PDA

View Full Version : Against All Odds - From old TPM ;)



Dragon_Knight
8th September 2003, 09:19 PM
Well, i've talked with Matt Morwell - the author, on AIM, and he has agreed to post it here.

Yup. Anyway, this fic is already completed. with about 40 chapters. the sequel was halted at 6 chapters tho. Anway, this fic was my inspiration.. hopefully it'll help some of you aspiring writers out there too!

A word from the writer:

"I wrote this story a long time ago, but people still seem to enjoy it. TPM was this story's first home, and I certainly hope it's welcome to return. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it." -Matt

To contact him,
AIM: Mattbcl
MSN/ICQ: none
email: Mattbcl@juno.com

:)

Enjoy!

Dragon_Knight
8th September 2003, 09:20 PM
Disclaimer: I do not own "Pokemon" or associated characters; that's left to the people over in Japan. However, I *do* own this fic, as well as all original characters and situations mentioned within; said characters and situations are of my own conception, and any likeness to any real subjects of the same content is entirely coincidental and blah blah blah... Just enjoy the fic.



Seven years before Ash Ketchum began his first Pokemon journey, Jason Creight's alarm went off.

Seven seconds later, a hand slapped at the clock and found the OFF switch for the alarm.

Jason Creight rolled out of bed and yawned. "Another day," he muttered, in such a way that sounded as if he was not looking forward to it.

Indeed, he wasn't looking forward to it at all. He knew very well that the Gyarados had been getting rowdy for the past few days, and that there was a thunderstorm coming in this morning. He also knew that he would be charged with the responsibility of getting the Gyarados to relative safety, since he was the one who seemed to have the closest relationship with them, according to his family.

Jason was a healthy eleven-year-old boy, almost twelve now, who had lived his entire life alongside Pokemon. He worked for his family, who owned a successful business called the Creight and Ship Corporation. Their business was entirely in Pokemon.

However, according to some critics, this business was not always honest or trustworthy. The reason was that the business was in selling Pokemon off to other people. Sometimes they would be sold to Pokemon trainers passing through, and sometimes they would be sold as labor workers. It was rumored that the Creight and Ship was partially responsible for helping Team Rocket founder Giovanni in building his considerable empire of money, thugs, and Pokemon.

None of which mattered to Jason. He had a job, and he was going to do it. At least he was getting paid for it.

Jason stumbled into the kitchen as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Around the gigantic mahogany table, polished to perfection, sat his family.

His father was of the type that preferred to wear an expensive suit everywhere he went. To Jason, this meant he was almost begging to be robbed in a dark place somewhere, but he never voiced his opinions on such matters. The man stayed holed up in the convenience store most of the time anyway, and only inspected the Pokemon areas a couple times a week. So confident was he in the fences and cages that he felt he didn't need to check on them any more than that.

Jason's mother, on the other hand, preferred to wear something a bit more modest. This was probably because she worked as a hand in the grass Pokemon area, planting flowers and feeding the Pokemon, helping to try and keep them happy. She had a special kinship with those Pokemon, one which could match Jason's kinship with the water Pokemon.

Jason's brother, Daniel, preferred to spend his time with the fighting Pokemon. Jason didn't know whether to call this good or bad; on the one hand, that area could never have too many hands to watch the Pokemon. On the other hand, though, Daniel sometimes had a tendency to treat other Pokemon way too roughly, ignorant of their weakness.

One thing they had to make sure of was that the Pokemon wouldn't get strong enough to escape from their designated areas. The Creights would go out of business in a heartbeat if this happened. As a result, many Pokemon were of a rather low level, and didn't know many moves at all.

However, most of the Creight and Ship's employees made an effort to be as kind and patient as possible to the Pokemon. As a result, the Pokemon felt secure within the confines of their reservations.

Most of them did, that is. Some of them just refused to be happy until they were set free. The Gyarados were an example of these. No matter how hard Jason and other employees tried, the Gyarados would try to escape time and time again. But since their cages couldn't be penetrated by anything weaker than a full Hyper Beam attack, they had no chance of making it out.

"Good morning, son," said Mr. Creight, sounding cheerful.

"Morning, Dad," Jason automatically responded. Then he frowned. His father's expression was usually a frown, as if he had smelled something particularly nasty. Seeing the man smile was rare, and hearing him being publicly cheerful was even rarer. "Boy, you sound happy."

"And how," his father replied. "By the end of the day, we'll have made the deal of the century!"

"How's that, Dad?" Jason inquired.

"You shouldn't pry into Dad's business, squirt," Daniel growled.

"Dad's business is soon to be our business, so we might as well find out," Jason shot back.

"Boys, it's all right," said Mr. Creight. "Jason's right. You ought to start getting to know everything there is to know about the business." He shifted around in his chair, a sign that he was bursting with excitement.

"A month ago, I got a call from someone interested in buying one of every kind of Pokemon we have here. He made an astoundingly generous offer, and we've been trying to push the paperwork through ever since. Tomorrow, it'll all come together, and you boys won't have to worry about finances when you pass the business on to your children!"

"Wait a minute," said Jason. "One of every kind? Sounds kinda weird to me. And real expensive."

"It's not our business what the people do with the Pokemon after them purchase them," his father informed him. "It's only our business to make sure that the customer is satisfied."

Upon hearing the clip in his father's voice, Jason knew that this was the end of the conversation at hand. So he chose to say nothing more, and instead poured himself an extra-large bowl of cereal.

*The more I eat, the less I'll have to work. Hopefully.*

***

Unfortunately, the Gyarados were being even more uncooperative than usual. Jason had to use all his strength, plus the help of several grown men, to harness the first one in such a way that it wouldn't harm itself. When Nurse Joy finally came by, the only thing she had to say was, "The Gyarados want to be released from the cages, that's all."

Jason knew that his father disliked seeing any of the Pokemon away from their preserves and cages, disliked seeing any of the Pokemon he owned off- campus. But he also knew that Nurse Joy was right; the Gyarados wanted to be free, and they were determined to get out.

As the other hands were harnessing another Gyarados, Jason looked up at the one that had just been tied down. It was still struggling against the bonds. He said, "Tell you what. I'll make you a deal."

The Gyarados calmed down and seemed to be listening. Although most Pokemon did not have the I.Q. most humans possessed, they understood basics, including bargains. Gyarados were among the smarter types of Pokemon, so perhaps this one knew exactly what Jason was saying.

"I'll take each of you off the campus for fifteen minutes. In return, I want full cooperation when I take you out there. You do what I tell you, when I tell you. And you've got to stop trying to break out."

The Gyarados seemed to consider this bargain. Finally, it loosened its rigid posture and went limp in the grasp of the bonds that held it.

"I sure hope that means you agree. I'll be in big trouble if you escape."

The Gyarados did nothing other than emit a low, quiet growl. To Jason, that meant it was an agreement, though the Gyarados were still annoyed.

"Okay, then tell your brothers and sisters to knock it off, right now. That's another condition. You have to prove you can keep a promise."

It grunted again, then grudgingly turned to its relatives in the other cages and roared at them. They quieted down, but they were still growling.

Jason's shoulders slumped. "This is gonna be a really long day," he muttered.

The day was indeed long, but his father finally came aorund for his weekly inspection of the cages and granted Jason a 15-minute reprieve. Jason decided to go to one of the local restaurants to buy a bottle of soda.

As he was making his way across the beach, two boys slightly older than him approached him.

Jason knew where this was likely to go, as he had heard a lot of complaining from people before about how it wasn't right to do what they did to Pokemon. But he decided to play it out anyway. "Something I can help you with?"

But these guys didn't have that customary "I'll get you if it's the last thing I do" look. Instead, they simply looked... at him. Finally, one of them answered his question with a question. "Where are you going?"

"To get a drink," he answered, even as he was wondering why it was their business.

"Mind if we come along?" asked the other.

Jason shrugged. "Fine, but I've gotta get back to work in a little while, so I don't have a lot of time."

"That's fine," said the first one. "We just want to talk."

Jason shrugged again, indifferent. "Sure."

The two boys insisted on not eating or drinking anything at the moment, saying they weren't hungry or thirsty. Jason bought a medium-sized root beer, and then sat down with the boys. As they sat, he caught the distinctive glint of assorted Pokemon capture balls attached to their belts. Some were Poke Balls, some Great Balls, and a couple of Ultra Balls.

Trainers, he thought. Out loud, though, he asked, "What do you want to talk about?"

"We understand that your family runs a business in breeding and selling Pokemon," said the first one.

Jason nodded. "That's right."

"Why did they want to go into that kind of business?"

"To make money, I would guess," Jason answered, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

"But what inspired them, other than money? What made them decide that they wanted to spend their lives breeding Pokemon and then selling them to trainers and collectors?" asked the second trainer.

Jason thought for a moment. "They never really do discuss things like that at the dinner table, but if I had to guess, I would say that they saw a whole market that hadn't even been considered yet. Seeing that, they wanted to get the monopoly on it before anyone else could."

"But there are other companies that do the same thing," the first trainer pointed out.

"Yes, but we make in a year what other companies haven't made in ten," Jason replied dispassionately.

"So what makes people want to buy your family's bred Pokemon?" asked the second trainer.

"We make sure we treat the Pokemon properly," Jason answered. "We need to ensure that they can trust their owner, so we treat them generously. On the other hand, we want to make sure the trainer's commands are obeyed, so we also have to be firm with the Pokemon when necessary."

"You don't allow the Pokemon you breed to learn more than the most basic of moves," said the second trainer, allowing the question to dangle in the air.

"It's so the Pokemon don't become dangerous to the people inspecting them. It's bad P.R. to have a Gyarados blast your customer in the face with Hyper Beam when the customer is willing to pay a lot of money for it."

"Some people could see not allowing the Pokemon to learn moves as keeping them from being able to defend themselves," said the first trainer.

Jason snorted. "What would they have to defend against?"

"What, indeed?" replied the second trainer. "You wouldn't happen to watch your other family members at work, would you?"

"No, I'm too busy with my own."

"Then you don't know how the rest of your family treats the Pokemon they work with, do you?"

"No, but..."

"Have you had any drop-off in sales recently? Or any big increases, for that matter?" asked the first trainer.

Jason thought back. "There's been a steady drop-off of purchases from the ground-type Pokemon, but it seems to be holding for now. Why?"

"Which of your family works with those Pokemon?"

"My brother."

"How does he treat you?"

Jason scoffed. "What business is that of yours?"

"I just want to know," the trainer replied calmly. "If it's personal, I'll leave it alone."

"What, you think the way Daniel treats me is how he treats the Pokemon?"

The trainer smiled grimly. "You said it. Not me. Since I don't know how he treats you, I can't compare."

Jason stared at the two trainers for a moment. His eyes flicked toward the clock above the doorway just beyond the table they sat at. "Gentlemen, I have to get back to work," he said. Without further ado, he picked up his untouched root beer and left the restaurant.

But he didn't go back to the cages. Instead, he stood on the beach, looking out towards the sea, considering what the trainers had asked.

*What if they're right?* he asked himself. *What if I'm the only one who treats the Pokemon with the respect they deserve?

And what if even I don't treat them with the respect they deserve?*

He wanted to find out.

He headed for the ground-type range.

***

Jason was horrified.

The landscape showed near-absolute devastation.

And Daniel was standing in the middle of it all.

To be precise, he was actually standing near the east perimeter. The range was more of an atoll, and a moderately sized one. Still, it felt claustrophobic to Jason, and he wondered how much more so it would have felt for those Pokemon that could easily be hurt by a single drop of water.

Of course, he thought mirbidly, that was the point. To prevent the Pokemon from escaping by simply crushing expensive fences or digging holes, his family had apparently gone for the option of making the atoll a castle to the oceanic moat. The water around it was only two feet deep at the most.

And it had worked better than anyone could have hoped for.

None of which mattered to Jason at this point.

All he could do was stare at his brother.

Daniel was striding around with his shirt off, showing off his considerable build to the Machop cooped up there. He had a whip in one hand, and as Jason watched, when the Pokemon did something Daniel didn't like, he would lash them across the back.

This normally wouldn't have hurt them any, but Daniel had a bucket full of water in the other hand and was dunking the whip into it before each lash.

Jason watched the whip crack across the back of a tired Sandshrew.

Once.

Twice.

Three times.

Four...

Jason ran through the shallow water as fast as he could and rushed at Daniel with all his speed and strength. He lowered his head and charged straight at his brother, instending to slam his head into Daniel's midsection and knock the wind out of him.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the strength-training with the Machop was paying off. Daniel stepped to the side, caught Jason by the back of his shirt, twisted around, and threw Jason straight back into the shallow water he'd just vacated.

Jason stood, completely drenched and gasping for air. Daniel stood there, frowning at his younger brother. "Aren't you supposed to be at the water cages?" he asked in a smug, completely unconcerned tone.

Jason couldn't believe it, absolutely couldn't believe it. "How can you stand there," he asked, "and tell me to do my job when you don't even know what yours is?"

"Grow up, squirt," he said contemptuously. "The only way you can train Pokemon properly is to be as strong as them."

"Have you ever heard of treating them with the respect and attention they deserve?" Jason asked, even as he struggled to regain his breath.

"I do."

"You have no respect for the Pokemon at all, Daniel. I know it, and you know it."

"They don't respect me, either. This is the only way I can get them to listen to me."

Those trainers were right, Jason thought miserably, even as he said, "And that makes you less guilty for the cruelty I watched you commit just now?"

"The Sandshrew wasn't fast enough."

"It was tired, you moron!"

Daniel's face twisted with fury, and for a moment, Jason truly believed that Daniel would get into the water and let both fists fly. But he didn't.

"Get back to the cages before you get into any more trouble," Daniel growled.

Jason stood his ground for a moment, then decided to leave. He turned back around just long enough to say, "Respect is what makes the trainer strong. Which means my brother is weaker than anyone I've ever met."

Jason went home.

***

"Jason, I can't have you walking out on work like that. I've taught you better than that."

The Creight family was sitting at the dinner table, and Jason was the only one not eating. Instead, he was hanging his head over his rapidly cooling spaghetti. His father was the one chewing him out.

"I also don't need you getting into fights with your brother over his methods of raising Pokemon. His methods are his own."

Jason looked up from his food and stared incredulously at his father. With reckless abandon, he said, "Are you insane?"

His father's head snapped up, and the man's eyes burrowed into Jason's. Jason became acutely aware of his mother and brother staring at him as well.

"I sincerely hope, for your sake, Jason, that that was a joke," said Mr. Creight, slowly and deliberately.

"I'm dead serious." Jason was tired of pretense, tired of being patronized.

His father's response had a clip of anger in it. "I can assure you that I am quite sane, Jason. Now do you mind telling me why you've decided to openly challenge and ridicule me?"

"I watched Daniel out there today, on the ground-type range," Jason answered. "The only way he could possibly show any more ignorance about respect for the Pokemon he voluntarily hurts is if he attached a bumper sticker to his water bucket saying 'I Love Cruel And Unusual Punishment.'"

"It's not your place to question how Daniel should care for the ground Pokemon."

Jason stared at his father, absolutely disgusted. "You are insane. He doesn't care for the Pokemon, he murders them. No wonder people won't buy them."

"Jason, I think that is quite enough," said his father. The man's face had turned red with fury.

Jason saw the anger in his father's face, but he wasn't finished. "No. It's not. By saying it's all right for him to hurt those Pokemon, you're condemning yourself to pay cuts. They won't sell; no one wants a Pokemon who isn't loyal. Loyalty comes through respect, and so far, Daniel has shown no respect whatsoever. How can you expect the trainer to get the Pokemon to obey when the breeder does such a poor job?"

Jason's mother finally stepped into the confrontation. "You have no business criticizing your brother for doing his job."

"He's not doing it properly! Can't you see that?" Jason looked around the table. His father was purple with rage. His mother was backing the man up. His brother was just grinning smugly, leaning back in his chair.

Jason went on, knowing he was in a world of trouble already and deciding just to go the whole nine yards. "Somehow, I was always taught that Pokemon breeding was a careful process, something that had to be done with deliberance and patience. And now I find out that no one else at this table will tell my brother that he's wrong? Am I truly the only sane person in this house?"

"Trainers want Pokemon who are strong," said Daniel.

"They also want Pokemon who are loyal," Jason shot back. "You're not going to gain any loyalty from whipping a Sandshrew to death."

"That Sandshrew wasn't doing what it was told."

"It was tired."

"It was less tired than it looked."

"How do you know that?!" Jason barked. "It was bent over its knees, breathing heavily, and was bruised all over its body. That, to me, is fatigue. What is it to you?"

"A sign that they need to get stronger."

"Whipping them isn't going to endear yourself or trainers to them. It only makes them hate humans, if they don't already--"

"*I said that's enough!*" Mr. Creight screamed, startling everyone at the table. His wild, furious eyes focused on Jason, and he pointed a stern finger at his younger son. "You... will leave the table. I'm suspending your pay and ordering you to take a vacation to your room. Indefinitely."

Jason slowly rose from the table, keeping his eyes on his angered father. "I'll gladly take that vacation if it means leaving a table of hypocrites."

He turned and left the room.

His mother and brother didn't dare speak; his father was too enraged to say anything in response.

Nothing else was said all night.

***

Two weeks passed before Mr. Creight would allow Jason to go back to work, and yet another two weeks before Jason received pay again. Even then, the pay was absolute minimum wage.

As Jason prowled the cages, he saw the Gyarados and belatedly remembered the promise he'd made to them. A promise he hadn't been able to keep.

For their part, they weren't even looking at him. Their heads were hanging, a sure sign that they believed all hope was lost. Though they knew why Jason couldn't keep his promise, they were still mad at him.

*Great*, he thought. *Just great. I've managed to tick off every sentient being I've recently had contact with. Why don't I just hole myself up in my room for the rest of my life?*

After seeing what he had seen, he had no interest whatsoever in continuing the family business. However, since he was not an only child, in all likelihood, Daniel would ensure that the business thrived if he didn't.

Just then, Daniel and his father came walking past, apparently intent on making a beeline straight through the marina.

"It's a new TM, Dad," said Daniel, grinning. "I'm feeling rather proud of myself for it."

"Well, you should be, son," said Mr. Creight. "Not everyone can make TMs."

"I can't take all the credit. I had a couple of guys help me out."

"Okay, then. What is it, and what does it do?"

"I call it Devastator. It's a TM for one-hit knockouts. It's both a physical and mental attack, so the Pokemon's mind feels it double. Either the physical or mental attack by itself could cause the knockout, but this ensures it."

"Excellent. When will we have it in production?"

"I wanted to run it by you, first. This is just a prototype. Come on, I'll show you..."

*Something needs to be done*, Jason thought. *Something that'll keep the business from ever gaining any customers. They need to see that all our statutes about love and caring and understanding Pokemon is all just one huge lie, because my family has decided not to make love, caring, and understanding a priority.

Something needs to be done.*

And that night, something was.

***

Well past midnight, Jason snuck out of his bedroom and into his parents' room. They were both sleeping comfortably.

Sorry, Mom and Dad, he silently apologized. It's for the Pokemon.

Then he opened his father's closet, reached up, and grabbed the master keys from the top shelf. He then crept out of the house and headed for the company store on the other side of the marina.

Most of the water Pokemon were day-dwellers, but a few were nocturnal; they watched Jason with interest as he unlocked the front door of the store and made his way through the aisles. Soon, he found what he was looking for.

He took the Technical Machine gingerly and looked at it for a moment. *Unbelievable that this one TM could cause such destruction*, he thought. *I suppose I should be thankful that we have such a well-stocked store.*

He made off with the TM to the water Pokemon cages.

The Gyarados he had made the deal with was resting; not quite asleep, but not quite awake, either. When it sensed Jason's presence, it's massive head rose, and it lengthened out nearly to its full height. It was an awe- inspiring, fearsome sight, indeed.

But Jason had no time for watching it pose. He held out the TM. "Here," he said. "This is for you."

The Gyarados looked at it questioningly, knowing what it was and what to do with it, but unsure of why Jason was giving the TM to it.

"Look, I know you're all real mad at me for not being able to keep my promise. Well, here's something that's even better. With this, you'll be able to wreck the cages and be free. You can even use it to free your fellow Pokemon from their ranges."

The Gyarados just stared at him, unblinking. It wasn't doing anything about the TM.

"I don't have time for this, and neither do you. I don't want this company to continue any more than you do, I see that now. And the only way it'll lose business and free the Pokemon is if you use this TM."

The Gyarados waited a few moments, still searching Jason's face. Jason stared back, unafraid, knowing full well that it just might use the TM and then use the resulting power on him instead of the cages.

But he was willing to take the risk, if it meant getting out of here.

"Do what you have to," he said. "But you'll have to do it quickly. One way or the other."

***

Daniel was rudely awakened to the sound of explosions. He opened his eyes...

And saw chaos reigning in the marina.

A single Gyarados was swimming around freely in the marina, and energy was boiling out of its mouth and striking the cages. Fire was consuming the entire marina.

His parents both came rushing into his room. "Come on, Daniel, we have to get you out of here," said his father. The man gripped Daniel by the arm and dragged him out of bed.

"I'll go get Jason," said Mrs. Creight, and she ran off through the house.

Daniel and Mr. Creight had gotten out of the house by the time Mrs. Creight came out. She was in a frenzied panic. "I couldn't find him anywhere!"

Suddenly, pieces of flaming debris came roaring out of the sky and struck the roof of their house. The burning ashes tumbled relatively harmlessly off the roof, but then they caught tree leaves on the way down. The trees promptly caught fire, causing the Creight family to move even further away from the house.

All they could do was stand there and watch the horror.

The Gyarados raged on.

***

"Oh, man..." Jason muttered, as he watched Gyarados wreak havoc upon everything its energy beams touched. The air crackled with the exertion of Hyper Beam attacks. Jason watched as pieces of the marina were sliced away, watched as burning wreckage flew everywhere.

He knew that he would have to do one of two things. Either he would return home and watch his family go down the drain, and himself with them, or he would run.

Gyarados began laying waste to every fence and range there was, allowing the Pokemon to free themselves and run loose in the Orange Islands once again. They would return to their families, if they had any left. They would reunite, and live happily ever after.

Jason realized that he could never do the same thing. For his own salvation, he chose to run from his family, from his friends, and from his home.

And so he ran.

The roars of the Gyarados behind him only prompted him to run faster.

***

Hours later, as the sun was rising, Jason awoke to find himself in the middle of dense shrubbery. Some Pokemon were standing over him, staring down at him with curiosity. None of them made any move.

Jason sat up and looked around. He could see the shore just past some dense foliage to his right. He crawled through the foliage.

The shoreline was abandoned. There wasn't a soul for many miles.

Well... not human, anyway.

The Gyarados from the night before was lying in the shallows.

Jason wasn't quite sure what to do about it. He finally decided to go out and meet it. He stumbled out to it.

It was staring intently at him.

"I thought you wanted to be free," he said. "Don't you want to be with whatever family you have?"

It didn't even twitch. It kept staring.

"What, do you want to come along with me? Is that it?"

It made a low growl, as if to confirm.

Jason chuckled softly. "I don't know where to go, though."

The Gyarados lifted itself off the surface of the water, rose to about fifteen feet, and made a jerking motion with its head, as if to indicate it wanted Jason to get on.

"You want me to get on?" he asked.

It made that low growl again.

"But where will we go?"

It jerked its head again. It seemed to be saying, *You'll find out when we get there.*

Jason grinned uncertainly, then climbed up onto its back.

Gyarados set out for the horizon.

*Well, I guess that if I'm going to be an outcast*, Jason thought, *there's no better Pokemon than Gyarados to be outcast with.*

Jason Creight rode on.

To Be Continued

Ace Blaze
8th September 2003, 09:27 PM
Hey... one of my favorite stories from FF.net! It's a shame the author isn't planning to do more Pokemon fics for a while....

Dragon_Knight
9th September 2003, 07:59 PM
uh.. yea chapt 2 now.

Jason Creight awoke to the sight of a dark sky overhead.

He checked his watch. It was 8:30 in the morning.

"Looks like rain," he muttered, as he sat up. He found himself in dense foliage on a small, deserted island. Beyond the foliage, as it had been for many weeks now, Gyarados lay on the shoreline, looking out to sea. What for, Jason didn't know. To him, it just seemed as if Gyarados were wandering aimlessly through the waters of the world. It had become less and less confident about where it was going during the past weeks, and Jason had begun to wonder if they were ever going to find another human being out here.

He scratched his itching bare chest. His shirt had been torn to shreds in a particularl vicious encounter with a flotilla of Tentacool., led by an amazingly high-level Tentacruel. With only Hyper Beam to defend them with, Gyarados had had a tough time forcing them away, and during the battle, Jason had fallen into the water. He lost his shoes and socks in that same encounter, leaving him with only his watch, belt, and khaki shorts.

*This isn't how it was supposed to be,* he thought to himself miserably. *I thought Gyarados would help me find a new life, not ravage the old one further.*

Suddenly, Gyarados began roaring.

Jason's head snapped up and his eyes darted toward not Gyarados, but rather, the sea.

He had long since come to the conclusion that Gyarados was trying to find its way based on the mental maps of other friendly Pokemon. Friendlies were hard to find, since most wild Pokemon were jealous of captured ones. Hope began to surge within Jason's veins. *Maybe we won't be stuck here at sea for the rest of our lives after all,* he thought.

Jason had no idea where they were going. He'd thought he was going to scour the Orange Islands after the incident at the marina, not be taken this far away from it. But Gyarados had insisted he ride. And so he rode.

He and Gyarados had survived for nearly three months on wild fruits and vegetables. He'd had his twelfth birthday on the lam; it seemed to him that it would probably be the most memorable of them all. He was gaining more and more muscle, as he had to wrestle with some Pokemon to get what he needed to survive. When he wrestled them, his thoughts would momentarily shift to that horrific memory of Daniel with his whip. But then, he would push the thoughts away and concentrate.

