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Will Somebody Stop These Kids?

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Now this is a very cool side chapter! I was expecting Travis, since we'd run out of other people to focus on, and I was hoping we'd see more of Wyvern as a character, since up till now he's mostly just been a plot device to facilitate (a) Travis' anxiety and (b) the quest to open the Rocket ball. And I think we get that here: Wyvern turns out not to be quite what Travis thinks he is, although I suppose he still isn't the most rounded character in the world. Which, you know, that's still fine, not everyone is a protagonist and for what his role is in this story he is very much more than adequate.

But obviously the main revelations here are about Travis, and it's very welcome – you have given him time in the spotlight before, of course, but maybe because of his personality (or, you know, maybe just because I haven't read all these chapters together as I would with a non-episodically-released story) I can't actually remember much of what he's done to date other than that standout argument with Krissy. Whether it's something that actually is part of the story or just my memory failing me, it's nice to see more about him and what he wants from all this – and here, on the eve of the raid on Russo's mansion to recover the means to get Wyvern back, feels like an excellent place to have this.

It's always interesting to see other people's takes on evolution and the specifics of hidden moves like surf, too. I feel like these are things that we all have completely uncanonical but very strong opinions about, and fanfic is a great chance to just like show them off while making them real for at least one interpretation of the world.

A couple of things:

He muttered the answer as Jason blurted it out
Minor point, but I feel like 'blurted' is maybe the wrong word here – it sorta connotes speaking quickly and without thinking, usually in such a way as to bring embarrassment upon yourself, and sure, Jason is thoughtless in some ways but it's not the sort of verb you use for delivering the punchline to a joke, which is almost always considered, since the teller has already done the set-up.

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.
Two sentences in a row with the exact same structure reads strangely. The first one makes better use of that layout, I think, so maybe it's the second one that could use some rearranging.

And that's about it from me! I'm definitely all hyped up for the climax. There probably isn't ever a time when I haven't ended a review for this story with something like 'looking forward to more', but the thing is that that's just so consistently true.
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[Replies to readers' comments in the spoiler tags, and it runs pretty long:
Bay said:
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.
Yeah, it's one of those things like in Dad's Old Gym that had 'reveal' status when I originally wrote them as one-shots but now don't. In this case I definitely think the joke works better with the rest of the story.

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.
Lol, Jason's fine, I feel sorry for his Ledian. XD The evolution scene was fun to write.

Sike Saner said:
Probably an effing long one.
Man, you weren't kidding! I really appreciate the off-the-cuff comments like these, by the way. It's a good look into how people react as they read vs. looking back on a whole chapter or more.

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.
As you saw later, there's a sort of explanation for Rabies's name in Dad's Old Gym. Now that I think about it, it can seem like a pretty twisted name that goes unexplained for a long time. I hadn't thought about the angle you bring up with Chocolate. In Jen's mind (and Jason's mind) 'Rabies' means more how he's going to kill YOU rather than how he's going to die. Huh, that's still pretty twisted. Whatever, Rabies's name is still my favorite. xD

stands and applauds, tears in eyes
bows, tears also in eyes

Well that's a terrifying thought. Probably hella merciful as far as ways to go... go, but still terrifying.
I forgot about that part. Good thing Pokeballs are pretty sturdy.

I think I like this larvitar's style. Were I in Derek's shoes, I certainly would not, but as it stands...
Speaking of 'shoes'...

lol

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.
I honestly wasn't expecting Derek to be such a hit with the readers. I think I underestimated how much of themselves a lot of people would see in him.

Idk, Hanna. Is a secret really still a secret once it's been shared?
Eh, I think so.

If it were someone other than Krissy, I might believe the latter.
(hee hee hee)

Aww Lucia, they just wanted to let you know that you're number one!
I got milk up my nose thanks to this comment.

I legit snickered aloud here.
I'm glad someone reacted to this joke. It was literally one of the first things I planned in the story.

Oh geez fgsjdfs. Is that actually a thing that could have happened?
Good question! My official answer is that Pokemon's bodies have a lot of built-in defenses against overpowering to the point where it's dangerous to them physically. In practicality Travis would have to feed him a ton of Rare Candies and train him like mad for any veins to rupture, and none of the kids use Rare Candies.

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.)
This is exactly what I wanted to hear when I decided to split main-character-duties so many separate ways.

Cutlerine said:
I was expecting Travis, since we'd run out of other people to focus on, and I was hoping we'd see more of Wyvern as a character, since up till now he's mostly just been a plot device to facilitate (a) Travis' anxiety and (b) the quest to open the Rocket ball. And I think we get that here: Wyvern turns out not to be quite what Travis thinks he is, although I suppose he still isn't the most rounded character in the world. Which, you know, that's still fine, not everyone is a protagonist and for what his role is in this story he is very much more than adequate.
This made me think for a while, and I suppose this is a good place for me to say a few words on how I approach the Pokemon in this story. With the exception of Marie (who only got the way she is when she was fully evolved) and other uncommonly intelligent Pokemon, there's nothing like Pokespeech in this universe, and Pokemon are simply less emotionally and intellectually complex than humans as a category. They're more like smarter-than-average animals that do an okay job of interpreting intent from human language and tone. That's the image I get from the games, anyway, so as a consequence I tend to characterize Pokemon more like I would dogs or horses. They have personalities, but they're less nuanced and more static than the humans' personalities.

The other side of this is that if the Pokemon in this story did have human-like minds in animal-like bodies, I'd never give Jen the opinions she shares in Fire Safety because it would turn into apologetics for slavery. Essentially my stance is, "Pokemon are between animals and humans but are closer to animals, and that is the only reason why Pokemon training as an institution is ethical." This is also why I never get too mad at PETA for their opinions on Pokemon; if I shared their beliefs on how humans and animals relate, I'd hate Pokemon too.

That got a little real, but the bottom line is that the way I characterize Pokemon is deliberately shallow for philosophical reasons rather than for convenience. Of course there's LOADS of room in canon and fandom for alternate approaches to the ethics of Pokemon and I don't want anyone to think I'm judging the way they conceptualize the Pokemon world. This is just how I handle it and there are other ways, each of which is more conducive for some stories than for others.

Anyway, glad you think Wyvern does his job for the story!

But obviously the main revelations here are about Travis, and it's very welcome – you have given him time in the spotlight before, of course, but maybe because of his personality (or, you know, maybe just because I haven't read all these chapters together as I would with a non-episodically-released story) I can't actually remember much of what he's done to date other than that standout argument with Krissy. Whether it's something that actually is part of the story or just my memory failing me, it's nice to see more about him and what he wants from all this – and here, on the eve of the raid on Russo's mansion to recover the means to get Wyvern back, feels like an excellent place to have this.
I think most of what Travis did prior to this chapter besides the scene you mentioned was in Chapter 3 where Wyvern gets trapped. At least, I wanted this chapter to be in part an expansion on some of what we saw of how he approaches training in that chapter.

It's always interesting to see other people's takes on evolution and the specifics of hidden moves like surf, too. I feel like these are things that we all have completely uncanonical but very strong opinions about, and fanfic is a great chance to just like show them off while making them real for at least one interpretation of the world.
Heh, Travis's opinions on Surf are in large part his own, but there's a little of what I personally think in there. He's definitely wrong about Surf being the most powerful and versatile move, though: that's Confusion, a benign version of which is how Marie communicates with Hanna and augments her thought processes.

Minor point, but I feel like 'blurted' is maybe the wrong word here – it sorta connotes speaking quickly and without thinking, usually in such a way as to bring embarrassment upon yourself, and sure, Jason is thoughtless in some ways but it's not the sort of verb you use for delivering the punchline to a joke, which is almost always considered, since the teller has already done the set-up.
You're probably right. I changed it.

Two sentences in a row with the exact same structure reads strangely. The first one makes better use of that layout, I think, so maybe it's the second one that could use some rearranging.
I'll have to think harder about what to do here. That was one of those situations where I thought while writing, "This looks like something I deliberately avoid, but I think it works here." Gonna think about it some more.

And that's about it from me! I'm definitely all hyped up for the climax. There probably isn't ever a time when I haven't ended a review for this story with something like 'looking forward to more', but the thing is that that's just so consistently true.
Thanks! I hope the chapter below is sufficiently hype.

Thanks for reading!]

Chapter 9

June, 2017

Krissy was trying to work up the nerve to peek around a corner. They had come as far as they could without stepping foot in any of the main hallways, but their destination was right in the middle of one. She looked over her shoulder first. Jason and Travis were still there, and they looked as nervous about this hallway as she was. The only one who didn’t seem bothered was Frostbite, which was a good thing because this might not be possible without a Pokémon who could move in silence. Krissy still had to look around the corner. She swallowed, and then she leaned forward.

The door to her father’s office was directly underneath a lamp, and standing right in front of it was a guard. Krissy pulled her head back again as soon as she spotted him. She held up one finger to Jason and Travis; there was a plan for this. She got as close as she could to Frostbite’s ear and whispered, “Feint Attack. Temple. Blunt. Go.”

The Sneasel steeled herself, lowered the feather on her ear, and retracted her claws. Then she dashed around the corner without making a sound, and Krissy swore she turned into a living shadow on the way. Half a second passed. There was a clump, a thud, and then nothing. Krissy waited another few seconds, then decided it was safe. She motioned the other two, and they entered the hallway. Frostbite was sitting on the Grunt’s back where he lay prone and still. When they came close Krissy saw the bruise on the side of his head. So far so good.

She pulled the lock pick from her shirt pocket and got to work on the knob. Her hands shook when she tried the initial insertion, but after that practice took over. There was a click, and she pushed the door open as slowly as she could. Jason and Travis didn’t have to be told to drag the Grunt inside with them. Frostbite crept in last, and when Krissy eased the door shut again and locked it everything was pitch black. Finally, she exhaled. Outside it looked like any other sentry post abandoned for the restroom or the kitchen, and no Grunt would dare enter here without permission.

“What now?” whispered Jason.

“One second.” Krissy walked to where she knew the desk was, and then waved her hands around for the lamp’s chain. After she found it they had enough light to see, but the corners of the room were still dark, as were the tops of the bookshelves that lined the walls. She recalled Frostbite and said to the boys, “Don’t touch any of the other lights. If it’s too bright someone might see it under the door.”

Travis stared at the limp body that was still in the middle of the floor. “What do we do about him?”

“Just put him out of the way for now. And keep your ears open in case he starts to wake up. Jason, we’ll need Specs’s Hypnosis if that happens.”

The boys grabbed the Grunt’s arms again, and to the nearest corner he went. Krissy noticed that they were more careful with his head than she thought they’d be. When they were done, Jason slowly scanned the rest of the room. “So… do you have any idea what this thing’s going to look like?”

“Not really. Look for anything that’s even a little electronic. Could be a card. I’m going to start on his computer in case there’s a digital version.”

Travis looked at the towering shelves. “Guess you could fit a card between book pages. That’s where I’d hide something important.”

“So me and Travis got the books and you’ve got the computer,” said Jason. “Sounds like a plan.”

Krissy nodded. She didn’t have the heart to say she no longer thought the key would be anywhere but on her father’s person. It had been too easy for them to break in, and he’d never keep anything of such importance under such scant guard. For that matter, she wouldn’t be surprised if he only kept all these books here to make it take longer for would-be spies or traitors to search for things that weren’t even there.

Jason and Travis were already opening books and flipping through the pages. She owed it to Travis at least to look just as hard as they did; before it came time to face the inevitable, anyway. So she walked behind the desk, pulled up the chair that was still too large for her, and got to it. Rather, she turned on the bulky, antique monitor that took up a whole corner of the table and waited for it to warm up. She tried to convince herself that it didn’t matter how long it was taking when nothing was going to be there anyway, but it still made her anxious.

Finally she saw a login screen. A long ID number was already filled in for the username, which meant she only had to guess the password. She placed her fingers on the keyboard as if something would just come to her. When nothing did, she tried the passwords that would get you into one out of every ten computer systems: ‘password,’ no. ‘123456,’ no. ‘password1,’ no.

Krissy decided she would have better odds with weak passwords that were at least specific to the user. ‘mariano,’ no. ‘110970,’ no. ’1970-11-09,’ no. The next idea gave her pause. It was one she had to try, and she wasn’t sure what she would think if it was right: ‘lucia.’

‘You have exceeded the limit for failed password attempts. Your account will be unlocked in six hours.’

Krissy’s jaw locked up. Why didn’t she think this might happen? She could have searched the desk to see if the password was written down first. Now they had no shot of finding anything on the computer before morning, and worse yet this screamed, ‘Somebody tried to break in here.’

She almost panicked, but then she remembered the restart button. She leaned under the desk to press it, and then covered her face for the next thirty seconds as the machine booted up again. Now the login page was back, and the username field was still auto-populated. Krissy took a deep breath and tried again with random letters just to test.

‘You have exceeded the limit for failed password attempts. Your account will be unlocked in six hours.’

That meant the login system must be tied in with the network and not the computer itself. Krissy realized what this implied and had to bite her tongue. If someone on security was still awake, they might have gotten an alert. There could be guards coming their way that very second. ‘No. We’re fine. None of the technical staff stay here overnight. We’re fine.’

Krissy kept trying to convince herself of this. She put her forehead to the desk, closed her eyes, and tried breathing for a minute. When she was ready, she took out her lock pick again and decided to try her luck with the desk drawers. Maybe there’d be something.

*********

The two-hundredth book Krissy tried didn’t have anything hidden in its pages, just like the one hundred and ninety-nine before it. She rubbed her eyes and looked at her watch. Six o’clock. Her hands shook. Her father was not only up, but he had showered and was currently eating breakfast, unless her watch was fast. He was going to be here in five minutes. Krissy had known that nineteen times out of twenty it was going to turn out this way, but that was no consolation. They were trapped.

She surveyed the rest of the room. The Grunt hadn’t moved an inch, much less woken up. It was probably best to treat him as a non-factor. Travis was scouring the floorboards on his hands and knees, as if he was going to find a hidden compartment or a trapdoor. Krissy couldn’t blame him for trying, even if it was more hopeless and naïve than searching the books was. As for Jason, he had just finished double-checking the desk drawers. He stood up and faced Krissy. His face was laden with fatigue and worry, which gave Krissy an idea of how awful her own face must look. “Look under the door,” he said. “There’s more light coming in now. Think we’re out of time. You got a plan?”

Of course Krissy had a plan. The problem was that it was the worst plan ever. She did her best to put some confidence and authority in her voice, but fell far short. “We’re going to get the jump on him. He can’t beat us if he doesn’t have a chance to send out any Pokémon.”

Jason sucked in some air and nodded. Travis stopped where he was on the floor and didn’t look up.

“You two get in the corners closest to the door. Bring out Rabies and Leviathan, and get them ready but keep them quiet.”

Jason nodded and went straight to the left corner, but Travis was slow to pick himself up. He dragged his feet to the other corner where the Grunt was. Krissy didn’t tell him to do anything like ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get your head in the game,’ though maybe she should have. She didn’t know. There were too many variables, too many unknowns, and everything else she’d done so far had gone for the worst, anyway.

Two flashes, two noises, and no sign that anyone beyond the door had noticed. Jason and Travis whispered some instructions to their Pokémon. The Growlithe and the Quagsire set their feet for the ambush. Then Krissy thought about lines of sight and realized that she’d nearly blown the whole thing with her plan. She tore into herself under her breath, and then said, “Jason, move behind that reading chair instead. The way the door opens you’d be the first thing he sees right now.”

Jason nodded and repositioned himself and Rabies behind the large chair, which put them closer to the center of the room than Krissy had wanted. “Try to get back to the corner as soon as you can. We want him caught in a triangle.”

She checked her watch again: four minutes to go. Then she looked over at Travis. He was crouched down and staring at the floor again. Nothing about him screamed confidence, and maybe it was for the best that Krissy couldn’t make eye contact with him. She didn’t want to make him any worse. Leviathan looked ready in any case.

Now that everything else was set, it was her turn. She let out Lucia and led her to the right-front corner of the desk. That put them on the far side of the door’s arc. She checked her watch one last time: three minutes and twenty-seven seconds. She double-checked how the door was going to open. There were no trainers, no Pokémon, and no Grunt in where her father’s field of vision was going to be. She took a deep breath, said “Ready,” then reached over to pull the lamp’s chain.

The room was dark again. There was a little light that peeked in from the under the door, but that was it. Krissy leaned in and put her hand on the back of Lucia’s smooth head. “The enemy’s coming in from that door. Don’t attack until I say so.”

The Bayleef shook the buds growing from her neck. Krissy couldn’t be sure when she couldn’t see her face, but it seemed like Lucia was eager. Krissy wished she could feel even remotely the same. Instead she stared at the door and felt each passing second. She was sweating, and she worried she might be breathing too loudly. More seconds crawled by. This was torture.

Then there were footsteps. Krissy suddenly wished she was still just waiting. She put her hand by the lamp chain. A shadow came from under the door. Krissy took a deep breath now because she wouldn’t have a chance to once the door opened. She heard the rattle from the key and then the click. The knob was turning. The door came half-way open as she had expected in the average case. She saw her father, but she herself was still completely in shadow. The light hit the chair, but not Jason or Rabies behind it. Now he was supposed to close the door behind him because he always wanted privacy right away, even if that meant finding a switch in the dark. He did so, and she could no longer see him.

A bead of sweat was rolling onto Krissy’s nose but she let it stay there. She was going to wait until he took four steps. He took one. It was in the right direction. He took another. A third. A fourth. This was it. She turned on the light.

“Don’t move.”

Her father didn’t move. He only watched as Jason came out from his hiding place and hustled with Rabies over to their corner. At the same time, Krissy and Lucia moved a few feet to make their formation symmetric. Her father turned his head over his other shoulder to take brief notice of Travis, Leviathan, and the Grunt before turning back to meet her eye. If any of them or their Pokémon were causing him even slight discomfort, he wasn’t showing it.

“Lucia, I’ve been meaning to have a word with you.”

“Shut up.” She couldn’t let him dictate the course of the conversation. That would be begging for defeat. “We want the encryption key to the new Pokéballs. Hand it over.”

He rubbed his chin but looked otherwise unaffected. “That’s an odd thing for you to know or care about.”

Now Jason joined in, but he tried too hard. “Cut the crap! One of your goons tried to steal one of our Pokémon, and now he’s trapped! You’re not going anywhere until we have him back!”

“Ah.” Krissy’s father kept his feet still but looked over his shoulder at Jason. “You must be the other two that 301 mentioned. Just out of professional curiosity, who did you steal it from?”

“I didn’t,” said Travis. He was still looking more at the floor than at their opponent. “I got him from the ocean.”

“That only narrows it down. Did you steal it from its mother, or from its children? Judging by your age, I’d say its mother is more likely.”

Krissy saw Travis’s fists shake. Her father continued. “I can understand your frustration at losing it, considering all the time and resources you must have put into its training. But the moral posturing and hypocrisy offend me all the same.”

He was stalling. Worse yet, he was trying to slip them poison. Krissy had to put a stop to this at once. “Don’t listen to a word he says!”

He faced her again. “And why shouldn’t they do that?”

“Because you should never listen to a smart liar. That’s the worst thing you can do.”

This made her father raise an eyebrow. “Oh?”

Krissy had learned this lesson from Alessa last year. Just for kicks, she had managed to out-debate Krissy into believing that monarchy was the best way to run a country. Then when Krissy admitted defeat, her friend and keeper turned the tables and debated her back onto the side of democracy, laughing all the while. Alessa had only been playing a game, but she had taught Krissy volumes about people like her father in the process. “A smart liar can take any disgusting thing and make it sound like logic. That’s why you have a conscience, so you know not to believe them.”

Her father smiled. “It’s funny you should use the phrase ‘smart liars.’ I believe you know the saying about the pot and the kettle? Or about glass houses and stones?”

Krissy felt more than a little ill, but then Jason said, “Nice try, assh*le. Don’t think we can’t tell the difference. Now where’s that key?”

Krissy couldn’t believe it, but she had almost let her father seize control of the situation again. She had to be more careful if they were going to stay focused.

Her father put his hands in his pockets. “I have a busy schedule today, so I appreciate you trying to hurry this along. Giving you the key is out of the question, but there shouldn’t be a problem with extracting your friend’s Pokémon and returning it to its original ball, nor with having you escorted off the premises afterward. I’m not interested in having a battle in here and ruining my books.”

Krissy looked at Jason and then Travis. They didn’t buy this any more than she did.

“There would be one condition for my trouble, of course.”

He faced Krissy again. She tried to appear strong and determined, but that became ten times harder to do when she accidentally looked in his eyes—his Arbok eyes.

“Lucia, as compensation for this, and for the damage you’ve done to 301’s team and face, you will begin your assignment early.”

Any strength left in Krissy’s expression dissolved.

“Due to your age, you will have to operate under the direct supervision of a Class C Grunt. If you object we can discuss other ways to settle the matter between you and 301, but this is the minimum I can offer if your friend wants his Pokémon back.”

Krissy’s knees felt weak. She was supposed to have four more years before facing this situation. This shattered every contingency she had considered short-term, mid-term, long-term, and lifetime. It was bad enough that her father had identified her as a hostile long before he was supposed to, but there was no way she could carry out her plan from the inside. There would be too many eyes watching, gathering allies would be impossible, and even that paled in comparison to the thought of the things she’d have to do as an actual member of Team Rocket.

But she couldn’t say no, either. It would be one thing if Wyvern were her Pokémon, but he wasn’t. And it would be one thing if this weren’t all her fault, but it was. She had started them on this path before any of them were ready, and Wyvern and Travis were the ones paying for it. It was her impatience, her arrogance, and her deceptions that had brought them here. She couldn’t turn this down in good conscience.

“No.”

All eyes turned to the speaker. It was Travis. He kept his eyes down and said, “We’re not trading. You don’t get any of us. And none of our Pokémon either. Give us the key.”

Now that her father was looking somewhere else, Krissy found her sense and resolve returning. “You’re in no position to ask for terms! If you don’t want to look like Slate, you’ll do what we say. It doesn’t matter how many pieces you have on the rest of the board—you’re still in checkmate!”

Krissy’s father closed his eyes and sighed. “I’m disappointed. I would have expected a better appraisal of the situation from you.” He turned to face her again. “I suppose you think you have me pinned with a queen and two bishops, but the fact is that your bishops are pawns, and they’re facing the wrong direction.”

Krissy was done with his tricks. “You wanna bet?”

“Yes. I hope it hasn’t escaped your notice, but your friends’ Pokémon are not going to attack me.”

Krissy’s mouth opened, but no words came out.

“Haven’t you looked at their posture? Can’t you tell a safe Pokémon from a useful one? You’d have enough trouble getting that Growlithe to set a condemned building on fire, much less attack a person. I won’t get anything worse from him than playful roughhousing, same with that Quagsire. I’d have to pull a knife on your friends to get them to attack me in earnest.”

All three of them were struck dead silent. It had never occurred to Krissy that the boys might be bluffing, but now it was obvious. Even if Rabies and Leviathan looked just as eager as ever, they were still waiting for an opponent that hadn’t arrived yet. If Jason and Travis told them to attack now, they would hesitate more than enough for her father to act.

“That leaves your Bayleef as the only Pokémon here that wasn’t raised to be worthless. Obviously you haven’t forgotten everything I’ve taught you, as further evidenced by 301’s injuries and that Grunt in the corner.”

‘You’ve already smelled the blood in the water.’ The words crept up again from under the surface. The poison had never gotten out of her system. She heard new words, too, even though no one was speaking: ‘Your friends have lost because they are decent, and you are still in it because you are a Rocket.’ There was no winning for her against him. Not then, not now, not ever.

“And you’ve made one more mistake: you sent out a Pokémon that was mine to begin with.” He raised his hands and slapped his left with the back of his right, making a violent-sounding crack. Krissy recognized the gesture right away. It came straight out of the Team Rocket handbook: a Pavlovian trigger to induce obedience.

‘Oh no. Oh god, no.’ Krissy wasn’t Lucia’s original trainer. She had no idea what he had done to her before they met.

“Bayleef, come.”

Krissy was convinced beyond all doubt that her Pokémon would obey. But nothing happened. Now for the first time her father’s expression took on some measure of doubt, maybe even consternation. He slapped his hand again. “Bayleef. Come.”

Still nothing. Lucia might have tensed up slightly, but even that was a maybe. Then it was plain and simple to Krissy why nothing was happening, and the explanation just slipped out of her mouth on its own. “That’s not her name.”

“Excuse me?”

Krissy should never have worried. Lucia could stare down a Taunt from the most experienced Pokémon and barely break a sweat. She knew not to listen to anyone who wasn’t her trainer. And there was no easier way to tell that someone wasn’t her trainer than if they didn’t so much as know her name. “I said that’s not her name. That’s just her species.”

Her father couldn’t cheat his way out of this. If he wanted to beat Lucia, he’d have to send out a Pokémon. She was this close to telling Lucia to attack him.

Her father frowned. “I see. I hoped this would be easier.”

Without warning, the lamp dimmed. Her father’s eyes opened wide, wider than she knew they could open, and out of them burst a piercing, red glow. Every last joint in Krissy’s body seized up. She tried to close her eyes but couldn’t. She had to keep staring into that red gaze. Everything in her peripherals began to bend and swirl. This wasn’t natural, not for a human. This was Arbok, Persian, something. This wasn’t her father, but at the same time it was more her father than it was before. This was how he looked when she was asleep.

Lucia fell to the ground in a heap. Krissy tried to keep her balance, to do anything to stay upright, but it was probably luck that kept her from falling over.

“Krissy!” That was one of the boys. Jason. Someone was barking from that direction, too. She heard quick footsteps, and then the red eyes looked away. She was still stuck, though. Two bodies fell to the ground. The eyes turned in the other direction, and another body fell down. But only one, not two.

“Look at me.”

The other body crumpled. That was five, which left only her. The eyes faced her again, and now the distortion at the edge of her vision began to invade the center. Her father took two steps forward, but then he stopped, bent over, and put his hand to his mouth. Was it nausea? He made a violent cough, and Krissy barely saw something dark purple, almost black, dripping between his fingers.

“Come out.” The voice was pained and raspy.

Her father’s head was then covered in a shadow that extended down to his chest. It rose out of him as a mass of spikes, and the red eyes went with it. Then it came into its own shape and flashed a sharp, manic grin. Gengar. Her father had invited a toxic ghost into his body. That was something they would put you away for. How was he still alive, much less standing?

Something finally gave way and she hit the floor. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head. Was this Glare, Hypnosis, or something else entirely? Both? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except that she had never miscalculated so badly in her life. What on earth had compelled her to take an apparent checkmate at face value against her father? You can’t win when you’re not even in the same league.

It was vague, but at some point Krissy heard other people come into the room. Someone hoisted her up, but she still couldn’t move.

“Put the Pokémon back in their balls, but don’t send them to Acquisitions yet. That will depend on what I decide to do with their trainers. I’ll be downstairs in a few hours.”

“Yes, sir.”

At one point Krissy was in an elevator, or at least she thought so by the sound and the faint sensation of falling. Then the echo of boots said they were in a metal hallway. A door opened, and she was shoved onto a hard floor.

“Holy sh*t, man, watch it! Don’t you know who that is?”

“Huh? Whaddya talkin’ about?”

The door shut again, and the voices continued on the other side of it, though Krissy couldn’t make out what they were saying. Instead her mind was filled with the sight of the Gengar’s eyes. If it took such a powerful attack to overcome her father’s immunity, he must have started building it up decades ago. The Gengar had been haunting her since birth: paralyzing her in subtle ways her entire life. She’d always known that looking her father in the eye was dangerous, but she never suspected how right she was. These thoughts repeated themselves over and over in Krissy’s head as everything slipped away.

*********

Very slowly, things started to return to Krissy, though she couldn’t tell how long it took. Sight came first, then sensation in her extremities which spread until she was just lying on the floor as she normally would. She pushed herself up and looked around. Travis was sitting on a metal bench and staring at nothing. Jason was walking in circles. They noticed that she was awake, but it seemed nobody knew what to say yet, herself included.

She recognized this room as one of the cells in the brig. Not that she had seen one from the inside before, but that was the only thing it could be. So this was it. They’d lost. She felt around for her Pokéballs, but they were gone. Frostbite, Primeape, Lucia. She tried not to think it, but they were probably gone forever. Leviathan was going to join Wyvern. Ali, Specs, and Rabies, too. And it was all her fault. She hugged her knees.

“There’s gotta be something we can do,” said Jason at nearly a whisper. “Someone can pretend to be sick and then we jump the guard. Something.”

Krissy shook her head. That wouldn’t work. It would only get Jason or Travis a black eye. She didn’t know how to tell him that it was time to give up—to try to cope. This had ended as soon as she’d missed her offer to join Team Rocket early. And that was all Travis. He would have gained the most by her saying ‘yes,’ but he tried to save her anyway. Had he known that meant throwing away everything else? She suspected he had. And since she wasn’t worth that much to him, that made him a moron. He couldn’t have picked a worse time to act like one of the selfless idiots she was more used to seeing in stories than in real life.

She truly had found those friends she’d wanted from the beginning. She should have known better than to look for them in the first place.

*

Next time: In Chapter 10, Derek passes the point of no return.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
“And you’ve made one more mistake: you sent out a Pokémon that was mine to begin with.” He raised his hands and slapped his left with the back of his right, making a violent-sounding crack. Krissy recognized the gesture right away. It came straight out of the Team Rocket handbook: a Pavlovian trigger to induce obedience.

‘Oh no. Oh god, no.’ Krissy wasn’t Lucia’s original trainer. She had no idea what he had done to her before they met.
Oh god no indeed. That's gotta be terrifying, the thought that suddenly your friend isn't your friend anymore and is about to turn on you and oh yeah lest you forget she basically has powers. Plant powers. Choking vines, lacerating leaves...

“Bayleef, come.”

Krissy was convinced beyond all doubt that her Pokémon would obey. But nothing happened. Now for the first time her father’s expression took on some measure of doubt, maybe even consternation. He slapped his hand again. “Bayleef. Come.”

Still nothing. Lucia might have tensed up slightly, but even that was a maybe. Then it was plain and simple to Krissy why nothing was happening, and the explanation just slipped out of her mouth on its own. “That’s not her name.”
...Or that could happen. >:D Sorry, Russo!

Her father frowned. “I see. I hoped this would be easier.”

