Lurking in the Shadows

Chapter 16: Enter the Cat: When Nurses Attack!

Lisa and Lindsay made it through the forest without much more difficulty. In the clearing stood three buildings. The first was a Pokémon Center. Next to it was a three story hotel with a purple sign that read “Sleep Inn.” In front of the hotel was a McDonald’s.

The first stop was the Pokémon Center. But there was something wrong with this one. All of the previous Pokémon Centers Lisa had visited may have been basic and Spartan, but at least they were clean. But upon opening the rust-infested steel door, a pungent odor hit the young girls like a Freightliner. It was some putrid combination of mold, smoke, fresh blood, and rotting meat.

Jeez, what the heck reeks so bad?! Even my Koffing could never produce anything this nasty!

“Yeah, I’ll wait for you outside,” Lindsay mumbled, gasping and pinching her nose as her sister gathered her defenses and stepped in the doorway.

Getting a closer look at the facility, the observant and repulsed girl noticed clear evidence of shoddy maintenance. The ugly orange shag carpet was frayed, ripped, and stained in numerous places. The ceiling tile was discolored in some parts and crumbling apart in others. Peeling wallpaper and a layer of dust on everything completed the scene. The woman at the desk had long, unkempt red hair and a bored, indifferent facial expression. Her soiled black T-shirt featured a drawing of a decaying skull, her attention turned toward a Nintendo DS.

Well, ain’t this the nice, professionally run place?” the disgusted trainer thought as she hesitantly approached the unkempt nurse who ran the place.

In a low, monotonous voice, the lady asked, “Whaddya you want? If ya want yer Pokémon healed just stick ‘em in ‘dat machine.”

Lisa did as instructed, and sure enough, in about a minute the dusty and dented machine emitted a tone and Lisa retrieved her Pokéballs.

After the trainer was finished getting her Pokémon fully refreshed, the nurse asked, in a rather indifferent tone, “Will you be staying upstairs with us?”

“No thanks. I’ll think I’ll get a room at the Sleep Inn next door.”

The nurse’s face suddenly grew very red, and she vaulted the counter and got right up in Lisa’s face.

“Well, I’m sorry that our rooms aren’t good enough for a spoiled brat like you! Ever since those major-name hotels started moving in, we’ve had few stay in our rooms, at any Pokémon Center! It’s all been ‘Hampton Inn this’ and ‘Best Western that!’ I’m tired of it! That crap ceases now!”

“Well, maybe if your rooms didn’t resemble horrible summer camp barracks...”

“Silence! Your impudence ends here! You shall expire within the doors of the facility that you loathe so much! Beedrill! Poliwrath! Do not fail me! Get her!”

The enraged nurse called forth a large bee Pokémon with menacing red eyes and two huge stingers on its front legs. A third pointed appendage was located at the end of its body. The insect’s thorax featured a yellow and black stripe pattern. Flapping its broad, transparent wings and jabbing the air with its sharpened frontal poisonous appendages, it emitted a low, sustained buzzing sound.

The angry woman also sent out a huge blue tadpole Pokémon with a round swirl mark on its white belly and white gloved hands like those that so many cartoon characters wore. With those hands it delivered three punches to the air followed by an uppercut. Its two eyes, sticking up from its body’s dark blue circular form, wore a look of rage and anger.

“Now hang on, I don’t hate these places, I just prefer hotels...”

“Shut up! This is where you bow before me!” the nurse bellowed.

“Jeez, passive-aggressive much? Whatever. Metang and Meowth, you’re up.”

Both of Lisa’s Pokémon were somehow able to withstand the stench. Perhaps it was because of the lack of a nose under the kitten’s huge eyes. Maybe it was the Steel-type’s immunity to all things poisonous or Metang’s machine-like qualities.

“Knock them into oblivion, Poliwrath! Focus Punch!” the crazy lady demanded.

“Blast Poliwrath with Confusion and Thunderbolt!”

The amphibious creature closed its eyes and prepared to strike, but a one-two punch of super effective hits disturbed it and broke its concentration as it staggered backward, barely keeping its balance. Beedrill shot a flurry of Poison Stings at Metang but all of the toxic barbs bounced off its glimmering chrome body.

“Impossible! Focus Punch again!” she bellowed.

Lisa let out a sigh of exasperation. Applying pressure to her nose in an attempt to block out the horrific smell, she commented, “So pwedictable. So utterwy pwedictable. Hit Powiwath again.”

Once again, Poliwrath’s attack was halted by powerful Confusion and Thunderbolt attacks. This time the two attacks knocked the oversized blue tadpole down. The buzzing insect moved in to attack Meowth, jabbing repeatedly with its front stingers before the tiny cat forced it back with a quick slashing motion with her claws. Poliwrath got up and launched a small stream of blue liquid at Metang. The large shot of water knocked the Steel-type back, but it remained airborne.

“Now, I will make you regret having stumbled upon this place!”

“Double up on Powiwath one mowe time!” Lisa yelled, her voice sounding nasally as she was pinching her nose tighter. “The smell’s gonna do me in faster than this lady!

Poliwrath was able to shoot another shot of concentrated water, splashing off the metallic machine and forcing it backwards, but the hovering chrome Pokémon still managed to launch a mind-bending, air-distorting hit that struck the angered creature directly. Meowth fired off another successful electrical strike targeting the watery enemy before Beedrill came at her with Twineedle again. Once again, the oversized yellow bee got in several hits to the kitten’s soft white fur before Meowth was able to swipe and slash at it. The blue beast with the hypnotic swirl pattern was still down, but not out yet. It slowly and unsteadily struggled to its feet.

The tactical planning of the college grad-turned-trainer was coming to fruition. Her voice still sounded funny, though. “Powiwrath’s cwose to fainting, so we’ll spwit the duties. Knock Beedwill for a woop with Confusion and way the final bwow to Powiwath with Thunderbolt.”

Meowth struck first, hitting the already spent Poliwrath with a bright, powerful bolt of electricity and causing the water-dwelling fighter to cry out in pain one last time as it toppled over. The nurse called back the injured Pokémon.

“No! This will not be tolerated!” the woman screamed in anger.

Metang used the mind-bending power of its Confusion attack to mess with the huge yellow insect’s mind. Visibly distorting the surrounding air, the psychic waves eventually converged, striking Beedrill’s abdomen and forcing it down to the badly decayed floor. It regained flight but started flying into the wall head-on.

“Fuwy Swipes now! Then we’ll twy another Confusion!”

Quickly, Meowth rushed in and landed several quick strikes with her claws. She backed off right as another wave of mental energy struck Beedrill. The giant bee then fell to the ground and the nurse recalled it.

“Well, I suppose that’s that,” Lisa told the fuming nurse.

She jumped back over the counter and came back with a load of Pokéballs in her arms. “Think you can take on thirty-six Pokémon at once?! Well, do ya?!”

“That’s quite enough!” a woman’s voice announced.

A nurse and two police officers showed up. The police attempted to restrain the woman, but she fought back fiercely. She kicked at one policeman, and the blow barely missed hitting him below the belt. As the other one got his arms around her, the woman bit him, causing him to yell out and release his grip.

It took two shots from a TASER to bring her down, and even then she was still kicking and screaming. As the two officers hog-tied the raving woman and carried her off, the new nurse apologized to Lisa.

“She’s fallen on hard times. She just got a divorce and lost custody of her kids, then she was summoned to court for past traffic violations.”

“And her hatwed of hotels?” the curious girl asked, still clutching her nose.

“I don’t know. All of us get paid the same regardless of how many people use our rooms. I think she just needs some time to cool off. Here, let me heal your Pokémon. And please don’t let this incident scare you away from other Pokémon Centers.”

“No, that’s okay. I never wan into any pwoblems with them befowe.”

After that ordeal, Lisa was in a hurry to check in to the hotel. Fortunately, that went very smoothly. The hotel was decorated in typical Sleep Inn fashion, with a small, modest lobby connected to a larger breakfast area. The check-in desk was built into the wall but was covered in a granite countertop surface. A few navy-colored couches and padded chairs were situated around a walnut-veneered coffee table. Matching wooden end tables supported brass-trimmed table lamps with plain white shades. The floor was white tile with an attractive black diamond pattern. And unlike the poorly-run Pokémon Center, everything in the lobby was nice, clean, and in good working order.

The room was also clean and comfortable, with two double beds covered in a white floral comforter. Paintings depicting lighthouses overlooked either bed. Two small padded chairs rested by the window along with a wooden table. Next to that was a small microfridge combo unit. Atop the dresser rested the TV, a rack containing brochures, and a table lamp. The bathroom wall was slightly curved and featured a walk-in shower instead of a conventional tub.

After relaxing for a while in their comfortable room, the two sisters headed to McDonald’s, the Pokémon in tow. They decided they would give the Pokémon something to eat when they got back to the room.

Outside the hotel, they ran into a woman in her forties. She had long, flowing blond hair and was wearing a Fourtix University T-shirt. Her black slacks were incredibly smooth and she didn’t have the look of a typical trainer. She looked more like a business traveler who probably drove to the hotel.

The woman introduced herself, sounding somewhat formal. “My name is Clarissa. When it comes to Pokémon battling, there is none better than me. When it comes to knowledge about the Choice family of hotel chains, there is also none better than me.”

“Well, I beg to differ. After all, I have Quality hotel directories dating back to the fifties. I wish to take you on.”

“Ah, very impressive. Fine, then, it is agreed. Double Battle, commence now! I call forth Magnemite and Grovyle!”

Clarissa called out two Pokémon. One was a slender green reptilian creature. Sleek and aerodynamic, its front limbs and backside were adorned with broad, thin leaves. An especially long leaf, almost the length of its body, grew from the very top of its head and curved downward behind its back. Standing on its two rear feet, its red underside was clearly visible. Magnemite was an opponent all too familiar. The young trainer had confronted numerous trainers utilizing the Pokémon, so its steel form, suspended in the air and flanked by twin horseshoe magnets, came as little surprise. Curious about the other foe, the girl activated the Pokédex on her PDA.

“Grovyle, the Wood Gecko Pokémon. Grovyle is skilled at climbing and jumping from trees. It navigates dense forests with unmatched agility.

Lisa sent out her Koffing and Trapinch. “Fair enough. These two shall entertain you.”

The tiny orange creature began snapping her massive jaws in anticipation, while the purple floating Koffing loosed gray smoke clouds from her round, purple form.

Clarissa was the first to start the Q and A. “Quality Inn was the original chain in the Choice Hotels system. It was created in 1939 under what name? Oh, and Grovyle, use Bullet Seed. Magnemite, use a Thundershock.”

“Start off with Dig and Sludge, guys. Oh, and the answer’s ‘Quality Courts United’. Now things will start to heat up!”

The tiny Ground-type quickly dug a hole in the soft earth, retreating underground and avoiding the barrage of rapidly-launched round brown seeds that came from the GEICO mascot’s mouth. Koffing hit Grovyle with a large glop of purple Sludge, then moved out of the way to dodge a small electrical shock emanating from the magnets attached to the hovering Magnemite.

Trapinch reappeared from underground and flew right up at the levitating metallic foe, grounding it long enough for the toothy creature to open her massive jaw and deliver a nice Mud-Slap to her opponent’s single eye.

Lisa smiled. “My turn to question you. In the late eighties, Choice bought three economy chains. Two of them, Econo Lodge and Rodeway, still survive today. The third was eventually merged with Rodeway. What is the name of that now-defunct chain? Attack Grovyle with Sand Attack and Smog, now!”

The older woman simply stated, “It’s Friendship Inn. Now, in 1981, Quality Inn created Comfort Inns and an upscale chain that was later replaced by Clarion. What was its name? Bullet Seed and Sonicboom!”

“Quality Royale. They had a cool-looking gold and brown logo, too. Okay, the first two locations of Choice’s new Cambria Suites chain were opened in what two markets?”

Bullet Seed hit Trapinch but the small orange Pokémon managed to spray large amounts of sand in the larger gecko’s face. Then the unlikely plantlike reptile got a face full of a mysterious purple cloud. Meanwhile, neither of Lisa’s Pokémon noticed the tiny Magnemite, who used a mysterious attack that resembled air wooshing by at high speed. It struck Koffing directly, but the Poison-type easily shrugged off the blow.

“Boise, Idaho and Savannah, Georgia. Now, my next question. What year did Quality Inns implement the franchising of their locations? Use Bullet Seed and Thundershock, you guys!”

“Counter with Dig and Sludge! Oh, and the answer is 1972. My next question. The 2004 Sleep Inn of the Year is located in North Charleston, South Carolina. What management company operates it? Here’s a hint. The company is based in Columbia and also owns the Sleep Inn in Mount Pleasant.”

Trapinch pulled off another underground strike on Magnemite. Due to the Ground-type’s evasive maneuvers, Grovyle’s spray of seeds ended up going wide and missing the stubby little orange Pokémon. Before it could launch another attack, the green reptilian Pokémon was hit by a dark purple blob. Just Then, without warning, Clarissa recalled both her Pokémon.

“Sorry... You stumped me there.”

“Well, the answer is Gateway Hospitality. But that was a good battle you put up there. And your knowledge is certainly impressive,” the young girl told her older opponent. “Wow,” Lisa mused. “Turns out I’m not the world’s only obsessive Quality Inn fangirl!

“Okay, confession time. I’m a ‘secret shopper’ for the hotel industry, and one of my recent assignments was the Quality Suites in Northwood City. While I was there, I overheard you talking with the manager about the history of the chain, and I was impressed with your knowledge.”

Lisa asked, “So, I suppose you were waiting for me to come here?”

“No, not at all.” Clarissa explained, “I just left from Northwood City today and this hotel is my next assignment. Actually, I saw you coming out of the lobby just as I pulled into the parking lot.”

The teen breathed a sigh of relief. “At least you’re not a stalker.”

The middle-aged lady laughed. “No, I’m not like that at all. Just a really strange coincidence. Well, maybe we’ll meet again. You never know. But, for right now, I must retire to my room These hotels don’t inspect themselves!” The woman winked at Lisa and headed back into the hotel.

“That was… odd. Odd, but still fun.”

Lindsay just stared blankly at Lisa, telling her, “I’m not even going to ask how you know that stuff.”

The two girls proceeded to McDonald’s to grab a bite to eat. Over dinner, the sisters had a chance to talk.

“Hey, Lisa, what’s this stuff about summer camp barracks?” Lindsay asked.

“Oh, that. You were two at the time. Mom and Dad thought I should attend a summer camp. It was absolutely dreadful! They made us sleep in these horrible accommodations. They didn’t so much as have a curtain separating each bed, much less high speed internet or decent beds. When I found out we would be camping out in the woods one night, I got myself outta there! I called up Mom and she let me spend the rest of the week at the Quality Suites Convention Center in Charleston to make up for it! Worst part was, there were no math workshops! What sort of scam were they trying to pull?”

“That’s weird. I liked summer camp last year,” Lindsay countered. “Campfires, hiking, swimming – I had a great time!

The older sister shrugged. “Well, whatever floats your boat, I guess.”

Back in the hotel room, Lisa laid out food for each of her Pokémon and called all of them out of their containment devices for a chance to eat and stretch out. Well, most of them came out. Jolteon didn’t immediately respond, and when he did venture out of his Pokéball, it became apparent why he was slow to emerge in the first place. The normally swift and agile electric-user let out a long, sustained yawn, groggily laid on the floor, and shut his thin, black eyes before beginning to snore quite loudly. As expected Spheal dove headfirst into his bowl of food while the steely Metang examined its dish before turning its attention toward the television and the evening weather report.

Somehow it feels like I’m wasting food every time I do this…” commented the trainer with a small smile as she watched her icy companion do a nosedive into the bowl set out for Jolteon.

After watching some television, the girls showered before settling into bed. While this wasn’t as luxurious as the last hotel they were at, it was a nice, clean room, and for only $59.99 to boot. The next morning, the two girls set up to head toward their next destination. Lisa was wearing a green sundress with a blue blouse, white stockings, and her pair of flat dress shoes. They had a bite of the continental breakfast before setting out again.

The sisters only got a few feet from the hotel when two birds dove down at Lisa’s head, then circled back and tried it again. Neither bird was very large. One was white with broad wings. Blue stripes across the width of its wings were the only coloration on its body, with the exception of its elongated orange beak. The other bird was a darker shade of blue with a white underbelly and splotches of red around its face. Its two long, fork-like tail feathers seemed rigid as they did not blow despite the rather gusty conditions. The second bird’s beak was much shorter than the other one’s bill.

Upon activating the PDA’s Pokédex, its female voice replied, “Wingull, the Seagull Pokémon. Wingull uses its thin wings to catch updrafts. It can spot prey from a high altitude. Taillow, the Tiny Swallow Pokémon. Taillow uses its loud cries to draw prey into the open, then picks them off with surprising accuracy.”