*Still,* he thought, *I have to make sure I'll never be anything like Daniel.

Then again, how tough can that be?*

Gyarados shifted its head around and did a growl-roar towards Jason that Jason had come to know as its call to him. Jason scrambled out of the bushes and up to Gyarados, as a bolt of lightning flashed.

"Have we found our way now?" Jason asked, just as the thunder rolled across the sky.

Gyarados nodded vigorously, and had a jubilant expression on its face.

"From the look on your face, I take it we're close to our destination," said Jason.

It nodded again. Then it tossed its head in the direction of its back.

"You're a bit eager today. Are we that close?"

It nodded impatiently, then tossed its head towards its back again.

"Okayyy..." Jason muttered uncertainly. He mounted Gyarados.

It pushed off with a surge of power and ferocity that Jason had not felt in it since the first time he had ridden it. At that time, it had been as eager to leave the Orange Islands as he was. He could barely hold onto it then, and he could barely hold onto it now.

More lightning flashed overhead, and this time, Jason noticed it. "Hope there's no trouble going on up there," he muttered. He knew that it was 50- 50 between a real storm and one or several Pokemon conjuring one. Stray bolts could be disastrous; he'd seen the effects of lightning on other water Pokemon, as much as he'd worked with them.

Gyarados shook its head, which was both a sign that it had heard him, as well as a confirmation that the storm had come naturally.

Driving rain began pouring down on them, reducing Jason's visibility to zero. It was so dark, save for when the lightning flashed, that he couldn't even see his hand in front of his face. He knew, though, that Gyarados was pushing hard against shat rain, and in a straight line. He expected that, since when Gyarados or any other water Pokemon knew where they were going, and what direction they had to go in to get there, they would use their "internal compasses" to ensure they were moving in a straight line. Jason didn't pretend to know how it worked; he knew only that it did.

Of course, since Gyarados obviously didn't know the exact location of their destination, it couldn't go in a straight line towards that destination. So the compass wasn't a factor until it found friendlies to ask.

More and more lightning flashed across the black sky. Jason didn't know how long he'd been mounted on Gyarados; it seemed like an eternity, though he figured from that kind of estimate, it had only been a few minutes. Gyarados was so slippery and the rain so brutal that he didn't dare loosen his hold to hit the light on his watch. He just held on tighter and pressed the side of his head against Gyarados' back.

*When will it be over?* he wondered, on the verge of despair. *Now even Mother Nature herself doesn't want us going where we're going! I wish Gyarados could use Hyper beam to light the way, but it can't do it anymore since that incident with the Tentacool!*

Abruptly, Jason was viciously thrown from Gyarados' back. He sailed through the rain-filled air...

And landed in sand.

He skidded six feet, then came to a stop.

He looked up, though he couldn't see anything. He felt around.

"Gyarados!" he screamed.

It roared in response. It was very near, but neither of them could see the other.

Then lightning flashed again. Jason spotted Gyarados' head about three feet away. He crawled over to it and curled into a ball, waiting for the storm to pass.

***

Jason had to force his eyes open, even though the glaring light beyond his eyelids made him not want to. Someone was shaking his shoulder.

"Hey, kid!" a voice shouted into his ear.

It was still raining. Jason could feel it pelting him, though he was becoming more and more numb to it. He looked up and saw a man with brown hair sloppily palmed to one side. He had a shock of gray on either temple, and he was wearing a red shirt and black pants.

Jason saw that the light was coming from a pair of headlights, mounted on the front of a jeep painted in camo colors.

"Hey!" the man shouted again. "You okay?"

Jason looked up at the man again. He nodded wearily. "I think so!"

"Come on, let's get you inside!"

And then Jason realized that Gyarados wasn't next to him. "Where's Gyarados?"

"Long story! I'll tell you about it on the way!" the man answered.

Jason was in no condition to disagree. The man's strong hands slipped under Jason's arms and helped him to his feet. The soaked duo ran to the jeep and got inside.

"So..." Jason wheezed, "where's Gyarados?"

"Your Gyarados is at my lab," the man answered, as they drove off. "Somehow, it made mental contact with a Drowzee I'm studying there and Drowzee guided me to where you were. Drowzee's already teleported itself and Gyarados back to the lab. Do you have a capture ball for your Gyarados?"

Jason shook his head. "No, I don't."

"So it's wild?"

"It's a long story, but Gyarados is tame."

"Care to share that story?" the man asked, one eyebrow raised.

"Not really."

The man shrugged. "Makes no difference to me. I assume you're not from around here."

"No, I'm not." Jason turned to look at the man. "I hope it's not inconvenient, but I came here with no money and nothing to eat. If you could spare some food, I would much appreciate it."

"No problem," the man answered. "By the way, my name is Sam."

"Mine's Jason."

"Well, pleasure to meet you, Jason."

***

The jeep came to a stop inside a garage attached to a large white building. Jason could only assume that it was Sam's lab. The garage was cluttered, and barely had enough space to hold the jeep. Still, Sam managed.

When Jason tried to get out of the jeep, he ended up tumbling to the ground. Sam ran around the jeep and picked Jason up, saying, "Whoa, there, Jason. You need rest to rebuild your strength."

"No, I need food to do that," Jason answered. "I'll rest once I have something to eat." He turned to face Sam. "And I also want to see Gyarados."

"Fine, we'll go see Gyarados after you eat and rest."

"But--"

"No, Jason, no buts about it." Sam's tone brooked no argument, his gaze steely. "You can eat, and then I want you to rest. Then you can see Gyarados for as long as you want. But I will not allow you to do that before you rest."

Jason sighed. "Fine."

"Now, put your arm around my waist, and we'll go to the mess."

***

As Jason helped himself to another serving of fruit salad, rice, and tofu, Sam stared at him in amazement. "Have you been on the lam or something?"

"In a word, none of your business," Jason answered.

"That's four words," Sam replied, with a look of amusement.

"Details, details," Jason muttered around a mouthful of rice.

"I'm just amazed at how much tofu you're eating. I can't stand the stuff."

Jason grinned.

After Jason was finally finished with his food, Sam donned a white lab coat and guided Jason to the guest bedroom. Jason asked, "So where am I?"

"At my lab, of course. In Pallet Town."

"Pallet Town?" Jason's eyes flashed to the name tag on Sam's lab coat.

*Professor Samuel Oak

Head Researcher*

Jason looked back up at Sam. "You're Professor Oak?"

Sam laughed. "Well, of course I am. You didn't notice the name tag?"

"You told me your name, I didn't think I needed to look at it." Suddenly, Jason began to wonder if Sam was seeing him as petty and smart-alecky. He knew very well who Professor Samuel Oak was; he was one of the world's top frontier researchers on Pokemon. He'd made countless discoveries about Pokemon behavior and evolution, and he was the idol of every Pokemon trainer Jason had ever met.

Sam sighed. "It's nice to meet someone who gets a chance to find out who you really are, someone who doesn't know you for your title. I'm just a simple researcher, nothing more than that." Just as Jason opened his mouth to argue, Sam raised his finger. "Ah-ah. None of that. I may be world- famous, but that doesn't make me any more than I am. I'm only a researcher. And I'm a human being, not a god. Don't ever say otherwise, and ignore anyone else who says otherwise. It's all Grimer sludge."

As Jason laid down on the bed, Sam said, "We'll continue this conversation after you get some sleep. You'll need it. And you'll also need some new clothes. I'll go ask my assistants if they can lend some." He grinned. "But in the meantime, you've got a remarkable build for someone your age."

***

Jason's sleep was blissfully dreamless. At least, he didn't remember dreaming during that sleep, and that was fine with him. When he awoke, he found that Sam had apparently turned out the light on his way out. Jason fumbled around, and found a lamp on the bedside table. The switch was on the cord; he had to squint as soon as he turned it on. The paint job didn't help; the room was white, just like the rest of the building.

He spotted a fresh change of clothes right next to the lamp. He put them on gratefully, then wondered where he should go. He decided he'd best find Sam so he could see Gyarados.

He left the room and headed down the hallway, not really sure of where he was going. Luckily, there was an assistant heading in the opposite direction.

"Excuse me," said Jason. "Where can I find Professor Oak?"

"Go all the way to the end of this hall, turn right, and it'll be the third door on the left."

"Thanks." Jason walked on.

When he entered the room indicated, he found it had the proportions of a gymnasium. Inside were several specimens of Pokemon in large glass cases. The cases lined either wall; it looked somewhat like a zoo. All of them seemed to be injured in some form. A faint smell of antiseptics and disinfectants wafted out the door, a smell Jason noticed immediately.

Jason saw Gyarados inside one of the glass cases. It was sleeping fitfully; its tail was lashing all over the place, and its face was contorted by conflicting emotions. Sam was standing in front of that case. Jason strode up to him.

"Even when it's asleep, its power is frightening," Jason commented.

Sam glanced at Jason, then turned back to Gyarados. "Yes, it is. But it should be fully rested shortly. We've already treated it for any injuries. It had muscle strain and some bruising. Of course, I'd expect that from as much hardcore swimming as it was doing."

He turned to Jason. "It might have been worse if you had insisted it do more."

Jason laughed from the grim amusement more than anything else. "Like I could force Gyarados to do anything. It could have returned to its family if it had wanted. It could have left me in the lurch."

"But Pokemon gain a connection to the humans they remain in prolonged contact with. You could conceivably have insisted Gyarados continue day and night, and I'm sure it would have done so."

"I didn't want to push it. It had to go at its own pace. Sometimes I insisted, but only when I knew it could go a little further. For example, we might be heading to a small island for the night. Let's say I saw a larger island on the horizon. I might ask Gyarados to go to the larger island instead. Then, we'd sleep a little more than usual. It's a give- and-take situation there."

"Exactly. And that tells me that you have all the appropriate character traits and positive aspects of a Pokemon trainer."

Jason was surprised. He'd thought about being a trainer from time to time, but had never given the prospect considerable, serious thought. If he ever did think of himself as a future trainer, he'd give himself the "hero trainer" look in his mind. All the best Pokemon, all the money... The good stuff that everyone goes for and almost no one gets.

Sam grinned. "You weren't expecting that from me, were you?"

"Actually, I wasn't expecting that from anyone in particular," Jason answered.

"Well, think about it," Sam replied. "You don't even need to wait until next year. You can get your Pokemon license anytime you want, assuming you're over ten years old. And you sure look older than ten to me."

"I'm twelve," Jason confirmed.

"And you don't need to wait until next year to get a starter Pokemon, either. You already have your Gyarados. All you need are capture balls. As a professor with starter Pokemon to be given away, I'm required to provide five Poke balls and a Pokemon journal. Under normal circumstances, I'd have to give the starter Pokemon and its Poke ball to you as well, but you already have your own starter, and it doesn't have a capture ball. I could only give you the five." Sam paused. "Of course, that's only if you want them. Either that, or you can keep wandering the world, still looking for a new life."

"What do you know about that?" Jason asked, beginning to fear that Sam somehow knew what had happened to him.

Sam grinned mysteriously. "More, I think, than you want me to. But destroyed marinas have nothing to do with me. You had your reasons."

"What makes you think I had anything to do with it?"

"Gyarados' only attack is Hyper Beam, and it's at too low a level to have learned it naturally. It had to learn it from a TM. You're the one traveling with it, so you must be the one who taught Hyper Beam to it. I think we both know the rest."

"If you don't know why Gyarados and I did what we did, then I think one of us doesn't know all the rest. So now that you know, what do you plan to do about it? Turn me over to Officer Jenny?"

"No. The good officer will have to figure it out for herself."

A great flash of lightning crackled outside, and thunder rolled overhead. A few moments later, Jason heard the door open, and a soaked and distraught young woman with a toddler in her arms rushed in.

"Professor!" she cried out. "The tree in our backyard was knocked over onto our house!"

Sam's face became filled with deep concern. "Are you all right?"

She nodded, tears streaming down her face. "I just hope it's not a total loss! We have so many memories in that house!"

"That reminds me," said Sam, "I'd better check on Gary. I need to make sure he's all right. At least he's here, where he's safe." Sam turned to Jason. "Why don't you talk to Mrs. Ketchum, Jason? Telling her about the Orange Islands might take her mind off her house."

He raced through the door and down the hall.

Jason wasn't sure how to introduce himself to a crying woman. He finally approached her and said, "Why don't you come on over and have a seat next to my Gyarados?"

She sniffed. "You're very kind. What's your name?"

"Jason," he answered. "And who's the tiny tot here?"

"Oh, this is my son, Ash," she answered. "The same name as the type of that tree." She bounced Ash up and down on her knee. The boy was dressed in a blue shirt and red overalls. He had a mop of black hair, drenched like the rest of him. He had one finger in his mouth, and he was drooling.

Jason sat on his ankles and looked into Ash's eyes. "Hi, Ash. How are you?"

Ash gurgled.

Jason laughed. "I see all's well with you." He looked up at Ash's mother. "How old is he?"

"He'll be four in a couple months."

"Cool. I just had my twelfth birthday. Wasn't the best, but at least I had it."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," responded Mrs. Ketchum. "Are you a trainer?"

Jason chuckled ruefully. "Not really. I come from the Orange Islands. I came here on my Gyarados. I'm looking for something a little different."

"I think you'll find that Kanto is pretty different from the Orange Islands," she responded. "I'd like to go there someday. It sounds like a great vacation spot."

"Well, what about your son? Is he interested in Pokemon?"

Mrs. Ketchum snorted. "I think Pokemon was his first word."

As if on cue, Ash bounced up and down vehemently on his mother's knee, chanting, "Pokemon! Pokemon! Pokemon!"

"Ah," said Jason. Belatedly, he realized that he hadn't checked his watch since the last leg of his journey to Pallet Town. He looked at it; it said 5:19 in the evening. He looked up at Mrs. Ketchum. "I hope nothing bad has happened to Sam."

"Professor Oak? Oh, nothing bad happens to him. He might be reckless sometimes, but he always comes out of situations without a scratch. Besides, his grandson is here in the building. So maybe he's just staying with him for a while."

"How old is his grandson?"

"The same age as Ash. They've been rivals since they first hit the atmosphere." She leaned close to Jason. "Now, don't tell this to Professor Oak, but I think Gary acts like a snob, even for his age. He's overconfident. He's hurt himself because of that. That's why I let Ash rival him; so that Gary has a chance to be humbled once in a while."

Jason scoffed. "I had a brother who probably would have gotten along great with Gary."

"Had a brother?"

Jason looked down at the floor. "Not anymore, I don't."

Mrs. Ketchum's eyes softened, but she didn't say anything. Perhaps she didn't know how to take it; she could have taken it to mean that Jason had either truly lost his brother, or just disowned him.

"So have you come here to start training?" she asked.

Jason was silent for a couple moments, then finally responded, "I don't know. Sam offered the chance to me, but I don't know if I should take it."

"Well, I should know from my husband's example that training isn't easy, but it is rewarding," she replied. "I never saw such happiness in him as when he was with me, his son, and his Pokemon."

Jason saw a sadness in her eyes as she said this; he chose not to ask her where her husband was. He didn't think it was quite fair for him to be gone when he had a son to raise; on the other hand, he had no idea as to the man's whereabouts. For all Jason knew, he could be long gone.

Her gaze became stronger. "You should at least give it a try, Jason. You could be a role model for my son."

***

The next morning, Sam handed Jason five Poke balls and a Pokemon journal. Then he shook Jason's hand.

Jason felt something between his hand and the professor's. When their hands parted, Jason saw that Sam had just handed him five thousand credits.

"Use it well, Jason. You can pay me back on your return," said Sam. "Good luck on your journey."

Jason nodded gravely. "I won't let you down."

"Make sure you don't."

Jason approached Gyarados, which had been released from its case and was watching all that was happening. Jason looked up into its eyes. "You planned this all along, didn't you? You knew that Professor Oak was here, and you knew that I could be persuaded to become a trainer."

It nodded, a glint of mischief sparking in its eyes.

"Well," Jason said, "it worked. Poke ball, go!" With that, he hit the enlarger button on his first Poke ball and threw it at Gyarados. It hit his target dead-on and opened up. Gyarados transformed into a neon bolt of energy, which then leaped in. The specialized mirrors within the ball held Gyarados' energy form in place, keeping it from solidifying.

Jason then put the four empty balls into his left pants pocket and Gyarados' ball in his right one. He walked up to Mrs. Ketchum and Ash. He bent down to look into Ash's eyes one last time. "Now I have to be a role model for you. You remember me, okay? I might not see you again."

"Okay," said the toddler, clearly not fully comprehending what Jason was saying.

Jason smiled. He didn't especially mind that Ash might not remember him; he knew he would remember Ash.

He looked up at Mrs. Ketchum. "You've got a good boy here, Mrs. Ketchum. Make sure that you keep him that way."

She returned his smile. "I'll do what I can."

"That's all I can ask for."

Then Jason left the lab and headed for the horizon.

"I have a lot to do," he mused. "But I can do it."

Jason Creight walked on.

To Be Continued

Ace Blaze
9th September 2003, 09:37 PM
Is it just me, or did you change the story slightly...?

Dragon_Knight
10th September 2003, 06:48 AM
uh, whatever you see here is what i got from Matt.
so if anything is changed, it just means he fixed a few things here and there.

but i don't think anything's different from what i remember of it a few yrs ago..

Dragon_Knight
15th September 2003, 06:17 AM
Jason Creight awoke in room 108 of a modest motel in Viridian City.

He looked around. The motel room had two beds, a bedside table, and a window covered by a white blind. The blind wasn't helping much; light was still leaking in from outside. He had been unfortunate enough to get a window on the east side of the motel.

And in the other bed lay Kelly.

Jason still wasn't sure of what to make of her. She looked so peaceful when she was asleep, a direct contrast to her "awake" mode. Of course, her bad mood might have something to do with how they had argued with each other the day before.

Jason sighed. *If I'm gonna get on even terms with her at all, I have to get to know her first.*

Unfortunately, he didn't know where to begin. He didn't even know whether or not he should wake her up.

He decided to forego that for the moment, and instead got out of bed and popped into the bathroom for a shower. It felt good; he hadn't had a decent shower in a long time. For two years now, "showers" to Jason usually meant taking a dunk in a freshwater lake or river. He was even more thankful to find a full towel rack. After drying off and donning some fresh clothes, he left the bathroom.

As he walked over to his backpack, he saw that Kelly was stirring. He was buckling his capture ball belt just as she sat up.

"What time is it?" she asked.

Jason checked the clock on the bedside table. "7:53," he answered.

"Man," she muttered. "I'd better get up, then, huh?"

Jason shrugged. "If you want; it makes no difference to me."

"Well, it makes a difference to me," she replied, and with that, she picked up her backpack and headed into the bathroom.

Jason sat on his bed and put on his shoes. He felt reluctant to leave the motel after sleeping in such a nice bed; most of his journey, he'd had to sleep on the cold ground, amidst wild Pokemon. On the other hand, he figured it was good for him to get out there and get in touch with nature.

"Jeez," he muttered. "Two years and I still haven't gotten in touch with nature?"

He grinned to himself as he put his socks and shoes on. *Today's the big day.*

Indeed, it was. He was going to battle at the Viridian Gym, and hopefully, he'd win and get his seventh badge. He rubbed his hands in anticipation. *I can't wait!*

Then he heard the shower being turned on. His shoulders slumped.

*I guess I'll have to.*

***

When Kelly was finished with her shower, they checked out of the motel and headed for Viridian Square, where the gym was. As they walked, Kelly asked, "What do you think this gym leader will be like?"

Jason shrugged. "I don't know. I've looked up everything about Viridian Gym, but there's not even a picture of the current leader. Only his Pokemon. They're not pushovers, either. This one'll be real tough to beat." He looked at Kelly. "You planning to battle?"

"Nah. My Pokemon aren't strong enough to beat yours yet, and if yours are going to have a tough time against this leader, imagine how easy it'd be for me to lose."

"You're going to give up badge collecting because my Pokemon embarrass you?"

"No, I'm just putting things into perspective."

He shrugged again. "Fine."

They found the gym and entered its cavernous recesses. It was dark inside. As soon as they walked a few feet inside, the colossal doors swung shut.

Abruptly, a pair of strobe lights trained on Jason and Kelly flared to life. They were positioned on either side of the gym.

Another, dimmer light activated, this one atop a ridiculously tall platform. It was positioned behind a seated figure. The figure was impossible to make out; not one ray of light struck it.

Next to the figure sat a Persian. That, at least, was a shadow that was easy to make out. At first, Jason didn't know whether it was real or a statue, but he figured it out when he saw the figure reach out to pet it and heard it purr.

"Ah. More victims." The voice was cold and calculating. It had unmistakably come from the seated figure, who Jason, by the pitch of its voice, took to be a man.

"Are you the gym leader here?" Jason asked.

"I am much more than a gym leader, young insolent. Much more."

Jason glared at the dark figure. "I don't care about your status in the outside world. Right here, right now, are you the gym leader?"

The man chuckled. "I am."

"In that case, I challenge you to a battle."

The shrouded gym leader chuckled again. "You are no match for me."

"We'll see about that. As a gym leader, you're bound by Pokemon league rules to accept all challenges issued by trainers, whether they're a match for you or not. So bring it on, tough guy, or I'll have to take it to you."

The man stood slowly. "You will see the error of your ways soon enough. Very well, I accept your challenge. The wager is five thousand."

Jason hissed. "That's a bit steep."

"It's an exchange of challenges. If you do not accept mine, I will not accept yours. Five thousand, and no less. Do you agree to the wager?"

Jason pursed his lips, then said, "Fine, I agree."

"Very well, then. My first Pokemon." The man pulled a capture ball from his pocket, enlarged it, and lazily tossed it to the floor far below. It opened as soon as it landed, and revealed a high-level Rhydon.

"Go, Gyarados!" said Jason, lobbing Gyarados' Poke ball into the arena. The snake-like Pokemon writhed in anticipation of the battle.

"Before we begin," said the gym leader, "know this."

He leaned forward, over the railing of his platform.

"I know who you are, Jason Creight. And you have much to answer for."

And Jason saw his face.

He gasped.

Giovanni seized the opportunity. "Rhydon, horn drill! Do not miss!"

Jason's attention was rudely drawn back to the battle by the sound of Rhydon's drill whirring and Gyarados roaring.

"Gyarados, hydro pump, quick!" he called.

The battle had begun.

***

Giovanni's Machamp went down without a whimper by the powerful psychic attacks of Jason's Slowbro.

"Arrgh!" Giovanni shouted. "Machamp, get up! Do as I say!"

"That's your last one!" Jason called out. "According to league rules, I've now won the Earth badge fair and square!"

"You may have won it, but you did not earn it, upstart! Nor did you earn one credit of the wager!" the Team Rocket founder spat, completely losing control. "You are a disgrace to your family name!"

And he raced for the door behind him.

Jason enlarged one of his Ultra balls and threw it in Giovanni's direction. "Gengar, don't let him get out that door!"

The poisonous ghost Pokemon floated up through the walls of the platform and grinned its insane grin at Giovanni as it blocked the exit.

"Pick him up and toss him over the railing!" Jason ordered.

Gengar's grin began to fade and it glanced at its master, not sure of the logic in that last command.

"You heard me, toss him over!" Jason called out.

Then he tapped the side of his head.

Gengar's smile returned.

Giovanni's death scream may have been loud, but Jason's next order was louder. "Slowbro, catch him, please!"

Four inches above the ground, Giovanni became surrounded by a glowing blue haze, and his fall came to an abrupt stop. When Giovanni finally realized he was not going to die after all and stopped screaming, Jason said, "Okay, let him go."

Giovanni made a dull thud when he hit the ground. His breath was knocked out of him for a moment or two; Jason stood patiently as he waited for Giovanni to catch his breath again.

Jason bent down on one knee. "You and I are a lot more alike than I might usually care to admit," he growled. "But like you, I'll do whatever it takes to get what I want. Now, give me the Earth badge and the five thousand. If you don't... well, you know how Slowbros get. They've been known to feel the effects of their own attacks, like amnesia. If Gengar drops you over the edge again, Slowbro might suddenly forget how to use its power to catch you."

"I'll make sure... you'll regret... having crossed me," Giovanni wheezed.

Jason grunted. "You've already made sure my family's regretting me having crossed you. I don't intend to join them. Give me the badge and the credits."

The tainted man reached into his sport coat (which, Jason noted with great pleasure, bore Gengar's claw marks on the lapels) and removed from the inside pocket a heavy credit bag and a badge in the shape of a leaf.

Jason inspected the badge. It shone emerald between his fingers. "This better be authentic."

Giovanni chuckled. "You never were worried about the money, were you?"

"Not really." Jason stood. "This is what I was looking for. I just wanted to see how far I had to go to make you into a man who keeps your word. As far as the money goes, well, you can always spare a little cash for the needy, right?"

The insanely rich gym leader stared up at the boy. "You really are a fool. Your family would never have raised you this poorly."

Jason glared straight into Giovanni's eyes. "I have no family."

Then he walked out, credit bag and badge in hand.

***

Kelly didn't know what to do.

She had seen it all happen right before her very eyes.

She had heard it all with her very ears.

And now, she didn't know what to do.

Jason had just walked out with his seventh badge and a veritable fortune in credits, having almost killed the gym leader for them. All she could figure out was that there was some very bad blood between Jason and the gym leader, whatever his name was.

*No, I can piece together more than that,* she thought to herself. *I remember Jason and Sabrina talking about some incident at a marina. Something Jason did made a lot of people suffer. And the gym leader is mad at him for it. The gym leader is really, really rich. Maybe Jason bombed a marina the gym leader owned...

What's going on?*

She turned and followed him out the door. She wanted to ask him what the entire thing was about, but she still vividly remembered their argument yesterday--*was it really only yesterday?* she wondered--and chose not to pursue it. *Not now, anyway.*

***

Jason knew that Kelly wanted to ask him what the entire thing was about now, more than ever. He didn't need to be a psychic like Sabrina or her lackeys to know that. No doubt, right about now she was thinking she wa the only one in Kanto who didn't know his secret.