Without warning, the lamp dimmed. Her father’s eyes opened wide, wider than she knew they could open, and out of them burst a piercing, red glow. Every last joint in Krissy’s body seized up. She tried to close her eyes but couldn’t. She had to keep staring into that red gaze. Everything in her peripherals began to bend and swirl.
WHAT THE CARTWHEELING Fsdfshdfjs... well then. Okay yeah, this? Definitely freakier than a bayleef attack would've been, so congrats for that.

“Come out.” The voice was pained and raspy.

Her father’s head was then covered in a shadow that extended down to his chest. It rose out of him as a mass of spikes, and the red eyes went with it. Then it came into its own shape and flashed a sharp, manic grin. Gengar. Her father had invited a toxic ghost into his body. That was something they would put you away for. How was he still alive, much less standing?
Well that's metal af. Also probably a good way to get soul cancer.


Something's certainly hit the fan for the kids, and it ain't brownie batter. Maybe it's a good thing another party is en route. Or maybe said party will just end up brig'd as well, and then nobody wins except the Rockets (probably. possibly?? idk). I suppose we shall see.
 

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
I admit, I didn't expect Krissy's dad to have been possessed by Gengar. I take it it relates to several of Gengar's entries which it mentions taking other people's shadows? Either way, makes me wonder how that has happened. I also admit I thought Lucia will go to Krissy's father's side, but luckily Krissy thought of nicknaming her a while back. I feel bad for her thinking she doesn't deserve to be friends with Jason and Travis.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Well, it looks like somebody finally got around to stopping those kids, huh? Just a pity it turned out to not be the good guys after all.

Quick* reply-to-a-reply:

That got a little real, but the bottom line is that the way I characterize Pokemon is deliberately shallow for philosophical reasons rather than for convenience.
This isn't quite what I meant, and maybe I should have been more specific: I don't mean that I'm wondering why Wyvern doesn't have a fully rounded human personality, I mean more like … animals have personality too, sometimes in fact a great deal more personality than some humans do, and one of the major strengths of pokémon fic, in my view, is that it offers people a chance to show that off a bit more and kick against the abstracted pokémon-as-tool perspective that the games, despite their best efforts, kinda encourage. So it's not that I'd like Wyvern to have human-level inner complexity, it's just that it would have been nice to see more of him as a living creature with predilections and agency, is all – I appreciate what you're saying about making your pokémon shallow to avoid the ethical implications, and that's certainly as valid a way of approaching that issue as any other, it's just that to me the pokémon in this fic sometimes seem so shallow that they're not wholly convincing even as animal-level intelligences, if that makes sense. You sometimes get the feeling that they're more adjuncts to their trainers than real creatures – especially given how vividly you characterise those trainers.

In this chapter, for instance, the bit about Lucia choosing Krissy over Russo falls kinda flat for me, because I never really had the impression that there was anything going on inside Lucia's head, and so I didn't really have much reason to believe in or care about any internal conflict there. And the explanation, which in the end is that Lucia only responds to her name, is fine, but it's sort of unbalanced. Lucia acts only on command, sure, but as far as I can recall that's more or less all we're told about her personality. I understand that she and her conditioning reflect Krissy herself, but even so, she's always come across as much more a machine for spitting magic leaves than as an animal, even a superbly disciplined and well-trained one -- while Krissy is both an actual human being and a well-trained, disciplined person. I think maybe even just giving the pokémon more screentime outside of battle contexts (in which their personalities are usually subordinated to the rhythm of command and action) throughout the story would counteract this; having them be present, having them do things, even pointless little background things, would contribute to the sensation that these are live animals, and then this particular exchange would be much more convincing, to me at least. Like, they don't need to be sufficiently complex that what you go into in Fire Safety becomes a serious issue -- or a more serious one, since part of the point of that chapter as I read it is that it actually is kind of an issue, and not one that any one person has a complete answer to -- but it would be nice if they felt more alive. What you did in Wyvern did a little bit of that for Wyvern himself, and I think that was part of the reason I liked it so much. You also do it quite a bit with Marie, who has opinions and is on occasion very willful, and obviously that's because she's a very different sort of pokémon to most of the others in the fic, but it does so much to make her feel like a real creature, and it works so well that I have to wonder if there aren't ways to do something similar with the others.

I've gone on about that maybe too long, which I hope hasn't given the impression that I think is a serious, irredeemable flaw or anything -- because I really don't think that, it's just a thing that occurred to me when reading Wyvern and started thinking about the ways you portray pokémon in this fic. I said in my last review that Wyvern is perfectly adequate for the role he plays in the story, and broadly I think that's true of all the pokémon: the story focuses on the humans and their internal lives, so the fact that we come to know the pokémon less well, and mostly in their roles as aides to those humans, feels pretty natural. It's only in the points where the pokémon themselves are the focus, like that bit with Lucia, that I really found myself thinking hm, I'm unsure about this.

That said, onto this chapter in earnest, and oh man, is there a lot of good stuff going on here. The thing about Lucia is probably my only real criticism, I think? I might have mentioned it before, but I love Krissy's anxious internal monologue, and in a stressful situation like this, where her training bubbles up from within her to mingle with the self she's trying to become, it really shines. And the tension as they wait, and that particular calm-yet-frantic kinda planning, and then the confrontation, with the brute cunning of each traded barb, the tests of loyalty, the moments where things could go to hell and don't – and the moment where they finally do, and in spectacular style. Ghosts are one of the most interesting kinds of pokémon, narratively speaking, and you certainly do them justice here. With those final lines, you leave us not knowing whether what we're looking at is the years of abuse resurfacing, the gengar's influence, or some toxic combination of both, and it's an excellent beginning to the end. What next? I genuinely have no idea: the twist is so abrupt and startling that I can't even tell how the climax is going to play out. You had me hooked already, of course, but if you hadn't, you would have definitely got me now.

*Okay, looking back, I realise that ... wasn't actually so quick, in the end. Oops.
 
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icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
(Gonna reply to some comments early for a change. Spoiler tag'd just cause)

Sike Saner said:
Oh god no indeed. That's gotta be terrifying, the thought that suddenly your friend isn't your friend anymore and is about to turn on you and oh yeah lest you forget she basically has powers. Plant powers. Choking vines, lacerating leaves...
[...]
...Or that could happen. >:D Sorry, Russo!
[...]
WHAT THE CARTWHEELING Fsdfshdfjs... well then. Okay yeah, this? Definitely freakier than a bayleef attack would've been, so congrats for that.
Lol, I was hoping there'd be some whiplash at this part. Looks like there was!

soul cancer
I wish I'd thought of putting these words together.

Bay said:
I admit, I didn't expect Krissy's dad to have been possessed by Gengar. I take it it relates to several of Gengar's entries which it mentions taking other people's shadows? Either way, makes me wonder how that has happened.
I didn't have a particular entry in mind; it just made sense to me that a ghost would be able to possess someone, especially a willing participant. The way I'd describe it is that it's similar to how Hanna and Marie work together. In this case, Russo's allowing the Gengar into his body so that its abilities can augment his own. Where Hanna is able to think more efficiently and have Marie share people's thoughts with her, Russo is able to use minor hypnotism on people through his eyes with Gengar's help--or major hypnotism, but this puts more of his insides in contact with Gengar's poison and could be lethal if he keeps it up for too long. He keeps Gengar inside of him except when his body needs to recover, and it took him several years to build up enough immunity to do this. (I'm only elaborating on this here because it's not going to get any more explanation in the story than I've already given it.)

Cutlerine said:
This isn't quite what I meant, and maybe I should have been more specific: I don't mean that I'm wondering why Wyvern doesn't have a fully rounded human personality, I mean more like … animals have personality too, sometimes in fact a great deal more personality than some humans do, and one of the major strengths of pokémon fic, in my view, is that it offers people a chance to show that off a bit more and kick against the abstracted pokémon-as-tool perspective that the games, despite their best efforts, kinda encourage. So it's not that I'd like Wyvern to have human-level inner complexity, it's just that it would have been nice to see more of him as a living creature with predilections and agency, is all – I appreciate what you're saying about making your pokémon shallow to avoid the ethical implications, and that's certainly as valid a way of approaching that issue as any other, it's just that to me the pokémon in this fic sometimes seem so shallow that they're not wholly convincing even as animal-level intelligences, if that makes sense. You sometimes get the feeling that they're more adjuncts to their trainers than real creatures – especially given how vividly you characterise those trainers.
Ah, that makes a lot more sense. Not sure why I didn't read your comment that way the first time, but it's probably because even in my head I've never quite thought of the Pokemon characters as "characters," but rather as important parts of the main characters' lives. I still wanted to have them feel real in the way you describe, though, so in hindsight that was probably a mistake and they need more work in that regard than I thought.

In this chapter, for instance, the bit about Lucia choosing Krissy over Russo falls kinda flat for me, because I never really had the impression that there was anything going on inside Lucia's head, and so I didn't really have much reason to believe in or care about any internal conflict there. And the explanation, which in the end is that Lucia only responds to her name, is fine, but it's sort of unbalanced. Lucia acts only on command, sure, but as far as I can recall that's more or less all we're told about her personality. I understand that she and her conditioning reflect Krissy herself, but even so, she's always come across as much more a machine for spitting magic leaves than as an animal, even a superbly disciplined and well-trained one -- while Krissy is both an actual human being and a well-trained, disciplined person.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it didn't actually occur to me while writing that anyone would be trying to put themselves inside Lucia's head rather than Krissy's. That was a pretty huge oversight on my part. I should probably go back and make clear up the explanation as well; it's more that Lucia only responds to her trainer, and getting renamed was a big part of what severed her ties to Russo. And yes, Krissy's Pokemon are basically all fighting machines, including the ones she raises herself. If I go back and make substantial revisions I'll make this explicit, emphasize it more, and dig into the consequences.

I think maybe even just giving the pokémon more screentime outside of battle contexts (in which their personalities are usually subordinated to the rhythm of command and action) throughout the story would counteract this; having them be present, having them do things, even pointless little background things, would contribute to the sensation that these are live animals, and then this particular exchange would be much more convincing, to me at least. Like, they don't need to be sufficiently complex that what you go into in Fire Safety becomes a serious issue -- or a more serious one, since part of the point of that chapter as I read it is that it actually is kind of an issue, and not one that any one person has a complete answer to -- but it would be nice if they felt more alive. What you did in Wyvern did a little bit of that for Wyvern himself, and I think that was part of the reason I liked it so much. You also do it quite a bit with Marie, who has opinions and is on occasion very willful, and obviously that's because she's a very different sort of pokémon to most of the others in the fic, but it does so much to make her feel like a real creature, and it works so well that I have to wonder if there aren't ways to do something similar with the others.
Ugh, I even put "give the pokemon screentime out of battle" in my notes when I started outlining. Looking back I can see where I did do that was kind of blink-and-you-miss-it for most of the fic. You're absolutely right and this is a principle I preach, but in practice I often slip up because I'm usually much more interested in the trainers than in the Pokemon themselves. The next thing I write really ought to be more individual-Pokemon-centric just so I kick the habit.

I've gone on about that maybe too long, which I hope hasn't given the impression that I think is a serious, irredeemable flaw or anything -- because I really don't think that, it's just a thing that occurred to me when reading Wyvern and started thinking about the ways you portray pokémon in this fic. I said in my last review that Wyvern is perfectly adequate for the role he plays in the story, and broadly I think that's true of all the pokémon: the story focuses on the humans and their internal lives, so the fact that we come to know the pokémon less well, and mostly in their roles as aides to those humans, feels pretty natural. It's only in the points where the pokémon themselves are the focus, like that bit with Lucia, that I really found myself thinking hm, I'm unsure about this.
Not too long at all! I've got my blind spots as a critic of my own work, so I really appreciate you digging into the issue for me. And I do mean blind spots: in my head Krissy was honestly still the focus of that exchange rather than Lucia, and that's where I'm probably out of step with most readers. Really, thanks. I always try to come away from each thing I write with something major I need to work on going forward. If anything, I wish it had bothered you sooner. For momentum's sake I'll be focused on writing the last three chapters first, but I do want to go back later and address this weakness.

That said, onto this chapter in earnest, and oh man, is there a lot of good stuff going on here. The thing about Lucia is probably my only real criticism, I think? I might have mentioned it before, but I love Krissy's anxious internal monologue, and in a stressful situation like this, where her training bubbles up from within her to mingle with the self she's trying to become, it really shines. And the tension as they wait, and that particular calm-yet-frantic kinda planning, and then the confrontation, with the brute cunning of each traded barb, the tests of loyalty, the moments where things could go to hell and don't – and the moment where they finally do, and in spectacular style. Ghosts are one of the most interesting kinds of pokémon, narratively speaking, and you certainly do them justice here. With those final lines, you leave us not knowing whether what we're looking at is the years of abuse resurfacing, the gengar's influence, or some toxic combination of both, and it's an excellent beginning to the end. What next? I genuinely have no idea: the twist is so abrupt and startling that I can't even tell how the climax is going to play out. You had me hooked already, of course, but if you hadn't, you would have definitely got me now.
More on authors not being in step with the readers: I was positive that if there was going to be a complaint it was going to be on the "traded barbs" scene being too long and with too many barbs, or that Russo's Gengar came out of nowhere. (The clues are there that something's off about his eyes, but barely, and there's nothing to suggest a ghost-type in particular. This is something I'd foreshadow more heavily going back.)
 
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icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[See the above post for replies to the comments! Thanks for reading!]

Chapter 10

It was eight o’clock in the morning when Derek walked up the path to the mansion with a folder of misinformation in hand. He had to roll his eyes when the place came into view. It was exactly the sort of overbuilt, tacky, nouveau riche monstrosity that his dad would rail about whenever one of them went up within five miles of Ecruteak. The old man had hated the “new-vogue rich” bastards almost as much as the old-money rich bastards. Derek wondered two things: why he still thought of his dad as the ‘old man’ even though he hadn’t lived to be much older than he himself was now, and how he could be thinking about idle nonsense when he was twenty yards away from Mariano Russo’s front door.

Derek wished he hadn’t just thought of that, as now the fact he had come this far without anyone showing up to slow him down felt more ominous than fortunate. Even if the mansion wasn’t Johto HQ proper, he had expected at least minimal guard to be present. Instead this might as well be any other (large, ugly) house on any other clear, quiet morning. Derek’s old, crippling fear of showing up at the wrong address suddenly boiled up, but it passed quickly because he would be safer at almost any other house, after all.

The instructions from Lewis were to take the rear entrance, so Derek veered off the main walkway and into the open grass between the mansion and the woods. Nobody was running out to intercept him. Where the hell was the security? Maybe they were watching with closed-circuit cameras, but that did nothing to stop someone in his position from throwing a brick through a window. Then again, considering Russo’s personality profile, it was possible he was just waiting for someone to be dumb enough to try something like that.

Derek rounded the corner to the back of the grounds, and a familiar face in a Grunt’s uniform was leaning next to a steel door. Lewis’s anxiety was obvious in his step and his eyes as he hurried over to him. “The hell took you, Brooks? I’m skipping my post for this!”

Derek went over in his head the attributes that anyone he knew in Team Rocket associated with him: curt, jaded, bitter, not-hobbled-by-neuroticism. “Tough sh*t. This ain’t exactly on my way to work.”

“Whatever.” Lewis pointed to Derek’s folder. “That stuff you’re selling’s in there, right? Let’s go talk.”

Derek pointed at Lewis in turn. “I told you. Russo’s eyes only. Guy who writes the checks or nothing. I ain’t getting short-changed on this one.”

Lewis bit his lip and looked over his shoulder. Derek knew the pattern, and he was counting on the decision getting punted to someone else first. “Look, man…”

Derek reached into his pocket. He couldn’t take any chances today. “Will this do it?” He flashed a bill: a hundred-hundred. Getting Rockets to do what you wanted was even more expensive than getting them to leave you alone.

It was a foregone conclusion that this would get him through the door, but Lewis hesitated for longer than Derek had anticipated. Finally he swiped the note. “Okay, fine. Follow me.”

Lewis unlocked the door, led Derek in haste around a few corners, and then pressed the call button on an elevator that looked twice as old as the rest of the house. Thirty seconds later the car arrived, and the inside looked even older than the out. As they descended with a jerk, Derek tried to decide whether staying silent all the way down would make him seem more suspicious or less. Fortunately, Lewis made the choice for him. “Man, but you picked a weird day to see the boss.”

Derek was anxious to know whether this was good luck or bad luck. If it meant Russo was less likely to actually grant him an audience, it was great news. “That right?”

“Yeah. Big family trouble. Got most of us pretty on-edge, just so you know.”

“Appreciated.” It was indeed good luck, then. No Rocket was going to want to talk to Russo directly today, and the longer they gave Derek the run-around the greater his chances were of giving someone the slip.

Just to keep his mind occupied, Derek tried to think about what ‘family trouble’ could mean. Russo’s bio listed only two immediate family members. Ex-wife Penelope was reported in the local newspaper as having disappeared nine years ago, but recent police intelligence suggested the Rockets had covered-up her suicide. Daughter Lucia, born 2006, was journeying and otherwise had nothing in her file except a photo from when she was five. And it was also possible that the trouble could be coming from extended family. The elevator screeched a little as it came to a stop, and Derek put these thoughts on the back-burner.

The basement put on no pretensions of being anyone’s home. The hallways were cold, dim, and industrial with steel floors and exposed pipes where they had skimmed on the ceiling. “Boss is awful particular we do our business down here,” said Lewis as they walked. “Sucks, but can’t really blame him for wanting things quiet where he lives.”

‘More like he wants it easier to trap intruders,’ thought Derek. ‘Not hard when there’s only one way back up.’

They walked by a number of Rockets in a circle who wore stone-serious, nervous expressions. Lewis wasn’t kidding about the base being ‘on-edge.’ Then they passed a pair of Grunts moving the other way who seemed relatively at ease. One of them was showing off his newly acquired hardware: a familiar black Pokéball. “…just got it from the quartermaster. Think he’s got some left if you want one.”

“Nah, I’m gonna lay low today. Hear they’ll be standard issue in a month or t…”

Derek took note that some people’s jobs were about to get a lot harder. As for Lewis, he was looking increasingly anxious. It was as if he wasn’t quite sure where they were supposed to go. Derek was trying to figure out whether it was better to appear impatient or indifferent when Lewis came to a sudden stop in the middle of an intersection.

Lewis took a hesitant look down the other hallway, than called out, “Hey, Slate! Got a minute?”

Another Grunt who looked too old to still be a Grunt stopped in his tracks. He stood with his back to them for a few seconds, but when he finally turned around and approached them Derek failed to keep his surprise from showing. This was definitely the same one who’d captured Wyvern. Fortunately, Derek had a ready excuse for being surprised: Slate’s right eye was barely visible behind a swollen mass of black and blue. It was easier to count the stitches than to see the pupil.

Slate gave Derek a cursory but stern looking over. There was no obvious recognition on his end, which was expected but still a relief. Then he faced Lewis. “What?”

“Got a guest here. Can you entertain him for a few while I find an Admin? I’ll cover half your night shift.”

It took Slate several seconds to decide. “…Deal. We’ll be in 105A.”

Lewis flashed Slate a thumbs-up and then he was gone. Slate turned around again. “Come on.”

Derek followed. Now that he knew what room they were going to, it reminded him to take note the numbers of the rooms they passed. He was going to have to navigate some of this place by himself. They were on 116N. After a few turns he had the numbering scheme figured out, but it would still require some guesswork to get back to the elevator from 116N in case things went south.

Then Derek spotted the holy grail: open door, lights off, computer monitors on. 108E. Just the place for Hanna to work her magic. Unless he found somewhere better, this room was his destination once he got away. That was one uncertainty down with only a mountain of them left.

A minute later they had arrived. Slate unlocked the door, opened it, and gestured Derek in first with his thumb. Derek didn’t like having a Rocket to his back for even two seconds, but he took the risk and walked in. The room was nothing but four close walls with a small table and two chairs. Rocket facilities came standard with dual-purpose rooms for hospitality and interrogations. Derek took the chair closest to the door and sat casually with his body facing Slate. He wanted to seem compliant but not intimidated.

Slate made no issue of Derek’s choice of seat. He closed the door behind him and took his place on the opposite side of the table. They weren’t making eye contact. Now Derek had to choose between letting the time burn until Lewis showed up with an Admin or trying to get something out of Slate. Obviously the man was having a bad day, so the question was whether Derek could exploit that. The risk of missing an opportunity seemed worse than the risk that this would backfire.

“That’s a real shiner you got there. Get caught cheatin’ at cards?” Always best to lead off with the obvious and therefore unsuspicious.

Slate scowled and shook his head. “I don’t get caught. Hundred percent unprovoked—hadn’t even said a word yet. Goddamn Ice Punch.”

Derek winced. Ice Punch fit the symptoms, all right. “You give the other guy worse?”

Slate pounded the table. “Couldn’t. It was the boss’s f*ckin’ daughter.”

“…Yikes.” That was certainly one for Lucia’s file if Derek ever learned more about the context of the exchange. He didn’t want to assume, but it was possible some things ran in the Russo family.

“I’m swear to god, this kid is a f*ckin’ witch. I mean a biblical, hell-spawn, blood-sucking sorceress.”

Derek nodded. “Sure looks like it.”

“You don’t know the half of it! That little sh*t already made me lose two Ursaring and a Golbat! She even summoned some mystery *sshole with a Tyranitar, and everyone thinks I made that part up!”

Derek lost all composure in his expression. Below the table he dug his fingers into his leg just to keep himself from flipping out. He needed a quick excuse for looking so shocked. “Two Ursaring?”

“Eight years ago. This one kid had twin Teddiursa with big paws—that’s how you know they’ll be good. I gave up two weeks’ pay so the Admins would let me raise ’em, and two months’ pay to keep ’em after they evolved. And now they’re gone. Eight years gone.”

Derek was only half-listening at this point. ‘Lucia. “Krissy.” Fake name, not a nickname. We didn’t think to look up Russo’s family. Violet City’s database would have had the picture from her license. It wouldn’t have taken us five minutes.’

Slate continued in his raving. “F*ck! If there was ever a kid who needed to lose some molars it’s this one, but who’s gonna try anything? And get this: we finally get her and her stupid toadies locked up, and I can’t touch her!”

Derek’s hands shook. It was too late. They were here. The Rockets had them. Russo had them. For a split-second some idiot part of his brain thought it was lucky for them that Krissy was the boss’s daughter, but that was nonsense. If anything, it made the whole situation twice as dire. Whatever was coming to them, it might come slower but it was more likely than not going to be beyond sadistic.

“You know what? F*ck it. I’m gonna do it.”

Derek didn’t want to betray anything in his voice. “Hm?”

“Ah, nothin’ much. Just thinking it wouldn’t be a problem if her little pals had a few more bumps and bruises on ’em. Might get her thinking. And I know one of them that really deserves it.”

Everything stopped for Derek. Whatever his original plan here had been, it was far from his mind now. A new plan was already taking its place, and even though he didn’t know the whole thing yet, he knew the first steps. He reached into his back pocket for a pack of cigarettes that he’d never opened because he didn’t smoke. He took one out and asked, “You got a light?”

“Yeah, one sec.”

Derek gestured the pack toward him. “Want one?”

Slate looked surprised for a moment, but then he said, “Hey, that’d be great, thanks.”

Derek got up and began to approach on his left, Slate’s right. The Grunt’s attention was on his pocket as he dug out his lighter, and his bad eye left Derek out of his field of vision. Derek came to within a pace of him and still saw no hint of realization. Slate didn’t know that Derek could no longer allow him to leave the room. Before he could look up again, Derek grabbed his head and slammed it into the metal table.

Slate was dazed enough that he didn’t scream, but he wasn’t out. Derek dropped his cigarettes and hoisted him to his feet. He pounded his fist into his stomach once to knock the air out of him, and again because he was mad. Slate doubled over, which made it easy for Derek to drive his head into the wall. The Grunt fell to the floor in a heap and didn’t move an inch from there. Derek on the other hand had to stagger backwards and grab his chest because he was hyperventilating.

While he was still getting his breathing under control, he bent down to check the Grunt’s vitals. Pulse was still there. Derek wasn’t a killer yet, but he realized that everything else had changed. If there had been any chance before of his getting out of here entirely covertly, that was gone. Lewis was still on his way with an Admin, and they were only going to draw one conclusion from this scene. There was no way Derek could hide the body—no, hide Slate; he wasn’t just a body yet.

Derek closed his eyes and tried to focus. He had to treat his cover as blown now. That meant he was probably fired, but the thought only barely crossed his mind. The only thing that mattered was that this was his only shot of getting the kids out of here. He slapped himself in the face, took Slate’s keys, and made a beeline for the door. There was nobody in the hallway, so he could lock the door behind him unnoticed. Then he picked a direction and moved that way in a hurry.

He didn’t know where to go. They might not even be on this floor, and he didn’t know how to get to the lower ones. Then he heard footsteps approaching the corner in front of him. He stopped in his tracks and looked for the nearest door; it didn’t matter if anyone was inside. He found one a few paces behind him. Locked. The footsteps were getting closer to the intersection. Somehow he fit Slate’s key in the lock on the second try despite his shaking hands. It clicked.

The room was unlit, and once Derek closed the door behind him it was pitch black. He allowed himself a few seconds to breathe, but it didn’t help much. He clapped a hand to his forehead and muttered, “F*ck. F*ck. F*ck.”

This was ridiculous. There was absolutely no way he could find where they were keeping the kids if he couldn’t be seen. That left the unsubtle option of using Tyranitar to pulverize anyone who crossed his path, but that was untenable. Even supposing he reached them that way, it would be war by the time he got there. The Rockets would have disabled the elevator by then to trap them, and he didn’t want to risk calling in Hanna and Marie to extract them in the chaos. He continued to swear under his breath. It was impossible.

Then he stopped swearing. The answer had been staring him right in the face. He might not need to find them at all if Hanna could. They’d never tried calling Travis because he probably would have blocked them right away, but if there was a time to try, it was now. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and prayed to have some luck for once.

There were only five names in his contacts, so it took only a few taps to dial Hanna. She picked up right away.

“Ready?”

“No, wait!” Derek was almost too loud. He brought himself under control and moved further away from the door.

“What’s wrong?”

What wasn’t wrong? “They’re here. The kids are here. I don’t know where, but the Rockets have them.”

Hanna was silent for several seconds. “…Oh my god.”

“Listen. This might be our only shot so between we’ve got to get it right. You need to call Travis, hope someone picks up, and lock onto them.”

“Is that going to work? What if they took their phones?”

“Then I’ll think of something else! Maybe a guard think it’d be funny to answer it! If that happens, bring Jen and Summer and come out swinging. If it’s too hot to handle, teleport out again.”

Derek thought he heard Jen asking something on the other end.

“I mean,” said Hanna, “we can do that, but say Travis still has it. What if there’s a Rocket in the room and he hurts him for trying something with his phone?”

Derek dug his fingers into his arm. “It doesn’t matter. We’re out of options. Lead with a text and try to convince him. Send it in code so it looks like nothing if a guard reads it. Whatever!”

There was another vague noise from Jen on the other end, but Hanna wasn’t answering. “Hanna, please. I don’t have much room to do anything from here. I…I’m stuck. I need you to try this. They need you to try this.”

More noises from Jen, and then a few words from Hanna that weren’t directed at her phone: “…Get off me! I’m going to answer him, okay?” A short pause. Then Hanna said, “We’ll do it. Sit tight. I’ll call you right back.”

Derek was one tap away from hanging up when he heard a few more words: “Be safe. We’ll get you out next.” She hung up first.

He fumed. Who was she to tell him to ‘be safe?’ Wasn’t he the only one who actually had any business being down here? He had been preparing for an infiltration mission like this for years. Even if Jason and his idiot friends had just stuck to training from the beginning, Derek would have made it here eventually. This was never about his safety, and he had to keep it that way for their sakes.

*********

Travis felt hollow. It was probably because he had skipped dinner the night before. He was staring at the wall, which hadn’t changed in the last hour. Other things that hadn’t changed were his shoes, the floor, the ceiling, the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, and Jason. His friend was still walking in circles, and every few minutes he would say something to the effect of how they had to do something, or an example of what they might try. Then Krissy would give a curt, expert reason why his idea wouldn’t work, and it was back to silence. This all repeated like clockwork, and Travis wanted nothing more than for all the clocks to stop. The only choices were to wait for things to get worse or to make things worse themselves, so it would be best if everything just froze.

He had to wonder if it wouldn’t feel so bad if it weren’t all his fault. Krissy’s Rocket friend had summed it up earlier: ‘Are you willing to do anything to get your Pokémon back?’ He had said ‘yes’ then, because he was still a liar.

‘Hell yeah, we should fight Team Rocket,’ when he meant, ‘Hell no, we’ll freaking die.’

‘Wyvern, easy. He’ll clean their clocks,’ when he meant, ‘Wyvern, because Leviathan’s weaker. And I’m going to keep him as far away from the action as I can.’

‘Yes,’ when he meant, ‘Anything? How can I possibly know that?’

And now he knew the answer was ‘no.’ He wasn’t going to offer up one hostage to get another back. That was the hard, awful truth, even though he already knew that if anyone ever asked, he would say he shut down Russo’s offer because it was an obvious trick and the creep was never going to free Wyvern anyway. Even at the end of his rope Travis couldn’t handle the thought of being honest about something like that. It was pathetic.

All of this in his head was interrupted when his pocket started buzzing. It took him a moment to realize what it was. His phone hadn’t gone off since he blocked his parents’ numbers last year. Jason and Krissy stared as he pulled it out.

“…They didn’t take your phones?” whispered Jason.

Krissy felt for her own pocket with a look of disbelief on her face. Then it reverted to a look of bitter resignation. “Why bother? Who would we call?”

In one sense, she was right: Travis didn’t get the feeling that the police could even make it down here. But some inexplicable, almost optimistic part of him knew the Rockets had made a mistake. “No. They just forgot. They were focused on the Pokémon.”

Jason pointed at Travis’s phone, which was still vibrating. “Well, what is it?”

Travis flipped open the screen for the first time in months. He didn’t recognize the number on top, but underneath it read: “hey herd u needed a lift, give me a call! –H”

He couldn’t believe it right away. His first thought was that whoever it was had the wrong number, but everything added up too well. “It’s Hanna. She wants to bail us.”

