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Will Somebody Stop These Kids?

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
This is such a cute little side chapter. And more than that, it works really well – like, having read the rest of this story, and knowing the two characters and the type of narrative they involve themselves in, you kinda know a good 85% of what's going to happen before it does, and yet you keep reading anyway, because it's just really well executed. That's more like just me pointing and saying yeah! than any kind of serious review, I guess, but sometimes that's just how people respond to things, I guess.

Okay. To try and break down what I liked so much: the dynamic between Jen and Hanna, obviously, and the give-and-take of a friendship that you can tell immediately has a long history even without having read the rest of the fic; the solidity of the world, which is always a feature of this story but which comes out particularly strongly in this chapter, with how vividly and, moreover, how sensibly you expand the in-game world by looking at it and going “well okay but what if there were real people here with actual needs and desires”; the tight, economical plotting (you can very much tell this started life as a one-shot, but that's far from a bad thing, especially for these cool standalone side chapters); the way characters are allowed to screw things up, quite badly even, without forcing either a big dramatic confrontation or a giant personal transformation, because people do screw up, constantly, and we all usually just get on with things anyway. Is there more? Probably, but I think you get the point. This is an especially good chapter in a really good story, and I hope you placed high in that contest you originally entered it in because it really deserves it.

One final thing, I guess:

”icomeanon6” said:
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.
Don't worry, you made it very clear, looking back on it; I think this is just a case of my excitement temporarily getting the better of my reading comprehension. :p

All that said, looking forward to the next one!
 
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Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Well this was a fun look at Jen and Hanna's friendship. I absolutely love their dynamic, from the way they both love to ramble about subjects that other isn't really interested in, but they both put up with it 'cause that's what friends do. They just play off each other really well, and reading this extra made me immediately believe that they really do have this whole long history together that we've barely scratched the surface of, and that's something that's really hard to do in such a short amount of time. Actually... in general I have a surprisingly hard time just writing friends enjoying each other's company and shooting the ****. So it's fun to see it done so effectively here.

Not to mention, as usual, I love all the details you put into this. From the new Pokedex data-submission model to all the thought put into the existence and proliferation and (lack of) regulation of unofficial gyms, and Team Rocket's involvement in them. I was there in those stands with Jen, I could feel the excitement of the crowd and smell the popcorn and this is a world that feels alive, with people that have interests and entertainment and fun outside of the plot. And as a writer who tends to get way too focused on plot to the exclusion of everything else, I am jealous.

And that's to say nothing of the reveal itself. Actually, I do gotta express some skepticism that the paperwork they threw out when then gym closed would still be there after all these years, but I understand that it was necessary for the plot, so I'm not sure what else could have been done. In any case, I love the raw emotions that Jen went through as her image of her dad was torn to shreds, and the way that Hanna goes from the steadfast, reliable friend to the determined motivator like, "no, you're doing this, you don't get a choice."

One last note, Rabies was friggin adorable in this, and I love how you slipped in some bits of training wisdom, like never teaching fire types to burn random crap, and just how damn hard it is to teach a Pokemon to use the precise amount of power for a given situation.

It sounds like a new chapter is coming very soon, so until next time~!

~Chibi~;249;;448;
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[Replies to Cutlerine and Chibi:

Cutlerine said:
And more than that, it works really well – like, having read the rest of this story, and knowing the two characters and the type of narrative they involve themselves in, you kinda know a good 85% of what's going to happen before it does, and yet you keep reading anyway, because it's just really well executed.
That 85% thing is what made me put a note next to my revision list that said, "This isn't a real reveal anymore, so don't treat it like one," lol.

This is an especially good chapter in a really good story, and I hope you placed high in that contest you originally entered it in because it really deserves it.
Bear in mind that this version has benefited from lots of helpful feedback following the contest. (It's also over 1000 words shorter owing to the fact that a lot of Hanna's development could be "outsourced" to the rest of the fic. The original was less focused and I'd say more indulgent.) I did place high, though. :) You ought to pop in at PC for this year's contest! It'll be like old times!

[...]the solidity of the world, which is always a feature of this story but which comes out particularly strongly in this chapter, with how vividly and, moreover, how sensibly you expand the in-game world by looking at it and going “well okay but what if there were real people here with actual needs and desires”[...]
Chibi Pika said:
I was there in those stands with Jen, I could feel the excitement of the crowd and smell the popcorn and this is a world that feels alive, with people that have interests and entertainment and fun outside of the plot.
I try not to toot my own horn, but I think this short is where the solidity/vitality of the world is genuinely strong. The reason I think is because the stuff with the "minor-league" gyms is the most personal aspect of my little fanon. I'm actually kind of obsessed with baseball parks, including minor league ones, and a lot of what ended up in here stems from my intense nostalgia for a single-A park which (to my trained adult eyes) is in fact a total dump. Like Jen with her gyms, I can talk for HOURS about my ballparks, so I'll leave it at that. :)

Actually, I do gotta express some skepticism that the paperwork they threw out when then gym closed would still be there after all these years, but I understand that it was necessary for the plot, so I'm not sure what else could have been done.
Russo put those there the week prior so Jen would find them and get sad. He was cackling like a madman. Yeah, you're right, and I don't know how else to handle it either. The excuse I tell myself is that the place is out of the way and nobody cares enough to clean it up. And the bags don't smell like food, so no wild pokemon dug into them? (Shrug.) Just one of those things where I decide it's not worth the time to think of something better.

And as a writer who tends to get way too focused on plot to the exclusion of everything else, I am jealous.
"Jealousy" is too flattering for me to handle; I think I'm literally blushing. I definitely though wanted this story to be near equal parts an exploration of the lives of Pokemon trainers (slice of life) and proper plot, which is why I tried to be very deliberate about the chapter structure. I'm always super-worried when I post the non-numbered chapters that the plot's taking too much of a backseat. Speaking of the plot, here's Chapter 7!

Thanks for reading!]

Chapter 7

June, 2017

Krissy rubbed her eyes. It was still early in the morning and she had been walking for over three hours. This would have been hard enough if she’d been sticking to the trails, but she had opted for a more secluded and obscure route back to her house. She checked the topographical map she’d bought in town yesterday. The mansion was only an eighth of a mile away. By the time she reached the top of the hill she was on, she was dragging her feet. She leaned against a tree, took some deep breaths, and decided it would be best to take a short rest. Approaching the enemy stronghold while exhausted was always a poor decision, after all.

She collapsed, closed her eyes, and wondered if the boys had woken up to read her letter yet. Even though she knew no good come from it, she tried to picture how they would react to it. Jason was easy enough: he would show more than a good deal of righteous indignation that she’d acted unilaterally. And she imagined he’d be sad, even though he’d probably be too proud to show it. But it occurred to her that she was likely projecting on him and indulging in wishful thinking. It wouldn’t be the first time she misunderstood how someone felt about her. Or second.

Travis’s reaction was easier to guess. He was mad that saving Wyvern was out of his hands now, but he was hiding how glad he was to be rid of her. The thought churned her stomach more than a little, so she turned on her side and tried not to think about it anymore. The important thing was that she was making process. This attempt had lasted a year and fifty-nine days longer than her first try, hadn’t it? All she had to do was wrap up a few loose ends at the mansion, and then she was free to find some new kids who might turn into her comrades. So there really wasn’t a good reason for her to feel as sick and miserable as she did.

At some point she nodded off. When she woke up it was still morning and she felt well enough to keep moving. It would take a conscious effort, but she decided not to think about the boys for the rest of the day. Now that they were in checkmate and had no choice but to go to a Pokémon Center, there was no point in wasting any more of her mental stamina on them. She took a heading of west-south-west and walked on to her destination.

Before long she was standing behind one of the last trees at the edge of the mansion grounds. There was a good forty yards of open grass between her and the building itself, which had two long stories of large windows where someone might look out and see her approaching. The best-case scenario was that she could get inside unnoticed and sneak into her father’s office with no one the wiser. That meant the front door was a non-starter, but it was also the only entrance to which she had a key.

She clicked her tongue. Her best bet then would be to find Alessa somehow and get through the service entrance around back with her. Coming into contact with anyone was a risk of course, even with Alessa, but the chances of her being unsympathetic seemed low. Krissy just hoped she wouldn’t ask too many questions. With no options remaining that involved the front of the mansion, she stuck to the trees and made her way around back.

The trees were much closer on this side of the property. An added bonus was that there were also fewer windows, as the only people who came back here were ones her father didn’t care to impress with architecture. In particular, the dull steel door that the Grunts used stuck out like a sore thumb, especially with its heavy, conspicuous lock. If Krissy remembered rightly, Alessa’s window was one above and two to the right from there. She grabbed a pebble from the ground, looked both ways, and ventured into the open space behind the mansion. Then she tossed the pebble at the window, missed it by a mile, scrambled back for cover in a panic, and broke her own rule by wishing Jason were here to make a decent throw.

She shook off the stray thought and composed herself. But her composure was lost again almost immediately when the steel door opened with a loud scraping noise. She made sure she was well behind a tree and waited for whoever it was to pass by.

“…saw Slate earlier today. Dude looked like sh*t.”

“Well, can you blame him? You ever spent fifteen days in the brig?”

They were two men; not Alessa as Krissy had hoped. She continued to listen carefully, though, as she’d never heard of anyone receiving a sentence of that length. She could barely imagine spending even two days underground.

“Didn’t say I blamed him, just said he looked like sh*t, geeze.”

“He never should’ve gone down there in the first place, that’s what’s getting me.”

Krissy thought she heard one of them light a cigarette. Smoking was forbidden inside the building itself, including in the basement and sub-basement.

“Course not, wasn’t even close to his fault. I don’t think anyone would’ve gotten out of there with their Pokémon. Like, you’re this close to moving on from Grunt and bam.”

“Yeah. But just try telling that to Rus—”

“Hey! Watch it, dumb*ss, the walls have ears.”

“Whatever. Oh, y’know what else I heard was…”

The Grunts went back and forth for several minutes on topics that were of no concern to Krissy. As they rambled on, she considered the matter of this ‘Slate’ who’d just been released from the brig. It seemed likely that he held a grudge against her father, which meant there was a small possibility that she could use this to her advantage. Trying to find and deal with this person would have to be Plan D or later and it carried considerable risk, but it was still important to keep all options open.

Eventually the other two went back inside. Krissy waited another five minutes until she felt safe enough to give the window another try. She picked up three more pebbles, took a deep breath, and walked out into the open a second time. She pulled her arm back and took more care to aim. But, as before, the pebble bounced off the brick instead of the glass. She bit her lip, tried to adjust the motion she’d just gone through in her head, and then convulsed as the steel door to her left slammed open again.

She jerked her head over. Standing there with a look of intense anger and incredulity on his face was the last Grunt she ever wanted to see again. It was the old one with the crooked eye. The same one who had the Ursaring and the Golbat. The same one who’d kidnapped Wyvern and would no doubt like to see her and her friends dead. For a moment that felt far longer, Krissy froze.

The Grunt took a step forward and started to say something that would probably have been, ‘Hey, you!’ In that instant Krissy’s adrenaline took over. Her hand moved on its own to her belt. Before she knew what her plan was, a Pokéball was on its way to the midpoint between her and the enemy. The right words came out of her mouth at the same time. “Ice Punch!”

The Grunt only had time to stop in his tracks and lift his hands halfway to where they needed to be. As soon as Frostbite appeared, she leapt straight for his head and retracted her claws faster than a human can blink. Her knuckles glowed blue as they clipped the Grunt’s right eye.

Gaaaaaah!

The Grunt dropped to a knee, and even behind his hands Krissy could see the frost and blood on his face. Rather than wait to see any more and give him any chance to retaliate, she swiped Frostbite’s ball from the ground and sprinted for the woods. Soon her Pokémon was running beside her and she returned her to the ball. That was when she heard the enemy shout something incoherent, or maybe she just couldn’t parse the words with how her head was right then. If he was calling for reinforcements, then they could be coming her way any second. So she kept running, and hard.

At some point she tripped and had to catch herself to keep her head from colliding with a tree trunk. Her heart felt like it was about to pound out of her chest, which made it hard to hear the voices coming from different directions behind her. She forced herself to run farther away from them. The analytical functions that dominated her brain under normal circumstances were gone. The closest thing she had left was an overwhelming instinct to escape the danger.

‘Away’ and ‘escape’ meant uphill, and her legs were dying from it. As the adrenaline wore off, her body gravitated toward the more level way. But this put her on a tangent from the optimal trajectory, and at any other time this would have been obvious to her and indeed to anyone who knew forwards from backwards or sideways. When she had to stop for air again this dawned on her despite her spinning head. She put a hand to her temple and tried to calm herself down so she wouldn’t make any more mistakes. To her left was the base of a small bluff, to her right was downhill and therefore peril, and in front of her was a tall, dense clump of shrubs and bushes. The logical course would be to backtrack, but then she heard the fast feet coming from behind.

Her hands shook. Running downhill was an unsustainable solution, so she had to fight here. She took Lucia’s ball from her belt and hoped there was only one of the enemy and that they wouldn’t shout. Then she turned around, and the sight of the black outfit with the red ‘R’ almost sprung her into action. But she stopped.

It was Alessa. She was standing still just like Krissy, breathing hard, and wearing a loss of an expression. Then she advanced quickly but not threateningly. Krissy didn’t move a muscle when she wrapped her arms around her.

“Holy sh*t, Lucy. The hell were you thinking?”

Krissy didn’t know what to say. It had never crossed her mind that she’d have to talk to Alessa immediately after she possibly maimed a fellow Grunt. And she’d never thought she’d maim anyone, either, and this kept her from speaking just as much.

“I thought you might leave and burn all your bridges someday, but picking a fight with Slate? Twice?

Did she say ‘Slate?’ And ‘twice?’ “…H…How did you—”

Alessa pulled back and held onto Krissy’s shoulders as she stared right in her face. “Wait. You thought we didn’t know about that?”

Why would they? Krissy had never seen him before the first fight and he’d never seen her. She shook her head.

“You and your pals made him lose three top-notch Pokémon in one day! Your dad grilled him for hours! How many preteen girl-geniuses with a Bayleef do you think are out there? Slate just had to ID you in a photo and we knew it was you!”

Not a single step in this chain had occurred to her once. It felt like she had been walking in a minefield for hours without knowing it, where ‘hours’ meant over two weeks. She felt her eyes grow wide.

Alessa continued. “Don’t tell me you’ve been this close to home the whole time! I guess that’d explain why they haven’t found you up north, yet.” She then began to drag Krissy by the arm. “Well, come on! They sure as hell know where to look now. We’ve got to get you farther away from here.”

Krissy was exhausted, but somehow she moved along with Alessa.

“You better appreciate how dead I am if they find me with you.”

“…I’m… sorry…”

“I don’t need you to be sorry. I need you to be smart. Now pick up the pace!”

Krissy tried, but it was immensely easier said than done. Somehow she made it close to another mile through the woods before she slowed down so much that Alessa nearly had to lift her to get her to move at all. Her eyes were having trouble focusing and it hurt her throat to breathe.

Alessa sighed. “I guess we can take a break. Gotta be somewhere out of sight, though.”

Nearby there was an ancient tree whose roots covered a wide dip in the earth. Alessa lead the way underneath, and when they sat down Krissy collapsed into her side.

“Still finding it hard to run, huh?”

Krissy was gasping too hard to answer in words, but she nodded. Alessa rubbed her head and she felt somewhat soothed.

“I suspected for a while, but if you’re still having trouble after a year of exercise I think you might just have small lungs.”

Neither of them said anything for a while. At length Krissy’s pulse slowed and her breathing came closer to normal. Only when she was ready to talk did Alessa ask, “So, three questions: have you had any adventures yet, did you meet any cool people, and what the hell were you doing snooping around the mansion?”

The answers to these questions were inextricably tied together, so Krissy began her explanation with Jason and Travis. She took her time to relay what in her mind were all of the relevant threads to the story. Though she tried, she was still disappointingly unable to fully describe the mechanics of Jason’s uncanny talent for catching wild Pokémon. She devoted so many words to this element of Jason’s character—as well as to Travis’s knack for teaching advanced water-type abilities to young Pokémon—that by comparison the revelation of her crusade against Team Rocket was brief and blunt. If Alessa found anything peculiar about this, or offensive about the fact that they were ostensibly enemies now, she gave no hint of it. The sole major omission in Krissy’s version of the tale was the matter of her new name.

When she was finished she put emphasis on the most critical point: although she and Travis were not friends as she once suspected, Wyvern still needed rescuing.

Alessa nodded. “Yeeaaah… that’s not something I’d ask your dad for help with. Still think it’s pretty dumb to try stealing his PKI card.”

Krissy forgot everything else for the moment and jumped on this clue. “Card? Do you know what it looks like?”

“Forget it. And before you ask I don’t know where he keeps it, either.”

“I think it either has to be in his office or on his person. And—”

“Look. Lucy.” Alessa sounded more serious than Krissy had heard her in years. “Don’t you think this is awfully far to go for someone who’s not even your friend?”

Krissy hadn’t thought about it this way yet, which she could hardly believe herself. “Well… he’s a friend of a friend, anyway. Friend of maybe-a-friend.” She thought about it for another moment and felt ill. “…Friend of a former friend, maybe.”

Alessa said nothing. Krissy shook her head and brought herself back to the real reason. “It was my fault. He didn’t want any part of this, and I pushed—well, maybe Jason did most of the actual pushing, but—”

“It’s not your responsibility what he does with his Pokémon. I’m sorry about what happened—you know I wish we’d only steal from assholes and banks—but his mistake ain’t worth risking your neck.”

Krissy had predicted that Alessa would react in roughly this way, but she had hoped otherwise. She’d learned about heroes from Alessa’s books in the first place, and a hero knew that their neck existed for risking. She wanted to explain to her that it wasn’t nearly enough to run away from home; she had to be her father’s antithesis, and that meant saving Wyvern. She almost began to say something along these lines, but everything stood still when she heard the sound of snapping twigs not far away. Then there were footsteps, and more than one set of them.