“Okay, I call out Spheal and Jolteon. Strike Wingull with Thunderbolt and hit Taillow with Ice Ball!”

A well-rested Jolteon released a massive electric blast from his sharp-tipped yellow fur almost immediately upon its appearance on the grassy field, his quick response much unlike the slovenly creature that couldn’t be bothered to even eat the night before. His round blue partner attempted to give the two avian aggressors a chilly reception with a hunk of frozen mass shot into the air.

But both small birds easily dodged the attacks. They teamed up, whacking Spheal with their wings. Quickly, the two of them flew back up into the air before diving down for another strike.

“Hit ‘em when they get close!”

The round aquatic Pokémon used a variation of his attack this time. He spit out numerous small chunks of ice at high speed. The attack was so fast it began to resemble a rainbow-colored beam. This new attack did a number on Taillow, who promptly retreated into the skies. Jolteon zapped Wingull and that was all it took to down the watery seagull.

The electronic device chirped, “Spheal has learned Aurora Beam.”

“Oh, sweet! A new move!”

With its partner gone, the navy-blue bird flew in at Spheal, planning on using a Peck. It knocked over the ice-blue mammal before soaring up and out of range, avoiding a sizzling electric attack from the yellow pointy-haired creature. Spheal used a late Aurora Beam, but Taillow was out long gone. Then Lisa saw it diving in at her team again.

“Now! The finishing blow!” Lisa commanded with authority.

Spheal and Jolteon struck simultaneously with their respective attacks, shutting down Taillow. After a few moments, the birds beat a hasty retreat with the little strength they had remaining.

“Hey guys, that was good. And it looks like we have another attack in our arsenal. Return, you two, and rest up for now.”

“Hahahaha! You fool! Did you think you could mess with us and just walk away, Lisa?!”

Lisa and Lindsay were taken by surprise by a woman’s voice. She jumped down from a tree, revealing herself to be a Thrash member. Her bulging muscles and long black hair set her apart, though. Clearly, this one was of fairly high rank within the organization.

Great. And so more clowns join the Thrash circus.

“Do you even realize how much trouble you’ve caused us in the city back there? Our takeover of the company was supposed to get us major cash as well as scare you into submission, but you had to ruin it! Then you make a fool out of my brother and get him sent to prison... while you were dressed in a stupid looking retro outfit, no less! It is time you repaid some debts to us! Arcanine! Burn her to a crisp!”

The nasty woman sent out a large menacing orange dog. The heavyweight Arcanine let out a loud howl before snarling and grinning tauntingly at its diminutive female foe, showing off huge, jagged teeth. With its furry, off-white tail rapidly swaying from side to side, and with the intimidating black markings on its brilliant orange body, it looked as if this creature wasn’t one for playing games. The brutal beast immediately spit small flames at Lisa.

“Hey, watch it! Meowth, show her some manners!” the girl yelled as she dodged the incoming Ember.

Upon seeing the miniscule white kitten take the field, both the woman and her dog erupted into snide, insulting laughter.

“You nimrod! What’s that tiny thing gonna do against us!? Attack!” ordered the hulking woman, still trying to hold back laughter.

Arcanine charged in for an attack. Meowth quickly leaped over it then hit it with a Water Pulse followed by a Thunderbolt. Brushing off the blow, the fiery foe quickly responded with a steady stream of flames. As the small feline recovered after the dead-on strike, Arcanine prepared another Flamethrower. Meowth quickly unleashed a rippling stream of water to cancel out the attack, resulting in a huge steam cloud forming between the two determined battlers.

“Don’t think you’ll get out of this alive, Lisa! Arcanine, Extremespeed!”

The huge dog knocked Meowth over with a blitzing tackle that hit before the cat could even respond.

“Don’t worry, you can recover!” yelled Lisa to her injured Pokémon, trying to encourage her partner while concealing her own nervousness. Her fidgety fingers game her away, though.

“No, you can’t, moron! Now, Crunch followed by Overheat!” The woman cackled and arrogantly put her hands on her hips.

Arcanine jumped at Meowth before clamping down with its huge jaws. The smaller feline scratched furiously at her larger foe until the larger beast finally backed off. Undaunted, he massive hotheaded dog unleashed an incredible mass of fire and sent it hurtling right at Meowth. Somehow, the agile cat was able to gather the energy to dodge right and avoid the brunt of the attack, rolling to safety.

An exhausted Meowth was breathing heavily out of exhaustion. Still, she wore a look of determination on her face. No way would she lose to some mangy mutt.

“That stupid cat doesn’t know when to give up and shut up! Enough games! Feel the flames of hell! Fire Blast!” bellowed the woman, with a certain feeling of confidence in her voice.

Arcanine let loose a huge ball of flame that scattered into a star pattern. The attack overcame the awe-struck kitten directly as Lisa looked on with panic.

“No, Meowth!” she screamed in absolute horror. The terrified girl closed her eyes, not wanting to see the aftermath of such a vicious attack. “Please be okay! I can’t lose you now! Please!

The towering female Thrash officer laughed and boasted, “Foolish idiot! Now you shall pay... huh?”

When Lisa finally dared uncover her eyes again, Meowth was standing... and glowing bright white. The light increased in intensity before finally fading, revealing an elegant creature in place of Meowth. The larger cat now had more rounded ears but her hind feet were no longer large and elongated; hence she could only stand on all fours. But with her smooth beige fur and shimmering red jewel on its forehead, she had traded in her cute and cuddly look for a more refined and sophisticated one.

The girl’s Pokédex confirmed the new Pokémon. “Persian, the classy cat Pokémon. Persian complements its elegant looks with its speed and stealth, with the ability to walk silently and strike with incredible agility and precision.”

“All right! You finally evolved! Now, we’ll see who shall pay! Water Pulse!” Lisa commanded with newfound excitement and confidence.

“Grrr... Flamethrower!” the woman ordered.

Both attacks met in midair again, letting off lots of steam.

“Heh. Your kitty’s still not powerful enough to overpower my Flamethrower!”

“I wasn’t planning on that. That was only a distraction. Faint Attack!” replied the cunning teenager.

Persian vanished from sight, then reappeared behind Arcanine before knocking the larger dog Pokémon to the ground. Then Persian followed up quickly with a familiar combination of attacks that resulted in a sparking, electrically charged blast of concentrated water. Arcanine was able to shake off the combo move after being struck square in the head, only to get a black ball of sinister, shadowy energy in the face. In the wake of this last strike, Persian had jumped quickly out of Arcanine’s sight and was now standing behind it.

Upon realizing where its foe was, the ungainly canine turned around and began to create more flames for another attack, but the graceful feline quickly snuffed it out with another shot of rippling blue liquid before slashing at the oversized firebrand with her claws. With a loud howl, Arcanine collapsed in a heap of ruffled orange fur and the enraged trainer was forced to call it back.

“Impossible! I refuse to accept this loss! But, it is of little consequence in the long run. You have no idea of our true intentions. Despite your attempts to ruin us, you cannot stop the Thrash Brotherhood!” the woman threatened before activating a jetpack and making her escape into the sky.

“Smell ‘ya later!” Lisa called out to the fleeing suspect.

Lisa then turned her attention toward her newly evolved Persian. Kneeling and hugging the cat, she shouted, “You’ve waited a long time for this day to come, and you did great in your first battle! I am so proud of you!”

Persian let out a long, low pitched “Meoooowww…” while giving a huge smile to her trainer. Lisa began to scratch the large cat gently behind her ear, with Persian purring contently.

You were awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better starting partner.

After spending a few minutes to rest after their latest battle, the girls finally continued their trek through the open plains. After about another hour and a half of walking and fairly uneventful battles against wild Pokémon, Lisa finally caught a glimpse of the next city. The most prominent building in town was a huge electrical power plant.

“That there’s Vernon City. The big power plant here supposedly supplies electricity for the entire region.”

“Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s go!” Lindsay exclaimed excitedly.
***************

Inside a red Ford cargo van that served as Thrash’s mobile base, a sinister conversation was about to take place.

The elderly Tommy Junger faced a large monitor. On screen was the image of a man in a lab coat, his face obscured by shadows.

Tommy spoke into a microphone, “Professor, Bart Sy wishes to know how our Shadow Pokémon research is coming.”

The ‘professor’ replied, “It is coming along very well. We should be completed within a month, then we will be able to begin construction on the machine to make irreversible Shadow Pokémon. Assuming we get that generator, the machine should only take two weeks to complete. If they fail, though, construction will take two months minimum. I am concerned about Skrub’s success since Arton has already failed and been arrested.”

“That is out of our hands now, but he knows that if he fails, that’s it for him as far as involvement in our organization. Anyway, to speed the research portion of these matters along, Bart Sy has suggested that you speak to the scientist who headed up the Cipher XD research. Though the XD series failed, we may still yet get some useful information from this person.”

“Where is this scientist’s whereabouts?” asked the man in the lab coat.

“We are not sure. We have not been able to track down this person. However, perhaps some of our current Cipher agents may be able to assist us. Bart Sy has pulled Exol and Naps from Operation Hilltop Fissure and has dispatched them to your lab. Ask them about the XD research and its staff when they arrive. Also, Bart Sy and I will be arriving at your lab soon to supervise our current project. I assume that ‘IT’ is still in your possession?”

“Correct. ‘IT’ currently rests in our main control room under heavy guard. There is no way for ‘IT’ to leave our watchful eye.”

“Excellent. I’m out.”

The screen switched off. Tommy lowered a glass wall and spoke to the van’s driver.

“Now we wait for the boss to meet us, then proceed to the lab.”

“Understood.”

Chapter 17: The Electric Slide

Upon arriving in Vernon City, signs advertising the city’s various businesses could be seen towering over the six-lane thoroughfare leading into downtown, each of them fighting each other for a trainer’s attention. They were of various stripes, proudly proclaiming various companies in bold letters, ones such as, “Wal-Mart,” “Hampton Inn,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Best Western,” “Burger King,” “Lowe’s,” and others. Pedestrians and automobiles alike clogged the road and the sidewalks flanking it on either side.

Behind the shopping plazas stood some mid-rise apartment complexes, but little in the way of high-rise office buildings. Off in the distance was a towering smokestack that belonged to the town’s power plant. Beyond the smokestack were huge mountains looming over the city. Indeed, this was the easternmost town in Fourtix, and some backtracking would be in order after this battle.

Lisa checked her Pokémon into the Pokémon Center. Remembering the last time she visited a Center, she didn’t even mention she was staying at the Hampton Inn next door. This was a typical Pokémon Center, clean but bland. At least it wasn’t a sty like that other one. And the cherry-scented air fresheners were a nice touch.

After getting her Pokémon back from the older, gray-haired male nurse, Lisa proceeded to the Hampton Inn. Its attractive lobby featured granite floor tiles, a brick fireplace, and a front desk topped with rich mahogany veneer. As she was checking into the nicely appointed hotel, Lisa asked the desk clerk about the local Gym. He informed her that the gym was actually located within the power plant, so Lisa headed there. Lindsay had elected to stay in the room and take a nap, so her sister gave her one of the two key-cards to get in the room.

As the November air was producing a bit of a chill, the girl decided to slip on her purple windbreaker. On her way past the city’s well-manicured Midtown Park, the young trainer’s phone started to go off.

“Hello? Lisa Northwood speaking.”

“Hey, it’s Dr. Sequoia. How are you? I just wanted you to know that I’ll be headed to the university and staying there to head up more research regarding Shadow Pokémon. I’ll be working with two scientists who were formerly with Cipher, but supposedly they’re reformed. Both spent a few years in prison and were just released.”

“I’d watch out, though. They were criminals before, so just be careful there. And I hope you’re not leaving your ranch unattended,” the girl responded, a hint of concern clearly present in her tone.

The scientist giggled a bit. “Don’t worry about that. In addition to a 24/7 security patrol, Dirk from Roy’s gym and Derek from Bernie’s gym will be overseeing the ranch while I’m gone, so your Pokémon are in good hands. Because it’s getting so close to the Pokémon League tournament, the distribution of starting Pokémon has been suspended. It’ll be until January before I have to worry about handing out Pokémon, and the research project should be done by then.”

“Okay, thanks for that. I shall see you later, then. Thanks for the update.”

As she passed the shopping district, Lisa thought, “It’s a good thing I did my shopping in the last town; there’s only Wal-Mart here! As if I would ever shop there!

The girl finally arrived at the power plant, with her feet aching from the long walk. “Owww… Remind me to take a break on the way back to the hotel so I don’t end up screaming out in pain...

She approached the building, which, for all the world resembled a production facility. Its plain brick exterior was bare except for a few signs and a towering gray concrete smokestack. The girl heaved open the massive steel doors. A slightly stocky man in a gray factory uniform and yellow hard hat walked up to Lisa. “My name is Wayne. Are you here for a gym battle?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Then please, follow me.”

Wayne led Lisa into a room located just off the power plant’s entrance. The room was not well decorated. Bare gray concrete floors matched the gray concrete walls. Silver-toned machines lined the walls. Bolts of electricity of various colors were emitted from the antennas atop them, and the crackling energy surged from one machine to another in a convoluted pattern. Filled with various switches and displays on their front panels, the machines looked needlessly complex. It would likely have taken Lisa at least twenty minutes to figure out their operation, should she have had any interest to do so. But she was here to battle, not for a job interview.

A woman with long, flowing blond hair and a white coat had her back to the other two. She was working with some test tubes and a centrifuge at a desk.

“Ma’am, we have a challenger to meet you,” Wayne called out.

As the leader turned around, Lisa saw that the woman was middle-aged, about the age of her father. A lady of medium height, she was slightly heavyset but not too out of shape. Her thin-rimmed glasses and ankle-length white lab coat gave off the impression that she was a lab technician or scientist. Her time-worn face reflected her years of battling experience and expertise.

The woman removed a headset from her head and spoke up. “I am Elektra. I am not only the Gym Leader of Vernon City, but I am also the head of the regional power plant. I must always be at the ready in case of an emergency. As such, I prefer matches to be swift and decisive, and I reserve the right to suspend a match at any time.”

Elektra observed her teenage opponent closely. “Wait... You’re Lisa Northwood, aren’t you? I’ve heard about your victories against the Thrash organization. It is my honor to have the opportunity to battle you. I enjoy matches against determined, strong trainers such as yourself. But, do not think I will hold back! Come at me with all your skill and knowledge! Wayne, let’s get started!”

“Yes. We will begin the match between Vernon City Gym Leader Elektra and challenger Lisa from South Carolina! Single battle, two Pokémon. Challenger may substitute Pokémon, but the leader may not. Begin!”

“I call forth Raichu!” Elektra summoned forth a chubby orange mouse Pokémon. It had a face similar to a Pikachu, but it was quite a bit heavier. It had huge brown feet and elongated brown ears.. The rodent’s tail was long and thin, with a large yellow lightning- bolt shaped appendage at the tip. It emitted small sparks from the yellow spots on its cheeks, much like its smaller brethren.

“Raichu, the Mouse Pokémon: Raichu’s large tail serves as a sort of ‘grounding plug’ to avoid self-electrocution.”

“Trapinch, go!”

Taking the field, the tiny orange creature snapped its sizable jaws at its foe, its tiny black eyes trained on its larger opponent.

Wayne announced, “Trapinch versus Raichu. Commence!”

Elektra started the battle. “Lead off with Mega Kick!”

“Dig, now!” the challenger countered.

Trapinch quickly hid herself underground, avoiding a powerful flying kick from the orange mouse. Timing herself carefully, Trapinch emerged from the gym’s floor and struck Raichu from underneath, knocking it on its back. The large-jawed Pokémon quickly hurled sand and mud in Raichu’s face before it had a chance to recover, using the hole as the source for the dirt.

“Quick, use Agility!”

Raichu began moving very rapidly around the battle arena, thwarting Trapinch’s attempts at further Mud Slap strikes. So Trapinch headed back underground. She waited patiently for her chance to strike. When Raichu ran over her hiding spot, Trapinch emerged, hitting Raichu and knocking it down. The chubby electric type quickly righted itself before running in at its toothy foe again.

“Mega Kick again, Raichu!” Elektra yelled as she pointed at the orange Pokémon.

Raichu quickly gave Trapinch a swift Mega Kick before Trapinch got away and dug underground again.

“Now that we’ve slowed it down, we’ll encase it in a Sand Tomb cyclone!”

Trapinch used Sand Tomb to whip up a swirling tornado of sand in order to trap Raichu and pull it toward her hole. There was no escape for the electric mouse as the swirling vortex of sand engulfed it and sucked the Raichu toward Trapinch’s hiding place. Disappearing into the hole, Trapinch had her way with Raichu, knocking it around repeatedly and clamping down on it with her jaws. Both Pokémon emerged, with Raichu knocked out, unconscious on the floor.