So he was surprised and impressed when she didn't utter a word on the subject. *She must still remember last night,* he thought. *Hopefully, she'll keep her mouth shut.*

But then he began to wonder. *Should I tell her? I mean, if I insist she keep it a secret, who's she gonna tell? I asked her not to nag me, and so far she's kept her word, even after that exchange with Giovanni.

Well, either way, she's gonna find out. She might piece it together or look it up. But it's probably best that she hears it from me.

But not now.*

***

That night found Jason and Kelly setting up camp on the path to Pallet Town. Jason remembered that it took a couple of days to get there, even at a fast pace.

He was writing in his Pokemon journal, updating the index. those had been the first Rhydon and Machamp he'd seen, although he hadn't been at all surprised to see them. After all, he'd made sure to study up and had been expecting them.

Kelly was setting up camp next to a small freshwater stream. Jason glanced over at her and began to envy her; she had a small tent. All he had was a sleeping bag.

*But I've got more powerful Pokemon,* he thought, and he grinned.

*Soon enough, we'll be in Pallet Town.*

Jason couldn't shake the feeling that Giovanni would do just about anything and everything to make good on his threat against him. Even though the man was an utter coward, as most bullies were, he still had abundant resources at his disposal. Not everyone in Team Rocket was a doof, or a pushover. Some were quite competent.

Jason snorted. *But if Giovanni's Pokemon couldn't beat me, I doubt any of his subordinates could, either.* So he wasn't especially worried about his personal safety.

Still, it didn't hurt to be cautious.

Jason took out Gengar's Great ball and tossed into the air. The ball opened, and the dark pruple ghost Pokemon appeared with its requisite ear- to-ear grin permanently attached to its face.

"Gengar, I'm gonna need you to stand guard tonight," said Jason. "That all right with you?"

"Gengar! Gengar!" it grunted, grinning and flapping its chubby, semi-solid arms.

"Glad to hear it. Trade places with Porygon if you get tired." Jason laid out his sleeping bag and got in. He turned to Kelly. "Credit for your thoughts."

Kelly sighed. She had finished building her tent, and was just crawling in. "I could use the credit, but on the other hand, I probably shouldn't ask."

"You want to know what I did."

"Yeah." Kelly crawled inside.

Jason blew his breath out his nose. "I'll tell you when I'm ready. I'm just not ready right now. Call me crazy, but I'm not in the habit of telling all my dirty little secrets to strangers."

"Well, I'll be waiting in the meantime."

Jason snoted. "Right."

They slept.

***

The next morning, Jason awoke to the sight of a shining sun just above the horizon. He checked his watch; it was 7:23.

He fumbled around for his backpack and pulled out a relatively fresh change of clothes. He changed in the sleeping bag, then rolled it up, packed it, and took a long drink from the nearby stream.

He glanced over at Kelly's tent just in time to hear her scream.

A split-second later, Gengar phased through the door, laughing.

Jason looked disapprovingly at his Pokemon. "I'd hoped you'd have learned something by now about invading other people's privacy."

"Jason, I'll kill you!" Kelly shouted.

"You can kill me later. We're almost there," he responded, recalling Gengar.

Kelly grunted loudly and shuffled around in her tent. When she finally emerged, she was glaring at Jason with such ferocity that if looks could kill, he would most certainly have been vaporized right then and there.

"I was changing! Can't you teach your Gengar something about respect?" she demanded.

Jason popped the ball into the air, then caught it with one swift swipe of his hand. "When I encountered it, it was a Gastly causing havoc in Lavender Town. It did stuff like that all the time. It's improved greatly since then, but Genger's still a bit perverse."

"A bit?!" Kelly exploded. She took a few slow, deep breaths. "Just keep it in that ball until you turn it in."

Jason sighed and shrunk the ball. "Have it your way." He tucked it into the empty slot on his belt, then strapped the belt on.

Kelly began taking her tent down. "So, you know Professor Oak, huh?"

"Yup."

"How'd you meet him?"

"I was caught in the middle of a bad storm last year. He found me and got me and Gyarados to safety."

She grinned. "Sounds like a great guy. Can't wait to meet him."

"Well, if you're so eager to meet him, we'd best be on our way, then, eh?"

"Yeah." Kelly finished packing her tent and strapped it to her backpack. "So let's go."

They started off.

***

Mrs. Ketchum was working in her garden when she spied them coming over the horizon. It was two teenage children; one a girl, the other a boy.

A very famliliar boy...

"Oh, my gosh!" she exclaimed. She turned to her young son, playing in the mud. "Ash, look! It's Jason! Remember him?"

With a huge grin on his muddy face, the toddler shook his head. "No."

His mother shrugged. "Well, I do. I suppose that's all that really counts." She hoisted her dirty son onto her hip. "Let's go meet him!"

***

Kelly began to get a little worried when she saw a woman in soiled clothes running up, her equally soiled son in her arms. She glanced at Jason.

Oddly enough, he was grinning.

When he saw the look on Kelly's face, he waved his hand dismissively. "Don't worry, they're friends of mine." He waved to Mrs. Ketchum. "Hey!"

She plopped Ash on the ground, abandoned all pretense and gave Jason a bear hug.

When she finally pulled away, she looked him up and down. "You're growing up on me!" she exclaimed.

"So is Ash," Jason responded, picking the kid up. "How are you, Ash?"

"Fine," the boy responded, grinning and sticking his dirty finger in his mouth.

"How old are you now?"

"Five. I had my birfday on free days from now."

"Really?" Jason had to grin, as did Kelly, at the boy's childish accent. "Happy birthday!"

"Fank you."

Jason put Ash down, and Mrs. Ketchum asked, "What brings you back to Pallet Town?"

"Well, mainly I'm here to repay a debt while passing through to Cinnabar," he answered.

"Ah. And I see you've made a friend," Mrs. Ketchum noted, turning to Kelly.

"Yes. Kelly, this is Mrs. Ketchum. Mrs. Ketchum this is Kelly, a trainer I met a couple of days ago," Jason replied.

Mrs. Ketchum and Kelly shook hands. "Pleasure to meet you," said Kelly.

"The pleasure's mine." Mrs. Ketchum turned to Jason. "I suppose you'll be visiting Professor Oak while you're here."

"Yes, indeed."

"Well, he's taking the day off today. But I know him." She winked conspiratorially. "He'll probably go visit the preserves this evening to check up on the Pokemon. Still, it may be best that you wait 'til tomorrow. But I don't know where you'd be more likely to find him. He could be at his grandson's house, or he could be at the lab."

"Well, we may as well visit the lab," said Jason. "I need to change my team a little bit."

"And I want to see it, too," Kelly added.

"Okay, then. Off to the lab. See you later, Mrs. Ketchum," said Jason. "Bye, Ash."

Ash grinned his goofy grin. "Bye-bye!"

***

Out of the corner of his eye, Jason could see Kelly's amazement at the immensity of it all.

Indeed, to a newcomer, it was nothing short of astounding. The bustle, hustle, and assorted commotion was just a few notched below chaos. There was an air of barely controlled patience among the human assistants, while the freely-roaming Pokemon had not a care in the world.

Jason had seen it all before. He remembered last year, when he had first come. Considering his history, he hadn't been so completely taken aback as Kelly was, but it had been a bit of surprise. Not anymore, though.

"Want to see my Pokemon?" he asked the awe-struck Kelly.

"Huh? Oh! Sure!" Kelly's eyes came back into focus.

Jason grinned. "You all right?"

"Yeah, fine!" she said. "I've just never been to a lab so huge!"

Jason grasped her hand. "Come on, let's go visit some friends."

***

Even Jason was amazed at how many Pokemon he'd caught.

There were seven ball racks sitting on his shelf; each rack had twelve concave indents in three rows of four each. Six of those seven racks were filled with various capture balls. The seventh rack had five balls in it. Next to the racks was a name tag that read:

*Jason Creight

Tangelo Island

Orange Islands*

He stared at the name tag for a moment. He hadn't told anyone which island he was from, only that he'd lived in the Orange Islands. Of course, Professor Oak knew all about him,but Jason was beginning to think that Oak was striking a little to close to the point where Jason would be discovered.

He turned his attention back to the ball racks and noticed the one that had only five in it. He shrugged. Counting those and the six he had on his belt, he'd captured a total of 83 Pokemon; not bad, all in all. And that didn't even count their evolutions while being trained.

He'd never released any Pokemon he'd captured. He had two of a lot of them, but he'd promised himself that he'd only release his Pokemon when they truly desired it. So far, none of them had made the request.

He'd been thinking about talking to Professor Oak about breeding some of them. Jason thought it might provide some valuable information and fascinating insight. He made a mental note to talk to Oak about it at first opportunity.

Jason turned to Kelly, who was also surprised at how many Pokemon he'd caught.

"I'd have to check my journal to see which ones I have," he said. "I've lost track."

Kelly was now positive that Jason was not just your average Pokemon trainer. He was devoted. Some Pokemon were extremely hard to catch; to ensure that the Pokemon weren't fainted when a trainer threw the ball was quite difficult to manage. Trainers had to remember the intensity of the attacks they were using to weaken their target.

And Jason had 83 Pokemon!

"It's getting to be dinnertime," said Jason, shaking her from her reverie. "How about we go to the dorm wing, drop off our stuff, and go get something to eat?"

Kelly shrugged. "Sounds good to me."

***

When they got to the dining hall, Jason wasn't surprised to see Professor Oak sitting at the head of the long table. The side to the left of Professor Oak was reserved for trainers passing through the area or returning from their journeys. The side to the right, of course, were for his dedicated assistants.

Oak looked up from his plate and saw Jason and Kelly. He grinned through a mouthful of food. "Jason! Glad to see you! Come on over here!"

Jason and Kelly gratefully took their seats next to Oak, who shook their hands.

"How are you, Sam?" Jason asked.

"Oh, I'm holding up," Oak answered. "Getting grayer every day, though." He indicated his hair, and Jason saw he was right. Oak's hair had much more gray in it than when they'd first met. There was also still a good deal of brown left in it, but even that was getting lighter.

"How about you, Jason? You seem to have found a friend," he continued.

"Yeah, this is Kelly. She's a trainer I met a few days ago. Kelly, I believe you know of Professor Oak," said Jason.

"Yes, a pleasure to meet you," said Kelly.

"All mine," Oak responded. Then he saw the spark in Jason's eye, the one that silently informed him that Jason had just remembered something. "What is it, Jason?"

"You probably know that a lot of the Pokemon I've captured have a twin somewhere in the bunch. If you're ever interested in breeding them, I think it would open up a whole new branch of research in Pokemon," Jason answered.

Oak smiled. "I'll take that into consideration. I think you're right. We've still much to learn about their mating habits. It would be interesting."

He sighed. "Unfortunately, I can't do it for a while yet. I don't have the resources, equipment, or manpower."

Jason and Kelly looked at each other, then back at Professor Oak.

"'d have no problem in helping you out," Jason said.

"Neither would I," Kelly added.

"Now, hold on," said Oak. "You both still have journeys to complete."

"Oh, I can always put mine on hold," Kelly responded, waving her hand dismissively.

"And I'm almost finished with mine," Jason added. "Only one badge to go, and I'll be qualified for the Indigo League."

"And after you get the badge, you'll be heading to Indigo Plateau, and that'll take some time," said Oak.

"After I'm finished with the league, I can come back real quick," said Jason.

"You mean *we'll* be coming back," said Kelly.

Jason looked at her. "You seriously want to come with?"

She shrugged. "I'll get to see Indigo Plateau, and my opposition if I decide to keep earning badges."

"Don't want to stay with the ol' professor, eh?" asked Oak, amused.

"After Jason's finished with his journey," she answered.

Jason shrugged. "Fine, if it's really what you want."

"Yup."

Oak pointed to the food on the table. "Better eat up. If you're headed to Cinnabar tomorrow, you've got a big day ahead."

***

That night, long after Kelly had fallen asleep, Jason was still pacing in their room. He didn't want her to know about what he did in the Orange Islands; on the other hand, he wanted to get it off his shoulders. He'd never told the story to anyone.

*Is now the time?* he asked himself.

He decided to go ask someone else.

***

Oak was closing the lab for the night: putting Pokemon back in their capture balls, turning off the lights, and so on. When Jason walked in, Oak frowned. "You should be in bed."

"I couldn't sleep." Jason sat down on a bench next to the door. "I need to talk to you."

Oak sat as well. "What about?"

Jason sighed. "Giovanni and Sabrina both knew who I was when I battled them."

Oak shrugged. "That's no surprise."

"Both of them spoke with me about it in full earshot of Kelly. If she ever heard about the incident, it must not have stuck, because she doesn't know a thing about it. She knows my name, but apparently has no idea who I really am."

Oak nodded, understanding. "She wants to know what you did."

"Yeah, and that's basically why she's following me around. I insisted she not ask me about it anymore, and so far, she hasn't. But it's gotten to the point where I know I'll have to tell her to avoid having her go off and research it or something. I don't want her to do that, but I don't really want to tell her, either."

Oak shrugged helplessly. "I'm afraid I can't help you there, Jason. It's been a long time since I knew anything about girls. My advice would be that you tell her, if it's preferable to her finding out elsewhere."

Jason snorted. "You're a real help."

"Hey, you're the one who got you into this mess. You, not me, and not Kelly. Ask yourself if you're ready to tell her, and if she's ready to listen. When the answer to both questions is yes, that's the time to tell her."

Jason considered this for a moment. Then he got up. "Thanks."

"No problem." Oak stood also, and smiled at Jason. "Now, get yourself to bed. You've got a long journey ahead of you."

Jason took the man's advice, headed back to his and Kelly's room, and tried to get some sleep.

*I'll tell her once we're on our way.*

***

That night, Jason and Kelly were awakened to a loud banging on their door.

"This is the police! Open up!" yelled a female voice.

"Officer Jenny," Jason muttered, as he stumbled to the door.

When he opened it, it was indeed Officer Jenny of Pallet Town who greeted him.

"Are you Jason Creight?" she asked flatly.

Alarms began going off in his head. He knew this day might come, but he'd been hoping it would be on a day of his choosing, not the police's.

"Yes, ma'am," he answered.

"I'm going to have to ask you to come with me," said Officer Jenny.

Kelly strode up to the door.

"What seems to be the trouble, Officer?" she asked.

"Your friend here is being taken in for questioning," Officer Jenny answered. She turned back to Jason. "I'm also going to have to ask you to turn over your Pokemon to me."

"Not until I see a warrant to confiscate my property," Jason responded.

The officer sighed and pulled out a piece of paper; obviously, a warrant. "You're going to make this difficult for me, aren't you?"

Jason read the paper. "This isn't just a warrant for property search and confiscation, this is a warrant for my arrest."

"What?" said Kelly. Her head snapped up to Jenny. "Why do you want to arrest Jason?"

Jenny ignored Kelly. "Yes, this is a warrant for your arrest."

Jason was ready for the answer to his next question, but he wanted to confirm it. "What's the charge?"

Jason thought he was ready, but Jenny's response stunned him.

"Attempted murder of Professor Samuel Oak."

Jason Creight stared on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
16th September 2003, 06:57 AM
Jason Creight awoke to the sound of the cell block door opening.

"You have five minutes with the prisoner," said Officer Jenny.

Jason saw that his visitor was Kelly. He got off the concrete slab that was a poor excuse for a bed and stumbled over to the bars.

When Kelly didn't respond to Officer Jenny's statement, Jenny sighed and left the room.

Kelly stood there and stared at Jason for a few moments, but didn't say anything. Jason returned the favor by not saying anything, either.

Finally, Kelly broke the silence. "Well?"

"Well, what?" Jason responded.

"Why did Gengar take your belt and run away like that?"

Jason snorted. "You think I'd know?"

"Well, it's your Pokemon."

Jason pointed a finger at Kelly to emphasize his next statement. "One thing I do know is that this isn't just another one of Gengar's antics. It knew what was going on. It knew I was being taken in. For whatever reason, it didn't want to come with. Can you imagine?"

"That Gengar of yours is what's causing you to be the number one suspect in the case."

"You think I don't know that? If you're going to tell me something, Kelly, it better be something I didn't know before."

She frowned at him. "I just came to provide a little company, that's all. I can leave if you want."

He sighed, and neither of them said anything for a moment.

"How's Professor Oak?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Not good. Someone was definitely trying to do him in."

"But why?"

She began pacing back and forth. "That gym leader in Viridian was supposed to be really rich, right?"

"Yeah." Jason's lip curled in disgust of "that gym leader in Viridian." *Giovanni.*

"He said you'd regret crossing him, right?"

Jason frowned. "You're saying he might have sent someone to frame me?"

"Well, the only other probability is that you truly are the criminal."

Jason scoffed. "Thanks a lot."

"Look, if you hadn't gone to visit Professor Oak last night, you wouldn't be a prime suspect in this case."

"I had my reasons for going to visit him."

"And what exactly were those reasons, huh?"

"I was talking to him about you."

Kelly was taken somewhat by surprise. "I hope whatever you said reflected well on me."

Jason sat back down on the concrete slab. "Well, that all depends. I told him about your curiosity about my past."

The full impact of this statement took a moment to register on Kelly. "He knows what happened?"

Jason blew his breath out his nose; his version of a frustrated sigh. He nodded reluctantly.

Kelly glared at him, suddenly angry. "Are you just being mean, or what? You have some sort of problem with me? What's the deal? You can tell Professor Oak, but for whatever reason, you can't tell me!"

"I didn't need to tell him. He already knew when I first came to Pallet Town."

The furrows in Kelly's brow softened somewhat. "How?"

"At the time, it was a big deal. It was on some news channels and in a lot of papers. Professor Oak isn't stupid. He knew who I was the moment he saw my face." He leaned forward. "What I did would have gotten me in a whole world of trouble if I hadn't left the Orange Islands. That's why I don't want you to know. I'm afraid that if I tell you, you'll go off and tell someone who'd rat me out in an instant."

"Why would I, when you already have my word that I won't tell anyone?"

"Because I'm not ready to talk about it. And, quite frankly, I don't think you're ready to listen, either."

Kelly glared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"When I tell you about it--"

"*When*? Not *if*?"

"That's exactly what I'm talking about," said Jason. "You'll interrupt me at every turn if I try to tell you. That's what that was supposed to mean."

"Sorry."

"I know. But it can't be like that when I tell you."

Kelly understood. "Okay. Just let me know when you're ready. I'll be here to listen."

Officer Jenny entered the room. "Your time is up. You'll have to come back tomorrow at the earliest."

Kelly turned, glanced back at Jason, then left.

***

Jason thought back to the night before. He'd been so astonished at the charge against him that he'd been struck speechless. He could only gape at Officer Jenny. The charge was too fantastic, too horrific, to be serious.

Yet it was the charge against him.

*"What's the charge?"

"The attempted murder of Professor Samuel Oak."*

Murder?

And of *Professor Oak?*

How could they charge him with anything so serious? He'd never try to kill anyone, not even his own family!

Not even his *brother!* And look at how animalistic he was!

A moment after Officer Jenny had explained the warrant, Gengar had broken out of its Great ball, stolen Jason's capture ball belt, and vanished. Jenny had immediately sent out her Growlithe to find Gengar and the belt, but so far, they hadn't come up with anything.

Jason desperately wanted them to.

According to Jenny, one of Professor Oak's assistants had walked into the lab the previous night, to find Professor Oak lying facedown on the floor.

Standing over Oak was a Gengar, performing an extremely painful psychic attack. Before the assistant could react, the Gengar put a curse on Professor Oak and vanished.

The assistant had apparently known which Pokemon Jason was carrying with him at the time, and so knew that Jason had a Gengar in his team.

According to testimony by the other assistants, Jason had been seen heading to the lab at an ungodly hour. They also conveniently knew that Professor Oak was still inside at that time, closing up for the night.

Officer Jenny had acquired the warrant after gathering this information.

All this went through Jason's mind in a matter of seconds. He applied Kelly's little theory to the sequence of events.

Though he'd been using Gengar to guard them as of late, it hadn't been out since they'd gotten to Pallet Town.

For the supposed henchman to know which Pokemon he had with him *that night* would require constant supervision.

*Maybe Gengar was a poor choice for guard dog,* he thought.

Unless... unless it was someone Gengar wasn't suspecting to be a threat.

*Kelly...?*

Jason paled at the very thought. *Giovanni was angry with me even before I showed up. He might have been able to track me. Lord knows I've had tangles with a few Grunts on my journey. Could he have sent a spy?*

Jason shook his head. *I'm being too paranoid. It's all her fault for putting the idea in my head.*

*And maybe... just maybe... she's at fault for more than that.*

***

Kelly had been sitting on her bench for hours, watching the sun arch across the sky.

And she was at a complete loss as to what to do.

She knew the best thing to do was to wait. She needed to wait until Jason's predicament went either way.

She sincerely hoped he'd be cleared. She didn't want to see anything bad happen to him. Though she still thought of him as a bit of a pain when it came to certain subjects, she'd come to find him as a pretty cool guy over the past couple of days. And she was also...

She shook her head fiercely. *No, that can't be right. If I were to be attracted to someone, it wouldn't happen that fast.*

*Would it?*

She shook her head again. *No. It wouldn't.*

She plucked a shrunken Ultra ball from her belt and inspected it. *He said he was talking about me to Professor Oak. He was caught going to Oak's lab to talk about my curiosity, and whether he should tell me his secret.*

*It's my fault that he's caught up in this.*

"Excuse me."

Kelly looked up from her inspection and saw a lanky, rather handsome young man walking up to her. He smiled. "Anyone sitting here?"

"Other than me, no," she answered.

"Well, then, mind if I sit?"

"No, go ahead."

He looked to be a few years older than her. He was wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt, and she could see that he was well-built for someone his age. He had short-cropped black hair and blazing electric blue eyes, as well as a short mustache and goatee. His skin was deeply tanned, and she could discern no tan line on his neck or arms.

Her eyes flashed toward his waist for just an instant, and she saw that he was sporting a filled capture ball belt. All of the capture balls were Ultra balls. She also caught the gold and silver glint of his watch. *Rich boy.*

The stranger stared out at the small town suqare. "Beautiful day," he commented.

"Yeah," she answered noncommittally.

The stranger grinned and turned to her. "What do you mean, 'yeah'? The sky's blue, with just the right amount of white clouds. The breeze is light, the temperature is pleasantly warm, the grass is full and green, and all you can say is 'yeah'?"

"Sorry. My mind's not really on the weather," she responded.

"So I can see. The outside of a Great ball mesmerizes you to that point, huh?"

She snorted and tucked the ball back into her belt. "I wasn't really thinking about the ball, either."

"Then what?" the stranger chuckled.

Kelly sighed. "I've got a friend in sort of a sticky situation with the police."

"Hmm. And I suppose you're waiting out here to see how it'll turn out, because they won't let you talk to this friend for more than five minutes each day, right?"

"Basically."

The stranger chuckled again. "Well, would you like someone to pass the time with? It might be a long wait. And I might like to hear about this friend of yours."

Kelly considered it for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, I could use a friend outside the jail right about now."

"Well, in that case, let's introduce ourselves."

She smiled and offered her hand. "I'm Kelly."

He grasped her hand firmly.

"I'm Daniel."

***

Jason was going out of his mind in his cell. By evening, he was nearly insane with boredom. Officer Jenny refused to sate him mentally, though she did bring in a three-course meal for dinner. He pounced on it immediately, since he was feeling famished as well.

As the last sunshine faded away, so did the last of the light in Jason's otherwise empty cell block.

And so did the last of his hope.

That was when he saw the glow.

He rolled over on the concrete slab and saw two harsh red lights floating right in the center of the cell.

And he grinned. "Gengar, those are the best things I've seen all day."

"Gengar." The rest of its body appeared, and it stood there, grinning at him.

Jason began to worry. *It doesn't have my belt.* "Gengar, where's the belt?"

It just stood there, grinning.

And then it took one step towards him.

"Officer!" he yelled. "Officer Jenny!"

Officer Jenny burst into the cell block and saw the Gengar standing there.

She glared at both of them. "So, it returns to its master hoping to free him, huh?"

"That's not my Gengar!" Jason shouted.

"What?"

"Get your Growlithe, *now*!"

The Gengar turned to her and grinned its awful grin at her.

Then, in an instant, it phased through the bars and rammed into the pit of Officer Jenny's stomach.

"Oof!"

Jenny flew back through the doorway. Jason heard a sharp *crack*, and knew she had been knocked out.

"Oh, man," he muttered. "I'm next!"

The Gengar entered the cell block again and turned to Jason.

It bolted into the air...

And was blasted back by a multicolored beam of psychic energy.

Another Gengar floated through the window bars of Jason's cell. It was glaring at its downed twin.

And it was carrying Jason's belt over its shoulder.

Jason breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Man, am I glad to see you, Gengar."

"Gengar." It nodded, then grabbed Jason by his hand and pulled him straight toward the wall.

Both of them phased right through it and into the open night.

Jason blew out his breath. *No time to lose; I've gotta get out of here!*

But then he realized that if that Gengar had been after him...

*It might have been the one that attacked Sam!*

"Gengar," he said, "go get your evil twin in there."

"Gengar?"

Jason tapped the side of his head.

Gengar understood, raced through the wall, and came back through it again with its opponent in hand.

The other Gengar wrestled itself free of its "brother" and tried to get away.

"Gengar, give me the belt," Jason quickly ordered. Gengar obeyed, and Jason enlarged an Ultra ball and threw it. "Go, Mr. Mime!"

Out popped a goofy-looking mime-like Pokemon. Jason could only wonder at the mentality of a human who would imitate this kind of Pokemon, but at the moment, he didn't have the time. "Quick, don't let that Gengar get away! Use Barrier and box it in!"

