Lurking in the Shadows

Chapter 41: To Defuse or Not to Defuse

Lisa stared at the device in horror, her legs shaking. “What do we do? This ship’s gonna blow in twenty minutes!”

Meanwhile, Bernie was on his knees, examining the bomb’s casing. Murmuring to himself, he mulled over the options. “This thing’s bolted to the floor, and even if we could get it free, it looks too heavy to get off the boat. We could try lifting it onto a dolly and just send it overboard that way… You!” he shouted, pointing at the quivering employee. “Is there any sort of emergency hatch where we can send this thing into the water?”

“I… I’m afraid not, sir,” the terrified man stuttered. “To get it overboard, you’d have to take the service elevator to the top deck, and that… that thing’s so slow, you’d never make it in time.”

The hefty Gym Leader sulked. “Great… looks like we’ll have to disarm this thing here…”

“Oh, jeez, this is bad!” a nervously shaking Lisa screamed, tears forming in her eyes.

“I hope we can find a way out of this!” added Sadie, who was quivering just as badly as Lisa.

“Stay calm!” Bernie ordered. “Listen, if you have any electrical tools or anything else I can use to open this case, get them to me fast! I used to be a member of a bomb squad before I became a Gym Leader.”

“Um… Let me get my toolbox!” The S.S. Anne staffer ran off while the two girls, two Gym Leaders, and Jolteon looked on. The Fire-type Gym Leader happened to notice the Pokémon’s fur sparking with electricity.

“No! If you send electrical charges through it, it could trigger an early detonation! Just hang tight and let me handle it!” Upon hearing the urgent warning, the sparks disappeared from the yellow Pokémon’s spiked tips as he took a step backward.

The employee came back carrying two large toolboxes. “Here. I hope there’s something that you can use in there.”

Bernie flipped open both boxes and glanced at the mess of tools inside both. “Yeah, I should be able to work with this. Now, everybody get out! If I don’t have total concentration, I might not be able to disarm this thing in time!” Sure enough, the counter was already down to 15:29.

Without saying a word, the remainder of the group ran out of the mechanical room to let the dark-skinned man work. Outside, sweat was still pouring down everyone’s foreheads. “A bomb?! How the heck did we get into this mess?” Sadie finally burst out.

I’m willing to bet my Caprice Classic it’s Thrash…” Lisa’s train of thought was interrupted by a deep, low-pitched voice.

“Lisa! Come in here, and bring Jolteon!”

“Okay, we’re coming!”

Once the pair had reached the bomb’s location, Bernie explained, “Okay, I managed to get the cover open, but every time I try to go and cut the wires, I’m hit with a small electric shock, apparently as part of this thing’s security system. Now, your Jolteon has the ability to absorb electric attacks without consequence; I’m wondering if it can do the same with these charges. So please, instruct your Jolteon not to release its Thunderbolt, but instead to absorb the electricity as I reach in and try to disarm this thing.”

The girl whispered, “Okay, just absorb that electricity when Bernie goes in to try to cut the wires. I know this is scary, but you can be a big help for us.”

Nodding, the yellow Electric-type took position next to the Gym Leader as he reached in toward the tangled mess of red wires within the box.

“Figures… they would make all the wires red…”

Bernie reached in and began to work with the device. Once again, the electric sparks appeared, but this time the charges were drawn to Jolteon’s sharply pointed fur.

With his head still buried within the box, Bernie called out, “Is it dead?”

“No, the timer just sped up!” Lisa yelled back, staring at the timer which was counting down in increments of five seconds.

“Damn! How about now?”

“No, and it’s going even faster now! It’s skipping numbers! There’s only five minutes left on the clock, which means we have even less time than that!” was Lisa’s frantic reply. “I do have an idea, but I’m not completely sure it’ll work… Then again, nothing else we’ve tried has worked, so it’s worth a shot…

The burly man pulled his head out from the bomb and slammed his fists down on the ground. “Dammit! It’s not working! Every wire I cut just makes this thing count down faster!”

“And Jolteon’s at his limit as far as absorbing electricity. I do have one more idea, but it involves a fast Pokémon that can use the move Protect,” said Lisa, as she called her Electric-type back into his holding sphere.

“I can use my Ninetales,” Bernie answered, fingering one of his Pokéballs. What’s the plan?”

“Have your Pokémon stand on top of that box and use Protect. But, before the green bubble is fully formed. have your Pokémon jump out of it, so only the bomb is contained within it. I’d use Jolteon, but he’s exhausted…”

“It could work – and it’s our last resort. Okay, then! Ninetales, come on out!” The burly man held the capture device in his hand as he let his Pokémon out of it in a brilliant red flash of energy. The yellow fox yawned, but upon seeing the bomb in front of it, apprehensively took a step backward, each of its multiple furry tails standing up on end.

Bernie turned to talk to his shaking Pokémon. “Listen, I know that thing looks scary, but I need you to stand on top of it. Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you.” It appeared as if the fire Pokémon trainer himself wasn’t completely sure of his words – or Lisa’s plans. Nonetheless, Ninetales quickly jumped on top of the steel device. Its counter now read “01:57.”

“Okay, here’s the plan,” Bernie yelled to the Pokémon. “On my signal, I want you to use Protect, but then come back by my side before the attack’s fully formed. We only want that device to be Protected. But wait for my signal!” Turning to Lisa, he said, voice trembling, “We only have one shot at this. It’s do or die now.”

Lisa’s shaking legs had become too much, and she fell to the floor. Still watching the counter, she began grabbing at her dress and fingering it anxiously. Standing firm, Bernie’s eyes shifted from his Pokémon to the digital countdown timer, a stoic, determined expression on his face.

“00:53”

“00:41”

“00:29”

“PROTECT AND RUN, NOW!”

“Nine!” With that high-pitched cry, a green sphere began materializing. The lanky fox made a run for its trainer’s side. It could see the walls closing in, sealing off the only escape route. With one determined leap, the Pokémon jumped through the remaining hole in the Protect move’s armor before it closed up.

“00:17”

“00:05”

Here it comes!” Lisa covered her ears and closed her eyes, not knowing if it would be the last thing she would ever do. Standing next to her, the Gym Leader and his Pokémon did the same.

The green sphere instantaneously lit up like a flare, casting an eerie emerald glow through its translucent surface. The light show was accompanied by a loud, but not deafening booming noise, as the volume of the blast was muted a bit by the circular wall. Weak tremors shook the room, but Bernie and his Pokémon managed to stand firm.

And just like that, it was over. The bright light was soon replaced by smoke, and when the Protect faded, the black cloud began to spread throughout.

We… we did it…” Lisa breathed a heavy sigh of relief and released her dress from her grip.

“Come on, Lisa, let’s get out of here before the sprinklers go off,” the Gym Leader said, extending his arm toward the girl.

Using his arm as leverage, the girl got to her feet. They quickly made their way out of the mechanical room, where three nervous, pacing individuals awaited them.

“Well?!” shouted Sadie, running up to Lisa with her eyes open wide. “I heard a boom! Are you okay?! And is it safe?!”

“Yeah… we took care of it…” she gasped, falling to her knees. Both she and Bernie were breathing heavily, as was Bernie’s Ninetales.

“Thank God for that!” the black-haired girl exclaimed. “But are you sure you’re all right, Lisa?”

“Yeah… I just… need… to… catch my… breath…”

Reed, the other Gym Leader, walked over to his colleague. “Whew, I’m certainly glad that’s all over. Well, I think we all had our share of excitement for today. Let’s say we rest up and meet for dinner in the seafood restaurant later, like, around seven tonight?”

“Yeah… sounds good…” replied Bernie, who was leaning up against a wall and gasping.

“Okay, we’ll… meet by the elevators on the top floor…” agreed Lisa, who was still catching her breath. “And we probably shouldn’t tell anyone what happened… we don’t want to make everyone on board nervous and scared.”

“Well, I do have to tell my supervisor what happened, but I don’t think he’ll announce it to everyone,” said the worker.

“All right, let’s go then!” shouted Sadie. After Bernie recalled his Ninetales, the group of four made their way up the stairs.

Once the others had disappeared from his sight, the remaining man said to himself, “I’m gonna see my boss now… I REALLY need to take off work early…”
*******

“What! Impossible! My computer clearly indicated that my bomb went off perfectly! And yet that blasted ship is still on course! Don’t tell me… Lisa disarmed that thing?!”

The old man shook his head in disgust and disbelief as he stood up from his desk. He began pacing the small, dark room, muttering thoughts to himself.

“How am I going to get rid of that girl? She’s outsmarted me, outbattled me, and flat-out outdone me at everything I’ve tried! What is it about her that makes it so hard for me to get rid of?! What’s she got that’s so special?!”

The man sat down in his leather desk chair again, still fuming. “All that money I wasted… First, I had to fly out to that stupid hick town just so I could get on that blasted boat ahead of the girl. Then I had to disguise myself as a worker to get into the machine room to build that bomb. And finally, I had to get off the ship before I could even get a chance to relax! And it was all for nothing!”

“Grandpa Tommy, I’m home! You there?” The voice of a bored teenager and the sound of a slamming door soon filled the house. Receiving no response from the old man, she scoffed, “Whatever…” However, the girl’s entry caused a wide smile to form on the grandfather’s face.

“Well, looks like I just thought up a new plan to get that blasted Lisa… Oh, this is gonna be sweet revenge!”

Cracking his knuckles, Tommy rose from his chair to meet his granddaughter. Ever since her parents – his idiot daughter and incompetent son-in-law – were thrown in jail after a Thrash crackdown by police, he’d had to put up with her rebellion and constant complaining. He had even had to take the little punk on the cruise ship to plant the bomb. But now, he had finally thought up a way to put the brat to good use.
********

“So, Lisa, how did you two end up dealing with the bomb?”

“Shh… I don’t want to wake up Lindsay,” Lisa whispered, pointing to her sleeping sister. “But, you know the move Protect and how no attacks can penetrate the shield? Well, I figured that if it can keep attacks out, it can also keep ‘em in. So Bernie – he’s the big guy – had his Ninetales use Protect while on top of the bomb before having it quickly jump out of the way so that only the bomb was inside the barrier. And, it worked! The blast was entirely contained within the Protect sphere until only the smoky aftermath remained.”

“Wow, so y’all are heroes!” replied Sadie, trying her best to keep her voice down.

“Yeah, but it’s our little secret. If word about this got out to the masses…”

“Okay, I understand. And I guess I need to get ready for dinner first. I think I’m gonna change now,” she answered, picking up the white blouse and lavender skirt that had just been laundered, before heading into the bathroom.

“Right, and I’m next, and then Lindsay if she wants to change.” Lisa reached for her change of clothes – her blue floral dress and green cardigan. While waiting, she fitted her white hat on her head and took a pair of white pantyhose out of her bag. “Let’s hope this outfit doesn’t get soaked again…

Later the three girls headed up the elevator to meet the Gym Leaders. Lindsay had also changed outfits, now wearing her purple floral dress.

“Hey, girls!” shouted the distinctive deep voice of Bernie. Like the girls, he had cleaned himself up for the dinner, now sporting a red button-up shirt and black slacks. Behind him was Reed, wearing a hunter green suit. “Well, let’s get ourselves some dinner, okay?”

“Right!” Lisa answered as the group of five made their way to the ship’s restaurant.

At their table, Lisa was the first to bring up a question. “So, what brings you two on board this ship?”

“Actually,” Bernie began, “I’m on my way to meet a former student of mine at the Pokémon League’s headquarters. It’s weird, but she eventually showed so much talent with Fire-type Pokémon that she actually surpassed me. And she’s not much older than you. In fact, she celebrated her seventeenth birthday just a couple days ago. Her name is Ashley, and she’s one of the Elite Four.”

Lisa almost jumped out of her seat. “Whoa! She’s only seventeen and she’s already one of the Elite Four?!”

Sadie calmly replied, “Just like you’re only fifteen with a college degree and a business, Lisa?”

“Oh, right,” a red-faced Lisa said as she slowly slid back into her seat, rubbing the back of her head.

“But, yes,” Bernie continued, “Ashley is one of the most talented Fire-type trainers in the world. “But, she’s the granddaughter of the Kanto Fire-type Gym Leader, Blaine, so I suppose it runs into the family.”

“Well, I can’t wait to meet her!” exclaimed Lisa. “And maybe ask her if I can get on her grandpa’s show!

“Okay, calm down!” demanded Lindsay.

“As for me, I’m headed to the Sinnoh region,” Reed calmly stated. “It turns out there’s a mystery regarding a huge flower patch there, and a Gym Leader in that region, Gardenia, has asked me to come and help out with research there.”

“Really?” Sadie’s ears perked up. “That’s where I’m from! Yup, I’m from Sandgem Town. I came to this region hoping to compete in some contests, but then I found out they’re not held here, so I’m going to be heading onto Kanto to compete in their Contest league.”

“Well, good luck on that!” said Reed, adjusting his glasses. “Contests aren’t really our thing, but I can certainly understand their appeal. And I know contests require just as much work and practice as being a trainer, so I know it’s not easy.”

“No, it’s not easy, but after a lot of hard work, you become pretty good at it. I’m hoping to go to Kanto and really make a name for myself as a great Pokémon Coordinator. Thanks for the support!”

Lisa asked, “Wait a minute, what about your Gyms? Who’s going to be in charge while you’re gone?”

As Sadie and Lindsay began their own side conversation, Bernie replied, “Do you remember our gym assistants, who were the referees for our matches? Well, they also train under us, and once they have enough training and experience under their belt, they can serve the role of interim Gym Leader if needed. Usually it’s only for emergencies, but once December rolls around and the Pokémon League tournament draws close, the League becomes more lenient on us leaders taking leave for personal reasons. They figure that as the tournament draws closer, fewer and fewer trainers will be challenging the gyms.”

“Wait! I still have three more gyms to challenge! How’s that gonna work?”

“The Gyms will still be open; the only question will be whether you will face off against the actual leader or their apprentice. In the end, it won’t matter who you battle; you’ll still earn the badge if you win. I will warn you, however, that the deadline for the Pokémon League tournament is a mere month and a half away, so if you lose too many times or take too long in traveling or training, you may find that you won’t be able to make it to the finals.”

“Ye… yes, I understand. Anyway, are all Gym assistants qualified to take over the gym in the leader’s absence?”

“No,” responded Bernie. “In fact, only six of them are. Derek, my assistant; Rose, who is Reed’s apprentice; and the assistants at the four final gyms are the only ones who can fulfill the role of Gym Leader. This includes Riviera, who’s also left her gym in the care of her apprentice, Katie.”

“Yeah, I just beat her yesterday before coming on this ship.”

“And she decided to take a vacation right after she lost to you. But, to finish answering your question: The remaining Gyms will remain open until the first of January. Upon that date, only the final gym will remain open to challengers, so you must have nine badges before then.”

“Hmmm… Do you think that’ll be a problem for me?”

“I don’t think so,” Reed told her. “You have a month to beat the two gyms, and this ship’s next port of call is the location of the eighth gym. And, if for some reason you get held up there, there’s an airport that can quickly get you to the ninth gym. And you have until the fourteenth of January to beat the final gym, as the fifteenth is when the championship tournament starts. But the site of the finals is in the same city as the last gym, so that shouldn’t be an issue.”

“It still feels like crunch time, though… Man, I never procrastinated this much in school!” Lisa shouted, nervously wiping her brow. “Can I really get all this done with these deadlines looming before me?

“Relax, Lisa,” Sadie said in a soothing voice. “Everything will be fine. Somehow, everything will fall into place just as it was intended to. If you don’t end up making it in time, it just means that you weren’t destined to compete in the tournament.”

The brown-haired girl let out a heavy sigh. “You’re right. If I don’t make it, it just means it was His will that I not participate. And I can accept that. Still, I’m going to try my very hardest to make it in time, and if I can’t, I’ll know that He never intended it to happen.”

“That’s the spirit!” cheered Lindsay. “You go get ‘em, sis!”

“Thanks, Linds. Anyway, Bernie, when did your Vulpix evolve?”

“Funny story, that is. I had a Fire Stone sitting on the edge of a table in my office, when Vulpix comes charging in, bumps its head on the table, and causes the stone to fall off and knock it right in the head. What makes that even more ironic was that I was going to use the stone itself on Vulpix later that day.”

Oh, boy, this sounds familiar…” Lisa’s face turned bright red as she began to speak. “Well…”

“Ain’t that funny!” Lindsay interrupted. “Jolteon also evolved by having a stone bonk it on the head. Only that time, it was my big sister, the klutz, who bumped the table!” The young girl then burst into fits of laughter.

“LINDSAY!” Lisa shouted, shaking a fist at her younger sister, who was beginning to get control over her laughter. “Way to embarrass me, Linds…

Nobody had noticed Sadie leave the table. She returned, holding a flyer in her hand and wearing a big smile on her face.

“Look, look! They’re having a Pokémon Contest on board the ship in three days! This’ll be great practice for me! Lisa, you should try it out, too!”

“Well,” she started, “Contests aren’t really my thing, but…” She hesitated for a moment, noticing Sadie’s enthusiasm fade into a disappointed frown. A smile formed on Lisa’s face as she finished her statement. “I guess I’ll give it a shot!”

The black-haired girl’s grin reappeared. “Awesome, Lisa! It’s gonna be so much fun!”
********

In a shared prison cell, a short woman and a much taller man, both with blond hair and wearing prison jumpsuits, were holding hands as they sat on a thin, government-issue mattress. Both alternated between looking down at the floor and giving each other apprehensive glances.

“You know, Justin, they’re going to interrogate us in a few days. I’m not sure what we should say to them, if anything at all, hon. I mean, I don’t even know what to make of the Brotherhood and its teachings anymore.”