Alessa put her hand over Krissy’s mouth for a moment, and then she crept forward without making a sound. Krissy stayed where she was and didn’t dare move a muscle, not even for one of her Pokéballs. She could only hope that the other Grunts were unaware of their presence and were only passing through. Alessa held up a finger at her and rose to her feet: it seemed she had a plan.

“Hey!” she called out to no one Krissy could see. “Anyone seen her yet?”

For a long second there was nothing. Alessa turned to her left and looked over the edge of the depression, which is why she didn’t see the body flying in from the right. Jason yelled at the top of his lungs as he landed on Alessa’s back and hung on by her neck.

“Aggh! Who the f*ck—

Krissy’s jaw dropped. She rushed forward to break them up, but as soon as she was out from under cover a second flying body collided with her and knocked her to the ground. This one was smaller and furrier and proceeded to lick her face. As she tried to remove herself from underneath Rabies someone grabbed her hand and tried to pull her up, but this only threw her physical predicament into further confusion.

Meanwhile, Alessa continued to rave. “Get off me, you little sh*t!”

“Never!”

Bark! Bark!

“Come on, we’re getting you out of here!”

Krissy would have liked to explain to Travis that (besides her being stuck under a large puppy) she was in no need of extrication. But she was finding the concept difficult to articulate and had to settle for yelling, “Guys! Guys! Knock it off!

*********

It was fifteen minutes later when Krissy felt more acutely awkward than she ever had in her entire life. She was sitting on the ground with Alessa on one side and Jason and Travis on the other. She had meant for them all to sit in a circle, but it ended up being more of a squat triangle as the boys and Alessa mutually refrained from sitting as close to each other as to Krissy.

At the moment, everyone was staring at her while she was staring at the trees. She had just finished explaining the gist of her situation to Jason and Travis. It hadn’t gone the way she’d imagined it would a year ago. There was no drama, no artfulness to how she’d explained it. It wasn’t nighttime or even raining. She’d said something to the effect of “Mariano Russo is my father. I want to defeat him and get Team Rocket out of Johto someday. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t think they’d want to be around me.” It was straightforward. On-the-nose. Boring. You were supposed to at least make poetic use of the third-person when revealing something of such significance.

She waited, and at great length someone finally said something. It was Jason. “So… do you want us to call you ‘Lucy,’ then?”

Krissy shook her head.

“Actually,” said Alessa in an uncharacteristically small voice, “I think I’m the only one who calls her that. It was usually just her proper name. ‘Lucia.’”

Krissy endured a moment of crushing anticipation before the boys broke into their slowly-building but inevitable laughter. It grew especially loud from Jason.

Alessa didn’t seem to get what was so funny, yet. “Huh?”

Then Jason finally said, “You named your starter after yourself!”

Alessa started laughing her head off immediately. “Omigod, you’re kidding!”

Travis tried to restrain himself, but he wasn’t doing a good job. “Knew it. I knew that name had to come from somewhere.”

Krissy wanted to find a hole to hide in.

“You don’t know the half of it!” said Alessa. This time she was actually addressing the boys directly, and while smiling, no less. “One time when she was younger she was writing a story, like a little fantasy novel, and she named the main characters after me and her even though they were nothing like us! She just couldn’t think of any other names! And then she begged me to come up with the names for all the other characters, and oh my god, Chikorita’s ‘Lucia’ now! That is so her!”

At the very least, it seemed like this might make the three of them friendlier with each other. Krissy supposed she might survive the embarrassment after all in that case.

But then Jason asked her, “So wait, what about your name? Who’s ‘Krissy,’ then?”

No one had said ‘Krissy’ the entire conversation so far. She’d been hoping to get away with just ‘Lucy.’ Alessa covered her mouth with both hands and looked like she might explode from holding the obvious truth back from her mouth. Krissy shot her a look that said, ‘Please, please don’t say anything or I might literally die.’

In what appeared to take a herculean effort, Alessa removed her hands and said, “No idea.”

“And none of your business,” added Krissy. She hoped that would be the end of it. The laughter did in fact die down, but what followed was worse in retrospect.

Travis stared Alessa down. “So are you gonna help us or not?” From the look on his face, you wouldn’t know that he’d been in such a good mood only moments ago.

Just like that the smile was gone from Alessa’s face as well. “Slow down, pipsqueak. I’m thinking about it.”

Krissy could see from Jason and Travis’s eyes that they didn’t believe there was anything to think about. She wanted to say that this was Alessa’s livelihood at stake and that the Rockets treated traitors worse than they treated cops. She almost remembered what happened to the last police officer they caught trying to break into a hideout, but something in her brain mercifully stopped her.

This was far easier for Krissy than it could ever be for Alessa. Krissy had any number of mitigating factors protecting her from fierce retaliation: nepotism, age, perceived threat, et cetera. But Alessa was an adult of no relation to anyone important and she had taken an oath of loyalty. Whatever Krissy had in store if her father caught her was certainly dreadful, but it wouldn’t be lethal. She couldn’t say the same thing with confidence for Alessa. There was no escaping that uniform.

But she didn’t know how to say any of this without sounding like an apologist. She couldn’t think of anything worse than Jason and Travis seeing her as a defender of Rocket Grunts.

While she was thinking, another tense silence had settled in. This time Alessa was the one to break it. “Anyway, we still have to get all of you further north for now. They might send out another wave of searchers.” She stood up. This didn’t resolve the situation by any means, but Krissy would take a continuing, pragmatic ceasefire.

Jason stood up as well, and Travis followed suit after him. “We passed some on the way here,” said Jason. “They just asked if we’d seen anyone and kept moving. They weren’t going the right direction.”

“Good. Better safe than sorry, though, right? I’ll cook for you guys tonight.”

With that, the three of them followed her in silence. The things that could lie in store for Alessa hung heavily on Krissy’s mind, and this made her realize she hadn’t thought enough about what might happen to Jason and Travis. Things were never supposed to escalate to this point until they were at least fifteen and could better protect themselves.

So nothing had really changed since the night before. Krissy was the only one who was anywhere close to safe.

*********

Krissy was tired, but she wasn’t asleep. The clouds were too thick for stars and the fire was already out. Everything was as dark as could be. It gave her some small measure of confidence that she could sneak away again. It was the right thing to do, especially now that there was one more person involved. If she was quick enough, then she might just bring everything to a happy end before the others could follow her to the mansion. This plan had seemed like a longshot when she was more awake, but now it was clearly doable.

She sat up without making a sound. There was another critical difference between this night and the one prior: Alessa’s keys. They were only a few feet to Krissy’s right, and if she could find them then it would all go so much more smoothly. She could get inside the house without anyone’s help. There was still the matter of getting into her father’s office, but she wasn’t the worst lock-pick in the world. This was too good a chance to pass up, and she could save Alessa and the boys so much grief this way.

She crept as carefully as she could next to Alessa, who was lying on her side. Krissy listened to her breathing pattern. It was regular, which meant she was asleep. If the keys were in her right pocket like Krissy thought, then she could get them without disturbing her. It was going to be simple, she told herself, and it let her keep everyone safe.

Krissy wiped some sweat from her forehead and dried her hands on her shirt. Then she slowly reached out to where the top of Alessa’s leg was supposed to be. Her fingertips touched her hip. Then before she could move them any further a hand grabbed her wrist so fast and so hard that she thought it would break off. Alessa bolted upright and yanked her closer to her.

Krissy started to cry out, but she just stopped herself. She couldn’t see a thing, but the way Alessa refused to loosen her grip painted a distinct picture. Krissy imagined a pair of burning eyes that were beyond furious. The way Alessa’s hand twitched and continued to squeeze the life out of Krissy’s wrist said something to the effect of, ‘I told you what would happen if you ever tried this again.’ But Krissy didn’t know whom Alessa was talking to and didn’t want to know; she was just trying to help.

Alessa pulled her in until her mouth was right next to Krissy’s ear. She whispered, “Don’t mess with sleeping people. Not everyone likes that.” There was acid in her voice that she was clearly trying but failing to keep down. Krissy wanted to say she was one of those people, but now she wasn’t sure she knew what that even meant.

“Were you after my keys?”

Krissy barely managed to squeak the word, “Yes…”

“You realize if I was a little less sharp I would’ve clocked you? Busted your head right in?”

She did now. “…Yes…”

“Is this how it’s going to be if I don’t help you or drag you away? You’ll keep pulling stupid, suicidal sh*t until you get that kid’s Seadra back? The one you said ain’t even your friend?”

“…Yes.”

Alessa’s hand kept twitching for several seconds, but then it gradually calmed down. “Fine. Go to sleep. We’ll all rest up, and then tomorrow night I’ll sneak you and your friends into the mansion. I’m keeping my keys with me, you’re on your own from there, and you never saw me.”

Krissy was a little relieved, but she still swallowed. “Jason and Travis too?”

“You want them to track you down again and ruin everything? Unless you can tie ’em up and leave ’em here, they’re coming too. If you don’t like it, pick some better friends next time.”

Alessa finally let go. The conversation was over and the matter was settled. Krissy crawled back to her sleeping bag and rubbed her wrist. She didn’t know what was worse: that Alessa was right, or that the boys were going to agree to the plan without a second thought.

*

Next time: In Chapter 8, Jen finds complications for the search from without and within.

[Just letting you guys know, the next chapter will take a little longer to get here because I'll be mostly away from the computer for about 10 days in a bit. Thanks so much for reading, and I'll see you soon!]
 
Last edited:

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
So I decided to skim through Dad's Old Gym once more to see what changes you did and I think I agree having this be primarily Jen's POV this time around gives this story a more tight focus. There are also some subtle changes I noticed but actually makes the details much richer, like Krissy's father meeting with Jen's father with that dive. There's also the reference to fire safety that gives Jen's father a bit more character. So yeah, I like the changes you did here!

Onto the latest chapter, I like the interactions between Krissy and Alyssa there, and everyone's reactions to Krissy being bad at names was amusing. Yeah, I agree with Alyssa how Krissy is stubborn to try to get things done without anyone's help, even if it's with good intentions. Looking forward to how this unfolds next.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
One of the things that I really like about this story is the way things go wrong. I think I said something about it in a previous review, but this chapter in particular shows that quality off really well: the way nothing ever goes as planned, and never for any particularly obvious reason other than the difference between thought and execution, between advanced combat training and the material fact of an eleven-year-old body and mind. It's really tightly plotted, but you don't see that when you're reading, you just see organic twists and turns.

This is also a great chapter for showing off the way you quite skilfully push people into impossible-but-plausible positions – like, that's been a thing throughout, from Derek's quandary in the very first chapter, but it really shines here with Krissy trying with all her childish-striving-for-maturity acumen to mediate between Alessa and the boys, and the depth of the possibilities and history that plays out in her head while she does so. Maybe it's a little more than an eleven-year-old might actually manage in real life, and if so that might be one slight issue with this fic in general, but it's been a while since I was eleven, so perhaps I'm just misremembering how complicated it was.

“I thought you might leave burn all your bridges someday, but picking a fight with Slate? Twice?”
You're missing an 'and' there, I think. But I think that's about all the criticism I've got. Did I mention I really like this story? 'Cause I really like this story. Definitely on tenterhooks to see what happens next.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Well this was an excellent chapter filled with rockety goodness. I love how effectively you’ve managed to combine moments of both cunning and childishness from Krissy. Despite her calculated approach to everything, she still has those occasional bits of extreme oversight and failure to plan. While it could be said that she reads as older than 11, I think it makes sense when you consider her upbringing. She was forced into rigorous training and was never really able to be a normal kid.

I’m really liking Alyssa. She might be sympathetic and kind toward Krissy, but she’s a lot more hardcore than I was expecting. Really drives home the point that she's still a Rocket, and there's only so far she can go to help the kids out. Especially since she's at a much higher risk than Krissy in this situation. Speaking of which, I liked the part where Krissy came to that realization but had no real way to explain it to Jason or Travis. She still hates Team Rocket, of course, but she understands the situation that individual Rockets are in. She’s seen that truth first hand.

I can only imagine what kind of disaster they're gonna get themselves into inside the mansion itself. And we still have yet to see how the adult protagonists are gonna handle this situation. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to reading more once you return from your trip!

~Chibi~;249;;448;
 

GastlyMan

Ghost Type Trainer
I'm really liking how this story is progressing. Everything about Krissy/Lucy makes so much more sense now that we know her father's with Team Rocket. Her almost mechanical, textbook approach to trying to make friends is sad to watch, but it makes sense considering how terribly she was treated growing up.

The chapter with Jen and Hannah was also really cool. After seeing a snapshot of what Jen's childhood was like, she became much more three-dimensional. And you feel bad for her! I think that's one thing I really love about this fic, actually. Nobody is 2D. Most of the important characters have at least some sort of backstory.

Also, Rabies as a little pup was fun to read. :3

Anyway, I'm going to keep this short since I'm on my phone right now. Good luck with the next chapter! :)
 

bobandbill

Winning Smile
Staff member
Super Mod
I liked the shorter version of the Dad's Old Gym chapter. Good work with the trimming and keeping it to the one POV, while maybe removing some added neat aspects (e.g. a conversation with Bill, which I suppose has that dynamics earlier in this fic anyway so removing it makes sense) was pretty successful in telling the tale. And your ballpark nostalgia definitely shines through in both versions. Speaking of:
This is an especially good chapter in a really good story, and I hope you placed high in that contest you originally entered it in because it really deserves it.
As a judge of that contest, iirc he got a (close) second. =p

Newest chapter continues to entertain. Nice to see more on Alessa and a somewhat different side to what we saw from before Krissy left. One can appreciate the trouble she's going through with betraying TR. Looking forward to the next chapter!
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[Replies to readers' comments in the spoiler tags below (there are a few spoilers there, but only for prior chapters):

Bay said:
So I decided to skim through Dad's Old Gym once more to see what changes you did and I think I agree having this be primarily Jen's POV this time around gives this story a more tight focus. There are also some subtle changes I noticed but actually makes the details much richer, like Krissy's father meeting with Jen's father with that dive. There's also the reference to fire safety that gives Jen's father a bit more character. So yeah, I like the changes you did here!
I'm definitely glad I could swallow my pride and make some needed improvements to it. Also glad that you noticed the little tie-ins. :) Thanks for your feedback on both versions!

Onto the latest chapter, I like the interactions between Krissy and Alyssa there, and everyone's reactions to Krissy being bad at names was amusing.
Poor Krissy. For all her serious troubles, she can't escape how silly her problem with names is. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Cutlerine said:
One of the things that I really like about this story is the way things go wrong. I think I said something about it in a previous review, but this chapter in particular shows that quality off really well: the way nothing ever goes as planned, and never for any particularly obvious reason other than the difference between thought and execution, between advanced combat training and the material fact of an eleven-year-old body and mind. It's really tightly plotted, but you don't see that when you're reading, you just see organic twists and turns.
I always worry about writing something that goes like "They came up with a plan, and then they did the plan," so that's a relief.

Maybe it's a little more than an eleven-year-old might actually manage in real life, and if so that might be one slight issue with this fic in general, but it's been a while since I was eleven, so perhaps I'm just misremembering how complicated it was.
Chibi mentioned this too, and the eleven-year-olds and especially Krissy definitely manage a little more than an eleven-year-old probably could in real life. I justify this to myself with the fact that characters being improbably capable is a problem that pervades all of fiction forever (how do people in movies hold their breath underwater for that long? Bugs the hell out of me). Mostly I just hope they come across as more emotionally realistic than they do in terms of ability.

ChloboShoka said:
I found the kids and characters really entertaining and funny, especially Derek.
Hey, thanks! I'm pleasantly surprised by how the positive the response for Derek has been so far. Thanks for reading! :)

Chibi Pika said:
Well this was an excellent chapter filled with rockety goodness. I love how effectively you’ve managed to combine moments of both cunning and childishness from Krissy. Despite her calculated approach to everything, she still has those occasional bits of extreme oversight and failure to plan.
I definitely trust your opinion on rockety goodness! (I've started reading Legendarian Chronicles by the way, and I love how it jumps right into some exciting action. Expect a review of the earlier chapters this week.)

My idea with Krissy is that she falls into the trap of thinking that her ability to completely read something relatively self-contained like a Pokemon battle extends to the rest of life.

I’m really liking Alyssa. She might be sympathetic and kind toward Krissy, but she’s a lot more hardcore than I was expecting. Really drives home the point that she's still a Rocket, and there's only so far she can go to help the kids out.
Alessa was more ad-hoc in her development than the others, but I saw a good opportunity to have more than one real character in Team Rocket. It was actually some of your comments on earlier chapters that made me realize how necessary this was, so thanks!

And we still have yet to see how the adult protagonists are gonna handle this situation.
You can scroll down to find out! ;D

GastlyMan said:
Her almost mechanical, textbook approach to trying to make friends is sad to watch, but it makes sense considering how terribly she was treated growing up.
In my head the reason her upbringing gives her so much trouble with making friends in particular is that she's been kept awfully inexperienced with having any. Glad it was sad (man that sounds terrible).

The chapter with Jen and Hannah was also really cool. After seeing a snapshot of what Jen's childhood was like, she became much more three-dimensional. And you feel bad for her! I think that's one thing I really love about this fic, actually. Nobody is 2D. Most of the important characters have at least some sort of backstory.
I'll be interested in which main character readers think is least/most developed when the story is finished. I'm trying not to leave anyone behind, so this is encouraging.

Also, Rabies as a little pup was fun to read. :3
Li'l Rabies is an adorable ball of chaos, and he was just as fun to write. :)

bobandbill said:
I liked the shorter version of the Dad's Old Gym chapter. Good work with the trimming and keeping it to the one POV, while maybe removing some added neat aspects (e.g. a conversation with Bill, which I suppose has that dynamics earlier in this fic anyway so removing it makes sense) was pretty successful in telling the tale. And your ballpark nostalgia definitely shines through in both versions.
BAALLLPAAARRKS I definitely tried to fix some of Dad's Old Gym by "outsourcing" elements to the rest of the story. Thanks for your feedback both before and after!