Jason's Mr. Mime quickly conjured a transparent barrier directly in the enemy Gengar's path. It bounced against the obstruction; Mr. Mime used the distraction to conjure a pair of barriers on either side of its opponent, and then another one directly over it.

"Okay, Gengar, aim a Psybeam straight into the opening," Jason ordered.

Another glowing multicolored beam of energy erupted from Jason's Gengar and struck its target dead center.

The enemy Gengar stood for a moment, then fell back to the ground. It didn't rise again.

Jason sighed. "Okay, Gengar, let's take it to the Pokemon center. They'll put it into a secure cell. Unlike mine. Let's go get Officer Jenny, too."

***

Jason stood over Professor Oak. The man looked frail, somehow, which didn't look very dignified to Jason; Oak had been a strong influence on him in the past two years.

And now, here he lay, dying of a curse. A curse which, hopefully, would be lifted soon.

But he would always bear the marks of that curse.

Because of the intense physical and mental trauma Oak had suffered from the attack and the curse, his hair had lost all of its pigment. He would have white hair for the rest of his life.

Jason blamed himself for the entire ordeal. *If I had kept my nose out of my brother's business, none of this would ever have happened. Why did I ever listen to those trainers?*

Jason's name had not been cleared yet, but as far as Officer Jenny was concerned, Jason's Gengar had saved both their lives, and she believed that exonerated it. He had spoken to her a while ago.

"Now," she'd said, "we need to heal Professor Oak and find out who that Gengar belongs to. I'll have Nurse Joy use some of her psychic Pokemon to... *convince* it to help us."

"Do we know what kind of attack that Gengar used yet?" Jason had asked.

"No. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before. Whatever the attack was, I'm positive that the Gengar didn't learn it naturally. No attack I've seen could have that kind of effect on a human."

And Jason began to wonder where Kelly was during all this.

***

Kelly forced her eyes open, and found that she was in a dark room. Her joints felt stiff, and she realized she was sitting up.

When she tried to stand, however, she found that her ankles had been bound to the chair she was sitting in. She tried to shift her wrists around, to find that they were likewise tied to the chair.

"Hey!" she shouted. "Help! Somebody help!"

"You don't have to yell," said a low voice, directly in front of her. "I'm right here."

"You're not the one I'm yelling for," she answered, and she spat blindly, hoping to hit her captor's face. "Help!"

Daniel clamped his hand over her mouth. "I'm not interested in letting you go right now, Kelly. Your so-called friend and I have a serious score to settle. And we're going to settle it. And you're going to stay here and keep quiet."

He removed his hand and replaced it with a strip of tape, effectively keeping her silent.

Kelly didn't understand what was going on, other than it seemed like everyone had it in for Jason. All she knew was that one moment, she was telling Daniel details about their meeting, arrival into Pallet Town, and Jason, and then she had awakened here, wherever this was.

She heard a doorknob twist, and then a small amount of light leaked into the room she was stuck in. Daniel stood in the doorway for a moment, as if he were savoring his encounter with Jason. Then she saw his mustache turn upward.

"I'll have my revenge, squirt. You can count on it." He glanced at Kelly. "But first, some collateral damage."

He left and locked the door behind him.

***

Jason was walking the shadier areas of Pallet Town, not quite sure what to do with himself. All he could do was wait for Nurse Joy's Pokemon to do their job, and for Professor Oak to heal.

As he passed by Mrs. Ketchum's house, he saw a dark figure approach the same house, apparently oblivious to Jason's presence there. Jason stopped walking and watched the stranger from the shade of the dense trees behind him.

The stranger muttered some unintelligible words, then flicked his forearm upward. There came a flash of light, and then a neon energy bolt that Jason recognized all too well as coming from a capture ball.

The bolt materialized as a Charizard.

Jason felt a brief pang of envy; he had a Charmeleon, but it had chosen not to evolve for the time being, and Jason didn't want to push it, though he desperately wanted a Charizard.

But what he saw next caused his eyes to widen in horror.

The Charizard lifted into the air on its powerful wings and began blasting the Ketchums' house with blazing fire.

Jason's reaction was immediate. He pulled the one Poke ball he had from his belt, enlarged it, and threw it. "Gyarados, get out here!"

Gyarados appeared and didn't wait for Jason's orders. It assessed the situation in a split-second: an innocent family was in danger because of a psychotic trainer and his deranged Pokemon, and that family would be lost if instant action wasn't taken.

Gyarados blasted three hydro pump shots straight toward the flying Charizard.

The first shot missed.

The other two didn't.

The Charizard roared in defiance, but the damage had been done; it crashed to the ground, rumbling the ground beneath Jason's feet and knocking its trainer over.

Jason strode up to the trainer. "Now," he said, "who in their right mind would do a thing like that, huh? Got some problem with the residents?"

"Man," the trainer grunted, "you really, seriously did *not* want to do that. You really didn't."

"Well, I didn't. My Gyarados did." Jason looked back at Gyarados, who was using another hydro pump to beat back the remaining flames on the roof.

The figure stood up. "Same difference. You've got some issues, man, some serious issues. I'm here to put 'em to rest. And to put *you* to rest. Permanently."

"Really? And you went off to burn a house just to get my attention, is that it?"

Even though the figure was shrouded by darkness, Jason could see the sides of his face widen. He was smiling. "You're the only one I want."

Jason spread his arms wide. "Well, you got me. Now what?"

"Now we finish what you started."

The figure stepped into the light of his Charizard's tail.

Jason's eyes widened and he gaped.

Gyarados roared.

Daniel nodded. "Yeah, you remember me, don't you, Gyarados?" He turned his malice-filled eyes to Jason. "Obviously, I don't need to ask you."

Jason was still shocked into paralysis, with the exception of his legs, which felt as if they were becoming jelly.

He was looking straight into the face of his estranged brother.

Daniel grinned. "I thought you'd be happy to see a relative, squirt. So I dropped in to say hi. Met a couple good friends of yours along the way. That coot Professor Oak, for one."

Jason's expression turned from cold horror to burning hatred. "It was your Gengar."

"Wow! He's catching on!" Daniel exclaimed. "Before long, you'll be learning long division! Of course it was my Gengar! I decided it was time for you to pay the piper. And I heard you were around."

"What did you do to him?"

Daniel giggled maliciously. "What someone should have done to the old fart a long time ago. He'll be devastated for the rest of his short life. His days are over, buddy boy. And so are yours. And let me tell you something else; being on Giovanni's payroll isn't a bad bonus, either."

*Devastated...*

"And I met another friend of yours," Daniel continued. "She's great company, when she's not siding with the enemy."

Jason glared at his brother. "What did you do with Kelly?"

"I put her somewhere safe," Daniel responded, growing impatient. "No one to cheer either of us on, kid. Just you and me."

Jason's eyes blazed. "You want to do this? Here? Now?"

"Yeah!" Daniel shouted.

"All right, then! Let's do it!" Jason yelled.

And he threw his other five occupied capture balls.

One by one, five of his strongest Pokemon emerged.

Gengar.

Magneton.

Venusaur.

Mr. Mime.

And Porygon.

All of these, plus Gyarados, took position around Daniel.

It was Daniel's turn to widen his eyes.

He reached for his four occupied Ultra balls.

But before he could pluck them from his belt, Gengar and Mr. Mime concerted their efforts and psychically ripped all of them clear of Daniel's grasp.

Daniel turned to his Charizard. "Charizard, get up and fight!"

"Magneton," Jason called, "Thunder Wave!"

The floating Pokemon known as Magneton spun around and fired a blast of paralytic electricity toward Charizard.

The shock struck its target with precision accuracy. Charizard's nerves were shorted out, and it hit the ground again.

Daniel stared hopelessly at his downed Pokemon.

"You're out of options, Daniel," said Jason. "You surrender?"

Daniel screamed incoherently and bolted straight toward Jason.

"Venusaur!" Jason shouted.

A dozen vine whips lashed out in Jason's defense and caught Daniel in their grasp before he even got close to his younger brother.

Jason walked up to Daniel as the older Creight struggled against Venusaur's vine whips.

He approached until he was almost nose to nose with his estranged brother.

"I'll only ask this once, and then I'll turn you over to my Gengar," Jason said, in a very low, menacing tone. "What did you do with Kelly?"

Daniel spat.

A Mr. Mime barrier, however, splashed it before it even got a centimeter past Daniel's mouth.

"You see," Jason continued, "my Gengar isn't really happy about yours trying to place the blame on it. Yours is in custody now; it won't be coming back to you. Which means you're the only one left for my Gengar to play with."

Jason's expression hardened. "I've seen Gengar shred some Pokemon minds to pieces. And since you're decidedly lower on the evolutionary ladder than Pokemon, I'd wager heavily that it can do the same to you."

Daniel's insane grin returned. "You shred my mind and you won't get any information out of me."

"Never said I was planning to let Gengar do anything of the sort," Jason responded. "I'm just saying it's capable. And if it's capable of shredding your mind, it's capable of simply taking the information from you."

He turned to Gengar. "Go ahead."

Gengar floated up to eye level with Daniel, and its eyes turned red.

Daniel began to shudder.

He grunted.

Then he cried out, and his head slumped.

Gengar's eyes turned white again, and it landed.

"Did you get it?" Jason asked.

Gengar nodded. "Gengar!"

Jason turned to Venusaur. "Go take Daniel to the police station and tell Officer Jenny's Growlithe what happened. Make sure you've got him in a secure grip; we don't want him getting loose. He's got a lot to answer for."

"Saur." Venusaur lumbered off in the direction of the station.

Jason pulled out four capture balls. "Mr. Mime, Porygon, Gyarados, and Magneton, return!"

After the balls had returned to his belt, Jason looked down to Gengar. "Let's go find Kelly."

***

When Kelly first heard the banging on the door, she had been half-asleep and thought she'd imagined it.

When the doorknob started to click back and forth, she realized she hadn't. She cried out; muffled by the tape, but apparently audible, because the next thing she heard was, "Kelly! Thank God, you're alive! Hang on, we'll get you out of there!"

A moment later, Kelly heard the awful rending of metal, and the door fell inward.

"Gengar, return!" Jason said, and Gengar was sucked back into its Great ball. He raced into the room, hit the light switch, and found Kelly bound to a chair that had been toppled.

"Oh, man," he muttered, as he sat on his heels and ripped the tape from Kelly's mouth.

Her instant reaction was to gasp for air. As she tried to catch her breath, she panted out, "Guy I met... name's Daniel... used Pokemon... knocked me out.. found myself here... has it in for you..."

"Yeah, I know." Jason pulled out his pocketknife and slashed the tape from her wrists and ankles. "It's all been taken care of."

Kelly moved shakily out of the chair she'd been bound to for hours, and stood with Jason's help.

She hugged him tightly, and tears streamed down her face. "I was so scared..."

"Don't worry," he whispered. "It's all over now."

***

The next morning, Jason awoke to the sight of the sun, burning red against his eyelids. He opened his eyes, and found that somehow, he'd spent the night with Kelly sleeping in his embrace. He looked around, having temporarily forgotten where he was.

Apparently, they were back in their room at Professor Oak's lab. And though there were two beds in the room, Kelly had somehow ended up in Jason's lap.

And that was how they'd fallen asleep.

He knew that there was no avoiding it. He was going to have to tell her, and he was going to have to do it today. They were both too deep into it now for him to hold it back any longer.

They'd both undergone considerable debriefing at the police station the previous night. Jason had refused to say anything about his feud with Daniel beyond, "There was a lot of bad blood between us." That was fine with the police; they put it down as an emotional breakdown.

They'd also "convinced" Daniel's Gengar to cooperate with authorities and had it reverse its curse on Professor Oak. Oak was being nurtured back to health, but he wouldn't be up and about for a while, yet.

Jason hadn't visited Oak, and he wasn't planning to. He felt too ashamed, because he'd pulled Oak into the entire mess. His only consolation was that his brother was being brought to justice.

He felt Kelly breathing, felt her stomach push forward and then pull back against his arms. He looked at her as if he'd seen her for the first time, but in a new light.

There had been girls on Tangelo Island, but while he was iving there, those girls and he had been of an age that didn't quite appreciate the opposite sex just yet. The older girls, the teenage ones, might have glanced once or twice in his direction, claiming how cute they thought he was. But he knew that they were either being kind, or were sucking up to him because of his heritage.

And now he was older. And here was a girl that had chosen to travel with him, probably against *her* better judgment as well as his own. She wanted to know about him, and that was something that was both gratifying and dangerous for him. He was glad that someone else cared enough to try to know him; on the other hand, he didn't like thinking about it, and he didn't think he'd like talking about it much, either. And there was always the possibility that somehow, it might leak.

*But I have to do it,* he thought. *And I will.*

*Today.*

***

Their only stop before leaving Pallet Town was the lab. Jason wanted to change his team, and so he did. He returned his Gengar, Porygon, Magneton, Mr. Mime, and Venusaur to the lab. That done, he took Lapras, Cloyster, Staryu, Vaporeon, and Raichu. Raichu was meant for any encounters with hostile water-types they might encounter on their way to Cinnabar.

When they reached the shoreline, Jason pulled out Gyarados' Poke ball. "Let's get this show on the water, Gyarados."

Gyarados appeared in the water and offered its back to Jason and Kelly. Jason got on without hesitation, but Kelly was a different matter.

Jason turned. "Something wrong, Kelly?"

She looked reluctant. "Not to insult your Gyarados or anything, but I'm not sure if I can quite trust a Pokemon that's been generally accepted the 'atrocious' Pokemon. I'd prefer to ride a Pokemon that's not known for atrocities, thanks."

Jason shrugged. "Not a problem." He pulled out an Ultra ball and threw it. "Come on out, Lapras!"

Jason's Lapras sprang into existence a moment later. Kelly looked relieved as she climbed onto its domed back.

"Okay, if everyone's ready, let's go," said Jason. "Cinnabar, ho!"

***

After nearly four hours at sea, Kelly felt her stomach getting a little queasy.

This was no secret to Jason; he could see her turning a light shade of green.

"Hey, Kelly," he said, "if you need to blow, go ahead, but please be kind enough not to do it on Lapras, since it hasn't done anything to you."

She half-smiled, but it quickly disappeared. She leaned over the left side of Lapras' back, and Jason could hear her making retching noises.

"Man, Gyarados, I'm glad I don't live in that water, whatever's going in," he muttered. "Bet the fish and Shellders are having a great time with that."

And then, Jason saw the blue domes floating ahead.

"Oh, no," he moaned.

"What?" asked Kelly, having finished her business.

"See those up ahead?" Jason pointed to the domes.

"Yeah. Blue bubbles with red jewels... in... oh, no," she said, realizing now what they were.

It was a flotilla of Tentacruel.

"Gyarados, can we get around them?" Jason asked.

Gyarados shook its massive head.

"Then I guess we'll just have to go through them," he said. He turned to Kelly and Lapras. "Lapras, keep yourself and Kelly at a safe distance. I'm going to try and clear a path for us."

"Why not just have Lapras use Ice Beam?" Kelly asked, even as Lapras came to a stop in the water.

"That would only work if Lapras knew Ice Beam," Jason answered. "For now, we'll have to go the weakness route."

Then he pulled Raichu's Poke ball from his belt. "Come on out, Raichu!"

Jason's Raichu appeared in midair and splashed into the water.

The Tentacruel turned.

Raichu surfaced, confused but not panicked. It looked to its trainer.

"Raichu, we need you to clear those unfriendly Tentacruel up ahead," Jason said. "think you can do it?"

"Rai!"

"Good. Now, I need you to time this precisely. When I give the order, I need you out of the water so you don't shock us in the process. Gyarados, when I tell Raichu to attack, I need you out of the water, too."

"What about us?" asked Kelly.

"You should be all right, but if you want, you can jump as well."

"Fine."

Jason turned back to Raichu. "Ready?"

"Rai!"

"Okay." Jason took a deep breath.

*One... two... three!*

"Raichu, thunderbolt attack!"

Raichu ducked down under the water, then swam straight back up and launched itself out of the sea.

Gyarados launched out at the same moment.

And that was when the Tentacruel fired their supersonic blasts.

Bombarded with a piercing screech, Raichu and Gyarados both came crashing back into the water at ninety degree angles. Jason cried out as he fell off Gyarados' back and into the water.

And Raichu finally attacked...

Submerged.

***

Kelly saw everything. She even felt a bit of the shock pulse through her, and her heart went out to Lapras, who stiffened in pain.

But she was horrified when she realized that Jason was in the water.

"*Jason!*" she screamed.

Lapras cried out in unison.

"Get us over there, Lapras! Right now!" Kelly shouted.

The transport Pokemon pumped its powerful fins and pushed them over to the site Gyarados had landed.

Kelly dived in, uncaring of the danger.

She saw Gyarados floating, unconscious, just a yard below the surface.

And Jason...

Jason was floating upward.

Limp and facedown.

Kelly pushed her way down to him and slung her arms around his waist. She kicked as hard as she could to return to the surface.

When she finally breached, she gasped for air and turned Jason over in the water.

He gurgled up water.

His eyes opened a crack.

"Get... Gyarados..." he muttered. "Raichu..."

She grabbed Gyarados' and Raichu's Poke balls and went back down. She touched Gyarados' ball to its scales, and the ball automatically opened and sucked Gyarados inside.

She surfaced for air, and found Raichu trying to swim away.

"Raichu, return!" she called, her words activating the ball's automated response system. It sent out its energy vacuum and caught Raichu.

She then shrank the balls, stuck them in Jason's belt, and called, "Lapras!"

Lapras floated over to her, grabbed Jason with its mouth, and hoisted him onto its back.

Kelly climbed on. "Take us back to Pallet Town, quickly!"

She bent over Jason and shook him.

"Don't you die on me, Jason," she muttered. "You stay alive, you hear me?"

He couldn't hear her. He had passed out from the pain.

Her fingers pressed against the side of his neck, checking for a pulse. Then they hovered over his open mouth, checking for breath.

She could find neither.

"Jason!" she shouted. "Don't you dare die on me, Jason!"

She bent over him and began performing CPR on him, her mind totally bent on saving his life.

After what seemed an eternity of breathing into him and pumping his chest, he gurgled up more water and gasped for air.

Kelly sat back against Lapras' neck, pulled Jason's body into her lap, and held him there.

She knew his life was on the line.

But for the moment...

Jason Creight breathed on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
17th September 2003, 05:17 AM
Jason Creight awoke in room 7 of Pallet Town Hospital's Intensive Care Unit.

A breather mask was strapped to his face.

He was wearing a medical gown.

And whatever had gone into his stomach wasn't sitting well just now.

His sight was fuzzy, but he could make out the extremely blurred image of a nurse standing on his left. He could tell it was a nurse, because the image was wearing green and white. It also had long, shockingly red hair.

He tried to clear the fuzziness by shaking his head. Big mistake; that only brought on a splitting headache.

*Man, if I can't shake my head without being dizzy, I must have been lying here a long time.*

And that was when the nurse noticed he was awake. Jason saw her making motions with sudden urgency. He could hear her pick up a phone and say, "Doctor Morgan, Jason Creight has just regained consciousness.... Yes... Yes, I understand. I'll wait."

Jason heard the click of the phone as it was returned to the receiver, and he saw the fuzzy green-and-white image lean over him. He hoped she was smiling. *At least if she's frowning, I won't know it.*

He knew that normally, at this point, his thoughts would be racing. But he realized that his neurons were firing at a much slower rate than normal.

*Can't even think straight. Must've been drugged or something.*

He stared up at the image, which had just grown a dark area near the top. *Must be a mouth,* Jason thought.

"Can you hear me, Jason?" the nurse asked.

Jason opened his mouth and uttered a muffled, "Yeah... think so." Not only was the mask making speech difficult, but his tongue was lolling around in his mouth.

*Man, I can't even get a proper sentence out!*

"That's a good sign, Jason. My name is Jessie, and I've been taking care of you for... well, for a while now." Jason saw the nurse's hair shift around as she looked up at a nearby calendar. "Wow. It's been longer than I thought."

"How... long?" Jason wheezed into his mask.

"Almost two months now," she answered.

Jason wanted to utter a curse so badly, but as slowly as his thought processes were working, none came to mind.

Instead, he asked, "Where...?"

"Where are you? Pallet Town Hospital, in the ICU," she answered.

And then he remembered.

He remembered the ungodly bolt of electricity that had gone surging through his entire body.

He remembered flailing under the surface of the water.

He remembered...

*Kelly!*

"Where... Kelly?"

"Kelly? You mean the girl who brought you in?"

"Kelly... okay?"

"Yes, yes, she's fine. She caught a bit of that shock you got, but not enough to seriously injure her or your Lapras." Jessie smiled down at Jason. "She's been visiting you every day since she brought you here. She saved your life."

*Nuts,* Jason thought. *I told her that saving her from Daniel was a freebie!*

Of course, Jason knew that Kelly didn't have to feel that particular kind of obligation to him to save his life. It was a moral obligation, not a payback.

"You need to rest, Jason," said Jessie. "You've been through a lot."

"Been... restin'," Jason answered. "How bad?"

"I can't tell you that," Jessie responded. "You need to hear it from a doctor."

"When?"

"Doctor Morgan should be here in a little while. He's admitting someone else to the emergency room right now, but he'll be around soon enough."

Jason's sight was beginning to get better. He began to see the general shape of his nurse. *She keeps a good figure,* he thought.

In fact, everything seemed to be getting sharper. His breathing felt a little less forced, his blood was pumping, and he could feel a small portion of his strength returning.

"When I get out?"

Jessie sighed. "That's not up to me. I don't know, but if I had to guess, I'd say you'll be here for a while. So you may as well make yourself comfortable."

"Can't do that. Can't move well."

Jessie nodded. "Yes, I know. Your muscles have atrophied somewhat because you haven't used them."

*Oh, so that's why,* Jason thought. *Just great. My mind's trapped inside my sluggish body! I know what I want to say, but my mouth won't let me say it!*

"How do you feel, Jason?" Jessie asked.

Jason groaned. "Feeling better since awake. You give me something?"

"Yes, a small stimulant. It'll help you wake up. Can you move your finger for me?"

Jason tried to grin. "Thought docs did this."

"They do, normally, but this is strictly off the record. Just practicing to be a doctor someday."

Jason slowly waggled his left index finger back and forth.

"Good. I'll bother you about your toes later. I'll let you rest," she said.

She left the room.

Jason groaned again. "Been resting," he mumbled.

He opened his eyes a bit more and looked at the environment he was, for the moment, trapped inside. It was a small, one-person room with loads of equipment surrounding him. And all the cords from that equipment seemed to be running in his direction.

*Oh, nice,* he thought, as he tracked the cords and found they'd all been attached to him in some form or another. For example,there was the breather equipment, which was breathing in and out with him.

There was also sensor equipment, and Jason looked himself over. Two sensors had been applied to his temples. Two were on his chest, and two more were on his arms. He couldn't check his legs, because they were under a blanket.

Then he noticed something strange. He could feel the sensors on his head. He could feel them on his chest. He could feel them on his arms.

He saw cords running under the blankets. He knew something was there.

But he couldn't feel anything on his legs.

Because he couldn't feel his legs.

"Crap," he muttered.

He passed out.

***

As it had been for nearly two months, Kelly and Professor Oak had dinner at the lab that evening.

They had it in near silence.

Truth be told, there wasn't much left to say. They both knew he'd awakened for a few minutes, only to drift back into the ether of unconsciousness.

They both knew this was supposed to be a major step on the road to recovery.

And they both knew he was paralyzed.

Kelly finally looked up from her plate. "Someone's going to have to tell him. Sooner or later, he's going to find out something's wrong."

Oak scoffed. "Knowing Jason, I'd be willing to bet he's tried to get up and already figured it out."

"That's not funny."

"It wasn't meant to be."

Kelly stared back down at her food. She remembered running in to the hospital, crying and screaming for help. Jason had been fortunate that the hospital had the right resources and amount of experience within its walls; the doctors rushed to his aid immediately and got him into the emergency room in no time.

According to the doctors, Jason had already been flat-line for two minutes by the time Kelly had gotten him inside, and he'd flat-lined no less than half a dozen times on the table. It was nothing less than a miracle that he'd survived.

Jason had the entire town praying for him. They didn't know what else to do.

"You realize, Kelly," said Oak, "that this means the end of Jason's Pokemon training."

She looked up at him. "He hasn't got anything else, Professor."

Oak nodded dismally. "I know. But it's too dangerous for him now. Even if he does walk again, he'll never regain all of his ability."

"Professor, I don't know about you, but I was taught that when it came to training, the body did not matter so much as the mind," Kelly responded. "And as far as I'm concerned, Jason's mind is still as sharp as it was when I first met him."

"You don't know that," said Oak. "He could have suffered brain damage."

"*You* don't know *that*," Kelly countered. "He has just as good a chance that he didn't. The doctors just don't know one way or the other."

"Maybe he didn't suffer physical damage," said Oak, "but this was an electrical attack we're talking about. Electricity is what runs the brain. For all we know, he was fried the moment his Raichu tried to hit the Tentacruel."

"I know. But I refuse to believe anything has happened to his mind until I talk with him myself."

"And if he has?"

Kelly shook her head. "I don't know."

"This is something you need to think about, Kelly. You still have your own Pokemon journey to complete, and you're not doing yourself any favors if you stay behind to keep watch over a vegetable."

Kelly glared at Oak. "That's a rather insensitive outlook, Professor. I expected better of you."

She left the table.

Oak's shoulders slumped, and he held his head in his hand.

"So did I," he muttered.

***

Three days later, Jason's life was turned upside down again. He was moved out of ICU, had his mask taken off, had it replaced with nose tubes, and he finally met his doctor.

The man was bald on top, but had hair that circled his head from temple to temple. That hair was short itself, and Jason morbidly wondered how much of it had been falling out as of late.

"Hello, Jason," said the doctor. "My name's Doctor Morgan. It's great to see you awake."

"Believe me, Doc," said Jason, "I prefer being awake right now."