“Raichu is unable to battle. Trapinch is the winner!”

“I call out Electabuzz next!” Elektra sent out a large yellow Pokémon with a black lightning pattern on its body. With a furry body and two antennae atop its head, the challenger wasn’t sure whether to classify it as a mammal or insect. Whatever it was, it had two well developed humanoid arms and legs, complete with opposable thumbs.

“Electabuzz, the Electric Pokémon. Electabuzz make their home near power plants, where they feed off the electricity generated there.”

Before Trapinch could react, Elektra’s big electric Pokémon jumped right on top of her in a harsh Body Slam attack.

The teen closed her eyes and winced at the sound of the impact. When Lisa saw that her Pokémon had withstood the attack, she gave out orders for the next attack. “Okay, use Dig again!”

Trapinch performed another underground strike, then followed up with Mud Slap. Electabuzz reacted by delivering a hard punch to the Ground-type’s jaw.

“Let’s continue the underground attacks,” advised Lisa.

Following this recommendation, Trapinch dug underground again before executing a Sand Tomb. The dusty cyclone trapped Electabuzz and Trapinch got in several hits before the wily electric Pokémon broke free.

“Haha! Check this out! Ice Punch!” Elektra said with a confident smirk.

“What the...” Lisa looked on, bewildered.

Electabuzz slammed Trapinch with an icy, sparkling fist, causing severe damage. Trapinch fell down, unable to continue the fight.

Lisa began pulling nervously at her dress. “No, Trapinch! I guess it can’t be helped. Okay, return! Persian, let’s go!”

Lisa’s lithe beige cat took her place on the battlefield. Letting out a loud meow, she waved her long curled tail before standing up on all fours and extending needle-like claws from her front paws. The light emitted from the lightning bolts reflected off the cat’s elegant jewel located centrally on her forehead.

“Electabuzz versus Persian. Commence!”

“Zap that Persian with Thunderbolt!” Elektra ordered.

Lisa’s big feline avoided several Thunderbolts from Electabuzz before striking with her claws, leaving scratch marks on the opponent’s body. The shockingly powerful Pokémon then struck Persian with electricity. Shaking from the hit, the beige Pokémon backed away before firing a dark Shadow Ball at her foe. The big yellow creature brushed it off only to get a face full of water. Then Persian unloaded the electrical energy it had absorbed on Electabuzz.

“Thunderbolt, Electabuzz! This battle is far from over!”

Undaunted, the electricity-using Pokémon sent another blast at Persian, but the swift-moving cat easily jumped aside.

Elektra smiled. “Cross Chop! That’s right, this one has all sorts of unpredictable moves!”

“Watch it, that’ll hurt you bad!” Lisa warned.

Persian avoided the powerful double slicing strike, then hit Electabuzz with coins from Pay Day before it could respond.

“Give it another Cross Chop, and follow up with Thunderbolt!”

“Dodge that, then Body Slam it!” Lisa directed.

Electabuzz prepared to slice at Persian again with its crossed hands, but the agile feline once again slipped out of reach. However, She wasn’t so easily able to dodge a long-range electrical strike from the big yellow Pokémon. The attack stunned her for a few seconds, but she quickly regained her wits.

“All right, Persian, let’s finish this up with Body Slam!”

As Persian came in at Electabuzz again, she was hit directly with another strong electrical shot. But it didn’t stop the agile cat from executing a final full-force hit, using her body weight to knock the wind out of her opponent and finally finish off Electabuzz.

“Electabuzz is unable to battle. Persian and Lisa are the winners!” Wayne announced.

“Good going, you guys! We won!” Lisa excitedly yelled, jumping up and smiling from ear to ear.

Elektra approached Lisa. “I really enjoyed that battle. Please take this, it’s the Lightning Badge.”

As Lisa took the badge, Elektra said, “I hope we can have...”

Suddenly alarms started going off. The mysterious Eldes burst into the room. “Lisa! Elektra! I’ve been trailing some Thrash agents and they have just breached the power plant’s security!”

Elektra looked worried. “What? They’re probably after the generator... My Pokémon are in no shape to battle now. Lisa! Eldes! Please stop them! They must not steal that generator, or else the entire region will be without power!”

“Right. Lisa, let’s stop these guys.”

“Okay, you got it!” The teen was determined to shut down this latest scheme.

Rushing into an adjoining room, Eldes and Lisa found two men standing near the generator. One of them was wearing the same silver armor that Arton, the casino commander had back in Greenville City. The other was a pudgy fellow in the standard red Thrash outfit. The armored agent was rather short and thin. That man spoke into his cell phone.

“Okay, so Exinn and Fudler will be by with the copter to lift this generator in fifteen minutes. Understood.” He turned around and saw Eldes and Lisa. “Wait! Hold off until I tell you. That annoying little girl is here again!”

The diminutive thug approached Lisa and Eldes. In a low, raspy voice, he said, “I am Skrub, and this is my assistant, Agent Addler. So we finally meet, Lisa. I heard about you from Arton after you sent him to jail. I plan to get him out as soon as I finish you off. And you must be Eldes, the Cipher traitor. I’ll leave you to Addler. Lisa, you are mine! I, the mighty Skrub, believe that battles are a tactical struggle, and he who is most cunning shall win. Therefore, you stand zero chance of winning! Surrender now and I’ll spare you.”

“What are you, stupid!” the girl spat at her nemesis.

“THAT’S IT! We battle now!” Skrub demanded.

Eldes turned to Lisa. “Get ready.”

“I have heard that you think you can just have your way with our organization, but that way of thinking will be your demise. En garde!”

The short man with shiny armor called out a large rock Pokémon that had a round, yet jagged gray body, and a smaller blue Pokémon with a jutting lower jaw. This Pokémon had a long serpentine body culminating in a pointed tip. A series of white spots adorned the body while sets of orange fins spawned from its head and the top of the body. The hefty rock stood on two wide, stubby, and jagged legs while its partner slithered on the floor, its actions resembling a snake’s.

The girl caught a glimpse of her ally sending out a large yellow Pokémon with navy- blue coloring on its head and back. The big rodent-like creature stood on its hind legs and let out a roar of determination, revealing a collar of intense red flame around its entire neck. Lisa booted up the Pokédex to gain information on her rivals, but it processed Eldes’ Pokémon instead.

“Typhlosion, the Volcano Pokémon. The flames that surround its neck can sometimes erupt and explode if angered.”

Lisa had chosen Jolteon and Spheal to take on Skrub. It didn’t start very well. Graveler ran interference for a Thunderbolt before both it and Huntail struck down Spheal with powerful rolling and biting attacks.

“There is no way in hell you can win against me, little girl!”

“Well guess what? The dark abyss ain’t where we are now, is it? And I have calculated my odds to be quite good against you in this Power Plant,” the challenger retorted.

Lisa realized that she had to distract Graveler to get a shot at Huntail. This time, she had Jolteon hang back while Spheal quickly rolled behind Graveler before getting a shot at it from behind. This cleared a path for Jolteon to zap the serpentine water-dweller with a sizzling blast of lightning. The wily watery Pokémon attempted a Water Gun but wasn’t nearly as fast as Jolteon and was unable to hit the fast Electric type.

“How you liking me now, pal?” Lisa taunted.

“Do not think this over by a long shot,” responded the rather short agent.

Meanwhile, Graveler had taken a couple of hits from Spheal before it managed to stop the spherical icy mammal’s rolling around with a well-aimed Focus Punch. Out of the corner of her eye, Lisa noticed the bulky rock creature sitting there as if building up energy for something.

“I do hope you’re ready,” said Skrub.

“Jolteon, I need you to quickly zap that Huntail, then start using your Double Team. And I’ll need Spheal to inflict some damage on Huntail as well.”

Jolteon delivered another direct hit with intense electricity before using a stealthy move to give the illusion of creating clones. Skrub and his team were now faced with multiples of Lisa’s quick Electric- type.

Spheal hit Huntail with an Aurora Beam before aiming another rainbow-colored ray of energy at the motionless rock, who had closed its eyes. Right after the attack hit, Graveler unleashed all its pent-up energy in a huge explosion of light, flames, and sound that knocked out Lisa’s Spheal as well as both of Skrub’s Pokémon. The blast of the vicious Explosion also caused both Lisa and Skrub to stagger a bit, but both kept from falling down. It also appeared to shake up the concurrent battle between Eldes and Skrub’s henchman.

“Hahahahaha! I like my battles to be a blast!” Skrub bragged.

When the smoke cleared, there was only one Pokémon left standing. Jolteon’s evasion strategy paid off very well. Retreating to the back of the generator room amidst the confusion of his clones, he managed to avoid the brunt of the hit and was still very much ready to keep battling.

“Unlike you, I am ready to sacrifice my Pokémon at a moment’s notice. Now you shall pay for your insolence.”

Skrub replaced his fallen Pokémon with the familiar floating foe Magnemite, whose twin magnetic horseshoes sparked as they spun around. His second Pokémon was a bizarre-looking brown one that spun on a large spike on its head. Somehow it had the ability to remain inverted for long periods at a time. Three small, stubby legs and two equally stubby arms emanated from its body. Unless it was stopping to catch its breath, this Pokémon’s features were almost undistinguishable during its high-speed rotations.

The girl called out her short orange Trapinch for backup. Skrub quickly injected an all too familiar substance into both of his remaining Pokémon.

Skrub could be seen smiling. “By now I trust you know what attack comes next.”

Both enemies struck with powerful Frustration attacks, aimed at Trapinch, knocking her on her back. Jolteon, now seemingly untouchable, blasted both opponents with a shot of electrical energy, forcing both opposing Pokémon to back off, at least for now. This gave his partner time enough to right herself.

“Now, Trapinch, Dig underground and launch a Sand Tomb tornado!” Lisa commanded.

Trapinch used the lull to dig an underground hole. He aimed a blinding, vicious vortex of sand directly at Magnemite to trap it. The moving cyclone was able to draw the magnetic foe in toward the hole.

“Thunderbolt, Jolteon!” Lisa ordered.

“Get rid of that lightning!” Skrub yelled to his upside-down fighter.

Jolteon was forced to relinquish his Double Team clones before executing his next attack, as all of the clones faded into one, clearly visible pointed yellow Pokémon. He released a bright yellow shot of lightning from its jagged fur.

Hitmontop spun around at high speed to deflect the electric assault before moving in and using a slower spinning move to land three strong hits on Jolteon with its small legs. The fast Jolteon quickly sent Hitmontop a weak, paralyzing electric shock. Though slowed, the inverted fighter managed to land another flurry of spinning kicks to its pointed yellow adversary.

“A little paralysis isn’t going to be enough,” Skrub warned.

Meanwhile, Trapinch was striking the trapped Magnemite repeatedly underground, before slamming into it one final time. The vortex subsided and both Pokémon reappeared on the surface, but the steely little Pokémon was completely out of energy. Stunned, Skrub called it back.

“Hitmontop! You are the last line of defense! Do not fail me!”

Hitmontop could no longer spin quickly enough to deflect Jolteon’s strikes, but it could still hit hard with moves like Triple Kick and Frustration, which it used to deal some decent damage to Trapinch. Continuing its focus on the short, toothy Pokémon, Hitmontop used a blitzing spin attack to knock the Ground-type over before hitting the orange creature with all three of its legs, while continuing to rotate.

In doing this, however, the short brown Fighting-type was completely ignoring its other adversary. Jolteon had been constantly building electric power on the tip of his fur. When the enemy went in for another Triple Kick, the agile yellow mammal blasted the distracted spinning Pokémon with another Thunderbolt, but the wily Hitmontop came spinning in at Trapinch again.

“Quickly, use Sand Attack and Thunderbolt on it!” the girl screamed.

Trapinch threw sand in Hitmontop’s face, causing it to miss its target. The Pokémon ended up going wide left and crashing into a machine on the wall. The dizzying brawler righted itself, only to be met with more sand in the face, this time courtesy of Trapinch. Then Jolteon gave it one more taste of electricity, finally finishing it off. Hitmontop fell face-first onto the floor, remaining motionless. Skrub just looked on in stunned silence.

“How… Why was I defeated? This is not as I anticipated. But quickly! We must get out of here!”

“You two, get on the ground, now!” Elektra and a group of officers burst into the generator room.

“No! Not this! I wanted to meet up with Arton, but not behind bars!” Skrub glared at Lisa as he was led out by the police alongside his partner.

Eldes told Lisa, “I want to meet with you to discuss something important. Please meet me in the Pokémon Center.” The mysterious man headed out of the building.

Elektra told the victorious teen, “Thank you. You are a great trainer, and I can see you becoming even better. I won’t keep you any longer, as you’re a very busy young woman.”

“Thank you, too. I hope to see you again soon!” She waved back to the Gym Leader.

Lisa had almost made her way out of the power plant when a perfectly spherical red and white Pokémon with two angry-looking eyes rolled right in front of Lisa.

“Voltorb, the ball Pokémon. Voltorb resembles a Pokéball and is known to zap those that try to pick it up. Its electric energy makes it chemically unstable.”

“Persian, go! Give it a Body Slam!”

Persian quickly jumped up and landed right on Voltorb. She jumped off just as the ball flew up and hit the larger cat with a moderately large electric charge surrounding it. This strike sent her flying skyward, but the beige Pokémon landed gracefully on her feet. She hurled about twenty gold coins at the Voltorb before lunging at the ball and slicing at it multiple times with her claws.

This time, Voltorb hit the feline with a powerful rolling strike to get Persian off its back. Persian landed, turned around, and blasted Voltorb with a brilliant blue stream of water, splashing off its smooth body and sending it rolling backward. After the attack, the spherical Pokéball-like antagonist began to draw energy into itself, much like Graveler did before it blew up. It started giving off a blindingly bright white glow.

Oh, crud, I think it’s gonna blow!” Lisa quickly grabbed an empty Pokéball and threw it at the similar shaped and colored Pokémon, hoping to catch it before it exploded. he was beginning to sweat as she watched the sphere wobble. Fortunately, Voltorb was captured and the ball stopped shaking. Like with her previous captures, the Pokéball dissolved as it was sent back to Dr. Sequoia’s lab, and the transfer was verified by the Pokédex.

Lisa cheered as she wiped some sweat from her forehead. “All right! Looks like I caught a Voltorb as well!”

Lisa headed back outside and walked toward the Pokémon Center. Upon arriving, she saw Eldes, Giovanni, and Lorelei. Lorelei addressed Lisa.

“Lisa, we’ve been watching your progress, and we feel that you would be able to handle the Thrash threat without our assistance. After all, you more than vaguely resemble our current Kanto champion, in both looks and skill. Giovanni and Eldes have been called to handle other situations in other regions, but we are confident you can handle things here. Still, I have been ordered to remain here to conduct a separate investigation linked to Thrash. If you need help, seek out the friends you’ve made so far on your journey. I may not be in a location close enough to assist you.”

“Okay,” Lisa answered, nodding. “But if I may ask, what will you be doing?”

“The chemicals and machines that Thrash has been using… they have to be made somewhere. This region used to be a major automobile and electronics manufacturer until the 1950’s, and many abandoned factories litter the region. The League suspects that the group has reactivated some of those factories to produce their weapons. I have a list of old factories that I will be investigating.”

“I see. So, I’ll be looking into their general operations, while you try to look for factories?”

Lorelei nodded. “Yes, you are correct. Also, I have some news. Officer Morgan is headed toward Vernon City with Maxie from the weather research facility. Maxie has seen Thrash members in and around Greenville City. He believes that they’re planning something at Mt. Lexin, which is a dormant volcano north of Greenville City. Right now, he’s expecting to arrive sometime late tomorrow morning. Then, one of them will call you and all of you will head back to Mt. Lexin so the three of you can investigate what’s happening there. Okay, our ride is here. Farewell, Lisa!”

“I’ll see y’all later!”

The three of them got into a black Lincoln Town Car before the gleaming four-door sedan took off. Lisa got her Pokémon healed before heading back to the Hampton Inn to rest herself. Today was long and tomorrow looked to be more of the same.

Chapter 18: Playing Bumper Cars

Stopping to rest her weary feet, Lisa picked up some carryout food from a local Ruby Tuesday restaurant before making her way back to her hotel. As soon as she stepped into the double-bedded room with recliner and microfridge, Lindsay began to question her. “Hey, sis! You were gone an awful long time! Where were you?”

Sitting on one of the room’s two queen beds, the tired older sister slipped off her shoes. “Those guys from Team Thrash were up to something there, so of course they wanted a piece of me.”

“Well, are you okay? You’re not hurt, are you?”