Newest chapter continues to entertain. Nice to see more on Alessa and a somewhat different side to what we saw from before Krissy left. One can appreciate the trouble she's going through with betraying TR. Looking forward to the next chapter!
I wasn't going out of my way to show a different side of her, but now that I think about it that's what should happen when you try to show the same character under very different circumstances.

Speaking of the next chapter...

Thanks for reading!]

Content Warning: There is a higher density of coarse language in this chapter than in the others.

Chapter 8

It was almost noon when Jen was standing outside the Violet City Pokémon Center. She had no way of knowing this, but at that very moment Jason was jumping onto a Rocket Grunt’s back in a desperate attempt to rescue his prodigal friend from what he mistook to be considerable peril. As for Jen, she was handing out fliers to anyone who walked by.

“Excuse me, sir, have you seen these children? Please call this number if you do. Thank you.”

“…No, ma’am, I’m afraid we don’t have a picture of the girl. She should be with the boys, though.”

“You guys seen these trainers before? Well, if you could keep an eye out that’d be real great.”

This was turning into the same routine that she’d gone through in Cerulean City. She must have talked to hundreds of people by now and handed out twice as many fliers, but no one had seen the kids. It felt like all it was doing was costing her a bundle at the copier store. Even though it was true that she had some small reason to be more optimistic about their chances in Violet City, it was hard to shake off that sense of futility.

‘Hanna and Derek said they were here, and that’s that. We’ll find ’em for sure this time.’ Her main partners in the search were not in town at the moment. It had only been a few hours ago that she got the call from them with the news, immediately after which she hopped on the first bus while they presumably passed out to recover from the all-nighter. The plan was that they’d meet up sometime that evening.

Jen saw that her stack of fliers was growing thin, so that meant it was back to the copy machines, and probably the ATM before that. She looked around as she walked and saw that the number of people out and about for their lunch break was starting to pick up. She hoped to be ready to hand out more fliers before the streets turned quiet again. She was thinking it might be a good idea to try around the Tower District too when something else caught her eye.

A young woman had just dropped a paper of her own on the cobblestones and was bent over to pick it up. She was wearing all black including a cap that she kept pulled low over her forehead, and her boots were nearly combat-ready. As Jen hadn’t been born yesterday, the fact that her jacket was zipped closed to hide the ‘R’ didn’t fool her for a second. The best thing to do at a time like this was to pretend she was an idiot and walk right past the obvious Grunt as if she were invisible.

Not that this was easy. Jen stuck her right hand in her pocket to keep herself from making a fist. It sure would have been something if she could get Jason and his friends back just by giving one Rocket a black eye. She began to indulge in a few thoughts of intense (but still restrained and justifiable) violence, which gave her a small case of whiplash when the Grunt stepped in front of her path and said, “’Scuse me.”

‘Act normal. Act normal.’ “Yeah?”

The Grunt held up a flier which bore a single portrait with no description. “You seen this girl?”

Jen’s eyes nearly bugged out, but she caught herself. It was Krissy’s picture. At least Jen thought it was. It had to be, right? Then again she’d only ever seen her for a little while a few weeks ago. No, it was definitely Krissy. Team Rocket was specifically looking for Krissy. “’Fraid not.”

“Hmph.”

The Grunt was about to leave, when a few ideas struck Jen at once. She wanted to be sure beyond any doubt that it was Krissy, and they also really needed a photo. She quickly reached for her phone and asked, “Hey, want me to take a picture of that? My friend knows everyone around here.”

The young woman hesitated, and her mouth came half-way open but she didn’t say anything. ‘Come on,’ thought Jen. ‘You don’t want to act suspicious either, do you, you evil little b*tch?’ Whether for this reason or because she simply couldn’t find any harm in it, the Grunt did hold up the flier again. Jen snapped a picture of it quickly but casually. Then she put on a look of concern that wasn’t exactly fake, but was perhaps deliberately misdirected.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find her soon.”

The Grunt nodded, and then walked off at a hurried pace. Jen turned the other direction and did likewise. She wanted to focus on the positive development in that she could change the flier to have all three pictures now, but even she couldn’t pretend that this was nothing compared to how much more drastic the situation the become. She prayed that Team Rocket didn’t know that the kids were probably in the area, because if she had to bet money on who would find them first it wouldn’t be on herself.

It was when she walked straight past the sign that read ‘Copy, Photo, Print’ that Jen realized her eyes were fixed into a nervous glare. She tried to shake it off. Was it still too early to call Hanna and Derek? ‘Of course not. Sleep be damned—this is an emergency.’

As Jen took out her phone again to try Hanna first, she went over again in her head who was supposed to know what: Hanna presumably knew a little something about Derek’s job, as she had probably applied her hacker skills to some of Derek’s work data in order to get the information from earlier this morning. Depending on how carefully Derek had selected and redacted his data, he probably still thought that Hanna knew little and Jen knew nothing. Either way, Jen still had to act like she was totally in the dark when she talked to either of them.

It was getting increasingly difficult to pretend that she hadn’t ‘accidentally’ learned about Derek’s job as an undercover cop when she was seventeen.

*********

It was a few hours later when Jen was sitting on the curb by a hotel on the outskirts of town. Two cars drove by and she found herself growing anxious. She was thinking about calling Hanna again when Derek’s truck pulled into the parking lot. Hanna stepped out of the passenger side, rubbed her eyes, and gave a small wave. “I called ahead. You and me are sharing a room.”

“’Kay.” It worried Jen a little that Hanna still looked this tired. They didn’t exactly have time for rest.

Derek got out as well and cut to the chase. “If the Rockets are on their trail and they’re in the right city, that means we can’t just go around talking to people. That’s too slow. We need to head into the woods; it’s not likely we’ll find them in the city. Think you can track them with Summer?”

Jen had to think about it. “I know she’d recognize Rabies’s scent if she found it, but probably not any of the kids’. We’d have to find something that belongs to them, and I didn’t think to get anything last time I was in Cherrygrove.”

“That’ll have to do. If we’re lucky, Jason’s been using him a bunch. I’m gonna go check in, so let’s meet back here in ten.” With that, Derek darted off for the entrance.

“He knows we’re checking in, too, right?” asked Jen.

Hanna shrugged. “Long drive. Don’t think he’s all there. I offered to take a turn at the wheel but he wouldn’t listen. Shall we?”

Jen was glad to finally have somewhere to drop her bag. When they entered the lobby she just saw Derek rounding a corner and heading to the rooms. It was nice that they were on the same page in terms of the urgency of the situation.

“Honestly,” said Hanna, “I think we need him to slow down for a minute. You can only go so far on fumes.” Then she yawned before going to the front desk to take care of the typical hotel formalities. Jen found herself shifting from foot to foot in impatience. After what seemed like forever Hanna tossed her a key.

“So what do—” Hanna was already walking, rather shambling, to their room as Jen started her question. “So what do I owe you?”

“You don’t.”

Jen would be lying if she said she hadn’t expected this answer, but that didn’t mean she was going to take it sitting down. “C’mon, don’t do this. Tell me what the bill was.”

“No, you don’t do this.”

“Nice comeback.”

“Whatever.” Hanna struggled with the lock. “I know you don’t like talking money, but I’ve got some and you don’t, so I’m paying and that’s that. Also, I’m bigger than you.”

Hanna’s facts were all correct, but Jen still didn’t agree with the conclusion. “Okay, so my finances aren’t exactly solid, but I can at least pay myself to be here cause I’m the boss. You said you ran out of vacation a few days ago, right?”

The door finally opened, and Hanna promptly entered the room and fell face-first onto the bed nearest the door. “Bill’s been more than accommodating.”

Jen suddenly felt silly for equating Bill to an ordinary employer, and she realized that her latest argument wasn’t much of an argument. If anything, Jen’s extended absence was more detrimental to her future financial prospects than Hanna’s was to hers. “Guess neither of us are really doing ourselves favors at work right now.”

Hanna rolled over on her back and lifted her head. “You mean ‘none’ of us. There’s three.”

It took Jen a moment to realize what Hanna meant. She had been taking it as a matter of course that Derek was on the clock. To her knowledge, their efforts were all perfectly within his normal work duties, but of course Hanna wouldn’t know that. To an uninformed observer the natural assumption would be that ‘at work’ for Derek meant a government building in Goldenrod. Jen was really sick of trying to keep track of what everyone supposedly knew. “Right, duh.”

In any case, Hanna didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. She held up a limp arm as a signal for Jen to help pull her up. She obliged and brought Hanna to her feet with a grunt. “You need more exercise. Getting pretty heavy, there.”

Hanna acted like she hadn’t heard that. “It’s supposed to rain tomorrow morning. It’ll be tough if we can’t find them tonight.”

“Hey, we will. I’ve got a good feeling.”

*********

It was pouring. The leaves were catching a lot of it, but it was more than enough to put Jen’s spirits in the cellar. She rubbed some of the water off Summer’s nose. No Arcanine was happy in even a drizzle, and now more than ever Jen was regretting that she’d never taught her to use Sunny Day. It probably wouldn’t have been enough to dispel the rain entirely, but it still would have been a huge improvement, and they needed a huge improvement the way things were going. Yesterday afternoon’s search in the forest to the southwest of Violet City had turned up nothing, and the northeast was proving no better so far.

“Hey,” said Hanna to Derek, “You’re sure we don’t want to bring this back to town for now?”

Yes. In-town’s still a dead end. I don’t care if we’re out here all day.”

The two of them didn’t seem much better even after a full night of sleep. Jen couldn’t understand why Derek was so hell-bent on searching for them this way, either. It felt like looking for a needle in a haystack to her. “Look, Derek, Summer’s good but I don’t know if anyone’s good enough to find them with nothing to go on. What are the odds we just stumble on somewhere they had Rabies out?”

“We won’t have better luck in town. All we’d get are some old leads, if that. Hanna, bring Marie out again; it’s been long enough.”

His tone was really starting to get under Jen’s skin. As for Hanna, she shook her head but tossed Marie’s ball anyway. The Alakazam stood in a slouch and her arms hung heavy. Marie let out a low, discouraging hum, and Jen noticed Hanna’s eyes widen in a familiar way.

“No. They’re nowhere close.” Hanna bent down and rubbed Marie’s back. Apparently her Pokémon had been awfully tired lately and she wasn’t getting better. While Derek looked around, probably to decide where to go next, Hanna’s eyes suddenly grew wide again. “Wait.”

“What is it?” asked Jen and Derek at once.

“There’s somebody close by. Strangers. She thinks three.”

Derek’s brow grew tighter. “How close?”

Hanna paused, and when she spoke again it was in a smaller voice. “Fifty feet west. They’re coming this way.”

Fifty feet?” Derek was almost whispering now, but it still sounded like he was shouting. “We needed to know that right away! Put your Pokémon away! They might be Rockets!”

He didn’t have to tell Jen. She just felt lucky to have the cover from the trees and inclines around them, otherwise they might have been spotted already.

When Summer and Marie were safe in their Pokéballs, Hanna turned on Derek. “Listen, you, this ain’t as easy for her as just looking. It’s not like—”

“Later! Just follow my lead!”

Derek began to walk north and gestured for Jen and Hanna to follow. He wasn’t moving at any particular hurry, and Jen assumed this was so that if they were seen it would look like they were simply passing through. She didn’t have time to think about whether it would have been smarter to run off, as she heard from behind: “Hey! You down there!”

They turned around. Uphill from them were three Grunts who weren’t bothering to hide the letters on their shirts. As the Rockets began to approach, Jen started to consider despite herself how she would handle a battle with them. It was ‘despite herself’ because everyone with a brain knew that the risk of fighting Rockets didn’t go away if you beat some of them once.

The clear leader of the trio walked right up to Derek with an insufferable swagger about him. “Hey, pal, you seen a kid around here? Girl, ’bout eleven?”

Jen took some offense at how this pig acted like Derek was the only one here. It almost made her want to point out that Derek didn’t have any Pokémon left and had always been a crappy battler anyway.

“No.”

The two Grunts behind the leader—who was perhaps self-appointed—let their heads drop. They certainly weren’t trying to fake any gusto for their job. Mostly they seemed just as tired as Jen was with how the rain kept pelting their heads.

“That really sucks,” said the leader. “Makes me wish there was some other way you could contribute. Get my drift?”

Jen looked at Derek’s face. Immediately she felt a knot form in her stomach. He had looked angry a moment ago, and he often looked angry, but there was a tension in his jaw and something in the lines on his face that she was positive she had never seen before. She looked down and saw his fist shake at his side, and then the image filled her head of him beating the Grunt to a pulp. She was this close to moving forward to intervene, but then Derek loosened his fist and reached for his back pocket instead. He pulled out a few large, loose bills.

Jen supposed it had just been her imagination—hers had always been a little overactive. The Grunt at least didn’t seem to have noticed a thing and took the money while wearing the same sh*t-eating grin as before. “Hey, you’re a smart guy, y’know that?”

Not a muscle in Derek’s face moved. One of the other two Rockets however looked up and said, “Come on, let’s just keep moving.”

With an obnoxious chuckle but without another word the first Grunt acquiesced and soon enough all three were out of sight. Jen and company stayed still for a good while afterward, until at length Derek let out a deep breath.

“I nearly f*cked that up.”

So Jen hadn’t imagined the whole thing. It wasn’t that she would have felt differently had she been in his shoes—who didn’t ever feel like correcting the shape of a Rocket’s nose? The difference was that she couldn’t see herself being as close to actually following through with it as Derek had just been. He’d always been strong—so had the whole family for that matter—but he’d never been any kind of fighter. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “We didn’t get in a fight, and that’s all that matters. Went about as well as it could’ve.”

Hanna nodded her agreement, but Derek didn’t say anything else. They then walked on, and Derek didn’t seem nearly as driven as he had been all morning, rather his feet dragged. When it felt like the right time Jen brought out Summer again, who growled at the ongoing rain but dutifully put her nose to the ground. They continued in no particular direction at a trudge for what felt like twenty minutes.

Then Summer barked, and they all jumped at the sound. The Arcanine dropped her shoulders and sniffed with more intent than Jen had seen from her in over a year. “Summer? Is it Rabies? Is it your baby boy?”

After a little more sniffing, Summer barked again and sprung back up. Jen could have cried, and her face broke out into a tremendous smile. Summer took off at a trot in a new direction. They finally had a trail. “Slow down, girl!” Jen turned to the other two. They didn’t quite seem to believe it yet. “We’d better move in slow. We don’t know how they’ll react.”

“If they’re at the end of the trail, you mean,” said Hanna.

“Hey, they’re gonna be there! Let’s go!”

Now Jen took point with Summer, and even though the wind was coming from in front she could have sworn it was at her back. After all the agonizing and hopeless searching she was finally going to bring Jason and his friends home. She wouldn’t have to bring any unspeakable news back to Aunt Meg because this was it. Today was the day, she kept telling herself over and over. She repeated the thought as long as she could until Summer came to a sudden stop by a huge tree. There was a kind of hollow under its roots, but there were no kids there. There was nobody around at all, nor was there any sign of a camp, abandoned or otherwise.

Jen could only stare as Summer sat at attention. The Arcanine didn’t look exactly happy, but she had clearly followed the scent as far as it went.

“He must have put Rabies back in his ball here,” said Hanna.

Derek examined the earth all around. “I don’t see any footprints. That’ll be the rain.”

Jen felt like an idiot. She thought she’d stopped overreacting to small signs like that years and years ago.

“Can Summer pick up any other scents?” asked Hanna. “Just anyone who’s been here?”

Jen looked over at Summer. She knew she could understand Hanna at least that well. As for Summer, she put her nose to the ground again, but pulled her head back up quickly and with finality. “That might be the rain, too,” said Jen.

Hanna sent out Marie, found nothing, and recalled her after barely any time at all. Then she came near and put her hand on Jen’s shoulder. “Let’s take a break. There’s space under those roots.”

There was just enough space, she might have said. The ground was muddy and they had to bend their heads down, but the three of them were able to sit out of the rain. Less than an hour ago Derek probably would have shot down the idea of taking a break, but now he just stared into space. It was a familiar look that reminded Jen of when he was a teenager, which wasn’t necessarily encouraging. Several times it looked like he was about to say something, and eventually he did.

“I think we need to let the police take it from here.”

Jen could barely register what she’d just heard. When she didn’t say anything, Derek kept going in an attempt to explain himself.

“I mean, we know they were here now. And if we tell the Violet police about how the Rockets are looking for Krissy they’ll put good people on it.”

Jen didn’t see how there weren’t already ‘good people’ on it. Of course it was the right idea to tell the police what they’d just learned, but why should they drop their own search? She had to wonder if this was just him trying to get her and Hanna out of the picture while he continued to work on it alone. Maybe there were things he couldn’t do as a cop if they were in the way.

“…I’m sorry. I also have to get back to Goldenrod. I’ve been away from work for too long.”

No, he was serious. Derek wasn’t that good of an actor, and Jen knew it. He really intended to go back to whatever his normal duties as an officer were and leave everything to the local police. She felt like there was a boiling kettle in her stomach, and it was getting hard to hold in the steam. How could he seriously consider abandoning Jason to chance? “But…” she said, “…But we’re so close. We’re so much closer than the police have been able to get!”

Derek put his hand to his forehead. “No, we’re not. We’re not prepared for this, trust me. I meet cops through work sometimes, and they know a hell of a lot more what they’re doing than we do. We need to let the professionals handle this.”

Jen exploded. Ten years of careful discretion did nothing to keep her from shouting, “That’s you, you bullsh*tting coward!”

Derek stared at her. He looked almost like she was holding him at gunpoint. Then the quivering fear suddenly gave way to something closer to rage, and he glared at Hanna for some reason. Hanna had been stuck in awkward silence to this point, but now she spoke. “Derek, I didn’t tell her, I swear.”

