Lurking in the Shadows

Chapter 21: Lisa Northwood, Coordinator?

Back at the AmeriHost Inn, Lisa called her Pokémon back out to discuss strategy. “Okay guys, I’m kinda getting bored of yelling out ‘Now dodge that’ during battles. To shake things up a little, I will instead substitute names of Dodge-built vehicles when I want you to dodge an attack. So, when I tell you guys to ‘Charger that’ or ‘Pull a Diplomat’ or ‘Do a Dynasty five inches right’ it means the same as ‘Dodge that!’ Everyone in agreement?”

This suggestion was met with disapproval, as Persian threw several coins at Lisa’s face before turning away. The other Pokémon also turned their backs to Lisa. Even Lindsay said, “Sis, those commands just sound stupid.”

“Fine, fine,” Lisa conceded. “Though, y’all are awfully boring!” This comment was met with more gold coins in Lisa’s face, courtesy of the large pale-colored cat sprawled out on the bed. “I was just kidding about y’all being boring, y’know,” Lisa explained as she sat down with Persian. Persian smiled before letting out a soft meow, seemingly forgiving Lisa for her weird comments and suggestions. The rest of Lisa’s Pokémon nodded in agreement. “Aww, you guys are the best!” Lisa said while blushing, forming a big grin on her face. The Pokémon were starting to get tired, so all of them save Persian retreated to the confines of their Pokéballs to rest.

After finding nothing on TV except trashy sitcoms and bad anime (“Why don’t they show the GOOD anime on TV here? It’s all ugly pirates and uglier ninjas and even uglier screaming hyperactive guys!”) Lisa drifted off to sleep with Persian at the foot of the bed. Lindsay slipped into her one piece purple bathing suit and headed to the indoor pool to take a swim. After a refreshing nap, Lisa woke up just as Lindsay was getting out of the shower after her swim. The younger Northwood sister still wore the same schoolgirl outfit she had worn every day. Lisa thought, “She has less variation in her outfits than a cartoon character! I oughta get her something else to wear…

For dinner, the girls returned to Lance’s to eat, leaving out some more food for the Pokémon for them to eat while the humans were out. The trainer was pretty confident that her Pokémon wouldn’t be disruptive or tear up the room in her absence.
*******

“So, uh… tell me… are you gonna eat dat or not?” Sealeo stared intently at both Jolteon and Metang, knowing well he might be able to get some of their food.

“Food quality below standard… relinquishing…” replied the floating Steel-type.

Meanwhile, Jolteon ate about ten bites of his food before saying, “Okay, I’m done.”

“Yay!” the Ice-type yelled as he started stuffing his face.

“Ugh… so uncivilized…” scoffed Persian. “But Jolteon, are you sure you’ve had enough?”

“Yeah, I had a bit more to eat last time. I’m tired, anyhow.” The Electric-type let out a loud yawn.

“Well, I can’t help to be a bit concerned that you’re not getting enough food. I always see you eat next to nothing.”

“I know it doesn’t look like I’m eating much, but trust me, I really don’t need all that much food. I actually can get too much energy and run around uncontrollably if I eat too much.”

After carefully chewing and swallowing a bite of her food, the cat replied, “Interesting… Metang, what about you? You seem to skip meals, too.”

“I am of an alternate color… the wrong type of food may have a negative effect on my body’s strength and luster because of that. Additionally, I can store food for extended periods of time, eliminating the need for daily nourishment,” it droned.

“Well, two very different thoughts on eating there,” mused Weezing. “It’s interesting how varied our food needs are.”

“Speaking of food needs,” Trapinch said, “it looks someone needs some of your food, Persian.”

“Huh?” The cat turned around to see Sealeo trying to stealthily drag his body toward her food dish. Persian jumped between the heavyweight sea mammal and the bowl of food, telling him, “I would not advise trying that.”
******

Upon returning to the hotel for the evening, Lisa picked up her newly cleaned clothes at the front desk. She struggled to carry her handbag, her heavier backpack, and the garment bag containing her newly cleaned suit, as the latter item was especially cumbersome to carry. “The room’s halfway down this corridor but at least it’s on the first floor!” She then turned to her sibling. “You know, Linds, you could try helping me out here!” she told her, all the while straining to carry all of her belongings down the hall.

The younger sister shrugged. “Yeah, I could, but then again…”

“Ugh…” Lisa rolled her eyes and shook her head in frustration.

In the room, the older sister was relieved to discover that her team was simply communicating amongst themselves in their own language, instead of running around and damaging the room. Lindsay ran over and began talking with the Pokémon. Lisa took a good fifteen minutes to simply lay on her bed and attempt to regain her strength. With her eyes half closed, the exhausted trainer dragged herself to her feet and proceeded to iron her outfits. After putting away the ironing board, the teen lumbered over to the bed and essentially collapsed for a half-hour power nap.

The effectiveness of that nap was questionable as Lisa was still nodding off to sleep as she gathered her clothes and put them in her vacuum-sealed bags. She left out one outfit- her blue floral dress and green cardigan, which she intended to wear the next day. Setting the clothes on the desk, Lisa let out a loud yawn and rubbed her eyes. She had wanted to talk and mingle with her Pokémon, but discovered that all six of them – as well as her sister- had fallen asleep. Persian and Lindsay were resting comfortably on one of the beds; the other five Pokémon were sprawled out on the floor. Even Metang and Weezing had ceased to levitate; both of their bodies were firmly planted on the room’s burgundy- colored carpet.

How cute!” Lisa simply had to snap a picture of her sister and Pokémon sleeping before she turned in herself. Settling into the room’s other queen bed, it did not take long for her to drift off to dreamland.
*******

A muscle-bound man decked out in red and a smaller woman clad in black leather exchanged nervous glances. The two disgraced Thrash admins nervously opened the steel door at the back of a large laboratory. The door led to an office, which was so dark that the two thugs could only make out the profiles of the two sinister men in the office. Both men were tall in stature and the room’s darkness only served to accentuate their already imposing and menacing profiles. One of the men stepped forward, and the terrified agents could see the outline of a long, flowing cloak on his body. This was the leader, the man who had summoned them to his office.

“Fred, Betty, you do understand that I am most displeased with the both of you. It was bad enough that you lost to the Northwood girl, but now you are losing to random kids! I am not very tolerant of failure…”

“Sir,” the quivering goth tried to explain, “while it is most depressing that we lost to some random kids, does that mean we need to cut ourselves and drown our sorrows in our own blood…”

Annoyed, the cloaked leader barked, “Would you cut the emo crap, please?! The both of you will be given one more chance…”

“Yes, sir! My dogs will pulverize those girls for sure…”

“Shut up about your damn dogs! I will inform you of your next duty within the next four days. But for now, you are dismissed. Vacate this room immediately.”

As the two terrified administrators quickly scrambled from their boss’s presence, the team’s leader and prophet turned his attention to the other man.

“Lord Bart Sy, is it wise to allow those two to continue working for us?”

“Do not worry,” assured the mysterious boss. “I am sending in our problem solvers to take care of Northwood. In the highly unlikely event that she makes it past them, I will personally see to it that she feels the wrath of a true expert and visionary. Either way, she will be eliminated before Fred and Betty even have another chance to botch things up. Besides, the next missions for those two shall be significantly less desirable than what they have been used to.”

“Understood, my liege. I shall call in our problem solvers so you may personally give them their next mission,” confirmed the other mysterious entity.

A few minutes later, a new pair of agents were facing the boss and his assistant. Build-wise, these agents were polar opposites – one was tall and muscular, while his partner was short and thin. Bart Sy reached under his desk and pulled out two large black briefcases.

In his usual sinister yet calm voice, the boss addressed his two subordinates. “It is good to see that you two are ready to implement two important objectives in our overall mission. I am happy to announce that you two will be the first to use our latest innovation as part of your next deployment. First, you will return to the Weather Research Center. Archie and Shelly have proven themselves to be annoyingly obstinate, but perhaps they need persuasion, ‘problem-solver’ style. Now, regardless of the outcome of that mission, the next is much more crucial. I have received word that several scientists at the university are preparing to restart research regarding Shadow Pokémon. Here are pictures of the three research heads. I need you to bring all three to this lab, where we will ensure that their research will be put to good use. You may recognize some of their faces. You are dismissed and your mission commences immediately. I shall be waiting for news of your success. That is all.”

“Yes, sir!” the two thugs replied in unison before confidently marching out of the office with new briefcases in hand. Once they were gone, Bart Sy turned toward his partner.

“Everything is falling into place despite our recent setbacks. We still have possession of ‘IT’ and soon we will have the brainpower of the world’s finest scientists working toward our ultimate goal. It is only a matter of time now.”
*******

The next morning, Lisa put on her outfit along with a pair of white pantyhose, her large white hat, and her black heels, before heading to the hotel’s lobby with her sister. After grabbing a quick breakfast of mostly bagels and cranberry juice, they headed outside and proceeded to take the long walk south to Greenville City.

The south side of Lexin City was little more than modest residential neighborhoods. The road south was literally that – a two lane country road with wide shoulders flanked by foreboding forests on either side. Because of this, the road was always darkened even during the brightest summer days. Since it was nearing the end of November, the route was both dark and cold. A chilling breeze blew constantly through the area, prompting both siblings to throw on their jackets. “It certainly turned much colder since we were last outside!” exclaimed the younger sister, shivering and hanging close to her older sibling.

“It has! I’m even surprised. Okay, Linds, watch out for cars, and stay to the other side of me. We don’t really have a lot of room to get off of the pavement here,” Lisa advised her sister.

“Okay,” the younger Northwood replied before both of them started walking down the shoulder of the road.

The sisters had not made it far when they came upon a confrontation between a group of three teenagers and a single man taking place in the center of the paved trail. The older man was probably in his early twenties, with a carefully combed head of neat blond hair and a clean-shaven face. He was fairly tall, and wore a black suit with navy tie. He seemed surprisingly calm for someone in an argument, as his face retained a look of neutrality. The aggressors, however, were not so reserved. The two boys and one girl each glared at their older antagonist, with eyes wide open and fists clenched, as if ready to punch their foe.

“What is this all about?” wondered Lisa as both girls made their way closer to where the four were gathered.

Both boys were dressed identically, wearing dark gray hoodies and baggy blue jeans. Each of them had on a pair of shades and wore black bandanas on their heads. The difference in height of the two boys was small, and they could very well have been twins. The girl, however, deviated from her companions’ looks. Sporting a blue denim miniskirt, pink sweatshirt, and green baseball cap, she looked a bit more restrained than her partners. She seemed to glare at the other man with less intensity than her male counterparts, as well. She happened to divert her gaze long enough to see the siblings approach.

In a huff, the girl barked, “Whaddya think you’re doin’ here?”

Taken aback, Lisa stammered, “I… I’m just passing through here…”

“Well, listen, you, we don’t wanna be starting trouble with you. See that guy there? He’s the reason why we coordinators can’t do what we love doin’ best!”

Ecstatic, Lisa remarked, “You guys were coordinators too? I remember those times, organizing delegations, attending conferences, visiting colleges all over the country, presenting residence life programs… good times, good times indeed.”

The other teenager looked completely bewildered. “What ARE you talking about, weirdo?”

“I… wait, are you some other kind of coordinator? Because I was thinking y’all were National Communications Coordinators like I was in college!”

“Um, no, we WERE Pokémon Coordinators, before this clown helped get our beloved contests outlawed!”

Lisa had a revelation. “Oh, you’re talking about those scam contests run by that Georgia bank robber! Yeah, I get it now!”

“So, you think they were just a scam as well, huh? Well, maybe you should join your buddy over there whilst we pulverize ya!” The girl followed this threat up by pulling out a familiar red-and-white sphere, followed by another in her other hand.

The math-hungry trainer rolled her eyes in boredom. “Always with the Pokémon…it could have been an algebra or calculus battle, but noooo, it had to be Pokémon…

The snotty coordinator continued, “Now you shall bear witness to the wonderful artistry of Cristin Parmer, runner-up in the Fourtix Region Grand Festival!”

“And you shall bear witness to the superior mathematical skills of Lisa Northwood, with a degree in mathematical sciences from…”

Lisa was interrupted as Cristin’s team took the field. One was a large insect with huge wings. The wings were dark gray in color with splotches of several colors, yellow being the most noticeable hue. Its face consisted of two large blue eyes. In addition to the two antennae atop its head, the Pokémon sported a thin, coiled appendage in the center of its face. It quickly fluttered about in midair, darting quickly from place to place.

The coordinator’s other Pokémon was smaller and lacked the ability to fly. Its tiny, humanoid form was green in color and its face wore a sweet, innocent expression. Three points emanated from the top of its head. On the ends of its thin arms were two rosebuds, one blue and the other red. It waved both of these appendages around gently but it remained in place.

“Beautifly, the Butterfly Pokémon. The long facial appendage that resembles an antenna is actually this Pokémon’s mouth, ideally shaped to extract nectar and other nutrients from plants. Roselia, the Thorn Pokémon. Roselia can strike at foes from a distance with powders from the blooms on its arms, or it can jab with its poisonous thorns if an enemy gets too close.”

“So, that’s what I’m up against. Very well. I believe that Weezing and Jolteon will be well-suited to taking these guys on.”

With that, the region’s resident math genius and residence life advocate released two of her prized Pokémon. Jolteon gazed at the airborne insect with his set of thin, midnight-black eyes. The yellow mammal crouched down on his thin legs while letting loose small sparks from the pointed bristly hair that covered most of his body. In this position, the electric-powered Pokémon looked ready to pounce. Weezing took her position above the roadway, letting loose gray smoke from her spherical purple form. The toxic creature always wore a bored, disinterested expression on her face, but her facial expression was not indicative of her attitude.

“Okay, it’s a former Pokémon Coordinator against a former National Communications Coordinator! We shall see who is better at coordinating their Pokémon!” Lisa announced.

“You’ll pay for insulting me like that! Roselia, use Magical Leaf! Beautifly, Silver Wind!”

Waving both rose petals around furiously, the diminutive plant sent a flurry of thin green leaves flying at Jolteon. The electrical mammal soon found himself being hit by the plant’s foliage-turned-projectiles. The oversized butterfly began to flap its thin wings rapidly, causing an intense storm of silvery projectiles to flare up. Using the flapping of its wings to accelerate the powder, the attack targeted the levitating Weezing and struck the creature’s expandable purple body. The agile Jolteon quickly put an end to the silvery storm with a well-aimed shot of electricity directed at the bug. Beautifly was then met with an exploding ball of putrid sludge.

“No! I will not be outdone by some ragtag trainer with no grace! All you did as a ‘coordinator’ was plan stupid dorm socials!”

The recent graduate was taken aback by this last comment. “Ugh! She has no respect for college residence life! I put my heart and soul into making our residence halls more engaging and community-driven! How dare she!” Aloud, Lisa then continued, with one eye twitching in anger, “Yeah, well, I won’t be outdone by someone who doesn’t respect the hard work that all of us in residence life put forth! And it’s a residence hall, not a ‘dorm!’ Get your facts straight! Now, nail that Beautifly!”

This time Cristin did not get the jump on her opponent, as the spiky yellow creature wasted no time in delivering a sizzling Thunderbolt to his winged foe. The flower-like Pokémon released a fine powder from its rose petals, forcing Jolteon to jump left to avoid a nasty effect. In response, the floating mass of churning toxins introduced Roselia to a truly disgusting Sludge Bomb. The butterfly-like Pokémon was the last to attempt a strike, whipping up a small whirlwind that struck Weezing directly but didn’t seem to affect the Pokémon all that much.

“Keep going guys!” encouraged Lisa. “We’ll have to wear these two down slowly and methodically!”

Her angry opponent spat, “Good luck trying to beat me! Your stupid tactics are weak and they lack elegance! This battle is as good as mine! Silver Wind and Magical Leaf now!”

“Yeah! Kick her butt!” encouraged Cristin’s two male pals.

If you wanna see elegance, wait till I bust out Persian…

The battlefield became completely engulfed in flying clusters of tiny green leaves and whirlwinds laced with a mysterious silvery substance. Both of Lisa’s Pokémon had to take some hits from the dual strike, as combined the two attacks had excellent coverage. To clear the field of the simultaneous attacks, the brainiac decided to focus on one opponent.

“All right guys, we’re gong to eliminate variables here one at a time. First, we need to rid ourselves of Beautifly, so let’s hit it with everything you’ve got!”

Both of her Pokémon decided to hit the foe at the same time to maximize damage. With perfect timing, the two Pokémon arranged for their electrical and poisonous assaults to connect with the bug at the same instant. Sure enough, the effect of two powerful, simultaneous hits was too much for Beautifly as it came crashing to the asphalt.