Lisa smiled and told her sister, “Please. So not the drama. Now let’s eat this food before it gets cold.” She held up a steaming hot bag that contained their dinner.

After dinner, the girls fed Lisa’s Pokémon with some special premium Pokémon dietary meals. Spheal wolfed down his share of food in record time, while Metang actually ate this time. Lisa was now convinced that Metang was finicky and only liked the good stuff. “Tough, it’s not gonna be treated any better than my other Pokémon. And I simply can’t afford to serve the gourmet food every time.

Jolteon ate his food very sluggishly and appeared to nod off to sleep several times before finally finishing his dish and promptly retreating to his Pokéball. Persian, meanwhile, ate her food in a careful and methodical manner, and scowled with disdain at her partners’ poor etiquette.

“Honestly, please show some restraint,” the cat said as she sighed.

“Sorry…” mumbled Koffing and Trapinch.

“Food consumption completed. Initiating sleep mode…” Metang droned as it disappeared into its containment device. Spheal followed suit, as there was no more food for him to eat. This left the three female Pokémon to chat.

“You seem to have changed a bit,” said Koffing. “I mean, more than just evolving. Your personality seems a bit different, too.”

“I noticed that as well. I really cannot explain it. But perhaps there is more to evolution than merely a changed appearance and the ability to use stronger moves. Perhaps evolution also affects the Pokémon’s way of thinking. But I have to ask, how do you think I’ve changed?”

Trapinch answered, “It seems you’re more concerned about manners, for one thing. “

The Normal-type responded, “Yes, it does seem that in general, I am a bit more… how should I say this… ‘demanding,’ perhaps? I seem to be concerned with things that I was not before. Like manners, as you mentioned. Also, I am more concerned now with my appearance, as well as my level of comfort. Again, I do not have an explanation for why, other than that it is likely tied to my evolution.” Persian stretched out her body and yawned. “Oh, excuse me. I must be getting tired.”

“Interesting,” said Koffing, releasing small puffs of smoke from her body. “I wonder if the rest of us will change when we evolve.”

“One thing’s for sure,” interrupted Trapinch, “is that I’m not going to evolve unless I get more time in battle. So I really hope I get to see more battles in the future.”

“True. Well, I guess you can try asking her, even though I don’t believe she can understand our language. Somehow, though, she seems to know what we want… perhaps she can read our body language?”

“Well, I guess it’s worth a shot,” said Trapinch. “But tomorrow. I’m tired!”

“As am I.” With that, both Koffing and Trapinch retired to their Pokéballs.

“Well, Lisa,” mused the cat, “it’s just you, me, and that new girl we recently picked up, the one you call your ‘sister.’ I would like to get to know her better, as well.” She let out another yawn. “That can wait for tomorrow, I guess.”

Persian was content to sleep at the foot of Lisa’s bed. The girl’s cell phone went off. This time it was the girls’ mother. “Hey, you two, how’s it going?”

“I’m doing fine!” answered Lindsay.

“Same here. Just chillin’ at a Hampton Inn,” answered the older sibling.

“Well, I wanted you to know that we’re going to be leaving Spartanburg and going somewhere far, far away.”

“You guys coming back to this region?” asked the younger of the two girls excitedly.

“Oh, dear, no! We’ve been asked to supervise things at our new Rock Hill branch on Dave Lyle Boulevard.”

“Wha… Rock Hill? That’s not even two hours from Spartanburg!” Lisa told her parents. “Far away? What ARE they talking about? I hope they seriously don’t think that Rock Hill and Spartanburg are that far from each other…

“Anyway, we’ll be staying at a Fort Mill hotel while we look for a house nearby. We’re looking into this nice lakefront community not far from Rock Hill.”

“You mean Tega Cay, Mom?” replied the elder Northwood girl, rolling her eyes. “Surely my parents know me enough that they can figure out that I already know where it is…

Giggling, the girls’ mother replied, “Nothing gets by you, Lisa. Anyway, until we find a suitable place, we’ll be at the Comfort Inn on Avenue of the Carolinas, room 125. Well, that’s our update! What about you guys? I heard there was a little situation at our headquarters over there that you cleaned up, Lisa! Way to go, honey!”

Lisa started blushing. “Yeah, about that…I just happened to hear about it on the news and decided to do something about it. After all, the cops say they were distracted by something else going on…”

“That’s weird… they really should have enough officers to take care of any number of situations… I don’t know what sort of situation could have warranted all of them being busy…”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, and I really wasn’t satisfied with the explanation this one officer gave me. It almost seems like they were keeping officers away so the terrorists could take over the facility. I can’t say if it’s police corruption or not, but…”

“Well, we’ll certainly have to launch an investigation into that… Still, your Pokémon must have been pretty strong to deal with the threat,” the mother said excitedly.

“Yeah… I guess they are getting stronger, and it seems like they’re getting closer to you, too. Exactly what your father wanted you to experience.”

“Is he there now?”

“Nope, he’s at a meeting right now. So, what else have you been up to?”

The older daughter really didn’t want to tell her mother about her constant encounters with Thrash, so she gave the vague answer of, “Not much, really. Just got another badge here, which makes four. We’re just resting before we head to the next town.”

“Well, congratulations, Lisa! Great going! Hey, mind if I talk with Lindsay for a moment?”

“Um, sure...” Lisa said as she handed the phone to her younger sister.

Lindsay asked, “Hey, Mom! How’s it going?”

“Things are going well here. What about you? Is your big sister treating you well?”

“Yeah, though she’s still weird as ever!” The young girl looked over to her older sister, who was scowling with her arms folded across her chest. With a nervous chuckle, she continued, “But seriously, she is helping me out a lot, and I’m enjoying watching her battle. I’ve met her Pokémon a few times, and they seem pretty nice.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. Anyway, it’s getting late, so I better let you two girls get some sleep. Good luck to both of you! Bye now!”

“I wish she would have talked longer…” said Lindsay, a hint of disappointment in her voice.

“When they get wrapped up in business matters, they get like that. Eventually you just learn to accept it. Anyway, let’s see what’s on TV.”

They found an interesting show on television, one that ranked every trainer who had registered with a Pokémon Ambassador in that calendar year, complete with sports show-style commentary. The top-ranked trainer was a guy named Terence Mason, who was, “undoubtedly the strongest trainer out there,” according to the dark-skinned commentator named Tyron.

“I must agree with you,” said his partner, a muscular guy named Ovid. “Terence is the defending Fourtix League Champion, and it’s easy to see why. He’s currently 126-0 in battles against trainers this year. He’s cocky, but with those stats, he can afford to be.”

The highest ranked female trainer was number five, a Kimberly Harris. “Miss Harris is currently 131-3 and a real contender. She’s also the highest ranked rookie trainer. It should be noted that the entire top twenty-five have all earned their ten badges. Now, of the unranked trainers still collecting badges, who is your favorite?” continued Ovid.

“I’m liking Randy Doerr. With a 43-1 record and already with seven badges, he’s looking to be quite strong. His battling style is unique and effective as well,” answered Tyron.

Ovid argued, “Well, I’m partial to Lisa Northwood. She may be only up to her fourth badge, but several of her victories have come against Thrash members, who even the Gym Leaders are hesitant about confronting.”

“You for real? Yeah, she might be taking on Thrash, but she’s only 27-4,” countered Tyron. “I mean, if she’s got that many losses already, she should just pack up now and go back to her little princess castle. Besides, with only four badges she ain’t gonna make the January 15th League registration deadline. Simply laughable…”

“ARGGH! Who does that nimrod think he is?! The nerve of that idiot!” screamed Lisa, who had just been insulted by a hotshot TV commentator and was understandably angry. “If I get my hands on that piece of…”

“Shut the hell up or we’re calling the front desk!” warned a gruff male voice from the next room over.

“Calm down, sis!” pleaded her younger sibling. “Ya wanna wake up all the guests and get us thrown out?!” Persian was also spooked by its friend’s outburst and nearly fell off the bed, letting out a horrifying screech.

“SHUT UP! This is your last damn warning!”

“Sorry, sorry! But, yeah, I shouldn’t let the comments of some moron bother me, especially since he couldn’t tell a linear equation from a differential equation…”

“Enough math! Time for bed!” Lindsay scolded before turning out the light.

As she drifted to sleep, Lisa thought, “One day, Tyron, one day I will emerge victorious and I will rub it right in your smug little face! Count on it!

The next morning, Lisa got dressed, first pulling on a pair of tight-fitting black leggings with lace trim at the bottom of the leg. Then she slipped on a two-layer pink dress with a pretty floral print in hues of orange, purple, and red. She then placed her wide-brimmed white hat on her head, ensuring that the hat’s decorative purple ribbon was properly tied. Finally, the young trainer slipped her feet into a pair of black dress shoes.

While she was going through all of this, Lindsay impatiently waited for her. After all, the younger sister simply wore her school uniform- a white sweater, red plaid skirt, a pair of matching red tights, and black shoes. She didn’t have to decide what to wear.

“Come on, Lisa! I want some breakfast!”

“Calm down, I’m just about done. Sheesh… The way you are, you act like the breakfast bar is gonna get up and walk away.”

Lisa quickly threw on her purple windbreaker with the orange paw logo. The girls then made their way down to the lobby. While Lindsay raided the breakfast buffet, Lisa checked out with the front desk. Just as Lisa was handing her card-key to the employee, her phone went off.

“Sorry, I have to take this… okay… we’ll be there right away.”

Lisa then found her sister. “We’ve got a ride here to take us to our next destination. Finish that cranberry juice and let’s head out.”

“Okay, sis, but I call shotgun!” Lindsay informed her older sister, who just rolled her eyes.

The two girls walked over to the Pokémon Center, where Lisa saw Morgan’s Chevy Caprice. The car’s boxy fenders and well-defined roofline gave it an antiquated yet formal appearance. The chrome bumpers were a good match to its gleaming silver finish, adding to the car’s classic looks. The padded vinyl top covered the rearmost third of the roof and was accented with “Brougham LS” nameplates and a distinctive gold crest. The brawny, brown-haired police inspector sat behind the wheel, while the tall, red-headed Maxie was seated in the front seat. Both men were wearing brown overcoats.

“Actually, Lindsay, I believe he called shotgun,” Lisa joked to her little sister.

“Shut up.”

As soon as the girls settled into the plush cloth seats, Lisa introduced Lindsay to Maxie and Morgan.

“Everyone put your seat belts on, we’re heading out,” Morgan advised.

The car pulled from the curb and headed west. At a stoplight, Morgan turned onto an entrance ramp to the new freeway. “Finally, I get a chance to enjoy a nice paved freeway! All of these routes should be like this!” thought an excited Lisa. But soon she realized just how boring the stretch of highway was. For miles the double ribbons of black asphalt sliced through the green grasslands, with only the occasional billboard, green exit sign, or freeway interchange breaking up the monotony.

Morgan told the sisters, “We’ll drive straight into Greenville City. But there, we’ll have to switch over to one of the Weather Research Lab’s SUV’s. The road up Mt. Lexin isn’t passable without four-wheel-drive.”

“All right, I guess we’ll just nap until we get there.”

“Tough fight against Team Thrash last night?”

“Oh, yeah. It was one of those guys from Orre that they recruited. They were after the power plant’s generator. Makes you wonder what they could have wanted with something like that. What could they possibly be up to that requires so much electricity?”

“Whatever it was, at least you were able to stop them. Still, they have become more brazen with each of their operations. They’ve gone from covert missions to blatant bank takeovers and theft attempts. Apparently, all of this is in preparation for something… perhaps something so big we can’t even imagine it.”

Lisa took time to think. She reflected on Team Thrash’s operations so far, as well as what some of the group’s leaders had said to her. In particular, she kept focusing on the team’s goals and the so-called “ancient prophecy” that was supposed to justify their actions, at least in their minds. “I’m smart enough to know that their ‘prophecy’ is a sham, but it’s clear that others have been roped into believing their claims. And their ulterior motives seem to be unknown besides the fact that they’re interested in Shadow Pokémon. And that lack of information is troubling.

The group made a brief stop in Northwood City for lunch before continuing on toward the mountain. In the small diner were lots of customers. Morgan said, “This place isn’t that big, but it’s famous around here for great home-cooked meals.”

When her hamburger arrived, Lisa didn’t think it was all that good. Her fries were soggy as well. “Might as well just keep quiet and pretend to enjoy this food…

After that brief stop, the gang returned to the open road. Lisa started to take a nap. She comfortably settled into the car’s pillowy, velour-upholstered rear seat. The next thing Lisa remembered was Lindsay poking her.

“Huh? ... Wha…”

“Come on, sis! Let’s get going!”

They had arrived at the weather research facility. Morgan, Maxie, and Lindsay were all glaring at the still-sleepy Lisa. All she could do was to blush and reply, “Sorry…” before finally waking up.

The four of them walked past a long row of black Jeep Commanders but Maxie led them past every one of them. He approached and unlocked the doors of a red Ford Bronco. It was a large, square-like vehicle, with massive steel bumpers. The tires on it were large, befitting the vehicle’s rugged, “Built Ford Tough” image. This two-door SUV was an old-school four wheeler, built before the SUV craze had even started. Lisa figured it was close to a 1990 model.

Maxie took the wheel while Morgan got into the front seat. The two girls made themselves as comfortable as they could in the rear, though it was not as spacious as in Morgan’s sedan. The weather scientist fired up the truck’s monstrous V-8 engine and headed north. After driving through some rolling hills the truck entered a small community.

Maxie commented, “That’s Lexin City, though it’s really more of a hamlet. There is a gym there, though. I presume you’ll be challenging its leader after we investigate Mt. Lexin?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Understood. We will drop you and your sister off there on our way back…”

A Chevy Impala police car was riding the Bronco’s bumper with lights flashing. Maxie pulled the truck over onto the shoulder. As the officer approached the vehicle, Lisa recognized the portly patroller as Officer Hauston.

Hauston scowled. “Sir, do you realize how fast you were going? Fifty-nine in a forty zone.”

Maxie argued, “These roads are too worn for any vehicle to go fifty-nine! I suggest you get your radar checked.”

The officer slammed his fist on the driver’s door. “Well, I suggest you shut your trap and don’t try to give me lip, cause I’ll haul you out of your hot rod there and right into jail!”

Morgan stepped in. “Hauston! That is enough. We are on an important mission, and we must reach Mt. Lexin immediately!”

“What?! I was not informed of this!” The man took a step backward, a stunned look on his face.

“Sorry, but we couldn’t risk tipping off Team Thrash.”

“I see. Well, I suppose I’ll let you guys go do what you need to do there. But watch it. These roads are very dangerous.”

Hauston returned to his police car and let Maxie continue driving.

“What was THAT all about?” wondered Lisa.

“Don’t worry too much about him. Hauston’s a good cop but he does sometimes lose his temper if he thinks someone’s giving him lip,” explained Morgan.

The road widened to three lanes, two on the direction going up the mountain, and one lane going down. As the Bronco started to climb up the mountain, a red Nissan Murano raced past them before cutting back into its proper lane. The truck’s overall shape was an amalgam of sharp curves, a bizarre-looking front end, and oddly-shaped taillights. According to Lisa, this was, “one ugly-looking thing in front of us.

Shortly afterwards, a red Honda Element pulled up alongside the large Ford, but just lingered there. The tiny box on wheels was an odd-looking thing itself, with much of the lower body panels covered in flat black plastic. “Great, this is even uglier than that thing in front of us!

A Lexus RX300 closed in quickly on the large truck’s rear. This one was also red in color, and looked for all the world like an oversized hatchback on a raised frame. With the four red SUV’s in a group all traveling up the mountain road, and the largest one flanked by the three smaller imports, it was the perfect opportunity for an ambush. The show started when the Lexus started bumping the massive Ford from behind. The Nissan in front of them had slowed down considerably and Maxie had to slam on the brakes to avoid crashing into it. The large truck began to fishtail before Maxie yanked the vehicle back under his control.

“Ah! What the hell are these guys doing?” Maxie shouted.

The Element pulled even with Maxie’s window. The driver rolled down the darkly-tinted window and revealed himself as a Thrash agent. “Stop the truck now!”

“I got your game, sucka!” Maxie retorted, flipping off the thug. The grunt responded by sideswiping the Bronco, but the huge truck easily brushed it aside.

“Looks like Team Thrash’s welcoming committee has us in a box,” Morgan said with a sarcastic tone and a frown on his face.

Lisa added, “Yeah, but this ain’t good ‘ol Southern hospitality!”

The three vehicles had Maxie’s Ford trapped against a sheer wall of gray rock on the right side. The Murano continued to slow down in front, and the Lexus behind prevented Maxie from slowing down and getting out of the trap. At least that was what Team Thrash thought. But the wily weather expert was also an expert at extreme driving. First he slammed on the accelerator and bumped the Nissan. He continued to ride on its bumper, effectively pushing it up the hill. The Nissan’s driver slammed on the brakes but the powerful Bronco continued to push the lighter SUV.