“What?” Jason couldn’t believe it either. “Does she know? There’s no way.”

Maybe she knew and maybe she didn’t. All that mattered was that she probably had the computer and her Alakazam ready. It seemed too good to be true.

“The Pokémon,” said Krissy. “We can’t leave without them.”

It was too good to be true. Or maybe not. Travis tried to remember if Hanna could do her hacker-thing with only a text or if she needed an actual phone call. If a text wasn’t enough, they had a tiny bit of leverage. “She can help us get them back. If Jen’s there and brings her Arcanine, we’ll be good.”

“Yeah, but…” Jason trailed off. He didn’t know how to say what Travis knew was on his mind.

Krissy had no problem saying it. “Wyvern.”

Travis bit his lip. Then he started tapping a reply.

“Travis.” Jason started walking up to him. “You don’t have to. We’ll think of something. We can get out of here on our own and save Wyvern too.”

Here was Travis’s message: “pkmn outside door. need firepwr pls” He hit send.

A text came back almost immediately: “u got it. pls call now”

“Look,” said Jason, “we don’t know if she’ll actually help get the others back! What if she just sends Marie and rounds us up as fast as possible? Then it’s over!”

Travis had already considered Jason’s point, and he didn’t care. Of course he wanted to save every last one of them. Maybe Hanna would stick to her word and maybe she wouldn’t. But the fact was that the situation was the same as in Russo’s office.

He looked at Krissy. She was staring at the floor again. He didn’t know if Jason understood, but they had to get her away from this place at all cost. The way Krissy’s father made her sick was worse than anything he could ever do to him, Jason, or the Pokémon. Most of things he’d hated about her were never really her—it was a walking poison named Russo. Travis had to wonder if it got worse every time he or Jason hyped her up as ‘ruthless’ or ‘bloodthirsty’ after she embarrassed some trainer in a battle.

There were a lot of words he wanted to take back. He wasn’t sure if he would ever work himself up to doing so, but for now he could hit ‘call’ and try to make up for it that way. In his head, he begged and begged Wyvern to forgive him.

*********

Hanna’s phone lit up. Travis was calling. She pressed the button to answer, and at the same time the program on her laptop kicked into gear. She whispered into the mic, “Don’t hang up.” This was it.

Jen cracked her knuckles. “Here we go.” She pressed the button on Summer’s ball, and the Arcanine appeared next to her. The hotel room was small, so it was a tight fit with two people and two Pokémon. Jen put her hand on the top of Summer’s head. “Marie’s taking us to a fight, girl. Be ready.”

Summer made a low growl. Hanna wasn’t convinced that she understood this meant teleportation, but she sounded ready. First the program needed to finish running, though. Hanna looked at the thousands of lines of logging information flying up the screen. Usually it was half-done by this point, but there was really no telling. “Come on…”

Marie made a growl of her own and spun her spoons. ‘Marie. How are you feeling?’

Marie sent a psychic pulse instead of words. It put a healthy-enough blue tint in Hanna’s peripheral vision, but it didn’t feel terribly strong. By Hanna’s best guess, Marie had enough in her for at most five teleportations. That meant it wasn’t quite a good day, but on a bad day she might only be able to manage three, so they were lucky. It was enough to get the kids in one go and then Derek with another.

The program was still running. Did it always take this long, or was it just her?

Five seconds passed. Then a window popped up with a satellite map of the outskirts of Violet City. It zoomed in to a spot a few dozen yards away from a mansion. “Got ’em.”

It was the longitude and latitude, anyway, but in this case Marie needed more than that. Hanna put her hand on the Alakazam’s back and let her take complete control of her retinas. She saw a hazy vision of the same spot as on the map, but from the ground. ‘Go down.’

The vision dove underneath the earth and only stopped moving when she saw the outline of a hallway. That wasn’t it, but there was always some degree of error with phone GPS. ‘Check the walls on either side.’ Beyond one wall was dirt, and beyond the other was a broom closet. ‘Down again.’ This brought them to another hallway. In front of them was a door with two human shapes in front of it. They passed through the door and into a room with three smaller silhouettes in it. ‘There.’

Hanna got her own eyes back, and then motioned to Jen. “Ready?”

“Ready.”

Jen leaned in to grab Marie’s shoulder.

‘Bring Summer too. Jen’s got her.’

‘Okay. Got Summer.’

Hanna took a deep breath. She tried not to think about how many years it had been since she was last in anything resembling a battle. ‘Go.’

The hotel room vanished. Hanna’s body began to turn in contradictory directions, but since she knew where they were going it felt like diving straight forward. Then they were in another small room, except this one was metal, and they were suspended two feet in the air. Any psychic detachment Hanna was still experiencing collapsed when they landed on their feet with a loud noise.

“Aaaah!”

Jason was sprawled out on the floor almost right underneath Hanna. That was close. She looked around. There were Travis and Krissy, neither of whom looked entirely with it, and there was the door.

Then she heard a muffled voice. “The hell was that!”

Hanna reached down and pulled Jason to his feet. “Get behind us! Move!” She heard someone working on the knob as the kids scrambled for the far corners.

“Summer,” said Jen, “get rid of him.”

Summer breathed in, and as soon as the Grunt opened the door she bellowed so loudly it made Hanna’s ears ring.

“F*ck!” The Grunt bolted from the doorway. Summer was about to charge after him, but Jen stopped her.

“Wait!”

Amid a rash of noises and swears from outside, Hanna heard several Pokéballs opening. Into the room burst two Raticate, but Summer torched them before they could get close. They squealed in pain and skidded to a halt. In the close quarters Hanna could feel the heat on her arms, which is why it took her a moment to realize something was wrong. She didn’t know how many balls had opened, but it was more than two. That, and her forehead felt far too cold for all the fire that Summer had just used.

As Summer leapt forward to sink her fangs into one of the large rat Pokémon, Hanna’s eyes darted about the room. “Marie! Watch out for a—”

Her gut was right, but it was too late. A spot on the wall grew dark, and out of it shot a mass of deepest black. Before Hanna could even finish speaking, it struck Marie square in the forehead and she slumped to the floor. Shadow Ball. Only now did Hanna see the Haunter floating near the ceiling, and she completely froze up. She couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do in this situation.

Then Summer roared again and the two battered Raticate skittered to the door, but the Haunter only flashed its disembodied claws and shadow-fangs. At the same time, Hanna felt a rumbling sensation and low noise in her brain. Marie was using Psychic. It built slowly at first but then there was a spike. It was concussive. The Haunter’s eyes went dark and it fell straight down. It didn’t land with any real impact, and all that remained on the floor was a lumpy shadow and a small pool of something faintly purple.

Hanna started breathing again. Her head was still pounding. From down the hallway she heard running feet, but they were moving farther away. Jason, Krissy, and Travis ran past her for the door, while Jen chased after them and told them to hold on, or something to that effect. They must not have felt the Psychic attack if they could still move and their ears weren’t ringing. Hanna put a hand to her temple and looked at the Haunter. Marie must have broken apart most of the poison in its body on a molecular level. She didn’t know if the Haunter was still alive, or if that was the right word for ghost-types, but she hoped the kids would assume it had fainted.

By the time Hanna managed to shake off her headache, Jen and the kids were back inside and the kids were clipping Pokéballs to their belts. “Okay,” said Jen, “We’re all good here. Let’s blow this joint before they come back. Summer, stay on the door!”

Then Jen noticed Marie, who was still on her knees. The kids were staring at her as well.

“…Is she okay?” asked Krissy.

Hanna already knew what the answer was, but she needed specifics. She dropped to Marie’s eye level and felt her forehead. ‘Marie? Marie? …Oh, sh*t.’

Marie opened her eyes a crack. Then she sent Hanna a psychic pulse. It was so weak that it didn’t even make it to Hanna’s eyes. ‘How many more can you do, girl? You’ve got to say how many. I can’t tell.’

‘…’

‘Marie?’

‘…One.’

A pit formed in Hanna’s stomach. “…She’s got one teleport left in her.”

Jen was in disbelief. “What?”

Hanna ground her teeth. “And I think she’s going to pass out right after she uses it. Give me your phone.”

Jen pulled her cell out of her pocket and Hanna swiped it with too much force. She brought up Derek in the contacts list, and waited for two rings too many for him to pick up. “Derek?”

He didn’t waste a syllable. “Status?”

“We’re here. We have the kids—”

“Then teleport out. Now.”

“Hold on! We have the kids but Marie’s not good. She can only do one more trip, so you have to meet up with us first or you’ll be stuck.”

Silence. Why wasn’t he saying anything? Hanna stood up. Maybe they’d have to meet him partway there. “Derek? Where are you? Listen, we need to—”

“Go.”

Hanna’s mouth stayed open, but she couldn’t say anything. Everyone was staring at her.

“W…”

“I said go. Get the kids out of there now. I can handle myself. I’m not unprotected.”

“Derek, that’s nuts! You just said a minute ago—”

He didn’t raise his voice in volume, but he shouted with his tone. “Hanna! They’re children! They’re our first priority, now move it before you’ve got Rockets to deal with!”

She knew he was right. It made her sick, and she wanted more than anything to tell him off. She wanted to tell him that he was too important to leave behind either. But they were children. Derek was an adult, this was his job, and she had to trust him to know what he was doing. She closed her eyes. “Okay. We’re going.”

“Good.”

“Be care—” He hung up. “…ful.”

Hanna wished he were here so she could slap him. And while she was at it, they could all escape together like they were supposed to. She shut the phone and tossed it back to Jen. “Everyone get close. Jen, get Summer back in her ball; it’ll make it easier.”

Jen looked absolutely stricken, but she seemed to understand and didn’t argue. Back in the ball Summer went. Jason and Travis approached slowly with their heads hung, but Krissy didn’t move.

“…He’s here?” she asked in a small voice. “Derek’s here?”

“Yes. He’ll be okay; he’s a professional. But we have to go.”

The only word to describe the look on Krissy’s face was ‘horror.’ She nearly came out of her skin. “No! We can’t!”

She tried to dart toward the door again, but Jen caught her by the arm. “Krissy! Come on!”

Krissy struggled and screamed. “No! No! They’ll kill him!

Hanna stared at Krissy, and then at the boys. She could see it in their faces: they believed her without question. She was missing something, and she was terrified to know what. A feeling from deep inside told her they couldn’t leave yet, and it wouldn’t be easy to shut it up.

*********

Derek put the phone back in his pocket. He closed his eyes, let his back rest against the wall, and allowed himself to breathe. It was over. Thanks to Hanna and Marie they’d finally done what they’d set out to do. The kids were safely on their way home.

He opened his eyes again. Of course it wasn’t that simple. Safe for Krissy meant away from home, and it probably wouldn’t be wise to let her go off by herself. And then there was Travis. His trainer’s journey was probably over for good, as was Jason’s, but that was nothing compared to how his Pokémon was still trapped. It would have been so perfect if things had gone according to plan—if they’d been able to lure them back by saving Wyvern. But there was no chance of that happening now.

Derek put his face in his hands. He knew it was selfish, but he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about how this was the end for him, too. He’d blown his cover and had nothing to show for it. There was no way the higher-ups would forgive that kind of mistake. He was going to lose his job. He’d only survived this long because of this niche he was hiding in, this existence where he so rarely had to speak as himself. He could remember the last time he needed to find a job: the crushing uncertainty and constant worry that had nearly driven him to the unspeakable. ‘I can’t go back to that. No. No. I can’t.’

Go back? Hell, he couldn’t even leave this basement. He’d never make it to the elevator without being spotted, and once they found him there was only so long he could try to fight his way out. There were too many of them. And he wouldn’t allow himself to be captured, so he’d just die first.

Then everything in Derek’s head shifted. What had seemed so heavy now felt terribly, dangerously, wonderfully light. They couldn’t fire him if he was dead. How had he forgotten over the years how much sense that made? It made everything so easy. There was nothing stopping him from going after the grand prize.

He was going to fight his way to Russo and give him a choice: hand over all of his encryption keys and other electronic credentials, or get dismembered by a Tyranitar. That meant Derek would either succeed and come out as a hero, possibly with enough results to save his employment, or he would fail and just die. Dead people didn’t have to apply for jobs. Nobody ever stabbed a corpse with millions of impossible questions about its experiences so far and watched it squirm in its own inadequacy.

And nobody would have to tell Jen that her brother killed himself. He would just be a casualty in the line of duty. If anything, this was his best chance to avoid death by actual suicide.

Surely she could live with that.

Derek walked to the door and opened it. The hallway seemed bright and inviting. He walked to the nearest intersection slowly and with all the confidence of someone who no longer had any reason to hide. As he went he unclipped Tyranitar’s unassuming Pokéball and fiddled with it in his hand.

It only took two turns for him to find what he was looking for: literally any Rocket. As luck had it, he had found a small crowd of them that included Lewis and an Admin. He was pretty sure he recognized the Admin from intelligence reports. Poor bastard only had psychic-types; this part wouldn’t be hard.

“Brooks!” Lewis it seemed took some exception to his presence, presumably because they had seen what shape Slate was in.

Now that there was no reason for him to put on an act, Derek could allow his utter contempt for Lewis and everyone like him to come to the surface. “You took too long, f*cko. I said I wanted to see your boss.”

Lewis stared at him like he was speaking a foreign language. He continued, “So go get him. Now. Tell him it’s police business.”

The Rockets all brought out Pokéballs of their own. The Admin snarled, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”

Derek almost laughed. It was like the Admin was setting it up for him on purpose. “That makes two of us.” It was all so straightforward. Victory or death. Win-win. He wound up to throw the ball and finally get to work.

*

Next time: Chapter 11.
 
Last edited:

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Derek wondered two things: why he still thought of his dad as the ‘old man’ even though he hadn’t lived to be much older than he himself was now, and how he could be thinking about idle nonsense when he was twenty yards away from Mariano Russo’s front door.
Because such are brains. They just love to pipe up with irrelevant b.s. sometimes.

Of course other times it's stress setting off the random-*** trains of thought--basically the mind trying to distract itself with anything but the matter at hand.

Slate was dazed enough that he didn’t scream, but he wasn’t out. Derek dropped his cigarettes and hoisted him to his feet. He pounded his fist into his stomach once to knock the air out of him, and again because he was mad.
Did I just laugh at someone getting the piss beat out of him? Yes. Yes I did, and that's why.

He clapped a hand to his forehead and muttered, “F*ck. F*ck. F*ck.”
This is easily one of the most authentic reactions to being a situation like this I've ever read.

Krissy felt for her own pocket with a look of disbelief on her face. Then it reverted to a look of bitter resignation. “Why bother? Who would we call?”
GHOSTBUSTERS!

Hanna put a hand to her temple and looked at the Haunter. Marie must have broken apart most of the poison in its body on a molecular level.
Damn. Talk about super effective...

And that last scene, dang. Derek might have just gotten significantly more dangerous. Could be beneficial, could be a liability. Maybe both. Idk. At any rate, ****. Poor guy...
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
The climax continues to climax! Everyone's finally all here under one roof, after spending so much time running around in circles looking for each other. I always like it when that happens. And there's so much that could happen from here, too; like, Derek's obviously just got the one pokémon, and I'm guessing it's not a finely-tuned murder machine the way that Russo's are, but it's still a hell of a pokémon, and while I'm not sure what would happen if he hit Russo with a dark pulse while the gengar's still inside him, I don't doubt that it would do something. Assuming, of course, that he can get that far. And assuming that the kids don't refuse to be teleported out and get in the way again. Which, you know, given this is a fic about the potential stopping or otherwise of meddling kids -- and that you studiously avoided saying whether or not they really did teleport out in this chapter -- kinda makes me think that that's very much on the table here.

But going back to Derek for a moment -- you draw his state of mind there when he decides to go in all guns (and all dinosaurs) blazing really well, I think; that whole thing about wanting death but not the guilt of inflicting your suicide on others, and about his particular brand of fear being not the kind that attaches the fear of death or other serious consequences to potential actions but rather the kind of fear that fears potential actions in their own right, as part of the infinitely stressful processes of life, rings very true. And it'll be nice to finally see something of his tyranitar, too -- aside from that one battle, we haven't seen much of it so far except as a larvitar that wanted to beat the crap out of him and almost did, and I'm interested to see what kind of a creature it turns out to be, whether it's all anger still or whether that's been affected by its years spent with Derek.

Anyway. Anyway! I don't even know what else I thought, honestly. Okay no wait, here are some other things I wanted to say, in no particular order: I love the contrast between the two infiltrations of the manor, in terms of how well each team was equipped to execute its chosen strategy; I liked that Marie got a chance to shine again; I liked how you put Travis and Derek's POV segments next to one another and made use of this chapter in which everyone is finally back together again to kinda underline the parallels you've been drawing between the kids and the adults in terms of personality types. All right, that's about it, I think. As ever, I eagerly await the next one.
 

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
Well, Derek got himself in a tight situation big time after making Slate unconscious. Granted, I wouldn't like the idea of kids being beaten either. Hopefully him playing hero will be in his favor and not the other way around.

Close call also with Hanna, Jen, and the kids. Yeah good idea they still stayed behind incase the worse happens to Derek. Poor Travis feeling guilty over all this and in his head wanting Wyvern to forgive him.
 

icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
[Quick replies to readers' comments in the spoiler tags:
Sike Saner said:
Did I just laugh at someone getting the piss beat out of him? Yes. Yes I did, and that's why.
I love making people laugh more than anything else, but I may have to make that part less funny. :\

GHOSTBUSTERS!
"When a Gengar grins... And it don't look good... Who you gonna call?" :D

And that last scene, dang. Derek might have just gotten significantly more dangerous. Could be beneficial, could be a liability. Maybe both. Idk. At any rate, ****. Poor guy...
If I can get someone to think 'poor guy' after making them laugh a few times (even unintentionally), then I must be doing something right.

Cutlerine said:
But going back to Derek for a moment -- you draw his state of mind there when he decides to go in all guns (and all dinosaurs) blazing really well, I think; that whole thing about wanting death but not the guilt of inflicting your suicide on others, and about his particular brand of fear being not the kind that attaches the fear of death or other serious consequences to potential actions but rather the kind of fear that fears potential actions in their own right, as part of the infinitely stressful processes of life, rings very true.
I felt pretty strongly that it would ring true, but with this kind of subject matter you always worry that it's going to come across as false and insensitive. So this is reassuring.

And it'll be nice to finally see something of his tyranitar, too -- aside from that one battle, we haven't seen much of it so far except as a larvitar that wanted to beat the crap out of him and almost did, and I'm interested to see what kind of a creature it turns out to be, whether it's all anger still or whether that's been affected by its years spent with Derek.
This made me think more about how to portray Derek and Tyranitar in the next chapter, so thanks for the mental stimulation.

I love the contrast between the two infiltrations of the manor, in terms of how well each team was equipped to execute its chosen strategy; I liked that Marie got a chance to shine again; I liked how you put Travis and Derek's POV segments next to one another and made use of this chapter in which everyone is finally back together again to kinda underline the parallels you've been drawing between the kids and the adults in terms of personality types.
I've said it before, but I worry constantly about the order of POV segments. And yeah, the really frustrating thing here is that the adults' plan had a darn good chance of working if only the kids weren't there.

Bay said:
Hopefully him playing hero will be in his favor and not the other way around.
It doesn't help that he's taking one of the worst possible mindsets to play hero with. We'll see what happens!

Close call also with Hanna, Jen, and the kids. Yeah good idea they still stayed behind incase the worse happens to Derek. Poor Travis feeling guilty over all this and in his head wanting Wyvern to forgive him.
They're still there for now, but leaving Derek behind is still very much on the table! And yeah, poor Travis was born to be saddled with guilt.
This is a double-update with the final two chapters of the fic. Three posts in total because of the character limit. One last time before it's over, thanks for reading!]

Chapter 11

Hanna didn’t have time for this. No matter how much Krissy wanted to scream about it, the decision was already made. The kids were getting saved and that was final. Hanna shook off any remaining hesitation and spoke with a forcefulness that was more for herself than for the others. “Jen, drag her. We’re leaving.”

“No!” Krissy tried to pull away again, and while Jen didn’t exactly drag her she still had to pick her up. Then Krissy started kicking.

“Ow!”

This outburst brought Jason out of his silence, but not in the way Hanna was hoping for. “Hey, she said they’re going to kill him! Don’t you believe her?”

Hanna bit her lip. “Jason, Derek knows what he’s doing. He’s going to be fine, okay?”

She stood up to help Jen with Krissy, but as soon as she did Jason ran to one of the far corners of the room. “We’re not leaving without him!”

Hanna was speechless. Marie wasn’t well enough to manage the teleportation with two kids that didn’t want to come along. She took a step in Jason’s direction, but as soon as she did Travis darted for the other corner.

‘Not you! You’re the one who picked up the phone! Can’t you trust us?’ Hanna didn’t say this out loud, and Travis didn’t say anything either. He just stared at her as his shoulders heaved up and down. She almost wanted him to collapse in a panic if only because it would make this easier. Did they need Summer to tackle one of them?

Seconds passed that they couldn’t afford to lose, but nobody moved. Then everyone moved as a noise like a distant explosion or shuttle launch pounded through the ceiling and shook the floor.

The kids looked up. Jason asked of nobody, “Is that Derek’s Tyranitar?”

Hanna and Jen said the same thing: “His what?

An alarm went off. It was a shrill, repeating tone, and it came with a woman’s voice from a loudspeaker in the hallway: “All personnel: intruder alert. Hostile intruder on level B1. All personnel with Pokémon are to engage immediately. Repeat…”

Hanna clenched her fist and cursed at herself for the lie she was about to push on them. “They can’t beat a Tyranitar! Now get over here!”

“They can!” screamed Krissy. “They can beat any one trainer! Tyranitar has too many weaknesses!”

Of course, of course, and of course. Hanna knew all that, and so did Derek. He wasn’t just going to try and fight them all at once. He had a plan. He had to have a plan.

There was another explosion, or something like one. The lights flickered and almost went out. Hanna felt Marie’s forehead. It wasn’t good for her to keep waiting like this. “Krissy, please. Marie’s—”

The alarm stopped, and in its place came a new voice. This one was male and sounded older. “Mr. Brooks, your attention please.”

Hanna saw Krissy twitch.

“This is Mariano Russo speaking. I’m told you seek an appointment. In the interest of limiting any further structural damage to this facility, I will see you immediately.” The speech was interrupted by a short fit of coughing. “…Also in the interest of preventing damage, and in acknowledgment that negotiations may break down, we will meet in the Testing Room on the bottom floor. It will be less claustrophobic for your Pokémon. One of my men will show you to the elevator.”

Hanna had no idea what to make of this, but Krissy did and she was despondent. “No… You don’t know what he does to cops. Derek’s a cop, isn’t he?”

There was a question of when Krissy had learned that, but in Hanna’s mind it was dwarfed by another: how would she know whatever it was Russo did to cops? Hanna looked behind at Jason, who showed no surprise, just terrified belief.

Krissy kept speaking, and her voice grew weaker. “The last two that tried. He… He fought them both at once, just for fun. Their Pokémon d…died from blood loss. After he won, they…”

Krissy broke into tears. “They threw the cops in front of the Magnet Train. They forged suicide notes. He taught me how to fake their fingerprints… and…” She lost it.

Hanna’s heart stopped, and she saw Jen’s grip loosen. At that moment a news story from four years ago resurfaced in her memory, one that had seemed disturbing but otherwise inconsequential. Two train-jumpers in the span of eight hours, the second coming only minutes after the trains started up again, and no relation found between the two cases other than their proximity. But the newspaper had said they were office workers or something, not police officers. Then she tried to imagine what would happen if Derek died on the job and under cover; whether his superiors at the police would acknowledge his work to the public, or to his colleagues.

If Krissy was telling the truth, then Russo knew that killing Derek the same way wouldn’t risk an all-out war with the police. Undercover officers became statistics, not stories, so there was no reason not to kill them. Worse yet, killing Derek might not even be difficult for Russo if he was that skilled a battler. Hanna didn’t have Marie’s help to tell if Krissy was lying or acting, but the story fit too well for her to risk doubting it.

Part of Hanna’s brain knew that this changed nothing, that getting the kids out came before getting any of themselves out, no matter how bad things looked. But she didn’t really believe it anymore, not when she could picture the reality of Derek’s death so clearly. She knew she could never live with herself if they ran away now. And she couldn’t imagine what it would be like for Jen, who looked pale enough to faint, or for Krissy.

The girl’s face was hidden in her hands now. “I’m sorry… I tried to forget on purpose… I wouldn’t have done it if I knew you’d be here! I’m sorry!

Hanna’s chest felt both hollow and heavy. Her heart was made up even if her mind wasn’t. She took a knee and put a hand to Marie’s head again. ‘Hold on. Then before she could articulate why it was anything but her worst idea ever, she brought Marie back into her ball. Everyone stared at her, and she motioned Jason and Travis to come over. They did.

She wanted to explain something to them, even if she was going to have to make it up as she went along. She stayed on one knee so that she’d be below their eye level. “All right. We’re going to save Derek. But listen close, or the deal’s off.”

She had their attention. If they trusted her to have a plan, she didn’t; not quite. Hanna couldn’t bet on Marie evacuating everyone in the middle of a fire-fight. She also didn’t trust Marie or Summer to turn the tide in any battle between a Tyranitar and a Rocket Executive, and she didn’t have any concrete ideas of how to get around that. So Hanna’s ‘plan’ was to trust in her own tendency as a capable, overconfident adult to underestimate people, especially children.

“If we’ve ever tried to tell you that you’re too small and weak to make a difference, that was garbage. You’re strong as hell and so are your Pokémon. That’s a stupid, dangerous thing for any kid to hear, but it’s true.”

Fifteen years ago, Jen had taught her that nothing blinded the older like the size and age of the younger. If you needed a miracle, you had to hope you were wrong about someone. That saved Hanna’s life back then, and she had to hope it would work for Derek now.

“We only tell you you’re weak because being young and strong makes you feel invincible, and we’re terrified at the thought of something bad happening to you because you don’t know better. If you can promise me you know you’re not invincible, we can try this.”

They nodded. She had no choice but to believe them.

“You stay behind Jen, and you stay in front of me. You fight when I say you can and no earlier. And the next time I say we’re leaving, it’s final. Got it?”

More nods. Hanna stood up. “Krissy. Do you know where we’re going?”

“…Yes.” Her eyes were red, but she sounded ready.

“You go second, then. Direct us.”

Just like that, everyone fell in line. They crept out of the room with Jen taking point. When they saw the coast was clear, Krissy said, “Left.” Then they ran.

Something told Hanna she was going to hell for this.

*********

The elevator reached the bottom floor. Derek winced and grabbed his side as he stepped out. Tyranitar’s tail had only barely swung into him during the brief, one-sided skirmish upstairs, but he knew he was going to feel it for weeks. The elevator was at the end of a long hallway, and fortunately it was tall enough for his Pokémon to fit without its spikes scraping the ceiling. Before Derek let Tyranitar out, though, he took a moment to make sure he could hide any sign of pain from his minor injury.

He was fine. He held Tyranitar’s ball in front of him and pressed the button. The familiar mountain of green rock appeared there, all eight feet and five hundred pounds of it. It turned its head to look at Derek, opened its mouth to show its teeth, and growled. Derek didn’t move a muscle and just stared it in the eye. That was how to say, ‘I’m still bigger and stronger than you. Don’t you forget it.’

Tyranitar closed its mouth. For today at least it was still convinced that it was impossible to scare or seriously hurt Derek. That was the only way Derek had ever tried to keep its obedience, even though one of these years it was bound to fail. He walked past the armored dinosaur Pokémon, and it followed him. Each of its steps shook the floor. Derek still didn’t like walking with Tyranitar when there was no one else to capture its attention, but it would probably be smartest to show up armed and ready.

He felt shocks from his side every few paces, but he didn’t let it show. This served as a reminder that Tyranitar wasn’t really his Pokémon in any deeper sense. All he’d done was convince it when it was small enough that if it knew what was good for it, it would do what he said. If he was honest, even when he was a kid none of his Pokémon had been ‘his’ Pokémon. The only difference was that they were soft enough for a Pokéball to convince them who was boss, so there was never a reason to get physical with them. They had all just gone with the flow until they moved on to the next stage of their lives, whether back in the wild or with another trainer. Even his first one had been that way, his…

Sh*t. He had forgotten again. It felt wrong to forget when this might be the end coming up. He tried to retrace the memory. He had turned ten, but his dad had already sold off Vesuvius and Krakatoa’s litter to get them out of debt, so Derek didn’t get his promised Cyndaquil and he used that as an excuse not to start yet. Then he turned eleven and Dad finally put his foot down and caught him the next best thing, which would mean fire-type… Vulpix. She was a Vulpix. He wondered where she was now, and if she could remember… how many… twenty years ago? She might already be dead.

They were getting close to the other end of the hallway. He would have time to regret every last thing he’d ever done later. Or maybe he wouldn’t, but that was part of the idea. They reached the open doorway, past which was a ramp that led up. The first thing that came into view was the towering ceiling. They emerged from an opening in the floor. The underground gymnasium was large enough for three basketball courts, and the playing surface was dirt. There were no benches or seats, and the only features on the concrete walls were a number of exposed pipes and a door labelled ‘MAINTENANCE.’

At the other end of the arena there was another ramp leading down. Derek only noticed it because at that moment someone’s head was coming into view, followed by his body. He was wearing a pinstriped suit and walked slowly. It was him. After years of hard, miserable work, plus a few minutes of reckless, irreversible decision-making, Derek was in the same room as Mariano Russo.

Both parties approached the middle of the field and stopped close enough to talk, but far enough away to be safe. Russo cleared his throat, but then he kept coughing for several seconds. He was even bent over. This just might have been Derek’s lucky day.

At length, the Rocket boss straightened up and spoke. “Good morning, Mr. Brooks.” His voice was steady, calm, and a little flat. “Your Pokémon is certainly an impressive specimen. It must have been an ordeal to train.”

Derek said nothing. The reports hadn’t suggested that Russo would be the type to make small-talk. Was he stalling?

“To tell you the truth, I wish you had picked a better time to show up. Having a real battle usually means it’s my best day of the year, but I’m not fit to fully enjoy it at the moment.” Indeed, Russo looked pale.

