to leave more room for the exhausted preteens who found all the hiking to be a challenge.

Jen on the other hand was anything but exhausted, and that could turn into a problem if she didn’t drift off before Hanna started snoring. She knew thinking about getting to see the old gym again would only keep her awake, but she couldn’t help it. It had been just about this time of year when her dad fought in his last and best tournament. Every last detail of it was still in her head.

She remembered walking up to the stands and finding the best seat in the middle section: just high enough, but also just close enough to have the perfect view. She stood the whole time so no one’s head would be in her way. It was a warm night, but not muggy, and the crowd was the biggest and noisiest she’d ever imagined. When her dad and his opponent came out onto the dirt field and everyone started clapping and cheering, she realized that she wasn’t just remembering anymore. Half of her knew it was a dream, and the other half of her was six again. She jumped and shouted, “Let’s go Daddy!”

Her daddy was standing in the bright lights. There must have been thousands of people there to see him, and just as many Pokémon must have been hidden in the dark trees and watching from the edge of the forest. Her daddy took out a single green Friend Ball and brought Jen’s favorite Pokémon into the battle: Vesuvius, the Typhlosion. Both of the trainers were down to their last Pokémon, and the victor would go on to the final round. He was so close to winning the Forest Cup.

But there was a problem, and it was a huge one: Steelix. Vesuvius was panting from how beat up he was, while Steelix didn’t have a scratch on him. The giant snake flashed its iron fangs. It was scary, but Jen knew Vesuvius could handle it. Steelix tried an Earthquake attack and Vesuvius bounded away from the worst of it with all of his strength. Then he jumped onto Steelix’s back and extended the fire-quills in his shoulders to their full length. Steelix writhed around, but somehow Vesuvius held on and completely torched one of his opponent’s body-segments with a Fire Blast.

“Holy sh*t,” said someone sitting near her, “He might actually do it.” Jen couldn’t wait to see the look on this stranger’s face when it was over.

Someone else in their section shouted, “Last call for bets! Last call!”

“Yo, bookie, up here! Five thousand on fire!”

“Brooks is fire, right? Ten thousand on Brooks!”

Ten thousand Pokéyen. That was more than enough to buy a ton of Pokéballs. Jen wondered if her daddy would make that much money for beating this guy. And he was almost there. Vesuvius shot more and more flames all over Steelix, and Jen could see the burns setting in. This was it!

But then the fire ran out. It had been so hot and so strong a moment ago, but now it was gone. Jen wrung her shirt in her hands and yelled, “Come on, Vethuvivus!” but to no avail. She begged and pleaded but Vesuvius’s quills retracted again and he closed his eyes. Steelix finally shook him off, and then it rammed him with its skull. He skidded and tumbled almost all the way to the stands.

Jen was actually relieved to see the referee wave his arms. “Down! Match over!” She started to sniffle as her daddy walked over and brought the world’s best Pokémon back into his ball.

There were so many people in the crowd cheering for the wrong person. A lot of them were mad like they were supposed to be, though.

“That’s just so goddamn typical.”

“Last time I make a late bet, I swear. What a gyp.”

Everyone was waiting in their seats for the final round, going to get food, or going to the woods to pee, but not Jen. She made her way under the bleachers and sobbed until it was out of her system. She wouldn’t let her daddy see her crying like this. He was the one who lost, so she had to cheer him up. She couldn’t do that if he knew how sad she was.

When her face didn’t feel quite so red, she decided she was ready. She walked back out under the lights and heard everyone chanting to get on with the next battle. Her daddy wouldn’t be there. By then he’d be hanging around the trainers’ clubhouse with a drink in his hand. She walked over in that direction, and sure enough she found him in the shadows behind the building. He was holding a beer and talking to another man in a suit. He didn’t sound happy.

“…so just hand it over already and let me get the hell outta here.”

The other man held out an envelope, and her daddy swiped it and stuck it in his back pocket.

“For what it’s worth, Sean,” said the man, “you have my condolences that things didn’t work out for you tonight. My colleagues would still be interested in landing you some bigger matches, of course.”

