Lurking in the Shadows

Chapter 6: University Infiltration

The first thing Lisa saw was a red-roofed building that was the Pokémon Center. Next to it was another red-roofed building with a sign in front that read, “Red Roof Inn.” It was the first of a series of hotels and restaurants. To her right Lisa could see a clock tower. She remembered it as the symbol for Fourtix University and figured the campus must be over there. On the north end of the town’s main drag was a strange building with a gray stone façade.

“Well, better get my Pokémon rested up.” Lisa headed into the Pokémon Center. She handed her Pokémon to the attendant, who asked, “I assume you’re a traveling trainer. We offer rooms for trainers to rest in and they’re free. Would you like to check them out?”

“Sure, sounds okay.”

She led Lisa upstairs and showed her a room. The girl’s jaw dropped upon seeing the living quarters. The room was tiny, hardly bigger than the holding cell at the Thrash camp. It had bare white walls and a tile floor. The place had a bunk bed on one side and a long desk on the other, with an ancient TV, rusted lamp, and antiquated rotary phone on it. Hardly enough room, and the place was somehow dull and dreary. “No thanks, I’m fine,” she told the receptionist after seeing the inadequate room.

“Well, that’s fine. I think your Pokémon are ready. Have a safe trip.”

“Thank you.” Lisa took her Pokémon back and headed outside. “Gah! As if I would ever stay in such a deplorable room! It’s worth shelling out $65 or $75 a night if that’s what ‘free’ rooms look like!” She walked right past the Red Roof Inn, as she noticed it was an older motel with outside room entrances. It didn’t take long, though, to find a hotel that would suffice. She approached a large, four story building with a white stucco façade. On the hotel’s canopy was a blue sign that read “Comfort Inn” and featured an updated version of the chain’s ‘sunset’ logo. In front was a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

The lobby was a bit on the small side, but clean and nicely appointed. Across from the walnut-trimmed desk were a dark burgundy couch and a few upholstered chairs. The tiled floor was of a light cream color with black accents. Overhead hung a faux brass chandelier. Off to the side was a buffet table and about a dozen tables set up for breakfast.

Lisa checked in to the hotel and looked for her room, 157. Upon sliding her card-key into the lock mechanism, she entered the room and dropped off most of her belongings in her spacious king room. The TV and coffee maker rested on a credenza made of dark walnut veneer. The floral comforter matched well with the navy blue carpeting. Paintings of two country landscapes were placed on the wall above either side of the bed. The room even had a hot tub, though Lisa wasn’t the type to use them. Of much more use to her was the mini-refrigerator.

She called her Pokémon from their Pokéballs and laid out some food for them to eat. All of them started eating except for Nidorino, who just stood there, apparently not happy with being captured. After trying to coax it to eat for several minutes, she finally gave up on that. She took off her shoes, then her pantyhose, and spread out on the bed, TV blaring.

“In U.S. college football news, the twelfth-ranked Tigers completely dominated the thirteenth-ranked Yellow Jackets, 31-7 last Saturday…”

“About time they started to step up their game,” Lisa thought aloud.

While the girl watched the news, her Pokémon began to strike up some conversation.

“Look, why must you be so uncooperative,” Meowth asked, glaring at Nidorino.

The horned Poison-type matched the kitten’s hard stare. “That human disturbs my young, then snatches me from them, and I’m supposed to just brush it off and say, ‘Oh, well?’ If it wasn’t for my wife, who fortunately was out gathering food at the time, those kids would be out on their own! How’s she gonna tell those kids that daddy’s gone and won’t be back?”

Lisa’s other Poison-type weighed in on the debate. “You knew when you appeared in front of a human, you ran the risk of being captured. Every parent warns their young about that. Besides, being with a trainer isn’t all bad. After the situation with my previous trainer left me wandering out in the wild, I was looking for another trainer to take me under their wing… um, no offense intended,” she said as she faced Pidgeotto.

The bird flapped her wings. “None taken. In fact, I wanted her to capture me. Why do you think I went after her hat? Though it is a fine-lookin’ hat. Anyway, I’ve grown tired of life in the wild, having to battle poisonous Weedle for every meal. Though I really wish I was in a situation where I didn’t have to battle at all, at least this is a step in the right direction.”

Nidorino scoffed. “You think it’s all fun and games now, but I’ve heard stories from other Pokémon. She seems nice now, but wait until you can’t defeat another human’s Pokémon. Then she’ll go ballistic, screaming at you, blaming you, and sometimes even physically assaulting you. That’s when you realize that life with a trainer ain’t so grand.”

Koffing replied, “But you don’t know that yet. Yes, I’ve had experience with a trainer who was like that, but so far, I haven’t seen this one react like that. Give her a chance before you pass judgment.”

Meowth added, “I’ve known that girl since long before she began traveling. While she isn’t a perfect saint – I know personally she has issues with certain species of Pokémon – she’s always treated me kindly, as well as most of the Pokémon she’s met. But a word of advice – keep her and me away from dog-like Pokémon. Neither of us can stand them.”

“Fine,” said Nidorino. “Cling onto your blind faith in that human. But don’t come crying to me when she shatters that faith.”

********
After resting up, Lisa headed out and went into a nearby Target store, passing by several restaurants and shopping plazas in the process. Once in Target, she bought a few items: extra pairs of pantyhose, some healing items, and a pair of black ballet slippers, identical to her white ones except for color. Lisa was stocking up and getting prepared for whatever life would throw at her next.

On her way back from shopping, she decided to stop and get dinner at Cracker Barrel, as it was nearing nightfall. As she anticipated, there was a long line to get into the restaurant, and Lisa spent a good half hour browsing the store before she was called to her table. After enjoying a chicken dinner, Lisa headed back to the hotel. On the way back she saw a Thrash member talking on his cell phone. She quickly hid herself and listened in on his phone conversation.

“Okay, in two hours we’re to invade Baxter Hall. Got it.”

After the grunt walked out of sight, Lisa quickly entered the hotel lobby and up to her room. She quickly changed clothes, emerging in her ‘little black dress,’ a pair of black tights, and the black slippers she had just purchased. “The little black dress. Perfect for dates and undercover espionage.” She decided to wait for two hours before making her way to the university grounds. Lisa started to get all nervous and fidgety as the time approached. She wasn’t be sure what to expect in there. She went online and looked up a map of the university’s layout. It would still be difficult to find the building in the dark, though. Lisa looked outside. The sun had completely set now, and it was pitch-black outside except for the streetlamps in the Comfort Inn parking lot. She turned to the in-room alarm clock. “8:53”, it displayed in red digital numerals. “Still nineteen minutes to go!

When it was time, Lisa gathered up her Pokémon and healing items, leaving her clothes and other personal items in the room. She left through a back door of the hotel and proceeded toward the university. As Lisa started searching for Baxter Hall, she suddenly realized she had forgotten the layout of the campus. “Dang! Looks like I’ll have to hunt for it the hard way.

Lisa passed by a fountain, the clock tower, two highrise buildings that appeared to be residence halls, and the newly built campus student center. Not finding Baxter Hall there, she backtracked toward where the academic buildings were. After hunting for a few minutes she found a large brick building marked “Baxter Hall.” She entered through the front door, which had been obviously picked open. As soon as she was inside she heard loud heavy metal music. “Geez, these guys aren’t very quiet…

Lisa made her way down the dimly lit corridors and toward where the blaring music was coming from. She found a room with the light on and kicked open the door. She found four Thrash agents, two male and two female. The females wore the same red outfit as the guys, except their pants flared a bit at the bottom. The other person in the room was a woman in her late twenties with black spiked hair. She wore a black leather jacket, red plaid skirt, big black leather boots, and fishnet stockings. This woman then spun around, revealing a face with lots eye shadow and thick black lipstick. She had a look of complete shock on her face.

The woman spoke up. “Huh?! Who the hell are you? Oh, wait, I see now. You’re that annoying little brainiac that’s been causing us problems. I am Betty of the Thrash Brotherhood! You may have walked all over that idiot Fred, but I don’t have kibble for brains like the ‘Dog Master’! You must think you’re hot stuff by taking us on! That ends here! Get her!”

Lisa dashed to the right side of the room as all four thugs tried to grab her. As Betty made a move to block the door, her subordinates moved in a line facing Lisa and pulled out .357 Magnums. The agents started grinning and laughing like madmen. “There’s no place for you to go now, you annoying little piece of crap!” one of the females boasted.

Betty goaded Lisa, “I know you’re skilled at Pokémon. Let’s see if you can dodge lead as well.”

“Should we blow her away, boss?” one of the male thugs asked, obviously with an itchy trigger finger.

“Not yet. Perhaps this girl simply doesn't understand our grand objective. Our boss has promised us that he will lead the Thrash Brotherhood to victory. We will reclaim the land in our name and create a new society!” Noticing Lisa’s skeptical look, Betty continued, “I see you are not yet convinced. Turn that music off!”

One of the guards turned off the boombox while Betty picked up a telephone on the desk.

“Finally you turn off that awful music,” Lisa said.

As Betty was dialing, she turned to Lisa. “WHAT? What kind of music do you listen to, huh?”

“I'll show you.” Lisa took out her PDA and started playing an MP3.

“And I... remember how you loved me
Time was all we had until the day we said goodbye
And I... remember every moment
Of those endless summer nights...”

As Lisa stopped the music, Betty just looked on with a stunned expression. “You actually listen to that junk?”

“Um, yeah, because I'm not a wannabe punk-rocker skater girl. Oh, and it's spelled S-K-A-T-E-R, not S-K-8-R. Apparently skaters aren't masters of grammar.”

Steaming mad, Betty roared, “YOU'LL PAY FOR THAT REMARK!!! Boss, pick up! ... Yes... I have that annoying brat here in the office... Yes, understood.”

Betty turned her attention back toward Lisa. “Our boss wants to speak with you. I'm putting him on speakerphone. You four, out! This is a private conversation!” Betty sent her subordinates outside the room and closed the door.

A man’s voice began speaking to Lisa over the phone. It had a deep, almost demonic tone. “Greetings, Miss Lisa Northwood. I am the glorious leader of the Thrash Brotherhood. I have been graced with the divine moniker Bart Sy, but my adversaries also know me as the Red Pit Bull. I see that you do not understand the concept behind our brotherhood, so let me enlighten you. The Brotherhood of The Holy Religion of the Ancient Society of Hirojuto was founded based on the teachings and prophecies of the ancient noble, Lord Ryuotoji Hirojuto. He preached the true purpose of Pokémon and prophesized a future in which they are purged of the corruption that currently plagues them. As the great Lord Hirojuto’s direct descendant, I have been charged with fulfilling destiny, regardless of what ‘laws’ of ‘modern society’ must be violated in the process.”

“And what of the Shadow Pokémon?” Lisa demanded, crossing her arms and scowling at the phone that linked her to her adversary.

“I see that my subordinate Fred was unable to keep silent. However, that is on a need to know basis, meaning that you do not need to know. That is, unless, you join us and work your way through the ranks. Our prophecy will be fulfilled, with or without you. I will personally guarantee it. In the end, there truly is no other choice.”

“Sorry, but I don’t believe in that drivel!”

”Fine. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Betty, eliminate her.”

Betty started laughing manically. The punk slammed down the phone and walked over to the door. She opened the door and her four grunt agents rushed back in the room with their guns aimed right at Lisa. “There is no escape! Troops, blast her!”

Betty’s four thugs cocked their weapons while Lisa trembled in fear. “Is this truly the end of me…

“GLALL!”

A stream of ice suddenly struck the hands of all four grunts, instantly freezing their weapons.

“WHAT?! Who did that?!” Betty demanded.

A familiar face stepped in the room. It was Lorelei, accompanied by an icy face Pokémon with two black pointed appendages that were either ears or horns. It gritted its teeth as it stared at the men with icy blue eyes. Lisa consulted her Pokédex. “Glalie: The face Pokémon. Glalie uses it powers that it commands over ice to flash-freeze its opponents.”

Lorelei spoke up. “On behalf of the Pokémon League, I cannot allow you to commit such violent acts. Why don't you fight with your Pokémon against us? You know, at least make this somewhat honorable.”

“Fine! You four, take on glasses lady! Little Miss Perfect is mine!”

“Lorelei, can you take on four at once?”

“I should be okay. You just focus on that punk girl,” Lorelei answered in a cool, calm manner. Lisa admired the fact that she was able to stay composed even against foes this strong.

“Gotcha.”

Betty grabbed two Pokéballs from her pockets. She sent out a muscular gray Pokémon with a humanoid shape, and a small bird with a short beak. The muscle-bound creature smiled confidently and flexed both arms, while the avian Pokémon squawked loudly as it furiously flapped its short wings. “Attack her, Machop and Spearow! Now you will pay for defying us!”

“Doubt it. Koffing, Pidgeotto, you're up! Give Spearow a taste of some Sludge and blow Machop's mind with Gust!”

Koffing hit Spearow with its trademark purple slime, and Gust lifted Machop airborne. But Machop turned it to its advantage, jumping down and hitting Koffing with a full-body slam.

“Eat this! Wahahahaha!” Betty injected a chemical into Spearow, causing it to glow and evolve into the much larger bird Pokémon called Fearow. With huge brown wings and an elongated beak, this one looked like it had a lot more confidence with flying. The girl figured it might be trouble. “Now, show that bird a real Peck!”

Legs shaking, Lisa commanded, “Move to the right to avoid it then send a Gust toward it!”

Pidgeotto quickly dodged right and released a Gust that hit Fearow in the tail feathers. Machop delivered two rapid punches followed by a kick right to Lisa’s gaseous Koffing, who emitted some puffs of smoke as she withdrew. Another punch attempt by the wily fighter went wide left and missed Koffing.

“Koffing, use Smokescreen and Tackle at Machop!”

A cloud of black smoke quickly engulfed Machop, and Koffing floated in for a direct strike while Machop was blinded. Meanwhile, Fearow had landed a hard Peck attack on Pidgeotto. Pidgeotto was sent crashing hard against the wall, putting a hole in the drywall.

“No! Pidgeotto!” Lisa yelled, nervously grabbing a chunk of her dress and gripping the cloth tightly.

Betty was growing frustrated, stomping the floor with her leather boots. “I would have expected you chumps to have finished that little runt off by now! What is your major malfunction?”

Pidgeotto was struck by Fearow’s huge beak again, but managed to knock the rival bird back with a well-aimed smack with her wings. Machop retaliated against Koffing with a series of quick punches ending with an uppercut. Koffing recovered from the hit and attacked with Sludge, splattering the putrid purple substance all over the muscular little Pokémon. Undaunted, Machop delivered a kick to the poisonous Pokémon.

A smirk formed on Lisa’s face. “I have an idea. Pidgeotto, dive in toward Machop and grab it with your talons!”

“I'm on to you! Seismic Toss!”