“You understand what I’m talking about, don’t you? In my experience, most police officers take the job because it’s the easiest way to bust some heads without facing any consequences. I just prefer to do away with the pretension of civic duty. It makes climbing the ladder easier.”

Tyranitar was getting impatient. It stamped its feet, bellowed at the stranger, and advanced well in front of Derek. He said, “Hold,” and it stopped in its tracks.

“At least one of you gets it. So if battling doesn’t excite you, Brooks, perhaps gambling does? It’s always been something of a fascination for me. The real fun is in tricking some sucker into betting everything when they have no chance of winning. All the better when the sucker thinks he’s tricking you the same way. I think the best battles are also natural gambles, the only difference being that the terms are set by the victor after the battle is over.”

This behavior didn’t match the reporting at all. The book on Russo was that he was strictly business at all times. He was never supposed to indulge. Was their intel flawed?

Then Russo squinted and just barely tilted his head. “Now that I think about it, you look familiar. I can’t help but shake the feeling that we’ve met, but I can’t put my finger on it either.”

That confirmed it: he was just stalling. He had probably called in backup from all around Violet City and wanted more time for them to show up. If that was the case, it meant he wasn’t feeling confident about the battle. Suddenly, the idea of outright victory seemed very real and possible to Derek, but he had to make it fast. Then it occurred to him how he could best seize the initiative.

“Hyper Beam.”

Tyranitar reared back its head and unhinged its jaws. As the unmistakable glow and high-pitched wail built up, Derek saw something no photograph had ever captured: Mariano Russo looking shaken. The Executive scrambled for his belt. He had less than three seconds left, and for a moment Derek thought he might have miscalculated.

Russo threw a ball at his feet, and a Snorlax taller than a man standing up and wider than a man lying down appeared. Not a millisecond later, Tyranitar’s mouth erupted. The focused orange blast struck the Snorlax directly in the stomach. The giant Pokémon collapsed and was sent sliding on its back. Russo had to dive out of the way to avoid being crushed. When Tyranitar’s attack dissipated, there was a smoldering red mark on the Snorlax where several layers of skin and fat had been melted away. It groaned one time and didn’t get up.

One down, and since Russo had been fast enough, Derek still wasn’t a killer yet. According to the bio, there were supposed to be four Pokémon remaining. But if the team’s damage-sponge could fall that easily, the rest of them wouldn’t be a problem. This was going well.

Russo made no attempt to keep the fury out of his eyes. “That was low. I misread you.” As the steam billowed from Tyranitar’s mouth, the Executive pulled out another ball and threw it.

There appeared a tall, red mantis-like Pokémon. ‘Scizor. Bug/steel. Bad match-up for rock/dark. Need to put this one down quick.’ The only problem was that Tyranitar was still panting from using such a taxing move.

Russo knew this. “Plan B.”

The Scizor began to run in an arc around Tyranitar, which drew its attention but no response. As the Scizor built up speed, Derek began to notice that something was off. The arc was too wide. At this rate it was only going to get farther away from Tyranitar and closer to…

Derek’s hands shook. The Scizor’s eyes locked with his own and it broke into a sprint, and a far faster one than he expected from a steel-type. Tyranitar was too slow to do anything about it. The steel claws opened and Derek saw his death approaching. The sense of easy mortality that had carried him this far evaporated. He was too close to victory to die here. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Moments before his survival instinct took over, he had one idea to save himself. He shouted, “The trainer! Kill him!” He was dead if Russo could protect himself without Scizor.

Derek’s body moved on its own from there. He dove to the side just in time to avoid the Scizor’s swing. On impact he ducked and rolled, but it left him off balance. At the same time Tyranitar began to run at Russo.

“Plan A! X-Scissor!”

The command came before Tyranitar got anywhere close to Russo. The Scizor turned its attention entirely away from Derek and darted after its new target. It would have no trouble catching up.

Derek called out, “Cancel that! Get the Scizor!”

As the Scizor pulled back its right claw to strike, Tyranitar stopped in its tracks, spun, and sent its tail flying into its opponent’s head. Despite its steel body, the Scizor was knocked thirty feet away. It was slow to come to its feet, and there was a visible dent in its skull.

Derek was about to order an attack, but Tyranitar already had its own idea. It rushed the Scizor with lumbering steps and opened its jaws to use Crunch. The Scizor failed to jump out of the way. Wisps of shadow came from Tyranitar’s fangs as it seized its opponent’s head. Once again the Scizor’s steel skin offered only so much resistance. When the difference in size and strength was this great, conventional battling wisdom always took a backseat to physics.

The Scizor struggled and managed to land two deep incisions on Tyranitar’s hide, but only deep enough to make it angrier. Tyranitar twisted the Scizor’s neck so hard it looked like it would snap, and the struggling ceased. Then it dropped the enemy to the ground and crushed its chest with its foot.

Derek said, “Pull off.”

Tyranitar stomped on the Scizor one more time, but then it moved away and set its eyes on Russo again. Two down, three to go, and Derek still wasn’t a killer yet. “If any of his Pokémon move past you, crush him, and ignore any others he sends out.” Derek didn’t even know if Tyranitar could process an order of that complexity, but all he needed was for Russo to believe it.

After near-brushes with death on both sides, it seemed like the time to speak to the Executive directly. “I wouldn’t mind Tyranitar turning you into a discolored spot on the wall, but you’re more useful to me alive. I’m willing to keep this between the Pokémon if you are.”
Russo’s voice remained steady despite his scowl. “Don’t flatter yourself. This has nothing to do with your preferences: it is textbook mutually assured destruction. Your Tyranitar cannot stop my Pokémon from killing you, and likewise all of my Pokémon together cannot stop your Tyranitar from killing me, not when it’s at full strength. Therefore the only path to victory is to disarm the opponent first. It’s still anything goes.”

It was difficult for Derek to follow what came next. Russo’s glare grew even sharper and his eyes began to twitch uncontrollably. The Rocket boss tensed his shoulders as if expecting something else to happen. Then he began to say, “Hypnos—”

Russo’s eyes went wide and he grabbed his throat just before breaking into a fit of pained coughing. He dropped to his knees as his whole body convulsed. It was like the man was going mad. When he was finally quiet again, Derek saw him mutter something under his breath.

The lights flickered. He realized this wasn’t just Russo having an episode.

Frantically Derek looked around for anything else that was amiss. He almost missed it in the bad light, but Russo’s shadow was slowly growing darker. When it became pitch black, it suddenly darted away from Russo and slithered on the ground in Tyranitar’s direction. “Below you!”

Before Tyranitar could react, a Pokémon emerged from the shadow. The maniac had been keeping a goddamned Gengar inside of him. It spat an inky, purple liquid from its mouth: Toxic. The mess landed on Tyranitar’s belly, which prompted a roar and an attempt at a Crunch attack, but Gengar was far too quick and floated out of harm’s way.

It was difficult to tell from a distance, but it didn’t appear that the poison was sinking into Tyranitar’s skin. Close call. But with Russo still shaking on the floor, Derek only had to stay focused on the enemy Pokémon.

He and Tyranitar didn’t have much practice against ghost-types, or against anything as fast as a Gengar for that matter, but at least the type matchup was nothing to worry about. The Gengar was darting back and forth as it threw Shadow Balls and waved its arms as if to attempt Hypnosis, but none its efforts did more than annoy Tyranitar. So it was just a matter of landing a hit. Crunch was apparently too slow, but they had practiced one other dark-type move at least a little. “Use Dark Pulse!”

Tyranitar lowered its head and allowed some shadow to seep out of the thin gaps in its armor. Immediately the Gengar flew as far away from its trainer as it could, and that happened to place it much closer to Derek than before. Tyranitar tracked it all the while, and before Derek could say anything it let loose a massive wave of all-encompassing blackness. The bulk of it hit the Gengar, but the tail end of it flew at Derek and overwhelmed him.

He tried to stay calm. He knew what a Dark Pulse did to a human. He knew that when one hit you it was vitally important to try to stay focused on the world around you and avoid thinking about anything else. He was especially not supposed to think about bullies from his childhood, especially not the ones standing right in front of him. The best part was that they were still kids while he had grown bigger. That made it easier to grab one of their necks. Derek pushed his thumbs into the little bastard’s windpipe. He squeezed and squeezed so he could be sure that this brainless sadist would never say a word again.

Derek slapped himself in the face. That was one hand off the bully. He slapped himself two more times, and finally the faceless children vanished and he was back in the Rocket gym. He was just in time to see Tyranitar rush the Gengar where it was frozen in pain only inches above the ground.

“Toxic.” Russo had his voice back. The order made Derek realize what a huge error Tyranitar was about to commit.

“Dark Pulse again!” But it was too late. Tyranitar was committed to using Crunch. The shadows around its fangs took grip on the Gengar’s mass where normal teeth would just pass through them. There was an unearthly scream, and at the same time a fountain of poisonous fluid erupted from the Gengar in all directions. That included down Tyranitar’s throat.

Tyranitar choked and wailed, while the Gengar simply fell on its face and sunk halfway into the floor. Already Derek could see veins bulging through Tyranitar’s rocky skin in the neck area, and they had a faintly purple cast. ‘Sh*t.’ It was difficult, but Derek managed to convince himself that this wasn’t as bad as it looked. The poison would get worse as the battle went on, but there was no way Russo could put up a war of attrition for long, now. He had sent out Gengar too late, so he only had two Pokémon left. Tyranitar would just have to handle them quickly.

Three down, two to go, and Derek still wasn’t a killer. As Russo came to his feet with another Pokéball in hand, Derek told himself that it was almost over. It had to be.

*********
 
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icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
Hanna stood with her back to the wall. She was watching the hallway behind them while Jen peeked around the next corner. They’d had good luck so far, but obviously it couldn’t continue. Just as Hanna was wondering if this was the corner where their luck would run out, Travis tapped her on the shoulder. Jen was huddling everyone together and whispering. Hanna kept an ear on the discussion and an eye on the hallway.

“Big crowd in front of the elevator. They’re all just standing there watching the door, but I think there’s too many for us to get the jump on ’em.”

Krissy had an immediate explanation. “They must be guarding all of the elevator doors in case Derek tries to get away. It’ll probably be the same thing on all the other floors, too.”

Jason asked, “Are there any stairs?”

Krissy shook her head. Then she stared off into space while everyone waited for her to say something. If Hanna had her figured correctly, she was trying to work out a way to fight off a large number of Rockets. That was out of the question. Hanna seriously considered bringing out Marie before Krissy could suggest anything suicidal, but the girl spoke up first.

“I just remembered. There’s a service elevator that goes straight from this floor to the bottom.”

“Will it also be guarded?” asked Jen.

“I don’t think so. It’s in the quartermaster’s depot, and that has a special key. I think I can pick the lock.”

The fact that this plan didn’t involve taking on a small army was music to Hanna’s ears. And at this point she believed without hesitation that Krissy was plenty adept at breaking and entering. “We’ll take it.”

They walked back the way they had come slowly at first, but they took to running again when they were far enough from the last intersection. Even if they still had to be cautious, they couldn’t afford to ignore the element of time. Hanna prayed that Derek would try to keep Russo talking as long as possible.

As they went, the lights grew more and more erratic. Soon they reached a stretch where they were almost completely out. It was here that Krissy told Jen, “Next left, and then it’s on the right.”

As was becoming routine, they crowded near the corner while Jen checked for Rockets. But instead of signaling them one way or the other, she just said, “Oh my god.”

Jen just kept staring. Obviously there was nobody there if she wasn’t pulling her head back, so despite her misgivings Hanna got everyone moving again. But when she saw around the corner for herself, she too had to stop and stare.

There was a long gash in the ceiling. It was lined with twisted, broken, and melted steel bars. From the way everything burst downward, it was clear that the cause had come from the floor above rather than this one.

“Hyper Beam,” said Krissy. “That must have been one of the shockwaves we felt.”

Hanna could hardly believe it. The damage spread for at least a dozen yards. If Russo was confident he could take on the creature that did this, then the five of them were hopelessly out of their league. Then she looked away from the ceiling and noticed the rest of the wreckage on the floor. There were a number of fallen cinder blocks, and next to one of them was a body.

She swallowed. Before anyone else decided to move, she walked towards it. She stayed clear of the sparks the fell from the shattered fluorescent lights. “Krissy, get to work on that door.”

Hanna knelt over the prostrate Grunt and hoped that neither of the boys would come over to get a closer look. She saw the sticky mess of red the nearest block had made of the back of his head. The blood was pooling up, but it was too dark to see from a distance. Even though she knew what she would find, she put her fingers to his neck. Nothing. If there was any saving him, he needed to get to a hospital in no fewer than five minutes.

No, Hanna told herself. He was dead. Even if it weren’t obvious from the injury, they couldn’t use Marie’s teleportation without Derek. Alerting the Rockets wasn’t an option, and calling an ambulance wouldn’t even get anyone through the front door. So he was dead.

Now that she was done rationalizing, it hit her. It hit her in the gut and it stayed there. She put a hand to her mouth and tried not to make a sound. They could never know about this. She could never tell the kids that their being here had contributed in any way to a person’s death. She could never tell Derek that his Pokémon had been the most immediate cause, even if it was an accident. She could never tell Jen because it would tear her apart just as much, maybe more.

And Hanna herself didn’t know if she could sleep knowing about this, either. She wished Marie were in good enough shape to wipe out the memory that very minute, but she would have to hold it inside for now. She got up and turned around. The kids had already learned their lesson; they didn’t need to learn it even harder from a corpse. It was too cruel.

“He’s unconscious. He’ll be fine when another Rocket gets to him.”

The boys seemed to hear her but didn’t react much. They were focused on Krissy’s struggle with the doorknob. Jen however looked Hanna in the eye and kept looking. Her expression was inscrutable. For the first time in years, Hanna didn’t know what she was thinking. Maybe she was waiting for Hanna to shake her head, to let her know that they were hiding the truth from the kids.

‘Please believe me,’ thought Hanna. ‘I know you’re not a kid, but I didn’t want to see it either.’ Jen turned away to watch the doorknob again.

Krissy wiped some sweat from her forehead. This was taking too long—solid minutes too long. Hanna just wanted them to get through the door and away from that body. She wanted to find Derek before he ended up the same way, and get everyone out before the hideous consequences of her own stupid decisions kept piling up. Why hadn’t she put a stop to this weeks ago when she had the chance? It didn’t occur to her that all the others might be asking the same question of themselves.

The lock clicked. Krissy opened the door, and Jen made sure she was the first one to actually walk through. Hanna went last and made sure to shut and lock the door behind them. Inside there were rows and rows of shelves, boxes, and miscellaneous electronic gadgetry. More importantly there were no people in sight, and at the other end of the long, wide room there was an elevator. Almost there.

Jen and the boys wasted no time and ran. Hanna started to follow after them, but she passed Krissy in the process. “Krissy, come on!”

Krissy didn’t move. Instead she stood in place and stared at one of the shelves.

“Krissy!”

Krissy kept staring, but said, “I think I just got an idea.”

*********

The veins were showing all over Tyranitar’s back, and the purple tint was spreading. Its shoulders sagged, and its breathing had grown more pained and erratic by the minute. Fifteen feet in front of it, Russo’s Mr. Mime was also looking tired, but it had taken far too long to get him to that point. Worse yet, the twelve layers of alternating Reflects and Light Screens between him and Tyranitar were still up. They had gone up only two seconds after the Mr. Mime entered the field, and since then they had lost three layers and gained five. They covered the entire width and height of the room.

Derek seethed. “Again.”

Tyranitar lowered its head and charged at the shimmering, nearly invisible wall. Its momentum broke down with every other layer it passed through, and when it was almost halfway there the Mr. Mime shifted its hands. A blindingly white sheet of light appeared in the middle of the wall. The new layer stopped Derek’s Pokémon completely, and then sent it toppling backwards. Again.

Derek’s fingernails dug so deep into his palms that they nearly drew blood. Protect wasn’t supposed to work on four attempts in such a short span. Everything was going wrong. Hyper Beam had fizzled out after breaching four Light Screens, the Dark Pulses did even less, and trying to run through the Reflects was only tiring Tyranitar out even further. There couldn’t be more than a few minutes left until the toxin brought down Tyranitar without Russo so much as needing to call out another attack.

Derek glared at the other side of the gym as Tyranitar struggled to its feet. Russo’s posture was still shaky, but his stall-tactics seemed to have only improved his condition. The Mr. Mime’s feet were dug into the floor, and while his hands stayed pressed against his conception of the wall, his knees were shaking. If that wasn’t a sign that the defense was about to break down, Derek knew he was screwed.

Tyranitar pulled up to its full height. It roared, and the way its voice broke in places and sounded half-submerged did not inspire confidence. But it would have to do. “Again!”

Head down. Charging. Slowed, but not yet stopped. The Mr. Mime shifted his hands yet again, and the white sheet began to coalesce. It grayed out. Tyranitar kept moving, and let loose another bellow.

Then Russo spoke. “Drop.”

The Mr. Mime’s hands fell to his sides, and the wall vanished. Tyranitar stumbled, but not enough to fall down. It kept barreling forward. When it was still a few steps away, however, Derek caught a faint glow all around the Mr. Mime. Then he was blinded.

The Dazzling Gleam attack filled every part of Derek’s vision with pulsing flashes of white and pale pink. Along with the fairy light came a high-pitched ringing that kept him from hearing anything else. It didn’t hurt much, though, so he must have been outside of its damage-range. All the same, he couldn’t afford to be out of commission with the battle still going on. He had to be ready as soon as his sight came back, so he tried to think. Assuming Tyranitar was in the process of clobbering the Mr. Mime—Derek didn’t want to consider the real possibility that a strong fairy-type attack might be too much for it—then Russo could be sending out another Pokémon at any second. It would be his fifth and final.

Derek couldn’t afford to take any chances with the poison. The last round would have to end as soon as it began. At this point he could see vague shapes, but only in his peripheral vision. He guessed there were two more seconds until Russo threw his final Pokéball. He had to trust that the Mr. Mime was already gone.

“Hyper Beam!”

The ringing in his ears was replaced by another, more familiar high-pitched sound. The center of his vision began to resolve into shapes as well. He saw two flashes at almost the same time: a red one on the ground, and a long, orange one starting high and moving low. But instead of staying constant, the orange flash swung to the right after hitting the floor. The residual fairy light was fading more quickly, and Derek caught something red, white, and round moving away from the beam. It rolled faster than anything of that shape was supposed to on its own volition, and then it jumped up at Tyranitar.

It was unbearably loud and bright. Derek was knocked off his feet. He hit the dirt, and all he could hear was the sound of his own blood pumping. The fairy light was gone, but now everything around him was a blur. He tried to remember that this was nothing; that he’d kept far worse pain under wraps when he needed to convince Pupitar that he was still stronger than it. He concentrated on one limb at a time and brought himself up to his knees.

His eyes came close to normal before his ears did. To his left he saw the Mr. Mime sprawled out and inert in a tangle of bleeding limbs. To his right he saw scattered pieces of a smooth material that were unmistakably bits of Electrode shell. Straight ahead of him was the rest of the Electrode, shattered and scattered but probably reparable, and above that was Tyranitar. There was a long crack extending from its side to nearly the small of its back. Derek shuddered to think of what its chest looked like. It coughed, and blood mixed with black and purple fell from its mouth. He had never seen the creature hang its head so low. But it was still standing.

Lying all around the gym were five battered, bruised, and broken Rocket Pokémon. That was all of them. Russo was lying prone with his hands covering his ears. The fight was over.

But that made no sense. Why would Russo have his Electrode use Explosion when all he had to do was keep stalling to win? With all that speed—hell, with a lucky Thunder Wave—an Electrode should have been able to avoid hits and keep Russo safe more than long enough for the poison to take down Tyranitar. This was all very, very wrong. Derek was missing something.

Russo stood up and removed his hands from his ears. Then he reached for his belt. He pulled out an Ultra Ball.

In that moment Derek felt the bottom fall out from beneath him as he realized his mistake. The Gengar wasn’t one of the five. Whoever gathered the intelligence for the report would have gotten the number based on how many balls Russo carried. The real number was five plus one that he kept inside him.

Russo began to speak. It might as well have been a whisper, and Derek only caught the tail end of it. “…but you’ve lost.”

The pounding in Derek’s head began to subside, but in his chest the pounding only grew harder. He wanted to come to his feet, but his legs wouldn’t move.

Russo coughed, then half-smiled. “If it makes you feel any better, I can’t take any credit for training this one. It was a gift from the boss.” He threw the ball.

The red flash grew into something very large and very tall. It was a gray, hulking mass of armor, claws, teeth, and one drill-shaped horn. It was a Rhydon, and Derek was positive they weren’t supposed to grow to seven feet. They also weren’t supposed to have blood-shot eyes and permanent holes drilled into their haunches. Derek could only imagine what they had pumped into those holes. Its muscles pushed apart the gaps in its armor in a way that was painful just to look at, and its whole body was already twitching.

The Rhydon didn’t wait for orders. It rushed head-on at Tyranitar, who was still trying to recover from the Hyper Beam and the Explosion. The sound of the collision was like a mountain breaking in two. Tyranitar hit the ground and kept tumbling from there until it slid to a stop.

“Earthquake.”

The Rhydon bellowed, and that alone was enough to shake the floor a little. It set its feet, and Derek quickly came to his senses and dropped flat. The attack rattled every bone in his body, even as far away as he was. The dirt floor split only inches to his left. Before he knew it, there was a wall of earth rising above him. It took all of his willpower to stay put and not fall into the trap of trying to run away. One wrong move was enough to give a human a broken bone.

As the shaking died down, Derek dared to look up at Tyranitar. The crack around its middle had been forced open even wider. He could see trickles of blood, sand, and shadow coming out of it. The Earthquake had broken down much of the rock in its armor. Against a lesser rock-type in similar shape the move might have been lethal, but while Tyranitar’s eyes were closed, Derek could still hear its pained, hoarse breath.

Russo spoke again. “Tear it apart.”

The Rhydon stepped forward. The horn above its nostrils began to spin faster and louder than any electric drill. ‘We’re dead.’ A small feeling in Derek’s head insisted that this was fine. This was what he wanted. This was what he had been counting on. They can’t fire you if you’re dead.

Derek told the feeling to shut its mouth and staple it. Whether because he truly wanted to survive, or simply because he preferred to die kicking and screaming instead of lying down, he wasn’t done yet. “Get up!”

Tyranitar’s head moved a few inches, but its eyes stayed closed. The Rhydon was almost there. Derek pushed himself up to his knees again, then did the first thing that came into his head. He slapped his left palm with the back of his right hand, making a loud crack. “Get up!

It was a Pavlovian trigger which had been designed to mean, ‘Obey or you’ll regret it,’ but which to Derek’s Larvitar had meant, ‘Beat the tar out of this Pokémon and you won’t regret it.’ He hadn’t tried this in all the years since its first evolution, back when it occasionally wasn’t motivated to crush every living thing in sight. He didn’t know if the gesture still meant anything to it.

Derek may not have known his Pokémon, but his Pokémon knew that sound. Tyranitar rolled from its side, somehow forced itself to its feet, and burst forward faster than Derek could have hoped for. It let out a horribly strained roar and caught Rhydon flat-footed. The collision was just as loud as the first.

But the Rhydon took only two steps backward, and it kept its balance. It locked claws with Tyranitar, and then it began to push back. That rush of momentum was gone, and now Derek’s Pokémon had to dig its feet into the ground just to keep from being knocked over again.

More blood and sand burst from Tyranitar’s side. Its back quivered the way it would if it had a fever. Just like that, Derek’s last hope was shown to be false. Even if there were an opening to execute a proper attack, Tyranitar was just as likely to faint if it tried anything that required more muscles than shoving.

The resistance was for naught. The Rhydon pressed until Tyranitar’s feet gave way. Derek’s Pokémon was on the ground again, and this time the Rhydon was already on top of it. Once more the horn began to spin.

Then out of nowhere, the sprinklers in the ceiling came on. Water poured down in two jets that hit the Rhydon on the top of the head and didn’t let up. The drill came to a stop, and the Rhydon yelled upward in confusion. Where a second ago nothing could have stolen Derek’s attention, he found himself looking up as well. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Looking closer, it was as if something was pushing or pulling, either way breaking the water from the sprinkler heads.

“Ignore it!” shouted Russo, but the Rhydon continued to scream at the source of its irritation. It was twice-weak to water, and those jets were not soft.

This was baffling enough, but then the leaves came. They flew in over Derek’s head, all glowing, and swarmed the Rhydon. The beast screamed and tried to bat them away, which left its arms covered in tiny, insignificant, but certainly infuriating cuts.

But while the Magical Leaf attack succeeded in getting under the Rhydon’s skin, that was nothing compared to the stomach-churning dread it gave Derek. He stood up, turned around, and told himself over and over that this couldn’t be happening. The arena was in shambles from the Earthquake, and he couldn’t spot them right away. But there they were around the corner of a tiny cliff close to the wall behind him: Krissy and her Bayleef.

Derek nearly threw up. How could Hanna leave them behind? The answer was obvious. She hadn’t. Derek spun his head around the rest of the gym until he spotted Travis with a Quagsire near the right-side wall. The Pokémon’s front fins were raised to the ceiling.

Derek thought he was losing his mind. “What the f*ck are you doing here!

Even as he hollered at them, Tyranitar pulled itself away. It slowly rose to its feet. The Rhydon was too preoccupied to notice.

“Rhydon! Kill it!”

Russo’s Pokémon faced Tyranitar with reluctance, but then a roar came from the far right corner of the gym and its attention was robbed again. Derek knew the voice. It was Summer’s. How, how could Jen send her Arcanine out against the ground-type from hell?

Summer ran from her hidden spot in the corner to a rare stretch of flat floor close to the far wall behind Russo. She bared her fangs. It was enough to grab the Executive’s attention in addition to the Rhydon’s.

Derek wasn’t fooled. Summer couldn’t make a difference in this fight for more than thirty seconds. As fast and strong as she was, she wasn’t in the same league as this Rhydon. Russo was going to snuff out the opposing Pokémon one by one and then they were next. They hadn’t saved the kids. They were going to die.

Derek had killed them all. It was supposed to be only himself. But he had killed them all. For the first time since his journey ended, when his dad last called him from the hospital, Derek’s eyes welled up.

*********

Jason took a deep breath. From his hiding place near the door he saw Summer take her position on Russo’s flank. She had their attention. Everything was going better than they could have hoped for so far. Lucia was keeping the Magical Leaf going strong, same with Leviathan and the Redirected Surf or the High-Pressure Rain Dance or whatever it was that Travis had taught him. The only one with nothing to do was Rabies. Jason knew that was for the best, and told himself so.

Summer moved to her next position. She ran in an arc to the opposite side of the room from him and drew all eyes with her. The gigantic Rhydon now had its back to Jason. This was his chance. He ran from his spot and toward the middle of the gym. Nobody noticed him, not even Derek. He stopped just far enough away. The ground beneath him was elevated but still flat enough. He took another deep breath. Then he adjusted his grip on the black Pokéball in his right hand.

“Rhydon, Earthquake! Kill them both!”

Jason had to hurry. His eyes darted all over the Rhydon’s back, but then they settled on a set of small holes close to where its left leg met its backside. Those weren’t supposed to be there. That was his place to aim. He wound up sidearm and fixed his eyes on the target. If he kept looking right there, then he could hit the mark even if it was moving as he threw.

The Rhydon raised its other leg to launch the attack, and everything slowed down for Jason. He double-checked every condition in his head. The Pokémon was feeling stress from its elemental weaknesses, acting indecisive, and had a potential weak-spot. Those were all good. It may not have taken any meaningful damage, but there was nothing they could do about that. Most importantly, it didn’t know he was here. That was why even though he had a few more of the quartermaster’s Pokéballs on his belt, his only real chance would be on the first attempt.

Three movements began at once. The Rhydon’s other foot began to drop, Tyranitar ducked its head and lunged, and Jason stepped and planted with his opposite leg as he whipped his arm forward.

If time had been slow a moment ago, now it was nearly at a halt. A feeling of mixed weakness and regret stirred in the back of Jason’s head. It was there because none of his skills as a battler were of any use here, and Krissy’s were. Even Travis’s were. All he could do to help was use his cheap, lousy tricks with a Pokéball.

And wasn’t that why they were here to begin with? No matter how hard he tried, he had never proven to Krissy that he was worth anything as a Pokémon trainer. So he got them to pick fights with Rockets. But he was never a real factor in any of those battles, and now during the final one he didn’t even have a Pokémon out. He would just have to live with the fact that she would never see him as anything more than a joke, and that eventually she would probably leave because of it.

Time didn’t stop. The Rhydon’s other foot hit the ground and Tyranitar made contact in its best attempt at a tackle. The cracks began to shoot from underneath the Rhydon’s foot, but Tyranitar pushed everything out of balance and most of the cracks went in Jason’s direction. Jason’s elbow and wrist twisted to fire the ball. Inside the elbow there was something long and stretchy that yelped in pain, but that was normal. It had been doing that for months.

The cracks in the ground were halfway to Jason. The punctures on the Rhydon’s left leg moved slightly, Jason’s eyes followed them, and the ball left his hand.

The long thing ripped nearly in two.

Jason’s elbow was on fire, and not in the same way it usually was when he threw. This was different, and it hurt five, ten, a hundred times as bad. His eyes lost track of the ball as it spun towards its target. He was falling. The cracks passed all around him as his throwing arm landed on the dirt. The shockwaves entered his elbow, and the soft thing that was inside there snapped. It was in two pieces. His forearm hung loose, and everything below his bicep was dying from pain.

He screamed.

*********

The Rhydon had vanished, but Jen barely noticed. The cries drowned out everything else.

Jason!

She sprinted from her hiding spot in the corner: the place where she’d been huddled up like a coward while she let her little cousin, an eleven-year-old, Aunt Meg’s baby, take point. The residual shockwaves from the aborted Earthquake almost made her roll her ankle, but she ran through it and nothing happened. She slid to a stop where Jason was lying like a rag-doll on the floor. His eyes were shut and wet and he just kept screaming.

Derek was there almost as fast he she was, and he too dropped to his knees. “Oh god. Oh god…”

Derek moved Jason just enough so he was on his back and off of his right arm. Jen had no idea what had happened, but it had to be to that arm. It was limp while everything else Jason had was thrashing about. Derek tried to steady him in place, but he didn’t seem to know where to put his hands. “Jason! Jason! Try not to move!”

