The faint cry floated through the darkness, repeating itself almost regularly. Batoy turned around, his eyes squinting to see something, anything. But the darkness was almost absolute, and he could see nothing. The cry continued, wavering a bit before growing faint. Batoy spun with greater urgency. “Hello?!” he called out, his voice fading into the distance without echo. It was almost as if he hadn’t called out at all. “Where are you? Are you hurt?” The cry picked up, and Batoy turned around again. It had come from the back, right? He stepped forward, his eyes peeled for anything. There was nothing but darkness. “Can you hear me? Are you okay?”
The cry turned into a whimper, suddenly loud and close, and Batoy glanced down. Laying there, her body quivering, was an eevee. Her brown fur was battered and burned, as if some hellish combination of fire and lightning washed over her body. Her eyes opened, and despite the horrid shape of her body, they were sharp and clear, filled with anger. Her whimpering came to a sudden halt, though her shivering continued. Kneeling, Batoy gently reached out. “It’s okay, girl. Everything’s gonna be okay.” But before he could reach the injured eevee, she snapped at his hand, and had Batoy not pulled away, a quartet of sharp fangs would have sunk into his flesh. “H-Hey?!” he yelped, cuddling his hand as if it were the most dear thing to him. “I’m just trying to help!” He softened a bit. “But don't worry. Everything’s gonna be just fine.”
Rather than listen, though, the eevee only grunted and pushed herself up to her paws, the excruciating pain obvious as she winced, tears building at the corners of her eyes. She staggered once, her tail dragging against the ground as she forced herself away from Batoy. “You can’t leave in that condition…” Batoy called after her, standing up and matching her tediously slow pace. But the eevee did not look back towards him, and instead marched forward, one step at a time, a grunt of pain sounding out with each step. ~Vee… vee~ she groaned, a rhythm of pain matching every time her paw set down.
“Stop it!” Batoy called out after a moment. “You’re gonna kill yourself if you keep doing that!” He searched his pockets, and the eevee’s ears perked at a peculiar sound, and she tilted her head in time to see a pokeball maximize in Batoy’s hand. “Vee…” she growled in disgust and contempt, glaring at the ball with seething hatred. “Here… lemme capture you, alright?” Batoy said, kneeling down again. “I can get you to a Pokemon Center, and they’ll fix you up. How’s that sound?” The eevee shook her head. “But you gotta get healed up or you won’t ever recover!”
Batoy pressed the ball against the eevee’s back, and before she could protest, a red light engulfed her body, binding her and pulling her within the sphere. Batoy stood back up, holding the ball, watching as it quivered and shook before finally coming to a rest, the capture net's matrix sealing itself. “Don’t worry, girl,” he whispered to the ball. “We’ll get you all fixed up. You won’t have to be in pain anymore. I’ll be sure to take care of you.”
Very slowly, Batoy’s eyes parted to a pale grey light and the light pitter-patter of raindrops impacting against a blinded window. Groaning, he slowly sat up, rubbing his eyes as his vision returned to him. “My… head…” he muttered as he slid off the couch on which he had been sleeping, a light fleece throw falling on to the wooden floor. He must have been in one of the rooms of the breeding center; the room he’d awoken in was fairly small, with nothing but a couch placed adjacent to him and a small television on the opposite wall separating a small inset kitchen from the den. There were two windows, one over each couch, and a door just by the opening to the kitchen.
“What am I doing?” Batoy muttered softly, rubbing his head. A terrible pounding scrambled his thoughts, and he felt nauseous. A vague recollection of memories seeped back into his mind. Gidan, the microchip, Eifi, that horrible feraligatr that nearly mangled Jet… where was Jet? “J-Jet? Where are you?” Snapping more awake, while resisting the violent urge to vomit, Batoy searched his being. His clothes had been removed, leaving him in a t-shirt and boxers. “Crap… where’s my stuff?”
He stood up, staggering a bit from the terrible headache, and looked around. Besides the sofa, on a microfiber pillow and lush ring, lay Jet, curled up with his snout buried under his paws. Besides the bin, Batoy’s clothes lay folded and clean next to his backpack. “Jet…” the boy murmured as he knelt down, his hand rubbing against the short fine fur that covered the quilava’s body. The little weasel twitched and mumbled, rolling over in his sleep as Batoy’s fingers played along his body. The boy smiled softly before rubbing his head. “I’m glad you’re alright, Jet. I don’t know… what I would have done had I lost you, too….” His two other pokeballs lay nearby. The tiny displays that scrolled across the silver bottoms of the ball showed both were in good health. Someone had healed their injuries as well.