Machop grabbed Pidgeotto and leapt high into the air. Out of the corner of her eye, Lisa noticed Fearow flying in.

Pointing at the swooping bird, Lisa was ready to put her plan into action. “Okay, let's block Fearow with Machop!”

Pidgeotto quickly spun around, exposing Machop to an incoming Fearow. Machop, so focused on striking with Seismic Toss, didn't realize that Fearow was closing in until it got a taste of Fearow’s beak on its backside.

After impact, Machop crashed to the tile floor hard. Betty recalled it, yelling, “How dare you, you little punk! Rattata, get that girl!”

“Use Smokescreen and Smog on that Rattata!”

But the rodent wasn't sticking around, dodging back and forth to avoid the attacks. Clouds of purple and black clouds filled the room, but it didn’t stop Rattata’s charge. Fearow struck Koffing while she was distracted with trying to strike her agile foe.

“Okay, Pidgeotto, use one last Tackle on Fearow!”

Using a high speed airborne Tackle, Pidgeotto caught Fearow off guard. The bird turned around and gave Pidgeotto a hard jab in the face. Pidgeotto reeled, but came back and knocked Fearow silly with her wing. As the huge bird plummeted to the floor, it started glowing and reverted to its Spearow stage. Betty recalled it and sent out Poochyena. The tiny wolf immediately leapt up and sank its fangs into Koffing. Koffing began to lose altitude as Poochyena jumped off of it.

”Uh, oh, this looks bad!” Lisa could see that Koffing was in trouble. Sweating and glancing around nervously, she pulled Koffing out of battle and replaced her with Nidorino. “Okay, it's our first battle, but let's start with Leer then follow up with Double Kick on Poochyena!”

Instead, Nidorino attacked Rattata, using his huge horn as a lance to stick it to the smaller purple foe. “Hmmm...I still need to train that one more...

Meanwhile, Betty approached her Pokémon, a syringe in both hands. Pidgeotto blew a Gust at her and blew both injectors out of her hands. “ARRGH! You'll regret that!”

Poochyena started digging its teeth into Nidorino, but suddenly pulled back, looking like it was in pain. Enraged, Nidorino quickly struck it with Horn Attack and Double Kick, followed quickly by Pidgeotto's Gust. The gray furry creature started stumbling around but nonetheless continued its assault, charging in and knocking Nidorino over before biting into its hard, pointed skin. Enraged, the larger Nidorino kicked Poochyena repeatedly with its forelegs. That was enough to do it in.

Betty angrily withdrew Poochyena. “How dare you fail me! Rattata, Frustration!”

The rat Pokémon quickly hit both of Lisa's Pokémon with a harsh blow. Pidgeotto came crashing to the floor, but the flying Pokémon wasn’t out of this battle by a long shot. The rat was fast, however, and quickly darted past attacks, looking for all the world like a little purple running back scurrying to avoid tacklers. It jumped up and bit down hard on Pidgeotto, causing the bird to cry out in pain before falling.

Lisa called Pidgeotto back, a panicked expression on her face. “Oh, no! Pidgeotto! Return and rest! Good job, though…”

It was now down to Nidorino and Rattata. Both purple creatures charged at each other, but Nidorino’s horn proved to be the deciding factor, as it succeeded in finally subduing the overactive rodent. As Betty called it back, Lisa pumped her fist in the air. “All right, we won! Good work, Nidorino!” In response, the purple Pokémon snorted and turned his head away from his trainer. “Okay, not the response I was expecting…”

Glancing to her right, the girl noticed that Lorelei's Glalie was using a final Ice Beam attack on a lone Zubat. The flying creature quickly went down and a female grunt recalled it.

“No! I'll never live this down! But, I've already uploaded the research to the boss. The only thing hurting is my pride, but I'll get you back for that, brainiac! But for now, we're pulling out!” Betty and her four underlings jumped out of an open window.

Lorelei started to speak. “Very impressive, Lisa. Not only did you defeat a top Thrash agent, you also avoided being led astray by their leader. Believe it or not, that Red Pit Bull guy can be very charismatic, which is probably how he's able to recruit so many underlings.” Lorelei walked over and picked up the two syringes that Betty dropped. “I'll have the League's lab take a look at these. Oh, yes, I have a gift for you. Inside this Pokéball is a Spheal, a Pokémon that can use both Ice and Water element attacks. I trust that you will treat it with care. I figure he’ll be an asset to your squad.” Calmly, she handed Lisa a Pokéball.

Accepting the gift, Lisa replied, “Yes, I will. Thank you Lorelei.” Lisa bowed before the distinguished trainer in front of her.

“Now, I must be off. You better get back to your room and get some rest. You'll need to be at your peak to defeat the town's gym leader,” Lorelei advised.

Chapter 7: Getting Her Calculus and Battle On!

Lisa followed Lorelei out then headed back to the Comfort Inn while Lorelei made her way to a parking lot. Back in her room, the young trainer took a quick shower. After getting clean, Lisa put her nightgown on and settled in the room’s comfortable king-sized bed.

The next morning, Lisa got dressed up early. She wore a red blouse, over which she wore a black suit jacket, a matching skirt, a pair of sheer pantyhose, and her other black dress shoes, these ones without open toes. Instead of her white hat, she tied her hair back with a purple scrunchy. She left her Pokémon with some food she had picked up, then headed to the lobby. After picking up a couple bagels and some juice in the lobby’s breakfast bar, she proceeded to the university’s math building, a facility so new, it hadn’t been named after any alumni yet.

A woman at a desk spoke up. “Are you here for the Calculus Challenge? We are still accepting participants.”

“Yes, thank you.” After registering, Lisa headed into the auditorium for a morning of heated math competitions.

A man in his early twenties sat down next to Lisa in the building’s auditorium. The man wore a long white lab coat and blue jeans. It was clear to Lisa that he had not showered in some time. Upon seeing Lisa and her name tag, he scoffed and snorted. “Well, Miss Lisa,” he said mockingly, “don’t you think you’re a little young to be here? Why don’t you try the baby math league; it may be more your speed. I guarantee that after the first round, you’ll be outta here!”

“Don’t write equations your brain can’t solve, pal. I’m not one to be taken lightly,” she retorted.

“Just don’t be shocked when you don’t do as well as you thought you would,” the geek snickered.

The host, distinguished mathematician Dr. Murray Thomson, addressed the group. “Welcome to the 45th annual Fourtix University Calculus Challenge. Despite the name, we will be testing you on a variety of mathematics topics. This is a very special year for us since this is our first tournament to be held in this beautiful, brand new facility! This also allows us to utilize technology like we could not before. Without further ado, let us begin Round One! Twenty questions, one hour to finish, no partial credit. Any contestant with a zero score at the end of this round will be eliminated. Now, begin!”

These were twenty problems of fairly high difficulty, and the absence of partial credit made this round especially difficult. The first round was specifically designed to weed out the weak. Lisa managed to get eighteen of the twenty questions correct.

After time was called, the smug nerd whispered to Lisa, “Don’t get too mad now. Remember, you’re just a baby.”

Dr. Thomson returned to the podium to announce the top scores. “Your scores will be appearing on the monitor in front of you. The mean score was 4.76. The standings, as of now, are as follows: Tied for first place, with twenty points each, are Jon Lowe and Geoff Richards. Tied for third, with nineteen points each, are Yuriko Sakura and Albert Dobson. And in fifth place, with eighteen points, is our youngest entrant, Lisa Northwood.”

With a smug smirk, Lisa turned to her adversary. “You know what, I do need to step up my game. I’m only fifth out of, let’s see, about 450 people. I’m very disappointed in myself. Oh, hey, what’s that red “X” on your monitor mean?”

“Damn!” the nerd cursed before marching out of the room along with about half of the contestants.

Dr. Thomson announced, “Now that we have completed the elimination round, we shall proceed. Begin Round Two! Please read the question on your monitor and answer accordingly. You only have thirty seconds to answer each question.”

Round two consisted of rapid-fire multiple choice questions, one hundred in all. Each question was worth a single point. Lisa was the sole participant to earn a perfect score in the appropriately-titled, “Lightning Round.”

“At the end of round two, Jon Lowe is in first with 119 points. Tied for second, with 118 points each, are Yuriko Sakura and Lisa Northwood. Geoff Richards is fourth with 115 points and Allison Johnson is in fifth with 107 points.”

Round three only had five questions, but were complex multi-step problems worth ten points each. But Lisa managed to receive a perfect score yet again, the only competitor to do so.

“After round three, Jon Lowe and Lisa Northwood are the leaders with 168 points each. Yuriko Sakura and Allison Johnson are tied for third with 156 points, and Lawrence Winston is in fifth with 138 points.”

Round four was the most challenging, being the final round. There were only four questions, but each was extremely complicated and was worth twenty points each. Nobody got a perfect score. Lisa came closest, earning seventy-nine points out of eighty.

“Round four is done! Final results are… Fifth is Lawrence Winston with 209 points. Fourth is Allison Johnson with 222 points. Third is Yuriko Sakura with 229 points. Second is Jon Lowe, last year’s champion, with 236 points. And the winner, with 247 points, is our youngest entrant, Lisa Northwood!”

The crowd erupted in cheers as Lisa and the rest of the top performers headed up to the stage to accept their awards.

At about 2:00 PM, Lisa emerged with two trophies in her hands. One read, “2006 Fourtix University Calculus Challenge Champion” and the other one read, “2006 Pi Recitation Champion.” Several other people chatted with Lisa about her victory, including the rest of the top five contestants. Jon was especially impressed with Lisa’s performance, commenting that, “It takes a smart person to outwit me, but it takes somebody truly incredible to outwit me at your age.” Once the action had died down, Lisa headed to the post office and had them send her trophies back to her parents in South Carolina so they wouldn’t weigh her down during her trip. Then she returned to the hotel, gathered up her Pokémon, and proceeded to the stone building at the outskirts of town.

Just as she suspected, this was the town’s gym. The massive gray doors opened and out walked Alexis, the girl she had met in the forest. Clad in a pink sundress, she greeted Lisa with a friendly wave.

“Lisa, what’s up? You’re all dressed up. You going for a job interview?”

“No, I’m going for a badge. Did you already earn yours?”

“Yup, but it was a tough fight, that’s for sure. This guy’s good. You better be on your toes. Well, I’m headed off to get my team rested. Good luck!”

“Thanks, and bye! I’ll see you soon!”

Another person emerged in the doorway. A large, rotund man in hiking gear greeted Lisa.

“Welcome to the Bluefield City Pokémon Gym. I am Dirk, the assistant and match officiator here. Our gym leader has just lost a match today to that girl who just left. He will not lose again today. Challenge him if you dare.” The mountain man gave Lisa a sly smirk.

“Fine, bring it on,” responded a determined Lisa.

Dirk led Lisa into the gym. A man emerged from a back room. He was an older man, with graying hair. He wore gray cargo pants, a gray T-shirt, and a gray unzipped hoodie. Though not especially tall, the man still had an air of power and prestige.

“Greetings, I am Roy, the local gym leader. I believe in the awesome power and endurance of the Rock type. It allows us to endure strong attacks and remain in battle for the long haul. You better be ready for a long battle, but even more importantly, your bonds with your Pokémon must be as hard as a rock. Wait, does that sound too much like a Chevy Truck commercial?”

“No, not at all. They haven’t used ‘Like A Rock’ in years.”

“Okay, we should probably get started.”

Dirk announced, “Battle for the Bluefield City Pebble Badge between gym Leader Dirk and Lisa Northwood from...”

Lisa whispered in his ear.

“...oh, yes, from Anderson, South Carolina. This will be a one-on-one battle. Both trainers will use three Pokémon. The Gym Leader cannot substitute Pokémon, but the challenger may. Begin!”

“Go, Geodude!” Roy summoned a gray rock-like Pokémon with two jagged arms. It greeted the challengers by calling out, “Duuuuude!” in a low-pitched voice. The surface of the Pokémon’s body was not smooth at all, and it looked like pieces of its body had been chipped off in previous skirmishes. Forming fists with its arms, Geodude performed several quick punches into the air to pump itself up.

“Geodude: The Rock Pokémon. Geodude conceal themselves in rocky caves and either roll or use their arms to move.”

Lisa grabbed a Pokéball from a pocket in her suit jacket. “This is it...battle for the first badge!” Lisa stared her opponent down.

“I’ll start off with my Spheal. Let’s get started!”

Lisa called forth a light blue spherical Pokémon. “Spheal: The Ball Roll Pokémon. Spheal uses its round body to roll and move on slippery ice. It can roll quickly but has little control over its path. Spheal can use Rollout, Water Gun, and Ice Ball.”

Spheal smiled and happily barked as it showed off some of its rolling abilities. It looked up at its trainer, seemingly awaiting a command.

After some thought, the girl said, “Okay, we’ll begin with a Water Gun!”

Spheal launched a stream of water at Geodude, but it ducked behind a stationary rock and deflected the strike.

“Now, Rock Throw!”

“Duuuude!” Geodude started picking up rocks and heaving them at Spheal. One struck Spheal at an angle that sent it rolling. Spheal started to roll uncontrollably around the field, crashing into rocks and walls. The small Pokémon cried out in pain after each of its hard contacts with a rock.

“Oh, no! What do I do now?” Her eyes trying to follow her runaway Pokémon, Lisa frantically thought of a way to get Spheal to stop its uncontrollable rolling.

After a few more impacts, Spheal came to a stop. It wasn’t going to move anywhere now, after all of those hard impacts. Lisa was already down one Pokémon and Geodude hardly broke a sweat. This fact did not sit well with the fidgety girl.

“Spheal is unable to battle. Geodude wins this round,” Dirk announced in a very frank tone.

“Nidorino, you’re up!” Lisa sent out the purple Pokémon with the large poisonous horn on his head. The creature stood on his four feet, but made no sounds or movement. His eyes wandered, not focusing on either the girl, the middle-aged Gym Leader, or his Geodude. Lisa called out, “Use Double Kick!”

Instead, he just stood there, refusing to face his trainer.

“No! Please, attack!” Lisa pleaded with her disobedient Pokémon to strike.

“Haha! Now, Geodude, Magnitude!”

“Geo!” The rocky Pokémon slammed both its fists on the ground, sending massive tremors that spread out in a circular pattern. The powerful attack shook the entire gym, knocking both Nidorino and Lisa down.

“Owwww......” Lisa clutched her head and tried to get back up.

“Give it another one!”

Another tremor shook the arena before either Lisa or Nidorino could get up. Lisa eventually struggled to her feet but Nidorino was unable to.

“Nidorino is unable to battle.”

“Meowth, you’re my last hope. Please, try your best!” Lisa pleaded, almost in tears.

“Now, finish this battle with Rock Throw!”