Derek’s voice was crying. It wasn’t going to work. Jen fought back her own tears and tried to help keep him still. “Jason, you’re okay. Everything’s going to be fine. We’re taking you to the hospital, just hold on!”

Travis, Krissy, and their Pokémon were hovering over them now. They were stunned silent. But that was still only five people, they needed one more. And she was the one they needed to get Jason out of here. Jen stood up and turned her head all around the room. “Hanna!”

Jen found Hanna where the battle had been. She was standing in front of the man who must be Russo, and standing behind him was Summer, who growled in her best impression of a Pokémon that might actually hurt a human. Also nearby was Derek’s huge, sick Tyranitar. It was lying on its side with its eyes closed, not unlike the five other Pokémon all around that looked maimed or dead. But the Rhydon was gone. There was only a black Pokéball with a red ‘R’ on the front, and it wasn’t shaking. There was nothing stopping them from leaving.

“Hanna! We have to go!”

Hanna didn’t say a word or even turn her head. Instead, Russo reached into his jacket pocket and handed her something.

“Wallet, too,” said Hanna. “Everything in your pockets. Anything with a chip in it.”

Russo spoke. “That card has all my private keys on it. You don’t need the rest.” There was a frog in his throat.

“I don’t trust you. Hand it over.”

The Rocket took a moment, but he emptied his pockets as requested. It only barely registered with Jen that Hanna was taking what Derek had infiltrated the mansion to acquire in the first place. She could hardly think about anything other than Jason’s screams.

Hanna kept pressing. “If you have a gun, take it out and drop it.”

Russo spread his jacket open. “No true Johtoan abides a gun in his country. A strong weapon ought to require a strong wielder, such as with swords and Pokémon.” He looked where his Rhydon was trapped. “So perhaps we need to rethink the Pokéball as well.”

“Whatever. Get f*cked.” Hanna started to walk away, and Summer raced to her side. But then Hanna turned around again. “If you think for a minute about retaliating, you better know that I got us in here from miles away, and I can drop that guy and his Tyranitar on you faster than you can blink. Wherever you are and whenever I feel like it.”

As it turned out, there was no need for a bluff. “I wouldn’t worry,” said Russo. “I doubt I’ll have a job after today’s fiasco. And if I know my likely replacement, as long as you leave him alone he’ll be satisfied to send his men after me, instead.”

Jen didn’t know if she believed him, and she didn’t care right now. Jason was still in agony. She was just glad it was finally enough for Hanna, who turned and jogged back to them. Now Jen saw that there were tears in her friend’s eyes as well. Hanna gave her a look that could only mean, ‘I’m so, so, sorry.’

Hanna dropped Marie’s ball on the ground. The Alakazam’s head was drooping and she could only stay up on her hands and knees. “All Pokémon back in their balls,” said Hanna. “Quickly!”

Jen had forgotten. She recalled Summer, Krissy and Travis recalled theirs, but Derek had to hurry away to retrieve his Tyranitar. As he was running back, Russo raised his voice and spoke again.

“Lucia.”

Who was he talking to? Not Krissy, right? But who else could it be?

“I will probably be overseas for a long while. If you should need it, the region’s best center for homeless children is in Blackthorn.” He turned away with a frown, and then stared at the rest of his defeated Pokémon.

Krissy said nothing. Jen thought she saw some disgust come over the girl’s face, but she got the feeling it wasn’t as simple as that. Then she looked back at Russo and felt the slightest hint of déjà vu, but it was dispelled by the urgency of the situation and forgotten almost immediately.

Hanna took Marie’s hand and placed it so her spoon was pressed against Jason’s heaving chest. Then Jen and the others huddled close. They each got a hand on Marie and held on to each other. All six humans were ready to go, as were the Pokémon. It was finally over.

As the gym dissolved around her, it occurred to Jen that soon Jason would also be thinking it was over, but in a different way. Going home still meant the end of the journey. Something told her that was going to hurt worse than the arm, and her heart broke.
 
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icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"

Chapter 12

Hanna rubbed her temples. Even though they had made their escape only two hours ago, it felt like a whole day had passed. The lab was so quiet. She kept waiting for something to make her jump, but of course nothing did. Bill’s cottage was far, far away from Russo’s mansion, as was the hospital in the Cerulean where they had taken Jason. Hanna kicked herself for never having taught Marie the location of any human hospitals. It would have saved the poor kid a bumpy ride in the ambulance.

In any case, everyone was where they were supposed to be now. Jen, Derek, and Krissy were taking care of Jason’s emergency, while she, Travis, and Bill were here to handle Wyvern’s.

“Okay,” said Bill as he finished adjusting the scanner. “Try it now.”

Hanna cued up the program again and let it run. It was going to take each of the dozens of encryption keys they’d found on Russo’s PKI card and map those to the scanner’s quantum matrix decoder. Bill had found about a hundred ways to map keys to decoding schemes, so this could take a while.

The scanner whirred to life. Bill nodded in satisfaction and walked over to where Hanna was sitting. He spoke, and his voice was quiet and careful. “I have to make some calls. If you need anything, just come and get me.”

“Sure.”

Bill left the room, and Hanna leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She opened them again when she remembered she owed Travis an update. “Travis, the computer’s running. It shouldn’t take more than an hour.”

That was a lie. There was always the chance that none of the keys were the right one, or that they needed to find a more creative way of extrapolating the decoding matrix from them. But she couldn’t bring herself to explain that. If it didn’t work, she’d just say the program had some bugs and they were going to fix them.

Travis muttered, “…Okay.”

Hanna turned around. Travis was sitting on the floor next to Marie, who was sound asleep. He looked like he could use a few weeks’ worth of sleep, himself. With that miserable expression on his face, you wouldn’t think he was less than an hour away from getting his friend back. It was probably because he didn’t completely trust her. She didn’t blame him. For that matter, he obviously hadn’t been comfortable with staying behind while the others took Jason to the hospital. In the end Hanna was the one who convinced him that Wyvern needed somebody there when he woke up, too.

Travis pulled his knees close to his chest and hid his face. Hanna took that to mean it was time to leave him alone and check on the program’s process, but then she noticed that Marie had a damp towel on her forehead. Travis must have put it there while she wasn’t looking.

She heard Marie’s voice. ‘…Kid good.’

‘Yeah.’

Not asleep then, but just resting. She’d gone through a machine to patch up the effects of the Shadow Ball, but mostly she was just mentally exhausted, and no machine could help with that. Everyone thought Pokécenters put all the juice back in a psychic-type’s brain, but that was just because the young ones could bounce back naturally.

Then Marie put a new voice in Hanna’s head, even though she was in no shape for it and Hanna had told her over and over again to cut that out.

‘I gave up on him. I don’t deserve this. I gave up on him. He’s going to know.’

The sound was devastating. It was as bad as anything Hanna had ever heard from Derek. And just like was usually the case with Derek, Travis’s conclusion was completely wrong. Anyone could tell he hadn’t been giving up on Wyvern when he returned her call. He was just saving his friends from more immediate danger. And even if the danger hadn’t been more immediate, how could he beat himself up so much for being faced with an impossible choice?

She had to fix this. She got up, walked over, and sat down in front of him. “Hey. You did fine.”

Travis kept his head hidden.

“Listen. Just because it worked out better than you thought it would doesn’t mean it’s an accident. Sometimes giving up on nobody looks like giving up on somebody because these are hard decisions. But Pokémon can tell the difference better than humans sometimes. That’s because they don’t see the world as a big game of chess—they just see what you’re feeling.”

Now Travis looked up. “…Do you read minds?”

Hanna decided to play it up a little. She winked and pointed at Marie. “Just a little bit. Marie doesn’t like to embarrass people, so it’s usually pretty safe.”

Travis turned a little red, but to Hanna’s relief he didn’t seem too disturbed to learn this. “How does she get it into your head? Is it a move?”

Hanna smiled. “Sort of. As best as I can tell it’s a benign application of Confusion. She’s mostly self-taught. I just helped out a little with interpreting human language and some fine-tuning.”

Travis looked amazed, but that only lasted for a moment. If anything, now he looked worse than before. “You said they see what you’re feeling, right? Well, I gave up. That’s what it feels like, and that’s what he’s what he’s gonna see.”

“That’s just what you think you feel. You’re still looking at this like chess. It’s so much simpler than that. As soon as you can hold him again, you’re going to feel so happy and relieved it’ll drown out everything else. Wyvern’s going to know how hard you tried. You’ll see.”

Travis didn’t react. His face was stiff.

‘Boy crying.’

No tears, no discoloration, no disrupted breathing. It killed Hanna that there was a little boy who could hide it this well. She patted him on the shoulder, got up again, and left him alone. This was so backwards. If anyone was supposed to be wracked with guilt over how they’d handled this whole misadventure, it was her. She could have put a stop to it before it even began.

Of course, it was possible she needed to give herself a similar lecture to the one she’d just given Travis. She’d done her best at each step and try as she might, she couldn’t predict the future. If she’d gotten their licenses taken away before disaster actually struck, she probably would have regretted it anyway. Sure, if she could go back and do it over she never would have let Travis lose Wyvern in the first place. That also would have saved Jason’s arm. And there was one stranger who wouldn’t be dead, even if he was a Rocket and even if it was an accident. That last thought churned her stomach, so she tried to stop thinking about the what-ifs.

She sat down at her workstation again. The sensor’s display still showed static inside the ball. As the program ran on, she kept thinking about the what-ifs despite herself. The worst part of it all was that letting the kids just walk away from the gym had all been for naught. The whole idea behind not telling their parents right away was that they didn’t want to put an end to the kids’ journey, but it was over anyway. Jason and Travis might not be allowed to leave Cherrygrove City again once their parents picked them up. They could be trapped there until adulthood, stewing in scars and regret and never moving on.

The screen changed, and Hanna forgot about all this. She could hardly believe her eyes. If nothing else, one thing had gone right. The sensor’s image was free of static, and in the middle of the circle was the unmistakable outline of a Seadra.

“Travis, come look at this.”

*********

Travis was sitting in the back seat of Bill’s car. They were on their way to the hospital to see Jason and the others. Hanna and Bill were talking about something, but he wasn’t listening. His attention was on the white ball that he cradled in his hands. There was a red cross on the front, and next to that Bill had written in sharpie, ‘Jun 15 5:00pm.’ That was when it was safe to open. Seven days away. The ball’s release switch was elevated, and underneath it there was a ring of foam to prevent it from activating by mistake.

There was no weight pressing down on Travis, but there was no great force lifting him up, either. It was disorienting. Wyvern was here, he was free, but he was sick. They’d told him the Rockets had put chemicals in the black Pokéball—something to put Pokémon in a constant rage and keep them from ever falling asleep. So Hanna and Bill wanted to give Wyvern the medicine the same way to be safe: confined to a Pokéball and slowly. They had let Travis watch when they transferred him from the Rocket ball to this one.

It was going to be a long week. But at the end of it he was going to let Wyvern in the water, rub his back, and tell him it was all just a bad dream.

The car pulled into a parking garage next to a long, white building. Bill found a space, and the car stopped. It was quiet, and the world around Travis seemed very small. They got out. Hanna led him to the elevators with a hand on his shoulder, probably because his eyes were on Wyvern’s Pokéball and not on where he was going. At some point they came into a bright but pale hallway, and things became noisy again. Travis looked up because the world couldn’t stay small forever. Krissy was sitting on a bench by herself. Standing not far from her were Jen and Derek.

Bill walked off somewhere, maybe to the restroom, while Hanna joined the other adults in their conversation. As for Travis, he supposed the proper thing to do would be to sit next to Krissy. He did so, but didn’t get too close.

Krissy looked dead tired at first, but when she noticed Travis her eyes were drawn straight to the Pokéball and they grew wider. “Is that…?” Her voice was small and cautious.

“Yeah.”

She smiled. Her eyes still looked so sad, though. So he asked, “How are you doing?”

“Better. How about you?”

“Better.”

Her eyes really did look sad, though. Then he realized what else it could be and he feared the worst. “…How is he?”

“They said he needs surgery. I haven’t seen him, but Jen said he’s awake with local anesthesia.”

Travis didn’t see what it mattered where the anesthesia came from, but at least it sounded better than when they put Jason in the ambulance. That was a relief, so again his attention went back to Wyvern’s Pokéball. He stayed that way for a good minute, but then he noticed more of what the adults were saying. He started to listen.

“…not gonna be able to look Jason in the eye again. Or Aunt Meg. Or Mom. Or… sh*t.” That was Derek. He sounded beyond terrible.

“Look,” said Jen, “the doctor said he’d already worn that ligament down to nearly nothing. The Earthquake just made things messier after it snapped. He was going to need the surgery anyway if he kept throwing that way.”

“No, that’s… that’s not what I’m talking about. God, what else might have happened if…”

Hanna interrupted him. “Derek, we made the decision to bring them down there. Me and Jen. Mostly me. That’s on us, not you. And anyway, we’re all still here. Let’s just be happy about that.”

“No, I… I wanted to… I almost really… I wasn’t thinking, I just… Oh god.”

Derek put his hand over his eyes. He ceased to be incoherent and just sobbed instead. Travis could barely believe what he was seeing and hearing. He didn’t want to know what Derek regretted so badly that it reduced him to this.

Derek began to walk off. After a few moments of hesitation, Jen and Hanna followed after him. That left Travis alone with Krissy. Now that nobody else was around, Travis remembered several regrets of his own. There were a lot of words to take back before it was too late, and very soon it was going to be too late.

Travis opened his mouth. But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t pick up that conversation where they had left off. Knowing what he did now, it was too much for him to handle. But that wasn’t fair to her. He still had to say something.

“For, uh…”

“Huh?” Krissy gave him her full attention.

“…When you get back on the trail. If you join up with some other trainers, you might want to… uh…”

“…Yes?”

“…When you win a battle you’re always supposed to gloat a little. Or just cheer or something. Like, act surprised, even if you knew you were gonna win. Jason calls that ‘courtesy hype.’ It makes the loser feel like it meant something to beat him.”

Krissy was still for a beat. “…Did that get on your nerves? That I never did that?”

Travis sighed. “Yeah. Kind of. I know you were trying to be nice.”

Krissy stared at the floor. Travis stared at the wall. He thought about how stupid that just was. The closest that got to what he was really supposed to say was that he suggested she meant well. That barely scratched the surface.

“That reminds me,” said Krissy, “I don’t think you and Jason should be so hard on each other when one of you messes up. That bugged me. A lot.”

Before Travis could think to say that this was understandable, he went on the defensive like the thick jerk he was. “What? But that’s just how the game works.”

“Game?”

“Yeah. We see who does better at everything, and whoever’s been doing better lately is winning. We can’t tell who’s winning if we let stuff slide. Like… it’s how you play.”

“…That’s a stupid game.”

Travis was this close to calling something about her stupid, but he bit his tongue. They’d both rightly pointed out something the other could improve on, so they were even. “Yeah. It’s pretty stupid. But we like it.” He didn’t add, ‘I think.’

“Well, if you have to play your game all the time, do you have to be sore losers about it too? It’s like whenever one of you does something good the other has to be mad about it. Can you still play the game and be happy when either of you gets a bunch of points? Isn’t it better to get even by playing better instead of trying to make the other guy feel lousy for doing well?”

Travis just couldn’t see why anyone should act like they didn’t want to win. Besides, it wasn’t like they never gave each other props for stuff. She wasn’t making a lot of sense, even for a girl. Still, it couldn’t hurt to think about it. “I dunno. Maybe.”

They fell into silence again. It was a pretty lousy conversation. But then again, it was probably better than any they’d had one-on-one before. It wasn’t the worst way to handle the last time they’d ever say more than ten words to each other. Travis had once thought he’d be glad to have it over with, but that feeling seemed naïve and petty, now.

There were footsteps coming from down the hallway. Travis looked up and saw Jen coming back alone. She stopped in front of a room, shook her head quickly as if to clear something out of it, took a deep breath, and opened the door. After she shut it behind her, Travis asked Krissy, “Is that Jason’s room?”

“Yeah.”

A nurse exited the room and went about her business somewhere else. Travis supposed Jen or Jason had asked for privacy. “Wonder what they’re talking about.”

“I hope it’s nothing bad.”

“Me neither.”

Travis had a strong feeling that they ought to know what was being said, and he suspected Krissy felt the same.

*********

Jason’s back was propped up against pillows. He could see that his right arm was in a sling, but it might as well have been missing. Although his shoulder ached something fierce, past that there was nothing at all. The room was too cold, but his lap at least was warm because Rabies had his head and front paws drooped over it. He was a good boy, so Jason scratched behind his ears with his left hand.

“Um…” The nurse had the blood pressure stuff ready, and she wanted his left arm but seemed uneasy about the Growlithe in the room.

“He doesn’t bite.” Jason said it with a straight face. It wasn’t as honest as saying ‘He only bites when he’s playing too rough and we’re still working on that,’ but he didn’t want her to ask that he go back into his ball.

The nurse bought it, and for the next few minutes Jason stared at the ceiling as the endless examinations continued. It wasn’t how he wanted to spend the last hours before his parents showed up. As long as they weren’t here, he could almost pretend it wasn’t over. That was all he could think about. It should have been enough for him when they got the call from Hanna that Wyvern was saved, but it wasn’t. Maybe something was wrong with him.

As the nurse was putting away her equipment, the door opened. It was Jen, and she had the kind of encouraging smile on her face that made Jason think she was faking it. The sight was enough to make Rabies perk his head up and wag his tail. She shut the door behind her, then had a few quiet words with the nurse. All Jason heard was the nurse saying, “Five minutes.” Then she left, and he and Jen had the room to themselves.

Jen pulled a chair over to the bedside, and in response Rabies pushed down hard on Jason’s lap to get up and greet her. “Oof—” He saw a few stars. Was there anything that wasn’t going to hurt today?

“Hi, Rabies!” Jen was using a sing-song voice. Rabies stood on his hind legs and put his paws in Jen’s hands to balance. “Oh, are you glad to see Grandma?”

Jason’s face scrunched up. “…‘Grandma?’”

“Yeah. He’s Summer’s baby, and Summer’s my baby. So I’m Grandma.”

By those rules, did that make Jen his aunt-in-law? Jason decided not to do the math any further because it was too weird. In any case, Jen picked up Rabies and set him very gently back on Jason’s lap, where he stayed put and kept wagging.

“So. How’s our hero doing?”

Jason frowned. “What are you talking about? None of this would’ve happened if I wasn’t so dumb.”

Jen was still smiling. “Same here, and I’m really supposed to know better. I heard Hanna say it was all her fault a few times too. And Derek’s…” She paused and the smile faltered, but only for a moment. “Derek’s being pretty down on himself, too.”

Jason didn’t want to keep talking about this, and it seemed Jen could tell. “So. I never knew you were such a hot-shot at catching Pokémon. That’s really cool.”

It was really cool; past-tense. And according to Jen, anyway. “It never got my team any better. I just stuck with my first three. It… it never seemed fair to take time away from them to work with a fourth. I let the new ones go after a week if I didn’t use them, and that was all of them. I heard they don’t mind getting let go if you never bring them out.”

“Yeah, that’s right.” Jen leaned forward. “How many have you caught, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“…Pokédex says fifty-four. I evolved two and there’s also Rabies, so fifty-one.” It was so embarrassing. Fifty-one caught, and other than two it was all for nothing. All he’d gotten out of it was some fleeting fun; fun he never thought he’d have to miss.

But Jen’s jaw dropped all the same. “Jason. That’s incredible. I don’t think Hanna and I caught that many combined our whole journeys. You have to show that Pokédex to Bill later. He’d be beside himself.”

Why? Because he might have a shot at completing it? That was ridiculous. Even if he ever got his license back—which was a joke—he’d never be able to match that pace again. His eyes gravitated to his now-worthless arm.

“I know what you’re thinking.” Did she? “I wanna show you something. I don’t think you’ve seen it before.”

Jen took her shirt and pulled it up to the bottom of her ribs. On her side there was a deep-red patch of scarred, mangled skin. Jason was at a loss for words.

Jen’s smile came back. “Magmar. Fire Punch. It doesn’t hurt anymore.” She covered it up again. “Took me out of commission early into my second year. I was positive lying there in the hospital I was never going to be able to camp out on the trail again, but in the end it only cost me ten months. By the time I was fifteen, you’d never guess I lost most of a year. It always feels permanent at the time, but it usually isn’t.”

Jason didn’t buy it. The doctor had said something about taking a thing from his shoulder and moving it to his elbow. That couldn’t possibly mean he’d be able to throw again. But he didn’t have to argue that point because there was a bigger issue. “Who cares if I get the arm back if I’m not allowed to use it?”

“I hear you. Actually, that’s the other thing I wanted to talk to you about.” Jen leaned forward again. “Here’s the thing: your parents trust me and Derek a lot. And for all the doctors know, that Earthquake was from a wild Pokémon. Nobody knows that all six of us were in this big underground Rocket showdown. They just see three overconfident kids and three responsible adults. We can even tell the Lafayettes that Hanna and Bill got Wyvern out with hacker magic; nobody has to know how bad it got.”

Jason had an idea of what she was getting at, but she didn’t know what she was talking about. “You’re not gonna talk them into getting me licensed again. They’ll just say the arm means training was a bad idea in the first place.”

“Sure, if I asked them right now. But we can play the long game, and I’ve got a plan to ease them into it.”

Jason looked away, but he kept listening.

“You’re going to be out of the hospital well before you’re cleared for any strenuous activity. And yes, you’re going to be miserable, but your parents are going to see that and they will want to help. They won’t be ready to let you back out in the world unsupervised, but I bet you anything they’ll like the idea of you doing what makes you happy as long as it’s in a safe environment and someone’s got their eye on you all the time.”

He looked at her again. What was she talking about?

“So how would you like to come work at the gym when you’re well enough? We can ease you into things as your arm gets better, and at the same time we’ll work on wearing down your mom and dad. You can teach the little kids how to catch Pokémon like a pro, you can take on all comers at battling, whatever you want. I know it’s not journeying, but we really do have a lot of fun up there.”

Everything clicked. He couldn’t explain how his mind could change so thoroughly just like that, but he knew Jen had figured it out. It sounded like a dream come true. That was the path back to the real trail, he knew it, and it didn’t even sound like a bad way to spend a year or more. He tried to find holes in the logistics, but they weren’t there. You could use a Pokécenter without a license if you had an adult—he just couldn’t catch anything and keep it, or leave town unsupervised. For now, the gym was perfect.

So why did it make him sad to the point of tears?

He rubbed his eyes with his good arm. Soon the answer was obvious. “…It’s not the same. It… it won’t ever be the same without them.”

Even if Travis ever got his license back, Krissy didn’t have to wait. She could leave anytime. And there was no reason for her to come back, not when Travis hated her and she knew it. He didn’t care what Travis thought; it wasn’t half a real journey if anyone was missing. They needed someone who made them aim higher, someone who knew everything but still wanted to learn everything else and teach them, someone who wanted to be there no matter how much better she was. Jason could list any number of reasons, but they were all just ways to dance around what he really thought. He liked her, and he didn’t want her to leave.

He was bent over, and everything from his shoulder to his legs ached. Rabies whined a little. Jen leaned forward and rubbed his back. “I didn’t tell you one other thing about when I was out with the injury. I was worried for a while me and Hanna would lose touch, but the darnedest thing happened. She stayed on the trail plenty, but she never went too far from Ecruteak. And pretty much every weekend she stayed over at our house. And look at where we are now: we’re still friends, even though she lives all the way out here. Now, I can’t tell you for sure what your friends will be up to or who else they’ll meet, but there’s no reason—”

The door burst open. Travis and Krissy ran over and jostled the bed more than a little. Rabies jumped up and pushed too hard on Jason’s lap again as they talked over each other.

“Can I please I work at the gym, too?”

“I wanna work at the gym! Can you talk to my parents!”

Jason was dazed. It didn’t seem real. Travis leaned over and spoke to him more plainly and directly than he ever had. “We’ll make it work. We really will, honest.”

Krissy nodded vigorously. “Yeah, promise.”

Bark!

Jen tried to stifle her laughter. “Of course you can! The more the merrier! Just don’t expect much money!”

Finally a smile made its way onto Jason’s face, but he failed to stop crying.

“Whoa, wait,” said Travis. “You’re not supposed to cry when I don’t have a camera!”

Jason busted a gut laughing along with Travis. Even Krissy had a hard time holding it in. They were already on the long road back.

*********

Epilogue

August, 2018

There was nothing like tournament night in Krissy’s book, nor in Lucia’s. Her Meganium lived for the bright lights. Krissy herself was partial to having a packed house, and this month they had one and then some. The bleachers were full and spectators were sitting in the grass all the way up to the edge of the dirt arena. There was something to be said for a loud punctuation to every twist and turn of a battle, especially when the spectators caught on to a smart move.

Lucia stamped her feet and ruffled the flower around the base of her long neck. She was more than ready for a tough fight. Unfortunately, there were no fifteen-year-olds in the pool this time and other finalist was only Patrick. Unless he’d taught his Hitmontop a new trick for the first time in two years, it was a near certainty that Krissy would have her third title in five attempts. Just as the Hitmontop was flipping onto his head to start spinning, two voices from the crowd echoed her opinion:

Patrick sucks! Pa – trick – sucks!

“Hey!” yelled Jen from the sidelines. “You two quit it or you’re fired!”

There were some scattered cheers and laughs from the younger members of the audience, and the chants that followed were more positive in nature. As usual the sentiment of the chants was mostly divided by gender lines, but there were definitely some boys’ voices calling for a ‘Krissy,’ ‘Meganium,’ or ‘Lucia’ victory.

Jen blew her whistle, and the necessary formality commenced. Krissy decided to practice on putting more oomph in the commands she gave, along with some dramatic arm gestures to boot. As for Patrick, he seemed as flustered as ever, and more importantly he didn’t seem to notice that Lucia was using a tiny bit of her Sweet Scent attack every spare moment as was standard procedure. Soon enough, the long-distance Vine Whip attacks started to hit the normally evasive Hitmontop. Lucia was doing a great job of making them flashy without losing their impact, and she raised her melodious voice in a little taunt to let everyone know.

The crowd ate it up, and it was clearly getting under Patrick’s skin. He finally ordered Hitmontop to close the distance. Krissy knew his track record, and his strategy was so transparent that she decided to go for the perfect finish instead of settling for the sure win. She snapped her fingers twice to signal the next move to Lucia. The Meganium set her feet, and nobody could see the preparations she was making inside her body.

When the Hitmontop was halfway there, Krissy gave her order at the same time as Patrick’s.

“Close Combat!”

“Petal Dance!”

A wave of shock and anticipation rose from the stands. Both Pokémon were using high-octane moves that would leave them highly vulnerable if they fell short, and this was a one-Pokémon tournament. Hitmontop bounced off his point and into the air as Lucia reared up onto her hind legs. The cloud of bright pink and white flowers erupted from the base of her neck faster than anyone watching—save Krissy—would think was possible. The petals swarmed Hitmontop at full blast and visibly slowed him down even in midair. It was already over, and he’d lost enough momentum that Lucia was able to add a flourish of her own: she spiked him to the ground with one of her heavy feet. It made her own landing a little awkward, but Krissy was relieved to see that she didn’t twist anything.

The crowd exploded. It wasn’t nearly as loud as the official tournaments sounded on TV, but it might as well have been the same thing. Patrick waved his arms and walked out of the box, which led Jen to blow her whistle again. Krissy was so pleased with how they had put on a good show for the gym that she forgot to do the polite thing, which was act surprised. Fortunately, Lucia reminded her with the victory roar they’d practiced. Krissy raised two fists in the air in kind. It still felt a little fake and she was sure Jason and Travis were going to give her crap for it later, but at least she was working on it.

She walked out into the center of the arena. There was a handshake, a few obligatory words of sportsmanship, and then Patrick was out of there with Hitmontop in his ball as fast as he could walk. Lucia decided to soak in the moment a little more and lowered her head to nudge Krissy hard in the chest, as if to say, ‘Hey, we did it.’ Krissy hadn’t taught her to do that, but she didn’t mind it.

*********

Ten minutes later the stands were empty. It was late, after all, and most of their customers for these events had bedtimes. In the same vein, Krissy’s big Meganium and Jason’s little Growlithe were taking a nap on the grass. As staff, however, Krissy and her favorite knuckleheads still had to clean up. She was gathering trash while Jason and Travis were supposed to be taking down the booths from the afternoon’s festivities.

“Travis, quit f*cking around and give me a hand with this table.”

A lot had changed in the last year-plus, and among the changes were in Jason’s vocabulary and the pitch of his voice (depending on the day).

“Yeah, yeah, just a sec.” Travis was entertaining a few ten-year-old trainers who were still hanging around. Their eyes were on Wyvern, who was balancing on his tail and looking very focused. Travis held out a water bottle. “Okay, show ’em.”

Wyvern spread his fins, lowered his head, and willed the contents of the bottle to rise into midair and form into a ball, and then into a cube. The two girls gawked at it, and the boy in the group actually covered his mouth. Then the block of water shot forward like a weak bullet and splashed harmlessly on the ground. It was a perfectly impressive and delightfully worthless technique. Wyvern growled like a true showman.

“Wow! Cool!” A round of applause. Krissy stared for a moment at the younger trainers. They were so small. She didn’t remember feeling as small back then as they looked now. It really put her aspiration to defeat Team Rocket as fast as possible into perspective when she saw the gap between herself and them. And she still had that goal, but she could wait until she was actually ready. There was a long way to go yet.

“Come back tomorrow and I can show you guys how he does it,” said Travis.

“You bet!”

After some quick goodbyes, the ten-year-olds were off to the trail again. Travis gave Wyvern a well-deserved pat on the head, and returned him to his Pokéball. Wyvern still wasn’t a fan of hanging around on land for more than an hour or so. Since Travis had gotten his license back on his twelfth birthday, he made up for it by taking him and Leviathan on regular trips to Lake Rage. If Jason minded that he couldn’t come along—Mrs. O’Connor’s strict rule that he had to be in the same town as Jen at all times was still in effect—he didn’t make an issue of it.

Travis gestured where the young trainers had gone. “See? That’s how you do P.R.”

Jason rolled his eyes and drummed his fingers on the folding-table. “Yep. Now like I was saying about this f*ckin’ table…”

“Jason, don’t swear. You’re terrible at it.”