Pulling away Batoy clothed himself before making his way around the room. His head still ached, but not so much. He moved over towards the TV, but not surprisingly, it did not turn on. The rest of the small apartment was bare; only the kitchen was decently stocked with appliances and food. On the counter were a loaf of bread, a variety of spreads, and surprisingly, a can of Pewter-mix Pokemon chow. Batoy perked an eye at the high quality chow, something reserved for the highest quality of bred Pokemon or those with a quite of bit of money. “Jet’ll enjoy that…” he muttered as he fashioned himself a sandwich.
~Quil~ The light mewl caught Batoy’s attention, and he glanced down to see Jet rubbing across his legs. Bending down, he scooped up the little weasel and set him on the counter. Their eyes locked for an instant before Jet looked away, and Batoy rubbed his head. “Hey, don’t worry about it, buddy,” he said, a weak smile having formed. His eyes watered slightly. “I’m just glad you’re okay. I… I thought you were gonna die….” He pulled the quilava into a hug. “It's my fault, anyways. I shouldn't have tried to take it from him....” Jet shook his head, a bit of fire spouting from his neck before fading away after Batoy let go. “Heh, you’re too eager to fight sometimes… or maybe I’m not. Either way, you were right. We shouldn’t have followed.”
He sighed as he poured out the contents of the chow-mix into a ceramic plate found almost straddling the sink. Jet began munching on it eagerly, and Batoy smiled. “Yeah… that’s the good stuff.” He frowned. “I wonder what Brand’s gonna say.” He winced as the man’s stoic face, harsh brown eyes and rigid lines came into mind. “I don’t even wanna imagine what he’s gonna say to me…” He felt a prodding and turned to look at Jet, who matched his gaze with an almost yearning look. “You can’t be serious, Jet… you want to go back?” The quilava nodded his head, flaring up again. Batoy grinned slightly. “I guess you won’t back down from anything, huh?”
Batoy made his way back to his backpack. He hadn’t had time to check through it earlier. There wasn’t much in there, a few changes of clothes that smelled of the same wash that his other clothes had been through. There were three letters that had torn and were completely unreadable. At the bottom were a few packets of emergency rations. “Thank you, Lizbeth,” he said in a quivering voice. The woman always looked out for him. He folded and packed the fleece blanket.
A few hours passed with Batoy going back to the couch, dressed now in a pair of khaki pants and a short-sleeved blue hoodie. He laid there, staring at the ceiling, sighing. All three of his Pokemon had been severely injured in just one day, and all because of that one microchip. He shivered, turning cold at the thought of any of them turning out like Meta. He hadn’t even checked on Ollie or Manual since the day before. They were alright, he knew, but still… he needed to spend more time with them. He hadn’t been a very good partner at all over the past year. A tear started to build at the corner of his eye.
Jet climbed onto his chest and looked down at him, licking his nose, and Batoy rubbed the quilava’s back. “Hey, Jet? You remember when we first met? We were really happy. We went everywhere and didn’t back down from anyone. You were kinda scared and timid, but you still went into scary places with me. And when those numel started stampeding… you evolved and saved me… then… all this started happening… what happened to me, Jet?”
The quilava folded his ears and nuzzled the boy. ~Lava… quilava~ Batoy smiled. “Yeah… we’ll always be together, buddy… thanks for always being there by me.”
There was a knock on the door, and Batoy bolted up, Jet nimbly leaping off before he was tossed. “W-who is it?” he asked tentatively.
“It’s… me, Peter,” said the voice. “Can… I come in?”
“Oh...” Batoy's cheeks flushed with shame. How much did Peter know? What had Gidan told him? The last thing that he wanted was to turn away his only human friend in Sinnoh. “Well, I guess so…”
The boy came in tentatively, slowly easing the door shut behind him. Jet crouched at him, and he choked back a whimper. “Hey, look Batoy… I, um…” he looked around, desperate to bring up a topic other than the obvious. “I saw your eevee and jolteon were really banged up… I hope you didn’t mind, but I fed them and nursed their injuries… Um….” He trailed off.
“You did?” Batoy looked at the boy with wonderment. “But... you don't really know me. You didn't have to do something like that....” he said, his lip quivering. He brushed something from his eye. “But... thanks, I... I really appreciate it.”
Peter looked down, uncomfortable. “It was the least I could do, I mean. Beth did the laundry cause I suck at that. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I guess so...”
“Boss said you were in shock. He said your little buddy got too close to the water. I came in when I heard the shouting. You weren't saying anything and you weren't blinking. You just collapsed after we brought you here. You sure you should be up and moving around?”
“Yeah, I'm fine... hey, did Gidan... say anything about me?”
“Huh, why would he?,” said Peter, looking on with confusion. “I mean, he wanted us to make sure you were well cared for while you stayed with us. Other than that, he's just been inside the atrium all day. He canceled all his appointments and meetings and everything.”