As rocks came in toward Meowth, she used them as stepping stones, then fired a powerful Water Pulse at Geodude, scoring a direct hit. Geodude emerged still conscious, but ended up ramming into several stones by itself, completely lost in confusion. Meowth hit the small rocky creature with another shot of brilliant blue liquid then just sat back and watched her foe batter itself until Geodude collapsed out of exhaustion.

“Geodude is unable to battle. Meowth wins.”

Wow… I can’t believe it finally went down… but what’s next?

“Now I’ll show you my true power. Onix, go! Bind it!”

A huge black snake made completely of rock emerged. The massive Pokémon towered over Meowth and let out a loud roar. Meowth took a couple steps backward. So did Lisa.

“Whoa... it’s huge!” Lisa looked with awe at her towering opponent.

Onix quickly started putting the squeeze on Meowth, encircling her with its long, serpentine body.

Now nervous and ripping holes in her pantyhose, the girl had no idea what to do. “Oh, no! Try to break free!” Lisa sputtered frantically as she tried to think of a way to salvage this match.

Meowth attempted to spray a Water Pulse at Onix, but the huge rock snake just twisted around so that Meowth only struck the ground. As its grip tightened, Meowth was visibly in pain and getting weaker by the second.

“Stop the match," Lisa cried. "I...I forfeit...” she said, falling to her knees.

“The challenger has forfeited the match. Onix and Gym Leader Roy are the winners.”

“Good job, Onix!” Roy recalled it.

“I’m so sorry, Meowth... You did your best...” Lisa called back her injured Pokémon.

Roy went over to Lisa as she finally stood up. “Listen, Lisa, I know you’re feeling down about this, but don’t give up. I’ve seen too many trainers who have given up their training after losing to me. I suppose that’s one of the breaks of being the first gym in line.”

“No, but you’re right... I can’t give up... I made promises to myself and to the Pokémon League...” Lisa said, clearly exhausted.

“Perhaps it was unfair of me to battle you today. You’re clearly wiped out from battling Team Thrash at their camp and at the university. I was informed by the Pokémon League of your recent victories. And I am sure you can battle much better than you did today with proper rest. I wish to battle you again when you are rested and at your peak. I would also like to invite you to dinner at my house, right next door. You should probably go back to your room and rest up a bit first. I’ll meet you at about 5:00. That girl who battled me before you will also be there.”

“Oh yeah, I know her. She beat me too, earlier...”

“Well, I will see you later.”

“Okay, see you tonight.” Lisa walked toward the gym’s exit, her head hung low.

As Lisa exited the gym, she was met by Alexis.

“So, how did it go?”

“I lost... I can’t believe I made so many stupid mistakes...” Lisa broke down and started to cry.

Alexis did her best to console the downtrodden Lisa. “Hey, don’t worry about it. He’s tough. It’s not everyone that can defeat a Gym Leader on the first try. Besides, you need some rest. I’ll see you at dinner tonight!”

“Bye...” Lisa said with a huge yawn. She went to the Pokémon Center. A male attendant took a look at Lisa’s injured Pokémon. 

“Please… help my Pokémon. They were hurt badly in a Gym battle and I’m worried.”

The man looked over the Pokémon quickly and replied, “Don’t worry. Roy’s a tough battler, but he’d never battle an opponent to near death. Just a few minutes and they should be fine.”

“Thanks a lot,” Lisa answered, turning her attention to the TV.

“In college football news, the tenth ranked Tigers lost their Thursday night game 24-7 as Tech simply ran over them…”

Yeah, just like Roy ran over me today…”

She decided to walk over to the other side of the lobby, away from other trainers and the TV. As Lisa waited, she replayed the battle in her mind. She was embarrassed. But more than that, she was mad at herself. “So many stupid mistakes! I made too many dumb calls that I never should have! Just like a certain team who just shot themselves in the foot…

Her Pokémon were fully healed up and returned to her after about a half hour. She apologized to her Pokémon about losing the battle, tears welling up as she started to break down again. All of her Pokémon attempted to comfort Lisa except Nidorino, who just stuck its nose up in the air.

“Pathetic. Simply pathetic,” said Nidorino to the other Pokémon.

“What is your problem?” asked Meowth. “You were the one who claimed that she would go crazy and start abusing us after she lost a battle. Well, look at her! She feels terrible about losing!”

“Yeah, because her precious ego was crushed. She doesn’t care about you, only her precious reputation.”

The cat Pokémon sighed. “There you go, jumping to conclusions again…”

“Worse yet, she can’t even battle properly!”

“Well, maybe if you actually tried to help out…”

“Look, honey,” Nidorino interrupted, “I battle the way I see fit. Ain’t no stupid human gonna tell me what to do.”

“Call me ‘honey’ again,” Meowth started, “and you’re gonna…”

“Don’t bother with him,” interjected Koffing, putting herself between the two quarreling Pokémon. “He won’t give that girl a chance. We really need to help her get her spirits up.”

“Fine, do as you wish,” growled the other Poison-type. “I really don’t care.”

Over by Lisa, Spheal and Pidgeotto were looking over their depressed trainer.

“It’ll be okay,” said Spheal. “Besides, ya can’t expect to win ‘em all, y’know? So, let’s get feeling better and get some yummy food!”

Pidgeotto cooed softly. “Don’t worry. I know that battling’s a tough business. It takes a lot out of you. As long as you tried your hardest, you should be able to hold your head high, knowing you gave it your best. At least, that’s the way it worked in the forest. I don’t know if trainers follow the same teachings, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

Meowth and Koffing had left Nidorino to stew in his own anger, coming over to Lisa’s side to lend some support. The floating purple Pokémon started, “At least you’re not like my old trainer. He would get really angry and go crazy if his Pokémon ever lost. And I didn’t see the battle, but it must’ve been a tough one. As long as you gave it a full effort, that’s all that should matter.”

The kitten said, “Poor girl. She’s always been like this – stressing out over everything. Even when she wasn’t battling, if her outfit wasn’t perfect, or if she brought the wrong books to the professor’s place when she came to help her out, she would start beating herself up over it. I really think she’s a sweet girl, but I don’t think she realizes that “everyone makes mistakes” includes her. And I think it’s going to be a tough lesson for her to learn. But we have to help her out by supporting her in times like this.” Meowth slowly began massaging Lisa’s lower back with her paws.

Lisa finally looked up. Rubbing Pidgeotto and Meowth gently, she told them, “Thanks, guys. Thanks a lot. Hopefully next time we can manage a victory.” After regaining her composure, Lisa recalled her Pokémon and proceeded to her hotel. The desk clerk stopped her in the lobby.

“Wait, Lisa! Somebody from the college dropped by and wanted to give you this as a prize for winning the math contest.”

She handed Lisa a large egg, this one colored silver with a white triangular pattern and red circles throughout. “I believe that will eventually hatch into a Pokémon if you keep it with you.”

“Oh, cool! Thanks!” With this new prize, Lisa was starting to feel better about herself. “Hey, at least I’m good at something! And maybe this new Pokémon will help me out in a big way!” She read the attached note.

“To Lisa Northwood: This Pokémon Egg is a special prize for winning the Fourtix Calculus Challenge. The Pokémon has been specially bred and is like very few other Pokémon of its species. You’ll see just how rare it is when it hatches. Good luck on your future endeavors!”

Lisa thought to herself, “Man! How could I forget to pick this up? Good thing they were able to find out where I was staying and get it to me. I may be a genius, but I can be so scatterbrained sometimes!

Chapter 8: In the House of Stone

A large mass of at least a thousand were gathered in a huge conference room. Scrolls and tapestries were set up throughout, and at the head of the room, a temporary “altar” was set up, complete with white candles and a podium. On the altar was a decorative red shield with a white script “T” insignia. The man at the altar was dressed entirely in red, his face hidden by the huge robe he wore.

“Welcome, friends, to today’s sermon. As followers of The Holy Religion of the Ancient Society of Hirojuto, I, as your prophet and messiah, extend my warmest regards. Unfortunately, I must inform you that a major threat to the creation of our ideal society has revealed itself.”

Murmurs could be heard throughout the entire congregation. The preacher interrupted all discussion by raising his right hand. All in the room came to attention.

“This new threat is far worse than the foolish governments and Pokémon Leagues who refuse to accept our teachings. No, I am speaking of the devil incarnate, who has officially made contact with some of our wandering missionaries.”

“Devil incarnate?! What do you mean by that, Your Holiness?”

The man at the altar leaned forward in order to project his already commanding voice. “Just as I am a messenger of God and communicate between Him and you, my followers, Satan also has his own earthly messenger, who has been charged to stand against our God and all that He preaches. According to our missionaries who have had contact with this messenger of Satan, the evil one has taken the guise of a teenage girl. She has been seen in the company of members of the Pokémon League.”

Fear and panic now gripped the entire congregation. Followers exchanged nervous glances and uttered phrases like, “Pokémon League? Definitely no good!”

“As I have revealed before, the Pokémon League has committed countless sins against us, and have allied with Satan. And this girl has associated herself with them. In addition, this girl reportedly is very skilled at the use of mathematics and the sciences. Beware if you have any contact with her, as she will try to use those tools of mathematics and sciences to convince you that God’s teachings are wrong. The girl also is in possession of a Meowth, whose evolved form is said to be the preferred Pokémon of Satan and his minions. This is clear, irrefutable evidence that this particular girl is the messenger of Satan, and we must stop at nothing to destroy her and expunge Satan’s presence from our world! I understand that this is a vague warning, but I will be gathering more information on this individual through our missionaries. Now, rise and we shall profess our allegiance to our Brotherhood and God’s word!”
*********

Lisa headed up to her room and took a quick shower. She put on a green dress with a white floral print, a dark blue jacket, a pair of white stockings, and her open-toe shoes. Lisa flipped on the TV and went through the channels.

“If someone has caused you injury, call me right now! I’ll crush every penny out of them that I possibly can! I’m Larry “The Knockout” Jones! In court, I’m not just your lawyer. I’m the nastiest SOB around, and you’ll want a nasty SOB on your side for this battle! So call me right now at…”

“Trade in whatever piece of junk you drive for an $8000 minimum trade! Here’s Liz from West Bluefield!”

“I couldn’t believe it! West Town Kia paid me $8000 for my old ’74 Pinto that went toward a brand new Sedona! Thanks, West Town Kia…”

Finding nothing decent on TV, Lisa headed over to Roy's house, Pokémon and her egg in tow.

Over dinner, Roy, Lisa, Dirk, and Alexis started some engaging conversation.

“Lisa, you do understand that every Gym Leader has been informed by the Pokémon League of your attempts to bring down Thrash. However, don't expect them to go easy on you. In fact they might be a bit harder on you to adequately prepare you for tough Thrash battles.”

“Well, I wouldn't want it any other way. Even though losing does sting…” Lisa trailed off.

“You see, Team Thrash's best admins could pose a bigger challenge than any of us could. It's not that they're better trainers – they're not – but it's because they play by their own rules. They'll fight you five-on-one, they'll use chemicals to alter their Pokémon...”

“And they're armed to the teeth with military grade firearms.”

“Right. However, there is something special about you. Even though you were battling while tired, I still sensed that you have a strong bond with most of your Pokémon, Nidorino being the exception. But that's to be expected when you first catch a Pokémon that didn't go willingly. Plus, the Nidorino species is aggressive by nature. Otherwise, though, you do appear quite skilled at raising and training Pokémon, and I believe that the Pokémon G-Men saw that in you as well. I am certain you can go far. Just don't give up. You will win some battles and lose some others. It's just part of the Pokémon training experience.” Roy seemed like a much nicer guy outside the gym.

Lisa started to blush. “Thanks. And don't worry. I made so many promises and I will not let my family, my friends, or the Pokémon League down. I can accept losses from most people, but I can't afford to lose against Team Thrash.”

“That is true. If you fall in battle to them they will most likely take you prisoner... or worse.”

Alexis added, “Lisa, you're a great person who cares deeply for your Pokémon, and you're highly intelligent. None of us could even compete in that math competition, much less win. And you obviously have a strong drive to reach your goals. With those attributes combined, you've got what it takes to become a top-class trainer, and you've got the skills to take down those Thrash clowns. Don't worry, I'll have your back if you need it. Here's my number. Feel free to call if you need me.”

“Thanks a lot, everyone.”

“Now, Lisa, I want you to get a good night's sleep tonight. If you are still tired in the morning, don't challenge me until you get fully rested. Our rematch will be much more satisfying that way.”

“Okay, gotcha. By the way, how good are you guys at Mario Kart?” Lisa had noticed Roy’s GameCube and copy of “Double Dash” in the living room.

After a night of kicking Mario Kart butt and taking Mario Kart names, Lisa headed back to the hotel and Alexis went back to the Pokémon Center. Lisa slipped into her nightgown and neatly draped her outfit over the back of the room’s leather office chair before settling into a good night's sleep. Her alarm clock went off at 9:00 but Lisa slept right through it.
*******

Atop a huge high-rise building sat an elegant penthouse with marble flooring, crystal chandeliers, expansive windows, and huge decorative pillars. A tall man, his face completely obscured by a red hood and cloak, sat in a huge black leather recliner behind a massive steel desk. A huge red plaque reading “Thrash Brotherhood” in elegant gold script hung on the wall behind him. Facing the man were a dozen individuals, some in the red Thrash uniform, some not. They stood before their superior, awaiting their next mission.

The figure behind the desk began speaking in an electronically altered, Darth Vader-esque voice, sans the heavy breathing. “As exceptionally effective members of the Brotherhood, you twelve have been selected to advance our cause by seeking assistance and information in other regions. Now, here is your mission, therefore it is advised that you listen closely and that you do not fail, otherwise there shall be dire consequences. Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes, sir!” the agents replied in unison, not wanting to show any signs of weakness.

Calmly and methodically, the leader revealed their objective. “Your assigned mission will be code-named Operation Kanto Investigation. You shall depart for it as soon as our Orre operatives return with their objectives completed. You will report to our production factory and storage facility and wait there until I inform you that we will be commencing the mission. Then you shall fly to the Kanto region using the Brotherhood’s private jets. There you will seek out information regarding the now-defunct Team Rocket’s Pokémon genetic alteration experiments, and capture the resultant specimens if you are able to do so. I have sent each of you documentation via inter-office mail with specific locations I want you to investigate. I shall be awaiting news of your success. You are officially dismissed. But bring in Betty and Fred; I need to have a word with them regarding their recent failures.”

The agents filed out of the penthouse. Fred and Betty were nervously pacing back and forth outside, dreading their scheduled meeting with their boss. One of the other agents told them, “The boss will meet with you now. I wish you the best of luck.”
*********

When she finally woke up, Lisa put on the same outfit she wore to dinner the previous night and headed to Roy's gym at about 2:00 in the afternoon. She had the chance to sleep late and was ready to show Roy a hot battle. She stepped into the gym.

“Lisa, I trust you're ready this time. I won't hold anything back, and I don't want you to, either. Dirk, shall we begin?”