“Well, dear, and you didn’t hear this from me, but as far as the Brotherhood is concerned, I think we’ve been had. There was no ‘divine protection’ for any of us in the organization’s leadership. Not even our boss was able to avoid defeat at the hands of that girl. All of the boss’s claims about anything relating to this so-called ‘spiritual support from above’ has been a lie. Jane, I think the best thing for us to do is to tell those interrogators all we know.”

Crossing her legs, Jane argued, “But, don’t forget that if we do confess, Thrash will issue an execution order. I do agree that we need to tell the authorities information that will help them stop the Brotherhood, but at the same time, I’m fearful for my life.”

Scratching his head lightly, Justin nodded. “Yes, I see your concern. Perhaps if we only reveal certain details, we’ll be able to tell the police what we know without arousing suspicion. But how much should we spill?”

“Dear, maybe we need to sleep on it first. Perhaps tomorrow we can figure out what to do… only thing is, I would like one more chance to speak directly with that girl.”

Only giving his wife and cellmate a nod, the lanky man rose from the bed and climbed his way up to the top bunk. “Good night, my dear.”

“You too, hon.” With that, both former admins laid down and pulled their thin, scratchy covers over their bodies, hoping to get some sleep amidst the commotion still going on just outside their cell.
********

The three girls were back in their room. Lindsay was taking a shower while the two other girls were sitting in the room’s two chairs.

“You know, I’ve never seen a Contest before. What’s it all like?” Lisa asked.

“Oh, they’re so exciting!” Sadie beamed. “Imagine yourself, standing there all dressed up in your fanciest outfit. You’re facing a stadium full of cheering spectators. Your beloved Pokémon is by your side, ready to put its abilities and moves to the test. In the next minute and a half, you and your Pokémon are working in perfect harmony, putting on a dazzling show, leaving the crowd awestruck.”

“Wait… in front of people?!” Lisa’s face turned red once again. “Granted, I’ve been in tons of battles, but am I really confident about showing my Pokémon off in front of a big crowd?

“Lisa? Haven’t you performed in front of a group before?”

“Well, yeah, but those were math talks I gave to the professors in the mathematics department in college. There, I knew the subject like the back of my hand, as well as everyone who was in the room with me. We’re talking about doing something I’ve never done before with my Pokémon in front of total strangers!”

“Don’t worry, Lisa, everyone has stage fright when they first start off. Now, in the first round, it’s pretty much a chance to show off the beauty of your Pokémon and their moves. A panel of judges will rate your Pokémon’s performance, and those with the highest score will move on to round two.”

“Okay, what’s round two like?”

“Round two consists of elimination-style battles, but the rules are slightly different. In Contest battles, you’re also looking to impress the judges. Often, you’ll get farther if your Pokémon can gracefully dodge an attack as opposed to simply beating on its opponent. Of course, if your Pokémon can pull off a stunningly beautiful attack that also hits hard, that’ll get you the most points. Battles go for five minutes or until a Pokémon is fainted or has lost all its points.”

“Wait, they lose points this round?” Lisa responded.

“Each Pokémon is given points at the beginning of the battle,” Sadie explained. “As the battle continues, they’ll lose those points based on how things unfold. And like I said, it’s different in these battles. You can land a number of hard hits and still lose points if your Pokémon doesn’t show grace or beauty in its attacks. A Pokémon can also lose points if its attacks miss the opponent. Direct hits with nice, beautiful attacks cause your opponent’s points to drop, as do skillful dodges. Points can’t be regained, and once they’re gone, a Pokémon loses.”

“Wow! That sounds really tough! Think I should get some practice in?”

The black-haired girl warned, “Yes, but don’t overdo it, especially the night before. If you’re tired, or you don’t look prepared for the occasion, it’ll cost you points in the first round. After all, we both need to get our hair styled, rent fancy dresses, and get ourselves and our Pokémon ready.”

“Right. Will we have time to train?” Lisa asked.

“We should have a chance to practice. If you want, we can train against each other for a few hours over the next couple of days.”

“Okay, I guess I’ll wait on the training then. For some reason, I’m actually excited about this!”

“Yeah, it happens right before a Contest. All that excitement and anticipation begins to build up. But make sure you get sleep the night before; you don’t want to appear exhausted on stage during the event,” Sadie advised.

Chapter 42: Coordinate This!

Two girls made their way to a special exhibition stage aboard the cruise ship. Sadie was dressed in black – her ankle length formal black dress was complemented by a matching silk scarf wrapped around her neck. Her long hair was worn straight down.

Lisa, in contrast, wore a purple floor-length dress with a white floral pattern and a red ribbon tied into a bow around her waist. Her shimmering brown hair was fashioned into a ponytail, tied in the back by another large red ribbon.

The clacking noise of high heeled shoes hitting tile flooring could be heard as they walked into a large reception room filled with other hopeful coordinators. All eyes were glued to the large monitor on the opposite side of the room. Lindsay was somewhere in the mass of spectators, though the rapidly panning camera shots made it impossible for Lisa to find her among the many fans.

“Welcome, one and all, to the S.S. Anne’s exhibition Pokémon Contest!” shouted a red-haired female announcer to an arena filled with loud, cheering fans. “We have fifty-nine hopeful coordinators from around the world vying for our exclusive Contest Cup trophy! Now, for those who are unfamiliar with how Contests operate, we have three esteemed judges who will rank and score each competitor on how beautiful and attractive coordinator and Pokémon are as both show their best moves off! The top eight scorers then move on to the second round battles! Now, let’s meet our judges!”

“I’m Larry ‘The Knockout’ Jones! Normally, I’m the mean, nasty lawyer who’ll crush every penny out of anyone who’s caused you harm, but today I’m here to crush the dreams out of everyone here who underperforms!” hollered a clean-cut man in a business suit, slamming his right fist into his left hand. He quickly added, “No, just kidding. But don’t expect to impress me easily!”

Man, he’s a riot,” Lisa thought grimly as Sadie threw her a stony look.

“And my name’s Dr. Karen Gibson, the on-board physician for both Pokémon and their owners. I wish everyone the best of luck, but please don’t provide me with any more patients!” The redheaded woman took a bow before sitting back down.

“The feeling’s mutual, Doc,” Sadie muttered, causing Lisa to giggle quietly.

“And finally, my name is Quincy Larson, the current contest champion of the Hoenn region. As a special guest judge, I hope to see everyone give their all!” He was a young man with black hair and glasses, dressed casually with a large purple hoodie.

“And now that you’ve met our judges, it’s time to bring out our first coordinator! Hailing from Lexin City in the Fourtix region, please welcome Cristin Parmer!”

Why does that name sound so familiar?” wondered Lisa as she saw the girl shove past her before shooting her a nasty glare. At that point, Lisa remembered exactly who she was – the nasty coordinator that she’d run into before, the one whose pals were giving Reed a hard time. “Great, not her again…

The blond girl took the stage, wearing a short red dress and black leather jacket. “I’m gonna show you judges why mine is the only performance you’ll need to see!” she arrogantly announced. “Now, get ready to be dazzled and shocked by Pichu!”

The Pokéball exploded in a burst of pink smoke and a shower of confetti. Emerging in front of the trainer was a tiny yellow creature. Standing on its hind legs, it used its stubby front paws to blow kisses toward the audience. Eliciting cries of “Awwww!” from the audience, the little Pokémon smiled, blinked its beady black eyes, and let out a high-pitched squeal of affection.

“Okay, Pichu! Now, Volt Tackle into Thunder!”

Generating yellow sparks from the pink spots on both cheeks, the Pichu encased its entire body in electrical charges before breaking into a sprint. During its run across the stage, a single lightning bolt shot directly upward from the brightly glowing mass of electricity. As Pichu reached the end of the stage, a huge bright shot of lightning descended from above. Colliding with the electricity surrounding the Pokémon, the impact sent shimmering yellow sparks shooting off in every direction. The glow around Pichu faded, and the little creature did another round of blowing kisses at the crowd, which erupted into loud screaming and applause.

“Thank you! Now, get ready for this! Jump up and do a spinning Spark attack!”

On a monitor in the waiting room, a girl in a purple dress watched as the tiny Pokémon began rotating rapidly in midair firing off small electric shocks in all directions that rained down on the arena like confetti. Watching Cristin’s appeal, Lisa was gritting her teeth. “I hate to admit this, but she’s good!

Instead of talking to the other competitors, Lisa’s eyes were glued to the screen as other appeals were shown. A man in an overly extravagant red cape had wielded a silver Metagross much like Lisa’s own. Casting an imposing presence over the audience, the massive Pokémon lifted one of its huge shimmering arms before slamming it on the floor. The result was a small tremor as well as numerous glittering sparks.

Another contestant, an older woman, used a Pokémon Lisa had never seen before, a blue-gray cat-like creature with a coiled tail. The Pokémon, identified as a Glameow, pulled off a move combination that seemed to defy the laws of physics. First, the cat pointed its head upward and fired off a series of star-shaped projectiles. Using its spring-like tail, the Pokémon launched itself into the air and unleashed another Swift attack aimed at the first one. Upon colliding, the stars broke into numerous yellow shards that rained upon the stage.

Watching another appeal involving a young man and his Haunter, Lisa felt a tap on her shoulder. The brown-haired girl spun around and saw her roommate directly behind her.

“Lisa, I’m up next!” Sadie exclaimed, barely able to contain her excitement. “Cheer me on!”

Lisa gave her friend a thumbs-up. “All right, good luck out there!”

“Thanks, and I hope you like the appeal I’ve got lined up!” the black-haired girl replied before bounding out of the waiting room. Instead of watching her friend’s round on a television screen, Lisa followed her out and found an empty seat in the stands.

A few moments later, the announcer introduced the next coordinator to take the stage. “And next up is entry number nine. From Sandgem Town in Sinnoh, please welcome Sadie Catherwood!”

This time, Lisa joined in with the rest of the crowd in applauding Sadie as she loftily made her way to the stage, her electric blue Pokémon following suit.

With her springy, confident walk, she reached the center of the stage in a matter of seconds. Taking a deep breath, Sadie turned to her Luxio.

“Okay Luxio, let’s get this crowd going! Let’s show them an appeal they’ll never forget! Start us off with a Spark and follow through with a nice Crunch, just like we’ve practiced!”

All the way back in the fifth row, Lisa frowned. “How could Crunch possibly go together with a Spark? Oh, I hope Sadie knows what she’s doing!

Lisa watched as the large blue Pokémon sprang up into the air, no less than ten feet up above the stage, and curled up into a tight ball. Without warning, the Pokémon-sphere began to spin like a turbine, emitting tiny sparks. It made for an almost perfect imitation of a racecar wheel. As Luxio spun more and more rapidly, the sparks grew bigger and bigger, and eventually turned into bolts of lightning.

Several people around Lisa gasped and pointed, afraid that the lightning would somehow reach them. Even the judges’ faces had intimidation plastered on them.

“Whoa! Everybody better be ready to duck and cover!” came the dramatic, high-pitched voice of the event commentator.

“Wh… what the hell is this! Are you TRYING to kill us!” Larry shouted, standing bolt upright in his booth.

“Oh dear, this isn’t looking good…” murmured Dr. Gibson. “I could be seeing a lot of patients after this…”

Sadie was the only one who remained calm. Lisa sighed to herself, but did not take her eyes off of the spinning Luxio. She watched as Sadie lifted her index finger in command.

“All right Luxio, now use Crunch!”

Immediately, Luxio uncurled itself from its tight position with fluency and let itself fall freely to the ground, crunching through the bolts of lightning in its path. It made for a fantastic sight, with tiny sparks flying through the air and coating most of the stage.

Noticing that time remained on the clock, Sadie had to think of something to improvise. “All right, time for a ring of electricity! Luxio, now!”

The electric feline released a shimmering Thunderbolt as it began to run laps around the stage, leaving a circular path of sparks in its wake. As Luxio continued, it began making its turns tighter and tighter, with its trail now resembling a spiral. The crowd watched intently, silently, as the size of its path continued to shrink.

“Now, jump and use Thunder!”

The Pokémon used its hind legs to launch itself into the air. Like before, its body was aglow in a blinding yellow color. This time, however, the electricity was condensed into a single large bolt which came crashing down onto the floor. The force of the impact bored a hole into the floor, sending small pieces of debris flying. Fortunately, none of it flew far enough to reach the judges or spectators.

Luxio finished up by performing one final midair flip, this time without the accompanying electricity. It landed perfectly on its feet next to its trainer.

Finally, with her Luxio at her side, Sadie gave a single bow to the cheering, whistling audience. The judges also joined in with the clapping for a moment. Once again, the announcer’s voice filled the room.

“And now for some comments from the judges! Ladies and gentlemen, please hold your applause! Larry, take it away!” The attorney cleared his throat.

“Overall, the appeal was pretty good, but I would like to point out some major flaws.”

At the word ‘flaws’, Sadie shuddered slightly, but listened.

“First of all, I think you went a little too overboard with those sparks. If you made them any bigger, this place would have been on fire right now!”

Sadie silently nodded.

“It may be just me, but personally I wasn’t too fond with your spinning Luxio either. I think it would have looked a lot cleaner if you started out, let’s say, shooting sparks in the air and then crunching on them?”

Sadie nodded silently to this too, considering the man’s advice.

Slapping a large hand on the counter, the lawyer finally said, “I give the performance a 7.7 as my final score.”

The red-headed woman as up next. “I thought the appeal was very pretty, especially when Luxio was spinning, and released all those tiny sparks into the air. Luxio’s turbine pinning contributed to the dazzling effect your appeal had. Very well done, I give you a 9.6!”

Sadie grinned at the woman’s reply. Thank you!”

“Okay, now it’s my turn!” said the third judge. He fiddled around with his glasses in his hand, pondering for a moment. “Anyways, I thought you used a pretty nice combo of Spark and Crunch and the effect was a pretty decent one. Actually, that is the first time I’ve seen a Pokémon use those types of moves in that manner. It was very creative of you to combine them, even if it was a bit risky. You’ve earned a 8.8 from me.”

Wow! She did really great out there!” Lisa thought as she stood up and joined in the audience’s clapping from the grandstands.

As the judges finished their evaluations, Sadie and her Pokémon partner were the recipients of loud, enthusiastic cheering. The girl bowed before the spectators before calling back her Electric-type. “You did an excellent job out there,” she whispered. Heading back to the waiting area, Lisa was the first to congratulate her.

“That was so beautiful, the way you and your Pokémon performed out there!” she said as both of them walked back to the reception room.

“Thanks a lot! I think you’re up soon! Are you getting excited?”

“You bet I am! But… I’m really nervous too… I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do out there.”

“Lisa, you need to calm yourself and relax. Whatever happens will happen. Just let the natural bond between you and your Pokémon determine what you do for the appeal. Don’t worry, I’m right by your side!” Sadie gave Lisa a reassuring wink.

“Thanks for the pep talk! I’m ready to take this Contest by storm!” Lisa exclaimed, pumping a fist high in the air.

A few more appeals were performed, one featuring a small brown rabbit-like creature that Lisa hadn’t seen before. One of its ears was curled up, almost right against its head. This Pokémon, referred to as a Buneary, extended and retracted its ear repeatedly, creating a rapid-fire piston-like pumping motion. With each movement, alternating shots of ice, electric sparks, and small flames shot out from its ear, littering the arena with vivid color.

As another appeal had wrapped up, this one with a huge purple Nidoking whacking its own Sludge Bombs with its massive tail, an announcement caught both girls’ attention. “Contestant fifteen, Lisa Northwood, please take the stage.”

“Well, looks like I’m up! I’ll see you after I’m done!”

“Good luck!” Sadie waved as her roommate walked out toward the stage.

As Lisa made her way onstage, she thought, “Okay, we’ll see if two straight days of training are gonna pay off right here. It took a long time to perfect this, so let’s hope we don’t somehow mess up...

“And now, from… where? Where in the heck is that? Wait, is this thing still on? Sorry about that, folks! Anyway, from some place called Anderson, South Carolina, here’s Lisa Northwood!”

Don’t you people ever read a map…” Losing her focus, Lisa stumbled and almost tripped as she made her way on stage, but caught herself before falling face-first onto the floor.

Okay, it’s time… Focus…” Clutching a black sphere in her hand, the teenager announced, “Persian, time to do some calculating!” The Luxury Ball opened in a cloud of red smoke and purple stars, along with a series of numbers appearing in sequence, “3.14159265” before fading into thin air. From behind the smoke emerged the feline Pokémon, a red bow affixed to her head. Stretching out, the lithe beige creature began swinging her tail rhythmically from side to side. Lisa stiffly made her way forward, trying hard to hide her quivering body and tense muscles.

“Okay, let’s begin with a Water Pulse, into the air!” the girl began, pointing straight up. “Then charge it with Thunderbolt!” Her raised hand was shaking a bit. “Let’s hope it worked like it did in practice. It took a good deal of work to perfect this!

Tilting her head back, the cat opened her mouth and released a wide stream of rippling blue water, shooting the glimmering attack upwards. Before the Water Pulse had been completed, Persian’s cream-colored fur was already crackling with yellow electric sparks. As the feline released the electric shock, the Thunderbolt shot upward toward the cascading liquid. The crackling energy soon began wrapping its way around the beam of water, creating a sparkling mixture of blue and yellow.

The tension in Lisa’s nerves began to let up a bit as she saw that the first part of her appeal had gone without a hitch. “All right, now it’s time for a Shadow Ball!” she shouted, looking upward as the velocity of the water and electric combo continued to defy gravity.

Gathering dark matter at her mouth, Persian quickly followed through with a sinister black sphere. As the Shadow Ball raced skyward, it began to bulldoze a path through the electrified water. The beam-like shape of the Water Pulse was obliterated, showering the entire arena with water droplets, many still encased in a yellow electric charge. The display of shimmering blue and yellow raindrops falling from the sky almost looked like confetti – and had captured the attention of the applauding crowd.