“Wait, I have to stay here?”
“N-no, I didn't mean it like that!” Peter scratched his head, the right words evading his grasp. “I mean, I wouldn't mind if you chilled here for a little bit. I mean, we have this guest room. You could probably stay as long as you wanted and Boss would be okay with that.”
Batoy smiled at his friend. “Oh… hey, Peter?” Batoy looked at the boy earnestly. “Could you take me back to the atrium, maybe?”
“I... well... Boss closed it off. He told us not to bother him unless it was an emergency... I'd get in trouble.”
“I won’t tell him it was you! I’ll say… um… I sneaked around and found it. You don’t even have to take me there. Just tell me where it is.”
“No, no I’ll take ya. If Beth saw ya, she’d probably kick you out. Just tell me when you’re ready and stuff…”
Batoy grinned at his friend and started collecting his things. “Thanks a lot, Peter! I promise, you’re not gonna get in trouble!”
“Yeah….” Peter backed up and peeked out of the door. He saw no one and motioned Batoy out. The boy finished gathering his belongings, slinging his backpack over his shoulder, and slipped out, Jet following closely behind. The three of them moved quickly, but silently, through the halls, until they arrived at the double doors of the atrium. Peter stood a distance away from it, refusing to come any closer. “Well, here it is. Please, please, please don't make Boss mad or anything. He's been really distant today.”
Batoy nodded before sliding though the doors. He glanced around as Jet hoisted himself onto the boy’s back. “Well… here we are, Jet… I don’t really know what to do now…” ~Lava…~ They looked towards the pond. The waters were still again, but a low metal fence had been erected around it. Gidan was nowhere to be found around it. Batoy frowned. He was certain that Gidan would be there at the pond, perhaps musing or maybe fighting against the giant monster. His shoulders sagged. Now what?
~Quil!~ Jet said hushed and quickly, crouched down low. Batoy glanced around and immediately ducked. There they were, Gidan and the espeon, and the girl Bethany as well. They were talking close to one of the outside doors, well out of earshot. Beth bent down to rub Eifi’s head before standing and bowing to Gidan, who nodded back. Then the girl left, and Gidan and the Espeon began to move.
~Lava, lava!~ The barks were quiet, but urgent, and Batoy looked to see Jet giving him an anxious eye. Did he want to hide or run and fight? Batoy didn’t know, and neither did the quilava. He just wanted to do something besides stand and get caught. Batoy nodded and slowly began crawling, keeping the hill between them and their targets. When he’d crawled long enough, so that the pond was no longer visible, he laid flat against the hill, daring not to breathe. He could hear Jet’s small heart beating quickly and feel the heat rising off the quilava’s body. “Shh… just keep calm, buddy…” he said to his rash friend.
“Please... come out from your hiding spot. Eifi has already alerted me to your presence.” The voice was tired, strained, but Batoy’s heart still seized. He slowly rose to his feet to see Gidan looking at him with a blank expression. Jet leaped to his shoulder, glaring at Eifi who stared back at him without even acknowledging his existence. The espeon’s once pristine coat was marked with soot-colored streaks from Jet’s flame. The quilava swelled with pride.
“I… erm….” Batoy swallowed hard. He was here, but now he didn’t know what to say. How was he supposed to get that microprocessor back?
“What’re you doing here?” Gidan asked bluntly, but his voice lacked the anger Batoy braced himself for. He seemed to sigh, instead, as if the boy’s presence was something he’d been futilely hoping to avoid. “Did Peter lead you in here?”
“N-no,” Batoy stammered, and Jet growled. “I snuck in here on my own… please, sir, I gotta have that chip. I don’t know what I’m gonna do without it!”
Gidan looked away. “But I can’t give it to you, child. Do you remember what I asked? Can you really trust who you’ll give it to?”
“But if I don't, I don't know what they're going to do to me!”
“And who is they?”
Batoy bit his lip and glanced down. Jet glanced at him, laying his head against the boy's. “I...can't....”
“You're a child... you're learning about this world. Even considering the consequences of your actions... I just... I could not turn you in. You have a chance to learn from your mistake.”
“Here in Sinnoh? That... is a surprise,” Gidan said softly, his brow furrowed. “Given the nature of the situation in Hoenn... having Magma here is really quite troubling.”
“You know? How is it?” Batoy's eyes lit up and he clenched his fists. “Is it still raining?”
“Constant flooding, I'm sorry to say. Thousands of people have lost their homes already, and I'm afraid there's no sign of this ending. Do you have loved ones there?”
“Yeah...” Batoy looked down at the ground. “My... my mom...”