“Sure thing. The match between Gym Leader Roy and Lisa Northwood will begin. Three Pokémon each in a one-on-one battle. Only the challenger can substitute Pokémon. Begin!”

“Go, Geodude!”

This is it,” Lisa thought. “I can't lose like yesterday. I have to give it my all.

Lisa grabbed a Pokéball from her purse and lobbed it onto the rocky battlefield. Lisa’s spherical ice Pokémon emerged from it.

“Okay, Spheal, you're up! Water Gun!”

The battle started out just like last time, with Geodude hiding behind some rocks. The volleys of water splashed harmlessly off the barrier.

“Not again…” thought Lisa, gritting her teeth.

“Rock Throw now!” commanded Roy as he pointed at Lisa’s Ice-type.

“Duuude!” The rocky gray Pokémon began picking up rocks and heaving them at Spheal as he watched the incoming projectiles.

Spheal started rolling to avoid the rocks. Lisa realized she needed to capitalize on her Pokémon’s movements. But it wasn’t long before she came up with a plan. A smile forming on her face, she commanded, “Okay, Spheal, let's turn this into an Ice Ball!”

Spheal encased himself in a layer of ice as he continued to bounce off the jagged rocks that lined the gym, instantly freezing them.

Lisa was now ready to implement the next stage of her strategy. “Okay, jump up and stop rolling! Launch Water Gun!” she called out.

Spheal got some air from a ramp-like rock formation, then proceeded to shoot Water Gun attacks at each of the flash-frozen rocks, shattering them into thousands of shards and eventually destroying the one where Geodude was taking cover.

“All right! We've eliminated all hiding spots! Now it's time for Water Gun!”

“Nice work getting rid of Geodude’s cover,” Roy complimented. “But this is far from over.”

Geodude dodged the first two shots but was hit directly by the third blast of water. The strike knocked the hard-skinned gray Pokémon to the ground. It slowly began to struggle back into contention.

“Nice work!” Lisa called out. “Now let’s finish it!”

Spheal released two more liquid blasts while Geodude was down. Both found their mark, hammering Geodude with more watery fury. The rocky Pokémon remained on the floor, but was now motionless. It made no motion to get back up.

“Geodude is unable to battle. Spheal is the winner!”

“Awesome work! We did it!” Lisa cheered, jumping up in excitement.

The middle-aged Gym Leader already had his next Pokémon at the ready. “Let's try Aron! Go!”

Roy sent out a tiny Pokémon with blue eyes and a shiny armor-like outer coat. Its hard exterior was speckled with small circular holes that resembled black spots. The Pokémon’s face showed no emotion.

“Aron, the iron armor Pokémon. Aron's thick armor allows it to destroy objects twenty times its own size with a well placed Tackle.”

“I’m switching for now. Spheal, return! Nidorino, you're up!” Lisa was nervously shaking as she threw her Pokéball into the battle.

Okay, hopefully my strategy will pan out…” Sending out the disobedient Pokémon was certainly a risk, but the girl hoped that she could use his violent temperament to her advantage.

Predictably, Nidorino snorted and looked away from the battle as well as Lisa, holding his head high arrogantly.

Roy’s demeanor was noticeably different from the dinner the night before. Smirking, and with his hands on his hips, he shouted, “Ha! Looks like your Nidorino still refuses to respond to you! Aron, Tackle!”

Lisa smiled. “I hypothesize that Nidorino’s not going to attack unless provoked. So I’ll just let him get first strike and fall right into my hands.

As soon as Aron landed a charging hit on the purple creature, Nidorino rushed right into battle and executed a Double Kick that sent the armored Pokémon sliding backward.

Nidorino’s sudden burst of energy took Roy by surprise, as he watched the attack with eyes and mouth hanging wide open. Taking a moment to regain his composure, the Gym leader game his next attack order. “Tackle it into the air and juggle it with Metal Claw!”

Lisa did not bother issuing a command. Knowing Nidorino would act on his own anyway, she decided to save her voice.

Aron charged in for another attack, but Nidorino jabbed its horn into one of the holes in Aron's armor, then flung his head around, eventually sending the tiny silver Pokémon flying and crashing against the wall. Nidorino began growling angrily as he pointed his ears straight into the air. Lisa could also see that her Pokémon was baring his teeth.

As Aron got back up, the enraged Poison-type quickly charged in and delivered two more quick kicks. The Poison-type’s rampage left Aron unconscious.

“Aron is unable to battle. Nidorino wins!” Dirk announced.

“I am impressed so far, Lisa. Your head is certainly in the game this time around, but you’ll still need to find a way past my trump card! Onix, you're up!” Roy pitched out a Pokéball containing his prized Pokémon. The huge gray snake batted Nidorino aside with its long, jagged serpentine body.

This preemptive strike did nothing to calm Nidorino’s rage. He let out the loudest roar that Lisa had heard from him yet, and proceeded to launch his assault.

Lisa smirked. “When Nidorino gets mad, he’s something fierce!

Nidorino delivered two swift kicks to the rock snake but Onix slammed its tail on Nidorino, then used a sweeping motion to send him flying toward a wall. Nidorino made no attempt to get back up, as he appeared completely exhausted.

“No! Nidorino!” Lisa recalled her fallen Pokémon, quivering a bit.

“Nidorino is unable to battle. Onix is the winner.”

Lisa weighed her options, rubbing her chin in thought. “Spheal, it's time I brought you back in here! Use Water Gun!”

The blue Ice-type reemerged, happily barking and eager to rejoin the fray. He opened his mouth and shot out several small volleys of light blue water. Onix used its tail to try to block the incoming attack. Lisa could see that Onix had taken some damage, as it seemed to reel a bit from the hit. But then, before Spheal could react, Onix used a sweeping tail motion to knock Spheal around the gym.

“Spheal, try to get some air to stop rolling! Then use Water Gun!” yelled Lisa, struggling to stay composed – and keep her fidgety hands from ripping her pantyhose.

Without a rocky ramp to boost him like last time, Spheal used his two front legs to boost himself into the air, then shot a Water Gun at Onix.

“Onix, Dig now!” commanded the Gym Leader, pointing at the ground.

Before the attack was able to hit, Onix had disappeared underground, leaving displaced dirt and a gaping hole in its wake. Spheal landed, and the ground began to shake. Onix reappeared right under Spheal and slammed into him from below, sending him skyward. He eventually came down with a huge crash.

Lisa began sweating and pulling at her dress. “Oh, no! Are you okay, Spheal?” Despite her yells, the Ice-type couldn’t muster the energy to get back up.

“Spheal is unable to battle.”

Still sweating, Lisa pulled out her Luxury Ball. “Meowth, I'm counting on you. Give it your all!”

In a burst of light, Lisa's little cat Pokémon appeared, meowing loudly and staring down her much larger foe with her large eyes. The Gym’s light reflected off the gold coin on her forehead, creating an almost blinding burst of light.

“It's come down to our last Pokémon! Who will win?” Roy asked the nervous Lisa, who was fidgeting with her dress, knees shaking.

Lisa soon regained her composure. She had thought up a plan.” We’ll begin this show with a Water Pulse!”

“Onix, Dig!”

Meowth’s first Water Pulse was thin and didn’t look too strong. Before the kitten’s shot of water could hit, Onix crashed through the ground and disappeared. The liquid splashed harmlessly off a wall.

“Too slow!’ Roy taunted.

“Meowth, you know what to do,” Lisa said with a smirk.

“Meeeowth!” Meowth nodded and approached the hole, then started using her Water Pulse and Pay Day attacks to plug up the hole where Onix was hiding. The ground started to shake and Meowth jumped aside with plenty of time to avoid Onix as it finally broke through a layer of earth, concrete, and coins, getting splashed with water in the process. It let out howls as it emerged, sending coins and debris flying in all directions.

Meowth quickly hit it with a somewhat stronger Water Pulse than before, and the force of the pulsating attack ended up sending the giant stone snake crashing backwards. With a roar, Onix smashed into a wall, sending pieces of concrete flying.

“It’s not over by a long shot! Onix, Bind it now!” commanded Roy. The Onix recovered and quickly used its long body to wrap up Meowth. As it continued to put the squeeze on Meowth, Lisa feared the battle would end the same way as before.

As Meowth cried out in pain, Lisa looked on, still pulling on her dress and quivering. But Lisa soon came up with a brainstorm about how to deal with the situation. She stopped shaking and her panicked look slowly morphed into a smirk.

“Meowth, use Water Pulse straight up into the air!”

Meowth did that, and the water rained down directly on both Pokémon as gravity took over. The small cat Pokémon seemed to be hurt a bit by the raining water, but with her fur now soaking wet, she was able to slip right out from Onix’s Bind.

Once free, she let loose wave after wave of rippling watery fury at her foe. Onix crashed through the floor to avoid the water but Meowth ran over to the hole and sprayed more Water Pulse blasts into it. Lisa could hear the giant stone snake was starting to come back above the ground.

“We’ve got ‘em on the run now!” Lisa observed.

The huge Pokémon emerged from its hiding spot, ramming into Meowth and sending her flying. While in midair, the cat managed one final hit with a well-developed blast of water. Onix howled in pain before succumbing to the attack. As it slammed on the Gym’s floor, its heavy body sent up a cloud of dust and debris. Meowth neatly landed on her two feet next to the fallen Rock-type.

“Onix is unable to battle. The winner is Meowth and Lisa!”

“All right! We did it! The first badge is ours!” Lisa jumped up and pumped a fist in the air.

“Meowth meowth!”

Roy approached Lisa. “I knew that if you just focused on the battle, you would be able to win. You used your head to come up with strategies that were able to beat even my defenses. Now, I believe this is yours. Here is the official Pokémon League Pebble Badge along with this carrying case for your badges. Now, I wish you the best of luck as you continue to train and grow stronger. Perhaps we will meet again someday.”

“Thank you. My first Gym battle. It will be something to remember.”

Lisa bid Roy and Dirk farewell before heading to the Pokémon Center for a quick refresh. Then Lisa, with Meowth in tow, headed out toward the east and the next destination.

Passing by a sign that read “Route 504”, Lisa looked toward the horizon, and only saw a huge mountain range. This, apparently, was the southern part of the mountain range that separated Fourtix from Orre to the north. Looking ahead, the road was dirt as usual, but it was well-kept and a meandering stream flowed alongside the path. Small pools of blue water could be seen scattered along the entire path. At the path’s end was another foreboding mountain range.

The path seemed relaxing enough, though, and Lisa started to make her way east. She soon came across a girl training over in some bushes. When the girl saw her, she ran out to the path to meet Lisa. The other girl wore a green top and a blue denim skirt. Waving and running her hands through her black hair, she introduced herself.

“My name is Shannon. I’m good friends with Alexis. In fact, we’ve been best friends since we were only two! She’s told me an awful lot about you.”

“Really? What has she been saying?”

“That you’re a good up-and-coming trainer who has a lot of potential. And the fact that you’re doing the whole Pokémon journey thing wearing high heels… that takes guts.”

“Thanks,” Lisa replied, rubbing the back of her head. “My feet are hurting like heck, but that’s the price I’m willing to take so that I look my best.”

“What do you say to a quick battle? One Pokémon each.”

“Okay, sounds good. I’ll be using Meowth.”

“Nidoran, I choose you!” Lisa had seen this Pokémon before – it was part of the group of Pokémon that Nidorino was trying to protect when he first attacked her. Shannon’s Nidoran was colored blue and only had a tiny spike on its head as opposed to a full-blown horn Various spots of dark blue were speckled on her body..

“Nidoran, the poison pin Pokémon: The female Nidoran prefers defense over offense. Though its horns are smaller than the male’s, both inject poison of the same intensity.”

“Watch out for it, and use Scratch!”

“Meow!” Meowth quickly rushed in and slashed at the Nidoran. The opponent let out a squeak as it recoiled from the attack, but it recovered and performed a rapid kicking attack with its front legs. Both Pokémon jumped backwards after the strike, Meowth wobbling a bit.

“You’re doing good so far,” Lisa said. “Just need to keep up the attacks! Let’s try Water Pulse!”

Steadying her feet, Meowth released an intense beam of blue liquid with pulses of energy running throughout it. It looked to Lisa as if the battle against Roy had helped Meowth develop her skills with Water Pulse almost to perfection.

“Good hit!” complimented Lisa. “Wow, she’s looking really good with using that water now!

The small blue opponent was struck directly in the head, but it managed to shake off the water. Nidoran came rushing at Meowth with its claws ready, delivering a hard Scratch before the cat forced it backward with a claw strike of her own. Both claw attacks left visible marks on the other battler, though the scratches were mostly on the surface. They didn’t appear to affect their stamina at all.

“Now give it a Fury Swipes!”

“Poison Sting!” Shannon yelled, pointing at Meowth.

The cat struck first, delivering a quick series of slashes and swipes at the tiny scaly foe. The Nidoran reacted with a flurry of needles shot out from the small spikes on its back. A good number of these needles hit Meowth, who fell to the ground. A strange purple liquid began bubbling out of the puncture point where one of Nidoran’ barbs had struck Meowth.

The kitten picked herself up fairly quickly, but something was noticeably wrong with Meowth. She seemed sluggish and dizzy, struggling to stand up and stumbling about. Her eyes became glassy and red, and she had trouble keeping her eyelids open.

“Meowth, are you okay?” Lisa looked on, wide-eyed and concerned.

“Now use Double Kick!”

Still staggering, Meowth took a direct hit, falling backward to the ground. Now nervous and pulling on her skirt, Lisa took out Meowth’s Luxury Ball and called her back. “Sorry, but I’ve gotta forfeit! Something’s really wrong with Meowth and I’m not gonna risk it keeping her out!”

“All right, looks like this battle’s over!” Shannon recalled her Nidoran and walked over to Lisa. “It must be poisoned. Happens a lot when you battle Poison-types. Here, let it out of its ball and give it this.” She handed Lisa a small bottle. “It’s an antidote used to help cure poison. I’d advise picking up some next time you go shopping.”

“Yeah, I probably should…” Lisa released her Meowth from her ball, gave her some of the antidote in the bottle, then called her back. She figured it wasn’t a good idea to keep her Pokémon outside, especially in the condition she was in now.

“That will tide it over for a little while but we must get it back to the Pokémon Center fast. It looked like an especially adverse reaction to the poison. There’s a Center at the base of the mountain. That one’s closer than the one in town.”

The two girls ran down the path. Soon enough, they could see the center’s roof on the horizon.

“There it is – the Pokémon Center.”

“Okay, thanks…” Lisa replied between heavy breaths.

Once inside the building, Lisa left her Pokémon to be refreshed by the center’s attendant. The man assured her that her Meowth would be fine after treatment, and she took a seat next to Shannon. It wasn’t long before Lisa started to break down and cry.

“Lisa, what’s wrong?” Shannon asked.