With a look of rage on her pale face, Cristin called back her partner. “You think you’re so tough, but you haven’t seen the least of my power! Roselia, Magical Leaf!”

The same old tactics,” scoffed the geekier of the two girls.

The small plant-like Pokémon launched more thin green leaves from its rose-petal hands. The projectiles made a beeline straight toward Lisa’s electrifying yellow Pokémon. He knew that avoiding the strike was impossible, so the wily Electric-type took the damage without attempting a dodge before launching a counterstrike – a low-intensity wave of blue sparks that slowed his foe’s movements.

“Now Roselia’s immobilized! Weezing, Sludge Bomb!”

Opening her large mouth, the orb-like levitating Pokémon spit out a ball of a noxious purple substance. With the opponent paralyzed, the toxic assault had no trouble finding its target, splattering a film of nasty poison all over the crippled Grass-type. The small Pokémon was still able to use its long range attacks, though, and sent a cloud of tiny spores at Jolteon. Despite making a meandering, zig-zagging movement across the roadway, the powder found its mark. Upon making contact, the spore cloud promptly caused the spiky- haired creature to take an impromptu mid-battle nap.

“Jolteon, return! You’ve done well so far, but I suppose you need your nap now.” Turning to her opponent and glaring at the other girl angrily, Lisa yelled, “So, ya wanna play the immobilization game too? Well, then, bring it on! Weezing, finish this with one last Sludge Bomb!”

“Hahaha! I’m gonna send your other Pokémon to bed too! Sleep Powder!”

The large but lightweight Poison- type saw the incoming cloud of hypnotizing dust, and lowered her altitude so the spores simply flew over her dual heads. Then, she released another orb of concentrated poison, with the attack once again finding its mark. The small plant creature staggered a bit, then fell down. With her mouth and eyes both hanging wide open, Cristin could only look on in stunned silence as she called back her fallen Roselia.

“I… How dare you! Don’t think this is the last you’ve heard of us! We will get Contesta to reinstate contests, and there is nothing you can do to stop us!” With that said, the determined trio of coordinators stormed off.

The victorious young trainer scoffed, “Yeah, if you think you can bust him out of the federal pen, be my guest…”

The tall young man who had been the initial target of the group’s rage now approached Lisa, still as calm as ever. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Lisa. I am the Gym Leader in a town to the south of here. My name is Reed Turner, not to be confused with Clow Reed or Reed Sorenson or anyone else with the same name. I understand that you were concerned about me and those toughs, but they pester me on a daily basis. I am used to it.”

“Still, those guys could cut you a break. Didn’t they realize that the whole contest deal was a scam?”

“Unfortunately there are some who have steeled themselves to ignore all common sense related to the whole contest issue. The events themselves must have been quite entertaining.”

“Meh, from what I’ve read, they’re still not my cup of tea,” the girl shrugged. “Anyways, I guess we’ll be battling down the road somewhere?”

“That is correct. However, I will be first attending a quiet Thanksgiving dinner with a good friend from high school, Archie. You are welcome to join us. After all, you will not be able to proceed until you defeat me anyway.”

“Well, I’ll certainly think it over. Well, I’ve got to be on my way. Are you coming?”

“No,” replied the cool and collected gym leader, “I’m going to remain here for a bit longer and study the plant life here. I’ll be seeing you around. Bye!”

“Okay, see ya later!” Lisa called out as she and her sister proceeded down the shoulder of the road. “He seems like a nice enough guy, and he’s not that bad-looking, either… I wonder what sorts of Pokémon he’ll use in our battle?

Her sister found the perfect time to interrupt her train of thought. “Okay, sis. Time to spill. What were you babbling about back there with you being a coordinator and going to conferences?”

“Linds, you won’t understand until you go to college and live on campus; it’s a college thing. Anyway, the resident assistant in my residence hall suggested to me that I get involved with campus life through an organization called RHA. I did exactly that, and my first semester I was able to travel with them to a big conference in Florida. I enjoyed myself so much that the next semester I was elected as the National Communications Coordinator, who basically heads up all of the conference trips. I even had the opportunity to present a talk on some topics related to residence life. I miss the memories of campus life… Oh, how I long to return to college!”

“Um, sis, hello?! Lisa?! Don’t space out on me! Remember, you’re training Pokémon now, not in school!”

“Sorry, about that, I just get nostalgic sometimes!” Eventually Lisa did end her trip down memory lane and the siblings could continue their trip towards the next town. Persian emerged from her containment device, desiring the opportunity to follow her trainer outside for awhile. Proceeding a bit farther up the road, Lisa noticed a shiny object lying on the path in front of her. As the girl bent down to investigate it, a sniper’s bullet whizzed over her crouched body, missing her by inches.

“What in the heck was that?!” Reacting on instinct, the intended sniper victim gave the order to her Persian to launch a long-range attack toward the direction where the bullet was fired. The feline hurled a sinister black Shadow Ball at a tall stand of trees, causing a man to fall off and land on the ground. The stunned fellow began to pick up his long-range sniper rifle when he was hit by a sizzling electric blast, also courtesy of Persian.

Somewhat charred but still conscious, the man suddenly saw something that caused his blood to boil over. The assassin’s weapon was put out of commission by the shocking strike, and he was none too pleased about that.

“Listen, girl, I have direct orders from the boss’s father to eliminate you here. But, how dare you destroy my precious sniper rifle! Dammit… I can’t kill you using my preferred method, so it looks like I’ll have to resort to… ugh… Pokémon battling… Anyway, Growlithe, I suppose you’re up. Get her!”

A small, four-legged form emerged from the red beam of light given off by the hitman’s Pokéball. The small puppy snarled, causing its short orange fur to stand up on end. Wagging its bushy, off-white tail, the dog began to gather flames at the mouth before firing off a massive fireball straight at Lisa. Fortunately, the girl’s swift-moving feline partner dissipated the attempted assault with a blast of pulsating water. The attacks met in midair, releasing huge amounts of blinding steam. In the confusion, Lindsay retreated to the other side of the road to stay out of the way of the ensuing battle.

Some people are just plain rude these days…” Angry, Lisa told the assassin, “How about battling normally and not trying to kill me for a change? Persian, Water Pulse!”

“You knocked me out of a tree then zapped me! I’m just repaying the favor! Fire Blast that cat!”

“That was self-defense, and you know it, nimrod! Dodge Diplomat that!”

The nimble cat-like Pokémon easily jumped clear of the five-pointed burst of flames before sending a concentrated stream of clear liquid at her aggressor. The watery strike was enough to knock down the fire-breathing pooch. The furball was quick to right itself, though, and retaliated by biting Persian’s long tail. She let out a loud screech before using her strong tail muscles to slam the attached Growlithe against the pavement. The crafty cat gave her enemy a smug, taunting smirk.

“Don’t take that crap from her! Hit that kitty with so much fire its fur will turn black!”

Now completely overrun with anger, the small puppy charged headlong at its larger opponent, all the while spitting out repeated bursts of flame at the cat. Persian just took those attacks in stride, and indeed, the weak Embers hardly even ruffled the cat’s smooth, silky fur. Calmly, the graceful beige Pokémon gave her opponent one well-aimed swipe with her claws, sending the mutt careening backwards.

“All right! Awesome job, Persian!” the girl encouraged, receiving a reassuring wink and smile from her Pokémon.

“This is not over by a long shot, girl! I will make you pay dearly for all you have done to the Brotherhood!”

Despite having taken numerous hard hits, this Pokémon was resilient, and attempted to torch Persian with a Flamethrower. The searing stream of red flame quickly closed in on the feline Pokémon, but the swift and agile creature easily darted right to avoid the heated strike. Before her foe could even attempt to launch more fire, the speedy cat used her body’s mass and velocity to knock the fire-breathing foe to the ground before it could even think of using another Flamethrower.

“Now, let’s charge up a Water Pulse with Thunderbolt and make this thing a sizzling, soaking mess!” commanded Lisa, taking a close look at her nervous, sweaty opponent.

The normally rippling waves of the Water Pulse were joined by sparks of bright yellow electricity as the combo strike closed in on Growlithe before it would even have the opportunity to get back to its feet.

“Boo-ya! That’s the way to go!”

Just by looking at the two combatants, it was now easy to identify who would be the victor. Persian’s fur was still as silky and smooth as it had at the start of the battle. Growlithe’s fur, however, was soaked by the repeated water attacks, and the recent combo attacks had even left some electrical burns on it. With its fur messed up and tangled, the puppy looked like it was on its last ounce of strength. The Thrash assassin saw this, and tried to cut his losses.

“We have one last chance to win! Overheat attack! Finish it!” The tiny and exhausted canine opened its mouth and began to build up large amounts of fire. After a few seconds of gathering flames at its mouth, it spit out a massive fireball, aimed right at its elegant opponent.

Both trainer and Pokémon observed the attack intently as it closed in. Suddenly, the trainer screamed, “Protect now!” Her loyal Pokémon encased herself in a green protective aura, causing the fiery strike to dissipate without causing damage. To finish the battle, Persian only needed to hurl a few coins at the panting and staggering dog.

“Nooo… I failed to put a bullet in your head… I failed to incinerate you with my Growlithe… our great prophet and leader will be most displeased. Unfortunately, if we ever do meet again, I will likely no longer be a part of the Brotherhood. Thanks a lot, jerk,” the man told Lisa before shuffling off into the distance.

“Well, he took that pretty calmly,” Lindsay observed as she wandered back over to her sister. “Hopefully we can get to the next town without any more weird coordinating people or snipers.”

Wiping some sweat from her brow, the older girl agreed, “Man, I hope so. I mean, at least no more of these guys who try and cop an attitude.”

The two girls continued their trek down the road toward Greenville City. With the downhill slope and lack of wild Pokémon, it wasn’t that bad of a workout. Lisa figured that wild Pokémon tended to avoid the area because of it was essentially a road flanked by heavy woods. The only sign of wild Pokémon in this area was literally a sign – a yellow diamond-shaped one that warned, “STANTLER CROSSING: HIGH INCIDENCE AREA.” Stantler- car collisions were dangerous affairs that usually resulted in thousands of dollars in damages as well as the death of the unlucky Pokémon that was hit.

Soon enough, the town’s north neighborhoods came into view. Lisa and Lindsay passed row after row of mostly two-story townhouses and retirement condominium units. Eventually, a few storefronts became visible, but Lisa recalled that the bulk of the city’s businesses were on the west side of town. Continuing south into the heart of the city, it wasn’t long before the domed glass form of the Weather Research Lab loomed ahead.

There were only a few vehicles in the parking lot aside from the lab’s fleet of black Jeep Commanders. Archie’s dark blue GMC Sierra crew cab pickup was parked out back, the sunlight reflecting off its wide rear fenders that housed the vehicle’s dual rear wheels. In the front were a couple of large Ford Club Wagons with the extended fifteen-passenger bodies, as well as a black Infiniti SUV. On the surface, things seemed peaceful, so the girls decided to enter the lab and rendezvous with the two research heads.
*******

On Route 501, a number of first-stage evolution Pokémon were hanging out in plain sight in a grassy field. Several large boulders and tall weeds and trees surrounded the plain. Concealed behind those trees and rocks were gym assistants Dirk and Derek, along with a team of heavily armed police officers, along with Nidorino and Nidorina. The hidden strike team kept a close watch on the field with the Pokémon.

“Okay, here comes someone,” Derek spoke into a two-way radio. Sure enough, a black Ford van pulled up onto the side of the road. Three men emerged from the vehicle, decked out in camouflage gear and armed with dart guns.

“Looks like a big haul here! We should be getting tons of money for these Pokémon on the black market!”

Another one of the men was more hesitant. “Something seems weird. There are Pokémon here that aren’t supposed to find in this area.”

The third man brushed off his colleague’s concerns. “Who knows, maybe they escaped from the ranch in Fort Barnes. This is their own fault for not having better security. Now, let’s tranquilize these things and put ‘em in the van…”

“Freeze! Get on the ground, now!” The officers made their presence known, jumping out from their hiding spaces with their firearms trained on the poachers. The criminals dropped their dart guns and complied, as they were caught completely off guard.

“Dammit! I told you there was something suspicious about this!” the poacher said as he and his partners were handcuffed.

Dirk and Derek ran out to the van, with Nidorino and Nidorina right behind them. Looking inside, they saw that the interior was fitted with rows of cages. And sure enough, they were filled with numerous Nidoran, a well as a single Torchic.

“Well, it looks like your children and Kassie’s Torchic are all in here. But I’d like to take all of the Pokémon back to the ranch first and make sure there are no major injuries. Is that okay with you?” Dirk asked, looking at the parents of the Nidoran.

Nidorina nodded, and her partner grudgingly followed suit.

“Okay, Derek, get the van from the ranch. I’m sure the police want to process this one for evidence.”

Chapter 22: Meet the Commanders

As soon as the girls entered the Weather Research Lab, they got a bad feeling. The lab’s lobby was strangely vacant. Suddenly a man jumped down from the ceiling and laughed. He was a guy of medium height, decked out in the familiar red Thrash uniform.

“Well if it isn’t Lisa Northwood and her unfortunate sister! It’s time somebody teach you a lesson in humility, and it might as well be me! Prepare yourselves!”

Man, not these idiots again...” The older sister turned her head toward the younger one. “Lindsay, look for a Pokémon Center with a red roof, and go there now! Hurry! I’ll meet back with you later!” Lisa yelled, the words packed with a sense of urgency. Lindsay knew that this was a serious situation.

“Right!” the younger sister said as she bolted out of the lab and to safety.

“Aww, ain’t that sweet, making sure your little sis doesn’t get hurt by us meanies! Only problem is, it’s YOU who’s in for some pain! Electrike and Raticate, get her!”

The grunt member sent out a small green Pokémon that somewhat resembled a canine, and a large brown rodent. The small wolf featured a yellow stripe that ran the length of its pointed, elongated head. It pointed its head to the ceiling, letting out a deafening howl while wagging its short, stubby tail. The rat swung its larger tail around. Its fur around its mouth and on its belly was of a light tan color, and that muzzle contained several long whiskers and the critter’s mouth. It opened that mouth, revealing two sets of huge, jagged white teeth. “CAAATE!” it cried out, with a wicked look in its eyes.

“Fine with me. But whatever it is you creeps are after, you WON’T get it! I call out Trapinch and Sealeo!”

Lisa summoned forth the light blue sea lion Pokémon with his distinctive white whiskers and underside, and the tiny orange creature with the oversized jaws and tiny black eyes. “Now, let’s get this guy! Target Electrike with Water Pulse and Mud Slap, then let’s draw it into a Sand Tomb!”

Raticate struck first, sinking its huge jagged teeth into Sealeo. The icy aquatic Pokémon had to swat the rat with his flipper to shake the oversized rodent off. Meanwhile the toothy Trapinch had already kicked some blinding mud in the small wolf’s face. With the buck-toothed menace off his back, Sealeo fired a rippling wave of water at the four-legged electric type.

The diminutive orange Pokémon generated a violent twister of sand and wind, and sent it spiraling toward the small electric opponent. Afterward the unlucky Electrike found itself trapped in the vicious cyclone of wind and sand, completely helpless as the big-jawed Pokémon continued to hurl mud into the whirling trap. The rodent then went after the larger Sealeo again, using its huge fangs to take a bite into its thick-skinned foe. The sea lion spit out a small circular ball of ice at Raticate to get the brute to lay off of him.

“Attack her! Don’t let her win!” the gang member screamed, clearly getting flustered at the fact that he was losing this fight. The red-clad young man was twitching and shaking.

Lisa, gaining confidence, ordered out an authoritative, “Now to put the hammer down! It is time to end this. Trapinch, Dig under the Sand Tomb! Sealeo, another Ice Ball at Raticate!”

As the whirling vortex continued to render the electric hound immobile, the small toothy creature bored a hole through the tile floor and disappeared underground. The large rat avoided the shimmering mass of crystallized ice and landed a direct hit with a flying kick attack, its big webbed left foot hitting Sealeo right in the face.

“You okay there?” Lisa asked. Receiving a nod of confirmation from her icy blue companion, she then ordered, “It’s coming in for another strike! Dynasty – I mean, dodge it to the right then give it a nice chilling blast of Aurora Beam!”

Sealeo lumbered to the right to avoid a charging Raticate’s huge teeth, then turned his hefty blue body around and knocked the hairball in the rear with a concentrated shot of rainbow-colored energy. The force knocked the oversized mouse into the lab’s sterile brushed-metal walls, leaving a dent in the silvery surface.