“A wonderful display of three attack elements combining to create something beautiful!” remarked the announcer.

“I must agree, the combination is most certainly dazzling,” commented Dr. Gibson as the judge watched the sparking water continue to rain down on the stage.

Wow, that was even prettier than it was in practice!” Lisa pointed at the wall, yelling, “Okay, let’s unleash part two!”

Once again using her electrical technique, Persian fired off a slender yellow bolt at the wall facing the stands. Charring the white surface upon contact, the feline Pokémon began writing on the wall with Thunderbolt. First was a short dash, followed by a lower-case “b” joined by an underlined plus sign. Next came an elongated square root symbol; underneath was a “b” with a small “2” next to it. Then came a dash followed by “4ac.” Drawing a long line underneath the formula thus far, Persian wrapped it up by etching a “2a” below it. Lisa stood smiling, proud of her work. “That move’ll help me stand out AND educate these folks a little! I’ve got to thank both Jolteon and Sadie’s Luxio later for helping Persian with controlling that much electricity!

“Wait, when the hell did this become math class?!” Larry shouted, standing up in his booth like he did during Sadie’s round.

“Well, you do have to admit, it’s certainly creative! I’ve never seen an appeal involving math before!” screamed the overly excited commentator.

This part of the appeal was met by a combination of cheers and confused glances. Lisa thought she heard someone say, “That’s the Pythagorean Theorem!”

Under her breath, she muttered, “It’s the Quadratic Formula, duh.” Seeing that she still had time left in her appeal, the girl commanded, “Use Shadow Ball and then follow up with Aerial Ace!”

Persian crouched down as she prepared for her next combination. Firing another black sphere into the air, the cat launched herself skyward, gleaming claws extended. Descending upon the Shadow Ball, Persian slashed it in one quick motion, shattering the sphere and landing as numerous small chunks of dark matter rained down upon the stage like a storm.

“Now, midair flip for the finisher!” Lisa shouted in a confident voice, arms folded across her chest.

Persian leaped into the air and pulled off a midair cartwheel before landing gracefully on all fours next to her partner. As Lisa bowed before the audience, she was greeted with ecstatic cheering and applause.

“Well, I must say, that’s the first time I’ve seen a math equation play a part in an appeal,” noted Quincy. “She also masterfully made use of the varied types of attacks that Persian can learn. I’ll give her a 9.5.”

The medic, Dr. Gibson, was the next to reveal her score. “She did spend a bit too much time planning out her moves, but I must admit that the combination of electricity, water, and dark matter was strangely beautiful to watch. She gets an 8.5 from me.”

“Well,” began Larry, rubbing his chin, “I thought the whole drawing of the equation severely broke up the flow of the appeal. And yes, I will be a bit biased because I don’t like math. However, her stumble and near face-plant was what really turned me off. Not to mention she made it crystal clear that she was a rookie with all her nervous shaking, try as much as she did to hide it from us. I’m giving her six points, and believe me, I’m being damn generous here.”

The girl tried to suppress her annoyance under a fake smile as she waved to the judges. “Wait, docking me points because he doesn’t like math? And how in the heck did my tripping affect my score?

“Well, looks like Lisa’s earned a total of twenty-four points, which puts her in fourth overall right now. But we’ve got a lot more to come, so who makes it to the end is anyone’s guess!”

Backstage, Lisa took a seat on a couch and her mind began to wander. “This judging stuff is totally strange. It’s like there’s no set guidelines as to how each judge comes up with their score. Twenty-four seems like a good score, but I’m just not so sure it’ll be enough…” Her thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice.

“Lisa, for a first-timer, I thought you did very well. I liked the bit of math that you put in there – I think it put your own personal touch on your appeal.”

“Yeah, Sadie, but… that lawyer guy is one tough judge…”

“Don’t worry about him. Some people are like that, so you just have to take what they say with a grain of salt.” As she sat down next to Lisa, another contestant began to talk. But her tone and words were less than encouraging.

“I hope you two losers don’t think you’ll make it past this round with pathetic efforts like yours were!” sneered Cristin as she let out a derisive laugh. “Everyone here is a seasoned Contest pro. These ain’t noobs here, you know.”

“Oh? I beg to differ,” Lisa snapped, pointing at the video monitor. On it, a boy dressed in a green outfit was entangled in the vines of his Ivysaur. The angry Grass-type was repeatedly slamming its hapless victim on the floor of the stage, before the green Pokémon hurled the kid toward a wall. Judges and spectators alike cringed as the kid hit the wall, making a horrible slamming noise upon impact. As Dr. Gibson ran backstage to get a gurney for the young man, everyone else just stared in complete shock – everyone, that was, except for Cristin.

“Okay, so somehow one noob managed to get in. Doesn’t mean that you morons are up to the level of the best here.”

Gritting her teeth, Sadie flew up from the couch and got right in the other girl’s face. “Excuse ME?! I’ll have you know that I was one of the Sinnoh Contest League’s top coordinators!”

“Sinnoh League, you say? Haha, don’t make me laugh. Your coordinating and battling skills are both trash. Really, Sinnoh has a famous reputation for catering to rookie coordinators, with lenient judges and a general lack of challenge. So, congratulations, you’re among the best of the losers.”

“Why, you…”

Another voice interjected. “Okay, okay, calm down. It’s just a Contest.”

Cristin scoffed. “Whatever, loser. I’ll kick your ass just like I’ll do to everyone else here.” With those not-so-encouraging words, the narcissistic coordinator strutted off. Sadie returned to her seat, with both hands still curled into fists.

The newcomer told the two other girls, “Don’t worry about her, I had to deal with her during this region’s short-lived Contest League. Oh, sorry for not introducing myself. My name’s Lauren Prevost.” The tall, brown-haired girl extended her arm toward Lisa.

“Lisa Northwood, nice to meet you,” she replied, shaking Lauren’s hand. The standing teen, who appeared to be a couple years older than Lisa, turned to the other girl on the couch.

Sadie introduced herself. “Sadie Catherwood, how are you doing?”

“Well, I’m doing all right, I guess. My appeal is coming up soon, so I don’t have too much time to talk right now.”

Lisa asked, “One question before you leave – was that girl Cristin always like that?”

“Yeah, she’s always had that cocky attitude. Tell you what – after this contest is over, I’ll tell you more about the Contest League in Fourtix and how the scandal was uncovered. I actually played an active role in discovering and putting an end to that scheme.”

“Wow, that sounds interesting! Yeah, we’ll have to hear about that. In the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered about that whole conspiracy,” Lisa said.
*********

The two interrogators, Tony and Lorelei, found themselves in the same room they were in a few days before. But they could already tell that this session would be much more productive. The two prisoners they faced were sitting quietly instead of yelling and barking like rabid Growlithe. They were so calm that the guards didn’t have to restrain them.

“Jane and Justin McCullough,” began Lorelei, taking her seat. “I trust that you are both aware that your involvement in the Thrash Brotherhood potentially has you looking at a twenty year stint at Citadark Federal Penitentiary. It is a place reserved for only the worst criminals and escape is nearly impossible. Therefore, it may be in your best interest to tell us what you know.”

“Yes, we understand. However, we do have two requests before we divulge our information,” responded Justin.

Tony glared intensely at the tall, slender man across from him. “Well, we’re willing to listen to what you have to say. Doesn’t mean we’ll agree to the terms.”

“Well, we’re worried that if the higher-ups in Thrash discover that we’ve confessed, they’ll order our execution. At this point, that is the only thing that’s keeping us from telling you all that we know. So we are requesting that we be put into a witness protection program.”

“Hmm, I think that sounds reasonable. What do you think, Tony?” Lorelei gave a quick glance at her colleague before facing Jane again.

“Depending on what you tell us, I think we should be able to help you out with that. Now, you said you had another request?”

“Yes. We want to meet with Lisa Northwood face-to-face, just once more. We need to apologize to her for the trouble we’ve caused her…”

“Couldn’t you just contact her by email or phone? Why do you need to meet with her in person?” Lorelei asked, raising an eyebrow suspiciously.

Justin stammered, “Well… um… we have some information about Thrash that we would only feel comfortable revealing to her. We also need to give her something that… might prove useful.”

Tony sighed. “Well, we’ll contact Lisa and ask if she would agree to it. And we’ll be monitoring the meeting, so you can’t try anything funny. But, first you have to hold up your end of the deal. You two were highly-ranked officials on the team; surely you must know something.”

“Yes, but mind you, we don’t know everything. However, I know that a group of our operatives were sent to that Glacier Cavern that’s deep under the sea. Something about the Weather Center’s research was also mentioned regarding that.”

“Okay… Moving on, where is your boss currently?”

Nervously running his hands through his blond hair, Justin let out a heavy breath. “We honestly don’t know. In the past, we’ve met our superiors in locations that have since been abandoned by the organization. And since Lisa invaded our laboratory, our bosses have only communicated with us by secure cellular communications. However, we imagine that there’s a permanent headquarters somewhere, but we’ve never been there.”

Tony took a sip of water from the glass in front of him. He replied, “Okay. What else do you know about the group?”

“I don’t know if they’re still recruiting, but in the past, they got new members to join through a religion called The Church Of Hirojuto. The promise was that our leader was a prophet who spoke directly with God. He would preach much like a church pastor, sometimes through video and other times in person, but he never showed his face. Sermons were essentially brainwashing sessions where he would affirm his word as being the true word of God. And unfortunately, it worked on a good number of people, including us. It is only now, after we’ve had time to contemplate, that we realized how absurd most of his claims were.”

“Thank you. Last question: What do you know about the group’s ultimate plans? What is the motive behind all of these thefts and labs and research projects?”

Jane put one hand on her forehead before answering. “Our leader… He wants to create perfect, obedient Pokémon that will robotically obey the trainer’s command. The plot has progressed from using mind control devices to the use of Shadow Pokémon to accomplish it. That’s all we know.”

“Well, we were hoping for more information, but thank you for your cooperation.” Lorelei got up out of her seat, followed by Tony. “We will have you transported from here to the prison in Regency City until we can decide on a more secure place to keep you where you would be safe from Thrash assassins.”

“Thank you…” Jane whispered to the two interrogators before they were led out of the room.

“Tony, I’m dispatching you to Orre immediately to investigate those mystery explosions.”

“What will be your next move, then?”

“First I need to call Archie,” replied the woman as she took out her cell phone. “I have a feeling the situation at Glacier Cavern will require his assistance.”

Chapter 43: Contesting For the Win

“Now that the first round is completed, we will reveal the top eight trainers and the brackets for the second round of competition! Please direct your attention to the monitor as we reveal the top eight one by one!”

All eyes were focused toward the big-screen monitor situated above the judges’ booths. The names of contestants, their scores, and a portrait appeared one at a time.

“Cristin Parmer, 27.8”

“Zach Putnam, 26.9”

“Sadie Catherwood, 26.1”

“Robert Johnstone, 25.8”

“Lauren Prevost, 25.4”

“Cecil Hodges, 25.1”

“Rick McLair, 24.8”

“Lisa Northwood, 24.0”

“Wow, Lisa!” Sadie shouted. “Looks like we both made it into the second round! Now, let’s see who we’re up against!”

“Hey, I never thought I’d even make it, considering I almost fell flat on my face when I got on stage! Man, I was so nervous!”

“And now, I will announce the match-ups! Cristin Parmer will be up against Lisa Northwood! Zach Putnam will face off against Rick McLair! Sadie Catherwood and Cecil Hodges will square off! And finally, it’ll be Robert Johnstone against Lauren Prevost!”

Once the announcements had been made, Cristin sauntered toward the two girls, an arrogant smirk on her face. Flicking her long red hair to one side, she sneered. “Well, well, I take it you two are friends? Don’t worry, I’ll be more than happy to beat both of you down and show you how a real coordinator conducts herself!” Before either girl could respond, Cristin strutted off toward the exit to the waiting room. “Come on, Lisa, we’re up first! I’ll reduce you to tears in front of this entire crowd!” she taunted.

“Man, what did you do to her?” asked Sadie.

“Long story short, I beat her in a battle and she’s a sore loser. She’s also very obsessive about Contests and is obviously quite cocky about it. Well, I’m up! Wish me luck!”

“Okay, I’ll be cheering for you!”

On stage, Lisa and Cristin faced each other, with the markings of a Pokémon battlefield drawn on the floor beneath them. “And now, for the first battle of round two, we have Cristin Parmer versus Lisa Northwood! Send out your Pokémon!”

“Beautifly, center stage now!” Cristin called out, twirling in midair as she threw her Pokéball. The sphere opened in an explosion of yellow confetti and streamers, revealing a large butterfly. Flapping its multicolored wings, the insect looked around with its bulging blue eyes.

“Sealeo, time to graph some functions! Let’s go!” Lisa’s Pokéball released a flurry of blue bubbles and green smoke. Purple letters spelling out the name “Lisa” emerged one at a time for a few seconds before vaporizing as the hefty sea lion appeared on stage opposite his bug-like opponent. Barking happily, the icy-cold mammal wore a smile underneath his thick white moustache.

“Okay, ladies and gentlemen! Let’s put five minutes on the clock and give our coordinators their points! Now, let the battle begin!”

“Oh, I’m going to enjoy making a fool out of you! Sleep Powder now!”

“Sealeo, use your Icy Wind to blow that stuff away!”

Flapping its broad wings, the insect whipped up a cloud of sparkling red spores that made a beeline toward the bulbous Sealeo. The blue Pokémon opened his maw wide to inhale before blowing out a chilled blast of air speckled with shimmering blue ice crystals.

Both attacks met between the two combatants, causing a dazzling display of glittering particles that rained down on the battlefield. On the monitors, the red point bar under Cristin’s picture reduced slightly.

“Well, it looks like both Pokémon put on a pretty display of powder as Sealeo successfully blocks a Sleep Powder attempt!”

“Dammit! Lucky shot! Let’s see you deal with an Energy Ball!” Cristin pointed directly at Sealeo, scowling at the big sea lion.

I’ll just deal with it like I did with your last attack!” Smirking, the brown-haired girl shouted, “Okay, let’s intercept it with a Water Pulse!”

Lisa’s confidence would be short-lived, however. The translucent green energy orb quickly hurtled toward its target. The attack met with its opponent’s rippling cascade of water and absorbed the liquid like a sponge. The girl could only stare in stunned shock as the now enormous Energy Ball slammed into her Pokémon. As the massive sphere exploded upon contact, Sealeo was sent sliding backward, cringing in pain.

The brutal assault left Sealeo’s trainer staring wide-eyed, like a deer caught in the headlights. “Wait, that’s a Grass attack?! Jeez, I wasn’t expecting that!” Lisa gasped and took a step backward, almost tripping on her long dress. “Sealeo! Are you okay?!” she screamed, clutching her head.

“Trying to use a Water attack to stop a Grass attack? Most unimpressive,” stated Larry frankly.

Taking advantage of the situation, Beautifly let loose with another cloud of particles, this one giving off a glittery purple shine. As the poisonous spores began descending on Sealeo’s head, the Ice-type used a Water Pulse to counter the attack. The move worked this time, as the liquid dissolved the poisonous spores, turning the water to a mysterious light purple hue.

Lisa lost a good amount of points due to the Energy Ball, but Cristin lost significantly fewer points as a result of the dissolved Poisonpowder. Despite losing those few points, Cristin remained confident, while her opponent was quivering and nervously glancing from side to side.

Laughing, she mocked, “You idiot! If that’s the best you can muster, then this is gonna be cake! Use a Gust attack now!”

Her face turning red, Lisa snapped, “I’m not going to succumb to your insults! Aurora Beam!”

As the blowing winds kicked up by Beautifly’s wings made their way toward Sealeo, the insect’s trainer commanded, “Now bring the light!”

The brilliant multicolored beam made its way from Sealeo’s maw, cutting through the Gust like a blade and finding its way to the target’s head. Aurora Beam had failed to stop the swirling whirlwind, but the huge Ice-type was able to shrug off the strike. An intense sunlight began to beat down on the arena, coming in through the massive ceiling skylights.

Sunny Day… Figures she’d try to make things tough for me…

“Follow up with Solarbeam!”

“Try to stop it with another Aurora Beam!” Lisa yelled as she began fidgeting and shaking nervously.

The space between Beautifly’s antennae quickly gathered light energy into a concentrated green sphere. Without hesitation, the attack developed into a blinding beam of synthesized energy, made even brighter by the intense sunlight. Sealeo’s Aurora Beam was of little consequence, as the supercharged Solarbeam merely wiped it out en route to slamming forcefully into the big mammal’s face.

“Man, that didn’t go well at all! Sealeo, can you go on?” Trembling, Lisa looked on as her Pokémon struggled to shake off the heavy hit. But the creature was willing to continue, as he beat the floor with his tailfin and let out a loud, if somewhat pained, bark. “Okay, but don’t push yourself too hard. I’m worried…” The recent heavy hits had cost her big time, and now Lisa was trailing Cristin by a significant amount. Sealeo was looking the worse for wear, with numerous scorch marks on his pale blue hide.

“Lisa’s going to need to pull off a miracle if she hopes to make up that deficit!” came the voice of the announcer, stating the painfully obvious.

“Hell, it’s worked before, so why not try it again? Solarbeam!” Cristin stuck her tongue out at her opponent, feeling confident with her huge advantage in points.

Attempting to muster up some confidence, Lisa shouted to Sealeo, “Roll to the side!”

The chilly sea lion began to shift his body weight to the left, to which Lisa’s competitor responded, “It’s gonna roll toward the audience! Re-aim your attack!” There was a hint of surprise in her voice, as she pointed a slightly shaking finger in that general direction.

The flying insect did as commanded, repositioning itself so that the Solarbeam took off on a diagonal trajectory after being fired from between its antennae. Smirking, Lisa calmly said, “Other side.”