Smiling, Maxie said, “Ain’t nothing better than the 460 engine.”

Soon enough the wheels on the Nissan began to smoke and Lisa could see the front brake pads melting and falling off. The driver could be seen furiously slamming the steering wheel in frustration, presumably while stomping on the brake, but his efforts were to no avail.

Morgan commented, “When we hit that downhill stretch, he’s gone.”

“Wait, what downhill stretch?” inquired Lindsay.

“About halfway up this hill, the road actually starts going downhill for about a quarter mile before continuing uphill…”

The Honda had struck the big Ford again, shaking up everyone inside just a little. Maxie returned the favor by knocking the Element into the opposing lane… right in front of a large Peterbilt Model 379 eighteen-wheeler. Carrying a load from a factory located on the route, the violet-colored king of the road quickly approached the tiny box-like SUV, air horns blaring. To avoid the huge, long-nosed truck, the driver of the Element swerved off the mountain road and hit a grassy embankment. Lisa watched out the rear window as the small Honda flipped over several times. Morgan called for backup officers as Lisa saw the boxy truck finally land on its roof, totally destroyed.

Morgan radioed to his backup, “10-50 traffic accident involving one of our suspect vehicles. Vehicle is a Honda Element, red, overturned about two miles up the Mt. Lexin pass.”

The Lexus immediately pulled alongside the Bronco as Maxie tried to pass the Nissan ahead of him. He was forced back when the RX300 charged into position to replace the first SUV. The two vehicles made contact several times as they continued up the hill. Maxie was still riding the bumper of the Nissan ahead, pushing it up the mountain. Soon enough, the rear brakes on the oddly-styled Murano melted away, just like the front brakes had before.

The driver of the oversized Lexus hatchback pulled out a large shotgun and cocked the weapon. He targeted the Ford’s left rear tire in an attempt to blow it out. Thinking quickly, Maxie sideswiped the smaller SUV, shaking up the driver and knocking his gun out of his hand and out the open driver’s side window.

Morgan radioed his backup units, “There’s a large firearm on the road about two and a half miles up the Mt. Lexin pass. Make sure you retrieve it.”

The Lexus driver rolled down his window and flipped off Maxie. With a deranged, psychotic look on his face, and with his eyes seemingly ready to burst out of their sockets, he screamed, “Ya wanna play, huh? I’ll play! Ya wanna play? Let’s play!”

The red-headed scientist slammed into the smaller vehicle, but the Lexus held its position. The driver came right back, hitting the older Ford right in the side and taking off the outside mirror. The two drivers continue to trade paint as they proceeded up the hill, slamming the heck out of each other. Occasionally the drivers would also exchange insults and threats.

Meanwhile, the Nissan’s driver continued to attempt to hold up the Ford’s progress, but the driver was finding it increasingly difficult with melted brake pads. He was attempting to use the incline to his advantage but the Bronco had more than enough horsepower to push the Murano, the bumpers on both vehicles seemingly locked together like the horns of two Tauros engaged in battle. But it seemed as if the Ford’s tougher steel bumper was doing a number on the Nissan’s flimsy plastic one, causing chunks of red and black plastic to shatter and break away from the vehicle.

Maxie continued shoving the Nissan up the hill until they reached the crest, where the Nissan picked up speed and disappeared from view in front of the Bronco. “That’s the laws of physics and momentum at work,” Lisa observed. “He ain’t stopping until he hits something with enough force to stop him…” The group next saw the vehicle crashed, the front end wrapped around a telephone pole. “Like a large pole, for instance. Ooh, guess he shouldn’t have worn out his brakes.”

The last vehicle left was the Lexus, which began relentlessly slamming into the larger SUV as the road began its ascent again. After several attempts to wreck the big Ford failed, Lisa noticed the driver becoming visibly frustrated as he slammed his fists on the steering wheel. He reduced his speed, moved in behind Maxie’s truck, and attempted a police-style PIT Maneuver. Tapping the Bronco’s left rear fender, the thug had hoped to send the truck skidding and careening off the sheer cliff on the opposite side of the roadway. However, the older SUV’s size and momentum kept it on course.

Failing to spin out his adversary, the driver of the Lexus once again pulled even with Maxie. The vehicle pulled wide in an attempt to slam Lisa and crew against the wall. Maxie slammed on the brakes and the Lexus ended up smashing into the wall of rock directly in front of the Bronco. Maxie then calmly drove right around the wreckage and continued up the mountain. Lisa started to giggle. “Someone’s not gonna be happy about having three of his SUV’s destroyed.”

“Officer Leslie Morgan reporting two additional 10-50 traffic crashes involving the two remaining suspect vehicles. Please report to the scene and take any suspects into custody.”

Soon after, the paved road gave way to a rutted dirt path that looked like it saw very little traffic. Sure enough, the Bronco’s four wheel drive came in handy. The group arrived at the mountain’s summit a few minutes later. As Maxie surveyed the damage to his SUV, Lisa turned to speak to Inspector Morgan and Lindsay.

“Okay, Lindsay, I need you to stay with Morgan until I let him know that we’ve eliminated any threat. As soon as we defeat any troublemakers up here, I’ll give him the sign to move in and make arrests. I think Maxie wants to go with me to investigate.”

“Okay, gotcha. Be careful, though.”

Because it was so hot near the volcano, Lisa took off her jacket and tied it around her waist. Then she approached Maxie. “All right. Maxie, are you ready yet?”

Maxie got up and walked over to the pink-clad trainer. “Well, except for some dents and the wrinkled bumpers, I think my truck survived that game of bumper cars pretty well. I’ll catch up.”

Lisa walked about three steps when a Pokémon jumped out from behind a rock and growled at the startled girl. It was a small yellow creature, vaguely resembling a camel with a single hump. The top of the hump had a hole and splotches of green. Its face wore a look of either cluelessness or boredom. Its movements were rather slow and unsteady as it stumbled about on its four stubby legs. Lisa booted up her Pokédex.

“Numel, the Numb Pokémon. Numel stores molten magma within its body and is known to occasionally spew out intense blasts of lava.”

When the Numel began flaming at the mouth, Lisa knew she was in for a battle. “Go, Spheal!” she commanded, sending out her small aquatic Pokémon.

The spherical blue mammal appeared, smiling and waving his flippers about. Immediately, Numel’s embers struck the Pokémon. It didn’t appear to do much damage, but Spheal started to glow white after the impact. Lisa saw him start to change shape. When the transformation was complete, Lisa was presented with a larger seal, with white whiskers and underbelly. His flippers were now well developed. No longer a perfect sphere, his body nonetheless was still fairly round in shape. His two teeth had grown in size as well. The Pokémon began to beat the ground with his two front flippers.

“Sealeo, the Ball Roll Pokémon. Sealeo uses its nose to identify items that it encounters for the first time.” Sure enough, Sealeo made his way over to Lisa and started nudging Lisa’s leg, getting a snout full of her black leggings.

“All right! You evolved! Hey, that tickles! But right now, we have a Numel to battle! Let’s use a Water Pulse!”

The newly evolved seal-like creature let out a loud, low-pitched “Seeall!” before letting loose a stream of water complete with sonic pulses. The rippling water attack knocked Numel for a loop, causing the creature to fall on its belly.

“Let’s try for another capture!” Lisa shouted. As the small camel struggled to right itself, Lisa hurled a Pokéball at it. Numel disappeared into the ball in a flash of red energy. The ball quickly closed shut before vanishing.

“Confirmation that Numel was received at Professor Sequoia’s ranch,” responded the Pokédex’s female voice.

“All right! We caught Numel!” the girl cheered before returning Sealeo to his own Pokéball.

By the time the battle had ended, Maxie was finally ready to head to the summit. The two made their climb up a small rocky incline by foot. Clearing some brush, they spotted a lone figure, dressed in red, which was standing over the opening to the dormant volcano. His back was to Lisa and Maxie, so the two of them crept closer to him.

The man muttered to himself, “I wish those guys at the lab would get that thing finished and notify me so I can get the ball rolling and awaken Groudon…”

The man then spun around and spotted Lisa and Maxie. A large smirk formed on his face. “Maxie… Long time, no see.”

Maxie’s eyes grew wide as he shouted, “TABITHA!”

With thin eyes and a muscular build, the old acquaintance of Maxie’s began a long tirade. “So, you do remember me. Perhaps you also remember the dream of the old Team Magma, which you abandoned. You spineless fool. The Thrash Brotherhood has promised a way to awaken and control Groudon that is foolproof, and yet you turned them down for your cushy laboratory position. Well, I am determined to see the dreams of Team Magma be fulfilled, even if under a different name. Why you did not want to join me is beyond my realm of understanding.”

“Tabitha… You still do not understand, do you? There is no way to control Groudon and its fearsome power. Whatever Thrash thinks will control Groudon will not work…”

“Silence! We are no longer relying on ancient orbs. Instead, we are employing the latest in technology to control the minds of Pokémon and bend them to our will. Once the device is completed, Groudon will bow to our commands, without question.” Tabitha began to laugh uncontrollably.

“That is not the point. Altering the balance of land and water will result in unforeseen consequences, regardless of what sort of mind control device you may have employed. I will ask you once more to give up this foolish plan,” Maxie replied, hands on his hips.

“Hahahaha! Do you take me for a fool? My objective is to awaken Groudon and force it to do my bidding. Thrash’s mind-control device is the key to realizing the dream of everyone who was a part of Team Magma – except you, traitor. I will continue to wait here until I have been given the orders to proceed. Quite ironic that the one who founded and commanded Magma would be the first to abandon its goals. Anyway, do you honestly think you can stop the Thrash Brotherhood?”

Lisa stepped up, Pokéball in hand. “Only one way to find out…”

Tabitha put up his hand. “No! Even though you are the girl who has been marked as our biggest threat, my personal vendetta is against Maxie. I will battle him first. Once I get rid of him, then I shall dispose of you.”

Lisa stepped down and Maxie came forward to confront Tabitha. “Are you sure? May I remind you that in all your years with Team Magma, you have failed to defeat me in battle once.”

“Hehehehehehe! I’ve picked up a few new battle techniques since joining Thrash’s ranks. Maybe it is you who should be second-guessing your chances of winning.”

“Be that as it may, I cannot allow you to pursue a plot as deadly as awakening Groudon.”

“Heh, I’d never thought I’d hear you utter those words. Very well, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!”

Chapter 19: A Volcanic Showdown Years in the Making

“Sandslash, now!” Tabitha was the first to call out a Pokémon. He sent out a large yellow and brown Pokémon with a spiny, scaly hide. The claws on its front arms looked to be sharp as a knife. It had deep black eyes that somewhat resembled Jolteon’s eyes. Maxie followed with a large, lumbering orange Torkoal very similar to the one Bernie had used. Blowing smoke from its nostrils and charcoal-colored shell, the tortoise sluggishly crawled toward the pointy-scaled creature.

The lanky, red-headed expert threw off his overcoat, revealing a distinctive, two-colored suit that was split vertically into black and red halves. Suddenly he heaved a black sphere at Lisa, hitting her in the leg. After contact, a set of mysterious red beams emanated from the opened orb and proceeded to surround Lisa.

“Hey, what is the meaning of this?!” the teen screamed in stunned surprise. She tried to escape but the beams sent a painful shock through her body upon contact, causing the young girl to fall. Lisa slowly picked herself up, still writhing in pain. “Jeez, how the heck did I fall for this one?!

Maxie began to gloat. “Hahahahahaha… You ain’t so bright, after all. The car chase, the emergency call, the scripted conversation with Tabitha,” he proclaimed as he took papers from his suit and threw them down in front of Lisa. The title read, “Scripted conversation for Operation Bait and Trap.”

Maxie continued, “You fell for it hook, line, and sinker. And so did that stupid police inspector. And don’t worry about me destroying the boss’s trucks or getting their drivers arrested. Those three members were among the poorest performers in terms of failure rates and the three trucks destroyed had the highest mileage of any in our fleet. Those morons didn’t even know that they were battling it out with a fellow Thrash agent.”

The captured trainer grabbed for her cell phone but Maxie revealed, “Don’t bother. Those beams contain powerful energy waves. Not only can they trap Pokémon of any size or power level, they also block cell phone signals. There is no way you can alert that idiot Morgan. And that will also be the key to restraining and capturing Groudon. Our many thanks to Cipher for providing us with this technology.”

“But, why, Maxie?” Lisa winced, still hurting from the shock. “You betrayed us. Myself, Inspector Morgan, Archie, Shelly… Somehow, you’ll pay for this, Maxie!

“Did you not listen to Tabitha? It will fulfill Team Magma’s dream of creating more land mass for people and Pokémon! That part of our conversation was true. It is only the stuff I said that was completely fabricated. I still hold the mission of Team Magma in the highest regard. We are just moments away from awakening Groudon again. And this time we will have the means to control it! Team Magma as an organization might be gone, but our goals shall now be realized! And now there is nothing…”

“Et tu, Maxie?” Maxie spun around to come face-to-face with Archie, Shelly, Lindsay, and Morgan. The two lab workers stepped toward the traitors while the detective kept the little girl at a distance.

“What! How did you find me?” Maxie sputtered.

Very calmly, Shelly explained, “Remember when you first took this job and the lab issued you a BlackBerry? It’s equipped with a GPS tracker that can be traced from the lab. When we started noticing you missing meetings and calling in sick, Archie told me to keep track of you. When we noticed you taking frequent trips to Mount Lexin and to somewhere on Route 511, we became suspicious. So today, when Morgan informed us that you were headed to Mount Lexin with Lisa and himself, we decided to follow. We passed a trail of destroyed vehicles. Nice job. But your plan ends here, with us.”

“It won’t do you any good! So long as this control device remains intact, the girl is unable to escape. Or do you honestly think you can defeat us in battle?” Maxie gloated, forming a cocky, confident grin on his well-tanned face.

Archie and Shelly stepped up to the plate. “I think our odds are pretty good.”

Archie threw a Pokéball into the air, and a sleek purple bat emerged, staring angrily at Torkoal with its menacing yellow eyes. With its two pairs of wings, the Pokémon was able to remain airborne without making a noise. Shelly unleashed a large white sea lion with a single small horn on its head. Despite being out of its element, the aquatic mammal wore a confident smile. It waved its long mermaid-like tail fin around as it got ready for battle.

“Crobat, the Bat Pokémon. After developing its second set of wings that replace its legs, Crobat becomes a silent stalker in caves. Dewgong, the Sea Lion Pokémon. This Pokémon’s thick fur allows it to live and thrive in even bitter cold conditions.”

Archie and Shelly both stood facing their rivals, the wind blowing at their white lab coats and Shelly’s curly red hair. Archie took a moment to brush off his black goatee. The two criminals, both wearing red outfits that weren’t standard Thrash issue, refused to back down from this challenge.

“Oh, is that all? Heh, this is the showdown I’d thought we would have had in Hoenn! Now, Torkoal, Smokescreen!”

Tabitha ordered, “Sandslash, use your Fury Swipes!”

The lumbering tortoise unleashed a thick cloud of dark smoke from its shell, instantly blanketing the entire area with a thick veil of black fog. The spiny Sandslash then ran into the cloud, claws extended. It could not be seen whether the strike connected.

“Blow that stuff away!” Archie yelled.

“Hit Sandslash with a Bubblebeam!” Shelly instructed.

The lightweight bat used its wings to blow the smoke off of the rocky battlefield. Dewgong released a flurry of high velocity bubbles at Sandslash, knocking it on its back. The large Pokémon recovered and slashed at the aquatic Pokémon. It relented only after Crobat slammed into it.

“Fun time’s over! Bring out the sunlight!”

Torkoal let out a loud, bellowing “Toooor!” as light emanated from its shell and shot straight up into the sky. Lisa, Archie, and Shelly looked on as the already bright sun became even more intense, its heat and rays of light beating down on the rocky battlefield.

Lisa could do nothing while trapped. “Looks like my fate is out of my hands now. I really hope that Archie and Shelly can handle this situation. Otherwise, I’m a dead girl…

Concerned about the climate change, Shelly cried, “Try an Ice Beam, Dewgong!”

“Dewwwww…” The intense heat obviously had an adverse effect on Dewgong, as its cries became pained and its movements sluggish. Still, it managed to shoot out a light blue ray of crystallized ice at Sandslash. The jagged yellow Pokémon recovered, but Tabitha elected to recall it, in order to take advantage of the new weather conditions.

“Hah! Try this!” In its place the determined thug had called out the black fiery canine Lisa knew as Houndoom. The double curved horns on its head and its expression of rage made it a most evil-looking foe. The lanky, thin canine emitted several deafening barks and numerous small fireballs from its orange-colored snout.