"Your nurse tells me that you've been feeling steadily stronger since you first awakened. That's a good sign."

"I sure hope it is," Jason responded. "I'd hate to be feeling stronger when I'm on my deathbed."

The doctor grinned. "Another good sign is that you're able to respond at all. We were afraid the shock had scrambled your neurons."

Jason considered this, then shook his head. "I don't think anything's changed, at least as far as my memory goes."

"If what you're saying turns out to be true, it'll be a miracle," said Morgan.

"After what I've been hearing, it's a miracle that I'm still alive," Jason responded.

"Yes, it is," the doctor replied. "However, the miracle extends only so far. There is some bad news."

"I was waiting for that," Jason muttered, as he began to suspect where this was going.

*He's about to tell me exactly what's wrong with my legs. Prepare yourself, Jason.

I'm talking to myself in my own thoughts. Surely that's a sign that I'm still normal in the head.*

"Jason, I'm afraid that Raichu's attack fried your two lowest vertebrae, and the nerve bundles inside them. Those nerves are what send messages to-- "

"Cut the crap, Doc," Jason interrupted. "What's happened to my legs?"

The doctor sighed. "The electrocution caused the nerve singals from your legs to be disrupted. In short, you are, I'm afraid, paralyzed from the waist down. Permanently."

Jason let his head fall back against his pillow. "I was hoping it would be temporary."

Morgan raised an eyebrow, though he was less surprised than he looked. "I take it, then, that you already had it figured out by the time I came in."

"Wasn't hard. I can't feel my legs at all. It's like I've got two dead Arboks attached to me. And as far as my brain is concerned, I haven't peed in three days, which is a definite indication of something horribly wrong."

Dr. Morgan nodded. "I suppose so." He paused for a few moments. "You're taking it well."

"We'll see how well I take it once I actually leave this hospital. No doubt you're going to want me to start getting used to a wheelchair or some such."

"You're rather quick, aren't you?" Morgan asked.

"When it comes to how I'm going to get around, you bet I am. A wheelchair, right?"

Morgan sighed and nodded. "You'll have your choice of wheelchair to buy, but I have to warn you, none of them are very cheap."

Jason shrugged. "I've got money."

"Obviously. Your friend Kelly Shields helped herself to it in order to pay for your care here."

Jason grinned. "Kelly to the rescue yet again."

"Yourself, as well. It seems you're doing well for yourself."

"I suppose so. If it gets me out of here with even a hundred credits to spare, I'll be grateful." Jason chuckled. "What a lousy mistake, huh?"

"Hmm?"

"Ordering Raichu to attack when we were in the middle of the water. That was asking for trouble. Lousy mistake."

Dr. Morgan stood from the seat he'd taken. "I only help heal the injuries. I don't wonder at the mentalities of those I treat. A psychologist would be better suited to the task. But that's only if you want one."

"No, thank you. I'll ask for one when I want one."

"Suit yourself. For now, I think you've got a couple friends who want to see you."

Dr. Morgan left the room, and Kelly and Professor Oak came in.

Kelly stood there for a moment, not sure if Jason was awake or asleep.

But when Jason smiled at her, she knew it.

She raced up next to his bed...

...and kissed him on the cheek.

Jason's eyebrows shot up, and his grin got wider. "Man, I should hurt myself this badly more often."

"I don't think so, Jason," said Oak, walking up.

Some of Jason's grin faded. "Isn't it ironic, Sam? Two months ago, I was standing over you while you lay there in your room. And now here you are, standing over me. And as I understand it, I'm going to be permanently shorter than you, so you'll be standing over me every day. Lucky you, huh?"

Kelly pulled up a chair and sat as near Jason as she could. She reached through the bed's railing, took Jason's left hand, and whispered, "I'm so sorry, Jason."

Jason scoffed. "You don't have anything to apologize for, Kelly. It's *my* bad track record that got me here, not anything you did." He looked over at Oak again. "Yeah, I'm not doing too well. First you're in here for something I did, then *I'm* in here for something I did."

"And we're both bearing the scars of the consequences of your actions," Oak responded. "Though I think you got a worse deal."

"Becoming a paraplegic? Oh, yeah, Sam, I think so," Jason retorted. Then he sighed, seeing the look on Oak's face. "Sorry."

Oak waved his hand dismissively. "You're entitled, after hearing this sort of news. All is forgiven. But I think I'm going to leave the two of you alone. You've got some catching up to do, and I think you might prefer it if I not be around..." He glanced at Kelly before he turned toward the door.

And he left.

"I thought I was going to lose you," said Kelly.

Jason shook his head. "Not this time."

Neither of them said anything for a moment.

"Kelly," Jason finally said, "I think I owe you a secret. I hope you're ready to listen."

She smiled sadly, looked down at her shoes, and nodded. "Yes."

"When I was younger, I belonged to a really wealthy family in the Orange Islands. We owned our own company, called the Creight and Ship Corporation. We were a huge success, too. But we were also criticized for our business.

"The business dealt in breeding and selling Pokemon. We had just about a hundred thirty kinds of Pokemon in total."

Kelly nodded, remaining silent.

"As I said, among some we were wildly successful. Those who wanted to collect some of the rarer kinds of Pokemon would buy from us, provided they had the money for it. We kept our prices reasonable. We even had a convenience shop at the marina we owned; trainers intending to improve upon their own Pokemon or ones they were purchasing could buy TMs and health restoration items.

"To contain the Pokemon we were breeding, we had to buy a lot of land. For water Pokemon, we constructed the marina I mentioned before, and kept them there. While my dad managed the entire venture, I handled the water types, Mom took care of the grass types, and my brother..."

Jason dropped off for a moment. "My brother murdered the ground types."

Kelly's eyes widened, but she otherwise stayed quiet. Jason was impressed.

"My brother and I had a rivalry that almost defied human understanding. But I think my brother didn't just not like me, he hated my guts, and he hated my mother for giving birth to me. Because I had called him on brutality a couple of times, I had been turning into a more likely candidate for taking over the business than he. He hated me for that, too.

"One day, when I was almost twelve, a pair of trainers caught up with me while I was taking a break. They started asking questions about the business, and I began to realize that some of their questions were starting to strike a little close to home, especially when it came to my brother. So I went to the ground type range."

Jason hesitated on his next sentence, but he was this far. He had to keep going.

"I found my brother wet-whipping a Sandshrew to death."

Kelly's eyes had turned the size of saucers.

"I tried to stop him, tried to reason with him, but he wasn't listening. He'd been strength-training with the Machop on that range and had a huge advantage over me. So I stormed back to my room and refused to come back out until dinner. When I finally did come out, Dad chewed me out for leaving work. But he also chewed me out for sticking my nose in my brother's business."

There was a considerable degree of uncertainty in Jason's grin. "I called Dad insane and tried to make him realize that what my brother was doing was wrong. Then Mom turned on me and said I shouldn't have been spying on him. My brother and I got into a yelling match, but Dad ended it by screaming at both of us and putting me on indefinite vacation from work.

"When I finally went back to work, I heard Dad and my brother talking about a new TM, called Devastator. It was supposed to be a one-hit KO, but with a real evil twist. The attack was both mental and physical, and either one of those alone would have caused the target enough pain to faint. To combine the two would have been too much pain for a Pokemon to bear. I decided something needed to be done.

"So that night, I sneaked into Mom and Dad's room and stole the keys for the convenience shop. I stole a TM that was supposed to teach Hyper Beam, and I went to the water cages where the Gyarados were. I offered it to one, and it used its newfound knowledge to great effect. It used Hyper Beam to destroy the cages, the marina, and all the fences for the ranges. It freed all the Pokemon.

"I sat there and watched it all, and began to wonder at the scope of what I'd done. I didn't want to go down with the rest of my family. I knew the business would flop; no one wants to buy from people who can't prevent their products from escaping. So I ran away. The next morning, I woke up near the shoreline, and saw the Gyarados from the night before lying there, half in water, half in sand. I had thought it would return to its family after freeing itself and the other Pokemon, but no, it was lying there, watching me.

"It was waiting for me. I walked up and asked what it was doing there, why it didn't want to go back into the sea where it came from. It moved its head like it was telling me to get onto its back. So I did. And three months later, we arrived in Pallet Town. We met Professor Oak, who first suggested I become a trainer. He knew who I was because he remembered the news clips from that incident. Apparently, I'd been presumed dead by my family and the authorities on Tangelo Island, but obviously, they never found the body.

"Now, Sabrina's obviously not that big on privacy. She must have scanned me and found out about what I did, and that's how she knew. And as for the gym leader in Viridian, he's a story all to himself. His name is Giovanni, and it's widely rumored that he was the one who founded Team Rocket. He bought cheap and sold high. He was a major buyer from our company until Gyarados wrecked the marina and the ranges. After that, like so many others, he stopped buying, which was a major contributor to my family's sudden bankruptcy. Suddenly, he was without a company to buy cheap Pokemon from, and he blamed Creight's blasted younger son for it. He must have found out somehow that I was still around; that's how *he* knew me.

"And finally, your kidnapper in Pallet Town. You said you told him a couple of details about me, how we met, and what we'd been doing since meeting. Then he used a Pokemon to knock you out, and he kidnapped you to that room. That was my brother, Daniel."

Kelly gaped at him.

"Yeah. We found out that his Gengar had Devastator as one of its attacks. That was the attack it used on Professor Oak. The night he kidnapped you, I found him with a Charizard; they were trying to torch Mrs. Ketchum's house, and I stopped them. He challenged me to a battle, and I accepted, but I wasn't really interested in battling. So I cheated, according to battling rules, and sent out all of my Pokemon at once. Then I had him taken in to the police station, where, I assume, he's still rotting. And I'll bet he hates me more than ever. He may have even been on Giovanni's payroll, trying to take revenge and get paid for it." Jason scoffed. "Not like Giovanni would have paid him. He probably would have let Daniel be taken to jail and not have to pay a single credit.

"And that's the end of the story. Now you know my dirty little secret."

Kelly was still trying to take it all in. "And you've managed to survive, with the whold world against you."

Jason shrugged. "Doesn't everyone?

Both of them remained silent for a very long time.

Jason shifted around in his bed. "So, how much are they stealing from me?"

"Twenty thousand per month," Kelly answered.

Jason shrugged. "Not bad, all in all. So even if I'm in here for another two months, I'll still have enough to get by for a while."

Kelly looked at him with sad eyes. "But do you plan to keep going?"

"I'd love nothing more. But I don't know if I can. My doctor seems to want to warn me away from it."

"And what will you do if you can't?"

He considered. "I suppose I'll make one last capture of some hapless Pokemon in a tree, then become an assistant for Professor Oak. He said he could use more manpower, didn't he?"

"Yes, he did."

"But I don't want it to come to that. I've come too far just to be stopped by misfortune." Jason's eyes hardened with resolve. "Kelly, I'd like you to do something for me."

"Name it," she whispered.

"Get my Pokemon league rulebook. Get yours, too. We're going to do some homework."

***

After another week of sitting in the hospital, between a wheelchair and his bed, Jason was getting tired of sitting.

He looked up at Kelly. "It's at times like this that I'm going to really miss standing up. But hey, at least I don't itch."

"Don't even go there, Jason."

He grinned and turned his attention back to the rulebook.

Their goal was to find out whether or not physically disabled people could train Pokemon and battle in Pokemon leagues. So far, neither of them had come up with anything.

"What if we don't find anything that says disabled people can compete?" asked Kelly.

"Then we start looking for rules that say they can't," Jason answered. "And if we find neither, then I'm going to keep competing."

"Wouldn't you prefer to err on the side of caution?"

Jason's eyes flicked back up to his companion. One eyebrow shot upward. "I hope you know me better than that by now."

"Hey, I've only known you for a few days."

"You call two months 'a few days'?'

"You've only been awake for a few days."

Jason snorted. "True enough."

A few minutes later, Jason announced, "I've read the thing from cover to cover. Nothing."

"Then we'd better search for preventative rules," said Kelly.

"I couldn't agree more."

They started in.

***

Jason didn't know how to express his thanks to Kelly and Professor Oak for going through all the paperwork for his stay at the hospital. In total, the hospital charged just a little over forty-five thousand credits, which Jason was happy to pay. He was ready to be released in his brand-new, black-and-silver, collapsible wheelchair.

"It's made of titanium alloy, making it light and strong. Bending any of the bars is impossible for humans five times your weight," Dr. Morgan had said. "But don't put a Snorlax in it."

Jason had chuckled in response.

He'd had his clothes returned to him and was prepared to check out of the hospital. Professor Oak insisted on taking Jason out himself; with a firm grasp on the handlebars, Oak guided Jason's wheelchair out of the hospital.

*And hopefully, I won't have to see it again,* Jason thought.

And that was when the press arrived.

*Nuts.*

***

A shadowed figure sat in front of the television screen, seeing the little upstart's face contort just for an instant at the appearance of the unexpected media.

"Ah, so he still doesn't like attention," said the cold voice of the figure.

"Perrrsian." The Persian sitting next to the figure knew that its master was annoyed. How annoyed, it didn't know. But since its master was annoyed, it decided to be annoyed, as well.

"Sir, there's a transmission coming from Pallet Town."

The figure grinned maliciously. Of course there was a signal coming from Pallet Town; the one in front of him. But he knew what his subordinate was talking about. "Type?"

"Audio only. It's him again."

The figure sighed. He'd just about had enough with this caller. He'd been badgered by calls from the man for the last two months, ever since he somehow found a way to get through. "Put it through."

"Yes, sir. Coming in now."

A button flashed on the control panel. The figure punched it.

"What do you want?" the figure demanded.

"Please, just give me one more chance! I'll make good on it!"

"You are a failure. Not only you, but your father, as well. My Tentacruel were murdered at the paws of your brother's Raichu, and your father with them. No wonder your mother died of a broken heart; look how pathetic you both are."

"Please! One more chance, I'm begging you! I'll pay everything back!"

"I'm watching your brother being released from the Pallet Town hospital at this very moment. No doubt he's going to figure out that there are no rules against cripples competing, and he'll keep going on his journey."

"Please!"

The figure let the silence dangle on the line.

Finally, he said, "Why should I believe you'll do any better than you did before?"

"He caught me by surprise! I won't let it happen this time! Please!"

The figure reached out to his control panel and hit a button.

The line disconnected.

He sat for a moment, watching the screen. Then he sighed and hit another button. He didn't know why he was even doing this, but...

"Yes, sir?"

"Send our best local agent to Pallet Town, and have him report to the Pokemon Center. Then have him report in for further instructions. I have a mission for him."

***

"So, Jason, what are you going to do now?" Oak asked, after they had returned to the lab.

"I'm going to keep going," Jason answered, strapping his backpack to his wheelchair.

Oak frowned at him. "You can't possibly be serious."

"I'm dead serious, Sam." Jason wheeled himself around to face Oak. "Kelly and I have checked the Pokemon league rules. There are no known Pokemon leagues that forbid disabled people to train and compete. I might get a couple odd looks or jeers, but that goes with the territory of being a trainer in the first place. It goes with the territory of having any job."

"I still don't think you should do this."

"That's what I thought to myself when I stole the Hyper Beam TM for Gyarados. And guess what? I did it anyway."

"Yes, and that entire sequence of events led you right into a wheelchair for life."

"Hey, even *Sabrina* can't foresee everything. So this might not be the best future for me, but it's a heck of a lot better than I'd have had otherwise. And better for the Pokemon, too."

Oak sighed. "Very well. It's a foolish venture, though."

Jason's eyes hardened as he locked gazes with Oak. Oak could see the determination in the boy's eyes; it was stronger than he had ever seen. "Yeah. *My* foolish venture, not yours. No one asked you to risk your life. And I'm of the understanding that you were once a dazzling trainer yourself."

Oak smiled. "Well, yes, I suppose I was. But that was back in my prime."

"And I'm in mine. We're both human. Because of that, we're both incapable of always making the right decision. Sometimes that 'wrong' decision turns out to be for the best, sometimes not. But isn't that what life is all about?"

The professor's smile grew wider. "How did you get so wise all of a sudden?"

"I'm a natural-born wise guy. Now, I plan to complete this journey. I never asked for your blessing, but I would appreciate it if you gave it to me."

***

That evening, Kelly and Jason left the lab together.

"The professor's right," she commented, as they headed down the path to the shore. "Somewhere, somehow, you suddenly got a whole lot wiser."

"Must have been all those times I flat-lined," Jason replied, wheeling himself along the path. "I've been told I was dead when you got me there."

"Yeah," said Kelly, her voice suddenly dropping to a whisper. She didn't want him to hear her voice breaking.

"I've also been told," he continued, "that you visited me every day, for as long as they would let you."

She nodded.

He looked up at her and smiled. "Just hearing that was worth coming back for."

She returned the smile, tears in her eyes.

*Soon enough, we'll be there,* he thought.

Jason Creight wheeled on.

Dragon_Knight
18th September 2003, 04:25 AM
Jason Creight awoke at the base of Cinnabar Island's volcano.

Automatically, he began to squirm and stretch. He rolled his eyes when he realized his legs weren't stretching.

*I hate reflex reactions. Of course they won't stretch,* he thought. He began to push himself off the ground, but it became extremely difficult when the nerves in his legs wouldn't fire.

*I really shouldn't be sleeping on the ground anymore,* he thought. *Tonight I'll just stay in the chair.*

He finally managed to push himself into a sitting position, a position he stayed in just long enough to unfold his wheelchair. With greater difficulty than getting himself to sit up, he managed to push and shove his way into it.

*Yeah, definitely should stay in the chair.*

"You know, you shouldn't be sleeping on the ground," said Kelly from inside her tent.

"Yeah, I know," Jason muttered. "So I learn a couple things the hard way." Then he slapped his legs. "But hey, today's a special occasion!"

"I hear there are stairs leading to the actual gym," said Kelly.

Jason shrugged. "Well, either you can push me, or one of my Pokemon can."

"Hmm." Jason could see Kelly's silhouette dressing. "It might be fun to just stand back and shove you off."

"I'd make sure I took you with me," Jason answered, donning his shirt, watch, and bike gloves.

"I'm sure." Kelly finished dressing and got to work on collapsing her tent.

Jason grinned.

It seemed as if it had been only a couple of weeks ago that he'd faced down his brother in Pallet Town. Of course, he knew better than that; it had been a little over two months, and if he needed anyone to confirm it, he needed only to ask someone the date.

He looked down at his useless legs.

*Thirteen years old and I'm crippled for life. Spectacular.*

Then he looked up at the volcano. "I sincerely hope the gym isn't up there."

"I heard the backup gym is there, but I don't know where the real one is. Of course, no one wants to tell me. All that strange guy said was, 'Your challenge lies not in the leader, but in the volcano.' What the heck's that supposed to mean?"

Jason considered the words for a moment. "What did that strange guy look like?"

"Like a hippie. He had a flowered shirt, long brown hair, sunglasses... I think the hair wasn't really brown, though."

"Why?"

"His mustache was white. Isn't that weird? You'd think if he wanted to dye his hair, he'd have dyed his mustache, too."

Jason thought about this. *Blaine? Possibly... if he was wearing a wig. The books said he's bald. His hair must've been singed off or something. And he's been known to speak in riddles.*

And then he thought about the words a bit more. *Maybe he wasn't talking about our internal conflict, so much as he was talking about my battle...

In the* volcano*?

Or * in * the volcano?

That's it!*

"That's it!" he exclaimed, causing Kelly to jump in surprise. "He didn't mean what the challenge was! He meant *where* the challenge is supposed to be!"

"What?"

"In the volcano, Kelly! The gym is inside the volcano!"

She smiled, a measure of skepticism showing. "Then I suppose you know who the strange guy was, right?"

"Yeah! It was Blaine, the gym leader here! He speaks in riddles to trainers looking to challenge him, I suppose to check their logic skills or something. Now all we need to do is find the entrance to the gym! Let's go!"

Jason wheeled off with such speed that Kelly needed to run to keep up.

***

They had gone all the way across town, circling the base of the volcano, when Kelly finally found what they were looking for: a cave, set right into the base.

"Yeah, I'll bet this is it. Let's go on in," said Jason.

"What if it isn't and you get stuck?" asked Kelly.

"Then I'll bring out Electabuzz to help."

Kelly sighed as she watched Jason wheel himself inside. "Impossible man."

She followed him in.

***

"You convinced now?" he asked.

"I guess so. Want me to push you down?"

"Yeah. Nice and easy, if you please," said Jason.

"No problem." Kelly was tempted to rock Jason backward as hard as she could, but her self-preservation instinct kicked in and she chose otherwise.

Jason exaggerated each bump, no matter how minuscule. "Oof! Uff! Oy!"

"You know, you're impossible to please," said Kelly.

"No, I'm not. I'm just giving you a hard time. You're doing great, really."

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they beheld a pair of gargantuan titanium-copper alloy doors. They could both feel the intense heat emanating from it. Kelly reached out and was about to touch it with her finger when Jason slapped her hand away. "Don't touch that or your finger'll burn straight off your hand."

"Well, then, what do you suggest we do about it?"

Jason enlarged a Poke ball. "Think physics."

He tossed the ball, and Staryu appeared a moment later.

Kelly looked down at Jason. "Why Staryu?"

"Why not?" he replied. "It can open a door, I think. And besides, I don't want to go bursting in there with my big guns there for him to see."

She shrugged. "Suit yourself."

"Thanks, I will. Staryu, water gun, right on the handle."

"Hyah!" Staryu aimed its top point--*head?* Kelly wondered--at the handle and fired a powerful blast of cold water at it. The initial blast turned to steam instantly, but after a few seconds, the water was cooling the door to such an extent that Jason and Kelly could hear the metal constricting around the handle.

Jason pushed his brake levers into position, reached into the water flow, gripped the handle, and shoved the door open.

Beyond the door, they saw the gym.

"Whoa," said Jason, as he recalled Staryu.

The immense gym floor was carved from stone, and its four corners were each held up by titanium chains, each of the links no smaller than an Onix's head. The floor was suspended directly above a boiling lava pool about a hundred feet below.

The heat was almost unbearable.

"So, you figured it out."

Jason and Kelly looked up and saw a Charizard hovering twenty feet above them. Riding the Charizard was a bald man with a long white mustache and sunglasses. His white lab coat clashed with his otherwise tropical-style clothing.

Jason's eyes hardened. *Blaine.*

"I wasn't expecting a trainer in a wheelchair," the old man grinned. "Hopefully, your Pokemon are a little more agile than you are, my boy."

"Ouch, that hurts," Jason responded, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "But out here, it doesn't matter. Because my Pokemon can still beat yours, whether their master is paralyzed or not. That said, I challenge you to a battle."

Blaine laughed. "Very well, young trainer, but you will not defeat me. And I will be three thousand credits richer."

"We'll see about that."

Blaine's Charizard landed on the other side of the floor and stayed there just long enough for the gym leader to dismount. Then it took flight again and landed on the titanium chain behind and to the left of Blaine. Blaine enlarged a Great ball. "Prepare to be burned!"

He threw the ball.

A Ninetails came into existence a moment later and began spitting fire in random directions.

"You're all washed up!" Jason responded, and he enlarged and threw a Great ball of his own.

"Cl-l-l-loyster!" Jason's Cloyster floated up to the center of the floor.

"Ninetails, fire blast!"

"Cloyster, reflect!"

Blaine's Ninetails conjured what looked like a stick figure of fire towards Cloyster, but Cloyster had heard Jason's order in time and reacted to it instantly by closing its shell completely and conjuring a mystical "mirror barrier." The flames were reflected straight back at Ninetails a moment later. Of course, the attack didn't harm it much, but it showed Blaine that Jason knew what he was doing, and that he meant business.

"Cloyster, auorora beam!"

Cloyster reopened its shell and its grin widened as it gathered energy and expelled it in one concentrated, powerful burst. Ninetails was still reeling somewhat from the reflection of its own attack, and so was unprepared for the next one. It was struck by the beam just below the neck, and it made a squealing bark in protest.

"Ninetails, another fire blast!"

"Cloyster, hydro pump!"

Another conjured figure of flame rocketed toward Cloyster, only to be extinguished by Cloyster's hydro pump. A lot of the water steamed at the contact point, but a lot also made it through and drenched Ninetails, who stumbled and fell back from its opponent's attack.

"One more hydro pump, Cloyster!"

As Ninetails was still trying to get up, Cloyster sprayed it with another intense blast of water. Ninetails hit the ground again and was pushed almost all the way back to Blaine's box.

Blaine grimaced and pulled out his Great ball. "Ninetails, return." He looked up at Jason. "You're pretty good, but you're no match for this one." He threw another Great ball. "Go, Flareon!"

"Bring it on!" said Jason, and he threw a Poke ball. "Take it to him, Vaporeon!"

Kelly snorted at the situation; Blaine and Jason had just called for two radically different evolutions of Eevee to fight each other.

"Flareon, sand attack!"

"Vaporeon, surf attack!"

Just as a storm of sand began to form, it was turned to mud by Vaporeon's unavoidable attack, causing Flareon to stumble and fall. The water of the attack ran over the edge of the gym floor, of course, and turned to steam in the extreme heat of the lava pool below.

"Vaporeon, mud slap!"

Vaporeon used the pasty sand on the floor to simulate mud and splashed it into its opponent's eyes. Flareon stumbled around, trying desperately to see past the wet sand.

"Okay, Vaporeon, bubblebeam!"

Vaporeon sucked in a breath, its underside growing to near-impossible proportions, and then it released its breath in an explosive burst of water- heavy globules. They splashed against Flareon's exposed side and knocked it over yet again.

It didn't get up this time.

Blaine recalled Flareon and growled. "Okay, then. Perhaps I should stop talking and just battle."

"Yeah, maybe you should," Jason shot back. "Call your next Pokemon."

"Very well. Charizard!"

Blaine's Charizard took to the air yet again and landed on the gym floor. It had been watching the battle the entire time, inspecting Jason's style, and now waited patiently for him to call his next Pokemon.