Reversing direction, Sealeo rolled to the right. The brilliant, shimmering green beam sliced through the air and left a dent in the drywall by the stage exit.

Lisa’s legs had stopped shaking; she now stood upright. Her lips began to curve into a small smile as she let out a chuckle. Looking up at the scoreboard, the brown-haired girl saw her opponent’s bar shrink. But Cristin still had quite a bit of a point advantage with less than half the time remaining. Lisa knew she still had her work cut out for her. “I’ve still gotta turn things around if I’m gonna have a shot at winning…

“You think you can block this?! Silver Wind attack!”

With one arm on her hip and the other pointed at the foe, she was ready for her next move. “Well, yeah, actually! Okay, Sealeo, we’re gonna try to disrupt it with Icy Wind!” Lisa countered, a confident smirk now firmly planted on her face.

Beautifly flapped its wings rapidly, building up a shimmering silver whirlwind. The attack swirled toward Sealeo like a twister as the Ice-type watched the incoming Silver Wind carefully. With one mighty breath, he blew out an arctic blast of chilled air, complete with minuscule blue ice particles. Upon colliding, the Icy Wind turned the other attack into a frozen tornado. After a few seconds, the ice sculpture shattered into thousands of glittering blue shards.

“All right!” Lisa cheered, pumping her fist into the air.

“Wow! An impressive work of art and an impressive block!” the commentator hollered into her microphone as Cristin was docked quite a few points.

“Yes, that was most impressive,” agreed Quincy from his judge’s box.

Enraged at having its attack foiled, Beautifly charged in at its opponent, relentlessly headbutting and whacking the icy mammal with its wings. Cristin began losing points. She quickly realized that she had to get her Pokémon back under her control.

“Such an unrefined, brutal assault. Hardly what I would have expected of an expert coordinator,” Larry observed, shaking his head. “It’s like her confidence is unraveling right before us, for all to see.”

“If she can’t keep her cool under pressure, it’ll cost her,” added Quincy.

Even if she’s losing points, I’ll still lose in the end if Sealeo faints!” Frantically, Lisa commanded, “Knock it away with your tailfin!”

The big Pokémon did as instructed, and landed a clean hit to Beautifly’s face, forcing the insect to retreat.

“I won’t lose to you! Beautifly, Solarbeam!” A frustrated Cristin was shaking her fist in a threatening manner at Lisa.

Trying to keep her cool, the other girl shouted, “Now give it an Ice Beam!”

Both elemental energy beams met in midair, but overhead the intense lighting began to fade. Without the Sunny Day effect to boost its power, the green Solarbeam began to lose out to its icy blue counterpart. Like a laser, the Ice Beam shot straight through and obliterated the other attack, causing lime-green chunks to scatter in all directions. The chilled ray finished up by slamming into the Bug-type and sending it crashing against the wall.

“Wow, a last-minute disappearance of Sunny Day suddenly evens things for Sealeo! Looks like both battlers are almost out of steam, and are deadlocked point-wise! Who’s going to win?”

The battle was drawing to a close, in more ways than one. Beautifly was struggling to keep itself in the air, its wings partly encased in shimmering ice. Sealeo was also having a difficult time moving about, as the paralysis was stiffening his blubbery body and limiting his mobility. The clock read “1:05.” Both Pokémon only had a sliver of their respective point bars remaining.

“You’re only a poser pretending to be a coordinator! You’re an embarrassment to all of us real coordinators! Beautifly, finish that tub of lard with Silver Wind!”

This is it… Whoever gets their attack to hit will win this thing…” Concealing her shaking legs underneath her fancy purple dress, Lisa put on a façade of confidence and shouted, “Well, you’ll soon see what it’s like to lose to a ‘poser’! Sealeo, one more Aurora Beam!”

With all of its remaining strength, the winged Pokémon whipped up a swirling cyclone. However, this blast of wind lacked the silver shimmer of its past Silver Winds and only cast a dull gray color. The big aquatic mammal opened his maw and shot out a very thin energy beam, the rainbow color of the attack barely visible.

The gray whirlwind and the weakened Aurora Beam headed toward each other on a collision course. However, the icy attack prevailed, shearing a path through the Silver Wind and striking Beautifly between the eyes. The Bug-type was knocked to the floor, and its points bar reduced to nothing as a wide-eyed Cristin looked on in stunned shock.

“Beautifly has been eliminated! The winner of this Contest Battle is Sealeo, which means Lisa Northwood will be moving on to the next round!”

Lisa stepped toward the center stage amid an eruption of applause. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a red-faced Cristin give her an unflattering one-finger salute before storming off, her huge black boots making a loud thumping noise as she disappeared. Then, something else caught her eye – Sealeo was completely engulfed in a bright white glow.

“Oh, my… It’s evolving right here on stage!” The teen watched in anticipation, smiling as the white mass in front of her grew and changed in shape. The crowd had also turned silent as they watched the transformation. When the light finally faded, the Pokémon that now rested on the floor of the Contest stage came into view.

Though it was the same shade of blue as the Pokémon it replaced, the new Ice-type was significantly larger, with a furry white covering over his entire face. Now sporting developed rear fins and a pair of imposing ivory tusks protruding from his mouth, the massive walrus let out a commanding, low-pitched roar of “Wallll!”

Lisa consulted her Pokédex to learn about her newly evolved teammate. “Walrein, the Ice Break Pokémon. Despite its bulk, this Pokémon is adept at swimming through icy waters, its thick hide giving it excellent insulation.”

Wow… Walrein is certainly impressive!

“Would you look at that!” the commentator shouted into her microphone. “Not only do we get to witness an intense battle, but we get to see a Pokémon evolve right before our very eyes! Just goes to show you the wonder of Pokémon and their human partners! Let’s give another round of applause for our winner, Lisa Northwood, and her new Walrein!”

“This is awesome!” Lisa beamed, getting on her knees and throwing her arms around the huge blue mammal as the spectators began clapping again. “You were great out there, and I’m so proud of you. Do you want to take a rest now?” the girl asked as she let go of Walrein and rose to her feet.

Receiving a nod from Walrein, the girl called out, “Return and have yourself a nice long rest! You’ve deserved it!” After the Pokémon was recalled, Lisa made her way off the stage as the next pair of contestants prepared for battle.

Backstage, Sadie came running up to greet Lisa. “I saw you out there! And you were great! Not only did you beat that girl good, but your Pokémon evolved right there in front of everyone!”

“Thanks!” Lisa replied, blushing. Wiping her forehead, she continued, “Whew! I better sit down for a few minutes; I’ve got another battle coming up, after all!”

“Good idea, Lisa. I think my battle is next, so be watching and wish me luck!”

“You got it!” Lisa smiled as she stretched out on the reception room’s red couch. On the monitor, she watched as the next battle was about to start.
*********

In a large boardroom, a group of a dozen well-dressed men and women sat around a large oak table. The man at the head of the table, a bald, elderly man with a gray beard stood up and addressed his colleagues.

“I trust that you all have had a chance to review the graduate student applications that we’ve received. Any standouts that you feel should receive the Howard and Katherine Windsor Scholarship?”

“Yes, Dr. Erwin. Of all the applications, the one submitted by a Miss Lisa Northwood seemed especially impressive.”

Dr. Erwin tapped his pen on the table. “Well, Professor Zambito, please tell me this candidate’s achievements and why you feel she is deserving of the scholarship.”

“Well, sir, this young lady graduated in 2004 after only two years with a 4.0 GPA with a mathematics degree and two minors. She also earned a perfect score on her GRE examination. She’s written two papers already that are candidates for publication. During her undergraduate years, she was very involved in both student government and residence life…”

“And?” queried Dr. Erwin. “Plenty of applicants can boast the same credentials. What makes this one individual stand out?”

“Sir, she was thirteen years old when she graduated.”

One of the other professors spoke up in support of his colleague.

“Well, I think that is most impressive for a girl of her age to have done so much. I think her achievements show a dedication to both her studies and bettering her university. Personally, I was more than a bit surprised when I first read her application and realized that she was so young.”

Dr. Erwin gave his staff a nod. “Agreed. Personally, I felt that Miss Northwood, despite all the excellent applications we’ve received, is most deserving of this scholarship. I asked you about her standout qualities to make sure you had carefully reviewed the applications. In recent years, I’ve felt that the selection committee had been rushing through applications. I’m glad to see that’s no longer the case. But now we will move on to voting. If anyone objects to awarding her the scholarship, please speak up now.”

Several moments of silence ensued before Dr. Erwin said, “Then it is finalized. Lisa Northwood shall be awarded the Windsor Scholarship should she choose to attend here, and we will send her a notification immediately. Now, we can discuss which of these other applicants we will be sending acceptance letters to.”
*********

A tall woman with red hair stepped out onto the stage as two male contestants made their way to the waiting area. Yelling out in a high-pitched voice, she announced, “Well folks, that does it for the first round of matches! Now, let’s reveal the four coordinators who moved on to the semifinals!” The names and pictures of the final four coordinators appeared on the monitor. The remaining contestants were Sadie, Lisa, Lauren, and Rick.

“And now, our first semifinal match will take place between… Lisa Northwood and Sadie Catherwood!” Upon hearing that they would be facing off against each other, both girls exchanged nervous looks.

Who would have guessed that the two of us would be squaring off against each other?” Turning to Sadie, the older girl said, “Hmm, this is certainly an interesting turn of events.”

“Well, Lisa, I hope you’re ready! We might be friends and all, but I’m giving it my all to win!”

“Yeah, though I never expected we’d be squaring off against each other…”

Sadie put her arm around Lisa. “Sometimes these things happen in Contests. Just remember to do your best out there.”

“Okay! I will!”

Both girls made their way to opposite ends of the on-stage battlefield. Taking position between them, the announcer shouted, “This Contest battle will be between Lisa Northwood and Sadie Catherwood! Let’s put five minutes on the clock and give both battlers their allotted points! Now, both of you, reveal your Pokémon!”

“Luxio, show ‘em what you’ve got!” Sadie shouted, flinging her Pokéball like a baseball.

With a flash of yellow-white light, a large form escaped from the Pokéball. Giving a graceful lunge, Luxio landed on the floor, emitting tiny yellow sparks as it growled.

Okay, this is it…” Lisa thought to herself, clutching her Pokéball tightly. She held it up to the sky.

“Weezing, GO!” The Pokéball hurled into the air, soon giving way a round, purple Pokémon. Exhaling misty, green gases from the craters on its body, the Pokémon hovered a few feet in front of her trainer.

“LET THE BATTLE BEGIN!” the announcer shouted, stepping out of the arena.

“Okay, let’s start this thing off with a Spark!” Sadie shouted, a determined glint in her eyes. “Go!”

Immediately, Luxio sprang forward, and bounded toward Weezing, the tiny sparks that circled it growing bigger.

Thinking fast, Lisa commanded, “Okay, Weezing, let’s eliminate the variables! Use Fire Blast before Luxio can attack!”

“Weezing Weez!” the Pokémon grunted, as the tips of red-orange flame began to emerge from her body, as if it were on fire. As Luxio drew nearer, the flames exploded out of Weezing’s body like magma from a volcano, engulfing almost half of the stage in flames.

Despite the impressive damage Weezing had caused, Lisa couldn’t help but notice the sly smile on Sadie’s face.

Man, I wonder what that girl has up her sleeve…” Lisa thought frantically. “But now’s no time for worrying, I have to stay strong!

“Luxio, now’s your chance!” she heard Sadie shout. Out of nowhere, the electric blue Pokémon had leaped onto Weezing, bringing a mass of white-hot lightning bolts with it. Lisa could only watch Weezing as she toppled onto the ground, twitching hysterically in an attempt to free herself from the merciless electricity that coated her like a jacket. Up above, Lisa saw her once full bar begin to lower.

I have to do something… now! Before Luxio eats away all our points...” But the audience did not share in her misery. Instead, they were ‘Oooh’ing and ‘Aaah’ing at the mist of glitter Luxio’s sparks seemed to emit.

Lisa turned back to her struggling Weezing. “Weezing, quick, use Sludge Bomb and free yourself from those sparks! Then, immobilize Luxio with Smog!” she commanded frantically. As if Weezing had been especially awaiting her command, a large volume of purple sludge readily erupted from her opened mouth, breaking through the shield of sparks Luxio had created and flinging the squirming Pokémon backwards with tremendous force.

“Good job! Now it’s time to calculate the function! Weezing, use Smog!”

Puffs of purple gas began to seep from Weezing’s craters, and flew towards Luxio like a turbulent wind. In a few moments, Luxio was engulfed in a thick, billowing cloud, which released a terrible, putrid odor that nearly made Lisa gag. She could see the audience members groan and cover their noses in disgust. Up above on the main scoreboard, Lisa could see her bar drop.

Hey, what gives?” Lisa thought to herself, “Shouldn’t Sadie be the one who loses points? Maybe they made a mistake...” As much as it urged her to confront the announcer, Lisa resisted. “Okay… all I have to do is try to make my moves pretty! But what pretty moves could Weezing possibly know?” Lisa bit her lip, resisting the urge to grab her dress.

“Luxio, use Thunder Fang!” Sadie screeched, snapping Lisa back to reality.

“Weezing, Dodge Dynasty that attack! Then use Sludge Bomb!” Lisa retaliated frantically.

Before Luxio’s gaping mouth could reach her, Weezing lunged to the side, letting Luxio fall with a thud. Shooting a quick glance at the scoreboard, Lisa saw Sadie’s points fall just slightly above Lisa’s level.

Now we’re getting even!” Lisa thought with pride. She turned to her Weezing. “Good job! Now use Sludge Bomb while it’s still down!” Lisa shouted.

“Luxio, jump outta the way! Quick!” Sadie commanded. Lisa could sense the slight worry in her voice.

Reacting more on instinct than its trainer’s order, the electric feline darted to the left, causing the arcing blob of toxins to splatter on the floor. The failed attack left a mess of purple slime on the stage but did no harm otherwise. Lisa’s point bar, however, took a heavy hit.

Great… and just when I think I’ve closed the gap…” Looking up, the older girl’s eyes grew wide in fear. “Weezing, behind you!”

Lisa’s frantic warning came a second too late. With its entire body aglow in yellow, Luxio plowed into its purple adversary like an electrified linebacker sacking a hapless quarterback. The hard hit knocked Weezing to the ground – and knocked a good chunk off of Lisa’s points.

“Wow! A big shock to Weezing and Lisa as Luxio takes control of this match!”

Okay, definitely not good!” Shaking nervously, she watched Luxio rush in for another strike. “Okay, I’ve got it! Weezing, let’s heat things up with Fire Blast!”

Waiting until her foe closed in, the dual-orb Pokémon launched a massive five-pronged attack from her ventilation holes, stopping the charging Electric-type in its tracks, leaving visible burn marks over Luxio’s body – and enabling Lisa to close in point-wise.

“So, Weezing does have some impressive looking attacks,” Larry commented. “But I sure hope Lisa doesn’t rely on that one move alone. Otherwise, it’s lights out for her.”

But what other moves does Weezing have? I’m not about to pull of an Explosion…

“Luxio! Thunder Fang!” came Sadie’s voice, which brought Lisa back to attention.

“Um… um… Smokescreen!” stammered Lisa, who began to grab at her purple dress.

“Weez!” The thick black smoke spread like wildfire, quickly blanketing the entire stage in its dark, foggy cloak. A blinded Luxio emerged from the smoke and crashed onto the ground beneath the stage, landing ungracefully on its snout. Both coordinators lost points in this exchange, with Sadie’s points taking the bigger hit.

“Not pretty by any means, but it did get the job done,” explained Dr. Gibson as she and the other judges strained to see what was going on under the thick black blanket.

“Oh, my!” shouted the announcer. “Is Luxio down and out? It seems to be getting to its feet, but rather slowly!”

Biting her lip, Sadie muttered, “Come on, Luxio, you can do it! We’re not finished yet!” As time clicked off the clock and the smoke began to fade, the feline jumped back onto the stage. Finding Weezing in the less-dense fog, Luxio quickly shot off a sizzling Thunderbolt, lighting up the Poison-type like the Fourth of July.

Watching her points diminish further, Lisa’s smile quickly morphed into a frown, as Sadie’s expression did just the opposite. “As I said, this is far from over!”

Lisa yelled back, “Don’t count me out yet! Weezing, time for Sludge Bomb!”

“Okay, Luxio, get ready to dodge that just like last time!”

But both Pokémon and trainer watched, puzzled since Weezing simply floated there. And the smirk on Lisa’s face was unnerving. “What trick is Lisa planning next?” Shrugging off this train of thought, she yelled, “If Weezing won’t come to us, it’s time to come to it! Light up the night with Spark!”

As the electric cat rushed in at its levitating foe, Sadie kept her eye trained on Lisa. Her opponent was still smiling, even as she did nothing while Luxio continued to close in on Weezing like a bullet. Her trance ended when Lisa called out one little word.

“Now!”

“Luxio, to the right!” Sadie frantically yelled.

Despite the warning, Weezing’s heaping mass of sludge found its mark. With the purple glob splattering against Luxio’s face, the Pokémon lost control of its stored electricity, causing sparks to fly off in every direction. The glittering effect was dazzling to the eye, as spectators and judges alike leaned forward to get a closer look. Lisa grinned; her sneaky maneuver had caught Sadie completely off guard. The girl watched confidently as her opponent took a big hit in points.

“Lisa’s proving to be one crafty coordinator! It looks like she might be within striking distance to steal victory away from Sadie!”

“Sorry, but I’m not gonna let that happen!” she called out as her Luxio had finished wiping the last of the sludge from its face. Noticing that Weezing was coming in for a Tackle, Sadie commanded, “Behind you! Thunder Fang!”