“I’ve met your ‘colleagues,’ Mariano, and they can suck my dick.”

The other man turned to leave. “Duly noted.” He walked into the clubhouse.

Now that he was alone, her daddy chucked the empty can over his shoulder. If he was already done with his drink then Jen had taken too long. But then he spotted her, and he smiled as if nothing was the matter. “Heya, kiddo!” he said as he scooped her up. “Having fun?”

Jen tried to say what she was supposed to. “I’m really… really sorry y… you lost, Daddy.”

“Hey, don’t you worry about that. There’s always next year. Sure was a nail-biter, huh? We gave ’em a real run for their money at the end!”

There was a big roar from the crowd. They were all still cheering for the wrong trainers. It made Jen sick. “I thought you were gonna win…”

“Listen, Jennifer. There ain’t nothing to be ashamed of in losing. Sometimes all you can do is make it close and put on a good show. I want you remember that when you start training, hear?”

‘When I start training,’ she thought. That was such a long way away, and she wanted so badly to start right then and there. “Do you think I can ever get as good as you?”

He laughed. “You betcha. Hell, I’ll bet a million on it, just you wait.”

Then he gave her a big squeeze, and she squeezed him back as hard as she could. His whiskers tickled her cheek, and it was that moment that hung in place and stayed with her when she woke up. All of Jen was an adult again. It was early morning, and soon she’d be going back to her dad’s old gym.

*********

The wide path through the woods to North Ecruteak Gym hadn’t changed since Jen was little. There was practically a skip in her step, she was so excited. “This is the way we’d take every time,” she told Hanna. “You should see the trees here in the fall. Best leaves in Johto, no lie.”

“Must be something,” said Hanna. She didn’t sound completely convinced.

“Haaarrrummm…”

“See, Marie gets it!” All the Pokémon were out of their balls for the walk, and Marie was bringing up the rear. Summer was leading the way, and the third one was in Jen’s arms at the moment. This made for a little difficulty and frustration because—

“Ow! Quit it, Rabies!”

—he was only three weeks old and still rather bitey.

“That’s such a mean name to give a Growlithe.”

Jen shifted the little pup to one arm and showed Hanna the multitude of fading marks on the other. “Believe me, I had some much meaner ones in mind.”

But even though she complained, Jen was thrilled to have more than one Pokémon again. Like most trainers did when they grew up, she and Hanna had long since given away or set free almost all the members of their old teams. It had looked like Marie and Summer would be both their starters and their finishers, but then a few months ago Summer surprised them. Jen wasn’t about to give little Rabies away for anything, and she happened to think it was a great name.

As for Rabies himself, he didn’t seem to care much about names yet and proceeded to whine and nip at Jen’s shoulder. It took a curt bark from his mother to calm him down for a few precious minutes. Jen tousled the cream-colored tuft of fur on his head and smiled.

“Anyway,” said Jen, “We’re almost there. Ready to see what you were missing growing up?”

“Hmm.”

Hanna would come around, Jen knew it. There just wasn’t anything like a real outdoor gym. When she saw a familiar turn in the trail, she knew they had less than a minute of walking left. The first thing that came into view past the last trees was the flat, familiar stretch of dirt that was the old arena. Then they reached the end of the path and entered the wide clearing that was once North Ecruteak Gym.

At first glance, it seemed to Jen that the place hadn’t changed much at all. It was just as wide open as ever, although the grass had started to creep in on the edges of the arena. Also, the chalk had long since vanished so it didn’t look particularly like a place for Pokémon battles anymore. And naturally the bleachers were worse for wear and most of them were missing.

“Wait…” She was right and wrong, and both in bad ways. The bleachers had indeed fallen into disrepair since last she saw them, as there was now rot in the benches and rust in the supports, but when she thought about it she realized that none of the sections were missing. They had just always been that small. The difference was that now she knew how puny twelve rows was for a stadium, and that in the official gyms the stands surrounded the entire field while these only covered most of one sideline.