Jason pulled out an Ultra ball and tossed it. "Let's see you shine, Lapras!"

Kelly knew what Jason was doing. He was holding Gyarados in reserve, since it was his best water type. She guessed he was suspecting Blaine of withholding his best Pokemon to the very end, and Jason was holding to the same strategy so as not to tire his best one fighting the smaller guns.

*But if a Charizard isn't his best Pokemon, what is?*

"Charizard, wing attack!"

Charizard wasted no time; it flapped its reddish-orange wings, and gusts of wind blew with the force of a slap in the face. Lapras was stung for a moment, but it quickly absorbed the rest of the impact. It was, for all intents and purposes, immobilized on the gym floor.

"Lapras, hydro pump!"

"Charizard, dodge it!"

A spray of super-pressurized water gushed out of Lapras' mouth, but its efforts were in vain; Charizard was managing to dodge all the blasts.

"Now fly, Charizard!"

*Uh-oh,* thought Jason. Lapras didn't have an attack that could hit Charizard in the air...

"Lapras, counter!"

Lapras' body began to glow an electric blue just as Charizard crashed into it.

Lapras didn't budge an inch.

Charizard was blasted across the gym by the force of its own attack. It finally came to a rest... having made a Charizard impression in the crater's wall.

"Hydro pump!"

Lapras again blasted an incredible amount of water from its mouth, this time striking Charizard squarely between the wings.

"Why not go for the tail, boy? Squeamish?" Blaine sneered.

"I'm not interested in killing your Charizard, only in taking it out of the fight," Jason responded. "One more, Lapras, it's still moving!"

Another blast of water, and Charizard dropped out of the dent it had made toward the lava below. Blaine's recall came just in time.

"I don't suppose you want to forfeit?" asked Jason, recalling Lapras.

"Not for an instant!" Blaine snapped, as he brought out his last ball. "Take him down, Magmar!"

"A Magmar!" Kelly breathed. She knew they were rare; she hadn't dreamed she'd see one, much less one that was trained.

She saw the half-grin on Jason's face and knew he'd expected this. But then again, what did she expect of *him*? She knew perfectly well that he was in the habit of researching the gym leader he was going to face next.

And she saw him pull out Gyarados' Poke ball.

"How about you, boy? You gonna surrender?" Blaine barked, not having noticed the ball.

Jason scoffed, then enlarged the ball and threw it, revealing Gyarados to Blaine at long last.

"Does that answer your question?" Jason returned.

Gyarados and Magmar stared each other down for a moment.

Jason and Blaine issued their orders in the same instant.

"Gyarados, surf attack!"

"Magmar, fire punch!"

Magmar sprinted up to Gyarados with incredible speed and slugged it across the jaw with a flaming fist. Gyarados was taken down by the hit, but it managed to get back up under the merciless gaze of Magmar.

Then it conjured what little moisture there was within the gym and filled it with torrents of water, which all streamed onto Magmar from all directions. Magmar withered under the bombardment, but stood its ground.

"Hydro pump, quick!"

"Magmar, quick attack!"

Magmar hit Gyarados yet again before Gyarados managed to carry out its last order.

*Man, that thing's fast!*

And Gyarados flinched.

*Ugh, not good news.* "Gyarados, tail whip!"

"Magmar, another quick attack!"

Magmar beat Gyarados to the punch yet again and uppercut it on the chin.

But before Gyarados could go down, it arched its tail up to its head, turned itself into a tire-like shape, and rolled toward Magmar. Magmar became confused. What kind of tactic was this?

Gyarados lengthened out and smashed its tail straight into Magmar's head. Magmar began to reel.

*Creative.* "Gyarados, hydro pump, right now!"

Gyarados blasted Magmar with another spray of water, this one more powerful than its surf attack. The attack knocked Magmar to the ground.

It got back up, but stumbled.

"One more!"

Magmar was downed yet again.

And it stayed down.

Blaine scowled so deeply that Kelly and Jason thought his face would fold in on itself. "Magmar, return."

Magmar was sucked back into its Poke ball, which was then returned to Blaine's belt.

"Our battle's finished, Blaine," said Jason, after he had likewise recalled Gyarados.

"It is, indeed." Blaine's scowl softened. "Pehaps I was a little harsh."

"It's all part of the game. I didn't come here to earn an apology, only a badge."

"You've earned both. Next time, I will be more considerate of trainers who challenge me. Obviously, your training skills have not been hampered, and they have proven superior to mine." Blaine bowed low, then pulled a small velvet bag out of his lab coat and threw it across the gym. It landed neatly in Jason's lap.

"Inside, you will find your badge and winnings. Now, please take your leave; I wish to be alone."

Jason bowed his head, wheeled around, and exited the doors he'd entered. He turned the chair back around and brought his Electabuzz into existence.

"Take me upstairs, Electabuzz."

Kelly grinned at him. "What, you're not gonna even consider asking me?"

Jason returned the smile. "Do you seriously want to lug my weight all the way up the steps?"

Kelly shook her head and followed Jason and Electabuzz.

***

When Jason and Kelly found out that the Indigo League Championship was going to be in a mere five days, they were understandably in a hurry to get there. Jason chose to forego the water route and instead readied his Fearow and Charizard for flight.

"Why two flyers instead of just one?" asked Kelly.

"Because if one of us falls, I don't think the other one should have to go through the traumatic experience of going after the one."

"By that argument, you could have used two flyers when we went to Viridian City."

"That was before I became paralyzed. It's more likely now that it could happen to me."

She smiled sarcastically. "You're protecting me. How sweet of you."

"Yeah, I know."

She shook her head. "So, which one do I get?"

"Which one you want?"

"I think Fearow, since I've flown on it before."

"Suit yourself." Having changed his team to include Gengar, he brought it out and asked, "Would you be so kind as to lift me onto Charizard's back, please?"

Gengar was only too happy to help its master out. Once Jason was safely on, he turned back to Gengar. "Want to ride along? It'll give you some time out of that ball."

"Gengar!" It nodded and hopped on behind Jason.

"Okay, then. Let's get going. Off to Viridian City. We'll ride Rapidash to Indigo Plateau from there."

***

The flight was uneventful, and few words were exchanged. There wasn't much to say. They'd both gotten used to the ocean; though seeing it from the sky was momentarily breathtaking, it soon became commonplace.

Jason didn't tire during the flight, and even less when they finally made it back to the ground; if anything, the entire thing spurred him on. Once they had landed, Jason recalled Charizard and Fearow and brought out Rapidash. He kept Gengar out of its ball, though. It provided him with a sense of security. If either he or Kelly were about to fall off Rapidash for whatever reason, Gengar would be there to catch them.

Jason was more worried about himself falling than Kelly, of course. His disability allowed for considerable leeway in that area.

Kelly, on the other hand, was quite tired by the time they landed; somewhere in the evening, just as the sun was setting. Since Jason's accident, she'd been getting used to shorter days and longer nights, and now that they were on the road again, it was catching up with her. Still, she was awake enough to get onto Rapidash's back and cling for dear life to Jason's as he spurred his Pokemon toward their final destination for this journey.

***

They had been riding Rapidash for some time when Kelly fell asleep on Jason's back.

Jason chuckled. "Hey, look at that, Rapidash. You're running so smoothly you put Kelly to sleep. How about that, huh?"

Rapidash whinnied in response and continued to run.

Jason couldn't kick Rapidash in the sides to spur it.

But he didn't need to.

All he needed were words of encouragement.

He saw the kicking as something rather rude and cruel to do to an animal that had done no harm to its master. So he had never once kicked Rapidash in the sides for anything. He spurred it by encouraging it.

*That's all they really need. Right, Gengar?*

"Gengar."

Jason grinned. He knew Gengar had been probing his mind. He turned to his mischievous ghost Pokemon and asked, "What are you looking for?"

Gengar glanced at Kelly, then back at Jason.

*Kelly...*

Just thinking about her was starting to make Jason feel something he'd not felt since... since...

The memory failed him.

And suddenly, he knew what Gengar was invading his mind for.

He turned back to Gengar, grinned again, and said, "Ohh, no. You ain't getting that from me."

Smirking, Gengar swung its arm and snapped its claw-like fingers in mock frustration.

*We'll be at Indigo Plateau soon. I can only wonder as to how strong trainers there will be.

But I can do it. I have faith. Faith in myself, and faith in my Pokemon.

And when I have faith, where can I go wrong?*

Astride his Rapidash...

Jason Creight raced on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
19th September 2003, 07:54 AM
Jason Creight awoke in room 512 of the Indigo Plateau Hotel.

And the first thing he did was check the bedside clock.

It read 7:36 in the morning.

"Good, we're not late," he muttered.

Round 4 for the Indigo League Championship was scheduled to begin that day, and he certainly didn't want to miss his battle. Actually, the battles had already started; 7:30 was the first scheduled battle between trainers who had made it to the top eight. The Eevee 8, they called it. Jason felt rather proud of himself for having made it into the Eevee 8. The fact that he'd made it past the Snorlax 16 was cause for joy all in itself.

And the media watched it all.

Jason thought back to the night they'd arrived at the complex. It wasn't a city or town, as such; more like a stopping point, a place to rest, while heading to the stadium. Kelly was still asleep at that time, but fortunately, they allowed smaller Pokemon inside the hotel. So Jason had had Gengar use its powers to help Kelly to the room they'd reserved for the week. Fortunately, the clerk didn't ask any questions about Kelly's unconscious state or Jason's disability; he had simply giventhe keys to Jason and informed him what room they had. Then Jason and Gengar had headed off with Kelly to the elevator, and from there, to their room. Jason had then spent another five minutes giving Gengar a stern lecture about why it shouldn't eat Kelly's dreams.

It was a luxurious room, that was for sure. And it wasn't cheap. Jason had been amused at the price upon hearing it; it was five figures.

"Robbers," he'd said the moment he'd hung up the phone.

Still, he could afford it. And it was one of the best hotel rooms he'd ever been to in his life. The bathroom was blissfully wheelchair- accessible, and the beds were high enough off the ground that Jason didn't need Gengar's help to get on or off his.

*Besides,* he thought, *it saves us from having to sleep on the cold, hard ground.* He didn't envy trainers who'd taken that option, but because the price was so steep, he understood it.

The next morning, he'd left Kelly sleeping in the room to go register. The Nurse Joy at the registration office/Pokemon center was rather curious about him, but she knew the rules as well as he did, and knew there was no rule against disabled competitors. So she'd signed him in after the authentication of his badges and his Pokemon license.

Apparently, there hadn't been a lot of trainers who were expecting one that was wheelchair-bound. Jason had noticed over the past few days that they were giving him strange stares.

Not everyone in the media was expecting a paralyzed trainer, either. Jason didn't particularly want media attention, but it was rather difficult to do since he was permanently in the chair. They ate it up immediately, asking him if he was doing it to establish the rights of disabled trainers and such.

His response?

"I came here because I'm a Pokemon trainer who's earned his place here. And I'm a Pokemon trainer who wants to win. Don't all Pokemon trainers?"

Of course, they took his response to mean "yes," and put it across the front of the local paper.

The day he'd gone out to face his first opponent, he'd gotten a lot of curious looks. He also noticed a larger population of disabled people than usual, a lot of them kids his age or younger. Kids who aspired to be just like him.

"Yetch," he muttered. He didn't want to be an icon. A role model, maybe, but not an icon. "I've gone from rich boy to criminal, to nobody, to Pokemon trainer, to visionary. What next?"

"Maybe saint?"

Jason looked over at the other bed. Kelly was watching him with a glint of amusement in her eyes. "I thought you knew you would get your face plastered on TV sets and newspapers."

"Yeah. My face, not my wheelchair."

Kelly chuckled. "You don't like the media? A lot of those trainers would kill for a chance to be in the kind of high regard you're in."

"I'm sure they would. But I wouldn't. I don't like the media because I'm always afraid they're going to search for my name in some previous archive and find out I was presumed dead. Then they'll get into the incident at the marina, and I really don't want them to go there."

Kelly didn't respond. Instead, she picked up the remote control for the big-screen TV in front of their beds. "Let's check out the current battle."

"--quick change in Pokemon, after deciding Weepinbell is not the best combatant. In its place is Horsea, a Pokemon not easy to find in most areas, but abundant near Cinnabar Island."

"Hmm. Maybe we should've thought to go fishing while we were there," said Kelly.

Jason shrugged. "Makes no difference to me. I've already got one. And a Seadra, too."

"Well, then, *I* should've thought of it."

Jason chuckled as the announcer continued. "A fierce battle, ladies and gentlemen, as Horsea blasts Arcanine with ita water gun attack! And Arcanine returns in full force with a blistering flamethrower attack! Horsea looks ready to go down... no! It's still going! And what's this? A drowning surf attack! Arcanine is down!"

"Good move," Jason muttered. "Weepinbell would've gone down without time to whimper."

"And the final Pokemon for trainer Everson is... Electrode! This is now a battle between two totally different types! Everson now has the advantage! Wait, trainer Davids is changing Pokemon again... Weepinbell returns to the battleground! Now Davids has the advantage, with Weepinbell's immunity to electric attacks! Weepinbell is charging up for its next attack! Electrode tries to take it down before Weepinbell can fire... no! No effect! And Weepinbell uses Solarbeam! Electrode is taken down with one hit! And that's the battle, ladies and gentlemen! Eric Davids will be elevated to the Fearow 4!"

Then the announcer changed to someone with a much deeper, theatrical voice. "Later this morning, we will have our second Eevee 8 battle between trainers Jennifer Carlson and Francis James. Also later this morning, the third Eevee 8 battle, pitting trainers Travis Johnson and Jason Creight. Don't miss the royal rumble of the Indigo League; catch some of the fiercest Pokemon battles you've ever seen live, this morning at 9:30 and 11:30!"

Kelly hit the "mute" button, turned to Jason, and grinned. "Ever thought you'd have your name appear in a voice-over for a movie trailer?"

"Ha ha ha. Let's see another channel."

"Kay." Kelly hit the mute again, then switched to a local news channel. She became amused, and Jason became annoyed, when they saw the video clip that was rolling on the channel she'd chosen.

The clip showed Jason's battle from yesterday; specifically, it was showing Jason, sitting atop the high battlefield platform in his wheelchair.

"Many people who attend the Indigo League championship were surprised to see a trainer in a wheelchair. There were many who were spurred on by the sight of Jason Creight, a native of the Orange Islands, who decided to come to Kanto to see what the world has to offer. Three months ago, he was paralyzed in a freak accident involving a misguided electric attack by one of his Pokemon, confused by a hostile Tentacruel. Jason has been seen as a savior to disabled children who dream of becoming trainers themselves."

The video changed to a young boy who was missing his left leg and was getting around on crutches. "I think if he can be a trainer, so can I."

It changed again to an even younger girl, restricted to a wheelchair, as Jason was, but by deformities rather than paralysis. "I want to be a Pokemon trainer. Watching him helps me think I can be one if I try hard, like he does."

Kelly turned to Jason to see his reaction. To her surprise, he wasn't even watching the newscast anymore. He'd turned away from both the TV and her. He'd buried his face in his pillow, and she could see the minuscule shuddering in his shoulders.

Jason was crying.

She turned back to the TV. Another girl, about Kelly's age, was being interviewed; she was missing both feet and part of her right arm, getting around by artificial, spring-loaded "shoes." When the microphone flipped in her direction, she said, "I never thought I'd see the day when I'd see a disabled Pokemon trainer, much less one who competes. I hope he wins. He's already helped so many people begin to hope that they can take that same dream and turn it into a reality, as he has."

The view switched back to the reporter. "According to these people, Jason is being modest when he says, 'I just came to compete.' But many people, like Jason's next opponent, Travis Johnson, are outraged at his very presence."

The face of Travis Johnson appeared on the TV next; he was being interviewed. "It shouldn't be for people in wheelchairs. It's that simple. Just because he can find loopholes in the rules doesn't mean he deserves to be here. He and his kind should stay away from any and all Pokemon leagues, and I'll show him that when we battle."

Kelly gaped at the newscast. "That lying sack of--"

"Kelly!" Jason barked. He'd turned back to the newscast, and there was no emotion on his face now. "Don't dis him just because he's got an opinion. If he doesn't like people in wheelchairs, that's his opinion and I'll leave it at that. But he's only got two options. The first one is to not show up. That would give the impression that he's all talk. He'll never be able to show his face to that crowd again without shaming himself in their eyes if he takes that path. Also, if he doesn't show, it's an automatic forfeit, and so not only will he lose his crowd, he'll lose any chance he's got of winning the championship."

"And the other one is to fight."

"Right. If he wants to win, that's his only real option. And if he fights, I'll be there to send him packing and show him what a very sorry statement that was."

***

"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen! This is a crucial battle! It will decide who will be the third competitor of the Fearow 4!"

The crowd gave a raucous cheer. Jason and Travis Johnson were on either side of the referee, on one of the huge, arcing turns of the track around the battlefield.

The referee between Travis and Jason turned to both of them and said, "Gentlemen, shake hands."

Jason offered his hand immediately, but Travis refused to offer his.

"Mr. Johnson, if you don't shake his hand as a sign of sportsmanship, you will be automatically expelled from the round," said the referee.

Travis shook Jason's hand reluctantly. When the ref was satisfied, Travis pulled away as if he were about to contract malaria.

"I don't shake hands with losers," he growled.

Jason refused to let the comment faze him. He grinned. "But I do."

Travis glared maliciously.

"Gentlemen, to your platforms," said the ref.

As Jason and Travis turned and went to their respective platforms, the announcer's voice boomed over the loudspeakers once more. "Yes, this promises to be an exciting and intense battle, not only of Pokemon, but of ideals! While Jason Creight is attempting to bring hope to the disabled, Travis Johnson is just as quickly attempting to snuff it out! Which one will win? Only time will tell! Referee, are you ready?"

The referee tossed off a salute.

"Then let the battle begin!"

Jason and Travis chose their leader Pokemon and brought them into the open.

"Trainer Johnson has chosen a Jolteon, while trainer Creight has chosen a Golem! It appears that Creight has the advantage right off the bat!"

Jason could see Travis grimacing in the distance, but he allowed himself no outward reaction. Inwardly, though, he was sensing victory already. *He doesn't have any Pokemon to combat ground types,* he thought. *He was counting on my Gyarados to be my first choice. If he only knew that I don't even have Gyarados in my team! Heh.*

"Golem, earthquake attack!" Jason shouted.

"Jolteon, quick attack!" Travis added.

Jolteon got the first move in with the faster attack, but it didn't budge Golem.

Golem, on the other hand, budged Jolteon massively with an earthquake that rattled the entire stadium.

"Amazing! The type difference has allowed Golem to cause massive damage to Jolteon which it's not even scratched!"

Jason tuned the announcer out and watched Jolteon get back to its feet.

"Jolteon, agility!" Travis shouted.

"Golem, seismic toss!"

Jolteon ran around in circles around Golem, and at first it was confused. Jolteon was moving so quickly that it had turned into a yellow blur.

"Golem, just reach out and grab it!"

It smirked, understanding, and its hand caught Jolteon in the face full force. Jolteon was dazed by the hit long enough for Golem to gather its power for a brutal seismic toss.

Jolteon stayed down.

"Jolteon is unable to battle!" yelled the referee, raising Jason's flag.

Jason looked up at the scoreboard, and saw one of the lights under his picture activate.

Jason Creight 1, Travis Johnson 0.

A deafening roar went up throughout the stands; it was the usual mixed response of cheering and booing.

Jason tuned them out as well, but both the cheering and booing were taking their toll on Travis, it seemed. Perhaps he thought the booing was directed at him, rather than at both of them. Yet he seemed to know that there was plenty of cheering for him.

Travis shook his head, as if to clear the noise out as well as everything else, and chose his next Pokemon.

An Ivysaur.

Jason had been expecting a grass type somewhere in Travis' lineup. He'd had a reliable grass type in his other three battles; why should he give up now?

Jason had been playing smart the entire time; he'd been analyzing his opponents' previous battles, techniques, and attitudes. Travis had not had a single Pokemon faint in his other three battles here. He was so supremely confident in his abilities as a trainer, he'd never thought he'd meet a worthy opponent. He had become way too overconfident after his last battle.

Jason snorted. *Of course, that's what a lot of trainers thought when they came here. Now they're all gone, and I'm stuck with a snob who thought I'd be a pushover!*

"Ivysaur, Solarbeam!"

Golem's new opponent began to gather energy from the blazing sunlight shining down on the stadium.

"Golem, return!" Jason pulled out a Great ball and threw it. "Go, Rapidash!"

His next Pokemon whinnied as Ivysaur continued to gather sunlight. It wasn't quite ready yet, and that gave Jason some time. "Quick, Rapidash, fire blast!"

Rapidash conjured a figure of fire and sent it on its way.

It caught Ivysaur directly on its flower, which promptly caught fire. Ivysaur cried out in pain and tried to beat the flames out with its vine whips as it began to glow; a sign that its light-gathering was complete.

"Rapidash, reflect!"

Rapidash used its limited psychic potential to its extent and brought into existence a mirror-like barrier just as the focused energy blasted out of Ivysaur's back.

The energy bounced straight back and caught Ivysaur in the face.

It didn't get back up.

"Ivysaur is unable to battle!" yelled the ref, and he raised Jason's flag again.

Another light activated on the scoreboard.

Jason Creight 2, Travis Johnson 0.

Travis was looking frantic now, and his fingers fumbled Ivysaur's capture ball for a second. "Ivysaur, return!"

The cheering and booing was really pouring on now, it seemed to Jason. He didn't care. It no longer mattered to him what they thought. It didn't even matter to him what Travis thought anymore.

All that mattered was this battle.

But Travis wasn't throwing his final ball.

"Johnson still hasn't issued his last Pokemon," said the announcer. "Meanwhile, Creight is continuing to dazzle the crowd with his incredible Pokemon! It's been a bit of a one-sided battle, folks; maybe this isn't the fiercest battle of the century, but it's still momentous!"

Travis finally threw his last ball.

It was a Ditto.

Jason grinned. *Now,* that *was a mistake.*

"Rapidash, return! Go, Gengar!"

Gengar floated out to the center of the battlefield where Travis' Ditto was situated.

"Quickly, Ditto, transform!" Travis called.

Gengar turned to Jason, waiting for its first order.

"Let it complete its move, then use psybeam!" Jason ordered.

Gengar smirked and nodded. "Gengar."

In seconds, Ditto had metamorphosed from its putty-like form to a near- exact replica of Gengar.

And Gengar struck.

A multicolored blast of psychic energy put Ditto on the far side of the battlefield, writhing in pain from the attack.

"Ditto, get up!" Travis yelled.

"Gengar, use hypnosis!"

Gengar's eyes glowed red, and Ditto's gaze was captured in Gengar's.

It fell asleep.

"Dream eater!"

Gengar passed its semi-solid body right through Ditto's, and it closed its considerable mouth over Ditto's replicant head.

It chewed.

Then it got off Ditto, grinning.

Jason and Travis held their breaths.

The entire stadium was silent.

Ditto transformed back to its original form.

It was down.

"Ditto is unable to battle! The match goes to Jason Creight!" yelled the ref, raising Jason's flag for the third and final time.

As a deafening blast of noise came from the stands, Jason blew his breath out and grinned a nervous grin. "Gengar, return!"

"This is incredible, ladies and gentlemen! Jason Creight has managed to shut Travis Johnson out without losing a single Pokemon! He will go on to become one of the Fearow 4 for this championship!" the announcer shouted.

The platforms lowered, and Jason and Travis came down to meet the referee.

"Shake hands, gentlemen," said the ref, looking more sternly at Travis this time.

Travis was still hesitant, but offered his hand without a reminder from the ref.

Jason allowed a small smile. "I still shake with losers."

He gripped Travis' hand and shook firmly.

"Look," said Jason, "I hope this taught you something about me, and disabled people. It doesn't matter how I get around. The only thing that matters is whether I do well at what I do. You're a little misguided, but I forgive you for that."

"*I'm* misguided? What about you? What makes you think you have the right to be here?"

"Take a good look around you. Sure, there are people out there who believe in me. And there are people who believe in you. But my supporters are not just disabled children, they include full-fledged, fully mobile adults. Don't you dare stand there and prattle on about 'my kind'; it's not just 'my kind' backing me, but yours as well."

Travis scoffed. "They're weak. So are you."

"Maybe. But I don't have to walk to train my Pokemon. You've lost the match, and you'll lose most of your supporters, too. I'm still in the game, and even if I don't win the championship, I'll be remembered for the hope I brought. You'll be remembered as the one who tried to tear that hope apart. In that case, I'll take being a cripple over being a fascist any day."

With that, Jason wheeled away.

***

Three hours after the match, after Jason finally hacked his way through the media, he headed back to the hotel room.

He found Kelly lying on her bed, watching TV.

He scoffed as he wheeled himself over to his bed. "Let me guess: you watched it all from here."

"No, I was at the stadium. I just happened to get out of it faster than you. Not hard, between mobile legs and no media."

He pushed himself out of his chair and onto the bed. "Whatcha watching?"

"Travis Johnson being interviewed. It's amazing how much he can say, since his vocabulary seems to be so limited."

"I'll bet," Jason muttered.

She turned to him. "You were right about one thing."

"What's that?"

"You sent him packing."

He scoffed. "Too bad he can't see the error of his ways."

"Yeah. But he's got a lot more people against him, now that his views have been made public. Take a look."

They both listened to the newscast.

"--both handicapped and mobile, were outraged upon hearing of Johnson's opinions toward Jason Creight and the concept of physically disabled trainers."

The screen changed from the reporter to various video clips of people, young and old, none of them handicapped, expressing their anger.

A businessman. "By trying to dispel the idea of disabled trainers, Johnson is humiliating himself in the eyes of the public."

A housewife. "I don't think he should be training. What if he were to spread his sick views to other children?"

An elderly woman. "I hope Creight beats the heck out of that troubled boy. You don't have to walk to be good at something."