“Sorry, it’s… it’s nothing… But I’ve lost my third battle now and I haven’t been training for a week yet. Is… is there something wrong with me?”

“Not at all. Lisa, at some point everyone loses a battle. And when you’re first starting out, you have to figure there’s gonna be more experienced trainers. Don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine.”

Lisa looked up and gave a small smile, still with some tears in her brown eyes. “You know, Alexis gave me almost the same talk just the other day at her house.”

“You know, I wouldn’t doubt it.” Shannon glanced at her watch. “Hey, sorry, I can’t stay any longer. I’ve gotta be on my way. However, I spoke with Alexis and she wants the three of us to meet at the Pokémon Center in the next town, on the other side of the mountain.”

“Geez, I hope I don’t have to hike up it.”

“No, no, there’s a cave called Express Tunnel that was bored right through the mountain. Watch it, though. It’s poorly lighted and there’s plenty of places for a girl in heels to trip over rocks – or even Pokémon.”

‘Thanks for the advice. I’ll see you in the next town, then!”

“Yup. I’ll see you then. Bye, Lisa!”

After waving to her new friend, Lisa headed into the restroom to change clothes. Now she wore a red T-shirt, a ruffled purple skirt, and sheer pantyhose, along with her open-toe shoes. After receiving her Pokémon she headed out, quickly found the cave’s entrance, and headed inside. As soon as she was in, however, she spotted a familiar figure, and hid behind a rock.

Her nemesis, Tommy, was on the phone with someone. Fortunately, he had the volume turned up so Lisa could eavesdrop on the conversation. The girl figured that the old man’s hearing was starting to go bad.

A familiar voice started speaking, and Lisa recalled that this same one that she heard back at the university. She listened in. The voice on the other end boomed, “Listen, father, we have a problem. I have sent some agents to Orre to investigate the old Cipher Shadow Pokémon factory and laboratory, but all they found was rubble. I was hoping to find the production apparatus but apparently it’s been dismantled by the police or it’s been otherwise destroyed or seized.”

“Which means we have to build our production machine from scratch. That’ll take a month and a half, minimum! But, I suppose better late than never.”

“Right. At least something good did come from this.”

“What’s that?”

“We’ve recruited several new members and some of them are extremely powerful and skilled trainers.” The man on the phone laughed in a sinister tone.

“Former Cipher members?” asked the old man.

“I do not know at the moment. They have just arrived at our factory. I shall drive out to your location to meet with you and introduce several of our new members to you. I will contact you at your motel room when I have arrived. One final word of warning. Watch for that Northwood girl. She’s trouble. She took out Fred and Betty.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice. She got me twenty years in lockup. That’s practically a life sentence at my age, and ain’t no way I’m going back there! So yeah, I’ll be on the lookout.” Tommy fumed.

“In retrospect, perhaps I should not have performed those experiments on our underlings’ Pokémon. Apparently, reverting them to their first evolutionary stage didn’t pan out like I thought it would. Now I wish I didn’t do the same with our new recruits’ Pokémon…”

The man on the phone suddenly changed his tone. “Well, anyway, they’ll evolve again in due time. It should be of little consequence in the long run. Hey, do me a favor. If you find that girl, rip her dress or stockings or something. Make her really mad,” replied the man in his reserved yet chilling tone.

“Right. I’m out.”

So, it was true. Tommy and that Bart Sy guy are father and son. And those new Orre recruits? Lisa figured they could be trouble. Lisa was now faced with a difficult decision. Should she jump out and battle Tommy and help hinder his progress, or just lay low?

As Lisa was weighing her options, Tommy was walking away. “It’s now or never!

Chapter 9: Stumbling Through

Lisa jumped from behind the rock and landed in front of Tommy, taking the old man by complete surprise.

“Wha...wha...It’s you!” he stuttered, eventually regaining his composure. “Fine. I hear you think you can stop my son and defy destiny. It is impossible! You have no idea who you are dealing with.”

“Yeah, but I do know that working with Thrash is in direct violation of your parole. I suggest you watch TV this weekend. You’ll be seeing your mug on ‘Fourtix Region’s Most Wanted’, courtesy of yours truly.” Lisa gave her opponent a smug smirk, knowing that it would probably set the old man off.

“NO! I am NOT going back to prison! Oddish and Magnemite, attack her!”

“Got some new Pokémon, huh? Well, so have I! Pidgeotto and Nidorino, let’s get this show started! Pidgeotto, whip up a Sand Attack then use Gust on it!”

“Haha! That won’t work! I’ve trained and tortured these guys at our training camp before you dismantled it! They are invincible! Thundershock and Absorb, now!” the old man instructed.

Pidgeotto kicked up some dust, blinding Oddish. She took advantage by whipped up some strong wind, trapping Oddish in a vortex of sand and wind. Magnemite started to shoot electric energy at Pidgeotto. Pidgeotto quickly darted to the right and continued to lure Magnemite’s attacks away.

An errant Thundershock landed a glancing blow on Nidorino, and that’s all it took to get him riled. Nidorino jumped up and delivered two swift kicks with his front legs, knocking the floating magnet to the ground. As it tried to get airborne again, Nidorino struck again, delivering more kicks to the Electric-type. Magnemite recovered, firing off and landing a direct hit with its electric energy.

Meanwhile Oddish had just freed itself from the Gust and started to shake its head, releasing a fine powder. Lisa didn’t know what kind of powder it was, but she figured it wasn’t going to help her Pokémon out. “Pidgeotto, blow that stuff right back in Oddish’s face!”

Pidgeotto used Gust again, blowing the powder back toward Oddish, and the small plant Pokémon dropped and started to sleep.

“Idiot! Don’t let it turn your attacks back at you!” Tommy bellowed.

Lisa smiled. “It’s nighty-night time! Give it a Gust followed by Tackle!” she yelled, pointing at the snoozing Pokémon.

Pidgeotto used another Gust, then flew right into it. The winds did a little damage to her, ruffling her feathers a bit. But they also accelerated the bird Pokémon, who flew at her sleeping foe at full speed, knocking it into a rock.

“Dammit! You useless pile of…” Tommy recalled it and replaced it with Houndour. “Now crush her!”

The small dog Pokémon angrily snapped its orange muzzle at Lisa as it prepared itself for attack. The black creature let out a snarl before spitting out a barrage of fireballs at Nidorino. Although he tried to dodge the strike, a few fireballs did strike his side. He whipped his head around and growled at Houndour. But another electric blast from Magnemite turned Nidorino’s focus back toward the floating magnet.

Lisa pulled a Pokéball from her handbag. “Time for me to substitute another variable into this equation! Return, Pidgeotto! Spheal, you’re up!”

Lisa pitched out another Pokéball while doing a ballet-style spin, sending out her light blue circular Pokémon. The Ice-type smiled and barked as it waved its two small front flippers.

Meanwhile, with one last Double Kick, Nidorino finished Magnemite off by sending it crashing into a rock formation, but not without being blasted with a final Thundershock and slumping to the ground. Both Pokémon were called back.

Lisa summoned her Koffing into battle, shouting, “Okay, your turn! Let’s school this old geezer!” The toxic creature released puffs of gray smoke from the craters on her body as she floated a couple feet in the air.

“Annihilate that stupid girl! Now!” Meanwhile Tommy called forth... a Magikarp. Lisa could hardly believe her eyes when the old man’s red fish appeared. With its wide eyes bearing a clueless expression, the hapless Pokémon flopped around harmlessly on the cave’s floor, its mouth hanging wide open as it repeated its low-pitched cries of “Karp?”

“Looks like you’re all washed up, Tommy! I expected better from you!” The teen made no attempt to stifle or hide her laughter.

“You won’t be laughing after this!” Tommy wasted no time in injecting a chemical into his Water-type. “Now meet Gyarados!” With an angry expression on its face, the huge blue sea serpent let out a huge roar that shook up the whole battlefield. Viciously slamming its tail on the ground, the monstrous beast barely fit inside the confined spaces of the cave.

“You can’t scare me that easily! Koffing, give the big brute a taste of some Sludge! Spheal, launch repeated Water Guns at Houndour!” Lisa looked at her nemesis with a determined expression and her hands on her hips.

“Attack, my henchmen! Destroy her!” Tommy yelled, shaking his fist.

As Lisa’s round partner unleashed his volleys of water, Houndour fired out embers at Spheal and both sides were able to hit the other. The two Pokémon reeled from the other’s attacks, but they firmly held their ground. The barks and cries of both became louder and began to take on an angry tone.

Meanwhile, the mighty Gyarados let out another mighty roar...

And started flopping around on the cave’s floor. Once again, Lisa began to chuckle at the Pokémon’s incompetence. “Hmmmm.... Apparently those chemicals only change the Pokémon’s form. They don’t allow them to use new moves. Maybe Tommy boy should’ve thought of that...

While still flailing about frantically, Gyarados was hit by Koffing’s well-placed Sludge. It let out another roar, but this one sounded like it was bellowing out in pain. Gyarados started to move more sluggishly and its eyes began to grow red.

Must be poisoned. Meowth suffered the same thing when Shannon poisoned her... but Tommy’s probably so stupid he’ll keep it in there until it succumbs completely.

“You incompetents!” Tommy screamed. “What the hell are you doing?!”

“Okay, Koffing, Gyarados is poisoned and it’ll go down by itself. Right now, help out Spheal!” Lisa shouted, looking at the

Spheal and Houndour continued exchanging their Water Gun and Ember attacks. Both were still pretty evenly matched, with many of their attacks all canceling the other’s out. As both Pokémon began another round of attacks, Koffing blew out some Smog clouds which made contact with some flames and triggered an explosion.

Spheal took the opportunity and shot some Water Guns right into the smoldering cloud of smoke. When the smoke cleared, Houndour was still standing, and it wasn’t clear if Spheal hit it or not with his attack. Lisa couldn’t believe it and her opponent took advantage. Tommy injected another chemical into it and Houndour let out an angry roar in response.

“Now, Frustration!” Tommy smiled and laughed. He looked as if he was confident that his chemicals would be the game changer.

The powerful charging strike was incredibly powerful and knocked both of Lisa’s Pokémon backwards and against the rocky cave wall.

“Come on guys! Don’t give up yet!” Lisa frantically yelled, as she fidgeted with her skirt nervously.

Righting themselves, both of Lisa’s Pokémon fired long range water and poison attacks as Houndour was charging in for another harsh blow. Fortunately, both attacks hit, knocking Houndour for a loop. As the dog’s legs gave way and it collapsed on the ground, Tommy was forced to recall it. “Stupid idiot! Even with the help of science, you’re useless!”

Despite the poison affecting its performance in battle, Gyarados was still a major player. It charged at Spheal, knocking him into a cave wall. Lisa noticed that her Pokémon lay motionless at the point of impact, and knew he was spent. However, it was some consolation to Lisa when she noticed Gyarados squinting and howling out in pain from the poison.

With a look of concern on her face, Lisa pulled out a Pokéball and withdrew her Ice-type. “Uh, oh! Spheal, return! You need some rest! Good job, though! I think Koffing can handle it from here!”

Koffing floated out of the path of another one of Gyarados’ rampaging tackles. Out of control, the massive beast slammed headlong into a wall.

Seeing her chance, the Poison-type began spitting more putrid poison at the huge blue serpent. Her aim was true, and the thick purple Sludge splattered all over the foe’s face. Gyarados let out one more deafening howl before collapsing to the ground. Completely flabbergasted, Tommy called it back just as it was reverting to its Magikarp form.

“NO! How is this possible?! I... You... ARRGH!” Throwing up a smoke veil, he ran off toward the eastern end of the cave. The cloud of smoke made it impossible for the teen to pursue him.

Realizing that her Pokémon had taken a beating, Lisa headed back out the entrance and into the Pokémon Center. Once there, Nidorino somehow released himself from his Pokéball. Emerging directly in front of the girl, he began snarling at Lisa as soon as the red beam of light from the Pokéball subsided. Only a quick sidestep avoided disaster as the injured but angry Poison-type tried to charge and stab his trainer.

“Hey, watch it!” the girl shrieked as she stumbled and nearly fell down trying to dodge the enraged Pokémon. “What am I gonna do with you?” The spectacle had attracted the attention of others in the center, who stared at the two with stunned expressions. After dodging another attack, the girl pulled out Nidorino’s Pokéball. The wily Pokémon dodged several beams of red light before finally being engulfed by it.

As she finally succeeded in calling back the out of control Pokémon, the teen sighed as sweat began to pour down her forehead. “That’s it… I can’t handle this one…

Desperate to escape the gazes of shocked onlookers, Lisa ran to a small hallway behind the front desk. There she used the phone to call Professor Sequoia.

“Hello? Lisa? How are you doing? It’s been awhile!” came the voice of the young scientist.

“Truth be told, I’ve been better. I’m all stressed out, I’m scared to death, and this whole routine is not what I was expecting. But before I tell you my life story, can I ask you to do a favor for me?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“Can you look after a Pokémon that I caught earlier. I think this Nidorino would rather be able to run around on the ranch at the moment. I mean, he won’t obey me at all and he just tried to attack me.”

The professor took a deep breath. “Lisa, you really should try to work with him more. I mean, that’s part of being a trainer. You have to develop bonds with your Pokémon and gain their trust.”

“But, I’m at my wit’s end trying to keep him in line! Just now he tried to jab me with his horn. He won’t eat, he won’t attack unless provoked in battle, and when he does attack, it’s like he snaps and goes ballistic. Overkill, really! Please, I’m begging you! He’s just too much for me!” The girl began to whimper.

“Okay, Lisa, if your hands are that full, I’ll take care of him. Now, what about this rough time you’re having? Any news?”

“Most of the rough time I was having was related to Nidorino. Other than that, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is I got my first badge.”

“Congratulations! And the bad news?”

“Do you know about that group, Thrash, who invaded your lab the night before I got Meowth?”

The professor grew silent for a moment, as if to jog her memory. “Yeah, what about them?”

“Well, apparently now I’ve been roped into this Pokémon League mission to try to stop them…”

“Yeah… Lorelei called me yesterday. Said they were after some research documents at the university that were connected to the research I was doing. Research related to Shadow Pokémon.”

Lisa explained, “Well, I found out that Team Thrash is officially looking to make Shadow Pokémon again. They’re putting together an apparatus to do that. It seems like they’re going to be taking awhile to put it together so I think I have some time.”

“Sounds really serious. Now, I want you to stay safe and don’t get yourself over your head. I’ll try to dig up some dirt on Thrash and see what’s going on with Nidorino. But right now I have an appointment with my doctor, so I have to go. Well, I’ll wish you the best of luck! Bye!”

“Okay, we’ll chat later.”

After the conversation, Lisa rested up her Pokémon again then headed back into the cave.

Lisa had not made it ten steps into the cave before she tripped over something. She looked at the ground and saw a small orange Pokémon with an unusually large jaw. In fact, its head was nearly double the size of the rest of its body. It was also equipped with razor-sharp teeth.