Jen twitched. For a reason she could barely grasp, this was nearly as infuriating. “You told her before you told me?”

Derek twisted his head back to Jen and jabbed a finger in her direction. “I didn’t ‘tell’ anyone, and she’s f*cking blackmailing me!”

The corner where Hanna sat wasn’t big enough for her to disappear into, but it looked like she wanted to. She didn’t deny the charge.

Derek took on a deadly serious tone. “Tell me when you found out and exactly how many people you’ve told.”

There was no ‘if’ in that question, only a ‘how many.’ Jen almost slapped him. “It was last time we were both home for Christmas. I haven’t told a single goddamn person, and I never heard anyone guess.”

It looked almost as if Derek had come down with a sudden case of stomach flu. Apparently his guess had been far more recent. “Well,” said Jen, “it’s all out in the open now. So what the hell do you mean ‘let the professionals handle this?’”

And then Derek’s anger was back. “Look, do you want me to say it out loud? This isn’t my assignment, and I’m not allowed to call my own shots. I’m sorry, but this is bigger than just three kids and there’s too much at stake for me to ignore orders. Every day I waste here is putting a much bigger plan at risk.”

“Let me see if I follow this stupid sh*t: for years and years the only thing you ever said about your job was how f*cking dumb your bosses are and how they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. So now they are worth listening to when that means leaving Jason in a ditch.”

“Oh, shut up! If he’s in a ditch it’s cause you shoved him there!”

She hadn’t seen that coming, and she thought for his sake that he’d better have a good explanation for it. “Excuse me?”

“Why do you think I brought you into this in the first place? It’s because he used to trust you. Used to. But no, you had to throw that out the window as fast as possible. ‘I know! I’ll get my psychic friend to scare the sh*t out of them!’ Great f*cking plan! That’s why we’ll never find them again!”

Jen almost started screaming about how he wasn’t there and had no idea how that plan actually went down, but she thought of something worse. She had realized what was actually behind Derek’s twisted idea, and it was so much more banal than he was trying to spin it. “So sue me, I tried! And I’m still trying, unlike you! You know what, f*ck it, the kids are trying, even if they’re stupid about it. You know why they’ve done more to hurt Team Rocket than you ever will? It’s cause to get anything done you’d have to stick up to your idiot bosses, which you won’t cause they might fire you and you’re scared to death of f*cking job interviews!”

This stopped Derek cold, not that Jen gave him much of an opening to respond. “How are you not over this yet? That’s a problem for teens and new grads, not guys in their thirties! Is that seriously why you’ve stuck this long with a job you obviously hate? I can’t believe I was ever proud of you for what you do. You make me sick.”

Derek’s face was utterly blank. He was staring a thousand miles away again. Then where there had been blankness it looked closer to sadness, but barely. “…You’re right.” He ducked his head, rose to squat, and left the roots to return to the open and the rain. He walked a few paces and then stood still. Slowly it sunk into Jen that she may have just said something that would haunt her for the rest of her life. She looked over at Hanna and saw that her head was buried in her hands.

Minutes passed. Nobody moved, and the only thing that changed was that Derek was getting wet again. Eventually Jen realized that she had to say something, and probably something that at least resembled an apology. Before she knew what it was, she got up to join Derek. As soon as she was able to stand up straight, however, he spoke again. He sounded calm. “New plan. We’re going to save Wyvern.”

Not in a million years did Jen expect him to say that. The idea had never even crossed her mind. “What?”

Derek turned around to face her again. “That’s the only thing that’ll make them come back. They don’t have a shot of getting that key, but I do. We do. Hanna, I’m going to need your help.”

Hanna got up as well, but she didn’t look remotely convinced. “Even if we get the key, will that work? We can text Travis that we’ve got it, but are they going to believe us?”

“They will if Bill tells the press that his team’s cracked the Rockets’ new Pokéballs. Then we just have to tell the kids to read the news. It’s what they want to hear, and they’ll believe it. And we’re not going to trick them. We can do this the right way.”

Hanna bit her lip for a moment. “And you’re sure you can do it?”

“Yes.”

Jen found it hard to believe, but it wasn’t like Derek to overstate his confidence about anything, much less something this dire. He continued. “There’s a Grunt who works directly for Russo who owes me. It’ll only work once, but he’ll get me inside the facility under Russo’s manor. Their network isn’t connected to the public internet, but everything I’ve heard suggests that once you have access to it their security sucks.”

Now Hanna lifted her eyes up. The gears seemed to be turning inside her head.

“If you can handle it,” said Derek, “I can call you when I get alone with one of the machines. Then you and Marie track my phone, teleport in, do your thing, and we’re out with the key and all the other data you can pull in ten minutes.”

Jen wasn’t happy with one of the conditions of that plan. “And you’re sure you can find an unsupervised computer?”

“Almost sure. But I’ve been getting ready to pull this kind of operation for years. But like I said, it’ll only work once. Soon as they know I’m not actually selling out the police then that’s the rest of my assignment out the window. This plan means cashing in for me, and if I’m lucky the police will think it was worth it. So are you and Marie up for it, Hanna?”

“…Yeah. Should be no problem.”

Jen swallowed. “I’m coming too.”

Derek answered immediately as if he had read her mind. “No way in hell.”

“What if things go south? Marie’s in no shape to fight, but Summer is.”

“I have a Pokémon. We’ll be fine.”

Somehow Jen hadn’t seriously considered this possibility, but she played it off. “One Pokémon’s never enough. Everyone knows that.”

Derek shook his head, but to Jen’s surprise he said, “Fine. You’re right. But if you and Hanna get in serious trouble, Marie’s taking you out of there right away. And the plan is that nobody needs to fight at all.”

‘You mean she’ll be taking all of us out of there right away,’ Jen thought to say, but she didn’t push it. Derek was the professional, after all. “How soon can you make this happen?”

“Tomorrow morning. I need some time to get ready, and we could use a good night’s sleep first.”

Jen looked at Derek and Hanna, and Hanna especially seemed almost as confident as Jen had been when Summer found the trail. She had to wonder though if this was how Jason and his friends had felt when they first decided to pick a fight with Team Rocket. But then they were just kids, while Derek and Hanna were experts. This was going to work.

*********

It was past midnight when Travis had his back to a tree. A short ways behind him stood the biggest house he had ever seen. To his left was Jason, to his right was Krissy, and standing by another tree was the Grunt, Alessa. Nobody made a sound. The stillness lasted at least ten minutes, and then he heard a heavy door open and shut. With that, Alessa crept over to the three of them and whispered, “That’s the guard’s nightly bathroom break. There won’t be anyone watching for about five minutes. I’m going to open the door, and then I’ll signal each of you over one at a time.” She switched her small flashlight on and off. The beam was narrow. “You first, then you, then you.” She pointed at Travis, Jason, and Krissy in that order.

There was no debate. This part of the mission was entirely in the Grunt’s hands, as much as Travis hated to admit it. He didn’t understand why they had to go one at a time, though. In any case, Alessa moved as quickly and quietly across the lit clearing as she could, unlocked the door, and disappeared. Several long seconds passed, and then Travis saw the signal. He had to move. It took a moment of hesitation, but he willed himself to cross the gap. He could only hope that nobody who was still awake was watching from one of the windows.

As soon as he was through the door someone grabbed his shoulder and he nearly cried out. It was just Alessa, of course, but that didn’t keep his heartrate from spiking. He was about to move away from the entrance, but she held him in place. Then she made him face her and whispered, “Do you know what you’re getting into, here?”

It didn’t seem like the perfect time to ask that question. Travis’s eyes strayed up and down the long hallway they were standing in. There was a dim light coming in from outside, but at the edge of his vision it was pitch black.

“Answer me.”

“Yes.”

“Are you willing to do anything to get your Pokémon back? And I mean anything.”

Travis didn’t like that she was willing to burn so much time on this. “Why?”

“Because you might have to.”

Something was crawling up Travis’s throat. Despite that, the answer was obvious. Wyvern came first. “Yes.”

Alessa stared him in the face with a deep crease in her brow. He got the feeling she didn’t believe him. “One piece of advice, cause I feel sorry for you. If you end up facing Russo, don’t look him in the eye.”

Travis didn’t know what to make of this. “Why not?”

“Cause that’s what he wants you to do.”

Alessa nudged him over to the side, and then signaled Jason. He came in a flash, but he got no words from Alessa before it was Krissy’s turn. Then there they all were huddled just inside the house. Alessa looked them over one last time and said, “Remember: you never saw me. Good luck.” She bent down and gave Krissy a quick one-armed hug. Travis wondered how Krissy could stand to let a Rocket touch her that closely, friend or no. Just how badly had they messed her up?

Alessa hustled out the door and closed it as quietly as she could. Travis could feel the clock ticking as Krissy waved her hand and hurried them down the hallway.

*

Next time: In Hubris Island, young Hanna overestimates herself and underestimates another.

[As a little roadmarking, the next two installments will be the last of the stand-alone chapters. After that the last four chapters are all numbered.]
 
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Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
That was a close one the three had with those grunts there. Oh ouch over Jen's burn to Derek over him not standing up to his bosses. I don't blame Jen for being tired of him unable to do that. At least that snaps Derek into getting a plan in action. Am looking forward to see if Travis will have to face the possibility if he'll do anything to get his Pokemon in the off chance he meets Russo.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
The kids, they have not yet been stopped! But it certainly seems like we're getting to the point where either they will or they'll succeed, which is definitely cool and interesting. I'm loving how more and more people keep turning out to know the secrets that Derek thinks he's kept so carefully. I always like that kind of thing – it reminds me of that old G. K. Chesterton novel with the man trying to infiltrate the anarchist cell who discovers, individual by individual, that almost all his fellow anarchists are also people trying to infiltrate the anarchist cell.

Ordinarily I'd say this was too minor to be worth pointing out, really, but since the jokes usually work so much better than this I thought I would: that opening, with the contrast between Jason and Jen's current activities, doesn't quite work for me. I think the contrast is meant to be entertaining, but it just seems kind of odd. Maybe it's because the chapter starts with Jen, ducks very briefly away towards Jason and then moves back to her, and that makes it feel like he's being forced in? I think if the chapter began with Jason, like an “At the very moment that Jason was …” kinda thing, then cut away to Jen, it might work better.

It's interesting to see more of how your version of Team Rocket fits into the wider world, too. There's obviously a huge amount of room for interpretation, with the vagueness of canon, and I have to say I quite like your we're-openly-bad-in-a-deniable-way kinda take on them. Interesting too to have that confrontation between Jen and Derek; it feels like it's been a long time coming, and I think you did a good job of sketching that particular interaction, the way it seems baffling and frustrating to Jen and the way Derek agrees, because of course he does, because he knows and she isn't saying anything he hasn't heard in the privacy of his own head, over and over.

Then of course you leave us waiting for the execution of the big infiltration plan! Nice way to end the chapter, especially given that there'll be a couple of side chapters before we get to them. I'm not sure I've mentioned it before, but the side chapters are really interesting and not something I've ever seen in this kind of tightly plotted story before – they definitely work, they round out your world and characters really nicely and sometimes act as a good way to build the tension before another plot chapter, but yeah, they're definitely unusual and I don't think I've quite nailed down what I think of them in terms of what they mean to the story yet. I'll let you know if I think of anything, I guess. For now, well! It's always a pleasure, and this chapter was no exception. Definitely looking forward to more.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Aaaaaa the suspense, I can’t take it!

I mean, this chapter was mostly just conversation and setup for the idea that both the kids and the adults are gonna be infiltrating Russo’s manor, but even still, the level of tension you set up in an otherwise relatively quiet chapter is just... palpable. And the sheer amount of stress that everyone is under just coming to a head like that. You can tell that Jen had wanted to say what she did for a loooong time. And Derek's already been thinking all of it himself for just as long.

I loved all the miscellaneous character building moments, like Jen and Hanna arguing over who should pay. And Jen dancing around the fact that she knows Derek's profession, only to find out that Hanna already knew. xD

But man, oh man, I can't believe they're both gonna be infiltrating the manor separately now. I am extremely curious how that timing is gonna go down. The kids are already inside. But Derek's got a much more concrete plan (not that it doesn't also have the potential to go horribly wrong.)

And can we just talk about how ominous as hell Alyssa's final warning to Travis was. And I know I said it a few chapters ago, but damn, the idea of any of them having to confront Russo directly is downright intimidating, and we've barely seen him. Can't wait to see how this is gonna go (even if it won't be for three more chapters.)

~Chibi~;249;;448;
 

DreamSayer

Name's Adam.
Review for Chapter 4

Damn! Things went south real fast in this chapter. I loved how the chapter was entirely from Travis's POV. He's definitely the most relatable one of the trio, at least to me. It was heartbreaking what happened to Wyvern btw, and a bit ironic considering Travis was the one most against the idea of attacking the rocket grunt even though he didn't admit it. Regardless, had he backed out from the start, his wyvern would still be safe. So, i expect he'll blame himself for the most part.

Speaking of the grunt, who would've thought a single rocket grunt would be that challenging? I was totally expecting the dude to just be fodder, but the way he basically defeated them was eye opening. Let's hope those three learned a lesson from the incident. Some things are simply to be avoided and out of your league. Also, i was half expecting that Derek ex machina at the end. There's nothing really wrong with him appearing to save the day at the last second since he'd probably been studying their4 movements ever since they sabotaged his previous operation.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter and i can't wait to jump into the next.
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[Replies to readers' comments in the spoiler tags:
Bay said:
Oh ouch over Jen's burn to Derek over him not standing up to his bosses. I don't blame Jen for being tired of him unable to do that. At least that snaps Derek into getting a plan in action.
I don't blame her either! Part of my idea with Derek is that it's easy for him to get mired in his own anxieties because he keeps everyone at arm's distance, so it's rare that anyone tells him what he needs to hear.

Cutlerine said:
Ordinarily I'd say this was too minor to be worth pointing out, really, but since the jokes usually work so much better than this I thought I would: that opening, with the contrast between Jason and Jen's current activities, doesn't quite work for me. I think the contrast is meant to be entertaining, but it just seems kind of odd. Maybe it's because the chapter starts with Jen, ducks very briefly away towards Jason and then moves back to her, and that makes it feel like he's being forced in? I think if the chapter began with Jason, like an “At the very moment that Jason was …” kinda thing, then cut away to Jen, it might work better.
You have a point. I totally missed that during editing because my first intention was to clarify the chronology in a way that was unambiguous. Then I found a way of phrasing it that seemed mildly funny so I put it in and moved on. I'll probably change this to remove the joke entirely, when I think of the best way to do it.

Then of course you leave us waiting for the execution of the big infiltration plan! Nice way to end the chapter, especially given that there'll be a couple of side chapters before we get to them. I'm not sure I've mentioned it before, but the side chapters are really interesting and not something I've ever seen in this kind of tightly plotted story before – they definitely work, they round out your world and characters really nicely and sometimes act as a good way to build the tension before another plot chapter, but yeah, they're definitely unusual and I don't think I've quite nailed down what I think of them in terms of what they mean to the story yet. I'll let you know if I think of anything, I guess.
It either builds the tension or kills it; I'm still undecided on that point. :P As for what they mean, that's definitely something I'll want to discuss with someone once this is over. I do think that by the ending some of the elements in the side-chapters will seem considerably more relevant to the big picture, but I don't want to say too much of what I intended with them as a whole because my answer to that has gotten more complicated since I started drafting this.

Chibi Pika said:
I mean, this chapter was mostly just conversation and setup for the idea that both the kids and the adults are gonna be infiltrating Russo’s manor, but even still, the level of tension you set up in an otherwise relatively quiet chapter is just... palpable.
It's the eternal quandary of anyone writing a story that contains fight scenes: "Oh no this chapter's almost all talking how do I keep people awake?"

I loved all the miscellaneous character building moments, like Jen and Hanna arguing over who should pay.
There was some real-life inspiration there. When you and your closest friend are in very different financial situations, it's tricky when one of you wants to pay for something for the other. :\

And can we just talk about how ominous as hell Alyssa's final warning to Travis was. And I know I said it a few chapters ago, but damn, the idea of any of them having to confront Russo directly is downright intimidating, and we've barely seen him. Can't wait to see how this is gonna go (even if it won't be for three more chapters.)
I'm worried that Alessa came across as trying to scare the hell out of Travis just 'cause. I won't state her exact thought process here, though. Also I hope you find the wait worth it, both in the sense of chapter 9 being worth waiting for and in the sense of these next two chapters being worthwhile themselves. And I'll do my best to have the climax live up to the buildup. :)

DreamSayer said:
Damn! Things went south real fast in this chapter. I loved how the chapter was entirely from Travis's POV. He's definitely the most relatable one of the trio, at least to me.
I'll definitely be interested to know if your opinion on who's the most relatable changes as things go along. It was kind of a juggling act to figure out which character developments should go when.

Also, i was half expecting that Derek ex machina at the end. There's nothing really wrong with him appearing to save the day at the last second since he'd probably been studying their4 movements ever since they sabotaged his previous operation.
The reason he was there was actually to spy on the Grunts' trade. I guess that's easy to lose track of with the side-chapters between the end of chapter 2 and chapter 3, but I don't know if there's much I can do about that now.
A quick note on this chapter: this is a slightly-revised version of a one-shot I wrote last year for an Artists/Writers collaboration event at PokeCommunity. I'm presenting it here text-only to match the rest of the fic, but if you want to see the illustrations that sp00kyskeleton prepared to accompany it you can find them in the original thread. I'd recommend reading the chapter here first, though.

Thanks for reading!]


Hubris Island

August, 2002

Hanna had hoped she wouldn’t be fifteen years old yet, but as of a month ago she was. She had also hoped that she’d be able to enjoy this excursion to the Whirl Islands without worrying about her age, but there was little chance of that now. She tried to distract herself with the wide, cloudless sky and the salt breeze coming off the water, but it was no good. Then their little sailboat hit a small wave that sent some thick spray into her face, and she spat over the side.