She had to chuckle at that. Everything looked bigger and more impressive when you were little, after all. The lights at least still seemed tall to her, even though one of the poles had fallen over. “Heh. Yup, this is it.”

“It’s nice and open, just like you said.”

“Speaking of which,” said Jen as she tried to balance the increasingly eager Rabies, “I think it’s time to let someone get his exercise.”

Jen gave up on letting the Growlithe down gently and instead dumped him onto the grass, at which point he darted off to the middle of the field as fast as his tiny legs could carry him. Summer jogged after him, passed him, and then blocked him from running straight into the woods on the other side and out of Jen’s sight. “Summer’s a good mom,” she said, and Hanna nodded.

Rabies continued to run around, and by chance he led Jen’s gaze to one of the single ugliest structures she had ever seen.

“Wuh…”

“What is it?”

It was the clubhouse. The hole in the roof and the rusted-shut dumpsters next to it were one thing, but the building itself was squat, drab, and hideous down to the last cinder block.

“Nothing…” said Jen, “Just the clubhouse looks a bit different than I remember.

Hanna looked over at it and appeared to bite her tongue for a moment. “Did the paint wash off or something?”

Jen wanted to say yes. Surely that must have been the case, but if she checked her memories honestly it had always looked like this. Maybe it fit in better when it was dark out. “No. Now that you mention it, I don’t think anything was ever painted here.”

Jen shook off this little surprise as well. Nobody ever came to this place for the clubhouse. It was all about the fresh air, the big arena, and the lights, so she walked over to where the center dot used to be. Hanna and Marie followed her, and she smiled. “This is where it all happened.” All of her dad’s big wins, magnificent comebacks, and close losses to better trainers came back to her. She would have watched them from this close if they had let her.

And because she was focusing so hard on all the great nighttime moments, she almost forgot the coolest thing to see in the daytime. “Hey, look behind you real quick.”

To the southeast you could just see the top four stories of the Bell Tower. The gold spire on the top caught the sun perfectly.

“Okay,” said Hanna, “That’s pretty cool.”

“Dad always said that Ho-Oh was a season ticket holder. Never missed a battle.”

“I thought the legend was that Ho-Oh was going to return to the tower, not that he’s always there.”

Jen shrugged and laughed. “I never said he wasn’t full of crap sometimes.”

Hanna laughed with her, but then she straightened up. Jen knew that look: it meant Marie was ‘talking’ to her. Marie’s fox-like face remained as still as ever, but the two spoons she held in her hands bent just a little bit. “What’s up?”

Hanna was staring a thousand miles away, but all of a sudden she turned to the clubhouse. “She says Rabies found something behind the clubhouse… and it’s… I can’t make out the rest of it. We should go check it out.”

Jen and Hanna got a move on, and Jen hoped that Rabies wasn’t trying to eat anything gross. The dumpsters meant it was possible that Marie was trying to say ‘it’s trash.’ They turned the corner, and it immediately became clear that the phrase was probably closer to ‘it’s trash, and it’s on fire.’ There were two old and nasty-looking garbage bags on the ground, and Rabies had torn one open and set a few Embers on it to boot.

“Oh, shoot,” said Jen as she rushed over to stamp out the flames that had spread to the grass. At the same time Hanna pulled out her water bottle and dumped the whole thing on the biggest part of the fire. Jen looked closer and was relieved to see that the only contents of the bag were piles of paper rather than something that might smell.

One sheet of the old papers was presently in Rabies’s mouth as he sat upright, wagged, and showed it off. “Oh, aren’t you pleased with yourself?” Jen reached down to grab the paper, making sure to give the impression that she was taking it away because he was being bad, rather than that she was graciously accepting the spoils of the hunt. “Let go, Rabies. Drop it. Drop.”

It seemed Rabies had no interest in relinquishing his prey to someone who wasn’t going to appreciate it. To compensate, Jen opted for trickery. She waved her other hand near Rabies’s head, knowing it would be too much to resist. Sure enough the Growlithe tried to chomp down on the new moving object, and in the process he let go of and perhaps completely forgot about the paper. The page was both wet and singed, but somehow mostly intact. As Jen straightened it out, she spotted Summer lying nearby. “Don’t let him do this anymore, okay, girl?”