Pulling off an acrobatic midair flip, Luxio propelled itself over the top of Weezing and landed right behind her. The wily Electric-type followed up by rushing in at its toxic foe, fangs crackling with yellow sparks.

“Weezing, turn around!” Lisa yelled in a panic. Her Pokémon complied, only to have sharp, electrified teeth dig into her rubbery skin, piercing the surface like blades. The hapless victim let out a pained cry as Luxio jumped on top of her. Unable to float with the weight of both Pokémon on top of her, Weezing crashed to the floor like a brick. Once its foe was grounded, Luxio calmly walked off of her.

Seeing that Weezing was not getting back up, Lisa gasped in horror. Taking a step backward, she lost her footing and landed on her rear. ‘Oh, no!” she cried, looking up at the monitors as her bar was teetering on empty. With her face bright red, Lisa picked herself up from the ground and saw that her heavily panting Weezing had also righted herself.

“We have one more shot to stay in the game! Fire Blast it, please!” pleaded the girl, nervously twitching and looking from side to side.

“To the right! One more dodge should win it for us!”

With only a graceful long jump, Luxio sealed the battle for Sadie. As the immense fire attack cut a swath across the stage, it met nothing but air and petered out as it reached the opposite side of the arena. Lisa’s points bar reduced to nothing and her portrait on-screen was replaced by a red “X.” The word “WINNER” replaced the bar under her opponent’s picture.

“All right! Good work, Luxio!” Sadie cheered.

“I… I lost…” Lisa said, looking down at the floor, tears beginning to form in her eyes. “You did your best out there, though. I’m proud of you, Weezing,” she added, calling back the worn-out Pokémon without looking up.

Sadie had recalled her Pokémon as well, and glanced over at her opponent.

Lisa felt her knees buckle and she fell to the floor. Sadie rushed over to the other girl and helped her to her feet. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine… That was a good battle, though,” Lisa conceded, wiping a tear from her eye. “Congratulations on winning.”

“Hey, you were great, too. I think you started to forget that this was a contest battle instead of your standard Pokémon battle, though.”

“You’re right. Anyway, good luck on the next battle! One more and you win, right?”

“Yep!” After sharing a quick hug, both girls cleared the stage amid a round of cheers and applause. The next battle was about to begin.

“Now introducing, from Celadon City in Kanto, let’s give a warm welcome to Rick McLair!”
*********

Lauren, wearing a long red dress, yelled out, “Ninetales! It’s getting down to the wire! Use Fire Blast!”

The multi-tailed yellow fox opened up its maw, small red eyes fixated firmly on its furry brown adversary. Emitting a high-pitched howl, it shot out an intense orange fireball that quickly spread out to form a five-pointed star of flame.

Unable to dodge the wide-range attack, the other Pokémon took the brunt of the hit. The massive inferno completely engulfed its target, leaving a smoky haze and a very worried-looking Sadie in its high-intensity wake.

Despite its numerous burn marks, the tall, slender rabbit-like Pokémon stood its ground, though it was twitching its long, folded back ears in pain.

“Lopunny!” Sadie cried out in a panic, “Are you still able to battle?” The girl’s hands were quivering. Though she still had the lead, point-wise, the latest hard hit certainly closed the gap.

The brown rabbit gave her a nod, shaking some soot and ash from the cream-colored tufts of fur on its ears and torso.

“It’s time for the finisher! Flamethrower!” commanded Lauren, pointing directly at the furry creature opposing her.

“Jump up and over!” Sadie countered.

With its thin legs providing surprising power, Lopunny leaped high into the air, completely clearing the searing stream of fire. While the rabbit was in midair, a loud buzzer sounded.

“Well, looks like time has expired!” the redheaded announcer yelled in her usual hyperactive voice. “And it looks like Sadie and Lopunny finish up with the most points left! And that’s it for this Contest! The winner, by points, of the S.S. Anne Pokémon Contest is Sadie Catherwood! But, let’s hear a round of applause for everyone who participated!”

The black-haired girl bowed as the audience exploded in uproarious clapping and cheering. She exchanged a hug with her opponent before walking toward the judges’ boxes. There, she shook the hands of each of the judges as the Contest announcer handed her a huge golden trophy. “Congratulations on winning, Sadie! Let’s hear one more round of applause for our champion!”

As the crowd began to file out of the stands, Sadie met up with Lauren, who had been waiting for her at the entrance. Both girls headed offstage and into the reception area where Lisa greeted them. “Wow, that was one great battle! Congratulations, Sadie! Both of you were really good!”

“Thanks, but I’m ready for some lunch! Let’s find your sister so we can get over to the restaurant.”

Waiting at the entrance to the arena, the three girls waited for Lindsay to emerge. Finally seeing her among the last of the spectators to leave, Lisa called out to her.

“Hey! Both of you were great out there! But, haha, Lisa lost!”

“Shut up,” the older sister replied, running her hand through Lindsay’s hair and messing it up. “Come on, I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready for some food!”

Finally having a chance to sit down and relax, the four girls started up some conversation.

“So, Lauren, you mentioned something about how you had a role in the old Pokémon Contest investigation?”

“Indeed. I was approached by this woman… Lorelei, I think her name was, after winning my third ribbon.”

“Lorelei?” Lisa stood up in her seat, eyes open wide. “I know her! She’s been working with me on and off for the Thrash investigation!”

“So you know her too, then. Anyway she explained to me about how there were crimes being committed in the cities where the Contests were being held, and they all had a similar M.O. The Contest crew would arrive on site a week before the Contest, during which there would be four or five bank robberies committed in town. Oddly, these weren’t the typical hand-the-note-to-the-teller jobs. These involved guys in ski masks barging into the bank, firing off assault rifles, and ordering all the customers to hit the floor.”

“So, basically, they were the takeover-style heists,” Lisa commented, rubbing her chin in deep thought. “Interesting how they wanted to draw attention to themselves.”

“Well, Lorelei said something about them not wanting to get a dye pack. Well, of course, I didn’t want to believe the Contests were all a sham, but in the back of my mind, I knew that the Contests and robberies couldn’t be a coincidence. So I decided to help out, more or less at first to try to prove them wrong. But there was always this nagging suspicion I had,” Lauren continued, stopping to take a sip of water.

“Man, I hope the Contests in other regions aren’t like that!” Sadie burst out.

“I couldn’t answer that, but I haven’t heard of similar crimes, so I think you’re safe there. Back to the Fourtix Contests, Lorelei suspected that the whole operation was based at the site of the Grand Festival, so I had to win my way to that. I had won my fourth ribbon at the next Contest, but lost the one following. That’s when the stakes were raised.”

Lisa held up her right hand. “Wait, I remember Bernie telling me about this. There were kidnappings of relatives of three of the Gym Leaders… Bernie, Reed, and someone else who I can’t remember right now.”

“Yep, that’s correct. The third Gym Leader who had a relative kidnapped was Wendy of Regency City, who I guess you haven’t met yet.” As Lisa shook her head, the older teen continued, “The kidnappers sent tapes to all the TV networks, with the masked men demanding large ransoms while showing the victims gagged and chained together.”

“Wow, these guys were very well organized!”

“Then we came to the big climax at the Grand Festival. At this time, the three Gym Leaders were caught up in it. I was told to sneak away during the first round appeals and found my way backstage. That was very hard, as I had to have one of my Pokémon use a Smokescreen during the appeal. While the stage was engulfed in smoke, I recalled my Pokémon and made my way backstage. When it cleared, the crowd was wondering where I had disappeared to and I was eliminated from the Contest.”

“So now you’re playing the role of spy. This is getting very interesting!” Lisa and Sadie were both leaning forward, eager to hear how this would end. Lindsay just let out a sigh, clearly not as interested.

“Oh, it gets better. Eventually, I found my way to the main office, where I was able to overhear the Contest head talking with the judges between rounds. With a voice recorder, I taped their discussion where they planned to steal every Pokémon in the event. They planned to get them by use of a drug and chemical test of all the Pokémon entered. Well, I alerted Lorelei to this plan and let her and the Gym Leaders do the final takedown. But they allowed the Contest champion to be crowned before raiding the offices. In the end, the kidnapped victims were recovered with only minor injuries and it all worked out. Except of course, for the fact that Contests still suffer from a horrible reputation in Fourtix.”

Lisa was finishing her glass of lemonade. “Wow, I can’t believe all that happened!”

“Hmm, that does explain why I found that people weren’t exactly friendly when I asked about Contests. So, Lauren, what do you do now?” Sadie asked.

“Let’s see, after the Contests were shut down, I began training for the Pokémon League. I’ve already got all my badges, and I’ve been traveling around since, getting training in at various locales. Lisa, I heard from Lorelei that you’re also trying out for the League. So, maybe we’ll see each other there. Oh, and there’s a big fancy party tonight in the ballroom. I would really like to see you there!”

Lisa perked up. “But of course you can count me in! Sadie, what about you?”

“Well, I… um…”

Chapter 44: Crashing the Party

“But, Lisa, I’m just not sure…” said Sadie. “I’m not all that good at dancing, and I’m afraid of tripping over other people’s feet…”

“Don’t worry, there’ll be more than dancing there. There’s also supposed to be a big fancy dinner as well as karaoke. And you know I’m tackling that!” Lisa replied, a big smile on her face.

“Heck, I guess it’ll be worth it to go just to hear that,” snickered the black-haired girl. “I wonder what kind of song you’re planning on singing. Nothing too loud, I hope.”

“Don’t worry,” she assured, sitting down on the bed. “I never listen to that sort of hard rock music… though I can’t make the same promise of everyone else there. Linds, are you going?”

“I think you already know the answer to that, sis.”

Lisa threw her hands up in the air. “Yeah, I know the drill. Leave my Pokémon here so you can feed them. Hopefully this time, I won’t have to have anyone stop by the room, so you can just keep the door locked. That way, none of the Pokémon will be getting out. And I’ll take Metagross just in case something comes up.”

Lindsay jumped off the bed, frowning at her sister. “Now Lisa, you know that Jolteon getting out was just an accident! Come on, give me a break!”

“Relax,” the older sister said calmly, putting her right arm around the younger girl. “I don’t blame you for what happened. Jolteon ran off because it sensed a problem on the ship, that’s all. Totally not your fault. I’m not mad.”

Wiping her brow, Lindsay let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks for that, Lisa. I was worried that… that you were mad at me.”

“No, you’re fine. Trust me.” Lisa gave her a reassuring smile.

“Lisa, may I ask a favor?” Sadie chimed in. “Do you happen to have enough food for my Pokémon as well?”

“Yeah, I have lots of food with me.”

“Okay! Lindsay, would you mind feeding and looking over my Pokémon while we’re out tomorrow night?”

“Sure, I don’t mind at all!”

“Thanks so much!”

“Well, girls,” Lisa interrupted, “we still have a few hours before the party. Might as well see what’s on TV.”

Flipping on the JVC flat-screen unit, the oldest girl began surfing the channels until an advertisement caught her eye. It began in grand fashion, with a man yelling out, “Attention trainers!” In a normal tone, a second male voice continued, “Fourtix League rules state that a trainer is legally responsible for any major injuries caused to another person or Pokémon by their own Pokémon during a battle. What does this mean for you?”

A familiar face and voice made their presence known. “It means that if you have been injured by another trainer’s negligence, you need to call me, Larry ‘The Knockout’ Jones! Because you can’t fight the sleazy insurance companies yourself! You need a heavy hitter in your corner! I’m an expert with over twenty years experience in dealing the crushing blows to insurance companies and scoring the K.O. in the form of maximum cash compensation to clients all over the region!”

Great… as if I haven’t seen enough of this guy…

With a video loop of fiery explosions behind him, Larry continued, “I deliver the one-two punch for clients! One is my free consultation at my offices. We’ll look over the facts of your case and determine how much of a settlement you’re entitled to. And this comes at no cost to you! Two is our representation in court. I will be in your corner come the big fight on court day. And the insurance companies are so scared of me they’ll usually settle for the maximum result right there! So call me right now! 1-888-KO-4-CASH! That’s 1-888-KO-4-CASH! And let me help deliver the knockout!”

“Well,” Sadie commented, “I see the guy is just as loud on the TV as he is in real life.”

As this advertisement ended, another one started. Standing in front of a Pokémon Center was an army of identical women. All had bright red hair tied up into two looping ponytails in the back. With each robot wearing the same pink nurse’s dress and white apron, and with the same mesmerizing smile, it certainly was a strange sight.

Whoa… did they perfect the cloning process?

A TV announcer started, “ The Pokémon Centers of the Fourtix Region are proud to introduce the new smiling face of our Pokémon Centers – the JoyBot Automated Pokémon Nursing Unit! Also known as Nurse Joy, these state-of-the-art android nurse attendants will be the new smiling face of our Pokémon Centers! They are designed to be extremely efficient at healing minor wounds and using the Center’s machinery, while a human staff remains on-call to handle more serious injuries. The bright smiles of the JoyBots also represent the consistent warm welcome you will now receive at each of our facilities. And now, to commemorate this momentous occasion, we’ve put together a very special music video!”

The scene shifted to a parking lot in front of a Pokémon Center. Miror B., in a glittering gold jumpsuit and matching platform shoes, stood in front of five JoyBots. The group began dancing as a disco beat started up, and the afro-wearing man began singing.

Trainer, Are you feeling down?
I said, trainer, cause you were beaten sound?
I said, trainer, when you arrived in this town
You don't need to worry at all

Trainer, we've got a place you can go
I said, trainer, when your Pokémon feel low
Heal and stay there, and it won't cost a dime
I'm sure you'll have a good time

It's fun to heal at the Po-Ke Cen-ter
It's fun to heal at the Po-Ke-Cen-ter

They're ready and waiting for you to enjoy
You can get to know a Nurse Joy...

It's fun to stay at the Po-Ke Cen-ter
It's fun to stay at the Po-Ke-Cen-ter

You can call up your folks, you can take a nice snooze
In here you simply can't lose

Po-Ke Cen-ter
It's fun to heal at the Po-Ke Cen-ter
It's fun to heal at the Po-Ke-Cen-ter

They're ready and waiting for you to enjoy
You can get to know a Nurse Joy...

Po-Ke Cen-ter
It's fun to stay at the Po-Ke Cen-ter
It's fun to stay at the Po-Ke-Cen-ter

You can call up your folks, you can take a nice snooze
In here you simply can't lose

Po-Ke Cen-ter
It's fun to heal at the Po-Ke Cen-ter
It's fun to heal at the Po-Ke-Cen-ter…

As the music faded, all of the three girls were laughing uncontrollably. Holding her chest between outbursts of giggles, Sadie managed to say, “That’s probably the funniest thing I’ve heard all day!”

“Man, I can’t believe the Village People let them remake their song like that! That was so hilarious, I don’t know whether to be creeped out by those weird robots or not now!”

Lindsay added, “Boy, that was weird!”

“Sad part is, looks like we’ll have to deal with those robots every time we go into those places, with their creepily enthusiastic smiles… Oh, wait, looks like the show’s back on.”

“Next on ‘Fourtix Region’s Most Wanted’, we will be profiling the unnamed Sphinx City ‘Hoodie Bandit’, wanted for at least three bank robberies in the city.”

Hidden camera footage showed a young female wearing a red hoodie and blue jeans, waiting in line at a bank. The only part of her brown hair that was visible were two strands draped over her shoulder. Relaxed and cool, the subject wore a black handbag over her left shoulder.

“As you can see from this surveillance video, the suspect is a white female in her late teens or early twenties. She waits in line as if she’s a customer until she approaches the teller window. There, she presents the teller a note and a handbag demanding money. The woman claims to have a gun and threatens to return to the bank and kill people if she receives a dye pack. The assailant then takes the bag with the money and her note and leaves the bank in a stolen getaway car. Cameras in the parking lot caught this footage.”

This time, the video showed the same woman running out of the bank. She jumped into an old red Honda Civic and peeled out.

“This same car was found abandoned several miles away. It is believed an accomplice left her a second getaway car for her to escape in. While forensic evidence was recovered from the car, so far it has not been linked to any known suspects, meaning the woman is not on file with the police department. She most likely does not have a prior arrest record. While it is not confirmed whether she has a gun, the Fourtix Bureau of Investigation considers her armed and dangerous, and warns citizens to take no direct action to apprehend her. Witnesses are urged to call our hotline at 1-888-5-WANTED or contact their local law enforcement agency.”

Lindsay looked at her older sibling with a concerned look on her face. “Sis, that girl robbing that bank had her hair in the same style as you usually wear yours! What if you’re mistaken for her?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. Even if I was a suspect, my record of being on board this ship during the time of the robberies should be enough to prove I’m not the guilty party. Not to mention the fact that I NEVER wear jeans, mostly because they cause my legs to break out in hives.” Lisa stretched out and turned to Sadie. “Hey, I think I’m gonna call my parents before this party starts.”

“Okay, I guess I’ll step out into the hall and call mine, too.”

After Sadie left, Lisa began dialing her parents’ number while Lindsay sat down next to her.

“Hey, Dad, it’s us!”

“Lisa! How have you been doing? Where are you right now?”

“Well, right now we’re on a cruise ship!”

“Lisa, you’re there to do Pokémon training, not relaxing on a cruise…”

“Look, Dad, it just so happens that this ship is going to be making a stop at the next Gym. Plus, I was able to compete in a Contest…”

“A Contest? Your uncle Bill would not approve of such a frivolous use of your time…”

“Stop comparing me to him! He WANTED to be a great Pokémon Master! I’m not as obsessed with training as he was! And anyway, the Contest was pretty fun, but I prefer the regular battles myself. It’s not really that easy to calculate strategies during one of those.”

“Well, I suppose I don’t know about contests enough to form an opinion, but Bill had an adamant hatred for them. Anyway, how far are you as far as training is concerned?”