“Hey Derek,” said Jen, “What’s with all the turbulence? I thought you were supposed to be good at this.”

“Keep it up and the ride isn’t going to be free anymore.”

Jen just laughed. She tended to give her big brother a hard time, and Hanna thought it was to his credit that he let her get away with it as much as he did. At the moment Derek was leaning off the edge of the boat to balance the sail. Hanna was pretty sure he was nineteen, and today she saw a whole new side of him: specifically that he looked pretty good in an undershirt that was a size too small. It drew the eyes away from his face, which always bore a dull expression that stood somewhere in the range between vacant and irked.

“Don’t worry, Hanna. Jen’s paying for your ticket, too,” he said, which snapped her attention away from his abs and back to his painfully boring face. “By the way—”

Then he paused. Hanna had noticed that when most people might go ‘uhh…’ or ‘so, like…’ Derek just said nothing and took on a thousand-mile stare before he found whatever it was he wanted to say. Finally he continued. “You’re almost done, right?”

Jen answered for her. “Yeah. She got accepted to Nerd School, Goldenrod Campus.”

Hanna sighed. “Nobody keeps journeying forever.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Hanna could believe that Jen intended to stay on her Pokémon journey indefinitely, if only because she was still thirteen and nobody had confronted her about her future yet. One day of course she’d have to move on, whether that meant going to school like Hanna or starting a career like her brother—whatever it was he did for a living. He never gave a clear answer when they asked about that.

“The real question,” said the aforementioned brother, “is who we’re going to find to babysit you next.”

Jen stuck out her tongue at him as she took off her glasses to wipe away some of the spray. Then the boat hit another wave and she had to juggle to keep from dropping them.

“Isn’t that your fifth pair since you left home?” asked Derek.

“As if. I haven’t lost any since we went to Cinnabar, and that was like last year.”

“I remember that,” said Hanna. “You tried to find them in some volcanic mud, and then I had to pull you out of the mud.”

“Hey! That was a secret!”

Jen pouted, but Hanna could tell she was still having fun. After spending over three years in close proximity it was never a mystery to her when Jen was actually upset. And sure enough, moments later Jen was staring at the sea and practically jumping out of her skin in excitement. “Hey! It’s a Mantine!”

“Don’t rock the boat!”

Hanna leaned forward to see the Mantine and took care not to agitate Derek any further. She had never seen one in person, but its huge fins that were stretched out like a kite were unmistakable. It surfed alongside them for a few seconds, but then it sped ahead and suddenly there was air under its fins. It rose a solid two feet above the water and stayed at that level for at least a dozen yards before it dove back under the surface.

“Wow,” said Jen. “I’m so catching one of those today. It’ll be a great chance to use my new Ampharos, too.”

“No, it won’t,” said Hanna and Derek together.

“Huh?”

“You tell her, Hanna. I’m trying to concentrate.”

Jen looked at Hanna like there was no way she’d be able to explain why using an electric type was a poor decision in this case. So Hanna leaned back again and began to deliver the lesson. “When it comes to matchups against electric-types, Mantine’s more similar to Gyarados than to other water Pokémon. Those fins act like wings, so electric moves don’t just take advantage of conductivity: they also lock up the ‘wings.’ Any fully-evolved electric-type will probably knock a wild Mantine out in one hit, which is great if it’s trying to kill you but not so much if you want a new Pokéball to register it.”

Jen stared at her older companion in amazement. Hanna wasn’t finished, however. “On top of that, I’ve seen your new Ampharos, and the guy who traded her to you was a terrible disciplinarian. If you try telling her to use an electric attack around the ocean—salt water is more conductive, by the way—she’s going to spray electricity everywhere and then I’ll have to take you to the hospital.”

Now Jen was turning a little red, but she tried to play it off. “Yeah, good point. That’ll make it tough, though. Other than Ampharos all I’ve got is fire-types and that new Staryu for Surf. I guess Summer’s strong enough that she could deal, but hmm…”

“Duck,” said Derek.

Hanna and Jen both ducked as Derek adjusted their course and let the sail’s boom swing over their heads. “About that Staryu,” he said, “You’re drawing attention to the fact that you didn’t really need my help to make your way out here.”

“Why wouldn’t we want your help when boats are fun and you’re so nice?” asked Jen with a sneer.

“Correction: boats are fun when you don’t have to pilot them and worry about how to get around rocks and whirlpools. This isn’t a joyride—I’m here for work.”

“What’s a boat ride got to do with your so-called ‘work?’”

“You don’t need to know that.”

While the siblings went back and forth, Hanna looked to the horizon and zoned out. Spotting a Mantine may have been captivating enough for Jen, but not for Hanna. She’d seen countless new Pokémon after five years on the trail, but she was running out of time to encounter any that were truly special. The fact was that only Jen was here for fun. Hanna wanted to find a Pokémon that nobody had seen for generations, if ever, and which was rumored to reside nearby. She wanted to fill one of the obvious gaps in the Pokédex before she had to leave the world of nature and Pokémon for who knew how long.

She wanted to see Lugia just one time.

*********

Hanna, Jen, and Jen’s Arcanine were standing on a shallow beach that belonged to a rocky island that was dominated by a small mountain. It was almost noon, and Hanna could just see Derek’s sailboat receding into the distance. She still wondered where exactly he was going and what he was going to do there, but she wasn’t going to lose sleep over it.

Jen stretched, smiled, and soaked in the sun before asking Hanna, “You’re sure you want to split up?”

Hanna nodded. “I don’t want to get in the way of your fun.”

“Fine, as long as you’re still having fun yourself.”

Hanna didn’t want to say outright that she only cared about finding Lugia and not whether it was a good time, or even that it wasn’t boring. “Hmm.”

“Cause you know you got, like, a one in a million chance of seeing Lugia—if there’s a Lugia. And I’d say that’s fifty-fifty so we’ll call it one in two million?”

Hanna rolled her eyes and tried to signal with her posture that she was about to walk off. “Don’t make Summer go too deep in the water.”

“Jeeze, I know that much. Don’t I, Summer?”

Summer barked in an expression of total confidence in her trainer. Hanna wished she could share the sentiment and started to stroll down the beach. “Let’s meet back here before sunset.”

“’Kay! Gimme a shout if you find him!”

Hanna kept walking until she could no longer hear the splashing and the barking. She shook her head. How was she ever going to leave Jen to continue her journey by herself if she was worried about leaving her alone for one afternoon? It seemed like every day she had to stop her from doing something stupid, and every week she had to fix the mess from some stupid thing she ended up doing anyway. Jen was such an impulsive little kid.

Of course, all this reminded Hanna of the only thought worse than that of leaving Jen unsupervised: in a few weeks she wouldn’t have Jen around to remind her to smile now and then. So she shook her head again and thought about how she might track down this legendary Pokémon.

On the other side of the island there was a cave which connected underground to several other islands, according to Hanna’s prior research. If Lugia was down there, it would take Hanna way too long to find it. She needed a less obvious but more precise lead than that, and she was thinking it had to do with the sea and the sky. For that reason she wanted a better view, so she decided to leave the beach and start climbing. The island’s mountain was far too steep for her to reach the summit, but there were conspicuous outcroppings that would suffice.

It was easy going at first as the base of the mountain consisted mostly of smooth boulders that rose only gradually. Hanna wondered if the tide sometimes reached this far up. Past the boulders the rise in elevation became much sharper and she had to put a hand on the mountainside to navigate the narrow way that wasn’t quite a trail. She decided she was right to leave her Pokémon in their balls today. Her Kadabra, Marie, in particular hated high places with poor footing.

When she reached a relatively broad shelf she took a break and looked out to the horizon. The sun was still bright overhead, but there were a good number of clouds in the distance near one of the other islands. She could see a few whirlpools between shelves of rock, and nothing was out of the ordinary. It was about as good a day as you could ask from the Whirl Islands.

In a bit of absent-mindedness, Hanna found herself taking out her Pokédex. She had read everything it had to say about Lugia a thousand times, so she figured a thousand and one times wouldn’t hurt. When she pulled up the page, Dexter began to narrate automatically.

“Lugia is said to be the guardian of—”

Hanna hit the skip button to shut him up so she could read in peace. There was little to read though besides vague conjecture and myth. The one solid fact it cited was that it was a flying-type, but there was disagreement as to whether it also had water-based or psychic qualities. The only image in the database was a crude illustration, and Hanna thought the hand-like wings depicted therein were probably ancient artistic license.

Most of the things Hanna had ever learned about Lugia were, of course, legend. The key take-away though was that all of these legends focused on or at least made reference to the weather. It was possible that the alleged sightings in the Whirl Islands were baseless rumors that only seemed plausible because of the area’s unpredictable winds and currents. But at the same time, any other place in Johto seemed like even more of a stretch. If Lugia was anywhere to be found, it was here.

With that in mind, Hanna decided she would spend at least an hour watching the air and the water for anything unnatural. If she was lucky she might catch Lugia on the move, and it seemed like a better bet than stumbling in the dark caves to find it sleeping. In this sense, it was a shame that the weather was so nice. So for some time Hanna fixed her eyes on distant clouds and whirlpools. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, though.

Then after thirty-odd minutes had passed, something caught Hanna in the corner of her eye. They were mostly hidden by the mountain behind her, but there were some new, tall clouds that weren’t so far away from the island. It took her a while to figure out what was off about them, but then she noticed that they seemed to rolling more vertically than horizontally. She felt a small burst of optimism and knew she had to get a better look. There was a terribly thin path leading away from the shelf and further up the mountain in that direction, so she took it. Around a bend she came across an even shallower shelf than the first one, but one that provided a perfect view of these new clouds.

Hanna sat down with her back to the wall and her legs dangling over the edge to observe the anomaly. She had never seen a cloud formation like it. It was almost as if she were looking at clouds from above; as if someone had turned them ninety degrees vertically. The shadows didn’t make any sense either. They seemed to move independently of any clouds or anything else. It all spun much like the whirlpools that were all around the sea, only much slower. The sight of it had her mesmerized.

She thought about pulling out her notebook to take a sketch, but she wasn’t comfortable with managing her backpack in this position. Instead she continued to look at the clouds with a measure of hope that Lugia or something like Lugia might have something to do with this. Then she thought about pulling out her notebook to take a sketch, but stopped when she realized she’d just thought about that, which was weird. She was probably thinking in strange ways because of how the horizon would spin along with the clouds until she realized that was impossible and blinked, only for it to start again every time. On top of that, it was tiring the way the shades of gray shifted and spun and made her vision slip out of focus.

All of this made Hanna decide she could probably continue to monitor the peculiarities with her eyes closed.

*********

Hanna didn’t want to be asleep anymore. It may have been dark enough, but it was terribly loud and oddly wet. A small part of her that she never made known to anyone was worried that she’d wet the bed, but that hadn’t happened in a number of years, the exact number of which was absolutely nobody’s business. Besides, the wetness was all over and it was cold rather than warm, so that couldn’t be it. Since her mind was still hazy, this provided a small amount of comfort. But then she opened her eyes, the relief vanished, and she screamed at the top of her lungs.

It felt like a typhoon. The sun was gone, the rain was coming down in sheets, and the wind was blowing in her face at what felt like twenty miles an hour. She was still sitting in the same spot and holding on for dear life.

She tried not to panic. She tried not to think about how the beach was now completely covered by the tide, or how it would be suicide to try the path down when it was wet, or how jumping would also kill her whether from the rocks or the water. She was stuck. And even if she weren’t stuck she was far too terrified to move.

All she could do was sit there and grip the edge beneath her with white knuckles. It was five minutes or five hours later when she thought she heard something besides the wind and the hammering raindrops. It was her name. She brought herself to look down, and she could just spot Jen riding on a Pokémon beneath her.

…ump!…Jum…!

Hanna couldn’t believe what she was hearing. How on earth was she supposed to jump? “No!” she yelled back. “You’re crazy!

Jen kept trying to coax her, but Hanna knew that even her survival instinct was smarter than Jen. There was no way she could move now.

…old on!…ust……econd!

Jen was up to something. Hanna saw that she was getting her Pokémon to swim in an oval, gradually picking up speed. The water was rising. If Jen was trying to use Surf to raise the tide enough for her to jump in, that was insane. The Mantine could never get the water high enough for her to survive. Hanna closed her eyes and wished it would all go away. There were some warm drops on her face now among the cold ones, which must have been tears.

When Hanna opened her eyes, something had indeed gone away: Jen. She wasn’t in the water anymore. But she wasn’t drowning: it was only in the upper right corner of her eye that Hanna caught her.

They were flying. The Mantine had grabbed the wind and was leaning into it to climb fast. It was almost as high up as Hanna was, but its trajectory looked like it would hit the mountain well below and away from her. Jen leaned as far as she could in one direction without falling, and shouted something. The Mantine pulled off so it was flying nearly parallel to the cliff face, and it kept on climbing.

Then Hanna was looking slightly up at Jen. She couldn’t see her face clearly, but her posture was hard and steady like steel. Her friend pulled slightly at Mantine’s face so that for just a moment it stalled. The Pokémon was hanging nearly still in midair seven feet away from Hanna. Jen wasted no time. She rose to her feet, and then she jumped into space. With a grunt, she somehow managed to hug the wall of the mountain instead of bouncing off of it. She immediately found her footing, and now the two of them were on the shelf together.

Hanna looked up at Jen in utter astonishment. Jen’s breathing was rough but she didn’t seem rattled in the least. She stuck out her hand. “Come on, get up!”

Hanna’s right hand felt weak and she didn’t want to let go of the rock, but she managed to reach out to Jen’s. Jen left nothing to chance and grabbed her forearm. Hanna suddenly felt immensely glad that Jen wore those fingerless gloves everywhere. Now it felt like it might be possible to get out of there. Hanna slowly raised one of her legs and tried to keep her balance toward the wall. She had one foot on the shelf.

It gave way. Hanna’s foot slipped and everything immediately slowed down as her brain processed the beginning of a freefall. There was nothing beneath her but air.

Then with a jerk she stopped. Her arm nearly fell out of its socket, but Hanna was not falling. Jen was still holding on. Hanna was all spun around and her left hand and her feet had nothing, but Jen was somehow handling the whole thing. When Hanna finally looked up, she saw Jen on one knee. She had a death grip on the mountain wall with her other hand. Her eyes were closed and her teeth were clenched.

As Hanna’s arm began to rise again and the rest of her body with it, only one thought passed through her mind: ‘When? When did she get this strong?’

Her wits returned to her, and Hanna found the wall and helped pull herself up the rest of the way. They were both standing on the shelf now. The rain and the wind were still belting them without mercy and they were out of breath, but for the moment they were okay.

Jen turned them around to face the sea, and she shouted down to the Mantine who had glided back to the water. “Surf! As hard as you can! Surf!

Hanna watched as the Mantine obeyed. To the naked eye it looked like it was just swimming around, but any experienced trainer could tell that it was powering the stronger waves that were now hitting the mountain, each one starting and ending taller than the last.

“We need good timing, but it’ll work!” yelled Jen over the gale. “Link arms! Here we go!”

At this point Hanna would believe anything Jen told her. They pulled tight with their elbows so they were locked together. When she looked down again, Hanna’s gut told her there was no way the waves were tall enough to catch them right, but they were committed now.

“Ready?” Jen didn’t wait for an answer. Hanna braced herself.

“One! Two!

Jen was interrupted. From twenty feet to their right and ten feet above them there came a crack that blew out Hanna’s ears and a flash that struck her blind. Something was pinching her from her toes to her chest, and it felt like every hair on her head was standing erect. As her sight came back in a haze, she looked over and saw a small tree sticking out of the mountain that was now on fire. Her heart was in her throat along with her tongue.

Hanna vaguely heard a voice that sounded like counting, and on ‘three’ her body moved on its own. She was falling. Someone’s arm was in hers though, so it didn’t quite register as falling. Then something shocked her feet and she was underwater. The water was moving fast and pulled her forward and away from the mountain. Something shined in front of her face, and for a moment it looked like a pair of glasses floating away, never to be worn again.

At last, something smooth came up from beneath her. It pushed her up and over the surface again. It was only now apparent to her that the arm was Jen’s and that the smooth thing beneath them was the Mantine. The storm showed no signs of stopping, but they were riding away from the island.

*********

It was around midnight when Hanna and Jen staggered up to the Cianwood City Pokémon Center. They were soaked to the bone and still speechless after hours of trying to keep balance on Jen’s new Mantine, to say nothing of the preceding ordeal. Jen tried to take off her glasses which weren’t there, and then just rubbed her eyes and yawned.

Hanna was immediately relieved when they passed through the automatic doors and into the bright, warm building. She was so relieved that she almost walked right into the man who was trying to leave at the same time.

“Oh, uh…”

Hanna looked up. It was Derek. Suddenly she woke up a bit and found herself acutely aware that she was wearing a white shirt and that it was drenched. To her dismay it occurred to her that her bra must have been on full display right in front of him. She resisted the urge to look down and check, and instead crossed her arms over her chest as quickly but casually as she could.

Then she looked more closely at Jen’s older brother, and noticed what she had missed in her momentary panic: Derek looked beyond awful. He had a black eye, a swollen cheek, a cut around the corner of his mouth, claw-shaped holes in his shirt, a bandaged hand, more claw-shaped holes near the crotch of his pants that revealed his boxers, and last but not least a missing shoe.

Hanna, Jen, and Derek stood still for a while. Between all the visible (but obfuscated) underwear, Derek’s various injuries, and Jen’s conspicuously absent glasses, it seemed inevitable that somebody would lead things off with a question.

At length, Derek did so: “Anything happen?”

Jen shook her head. “Uh… no, not really. You?”

“Nah.”

Jen waited a beat. “’Kay.”

“Yeah.”

Derek walked past them and out the door without another word. Likewise, the two girls walked to the front desk without another word so Jen could drop off her Pokémon and so they could ask for some towels. Then they stopped by the vending machines to buy some hot chocolate and found two comfortable chairs to collapse in.