A lawyer. "The question isn't what's wrong with Travis Johnson. It's what *isn't* wrong with Travis Johnson."

A teenage boy. "I don't know why Johnson hates handicapped people so much, but I hope Creight teaches him a lesson."

The screen switched back to the reporter. "While more and more people are speaking against Johnson's views, more and more people are beginning to rally behind Creight, who defeated Johnson late this morning in the latest round for the Indigo League championship. Creight not only won the match, but turned it into a shutout. Creight had this to say at a press conference after the match."

The screen switched to a video clip of Jason's press conference. "I don't like Johnson's views, and I sure as heck won't ever accept them. But contrary to what he and his dwindling supporters think, I didn't come to Indigo Plateau to make a political statement. I came to battle other trainers. I came to improve my skills. I came to do what so many trainers want to do. Win. And if, while I'm here, I can help show someone what's possible when they believe in themselves, then so much the better."

Kelly hit the mute button, turned to Jason, and saw him grimacing. "What's wrong?"

Jason shook his head. "I think it's really weird to see yourself on TV, saying the words you just said an hour ago. Also sort of embarrassing."

She scoffed, then hit the mute button again.

"--match. Johnson declined our request for an interview. Creight is scheduled to battle Jennifer Carlson tomorrow evening at 7:30. In other news--"

Kelly turned the TV off. "That late, huh?"

"Yeah. I'll be a nervous wreck when I get up there."

She smiled. "You didn't look like a nervous wreck these last four rounds."

"That's because it wasn't this serious before. Everything's changed now. I'm in the Fearow 4, and tomorrow, the Tentacruel 2 will be decided. And the day after that... the champion. It's dawning on me now that I've got a serious chance of winning the championship." He turned to Kelly. "All those people are believing in me. I don't want to let them down by losing now. Suddenly, I'm not sure if I can handle the pressure."

"You seemed to be doing fine even through that cheering and booing."

"I was able to throw it off before by not caring."

"So do it again."

Jason snorted. "Easier said than done."

"Life always is."

Jason shook his head. "Have you eaten?"

"Not since breakfast."

"Well, then, let's go get something to eat."

***

The hotel's restaurant, they discovered, occupied the entirety of the second floor. They were given a table conveniently located close to the bathroom and a cashier.

"You're paying, right?" Kelly asked.

"When haven't I?" Jason responded.

Kelly ordered alfredo and some milk while Jason chose a small order of tortellini in meat sauce with a mug of root beer.

"What, not very hungry?" she asked.

"Truthfully, I'd love to pig out on a family size order of the stuff. But my stomach's not in the mood for a truckload of rich food," he answered, removing his bike gloves. "And I can't pig, either. I am, after all, a beacon for the physically handicapped."

Throughout their meal, which they both agreed was delicious, Kelly and Jason noticed the looks he seemed to be attracting from the other customers. Many of them were repeatedly glancing at him and muttering to their neighbors. The children were especially curious about him. At one point, they heard a little boy ask his father, "Daddy, how'd he get out of the TV?"

Kelly nearly choked on her alfredo giggling upon hearing this. Once she had the pasta down the appropriate tube, Jason said, "Thank God. I thought I was going to have to wheel myself back there and do the Heimlich maneuver."

"You were worried. I'm touched."

"Nah, I just didn't want you to land in some perfectly good alfredo."

She shook her head.

As they were about to leave, one gentleman approached Jason. "Excuse me."

"Can I help you?"

"My name is James Gardner, of Jameson and Associates. May I speak to you for a few moments, Mr. Creight?"

Jason picked up his bike gloves and put them on. "About what?"

"My company wishes to be a sponsor for you."

Jason didn't react outwardly, but inwardly he groaned. *Knew this was gonna happen sooner or later.* "My companion and I are finished here; the time for shady dinner discussions with shady businessmen ended five minutes ago."

Jason knew people were listening in when he heard a couple of them chuckle at this remark, but Gardner paid them no mind. "My company is anything but shady, Mr. Creight. We simply would like to propose a deal."

Jason sighed. "Okay, I'll bite."

Gardner sat down. "My employers have been watching your progress throughout the championship, Mr. Creight, and they are impressed with your shutout record. As I said, they are offering you a sponsorship."

"Why? What use is a sponsorship to me when registration and the competition are free?"

"We'd like you to help advertise our services when you're on the battlefield. In return, we'll pay you handsomely."

"Not interested. My wheelchair isn't for someone to slap a bumper sticker on. And in case you hadn't noticed," and here Jason indicated the restaurant, "I'm doing fine with the winnings I get from battling."

Gardner chuckled and leaned forward. "Mr. Creight--"

"No, Mr. Gardner. The answer is no. I'm not for sale. And I'm not as stupid as you might think. Jameson and Associates is a well-known company. Well-known for prosecution of the wrong party. You help criminals make money by taking it by the fistsful out of the pockets of their victims. You prosecute innocent people for doing nothing wrong, and then you sit back and do a lousy job of trying to put away someone that *should* be put away."

Gardner's smile was long gone. "Mr. Creight--"

"I'm not finished. When Giovanni was accused of being the criminal he is, you were the prosecutors those poor people were counting on. And you screwed up, oh, yeah, you screwed up *big* time. Giovanni won the case, then hired you to prosecute those plaintiffs for some moronic reason. And what happened? Suddenly, you were the best on the block. You won the case this time, and Giovanni yanked even more money out of their bank accounts. Why did you win? Giovanni provided your company with the funding you needed to get off the ground, and you bent over backwards to cater to him."

"Mr. Creight--"

"No, sir, I won't have anything to do with Giovanni or his lackeys. I have lived thus far without owing him any favors, and I will die without owing him any favors. All of you--*all* of you--should be in jail, just like your victims."

Silence reigned in the restaurant. Not even the chefs in the kitchen allowed their hearts to beat.

Gardner was stone-faced.

Kelly was gaping.

Jason paid no heed to any of this. "Now, if you'll excuse us, my friend and I were just leaving."

He pulled away and headed for the cashier, Kelly hot on his wheels.

The entire restaurant broke into raucous applause.

Gardner sat and wondered what he was going to tell Giovanni.

***

"That was harsh."

"Deal with it. I hate Giovanni's organizations just as much as I hate him."

Kelly and Jason entered their room once more. She flopped onto her bed, and he followed suit as best he could.

"I'm tired, Jason."

"You haven't been battling in the championship. Just imagine how I feel."

She snorted. "Yeah. Then you'd better get yourself some sleep. You'll need it."

He didn't respond.

She turned over. "Jason?"

He couldn't hear her.

Jason Creight slept on.

Dragon_Knight
20th September 2003, 09:38 AM
Jason Creight awoke in room 512 of the Indigo Plateau Hotel.

He didn't check his bedside clock this time. He didn't need to.

His battle wasn't until 7:30 that evening.

And besides, the sun wasn't even up yet.

He sighed. "It's gonna be a long day."

As much as he didn't want to, Jason pushed himself up and into a sitting position, with his back resting against the wall. He reached for the remote and turned on the TV, which was running continuous footage of the previous battles on some channels. These were channels for reviewing the techniques and attitudes of the competitors, as well as the Pokemon they were using in battle.

Jason had noticed something about all the trainers he'd met during his time here: they all seemed to have a central theme. It might be water, fire, grass, or psychic. Sometimes, it might be a mixed theme, like electric- psychic, or ground-fire.

Something else he'd noticed about those themed trainers was that the ones who were most obvious about their themes were out of the running.

He knew, as his remaining competitors did, that one must avoid a theme at all costs and instead randomize their choices in battling. Not only did it give them a much broader range of Pokemon to work with, but it gave them a better chance that their opponent might have a bad Pokemon.

He and his competitors had found their opponents' weak spots and had obliterated them.

Now it was just down to him and three others.

Jason activated the "battle selector" feature on the TV and chose Jennifer Carlson, his next opponent.

*Time to get to work.*

***

Kelly wanted to sleep in, but she'd started sleeping pretty early the day before. So she ended up waking at 6:52 in the morning.

Jason, she wasn't surprised to find, was already up and reviewing his next opponent's last battle. He was playing with his lower lip, a habit she'd been seeing him get into when he was concentrating on something.

She rolled over and yawned. It was loud enough that he responded with, "Good morning to you, too."

She smiled. "You're reviewing this early?"

"Yup. Not like I have much else to do at this point. This morning's battle isn't for another half-hour or so. After that, if you'd like some breakfast, we can arrange it. Then I'll come back up here and start reviewing again."

She shook her head in amazement. "I can't believe you. You're that obsessed with winning?"

"Just looking to know my opponent, that's all."

"Uh-huh."

Kelly saw the steely determination in Jason's eye, even from the side. She knew that he wanted to win, to analyze his opponent down to her last minuscule movement.

How strange it seemed to her that a mere three weeks ago, he was hanging onto life by a strand. He hadn't been in a coma, but he wasn't coming out of his sleep. It was almost a trance-like state. A coma was something one never completely recovered from.

And Jason was completely recovered from whatever state he'd been in.

*Well,* she thought sadly, seeing his useless legs sprawled in front of him, *almost completely.*

She knew full well that she was beginning to develop feelings for him. Watching his unresponsive form for two months had done that to her. And some part of her, within those developing feelings, wanted him to show some sign of reciprocation.

*But he hasn't had time to develop any feelings for me!* she thought in frustration. *How could he reciprocate, when his clock is telling him he's known me for only three weeks?*

And yet, it was what she wanted.

*If only I were brave enough to let him know. But I'm not. I can only hope he feels something for me.*

***

"This is incredible, ladies and gentlemen! Eric Davids has won the match by a hair's breadth, and will be elevated to the Tentacruel 2! Oh, I've never seen a battle this close in all my years! We can only hope the adrenaline rush is equally intense when Jason Creight and Jennifer Carlson come to blows tonight! We'll take you to a commercial, and we'll be right back with the post-match press conference with Eric Davids!"

Jason snorted and shook his head in amusement at the eccentric announcer. He figured Davids would win; he'd been examining the man's battles, and he was a cool-headed trainer who always kept a well-balanced team. Davids' opponent was also cool-headed, but he'd made his plan just a little too obvious.

Kelly began flipping through the channels, trying to find a program not interrupted by commercial. Jason hoped she wouldn't find some reporter talking about him; the last thing he wanted to hear in the morning was "Jason Creight blah blah blah" and all that jazz. He didn't enjoy being viewed as a phenomenal public figure making a political statement or some idiocy like that; he simply wanted to be recognized as a good trainer.

Still, that didn't stop reporters from going all over the plateau to ask people about him. Inevitably, Kelly found a channel that showed some poor soul having a microphone shoved in his face. "What's your opinion on Jason Creight participating in the Indigo League championships?"

The man shrugged. "I think he's doing well. I hope he wins; I'm rooting for him."

"Do you think he's being somewhat blatant in his statements on the physically handicapped?"

"Being blatant goes with the territory of being a trainer, ma'am. I've seen his face on a dozen channels, and he says he's just there to battle and have a good time. I don't think he's doing any more than that. I think any statements he made about the physically handicapped were elicited by the media and shouldn't interfere with his life or anyone else's."

"Augh!" Jason shouted, reaching both open hands out to the screen. "Thank God! Someone who finally understands!"

Kelly chuckled at this reaction. She'd been waiting a while for someone to say this, as well, truth be told. Now Jason was content, and she could get some breakfast.

"And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the president of the Indigo League Championship Board of Administration."

Jason's expression changed instantly, from one of amusement to one of open shock.

Had someone of stature just said he was rooting for Jason Creight?

Someone from the ILCBA?

*The president* of the ILCBA?

It didn't seem possible.

And yet, there it was.

Kelly's grin only grew exponentially as she continued to watch Jason's reaction. Now, instead of trying to avoid the screen that displayed his face for the world to see, his eyes were glued to it. She hated to break him out of his supremely funny reverie, but she was hungry. "So, you want to get some breakfast?"

"Huh?"

"Breakfast, Jason. Aren't you hungry?"

"Uh, nah, you go ahead."

She leaned forward to get a better look at his face. *Oh yeah, he's glued.* "Jason, you have a match tonight. Forget about him; what he says doesn't have any meaning unless you win that battle. You're in the Fearow 4 now, and you need to study. You also need to eat. So come on, get in that wheelchair and come with me. Or else I'll have to put you in the chair myself."

He sighed and moved to comply, suddenly glad he'd put on fresh clothes when he'd had the chance. "Fine. You are a stubborn woman, you know that?"

"Hey, I'm just looking to get free food at your expense."

He snorted. "Oh, so *that's* why you've been following me around for three weeks."

"Sure is."

***

Breakfast, they concluded, was absolutely delicious. And, as an added bonus, they didn't have to deal with any businessmen this time around. However, when they returned, it became time for Jason to hunker down and study his opponent.

After nearly three hours of watching her battles over and over again, Jason said to Kelly, "I think I may have found a weak spot."

Kelly sat up at this news. She'd been reclined on her bed, writing in her journal. She reaised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yeah. She's of the type to avoid more attacks than take them head-on. And she'll try to do it with an attack of her own. For example, if she has a Graveler and she tells it to use Dig, that'll protect it from nearly any attack. And if she has a Pidgeot and she tells it to use Fly, that'll evade most attacks as well. Then, on the second turn, the move is completed by her Pokemon hitting their opponents. It's a good strategy."

"So how are you gonna beat her if all your attacks miss?"

"By making sure the Pokemon I use have Mirror Move, Fly, and Dig somewhere in their known moves."

"I know your Fearow has Mirror Move. Fly, too. And you have a Dugtrio, so Dig is no problem. But you need one more. And if I'm not wrong, you'll want it to be another flying type."

"Yep. And that brings Charizard to mind."

"You haven't used a single Pokemon more than once for this entire series."

"I know. I need to be randomized. Makes it harder for the opponent to guess which ones I'm gonna bring out."

She shrugged. "Don't you think you might want to analyze your own mistakes as well?"

He adopted a thoughtful expression. "You think I should?"

"It would help you avoid looking as if you're presenting a theme."

He threw up his hands. "I've been trying my best *not* to show a theme. My only theme is studying my opponents, and making sure I'm prepared for them."

"I think you may be preparing with the kinds of Pokemon they're looking for." She leaned back. "You told me that you thought Travis Johnson was expecting your Gyarados to be in your lineup yesterday. If so, that means he was looking for a Pokemon with moves he may have known would have beaten the Pokemon *he'd* chosen. That being the case, doesn't that suggest to you that you're presenting a theme to be opposed?"

He paused for a moment, considering this. Then he nodded. "I suppose so. So what would you have me use, then?"

"Does your Charizard know Mirror Move?"

"Yeah, after great effort."

"Then don't use Fearow at all. Jennifer Carlson will expect it and have an electric type ready."

"Okay. And my second Pokemon?"

"Expect the unexpected. She'll have Pokemon with moves you aren't planning on fighting. For example, water types with Dig. Gyarados could do it, Squirtle and its evolutions could do it..."

"Yeah, yeah. Well, I know she's got water types. In fact..." He began playing with his lower lip. "I think at least two of them knew Dig."

"Does your Electabuzz know Dig?"

"No, but I've got a TM for Dig in my backpack."

"Which move would you replace?"

He shrugged. "I suppose Spark. It's the weakest of all its attacks."

"Well, review the battles and make sure she's got Dig for a water type first. Then, if you still want to do it, use the TM."

"And my third Pokemon?"

She got up off her bed and began to pace. "What about your Arbok?"

He snorted. "What about it?"

"Does it know Wrap?"

He stared uncomprehendingly for a moment, then he grinned. "That's clever."

"I thought so. But does it know Wrap?"

"Sure does. And poison attacks. And Dig, too."

"Then use it."

Jason sat back and began to wonder if he actually might win.

***

"Oh, what an incredible event, ladies and gentlemen! I'm so excited to be here! Only two more battles until this year's champion of the Indigo League is decided, and here we stand this beautiful night, about to begin the first of those two battles! Who will win? The lovely and talented Jennifer Carlson, or the determined, steely-eyed Jason Creight? Only time will tell!"

"Shake hands."

Jennifer offered her hand instantly and with a smile on her face. Jason gripped it firmly and shook.

"It's just a competition," she muttered. "I won't hold a grudge if I lose. But be warned, I don't go down easily."

"Neither do I," he responded. "Have fun."

"You, too."

"Trainers, to your platforms!"

They made their way to their respective platforms on each side of the arena. Jason took a few deep breaths and shut the crowd out. They didn't matter. Only things that mattered were the battle and giving it his all.

That was it.

"Referee, are you ready?"

The ref saluted.

"Then let the match begin!"

Jennifer yanked a Great ball from her belt and tossed it. "Let's take it to him, Blastoise!"

Jason tried to stifle his grin. *Kelly was right.* He likewise threw a Great ball. "Go for it, Electabuzz!"

He noticed that her confident look was still firmly in place. "Okay, then, we'll work past the type difference. Blastoise, dig!"

"You too, Electabuzz!"

They both burrowed underground.

Blastoise came up on the other side of the arena, only to discover that its opponent wasn't there.

Electabuzz rocketed from the ground and took Blastoise completely by surprise.

Suddenly, Jennifer wasn't looking that confident anymore. "Try hydro pump, then!"

"Electabuzz, thunderbolt!"

Lightning split the air between the two Pokemon just as Blastoise was opening its water cannons.

Blastoise fell back.

"Blastoise is unable to battle!"

Jason's flag was raised.

The scoreboard now read Jason Creight 1, Jennifer Carlson 0.

"Blastoise, return!" Jennifer's eyes had hardened. "You're tougher than I thought, but you can't possibly match... Raichu!"

Jason had a flashback to that hellish experience under the water, but quickly got over it. He considered his options against the Raichu.

*Electabuzz might be able to take it,* he thought, *but since they're the same type, thunderbolt won't have the magic touch. She's probably got Dig on this one, too. And it's looking well-trained.*

"Electabuzz, return!" he called. Then he enlarged a Poke ball. "Go, Arbok!"

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, Creight certainly knows his type differences. Carlson will have a tough time shocking Creight's Arbok into submission!"

"Shut up," she muttered. Aloud, though, she said, "Raichu, use quick attack!"

"Arbok, poison sting attack!"

As Raichu began to race towards Arbok, the snake Pokemon managed to fire off several glowing dart-like projectiles which injected poisons into its opponent.

Raichu's attack was slowed, but it still caught Arbok straight under the chin.

Arbok shook it off as its opponent backed off.

"Arbok, use Wrap!"

Arbok curled around Raichu like a constrictor and began to squeeze. Hard.

"Raichu, use Dig!"

It managed to escape from Arbok, but it was still hurt by the move.

"Okay, Arbok, use your Dig attack, too!"

Raichu came up and struck empty air.

Arbok slammed straight into Raichu.

"Arbok, use Bite!"

Arbok crunched down on Raichu's tail, picked the mouse Pokemon up,and swung it around like a lasso. It released, and sent Raichu crashing back towards its master.

It was down for the count.

"Raichu is unable to battle!"

Jason Creight 2, Jennifer Carlson 0.

"Okay, then," she said, recalling Raichu. "Everything rides on this. Pidgeot, I choose you!"

Jason was reminded of his own Pidgeot for one brief moment as the bird Pokemon came into existence. He shook off the memories and considered his next move. *So far, I've tried to play it safe. I should try to take a chance, just this once. I'll keep Arbok out.*

"Okay, Arbok, use Wrap again!"

Jennifer was surprised. She'd studied him, and knew that if he were to continue to play it safe, as he had been the entire championship, he would recall Arbok and bring out his third Pokemon.

But he wasn't doing that.

She was so surprised that Arbok was already on the move when she finally chose her order. "Pidgeot, use sky attack!"

Pidgeot began to glow beneath Arbok's crushing coils.

"Arbok, use poison sting!" Jason's intention was to slow down the hit as much as he could.

Arbok had just barely gotten the attack in when Pidgeot was ready to fight back.

And it did so with extreme prejudice.

Arbok was almost down for the count, so powerful was the attack.

Jason grinned, knowing that if it hadn't pulled off its attacks, it *would* be out. "Arbok, return!"

And then he tossed Electabuzz's Great ball once again.

It was ready for battle.

Jennifer began to wonder if he had discovered his own theme. Suddenly, he was beginning to take chances. She knew that Electabuzz didn't have a chance at hitting Pidgeot in the air.

But if she used Fly, he'd use Dig.

And when Pidgeot was grounded again, then Electabuzz would strike.

Her blood ran cold. Jason had discovered her theme.

And he had her right where he wanted her.

She was determined to make the most of it. "Pidgeot, fly!"

He allowed a small smirk. He had caught the cold realization in her eyes. He knew that she'd just discovered she was in a trap. "Dig!"

Electabuzz again burrowed underground.

Pidgeot wasn't expecting to be hitting nothing.

When it alighted, Electabuzz struck.

"Thunder wave!"

The bird Pokemon was zapped with a paralyzing jolt of electricity.

"Fly, Pidgeot!"

It didn't comply.

It was paralyzed.

Jason felt a surge of triumph. "Electabuzz, finish it with thunder punch!"

Electabuzz struck it not only with its fist, but with lightning as well. Sparks flew from its fist as it punched the grounded bird.

Pidgeot landed at its master's platform base.

It stayed down.

"Pidgeot is unable to battle! The match goes to Jason Creight!"

Jason Creight 3, Jennifer Carlson 0.

Another perfect score.

Jason couldn't believe it. He'd beaten her without losing a single Pokemon.

Without *Charizard*!

"Amazing! Ladies and gentlemen, this announcer has seen some one-sided battles before, but Jason Creight is the definitive expert on them! I have not a seen single trainer able to accomplish this feat more than twice here at the championships, yet Creight has racked up five consecutive perfect scores! Unbelievable! Creight is now the second competitor of the Tentacruel 2!"

When Jason and Jennifer met at the ref's position, she had a bit of disappointment in her expression.

"Shake hands," said the ref.

Jason offered his hand. "You're still a winner, Jennifer."

Upon hearing this, her face broke into a grin and she took his extended hand. "Thanks. That means a lot."

Jason took her wrist and raised it as high as he could.

"And there are two genuine good sports, ladies and gentlemen! Congratulations to both of you, trainers!"

Jason Creight and Jennifer Carlson faced the crowd together.

***

Jason didn't get back to the hotel until 10:00 that evening.

"Press conferences galore," he muttered, as Kelly let him in the room. "I take it you attended the match?"

"Of course I did. How could I miss my plan being executed on a battlefield as important as that? I'll bet you didn't even give credit to me for coming up with it."

"I did, too," he shot back, climbing out of his wheelchair and onto his bed. "I gave you credit at the press conference."

"Really? Well, let's see what the TV has to say about it." Kelly grabbed the remote and activated the tube once again.

"--top story tonight: Jason Creight has earned the remaining slot in the Tentacruel 2 for tomorrow's battle. Earlier this evening, Creight and trainer Jennifer Carlson battled for this right. The score was three to zero, Creight's fifth consecutive perfect score since the championship began. Unlike Creight's last opponent, Carlson was a little more gracious about losing to the wheelchair-bound trainer. Creight is scheduled to battle with trainer Eric Davids at 5:00 tomorrow evening for the championship.

"A press conference was held after the battle with Carlson and Creight. Here's what Carlson had to say."

The screen switched to a view of Jennifer and Jason seated at a table loaded down with microphones. Jennifer was speaking. "I'm sort of disappointed that I lost, but hey, everyone loses at least once on their road to becoming a Pokemon master. I'll be back next year, and I'll be better than before. Meanwhile, I wish Jason well on his battle tomorrow; I think it'd be a nice touch to have been beaten by the champion. So I'm rooting for him."

The screen remained on the conference, but the reporter was voiced over. "Meanwhile, Creight was optimistic about his final battle. He had this to say at our conference."

Then they allowed the video to speak. "I look forward to competing against Eric Davids. He's a cool-headed trainer, and obviously, he's very good at what he does. I'm honored to battle him. It'll be the final battle one way or the other for both of us, so I plan to make the most of it. I'm sure he does, too."

The screen switched back to the reporter. "Creight credits Kelly Shields, a friend he travels with, on helping discover a strategy to defeat Carlson. He is scheduled to battle Davids at 5:00 tomorrow evening. And we're definitely looking forward to that, aren't we?"

Kelly turned off the TV. She turned to Jason. She smiled. "Thanks."

"No problem. Hey, have you had anything to eat?"

"Yeah, I had something at the restaurant after the battle. What, you hungry?"

"No, I've already eaten, too. I just figured if you hadn't had anything..."

"Well, thanks anyway."

Jason eased himself away from the wall and towards the foot of the bed until he was lying down. "Big day tomorrow."

"Yeah, I noticed. You gonna study this guy?"

"Of course I am. But I'm wasted from that conference. I'll get up sometime early and start reviewing."

"Suit yourself."

"Thanks, I will. Meantime, I need my beauty sleep."

Kelly grinned as she turned out her light. "Too late to restore any of your beauty, Jason."

Jason snorted. "I didn't ask you."

He turned out his light.

Jason Creight dreamed on.

Dragon_Knight
20th September 2003, 09:43 PM
Jason Creight awoke in room 512 of the Indigo Plateau Hotel.

He didn't have time to check the clock.

He knew the minute he woke up, he'd have to get up and start reviewing.

He grabbed the remote and got to it.

***

Three hours later, Kelly awoke to the sight of the sun shining against the curtain, and Jason with his eyes glued to the TV.

She knew he'd do it. She'd known it the night before. It was how he'd managed to find Jennifer Carlson's weakness. Though hours of study, he'd found her theme.

And now he was doing it with Eric Davids.

Today was the day.

Kelly searched Jason's face. She could see that either it hadn't impacted him, or he simply didn't care. She finally chose to attribute it to both reasons.

She closed her eyes again.