“Crap!” the agent exclaimed as he withdrew his battle-spent Pokémon from the battlefield. “Get her, Marshtomp!” he ordered, unleashing an aqua colored creature of medium height. Standing on its hind legs, the Pokémon’s orange-colored cheeks and belly shimmered under the lab’s fluorescent lighting, the black fins on its head and back of its legs wiggling ever so slightly. This Pokémon opened its mouth wide, and a long trail of slimy brown mud emanated, missing Lisa by mere inches.

“Hey! I’ve already been soaked in mud once during this trip! I don’t feel like going through that again!” Lisa spat at the watery foe.

Marshtomp responded by spitting a stream of blue water at her, which Lisa had to “duck and roll” to avoid. Meanwhile, the flippered blue Pokémon hit his rival Water-type with a shimmering Aurora Beam. At the same time, Trapinch had come flying out of the ground, smashing into the green Electric-type on its underside just as the winds of the Sand Tomb subsided.

Just as her adversary was calling the Pokémon back, Trapinch began to glow white as she grew in size and changed form. When the evolution process was complete, Lisa was presented with a creature that did not resemble her previous form in the least. Now colored in various shades of green, she no longer had her trademark huge jaws. Her form was now similar to a dragonfly’s, with two long antennae located between her glassy green eyes. The large green wings attached to her thorax allowed her to hover in the air, though occasionally she would have to land on her four skinny legs. The rapid fluttering of her wings distorted the nearby air just a bit.

“Vibrava, the vibration Pokémon. This Pokémon uses its wings to confound foes by either whipping up sandstorms or creating ultrasonic waves. Vibrava has learned Dragonbreath.”

“All right, Vibrava! Good for you! Now, let’s unleash your full potential!” Lisa excitedly yelled.

“Crap! I can’t win this! But, I get chewed out AND called a sissy girl if I run away! Therefore… Marshtomp, use your Mud Shot!”

The teal aquatic creature tried to blast the newly evolved green bug-like dragon with a blast of smelly mud, but the winged creature took flight, completely avoiding the messy attack attempt.

“Don’t stereotype girls, pal! All right Vibrava, let’s see what your Dragonbreath can do! Sealeo, give it a nice Aurora Beam as well!” Lisa was now angry at this guy, after all he should know better. “Hey, jerk, am I a sissy girl too? After all, I’ve now got you on the ropes!”

The small dragonfly opened her mouth and unleashed a thick cloud of a gold-colored smoky substance. The quick Marshtomp crouched before executing a powerful high jump, dodging the attack. But it was struck by a chilly blast of Aurora Beam while in midair, and came crashing to the tiled floor. Dazed, it was now easy pickings for Vibrava, whose accuracy with her new Dragonbreath attack was dead-on. Sealeo took this opportunity to drag his heavy body toward his opponent before using his flippers to gain a small bit of altitude. He crashed down on Marshtomp, dealing a hard blow. The hulking Ice-type then slowly crawled off of his foe, leaving a knocked-out Pokémon in his wake.

“Heh. Guess it’s pancake time for you!” the victorious girl bragged, smirking as she folded her arms across her chest.

“NO! This can’t be!” The brown-haired Thrash agent recalled his squashed Pokémon and ran out of the lab’s front entrance.

A female agent rushed into the room. “Hahaha! My faith in the Brotherhood’s goals and mission makes me a stronger person and trainer than the likes of you! I have no personal grudge against you, but on official orders, I must defeat you. I choose Growlithe!”

“Time to light you up! Weezing, go!” Lisa shouted in response.

The red-headed young woman called out a furry orange puppy-like creature. The little mutt had black stripes on its back and a short, stubby tail. It bared its teeth as it growled at Lisa. The Pokémon then barked loudly in an attempt to startle its opponent. Unfazed by this attempt, Lisa’s Weezing let loose gray puffs of smoke as she hovered in midair. The purple creature shrunk one of her twin heads while inflating the other. Both heads took a long, hard look at the fiery adversary. Despite her bored, indifferent appearance, Lisa had a feeling that Weezing was actually very eager to begin this match.

“Allow us to start the show, little girl! Flamethrower!”

“Smog, now!” ordered the always-calculating genius trainer.

Weezing was able to release her attack and send the mass of purple fog toward her canine antagonist while it was still flaming at the mouth. Before even getting an attack off, the orange hairball found itself caught in the blast of a small explosion. “Advantage: Chemistry,” Lisa mused.

Growlithe righted itself and sent a searing line of bright red flame at the purple gaseous creature before she could launch a Smog counter. Weezing was sent reeling. “You can recover from that, Weezing! Don’t let that little hairball push you around!”

Shaking off the last attack, the poisonous Pokémon prepared another strike. With a low, “Weez!” she opened her mouth and shot out a concentrated ball of purple goo at the small puppy. Upon contact, the ball exploded in a mess of nasty purple slime. “So, that’s what a Sludge Bomb’s like, huh? Cool!

“It won’t be enough to change destiny! Growlithe, Crunch!” the blond-haired woman ordered, pointing directly at her floating purple target.

The fiery puppy was able to execute a high jump and land directly on the poisonous Pokémon’s larger head before sinking its teeth into her flexible purple skin. Unfortunately for the dog, its foe was able to send a cloud of putrid smoke into its mouth and down its throat. Coughing and hacking, Growlithe fell off its levitating target and landed on the hard tile floor with a painful – sounding thud.

“She’ll think twice before trying that again! Now, let’s finish her up with Sludge Bomb!”
The hotheaded hound easily jumped to the left before sending more flames at Weezing. She was easily able to avoid the incoming Flamethrower and countered with a sinister purple cloud. The Growlithe began to move to avoid it but suddenly stopped in its tracks, coughing and hacking from a previous poisonous assault. The cloud of toxic gases lingered over the furry firebrand before settling in and administering its nasty effect.

“We still have one more shot! Overheat!” the nervous young woman commanded, in a final effort to win the battle.

But the college grad-turned-trainer was one step ahead. Weezing had already let loose a Smog cloud and sent it floating toward the opponent. Growlithe was still gathering flames for its strike when the mixture of open flame and combustible gas caused the grunt’s final desperation move to blow up in her Pokémon’s face. As the smoke cleared, the outcome of this battle was confirmed. The stunned lady looked on as her puppy lay motionless on the lab’s floor.

As the woman recalled her fainted dog, Lisa looked on, hands on her hips, wearing a confident smile.

“This… this cannot happen… not according to what Thrash told me… I was to be invincible and unbeatable… Wait, could they all be lies? Perhaps… perhaps, Lisa, you are right to fight us. Perhaps this entire organization is one big lie perpetrated by the higher-ups. I mean, I understand the prophecy and all, but… some of the Brotherhood’s actions seem a bit extreme for me. Sorry, but I must be going. But I must thank you for helping me to see the light.”

Lisa watched as the woman slowly trudged out of the facility. “Well, at least there’s one of them now who can see things straight.

After the battle, the teenage girl looked around the lobby. No more Thrash agents were in sight. Brushing aside some of her long brown hair, she continued to hunt for any sign of Archie, Shelly or any other lab workers. Lisa happened upon a large red machine that was apparently used by lab staff to heal their Pokémon. Lisa put her Pokéballs into the machine and got them returned in a few seconds. Finally making her way to the back office, Lisa found the door locked. She quickly called out Persian, who made quick work of the lock with its long, sharp claws.

Immediately after entering the room, a dozen Thrash agents spotted the girl and ran toward her, but then a booming voice yelled, “Halt! Leave her to us!” The agents came to a stop and stepped aside, clearing a path down the center of the room and subsequently revealing two men wearing the distinctive armor of Cipher. Silver metal adorned their helmets and chest plates, with additional armor on their arms and legs. One of the two men was built like a wrestler, big and hulking with huge muscles. The other was a small, thin man, significantly less intimidating than his partner. Both men were grinning evilly and laughing softly under their breaths. The two then revealed Archie and Shelly. Neither was bound, but with two Thrash members with guns trained on them, they weren’t going to be making any sort of escape.

“Do not be alarmed, little girl, as there is no need,” the muscular Cipher agent started.

“Please, allow us the opportunity of introducing ourselves,” continued his short, thin partner.

In unison, they yelled, “Now, here’s our mission, so ya BETTER listen!”

“To spread our wrath throughout the land.”

“To control the world in the palm of our hand.”

“To eliminate those who desire to resist us and fight.”

“To beat them senseless until they see the light.”

“You know it’s Exol!”

“And Naps, of course!”

“Cipher Elite, now under the guidance of the great Bart Sy!”

“Submit to our demands, or we will guarantee you’ll die!”

Lisa immediately recognized this as a routine from some anime show she used to watch. Continuing the gag, she responded, “Hey, yeah! You’re Exhaust, and you’re Laps!”

Instead of going hyper, as the characters in the aforementioned anime would have done, Exol calmly replied, “You aren’t taking us seriously. I see your attitude hasn’t changed. But, your impudence ends here! Prepare to die!”

Rolling her eyes, Lisa sighed and said, “Yeah, Lord Yuan called. He would like his lines back!”

“Urggh! This talk is getting us nowhere! We shall battle now!” demanded the diminutive Naps, grabbing a Pokéball from the black belt on his armor. Exol reached into a large black briefcase and took out two large bazooka-like devices. The two Cipher goons attached the devices to their right arms and aimed the barrels at Lisa.

“And what exactly are those things?” queried the annoyed girl as she folded her arms and scowled at her enemies.

“These are the new ‘Thrash Poke Ball Launchers Plus’. Not only do they fire out our Pokéballs at high velocity, packing more power, but they also inject our rage inducing serum into them as they pass through the system. And, it looks a lot cooler than merely throwing the balls!”

Exol and Naps loaded one Pokéball each into a hole on the top of their respective device. With a deafening explosion of light and smoke, their spherical containers flew out of the bazooka’s barrel, opening in midair in a flash of red light.

The first Pokémon was one all too familiar to Lisa. Black as the tires on a car, with curved white horns where its ears would have been, Houndoom was nonetheless an unpredictable foe. White strips ran across its body, its pointed tail swaying violently. It opened its orange snout to reveal a set of razor-sharp teeth. Its four thin legs gave the creature a lanky but athletic appearance.

Its partner looked familiar, yet somehow different as well. It had a dark blue body with short, stubby feet, like Tommy’s Oddish and Gloom had. But atop its head was a group of five pink flower petals speckled with white. They surrounded a large hole that was centrally located on its head. It looked top-heavy as an SUV, and the girl wondered, “How can it support the weight of that big honkin’ flower?

“Go, Sealeo and Metang!” Lisa sent in her Pokémon to initiate combat.

Exol took notice to the Steel-type’s abnormal coloring. “Shiny Metang, huh? I suppose you got it from the university. They have hundreds of shiny Beldum around.”

“They’re no longer rare since the college figured out how to breed them to be shiny. So, don’t try to impress us,” Naps added.

The icy blue Sealeo wore a confident smile on his face underneath his moustache-like white whiskers. He inched forward using his front flippers to shove his bulk around. The floating silver Metang waved its claws about as its red mechanical eyes observed its opponents closely. The silver dish-shaped creature stared intently as it hovered above the lab’s floor. Deciding that this was a worthy challenge, it sent a wave of mysterious psychic energy at the oversized weed. The attack caused the air around Vileplume to become distorted as the mental energy converged on the plant, causing it to stagger a bit.

Exol looked on, then began laughing. “That won’t work against us! For we are not pathetic little Pokémon trainers! We are Pokémon Commanders, which means we don’t tolerate crap from our troops. If they fail, they suffer the consequences! You wimpy ‘trainers’ could learn a few things from us! Now, Houndoom!”

The fiery canine pointed its head upward and howled. An intense blast of light began beating down on the office turned battleground.

A fine powder began to shoot straight up from the hole in the middle of Vileplume’s flower. The spores were aimed right at Sealeo.

“Quickly, blow that powder away!” responded the teen.

The rotund sea lion inhaled deeply before blowing out a chilling blast of wintry air. This succeeded in freezing the spores and causing them to land harmlessly on the tiled floor.

“Now the fun begins! Fire Blast!” ordered Exol.

“Vileplume, annihilate them with Solarbeam! Now, Lisa, I shall expel you of your flaws!” boasted Naps.

“Geez, now you’re using Pronyma’s lines… All right, I’ll play your little game.”

As the vicious Houndoom released a swirling ball of flame from its mouth at Metang, the steely Pokémon ducked behind its freezing partner. The fireball scattered into its familiar five-pointed pattern, but it didn’t seem to do anything at all to the thick-skinned Sealeo. The big plant then released a shimmering green ray of energy from the center of its flower. This time, Metang interjected itself between its partner and the incoming strike, taking the hit directly. However, it recovered from the attack without much effort.

“Very good strategy, little girl,” taunted a smirking Exol, “but it won’t be nearly enough to prevail against us.”

In response, both of the teen’s partners launched their attacks at the large Vileplume, unleashing ice and psychic assaults at the blue and red flower Pokémon. They timed the super effective strikes perfectly so that the dazzling yet chilling Aurora Beam and the air-bending Confusion converged on the plant creature at the same instant. The attack recipient staggered but remained upright.

This isn’t going too badly so far…” thought Lisa.

With a menacing, almost demonic tone, Naps gave the commands to the Cipher duo’s Pokémon. “You two know what to do! Hit the right targets this time, you incompetents!”

Half out of fear, they carried out their master’s orders. Simultaneously, the skinny, athletic canine and the lumbering, top-heavy flower unleashed their respective attacks. This time the teen’s Pokémon didn’t have time to make strategic moves to protect the other from damage, and so the floating mechanical being got its face full of a five- pointed Fire Blast and the chilly sea lion was met with a brilliant Solarbeam strike.

“Oh, no! Can you keep it up, guys?” Both Pokémon struggled a bit, but nodded to their trainer to indicate they were still up to the challenge.

“Your Pokémon have guts, I’ll give you that,” Exol conceded, “but we have technology and brutal tactics on our side!”

Now it was Lisa’s turn to go on the offensive. Knowing that her water attacks would be useless under the current conditions, she had to think of an alternate plan. “Okay, Aurora Beam and Confusion at Vileplume!”

The floating machine sent more mental waves at the big-headed flower while its whiskered partner launched a chilling, rainbow-colored beam at the same opponent. Both attacks hit hard, and the Grass-type ended up stumbling backwards and falling on its back, its petals getting bent in the process. It made no attempt to get back on its feet and appeared to be completely out of gas.

The lightweight Naps reeled in frustration. “Damn! Return! Go, Magcargo!”

At the same time, the still-healthy Houndoom was called back into its containment device. “I’ll save you for the finisher. Tangela, get her!”

Both thugs fired a Pokéball from their respective arm-cannon. The two-colored spheres opened to reveal the girl’s next pair of adversaries. Magcargo looked like a giant snail. With a red body and black shell comprised of rock, it had a distinct, slimy appearance as bits of liquefied fire dripped from its body. Occasionally its circular shell would emit an eerie orange glow. Befitting its appearance, it moved about sluggishly, its large yellow eyes looking a bit vacant.

Tangela had two feet that looked like red sneakers. Its short, wide body was covered in thin blue vines of various lengths. In the center of its body, two wide eyes looked out from a black abyss, the only part of the Pokémon not awash in blue foliage. The long appendages seemed to shake and quiver a bit even while the plant stood still.

“They don’t scare me! Let’s strike Magcargo with Confusion and hit that Tangela with Aurora Beam!”

Commencing this assault was the bizarre plant, as it fired a lime-green Solarbeam at the aquatic Sealeo, dealing a very hard hit. The icy blue creature managed to shoot off a multicolored beam of frozen fury at the wide-eyed mass of vines, knocking it over. The sluggish snail began shaking its body, causing some rocks to come loose from its shell then fly at Sealeo. The repeated hard impacts compounded his injuries. Eventually the sea lion fell on his side, completely spent.

With a panicked expression, the girl quickly used her Pokéball to retreat her fallen ally before he took any more hits. “No! Sealeo, return! I’ll get you rested up as soon as I can. But for now, I call out Vibrava! Go!”

The green, bug-eyed Pokémon emerged, supporting her body on her thin legs. She was flapping her small, angular wings rapidly as she prepared for battle.

Meanwhile, the mechanical silver creature blasted the fiery slug with an air-bending Confusion, then swiftly avoided a Flamethrower launched in retaliation. Vibrava quickly dug a hole and disappeared under the tiled flooring. The walking blue plant blasted the floating Metang with another searing ray of lime-green power. The Steel-type decided to aim its next attack at Magcargo, sending a wave of mental energy toward it. As soon as the slow-moving firebrand recovered from the hit, it received a nasty surprise from below as the green dragonfly delivered another hard hit.

“You are playing with the big boys now. Destroy her with Fire Blast and Solarbeam!”