Summer growled in apparent disinterest, as if such small fires were beneath her attention. Or perhaps she was just pleased to see Rabies’s progress in learning how to ignite his targets. Regardless, and now that there was no more danger of a wildfire, Jen was interested to see what these papers were.

She began to read, and her interest was immediately piqued further when she saw some familiar names. They were two of her dad’s old rivals, and listed underneath were Pokémon rosters she also recognized. ‘I saw this battle,’ she realized as she read the match outcomes. Steelix over Persian, Steelix over Nidorino, Hitmontop over Steelix… it was just as she remembered. It had been a sort of grudge match following a tournament that ended with these two trainers. All the bets from the crowd were even written down, and she saw the payouts the battlers took as their cuts. She felt a smile coming over her face. Were all of the gym’s records here?

But something was wrong. She didn’t notice at first, but they shouldn’t have written everything in this order. The trainers, the rosters, the early bets, and the final results were all written in ink. But the mid-fight bets were in pencil. They were also in someone else’s handwriting, and they were spaced around the outcomes as if—

Her heart sank into her stomach. The way this was written, you would think the later bets had been placed after the fight was already over.

“Jen?”

Jen dropped the paper and immediately dug into the bag that Rabies had taken it from. All the sheets on top were ruined, but underneath they were mostly fine. She knew what she was looking for and scanned the dates. These were all too old, and they got older further down in the bag. This meant that what she was looking for might be in the other bag. She moved over on her knees and tried to undo its knot. It was tight, and that made her mad. She grabbed underneath the knot and tore the whole thing open, spilling its contents.

“Jen? Jen! What’s the deal?”

Jen didn’t answer. She was reading dates and getting close to the one she had in mind. She rummaged and rummaged until she finally found it: July 15, 1995, followed by Sean Brooks.

Her hands shook. Someone had written on this sheet of paper all the matchups and outcomes of her dad’s last fight, including a big note, ‘Typhlosion gets on Steelix’s back—ASK NOW,’ surrounded by larger bets than any that were placed before the match started. Then she saw the payouts. Her father got three times as much as the winner.

“He took a dive.”

“What?”

Jen’s eyes were watering. “This was the farthest he ever got. W…Why would he take a dive?”

Jen’s fingers trembled beyond her control, and the paper fell to the ground. Hanna knelt down and picked it up. “…Oh. Oh, Jen, I’m so sorry.”

If Hanna said anything after that, Jen didn’t hear it. She thought she heard someone else loud and clear, though.

‘Ain’t nothing to be ashamed of in losing.’

‘Put on a good show.’

‘Gave ’em a real run for their money.’

Someone she didn’t recognize was in her head. He was trying to rationalize what had been written and done. Maybe he thought he was trying to cheer up a sad girl, but he couldn’t fool Jen. The words were obviously aimed at himself and his own dirty conscience. Whoever he was, she didn’t know him at all.

*********

It was sundown. Heavy clouds were rolling in, and Jen’s flask felt like it was half-full. She was sitting with her back to the clubhouse’s front door. Several hours ago she had said something to the effect of, ‘I want to be alone for a bit. You can go do whatever. I’ll meet you back in town.’ She stared at the ground and found herself unsure of when she would leave and find Hanna again. If she did that, then Hanna would probably want to talk. And they would probably talk about her dad. She took another drink.

It was too dark to see. Jen’s flask felt empty. She held it upside-down over her mouth to confirm. “F*ck.” Then she either tossed it aside or dropped it; it was hard to tell. She felt a buzz in her pocket, which was probably just Hanna texting her again. Jen thought she ought to mind her own damn business. How was she supposed to get her mind off of this sh*t with someone badgering her every ten minutes? She felt around for a rock and threw it at nothing. The motion made her brain swish around in her head a little, and she ground her teeth.

Minutes or hours later, a bright light hit her face. It didn’t make her head feel any better and when she tried to cover her eyes she missed. When the light left on its own, everything outside of it looked even blacker than before. She had some strong words for whoever that light belonged to.