It was fifteen minutes later when they finished their drinks and looked each other in the eye. Then Jen broke out laughing.

“Hey,” she said, “I think there’s, like, a lesson here about hub-reese.”

“It’s ‘hue-briss,’” said Hanna, who stared at the floor and rubbed her forehead. Pronunciation aside, she wasn’t sure Jen had the right word. ‘Hubris’ referred specifically to a misplaced confidence in oneself in the face of fate or the divine. But that didn’t describe an unmerited lack of confidence in a peer, especially a peer you mistook for a dependent. In any case, Hanna was about to admit that some credit was long overdue, and that much talk about ‘babysitting’ had to be taken back. But Jen kept talking before she had a chance.

“That’s legendary Pokémon for you. I bet that’s how they get their kicks—you know, trying to scare the crap out of anyone who thinks they got what it takes to find them.”

Hanna jerked her head up again. She didn’t know what to say. Surely that couldn’t be Jen’s only takeaway from all this. That wasn’t right at all. “Yeah,” said Hanna regardless. “They don’t mess around.”

They fell back into silence. It was a silence that was uneasy for Hanna, even though it seemed perfectly easy for Jen. Hanna knew she had to make it right, even if Jen was letting her off the hook. Rather, especially if Jen was letting her off the hook.

“I was thinking,” said Hanna, “After… When I head off to school, you ought to team up with someone younger. Maybe some new trainers you can show to ropes to.”

Jen stared at her wide-eyed, as if the thought had never crossed her mind. “You really think so?”

Hanna did think so. Maybe she thought that Jen would have to slow down and think a little more if that was the road she was going to take, but there was no doubt she’d make the adjustment.

“Mull it over. I think it’ll be a good change of pace for you.”

Jen was blank for a moment. Then she sat back, stared at the ceiling, and smiled.

Hanna decided she would leave it at that for now. School was still a few weeks away, and it wasn’t like she wanted to start saying goodbye.

*

Next time: In Wyvern, Travis struggles to act like he cares about gym badges.
 
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Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
This is an interesting one, taking us back a bit to see Hanna and Jen's friendship in a much earlier state. Arguably it's not quite as strong as some of the other side chapters have been – I think that Fire Safety and Dad's Old Gym really stand out there – but it does very nicely counterbalance the usual picture of their relationship we've been given so far, in which Hanna plays the Logical Friend to Jen's Impulsive Friend and solves her problems. It's been quite a while since we last got a glimpse of the ways in which Jen's personality can work to her advantage as well as her disadvantage, if I remember correctly, and it's a refreshing change of pace.

I also really like the way the side chapters are slotting together and illuminating one another, so that Derek's attempts to deal with his larvitar happen alongside this chapter, and together with it begin to give this impression of a window into like a decade of these characters' lives, as they live and travel and work in Johto. One thing I love about this fic but haven't been able to articulate so far is how you layer up all these connections between past events, present quests, future aspirations, over and over, in ways that both repeat what we already know but kinda come at it from a different angle, too, and give this like super vivid picture of a living world made up of six lives and their intersections. You kinda think it's going to be all about the kids (who, just to check in, haven't yet been stopped), but then you get a few chapters in, think about the title again and realise no, the only people who can ask that question are the adults, and their longer perspective on pokémon training is just as important to what the story's trying to do as the kids' in-the-thick-of-it excitement.

Okay, I'm getting less and less coherent by the word, I can feel it. But yeah, this is … shaping up to be something really special. And while I don't think I've managed to say quite why yet, I'm going to keep reviewing until I manage to put my finger on it.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Every time Cutlerine makes a joke about whether or not somebody will, in fact, stop the kids, my day gets a little brighter.

(No but seriously, the title of the fic is literally what got me to click on the thread in the first place.)

Anyway, I really like how this side story overlaps with The New Recruit. I was also pleased to see a side chapter about Hanna, because out of the main six, she was one who I felt needed one most (Travis was the other, and lo and behold he’s next! I think that says something about how effectively you’ve coordinated these.) My favorite bits of her development thus far had been in Dad’s Old Gym (which is the strongest of the side chapters alongside Lucia, imo) but most of that related to her friendship with Jen. Which is great, but it’s nice to see her get some time to herself here.

And I was of course pleased to see Lugia as a theme of this extra. :D That bit where Hanna was carefully observing what was (probably) a sign of Lugia’s arrival, only to fall prey to its psychic shenanigans was pretty brilliant. Really drives home how mysterious the legends are in that world, especially if there’s no Pokédex data on them (a fact which I’m sure modern-day Hanna would have an entire spiel about.) And that storm! Despite this being a flashback, that whole scene was seriously intense. Yes, we knew they would make it out, but how? And how much hell will they have to go through in the process? This is a great example of how a foregone conclusion can still hold plenty of tension.

Also, I should probably take this moment to mention that I kinda reread the fic yesterday. xP it started out as a way to piece together scattered details of the characters to better visually portray them, but it turned into a fun way to re-experience all the many, many pieces of the story that take on a whole new meaning after you already know the characters. So many little ’a-ha’ moments scattered throughout. And a lot of that is thanks to the side chapters.

There’s just so much going on in the lives of your characters. I know I said that in a previous review, but it bears repeating. Even setting aside their personalities for a second, I love how effectively you’re able to convey that they have these full lives full of experiences outside of the plot.

I also now properly appreciate how slow training in portrayed in this fic. Journeys are expected to take several years. Building a proper bond with a Pokémon takes time. Teaching it moves, even simple level-up moves, takes time. Going the extra mile to tutor special moves takes longer. Pokémon don’t just ‘know’ how to do everything. Trainers don’t just ‘know’ how to do everything. Leveling up takes time. Evolving takes time. In game terms, the kids’ Pokémon are somewhere in their late 20s / early 30s. After over a year. Getting a Pokémon to its final evolution is a big deal. Getting a pseudo-legend to its final evolution is practically a life commitment.

Because let’s be real—what, in this world, can you really get good at in less than a year? I’m a martial artist. I’ve been doing it for years and I’m still rubbish.

Training takes time.

Lots of trainer fics give their characters 8 badges and fully-evolved pseudo-legends within a few months. Hell, I was feeling all proud of myself for flat-out stating that fully-evolved pseudo-legends are unheard-of in a first-year’s league tournament, despite going and making it possible within two years. But something like Tyranitar? If it were that easy to train, everyone would have one. Derek’s had his for over a decade and he still can barely handle it.

The fandom likes to joke about how a world can function when 10-year-olds have the power to level cities, but that just would not be the case. Not everyone is gonna be running around with a master-class team. Heck, it makes the NPCs in the games make more sense while we’re at it, because while junior trainers carrying 2-3 common Pokémon might look silly compared to the player character (‘Just go catch more!’ we always say) that is probably what the average person has time or energy to handle, at least until they get better. Which takes dedication.

But yeah, massive tangent aside, I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’ve got something special with the world you’ve built in this fic. Keep it up.

And as one last side note, I am happy to report that reading this fic has greatly boosted my ability to write characters making small talk about their lives and experiences! I think the difference is quite noticeable in the later chapters of LC!

~Chibi~;249;;448;
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[Replies to readers' comments in the spoiler tags:
Cutlerine said:
This is an interesting one, taking us back a bit to see Hanna and Jen's friendship in a much earlier state. Arguably it's not quite as strong as some of the other side chapters have been – I think that Fire Safety and Dad's Old Gym really stand out there – but it does very nicely counterbalance the usual picture of their relationship we've been given so far, in which Hanna plays the Logical Friend to Jen's Impulsive Friend and solves her problems. It's been quite a while since we last got a glimpse of the ways in which Jen's personality can work to her advantage as well as her disadvantage, if I remember correctly, and it's a refreshing change of pace.
I think you like Fire Safety a lot more than I do. :P Anyway, I definitely wanted there to be an expectation that a big part of Hanna's role in life is to save Jen from herself before this chapter. That way there could be this kind of reversal of expectations even though we already know where their lives end up going from here.

I also really like the way the side chapters are slotting together and illuminating one another, so that Derek's attempts to deal with his larvitar happen alongside this chapter, and together with it begin to give this impression of a window into like a decade of these characters' lives, as they live and travel and work in Johto. One thing I love about this fic but haven't been able to articulate so far is how you layer up all these connections between past events, present quests, future aspirations, over and over, in ways that both repeat what we already know but kinda come at it from a different angle, too, and give this like super vivid picture of a living world made up of six lives and their intersections.
It's funny, but when you're writing something all you see are the huge holes in the world behind the story. It never feels solid and real enough to me, and certainly not vivid enough. Maybe that's because to me this is a jumble of vague ideas that eventually grew into a text, as opposed to an initial text that introduces what's possibly a larger world behind it.

Whoops, got a little pretentious there. Anyway, glad it's working for you, lol

But yeah, this is … shaping up to be something really special. And while I don't think I've managed to say quite why yet, I'm going to keep reviewing until I manage to put my finger on it.
Let me know if you think of it. I'm still solidifying my own thoughts on whether it really works or not, but first I have to write the ending.

Chibi Pika said:
I was also pleased to see a side chapter about Hanna, because out of the main six, she was one who I felt needed one most (Travis was the other, and lo and behold he’s next! I think that says something about how effectively you’ve coordinated these.)
Lol, that was literally the first thing I thought of when I started outlining: "everyone gets at least one side-chapter."

And I was of course pleased to see Lugia as a theme of this extra. That bit where Hanna was carefully observing what was (probably) a sign of Lugia’s arrival, only to fall prey to its psychic shenanigans was pretty brilliant. Really drives home how mysterious the legends are in that world, especially if there’s no Pokédex data on them (a fact which I’m sure modern-day Hanna would have an entire spiel about.) And that storm! Despite this being a flashback, that whole scene was seriously intense. Yes, we knew they would make it out, but how? And how much hell will they have to go through in the process? This is a great example of how a foregone conclusion can still hold plenty of tension.
WAS it a sign of Lugia's arrival? To this day, Hanna is not convinced. I was worried the psychic shenanigans were overwrought in their description, so I'm glad you liked it. As for tension, I find you don't actually have to work much harder to make a forgone conclusion suspenseful; you just can't treat anything as a twist if the readers already know about it. Otherwise I treat them just like scenes in the 'present.' If I had to give an explanation for it, I think it's that fooling the reader into forgetting they already know what happens next isn't too different from fooling the reader into forgetting that it's fictional and nobody's actually going to get hurt.

Also, I should probably take this moment to mention that I kinda reread the fic yesterday. xP it started out as a way to piece together scattered details of the characters to better visually portray them, but it turned into a fun way to re-experience all the many, many pieces of the story that take on a whole new meaning after you already know the characters. So many little ’a-ha’ moments scattered throughout. And a lot of that is thanks to the side chapters.
Wow. I didn't think anyone would ever reread any of this. And it's hugely reassuring that you think stuff fits together on re-inspection.

I also now properly appreciate how slow training in portrayed in this fic. Journeys are expected to take several years. Building a proper bond with a Pokémon takes time. Teaching it moves, even simple level-up moves, takes time. Going the extra mile to tutor special moves takes longer. Pokémon don’t just ‘know’ how to do everything. Trainers don’t just ‘know’ how to do everything. Leveling up takes time. Evolving takes time. In game terms, the kids’ Pokémon are somewhere in their late 20s / early 30s. After over a year. Getting a Pokémon to its final evolution is a big deal. Getting a pseudo-legend to its final evolution is practically a life commitment.
What I was thinking there was "So if everyone has their journey when they're a kid, and if it takes up several years of their lives, and they don't ALL get all eight badges, what does that imply?" At the same time I didn't want "slow training" to mean "really, really long story," hence the way time jumps around so much.

But yeah, massive tangent aside, I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’ve got something special with the world you’ve built in this fic. Keep it up.
Thanks! And thanks for the massive tangent, too!

And as one last side note, I am happy to report that reading this fic has greatly boosted my ability to write characters making small talk about their lives and experiences! I think the difference is quite noticeable in the later chapters of LC!
Ooh, can't wait to get to the later chapters of LC, then! (in the back of my mind I'm thinking, 'oh no, I've contaminated someone else's writing style, what have I done')
Thanks for reading!]

Wyvern

February, 2017

A bead of sweat rolled down Travis’s forehead. He wanted to believe it was only there because the room was too warm. Outside there was a dusting of snow, but in Azalea Gym it was always summer. Balanced upright on the grass floor in front of Travis was Wyvern, his Horsea, who let his coiled tail wind and unwind as if he were standing on his ‘toes.’ Past Wyvern was a Scyther, and past the Scyther was the gym leader, Bugsy, who was smiling and did not appear close to sweating.

And it was a friendly smile, not even a competitive one. Travis had to envy how relaxed Bugsy could afford to be about this fight. Everyone expected a leader to put out their C-team (or their F-team, as Travis expected was the case with Bugsy) and lose just often enough for the whole stupid system to work. And the leaders never had two people watching from behind and scrutinizing their every move, either.

“Come on, Wyvern, you can do it!”

“Hey, Travis, try to suck less!”

Jason had a point, of course. The only reason Travis’s Wooper, Leviathan, was already out of the fight was because he had made the mistake of assuming that a Metapod wouldn’t be able to do jack in a real battle. In his defense, how was he supposed to guess that Bugsy would put in the time to train a chrysalis to use attacks that involved movement? What was the point when it was just going to evolve to Butterfree in a month, anyway? In any case, Travis now realized that he had just spent a lot of time thinking about nonsense when he should have been strategizing, and now the standoff between their final Pokémon was over.

“Scyther, use Fury Cutter!”

The Scyther spread the blades that comprised its forearms wide and dashed forward. Travis’s lip quivered as he tried to remember what made a Fury Cutter different from a Slash. The gap was closing fast, and Wyvern still didn’t have any orders. Before it was too late, Travis blurted out the last thing they had worked on. “Scald!”

As his opponent closed in, Wyvern hopped backward and shot a quick spray of water from his snout that gave off intense steam. It hit the Scyther square in the face, and the mantis Pokémon immediately pulled its arms back in from attack-position to cover itself. Travis could tell from the faint sound alone that a burn must have set in. That was good luck.

On the other end of the battlefield, Bugsy nodded. “Hm.”

Before Travis noticed it, the Scyther found its nerve again and jumped forward. Wyvern tried to jump again to dodge, but the right blade gave him a small cut on his abdomen and sent him sliding backward. Travis cursed himself for not calling another attack by now. “Scald him again! He doesn’t like it!”

Wyvern was upright and the Scyther was in pursuit by the time Travis finished speaking. Wyvern’s chest expanded and contracted as he blasted his opponent, this time in the thorax. As before, the Scyther pulled off from its attack and tended to itself, but there was no burn this time. Travis frantically tried to decide whether this was bad luck or if the attack wasn’t as effective from that distance, while Bugsy took everything in stride and seemed unconcerned that his Pokémon wasn’t pressing as hard as a Scyther should.

The Scyther screamed at Wyvern, but aside from that everything slowed to a halt. Travis was drawing a complete blank, and the gym leader wasn’t saying anything either. Was he going easy on him? Travis would never live it down if Jason got that impression. Bugsy’s eyes went back and forth between the two Pokémon, and Travis found his own doing the same. Then his eyes settled on Wyvern, and he noticed something that sent a chill up his spine.

Travis could see the veins in Wyvern’s back popping out. They weren’t supposed to be visible from where he was standing; they were too small. Something was wrong. Now that he looked closer, there was something off in his Horsea’s posture. He wasn’t hurt that badly yet, so what was it? Travis’s eyes darted to the Scyther’s blades again, and it occurred to him that Wyvern might be terrified. The thought made his stomach hurt.

“Scyther,” said Bugsy. “I know it’s hot, but it won’t hurt you like fire. Tough it out!”

The bug-type seemed to understand. It took a moment to psyche itself up, and then burst forward. Travis could barely think straight, and suddenly he wanted nothing more than to get his Pokémon out of there. “Smokescreen!”

Wyvern’s veins popped out even more as the black cloud burst from his mouth. The Scyther wailed as it barreled through and the smoke got into its eyes, but that didn’t stop it from landing another hit. It cut deeper than the first time, and Wyvern went toppling backward. Without any prompt from Travis, he shot a Bubble Beam at the Scyther as it moved in for the third time. The jet of bubbles made a roll of deafening sounds on impact, and this slowed his opponent enough for Wyvern to roll out of the way. The tip of Scyther’s blade struck dirt.

Travis heard Krissy behind him. “All right! If he can keep forcing misses, that’ll keep the Fury Cutter weak!”

So that was the deal with Fury Cutter. In his head, Travis kicked himself for not knowing. They’d dodged a bullet.

“Give him a freaking order, man!”

‘I know. I know. Shut up.’

Wyvern pulled himself up and fired another volley of bubbles. It sounded like they hit their mark, but all Travis could look at were those veins. He still didn’t know what the matter was—only that the battle had to stop so he could check on him. And since winning would take too long and could hurt Wyvern even further, that meant it was time to forfeit. It wasn’t a hard conclusion to reach.

But he couldn’t do it. Another fear—one that was at constant war with his concern for his Pokémon—grabbed his throat from the inside and kept him from speaking. The fear was this: that if he gave up when the outcome of a fight was still in question, Jason would think he was a wuss. He would be right to think so. Travis didn’t even want to imagine it. If you couldn’t handle the gyms, maybe you couldn’t keep up at all, and Jason had another friend that could more than keep up now.

Despite the burn and Wyvern’s attacks, the Scyther endured and cut Wyvern again. And again. His Horsea hit the dirt for the third time, and now the injuries were too many and the veins were too prominent to ignore. The battle looked hopeless enough that Travis’s fears wouldn’t keep him from calling it. He moved forward and held up his hand. “Wait! We give!”

Bugsy’s eyebrows shot up, but he complied without hesitation. “Pull back, Scyther! It’s over!”