They all looked over, and Krissy was surprised to see Derek walking up along with Hanna. She waved at them. “Hey, guys! I didn’t see in you in the stands.”

Hanna waved back. “We got here a little late, so there weren’t any seats left. Congratulations, by the way!”

“Thanks!”

Jason and Travis hoisted up the table and carried it off to the shed. It still felt great to see Jason using both of his arms. He called at Derek over his shoulder, “Just you wait! My goal is to be a goddamn Swearing Master! Like no one ever was!”

Derek shook his head. Krissy noticed that there were surprisingly few rings under his eyes. He said to her, “When you guys are done, we’ll be in the clubhouse with Jen.”

A burly man walked over. This was Carlos, one of the adult employees, and he spoke with a thick accent that Krissy found charming. “They can join you now. Francine and I’ll take care of the rest.”

“You sure?” asked Krissy.

“Yes, ma’am.” He turned to Hanna and Derek. “They make the rest of us look bad. They’ve been at it since morning, and they’ll be at it all night if we don’t tell them to quit it.”

Hanna nodded. “I can believe that.” Then she said to Krissy, “Go on in and sit down. We’ll grab the boys.”

To tell the truth, getting off of her feet didn’t sound bad to Krissy. She handed the bag to Carlos. “I owe you one!”

Carlos shrugged as if to say, ‘Like I said, you really don’t, but whatever,’ and got to work.

As Krissy walked, she took another look at the tall lights and the bugs swarming around them. She never got tired of the way they lit up just enough of the edge of the dark forest. She also never got tired of how all around the clubhouse it still smelled like popcorn for a few hours after a tournament ended. Inside Jen was sitting at the table and going through the cashbox.

She smiled when she saw Krissy. “We really cleaned up this time. It’s gonna make a good dent in the loan. That reminds me, it’s your turn to file the taxes this year.”

Krissy was this close to voicing an earnest, desperate objection, but she caught herself. You had to be careful when to take someone seriously around here. “Nice try.”

Jen snapped her fingers. “So close.” Then she tossed Krissy a can of soda. “Little celebration tonight.”

Krissy sat down. “Oh?”

Before Jen could say anything, the other four came through the door and they carried a conversation with them. Jason pulled up a chair on one side of Krissy and Travis took the other. “Okay, you can settle this,” said Jason. “I think you trained Lucia to power up a Petal Dance really quickly, but Travis says you gave her a signal to start powering up early. Who’s right?”

“Do you have money riding on it?”

Jason and Travis both broke into a stream of, “What? No. Never. Who, us? No.”

Krissy thought so. She took a dignified sip from her drink. “I’m afraid spectator-gambling is prohibited at North Ecruteak Gym. I couldn’t say.”

They were united in their retort: “Booooooo.

She changed the subject. “How’s your job going, Derek?”

Derek took in a sharp breath at the question, but he seemed to be at relative ease when he answered. “It’s good. They’ve still got me behind a desk, but we’re, uh… we’re starting to get things running more smoothly. Getting some other cities on board, too, so that’s good.” Some subjects were still hard for him to talk about, according to Jen, but she’d asked that they all try to nudge him along. Krissy noticed Hanna give him a little smile of encouragement from across the table.

When everyone had their seat and their drink—three beers, three sodas—Jen stood up and knocked on the table. “Now that we’re all here, a couple of toasts. First to our local battler extraordinaire for her gym-leading third tournament victory.”

Cans were raised and elbows were nudged. “Hear, hear!” Krissy turned a little red, but not much.

“And next… Uh, give me a sec.” Jen cleared her throat and smiled wide. “It took me a long chat over the phone, but we got some mail from the O’Connor house today.”

Krissy’s heart skipped a beat. It couldn’t be, could it? She stared with mouth agape as Jen reached into her pocket. She pulled out a plastic card, showed it off to the room, and slid it across the table to Jason. He was speechless, but Krissy couldn’t contain herself. “Oh my god!”

“Tell me that’s what I think it is,” said Travis.

As the applause and congratulations poured out, everyone seemed to forget about the drinks part of the toast. Derek even gave the most convincing smile Krissy had ever seen from him.

“So, where to first?” asked Hanna.

Just like that, Jason laughed and ceased to be speechless. “Oh wow, I dunno. Somewhere we haven’t been yet. Wherever there’s tough Pokémon to catch!”

“Better have an ocean,” said Travis.

“You know,” said Hanna, “If you ask Bill, he could name you some Pokémon that’d break some new ground for us. We’re always on the lookout for more data on ones that nobody seems to have caught in the wild.”

Jason jumped to his feet. “Like Lugia!”

Krissy was in mid-sip, and some of it went up her nose.

“Uh,” said Hanna, “I was thinking more like ones we only see in captivity post-evolution. Like Machamp, or—”

Jason was ignoring her now. “We can look for clues around the Burned Tower first thing tomorrow!”

“Whirl Islands,” said Travis. “That’s where we’re gonna find him. Guarantee it.”

“Yeah, yeah, I heard he’s there too! And on the way I can catch an electric-type. That’ll make it a cinch to wear him down!”

Travis clapped his hands. “Double-weakness. He won’t know what hit him.”

“Actually,” said Krissy, “the prevailing theory is that its other type is psychic, not water.” Why was she lending this proposal any credence?

“That’s ridiculous,” said Travis. “It’s obviously water.”

While Jason started thinking aloud about his plan to catch the legendary bird, Krissy leaned over and whispered to Travis, “We’re not being serious, are we?”

Travis whispered back, “Half-and-half? If there is a Lugia and we think we’re actually getting close, we’ll start being more careful. Anyway, let’s just let him have this for now.”

That made sense to her. “Sounds good.”

“…and then we’ve got him! All we need to do is start saving for a supply of Ultra Balls.”

“I like it!” said Jen. “Oh, actually, Derek! You know your way around the Whirl Islands pretty well. Why don’t you give them a ride when you’ve got a good weekend?”

Krissy saw Hanna mouth the words, ‘Keep an eye on them.’ Was she honestly worried about them finding Lugia? No, of course not, she must have been talking about the whirlpools.

Derek held up a finger to slow things down for himself. “I’ll think about it.”

Krissy thought about it too. Maybe it was just because of Jason’s infectious excitement, but she had to admit that the legends probably weren’t based on nothing. At the very least, there must be some strong, unidentified Pokémon out there, and who was to say one of them wasn’t uncannily similar to Lugia? So now that between her and the boys they had three licenses, one fully recovered arm, and a shared, open disregard for wasting time on gym badges, why not go for it?

Who was going to stop them?

The End

[I want to extend my deepest, sincerest thanks to you for reading until it said 'the end.' There's a lot more I want to say about this story now that it's over, but that can wait. It's been a true pleasure to write, and a true privilege to receive so much encouragement from the readers. So again, thank you all so much!]
 
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Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
Ch 11
I like the part where you have Hanna reflected on the death of a grunt. Often we just think of grunts from a villian group as throwaway characters, and if a grunt, say, kill someone else, then it's tragic.

Derek's Tyranitar is sure a tank able to go through five Pokemon, even when being poisoned later. Did Jason broke his arm there? If so, man that gotta hurt. Russo letting Lucia know of somewhere she can go to seems like a part of him kinda cares for him, but I already expected for her to not take it.

Ch 12 + Epilogue
Glad that Travis got his Pokemon back, even if the result is bittersweet. Somewhat of a let down Jason's going to be out of commission for a bit due to his arm, but at least Jen has something for him to do while he recovers. And when he did get his license back, lol him wanting Lugia here. But yeah, I would consider throwing pokeballs a skill a trainer should have heh. Also Jason, swearing is not as cool as you think. Cute how Krissy is pretty reserved when it comes to battling, and after the tournament battle she tries to work to be a little more excited in her victories.

This has been a joy reading this from beginning to end. Congrats on finishing it!
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
It's over. And oh, what an ending that was. The massive battle was exceptional – like, you've got a very particular way of writing with this fic that I guess I'd describe as phlegmatic, more than anything else; it drives onwards, sentences unfolding with the same kind of controlled forward motion as the plot does, without the reader ever feeling like the action or emotion is pressing up against the confines of the language. And obviously, that can be a difficult kind of style to stick with through a battle, or indeed any action sequence, because it comes with the risk of sucking the energy from it – but that really wasn't the case here, at all. You made it work, and made it work really damn well at that.

Even if perhaps Tyranitar's personality didn't go much beyond boundless rage that would be directed at Derek but which, given training, is instead redirected at literally everything else with a pulse and a few things without, it was nice to see it finally enter the narrative properly – and end up coming close to overturning the thing that every sensible person in the entire fic has been saying about how obviously a bunch of weaker pokémon would beat one very strong one, especially when the strong one has so many weaknesses. Because Tyranitar held the line with a pretty even mix of rage and size-assisted leverage, and like obviously that was because they came at it one at a time, but still, I liked that you neither just enacted that bit of conventional wisdom everyone parroted nor entirely turned it on its head. It's the kind of nuanced, common-sense-tempered-with-the-messiness-of-reality approach that's been one of this fic's major strengths from the beginning.

Then there are the ways in which you so perfectly drew together everyone to highlight not just the basic similarities between the personalities that compose the adult group and the kid group but also the differences, how Hanna's sharp reason could, with a different childhood, have become Krissy's neurotic analysis, or Travis' self-recriminations could have developed into Derek's brutal self-destruction, had he not been so much better than Derek at finding his way to more or less the right thing anyway, without realising it. (There's also I guess the fact that Derek has had a lot longer to stew with his thoughts, so, uh, I guess Travis isn't entirely off the hook yet. But I get the sense that he's on a slightly different track to Derek, which is nice.)

And the epilogue! Lucia is finally growing a personality, which is lovely to see, especially as it comes in tandem with some real growth on Krissy's part, indicating a measure of healing is beginning for both, which frankly they more than deserve. Jason gets his card back, Travis saved Wyvern – this was never the sort of story where I had serious doubts that any of this would happen, but it was so beautifully and intricately plotted that I loved seeing how you took us to those conclusions. At the same time, you don't back away from the difficulties involved. The processes are slow, they're sometimes frustrating; nobody's problems are artificially solved for the sake of the ending. Things look good, yes; conditions are right for people to start getting better. But no concrete improvement yet. It's such a human ending. I love it. Thank you for writing this. It's been an adventure.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Then it occurred to him how he could best seize the initiative.

“Hyper Beam.”
Seize the initiative, indeed. Looks like I was right on the mark about him getting Dangerous, even though it didn't connect with its (assumed) intended target. What it did to the snorlax was pretty gnarly in its own right. I wonder what it would have done to Russo. Less a case of "would there be a mess" and more of "how big would the mess be", I'd imagine.

Derek was about to order an attack, but Tyranitar already had its own idea. It rushed the Scizor with lumbering steps and opened its jaws to use Crunch. The Scizor failed to jump out of the way. Wisps of shadow came from Tyranitar’s fangs as it seized its opponent’s head. Once again the Scizor’s steel skin offered only so much resistance. When the difference in size and strength was this great, conventional battling wisdom always took a backseat to physics.
Good ol' physics.

“Use Dark Pulse!”

Tyranitar lowered its head and allowed some shadow to seep out of the thin gaps in its armor. Immediately the Gengar flew as far away from its trainer as it could, and that happened to place it much closer to Derek than before. Tyranitar tracked it all the while, and before Derek could say anything it let loose a massive wave of all-encompassing blackness. The bulk of it hit the Gengar, but the tail end of it flew at Derek and overwhelmed him.

He tried to stay calm. He knew what a Dark Pulse did to a human. He knew that when one hit you it was vitally important to try to stay focused on the world around you and avoid thinking about anything else. He was especially not supposed to think about bullies from his childhood, especially not the ones standing right in front of him. The best part was that they were still kids while he had grown bigger. That made it easier to grab one of their necks. Derek pushed his thumbs into the little bastard’s windpipe. He squeezed and squeezed so he could be sure that this brainless sadist would never say a word again.

Derek slapped himself in the face. That was one hand off the bully. He slapped himself two more times, and finally the faceless children vanished and he was back in the Rocket gym.
Dang. Yeah that's certainly one hell of an effect there. Definitely wouldn't wanna get hit by the likes of that.

Makes me wonder what kind of horrible stuff is going through the gengar's mind as a result of that...

Russo began to speak. It might as well have been a whisper, and Derek only caught the tail end of it. “…but you’ve lost.”
The fact that that's the only part he (and therefore we) get to hear actually makes it more ominous. I like it.

As the shaking died down, Derek dared to look up at Tyranitar. The crack around its middle had been forced open even wider. He could see trickles of blood, sand, and shadow coming out of it.
The fact that it contains such things really drives home the fact that tyranitar = monster.

The cracks in the ground were halfway to Jason. The punctures on the Rhydon’s left leg moved slightly, Jason’s eyes followed them, and the ball left his hand.

The long thing ripped nearly in two.

Jason’s elbow was on fire, and not in the same way it usually was when he threw. This was different, and it hurt five, ten, a hundred times as bad. His eyes lost track of the ball as it spun towards its target. He was falling. The cracks passed all around him as his throwing arm landed on the dirt. The shockwaves entered his elbow, and the soft thing that was inside there snapped. It was in two pieces. His forearm hung loose, and everything below his bicep was dying from pain.

He screamed.
Oh geez skdfsdf. I could say I practically felt that one myself, but honestly? That kind of injury has GOT to feel worse than I could ever imagine.

Travis was sitting in the back seat of Bill’s car. They were on their way to the hospital to see Jason and the others. Hanna and Bill were talking about something, but he wasn’t listening. His attention was on the white ball that he cradled in his hands. There was a red cross on the front, and next to that Bill had written in sharpie, ‘Jun 15 5:00pm.’ That was when it was safe to open. Seven days away. The ball’s release switch was elevated, and underneath it there was a ring of foam to prevent it from activating by mistake.

There was no weight pressing down on Travis, but there was no great force lifting him up, either. It was disorienting. Wyvern was here, he was free, but he was sick. They’d told him the Rockets had put chemicals in the black Pokéball—something to put Pokémon in a constant rage and keep them from ever falling asleep. So Hanna and Bill wanted to give Wyvern the medicine the same way to be safe: confined to a Pokéball and slowly. They had let Travis watch when they transferred him from the Rocket ball to this one.

It was going to be a long week. But at the end of it he was going to let Wyvern in the water, rub his back, and tell him it was all just a bad dream.
That's gotta be rough. The wait's over... only to be replaced by another one. A week isn't much time at all, but yeah, it's sure gonna feel like it is.

“They said he needs surgery. I haven’t seen him, but Jen said he’s awake with local anesthesia.”

Travis didn’t see what it mattered where the anesthesia came from
Travis, that's adorable.

The room was too cold, but his lap at least was warm because Rabies had his head and front paws drooped over it. He was a good boy, so Jason scratched behind his ears with his left hand.
This also made me smile.

“Hi, Rabies!” Jen was using a sing-song voice. Rabies stood on his hind legs and put his paws in Jen’s hands to balance. “Oh, are you glad to see Grandma?”

Jason’s face scrunched up. “…‘Grandma?’”

“Yeah. He’s Summer’s baby, and Summer’s my baby. So I’m Grandma.”

By those rules, did that make Jen his aunt-in-law? Jason decided not to do the math any further because it was too weird.
HEH.

“You know,” said Hanna, “If you ask Bill, he could name you some Pokémon that’d break some new ground for us. We’re always on the lookout for more data on ones that nobody seems to have caught in the wild.”

Jason jumped to his feet. “Like Lugia!”

Krissy was in mid-sip, and some of it went up her nose.
At least she didn't experience what I experienced yesterday. Nose-soda sucks, but nose-horseradish sauce is at least twice as awful. :B


I'm a morbid sack of **** when it all comes down to it. Yet still, I'm honestly glad to see a happy ending to all this--I'd been sure that at the very least Marie was frelled six ways to Sunday, so seeing things turn out all right in the end was a nice surprise. Congrats on completing this story, and thanks for posting. :D
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Wyvern:

This extra provides some much-needed perspective on just what Wyvern means to Travis, especially as we head into the final confrontation to rescue him. It’s also quite different to see a trainer so preoccupied with his Pokémon’s condition that he can’t even battle straight. I really liked the detail that Wyvern was confused when Travis forfeited the battle, since he still had quite a bit of fight left in him. Actually in general, Wyvern was just plain adorable in this short. Considerably more optimistic than Travis, too!

And hnng, I gotta admit, that description of Travis jumping into the ocean water was intense. Scald or not, I felt that cold.

One last note: I bet you were real pleased you were able to have a full moon in this chapter. ;D

Chapter 9:

THE KIDS HAVE BEEN STOPPED, I REPEAT, THE KIDS HAVE BEEN STOPPED, BUT NOT BY WHO WE WANTED TO STOP THEM.

Man, where do I even start. The sheer air of tension that hung over this chapter like an oppressive cloud and never lifted was incredible. I have a major love-hate relationship with infiltration scenes where the heroes could be discovered at any moment (I blame watching Matilda so much as a kid.) Love them cause they have such a delightfully visceral feeling of suspense. Hate them because dammit they get to me. xD

I frickin loved that Krissy wasn’t able to get into her father’s computer. I knew she wouldn’t, of course—that’s just too big a cliche, especially considering you’re into network security. But the bit with the password getting locked was still amusing just the same. No, it was always going to end in a confrontation with Mariano himself, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

And man. Was that a confrontation or what. Krissy is so sharp. She knows what to expect, she can sense when the conversation takes those subtle turns that would ruin them. But even with all that going for her, her father is just too conniving. But at the same time, I really liked how it wasn’t all just flat evil-for-the-sake-of-evil from him. A random Seadra is of little consequence to him, so I actually believe he would’ve been perfectly willing to give it up so long as he was properly compensated. That moment when he gave Krissy that ultimatum was the perfect checkmate. An offer perfectly engineered to be impossible to resist.

And this line:
“A smart liar can take any disgusting thing and make it sound like logic. That’s why you have a conscience, so you know not to believe them.”
Hot damn, I love that line.

And then the Gengar. I gotta say, that was brilliant. We kept getting all these lines about not looking him in the eye. And while that could have just been for his commanding aura, it was so insistent that one couldn’t help but wonder if there was something… more to it. And there was. Holy crap. That is… hardcore and terrifying at the same time.

Chapter 10:

Alright. Time for live reactions.

“You don’t know the half of it! That little sh*t already made me lose two Ursaring and a Golbat! She even summoned some mystery *sshole with a Tyranitar, and everyone thinks I made that part up!”
Yessssss, you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for Krissy’s identity to get revealed to Derek. And this is such a brilliant way to do it too!

The vision dove underneath the earth and only stopped moving when she saw the outline of a hallway. That wasn’t it, but there was always some degree of error with phone GPS. ‘Check the walls on either side.’ Beyond one wall was dirt, and beyond the other was a broom closet. ‘Down again.’ This brought them to another hallway. In front of them was a door with two human shapes in front of it. They passed through the door and into a room with three smaller silhouettes in it. ‘There.’
Man, I never properly appreciated just how cool it is that Hanna and Marie learned how to teleport via GPS. Cause it’s insanely cool.

Marie opened her eyes a crack. Then she sent Hanna a psychic pulse. It was so weak that it didn’t even make it to Hanna’s eyes. ‘How many more can you do, girl? You’ve got to say how many. I can’t tell.’
Oh god…

‘…One.’
Oh god no, that is so evil, I hate you, and I love it, and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Then everything in Derek’s head shifted. What had seemed so heavy now felt terribly, dangerously, wonderfully light. They couldn’t fire him if he was dead. How had he forgotten over the years how much sense that made? It made everything so easy. There was nothing stopping him from going after the grand prize.

He was going to fight his way to Russo and give him a choice: hand over all of his encryption keys and other electronic credentials, or get dismembered by a Tyranitar. That meant Derek would either succeed and come out as a hero, possibly with enough results to save his employment, or he would fail and just die. Dead people didn’t have to apply for jobs. Nobody ever stabbed a corpse with millions of impossible questions about its experiences so far and watched it squirm in its own inadequacy.
Oh no… no, Derek, nooo… stop…

Ugh, I love how effectively you portray Derek’s mindset through this. The crushing, paralyzing fear, that somehow becomes a feeling of invincibility once he realizes that it’s (seemingly) a win-win, and how the only thing keeping him alive was not wanting to crush Jen’s spirit, and how dying a hero would let him get around that. But… damn.

Chapter 11:

I’m just going to take this moment to say that I have absolutely no idea how any of this is going to go down, or even if all of them are going to make it out. And that’s wonderful.

Krissy broke into tears. “They threw the cops in front of the Magnet Train. They forged suicide notes. He taught me how to fake their fingerprints… and…” She lost it.
Oh geez. This… this is somehow even darker than just the obvious truth than any turncoats get killed. Holy ****.

“If we’ve ever tried to tell you that you’re too small and weak to make a difference, that was garbage. You’re strong as hell and so are your Pokémon. That’s a stupid, dangerous thing for any kid to hear, but it’s true.”
Hnng, I know she’s just telling them what they need to hear right now, but dammit if this doesn’t perfectly fit the theme of this entire story and why am I tearing up at this gah.

“You stay behind Jen, and you stay in front of me. You fight when I say you can and no earlier. And the next time I say we’re leaving, it’s final. Got it?”
aaaaaaa there is no way this is going to go well for them. They should have just teleported out. It’s only going to go worse now that they’ve stayed. Things actually would have gone alright if the kids hadn’t been there. But now?

Then Russo squinted and just barely tilted his head. “Now that I think about it, you look familiar. I can’t help but shake the feeling that we’ve met, but I can’t put my finger on it either.”
Heh, recognizing his father, perhaps? In any case, this is fascinating, because stalling was absolutely not what I’d expected of him.

“Hyper Beam.”
Allow me this moment to indulge in a little violence (that probably isn’t going to go as planned anyway) and say: YEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS.

Russo threw a ball at his feet, and a Snorlax taller than a man standing up and wider than a man lying down appeared. Not a millisecond later, Tyranitar’s mouth erupted. The focused orange blast struck the Snorlax directly in the stomach. The giant Pokémon collapsed and was sent sliding on its back. Russo had to dive out of the way to avoid being crushed. When Tyranitar’s attack dissipated, there was a smoldering red mark on the Snorlax where several layers of skin and fat had been melted away. It groaned one time and didn’t get up.
Yeah, that’s a pretty damn good defense. But T-tar still managed to one shot it! Hot damn! But of course, there’s that pesky recharge time to deal with.

I think it was only at this moment that I realized—holy crap, we’re actually getting a real Pokémon battle from these two, aren’t we? Somehow I never expected we’d actually get a Pokémon battle. I don’t know why this feels so amazing. Trainer fics have Pokémon battles. And yet, seeing one show up in this context, so private and personal, no-holds-barred, is just… chilling.

Wisps of shadow came from Tyranitar’s fangs as it seized its opponent’s head. Once again the Scizor’s steel skin offered only so much resistance. When the difference in size and strength was this great, conventional battling wisdom always took a backseat to physics.
No worries, steel doesn’t resist dark anymore anyway. ;P

Two down, three to go, and Derek still wasn’t a killer yet.
This countdown, with that addendum after each one, is concerning…

He tried to stay calm. He knew what a Dark Pulse did to a human. He knew that when one hit you it was vitally important to try to stay focused on the world around you and avoid thinking about anything else. He was especially not supposed to think about bullies from his childhood, especially not the ones standing right in front of him. The best part was that they were still kids while he had grown bigger. That made it easier to grab one of their necks. Derek pushed his thumbs into the little bastard’s windpipe. He squeezed and squeezed so he could be sure that this brainless sadist would never say a word again.
Oh geez, that’s a chilling way to portray dark pulse.

“I just remembered. There’s a service elevator that goes straight from this floor to the bottom.”
I was admittedly having a hard time believing that there was onlyone elevator servicing this entire facility, so this doesn’t feel out of left field at all.

Now that she was done rationalizing, it hit her. It hit her in the gut and it stayed there. She put a hand to her mouth and tried not to make a sound. They could never know about this. She could never tell the kids that their being here had contributed in any way to a person’s death. She could never tell Derek that his Pokémon had been the most immediate cause, even if it was an accident. She could never tell Jen because it would tear her apart just as much, maybe more.
I… I really like how seriously this is taken here. Like, a lot of media just totally glosses over mowing down baddies. This was an accident, and it’s still treated with the gravity it deserves. I also love how Krissy is neither fooled nor fazed by the dead Rocket. She’s that focused.

Krissy kept staring, but said, “I think I just got an idea.”
Yesssss, this is what I love about this fic. Always something new to keep us on our toes. Let’s do this!

Fifteen feet in front of it, Russo’s Mr. Mime was also looking tired, but it had taken far too long to get him to that point. Worse yet, the twelve layers of alternating Reflects and Light Screens between him and Tyranitar were still up. They had gone up only two seconds after the Mr. Mime entered the field, and since then they had lost three layers and gained five. They covered the entire width and height of the room.
Oh man a stall-fest? That’s completely the last thing I’d have expected from Russo. But at the same time, it’s far more devious than all-out offense.

The residual fairy light was fading more quickly, and Derek caught something red, white, and round moving away from the beam. It rolled faster than anything of that shape was supposed to on its own volition, and then it jumped up at Tyranitar.
Aaaaaargh, of course! Explosion! Dammit, of all the typical cheap Rocket tricks.

There was a long crack extending from its side to nearly the small of its back. Derek shuddered to think of what its chest looked like. It coughed, and blood mixed with black and purple fell from its mouth. He had never seen the creature hang its head so low. But it was still standing.
Maaann, I already know it’s not over, but I just gotta give mad props to T-tar for taking down five executive Pokémon. Hot damn.

The Rhydon stepped forward. The horn above its nostrils began to spin faster and louder than any electric drill. ‘We’re dead.’ A small feeling in Derek’s head insisted that this was fine. This was what he wanted. This was what he had been counting on. They can’t fire you if you’re dead.
nooooo… Derek… this isn’t what you want…

Derek may not have known his Pokémon, but his Pokémon knew that sound. Tyranitar rolled from its side, somehow forced itself to its feet, and burst forward faster than Derek could have hoped for. It let out a horribly strained roar and caught Rhydon flat-footed. The collision was just as loud as the first.
D: D: D: as epic as this was, there is no way T-tar is taking down anything in that state. But… damn was that epic.

Then out of nowhere, the sprinklers in the ceiling came on. Water poured down in two jets that hit the Rhydon on the top of the head and didn’t let up. The drill came to a stop, and the Rhydon yelled upward in confusion.
??!!!!!!1 Did… did Krissy know that he’d be facing Rhydon at this point?!

Oh! No, they didn’t activate the sprinklers, it’s Travis! Hell yeah, way to teach your water-types such badass control over water!

Now, see, I was actually a bit surprised that the next sequence was from Jason’s POV. It seemed like an unusual decision. But then...

He took another deep breath. Then he adjusted his grip on the black Pokéball in his right hand.
No… no way.

Jason had to hurry. His eyes darted all over the Rhydon’s back, but then they settled on a set of small holes close to where its left leg met its backside. Those weren’t supposed to be there. That was his place to aim. He wound up sidearm and fixed his eyes on the target. If he kept looking right there, then he could hit the mark even if it was moving as he threw.
Oh my god. It’s seriously going to come down to Jason’s Critical Catch. Oh my god. I never was expecting that, that is glorious It wasn’t just a fun way to give him something unique in the earlier chapters, and to give Krissy an icebreaker with him. It’s come back in the most brilliantly plot-relevant way imaginable.

It’s not dumb luck.

And we finally get a mental run-down of how he does it! And all the fears and doubts and inadequacies he’s ever felt that pushed him into this conflict in the first place. And aaa, the fact that he thinks that she thinks he’s worthless, when it was so hard for her to think anyone would ever see her as a friend, and my heart. And he’s been hurting himself to do these crit catches too! And oh god, as someone who’s torn a ligament, that description was downright visceral, and completely accurate, and torn ligaments don’t heal.

Jen found Hanna where the battle had been. She was standing in front of the man who must be Russo, and standing behind him was Summer, who growled in her best impression of a Pokémon that might actually hurt a human. Also nearby was Derek’s huge, sick Tyranitar. It was lying on its side with its eyes closed, not unlike the five other Pokémon all around that looked maimed or dead. But the Rhydon was gone. There was only a black Pokéball with a red ‘R’ on the front, and it wasn’t shaking. There was nothing stopping them from leaving.
YES!!! OGOD YES JASON DID IT I WISH YOU COULD SEE THE LOOK ON MY FACE

The Rocket took a moment, but he emptied his pockets as requested. It only barely registered with Jen that Hanna was taking what Derek had infiltrated the mansion to acquire in the first place. She could hardly think about anything other than Jason’s screams.
I… legit actually forgot that’s why they were here, that’s how intense this chapter was.

As it turned out, there was no need for a bluff. “I wouldn’t worry,” said Russo. “I doubt I’ll have a job after today’s fiasco. And if I know my likely replacement, as long as you leave him alone he’ll be satisfied to send his men after me, instead.”
Now that is quite the chilling finisher from him. Well done.

As the gym dissolved around her, it occurred to Jen that soon Jason would also be thinking it was over, but in a different way. Going home still meant the end of the journey. Something told her that was going to hurt worse than the arm, and her heart broke.
Way to keep tying in the main themes of the fic back into this in all the most heartbreaking ways.

Chapter 12:

Maaan, way to just rip my heart out into a thousand pieces with that Hannah/Travis conversation, why don’t you.

She sat down at her workstation again. The sensor’s display still showed static inside the ball. As the program ran on, she kept thinking about the what-ifs despite herself. The worst part of it all was that letting the kids just walk away from the gym had all been for naught. The whole idea behind not telling their parents right away was that they didn’t want to put an end to the kids’ journey, but it was over anyway. Jason and Travis might not be allowed to leave Cherrygrove City again once their parents picked them up. They could be trapped there until adulthood, stewing in scars and regret and never moving on.
And yet again, the realistic, and seemingly unavoidable repercussions of all this rears its ugly head. I love how this fic never shies away from addressing that. It makes wverything feel more weighty and consequential, even when things work out.