“Just three badges left and then I’m ready for the Pokémon League! You won’t believe this, Dad, but I’m actually getting a bit excited about this!”

“Actually, Lisa, I thought that if you gave it a chance, Pokémon training would grow on you. Your uncle – and I’m sorry for bringing him up again – always said that the most rewarding part of Pokémon isn’t about the battles you win, but the friendships you forge with fellow trainers and your Pokémon alike. I really hope you’re coming to realize that.”

“Yeah, I am. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know my Pokémon, and we’ve gotten to where we’re working pretty well as a team now. Hey, thanks for making me do this in the first place. I’ve really learned a lot about the world and about me.”

“You’re welcome. Now, is Lindsay there? We’d like to talk with her for a bit.”

“Oh, sure thing,” Lisa answered, handing her phone to her younger sister.

“Hi, Dad! How have you been! Things are going great with me and Lisa here! I can’t wait until I begin training Pokémon on my own!”

As Lindsay talked with the girls’ father, Lisa made herself comfortable on the bed. Stretching out, her mind began to wander.

Dad’s right, though. He knew from the start that I would be getting a lot out of Pokémon training. I’ve made new friends, pushed myself, and learned about who I am. I’ve also experienced what it’s like to fail at something – not exactly the best feeling, but at least I now it’s not the end of the world if I lose at something. But I’m still undecided about whether I want to make a career of this like Uncle Bill, or if I want to pursue something else in graduate school. Hopefully, I’ll soon know which path in life I’m destined to take.”

“Lisa!” her younger sister called out, “Mom wants to talk!”

“Okay!” she said, taking the phone from Lindsay. “Hi, Mom! How have you been doing?”

“I’m doing fine, honey. What about you?”

Moving the phone from the left side of her face to her right, Lisa answered, “Pretty good. We’ll be on this ship for another night until we reach the next town, so we’ll have some time to relax before things get hectic.”

“Well, sounds like you’re keeping busy. Now, I hope Lindsay’s getting some experience with Pokémon by traveling around with you. That’s why we pulled her out of school and had her travel with you, so she could get the experience and knowledge she’ll need to pass the qualifying examination. Unlike you, she wants to get to training right when she turns ten, and having her sit through a trainer’s school would only delay that.”

“Yeah, she’s learning a lot. Sometimes, when I go out to attend events, she’ll stay behind in the room and feed my Pokémon. She’s already doing a good job with developing relationship with Pokémon; she picked up on it faster than I did, in fact! But, yeah, she’ll also watch my battles and talk with me about them afterwards. To be truthful, Lindsay seems very excited about the prospect of training Pokémon, so she’s really learning a lot on her own as well.”

“Well, that’s definitely good to hear, that you two are able to talk about Pokémon and get along as well as you are. We’ve certainly been kept busy here by all of these new research projects that have cropped up. Right now, one of our Pokémon-related projects is a device that can gauge how close a Pokémon Egg is to hatching, something that breeders have wanted to get their hands on for years.”

Lisa commented, “Well, that seems like an interesting development. When I get done with my training, I might want to look into some of the computer code and mathematics behind it. Maybe someday I can work on a device that lets trainers calculate the damage an attack will do to an opposing Pokémon…”

“Hold it there,” Lisa’s mother interrupted. “First of all, who said you’d ever ‘get done’ with your training? Some folks make a lifetime out of traveling to new regions. And secondly, don’t you think a damage calculator would take all the fun out of training Pokémon? I mean, one of the big draws of a battle, according to your uncle, is the uncertainty of a battle’s outcome – the feeling of tension that comes with not knowing if you’ll win or lose. Do you really want to put something in young Trainers’ hands that ruins that for them?”

“No, I suppose not,” the girl conceded. “But I’d still like to develop the device for research purposes, so at least scientists can understand the mathematics behind it all…”

“Oh, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa… Always with the math and science. Something tells me that when you get a chance, you’ll return to a university and just lock yourself away in a lab for days at a time instead of trying to experience things in the real world.”

“Hey now, I’m ‘experiencing things in the real world’ right now, so cut me some slack! But really, I haven’t decided what I want to do after I finish up the Pokémon League here. Training’s still an option, but so is college. I really don’t want to commit to either one yet. What do you think I should do?”

The mother sighed. “Lisa, you know that’s not my decision, it’s yours. Your father wanted you to try out training once, but now that you’ve given it a shot, he’s fine with you choosing your next step in life. Well, we’ve got a call on the other line, so we’ll talk to you later! Bye, and good luck with your training!”

“Thanks! Bye, Mom!” Lisa said as he turned off the phone. Turning to her sister, the girl asked, “So, what did you talk with Mom and Dad about?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Lindsay answered as she got up and stretched out her arms. “Just that I’m having a great time getting to travel with you and learnt he ins and outs of training. Oh, I also mentioned that you got pulverized in the Contest!”

‘Hey! I didn’t lose by much!” Lisa gave her younger sibling a shove. “Anyway, I do feel like there should be someplace on board where there’s enough room for all my Pokémon to grab a bite to eat. Maybe that big lounge area where we practiced our appeals. Okay, Linds,” she said, dumping the contents of her handbag on the bed, “I’m changing our plans slightly. I’m leaving all my Pokémon with you and giving you some of the fancy gourmet Pokémon food. We’ll walk you to that lounge area before the party starts. Once you finish feeding them, head back to the room. I’ll have my cell phone on me if you need anything.”

“Okay, sis! Thanks! I’m sure Metagross would like to eat just like the others.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, too,” Lisa added as Sadie came back into the room.

“Well, we’ve got a couple hours before the party. What should we do until then?”

“It’s never a bad time to watch a little ‘Professor Blaine the Science King’ before heading out,” Lisa suggested, turning on the television.

On screen, the old scientist was holding up a model of an atom with one hand with an old GMC cargo van parked behind him. “Okay, we have here an atom of nitrogen and the van that delivers beakers and test tubes to the lab. First, let’s assume that our nitrogen atom is actual size instead of this oversized model we have here. Now, let’s say the atom and the van are coming at you at the same velocity and with the same rate of acceleration. Which one of the two would cause more damage if it hit you? I’ll give you a minute to answer.”

“The van. Duh,” scoffed Lindsay.

“Of course, you had better have said the van,” Blaine announced. “But let’s explore the physics behind it. The van will cause more damage to your body because it will exert a greater force on it. The second law of motion as stated by Isaac Newton gives the formula for force as this!”

As the equation “F = m x a” flashed on the screen, Blaine explained it. “The ‘F’ in this case stands for force, which is equal to the mass, ‘m’ multiplied by the acceleration, ‘a.’ As I said, acceleration for both the atom and the van are the same. So why does the van exert a greater force? It’s because the van has more mass. A LOT more mass. When it hits you, the atom has such a low mass that you won’t even feel it and it’ll bounce right off. However, if this 1992 GMC Vandura G-3500 hits you, it’s pretty much gonna ruin your day. Now, let’s look at all three of Newton’s laws of motion by watching and discussing car crash tests.”

Footage of an old Saturn coupe was shown on the television as the elderly scientist narrated. “Here, you see an ugly piece of junk get obliterated by a solid wall…”
*********

“So, Terence, you saw that travesty of a Contest, right?” A scarlet-faced Cristin Parmer stood facing the calm and cool defending champion in another of the ship’s cabins.

“Indeed I did, and I too was appalled at the way that other girl cheated to beat you. You clearly should have been the winner – that should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. But apparently the judges don’t even have that much brainpower combined.”

“Well, sweetie, not to worry,” the coordinator said in a sultry tone as she lightly scratched Terence’s chin with one finger. “Because I trust you can find a way to make things right.”

“Ah, but you know me too well. Of course, I’m not one to get my own hands dirty, but I’m sure my friends can make sure that you’re satisfied.”

“Okay, do you remember what the girl who won the Contest looked like?”

“Yes, black hair, black dress, a bit short,” Terence said, adjusting his shades.

“Excellent. I want your boys to teach both her and that punk who beat me that they messed with the wrong person. I don’t care what you do, as long as they get exactly what they deserve.”

“Consider it done.” After sharing a quick laugh, Terence left the room, leaving the girl to prepare for the party. He was going to enjoy tonight. First he would be seeing two morons getting what they had coming to them. And after that, he would be able to do whatever he wanted with Cristin. With his trademark smug grin, he made his way to the elevator.
*******

Inside a large open room on the ship’s main level, a young girl and her sister’s six Pokémon were gathered. As the young lady began to dispense premium-grade Pokémon food to the team, the creatures began conversing amongst themselves.

“Well, look who grew up all of a sudden,” observed Weezing as the floating dual orb looked over Walrein’s new massive form.

“Ayup, it all happened after that Contest thingymajig,” answered the huge Ice-type, striking a regal a pose as it could. “That other mean gal tried ta give Lis’ a hard time, so I had ta go all out an’ teach her a lesson, an’ that was enough ta get me evolvin’.”

“It certainly is impressive,” commented Vibrava. “But I can’t help to wonder when I’ll evolve.”

Persian stretched out its lanky beige body before speaking. “I would not express too much concern over that, for I am certain that it shall happen in due time. Now, I beseech you all, please do try to eat your food tonight in a fairly civilized manner. I really do not like the idea of watching you as you consume your food in an uncouth manner.”

“Um, translation, please?” buzzed the green dragonfly, staring quizzically at the feline with its bulging eyes.

“I think what Persian means,” explained Weezing as the girl placed a dish of food in front of it, “is that she doesn’t want us to be eating like a bunch of Grumpigs.”

“There you go! Enjoy!” said Lindsay as she sauntered off to prepare a dish for the next Pokémon in line.

“Well, I’d love ta eat all slow an’ stuff, but dangit, I just love the smell of dat food too much ta resist! Oh. Meta’s getting its food now! I’mma see if I can sneak in a bite!”

The human laid another dish down, this one intended for the big Steel-type. “Th… there’s your food… please enjoy it…” she stammered, shaking in intimidation at the sight of the massive chrome form towering over her.

“Scanning food content…” droned Metagross in a mechanical tone. “Food has been determined to meet the minimum requirements for consumption… Detecting intrusion attempt…” The metallic beast moved one of it huge legs to block Walrein, who was sliding its bulk toward the food. “This food is suitable for consumption… “

“Aw, dang! I was hopin’ ta get some eatin’! Guess I’ll try Jolty; he always lets me have his leftovers!”

As Metagross positioned its silver body directly over its food, the blue Ice-type scanned the room for its Electric-type partner, catching sight of him just as the young girl approached him.

“Just eat as much as you like, okay? Just no running off this time!” scolded Lindsay as Jolteon received his food.

Letting out a yawn, the spiky yellow mammal answered, “Run off? Why would I do that if there’s no danger? Guess I better eat something, though I’d really rather be back in my home. So nice and cozy, that little ball is…” As Jolteon began to slowly eat his food, Walrein sidled up next to him.

“Hey, you gonna eat all of dat?”

“No, probably not,” answered the Electric-type, whose black eyes were half closed. “In fact, I need a nap, so feel free to dig in…” With one final yawn, the Pokémon laid himself down on the floor and began to snore.

“Alrighty! Thanks a lot!” a grinning Walrein shouted as it stuck its snout into the food dish.

“Jeez, you evolved but you still can’t wait for your own food!” Lindsay sighed, as she threw up her hands in frustration. “And Jolteon still won’t eat… How does it still have the energy to fight?”

Watching the big walrus stuff its face and make a mess, Persian scoffed, “Old habits really do die hard. I simply cannot stand to watch his uncivilized behavior.” As the cat carefully picked at her own food, Weezing approached.

“The little girl does bring up a question I’ve always had. How does Jolteon have so much energy in battle yet eat so little?”

After she had painstakingly finished chewing the food in her mouth, the slender cat stretched out her body. “I remember that Jolteon told me a while back that it is his metabolism. It seems as if it allows him to get huge, sudden bursts of energy in battle. Jolteon also informed me that he saves all of his energy for fights, so he appears to be listless outside of combat. Also, apparently if he eats too much, Jolteon cannot control his own energy.”

“So if he eats too much, he ends up going hyper?”

“For lack of a better word, yes. Lisa seems to understand this fact, but her sister does not yet. I cannot blame her, though, as she is still young. In fact, I recall that it took Lisa a while to learn of our traits. Ah, the girl has grown so much since I first met her at the big building that my old keeper called her ‘lab.’ Back before I evolved, she regarded me as a ‘cute little pet’, but by spending time with me, she has discovered my battling prowess.”

“So, what did she have you do for the competition they had today? I heard it wasn’t the usual battling stuff,” asked Vibrava as it landed to take a bite of its own food.

“Well, it was out of the ordinary, but I felt it was interesting nonetheless,” answered the feline. “It was much like using my moves for the purpose of beauty rather than strength. First, I was told to combine my usual combination of Water Pulse and Thunderbolt with a Shadow Ball. That ended up splintering all three attacks into minuscule particles that descended on the field. Again, that would not be what I would use for battles, but it worked well enough in that scenario.”

“Well, what came next?”

“Next was possibly the most interesting part of this whole affair. Lisa has been taking time out to teach me what she calls ‘math concepts.’ I do not understand all of it, but I do have a reasonably good comprehension of the topic – certainly better than some of the other humans we’ve encountered. Back on track, Lisa had me draw one of the so-called ‘formulas’ from the math subject onto the wall using my Thunderbolt. Both Jolteon and an Electric-type Pokémon owned by Lisa’s new human partner – I do not know the Pokémon’s name as of yet – helped train me so that my body could hold enough electricity to finish my ‘artwork,’ so to speak. The event concluded with me firing off Shadow Ball attacks and obliterating them with my Aerial Ace. You can also ask Weezing; she also participated. So did Walrein, but I would advise you not ask about it until he’s done eating like a glutton.”

“I think I’ll ask her then,” replied the dragonfly. Persian returned to eating her own food. Approaching Weezing, Vibrava asked, “Hey, care to tell me about the competition from earlier?”

“Well, I’d rather not, but between us girls, I’m disappointed with myself. I couldn’t pull off the battle for Lisa. Even though I lost against her new friend, and even though Lisa told me it was okay, I’m still thinking that I could have done just a little bit more to win.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t worry a bit about that. I understand that your old trainer rejected you, but I know for a fact that Lisa’s not like that. From what I’ve seen, in fact, she’s more worried about letting us down in battle. Poor girl, remember when she lost to that leader guy with the Grass Pokémon? She was crushed until all of us had to try to make her feel better. I think sometimes she takes these things a bit too seriously, but I still feel like she’s a great partner and friend. And I think her sister is gonna make a pretty good trainer in her own right, just based on what she’s learned from Lisa.”

“How true. Lisa’s made her share of mistakes with training and battling with us, but she’s learned quickly.”

Persian approached the two conversing Pokémon. “I believe that the girl is indicating that it is time for us to return to our storage capsules so that she may make her way back to the humans’ sleeping quarters.”

As the three Pokémon vanished in brilliant flashes of red light, Lindsay said, “Hope you enjoyed your meal. Still wish I could understand what y’all were saying, though.” Lindsay suddenly remembered something. “Oh, man, I forgot to feed Sadie’s Pokémon! I guess I’ll have to do that when I get back to the room…”
********

“You made me believe
that I can do almost anything
Stood right by me
through the tears, through everything.”

“I’ll remember you,
and baby that’s forever true
You’re the one that I’ll always miss
Never thought it would feel like this
I’ll be there for you,
No matter what you’re goin’ through
In my heart you’ll always be, forever baby
I’ll remember you.”

Lisa, still wearing her rented Contest dress, took a bow after finishing up her round of karaoke, to the cheering approval of other partiers. “Thank you all, and good night!” she called out as she stepped from the stage, allowing an older man to begin his karaoke session.

“Wow, Lisa, that was pretty good!” Sadie said as she met up with Lisa. The two girls walked back to the refreshment table where both got a glass of fruit punch and some pretzels. “You know, I’m glad I came here. After all the tension of the Contest earlier, I really needed this break!”

“Believe be, these little parties are always a fun time. Even if you just hang back and watch other people dance and sing.”

“Speaking of dancing, who was that fellow I saw you dancing with earlier?” Sadie asked, a smirk forming on her face.

Nonchalantly, her older companion answered, “Oh, nobody. That was just Quincy, the judge from the Contest.”

“Are you sure it was just nothing?” Sadie teased, nudging Lisa with her elbow.

“I… Nothing… It was nothing, okay!” Lisa stammered as she took a step backward, her face now a brilliant red.

“Oh, I was just kidding! You know that!” the other girl laughed.

“Yeah… I guess you’re right,” the brainiac replied, rubbing the back of her head as she cracked a smile. “But you know, he’s not that good of a dancer. Time and again, he kept stepping with the wrong foot. At least my toes are safe!”

“You don’t say,” Sadie commented, taking a sip of her drink. “You know, as an expert coordinator, you’d think the guy would be a bit more, well, coordinated.”

“Well, I was a ‘Coordinator’ of sorts way before I was involved with Pokémon, and it didn’t make me any more coordinated. It did help me meet a lot of new people, though.”

“Really? What kind of coordinator…”

“You two!” yelled a black-haired teen wearing a bright red suit as he walked up toward the two girls. “You were in the Contest earlier today, right?”

Both girls nodded.

“Well, my partner and I would like to ask you a few questions and take a few pictures. Please, come with us outside.”

“Um… okay…”

Across the room, Bernie and Reed saw the two girls leave with the young man. “Something doesn’t feel right about this,” said the dark-skinned Bernie. “I think we should tag along to make sure nothing happens.”

“Agreed. Let’s go.” With that, both Gym Leaders rose from their seats and headed out onto the deck.