This pair of attacks might have been predictable, but they were deadly nonetheless. Though the lightweight green dragon was able to fly above the Solarbeam aimed for her, her metallic counterpart was not so swift and was at the receiving end of a devastating mass of flames.

“Metang, can you still continue! All right then, we’ll have a little fun with Tangela!” Turning to her opponents, the girl taunted, “You are playing with a cute college graduate now.”

Vibrava opened up her tiny mouth and let loose a cloud of dense orange fog, knocking the slow-moving Tangela back a few feet. Before the plant could recover, the steely Metang hovered toward the creature, left claw glowing white. The mechanical Pokémon then drove that claw into its foe’s tingly vine-like body, shoving it onto its back.

“Your pathetic tactics shall be your undoing,” calmly taunted Naps. “Get ready for this!”

“I doubt that,” responded the teenager. “Hit Magcargo this time!”

Vibrava had to endure a brilliant Solarbeam before burrowing underground. The metallic Pokémon unleashed another Confusion attack at the overgrown snail, but the slow-moving foe hurled a searing fireball at its antagonist. In true Fire Blast fashion, the attack spread into a star pattern before making contact, and the hard-hitting move was enough to ground Metang.

“Uh, oh, you better come back and rest! In the meantime, Jolteon, you’re up! Zap that Magcargo!” The girl thought, “Things aren’t looking too good right now, these guys are tougher than I thought…

A yellow-colored mammal emerged on the battlefield. With his spiked fur loosing electricity at the tips, he glared at the oversized snail with his thin black eyes. Jolteon condensed the crackling electricity into a single concentrated shot and fired it off, hitting the slow Magcargo right where it hurt- the face. The intense sunlight that had been powering the commanders’ Pokémon had faded away, and Lisa could see Tangela charging up what was likely a Solarbeam.

“Blast that plant with everything you’ve got so it can’t unleash this attack!”

The electric feline hit first, using a small electrical charge to zap the huge-eyed plant and slow its reflexes. The shiny, metallic creature then sent a wave of psychic energy at the foe, knocking it onto its back and interrupting its strike.

“Blast… we need the sunlight! Bring it on, Magcargo!” bellowed Naps.

“Guys, make sure it can’t cast Sunny Day!” advised Lisa. “As long as I can keep the sunlight out of this battle, I should be able to start gaining the upper hand.

Before the slow slug could execute the move, it was made the target of both of Lisa’s Pokémon. Electrical and mental energy converged on the snail’s head, depleting its remaining will to fight. Gritting his teeth in anger, Exol removed it from battle.

“Magmar, come forth and destroy!” ordered the husky Cipher thug, shooting off another sphere.

This creature was short and somewhat chubby, bathed in blinding yellow and red coloring. It stood on two legs and sported small claws at the ends of its hands. Flames emanated from the tip of its tail, as well as from two long ear-like appendages and a series of large spikes on its back. Its duck-like bill groaned in a deep voice, “Marrrrr!” It wasted no time in making its move, raising both arms up in the air. After doing this, the same intense light and heat that had engulfed the lab before had returned in full force.

So much for keeping the sunlight away…

The mass of living foliage ensnared the green hovering dragon Pokémon with its stringy blue vines, before repeatedly slamming the unfortunate winged creature on the hard tiled floor. Vibrava was able to escape this beatdown only by biting down on the aggressor’s vine with her tiny teeth. Reeling in pain, the plant flinched and released its grip. But now with the sunlight back in play, Tangela could use much deadlier tactics.

The hotheaded Magmar got itself ensnared in its partner’s foliage. But this was a deliberate offensive move, as the plant used its vines to throw the flaming creature in a dangerous but ingenious team effort. The firebrand hurtled straight at Vibrava with its fist extended. The extra velocity behind the punch completely stunned the dragonfly-like Pokémon, so much so that her opponent was able to unleash a nasty combo strike. It delivered two quick punches followed by a devastating roundhouse kick that sent Vibrava slamming into the wall. Magmar swiftly jumped aside as its partner let loose a massive ray of green energy.

“Stupid girl! Chuck Norris ain’t got nothin’ on Magmar and its roundhouse kicks! Eat this!”

I hate to admit it, but that was a really good combo attack they pulled off…” The stunned girl quickly called back her badly injured Pokémon seconds before the Solarbeam would have made contact. “Sorry about that… Man, these guys are tough… Persian, go!”

The lithe, athletic cat took the field, extending her claws and letting out a low purring sound. The lab’s bright lighting reflected off both the cat’s smooth, silky fur and the crown jewel on her forehead. Vibrating her whiskers ever so slightly, she crouched on all fours before executing an unusually high jump. She then descended on the vine Pokémon at a perfect forty-five degree angle, slashing the plant creature in its eyes before landing perfectly on all fours.

Lisa’s PDA announced, “Persian has executed an Aerial Ace strike.”

That’s pretty cool; I didn’t know Persian could perform airborne assaults like that.

Magmar opened its bill and spit out a massive fireball at the pointy-haired Electric-type. The attack spread into the familiar five-pointed Fire Blast pattern, and its large coverage area ensured that not even the agile Jolteon could dodge it.

“Okay, guys, hand in there and we’ll get these thugs… somehow…” Lisa said, though she was obviously getting quite unnerved. Her habit of fidgeting with her dress when nervous was one obvious clue. “Persian, charge up Jolteon for the next strike, then you know the rest!”

Quickly, the graceful beige Pokémon blasted her partner with intense bolts of lightning. But instead of reeling form the attack, the strike only served to make larger sparks emanate from Jolteon’s fur. The cat pulled another one of her high jumps, barely avoiding an incoming beam of lime-green energy. She descended on Tangela as before, pulling off another successful airborne hit. Persian quickly turned around and delivered a swift Slash with her piercing claws, ensuring the plant’s fate.

Naps withdrew it and replaced it with another plant. This opponent’s main body was blue and spherical, with three cotton-like growths on the top of its head as well as on either side of its body. These appendages were also circular in shape, and the Pokémon seemed to use the two at its sides to control its direction as it floated in midair. It was quickly met with a massive electrical strike from Jolteon.

“Jumpluff ain’t as easy to defeat as it looks!” warned the smaller of the two Cipher agents.

The fiery Magmar fired out a searing stream of intense orange flame, delivering a glancing blow to the yellow Electric type as he used its speed to dart to the right. He returned the favor with a sizzling Thunderbolt that took the big flaming beast by surprise. Meanwhile, Jumpluff had managed to blast Persian with a Solarbeam, to which the agile Pokémon reacted with a leaping Aerial Ace strike, grounding the enemy long enough for the cat to sneak in a Body Slam as well.

“All right! That’s the way to stop ‘em!” cheered the teenager.

“Enjoy it while you can, for your ultimate demise will come about quickly.”

The flaming Magmar encased its body in a glowing red aura before releasing a massive amount of flame from the spikes on its backside. The fire flew upward before descending on Jolteon in a massive display of power. The flames crashed on top of the unfortunate Electric-type before spreading out in all directions upon contact. There was nothing Lisa could do except stare in horror with her mouth hanging wide open. As soon as the flame and smoke cleared, the girl called back her Electric type. It was obvious that he couldn’t withstand a move that powerful and still be able to battle.

“Sorry… I’ll get you rested soon… Weezing, help Persian out! Go!”

The two-headed poisonous purple orb emerged, hovering several inches above the floor. Training her half-closed eyes on the spore Pokémon, she hurled a putrid clump of purple slime at the Jumpluff, sending it tumbling end over end while still in midair. Meanwhile, Weezing’s frisky feline friend let loose a rippling wave of clear blue water, extinguishing Magmar and knocking it out for the count.

“All right! That’s the way to go! And hey, the sun’s gone away, too! We can win this!”

“Don’t be so sure! It’s time for you to get reacquainted with an old friend! Houndoom, Sunny Day again!” Exol spat.

Loading the Pokéball into his launcher device, the muscular thug fired out the container and unleashed his fiery black dog on Lisa and her team once again. Persian quickly struck it down with a Water Pulse, but the dark creature still managed to howl and summon the sunlight once again.

Houndoom and Jumpluff, without missing a beat, fired off their respective fire and grass attacks. Both Flamethrower and Solarbeam came right at Persian, but the cat jumped to the left at the last second. Before the floating plant could react, it was struck with a blindingly fast airborne attack. Meanwhile, Houndoom was met with a mass of purple goop that splattered all over its face. As the Dark-type attempted to wipe the mess off of its face with its front paws, Persian rushed in at it headlong, knocking the beast asunder.

“Excellent work, you two!” Lisa complimented. “Now let’s lay the hammer down!”

“Shut the hell up! You haven’t seen the least of what we are capable of!” retorted Naps through clenched teeth.

The two Cipher controlled Pokémon unleashed their familiar attacks again, only this time the stunned cat was unable to jump clear of the dual attack.

“No! Persian!” Lisa shrieked. “I’ve never seen anyone battle with the brutality that these two do!” Nervously yanking on her white pantyhose, she soon ripped a decent-sized hole in the right leg. “Not what I need right now!” she thought, looking down at the jagged piece of white nylon that was in her hand, and the gaping hole where that nylon was supposed to be.

Persian eventually struggled to her feet before launching off her next attack. The graceful cat let loose a rippling stream of water before lighting it up with a bolt of electricity. This strike hit Houndoom just as a Sludge Bomb from the floating toxic Pokémon also found its mark. The floating Grass-type fired another brilliant green energy beam, but the targeted Persian easily jumped clear.

“You shall not interfere in our grand design,” threatened Exol in a patronizing tone.

The beige feline hurled a darkened energy sphere at the airborne Jumpluff, knocking the lightweight spore-like creature to the ground. However, the cat had left herself vulnerable to a devastating Flamethrower from the sinister black dog, torching her badly and causing her to fall over in exhaustion.

“No! Persian! Are you okay?!” Seeing that her starting Pokémon was certainly in a bad way, the worried girl quickly summoned her back in a flash of red light. “You did your best, and that’s all I can ask from you…” the girl whispered, a hint of sadness in her voice. Before she could react, the lithe canine spit out another scorching trail of flames, scoring a direct hit on the purple Poison-type. “Okay, not good!

The lightweight blue Grass-type attempted to sprinkle a mass of debilitating powder on the floating dual orb, but the toxic purple being was able to float to the right and avoid the potentially devastating attack. Unfortunately, that move put her right in the path of a searing, five-pointed fire assault from the nimble black canine, which hit dead-on. After recovering from the fiery hit, Weezing reacted by splattering a big glop of purple slime on the dog’s face.

“I know these guys are tough, but we can’t give up! Sludge Bomb on that Jumpluff!”

“So, you like pain and punishment, huh? Well, we’ll be more than happy to deliver! Crush them!” taunted Exol.

The quick little floating plant fired off several small seeds that lodged themselves in the poisonous orb’s expandable body. Thin green vines began growing out of them and proceeded to envelope the purple Pokémon. The plant parasite began to drain Weezing’s energy, as she began to lose altitude. The toxic Pokémon managed to hit her lightweight adversary with an exploding sphere of putrid poison, but the Leech Seed was already set in place to do its dirty deed.

No! This battle just goes from bad to worse!

Despite the fact that she could no longer remain afloat, the Poison-type managed to unleash a smelly purple Smog cloud, which reacted with an attempted Fire Blast to combust right in Houndoom’s face, sending the thin, agile creature careening backward.

Weezing, Jumpluff, and Houndoom are all weakened, I hate to do this but I need to pull a final desperation move…” Fighting back tears, Lisa gave Weezing one last command. “Sorry for making you do this, but… Explosion!”

Still struggling with the seedlings and vines that were sucking away at her energy, Weezing took on a blinding white glow before releasing massive amounts of energy in a devastating spontaneous combustion. The fiery blast consumed the entire office, knocking Lisa and some of the peons to the floor. Others, including the two commanders, were somehow able to retain their balance.

Sorry… Weezing…

When the smoke cleared, it was clear that the horrifyingly powerful Explosion was the finisher. All three Pokémon were completely spent.

Recalling her fainted Poison-type, the teen got back to her feet, then faced her adversaries as they called back their fallen troops. “Looks like this match ends in a draw,” Lisa observed. “Guess it’s time for you two to pack up and leave.”

“That is where you are wrong,” answered Naps calmly as he and Exol both pulled out AK-47 assault rifles from their huge briefcase. “Now, it is time to meet your maker.”

Quickly, Lisa attempted to give Exol a swift kick in the groin with her heels, but she forgot about his thick armor. The hulking thug grabbed her right leg and started to put the squeeze on Lisa. “How stupid can you be, you pathetic little girl?!” he laughed.

Ouch! Not my smartest decision! Stupid Lisa!” The girl writhed in pain as his grip became tighter and tighter. “Ow! Ow! I don’t think my leg can take much more of this! Please, someone help me!” Despite her efforts to squirm free, Exol’s grip on her ankle remained as strong as ever.

Grinning from ear to ear, the helmeted and armored thug showed great pleasure in causing Lisa pain. “I’d like you to experience the same pain that you’ve inflicted on our organization as a whole. It’s about time someone made you suffer. I’ll give you a taste of what I can do when I’m angry. Then I’ll let Naps here put you out of your misery.” Naps watched, smiling wickedly with his dangerous weapon at the ready.

Lisa’s struggles to free herself became more feeble as the intense pain was draining her energy. “Oh, God, why doesn’t he stop? Don’t tell me this is the last thing I’ll remember before I die!

Chapter 23: Thanksgiving in Traction

The trapped young girl was in a bad way as her strength weakened and her adversary’s hold on her became stronger. Lisa’s squirming had nearly stopped completely, and her shouts of protest and pain had been reduced to mere whimpers and sobs. “This can’t be happening! I can’t die like this!

Eventually she grew too weak to stand up and collapsed, but her burly adversary simply lowered himself to his knees as she fell so he could still hold up her right leg and continue to put the squeeze on her.

“This is so much fun, isn’t it?” sneered Exol as his torture continued.

The searing pain was too much for the girl to handle. Thoughts of hopelessness raced through her mind as her consciousness began to fade. “Sorry… everybody… it looks like I failed…

“Let her go!” Archie and Shelly tried to run to the teenager’s aid, but were quickly stopped when two guards pointed shotguns in their faces.

“Let her go?! Do you honestly think we’re stupid or something?!” the muscular commander snapped back.

“Exol, hurry up so we can kill the little bi-“

“Patience, my friend. First I want to hear the delightful ‘crack’ of severed bone marrow, then you may use her for target practice.”

“Fine,” Naps conceded, “but I’m just telling you that our time here is limited…”

Laughing maniacally, Exol was eagerly anticipating the sound of breaking bones when one of the agents overheard on her police scanner that the police were dispatched and were only minutes away. Ignoring the two scientists, the gang rushed over to their leaders to explain the situation. Exol released his grip on Lisa to address his underlings. One of the peons asked Naps, “We’ve got the weapons, should we engage them-“

“Normally I would say yes, but the boss does not want us to draw undue attention to ourselves. We would also be advised to kidnap the girl and deal with her later...”

During their conversation, Lisa, with the minimal strength she had left, had managed to get herself away from the gang by sliding along on the floor using her hands to propel her, much in the same manner that her Sealeo moved. Also, Archie and Shelly had interjected themselves between the girl and the thugs.

“Crap, we don’t have the time to deal with this! We’ll have to cut our losses!” Naps realized.

“Damn, that means less fun for us! Fine, we’ll let you live this time, Lisa, but we will meet again and next time you will not be so lucky.” The criminals quickly retreated from the office.

“Suppose we better get out of here, just in case they change their minds,” Shelly mused. The curly-haired young scientist and her husband made their way to Lisa, who was clutching her ankle and crying out in pain. Hoisting Lisa onto their shoulders, the two scientists carried the injured girl through a hidden exit, concealed behind a shelf filled with chemicals. From inside the tunnel, Archie began moving the bookshelf back to hide the entrance should the commanders return.

“Thanks for helping me out,” the hurt teen murmured as she was lifted out of the office. “I’m just so fortunate to make it out of that alive. Thank you…” As the three of them made their way down the black corridor, Lisa tried to stay awake. They finally emerged on the backside of the lab, just in time to watch Exol and Naps emerge from the lobby’s side exit, followed by the rest of the crew, who began piling into the Ford vans. The two leaders jumped into a large SUV and took off. The vans followed, with the sirens only faintly audible in the distance.

Looks like they made a clean getaway… Dang!” thought the teenager.

“We’re going to get you to a hospital,” Shelly told Lisa.

The injured and weak trainer started to quickly blurt out, as if in a panic, “Could you please take my Pokémon to the Center to make sure they’re okay? That was a brutal battle and I’m really concerned… about them. Also, my sister is still at… the Pokémon Center… and she’s probably… worried sick…” Toward the end of her rapid-fire speech, Lisa found herself short of breath, gasping for air.