“Trapinch: The Ant Pit Pokémon. Trapinch digs and hides itself just underground with its mouth open, ready to clamp down on unsuspecting prey.”

The Trapinch began snapping its jaw at Lisa. She knew it wanted a battle, but t the same time, she didn’t think it sounded angry.

“All right, Meowth, let’s get it! Use Fury Swipes!”

Meowth quickly slashed Trapinch several times with her claws, leaving red marks on Trapinch’s orange skin. It countered by creating a vortex of sand. Meowth was trapped in the cyclone and couldn’t reach the Trapinch. Every time she tried to escape the twister, blinding sand forced her back.

“Grrr... Time for some long-range tactics. Use Pay Day!”

Shiny coins began to emanate from the Sand Tomb and came right at Trapinch. Upon being struck, Trapinch reeled. It couldn’t keep the vortex going, freeing Meowth to leap in and scratch at it. Trapinch emerged from the onslaught, barely able to stand on its four stubby feet. It now bore numerous red scratch marks and couldn’t keep its lower jaw from dropping to the ground.

“Go, Pokéball!” Spinning around twice, Lisa threw out the Pokéball. Trapinch was drawn into the device, and after several moments of wobbling (and of Lisa fidgeting nervously with her skirt), the ball clicked shut.

“All right! Trapinch is mine!” As she went to retrieve her Pokéball someone pushed her to the ground. The impact with the ground ripped both her blouse and skirt.

“Whoa!” As soon as she regained her wits, the girl noticed the fresh tears in her clothing. “My outfit! Hey, what’s the big idea?”

As she got back up, she came face to face with a young man about her age. He wore thick glasses, an oversized white button-up shirt, and wrinkled black slacks. His blond hair was long, curly, and rather disheveled.

Pushing his glasses up on his face, the man said, “Remember me? You knocked me out during the first round of the calculus competition! I was crushed! Listen, just because you happened to solve that third-order differential equation by a fluke doesn’t mean you’re smarter than me.”

“In case you didn’t know, I won the entire thing and was named the 2006 math champion!”

“No way! You won… Fine. You may be better at math than me, but I doubt you can beat me at Pokémon battling... or chemistry!”

“I think I can take you. Bring it on!” Lisa spat, eager for whatever challenge this guy had.

“Hahahaha! I have the entire Periodic Table tattooed on my chest! There’s no way you can win!” The man pulled a Pokéball out from his pants pocket as he wore a confident smirk on his face

“Okay, obsessed much?” Lisa gave her opponent a baffled look; not knowing why – or how – this weirdo fit the entire Periodic Table on himself. Nor did she want to see it.

Lisa commented, “You don’t want to mess with a girl with a bachelor’s degree in math, with concentrations in computer science AND Chemistry.”

“You asked for it! You think you’re so smart but I’ll show you! I call out Grimer!”

The nerdy fellow sent out a purple mass of living sludge. The toxic substance on its body constantly oozed and dripped down its gelatinous form.

“Might as well fight Poison with Poison, if only because I don’t want to be poisoned again. Go, Koffing! Use Tackle!” Another purple Pokémon emerged in a brilliant flash of energy, this one spherical in shape.

“First question, little girl. I’ll take it easy on you. What is the chemical symbol for zinc?”

“It’s Zn. I was expecting a challenge. What is the atomic number of antimony, smart guy?” Lisa quickly responded.

Koffing rammed headlong into Grimer, who delivered a rather weak hit with its slimy arm in retaliation.

“It’s 51. Any numbskull knows that. Atomic weight of barium. Give it to me! And use Screech!” the nerd spat at Lisa.

“137.33. Duh. What group and period does vanadium belong to? Oh, and Koffing, use Smokescreen followed by Tackle!”

“Pound it! And the answer is Group 5, Period 4. Now for you. What is the charge of an unbonded Sulfate ion, and what is its formula?”

Grimer let out a piercing scream but it didn’t deter its foe. Koffing blew out a thick cloud of black smoke and charged in at Grimer while it was still blinded. The mass of slime was knocked backward a few feet as it yelled out in anguish.

“Easy. Its formula is SO_4, with a -2 charge. An amino acid contains an amino group and what other functional group?” Lisa asked, smirking.

Lisa’s opponent started sweating and fidgeting. The teenage brainiac knew she had stumped the nerd. Eventually, he mumbled, “Um… a hydroxyl group.”

“Ha! Wrong! It consists of an amino group and a carboxylic acid group!” Lisa looked at him with a smug, confident smile. “Who’s your chemistry mama now?”

“No, I can’t believe I lost!” he yelled out as he recalled his Grimer, just as Koffing was ready for another Tackle.

“But the battle wasn’t over...” Lisa pointed out.

“Yes it was. The battle is lost either when a Pokémon faints or when a question is answered wrong. That is how these ‘quiz battles’ are carried out. But anyway, I am shamed. I must return home to study more…”

As he ran off, Lisa continued deeper into the tunnel until she tripped over something again. “Ow! Jeez! I’m tired of tripping! What is with this place? Someone call the DOT!”

Getting back up, she saw herself face-to-face with a Geodude and Aron, two of the Pokémon she recalled that Roy used. Both looked primed for battle. Both gray Pokémon stared the girl down, with Geodude flexing its rocky arms while the armor-plated Aron simply looked on with its large blue eyes.

“So, you’ll battle together? Fine by me. Go, Meowth and Spheal! Use Water Pulse and Ice Ball!”

Spheal spit out a small ball of solid ice. The frozen blue projectile hit Geodude, knocking it over, but the rock Pokémon quickly recovered, delivering two quick punches to Spheal with its fists. Meowth landed a direct hit on Aron, but it was quick to react with a Tackle that sent her sliding backwards. The cat remained on her feet, showing little signs of wear… so far.

“Good hits, guys. Now, repeat the attacks!” Lisa pointed in the direction of the aggressors.

Spheal’s ball of ice was somewhat larger this time, but this time Geodude dodged out of the way, enabling the attack to strike Aron this time. Aron was sent sliding back from the force of impact, but the ice shattered against the Steel-type’s shiny armor. Unfortunately for Geodude, by dodging the Ice Ball, it was right in the path of Meowth’s Water Pulse, which did significantly more damage to it. The rocky Pokémon was slower to regain its composure than it was after the last hit.

“We’ve got ‘em on the run! Keep up the good work!” Lisa cheered.

This time, Aron delivered a rushing tackle, slamming directly into Spheal’s round body. Though he was sent rolling, he had learned in Roy’s gym to use his front flippers to catch air and regain control of his movements. While in midair, he opened his mouth and launched a sizable chunk of freezing fury at Aron. Once again, the ice shattered on impact, but a quick Water Pulse from Meowth found its mark. Aron was sent crashing against the cavern wall. The girl suddenly noticed Geodude holding a large gray rock in its hands.

“Meowth, behind you!”

Lisa’s warning came just in time as her Pokémon turned around to see the incoming boulder. She quickly jumped, forcefully kicking the rock and sending it back at Geodude. The Rock-type looked bewildered as its own Rock Throw was used against it. Stone met stone as the boulder broke in two after striking the Pokémon directly in the head.

“Great job, Meowth! Rinse and repeat, guys! You’re looking great out there!” The teen smiled as her Pokémon were making quick work of the wild ones.

Spheal’s Ice Ball was huge this time, but Aron was able to dodge underneath it. The ice splintered into hundreds of shards as it slammed against the rocky wall. Geodude was much less successful, as it got a face full of Water Pulse, courtesy of Meowth. Knowing it couldn’t last much longer, Geodude beat a hasty retreat into the dark depths of the cave. Aron stuck around, however, and appeared to be preparing to attack again.

“Okay, guys, one left! Give it a Water Pulse and Ice Ball!”

Aron started charging at Lisa’s Pokémon. It was able to shatter the Ice Ball and continue its rush, but Meowth’s Water Pulse stopped it in its tracks. The little armored Pokémon’s stubby legs gave way as Aron fell to the floor.

Lisa prepared two Pokéballs, one in each hand, and tossed it at the weakened foe. Aron put up little resistance, but as soon as the capture was completed the Pokéball dissolved in a shower of pixels. Just then, the girl’s PDA beeped. Lisa took it out and read the message:

“Aron successfully transported to Professor Sequoia.”

Lisa jumped up and pumped her fist in the air. “Awesome! Another capture! Now, if I can just find my way out of here without tearing up my clothes any worse than they are now...”

Just as Lisa had called back her two Pokémon, she was interrupted by a voice. “You there! You’re not dressed for hiking! You look like someone roughed you up at a school dance!”

She looked at the man, who was wearing a hoodie and jeans. “Well, you don’t look the part of the hiker either.”

“Hey, how about you battle my Pikachu?”

The man sent out a chubby little yellow rodent with rosy red cheeks. It yelled, “Pika!” in a high pitched voice, its pointed ears raised and wearing a smile on its face.

“So, that’s my opponent. Looks easy enough. Trapinch, it’s your turn! Your first battle by my side! We’ll start row-reducing this matrix by using Dig!”

“Wait? Row-reduce? What matrix?” the man asked, completely confused.

“Oh, sorry. Just a little math geek metaphors there.”

“Whatever. Thundershock, Pikachu!” he ordered, uninterested in Lisa’s lame attempt at humor.

Trapinch quickly concealed itself underground. The enemy Pikachu just ran to the hole and peered into it. Without warning, Trapinch popped up and sent Pikachu airborne. While in midair, the rodent attempted to blast its enemy with bolts of yellow electricity emanating from its red cheeks, but the bolts just bounced off Trapinch. Pikachu’s landing was less than graceful, as it landed right on its face.

“Arrgh! That didn’t work!” the man grumbled.

Having seemingly taken no damage at all, the orange Pokémon rushed right at its Electric-type adversary and clamped down with its powerful jaws. Pikachu struggled to break free and eventually released itself by beating Trapinch with its tail.

“Urgh… Pikachu, show her your true power!” the man shouted as he jumped up and down in a tantrum.

Lisa chuckled as she watched the man flail about. “Fine by me. Let’s give it a Sand Tomb followed by another underground strike!”

Trapinch quickly encased Pikachu in a vortex of sand before the rat had an opportunity to make a move. Every time it tried to leap out of containment, the blinding sand whipping about would force it back inside the swirling mass. Trapinch headed underground again, leaving a small hole in its wake. From within the twister, the Ground-type quickly knocked Pikachu for a loop. It landed hard on the ground and let out a final, pained squeal. With his mouth hanging wide open in shock, the young man recalled it and ran off.

“Guess that battle left him... speechless. Ha, I’m so funny!”

Lisa made her way through the rest of the cave, somehow avoiding any more battles. She only would have to dodge the stray Zubat, which oddly enough were not in a combatitive mood today. She ended up tripping over rocks at least a dozen times though, so it was not an easy endeavor by any stretch of the imagination. After each stumble and fall, she bemoaned the lack of regular maintenance.

When Lisa finally made her way out of the tunnel, she took a look at what was left of her clothes. Both her skirt and blouse were badly soiled and ripped in several places. Her stockings were essentially no more, with the number of holes and runs in them. Her knees and elbows were bruised a bit as well. Not wanting any more mishaps, Lisa pulled off her shoes and just broke out into a sprint into the next town.

Lisa completely ignored a badly deteriorated motel at the cave’s exit. She ran right by a couple of boys battling with their Rattata and Poochyena. They paid her no mind as she blitzed past them. Fortunately, it was a clear path, with no wild Pokémon appearing for battle. The route itself was yet another boring dirt path with grass and trees on either side. The wind kicked up a little dust, but the girl was happy for the reprieve from the dangers of the cave.

Finally stepping into the city limits, Lisa rested her body on a lamppost, panting heavily out of exhaustion. “At least I made it here alive…

After a few minutes, Lisa was finally ready to continue walking. Her clothes reduced to rags, she did not want to spend too much time outside, for fear of embarrassment. She read on a sign, “Greenville City.”

How ironic.” Lisa had spent most of her life not far from the city of the same name in South Carolina. Huge, towering buildings loomed in the distance. The road leading into town was lined with the usual mix of hotels, restaurants, shopping plazas, gas stations, and the ever-present Pokémon Center. Her first destination was the red-roofed Pokémon healing facility. Upon entering, the balding, gray-haired nurse commented, “My, you look like a wreck.”

“I know. I ran into some hostile trainers in that cave back there,” Lisa explained, clearly exhausted from her trek.

“Well, I’ll look after your Pokémon here while you rest up.”

Just then, two girls entered the building. It was Alexis and Shannon, wearing identical red sweatshirts.

“Oh, no! I can’t let them see me like this!”

“Lisa! There you are!” they both called out.

Lisa began to sweat as her face turned red. “It’s too late!”
*******

At the base of the Express Tunnel mountain was a run-down single story motel that Lisa had ignored. “BUDGET INN” was hand-painted in red block letters on a dilapidated sign in front of the motel.

A phone rang in dark, dusty room 24, and the guest in the room answered it.

“Father, look for a red Ford cargo van outside. I must show you a few things.”

Grabbing his room key, Tommy Junger made his way outside his room and found the red van mentioned by the caller. As he approached it, the door flew open and he got inside.

A shadowy figure wearing a red hood greeted him. Standing next to him were four figures dressed in silver armor. One of the four was significantly more muscular than the other three, and one was visibly shorter than the others. The figure in the red cloak started to introduce his accomplices in a low, menacing tone. “Now, father, I will show you four of our six Orre recruits. Meet Arton, Skrub, Exol, and Naps. The other two are performing key duties at our base so they will remain stationed there. As you travel the region scouting out new members and other places and items of interest you will rendezvous with each one to get status reports. Arton will be heading up Operation Game Boy. Skrub will command Operation Power Block. Since Operation Hilltop Fissure is so important, both Exol and Naps will be dispatched to supervise it. Now I will let you go so as not to arouse suspicion.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Father, for your sake, I hope nobody heard our conversation in the tunnel entrance. Least of all the Northwood girl. I know you like to use your speakerphone, so I am a bit concerned. So tell me. Did anyone eavesdrop on our discussion?”

“Uh... Of course not…” Tommy stammered, hoping his son and boss would not call his bluff.

“Very good. I’m out,” Bart Sy calmly announced.

As soon as Tommy got out, the van pulled out of the lot.

“Crud! If he finds out, I’m in for it! I can’t believe I’m now taking orders from my own son!” Tommy muttered as he made his way through the dusty lot back to his room.

Chapter 10: Lisa Takes a Gamble

I’m so embarrassed!” Lisa’s new friends were looking at her with her clothes all torn up and dirty, and her hair was a disaster. But then she noticed that their clothes were in no better shape.

“Don’t look at me like this! I look like a disaster area!” Lisa practically screamed at them.