Outside, the man and his partner had Lisa and Sadie posing on the edge of the ship, with the ocean behind them. “Okay, let me just adjust your hair,” one of the teens said as he walked toward the girls. But as he got close, the man suddenly thrust his arms forward and sent both girls over the railing and plunging toward the sea below.

The screams of the girls sent chills down the spines of the two Gym Leaders. “Hey, stop!” Reed shouted to the two men as he and Bernie began to give chase.

“Crap! We’ve been spotted! Let’s split!” The two attackers bolted back into the room with the party and quickly lost their pursuers in the crowd of dancers.

“Damn! We don’t have the time to search! Reed, go alert the captain that we have two passengers overboard! I’m going to their cabin. I just hope Lisa’s younger sister is there!”
********

“Please pick up, please pick up!” Lindsay frantically paced back and forth, hoping her parents would answer.

“Yes, what is it?” answered her father.

“Dad, bad news! A Gym Leader just came in and told me that some guys pushed Lisa and her friend off the ship!”

“WHAT! Lisa can’t swim! That IS bad news! Brooke! Get on the phone with Fourtix Search and Rescue now! Now Lindsay, I need you to stay calm! I know we’re all worried, but right now, there’s nothing we can do! Okay, does Lisa have her Pokémon with her?”

“No, she left them with me to feed!” Lindsay shouted into the cell phone, her hands shaking wildly. “And same thing with her cell phone! She said she would take it with her but she forgot!”

“Great… that makes this even harder… Is that Gym Leader still in the room with you?”

“Yeah, he still is.”

“Let me talk to him, then. Lindsay, while I’m on the phone, gather up everything belonging to Lisa and her friend.”

The young girl handed the phone to Bernie and went to sort through Lisa and Sadie’s belongings.

“Hello, Bernie Davis, Northwood City Gym Leader. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch the one who threw your daughter overboard.” Despite his calm voice, his quivering hands were a sure sign of his panic and worry.

“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. My wife has already called Search and Rescue, so I’m hoping they find those girls soon. Jeez, you never expect an emergency like this will happen… Anyway, I need to ask you a favor. Please watch over Lindsay for the time being. We’ve already booked a flight out there so we’re on our way.”

“Don’t worry,” Bernie said, glancing over to a crying Lindsay, “I’ll make sure nothing happens to her. Your daughter and I will be getting off in Sphinx City, so best to meet us there. And the water currents are such that those two girls just might end up being washed ashore there as well. Keep your fingers crossed and pray that everything will turn out okay.”

“Oh, don’t worry, we’ll be praying until Lisa turns up safe and sound.”

Chapter 45: Stranded?

“Owww… What happened…” Holding the sides of her head with both hands, Lisa sat upright, taking in her surroundings. In front of her were the ocean and the pitch-black sky, the latter dotted with twinkling white stars. Behind her was black – she couldn’t quite make out what it actually was, though she thought she could make out the silhouette of tree trunks and branches. She felt around on the ground beneath her and grabbed a clump of finely granulated sand in her hands. Finally, the girl glanced to her right and noticed a black form lying next to her. Lisa immediately knew what it was, and her face began to show signs of fear – her jaw dropped, her eyes grew wide, and she began shaking.

“Sadie! Sadie! Are you okay? Please, wake up and say something!”

The other girl, who was face down in the sand, began to stir. Lisa heaved a sigh of relief as her companion slowly began to awaken. Rubbing her eyes, the other girl suddenly let out a shriek.

“Ahh! I got something in my eyes! It burns! Ow!”

“Sadie, I think it’s sand. We must be on a beach or something.”

Squinting, Sadie replied, in a calmer voice, “A beach? How’d we end up on a beach?”

“We must’ve washed up here after those two goons threw us overboard. Man, and I was so looking forward to another relaxing night aboard the ship. Wonderful.” Lisa sulked and slammed her fist on the beach. “Man, I hate it when people do this! I’m gonna call my parents and… Oh, man! I must’ve left my phone in the room!”

“It’s better you did leave it behind,” replied Sadie. “I have mine, but the water or something got in it and it’s not working anymore… and Mom is NOT gonna be happy when she hears she’s gotta buy me a new phone!”

“And we don’t even have our Pokémon with us! Remember, we left them with Lindsay so she could feed them… I hope both she and our Pokémon are okay… I wish there was some way I could get in touch with her, just to let her know we’re safe… I really hope those thugs who threw us in the water don’t come after her.”

“I don’t think they would. Remember how the guy said something about seeing us in the Contest? Somehow, I think that was the motive behind all this.”

“That Cristin probably got those two to attack us! Man, that girl just gets me so steamed!” Lisa rose to her feet and let out a deafening, almost haunting scream.

“Whoa, whoa! Please calm down, Lisa! Getting mad over this isn’t gonna solve anything! I think we need to try and get some sleep and think about what to do in the morning.”

Sitting back down, Lisa sighed and said, “I suppose you’re right. Sorry if I scared you, but I really can’t stand people like her! I guess we’ll try and get some rest, but I really hope nothing crawls on me in the night! And this sand ain’t nearly as comfortable as a nice pillowtop mattress…”

“Good night, Lisa,” Sadie muttered as both girls laid down on the beach and began to drift asleep.
********

“This can’t be right… this can’t be where I’m gonna be spending the next ten days!” screamed a ten-year old Lisa Northwood, looking around at her assigned summer camp cabin. She spun around and noticed that her parents had already disappeared into the crowd of campers and parents still checking in. “Perfect. The ol’ ditch and run. Guess I have no choice but to make the best of this,” she sighed as she dejectedly made her way over to an empty space.

The place had an unfinished wood interior, with rows of beds set up with only inches of spacing between them. Aside from a small nightstand and the wood-framed beds with their thin vinyl mattresses, the room was unfurnished.

“What kind of place is this?! No cable TV, no coffee-maker, not even a phone! And somehow I’m guessing that wireless internet is out of the question, too! And look at these mattresses! How in the world am I gonna get sleep on these things?!”

“Oh, stop your complaining,” scolded a girl who was unpacking her belongings in the space next to Lisa. “This is summer camp. What were you expecting?”

“Certainly not a place that’s worse than the nastiest Motel 6,” Lisa answered, noticing a cobweb, dead roach, and used gum inside of the rickety nightstand’s drawer.

“It’s spoiled brats like you that ruin camp for the rest of us. So kindly keep your mouth shut. I’m not gonna have this week ruined by your complaining.”

“You think I’m here by choice? This is something my parents made me do!” Lisa shouted. “Believe me, if it was my choice, I’d be at the Comfort Inn right now, spending the next week and a half there!”

A smile formed on the other girl’s face. “Oh, I am gonna have so much fun watching camp chew you up and spit you out,” she chuckled as she pulled the dividing curtain between her and Lisa closed.

“Looks I already made an enemy in addition to getting myself in way over my head… I wonder if I’ll even leave this place alive…” murmured Lisa as she hung her head low.

********

“Cadet Northwood, you had better get yo’ rear outta bed!”

Lisa rubbed her eyes as she sat upright on her thin, vinyl-covered cushion. The first thing she saw was a muscle bound man wearing a brown “Camp Happy Meadow” T-shirt.

“It is oh-eight-hundred hours, so I suggest you get your lazy self dressed and down to the mess hall for breakfast! MOVE IT! MOVE IT! MOVE IT!”

“Who died and made you boss?” the preteen girl mumbled as she threw the covers off her legs. This comment resulted in the man getting right in her face.

“I am Camp Counselor Peter, that is who I am! And for the next week and a half, I am the law around here! And my first law is, NOBODY talks back to Counselor Peter! Now instead of breakfast, you’ve earned twenty laps around the camp!”

“Whatever, Pete…” the girl scoffed, sneering at the drill-sergeant-like man.

“Until you learn to respect me, you do not have the right to call me by name! You will call me ‘Sarge’ as long as you’re in my presence! Do you understand me?!”

“Yeah, yeah…”

“YOU WILL ANSWER ME WITH, ‘SIR, YES SIR!’ DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?!” Peter bellowed, the veins on his anger-filled face clearly visible.

“Sir, yes sir,” Lisa mumbled as she began slipping on a green dress.

The counselor roared, “A dress? A DRESS?! Sister, you won’t live five minutes in the wilderness wearing a stupid little girly dress! I suggest you wear clothes appropriate for camp! Shorts or jeans, along with a T-shirt! Got that?”

“Well, all I brought were dresses. Why on earth would I wear anything else?”

“You are even more hopeless than I thought! Fine, I suppose we have some outfits you can borrow during your week here. But now you will do fifty laps!”

“What! Are you out of you steroid-addled mind?” shrieked Lisa, her eyes nearly popping out of their sockets.

“I said no talking back to your superior officer! Eighty laps!”

*********

“Okay, guys and girls,” said a calmer Counselor Peter as he stuck his head in the doorway of the cabin where Lisa was staying, “It’s free time now, so I’ll either see you at the basketball court or the swimming pool.”

“All right! Free time!” Lisa said to herself as she pulled out her laptop. This action was immediately met by more of Peter’s bellowing.

“A computer? A COMPUTER?! This is camp, not some fancy university! And did I say that playing on your computer was a choice? Did I?”

“I would hardly consider what I’m doing ‘playing,’ y’know?” Lisa snapped back.

“You have got a lot to learn, missy!” the massive man barked as he snatched Lisa’s laptop and smashed the device over his head. Lisa looked on, flabbergasted as the big lummox of a man destroyed her precious computer in one fell swoop.

“Hey, what do you think you’re doing! I’m gonna sue you for destroying my computer…”

“SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH!” Peter turned to the other campers in the cabin, a wicked smirk emerging on his face. “Change of plans. Free time has now become twenty on one dodgeball! And it’s gonna be this ungrateful brat,” he explained, motioning to a scowling and fuming Lisa, “against the rest of you! Enjoy!”

“You better get ready to get pummeled, punk,” one camper sneered at Lisa as he walked by her.

“Good thing my health insurance is up to date; I think I’m gonna need it…” the girl sighed as Peter ushered her and the other campers out of the building. She had a feeling things would only get worse before they got better.

********

A female camp counselor walked into Lisa’s cabin and addressed the group. “Okay, everybody! Guess what? Tonight we’re taking you out of the comfort of these cabins and into to the woods for our wilderness night! So grab your sleeping bags, we’re going to enjoy a night under the stars, roasting marshmallows and sharing ghost stories…”

Lisa jumped out of her bed and began going off on a tirade. “NO! I have had it up to here with this! It’s only been two nights and already I’ve had roaches crawl on me, I’ve had dodgeballs nearly rip my limbs off, I’ve had basketballs knock me upside the head, I’ve had a $2500 laptop destroyed, and I’ve had everyone from camp counselors to immature little brats insult me! I am NOT spending a night in the middle of nowhere! How the health department lets this atrocious pit continue operating is beyond my understanding!”

********

Letting out an ear-piercing scream, Lisa sat bolt upright, sweat beginning to form on her face. The sudden shriek also woke Sadie from her slumber.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Oh, man, I just had the most traumatic memory rush back to me. Being out here in the middle of nowhere reminded me of that horrible time I had at summer camp!” Lisa began rubbing her forehead and flicking some of the perspiration from it.

“Really? I wouldn’t think summer camp would be that bad. Actually, I really enjoyed it. Anyway, we can’t do anything in this darkness.”

“Yeah, you’re right. We should get some sleep and try to come up with a plan in the morning. Sorry that I screamed and woke you up, Sadie. Sadie?”

Lisa looked over at the other girl, and saw that she was sound asleep next to her. Letting out a sigh, Lisa laid back down on the sand and closed her eyes. Not five minutes after she fell asleep, the huge form of the SS Anne silently and slowly made its way past the girls’ location.

Aboard the ship, Bernie was trying to console a sobbing Lindsay, who was clutching Persian’s Luxury Ball tightly.

“I wouldn’t worry too much. Lisa’s a trainer, right? Surely she must have some survival skills…”

“Bu that’s the thing! She doesn’t!” the young girl wailed. “She told me that summer camp almost killed her, and here she is out in the ocean or on some strange island! I’m… I’m really worried… Please, let Lisa be okay…”

The Gym Leader sighed. “Listen, we’re close to the next port town. We’ll get off there and set up in the Pokémon Center. Hopefully we’ll get more information. Who knows, Lisa might be there waiting for us.”

“Yeah, maybe…” Lindsay muttered before burying her face in her hands again.
********

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Lisa’s father said as he scratched his moustache. ‘I mean, you would think that stupid ship would have security to prevent things like this from happening. And I don’t care if Lisa won’t press charges – I WILL!”

“Douglas, you need to calm down,” replied his wife as the two of them got settled in their airplane seats. “You always get agitated when you’re stressed, and you start acting like you wouldn’t normally. Please, there’s nothing else we can do until we land in Fourtix.”

The man heaved a sigh. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right, Brooke. We have Sphinx City Search and Rescue on the case, and the police are also involved. I hope they can find her with the picture we sent them, though.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Brooke as the plane began to ascend.

“I gave them a picture of Lisa with twin ponytails from last Easter, and I know she doesn’t wear her hair like that anymore. So I’m hoping they can recognize her by her face.”

As the clouds blanked out the aerial view of the South Carolina Upstate from the plane’s windows, Brooke just stared out. Not facing her husband, she said, “I called the parents of the other girl and they sounded very worried as well. Maybe not quite as worried because their daughter is used to being outdoors, but still…”

“Are they making their way to Fourtix as well?” Douglas asked, a grim look on his face.

“I don’t know. They didn’t tell me. But that Gym Leader said that he’d be waiting in Sphinx City with Lindsay, so when we land, we’ll need to get a rental car and make our way to that island.”

“I’ve got that taken care of. I already called a rental car company at the airport, and they’re going to have a Town Car waiting for us.”

Turning back toward the window, the woman whispered, “Don’t worry, Lisa… We’re coming…”
*********

As dawn cracked over the white sandy beach, the emerging sun cast wide shadows over the entire area. Light from above caused the sand to glitter. A cool gentle breeze lightly shook up the trees at the edge opposite the sea. The surf was not particularly rough; the tiny, slow-moving waves would surely have upset a professional surfboarder. The sounds of rustling leaves, gently crashing waves, and the occasional Wingull cry broke up the tranquility. It was this peaceful scene that Lisa woke up to. Shielding her eyes from the blinding sun, she first noticed Sadie still sleeping silently next to her.

Next, she turned her sight to the rental Contest dress she was wearing. The matching shoes were long gone, somewhere out at sea. The lower hem of the dress was ripped and frayed, along with numerous rips and holes on the skirt. The bow on the back had come off, leaving only a tattered red ribbon loosely encircling the waist. The still-damp dress still clung to her body tightly. Sitting up, Lisa slowly moved the hem of the dress up to her knees. Sure enough, the pantyhose she had been wearing underneath were completely ruined.

Good thing this dress isn’t mine – if it was, I would have had a fit!

As Lisa stood up and tried to wring the water from her dress, Sadie began yawning, stretching, and rubbing her eyes. “Whoa… is it morning?”

“Yep,” Lisa answered as she stared blankly out to sea, her arms hanging limply down at her sides.

“AHHHHH!” Sadie’s scream jolted Lisa from her trance-like state.

“My Contest dress! It’s ruined!” Sadie cried, looking over her outfit, which was in no better shape than Lisa’s. “I’ve been wearing this same dress since my first Contest! Not only that, but now I have to ask my mom to buy another dress for me! Man!”

“Oh, no,” Lisa replied, putting her arm around her friend. “I know how hard it is to have your favorite outfit ruined.”

“No, really, I guess it’s not that big a deal… at least not until I have to tell Mom…”

“Your mom’s that strict, huh?” Lisa asked, stretching out.

“A bit,” she answered, looking up to the sky. “It’s more like she gets all worried about me, then she ends up freaking out. And she isn’t really keen on having to buy stuff for me if I lose or ruin it. She’ll be all, ‘Sadie, that should have lasted you longer. You know that I can’t keep buying new phones or outfits for you.’ Problem is, my best friend always got me into trouble!”

“Wow, my parents are sorta the same way, too! Anyway, Sadie, tell me some things about yourself.”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to become a coordinator, just like my grandmother. I remember her showing me all the awards she had won in her lifetime. I think that’s what inspired me, all those shiny trophies. I imagined how cool it would be to have my very own cabinet filled with awards and medals. So, when I was five, I asked my grandma to take me to Coordinating Summer Camp.”

“Uh, oh, I don’t like the sound of that…” Lisa’s eyes began to grow larger.

“Nah, it was nothing that bad. Coordinating Camp is basically a camp for kids that teaches you the basics of coordinating. The part I liked most was that you could bring your own Pokémon there! I remember how I would always have trouble with the battling round! For some reason, whatever I said to my Pokémon seemed to go through one ear and out the other! That really frustrated me, and I often started crying! Ugh, whenever I think about it, I get so embarrassed!”

“Oh, man! That must’ve been tough! I don’t think I would’ve continued as a trainer if my Pokémon did that! I really wouldn’t have the willpower to even try to keep going…”

“Yeah, I once thought about just giving up. But Rena, who was at my coordinating camp at the time, offered to help me! Of course, I was sick of being embarrassed, so I let her. At the time, I saw Rena as an innocent little girl, who wouldn’t harm a flea! Now, of course, I know better than to fall so easily into her ‘traps!’ I swear, that girl is smarter than she looks! Anyways, she told me to get a Pokéball from the counselors’ table, and switch that one with my Budew’s. I remember asking her, ‘But wouldn’t that be stealing?’ and she said, ‘Not steal, borrow!’” Sadie had an exasperated look on her face.