“Slow down there for a minute! Yes, we’ll take care of it. But we’ll take your sister to our house instead of the hospital if that is okay with you.”

“That’s fine…” The girl blacked out.

When she came to, she found herself in the sterile white environment of a hospital emergency room, with Archie and Shelly looking over her. Lisa weakly said, “Archie… Shelly… thanks again for saving me. I’m sorry for being such a burden…”

Archie interrupted, “No, if it wasn’t for you, Thrash would have abducted us and forced us to work towards their sinister goals. So we thank you for interfering with their kidnapping attempt.”

Shelly told Lisa of the doctor’s prognosis. “The doctors didn’t dare remove your clothes, so they cut the right leg of your pantyhose just below the knee so they could examine your ankle. Nothing’s broken, but it is awfully swollen. The doctor recommended that you stay off that leg until at least next Monday. Until then, we’ll have you sleep in the living room in our house. Your sister and all of your Pokémon are fine and are waiting for you there. Since Thanksgiving is coming up, we think it would be best to have dinner with us. Those two friends of yours, Alexis and Shannon, they said they would look over you while we were at work.”

“Thanks,” replied Lisa. “When… when do you think we’ll be able to leave?”

“I’ll get everything at our house set up for your arrival. Archie will help you get into a folding wheelchair and out to his truck. We’ll take you to our place from there.” With that, Shelly left the room.

Soon a short, thin male nurse arrived pushing a wheelchair. A larger, more muscular male then helped Archie lift the immobile young teen out of the bed and into the wheelchair. She noticed that her right foot was encased in a rough-textured white cast. “Did he really do THAT much damage to my leg?

As Archie pushed Lisa down the drab hospital corridor, the girl’s mind was racing. “Is my sister safe? What would Thrash do while I’m sidelined? Would they come after me to try to murder me again?

“Archie,” she asked, “do you or Shelly blame me for what just happened at your lab? I mean, I wasn’t able to defeat those guys outright, and got my ankle messed up in the process.”

“No, I could tell that you were doing your best to protect the lab. Unfortunately, those creeps got their hands on some sensitive information before you had even arrived. Therefore, we need you to get better so you can continue your fight against Thrash.”

“Sorry for that… Getting myself hurt and forcing me to go on hiatus, I mean…” Eventually the young girl dozed off once again. She hardly noticed when she was placed into the front seat of the weather expert’s huge crew cab GMC pickup.

“We need you to just relax, rest up, and get healed as fast as you can,” murmured Archie. “The last thing I want to see is another fiasco like I almost caused in Hoenn…”

Lisa awoke to find herself lying on a burgundy-colored cloth-upholstered couch. Her sister and the two scientists were watching over her. “Ah, I see you’re finally awake, Lisa,” said the bearded Archie. His red-headed wife gave the injured girl a can of Mountain Dew as she slowly sat up.

Lindsay worriedly cried out, “Oh, God, sis! Are you gonna be okay?”

“Thank you,” she said weakly as she used the drink to help wash down some painkiller. Attempting to reassure her panicked sibling, she continued, “I’ll be fine; I just need to rest for a few days.” The doorbell rang, and as Shelly went to answer it, Lisa got a closer look at the room. It was a fairly well-decorated room, with a coffee table in front of the couch where she was currently resting. There were a couple of recliners and a flat-screen TV and entertainment center. On the wall opposite the couch was a large fireplace of brick and glass.

A painting hanging above the fireplace depicted an interesting scene. On the left side stood a red-colored creature. It was perched on a small island. Angular in appearance, the creature had pointed white claws coming from its limbs, as well as a set of equally white and equally pointed teeth. Above it, the sun rained down rays of intensely bright light. On the other side, a large blue whale-like creature was swimming at the water’s surface. Smooth and sleek in appearance, its long tail fins billowed in the water’s current. Above this creature were dark clouds and heavy rainfall.

Distracted by the painting, Lisa was caught by surprise when Shelly returned with the visitors. Both were familiar faces. The tall, athletic Alexis ran her hand through her silky, long blond hair, with a gray long-sleeved shirt and jeans on her lanky frame. Shannon’s skin was a bit paler, and she was at least five inches shorter. Her short black hair was adorned by a yellow ribbon, and she had on a brown jacket and khaki cargo pants. Both girls looked relieved to see that their injured friend was safe.

“Oh, man, you can’t scare us like that!” Alexis exclaimed. “You have to be careful wherever you go, because those Thrash guys are everywhere! We had to take care of three of ‘em on our way over here!”

Those words cut through Lisa like a knife, and make her realize the seriousness of her situation. The young girl began to break down. “I’m sorry… for making everyone worry. I… I just don’t know what else to say. I was just careless and impulsive and stupid, as usual, and…” As the two friends sat on the couch beside Lisa and tried to comfort her, the teary-eyed trainer continued, “But, I am so fortunate to have friends like you, and of course my sister as well. My Pokémon, who have always been by my side through this entire Thrash ordeal… And Archie, Shelly… You’ve helped me out a lot too. For that, I thank you all. Please… keep being my friends. I need you now more than ever…”

Shannon started, “Don’t worry, we’ll never let…” but was interrupted by Lindsay who pointed to her sister, who had fallen asleep again.

“Must be the anesthetic,” Shelly remarked in a soft, quiet tone. “She’ll be in and out of it for a few hours still.”

“Plus, I think struggling against that burly guy wiped her out too,” added Archie in a hushed voice. With that, the rest of the group left Lisa to sleep. She ended up sleeping until well into the next morning.

When she awoke, she caught Archie and Shelly, clad in their white lab coats, just as they were going to head to the lab. “Hey, guys, before you leave, what is the story behind that painting on the wall?” she asked, still rather groggy.

“That was the result of the misdeeds that Maxie and I had brought upon Hoenn,” began Archie, in a low, solemn tone. “The red creature is Groudon, and it was key to Maxie’s plan. The blue one is Kyogre, and it was the crux of our operation. After we had awoken them, they began to engage in battle in a large crater; their respective weather effects being felt hundreds of miles away. I keep that painting there as a harsh reminder of our past and why we must never disturb those ancient creatures again. If only Maxie had heeded that advice… Well, we’re off. Alexis and Shannon should be downstairs shortly if you need anything.”

“Thank you,” the girl said, still feeling a bit of pain from Exol’s attack.

A few minutes later, Alexis and Shannon entered the living room, carrying a plate with bacon and a bagel, and a glass of cranberry juice. The girls, both wearing green sweatshirts with pink embroidered flowers, blue denim miniskirts, and black leggings, handed Lisa her breakfast. “Thanks,” she answered, then inquired, “How do y’all coordinate your outfits? Both of you look too cute!”

The blond-haired young lady replied, “Thanks! Well, we do shop for clothes together a lot. Anyway, what do you say we put in a movie?”

The short girl with the trimmed jet-black hair knelt before the walnut veneered entertainment center. “Let’s see, we have ‘Rain Man,’ ‘WaterWorld,’ ‘Titanic,’ ‘The Waterboy,’ ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control,’ and… anybody notice a theme here? Well, they do have ‘NASCAR’s Most Horrendous Accidents’ if you’re not in the mood for something watery.”

“No way!” Lisa shouted. “Seeing that Geoff Bodine crash once is enough for me, thank you very much.”

“Well, I guess we can see what’s on TV… Oh, look, it’s ‘Professor Blaine the Science King!’ This guy is so awesome and he practically got us through chemistry class!”

“Didn’t he used to be a Gym Leader?” Lisa wondered.

“Yeah, I think so…” started Shannon as she got up and walked over to the other two girls.

“Quiet!” her taller friend yelled. “He’s explaining balancing chemical equations now, and I love the little rap that he does!”

On the screen was an old, bald guy with a white handlebar moustache and round-framed sunglasses. He was wearing a white lab coat and a gold Bunsen Burner attached to a chain around his neck. Uncharacteristic for an elderly gentleman such as himself, he was standing in front of some lowrider Chevy Suburbans and flashing gang signs.

“Check it, I’m gonna explain how you win the chemical equation fight
Change the coefficients so the elements are the same, left and right
But you can’t touch the subscripts, yo, they gotta stay the same
Or you change the actual chemical, and that ain’t how ya play the game!
In solving these equations, getting equilibrium is at the very core”

At this point in the rap, two female assistants in lab coats walked onto the scene and showed a poster with a sample equation on it.

“Here, on the left we have three nitrogen, but on the right there’s four…”

Suddenly the door came crashing down. Standing in the forcefully opened doorway stood a massively muscular female clad in a red exercise outfit. The woman cackled, “Well, well, well, lookie at what we have here. Lisa, that blasted girl who keeps getting in our way, is currently unable to move. I can capture you right now and replace that moron Fred as an admin of the Brotherhood! You’re coming with me!”

“Not as long as we’re here!” responded Alexis as she and her black-haired partner stepped up to confront the woman.

“Ugh. I HATE that new 80’s fashion comeback crap! You both look stupid!”

“Well, we just so happen to think the retro style is very cute!” spat Lisa from her position on the couch. “I may be injured but my Pokémon can take you on anyway!”

“No! If you’re getting to rest, so should your Pokémon. We can take care of this meathead!” Shannon ordered. Meanwhile Alexis ran over and pressed two buttons on a control panel on the wall next to the entrance.

“Wait, you losers take care of me?! Don’t make me laugh! I’ll crush your Pokémon, then your little fashion-disaster selves! Machoke! Seviper! Do it now!”

The massive Machoke was certainly packing some serious muscle. The creature’s powerful gray arms featured red veins that had apparently been pumped up as well. Around its waist rested a gold wrestling belt that it proudly showed off. In fact, Machoke seemed more intent on flaunting its powerful build and chiseled body vainly than anything else. It arrogantly flexed its arms and let out a low, confident, “Chooooke…” Lisa thought, “At least its personality is a perfect match for its trainer, if nothing else…

The agent’s other partner was a large reptilian beast. Black as the night sky except for splotches of yellow and purple camouflage markings, it boasted a sharp pointed tail at the end of its long, serpentine body. It opened its mouth to hiss loudly, showing a pair of monstrous blood-red fangs and a long, double pointed tongue. It waved its deadly tail around in a very threatening manner. Yet none of the girls were fazed by either creature, intimidating as they wanted to come across as.

“Is that the best you can do? C’mon, Lexy, let’s get this creep! Doduo, you’re up!”

“Right on, girl! All right, Kadabra, show ‘em what they’re in for!”

Shannon’s Pokémon was a bird-like creature. Its body was comprised of a ball of brown feathers. Connected to that body by a pair of long, thin necks were two identical heads. The two heads each consisted of two beady black eyes and an elongated beak attached to a sphere of brown plumage, much like a smaller version of its body. The entire body was supported by a pair of thin legs, both culminating in a large, claw-like foot.

Alexis unleashed a yellow creature that stood upright. A brown “vest” covered its torso. Its head was pointed in shape, with a yellow moustache growing at the end of its snout. A rather large yellow tail waved back and forth behind it. One of its thin, bony hands held a silver spoon, which it pointed at its enemies.

The bedridden Lisa grabbed for her Pokédex and evaluated all four Pokémon. “Machoke, the Superpower Pokémon: A mass of living muscle, Machoke must wear a special belt to keep its strength in check. Seviper, the Fang Snake Pokémon: Seviper has a vengeful, spiteful nature, and has carried a grudge against the Pokémon Zangoose for generations. Doduo, the Twin Bird Pokémon: While it cannot fly, its large feet and long legs make it an incredibly fast runner. Kadabra, the Psi Pokémon: The spoon that it wields is used to increase its already powerful psychic capabilities.”

“Machoke, Cross Chop! Seviper, Poison Tail!”

“Avoid those strikes, and hit Seviper with a Psybeam!”

“You too, Doduo, and knock ‘em with an Aerial Ace!”

The muscular brawler rushed in at both foes, its hands poised to make a sweeping chopping motion upon reaching its opponents. But it wouldn’t get that chance as the two-headed bird jumped using its powerful legs, then came down at the enemy, striking it from above with the sharp tip of its beak. The serpent’s pointed tail was dripping with purple ooze as it swiped at the thin yellow Pokémon, but the intelligent creature easily jumped aside before hurtling a semi-visible beam at the poisonous snake.

Both foes were sent reeling but righted themselves before going on the offensive. Machoke delivered a devastating punch to Doduo’s underbelly, sending the lanky bird stumbling backwards. Meanwhile, Seviper had grabbed ahold of Kadabra’s arm with its huge fangs, and the wily psychic struggled to free itself until it was able to get off a Confusion attack.

“Y’all all right?” After the girls’ Pokémon nodded to indicate their status, the girls proceeded to direct their Pokémon to use the powerful Psybeam and Aerial Ace attacks.

“Go get her, you two! Send her packing!” Lisa cheered from the sidelines.

Both agile Pokémon were able to jump clear of retaliatory strikes from their foes before striking the hulking gray creature with a ray of psychic energy and an overhead beak strike. But the sneaky snake used its long black tail to sweep both Doduo and Kadabra off their feet.

“Idiots! Why aren’t you winning?! Those are just kids!” The woman was shaking her fist and gritting her teeth.

In response, Machoke closed in on Doduo, grabbed the bird by both necks, and hurled it at the wall behind Lisa. The impact caused a shelf with photographs to fall down, with a big dent left at the place of impact. Seviper rammed the yellow brainiac from behind, sending the spoon-wielding Pokémon crashing and knocking over a recliner. All three girls had looks of worry on their faces after this last tactic. Awakened by the commotion, the younger Northwood sibling groggily made her way downstairs, but upon seeing the battle raging, quickly ran back up the steps and out of the way. Seemingly simultaneously, the three teens yelled, “Oh, no! Are you guys still okay?!”

Both of the girls’ Pokémon slowly made their way back into contention. Now angry, they teamed up against Machoke, launching Psybeam and Aerial Ace strikes at the arrogant musclehead. This final combo hit was too much for the big brute to take. As the huge woman called it back, she bellowed, “Seviper! It is up to you!”

The slithering Poison-type jumped up and clamped down on the bird’s brown circular body with its huge fangs. But its partner was able to use some psychic persuasion to remove the reptile before it could inject its poison.

“Use repeated Sludge Bombs until they go down!”

Opening its mouth wide, Seviper began launching volleys of purple slime at both of its enemies. But both of the agile Pokémon easily ran the gauntlet of incoming poison strikes, zigzagging to confound and throw the serpent’s aim off.

Completely in sync, the girls yelled, “All right! Way to dodge those attacks! Now, Psybeam and Tri Attack!”

Kadabra fired its concentrated mental energy at the snake while Doduo prepped an attack that featured weak blasts of ice, electricity and flame combined into one, triangular-shaped ray. Both beams struck the serpent, as it was still out of breath from spitting out all of those Sludge Bombs. Seviper lay motionless after this last impact, and the stunned bodybuilder called her fallen reptile back.

“You two were great! Way to go!” cheered Shannon and Alexis excitedly after their latest victory.

“You go, girls!” added Lisa from the sidelines.

“What? How is this possible? Me, losing to a couple of children? I really don’t want to report this to the commanders, so let’s keep it our little secret!”

“Fine, whatever,” the two girls replied simultaneously as the defeated Thrash thug got her steroid-enhanced self out of the house.

“Wow! You two are great trainers! I was very impressed!” complimented the awestruck genius teenager.

“Well, Lisa, we did have some major motivation to send her packing,” Alexis answered.

The tall teen ran to the phone to inform Archie of what had happened. Meanwhile a shivering Lisa asked Shannon, “With no door standing, I’m freezing! In my bag is a Cle…” She then realized, “There’s no way she’d know what college that jacket came from.” The incapacitated girl then continued, “… or rather a purple windbreaker. Could you get it for me, please?”

“Sure thing. Hopefully we’ll be able to go to Lowe’s after Archie gets back and buy a new door. And maybe he won’t be too mad at us for having a battle in his living room.”

I certainly hope he isn’t mad at me, after all I was the person that she was after…” Lisa slipped the purple jacket on over her rather wrinkled blue floral dress and green cardigan as the other two girls caught a news report on television. The teen on the couch immediately turned her attention toward it as well.

“In a breaking news story, hot on the heels of the abduction attempt of Research Lab heads Archie and Shelly Wallers, Dr. Amy Sequoia of Fort Barnes and two unidentified scientists were kidnapped from Baxter Hall on the main campus of Fourtix University minutes ago. While there were signs of a struggle, it did not appear that either the victims or the abductors used any Pokémon in the attack. Stay tuned to News 4 for the latest developments in this case.”