Torkoal, meanwhile, fired out a brilliant stream of flame at Crobat, but the agile creature was able to dodge right and avoid the intense fire attack. It then hurled a large purple ball at the tortoise, with the sphere exploding on contact into a mass of sticky slime all over the Fire-type’s face. Torkoal yelled out in pain as the poison began to take its toll.

“Now, Torkoal, Overheat!” Maxie cackled.

“Blast it with Solarbeam!” Tabitha ordered.

The demon-like dog opened its mouth and quickly sent a bright beam of light green energy hurtling at Dewgong. The white sea lion took a direct hit and was knocked onto its back. Shelly knew that it was spent, and called it back.

“Go, Weezing!” she yelled, releasing a floating purple Pokémon. This one was like a larger, two-headed version of Lisa’s Koffing, except that its two heads were of different sizes. It also wore a bored, indifferent expression on both of its heads, though its face was more noticeable on the larger head. It constantly released small gray clouds from ventilation holes located all over its larger head.

“Weezing, the Poison Gas Pokémon. Weezing alternately expands and contracts its twin heads to mix the poisonous gases that are stored within its lightweight body.”

The pained Torkoal’s shell started to glow a brilliant red before it unleashed a massive burst of lava from the openings. Crobat was unable to dodge the devastating strike and reeled in pain. Still, it managed to hurl another ball of purple poison at Torkoal, compounding its injuries. At the same time, Weezing performed a similar attack on Houndoom, knocking the fearsome Pokémon to the ground. The lanky canine was quick to get back up, and breathed a powerful blast of fire at Weezing.

“Let’s get rid of that Torkoal! Double Sludge Bomb!” Archie and Shelly called out in unison.

Both Poison-types ganged up on the already writhing Torkoal, sending two powerful, concentrated shots of poison aimed directly at it. The sluggish shelled Pokémon was completely spent after this latest onslaught. Houndoom, meanwhile, was prepping another fiery attack, but Weezing quickly blew a small smoke cloud at it triggering a small explosion that sent the black creature careening into a rock.

Maxie replaced Torkoal with the rocky gray creature called Graveler. Round in shape but with jagged skin, its two short legs struggled to support its massive body. Smiling at its aerial opponent, it let out a loud, “Gravvell” before picking up and heaving a large rock at Crobat. The impact knocked the sleek flying Pokémon to the ground. Archie quickly called it back.

“Try this on for size.” In its place, the scientist called out a huge red lobster with small beady eyes and two huge pincers. A gold “star” adorned the top of its head. The crustacean stepped up to the battlefield using both a thin set of front legs and a pair of much meatier hind legs. It snapped both of its massive front claws rapidly. The tall red water-type emitted a scratchy-sounding “Craaaw!” as it aimed a claw at its foes.

“Crawdaunt, the Rogue Pokémon. Crawdaunt uses its powerful pincers to combat any creature that tries to move in on its territory.”

Meanwhile, Houndoom had hit Weezing directly with another Flamethrower, and had successfully jumped right to avoid the retaliatory Sludge Bomb.

“I’m predicting a stormy time for you, Maxie,” Archie boasted. “Crawdaunt, do it now!”

The creature immediately raised one claw in the air. Dark clouds began to move in, blocking the sunlight. Soon rain began beating down on the battlefield. Oddly enough, Lisa could not feel the rain from her place in Maxie’s prison. Before the sleek black hound could perform a Sunny Day, its exoskeleton-armored antagonist blasted it with a barrage of high velocity water bubbles from its opened pincer, causing the fiery creature to stumble around like a drunk before falling over.

“Arggh! Get back into battle!” Tabitha sent out his already battle-worn Sandslash.

“Sandstorm, Graveler!” Maxie commanded.

The rain ceased and the clouds parted as the battlefield was suddenly overwhelmed by blowing sand that significantly decreased visibility. Maxie and Tabitha slipped on shades while Archie and Shelly were forced to shield their eyes. Once again, the rays that comprised Lisa’s holding cell blocked the incoming sand particles. Sandslash ran in with its claws extended, ready to strike. However, Archie was ready.

“Vicegrip now!”

The red crustacean grabbed the yellow mole by the arm, putting an increasing amount of pressure on it before flinging the foe aside. While the opponent was in midair, Crawdaunt hit Sandslash directly with a stream of clear bubbles, ensuring its fate. The Ground-type crashed hard on the rocky ground, unconscious.

Growling and shaking his fist, Tabitha called forth another black hound, this one Mightyena. The large hyena-like Pokémon started its show by furiously snapping its jaws several times before letting out a loud howl. Its hairy black tail blew in the wind whipped up by the Sandstorm that now consumed the field. It commenced attack by launching a massively powerful ray of concentrated yellow energy at Weezing. This succeeded in knocking the poisonous Pokémon to the ground. Shelly called it back.

“Good job, Weezing. Rest up and let Starmie take care of this! Hit it with Bubblebeam!”

Shelly summoned a purple star-shaped Pokémon with a shimmering core in the center of its body. It stood on two of its “tips” and rotated its pointed body about its core. Its body was not rigid, as the enigmatic creature was able to bend its star-points like sets of limbs. It did so before shooting out a volley of clear circular projectiles from its core.

“Starmie, the Mysterious Pokémon. Starmie’s central core can take on all the colors of the rainbow, and is highly valued for use as jewelry.”

Panting heavily from unleashing the Hyper Beam, Mightyena was unable to do anything except take the watery strike directly. Archie, meanwhile, was watching Graveler very closely.

“Rollout!” instructed the red-haired weather expert.

“Protect!” yelled Archie as his counter to Maxie’s attack.

“Crrawww!” Crawdaunt surrounded itself in a green aura. The large rock started rolling at high speed toward the lobster but ended up bouncing off the protective barrier. Still, the heavy Graveler managed to land on its feet. It proceeded to pick up another large rock and toss it at Crawdaunt, knocking it on its back. The large aquatic Pokémon got right back up and shot out a blast of water at the stony foe, knocking it over.

“Tabitha, now!”

“Right, Maxie! Protect, Mightyena!” Tabitha called out.

“I’m gonna shake things up! Graveler, Magnitude!”

Mightyena surrounded itself in a green protective aura of its own as Graveler jumped straight up in the air. When it landed, the ground began to shake and rumble violently, causing Starmie and Crawdaunt to fall flat on the rocky surface. The four trainers locked in battle staggered a bit but kept on their feet. The imprisoned girl, however, was not shaken up in the least. “Interesting… it seems as if these energy beams either block or absorb the energy from any attack.

Both Pokémon quickly picked themselves back up. Simultaneously, Archie and Shelly commanded, “Crawdaunt, Starmie, twin Bubblebeams!”

The simultaneous attack was aimed at Graveler but Mightyena ran interference and took the attack as Graveler proceeded to burrow underground.

“Protect again, Crawdaunt!” Archie cried out as he saw the earth rumble beneath his red colored Pokémon. Crawdaunt surrounded itself in a green bubble, and Graveler was forced to reveal itself without being able to knock Crawdaunt around. Graveler then just stood there and began glowing as Lisa braced for the worst.

“I’ve seen this before… it’s gonna blow up!”

Sure enough, the giant rock exploded in a massive cloud of smoke and bright white light, knocking everyone, people and Pokémon alike to the ground, except for Lisa as she was inside of the mysterious energy bubble. After the smoke cleared, it became apparent that the humans were going to be the only ones able to pick themselves up after the vicious attack.

All four trainers called back their Pokémon, but it was only Maxie and Archie who proceeded to send out additional Pokémon.

Archie sent out a mighty blue walrus with enormous tusks. Its head was covered in a fluffy white coat that supposedly offered insulation from extreme temperatures. The aquatic Pokémon opened its huge mouth and bellowed a low, sustained, “Walllllll!” The behemoth used its large front flippers to drag its hefty bulk along the ground.

“Walrein, the Ice Break Pokémon. Walrein is able to traverse through thick ice floes by smashing the ice with its powerful tusks.”

Maxie called forth the formidable red Camerupt. Blowing smoke from the two rocky mini-volcanoes situated on its back, the furry beast smiled tauntingly and growled at its icy opponent. Although it could walk on all fours, it was just as slow and sluggish as its chilly foe.

“It’s just you and me now, Maxie. Still feel up to the task?”

“Camerupt, destroy it!” yelled Maxie, a look of rage in his eyes.

The lumbering behemoth started the show by launching rocks from its volcano-like humps. Several of the hard projectiles struck Walrein. Before the Pokémon could react, Maxie’s Pokémon stomped the ground hard, resulting in a massive earthquake that shook up Walrein. The huge icy mammal brushed off the blow.

“Walrein, use Water Pulse!”

“I was prepared for this. Camerupt, Protect!” ordered Maxie, smiling confidently.

The pulsating stream of water was blocked completely by a green protective barrier. The huge camel then went on the offensive, striking Archie’s large walrus with more rocks before unleashing another rumbling Earthquake. As Walrein prepared to launch another Water Pulse, Maxie simply had his Camerupt throw up another protective barrier.

“Grrr… I have to stop this endless cycle…” muttered a very frustrated Archie who was clenching his fists.

The bulky red mammal attacked by causing another massive tremor, which shook up the lumbering icy Pokémon even worse.

“Hahaha! Now to finish this! Camerupt, use the Hyper Beam!”

“Now it’s your turn to Protect, Walrein!” yelled Archie.

The glowing yellow beam of intense energy hit the green shield surrounding Walrein and dissipated. With Camerupt still exhausted from unleashing the powerful beam, Archie took full advantage.

“Now it’s time to finish this! Walrein, use Hydro Pump!”

Maxie could only look on in stunned shock as the powerful blast of water hit the large camel directly, knocking it onto its side. The exhausted Pokémon made no attempt to get up. The flabbergasted Maxie called it back, and a smiling Archie did the same with his Walrein.

“But… How could I lose?” stammered a bewildered Maxie.

Archie sternly replied, “It is because you had your sights set on an impossible goal. You should have learned from the whole Hoenn fiasco that Groudon, or Kyogre for that matter, were not to be awakened. But you let yourself be manipulated by Thrash into believing false hopes. Your own deluded mind was your own downfall.”

Tabitha glared at Maxie. “You idiot. If you hadn’t taken your oh-so-fancy Blackberry everywhere, Archie would have never found us, and we would have captured the girl. Thrash’s Holy Grail. With her in our possession, we would have had a shot at an admin position. But one hindsight on your part got us busted instead of promoted.”

“Oh, shut up.”

Archie continued to reprimand Maxie. “You know, if you had chosen to focus on your work over the past few weeks, you would have known that we’ve tracked Groudon to a location in the Sevii Islands. It is not even around here! You wasted your time and effort chasing something that isn’t even there!”

“No! Impossible!” Maxie looked on in stunned shock as police officers put him and Tabitha in handcuffs. Shelly took the remote control for Lisa’s prison from Maxie’s pocket and smashed it on the ground. The beams surrounding Lisa faded away and the young teen fell to the ground out of exhaustion and relief.

The handcuffed Maxie had a few more words to say. “One final word of warning, Archie. You act all high and mighty now, but when Thrash comes to you to persuade you to help them out, I assure you that they will persuade you in a way that you won’t be able to refuse. You will succumb to Thrash’s generous offers one of these days. You are not a better man than I.”

“We’ll see about that, Maxie,” replied Archie as Tabitha and Maxie were taken away.

“Man! I can’t believe Maxie tricked me like that!” Lisa blurted out as she finally mustered the energy to stand.

“Don’t worry about that. He fooled all of us,” replied Morgan. “The important thing is that Archie and Shelly were able to stop him before he was able to do anything to you.

“Thanks a lot, you two. Boy, talk about being in the right place at the right time!” Lisa shook the hands of both scientists, still a bit short of breath.

Shelly spoke up next. “I think the inspector wants to investigate their happenings further. It looks like that’s where they were meeting their bosses,” she said, pointing to a rusted out old motorhome parked behind a large boulder. “Though one must wonder how they got that thing up that mountain pass. The police will also investigate Maxie’s truck. Meanwhile, Archie and I need to get back to work, and you have some business in Lexin City. We’ll take you and your sister there in our truck.”

Archie and Shelly led Lisa and Lindsay to a blue GMC crew cab pickup with dually rear wheels. Shelly said, “When Archie drives I always call shotgun.”

“Fine with us,” replied Lisa as she and her sister got into the cloth-upholstered back seat of the large truck. On their way back down the mountain, Lisa brought up the question, “Archie, do you think Team Thrash will actually be trying to recruit you?”

“I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they did. Maxie seemed like he was of a fairly high rank in the organization, so I figure he knows more than most about their objectives. Speaking of which, I believe I gave you our phone number but I don’t think I have yours. If I get contacted by those goons, you and the police will be the first to know.”

“Okay, here you go. But no spamming my voicemail!”

“Of course not. I think all of us are way too busy to be making random calls. And we’re still trying to track Kyogre. I had found that the telltale intense heat and sunlight that accompany Groudon’s presence have been reported in another region, but I can’t say the same about Kyogre and its trademark heavy rains. It is still raining heavily off the southern coast of this region, which leads me to believe that it’s still there. And if it is, no doubt Team Thrash is wanting to harness its power.”

“Just don’t fall for their lies and manipulation, you two.”

“Don’t worry about us,” assured Shelly. “We have more willpower than Maxie gives us credit for.”

Finally the truck pulled up outside the Pokémon Center in Lexin City. Lisa and Lindsay got out of the vehicle, then bid Archie and Shelly farewell, but saying they would stop to visit on their way back through Greenville City.

“Okay, but afterward, you’ll be heading south from there and passing through Route 511. Maxie spent an awful lot of time in that area so just be on the lookout for Thrash activity there.”

“All right, will do.”

Lisa and Lindsay headed into the Pokémon Center. While Lisa’s Pokémon were receiving attention, Lisa herself changed outfits. She elected to wear the dress that she had recently bought to replace her old ruined one. She slipped on the knee-length blue dress, admiring its purple, orange, and green floral pattern. Over it, she donned her new green cardigan, this one with lace trim on the sleeves and collar. Naturally, Lisa had also slipped on a pair of black heels and white pantyhose to complement her outfit. Her classic brimmed white hat with purple ribbon trim completed the look.

Afterward, the girls looked for a place to spend the night. Lisa decided to check out a place called the AmeriHost Inn, commenting that, “The only other lodging places in town are the Pokémon Center and some no-name motel that looks like it was built in the ‘60’s but hasn’t been updated since.”

Her hotel of choice was a modest two-story building with brick façade. In front of the property was a blue, five-pointed diamond- shaped sign bearing the words “AmeriHost Inn” and the red and white stripes of the U.S. flag. Inside the lobby were a few tables set up for breakfast flanking a buffet table in the center of the room. A few couches and end tables rested on a simple off-white tiled floor. The front desk was finished in a glossy walnut veneer. Nothing all that fancy, but the hotel did have a nice indoor pool area located off the lobby.

After settling into their room, Lisa began giving the Pokémon their dinner. Sealeo was just as much a ravenous eater as he was when he was a Spheal, and Metang was still as finicky as ever, leaving its portion to Sealeo. Fed up with the icy mammal’s rude eating habits, the graceful Persian heaved a couple of coins at him, but the thick-skinned Pokémon seemed not to notice. Jolteon never even bothered to eat, choosing to doze contently on the floor. After five of the six Pokémon got their fill, the girls set out to find a place where they could eat.

On their way, however, they were approached by a young man wearing a wrinkled white button-up shirt and brown slacks. His brown hair looked as if he had just gotten out of bed. His glasses were crooked on his face. In a whiny, nasally voice, he started to yell, “Hey, you’re the famous Lisa Northwood, that girl who thinks she’s such a hotshot! Well, I, Reginald Fernsworth III, will put you in your place!”

Grabbing Sealeo’s Pokéball, Lisa thought, “Here we go again…

“Oh, put away your Pokémon. That ain’t how R-Dawg rolls,” replied Reggie, in an awful attempt to sound cool. “Me an’ my crew, we settle our scores in only the purest form of battle… I challenge you to a Prime Or Not Challenge!”

“Wha?...” Lindsay looked completely bewildered, but Lisa seemed to know exactly what he was talking about. She put away the Pokéball and whipped out her PDA, and her opponent did the same. “I assume you have all the necessary algorithms programmed into that thing,” Reggie smugly asked.

“But of course. In fact, I have a handy JavaScript interface for each of them.”

“Could someone explain what you’re doing here?” demanded Lindsay.

“Oh, sorry about that,” said Lisa. “He has challenged me to ‘Prime Or Not’, where we basically give each other numbers and the other one has to say if it’s a prime number or not. Both of us have programmed algorithms into our PDAs to test numbers for primality. We’ll now see who has most skill at programming prime number algorithms.”