“…Jen?”

Of course. She probably should have guessed who it was.

“…Jen, c’mon. Let’s go.”

Who did she think she was, trying to boss her around like that? If Hanna was going to be her usual intrusive b*tch self anyway, why couldn’t they talk right here? Before she realized that she didn’t actually want to say anything, words came out of Jen’s mouth. “He never told me.”

Hanna didn’t say anything. Whatever. “…That bastard died before he told me anything.”

There was a longer pause, and then some predictably know-it-all words came from somewhere in front of her. “Would that have been better? If he’d told you everything when you were little?”

What a stupid f*cking question. “Are you kidding?” Jen pushed herself off the ground, and her brain pressed against her skull again. She fought down the nausea and came to her feet. “Would it have been better if he hadn’t lied about it every goddamn time? If he’d been even a little sorry? Yeah. That’d have been better.”

More silence. It was hazy, but she could see Hanna’s outline where she held the flashlight. Things were more clear at Jen’s feet, and something compelled her to bend over and pick up a rock. “You know half the men in this town had a gambling problem? He probably kicked off two divorces that night alone.”

He and all the other trainers who’d ever battled here. It made her want to put this rock right through one of their eyes, but she’d have to settle for the next best thing. She turned around to face where the clubhouse was. It was all one blur of black and gray, but she hoped to hit a window. She wound up. “F*ckin’ crooks and liars… him and the rest of them!” She let it go and then she heard glass shattering. Jen staggered in place, but not enough to lose balance completely.

“Jen… We don’t have to stay here.”

Why couldn’t she take a hint? Couldn’t she tell she wasn’t done here yet? Jen looked up and saw the shadow of those miserable wooden bleachers. She felt for one of the two Pokéballs on her belt.

“Seriously, we can go right n—” Hanna stopped for some reason when Jen had the ball in her hand. “…What are you doing?”

Jen hated having to spell everything out for her. She wound up again and aimed for the stands. “Gonna give Rabies some practice.”

There was a noise, the light went astray, and before Jen knew it Hanna was trying to tackle her. She couldn’t move her hand.

“Let go!” Jen tried to shove her off, but she found herself turned around.

Shut up!” The words hit her like a slap to the face. “Don’t you dare teach a Growlithe to burn stuff down like that! You’re a fire trainer! You know better!”

The ball fell out of Jen’s hand. The image of a grown-up Rabies—one who was always as mad as she was now—came into her head.

Hanna kept yelling. “It hasn’t rained for weeks! You could’ve torched the whole forest! You think that’d help? You really think those guys were any worse than some shitfaced arsonist?”

No. Not even close. Her dad never made Vesuvius use fire outside of battle; not even for a campfire. He always said it was better to teach a Pokémon safer habits than you needed to. He never would have done something like she was about to do, not even when drunk. He’d smashed a glass or two, but he’d always sent her and Derek out of the room first, and he’d always cleaned the pieces up himself.

And he never, ever used fire because he was angry. Any one of his fire Pokémon knew how to use exactly enough fire to win. Or to lose, but what else did that say? Jen knew she couldn’t get Summer to hold back that well if she tried. And her dad couldn’t teach her how anymore.

She tried to hold back the sob, but couldn’t. She fell forward, landed on a shoulder, and then everything started pouring out.

“H…He was m… my hero…”

She cried on, and then she felt Hanna’s hand on her back. It was the same spot parents usually knew where to put it, and she cried harder.

Hanna said, “I know, I know. You always made him sound so great. I still wish I could have met him.”

Jen felt like the worst person on the planet. “…I’m sorry. If you ain’t been there to stop me…” She felt a raindrop. It was starting to drizzle.

“It’s okay. No harm done. Except the window, I guess, but who cares?”

Jen herself thought she might care. It wasn’t the window’s fault. The window was just doing his job, even though he wasn’t getting paid anymore, and then she realized just how plastered she was. Meanwhile, the drizzle picked up into an honest rain.

“See?” said Hanna, “There’s no problem. Lugia was going to stop you anyway.”