“Look,” said Jen, “the doctor said he’d already worn that ligament down to nearly nothing. The Earthquake just made things messier after it snapped. He was going to need the surgery anyway if he kept throwing that way.”
Heh. Did your research on this, I see. Looking forward to the research overkill post ;P



*Squints suspiciously* Wait a minute…

*Googles ‘baseball pitcher arm injury.’*

I should have known. Of course it would all come back to baseball! I was a fool!

Jason didn’t buy it. The doctor had said something about taking a thing from his shoulder and moving it to his elbow. That couldn’t possibly mean he’d be able to throw again.
Ah, an autograft? Mine was an allograft. Never heard the end of the jokes about my knee being a zombie now. :p

“You’re going to be out of the hospital well before you’re cleared for any strenuous activity. And yes, you’re going to be miserable, but your parents are going to see that and they will want to help. They won’t be ready to let you back out in the world unsupervised, but I bet you anything they’ll like the idea of you doing what makes you happy as long as it’s in a safe environment and someone’s got their eye on you all the time.”
Ah! He’s gonna be a gym trainer! Of course! It fits perfectly! But then… aaaa, he doesn’t want to break up the group, and I’m crying again.

Jason rolled his eyes and drummed his fingers on the folding-table. “Yep. Now like I was saying about this f*ckin’ table…”

“Jason, don’t swear. You’re terrible at it.”
Lmao, it’s so forced, I love it.

In fact, I love everything about this scene. The betting over how Krissy pulled off that sweet finisher move (and her retort!), the debating about Lugia’s type (and of course it’s not actually known, just theorized—no one’s ever Pokéball scanned one!), everyone’s reaction to Jason getting his license back, all of it.

I gotta admit one thing though: I am really, really curious how Derek’s job situation went. Seems things are somewhat okay now! But I’d love to know what the aftermath was like.

Krissy saw Hanna mouth the words, ‘Keep an eye on them.’ Was she honestly worried about them finding Lugia? No, of course not, she must have been talking about the whirlpools.
Ehe. She might be! ;3

Who was going to stop them?
yeeeessssssssssssss <3

Now that if that wasn't epitome of "earn your happy ending," I don't know what is.

There aren’t enough words to describe how much I’ve enjoyed reading this fic. This has been one of the highlights of the year. A rare source of unbridled joy. This is one of the fics I’ll never forget.

Thank you.

~Chibi~;249;;448;
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Well, after all the plugging this got in the Fic Love channel and all of Cutlerine’s jokes in the review thread I finally got around to reading this. And I can say with satisfaction that I am glad I took the time to wait for this to finish so I could read the whole thing properly from start to finish. Now, I probably didn’t take the right attitude toward this story. There’s an immense grounding in realism that you definitely nail. You take one of the most ridiculous premises in the whole franchise (little kids fighting a yakuza organization, or just bad guys in general) and take a good, hard look at it. Heck, there are even a fair number of moments of “Why are we letting kids run around with giant destructive monsters?” To be fair, you do give some logical and emotional arguments in favor of the Pokémon world premise. And that helps to hammer in the realism. The tongue-and-cheek approach that the narration uses also helps with that.

But like I said, with all the jokes people made about this story, I read this with the lenses of “this is black comedy,” and, as a result, didn’t take any of it seriously. Not your fault. And I don’t think it lessened my enjoyment of things at all. I just wanted to say that so you understand my play-by-play thoughts and why they might seem really odd.

Moving on. The strength of your characters comes from how believable you make them feel. Everyone is age appropriate, with very real flaws to their characters that make sense for the ages they are and the current lifestyles they have. I do think it’s amazing that (whether intentional or not) Derek somehow ended up as both the “only sane man” and the one who pretty much lost his mind over the course of this story. I thought he would be the least believable character, but ended up feeling like the most grounded to me. I don’t think I could specifically tell you why. Maybe it’s because of how helpless he feels but how he soldiers on anyway because the alternative (uncertainty) scares him to death. That definitely resonates on a personal level.

At the same time (and I might be misreading things here), the adult trio felt like counterparts to each of the kids, in some way. I’d say Jen and Jason kinda match up (hotheads with a penchant for getting into trouble). As does Travis and Hanna (both of them have a fair tendency to be rather smart-alecky with their statements but, in fact, are rather anxious kids) and Derek and Krissy (not good with others, feeling a bit stuck, not sure how to deal with things they aren’t prepared for, can sometimes come across as detached). I think the flashbacks show it more in Jen’s and Hanna’s cases.

At the same time, you give a pretty realistic take on why the police are so inept against an organization like Team Rocket. It kind of mirrors the troubles some real-world gangs pose for various cities. Props in that regard. And Pokémon Training is given a much more grounded take compared to the games. It feels perfectly believable and fits in with the scenario you set up for the world.

As far as any criticisms, I think I point them out in my individual chapter thoughts. Mainly, I think the ordering of some of the side chapters could’ve been adjusted so that some of the big moments in the numbered chapters would have the emotional impact you were going for. Because as it was, I as the reader didn’t respond like I think you wanted your readers to some of the big moments. For example, Derek’s whole suicide by cop routine had me going, “Well, how’s this Russo battle gonna go down, then,” rather than feeling bad that things had gotten so awful for him. So, maybe placing The New Recruit chapter at the end (alongside Hubris Island) would’ve worked better? Especially since Tyranitar really shines in Ch 11 but is basically nonexistent in the story before then, so I had forgotten about Derek's interactions with Larvitar by this time. But again, that’s personal taste, and I’m sure everyone disagrees with me there.

I see why this came so highly recommended. Looks like you’ve enjoyed the ride and I know you have high hopes for this fic with some of the awards. All I’ll say is that it was a very fun read and satisfying to through in its entirety. My individual chapter thoughts are in spoilers. Sorry in advance for how scatterbrained they are.

[SPOIL]Ch 1:
-Okay, well that’s quite the opening few paragraphs you’ve got going there. It immediately paints Derek as grizzled and quite tired. But he seems like a guy married to his job, so to speak. And the sudden “oh crap” moment he has totally takes all the seriousness out of the scene for me and makes it oddly comedic.
-Jason and Travis’s nicknames for their ‘mons are absolutely ridiculous. Way to make us guys look bad, you two.
-The entire ice cream parlor scene is purposefully awkward. Like, good lord, Derek, could you come off sounding any more forced? The answer’s know, and the kids clearly all know it, but don’t wanna call the adult out. And it’s pretty dang funny.

Informing a parent of their trainer’s inexcusable decision-making was called ‘The Death Sentence’ in the police force. Legally speaking a parent needed no reason to have their child’s Pokémon license revoked, and a child journeying without a license was officially ‘missing’ and could be forcibly returned home. It was rare to see an officer who didn’t give warnings to the trainers before going to the parents. “I was hoping you could talk to them,” said Derek. “I think Jason’s more likely to listen to you.”
Y’know, it’s funny. I’d never considered “what happens when a trainer does something bad?” at all when I played through a Pokémon game. This makes a surprising amount of sense for this universe.

-I admit, Hanna finding Derek’s badge was a big surprise. I just figured that was a throwaway bit of exposition to explain why he needed Jason out of the way. But nope. Hanna’s made a secret-keeper of sorts in the very 1st chapter no less.

“Just one question,” he added, “What else did you see in the bag?”
Oh! Oh! I know this one! It’s Nebby, right? Did I do it? Did I make a joke? :D

Ch 2:
-You know, for a group of kids supposedly friends, they snark quite a bit at each other at the start here. I guess they’ve somehow already reached that point in their friendship, even though they’re not even teens yet? I don’t know, real world logic is messing with my brain.
-There’s such an odd juxtaposition with the scene with Phillip. Like, I know from crime shows that “my local precinct laughed it off,” is a common thing. But having Phillip turning to other kids instead of different cops is so ridiculous it just makes me laugh.
-Wow, the first glimpses of a battle and the kids fail spectacularly against an Alakazam. Our “heroes” ladies and gentlemen. :V I’m kidding, of course. It actually had narrative importance, since it was Jen trying to teach them a lesson. Somehow the more-enthusiastic female duo do a better job scaring the kids silly than Derek though. Just goes to show you how terrible he is with other people.

Dumb Luck
Jason shrugged. If Travis wanted to have the world’s worst Pokémon team that was his own business. He still felt obliged to point it out, though. “Y’know, you’ve already got Wyvern. You can’t win with just water-types.”

As Jason expected, Travis didn’t budge an inch. “Sure you can. Water-types kick butt, you’ll see.”
Damn, Jason’s internal monologue is savage. XD

-Also, Rabies is adorable (despite the name), but I expected no less b/c he’s a fwuffy Growlithe. :3
-I like how Travis and Jason’s initial response to Krissy is basically along the lines of, “Ugh, a girl.” Which is totally appropriate for 10 year-olds, but something we tend to forget about it these types of stories. Points for realism!
-The battle itself is pretty basic introductory trainer fare. Oddly enough Krissy’s Chikorita reminds me of Ash’s in the anime. Probably the fact that its facing a Growlithe right out of the gate.

Fire Safety
“You work too slow, young pupil. If that order is late, you will have brought shame to this house!”

“Dad, your shtick is tired and I’m trying to concentrate, so quit it!”
Bah ha ha ha, I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard Kurt used like that. It’s hilarious.

-I’m surprised. I wasn’t expecting this side-chapter to turn into something focus on the mechanics of catching a Pokémon and dealing with obedience (or lack thereof) in Pokémon. It’s an interesting take on apricons and Poké Balls, to be sure. And a cool way to do an original take on a very minor character from the actual canon (Maizie). To top it all off, Jen didn’t even end up doing a satisfying job helping Maizie. No happy endings to be had here, apparently.

Ch 3
-Oh, what’s this? At the very start we have Travis suddenly deciding Rocket-hunting isn’t a good idea. I guess this isn’t as cut-and-dry as I had it painted from the beginning. You do a good job using the narration to paint a justification between Travis thoughts and his actions. There’s a sense of desperation to his perspective on the whole battle that it doesn’t seem like Krissy and Jason end up dealing with. And having the Rocket Grunt snag(?) Wyvern from Travis is a veritable gut punch to me as the reader. Well, that’s what I think you were going for anyway. But given we’re not that far into things and given what we see of Travis’s character, he kind of had it coming and I’m finding I don’t really sympathize with him. Still, it’s a healthy dose of “reality ensues,” with some twinges of black comedy that keep it from being too depressing.

Ch 4
-Wow, the opening is totally silly considering what’s about to happen. Or, maybe Hanna’s just that kind of character. At least, it seems that way with her implied treatment of Bill and Derek.
-Man, you really go the distance in trying to scientifically explain the magitek that is Poké Balls. I suppose it’s a logical follow-up to the Fire Safety chapter. It caught me by surprise, I guess. I should’ve figured a story with Rockets would have Poké Balls factor into it, but the thought never crossed my mind.
-I like the way Marie and Hanna are able to intertwine their minds to accomplish work-related tasks. That’s a very different way of putting a psychic-type’s powers to use. And, for that matter, we don’t often get to see a lot of Alakazam’s vaunted IQ on display, but it’s shown off quite a bit with Marie. What with the Poké Ball “hacking” and Marie eavesdropping on people’s minds and logically concluding that she and Hanna are part of the problem with the kids going after Rockets.
-Maybe I’m reading b/w the lines here, but your Bill gives off this “Aww, shucks. Gee wiz,” kind of characterization to him. And there’s a bit of a nice guy mentality to him as well. If anything, I was reminded of his appearances in the early chapters of the Adventures manga and started reading his lines with the southern accent they gave him. XD

Hanna still wasn’t convinced of that. Was the risk really so high that it would have been better to pull the plug from the beginning? “If you’d done that you’d be kicking yourself for not giving them a chance. If we get their licenses taken away there’s no fixing that until they’re adults, and by then they’ve missed their only opportunity to be kids. We can still salvage things as they are now.”
This scene b/w Hanna and Derek as a whole is pretty powerful. It kind of pokes apart the idea of kids doing crazy things with Pokémon on their journeys and adults not wanting to put a stop to that fun. I picked this paragraph b/c it really hammers that message home.

-Yup, as soon as I heard the Rocket Execs mentioned, I figured the kids would decide to stage a “rescue mission.” They’re totally screwed!

The New Recruit
-Wow, that is some intense level of effort Derek’s going through. I couldn’t help but laugh when he points out the weaknesses in the Chief’s strategy, though. It’s almost comparable to having a well-rounded Pokémon team versus trying to solo a Pokémon game with your starter. Maybe that analogue is intentional?
-Wow, little Jen is so much like Travis and Jason it kind of hurts. Also, Derek hearing voices in his head. Normally a frightening thing, but here it’s played entirely for laughs (I think).
-I like the initial skirmish between Derek and Larvitar, even though I’m pretty sure Larvitar should’ve pretty much killed Derek or something. But I guess since Derek didn’t catch him in the wild, it’s classic Pokémon disobedience playing out.

Diff Ways to Win
When they were gone, Travis took on a contemplative tone and said, “In the great, pointless side-trip that is life, Patrick is the talking jock itch that reminds you to change your underpants.”
Hooooo-wheeeeee, better break out the Burn Heal cause that was one heck of a zinger, yesiree. (What an age-appropriate insult, actually. The nudist conversation was similarly silly.)

-Overall there’s some nods toward some of the weirder stuff in Pokémon. Namely, the fact that player characters walk through frigid areas (like Ice Path) without needing any sort of specialized outfit. And also, ice sliding puzzles. God, I hate those. The battle itself is fairly by the books, but I was really surprised with Jason’s very humble gesture of offering Krissy the Sneasel he caught. Like, it was really unexpected given he’s been portrayed as pretty dense up to this point.

Ch 5
How could they have worried so much about protecting the kids from their parents when so much more was at stake?
This line right here summarizes how ridiculous the whole moral quandary that’s plagued the adults through the story so far. And yet it’s basically something everyone takes for granted b/c they’re sending kids off with monsters that spit fire and lightning and lasers and stuff. Of course Jen’s point of view is also an interesting one and could actually be considered a pretty valid thing to consider in the games themselves.

-Oh my god, these kids are actually hitchhiking whilst casually talking about Rocket Execs. And then they’re picked up by a couple of ridiculous types but ridiculous types who are perfect for a hitchhiking gag. What is this story?

“They were probably crack dealers,” said Krissy. “Or heroin. One of the worse drugs anyway, I think.”
Okay, nevermind. THIS is totally crazy and ridiculous. I’m with Travis, they’re totally screwed!

-And then the ending scene with Travis starting to break down is a bit heart-wrenching. If you’d told me he was going to be the one that ended up going off the rails, I wouldn’t believe you. The early chapters made it seem like Jason would get put through the emotional ringer.

Ch 6
-Derek at the start here reminds me of one of those paranoid, “off the grid” types you sometimes see in thriller movies.

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

-So, instead of gangsters, we have extremely angry wild Pokémon to contend with this time? Hey, it’s a nice change of pace. I ain’t complaining. Complete with Mirror Move actually being used rather ferociously (let’s face it, in the games no one gives Mirror Move the time of day).
-Oh wow, Krissy just straight up ditches the guys given their incompetence and, of course, their massive handicaps with their revoked licenses. I didn’t realize that Travis would get to her so easily. Especially since they’re still a bunch of kids so it should be all, “We’re totes friends, guys.” The following scene with Derek and Hanna just raises anxiety a bit when Derek can’t find any database info on Krissy. It gives me this impression that maybe, just maybe, she’s not quite as good-natured as you’d have me believe. That’s probably incorrect, but I’m a paranoid person to think she’s dubious just from this chapter alone.
-Also Russo’s apparently a big threat, because it seems like this fic’s shtick is to up the ante a tiny bit with every subsequent numbered chapter.

Lucia
-Okay I don’t need to read any further than the title to get the feeling that we’re about to meet the real Krissy…

‘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.’
That is so very Team Rocket it may as well say, “All Pokémon exist for the glory of Team Rocket.”

-Okay, yeah, Chikorita, a character in her favorite story named Krissy. I CAN READ BETWEEN THE LINES, I SWEAR!
-On that note, the test battle against the Rattata read much differently from the earlier battles. More… analytical and mechanical. Like a computer simulation, almost. That even extends to Luc– err, Erin meeting up with these girls in Violet City. She’s practically coaching herself through the initial interactions. It’s kind of creepy when you consider she’s supposed to be 10.
-Okay, ouch… those girls were totally harsh to Lucerinissy. Well, that’s a pretty childish prank, but their reasoning seemed a bit more “out to hurt her.”
-So, yup, this is Krissy’s big reveal. But, again, with the way the last chapter ended and the name of this chapter, I had no trouble putting the pieces together so the ending scene didn’t end up being the big twist so much as, “Ah, so that’s how they ended up meeting.”

Dad’s Old Gym
-So I know you work in the tech industry. I can’t help but wonder if Hanna is in some ways a reference to your own job. And maybe Jen’s reaction is what some people do when you start talking about it. No? I’ll shut up now…
-HOLY WAIT WHAT okay I really wasn’t expecting these other gyms to basically be likened to alternative sports leagues (or maybe development/minor leagues). I just made that connection since you love your sports talk. I can’t believe I didn’t realize this earlier.

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

-Oh Rabies is actually Summer’s pup? D’awwwww, that’s adorable. :3

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

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

Jen shrugged and laughed. “I never said he wasn’t full of crap sometimes.”
Okay this made me smile.

-Oh, well I suppose a flashback about sports wouldn’t be complete w/o an equivalent to shaving points or whatever. Kind of sucks for Jen given how upbeat she was about the whole thing. Although, the drunk scene following it is, I suppose, a good commentary on nostalgia and things never quite being as good as we remembered them. Though Hanna’s there to give a bit of uplift, thankfully, and end things off on a more positive note. It was just overall so bizarre to read this after having talked with you in Discord. Like, I’m not sure I would have made the connection otherwise.

Ch 7
-Funny, it feels like the narration at the start has become more mature-sounding when describing Krissy. Almost as if it’s showing us, “Yup, the jig is up. You all know who she is and how she operates now.”
-Wow, the Grunt she jumps is the exact same one that captured Wyvern and led to this situation in the first place? What are the odds? Actually pretty high considering the way this story’s gone so far.I mean, what a tweeeest! I was surprised to see Jason crash the party, however. Figured this chapter would be dedicated primarily to Krissy.

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

Alessa started laughing her head off immediately. “Omigod, you’re kidding!”
Aaaaaaaaand there goes all the dramatic tension that this scene might’ve had. Stuff like this is probably why I’ve read this whole thing in a very tongue-and-cheek manner.

-Krissy continues to totally not trust anyone and put the onus on herself and it nearly got her head bash in. Good going there. At least, now that her characterization has shifted, it seems firmly rooted in her Rocket-affiliated nature and that doesn’t seem to be going away.

Ch 8
-While I’m tempted to wonder why absolutely no one seems to care a Rocket Grunt is walking about asking about a missing kid, I’m going to just look the other way. Because it’s so funny that Jen ran into a Grunt while doing the exact same thing. Apparently nothing can go right for anyone in this story. Further emphasized by the rain and then the adult trio running into a Rocket Grunt and Derek nearly blowing a gasket fust. I commend the realistic touch. Trying to power through on limited sleep can mess with your brain, especially emotions. And it’s showing through here. Because, well, Jen finally snaps and drags Derek’s “secret” out kicking and screaming.

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.”
Ah yes, the old “status quo is better than dealing with the unknown,” paradigm. I can totally sympathize with this and it definitely makes Derek seem like the most realistic, human member of the entire cast. But apparently the kick in the pants is good enough for Derek to start rallying the troops so to speak. I like how this scene sort of reflects a similar “plan” taking root with the kids in the previous chapter.

“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.”
I get the feeling someone (*cough*Travis*cough*) is gonna hesitate and it’s going to create a ton of trouble.

Hubris Island
-First off, hey, it’s cool we get to see things from the other side of The New Recruit. Second off, young(er) Jen is just as reckless and impulsive as Jason tends to be. It must run in the family or something! Second off, I’m extremely biased toward my Legendaries, so theming a one-off around Lugia (even if it’s not properly seen) will always win me over. Because I’m extraordinarily biased. The storm itself is fierce and have the newly-caught Mantine trying to surf through it is tense and reminds me of some of the scenes from the anime or manga where characters are dealing with storm-making Pokémon and trying to escape. I like that Mantine’s inexperience factors into things. Clearly, this is a story where Pokémon training takes serious time and dedication and isn’t something that happens really quickly, unlike the actual games.

Wyvern
-Opening battle is very by-the-book for a Gym Leader fight. The kicker comes in with Travis, who even in this flashback has all of the anxiety that plagued him starting with Ch 3 and had things go super south for everyone real quickly.
-Travis’s whole mentality is so, I don’t even want to say Gym Leader-like. If anything, it’s like some sort of super-hardcore specialty trainer. Maybe like a gym trainer in one of the games, or something? Still, this flashback’s clearly trying to paint the picture that Wyvern’s health and well-being mean more than the outcome of any battles. Consider it strange or call me in the minority here, but had you put this chapter earlier, it would’ve made the outcome of Ch 3 much more heart wrenching to me, as opposed to my actual reaction of, “Oh, well that certainly sucks, but you kind of brought it on yourself.” I guess this chapter’s trying to build up a desire to see Wyvern freed, but I think you’ve already done a good enough job with showing how desperate even Krissy is to make things right.

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.
Huh. So that’s Travis’s big desire? I… never would’ve guessed something like that. It’s so bizarre.

-I like your take on evolution and relating it to healthy growth and development of a Pokémon. Again, especially because the evolution has this emotional oomph to it, I feel like this would’ve been better before chapter 3. As it is, it’s still good and provides some stakes to make me root for Wyvern’s safe return.

Ch 9
-Whoa. Feels like we’ve made a jump into an espionage story or one of those heist movies I get a kick out of watching. Even the way Krissy directs Frostbite is much different than the usual battles thus far. Complete with an attempted “hacking” scene that goes hilariously wrong for Krissy. Actually, all of this goes hilariously wrong right off the bat. I firmly expected it, but not this quickly.

“You must be the other two that 301 mentioned. Just out of professional curiosity, who did you steal it from?”

“I didn’t,” said Travis. He was still looking more at the floor than at their opponent. “I got him from the ocean.”

“That only narrows it down. Did you steal it from its mother, or from its children? Judging by your age, I’d say its mother is more likely.”
Likewise, I wasn’t expecting Russo so dang soon. That’s definitely one way to introduce the guy, with some villainous philosophical waxing. And, in perfect step for a Rocket Exec, he tries to turn this whole issue into a business proposal for Krissy. And then we have chess analogies because of course we do. It’s almost like he’s emulating Giovan– oh wait, he’s totally doing that.

Her father’s head was then covered in a shadow that extended down to his chest. It rose out of him as a mass of spikes, and the red eyes went with it. Then it came into its own shape and flashed a sharp, manic grin. Gengar. Her father had invited a toxic ghost into his body. That was something they would put you away for. How was he still alive, much less standing?
On the one hand, hey look. Russo stopped the kids… sorta! Fic over… everyone go home. But seriously, that’s a creepy use for a Gengar. Reminds me of Agatha in the Yellow chapter of the manga.

Ch 10
-Derek’s “Oh crap!” moment when he realizes who Krissy is was absolutely priceless. Like in a, “How could this possibly get any worse?” kind of way. The humor quickly drains out of the situation when Derek has to bash Slate. Good grief this got dark quickly.
-I’m gonna chastise Team Rocket for not confiscating Travis’s phone. Really? You guys didn’t think that’d be a problem or anything? Here I had y’all pegged as being competent and scary. I think this is the first bit that’s kind of thrown off my willful suspension of disbelief. Props to them for surprising Jen and Hanna and putting Marie relatively out of commission. But, yeah, that part irked me for some reason.
-Oh-kay, talk about your dramatic tension. Derek’s totally gone past the despair event horizon and is ready for the Rocket equivalent of suicide by cop. Meanwhile he thinks the kids are safe but, surprise, they’re not because Jen and Hanna are too stubborn to let the Rockets get to him. This is all happening very quickly, so I must give props for not trying to drag out the big climax and turning it into a big ol’ adrenaline rush.

Ch 11
-Okay, kicking things off with some high-stakes emotional tension. Jeebus, that was an incredibly tense bit with what Russo does to cops. Although I have to say I’m surprised Krissy isn’t more shaken up by it (namely in earlier chapters). Any kid getting put through stuff like that would probably end up more than a bit messed up in the head.

“We only tell you you’re weak because being young and strong makes you feel invincible, and we’re terrified at the thought of something bad happening to you because you don’t know better. If you can promise me you know you’re not invincible, we can try this.”
Behold! In the Pokémon world, that stereotypical teenage feeling of invincibility has a legitimate origin: Pokémon training!

-And now, we get into the Pokémon battle with Russo. Starting off, hilarious that Derek doesn’t go for Russo’s villainous philosophizing and just has Tyranitar go into full Godzilla mode. And then the two just sick their Pokémon onto each other. Some might call it dark but I’m just going to say you’re taking a play from the manga’s playbook again. Especially with how visceral Tyranitar is toward Scizor. Forget type advantage because there’s clearly an experience gap (and also some modest physics) at work here.
-Gengar manages to be straight-up creepy again. Especially with that whole Dark Pulse tidbit and all the mind-screwing stuff it could do to Derek. Not to mention the Toxic it manages to land to turn an uphill battle into an unwinnable scenario. Adding onto that creepiness is the following scene showing the extent of the Hyper Beam damage, which totally manages to unnerve Jen and Hanna and now suddenly they find themselves feeling a bit childish.
-Back to the battle, Mr. Mime is suitable weird with its love of barrier spamming and you give Dazzling Gleam and fairy-type energy an extremely supernatural flavor. The way it screws up Derek’s sight and vision is just as bad as the Dark Pulse, if you ask me. Then a surprise Electrode using Explosion (a Rocket favorite), which leads straight into another “Oh crap!” moment with Rhydon’s appearance. And props to you for not framing the rest of the group’s appearance as a big heroic moment, but rather turning it instead into an “All is lost!” moment with Derek believing they’re all doomed.
-Very interesting how things tie together here a bit. We have Jason’s one unique quirk coming into play in a big way here. Can’t say I find his self-criticism all that impactful though. Yeah, the flashback chapters kind of brought those issues up, but Jason was relatively out of focus in the numbered chapters compared to Krissy and Travis. So the fact that just now we’re seeing him think this when, in reality, it had probably come up before but the audience never knew it, is a bit awkward. On the other hand, guy just tore some ligaments and that’s gotta hurt.
-So, the battle ends in a hollow, bitter victory for our heroes. It seemed like that’s the way things were heading. But I will admit that out of all the characters, I did not expect Jason to end up as the casualty, so-to speak. So props for catching me off guard with that one.

Ch 12
-Hmm, so Travis is questioning his initial actions. I probably would too with all the chaos that happened. But I don’t actually think he’d given up. Maybe I’m getting wires crossed. Did he try to convince everyone to teleport out or something and I missed that part?
-Derek finally breaks down though, now that the adrenaline rush has worn off. Again, he continues to somehow come across as the most human, realistic one of the bunch. Which is strange, given of all of them he started off the least realistic with his bizarre-o undercover routine that I couldn’t quite pin down.
-Okay, this is gonna sound odd, but the way you talk about catching Pokémon makes me think of a pitcher tossing strikeouts and I’m entirely sure that’s what you were going for. ^^;
-The ending tidbit with Jen trying to assure Jason that things would be okay and there’d be a way forward was very touching. And, I don’t exactly know how to phrase, but it’s cool to see that the kids’ friendship, which had sorta been built on really faulty grounds to begin with, is now cemented as something genuine. As far as character development goes, it’s on the subtle side. But I think it’s way more effective than some sort of super mega aesop. Especially considering they ARE kids, and thus still very fluid with regards to their personalities and behaviors.

Epilogue
-Aww, look. Lucia’s becoming a gym Pokémon and getting flashy like we’re in the anime. How adorable! And Krissy’s working on the bit of advice that Travis gave to her.

“Just you wait! My goal is to be a goddamn Swearing Master! Like no one ever was!”
Okay, wow, Jason. That line made me cringe so hard I wished I could punch a fictional character through the internet. Or is he emulating Derek and this is actually brilliant?

-Glad to see things work out for Derek. Then again, when you face down death like that, suddenly job interviews don’t look all that scary.
-Jason gets his license back and in some sort of “how far we’ve come” manner(?) it looks like the kids are going to go right back to the ridiculous. But judging my Krissy and Travis, it looks like they’re taking a far more cautious approach to travelling about this time. Also, it does tie in the Hubris Island flashback, which I wouldn’t have expected.[/SPOIL]
 

Psychic

Really and truly
It's been some months since I last popped in, but I just finished and wanted to say how much I enjoyed this!

You kept a tight cast of characters who were fun and interesting to watch. I enjoyed seeing the interpersonal relationships between them, and how those manifested. I especially liked seeing how each character reacted to negative situations and negative thoughts, like all six feeling responsible for the mess, or Hanna wanting to repress thoughts of the murdered grunt. (I guess the possibly-murdered Haunter doesn’t matter as much?)

I think you did a pretty good job with the kids trying to navigate the relationship between the three of them. People can struggle to express themselves at the best of times, and I think you had these kids do a decent job navigating these unspoken social rules pretty well, like the way boys tend to egg each other on.

I really liked the push towards showmanship at the end! That's another thing I don't think of in the Pokemon universe - how trainers would want to make matches more entertaining! I really liked seeing Krissy's and Lucia's deliberate attempts at adding little flairs, and Travis's actually practical attempt to help get word out about how cool the gym/its trainers are.

The subjects of abuse and suicide are pretty prevalent in this fic, and while I'm no expert, I wanted to say I think you did a pretty good job portraying them.

Can I talk about how much I liked those side chapters again? It seems at least a couple were stand-alone one-shots, and they worked really well at fleshing out the world and characters. I agree that some could be rearranged a bit, but I really enjoyed them. I actually just went and reread The New Recruit, Hubris Island, and Wyvern - along with Dad's Old Gym, they're all just great character pieces that add some really interesting background.

I really liked Jen's solution of Jason working at the gym - I initially figured she would get him a job working for Bill and collecting data on Pokemon, but I like that that was still implemented. Honestly, I was kind of hoping that the three would just stay at the gym forever, but it makes sense that they would want to continue on their journey. I also really enjoyed things kind of coming back around to pursuing Lugia at the end, that was a really cute touch. I was surprised we didn't find out what Krissy would do about her guardianship issue, though - I was hoping Jason or Travis's family might kind of adopt her or something.