“Oh my God, they got the professor?!” Lisa yelled out in anger. “Those creeps really will stop at nothing to achieve their goals! Though I can’t help to think that it’s partially my fault. If I wasn’t injured, I could’ve protected them…”

“Lisa! Stop blaming yourself!” Alexis scolded. Then, in a more calm tone, she added, “Lisa, I know you’re one to take responsibility for everything, almost to a fault. But there are some things that cannot be controlled. Even if you had won against those two, there was no way you could have known that Dr. Sequoia was their next target! That situation was out of your hands, and you can’t be blaming yourself for everything. You can’t keep on putting yourself down for these things.”

“I’m sorry, but you’re right. I can’t continue to get down on these things that I can’t control. I’ll try to keep that in mind. Thanks for setting me straight.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it, Lisa. We’re all friends!”

Lindsay noticed that the commotion had died down. Dressed in her favorite school outfit, she simply asked, “When’s lunch, you guys?”

With all of the girls feeling and hearing their rumbling stomachs, they decided to prepare some sandwiches for lunch. Alexis took Lisa’s six Pokéballs, and told her friend that they planned to let out the Pokémon in the backyard so they could eat and socialize. Lisa agreed to this plan, but regretted she could not watch them interact.
*******

“I am very concerned about Lisa,” Persian fretted. When I saw her last, she was lying in a bed, with her leg wrapped in this big white object.”

“So,” Sealeo asked, “don’t she always wear those white coverings over her legs?”

“This one is different. This one is very thick, not like the skin-tight coverings she usually wears. Plus it seems she cannot move that leg. I fear it might have something to do with those silver guys we battled. Let me be the first to say, I have never had such a difficult battle in my life.”

“I know,” agreed Weezing. “I’ve never had to use Explosion before… and I hope I never have to again. But we were in a really tight spot, two against me, so I don’t think she had much choice.”

Metang droned, “Those men had abnormally high power levels… chances of victory against them was estimated at four percent…”

Vibrava said, “Then I guess we should be lucky we were able to survive that battle.”

“Were those guys part of the same group that we’ve been battling against?” asked Jolteon as he rubbed his eyes with his front paw. “The silver outfit looks familiar.”

“I would imagine so,” the cat answered as she licked her paws. “Their demeanor and choice of Pokémon certainly fits the mold.”

Weezing looked on, worriedly releasing large amounts of smoke. “I don’t like this. These guys are getting way too strong, and I’m concerned with what will happen to us if we lose to them.”

“Well, then we have no choice,” Vibrava said. “We need to become stronger. We must embark on tougher training if we are going to keep pace with them. Our human seems to be going light on us lately. Unfortunately, we cannot afford that right now, not with these criminals on the prowl.”

“I concur,” replied Persian. “While it may not be easy, we must strengthen ourselves. And for that, we need Lisa to push us harder. I will attempt to convince her to do so.”

“Definitely would be a good idea,” Jolteon added. “We’ll need any advantage we can get against these guys.”

“Desiring higher power output levels… rigorous training regimen is advised…” droned Metang.

“So, then it’ s settled. Let us embrace our tougher training with enthusiasm!” Persian called out.

Fresh from scouring the backyard for food, Sealeo approached his partners. “So, what’d I miss?”

The other Pokémon shot hard stares at the inattentive Ice-type.
*******

Meanwhile, the four girls sat down in the damaged living room to eat and talk.

“Hey, you two, I just want to thank you again for helping me out all these times. If not for y’all, I may not even be here today, so just… thank you for always being there for me.”

“Lisa, save that stuff for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow! Then you can get all mushy on us!” Shannon giggled.

“I… Sorry, I forgot all about that!’ exclaimed a shocked Lisa.

“Sis, it’s amazing that you’re such a genius, yet you’re sometimes so forgetful and scatterbrained!” replied the youngest of the four girls.

“I know, I know… It’s just that… I really can’t explain it! Stop ganging up on me, y’all! I’m the one in the cast here!”

The two married scientists returned home late in the afternoon. After explaining about the battle to the homeowners, Alexis and Shannon followed Archie back out of the house in search of a replacement door. Shelly and Lindsay were left to clean up the mess left from the battle.

As she righted an overturned chair, the curly-haired woman asked the bedridden girl, “So apparently, those Thrash guys just won’t cut you a break, huh?”

“It would certainly seem that way. I mean, breaking and entering the day before Thanksgiving just to capture me… I must be causing them some major-time difficulties.”

Once they returned home, Archie and the girls worked into the night to install the new door. Otherwise, everyone would have frozen that night.

The next day, the girls, Archie, Shelly, and a couple of Gym Leader friends, Bernie and Reed, sat around a large dining room table. Lisa was seated in a folding wheelchair on loan from the hospital, as her ankle was still fairly swollen.

Some interesting discussion was taking place. The Gym Leaders were talking about the trainers they had battled in the past year and who they thought had the most potential to win the big tournament that was in less than two months. While Reed had not battled Lisa, Bernie thought that, “Lisa has the potential to make it at least in the Sweet Sixteen, regardless of what the polls say. You can’t always trust what a bunch of suits say about Pokémon training ability anyway.” He then advised his fellow Gym Leader, “You better be ready for one heck of a battle against this young lady. And these other two young ladies,” he continued while motioning toward Alexis and Shannon, “they also impressed me during my battle with them.”

“Hey, thanks for the confidence booster,” the girls replied.

“Yeah, thanks a lot for that. I just hope I can live up to expectations,” Lisa added while taking a bite of some corn.

“You just have to have some confidence in your capabilities as a trainer,” Reed advised. “But don’t think for a minute that I’m gonna be a pushover!”

“Now, you know I wouldn’t want that.”

The dinner served as a time for everybody to take a break from their training and research, and to chat with their fellow trainers. All of the attendees seemed very relaxed as they simply talked about a myriad of subjects and generally have a fun, delicious dinner.

During the course of the wonderful turkey dinner, the question came up, “What are you thankful for, Lisa?”

The girl was quick to reply. “Firstly, the Lord granted me the gift of life and an opportunity to make the most of the talents He granted to me, so I must thank Him for His grace. My friends, of course, both Pokémon and human. My Pokémon are always ready to defend me at a moment’s notice, and they’re always there to get me through the hard times. Of course, my sister Lindsay, who never fails to bring me back down to Earth when I need a dose of reality. Alexis and Shannon, who taught me that losing isn’t the end of the world and that I can be successful at Pokémon training, just like I was at college. Also, my parents, who prodded and nudged me to embark on this journey in the first place, and who have always been supportive of me, even if they do get a bit caught up in their work. Then there’s Archie, Shelly, Inspector Morgan, Dr. Sequoia, all of the Gym Leaders… without their help I would not have made it this far. Thank you… thank you all…”

Everybody in the room took a moment to reflect on Lisa’s words. Finally, the younger sister spoke up. “Seeing as how my sister was so kind to pour her heart out, I only think it’s right to let her have the opportunity of saying grace. Go ahead, sis!”

“Me? Well, I… okay… let me think for a minute…”
*******

“Okay, looks like these Nidoran have fully recovered. I think they can be sent back out into the wild.”

Inside the Bluefield City Pokémon Center’s lobby, a hefty, bald man, a pack of Nidoran, their parents, and the local attendant were discussing what to do next.

Dirk, the heavyset gentleman, told the nurse, “There’s a bit of a complication. While the Nidorina and the young ones can return to the wild, that Nidorino had been captured by a trainer, and without her permission, we can’t let him return to the wild. I don’t feel comfortable about breaking up the family, but…”

The nurse suggested, “Why not try to ask her, then? Explain to her the situation and see what she says.”

“Now why didn’t I think of that?” Dirk reached for his phone and dialed Lisa’s phone number, which he had written down before leaving for the Pokémon Center.

“Miss Northwood?”

“Yes, who is this?” came a girl’s voice on the other end.

“This is Dirk, from Roy’s gym. While keeping watch over Dr. Sequoia’s ranch, an incident came up involving the children and mate of the Nidorino you captured. We would like to reunite the family, but since you captured Nidorino, we can’t let him go unless you give the go-ahead.”

“Well… he never did like training with me, so I think it would be for the best for him to return to his family.”

“So, are you officially releasing him?”

“Yes. I only ask that you explain to the rest of the Pokémon at the ranch about this, so they aren’t surprised when they don’t see him anymore.”

“Will do. Thanks, Lisa. Okay, bye!”

“Bye!”

Dirk shut the phone and took Nidorino’s Pokéball out of his pocket. After making an adjustment to the device, he knelt before the horned purple creature.

“I just wanted you to know that your trainer has officially released you so you can return to your family.” The Poison-type nodded in agreement as he and Nidorina prepared to walk out of the Pokémon Center with their young. But they were interrupted by a girl entering the building. Immediately, one of the male Nidoran walked up to her.

The girl began nervously pulling at her long blond hair. “Um, what’s going on?”

Dirk let out a hearty laugh. “Well, Kassie, it appears as if you’ve come at just the right time! These are the Nidoran that were with you when those poacher attacked! And it looks like this little one wants to go with you!”

The Nidoran turned around and told his parents, “Mommy! Daddy! This is the nice girl who tried to help us! I wanna travel with her!”

Nidorina said, “Well, I don’t see a problem with it. What about you, dear?”

Her partner let out a sigh. “Well, the girl who caught me let me go, so I guess humans aren’t all bad. If that’s what you wish, then I won’t argue.”

“Thanks! Bye! I’ll never forget you!”

The rest of the Nidoran family bid farewell before leaving the Center, leaving Kassie with one new Pokémon for her team.

As they headed back into the tall grass, Nidorino remarked, “I guess that girl who captured me wasn’t so bad, after all. Perhaps, once our children are ready to fend for themselves, I’ll pay her a visit.”

Chapter 24: Back in Action

The next couple of days were uneventful, mostly with random discussions between the four girls and also the Pokémon from time to time. On Monday Shelly took Lisa back to the hospital. The doctor looked over the girl’s leg and determined that it was fully healed. He finally cut the cast off of the girl’s leg and she was able to walk again.

Lisa was understandably excited to be mobile again, though she did a good job of keeping it hidden and maintaining a façade of maturity. “It feels so good to be able to move around normally again! Now hopefully I can get back to kicking Thrash butt! Being helpless for a week was bad enough, but now I’m back in full form!

By the time the two returned to the house, they found out from Lindsay that the other two girls had received a phone call and promptly took off.

“That’s too bad,” responded the elder Northwood sister. “I really wanted to thank them again for looking out for me this past week.”
*******

In a darkened office, the two brutal commanders, Exol and Naps, faced three men whose features were obscured in shadows. The man in the center addressed the armored thugs.

“Exol, Naps, you two had the Northwood girl at your mercy, yet you let her escape?!”

“Master,” Exol explained, “the police of course picked the worst time to interfere with us. Damn girl must have called them before our battle.”

“The police… I hate them… with a bloody passion! At least you did follow my orders and not leave any evidence behind. At this point, we need to switch to a more covert M.O. We cannot have key members arrested at this stage,” responded the man in the long cloak.

“Sir, we also acquired their research data which is conveniently downloaded on this disc,” Naps boasted, handing the mysterious cloaked figure a CD-ROM. “Thus, we may have no need for Archie or his wife in person.”

“Yes, excellent work. I am impressed with your performance, despite your failure to kill the girl. At least you battled it out to a draw against her, which is more than I can say for these other idiots that work for us.”

“But, sir, it gets even better. After our dealings at the Weather Lab, we headed to the main campus and abducted the three scientists you had instructed us to. The job was quite easy, too. Our subordinates should be bringing them in shortly.”

“Beautiful. I did not think you would complete that so quickly. You shall be commended for your efforts…”

From outside, a female voice screamed, “You SO better let me go, or you are like, SO in for it! I mean, totally in for it!”

“Why, look, there’s one of them now. I know from personal experience that the pink-haired girl scientist can be a royal pain. She’s my freaking sister! Do you know what it was like having to deal with that?! And apparently those sleeping pills I gave her didn’t last for the advertised six hours. I apologize, but she’ll probably give us all headaches!”

The man to the right of the leader picked up an intercom and said, “Acrod and Snidle, I am leaving it up to you to ensure that our new captives get a taste of Thrash hospitality. And make sure you shut the girl up!”

Naps interjected, smirking and cracking his knuckles as he spoke his next words. “If you may, I wish to have some alone time with my sister. Call it payback.”

“Agreed. If they are as obstinate as Archie, we will have to use all sorts of psychological and physical torture to bend their will to our needs. It will not be as easy as it was with Maxie,” the leader explained.

“I shall be happy to ‘convince’ the male one to see the light. That guy was especially uncooperative and even had the gall to insult me personally on the way over here! I would like your permission to show him how we do things here,” Exol requested, forming an evil grin on his face.

“Also acceptable. You two are dismissed. Check up on ‘IT,’ then you may do as you wish until I give you further instructions.”

“Agreed!” proclaimed the two armored criminals before arrogantly strutting out of the office.

Taking a seat in an office chair, the enigmatic leader told both subordinates, “I like the attitude of those two. See to it that they are rewarded accordingly.”
********

The two sisters stayed one more night at Archie’s before continuing on their trip. That next morning, Lisa slipped on her frilly, two-layer pink dress with its floral print in shades of orange, red, and purple. Underneath she sported a pair of black leggings with lace trim on the bottom of the legs. Of course, no Lisa Northwood ensemble would be complete without the girl’s trademark white brimmed hat with its delicate purple ribbon trim. Anticipating a rough road ahead, the girl elected to wear her flat dress shoes as opposed to a pair of her heels.

With her cast finally off, the teenager and her younger sister were more than ready to continue toward their next destination. Both threw on heavyweight jackets, as they knew that winter was fast approaching and it was none too warm outside. The girls were sure to thank Archie and Shelly for their warm hospitality during the past week before heading out. Before they left, the scientist reminded Lisa, “Don’t forget to check out Route 511 for me!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll see what’s going on there!” she replied as she waved to the couple one final time.

Making their way past the rows of houses and apartment buildings, the siblings soon left the bustling city behind them as they headed southward, along an old dirt path marked “Route 510.” However, this route cut directly through a thick and foreboding forest. The towering trees were devoid of most of their foliage now, but fully decked out with leaves, they would certainly have blocked any and all sunlight from permeating the pathway below. Thick undergrowth, uncut grass, and weeds galore set the scene as Lisa wondered once again how a beat-up pathway like this could possibly constitute a “route.”

The girls had not made it far into the forest when two young boys confronted them. Both were about the same height. One wore a straw hat, blue T-shirt and shorts, and held a small net in his hand. His buddy wore a blue baseball cap, yellow T-shirt, and blue shorts. Both were shaking and shivering quite a bit, probably because they were dressed for summer and this was the last week in November. “Looks like someone failed to watch the weather report this morning…

The net-holding boy told the Northwood duo, “Hey, you two! If you want to pass through our stomping grounds, you have to defeat us first!”

“I don’t suppose you’d be up for some trigonometry or statistics?”

“We have no idea what you’re talking about,” answered the boy in the ball cap, “but we’re hungry for a Pokémon battle!”

The up-and-coming mathematician sighed. “I suspected as much. All right, I guess I can humor you.” Despite her outward expression, the trainer was actually excited to get into Pokémon battling again. She only wished it was against more capable opponents.

“Dustox, you’re up!”

“Go get ‘em, Mightyena!”

Dustox looked like a cross between a moth and bright 1980’s fashion. Its bright lavender body was flanked by a pair of neon-green wings. As it flitted about in midair, its bulging yellow eyes and red feelers on its abdomen caught Lisa’s attention. Suddenly, it flew in and nearly bowled Lindsay over. Mightyena began snapping its large jaws viciously, the blowing wind ruffling up its two-toned gray fur. It wagged its bushy black tail as it crouched on all fours, red eyes fixated on the girls.

“Guess I better counter these two with Sealeo and Weezing!”

Sealeo’s hefty blue form emerged on the forest floor while Weezing’s purple body hovered above the ground. The aquatic Pokémon beat the ground with his rear tail fin while his toxic partner let loose puffs of gray smoke.

“Now you will face the wrath of Jack and Hank, trainers extraordinaire!” boasted the boy in the ball cap.

Dustox began the show by attempting to shower the sea lion with a flurry of pointed barbs laced with toxins. The floating poison factory ruined those plans by running interference and taking one for the team, even though the damage was minimal. Sealeo was able to shoot off a rainbow-colored ray of chilled energy at the big bug before the gray wolf Pokémon sank its teeth into the icy creature’s blue blubber. It relented only after getting a big blob of purple slime in the face.

“Good teamwork, guys! Let’s lay the hammer down on that Dustox before it afflicts us with anything! Aurora Beam and Sludge Bomb!”