Travis hurried over to Wyvern. He hated that he hadn’t thrown in the towel just a few seconds earlier. Why should his stupid anxieties and phony pride be more important than keeping Wyvern from getting hurt? Who did he think he was, putting his Pokémon in harm’s way for a worthless piece of plastic? He dropped to his knees, picked up the poor Horsea, and was immediately surprised by the look of confusion in his eyes.

It seemed Wyvern wanted to keep fighting. That ruled out the fear-and-anxiety explanation for the problem with his veins, which meant Travis still had some inspecting to do. As he ran his hands over Wyvern’s chest and spine, Bugsy started to give an obviously practiced speech containing advice and encouragement. The leader might as well have been miles away; Travis didn’t listen to a word he said and put all of his attention on his Pokémon. Despite this, he came no closer to figuring out what was the matter. Pulse and breathing both seemed normal. He frowned, decided it wasn’t something he could diagnose while Wyvern was at rest, and returned him to his Pokéball.

*********

It was late that afternoon, almost evening, when Travis was leading the way through the woods to the south of Azalea Town. It wasn’t a marked trail, and if you weren’t looking for it you might not guess there was a path at all. They had already passed the hills that kept the sea air away from Azalea, and before long Travis expected they would find the beach he had heard about at the Pokécenter. As far as they had come, however, Jason still had yet to say anything about Travis’s loss that morning. Travis had to wonder if his friend was letting him stew in miserable anticipation on purpose, which would be bad form.

“Hey, Travis.” Ah, there it was. Jason’s voice was full of obvious tells. He must have finally thought of something good.

“Yeah?”

“What’s the difference between you and a sheriff?”

Travis groaned. This was so painfully easy. How embarrassing that Jason had taken so long to think of it. He muttered the answer as Jason shouted it: “…no badge.” “No badge!

Now that that was out of the way, Travis could say something he’d been saving for a few hours. “Better laugh now, cause they ain’t all bug-type gyms. They shoulda disqualified you for letting it get that close when you have a freaking fire-type.”

Jason laughed this off. “Just wanted to be sure Rabies didn’t burn the whole place down.” If he felt any shame about how Krissy had made Bugsy look easy with Lucia—a grass-type—he wasn’t showing it.

On the subject of Krissy, she was looking increasingly but predictably uncomfortable. “You know,” she said, “you guys really don’t have to be all over each other like this when one of you loses.”

“Yeah, we do,” they said at the same time and with the exact same intonation. Jason added, “It’s practice.”

“For what?”

Travis answered her. “For when one of us finally beats you.”

“Oh man,” said Jason with a look of intense longing in his eyes. “We’re gonna be insufferable when that happens.”

“Nothing but sick burns left and right.”

“They’ll have to quarantine those burns, they’ll be so sick.”

For the duration of this, Krissy did nothing but roll her eyes. Then she made the mistake of saying, “Boys will be boys.”

Jason and Travis jumped on the opportunity. “That’s it!”

“Huh?”

Jason beamed and pointed in her direction. “Sarcasm!”

Travis smiled too, though not as loudly. “She’s finally learning. Next we might hear actual insults.”

“Thought this day would never come! I’m so proud of you.”

Krissy bit her lip, and Travis was half-sure she was hiding a smile. It also made him suspect this would be the last remotely sarcastic thing they’d hear from her for a good while, but it was worth it. For her part, she exhaled slowly and tried to steer the conversation in a new direction. “Odd time of year to camp at a beach.”

“Can’t help it with Travis. If he’s away from a large body of water too long he starts to shrivel up.”

Travis actually didn’t mind Jason’s explanation, even if he wasn’t taking them the ocean for his own health. He hadn’t decided when, how, or if he was going to explain this to Jason and Krissy, but the real reason they were going to the beach was because he wanted to check on Wyvern’s circulation in his natural habitat of saltwater as opposed to on dry land. He also wanted to avoid any debate on whether the nurses at the Pokécenter were more qualified to make the diagnosis. Travis didn’t think they were, otherwise they would have noticed that something was wrong by themselves a few hours ago.

In any case, soon the trees began to thin out and the land fell away even sharper than before. The ocean came into view in a disappointingly hazy and undramatic fashion for Travis’s tastes. They still had to walk a good quarter-mile down a slope that grew more barren and rocky as they went along. The wind picked up in a hurry from ahead of them to noises of disapproval from Jason and Krissy, who zipped up their coats. Travis was just glad to taste the salt, though.

Finally they reached the beach proper, but even then it was half-covered in rocks. You had to walk nearly to where it was damp to get uninterrupted sand. Worse yet, the ocean didn’t seem as vast as it should have because of the low, heavy clouds in the distance that obscured the horizon. It was the grayest beach Travis had ever seen, but to tell the truth he thought the world needed gray beaches too.

Jason shivered a little in the stiff breeze. “I get the feeling this place ain’t exactly crowded in the Summer, either.”

“Somebody comes here, at least,” said Krissy. “Or they used to.” She pointed at a long, low fisherman’s pier a ways down the coast to their right. Even at this distance they could see it was in terrible disrepair. “We’ll have to clear a spot to pitch the tent. Are we sure we don’t want to head back to the woods?”

“Real sure,” said Jason. “It’s here or nothing. Wouldn’t be fair to rob Travis of his precious, intolerable mid-February ocean breeze right before his birthday.”

Travis clapped a hand to his forehead. He thought they’d been over this.

“Oh!” said Krissy. “I didn’t know it was coming up.”

‘That was by design.’ Travis was not a fan of when his birthday fell. By his reckoning, the day before Valentine’s Day was the second-worst possible birthday, and he was just lucky it didn’t fall on Valentine’s Day proper.

“Yeah. I thought I’d talked about it before, but—Oh man!” Jason suddenly pointed at a nearby cluster of stones. “A Shuckle!

Sure enough, near the rocks there was a small, porous red shell with a long, soft head sticking out. Jason wasted no time in running towards it and sending out a Pokémon. “Go, Ali!”

Jason’s Ledian appeared, the Shuckle withdrew completely into its shell, and the long, boring fight commenced. “Mach Punch!” Ali began to pound away at the Shuckle’s shell with rapid jabs to no visible effect. Travis decided to take the opportunity to sit on a rock and stare at the water.

“Hey, Krissy!” shouted Jason. “We’ll see how your Pokémon do against this kind of defense when I catch him!”

Krissy walked over and sat down next to Travis. “Leech Seed,” she said under her breath.

Travis had to roll his eyes at the unpleasant surprise that probably awaited Jason in a few days.

“So,” said Krissy, “You’re coming up on one year soon, then?”

Travis wasn’t sure what she was talking about for a moment, but he figured it out. “No. I started in April with Jason.”

Krissy’s eyes widened for a moment, and then she smiled. Travis thought it was weird. Why did she have to be so weird and annoying?

“By the way,” she said, “I think Wyvern still had a shot in that fight. I wouldn’t have pulled him just yet.”

She was right, of course. But even putting aside Wyvern’s apparent vein trouble that she must have missed, Travis couldn’t agree with her less about keeping him in. Supposing Wyvern had gone on to win, it undoubtedly would have brought him close to passing out. He didn’t care what everyone else thought; a stupid badge wasn’t worth that. Everyone could go on about how much they mean and how they’re the only way your Pokémon will respect you, to which Travis called BS. And that so-called ‘rule’ about needing four badges to ride on a Pokémon in the water wasn’t one Travis would follow even if it were enforceable.

He had practiced a spiel on this topic over and over, but no one had ever heard it. Instead he said something he didn’t remotely believe but which sounded safer. “We were done. Bugsy had that fight cold. I was looking something like eight moves ahead, and Scyther had a ninety-two point five and a third chance of winning.” A perfect bluff, thought Travis.

“I wouldn’t sell Wyvern short,” said Krissy. “You’ve taught him some incredible water moves really well for his age, and if you taught him some moves from other types to round it out you’d be surprised what kind of situations he could get out of.”

Travis was wondering how or if he should say that he didn’t have the slightest interest in wasting Wyvern’s time and energy on mastering anything but water moves. Then he heard the sound of a Pokéball breaking open and Jason yelling, “Shoot!”

They looked over, and Ali was back to agitating the shell. Jason rubbed his chin, and Travis could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears as he contemplated how to outmaneuver a Pokémon that apparently didn’t need to do anything more than imitate a rock to force a stalemate. Then Jason took off his coat, loosened his arms, grabbed a small stone, and walked over to the ocean to skip it. Despite how rough the water was from the wind, Jason swung his arm and flicked his wrist with such torque that he still got four skips.

But Travis noticed how Jason had to shake his elbow and rub his shoulder afterward. “Your arm’s gonna fall right off if you keep treating it like that.”

“You’re just jealous you can’t get more than two skips on a still pond!”

Travis was about to retort that Jason would probably drown in that same pond if he tried to swim, but then Krissy asked, “Jason, do you think you can help us clear a spot for the tent while Ali works on the Shuckle?”

Jason looked over at the so-called battle. “Yeah, probably.”

While they moved rocks around, Travis thought about when would be the best time to let Wyvern into the water. It was tough to decide whether getting some privacy would be harder than explaining what he was up to.

*********

It was midnight, Travis was eleven, and he was walking to the edge of the half-rotted pier. It was a full moon, there were no clouds, and the reflections saved him from falling off the edge. When he reached the end he found a ladder, and it passed the shake-test for stability but barely. Now it was time for the easy part: he unclipped Wyvern’s ball and opened it over the water. There was a small splash, and looking down he could just see the silhouette of his Horsea staring back at him. The breeze picked up and Travis rubbed his hands together for warmth. So far so good.

“Wyvern, use Surf. Gentle. Real gentle.”

The waves picked up momentarily, but they subsided to normal levels just as quickly. The moonlight then showed that all around Wyvern there was a circle of almost perfectly still water. Outside the circle the waves moved past as usual, and this was what showed Travis beyond a doubt that it was working. A ‘Gentle Surf’ meant that Wyvern (or someday Leviathan, when he got the hang of it) would take control of the surrounding water as usual, but instead of forcing it along he kept it in place. This water was now trapped and was separate from the rest of the ocean as if it were oil.

Travis hated how most trainers treated Surf like it was this lame ‘extra’ move to make travel easier. It was the direct manipulation of water outside the body. No move was more powerful or versatile. He took a deep breath. The hard part was next.

Carefully he knelt down to drop his towel on the pier. Then he took off his coat. Then he took off his shirt. The wind felt like ice, and he rubbed his chest until it burned. He continued to disrobe until he had nothing on but his swim trunks, and then he had to think for a minute. It seemed silly to wear your trunks under your jeans all through the winter if you were never going to use them, but in the end he decided he didn’t want to go back with any wet clothes. He took the trunks off as well, and now he was standing naked a few feet over the ocean with the temperature near freezing.

His teeth chattered as he said the one word that kept this from being suicide: “S…Scald.”

Travis heard a multitude of bubbles in the water before him. Then he closed his eyes and psyched himself until he was ready. He jumped. The fall was over too soon, and the initial shock alone almost made him scream. It felt like every inch of his body from his scalp to his toes was covered in liquid snow, and he swore some of his extremities were shrinking. But he could still move and still think, which meant the Scald had worked. Then his left heel strayed too far in one direction, and in a flash he felt what the water would be like without Wyvern keeping it this warm. He pulled his leg close and rubbed his now-numb foot.

He needed air. While the sensation returned to his foot, he used his arms to rise to the surface. It took only two gasps for him to decide he liked the water better than the air already. He gritted his teeth and tried to slow his breathing with his nose. Then he felt something swim behind him, and Wyvern shoved him forward closer to the center of the hemisphere where it was safer. Travis turned around, and when Wyvern’s head popped up again he said, “G…good job. Perfect. Thanks.”

This wasn’t the first time they’d practiced using these techniques together, but he hadn’t dared an attempt since November, which had seemed dangerous enough at the time. But someday they were going to have to do this much and more. He thought about that.

“Wyvern,” he said. “Think you can keep this up for a long time?”

Travis heard movement in response. It sounded positive.

“And how far do you think you can swim? All the way to Kanto?”

More movement. Highly positive.

“All the way to Unova?”

Movement, but there was some hesitation too. Did Wyvern know where Unova was?

“Past Unova, past Kalos, and then back here?”

Little movement. This time it was inquisitive, Travis was pretty sure. He supposed it was a hard thing for a Horsea to grasp. But that was the plan. Travis hated wasting any time on gym battles when the real battles they had to prepare for were going to be at sea. He wondered if Wyvern would be excited or nervous to know that he was going to be on the first Pokémon team to circle the globe without flying or touching land.

He hadn’t told Jason about this either. Not yet. Something felt wrong about planning an adventure that they couldn’t go on together, even if it was probably a decade off. But as tempting as it was to keep thinking about the future, there was something more important that needed Travis’s attention now. He took a deep breath and went back underwater to get to work.

He stuck his arms out, and Wyvern found them even though there was nothing to see. As lightly as he possibly could, Travis traced his fingers around Wyvern’s vital features. The gills in front of the spikes on his head were opening and closing normally. Dorsal fin was responsive. Pulse was normal as he felt it from the chest. Then he placed one finger on a patch of thin exoskeleton at the top of the neck, and the vein there showed what he was looking for. Wyvern’s heart was beating at a normal pace, but the blood was pumping much harder than Travis had ever felt.

He needed air again, so it was back to the surface. Wyvern followed. Travis tried to think of what he’d read about that could fit this one isolated symptom. Maybe it was because he was too cold to think clearly, but he had no idea. So he tried the stupid, obvious approach. “Wyvern, how do you feel?”

Nothing. The question was too abstract; he had to refer to specific feelings.

“Is something scaring you?”

There was a little movement. It was either hesitation or confusion. Travis couldn’t tell, and it frustrated him to his core. Still, if nothing else he could try to alleviate the effects of whatever was wrong. He took another deep breath.

Wyvern found him underwater again, and Travis put one hand on his chest and another on his back. He kept one finger on the soft spot where it was easiest to feel the blood flow. The best thing he could think of was to try to calming him down. He began to rub Wyvern’s chest. ‘Slow down,’ he said in his head and tried to convey through his fingers. ‘Breathe slower. Breathe deeper.’

Wyvern must have been listening, as his water intake felt less shallow now, but the blood was pumping as hard as before. It wasn’t working, so maybe it really wasn’t a mental or nervous issue, but Travis kept at it. Then something changed in a way he hadn’t expected: the pulses came just as frequently and just as hard, but they felt longer somehow. It was like more blood was coming through with each cycle. None of it made any sense to him, but he had to stop thinking for a moment because he was out of air. He tapped Wyvern on the snout to tell him to stay put, and rose to take care of his own oxygen before coming right back down.

It was back to rubbing and wondering what on earth was going on with his Pokémon. He tried being even more gentle, as if to say ‘No, really, calm down.’ But Wyvern’s blood pressure stayed high, and the total flow continued to increase. Travis was getting close to his lungs’ limit again, and then all of a sudden it was no longer pitch black, and that made the rest of his air escape through his mouth. Wyvern was glowing.

Travis’s hands fell away on their own, and for a moment his indecision left him paralyzed. It was only to avoid drowning that he kicked his way back up. One long gasp and he was down again. He stared at his Pokémon. Wyvern’s eyes were closed and he was twitching. This wasn’t supposed to be happening yet. Wyvern was too young; his body was still growing at this stage. Now Travis finally realized what the problem was. Wyvern’s energy output as a whole was too high for his frame—he was coming close to having a Seadra’s heart in a young Horsea’s body. Had Travis pushed him too hard in training? What if his veins ruptured?

Travis could only try to think of whether evolving would help the situation or make it worse. Would the body grow to match the heart, or would the heart just outgrow the body even more? He had no idea, and anything he did now could be disastrous for all he knew. He panicked for a moment. Since he was out of time, there was no choice but to try the stupid, obvious thing again. All he could do was defer to Wyvern.

Travis put both hands on his Pokémon’s back, and since he didn’t know how to say it without words he just spoke them through the water. “You don’t… have to… if you don’t… want to.”

Wyvern stopped twitching. But he was still glowing. He drew in one deep draft of water, and Travis could feel the blood pump in response. It was heavy, but calm and controlled. Wyvern wasn’t nearly as scared as Travis was.

Then Travis’s fingers stretched out almost on their own, but not quite. Wyvern’s exoskeleton was expanding. The spikes on his head grew longer and they were joined by others. Travis could scarcely believe what he was seeing, but the dorsal fin split in two and each half came out larger. The halves pushed their way to the sides of Wyvern’s back, and they each grew into three prongs while before they had been simple and round. Travis knew there would be poison in the tips and kept his hands close to Wyvern’s neck. He wanted to see every last change, but then the light subsided.

Now that it was over, Travis became keenly aware of two things: that his lungs were empty again, and that without his noticing the water had lost most of its heat. His body tried to pull his arms and legs to his chest to address the second need, but this left it at a loss for how to address the first. He froze with his back turned upward. Then he heard something almost like a jet engine, and he was surrounded by bubbles. He was no longer frozen, and before he knew it something rammed into his chest and drove him straight up and over the surface. Travis choked, coughed, but managed to breathe again.

When he had control of himself, he found that all he could do was relax. It seemed impossible, but their little hemisphere of ocean felt as warm as bathwater now. He looked at the outline of his Seadra’s head, and felt sorry for any Pokémon that had to go up against that Scald in battle. It had gotten so much more potent just from the evolution. Without a doubt it was going to prove invaluable when it came time to go on their real journey.

Just to be safe, Travis reached out and felt Wyvern’s pulse again. He couldn’t be sure now that his body had changed so much, but everything felt normal. Then on a whim he asked, “Hey, Wyvern. Think you can swim to Unova and Kalos and then back here?”

Wyvern fanned his fins and then swam in a blisteringly fast circle around Travis, which could only mean an overwhelmingly, enthusiastically positive response. Travis grinned like an idiot. The moonlight showed the creases in Wyvern’s new, probably scary expression, but it was plain from that answer—and more importantly the way he made that answer—that Wyvern was still Wyvern.