Jen pulled away from Hanna’s shoulder, and Hanna helped her get her balance back. She stood in place, watched the shadows spin, and felt the downpour soak her head as Hanna gathered some things from the ground. Soon Jen had her bag and Rabies’s ball again, and Hanna was helping her into a poncho.

“We’ll have to spend the night in the Pokécenter. It’s too dark and wet to get anything set up. Can you walk?”

Jen nodded, took a few steps, and then Hanna caught her before she could plant her face in the mud. Hanna put her shoulders under her arm, and they slowly started follow the flashlight’s beam back to the trail. It felt like Jen was forgetting something. Was it her flask? No, it couldn’t be that because she always kept it with her. She was sure she’d remember at some point, so on they walked.

They were five minutes into the hike when Jen felt the perspective she’d been trying to avoid creep up on her. “All those years,” she mumbled, “…all those years I wanted that shitty gym back. I’m such a moron.”

“No,” said Hanna. “You just saw something that was better than what they had in mind. You don’t have to hate the whole thing because of that. They still had good popcorn, right?”

“It probably sucked.”

She heard Hanna sigh, which didn’t make a ton of sense to her. Hanna hadn’t liked the place from the beginning, so you’d think she’d agree. Jen was about to make some other point, but when the words were supposed to come to her mouth she felt something else there. “Uff—” Without another word, Hanna helped her over to the trees. Jen tried to keep it off of her poncho.

Hanna’s hand was rubbing her back again. “Hey,” she said, “Did I ever tell you about the one time I got really hammered?”

To Jen’s knowledge, such a thing had never happened. But instead of answering she just let the rest of it drip.

“It was last year. I was out with some of my university friends, and I was b*tching about the Pokédex at them. You know, the usual.”

‘B*tching.’ Jen felt bad for calling Hanna one in her head earlier.

“Anyway, I just kept downing shots, and by the end of it I was basically screaming at everyone in the bar about how half the stuff in the Pokédex is plain wrong. Like, ‘The first Kadabra wasn’t a human kid, you morons!’ and how Oak was a huge traitor to science for letting them put a bunch of lies in Dexter’s mouth.”

“…Makes sense. You kept goin’ on about that when we were kids, too…”

The rain was pounding now. “Yeah, so then they kicked us out. And I kid you not, the next morning I saw Bill’s ad in the classifieds for programmers to work on the Pokédex upgrade project, and I got on a bus for Cerulean. Then we made Dexter as smart as I always dreamed he’d be and we lived happily ever after. The end.”

Jen would have rolled her eyes, but it was hard to get them to move the way she wanted them to. “That’s a lame story.”

“Whatever, I’m trying to make a point. Yeah, your favorite gym sucked, but that’s only because no one ever tried to make it suck less. If you’re going to put this much emotional investment into something, you ought to take some agency in it yourself.”

Jen couldn’t follow this. “The hell are you talking about?”

“If you don’t like it, then you fix it. You’re the only one who cares, right? So who’s going to stop you?”

Jen tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a cough. “That was all years ago. It’s over.”

She staggered with Hanna back to the middle of the path. As they continued on their way, Hanna asked, “Wanna bet?”

*********

Jen woke up. She was lying on a couch in a Pokémon Center, presumably Ecruteak’s. The ceiling wasn’t moving, and she didn’t feel anything in her head. She took that as a good sign, but when she sat up the small hope that she wouldn’t have much of a hangover was dashed. When she thought about having to put on a decent face for the rest of the day—much less the rest of the vacation—she felt exhausted.

She got on her feet and stretched. There were a few young trainers still asleep on the sofa across from her, which made her hope that none of her inexcusable behavior the night before had reached any innocent minds or ears. She couldn’t recall arriving at the Pokécenter, but she was dry and clean enough now that she couldn’t have passed out at the entrance. The only one who would remember all the details was Hanna, whom Jen now noticed was conspicuously absent. This usually meant she was at a computer, so Jen dragged herself over to the row of PCs.