“Don’t worry about it,” Alexis told Lisa calmly. “Everyone gets a bit ruffled up going through that tunnel.”

“Thanks. I think I’ll head up into the rooms and change.”

“All right. We better do the same.”

Upstairs, Lisa found a private room and went in, locking it behind her. “I can’t believe it. I get my clothes all torn up in that blasted tunnel, then I have my friends see me at my absolute worst! At least I think they were okay with it...

Minutes later Lisa finished changing, wearing a pink floral dress with a purple, orange, and red print. She had on a pair of those white stockings she loved so much and also her black strappy heels, and her white hat, which she had stored during her trek through the tunnel. After having to throw her ruined clothes in the trash, she made her way back to the main room.

Alexis and Shannon were now wearing matching outfits: green T-shirts and blue denim skirts with black leggings.

Lisa looked outside. “You know, it’s almost dark. I’m gonna go and get a room for the night, then I’ll meet up with you somewhere for dinner.”

“How about the Club Greene? There’s supposed to be some sort of show there tonight.”

“Okay, sounds good. I’ll see you later.” Lisa bid her friends good-bye.

The two girls left. Soon after, Lisa got her Pokémon back from the attendant and headed out to look for a nice place to spend the night – or couple of nights, as the case may be. She let out her Meowth and the two of them walked out toward the business district. Soon they found a six story AmeriSuites hotel with its brick and glass façade, and went into the modest but attractive lobby. Inside the hotel, an older woman was checking in, along with an elegant beige cat Pokémon with pale fur and a shimmering red mark on its forehead. Lisa recognized this Pokémon as Persian. Meowth immediately noticed and started to stare at the Persian with awe. Lisa noticed Meowth’s reaction.

“Like that, Meowth? You’ll evolve into a Persian like that someday if you work hard at it.”

Meowth started purring with a big smile on her face. Lisa walked up to the desk and began to check in. After receiving her card-key, Lisa noticed that Meowth was still watching the Persian as its trainer made her way down the hallway.

“You really like that Persian, don’t you, sweetie?”

“Meow!”

Smiling, the teen made her way down the corridor to the elevator. She had been given a third-floor room and was too tired to use the stairs. “It feels like my whole body aches… I’ll be glad to get into this nice, comfortable bed…

Once she arrived in her room – a large suite with kitchenette, 25’’ TV, VCR, king bed, and sofa bed – she let the rest of her Pokémon out and laid out some Pokémon food for them. Spheal seemed to eat his food especially quickly, and Lisa had to lay out more for him. “I hope he doesn’t end up looking like Santa Claus,” she joked to herself.

Lisa decided to leave her Pokémon out, but gave them a warning: “Don’t tear up this room. Otherwise we’re all in trouble. This isn’t the ideal place to practice attacks anyway.” Then she proceeded to leave the hotel and walk to Club Greene, just down the road.

The club was awash in neon lights. A marquee at the entrance read, “SHOW TONIGHT! Orre Magicians Razzel and Dazzel with special guest Miror B.!”

Lisa entered and soon found where her friends were sitting.

“So, Lisa,” Shannon asked, “I hear you’re from the U.S. How did you find your way out here?”

“Yep, I live in the commercial area of Anderson, South Carolina, just off the main strip on Clemson Boulevard. Our place there overlooks a Quality Inn, a Target, a Lowe’s and an Applebee’s. Now, about how I got over to this corner of the world. My dad does business over here and in the States. Lately, we’ve been spending more time over here, though my parents just returned to South Carolina. Right after they send me off to train. Perfect timing, huh?”

“Yeah, it is… Hmmm… Where did you go to school? Here or over there?” Shannon asked between sips of water.

“In South Carolina. I know here most kids leave school at ten to start training Pokémon, but over in the U.S., school goes until you’re eighteen, unless you drop out or are really smart.”

“Really smart like you, for instance. So, when did you graduate high school?” Alexis asked

“When I was eleven.” A blushing Lisa let out a giggle after saying that. “Then I went to college nearby and got a four year bachelor’s degree in just two and a half. After I graduated there was when we started spending serious time here. Which reminds me... my car is still in our garage in Fort Barnes. I hope it’s all right.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it… it’s just a car, right?”

“Of course not!” Lisa answered. “My car’s my baby, and I would give my life to protect it!”

“Wow, it must be some car!”

“You bet it is!” Lisa said proudly. “It’s an ‘89 Chevy Caprice Classic, only 40,000 miles and in near perfect shape!”

Not knowing much about old cars, Alexis and Shannon simply nodded.

“Moving on,” Shannon said, “What about the rest of your family?”

“Well, I’ve told you about my dad. There’s also my mom and younger sister. My mom works with my dad and is the company’s chief financial officer. My sister’s currently in school in South Carolina. She’s been staying with grandma, who’s also caretaker of our house in South Carolina when mom, dad, and I have been in Fort Barnes. My sister’s nine, and she’s expressed interest in being a trainer. Last I heard, mom and dad are pulling some strings to get her out of school and into a Pokémon training class so she can start training once she turns ten. Okay, I’ve given you my life story. What about you guys?”

“Well,” Alexis started, running her hand through her blond hair, “my family isn’t that interesting. My mom’s a secretary for the English program at Fourtix University, and my dad does designs for a house manufacturer. I have an older brother who left to train Pokémon four years ago. Last I heard from him was three weeks ago; he said he was in the Kanto region.

“Both of my parents are retired. They made a good bit of money with an investment firm and were able to retire early. I’m an only child, and also our family’s first Pokémon trainer!”

“Well, that’s actually quite interesting, you two. Anyway, I’m staying in the AmeriSuites hotel, room 329. Don’t be a stranger!”

“Yeah, we’re sharing a room in the Pokémon Center. But yeah, we’ll stop by sometime.”

“Oh, I think the show’s starting!” Shannon whispered.

Suddenly the lights began to dim except for the ones over the stage. Disco music started to play. First there appeared two young girls in white top hats and tutus. Then, between them, emerged a tall lanky man wearing a purple suit and with a huge red and white afro. Lisa looked bewildered at the mysterious man with the odd but impressive hairdo.

Alexis whispered, “The dude with the giant afro is Miror B. I hear he’s a former criminal from Orre who gave up after a crushing defeat in a spectacular battle atop a lighthouse. Now he travels the world with the magicians showing off his dance moves. He’s got some cool dance moves, even if he’s a little… let’s just call him ‘unique,’ and leave it at that.”

Miror B.’s voice came through the loudspeaker. “Behold the most elegant dance steps in the world! Trudly! Folly! Let the music play!”
********

In the hotel suite, the Pokémon had just finished eating.

“Aww!” Spheal moaned. “The food’s all gone! I wanted more!”

“Still? You ate half of mine too!” Koffing replied. “It’s a good thing for you I’m not hungry tonight.”

“So, Trapinch,” Meowth started. “What was life like before you joined with us?”

The orange Pokémon took a step forward. “Pretty boring, actually. Surprisingly, I never even caught sight of any humans in that cave, even though the other Pokémon there complain about too many of them. And I really can’t battle the other ones in that cave. I can’t jump up to fight the Zubat, and the Geodude and Aron have that thick armor that my teeth can’t bite through. And the other Trapinch are all relatives, and refuse to fight me. I’m hoping that with this girl, I’ll have the chance to really test how well I battle.”

“That’s funny,” Pidgeotto said, flapping her wings. “You’re hoping to battle more often with this girl, while I’m hoping to battle less often!”

“Really?” Trapinch asked. “Are there that many battles where you used to live?”

“Oh, yeah, too many of ‘em. It was like for every meal, I had to battle first. And it seemed like it was always the Weedle that I would have to contend with, and you know how bad their poison can be. Compare that to earlier, when the girl just gave us food in a nice bowl. No battles or anything.”

“Very interesting,” observed Meowth as she scratched her chin lightly. “Two very different perspectives on the whole situation. As for myself, I guess I’m in the middle. I like a bit of action, but I can’t do it non-stop. I like to have time to just kick back and relax.”

“I guess I’m the same way,” Koffing chimed in. “but what’s more important to me is how nice the human is. I’ve had a bad experience with humans before, but this girl seems pretty nice, if a bit of a scatterbrain.”

Meowth agreed. “Yeah, I know. I’ve known her since before I started battling, and she’s almost nice to a fault. She does like to ramble on about stuff I don’t think anybody else understands, though…” Spotting something out of the corner of her eye grabbed her attention. A certain spherical Ice-type was chewing on the corner of the bedspread. “Spheal, no! That’s not for eating! If she notices that…”

“Sorry, but I was hungry!” In response, Meowth merely sighed.
*******

After the show and dinner the girls split up and headed back to their respective rooms for the night. On her way back, Lisa noticed another neon-clad building, this one with a sign that read, “Greenville City Casino Gaming Hall.”

“Oh, great,” she muttered. “This will become Fourtix’s version of Vegas.”

Lisa arrived back in the room about fifteen minutes later. She started to talk with her Pokémon when her PDA’s cell phone went off.

Still petting Meowth, she pulled out the electronic device. “Sorry guys, but I have to take this call. Hello?”

A familiar Italian voice greeted the intrepid young trainer. “Yes, Lisa. It’s Giovanni. I am en route to Greenville City now. I just got word from the Pokémon League that they want you to check out the casino there. There have been reports of shady deals going on there and it is suspected that Team Thrash is behind its operation. I was given permission to accompany you on this mission. I will meet you at the Pokémon Center at 9:00 the next morning. Sleep well. I anticipate there will be tough battles tomorrow.”

“All right. I’ll be ready. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Lisa turned to her Pokémon. “Sorry, guys, but it’ll be another tough day tomorrow. We’ll be turning in early.”

Lisa headed into the bathroom to change into her nightgown and to get ready for bed. She made her way back to the bed.

Picking up her PDA to shut it off, Lisa noticed someone had sent her an email. She read it aloud.

“Dear, Lisa: This is Joel Madison from ‘Fourtix Region’s Most Wanted’. We are looking to interview you for our show in a feature profiling Team Thrash and Mr. Thomas Junger. A previous interview with Lorelei and Police Inspector Leslie Morgan will also be shown during the segment but we would like to air your segment live during our show, which will air two nights from now. Would you be interested, and if so, please let us know your location so we can fly out there in time.”

“Woo-hoo! I’m gonna be on TV! I called that one perfectly!” she happily squealed, remembering her comment to Tommy back in the cave. Lisa wrote back, “Yes, I would be interested in doing the interview. I am currently in Greenville City where I will be for the next few nights. Also, I would like to have a couple of friends on the air with me. Is that okay? Thanks again, Lisa Northwood.”

Lisa turned to share the news with her Pokémon. “Looks like we’ll be here a couple more days, guys. Guys?”

With her Pokémon spread out on the floor and sofa bed and already falling asleep, Lisa turned out the lights in the room.

Early the next morning, Lisa woke up early and got dressed. She put on pretty much the same outfit she had on last night, except that she elected to wear her white slippers instead of her heels, at least while going into enemy territory. Lisa gathered up all of her Pokémon and transferred them all back into her Pokéballs, then headed downstairs. After grabbing a cup of apple juice and a bagel from the free breakfast buffet, she proceeded to walk out to the casino she had passed by last night.

Outside the neon nightmare, Lisa waited for Giovanni. After about five minutes, he showed up, wearing the same black suit he had when they had first met.

Giovanni examined Lisa from head to toe, commenting, “Well, Lisa, you’re here, though bright pink floral’s not exactly the outfit of choice for espionage operations.”

“Meh, it’s daytime. Even if I had worn my black stealth dress, it wouldn’t hide me any better.”

“You have a point. All right, let’s do this thing,” Giovanni answered, shoving his right hand into his pocket.

Lisa and Giovanni headed into the casino. Amid rows of slot machines, poker tables, and roulette wheels, Lisa soon focused her sight a man standing in a corner in front of a closed door. The man was clean shaven and had also shaved his head bald. He wore a black suit not unlike Giovanni’s. On his head rested a pair of sunglasses and a headset with microphone.

“There,” Lisa whispered to Giovanni, pointing to the man. “Let’s move in on him.”

Lisa walked up to the man and asked him, “Hey, what’s behind the door?” Giovanni was not far behind.

In a low, deep voice, the man responded, “Employees only.”

“Well then,” Lisa said, tearing off the guard’s sunglasses, “let’s just say I have important business to discuss with management.”

Upon seeing her, the man sputtered, “You... It’s the girl that the boss warned us about! I won’t let you in here! Zubat and Pikachu, get her!”

A small blue bat and yellow electric rodent, both familiar foes, appeared, Pikachu not looking threatening despite the scowl on its face.

“Fair enough. I call out Meowth and Spheal. Let’s start off with an Ice Ball and Fury Swipes!” The beige kitten emerged and jumped high in the air using her large brown feet as leverage, while the round aquatic mammal looked on with a smile.

Both of Lisa’s Pokémon struck quickly, hitting Zubat with a small chunk of ice and slashing Pikachu several times in rapid succession. The bat Pokémon was knocked downward, but furiously flapped its wings before being grounded. Its partner began stomping its feet and released a small shot of electricity, but Spheal quickly rolled left, causing the attack to harmlessly strike the tiled floor.

“You two! Use Leech Life and Tackle!”

“Meowth, dodge right fifteen inches and jump up at a thirty-seven degree angle with your claws ready. Spheal, roll left then hit Zubat with another Ice Ball.” Lisa was unveiling her secret weapon: Lessons taught to Meowth one night back in Bluefield regarding geometry and hyperbolic curves. She began to smile.

Meowth jumped sideways then backwards at a small angle as Pikachu ran beneath it. Then the small cat Pokémon spun around and sank her claws into the Electric-type’s back, interrupting a Thundershock before it could be formed. The little yellow Pokémon let out a pained squeal before batting its feline adversary with its tail, successfully shaking its opponent off its back.

Zubat was able to drain some of Spheal’s life energy with an olive-colored energy circle before the Ice-type got the chance to roll to safety, but Spheal was able to hit Zubat with a larger Ice Ball regardless. This frozen attack sent the small Pokémon crashing to the ground, but Zubat was able to recover, albeit shivering from the cold

“Quick Attack, you spineless dimwit!” commanded the security officer.

Pikachu quickly struck Meowth with a blindingly fast running tackle attack. As Meowth stumbled and almost lost her balance, the rodent began charging at Meowth again, this time with yellow sparks emanating from the red spots on its cheeks.

“All right, give it a blast of Water Pulse!”

Meowth opened her mouth wide and let loose a steady stream of water complete with sonic pulses rippling through it. The attack successfully stopped the enemy’s incoming attack, knocking the tiny Pikachu backwards and into the leg of a blackjack table.

“Now, follow up with Pay Day! And Spheal, use another Ice Ball!”