“Does she know what you're doing over here?” When Batoy didn't answer, Gidan moved closer. Jet growled, but the man rested his hand on Batoy's shoulder anyways. The quilava stopped growing, but still glared at him. “When was the last time you spoke to your mother?”
Something splashed on Batoy's sneakers, and he only barely noticed the tears rolling down his face. Jet whined, licking the boy's cheeks, but yet they still came. “M-months... J-Just before it happened... t-they wanted me to come here. I t-told her I wanted to visit my dad... she let me come. Then...”
“Your father is here?”
Batoy winced. “Y-yeah, but... w-we don't talk much....”
“A shame, truly.” Gidan readjusted his glasses. “Other than my pokemon, I've never been fortunate to have children. I could only imagine what they must feel. Whenever Eifi isn't around... I feel lost and alone.”
Setting Jet on the grass, Batoy brushed his cheek clean. “Was... was Eifi your first pokemon?” He looked down towards the espeon who sat grooming her ruined fur with mild irritation. Jet sneered mischievously and blew tiny embers her way, but before they reached her, they bounced away, as if some invisible bubble surrounded the espeon. “She's so strong.”
“She is powerful, but she's not the first pokemon I ever raised,” Gidan said with a smile. His voice sharpened and his eyes twinkled with a joy Batoy had not seen before. “I always had two loves that competed... raising pokemon and working with technology. As I studied, I also trained. I made mistakes, learned.” Gidan glanced towards Batoy. “Not all mistakes are recoverable or forgivable. Be happy that yours are.”
“Niloticus... you've seen him. He was my totodile... my first. I'd had him since he was born, when I lived in Johto. But I pushed him too hard, was too hard on him. He changed, and not for the better. I created what lives in that lake. He won't ever hurt me... but to pokemon and humans, he's a danger. He's a mistake I have to atone for.”
“I guess so...”
The man locked his eyes with Batoy's. “I need you to do something for me. Our battle yesterday had consequences… both for you and myself. Eifi’s fur is too damaged to properly compete in the show coming up. She was my helper, but has never competed before, but we’ll have to pass for this showing. I need you to take my place in it.”
Batoy blinked in surprise. “Wait, what? I don't know anything about showcasing a pokemon....”
“The contest is a showing of both the trainer and the Pokemon’s inner character. While preparing for the show is recommended, it's not a necessity. I believe you have much to gain by competing in it.”
Jet’s sneering ceased and he looked up at his trainer. He’d wanted revenge for his loss, but this method peeked his interest. Whatever it was, he was up to it. Jet sat on his haunches and pawed at Batoy's pants-leg. ~Quilava, quil!~ he chirped, nodding his head, urging the boy to accept.
Batoy smiled, in spite of himself. In getting what he wanted, he'd completely and utterly failed, and yet, oddly, it didn't feel so bad. “Well, since Jet wants to, I guess I don't really have a say, huh?” he said, reaching down to scratch behind the Quilava's ears. “I'm sorry this little guy hurt Eifi....”
Gidan chuckled. “If that's what you want to call it,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “Thank you for accepting. I’m sure you’ll find out a lot about yourself by participating. You're welcome to stay here until the competition comes if you like.”
“So what happened, huh? You guys didn’t fight, did ya?”
The barrage of questions came immediately as Batoy stepped through the double doors leading out of the atrium. Peter’s eyes were wide and his lips thin, and it was easy to see that he had not left that spot since Batoy went in. “Please tell me you guys didn’t start fighting with Boss….”
Batoy shook his head. “Nah… we didn’t fight….”
“So… everything’s okay now?” Batoy nodded, and Peter immediately relaxed. “Whew… that’s good… there's been weird people asking for Boss all day, but Beth and I have been shooing them away. They looked like they were bad news, so I guess that’s why the Boss has been acting weird lately. They’ve been around here before, too, and Boss talks to them sometimes. It never goes good. He doesn't even sell to him.”
“Really? What are they like?”
Peter looked at Batoy curiously. “Well… um… there's a lot of guys that wear blue suits and stuff and a lot that wear red and brown. Half and half, really, but they never came together… then, there were this other guys that were totally different, but we don’t see them too often. I never see Gidan talk to them, though.”
“Guys that wear red? I… hey, Peter…” Batoy bit his lip at looked at the other boy. “Can you give me directions to the nearest Pokemon Center?”
“Huh, why? Can’t you stay here?” Peter said, more distressed than he intended to be.
“Well… I can, but I gotta check something out there… you know where one is?”
Peter nodded, but his shoulders sagged. “Yeah… um, when you leave, just head east. You’ll find it right along that route… You sure you don’t want to stay?”
Batoy smiled lightly at his friend. “I’ll see you again. I just gotta do something, that’s all. I promise I'll come back, okay?”
Peter nodded. “Alright… I’ll hold you to that, bro!”