In terms of critiques, I have to admit the Gengar possession sideplot felt kind of unnecessary. It didn't seem to serve a particular purpose aside from making it scarier to look into Russo's eyes, and poisoning Tyranitar in the final battle. To me, the fact that Russo's intimidation doesn't come purely from him lessens the impact of what was otherwise a pretty great villain. I imagine that many children believe their abusers only hurt them because of some external factor, but the true cruelty is learning that their abuser did all of that of their own volition. I think this fic's tone is aiming for realism for the most part, and I think keeping it free of that particular supernatural element might be more in keeping with that tone. If you were to keep it, maybe including some other reference to people being possessed earlier in the fic would help establish that this is a thing that happens. (Unless this is supposed to be like a dark parallel to Hanna and Marie's relationship?)

Derek's use of the Pavlovian trigger in chapter 11 also kind of felt like it came from nowhere. We know the Rockets apparently use it, but I wish it had been established sooner that Derek does so as well. Is this supposed to be a common training tool in Johto (such that a random kid might accidentally trigger a Rocket's Pokemon?) or is it just a coincidence that both Derek and the Rockets use it? I would have liked to see that show up at least one other time early in the fic to establish it before Russo, and later Derek, use it.

I was also hoping to see a scene at the end where we really see Travis caring for Wyvern beyond a pat on the head. A large part of the fic is dedicated to getting his friend back, and at the end he's worried about his relationship with his Seadra. The scene in chapter 12 was cute, and I like that it's embracing their non-battling side, but I was definitely hoping for either the scene where Travis first gets Wyvern back, or something else showing how much he loves and treasures his friend. The Wyvern chapter was really special in that we got a great glimpse into how deeply Travis cares for his Pokemon, and I really wanted to see more of that.

I unfortunately didn't pick out little nitpicks this time around, but special mention has to go out to this line:
“They said he needs surgery. I haven’t seen him, but Jen said he’s awake with local anesthesia.”

Travis didn’t see what it mattered where the anesthesia came from, but at least it sounded better than when they put Jason in the ambulance.
This legitimately had me laughing out loud at 1:30am for two full minutes. Thank you for this line. Please keep doing this in your writing.


I keep telling myself "don't forget they're eleven" while writing, and man you're right is it hard. I was hoping to keep them believably eleven, but that was always a stretch in my book so I'll definitely take "real." Really glad you like the stand-alones, and I hope you like this one coming up just as much. :)

I'm so glad you noticed how much of a kid Derek is. We'll have to wait and see how much each of them grow in that regard...

Hmm, that hadn't occurred to me, but now I see where you're coming from. I'll say here that he sees her as an investment. After all, the role of a manager/executive is to get the most out of their human resources. (I feel kind of slimy putting it that way, actually...) I might do something to address this issue.

This is amusing to me, as in my mind this is basically just the regular Pokemon world but with a few more explanations for some things you see in the games and anime. I mean, in the game Professor Elm calls your Johto starter "rare" and most trainers don't have one, and there must be a reason why the police is so ineffective at stopping Team Rocket, and in the anime there's at least one unofficial "gym" that I remember, and so on. Basically what I'm saying is I think most of the work has actually been done for me in this regard, and whatever I'm doing is just a few small steps removed from the official material. The marvelous thing about Pokemon is that the existing world is just full of neat things to explore in fiction!

I fixed a few of the things you pointed out, and I'll fix the others when I sit down and decide the best way to. Thanks a ton for picking this up and reviewing!
Months-belated reply! I wonder if saying the kids are all 12 when they start their journeys would help with this? I really don't spend time with kids in that age range much, so it's hard for me to judge, but maybe just moving their ages up a bit would help.

Hm, how much did Derek grow? He stopped being suicidal at the Rocket base after a certain point, and he got a desk job in the end. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be at the same organization, but still, good for him for actually going through the interview process. Now let's just see how he handles the next time a girl asks him out...

Russo seeing his daughter as an "investment" could work? He must have big plans for her, not just for her to be another grunt.

A lot of fic writers do their best to expand canon, I just really like the things you've done with it! I'm still admittedly a little surprised/confused that in your world, Pokeballs are kind of brainwashy, so I'm not sure how to feel about the genuine connections we see between humans and trainers.

I'm glad my last review helped! Thanks again for this fic, it was a real pleasure!

~Psychic
 
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icomeanon6

It's "I Come Anon"
Hey, so who's ready for a mountain of replies? If it's not you, no hard feelings, cause there's a lot to read here. In addition to my replies to the reviews, I've written an afterword for those who are interested in where the Kids came from years before I thought to write them into a chapter fic.

So, let's get to it!

Bay:

I like the part where you have Hanna reflected on the death of a grunt. Often we just think of grunts from a villian group as throwaway characters, and if a grunt, say, kill someone else, then it's tragic.
I can't take complete credit for humanizing the enemy, as ultimately what concerns Hanna is her own visceral reaction to it, and keeping the others from feeling the same thing. I haven't decided whether she ends up getting Marie to wipe the memory, so that will remain ambiguous.

Derek's Tyranitar is sure a tank able to go through five Pokemon, even when being poisoned later. Did Jason broke his arm there? If so, man that gotta hurt. Russo letting Lucia know of somewhere she can go to seems like a part of him kinda cares for him, but I already expected for her to not take it.
I'm wondering if I needed to clarify Russo's attitude towards his daughter more. He does care for her, but not in a way that anyone would call admirable. Basically he wants to live vicariously through her, so he raised her to be an unstoppable battler, which is what he would try to be himself if he weren't stuck being an exec and if he had her raw talent. It would be a stretch to say that he loves her, as in his mind she exists for him and not for herself, but he definitely wouldn't feel good if something bad happened to her.

Torn ligament, actually! More on this in my reply to Chibi.

Glad that Travis got his Pokemon back, even if the result is bittersweet. Somewhat of a let down Jason's going to be out of commission for a bit due to his arm, but at least Jen has something for him to do while he recovers. And when he did get his license back, lol him wanting Lugia here.
I was worried about the ending feeling artificially happy, hence everyone has to wait for the really happy parts. :[size]P[/size] I also thought it was important that the lasting harm Jason takes away be something that was going to get him anyway, even if he'd just been skipping rocks all the time instead of catching pokemon. Basically, you can't keep children away from danger unless you lock them up and throw away the key.

But yeah, I would consider throwing pokeballs a skill a trainer should have heh. Also Jason, swearing is not as cool as you think. Cute how Krissy is pretty reserved when it comes to battling, and after the tournament battle she tries to work to be a little more excited in her victories.
I think Jason will probably outgrow his poorly-considered-swearing phase. Puberty's doing a number on him compared to Krissy and Travis. :[size])[/size] And eventually I think it will come naturally to Krissy not to hide how much she enjoys battling.

This has been a joy reading this from beginning to end. Congrats on finishing it!
It's still weird to think it's actually finished. Even though I've been around this long, this is the first Pokemon chapter fic I've actually completed (unless you count that dumb, short parody from all those years ago, which I don't).

Thank you so much. Your reviews really mean a lot to me.

Cutlerine:

It's over. And oh, what an ending that was. The massive battle was exceptional – like, you've got a very particular way of writing with this fic that I guess I'd describe as phlegmatic, more than anything else; it drives onwards, sentences unfolding with the same kind of controlled forward motion as the plot does, without the reader ever feeling like the action or emotion is pressing up against the confines of the language. And obviously, that can be a difficult kind of style to stick with through a battle, or indeed any action sequence, because it comes with the risk of sucking the energy from it – but that really wasn't the case here, at all. You made it work, and made it work really damn well at that.
I hope you mean phlegmatic as in "steady and deliberate" as opposed to "emotionless and dull." I do wonder if my writing style isn't spontaneous enough, but it's reassuring if you don't think it kills the energy of the scenes. The Chapter 11 battle is probably the one thing in this fic I spent the most time tweaking and revising because I was worried that it would result in the story being all-buildup-no-payoff.

Even if perhaps Tyranitar's personality didn't go much beyond boundless rage that would be directed at Derek but which, given training, is instead redirected at literally everything else with a pulse and a few things without, it was nice to see it finally enter the narrative properly – and end up coming close to overturning the thing that every sensible person in the entire fic has been saying about how obviously a bunch of weaker pokémon would beat one very strong one, especially when the strong one has so many weaknesses. Because Tyranitar held the line with a pretty even mix of rage and size-assisted leverage, and like obviously that was because they came at it one at a time, but still, I liked that you neither just enacted that bit of conventional wisdom everyone parroted nor entirely turned it on its head. It's the kind of nuanced, common-sense-tempered-with-the-messiness-of-reality approach that's been one of this fic's major strengths from the beginning.
My idea with Tyranitar was that just as Derek has trouble connecting with people, he has trouble connecting with Pokemon. Admittedly, that makes it easy to give Tyranitar very little personality. In my mind, the story's so crowded already that I'll take any excuse I can get to keep a Pokemon simple. :P If I were to revise this story (which I probably won't; it'd be too much of a juggling act), getting to know the Pokemon a little better would be a priority, but I suspect that Tyranitar would change little. Instead I'd dig into how terrible Derek is at forming a constructive relationship with him and his past Pokemon.

I tried to have the whole one-at-a-time thing make sense from moment to moment, and I'm undecided on how successful I was on that front. A big part of it I think is that this really is what Russo lives for, and if he got to battle more often he probably would be a considerably different character. All that aside, I'm definitely pleased that the outcome seems consistent with what had been laid out before. I wanted it to be roughly equal measures the result of Tyranitar's exceptional physicality (thanks in no small part to Derek's unsentimental, tireless style of training) and of the insurmountable shortcoming of Derek having a one-Pokemon, high-weakness "team."

Then there are the ways in which you so perfectly drew together everyone to highlight not just the basic similarities between the personalities that compose the adult group and the kid group but also the differences, how Hanna's sharp reason could, with a different childhood, have become Krissy's neurotic analysis, or Travis' self-recriminations could have developed into Derek's brutal self-destruction, had he not been so much better than Derek at finding his way to more or less the right thing anyway, without realising it. (There's also I guess the fact that Derek has had a lot longer to stew with his thoughts, so, uh, I guess Travis isn't entirely off the hook yet. But I get the sense that he's on a slightly different track to Derek, which is nice.)
There's a fine line between having characters that complement each other and writing the same character over and over. I hope I'm on the right side of that line. :P Travis will end up okay. By the time of the epilogue he's almost completely forgiven himself (made easier by the fact that Wyvern thought there was nothing to forgive). Naturally he'll continue to struggle with being honest with his friends, but unlike Derek once Travis figures that out for good everything else will fall into place. Derek had a lot more to fix just to get where he was at the start of the story, and he has a long way to go yet.

And the epilogue! Lucia is finally growing a personality, which is lovely to see, especially as it comes in tandem with some real growth on Krissy's part, indicating a measure of healing is beginning for both, which frankly they more than deserve. Jason gets his card back, Travis saved Wyvern – this was never the sort of story where I had serious doubts that any of this would happen, but it was so beautifully and intricately plotted that I loved seeing how you took us to those conclusions. At the same time, you don't back away from the difficulties involved. The processes are slow, they're sometimes frustrating; nobody's problems are artificially solved for the sake of the ending. Things look good, yes; conditions are right for people to start getting better. But no concrete improvement yet. It's such a human ending. I love it. Thank you for writing this. It's been an adventure.
You can take some credit for Lucia taking on a little personality; if it weren't for your observations I doubt she would have gotten even that much. "Not artificial" is almost the highest praise I can ask for. Given what a mess of plot/character/theme threads there are jammed into this thing, I just wanted it to feel like life instead of artifice when all was said and done. For all you've said about plot, I still think of this story as largely slice-of-life, and artifice kills slice-of-life.

Thank you twice as much for reading and for providing so much valuable feedback. It's been my pleasure.

Sike:

Seize the initiative, indeed. Looks like I was right on the mark about him getting Dangerous, even though it didn't connect with its (assumed) intended target. What it did to the snorlax was pretty gnarly in its own right. I wonder what it would have done to Russo. Less a case of "would there be a mess" and more of "how big would the mess be", I'd imagine.
I think I may have given the wrong idea with that bit. Derek assumed that Russo would have no trouble sending out a Pokemon in time, and was trying to A) keep Russo from stalling any further, B) get a free hit on the first pokemon, and C) scare Russo into taking him seriously. If he had actually killed Russo, he probably wouldn't have been able to live with himself. See all the mentions of how Derek "wasn't a killer yet," including where he knocks Slate unconscious; he's terrified at the thought of killing someone. (And strategically speaking, it would have completely written off Wyvern's chances if he'd turned Russo into goop).

But yeah, definitely Dangerous. In his right mind he probably wouldn't have even rolled the dice. So not a murderer, but he gets preeeetty close to voluntary manslaughter. ._.

Dang. Yeah that's certainly one hell of an effect there. Definitely wouldn't wanna get hit by the likes of that.
It was serendipity that the scene turned out this way. I didn't think about using Dark Pulse until Cutlerine brought up the possibility, and then I read the description of the move on bulbapedia and knew I had to do something with it.

Makes me wonder what kind of horrible stuff is going through the gengar's mind as a result of that...
Huh, I didn't think too hard about what happened in Gengar's head. We might say that as that Psychic attack broke apart the Haunter's poison, a strong dark-type attack breaks apart a ghost's emotional essence.

The fact that that's the only part he (and therefore we) get to hear actually makes it more ominous. I like it.
Poor rock/dark-types. So misunderstood. :( (But yeah, Tyranitar's a monster. Derek's an almost-heartless trainer with an even-closer-to-heartless Pokemon.)

Oh geez skdfsdf. I could say I practically felt that one myself, but honestly? That kind of injury has GOT to feel worse than I could ever imagine.
Me several months ago: "This ending's too straightforward--someone needs to get hurt. Actually, is it healthy for Jason to throw side-arm that much? Hmm..."

That's gotta be rough. The wait's over... only to be replaced by another one. A week isn't much time at all, but yeah, it's sure gonna feel like it is.
I feel kind of mean for doing it that way, but ultimately I needed Travis to be in a very specific mood and mindset for his conversation with Krissy. And if everyone was too happy then Jen and Jason couldn't have their big scene. But yeah, it's only a week, he turned out fine.

Travis, that's adorable.
[...]
This also made me smile.
[...]
HEH.
Now that the mortal peril is done with, the jokes can return. :D

At least she didn't experience what I experienced yesterday. Nose-soda sucks, but nose-horseradish sauce is at least twice as awful. :B
D:

I'm a morbid sack of **** when it all comes down to it. Yet still, I'm honestly glad to see a happy ending to all this--I'd been sure that at the very least Marie was frelled six ways to Sunday, so seeing things turn out all right in the end was a nice surprise. Congrats on completing this story, and thanks for posting.
Lol, I didn't even mean to make it seem like Marie's life was in danger, but I'll take it! And if I can make someone happy about a happy ending, then I'm doing my job. Thanks for reading! I've really appreciated all your reactions--they've been both helpful and funny.

Chibi:

This extra provides some much-needed perspective on just what Wyvern means to Travis, especially as we head into the final confrontation to rescue him. It’s also quite different to see a trainer so preoccupied with his Pokémon’s condition that he can’t even battle straight. I really liked the detail that Wyvern was confused when Travis forfeited the battle, since he still had quite a bit of fight left in him. Actually in general, Wyvern was just plain adorable in this short. Considerably more optimistic than Travis, too!
Wyvern's such a trooper. :( Figuring out where to place this chapter was kind of a challenge (which I get into more in my reply to Ambyssin), but on the whole I'm pleased with what it does for the story.

And hnng, I gotta admit, that description of Travis jumping into the ocean water was intense. Scald or not, I felt that cold.
I was hoping the temperature of the water would make the difference between a sweet but uneventful chapter and one where that has some real tension as well.

One last note: I bet you were real pleased you were able to have a full moon in this chapter. ;D
Especially because Travis's 11th birthday was my 24th and most recent birthday. ;D

THE KIDS HAVE BEEN STOPPED, I REPEAT, THE KIDS HAVE BEEN STOPPED, BUT NOT BY WHO WE WANTED TO STOP THEM.
OH SH*T.

Man, where do I even start. The sheer air of tension that hung over this chapter like an oppressive cloud and never lifted was incredible. I have a major love-hate relationship with infiltration scenes where the heroes could be discovered at any moment (I blame watching Matilda so much as a kid.) Love them cause they have such a delightfully visceral feeling of suspense. Hate them because dammit they get to me. xD
This is a relief. I was worried it wouldn't work for reasons I can't articulate right now but whatever, I'm tired. Yay!

I frickin loved that Krissy wasn’t able to get into her father’s computer. I knew she wouldn’t, of course—that’s just too big a cliche, especially considering you’re into network security. But the bit with the password getting locked was still amusing just the same. No, it was always going to end in a confrontation with Mariano himself, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Even worse: Russo only uses that computer for solitaire and minesweeper; there aren't any work files on it. <-- that's not true. Unfortunately, Russo didn't think to give Krissy any network-infiltration training at her age. It's possible she would have picked up some stuff as a teenager.

And man. Was that a confrontation or what. Krissy is so sharp. She knows what to expect, she can sense when the conversation takes those subtle turns that would ruin them. But even with all that going for her, her father is just too conniving. But at the same time, I really liked how it wasn’t all just flat evil-for-the-sake-of-evil from him. A random Seadra is of little consequence to him, so I actually believe he would’ve been perfectly willing to give it up so long as he was properly compensated. That moment when he gave Krissy that ultimatum was the perfect checkmate. An offer perfectly engineered to be impossible to resist.
It can be tricky to write a confrontation (martial or verbal) where you convince the reader that one party is seriously adept but still outclassed.

And this line:
“A smart liar can take any disgusting thing and make it sound like logic. That’s why you have a conscience, so you know not to believe them.”
Hot damn, I love that line.
Glad you do, cause that's one of my favorites in the story. You never want something to sound like the author stating an opinion through the mouth of a character, but I think it's consistent enough with something Krissy would actually say that the point gets across without taking the reader out of the story.

And then the Gengar. I gotta say, that was brilliant. We kept getting all these lines about not looking him in the eye. And while that could have just been for his commanding aura, it was so insistent that one couldn’t help but wonder if there was something… more to it. And there was. Holy crap. That is… hardcore and terrifying at the same time.
I love it when I can give the idea that there's something else going on, but it's not a dead giveaway what exactly it is. And I'm not gonna lie, one of the challenges I have with writing Pokemon (and Digimon) fanfiction is that my personal aesthetic leans stronger toward physically normal humans with unnerving powers (which can steal the spotlight from the 'mons). I think I did an okay job here of not going overboard with that aesthetic by having the supernatural element tied directly to a Pokemon.

Alright. Time for live reactions.
Bring it!

Yessssss, you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for Krissy’s identity to get revealed to Derek. And this is such a brilliant way to do it too!
Actually, I can estimate an upper-bound for how long you were waiting! Chapter 6 went up on May 9, so no more than 4 months and 2 weeks. :V

For real though, it was a frustrating process to map out where everyone needed to be at what time and in what order and what they were doing to get the reveal (to Derek, not us) to make sense.

Oh god no, that is so evil, I hate you, and I love it, and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
>:D

That's about as good a reaction I can hope for from something I wrote to take the plot-breaking-convenience of teleporting out of the picture.

Oh no… no, Derek, nooo… stop…

Ugh, I love how effectively you portray Derek’s mindset through this. The crushing, paralyzing fear, that somehow becomes a feeling of invincibility once he realizes that it’s (seemingly) a win-win, and how the only thing keeping him alive was not wanting to crush Jen’s spirit, and how dying a hero would let him get around that. But… damn.
Part of the idea with Derek is that a lot of the things he does to overcome his phobias and avoid suicide are unsustainable in the long run. You don't want there to be this tissue-paper-thin wall between you and suicide, no matter how long it seems to work.

Oh geez. This… this is somehow even darker than just the obvious truth than any turncoats get killed. Holy ****.
I was wondering if that was too much, but I'm leaning toward 'no.' Nobody's complained about it, anyway.

Hnng, I know she’s just telling them what they need to hear right now, but dammit if this doesn’t perfectly fit the theme of this entire story and why am I tearing up at this gah.
You know what I said about your reaction to Krissy's line earlier? Same thing applies here but more so.

Fun fact: from this point on in the story, the title changes to Will Somebody Start These Kids?, but it doesn't get labelled.

aaaaaaa there is no way this is going to go well for them. They should have just teleported out. It’s only going to go worse now that they’ve stayed. Things actually would have gone alright if the kids hadn’t been there. But now?
The holy grail when you're writing something to feel as dangerous as possible is when you can bring everything back to safety in a way that the reader didn't see coming but they find completely convincing. So let's read on and see if I blew it on that or not!

Heh, recognizing his father, perhaps? In any case, this is fascinating, because stalling was absolutely not what I’d expected of him.
Half-remembering his last name, too. What's going on here (and which I would want to clarify in revision) is that Russo isn't actually stalling. At first he was savoring the moment because he gets so few chances to battle and since he's human he's always looking for someone who's on his own wavelength. And here specifically with the recognition he's honestly wondering if they've met before. Derek just sees it as stalling because the reporting on Russo doesn't match what's really inside the man's head. The "have we met before" is what incorrectly convinces Derek that it's stall-tactics because he hasn't considered the possibility that Russo isn't bullsh*tting him.

Allow me this moment to indulge in a little violence (that probably isn’t going to go as planned anyway) and say: YEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS.
I was hoping this would get people a little pumped for the fight out of the gate, yeah. See my reply to Sike on how Russo himself wasn't the intended target, cause I think I mislead people on that.

Yeah, that’s a pretty damn good defense. But T-tar still managed to one shot it! Hot damn! But of course, there’s that pesky recharge time to deal with.

I think it was only at this moment that I realized—holy crap, we’re actually getting a real Pokémon battle from these two, aren’t we? Somehow I never expected we’d actually get a Pokémon battle. I don’t know why this feels so amazing. Trainer fics have Pokémon battles. And yet, seeing one show up in this context, so private and personal, no-holds-barred, is just… chilling.
There really haven't been a lot of straight-up Pokemon battles so far. I think it feels surprising because most of the pivotal actions in the story haven't involved traditional Pokemon combat. But here at least Derek's trump card is a really strong Pokemon, and Russo is equipped to take him head-on and will also get some sick enjoyment out of it.

No worries, steel doesn’t resist dark anymore anyway. ;P
...I seriously forgot about that. >__<

This countdown, with that addendum after each one, is concerning…
I was looking for two kinds of misdirection there: an inaccurate countdown on one hand, and on the other the fact that at the end of Derek's portion of the chapter he thinks he's killed his friends rather than Russo or the enemy Pokemon.

Oh geez, that’s a chilling way to portray dark pulse.
I always pictured Dark Pulse as this generic dark-colored energy wave until I read the description on bulbapedia. See also my reply to Sike on Dark Pulse.

I was admittedly having a hard time believing that there was onlyone elevator servicing this entire facility, so this doesn’t feel out of left field at all.
elevators are expensive, okay?? jk. There's actually also a third elevator for Russo's personal use. "How many elevators should there be?" is truly one of the most nagging of base-design questions.

I… I really like how seriously this is taken here. Like, a lot of media just totally glosses over mowing down baddies. This was an accident, and it’s still treated with the gravity it deserves. I also love how Krissy is neither fooled nor fazed by the dead Rocket. She’s that focused.
The other thing is that a big part of the way Derek lives with how violent he can get for his job--especially using Tyranitar--is the fact that he doesn't think he's killed anyone yet.

Yesssss, this is what I love about this fic. Always something new to keep us on our toes. Let’s do this!
And it's setting up the big one, too. Stay on those toes!

Oh man a stall-fest? That’s completely the last thing I’d have expected from Russo. But at the same time, it’s far more devious than all-out offense.
More devious, and more effective too. All-out offense is Russo's favorite when it comes to battles, but in this case he needs to be sure that Rhydon won't lose. The silver-lining in his mind is that it will be satisfying to watch Rhydon completely overwhelm and murder a Tyranitar even if it's been critically weakened.

??!!!!!!1 Did… did Krissy know that he’d be facing Rhydon at this point?!
Hmm. It hadn't occurred to me that it would look like that. Whoops.

Oh! No, they didn’t activate the sprinklers, it’s Travis! Hell yeah, way to teach your water-types such badass control over water!
Whew, it doesn't sound stupid for long.

Now, see, I was actually a bit surprised that the next sequence was from Jason’s POV. It seemed like an unusual decision. But then...
He took another deep breath. Then he adjusted his grip on the black Pokéball in his right hand.
No… no way.
I can't tell you how glad I am that someone reacted this way to that part.

Oh my god. It’s seriously going to come down to Jason’s Critical Catch. Oh my god. I never was expecting that, that is glorious It wasn’t just a fun way to give him something unique in the earlier chapters, and to give Krissy an icebreaker with him. It’s come back in the most brilliantly plot-relevant way imaginable.

It’s not dumb luck.
This is definitely supposed to be one of those "See? See? I knew what I was doing" scenes. I kid, but this is what I was talking about above with stuff that nobody expects but still makes the most sense. I also thought it was important that everyone's talents be necessary but insufficient to get them to this point, and that it would be the unlikeliest talent that actually pushes them over the finish line.

Nice chapter-title drop, btw. :)

And we finally get a mental run-down of how he does it! And all the fears and doubts and inadequacies he’s ever felt that pushed him into this conflict in the first place. And aaa, the fact that he thinks that she thinks he’s worthless, when it was so hard for her to think anyone would ever see her as a friend, and my heart. And he’s been hurting himself to do these crit catches too! And oh god, as someone who’s torn a ligament, that description was downright visceral, and completely accurate, and torn ligaments don’t heal.
Sorry about your heart. You have to wonder how differently everything would have gone if Jason weren't so dense. I think of Jason's inability to be happy with what's actually special about himself as a very specifically young-male way of feeling inadequate. He's been tricked either by himself or the world to see traditional battling as the only measure of himself as a trainer, and the ways he excels feel cheap by comparison.

Yikes, I'm relieved the description was accurate. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't do nearly enough research.

YES!!! OGOD YES JASON DID IT I WISH YOU COULD SEE THE LOOK ON MY FACE
When you put it that way I wish I could too. xD

I… legit actually forgot that’s why they were here, that’s how intense this chapter was.
Glad you forgot, as that was intentional. :D

I'm still waiting for some huge nerd to read this and say, "Well actually they should have stopped at a computer on the way to the fight, hacked it and stolen the key first, and then gone in and teleported Derek away without having to defeat Rhydon at all," and then I'd be like, "You have no idea how human beings work, do you?" I'm glad none of the responders so far have been those kinds of readers, and that they understand that the characters' mistakes like Jen forgetting about the key aren't logical shortcomings in the story.

Way to keep tying in the main themes of the fic back into this in all the most heartbreaking ways.
Yeah, surprise, everything still sucks! :D

Maaan, way to just rip my heart out into a thousand pieces with that Hannah/Travis conversation, why don’t you.
[...]
And yet again, the realistic, and seemingly unavoidable repercussions of all this rears its ugly head. I love how this fic never shies away from addressing that. It makes wverything feel more weighty and consequential, even when things work out.
Don't worry, we're almost done with the heart-breaking stuff.

I like to think that the characters trying to save each other from unhappiness is as important as them trying to save each other from mortal danger.

Heh. Did your research on this, I see. Looking forward to the research overkill post ;P



*Squints suspiciously* Wait a minute…

*Googles ‘baseball pitcher arm injury.’*

I should have known. Of course it would all come back to baseball! I was a fool!
"You were expecting this story to be about Pokemon, but it was me, baseball!!"

Ah, an autograft? Mine was an allograft. Never heard the end of the jokes about my knee being a zombie now. :p
Autograft (to my limited knowledge) is the most common route for Tommy John surgery, yeah.

Ah! He’s gonna be a gym trainer! Of course! It fits perfectly! But then… aaaa, he doesn’t want to break up the group, and I’m crying again.
;_; i think that was the last sad part, just hold on a few sentences

Lmao, it’s so forced, I love it.
Will Jason outgrow his awkward-forced-swearing phase by the time he's an adult? We may never know.

In fact, I love everything about this scene. The betting over how Krissy pulled off that sweet finisher move (and her retort!), the debating about Lugia’s type (and of course it’s not actually known, just theorized—no one’s ever Pokéball scanned one!), everyone’s reaction to Jason getting his license back, all of it.
A bit of inside joke with Lugia's type is that I'm sure a lot of other kids IRL were surprised to research further and learn that Lugia isn't a partial water-type.

I gotta admit one thing though: I am really, really curious how Derek’s job situation went. Seems things are somewhat okay now! But I’d love to know what the aftermath was like.
I ended up deciding that the story was too crowded to get into the details, so I just tried to convey the main points. The key thing is the word "we," meaning he's on a team now and not isolated from the rest of the police. He's doing administrative and strategic stuff away from the trenches (which will ultimately be better for his mental health), and specifically he's working on better communication and collaboration between the different cities' police departments. He's taking personal and professional lessons-learned and doing something with them instead of sitting on them and despairing like before.

Here's a detail I didn't share but I will now because why not: while he wasn't fired, they did put him on paid leave for a few months before they decided what to do with him.

Krissy saw Hanna mouth the words, ‘Keep an eye on them.’ Was she honestly worried about them finding Lugia? No, of course not, she must have been talking about the whirlpools.
Ehe. She might be! ;3
;D

Who was going to stop them?
yeeeessssssssssssss <3
I couldn't help it. I had to do something with the title because it was such a big part of drawing attention to the fic, even though the title itself makes me cringe so hard.

Now that if that wasn't epitome of "earn your happy ending," I don't know what is.
That's very relieving and gratifying to hear. Thanks.

There aren’t enough words to describe how much I’ve enjoyed reading this fic. This has been one of the highlights of the year. A rare source of unbridled joy. This is one of the fics I’ll never forget.

Thank you.
I don't want to gloss over this: you made my year by saying that. I never thought that anyone would care about this story and these characters as much as I do, but it sure looks like you do, and that makes all the headache that went into writing this so much more than worth it.

You're welcome, but I really should be doing the thanking.
 
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