This was already one of the happiest days of Travis’s life, and it wasn’t even an hour old. Now he just had to figure out how he was going to get out of the water and dry off without catching hypothermia, but he was pretty sure he could manage it.

*

Next time: In Chapter 9, Krissy and company reach the hard part.

[And that's all for the standalone chapters. Up next are chapters nine through twelve, and then that's the end. Hope you enjoy the rest of the ride, and thanks for reading.]
 
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Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
I've read Hubris Island and commented on it a while back, so I don't think I'll repeat much here. I do remember saying I wonder about Derek's job, and then now we already got that reveal and how Derek was training his Pokemon in an earlier short story. I like the connection there.

"Wyvern" is a very enjoyable short too. Haha poor Jason dealing with Shuckle. Some nice interactions between Travis and Wyvern, and cool evolution scene there. Does makes things bittersweet concerning the situation in the main story now.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
OK SO. I think I'll start things off with a quote-by-quote section. Probably an effing long one. Enjoy my thoughts as I was reading in order of appearance, I guess. HERE WE GO

Family was by and large too complicated for Derek to handle, and any amount of potentially frustrating human interaction he could trim from his week was welcome.
Amen to that.

“First Jason throws Rabies’s ball past him to block his escape. Then I send out Lucia and Travis sends out Leviathan. When he sends out his Pokémon, one of us will take the lead depending on the type matchup.”
RABIES. It says something about Jason, i suspect, that he'd name his dog after a fatal disease.

Incidentally one of my cousins has a dog named Chocolate. Who the **** names a dog Chocolate. That's like naming a child Arsenic.

This left two explanations in Jason’s mind: either Derek knew and was trying to pressure them into quitting on their own—as if they could be dissuaded from doing the right thing by someone calling it ‘stupid’—or Derek didn’t know and he was just being an awkward weirdo.
An awkweirdo, if you will.

“Hey,” said Jason, “if we find those thugs we’ll try to get back your Girafarig.”

Phillip looked up at him. “…You mean it?”

“Of course! We’re pretty dang good, and we outnumber them too!”
PRETTY SURE YOU DON'T, JASON. XD

He got a little lost in his thoughts before he noticed that Travis wasn’t keeping up with him and Krissy. He turned around and saw Travis standing in front of Phillip for just a moment before he turned around as well and caught up to them in a hurry.

“What’d you say to him?” whispered Jason, who wasn’t sure what to think.

“Nothing.”

“Whatever.” It was seldom worth the effort to interrogate Travis.
Well that made me instantly sure that it most definitely was not nothing.

The voice sounded like it belonged to the world’s most cheerful tin can.
Pfff. I like that line.

And now he was out of time to stall. He needed something plausible-sounding and, more importantly, something that wasn’t ‘Gonna go fight Team Rocket’ or ‘Ya know, stuff.’

He said, “…Ya know, stuff.”
stands and applauds, tears in eyes

Jason’s arms shot up and he cheered so loud that it made Rabies and Wyvern jump, while Travis slapped his own forehead and groaned. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

“Bark!”
I know that last line was Rabies. I know it was. But shh, lemme pretend it was one of the boys, just for a moment.

“You still want to do this?”

Krissy bent down, whispered something to her Chikorita, and then stood back up and answered. “Absolutely. Why don’t you make the first move?”

Jason shook his head. This was too easy.
Famous last words.

Or thoughts, I suppose.

It was indeed a large number, as a Practice Ball could be used even after failure to catch a Pokémon. The downside was that anything it ‘caught’ remained wild and would be set free automatically after no more than a minute.
Interesting concept! I wonder what sort of apricorns make those. Chartreuse? I want to believe it's chartreuse.

“But what’s she doing wr—”

“Not. Under. This. Roof! The very words will corrode the mechanisms in our wares!”
You're such a dork, Kurt. :p

“Well, did you know that the stuff in apricorns messes with a Pokémon’s brain? That they can’t run away even if they would have wanted to?”

“Yup. And did you know that if you don’t ever make human babies lie down for a nap they get real cranky?”

Maizie was taken aback. Jen guessed the girl had only ever held this debate with the mirror and hadn’t anticipated this response. “Also, if you don’t put up a gate at the top of the stairs the baby’s liable to take a tumble. Same things with walls for cribs.”

“What do you—”

“I mean it doesn’t matter if Baby wants to run free and stay awake forever. It’s Mommy’s job not to let her because Mommy knows better than any toddler.” The bandage was all set now and Maizie was ready to go, at least medicinally. Jen gave her hand a good luck pat.

“But Pokémon aren’t babies! They… Moro wasn’t mine to begin with, she was born in the wild!”

“One way or another, though, you’ve adopted her and now you’re responsible for her. If you’re going to keep her with you but not keep her under control, you’re not doing what’s best for her, let anyone for yourself or anyone else.”
Jen is a smart cookie.

And now the poor Slowpoke finally groaned in pain. “You said it, Slowpoke.” Jen grabbed the first-aid kit again for herself and for the other patient.
It's things like this that make me appreciate slowpoke just that little bit more.

This, and one of my favorite gen VII characters using a slowbro. :B

The words ‘Yes, please. Sorry to bother you,’ made their way to the inside of Travis’s mouth, but unfortunately they stopped there.
Relatable.

Travis was three steps away from being in range to withdraw his beaten Pokémon when the Grunt called out a new order: “Supersonic!”

Travis stuck out the ball, and the Golbat pulled its head up. Just before Travis could press the switch, the inside of his head was hit with the sound of a dozen ringing bells. His vision split in two and it felt like the din would shatter his skull. He groaned in pain and felt the ball slip away from his fingers.
I've mentioned in at least one other thread that sonic attacks are actually pretty scary, and I stand by that. Good to see how much it sucks to be on the receiving end of one of these illustrated here.

Travis was three steps away from being in range to withdraw his beaten Pokémon when the Grunt called out a new order: “Supersonic!”

Travis stuck out the ball, and the Golbat pulled its head up. Just before Travis could press the switch, the inside of his head was hit with the sound of a dozen ringing bells. His vision split in two and it felt like the din would shatter his skull. He groaned in pain and felt the ball slip away from his fingers.
Hopefully the remaining 20% includes more than one bathroom. Single-bathroom houses are a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone.

She could even hear it through the Pokéball she kept on her belt, which put a hole in the prevailing theory that Pokémon were in stasis while inside their balls. Or perhaps it indicated an exception based on the particular species.
Sounds about right.

“I don’t think it’s the machine,” said Hanna.

Derek was sitting away from the action on a stool with his arms crossed. “You mean a malfunction in the ball?”

Hanna shivered. If that were the case, it would probably mean that Travis’s Seadra was dead. Annihilated. Broken up on a molecular level into a soup of meaningless quantum noise.
Well that's a terrifying thought. :) Probably hella merciful as far as ways to go... go, but still terrifying.

Under Hanna’s direction, the pair entered a rhythm. Hanna would focus on a chip, and Marie would highlight in her mind’s eye all the components it was connected to. Hanna would try to guess its probable purpose by the pin mapping, and if she couldn’t do so immediately Marie would help her file through her own memories in case she was forgetting something. Every few minutes she’d consult Bill, and each time it would turn out to be an ordinary chip divided into counterintuitive parts and obfuscated by redundant or irrelevant operations. It was proving just as tedious and frustrating to decipher as the Rockets must have intended, but with Marie’s help Hanna could go at it like this for hours and hours without her mind so much as wandering once.
God dang. I could use that kind of mental support myself. For vastly less important pursuits, yes, but whatever. Still want. :p

Hanna agreed that ‘different’ was the word for a sixteen-year-old who was scared to talk to a twelve-year-old lest some random preteen think he was stupid or weird.
RELATABLE

They have a history of using testosterone and amphetamines on Pokémon.
Oh god. Amphetamines + things with powers. Scary thought.

She reached down to shake his shoulder and tried not to think about the miserable look that was surely going to be in his eyes in a matter of seconds.
Tried, and most certainly failed.

You might never guess it by his face, but he was glad to be nineteen and therefore past the toughest parts of his life. He seriously, honestly believed this to be the case.
Lol.

Derek steeled his nerves and ventured to approach Larvitar. When he was close he said, “Okay, let’s start over. My name’s Derek, and we’re going to be fighting bad guys. Does that sound fun to you?”

Larvitar said no. To put it more literally, it jumped at Derek’s face again. Derek did an even better job at dodging this time, so all that happened was that Larvitar’s arm clobbered the corner of his mouth. What he said next was obscured by his hands. “Rrrrrgh! Frkrng rrtbrstrrd rmgrnnr krryrr!” These noises Derek made were not consistent with how well the exchange had played out, all things considered. He wasn’t bleeding too much, and that toothache was only going to last for a week, after all.
I think I like this larvitar's style. Were I in Derek's shoes, I certainly would not, but as it stands... :p

He was interrupted when his right foot sunk six inches into the sand and he lost his balance. Before he could figure out what technique Larvitar was using on him, it came out of its daze and tackled him again. It knocked the wind out of him and he took more scratches, but to his surprise Larvitar pulled back from his midsection and dug after his foot instead. There was a brief tussle, and when it was over Larvitar had his shoe in its jaws. It shook it from side to side like it was trying to break an enemy’s neck.
RIP Shoe

In a rare bout of detachment, Derek debated the possibility that his life was not a tragedy as he had long suspected, but rather a mean-spirited comedy. In essence, he felt just pathetic enough to imagine that if Jen were here he’d be treated with laughter rather than sympathy. ‘Sorry I’m laughing, but seriously, you’re getting this so wrong it’s funny!’ said the disembodied voice of Jen, which his brain assigned to thoughts of his that reflected a sunnier view of the world. ‘You gotta be friends with Larvitar first, so stop trying to fight and just be friends!’

‘Shut up, Jen’s voice. You’re a naïve sap compared to real Jen.’

‘According to Bill in his paper on the dynamics of team construction, some of the more aggressive species of Pokémon may respond poorly to traditional bonding techniques. In these cases the prevailing opinion is that the trainer must solidify the Pokémon’s respect before attempting to connect emotionally.’

‘Thanks, Hanna’s voice. That’s much more helpful, even if you’re not real either.’
Possibly my favorite exchange so far, and it's between one person and... the same person. Derek sure is gunning hard for favorite character status, let me tell you.

He could picture in his head how he would try to outmaneuver one, which angles he would throw the ball from in different situations, but when it came to teaching it he was lost.
Yeah knowing a thing and teaching a thing really are two separate skills. Hence why lots of people are kind of crap at teaching. Including more than a few who are actual teachers. :B

They stood near the precipice and slowly it became apparent that they were above a vast cavern with a frozen lake at the bottom. Spread unevenly throughout were a number of small islands. Between the light from their torches and a faint light from somewhere else, it was as if the ice were covered in blue and orange stars.
Well that's pretty.

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.
Oh, did she name the dog? Well, my previous comments and amusement still stand. :p

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.”
Idk, Hanna. Is a secret really still a secret once it's been shared?

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.
I wonder if she's getting old.

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!”
Sometimes euphemisms just won't do. Glad he gets that.

Also that was kind of adorable.

“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.”
If it were someone other than Krissy, I might believe the latter.


Lucia Russo
Oh ****. Well that certainly thickens things, to put it mildly...

‘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.’
And just like that, her difficulty in naming things goes from slightly amusing to actually rather sad.

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.
Despite knowing that punctuality is as common as hen's teeth, that **** still struck me as ominous.

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.
Very authentic dream detail there. I know the exact feeling.

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.
Aww Lucia, they just wanted to let you know that you're number one!


She stood the whole time so no one’s head would be in her way.
And thereby probably putting herself in someone else's way. :p

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.”
Plot Thickening II: The Thickeningening

He is a pretty high-ranking Rocket. In retrospect I shouldn't have been so surprised to see him pop up there. Nor should I be terribly surprised, I imagine, by where else he might pop up. Guy like that's got his claws in every damn thing.

“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.”
Omg. I can only imagine...

“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
Heh heh...

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!’
Of course this makes me wonder what, if anything, Marie thinks about that particular entry.

The right words came out of her mouth at the same time. “Ice Punch!”

The Grunt only had time to stop in his tracks and lift his hands halfway to where they needed to be. As soon as Frostbite appeared, she leapt straight for his head and retracted her claws faster than a human can blink. Her knuckles glowed blue as they clipped the Grunt’s right eye.

“Gaaaaaah!”
Gaaaaaah indeed; I practically felt that myself. XD; I mean ****, getting hit in the head with a regular ol' snowball sucks a fair amount of *** itself. This has gotta be several times worse.

“He knows we’re checking in, too, right?” asked Jen.

Hanna shrugged. “Long drive. Don’t think he’s all there. I offered to take a turn at the wheel but he wouldn’t listen. Shall we?”
Between this and the texting, Derek's not going to be winning any safe driver awards. :p

The Alakazam stood in a slouch and her arms hung heavy. Marie let out a low, discouraging hum, and Jen noticed Hanna’s eyes widen in a familiar way.

“No. They’re nowhere close.” Hanna bent down and rubbed Marie’s back. Apparently her Pokémon had been awfully tired lately and she wasn’t getting better.
Girl's liable to keel over before all's said and done, I suspect...

Now Jen took point with Summer, and even though the wind was coming from in front she could have sworn it was at her back. After all the agonizing and hopeless searching she was finally going to bring Jason and his friends home. She wouldn’t have to bring any unspeakable news back to Aunt Meg because this was it. Today was the day, she kept telling herself over and over.
I wonder if it's possible to tempt fate with a notion that you merely want to believe.

Jen looked at Derek and Hanna, and Hanna especially seemed almost as confident as Jen had been when Summer found the trail. She had to wonder though if this was how Jason and his friends had felt when they first decided to pick a fight with Team Rocket. But then they were just kids, while Derek and Hanna were experts. This was going to work.
See previous. :p

Jen stuck out her tongue at him as she took off her glasses to wipe away some of the spray. Then the boat hit another wave and she had to juggle to keep from dropping them.

“Isn’t that your fifth pair since you left home?” asked Derek.

“As if. I haven’t lost any since we went to Cinnabar, and that was like last year.”

“I remember that,” said Hanna. “You tried to find them in some volcanic mud, and then I had to pull you out of the mud.”

“Hey! That was a secret!”
But was it truly?

Was it truly?

She had one foot on the shelf.

It gave way. Hanna’s foot slipped and everything immediately slowed down as her brain processed the beginning of a freefall. There was nothing beneath her but air.

Then with a jerk she stopped. Her arm nearly fell out of its socket, but Hanna was not falling.
Ow. Worth it, of course, but still. Ow.

Then she looked more closely at Jen’s older brother, and noticed what she had missed in her momentary panic: Derek looked beyond awful. He had a black eye, a swollen cheek, a cut around the corner of his mouth, claw-shaped holes in his shirt, a bandaged hand, more claw-shaped holes near the crotch of his pants that revealed his boxers, and last but not least a missing shoe.

Hanna, Jen, and Derek stood still for a while. Between all the visible (but obfuscated) underwear, Derek’s various injuries, and Jen’s conspicuously absent glasses, it seemed inevitable that somebody would lead things off with a question.

At length, Derek did so: “Anything happen?”

Jen shook her head. “Uh… no, not really. You?”

“Nah.”

Jen waited a beat. “’Kay.”

“Yeah.”
I legit snickered aloud here.

But he couldn’t do it. Another fear—one that was at constant war with his concern for his Pokémon—grabbed his throat from the inside and kept him from speaking. The fear was this: that if he gave up when the outcome of a fight was still in question, Jason would think he was a wuss. He would be right to think so. Travis didn’t even want to imagine it. If you couldn’t handle the gyms, maybe you couldn’t keep up at all, and Jason had another friend that could more than keep up now.
This certainly casts his dislike of Krissy in a new light.

On the subject of Krissy, she was looking increasingly but predictably uncomfortable. “You know,” she said, “you guys really don’t have to be all over each other like this when one of you loses.”

“Yeah, we do,” they said at the same time and with the exact same intonation. Jason added, “It’s practice.”

“For what?”

Travis answered her. “For when one of us finally beats you.”

“Oh man,” said Jason with a look of intense longing in his eyes. “We’re gonna be insufferable when that happens.”

“Nothing but sick burns left and right.”

“They’ll have to quarantine those burns, they’ll be so sick.”

For the duration of this, Krissy did nothing but roll her eyes. Then she made the mistake of saying, “Boys will be boys.”
And dorks will be dorks. :B

Travis’s hands fell away on their own, and for a moment his indecision left him paralyzed. It was only to avoid drowning that he kicked his way back up. One long gasp and he was down again. He stared at his Pokémon. Wyvern’s eyes were closed and he was twitching. This wasn’t supposed to be happening yet. Wyvern was too young; his body was still growing at this stage. Now Travis finally realized what the problem was. Wyvern’s energy output as a whole was too high for his frame—he was coming close to having a Seadra’s heart in a young Horsea’s body. Had Travis pushed him too hard in training? What if his veins ruptured?
Oh geez fgsjdfs. Is that actually a thing that could have happened?




Anyhoo. There's a lot to like here, that's for sure. A cast of characters good enough that here at the end of this reading binge, I'm actually finding it harder than I'd expected to pick a favorite. (Sorry, Derek. You're a mighty big fish, but so's pretty much everyone else in the pond. :p) A narrative style so unboring that here I am looking at the clock and holy pants has it really been such a short time since I opened this thread?

And of course, the plot. Specifically, the way Derek and co.'s efforts to stop the kids from meddling right under Russo's nose has... pretty much led them into doing the exact same thing, heh. I dunno, I just kind of like way that... echoes, so to speak. Should be interesting, I would imagine, if their paths literally cross in that mansion.

(Disastrous, perhaps. But damned if disastrous ain't interesting.)

Oh yeah, one last thing I wanted to mention: you're doing a really good job with the whole nonlinear-timeline-for-the-chapters thing. That stuff's easy to foof up, so kudos on avoiding that pitfall. :D
 
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