“Uh, oh, I think I know where this is headed…”

“Well, when I let out ‘my’ Pokémon for the competition, the counselors recognized it as their own, and yanked the Pokéball out of my hands and sent me to time-out. As I sat and cried into my hands, Rena acted as if nothing has ever happened for the rest of the class. Then, right before it was time for our parents to pick us up, Rena handed me a ‘borrowed’ doodle cake as an apology. She and I actually shared a good laugh and I forgave her. We exchanged phone numbers, began coming over to each other’s houses, and boom! We became friends just like that!”

“Wow, that’s interesting! I, for one, would’ve been so mad if someone did that to me! I think it’s great how you two were able to make up so quickly!” Lisa replied.

“After the camp was over, Rena started coaching me for real on how to battle, using her own Pokémon of course. Gradually I learned under her, well, teaching, and when I was thirteen, I won the Floaroma Cup! From then on, I travelled around the region, competing in contests. Then I wanted to travel to other regions, and that’s how I ended up on the ship! Okay, I’ve told you about me. Now I want to know your life story!”

“Well, I’ll just skip to college because my four years in grade school weren’t anything exciting. I suppose that not everyone has to run a campaign for senior class president or prepare a valedictorian graduation speech at age nine. Or celebrate their birthday by taking a college entrance exam. Guess I’m weird like that!” Lisa laughed.

“It’s funny how you’re such a genius, yet you’re so modest about it. But I really want to know about your adventures in college.”

“Sure thing, but let’s talk it over while we walk along the beach. We might come across someone who can get us back to civilization. At the very least, it’ll give us a chance to get up and do something.”

“Okay,” Sadie replied as both girls got up to their feet.

“Well, I decided to attend school at a college just up the road from our house. They’re big on football there, even though the best their team could muster was a 9-4 record. And, before you ask, I didn’t go to one game. I did, however, find myself getting involved in housing and residence life on campus. I joined their RHA and…”

“Wait, RHA? What’s that?” Sadie asked, looking puzzled.

“Oh, sorry,” Lisa said, rubbing the back of her head. “It’s short for ‘Residence Hall Association’ which is a group of students that plans events for the campus and voices housing concerns to the higher-ups. I was also involved in Student Government there, and still somehow found time to juggle twenty-one hours of classes. Multitasking for the win!” Lisa laughed, and was soon joined by Sadie.

As the girls continued their leisurely walk on the beach, Lisa continued the story. “Classes weren’t that tough, but several of the math professors were very interesting. I really enjoyed the chance to talk with them about their research. Okay, onto my second year of college. Ready for this?” Lisa turned to look at Sadie.

The girl nodded. “Yeah, I just needed a minute to take all this stuff in. Please, go on.”

“Well, second year, I didn’t have to take as many hours, so I took up a couple of leadership positions. I became a Resident Assistant for one of the halls on campus… that was fun, despite the three AM fire alarms and the freshmen stumbling around drunk and doing stuff I’d rather not mention.”

“Whoa, sounds like a tough job! I couldn’t handle that!”

“It wasn’t that bad; after all, I did make some good friends there. It’s amazing how friends can be made just by talking to them at the front desk or during building walk-throughs. And the RA activities… We hosted everything from eighties-themed dances to alcohol awareness programs for students. And those were always fun. Also that year, I became a Coordinator.”

“Really? Or is this some sort of joke?” Sadie sulked and put her hands on her hips, staring at Lisa.

“Actually, a little of both.” Lisa blushed. “The position was called the ‘National Communications Coordinator’ who contacts other college residence life organizations and heads up residence life conferences. Which, I may add, are a blast!”

“Really? Sounds like it would be all business.”

“Well, there are business meetings, but there’s also sessions about improving residence life, not to mention all the friends from other schools I’ve made at those conferences! Plus, there’s a fancy banquet, a dance, and other fun activities. And did I mention that I got to stay in a hotel?”

“Well, that seems like it could be fun. Okay, Lisa, what else?”

“Then I graduated, started up my tutoring company, and later began training Pokémon. Oh, and along the way, I helped defuse a bomb, got beaten by you in a Contest, and was thrown overboard a ship. Wow, my feet are getting tired. Let’s sit down for a rest.”
********

Inside one of a Pokémon Center’s sparsely furnished rooms, Lindsay and Bernie set several bags on the bed – some belonging to them, some belonging to the missing girls.

“Okay, Lindsay, right now we can’t do anything until your parents get here or we hear from Search and Rescue. Last time I called them, they still hadn’t heard anything.”

“Oh, no… Lisa, where are you?” The little girl began to cry into the burly man’s shoulder.

Bernie heaved a sigh. “I wish I knew. I really wish I did. Maybe the news has an update.”
Flipping on the television, a familiar voice made itself loud and clear.

“Remember, when you fight against greedy insurance companies, it’s WAR! But with ‘The Knockout’ in your corner, you’ve got the power to score a decisive victory – in the form of maximum CASH! CASH! CASH! Call me today! 1-888-KO-4-CASH! That’s 1-888-KO-4-CASH! Don’t forget!”

Larry Jones’ ad was replaced by a local news report. “At approximately nine this morning, the notorious ‘Hoodie Bandit’ struck again, this time at Fourtix First Federal on Mill Street. This time, the subject wore a gray zip-up jacket and made off with approximately thirty thousand in small-denomination bills. The escape vehicle, a stolen Toyota Corolla, was found abandoned at a Citgo gas station about two miles away from the bank. Despite bringing in tracking Pokémon to pick up the scent of the suspect, they were unable to locate her.”

“What is with this girl and robbing banks?” Bernie muttered. He took a quick glance over at Lindsay, who had cried herself to sleep.

“She just looks so peaceful lying like that… I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her to go through all this. I really hope Lisa turns up soon – I hate to see this girl so sad and depressed. I mean, my dad was kidnapped during the Contest conspiracy, but I’m sure a young kid’s gonna take it harder than a hardened Gym Leader…”
********

“ARRRGH!”

A remote control went flying across the room, striking and shattering a television screen. The loud noise caused two Pikachu to cower in fear and jump off a large wooden desk. Sitting behind it, a man in a red robe was fuming.

“Dammit! I told that SOB father of mine that I wanted the team to lay low until we got our Shadow Pokémon perfected! So, what’s the idiot do? He plants a damn bomb on a ship, and of course the media assumes it’s our doing!” Bart Sy slammed his fist on the desk, splintering the wooden surface. “And if that ‘Hoodie Bandit’ is who I think it is… Blithering fool!”

“Sir, it’s me, Lethco,” a voice came from behind the office’s door.

“Lethco? I thought I called for Dr. Tony!”

“Well… um… uh…”

“What?! Spit it out already!”

“Tony’s on his lunch break at TJ McTipsy’s, sir,” the intimidated man blurted out.

“Dammit… Whenever he goes there, he gets drunk out of his mind… Whatever, come in.”

The scientist, now sporting a shaved head, nervously made his way inside the ornately decorated office. The scientist’s shoes clacked on the marble-covered floor. Massive stone statues of Arcanine and Pikachu flanked either side of Bart Sy’s desk at the back of the room. Thick black curtains were pulled shut, blocking any light from coming in from the wall-to-ceiling windows. In fact, the only source of illumination in the room came from a series of crystal chandeliers and a pair of spotlights aimed at the desk. Directly under a huge image of the Brotherhood’s red and gold shield, the group’s leader sat, still clenching his fists.

“Lethco, I want an update on our Shadow Pokémon. And I want good news this time. Thanks to that nimrod of a father I have, time is running out!”

“S… sir… Um… I regret to inform you that… the Pokémon still explode, though we’ve got it to the point where the… the blast radius is no larger than the size of our compound.” Lethco took a step backward from his boss, shaking in fear.

But Bart Sy simply groaned in exasperation, clutching both sides of his head. “I suppose this is what I get for having a drunk head up R&D. With these delays, our original plan to get rid of Northwood won’t work. Now I need to think of a way to use the delay in development to my advantage. Lethco, you may leave now. However, I may be requiring your assistance in the future.”

The hooded boss began petting both of his Pikachu on the head as Lethco left the office, closing the heavy door behind him.

“Well, he took that better than I thought… I guess I lucked out. But, man, I’m just getting so tired of this!” Lethco let out a sigh as he made his way through the compound’s maze of steel-lined hallways.
********

“Wow, what a lovely sunset!”

The sky, stretching as far as the eye could see, was certainly a sight to behold this evening. Its dark purple color gradually shifted to lighter colors, in hues of pink, red, and yellow, indicating that the source of light, the sun, was slowly retreating below the horizon. The multiple colors reflected into the water below, creating a perfect scene for a photo – if either girl witnessing the sight had a camera.

The two girls had spent most of the day walking and conversing, as there had not been much else to do. Although their stomachs’ growling had worsened throughout the day, the prospect of eating raw fish Pokémon wasn’t endearing to the pair either. Lisa had looked up on her PDA and discovered that the resident Magikarp had very little meat on them, so that shot down all chances of getting food.

For a couple hours in the afternoon, they had to take cover in the forest in order to avoid a torrential storm that had suddenly descended upon the beach. But the heavy rain and thick, black clouds had since subsided, and peace and tranquility had been restored to the sandy shore. Lisa had thought it was odd how the storm appeared out of nowhere and had dissipated just as suddenly.

With their bare feet hurting and their ruined dresses soaked from the recent downpour, Sadie and Lisa had decided to call it a night. They were content to lie on their backs, looking up at the natural artwork plastered across the vast sky.

“You know what, the sunset here really is lovely. See, Lisa, sometimes you need to stop worrying so much about what you don’t have and sit back and enjoy what you do have.”

“You’re right. Sorry if I’ve been freaking out this whole time.”

“Actually,” Sadie admitted, “you’re taking this better than I thought you would have – especially after what your sister told me.”

“Wait, what did Lindsay tell you?” Lisa’s eyes grew wide.

“Relax, relax, nothing too bad. Just how you hate camping out and that you freak out over it.”

“Oh… yeah…” Lisa rubbed the back of her head. “But you know this morning, when I had that nightmare memory of summer camp? That was the absolute worst!”

“Hmm, how bad could summer camp be?” Sadie asked, looking a bit confused.

“The camp counselors – they were like drill sergeants, ordering us to get up and run laps around the camp. One of them even destroyed my laptop with his bare hands…” The girl was interrupted by her companion’s giggling.

“Sorry, but I just can’t picture someone bringing a laptop to summer camp. Please go on.”

“Anyway,” a scowling Lisa continued, a hint of annoyance in her voice, “the other kids there were no better. I mean, they threw dodgeballs and basketballs at me…” Once again, Sadie’s chuckling made Lisa stop her story.

“Man, I am so sorry for laughing again, but I think the point of dodgeball is for the other kids to throw them at you and for you to try to, you know, dodge them!”

“No, it’s okay. After all, that’s one thing I learned there - before then, I always thought that dodgeball involved Dodge cars.”

“Ah, so that’s why you have those weird sayings during battle!”

“Well,” Lisa admitted, “I do that simply because saying the word “dodge” without the name of a Dodge car sounds odd to me.”

Sadie laughed. “You are a very unique person, Lisa! Any more about summer camp?”

“The kids there did more than physically abuse me. They verbally abused me too, throwing insults at me and trying to scare me out of my wits. And don’t even get me started on the accommodations – simply dreadful…”

“Yeah, I think you mentioned this before. That night they were gonna camp out, you snapped and got moved to some hotel, right?”

“Yep, the Quality Suites in North Charleston!” Lisa announced proudly. ‘I loved that room – two televisions, VCR, kitchenette, sofa – I wish I was there right now…”

“Lisa! Look over there!” Sadie pointed toward the stand of trees behind them. Above them, fireworks could be seen exploding, lighting the sky with bursts of color that rained down like confetti.

The older girl perked up. “Fireworks! That must mean there’s people beyond those trees! Let’s go! I might still have a chance to enjoy me a nice pillowtop mattress tonight!”

“Whoa, whoa! Calm down there, Lisa!” Sadie held up her right hand and stepped in her friend’s path. “It’s nearly dark, and even if there is civilization beyond those trees, I don’t feel like hiking through a dark, scary forest just to get there! Let’s spend one more night on the beach, and then go looking for people tomorrow.”

“All right,” Lisa sighed as she sat down on the sand. “I suppose it is best if we wait till morning.”

“Right. Let’s just relax and enjoy the peace and quiet for one more night.”
********

As dawn cracked over the Fourtix region, the first flights for the day had already arrived at the sprawling international airport in Northwood City. Among the early passengers were the couple who owned the company that was the city’s namesake.

“What do you mean, ‘We’re out of stock’? I called from Greenville-Spartanburg specifically requesting that a Lincoln Town Car be held for us when we got here, and your receptionist told us it would be no problem! So, where’s our Town Car?” An angry Douglas Northwood was peering over the desk at a car rental agency, screaming bloody murder at the clerk.

“Sir, it must have been sort of misunderstanding. Besides, you look like a couple who’d look better in a Mustang anyway…”

“Look, I don’t have the time to haggle with you! Our daughter is lost at sea and is probably in danger! So stop wasting our time!”

Getting defiant, the employee stood up and matched Douglas’ gaze. “Well, sir, if your daughter is in danger, you wouldn’t be concerned about what car you got! I’d think you’d be more worried about getting to her and seeing if she’s safe!”

“Fine! Fork over the keys to the damn Mustang then!” Snatching the keys, he stormed out of the office, only waiting to hear the clerk say, “It’s the red coupe in Row C!”

Brooke Northwood told the man, “I apologize for my husband. When he gets stressed out, he tends to fly off the handle. Please, forgive us.”

“Really, it isn’t a problem. Believe me, I’ve seen worse reactions. Thank you for choosing to rent from us!” the clerk replied as the woman raced out of the office to catch up with her husband.

Once settled inside the Mustang, Brooke turned toward her husband. With an angry expression, she scolded him. “You know, that was totally unacceptable behavior back there. Honestly, we should just have taken whatever car they offered. I swear, you can be worse than a child sometimes.”

“Look, honey, I have a reputation as a businessman to maintain. And part of that is being seen behind the wheel of a stately luxury car and not a brash sports car!”

“But isn’t another part of that reputation being seen as a mature, responsible man and not as an immature, complaining spoiled brat?”

Douglas grew silent and stone-faced. Knowing his wife had won the argument, he simply nodded. Brooke smiled and leaned back in her seat, hoping that this would be the last time she would have to reprimand him.
********

Later in the morning, two girls emerged from a thick stand of trees that stood between the clearing and the shoreline. After making their way through what had seemed like an endless trek through dense forests, smelly swamps, and small rock formations, Lisa and Sadie had finally clawed their way back to civilization. Soaking wet, barefoot, and with their dresses completely ripped off below the knees, the girls were presented with the familiar scenery of a city.

The city had a rugged yet historic appearance, with antebellum-style white-washed houses covered with a layer of dirt and sand. Black wrought-iron gates lined the front yards of many of the historic homes. Narrow, cobblestone-covered streets seemed more suited for foot traffic than cars. Aside from a clock tower and a church’s towering steeple, very few buildings were more than three or four stories tall. One of the more prominent buildings, with white columns out front, was labeled, “Sphinx City Town Hall.”

“Wait… Don’t tell me we were in Sphinx City this whole time!” Lisa’s jaw dropped to the ground.

“Well, it would seem that way. Come on, let’s get cleaned up at the Pokémon Center.”

Upon seeing her sister and her friend enter through the doors of the building, Lindsay’s heart began to race as she jumped up and down in excitement. “Wait, is that Lisa? It is! It is! Lisa! Lisa!”

Throwing her arms around Lisa, Lindsay continued to gush. “It’s so good to see you’re okay! Listen, Mom and Dad are on the way over here but I’ll call to let them know you’re safe! Eew, you smell! Get yourself cleaned up first! Your stuff’s in room four.”

“Okay, fine,” shrugged Lisa as she and Sadie headed to the showers inside the building. As the girls were washing up, a fleet of Dodge Charger and Chevy Camaro police cars silently began to surround the building.

Lisa soon emerged, wearing her classic blue dress, green blouse, and white pantyhose. Turning to Bernie, she told him, “Thanks for taking care of Lindsay for me. I think I’ll head out for a bit of a walk.” The older sister told Lindsay, “I’m so happy to see you’re safe!”

“Me?! I’m glad to see that you’re safe! We were all worried sick about you!

“So, I guess Mom and Dad know?” Lisa asked.

“Yeah, I told them right after Bernie told me that you two had gone into the water. Don’t worry, while you were changing, I told them that you were safe.”

Lisa perked up. “Wait, are they over in this region now?”

“Yup, they’re on their way here. They said that even though you’re safe, they shouldn’t waste a trip over here so they’re coming to see us anyway! It’s still gonna take them another seven or eight hours to get out here. Apparently they ran into trouble at the car rental place, but they’re on the way now. Isn’t that great?”

Smiling, Lisa answered, “It sure is! I can’t wait to show them my Pokémon and all the things I’ve done here!”

Sadie came back to the front lobby, wearing a dark green T-shirt and blue jeans. “Man, it felt so good to get a shower after all that. And Mom wasn’t too mad about me ruining my cell phone and dress, though I’m still gonna have to repay her…”

“Hey, it was partially my fault, so I’ll help out,” Lisa offered. “Anyway, it’s great to hear that everything worked out and I’ll be seeing Mom and Dad. Sadie, will you be able to stay long enough to meet them? Lindsay said they’ll be here in a few hours.”

“Yeah, the ship doesn’t leave for Kanto for a few days yet. So I’ll be here!”

“That’s great! You’ll like my parents; they’re really cool. Well anyway, I think I’ll head out for a little while.”

“Hey, aren’t you gonna get your stuff?” Lindsay asked.

“I need to take a walk, so I’ll get it when I get back. I won’t be too long, I promise!”

Lisa had not taken three steps outside the Pokémon Center when police officers descended on her. As two officers pushed her to the ground and began to restrain her, the others had their guns trained on her.

“Lisa Northwood, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent…”

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