“Meowth, meow!” Before Pikachu could get back on its feet, several shiny coins hit it at high velocity, knocking it out for the count. The chubby Pokémon fell on its rotund belly, coins and water surrounding it. A casino patron bent down to retrieve the coins, and her neighbor took advantage, stealing some of her poker chips.

The man grudgingly recalled his Pokémon and let out a low growl. “Zubat! It’s all on you now! Get them!”

Meanwhile, a sizable Ice Ball just struck Zubat but the small blue bat was still able to recover. Each time, though, its movements became slower and it seemed to fly closer to the ground.

“I don’t think it will take much more. Give it an Ice Ball and Scratch attack, guys!” Lisa yelled, pointing at her remaining adversary.

Sure enough, Zubat could not take a double whammy from both Pokémon, especially since the Ice Ball this time was very large. That attack grounded Zubat long enough for Meowth to slice at the blue blood-sucking opponent. The Pokémon lay on the floor, with chunks of ice scattered all around its motionless body.

“Damn! I didn’t figure I’d actually have to battle! I’m outta here!” The man packed up his Pokémon and fled out the front door.

Lisa ran over to the office door and tried to force it open. “Blast, it’s locked.”

Giovanni approached, a Pokéball in hand. “Step aside. I’ll handle this.”

Giovanni pitched out his Pokéball as curious gamblers looked on. The battle had caught everyone’s attention.

Emerging from the Pokéball was a huge gray Pokémon with a large drill-like horn on its head, that stood on its hind legs. Its body was covered in a rock-like hide, somewhat less jagged than that of a Geodude. Lisa fired up the Pokédex on her PDA.

“Rhydon, the drill Pokémon. Rhydon gains the ability to reason after it evolves from Rhyhorn. Its rocky hide enables it to make its nest inside volcanoes and near hot springs.”

“Now, Rhydon, use Mega Kick!” Giovanni ordered, pointing at the steel door.

With one powered-up strike with its foot, the steel door crumbled to the ground. Lisa’s mouth was wide open as she witnessed Rhydon’s raw power. “Giovanni’s really strong! Or, at least his Rhydon is.

Inside the small office, Lisa saw two people. One was a male Thrash agent wearing the usual red uniform. But the other guy was wearing silver metallic armor on his legs, his chest, his lower arms, and on his helmet. Due to the helmet’s tinted visor, Lisa could only see his mouth.

Giovanni stuck his head out of the doorway and flashed his Pokémon League badge at the onlookers. “Attention! This facility is operated by Team Thrash! On orders from the Pokémon League, everyone evacuate now!”

The patrons did as they were told, running out of the casino while in an obvious panic. Many loudly expressed disbelief at the news, while others bemoaned their interrupted games.

The man in the standard Thrash uniform started to protest loudly, “We are not ‘Team’ Thrash! We are the Brotherhood...”

The man in silver interrupted his subordinate in a surprisingly calm voice. “Silence! So, you must be the Lisa that everyone at headquarters is buzzing about. It is hard to believe that someone so young, in such a frilly outfit, could possibly pose a threat to us, but I will not take any chances. I am Arton. I am not dressed in usual Thrash attire because I am one of six ringers brought here from the Orre region for our expertise on Shadow Pokémon. I hope you understand that to me Pokémon battles are not a silly game. Do not think you can beat me with childish tactics. Agent Sissger! Take on the man in the suit. I want to experience the girl’s power firsthand. I call out Oddish and Charmeleon!”

Arton released a red fiery lizard Pokémon with its tail burning at its tip and a small blue Pokémon with leaves on its head. Charmeleon let out a loud, angry hiss, making a threatening slashing motion with its claws. Oddish did little other than shake its leaves as furiously as it could.

“Then I’ll start this with Pidgeotto and Trapinch! Give Oddish a taste of your Gust! Use Dig to take them by surprise!”

Pidgeotto took to the skies upon her release, flapping her light brown wings. Trapinch emerged on the floor and opened her jaws wide.

Oddish made an attempt to drain Trapinch’s power, but she managed to dig under the tiled floor before the attack hit. The missed attack left Oddish wide open for an incoming Gust attack from the airborne bird Pokémon. Charmeleon started to spit small flames out of its mouth at Pidgeotto, but she flew up to the ceiling and out of reach of the flames.

“Would you hit that thing?!” screamed Arton, shaking his armored fist furiously.

From up in the sky, Pidgeotto released another burst of wind aimed right at Oddish, then dive-bombed right at it. Oddish was sent flying back and slammed against the office drywall, looking incapacitated.

“Worthless plant! Stupid idiot Pokémon!” Arton clutched his head in exasperation.

Charmeleon managed to land several direct hits on Pidgeotto with Ember as she retreated to the air. Just then, the floor began to rumble, as Trapinch reappeared and slammed into Charmeleon from below. The fiery lizard was knocked several feet into the air and landed hard on its back. Charmeleon got back up easily but its partner was spent.

“Good job, guys! Let’s focus on Charmeleon now. Hit it with Wing Attack and Dig!” Lisa commanded with authority.

Arton replaced Oddish with a new Pokémon, this one a white hairy monkey-like Pokémon with an angry expression. “Haha! Now, Primeape! Destroy her!” The creature jumped about wildly, punching the air in a flurry of fists.

Primeape rushed in toward Trapinch at full speed, but she managed to duck underground seconds before impact. Pidgeotto, now back in the air, flew down at Charmeleon at high speed and whacked it hard with her wing. As Charmeleon reeled from the attack, Trapinch executed another Dig attack, but Charmeleon jumped clear and slashed at Pidgeotto with its claws. It took another well-aimed Wing Attack to shake off the fiery red reptile. It let out a loud, “Charrr!” and looked on in fury.

Quick on its feet, Primeape jumped in front of the small orange Ground-type and landed a series of quick punches to Trapinch before the big-jawed Pokémon could retreat underground. Primeape now focused its attention on Pidgeotto, leaping high before executing a downward sweeping motion with its hand, smacking the bird right in her back.

“Excellent work, Primeape! I will finish her off now!” Arton said. “Charmeleon, now!”

Charmeleon started to spit its fire at Pidgeotto again, but it failed to notice the ground rumbling beneath it. Trapinch struck it hard from below, launching Charmeleon skyward. The Fire-type’s head bounced off a desk as it descended, and the Pokémon landed in a motionless heap on the floor of the office..

“Great going! This guy’s apparently all talk!” Lisa confidently proclaimed.

Without missing a beat, Arton summoned a brown bird Pokémon with an elongated beak and huge, impressive wings, which the bird spread wide as it cawed and took flight. “Now, meet my Fearow! And don’t you dare underestimate my power, little girl! I will crush you! Primeape, Karate Chop! Fearow, use Peck!”

Lisa watched as the two Pokémon charged in at hers. “Quickly, dodge right, Pidgeotto! Trapinch, Dig underground and wait for it!”

Both Pokémon did so, and Primeape ended up delivering a Karate Chop to a chair with its boxing glove-like hands. Fearow and Pidgeotto started an aerial battle, exchanging Pecks and Wing Attacks. Meanwhile Trapinch landed a surprise hit on Primeape from underground. Despite being knocked into the air, the agile monkey landed on its feet and charged again.

“Whatcha gonna do now?” Lisa taunted her adversary, hands on her hips.

“Watch this, you little vermin! You two, get back here!” Arton bellowed to his two battle-worn Pokémon.

Both enemy Pokémon retreated back from Lisa’s team and landed in front of Arton. The thug proceeded to inject a chemical into both Pokémon. “Now that you’re angry as hell, give them a taste of your Frustration!”

Fearow and Primeape rushed in and both landed hard blows on Trapinch, knocking her unconscious. The double whammy was so blindingly fast neither trainer nor Pokémon had time to react.

A wide-eyed Lisa looked on while nervously pulling at her dress. “No!” Lisa screamed as she brought back Trapinch. “Sorry…You did well. But it is time to end all of this! Koffing, let’s go!”

With a flash of light, the purple orb Pokémon appeared in midair, loosing small puffs of smoke as she watched and assessed the situation at hand.

Lisa was planning her strategy to finish this battle. “Now, Pidgeotto, we’re going to lure Primeape into an attack then smack it silly with Wing Attack. Koffing, I think we’ll try a Sludge on Fearow.”

“You two! Frustration again!” Arton roared, gritting his teeth angrily.

Primeape rushed right toward Pidgeotto, but at the last second the bird flew slightly to the right and knocked Primeape upside the head, sending it careening into the wall. Primeape struggled to its feet, just in time to be struck down by another Wing Attack. This time, Primeape wouldn’t be getting back on its feet. Arton was forced to call back Primeape, muttering something unintelligible under his breath.

Meanwhile, Koffing had fired some Sludge at Fearow, but the angry bird still connected with Frustration as it delivered the blow via its long, sharp beak. Once again, it was a hard hit that shook up Koffing. She was able to withstand the attack, but Fearow was also still ready for more. But now it had both Pidgeotto and Koffing to deal with.

“You’re outnumbered, outmatched, and outsmarted now, buddy! Do you think you can win?” Lisa asked the now-fuming Arton, a smile forming on her face. She knew that she was in control of the match now.

“Do not underestimate the Thrash Brotherhood. You are to respect us. And I’ll show you why!” Arton responded.

Undaunted, the strong bird viciously pecked at Lisa’s Pokémon whenever they attempted to move in close for an attack. Lisa figured that she couldn’t have her exhausted Pokémon get hit by that sharp beak again.

“Time for a distance assault. Gust and Sludge! Be careful to avoid that beak!”

Both of the teen’s Pokémon launched long range attacks at Fearow. Pidgeotto initiated a Gust while Koffing used another slimy Sludge to slow down its assault. With its feathers ruffled up and purple slime on its face, Fearow was just barely hanging in the battle.

“Idiot! You’ve got Frustration, use it!”

Undaunted, Fearow landed another hard hit on Koffing, but that left it open to a final hard strike with Wing Attack that finally brought Fearow down, crash landing on the desk. Arton was forced to recall his last Pokémon, which he did while letting out a frustrated roar.

“How…how is this possible? I was beaten by a girl? Never mind that!”

Arton then noticed his underling was lying on the floor, beaten as well. “Sissger, we have no choice! We must retreat!”

“Freeze! Police! You two, on the ground, now!”

“No! It’s all over? I just started here!” Arton stuttered as he was placed into custody.

As officers led Arton and his pal to a waiting squad car, Giovanni had some words for Lisa as the pair walked out of the building.

“You did very well here today. However, I fear that the situation is more dire than we thought. That guy Arton… he was wearing a Cipher uniform.”

“You mean, those creeps from Orre who started the whole Shadow Pokémon project?”

Shoving his hands into his pocket, Giovanni said with a grim expression on his face, “Exactly. I must leave now and inform Eldes and Lorelei of this disturbing new development. I will wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors. Farewell. Oh, one more thing. Do you see that large domed building? That is the region’s Weather Research Center. I suggest you check it out. I don’t think anything’s going down there, but it would be good general knowledge for you to have.”

“Right. I’ll check it out.” Lisa answered.

As Giovanni departed in a black Town Car, Lisa headed for the domed glass building. Fortunately it was not a long walk. “Why not? I’ve just finished cleaning house, and this could be a good educational diversion.

At the door she was greeted by three individuals, all wearing white lab coats. “Lisa Northwood! We’ve heard about your adventures and your struggle to take down Thrash! Please, come in!”

Inside the building’s clean but blandly furnished lobby, Lisa got a good look at the three people. One was a tall man, with slick red hair. It stood out because his hairline somewhat resembled the letter “M”. The second man wore a blue bandana on his head. He had a slight beard and was slightly shorter than the first man. The third person was a young woman with long, curly red hair. Like the second man, she wore a blue bandana.

The man with red hair spoke up. “My name is Maxie. This here is Archie and his wife, Shelly. The three of us are the co-chairs of this research facility, but our intentions have not always been benign in the past. Ours is a cautionary tale about the power of weather and Pokémon. Please, sit down and let us explain.”

Nodding, Lisa had a seat in an upholstered chair as she prepared to listen to the researchers.

Archie started telling their story. “A couple of years back, Maxie and I were leaders of two opposing environmental groups in the Hoenn region. Both of us sought to upset the balance of the land and water masses of the region. Our reasoning was that if our respective group accomplished its goals, then we would aid in the development of Pokémon. Key to our operation was awakening two ancient Pokémon of legend, named Groudon and Kyogre.”

Maxie continued. “At that time, we believed we had the tools to control the two Pokémon but they proved too powerful for us. Calamity was averted since a young trainer, much like yourself, was able to summon a third ancient Pokémon, Rayquaza, to calm the two beasts. Since that incident, Groudon and Kyogre have been roaming the world, looking for a place to go back to rest. We were no longer welcome in Hoenn because of our misdeeds, but the Weather Lab here recognized our expertise with weather and the two legendary Pokémon and offered us positions.”

Shelly warned Lisa, “We have been tracking both Pokémon based on the weather conditions they leave in their wake and we’ve found that both Pokémon, in all likelihood, have migrated to Fourtix recently. I am not sure if they have moved on, but we suspect that if they are here, Team Thrash could be out to capture the Pokémon for their immense power. I will give you our cell number and we will be in contact if anything comes up. Meanwhile, feel free to look around here.”

“Okay, thanks.” Lisa got up from her chair to explore the lab. Just then, Maxie’s cell phone went off.

“Yes? Yes, this is Maxie… Really? Yes… understood.” Turning to his partners, Maxie said, “Sorry, but something has come up. I must leave for some important personal matters. Please excuse me.” He left the laboratory in a hurry.

Archie turned to Lisa and informed her, “He’s had a lot of these ‘emergencies’ come up lately. I do wonder what is up with him. But please, enjoy yourself here. I was told by Roy that you have an interest in science, so I think you will find something useful to you here.” While he was speaking, Shelly had sat down at a computer behind a desk. Archie joined her at the terminal.

After exploring the lab’s various exhibits, which included some interesting displays of various weather phenomena, Lisa headed outside and checked her messages. She had received a reply from the TV show, ‘Fourtix Region’s Most Wanted.’

“Lisa,

That sounds good. We will be in the Greenville City Pokémon Center tomorrow night at 7:00 PM. Feel free to bring your friends. We’ll see you then.

Joel Madison
Host, Fourtix Region’s Most Wanted.”

Lisa smiled to herself and said, “I can’t wait.”

Lisa’s next call was to her two friends who were in town. Alexis answered.

“Hey, it’s Lisa. Guess what? I have a TV interview tomorrow night and I was wondering if you two would like to come? It’s gonna be at 7:00 tomorrow night in the Pokémon Center.”

“Hey, sounds great! We’ll be there! Hey, we’re also planning on stopping by your room tonight. Which one is it?”

“It’s the AmeriSuites. I’ll meet you in the lobby at 5:00 tonight. We’ll grab a bite to eat then it’s sleepover time!”

“We’ll be there!”

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