“Yah, sure… nerds.” The young girl simply rolled her eyes. Somebody needed to get a life.

“Hey!” Both Lisa and Reggie glared at Lindsay. “Enough talk!” declared Reggie. “Our battle will begin now. But I warn you, my programming and math skills are off the chain, ‘fo shizzle! I be layin’ down some mad mathematical beats, Homes!”

Glaring at her opponent, Lisa asked, “Oh, just drop the fake gangsta routine, please?”

“Fine. I shall commence. 670,561,979. Prime or not?”

Without even typing the number into her PDA, Lisa quickly replied, “Prime. How about not being so easy next time? Even a toddler knows that one’s prime. Try 76,949,062,908,541.”

“Oh, brother…” Lindsay could only look on as her sister engaged this nerdy guy in “battle.”

After inputting the number into his slim black PDA, the disheveled man replied, “Not prime. What about 23,179,054,219,856?”

Lisa looked at the young man, a bit puzzled as to why this guy just gave her an even number. “Um, dude? That is an even number that is greater than two. Of course it ain’t prime! Take on 4,386,135,059,029,741. Prime or not?”

After testing the number on his machine, Reggie responded with, “Not prime, but try 72,937,519,477,159 on for size.”

“Pretty good,” commented Lisa as she plugged the number into her silver-toned PDA. “But alas, that number is prime. Now try 41,590,752,135,137.”

After typing in the number and running his program, Reggie correctly identified the number as prime. “Dang, you’re good. But I’ll trip you up with 835,189,071,245,951!”

“You’re pretty good too, pal. But that number is SO not prime! Anyway, try 24,708,959,859,163.”

As Reggie typed this number in, his face turned red. “What the hell?! Infinite loop?! Insufficient memory exception?! Blast!”

“Sorry pal. Looks like you’ll have to rely on your own knowledge – or blind luck – to get this one right.” Lisa began to laugh softly under her breath.

“Ummm… it’s prime?” Reggie answered, sweating profusely.

“Sorry, wrong answer! 24,708,959,859,163 is 5,941,081,957 multiplied by 4,159. Better luck next time!”

Her fallen opponent ran away while blubbering like a baby. “Amateur,” scoffed Lisa.

Chapter 20: A Haunting Experience

Lisa and Lindsay continued walking toward downtown. Passing an eerie old mansion shrouded in darkness, Lisa stopped and commented, “Whoa… creepy.”

“You said it!” agreed Lindsay.

Just then two individuals emerged from the large house. One of them called out, “Hey! Lisa! Long time, no see!” Lisa knew who they were now. They were the two friends she had met earlier on her trip. Alexis was the one with long blond hair and Shannon was the shorter one with shoulder-length black hair. Both girls were wearing matching red dresses.

Lisa asked them, “So, what have you two been up to? And, more importantly, what are you doing in a place like that?”

Alexis responded, “Winning our fifth badge!” as both girls help up identical gleaming black badges.

“Wait… that run-down old house is the gym?!” Lisa exclaimed in total shock.

“Yeah, hard to believe, but that is the town’s Pokémon Gym. Although, it does fit the leader’s personality to a “T”.”

Shannon asked, “And who is this little cutie?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Lisa. “Everyone, please introduce yourself.”

“I’m Lindsay, Lisa’s younger sister. It’s my job to keep her in line!”

“That’s our job too! My name is Alexis Howard.”

“And I’m Shannon Fisher. Great to meet you!”

Lisa stuttered, “Wha… what do you mean, ‘keep me in line?!’ Y’all act like I’m some sort of delinquent!”

“Please, Lisa, it’s not like that. But we know what happens when you get started with your math.”

“You said it! Just now she was playing this weird math game with this geeky guy.”

“Really?” asked Shannon. “How did you do against him?”

“I won against him, of course.”

“Big sis can beat anyone, even at Pokémon!”

Great... here we go…” thought Lisa.

“Actually,” Alexis started, “both of us have defeated Lisa before in Pokémon battles.”

“Wow, you two must be really strong then, because Lisa was beating some pretty tough bad guys from that evil group! But if you two can whip her in battle, then…”

Lisa interrupted, “Getting back on task, do either of you know a good place to eat?”

“But of course we do!”

The four girls walked to a small restaurant in the downtown area. By the time they sat down, Lisa’s feet were killing her. But she had resigned herself to wearing heels, and she would deal with it.

Over dinner, the girls each talked about their run-ins with Team Thrash.

Lisa began telling her story. “I’ve had to shut them down numerous times. First, they were running a casino which I had to shut down for good. Then I ran into them again attempting to take over my parents’ company. I had to battle the young couple leading that operation, and I think we made a big mess of the building’s lobby. And don’t get me started on that one Thrash guy who interrupted my karaoke singing during a retro 80’s party I went to. Needless to say, I spared no expense and totally beat his Pokémon down.”

Lisa ate several fries before continuing. “Another one of those guys was attempting to steal the main generator from the power plant. Of course, that would have meant a region-wide blackout. Then, right before coming here, I was witness to a battle with two of their members who had been masquerading as weather researchers.”

But, Lisa wasn’t the only one to have battled the team. More than once in their travels, Alexis and Shannon had run-ins with them.

“Yeah, the first time we ran into them, this really old guy in a suit was there with them. As we walked up, he was giving orders to the agents to invade a bank. I think he was pumping iron as well. Well, anyway, we interrupted their little meeting. Then the old geezer challenges us to a battle. He had some good Pokémon on him, but in the end we ended up defeating him and he took off in a huff.”

Alexis detailed their second encounter with Thrash. “On our way to challenge this gym leader, we passed by a group of Thrash guys plotting to invade the Weather Research Center. The place was closed at the time, so we think they were waiting for an ambush. The two heading up this mission were a burly guy with all dog Pokémon, and an obnoxious goth girl. Long story short, the two of them challenged us to a battle, they got creamed, and the whole group ran off with their tails between their legs, so to speak.”

Probably going after Archie and Shelly,” Lisa thought to herself. Then she asked the girls, “So, what’s the gym leader like?”

“Now, now, Lisa, we wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. Let’s just say that the outside of the gym should be a very good indicator of what lurks inside. Don’t worry, we’ll be there cheering for you!”

“Well, thanks, you guys. I think I’ll head to my room to relax and sleep, and I think I’ll meet you tomorrow at around 11:00 at the gym.”

“Okay, see you then!”

Arriving back at the hotel, Lisa finally was able to take off her shoes and relax. Lindsay told Lisa that she would just stay in the room during the next day’s battle before falling asleep early. “Sorry, sis, but ain’t no way I’m stepping into that weird house!”

After feeding her Pokémon (except Metang, who would not have accepted the “discount” food anyway) and changing into her nightgown, Lisa watched some TV before drifting off to sleep, Persian again sleeping at the foot of her bed.

The next morning, Lisa was down in the lobby of the hotel, enjoying the free continental breakfast. “The food is average, but it’s free, so who am I to complain?” She was dressed professionally in her business suit, which she had painstakingly ironed earlier in the morning. With her sister still snoozing contently, Lisa made her way toward the haunted gym. She met with Alexis and Shannon outside the huge mansion, then proceeded to open the door.

A tall lady wearing a long black robe greeted her, speaking in a low, monotone voice. “Welcome to the… Lexin City Pokémon Gym… I am Becky and I officiate all matches here… Please step inside…” she said with a halting cadence. Lisa entered the gym, but Becky stopped Alexis and Shannon, stating that, “You have already won… your badges, therefore you… have no business here…”

Becky led Lisa down a dark, cold corridor. Dust and Spinarak webs were everywhere, and old portraits of men and women long since dead stood decaying on the walls. Occasionally a Zubat would be seen flying past, startling the nervous teenager. Becky seemed unfazed. “Must be because she’s done this a thousand times before. She must be tough. I could never work in such a dreary and creepy place. The inside of this “gym” is just as chilling as its exterior.

Becky and Lisa finally arrived at a clearing in the center of the building. It was dimly lit, but was bright enough so that Lisa was able to get a glimpse of her opponent. She was an old woman, dressed in a black ankle-length dress and seated in an electric wheelchair. The elderly lady wore a sly smirk on her wrinkled face, her white hair in a bit of a mess.

She rolled up to her place on the battle arena and introduced herself. “I’ve heard about you! My name is Shari. You may have won many battles on your way here, but my battle style is more sinister than any you have encountered before. Becky! Let us begin! You better be ready for a haunting time, dearie! Ehehehehehehehe!” Shari began cackling loudly, only stopping when Becky started the battle.

“The battle between… Lexin Gym leader Shari… and challenger Lisa from South Carolina… shall begin… Single battle, Three Pokémon each… Only the challenger may switch out Pokémon… Begin!”

“You better be ready for this! Misdreavus, go!”

Shari, without throwing her Pokéball, held it up and unleashed a levitating creature that was colored a dark gray-blue color. It had a well-defined head with a row of pink pearl-like orbs on its neckline, and pink accents on hair-like appendages coming out of its head. With its effeminate smile, the Pokémon performed several midair loops before facing

“Misdreavus, the screech Pokémon. Late at night, this Pokémon can often be found playing practical jokes on people, as it enjoys the sound of screaming.”

“Fine, then. Sealeo, let’s get this started!” Lisa called forth her chilling sea lion Pokémon, who dragged his massive blue body toward his floating opponent. “Give it a Water Pulse!”

Misdreavus floated above the pulsating blue wave of water and formed a black sphere of energy in front of it before launching it at Sealeo. Lisa’s Pokémon quickly shot out a gleaming ball of ice to break up the shadowy energy, before letting loose another Water Pulse that struck Misdreavus this time.

“Ehehehehehe! Time for me to show true terror! Do it now, Misdreavus!” Shari cackled.

The small ghost’s two eyes suddenly started to glow bright red. It made eye contact with Sealeo, both Pokémon fixated on each other.

“Aurora Beam, Sealeo!” commanded Lisa. The light blue Pokémon released a brilliant rainbow-colored beam of concentrated energy, striking Misdreavus directly. But the wily ghost began to emit a bizarre, haunting melody, as if singing some ancient chant.

“Yes! To conjure up the spirits of those long since deceased, it’s the hymn of doom… Perish Song!”

“This ain’t good!” stammered Lisa, clearly becoming flustered. “Guess we have no choice but to ride it out. Water Pulse!”

Before the watery strike hit Misdreavus, it returned to its trainer and was replaced by a smaller purple Pokémon, which took the hit. “Hey, you can’t switch Pokémon!”

“Not in the normal way,” replied Shari, “but with the move Baton Pass, it’s perfectly legal.”

Lisa then got a closer look at her new foe. This Pokémon had highly reflective diamond like eyes, as well as other gemstones on various parts of its body. It looked up at its opponent and smiled, revealing a mouth full of creepy white teeth. “Sableye, the Darkness Pokémon. Sableye uses its claws to chip away at stones and minerals, which it then consumes.”

“Fine then. Hit it with Aurora Beam!”

“Seeal!”

“Sable!” Before Sealeo could even begin gathering energy, Sableye quickly struck with its claws, interrupting Sealeo’s attack. Lisa could then see Sableye charging up some shadowy matter for its next attack. “Quickly! Aurora Beam again!”

Sealeo was able to get a hit on his purple foe, but the crafty little Pokémon fired a sinister-looking wave of energy, striking Sealeo. The Pokémon then began smacking itself with his front flippers.

“Confusion… The foe doesn’t know which target to strike… it’s terrifying, isn’t it?”

Sealeo, lost in confusion, shot out a Water Pulse that drenched Lisa in water. Then he let loose more waves of water that somehow found its target.

“Oh, no, now my dry-cleaner’s gonna have a fit!” Lisa whined.

Sableye, after regaining its composure from the last attack, now took a defensive stance. Just then, haunting, ethereal music could be heard. Lisa’s icy blue sea lion stopped slapping himself in the face and just collapsed, though Lisa couldn’t tell whether it was Perish Song or confusion that did him in.

“No! Sealeo, good work, though! Time to rest! Return!” A soaking wet Lisa called back Sealeo as she pulled on her damp skirt. “Metang, you’re up!” Lisa called forth her silver, machine-like Pokémon. The glittering Pokémon scanned its opponent and trainer briefly before it moved in and jabbed Sableye quickly with the claws on its right appendage. The creature with the jeweled eyes reacted with a black Shadow Ball that sent Metang backwards.

“Use another Metal Claw! I don’t think Sableye can take much more!”

Sableye jumped clear of the incoming attack, then hurled another black energy orb at the floating steel creature. The attack landed a direct hit, but Metang quickly regained its composure and came at Sableye with another strike with its steel claws, this time scoring a direct hit. Sableye stumbled around a bit before finally falling flat on its face. Shari called her fallen Pokémon back and replaced it with Misdreavus. The first thing the ghost did was to charge in directly at Metang. Upon contact, a bright purple light flashed for just an instant before Misdreavus moved away.

“What was that all about?” wondered Lisa.

“That was Pain Split… Because sharing pain is enjoyable…”

“Fine. If that’s the way you want to play it… Metang, Confusion!”

Metang looked as if it got the short end of the Pain Split deal, but it countered by emitting a powerful wave that distorted the air around Misdreavus. The wave energy then converged and hit the ghostly Pokémon for significant damage.

“Two can play the confusion game… Misdreavus, now!”

Metang was able to quickly dart left to avoid the mysterious purple ray, and came at its foe headlong with a powerful Metal Claw strike. The floating gray ghost used a close-range Shadow Ball to knock Metang away, then started to glow in a bright purple light. A Confusion hit from the levitating metallic Pokémon brought down Misdreavus, but then Lisa noticed that her Metang was now drained of its energy as well, as it quickly fell to the floor with a metallic thud. “Crud! How did that happen?” uttered a bewildered Lisa, with a look of both worry and confusion on her flustered face.

Shari laughed. “Meet Destiny Bond. Try to take me down, and you’re going down as well! Ehehehehehehe!”

Man, this lady sure has a lot of tricks up her sleeve – no wonder they say, ‘Respect your elders!’ Looks like I’ll have to be equally cunning to take her down!

Both trainers called back their Pokémon. “It’s one-on-one now,” observed Lisa. “Persian, you’re up. Watch out for her, she’s crafty.” The teen pitched her Luxury Ball, revealing her starting Pokémon.

“Haunter, go!” Shari called out a gaseous purple Pokémon. It was comprised of a pointed head and two jagged disconnected hands, with a sinister face that smiled wickedly. The wily ghost stuck its pink tongue out at its opponents before letting out a mocking laugh and a condescending “Hauuunt!”

“Haunter, the gas Pokémon. Haunter enjoys following people and draining their life energy unnoticed.”

“Wow, her Pokémon flat-out don’t like people… anyway, let’s start with a little Shadow Ballin’ of our own!” Persian fired a familiar orb of black energy at the purple gaseous ghost and landed a direct hit. Lisa was fed up with being at the receiving end of these attacks, and was more than ready to dish out some Shadow Balls of her own. Haunter then opened its mouth wide and spit out a concentrated ball of purple slime at Persian, also scoring a hit.

The cat wiped the gunk off of her face before glaring at the smiling ghost and letting out a loud, sustained hiss. “Bad idea trying to mess up Persian’s fur, Shari!

“I can’t hit you with my preferred attacks, but I’m hardly down and out! And Sludge Bomb is only one of my tricks! Watch this!”

Haunter began charging electrical energy, then let it loose in a sizzling lightning bolt that struck the graceful cat hard. The sparks were still surrounding the cat as her fur was ruffled up slightly.

“Well then, let us return the favor!” shouted Lisa. Persian began gathering up the static electricity in her fur before letting loose with a Thunderbolt of her own that knocked Haunter for a loop. But then, the sinister ghost emerged with a mysterious purple aura around it. Soon enough, the cat was glowing with the same purple aura.

“How unfortunate for you…” responded Shari. “You have been cursed. Your Pokémon will slowly lose the will to battle. Victory is now out of reach for you. So sorry.”

“It ain’t over yet! Persian, hit that Haunter with as many Shadow Balls as you can! There’s no way that Haunter could have afflicted a Curse that strong without using up most of its energy!” She then thought to herself, “We WILL pull through!” as she clenched both fists.

The elegant cat responded by sending off a flurry of black orbs of energy even as Curse was afflicting her. Most of the attacks missed Haunter as it darted about, but one hit from an errant Shadow Ball was all it took to deal the finishing blow to the wily floating ghost.

“I cannot… No! This isn’t right!” As Shari recalled her Haunter, Persian succumbed to the Curse and fell to the floor.

“No! Persian! Good job, though. I’ll let you rest up now.” Lisa called Persian back into her Luxury Ball.