Sure enough, Hanna was hunched over a keyboard and her eyes were so strained that they hurt Jen’s just to look at them. Also to no surprise of Jen’s, Hanna was surrounded by several empty cans of coffee from the vending machine. She was probably down one caffeine pill as well, as if she’d never graduated college. Jen was about to ask what had kept her up all night, but Hanna spoke up first. “Well?”

Jen sighed. “I effed up. I’m sorry.”

Marie had been sleeping in the chair next to Hanna, but she woke up at the sound of talking. Jen wished Hanna would follow her Pokémon’s example and get some rest now and then.

“We’re going to put a stop to this,” said Hanna. “For real this time. You’re not carrying a flask with you anymore.”

Jen nodded and meant it, but she couldn’t resist adding, “Yes, Mom.”

Hanna gave her the finger, and Jen didn’t complain. Then her friend pushed herself away from the keyboard and leaned back into her chair. “Marie, crunch these last numbers, will you?”

There was a spreadsheet on the ancient, boxy monitor’s screen, and it was too early in the morning for Jen to decipher it. It seemed to be a fine time for Marie, though, as she held out one of her spoons and the keys began to press themselves at a rapid pace. In a matter of seconds the psychic-type was done with her calculations, and Hanna closed her eyes as she gave further instructions. “Okay, now print it. The other document, too.”

After a few more psychokinetically-induced keystrokes, the printer at the end of the table came to life. “You go get it,” said Hanna as she pointed at Jen.

Jen obeyed. She was ready to read anything that got her mind off of her dad and his awful gym, even if it was just more of Hanna’s nerd work. But then she looked at the first page and saw the title. “What’s…”

“It’s your business plan, along with rough cost estimates and revenue projections.”

In bold letters at the top it read, ‘Independent, Sustainable, Community Pokémon Gym.’ Jen didn’t know what to think, but she couldn’t take her eyes off it.

“You’ll need some other folks on board, of course,” said Hanna, who out of the blue gave a long pitch while barely pausing for air. “And you’ll probably have to operate at a loss for at least a few years. The good news is that since all the hot development around here’s been to the south and east the land where the original gym is should be cheap. The key thing will be to put in the effort to make everything cleaner and more attractive: No splinters, no rust, more paint, and no ugly buildings.

“For revenue you’ll want to focus on local parents who want cheap, family-friendly entertainment and activities. Getting participants for the tournaments shouldn’t be too hard—there are lots of local adult trainers who are in it for fun, and kid trainers are always passing through and they love finding new ways to test their skills.

“If you find or make some more true-believer weirdos like yourself, you should be able to get enough volunteer work to make it viable. It’ll have to be non-profit for that, and to start out you’ll definitely need to keep a day job, and either find a donor or take out a loan. You have to be extra-clear that there’s going to be no spectator gambling. It has to be safe for under-tens or it’ll go belly-up like the old ones did.”

Hanna finally stopped, and Jen tried to digest it all. The whole idea occupied the same space in her stomach as all the lying and cheating she’d learned about the day before. Yet despite that it sounded so perfect, even too good to be true.

She contemplated it for a solid minute. She recalled all those battles that had only been disguised as real battles. On top of that the old gym had had drunks puking under the bleachers, fans swearing at the top of their lungs while there were children around, and probably even less savory things she didn’t know about.

But the old gym had also been a place to run around in the open with her friends while her dad trained. It was where she borrowed her dad’s Vulpix on her eighth birthday and entered her first tournament, and the size of the arena had made it seem like such a huge deal. Most of all there were the warm nights, the popcorn, and those bright lights. The gamblers never realized what a great thing they had on their hands, or rather could have had.

“…Do you really think I can do it?”

Hanna said nothing as she was already snoring, but Jen didn’t need to hear her friend’s answer because it was written in ink. And she knew the answer was correct because whenever Hanna and Marie came up with something that involved this many numbers, it was rock solid.

As she felt her mouth break into a smile, she thought about finding a part-time job in Ecruteak while she worked on her new gym.

*

Next time: In Chapter 7, Krissy tries to go it alone.
 
Last edited:
Top