“No way! Sleep Powder now!” shouted the kid with the net.

“Tackle and Bite them!” yelled his buddy.

The flying moth released a fine powder from the multicolored spots on its wings, but the hefty ice Pokémon blew out a chilled blast of wind that flash-froze the particles, rendering them harmless. The two-headed orb-shaped creature then opened her mouth and let loose a thick cloud that obscured the battlefield. Mightyena charged headlong into the cloud, but emerged on the other side, slamming into a tree at full speed, knocking it out for the moment. With another Icy Wind, the smoke dissipated and Lisa’s Pokémon initiated their assault on Dustox, hammering it with a wintry Aurora Beam and a putrid Sludge Bomb.

“No! That’s not fair! Get those Pokémon!”

“Please,” countered Lisa, “if you can’t deal with tactics like that, you’ll never make it!”

With that, the toxic purple Weezing slammed face-first into the flying insect, knocking it into Mightyena as it struggled to its feet. The two were then met with an onslaught of icy and poisonous strikes as they attempted to get back into contention. However, the constant battery of concentrated sludge and icy rainbow energy was too much for the two to handle. The boys’ faces turned red as they were forced to call back their Pokémon and admit defeat. They turned and scowled at Lisa, eyes twitching.

“No… How could we lose? This isn’t possible! We… we hate you!” Jack and Hank whined before running off, giving the girls obscene gestures.

Rude much? I think the cold weather must be affecting their battling. Hopefully the next trainer I come up on will have some semblance of skill…

After the brats were long gone, the girls proceeded down the badly maintained path through the sinister forest. Soon enough they were passing by a large colony of green cocoons hanging from branches by a thin string of white silk. Aside from swaying in the wind, their bodies, pointed at both ends, were completely motionless. Even the white eyes located on the cocoon’s wider end remained unblinking. As the two continued to pass the mysterious cocoons, Lisa’s phone started to ring.

Answering the phone, the older sister replied, “Hello?... What?! No, I do not want to sign up for your credit card, and I don’t care how low the interest rate is! Do not call this number again!” Snapping the phone shut, she then angrily muttered, “Stupid idiots…”

“Sis, we’re in trouble now!” her younger sibling yelled out, a look of fear fixated on her face.

“Linds, what are you talking abou… AHHHHH!”

The girls were presented with a horrifying scene. The sky above them was filled with numerous butterfly-like Pokémon. Pairs of gently curving white wings were flanked by slender purple bodies. The creatures’ bulging red eyes wore a look of pure anger and the swarm was releasing powder from their broad wings as they quickly closed in the girls.

Still frozen in fear, Lindsay asked, “What now, sis?”

“I advise we go with Plan Z-4907: RUN AWAY!”

Both girls spun around and sprinted away from the angry insects. Though their running velocity was impressive considering both were wearing knee-length dresses, the angry Pokémon still had speed on their side, and quickly closed in on the fleeing girls. Each time they dared to look over their shoulder, the view was solely of the mob of bugs quickly approaching, threatening to overrun them and subdue them with whatever powder they were armed with. “Great. I never thought it would be the bugs that would do us in…

Suddenly, a large Pokémon flew past the girls and toward the Butterfree swarm. The girls stopped in their tracks and turned around to see another insect, this one an oversized yellow bee, confront the vicious and bloodthirsty butterflies. Fixating its large red eyes on those of the aggressors, the lone Beedrill launched a flurry of stingers from its large pointed front legs, striking a few Butterfree directly and forcing them to retreat. The outnumbered bug then let out a shrill, high-pitched, “Beeeeee!”

“You two better get behind me,” instructed a man’s voice. The two sisters complied just as a second swarm of bugs, Beedrill this time, zoomed past, headed toward the insect conflict. Along with its newly-arrived brethren, the bees proceeded to pelt the rival bugs with numerous poison stingers. The purple bodied, white winged insects attempted to whip up gusts of wind to deflect the pointed barbs, but the poison-secreting projectiles still found their mark for the most part. After a couple minutes, the Butterfree swarm got the hint and retreated. After that, most of the Beedrill also dispersed, leaving only one. The lone bug then landed in front of the man that had appeared out of nowhere. He was a muscular man of medium height, wearing a brown park ranger’s outfit.

Lisa faced the man and told him, “Thanks for saving us, Mister… sorry, what is your name?”

“My name is Frank Jervis, and I am a Forest Patrol Officer. Unfortunately this is the time of year when the Butterfree are aggressive, as their young are preparing to emerge from their Metapod state. During the late spring, it is the Beedrill who are the aggressors. So it seems we are always worrying about swarms attacking travelers. They’re building a road to bypass this forest, but it’s not proceeding very quickly. Plus there’s the poachers we have to worry about.”

“Poachers?” inquired Lindsay.

“Indeed,” Frank answered. “Though the Caterpie and Weedle families are most common here, occasionally travelers will come across rare Bug-types such as Scyther, Pinsir, and Heracross. Those three Pokémon are only found here and in the Safari Zone to the east of here, although I do wonder how the Zone is able to support as many species of Pokémon as it does. Anyway, what say you to a two-on-two single battle versus my Beedrill and one other Pokémon?”

“Sounds good. Go, Metang!” The teen called out her silver-toned levitating machine, not knowing if it would cooperate. It emitted a mysterious series of beeps as its mesmerizing red eyes examined the opponent closely. The dish-shaped creature sent a wave of distorted air aimed at its foe, knocking the yellow insect aside. “Looks like it’s up for this fight.

“Got a shiny Beldum from the university, huh? How’d you get it? Anyway, Beedrill, after it!” the ranger yelled.

“I got it by winning their annual calculus contest, though to be honest they had more algebra on it than calculus,” the girl replied.

Aiming its twin frontal stingers at Metang’s face, the bee began jabbing the steely opponent repeatedly. The attack wasn’t too powerful, but it was executed swiftly so that Metang couldn’t react immediately. It took over a minute but the silver metallic machine ended Beedrill’s assault with a well-aimed whack on the head with its steel arm.

The huge bug suddenly was enveloped in red energy before disappearing. “Sorry, but Beedrill isn’t doing that well. This one will be more suitable for the battle.” With that said, Frank released a large blue Pokémon. Its slick, smooth body was complemented by short, broad hands and feet. It wagged its stubby tail around, watching its opponent with tiny black eyes that looked like mere dots on its head. Its smile seemed to indicate a carefree, happy-go-lucky attitude.

“Quagsire, the Water Fish Pokémon. While swimming, this Pokémon often hits its head against obstacles such as boats and rocks. Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to mind or feel pain from the impacts.”

This guy knows what he’s doing…” Aloud, she commanded, “Metang, Confusion!”

“Counter it with Mud Shot, then Earthquake when it’s down!”

Although the Steel-type was the first to strike, unleashing an invisible shot of psychic energy, it was the blue aquatic Pokémon that delivered the harder hit. First it opened its mouth wide to spit out a slimy stream of nasty brown mud. The putrid projectile found its mark, knocking the floating machine to the ground. Quagsire took advantage of its foe’s vulnerable state and quickly jumped up in the air. Landing hard on the forest’s floor, it caused a massive tremor that shook up Metang pretty badly – and caused its trainer to stumble backwards and land hard on the dirty ground.

“Well, this ain’t goin’ good!” whined Lisa as she tried to wipe the dirt off of her rear, fully aware of the fact that brown mud does not look appealing when it’s caked on a pink floral dress. Focusing on the battle again, she cried out, “This isn’t working, Metang! Return! I think it’s high time Vibrava entered the equation!”

The girl replaced the silver-toned floating Pokémon with another airborne one, only this one could only remain flying for short periods at a time. Despite her lightweight green body, her wings were unable to support that weight for extended periods of time and so the bug-like creature would have to land periodically on her four thin legs. She opened her small mouth and let loose a cloud of orange gas, hitting the ‘spaced-out’ water-dweller in the face. It seemed not to care and simply spat out a few high-velocity shots of water at the green Dragon-type.

Frank simply smiled. “Ah, good job. The hallmark of a good trainer is to know when to switch out your Pokémon when they’re at a disadvantage. But, it’s time to finish this! Quagsire, Hydro Pump!”

“Dig underground to avoid the attack!” the teenager countered.

Frantically swiping at the ground with her tiny legs, Vibrava was able to duck underground seconds before a huge and impressive stream of water would have doused Vibrava’s chances of winning. This time, a small cluster of dandelions got drenched, but only because of Lindsay’s quick reflexes in hitting the dirt. Unlike her older sibling, though, she didn’t raise a fit about getting her outfit dirty. After all, she had five more just like it.

“Now, let’s give it a Slammin’ good time!” laughed Frank.

The small dragon emerged from the ground and rammed into the larger Water-type’s underside, causing the carefree creature to stagger a bit. However, the winged green one was then made the victim of Quagsire’s strong tail muscles, as she was knocked cleanly aside with one well-aimed downward swipe.

“Come on, don’t let ‘em push you around like that! Give it another taste of Dragonbreath!”

The bulky blue creature let loose a flurry of water bubbles just as the winged green dragon released her cloudy breath attack. Both projectile strikes simply passed through the other and found their mark.

The crafty teen then thought up a plan. “Okay, we’re going to combine our attacks to make a big impact on this battle. First, I need you to use Dig once again.”

“I’m not sure what you’re planning,” the ranger countered, “but it won’t work on my Quagsire. Hydro Pump!”

By the time the amphibious blue Pokémon released its sparkling blue blast of liquid, however, the wily Vibrava had already burrowed her way underground again. Patiently, Lisa waited, until the time was right. Quagsire looked around, dumbfounded at its disappearing foe.

“Now, reveal yourself with a Dragonbreath!”

The dragonfly-like Pokémon blasted through the soft earth and launched herself into her opponent’s slippery body. The force was enough to send the Water-type airborne. Before gravity could ground it, Vibrava blew another cloudy Dragonbreath at her antagonist, knocking it further into the air. The Quagsire finally crashed hard onto a fallen tree branch. It didn’t even try to get up and Frank called it back into its Pokéball.

Worked like a charm,” mused Lisa as she watched the injured Quagsire disappear from battle in a soothing red glow of light.

“Very impressive, young lady, but it’s time for Beedrill to make its grand reentrance! Go!”

The huge bee made its appearance, waving its yellow and black striped thorax at Vibrava tauntingly while aiming both of its oversized cone-shaped frontal stingers at it. The insect fired off numerous poison-tipped projectiles at its foe. Quite a few of them made contact, injecting their poison into the unfortunate Dragon-type.

Grrr… This ain’t good…” The girl shouted, “Try one more Dragonbreath, then I’ll call you back to rest! Are you able to get off one last attack?”

The lightweight green Pokémon responded by letting loose her cloudy attack. Though the mysteriously glowing cloud found its mark, Lisa could tell that her pained Pokémon strained to execute the move. She quickly pulled her out of battle. Taking her place was a battle-weary Metang. Still, with Quagsire’s super-effective strikes out of the picture, the girl figured it should be able to hold its own.

Waving its chromed, clawed arms about, the floating dish-like creature used its vast mental powers to knock Beedrill for a loop before charging in at the insect with its claws glowing white. After delivering a tough-as-nails scratch to the bee’s abdomen, the winged foe suddenly disappeared back into Frank’s Pokéball.

“Another hallmark of a great trainer is knowing when to stop an impossible battle instead of needlessly pushing their Pokémon. And since my Beedrill has nothing to counter your Metang, I must concede this fight. Good job.”

“Thank you,” replied Lisa. “You certainly have some good Pokémon with you.”

“In this line of work, dependable Pokémon are a must. Quagsire is my main method of extinguishing forest fires, and my various bug Pokémon help me locate poachers or trainers in danger by communicating with the other Pokémon in the forest. The complexity of Pokémon communication networks is staggering.”

“Fascinating,” the girl replied as she gave her Vibrava some antidote for her poison affliction. “You certainly are knowledgeable about Pokémon around here. Is it very far to the next town?”

“Not at all. Less than a mile, and you’ll be out of the forest. Afterwards, the next town is clearly visible. Now, please excuse me, I must get my Pokémon refreshed just in case something comes up. I wish you the best of luck!” Frank said with a friendly wave.

Lisa waved back and called out, “I’ll see you around!”

Sure enough, the forest soon gave way to a grassy open field, with a small settlement visible off in the distance. The sisters started running toward the village, but were soon stopped by another pair of girls. The two identical twins looked to be about ten or eleven years old, with long brown hair. Both were wearing identical outfits – lavender-colored Sunday dresses with blue and green floral prints. The girls also had on fancy straw hats and white tights.

Wow, they look really cute in those outfits!

“Hey, do you want to battle?” the twins asked in unison.

“Sure! Double Battle, right? But let’s get a picture of us first! Y’all are really cute!” replied the older trainer.

“Um… okay!”

Lisa sent out her Persian and gave her digital camera to Lindsay. The older Northwood sister and her feline Pokémon then posed with the dressed-up twins as Lindsay snapped their picture.

After checking the picture, the teenager said, “Thanks a lot! Now we can battle!”

“You got it! Clefairy and Meowth, go!”

Clefairy emerged as an extremely cute little Pokémon. Its round body was bathed in a light pink hue, and it playfully waved its tiny hands around while doing a little dance. It had pointed ears and little “wings” on its back, though it seemed to lack the ability to fly. It presented an adorable smile to its trainers before facing the Northwood duo. Meowth, of course, was a very familiar Pokémon. The small feline stood on its large hind feet, wiggling its whiskers ever so slightly. Extending its claws from its front paws, it took a battle stance with the gold coin on its forehead reflecting the bright sunlight.

“Okay, go Persian and Jolteon!” Lisa called out her two Pokémon, one of whom took the field in a bright flash of red light. The pair wasted no time in sending sizzling blasts of electricity at their diminutive foes. The powerful lightning strikes found their mark and dealt devastating damage. Both of the little Normal-types fainted instantly.

“Oh, no! We can’t ever win these battles! We’re just a couple of losers!” As the twins called back their injured Pokémon, they began to break down and cry. “We…we’re just beginners… we haven’t won a single battle… Couldn’t you have gone easy on us?”

Oh, man,” Lisa thought as she called back her Pokémon, “this brings back some memories. That’s exactly how I reacted when I lost to Alexis for the first time. I better try to comfort them…

Before she realized it, however, the twins were merely a speck on the horizon, already in the town up ahead. Just then, the two Northwood girls heard blood-curdling screams.

“This ain’t good at all! We better see what’s going on!” Lisa shouted as she and her sister ran toward where they had heard the screams.

Chapter 25: Meeting With the Breeders

Lisa and Lindsay quickly ran into the town to see a horrifying sight. The elderly Thrash agent, Tommy Junger, was holding both of the twins by their necks. Though he retained his white beard and bald scalp, he had traded in his black business suit for a black tank top and blue jeans. He also appeared much more muscular, “ripped” even. Smiling wickedly at the girls, light reflected off his contact lenses, giving his eyes a terrifying red glow.

Both twins were crying out until Tommy warned them, “I have a gun and a knife, and plenty of other means to torture you back at our base. I advise that you shut the hell up unless you want to die in the most painful way imaginable.” With that both of them fell silent, but with tears still running down their face and with a look of terror on their faces. Their facial expressions seemed to be begging, “Save us!” to Lisa.

Letting out a sinister laugh, the old man gloated, “I was going to use these girls as test subjects for ‘IT’, but this is even better! Now, I can capture these twins and eliminate my nemesis! Breloom, Magneton, you are first in line! Destroy that little wretch!”

Tommy then threw both girls to the ground. Both girls winced and clutched their legs in pain as the old man approached Lisa. Lindsay ran around to the other side to try to calm the two other girls. The elderly terrorist pulled out a black device – the same Pokéball bazooka that Exol and Naps had used. Throwing two Pokéballs into the device’s input hole, he fired off two of the spherical containment devices, accompanied by loud explosions and flashes of blinding light.

The tall grass-type wore a green mushroom-like “hat” atop its head. Its head, neck, and a flared collar were beige in color, and its face featured two beady black eyes and a jutting mouth. It struggled to support its body on its green legs, waving its tail around. Several green spherical spores rested on the tip of the tail. Hovering so it was at equal height with its partner, Magneton emitted weak electric charges while spinning around its horseshoe magnets; certainly its power level seemed rather low. It was also because of magnetism that the three individual Magnemite that comprised this Pokémon were able to keep their steel bodies so closely attached. All three of its perfectly circular eyes focused on the girl.

But there was something wrong with both Pokémon. Both wore numerous nicks and scratches from hard battles, and the Breloom even had large wounds where it may have been cut open at one point by a claw or horn. Both Pokémon looked tired and worn, and not suited for a battle in their condition.