Becky stepped in. “Although both trainer’s… Pokémon have fainted, it is this judge’s observation… that Gym Leader Shari’s Haunter…”

Both Lisa and Shari listened with anticipation, Becky’s pause seeming like hours.

“… was the first to faint. Therefore, I declare the winner to be Persian… and the battle goes to… Lisa from South Carolina.”

“Fine. I concede defeat. Becky will hand you your Shadow Badge. Now I must contemplate this loss. I urge you not to disturb me…” With that said, Shari turned her wheelchair around and disappeared into the black depths of her vast gym.

Becky handed Lisa a black badge shaped like a cloud, saying only, “Please exit through that hallway… that is all…”

Lisa proceeded through the corridor which was better-lit and shorter than the entry hallway. Outside, Alexis and Shannon were waiting for her.

“So, Lisa, how did it go? And why are you all wet?” asked Shannon.

“Well, I’m wet because Sealeo got confused and hit ME with a Water Pulse, but…” Lisa pulled out her badge case and showed her two friends her new Shadow Badge. “We did come out on top in the end! Boo-ya!”

“Congratulations! Now where do you want to head to?” inquired Alexis.

“First I’ll drop off my Pokémon to get healed up, then I need to change and shower and get these clothes to the dry cleaners, so I can take advantage of my hotel’s same day laundry service. But then I’ll meet you back at the Center and we’ll grab lunch somewhere.”

“All right, sounds like a plan! We’ll see you then!”

Lisa first headed to the Pokémon Center to get her Pokémon rested up. After turning over her Pokéballs, she had a seat in one of a line of chairs across the right side of the building. She could have sat on the upholstered couch, but thought better of it since she was soaking wet. The girl was fortunate that it was late autumn and the heater was on instead of the air conditioner, otherwise she would have been freezing to death. She had a notion of falling to sleep, but the hard chairs, reminiscent of the desk chairs in a public school, would have assured some pulled back muscles had the girl actually attempted to nap.

Then there was the shifty looking guy in shades sitting at the opposite end of the lobby. Short and chubby, and with a burlap sack at his side, he looked like a stereotypical burglar. No way would Lisa let this guy steal her PDA or TI-89 while she was snoozing! Lisa was only there for fifteen minutes, but it seemed like an eternity sitting there in her soaked business suit. Finally she got her Pokémon back from the elderly man who was staffing the facility.

Lisa headed back to her hotel to shower and change. Upon arriving back at the hotel, she found her sister awake and watching morning cartoons. Lisa laid out some of the premium Pokémon food for her team, and sure enough, Metang ate its share this time, lowering its steel form to the bowl of food before sucking it into a hole on its underside, in a manner similar to a vacuum.

The ravenous Sealeo ate all of his food in record time, selfishly shoving the grub into his opened mouth with his flippers. A lot of the food never made it into his mouth and instead was left as a mess on the hunter-green hued carpet. The trainer thought, “Looks like another mess I’ll have to clean up! Oh, well, as long as Sealeo’s enjoying himself!

Once again, the usually-quick Electric-type was an entirely different outside of battle. He lumbered over to his food dish, took a few pieces of Pokémon food into his mouth, then let out a huge yawn. A few minutes later he would stick his snout into the dish again, repeating the process. Jolteon finished about half of his food before slogging over to his trainer and nudging at his Pokéball. As soon as the girl called him back, Sealeo took full advantage and stuffed his face full of the food that his spiky-furred partner left behind.

Compared to the others, Koffing and Trapinch ate their food in a normal fashion. The large beige cat sprawled herself out and scooped up small amounts of kibble at a time, eating her food slowly but politely, befitting her classy image. During her meal, she made faces at Lisa showing her disapproval of the other Pokémon’s rude behavior. The teenager simply shrugged. “Sorry, sweetie, but that seems to be their nature. I can’t honestly say I know of any Pokémon etiquette schools.”

Afterward, Lisa called back her team, except for Persian, as the cat had indicated she wished to follow her trainer for the time being. After arranging for her clothes to be dry-cleaned (a service offered by the hotel) and changing into her ‘little black dress’ Lisa, Lindsay, and Persian made their way to the Pokémon Center where her friends were waiting. Both were wearing identical red dresses and black pantyhose.

“There you are! We found the perfect place to eat!” exclaimed an excited Shannon.

“Really? Where?” asked Lisa. “This place must be pretty good if they’re raving about it!

“Oh, you’ll see!” replied Alexis with a sly smile.

The four girls and Persian made their way to the restaurant, but three toughs on motorcycles suddenly showed themselves, riding their Harleys in a circle around the group. The fattest one put up his hand, and the bikers all convened in front of the girls. Their leader starting laughing like a homicidal maniac. He was bald but had a very long beard. Dressed in jeans and a leather jacket with a skull on the back, he was as stereotypical a biker as they came. His buddies were dressed the same, but both had hair- too much hair, as their greasy brown mullets reeked of some sort of oil. Lisa wasn’t sure if it was Pennzoil or Quaker State.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here? A group of four little girly-girls and their kitty. How cute. Folks ‘round here call us Team Hellfire. I’m the boss; you can call me The Bulk. Me and my pals Dipstick and Choke Chain wish to make your acquaintance!”

Suddenly, Lisa’s Koffing let herself out of its Pokéball. Upon seeing her, The Bulk started laughing again. Koffing let out an angry cry of “KOFFF!”

“Hey, that little gas-bag looks familiar. Yes, you’re the weakling that we ditched when we rode past Route 501! Looks like some pathetic loser decided to take pity on you! If she was stupid enough to train YOU, the rest of her team must be just as bad!”

Of course, by now, Koffing, Persian, and all four girls were steaming mad. Koffing rushed in to try to tackle The Bulk, but he pulled out a baseball bat and slammed her back while the girls looked on, both worried and angry. “Hey! Watch it! Koffing, are you okay… huh?”

Just then, Koffing began glowing, before transforming into a larger, two-headed Weezing, like Shelly had used.

“You, sir, have gone too far!” Lisa spat at the overweight biker. “Abandoning your Pokémon was bad enough, but assaulting them is unacceptable! I will make sure you pay the consequences!”

“Oooh, big words from a bunch of sissy girls in dresses! Fine! I guess I could use some entertainment! Dipstick! Choke Chain! Take on this girl’s little sleepover buddies! I’ll show this one a lesson in pain! I call out Machoke and Muk!”

The Bulk brought forth a hulking gray creature, wearing a wrestling-style belt and huge muscles. Wearing a cocky, toothy grin, it showed disdain for the “weaklings” it was about to take on. The Pokémon flexed its muscles arrogantly before delivering a series of punches to the air, vainly showing off its power. The biker’s other Pokémon was a large mass of living purple slime. It had two large arms, also dripping with sludge. It moved sluggishly by dragging its sticky, putrid form around on the ground. “Muuuuuk!” it cried out in a low, sustained voice.

“Weezing, I know you want a piece of this guy! I’ll call out Jolteon as backup!” Lisa yelled, sending out her spiky yellow Pokémon.

Jolteon began sparking with electricity at the tips of his fur, crouching down on his four legs to prepare for a quick assault. He glared at his opponents with his solid black eyes, growling and showing off a set of small white teeth. Weezing observed both enemies with her half-closed eyes, her dual-orb form floating a few feet off the ground. Gray smoke emerged from ventilation holes in her purple body at irregular intervals.

“Now it’s time for a lesson in pain! Use Thunderbolt and Sludge Bomb, you two!”

“You dare threaten me, little girl?! Machoke, Cross Chop! Muk, Sludge Bomb!”

The two Sludge Bombs met in midair, exploding in a blast of purple slime. Jolteon quickly charged electricity on his pointy fur before unleashing it at the slow-moving pile of sludge that was Muk. Machoke lunged at Weezing, arms crossed, before quickly lowering them in a quick chopping motion that knocked Weezing down.

But the angry Poison-type recovered from the hit and launched a thick purple ball of poison at her muscular foe. Machoke had to wipe the slime from its face, and in turn was at the receiving end of more nasty poison, this time in the form of a sinister purple cloud.

“All right, that’s the way!” cheered Lisa. “Let’s get this rebel without a clue! Hit it with everything you’ve got!”

“You’re not supposed to be that tough!” The Bulk yelled in frustration. “Make the little brat pay! Cross Chop and Sludge Bomb!”

Lisa’s team double-teamed Muk, first zapping it with a brilliant yellow strike of lightning. While the sludge creature reeled from the strike, the two-headed poisonous orb moved in and slammed into it. Meanwhile the mighty gray fighter swiped at Jolteon, but the agile yellow Pokémon easily jumped aside and Weezing struck it with a heaping dose of thick purple goo. Jolteon took the opportunity to hit Muk with a weak blue charge, slowing the already sluggish slime ball even more. It reacted with a Sludge Bomb aimed at Jolteon, but Weezing ran interference, easily taking what her rival Poison type had tried to dish out.

“What the hell is up with this?! You two idiots were supposed to have smoked this runt by now! Attack!”

Lisa yelled out, “You underestimated me AND got me mad! I’m surprised I haven’t smoked YOU yet! All right guys, let’s hit this guy with Tackle and Thunderbolt again!”

Muk was again the target for both Pokémon and couldn’t do a thing to avoid the hit on account of its paralysis. But Machoke easily delivered a hard punch right to Weezing’s inflatable body, knocking her back a few feet. Meanwhile, the mostly immobile pile of slime spat out a ball of (much more mobile) slime at the distracted Electric type, scoring a hard hit.

“Come on guys, you’re still doing pretty good! Hit ‘em again!”

“Stupid girl! I will not be embarrassed by the likes of you! Destroy her Pokémon!” The Bulk was gritting his teeth and angrily shaking his fists.

Jolteon once again hit the slow-moving mass of poison with a powerful shot of Thunderbolt. Suddenly, Machoke jumped high in the air, then came down and landed, causing a massive earthquake that knocked Jolteon and the bikers’ hogs down, and also caused Lisa to lose her balance and topple on top of Persian, who was intently studying the battle.

“Oh, sorry, sorry!” cried Lisa as she got back to her feet. After the tremor, it became clear that both Jolteon and Muk were spent.

“Jolteon, return and rest up! It’s one-on-one now, and I will not lose against you, Bulky-Boy!”

“Don’t insult me, brat!” the fat biker bellowed as he called back his Muk.

“Oh, like you’ve been doing to me all along? Hit that muscle-head with as much poison as you can!”

The powerful fighter landed a quick punch to the poisonous dual orb, but Weezing still launched a concentrated blob of poison at it, seemingly unfazed. Then the levitating purple Pokémon floated out of reach of a Karate Chop, and from her airborne position let loose another Sludge Bomb. Exploding upon contact, the powerful strike knocked the mass of gray muscle onto its behind, and Weezing took full advantage of her foe’s vulnerable position, hurling more slimy goop at it.

“Why am I losing?! Why, why, why?!” A frustrated The Bulk was throwing a tantrum. Lisa was going to take full advantage of his distraction.

“Weezing, let’s finish this jerk off with one last attack!”

The determined purple Pokémon launched another huge pile of concentrated sludge at her adversary, but the muscle-bound opponent came at her with a hard two-handed slicing attack. Weezing was able to recover and fired one final Sludge Bomb, finally causing Machoke to fall over and collapse, much to The Bulk’s dismay.

“NO! This didn’t happen! How could that weakling Koffing, with its weakling trainer, win?!”

“First of all,” Lisa started, “she’s a Weezing now. Second, we have trained together for quite awhile now. I have shown care and respect for her as we both have grown in skill and power. Our bond has grown as well. You, however, use your Pokémon as tools. So it stands to reason that you lost.”

“Shut… just shut up!”

Then, much to The Bulk’s surprise, two police officers grabbed his pudgy arms and put him in handcuffs. One officer told him, “We’ve been after you guys for a while now. Well, now it’s time for you guys to face the music.”

As the officers led the three bikers to their patrol cars, one officer told the girls, “Thanks for keeping these guys busy until we could apprehend them. I’m going to wait here until a truck arrives so we can impound their bikes.”

Lisa responded, “Don’t mention it. I’m just glad to see these clowns get what they deserve.”

Lisa told Weezing, “Wow, I never realized that you had a past like that. Well, I’m glad to see you finally got back at those creeps who abandoned you. And great work evolving!”

Weezing let a loud, “Weeez!” in approval before returning to her Pokéball to rest. Lisa and the rest of the crew proceeded to walk back to the Pokémon Center to get her Pokémon refreshed after their simultaneous battles. Fortunately the thugs had failed to inflict any serious hurt on them, so the Pokémon were taken care of fairly quickly, so the girls could make their way back to the restaurant.

From the outside, the restaurant, named after the legendary dragon trainer Lance, didn’t look that impressive. It looked little different than any other chain restaurant. However, Lisa would soon discover that the food was well above average.

“Wow, this food is great! How did you two hear about this place?” asked Lisa, who was thoroughly enjoying her food.

“Actually this guy named Marvin told us about it. We ran into him before we took on Shari, but I think he’s long gone now.”

Lisa remembered the name. He was that young man she had met in Northwood City, who had asked her to lunch there. “Yeah, I bumped into him before. Didn’t talk all too much, but he seems like a pretty nice guy.”

The food was so good that the girls really didn’t talk too much afterward. After a delicious meal, Alexis and Shannon told Lisa, “After we pay and take care of some shopping, I think we’re gonna be heading out.”

Lisa told them, “Yeah, I’m gonna have to spend an extra day here, but it’ll give me a chance to rest… I hope.”

After paying the food bill, the girls left the restaurant, headed in opposite directions. Lisa and Lindsay waved at Alexis and Shannon as they parted ways again. “Well, it was nice to see them again, if only for a little while.”

Lindsay asked as they walked back to the hotel, “So, you know each other pretty well then?”

“Sort of, but they were nice to me even after beating me. Y’know how some trainers like to rub it in your face after they defeat you? Well, even they both were able to defeat me, they were actually pretty nice about it and even helped me to stop worrying about losing so much. I think they really care and want me to do well, and I really hope they make it all the way to the big championship, too.”
*******

A thin man with black hair and a young woman wearing a Pokémon Center uniform burst through the doors of Amy Sequoia’s Pokémon ranch in Fort Barnes. The man had a small, blond haired girl in his arms, while the nurse carried a four-legged light blue Pokémon with a slight horn atop its head.

Another man, this one bald and heavyset, yelled, “Derek! What happened?”

Setting the unconscious girl on a couch, the man said, “Dirk, remember that girl we handed out a Torchic to a couple days ago? Um… Kassie, I think her name was. I was on my way back from shopping in Bluefield when I noticed her and that Nidorina lying on the side of the route, unconscious. I called the local Pokémon Center nurse, and she brought the Pokémon with her back here. Something’s wrong.”

Dirk glanced over at the couch where Kassie was just coming to. “Wh… where am I?”

“You’re back at the ranch in Fort Barnes,” answered Derek. “I found you and a Nidorina lying on the side of the road. What happened?”

“Oh, it’s terrible!” the girl cried, grabbing her tattered red miniskirt. I ran into this group of really mean men with guns. I caught them shooting some sort of dart at a pack of Nidoran, and then a Nidorina tried to run in and stop them. But they hit it over the head with the handle of the gun, then they saw me and hit me as well…” The girl began to rummage through her yellow handbag. “I can’t find my Torchic’s Pokéball! Those guys must’ve stolen it!” The girl began to burst into tears.

Dirk told the nurse, “Can you take her into the next room and help comfort her? Derek and I need to discuss this situation.”

The woman nodded and led the sobbing girl out of the room, leaving the two Gym assistants and Nidorina, who was slowly waking up. The Pokémon was rubbing a large red bruise on its head.

“Sounds like poachers. And it looks like they’re using tranquilizers to subdue their targets. What do you think?” Derek asked.

“Sounds right to me. As if we didn’t have enough trouble with Thrash… unless those poachers are working for them…” Dirk was interrupted when Lisa’s Nidorino burst into the room and started talking with Nidorina. The two men let the Pokémon converse.

“Dear! What happened to you?” Nidorino shouted.

“Bad men… they were putting our children to sleep and taking them… I tried to stop them, but they beat me on the head and knocked me out!”

“What? And we’re stuck here! No, this won’t do! We have to save our kids!”

The two Pokémon began growling loudly at the men.

“Dirk, it seems as if those Nidoran were part of the same pack as this Nidorino and Nidorina. And it seems like they want to go after them and get their mates back.”

“And we need to get Kassie’s Torchic back too. Problem is, we don’t know where they are. We need to formulate a plan to lure them and catch them in the act, hopefully before they sell off the Pokémon they just stole.”

The two Pokémon grew silent and listened intently as the two gym assistants began to go over strategies.

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