“A couple things I should tell you. First, the boss and I swapped Pokémon. His Breloom for my Vileplume. He said it would better balance out his army.”

“And why do your Pokémon look so beat before I even sent out my Pokémon?”

“Meh, call it punishment,” answered Tommy in a frank tone. “These guys have lost to you and that other pair of brats too many times. So I’ve started beating them, forcing them to train for hours on end; heck, they haven’t seen a Pokémon Center since the Eisenhower administration, figuratively speaking. And they haven’t been fed since I don’t know when!”

“How could you do such horrible things to your Pokémon?!” Lisa exclaimed.

“Um, they have failed me repeatedly. Duh. They don’t deserve perks like food or Pokémon Centers, or crap like that. Now, let’s battle!”

“Sealeo, Weezing, you’re up! Use Bubblebeam on Magneton and Sludge Bomb on Breloom!”

The hefty blue water mammal opened his mouth and sent a torrent of perfectly round and clear bubbles toward the already injured Magneton. The hovering Magnemite collection was barely finding enough energy to stay afloat in the air, never mind dodging an attack. Same story with Breloom. Though it wearily tried to shuffle its bruised body out of the path of the incoming attack, it was unable to move fast enough to avoid the incoming ball of purple sludge. Needless to say, both creatures fell to the ground.

“Dammit!” Tommy called back the two Pokémon. “Houndoom! Gyarados! Do not fail me! Attack with Frustration!”

If his first two Pokémon looked bad, these two looked like they needed to be in a hospital. Both of them had numerous open wounds and blood was leaking from the larger ones. The ordinarily vicious pair instead let out pained cries.

The girl yelled out, “Stop! I refuse to battle your Pokémon since they’re this injured!”

“Then stand back and lose!” The old man then realized his two Pokémon weren’t moving. “What the hell is the matter with you?! Attack her!” he screamed as he ran over to his crippled team. Lisa winced as the brutal senior citizen delivered repeated kicks to both Pokémon.

“Stop that now!”

“Shut up! These are MY Pokémon and I can do whatever the hell I feel like! Huh?! Get up, you fools!”

“Sir, I do hope you realized you fainted your own Pokémon! Get them medical attention before they suffer permanent injuries!”

“Whatever!” screamed Tommy. “Now, Claydol and Gengar, time to destroy her!”

He fired two more Pokéballs from his arm-cannon, but these two would not even emerge. “Come on, you blasted Pokémon! Get your lazy, sorry excuses out of those spheres and MAIM HER!” Still he got no response.

“In case you’re that dense, Tommy,” Lisa informed her nemesis, “those two are probably in worse shape than the others you already sent out. They aren’t going to battle since they’re too worn out to even stand up!”

Upon seeing that his final two Pokémon were not going to emerge, the old man fell to his knees. “I… How the hell did you win?! It is inconceivable! Blast it… this operation has been compromised! Fine, I shall get my Pokémon healed, as you suggested, but only so they can crush you! Next time you shall NOT be so lucky! I will completely and utterly annihilate you!” After that empty threat, the hefty old man ran off toward the town’s southern edge.

The teenager quickly ran over to where her sister was kneeling with the twins. When Tommy had slammed them on the ground, it cut open their knees and they were bleeding quite a bit.

“Quickly, we have to get you two some medical attention! It doesn’t look like anything’s broken, but we need to stop that bleeding!”

“Our parents live in that house over there,” the twins said, pointing to a modest single-story house that was less than a block away.

“Can you walk on your own?” Lisa asked.

“We… we think so… we’ll try to make it back.”

“Grab on to me for support. I’ll help you make your way over there,” the oldest girl advised.

The twins each grabbed hold of either side of Lisa’s body, with Lindsay following close behind. As the four made their way toward the twins’ house, Lisa kept thinking, “Thrash… they have gone too far this time. And that Tommy…He’s such a creep! Kidnapping innocent girls AND abusing his Pokémon! I feel sorry for those Pokémon, and I hope these two girls are okay and didn’t get too shaken up by that incident…

Finally arriving at the house, Lisa knocked on the door. The girls’ parents answered and immediately began to panic. “Oh, my God, what happened to you?! Craig, grab the peroxide and some bandages, now!” yelled the mother.

After getting the girls bandaged up, their parents naturally wanted to know what had happened. Lisa explained to them about the attempted Thrash kidnapping and how she had fought off the kidnappers.

“Thank you for saving our daughters!” the worried parents cried out. “We don’t know what we would have done if those creeps would have harmed them! Thank you again!”

The curious teen had to ask, “Where exactly are we right now?”

Craig, the father answered, “This is Milltown, but there’s really not much here, just a Pokémon Center and a few houses. My name is Craig Garrison and this is my wife, Christi. As for our daughters… the one on the left is Angelia, and the one on the right is Sara.”

Lisa let out a loud squeal. “Oh, you KNOW I have to do this now!” She then turned to the twin on the left, and began singing.

“Girl, you left me with nothing,
Nothing but a photograph, whoaaa…
Angelia, where you running to now?
Angelia, got to make you turn around…”

At this point, Angelia began to sweat and her face turned red while her sister had a chuckle. But that all ended when Lisa said, “You’re next!” More singing followed as the older girl faced the other twin.

“I’ll never find another girl like you, for happy endings it takes two
We’re fire and ice, the dream won’t come true
Sara, Sara, storms are brewin’ in your eyes, oh, oh, ohhh…
Sara, Sara, no time is a good time for good-byes…”

At this point, all of the girls save Lisa were blushing and sweating in embarrassment over the teenager’s singing. Lindsay was the first to chastise her, saying, “Sis, they’re hurting enough! Don’t compound the damage with your singing!”

“Well, sor-ry! Jeez, you never let me have any fun!”

“Anyway,” Christi continued, “we are the local Pokémon Ambassadors for this area, as well as the Breeding Center operators. Although the period for handing out Pokémon is over, we were given permission to let our daughters practice with their Pokémon between now and when the gyms reopen. So they’ll be trying to get in next year’s tournament.”

“But, Mom, we’re so awful at battling that we’re never going to win a battle!”

“Now, now, don’t be like that,” Lisa explained as she kneeled down before the girls. “Take it from me, training’s not easy. You will lose many of your first battles, but use them to help you become stronger and build a relationship with your Pokémon. Don’t give up; you will improve with time. Trust me!”

“One more thing, can you get our Pokémon healed at the local Pokémon Center?”

“Sure thing,” the teenager replied as she accepted the two spheres from the twins.

Arriving at the Pokémon Center, Lisa handed eight Pokéballs – six of her own and two belonging to her new friends – to the man behind the counter. As she headed to the seating area, another person bumped into her.

“Hey, watch where the friggin’ hell you’re walking, dumb-nut!” the boy spat at Lisa. “Do you realize that you are in the presence of greatness? For it is I, Terence Mason, the greatest Pokémon Trainer ever to grace this forsaken region! And you had better show me the damn respect I deserve, stupid noob!”

The girl looked up at the very rude and boastful young man. He wore an obnoxiously large gold chain with a ruby-studded gold dollar sign around his neck. His hands were inserted into pockets on his oversized red hoodie. It seemed to go along with his overly baggy jeans. His brown hair was short and spiked, and his skin well tanned. Peeking at Lisa from above the rim of his dark sunglasses, his smirk was confident and cocky.

“Well, rude and narcissistic much?” the girl retorted.

“When ya got it, flaunt it, baby! And since I’m the top ranked trainer and the defending champion, not to mention being undefeated this year, I am a better trainer than you can ever hope to be! And you, my prissy little peon, you are not ranked at all! How dare you talk down to me!”

“Well, allow me to hand you your first loss then, punk!”

“Sorry, but I’m not in the mood for dealing with noobs like you today. If you happen, by some fluke, actually make it to the Pokémon League tournament, I will be happy to beat the living crap out of your Pokémon and send them to the coroner at that time! Peace out, loser!” Terence then made his way to the receptionist. “Give me back my Pokémon, kibble for brains!” he ordered.

“Very well, sir,” the older gentleman replied, rolling his eyes at the patron’s bad attitude.

“Don’t you cop an attitude with me, or I will see to it that your next job will be as a pooper scooper!” Terence threatened before marching out of the building. Naturally, he shoved Lisa to the ground on his way out.

“What a rude little ingrate!” Lisa yelled as she got off the floor. “Just because he’s the highest ranked trainer doesn’t give him the right to act like he’s almighty!”

The attendant apologized. “Please pardon the rude behavior of that individual. Regretfully he has let his past success go right to his head.” The man let out a sigh before continuing. “He didn’t always be like that. Last year when he passed here, he wasn’t a big shot, just a typical trainer. But then he made it to the championship tournament ranked third overall, swept the rounds, and only lost to the fourth Elite Four member at the last minute. Since then, his ego has inflated, and, I hate to say it, but someone needs to bring him down a peg or two.”

The girl responded, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll be the one to do it. Nobody shoves ME down and just struts off!”

“Now hold it there, young lady,” the man interjected, “if you do defeat him and become champion, make sure you don’t let it go to YOUR head, or next year I’ll be hoping for someone to take YOU down!”

“Sorry! You’re totally right! I’ve made a lot of friends since starting out, and I do not need to lose them just by turning cocky and nasty. I’ll try my best to not let things go to my head.”

“Indeed, I don’t really think you’ll have that problem. Oh, and your Pokémon are ready. Unfortunately, we never built this Pokémon Center with guest rooms, so you’ll likely have to camp out tonight. Take care now!”

“Thanks!” Lisa waved as she took off back to the Garrison household. “Camp out? Are they kidding? There has got to be something here where I can stay!” Quickly making her way back to the breeding center, she noticed that nowhere in town was there a place to lay her head. As she made her way through the tiny village, not a single lodging facility was to be found. No Comfort Inn, no Red Roof Inn, not even a no-name budget motel.

Maybe that guy was right! But I am so not in the mood to spend another night among the wildlife and without Wi-Fi for my PDA! Not to mention no free continental breakfast!” Growing desperate, she burst into the house, asking, “Hey, does anyone know where I can find a decent hotel?”

“How rude!” exclaimed Lindsay before turning back to talk with the twins. “So, did you happen to watch last night’s…”

“Sorry, Lisa,” Craig told her, ‘but this town is usually just a quick stop-over for folks to heal their Pokémon and drop them off with us. However, since you were nice enough to take care of our daughters and save them, I suppose we could put you and your sister up in our spare bedroom. Unless, of course, you want to camp out…”

“Thanks a lot for this. I REALLY do not want to camp outside!”

“One thing though, and your sister and my daughters all brought this up. Please, no more singing or giving them math tests. They would really just like the chance to relax.”

Putting her hand behind her head, Lisa’s face turned red. With a nervous and embarrassed look, she replied, “Sorry! I’ll try my best not to bother them! Man, I’m such a dork!”

“That’s fine, they just wanted some time for themselves. They’ve already eaten, but we decided to wait until you got back.”

“Thanks, I’ll be there in a minute.” The teen then placed the twins’ Pokéballs next to where they were sitting, but the girls were too caught up in conversation to notice. Finally sitting down at the dinner table, Lisa had a big plate with a huge juicy steak and golden corn in front of her. “Looks great!” she excitedly responded.

Over dinner, the curious girl asked the couple about the whole breeding process.

Christi explained, “Well, most of it is up to the Pokémon themselves. We accept them form the trainer, let them out of their Pokéballs out back, then just let them do whatever they wish. We have found that some Pokémon are more likely than others to make an egg, which apparently serves as the genesis for the majority of Pokémon species. A researcher from a faraway region, Professor Elm, is very interested in the subject, and he ha been to our location several times to observe and take notes. In fact he was here until just a week ago.”

Lisa listened silently, as she was completely engrossed in this concept.

“Now, the university in Bluefield has dabbled in controlled-environment breeding, and had asked for our assistance in the past. We saw nothing wrong or unethical in their process, but we nonetheless prefer the natural method. Interestingly, though, they have found an interesting detail about the Pokémon Beldum and its evolutions. Apparently if they are bred under the proper conditions, the resulting egg will result in a differently colored Beldum with surprisingly high probability.”

The last part immediately caught the girl’s attention. “Yeah, I know, my own Metang was received from the university as an award, and it’s chrome-colored instead of the normal blue!”

“That appears to be the alternate color of Beldum that is produced,” added Craig. “It’ll be interesting to see if any other Pokémon can be bred so they produce alternately colored offspring on a consistent basis. Well, I think we’re going to turn in to bed. If you’re staying up late, please try to keep it down.”

“No, I think I’m gonna head for bed too. I’ve had a rough day. Good night!” the girl said, letting out a large yawn as she trudged toward the spare bedroom.

The next morning, Lisa awoke to the doorbell ringing. Quickly throwing on her pink floral dress, she ran down the stairs to see who was at the door. Aside from her sister and the breeder family, there was another girl speaking with them. She was rather tall, with blond hair, a pink blouse, and blue skirt.

“Lisa,” Craig addressed the late riser, “I’d like to introduce you to Mimi. She is in training to become an expert breeder. She’s also a Contest coordinator, but I already told her about the whole sordid affair regarding Contests in our region.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you,” Mimi said, extending her hand. “I’ve heard that you’ve been battling against some pretty nasty criminals. I certainly hope I never have to deal with the likes of them!”

“Yeah, it is pretty draining. So, what brings you to this neck of the woods?”

“I figured that if I want to be the best breeder, I’d better learn from the best. The Garrisons have a reputation as some of the best breeders around, so I came to gain some knowledge on the finer points of the subject. I did want to see some of the sights nearby, so I’ve been gone for the past three days. Just got back this morning. Now then,” she continued, scanning Lisa’s outfit, “while I do like the pink, do you really think floral suits you?”

“Yes, I do. I think my outfits are very cute, thank you very much.”

“Okay, okay,” replied Mimi, “at least it’s not nearly as bad as your sister’s outfit. I already told her, but the schoolgirl look – with the red plaid skirt and all – simply looks dated.”

“Well, I do have to agree with you there. Perhaps we need to take her shopping for clothes sometime.”

“Fine, let’s all gang up on me today!” shouted Lindsay.

“All right, why don’t we settle down here,” Christi interjected. “Lisa and Mimi, why don’t you two join us out back so we can give a primer on egg hatching strategies.”

Inside a large room attached to the back of their house, Craig and Christi presented the two girls with their egg incubation room. On shelves rested rows upon rows of eggs in individual slots that had been cut into wooden holders. The eggs were in a myriad of differing colors, presumably matching the color patterns of the Pokémon they contained.

Suddenly, a flash emanated from Mimi’s bag. A chubby pink Pokémon emerged, sticking its huge rabbit-like ears up straight. Looking at Lisa with its huge circular blue eyes, it formed a smile on its face bad bounded over to the girl with its huge feet. The creature hugged Lisa with its short, stubby arms.

“Wiggly!”

“Okay… ouch… can’t breathe… getting smushed…”

“Sorry about that,” Mimi chuckled. “She just really likes to hug people she likes, so take it as a compliment. Okay, let her go so she can breathe again, okay!”

As soon as the creature released its grip and Lisa had a chance to catch her breath, she decided to scan this new Pokémon’s data.

“Wigglytuff, the balloon Pokémon. Wigglytuff has the ability to inflate its rubbery body to several times its size to intimidate foes.”

As soon as Mimi called Wigglytuff back, Craig began his lesson.

“The eggs here will never hatch on their own. The trainer who originally left their parents with us has to claim the egg when they pick up their Pokémon, then keep the egg alongside their Pokémon as they continue to travel. Research has shown that the eggs will only hatch when in close proximity to active Pokémon, but it doesn’t matter if they’re in or out of their Pokéballs. It seems that active Pokémon give off some energy or aura that aids in the hatching process, but research on that aspect is still inconclusive.”

“Then why the incubation?” Lisa asked.

Christi explained, “We simply incubate them so the Pokémon inside will survive until the trainer comes to pick them up. If for whatever reason the trainer doesn’t desire the egg, we’ll hatch them, either us or our daughters. We’ll take walks with the egg and a few of our own Pokémon. Then we’ll give the hatched Pokémon to an adoption agency or an Ambassador if it qualifies as a legal starting Pokémon according to league rules. It is a shame that some trainers do not want the eggs that their Pokémon created…”

“Well, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind me taking these eggs!” boasted a man. The group spun around to see a pirate-like individual dressed in a striped shirt and gray cargo pants laughing at them. “Resistance is futile! Give them up!”

“I don’t think so!” retorted Mimi.

“Yeah, we aren’t going to let you!” Lisa added as both girls grabbed Pokéballs and prepared for battle.

“Fine, then! Prepare to lose! I’m getting these eggs for the boss one way or another!” boasted the man, with a black bandanna covering his hair.

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