***

At about 9:00 in the morning, Kelly again was awakened, this time to someone knocking on the door. She chose to keep her eyes closed; maybe Jason would get off his butt (like that could happen with someone in a wheelchair) and go get it.

She heard Jason groan. "Just a sec!"

Then she heard shuffling. She guessed that he'd not gotten off the bed yet; the thought was barely complete when she felt a great *BOOM!* rumble under her bed.

"Ow! God!" she heard Jason groan.

"You okay in there?" asked a voice from the other side of the door.

"Yeah, hold on!"

She finally opened her eyes and got up to the sound of a dragging noise. She saw Jason crawling along the floor with only his hands and arms; obviously, his legs were in no shape to help him.

"What happened to you?" she asked, already suspecting the answer.

"What do you think?" he responded. "But if you're gonna get up, could you get the door?"

She sighed and opened the door.

She was greeted by none other than Eric Davids himself.

"Oops," he said. "Did I catch you at a bad time?"

"Nah," she responded. "Jason's been awake for a while, I'd imagine."

"Yeah, I have," Jason announced from his position on the floor. "Now could you please help me out over here?"

"Come on in," she said to Davids, who thanked her and promptly stepped over to Jason.

Jason realized who it was. "Oh. Hi. Nice to meet you. I'm on the floor because I'm not worthy."

Davids chuckled. "More like you fell over the bed, right?"

"Something like that. I won't hurry next time. Since you're here, could you help me out?"

"No problem." Davids turned Jason onto his back and helped him into a sitting position. Then he took Jason under the arms and got him back onto the bed.

"Thanks," said Jason, bracing himself to stay sitting upright.

Davids noticed the TV. "Been checking me out, huh?"

"Yeah. Can you blame me?"

"Not at all. I use it myself."

Jason nodded. "So, to what do I owe the honor?"

"Well, I've been hearing from several people that you convinced trainers like Jennifer Carlson and Travis Johnson to throw their matches against you, and that's how you've managed your shutout. They say you can't possibly have kept a shutout this entire time otherwise."

Jason thought for a moment. "Who have you been hearing this from?"

"People on the streets. They insisted I talk to them, and when I did, that's what they said."

"And have they said anything about it to the media?"

"No. They wanted me to."

Jason snorted and smiled thinly. "And do you believe them?"

"I don't know. I came here to ask you if it's true. And so far, I've seen you're rather truthful."

Jason steepled his fingers. "Travis Johnson was prejudiced against me, no doubt of that. There's no way he could have been bribed by someone in a wheelchair, much less me. And as far as Jennifer Carlson goes, well... She realized that the battling was friendly competition. She's a good sport, but she's also determined. She gave it her all."

"Then why would these people say otherwise?"

Jason sighed. "I've found that since I've been restricted to a wheelchair, there's a good number of people who just flat out don't like me for being what I am. It doesn't matter to me that they don't like me; I can deal with it. But they can't. It infuriates them and makes them lash out. And they lash out at me."

Davids smiled. "Well, I realize it's friendly competition, too. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to fight as best I can."

"You wouldn't be a true trainer if you did otherwise."

"I suppose not." Davids stood up. "Well, I should go. I have to study you so I can find out your methods."

"So do I." Jason offered his hand. "I'll see you on the field tonight."

Davids took the proffered hand. "Count on it."

He left.

***

Half an hour later, Jason had his solution.

***

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is it! The final battle of the Indigo League championship is upon us! Are you pumped? I hope you are, because I am! And so are your prospective champions! Tonight, we will find out who will take the most risk, become the most dangerous, and leave his opponent behind as he takes a huge step on the road to becoming a Pokemon master!

"And here come the stars of the show! Ladies and gentlemen, Eric Davids and Jason Creight!"

The applause was deafening, the cheering brainshattering. Jason wheeled himself onto the track, taking deep breaths as he did so. *I have to make sure I concentrate.*

When the two trainers reached the ref, standing in the middle of the track, the roar reached a decibel range that would have opened garage doors across Kanto.

*Who knows?* Jason wondered. *If people are watching, the screech alone has to be enough to blow out the speakers even when the volume's down to 1.*

He and Davids both felt fortunate to be wearing earplugs, allowing them to hear only the referee and the events on the battlefield.

"Shake hands," said the ref, speaking clearly into his lapel mike.

Jason and Davids both shook hands without hesitation.

"Good luck," said Jason.

"You, too," Davids responded.

"Gentlemen, to your platforms."

Jason and Davids turned and headed to their platforms.

For the last time, the platforms raised to about fifteen feet.

Jason and Davids both heard the announcer yakking, but it sounded far, far away.

And then a *DING!* prompted them to begin.

"Go, Snorlax!" Davids shouted, releasing his first Pokemon.

Jason pulled out a Great ball and tossed it. "Go, Clefable!"

"Snorlax, body slam!"

"Clefable, agility!"

Clefable managed to dodge the crushing blow just in time.

"Clefable, metronome!"

"Another body slam, Snorlax!"

But Clefable's fingers were already moving.

A huge bolt of lightning came blasting out of the sky, striking Snorlax directly in its flabby chest. It didn't do much damage.

And Snorlax almost literally rolled on top of Clefable.

Davids grinned.

Clefable managed to pull itself out from under Snorlax, but it was injured. Jason could only hope it could stay up long enough to do what he wanted it to do. "Clefable, sing to it!"

And Clefable began to sing to Snorlax.

"Snorlax, quickly, rest!"

But it was too late. Snorlax was already asleep.

"Clefable, return! Get out there, Gengar!"

Gengar made its way out to Snorlax.

"Snorlax, wake up!"

"Gengar, dream eater!"

Snorlax wouldn't wake up.

And Gengar caught Snorlax's head in its mouth.

It chewed.

Then it pulled away and grinned.

Snorlax was almost out of the match.

"Snorlax, wake up!"

And it did.

But it was too late.

"Quick, Gengar, psybeam!"

The multicolored energy blast was enough.

"Snorlax is unable to battle!"

Jason Creight 1, Eric Davids 0.

Davids groaned. "Snorlax, return. Golduck, show me your stuff!"

Jason kept Gengar in the match. "Gengar, another psybeam!"

"Golduck, hyper beam!"

The two beams caught each other in midair. The energy mounted up within a round, spherical form; Gengar and Golduck were desperately trying to contain the energy without endangering themselves, while at the same time still adding energy to the sphere.

"Ohh, no," Jason muttered, knowing what would come soon. "Gengar, forget the beam and just concentrate on blocking the energy!"

Gengar was already straining; it was thankful to its master for allowing it to stop shooting.

"Gengar, can you pull off a night shade attack?"

It nodded, then leapt into the air and dazzled Golduck for a moment with its ordered attack.

Golduck was so blinded by the combination of darkness followed by a huge flash that it lost control of its barrier against the energy globe. All the energy that had mounted within blasted unavoidably toward Golduck.

And when it was over, Golduck was down for the count.

"Golduck is unable to battle!"

Jason Creight 2, Eric Davids 0.

Jason frowned. He couldn't be winning the battle this easily. Either Davids was truly throwing the game, or he had an ace up his sleeve.

And then Jason saw the same confusion he was feeling appear on Davids' face.

Maybe Davids was giving in to pressure?

No. He was recalling Golduck, and he was grinning as he threw his last ball.

His last Pokemon.

Jason gaped.

It was a Dragonite.

Davids *did* have an ace up his sleeve.

Suddenly, Jason wasn't sure if he should keep Gengar in the match or not. It looked tired. And against an actual Dragonite...

*Oh, what the heck...*

"Let's take it, Gengar! Psybeam, one more time!"

"Dragonite, fly!"

The multicolored beam caught Dragonite on the way up, but Dragonite wasn't slowed much by the blast.

"Gengar, return! Go, Gyarados!"

And Gyarados was ready for battle.

"Gyarados, brace yourself! When it's on the ground, use thunder!"

Dragonite struck. It dive-bombed straight at Gyarados and caught it full force in the center of its snake-like body.

"Now, Gyarados!"

Lightning crackled down from the sky once again and forced Dragonite into convulsions.

Dragonite shook it off.

"Okay, then, Gyarados, return! Come back out, Clefable!"

Davids was becoming confused. Jason had always shown a tendency to keep his Pokemon with him after he'd used them once.

Jason's grim smile clued him in.

His study of Jason had become his weakness.

And Jason had found it.

Jason had been looking for Davids' toughest Pokemon to confuse.

Dragonite was it.

"Clefable, sing to Dragonite, just like you sang to Snorlax!"

Clefable was, of course, only too happy to do so.

"Dragonite, hyper beam!"

Just as Dragonite was powered up, Clefable's song began to affect it.

The beam went wild and took out an array of strobe lights.

The lights went haywire, sparking and exploding.

The array began to fall.

Jason knew the rules; if he sent another Pokemon out, he'd be automatically expelled.

But he didn't care. Obeying the rules wasn't worth the lives of dozens of innocent people.

He was about to send Gengar into the stands to take care of the problem, but then he saw another trainer near the array send out a Pokemon of their own to catch it; a Jynx, by the looks of it.

And he suddenly realized it was Kelly.

She gave him a quick thumbs-up.

He tossed off a salute to her, then returned his attention to the match.

Clefable was still singing to Dragonite, who was by this time sleeping deeply.

"Clefable, return! Go, Gengar!"

"Dragonite, wake up!"

Dragonite wasn't waking up.

"Gengar, you're having a feast tonight! Dream eater!"

Gengar chewed on the dreams of Dragonite.

"Gengar, return! Go, Gyarados!"

Once more, the terrifying image of the leviathan Pokemon graced the battlefield.

"Gyarados, hydro pump!"

Dragonite woke up the moment Gyarados began to blast it with water.

"Good, now that we've got its attention, thunder!"

Lightning caught Dragonite once again.

Dragonite went down.

And it didn't get back up.

Seconds passed.

And then, slowly, Jason's flag was raised.

"Dragonite is unable to battle! The match goes to Jason Creight!"

Jason Creight 3, Eric Davids 0.

Jason's mouth hung open.

He couldn't believe it.

Had it truly been that easy?

It couldn't have.

He couldn't be the winner.

No, winning was for someone else. Not him. It had to be a joke.

Davids looked shocked, as well.

Finally, Jason's shaking hand, holding Gyarados' Poke ball, rose high enough for the vacuum to catch Gyarados. "G--Gyarados, return."

Davids did likewise with his Dragonite. And he looked up at Jason.

And his face broke into a grin.

"Congratulations," he said into his mike. "You're the Indigo League champion."

Jason shook his head. "That can't be right. I can't have beaten you that easily."

Davids shrugged. "Fine. Disbelieve it if you want, but that's the way it is. Can't turn back time, as you well know."

"If I'm the champion, how am I the one frowning, and you the one grinning?"

"Because I'm more ready to believe I'm the loser than you are to believe you're the winner. It's a psychological thing."

"Gentlemen, to the track, please," said the ref.

The platforms had already been lowered. Neither Jason nor Davids had noticed.

"Well," Davids finally said, "you coming?"

"I guess so," Jason answered.

They approached the ref.

"Shake hands, gentlemen."

As Jason and Davids shook hands, they realized that the crowd's cheering and applause had reached the point to where they were beyond deafening and brainshattering. There were no words that could describe the volume level of the crowd. they were more thankful than ever now for their earplugs.

In fact, they could hear the announcer louder than before. Apparently, they'd had to raise the volume of the announcer's speakers in order to get his messages across.

"Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the runner-up for the Indigo League championship, Eric Davids! Give him a big hand!"

There was much cheering and applause.

"And this year's Indigo League champion is Jason Creight, down there in his humble wheelchair! Jason Creight! How about it?"

Jason abruptly realized that he didn't know how the heck he was supposed to feel. Smug? Should he be feeling a great swell of pride in his chest over having defeated Davids?

Should he be wheeling around in ecstasy over the fact that he'd turned the championship into a shutout?

He wasn't doing any of those.

Instead, he was sitting here in front of the crowd with no expression. *I look like an idiot.*

He snorted in amusement of the thought.

And he smiled.

***

The post-championship proceedings and awards ceremony took place that night. The trainers who had competed all graced the battlefield once more in front of a packed stadium. Jason and Davids got to stand in front of the reputed Moltres flame at the eastward bend in the stadium's track and design.

Even as far away from the flame as they were, Jason couldn't help but notice its heat. It made the back of his neck sweat. *Heck, it's making the front of my neck sweat, too!*

Davids received a silver trophy consisting of a silver capture ball with quartz wings. The base of the trophy was cherrywood, with his name and ranking engraved in it.

Jason also received a trophy, this one of larger proportions. This trophy was gold, sporting the same capture ball with quartz wings. However, the base was mahogany instead of cherrywood, and the font was different.

After the ceremony, of course, Davids and Jason couldn't avoid yet another press conference. Jason didn't like it one bit. It was always questions like, "How do you feel about winning?" or "Now that you're the champion, what will you do?"

He knew what he was going to do. Publicly, of course, he gave the impression that he didn't. But he knew what he was going to do.

Jason finally returned to the hotel just before 10:00 that evening, his trophy sitting on his lap.

Kelly was in the room already. As usual.

And the first thing she said when she opened the door was, "You won."

"Did I?" he asked, as he wheeled himself into the room. "Did I win?"

She didn't know how to respond. She knew what he was referring to; she'd been wondering herself if Davids had thrown the match, despite the man's denials.

He put the trophy on the bedside table, eased himself out of the chair and onto his bed in his sitting position. His useless legs hung over the edge.

Kelly changed the subject. "I watched your press conference. You said you didn't know what you were going to do next."

"Yeah."

"I know you better than that."

He raised his eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yeah. You were so eager about becoming Professor Oak's assistant three months ago. He scolded you for it because you still had a journey to complete."

"It's complete now."

"Exactly."

Jason shook his head, grinning. "If I recall correctly, you were right there, volunteering to be his assistant right alongside me. Not only that, but Oak chewed you out, too."

"Well, what else are you going to do? Go to the Orange Islands?"

"Surely you jest."

"Then we ought to go back to Pallet Town and insist that we help the ol' prof out!"

He smiled. "Okay, you got me. That is, in fact, exactly what I was planning."

"Goody. So when do we leave, and by what means?"

"Early tomorrow morning, by air. I don't want to be hounded by people looking to battle me."

"Sounds good."

"Uh-huh."

Neither of them said anything for a moment.

Kelly broke the silence with, "So, can I see this trophy of yours?"

"Yeah, go ahead." Jason scoffed. "I wonder if it really means anything."

She gave him a strange look as she reached to take it. "It signifies that you've done what so few trainers have done."

"Signifies, yes, but it still seems to have so little actual meaning. Especially when Eric was so easily beaten."

And then she felt a surge of bravery. She put the trophy aside, sat down next to Jason and said, "Then let's see if this has as little meaning as the trophy."

She kissed him.

And he kissed back.

When they pulled away, both of them were left breathless by the encounter.

"No," Jason finally said, "I think it has more."

And they kissed again.

They finally pulled away from each other again.

"We'll head to Pallet Town tomorrow morning," said Jason, "and we'll insist on being assistants."

"Yeah," she said. "I guess we will."

***

Mrs. Ketchum, as usual, was tending her garden when she saw a great shadow descending nearby. She looked over, and found that there was not one shadow, but instead there were two.

A glance upward showed her what the shadows were of.

A Charizard and a Fearow.

She smiled. She knew of only one trainer who used those two Pokemon.

That same trainer had won the Indigo League championship yesterday.

"Hey, Mrs. Ketchum!" said Jason, as his Charizard alighted.

She shook her finger in a mock scold. "You're still growing up on me!"

"I'm sure," he responded, as Gengar helped him into his wheelchair. "Where's Ash?"

"He's off at Professor Oak's lab, no doubt playing video games with Gary." She sighed. "Those two act so immature sometimes. I don't know what to do with them."

Jason grinned, a small part of him hoping that Ash wouldn't inherit all of his mother's ditzy eccentricities. "Is Professor Oak there, as well?"

"Where else would he be?" she responded. "So, have you come back to help him in hs research?"

"In a word, yes," he replied.

"We've come to insist on it," Kelly added.

"Ah. Well, in that case, who am I to stop you?" Mrs. Ketchum smiled. "I'll catch up with you two later; my garden awaits me!"

She scuttled off to another patch in her garden.

Jason shook his head. "Fearow, Charizard, and Gengar, return."

After he tucked the capture balls into his belt, he and Kelly set out for Professor Oak's lab.

*One day, I'm on top of the world, a place I'd never dreamed of being. And the next, I'm headed back to the simple life of a Pokemon researcher in some backwater town. Boy, who'd have expected that?*

Jason breathed deeply. *Ahh. No pollution. No noise. No bumbling tourists. It may not be the Orange Islands, but it might as well be home.*

Jason Creight smiled on.

----------------------------------------

This Is The End Of A Journey.

But Not Of *Against All Odds.*

Dragon_Knight
22nd September 2003, 06:37 AM
Jason Creight awoke on a beautiful Saturday morning in the dorm wing of Professor Oak's lab.

He looked out the window of his room. It was a one-person room, with white walls and a white ceiling. Furniture was sparse, but it was there, at the very least.

It felt to him as though he were sleeping in a warehouse. And, truth be told, he was. The lab had been converted from a warehouse originally. Professor Oak had dreamt of being a researcher when he became older. Soon enough, his dream had come true; with the winnings he'd once earned from battles, he'd purchased the old building from Pallet Town and heavily converted it to a durable laboratory.

Jason sighed. "Another day."

He was hit by a sense of deja vu, remembering a time when he'd said that in such a way that if one had heard it, they would know he wasn't looking forward to that day.

But this was different. He was saying it for no reason at all, other than to talk.

It had been three years since he'd won the Indigo League championship. Four years since he'd attracted all that attention in the media. He was now eighteen years old, no taller, and just a little wiser than he had been when he was fourteen. He could only marvel at those memories of himself, wheeling up to the microphone-laden conference table at Indigo Plateau.

He remembered being asked, "Do you intend to challenge the Elite Four?"

And he remembered answering, "Not at this time."

Why not?

Because he had felt he was finished with Pokemon, as far as journeying was concerned.

But lately, he'd been dreaming of his experiences during his journey. His thoughts were being bent towards training once again.

His only idea as to why was that Pokemon had become his life. Training, studying, breeding. He couldn't get away from them, ever. And with Ash having gone off on his own Pokemon journey, Jason was beginning to think of his own journey once again. The only ones he could really talk to were his Pokemon.

Not even Kelly had that kind of bond with him yet.

Not even after being his girlfriend for four years.

He climbed out of bed, into his wheelchair, and took his lab coat off the wall-mounted coat hanger next to the door. Before putting it on, he looked at the name tag hanging on the pocket.

*Jason Creight

Assistant*

He asked himself, *Is this what I really want? Do I want to be a Pokemon researcher? Or do I want to be a trainer again?*

But he didn't receive an answer.

*For four years,* he thought, *this has been my home. A laboratory dedicated to studying Pokemon. I have worked endlessly with Professor Oak and Kelly. I even got the opportunity, as Kelly did, to go to Johto and research the newly discovered Pokemon there. It's a shame that we had to return so soon. At the very least, Kelly and I received plenty of specimens for study; some of them we took for ourselves, some of them we put in the breeding center, some of them we just put in the reserve.

But what happens when a Pokemon researcher becomes dissatisfied with the work he's doing? What happens when he decides it's not enough?

Does he stay where he is and hope his hormones cool down?

Or does he return to the wild grasses in search of new adventures?*

He looked at another wall-mounted coat hanger, this one holding his empty capture ball belt. He'd hung that thing up the day he got here, and he'd put his Pokemon in the reserve where they'd be free and happy.

Jason continued to wonder what he should do. *I remember Elm saying he didn't like being here either. He took the opportunity to go to Johto as soon as he could, and he set up a lab of his own there. Now he's a professor of Pokemon research himself. That was his way of dealing with it.

But I don't want to become a professor of Pokemon research.

What does that leave me with? Assistant and trainer?*

Someone knocked on the door. Jason wheeled himself clear of it and called out, "It's open."

Kelly walked inside.

He looked up at her. She was more beautiful than ever. The smile on her face brightened his day instantly.

"Hey," he said. He checked his watch. "I'm not late for work, am I?"

"No. You feeling all right?" she asked.

"Sure. Why?"

"Because you've got your lab coat on your lap and your name tag is attached to your finger."

He looked down at the tag and sighed. "I've just been thinking, that's all."

"About what?" Kelly sat on the bed.

Jason shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he himself was going to say. "I don't think I've been happy working here."

"No?"

"No. Ever since Ash left on his journey, I've been dreaming about mine. And I've been asking myself, 'If not Pokemon research, then what? Train?' And you know what? I can't even answer myself."

Kelly leaned forward. "I thought you'd be finished with training after your journey. You ended it on such a high note."

"That's what I thought, too. But that was four years ago. Times change. And I've come to realize that even though what we're doing here is worthwhile, I don't like doing it. It doesn't have that same attraction." Jason shook his head. "Maybe I'll train, maybe I won't. But I can't hang around here much longer without going berserk. I'll work until the end of the month, then I'm handing in my resignation, either way."

Kelly frowned. "And just exactly what do you think you'll do if you don't train?"

Jason shrugged. "Wander around Johto. They've got at least sixty species of Pokemon that they're finally ready to show, and there might be a whole lot more running around out there. Maybe I'll go chasing after those rarer Pokemon, the ones we haven't seen yet. I'll catalogue them and send my findings in to Professor Oak or Professor Elm."

She shook her head. "I still see that as research."

"It's a different kind of research, a kind that won't have me restricted to a converted warehouse for the rest of my life."

"The rest of your life? Jason, you've still got your whole life ahead of you."

"And if I spend all of it here, I'll never reach my potential. Kelly, I have to leave here."

Kelly looked at the floor. "For eleven years, you grew up alongside Pokemon. For another three, you trained them to the best of your ability and theirs. Four years ago, you dedicated yourself to the life of a Pokemon researcher. Isn't being a resarcher enough?"

Jason shook his head. "It never will be. I can never escape the world of Pokemon, not after spending my entire life engulfed in it. And the life of a researcher isn't the life for me."

"And if you decide to train?"

Jason spread his hands. "Then I'll train."

She paused for a moment. "And you'd leave me behind?"

He frowned. "You want to stay here?"

"I like it here. Professor Oak is one of the kindest people I've ever met. I don't want to leave, not after he's done this much for me. So would you leave me behind to pursue whatever fate you choose for yourself?"

"How can you expect me to answer that with conviction?"

"Answer me! Would you do it?"

Jason sighed heavily.

He nodded.

"And if you knew for a fact that we would never see each other again after you'd left, would you still go?"

He frowned. "What kind of a question is that?"

"Just answer it. Would you go if you knew we wouldn't see each other again?"

He sat back in his chair and sighed. "I don't know."

"Then you'd better find out before you think about leaving."

She got up and left the room.

He groaned. "Another day, indeed."

If he'd been looking forward to it before, he wasn't now.

***

It was September 29th.

One day before the end of the month.

One day before Jason was planning to resign.

And he still didn't have an answer for Kelly.

He sighed as his work day finally came to an end. It was early evening, and the sun was hanging low over the horizon. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky, and the Pokemon were loving it.

Jason wheeled himself to his room and just sat for a while. He didn't know what to do. Half a month of pondering hadn't helped him with an answer, and he began to wonder if pondering was the right thing to do.

*Maybe I should ask someone else. Question is, who do I ask?*

***

"Jason! Come right in."

Mrs. Ketchum had been working on her dinner. Dinner for one, it seemed to Jason, was so lonely. Yet he'd managed for well over a year with no company.

He wheeled himself into Mrs. Ketchum's modest home and made himself at home in the living room. She sat down on her couch, while Jason tried to find an unobtrusive position in front of her.

"To what do I owe the honor?" she asked.

He sighed. "I need someone to talk to, and Kelly isn't the one to do it with, nor is Professor Oak. And I need a two-sided conversation, so that rules out my Pokemon."

She spread her hands wide and smiled. "Well, here I am. So what do you want to talk about?"

He leaned forward as much as his fried lower vertebrae allowed, trying to make himself look as if he was saying something confidential. "I've been giving serious consideration to resuming my Pokemon training. And that means quitting my job at the lab."

"But you've done so well. You helped Professor Oak with that wonderful Pokedex invention; Ash got one of the first models. And you helped discover so many secrets about Pokemon already. Why leave the lab?"

He chuckled nervously. "Because I'm beginning to get claustrophobic. Ever since Ash left for his own journey, I've been thinking about my own. I've been thinking about the challenges I had along the way, thinking about how exhilarating it was to battle."

"I thought you were beginning to see it as boring, time-consuming."

"I was. That's why I came here; to get away from it. And I did. But now I'm beginning to realize that I've taken away from myself as much as I've given to the world because of my research, maybe even more. So I want to leave the lab."

"Well, I'm not going to stop you, and I doubt Professor Oak would either. He'd be disappointed, but..."

Jason sighed. "The one thing that *is* stopping me is Kelly. She doesn't want to go anywhere. When I told her, she asked me if I would go without her. I told her I would. But then she asked me if I would do it with the knowledge that we'd never see each other again."

Mrs. Ketchum frowned. "That's got to be a tough question. Why is she asking?"

"I don't know. She insisted I answer. I told her I didn't know. She said she wanted an answer if I was going to leave. And that was two weeks ago."

"And you still don't know."

Jason shook his head. "I'm as in the dark now as I was then."

"And you want my advice?"

"I just need someone to tell all this to. But if you're offering..."

She leaned forward. "The only advice I can give you is this: if the desire to be a trainer again truly burns inside you, then you should pursue it. Ash did, and I miss him dearly, but I don't think any less of him since I know he's out fulfilling his dream. But if you feel even the slightest bit of doubt, then don't go at all. It'll be too much of a heartache on both of you."

He thought about this for a moment, then nodded. "Thanks, Mrs. Ketchum."

She looked into his eyes. "You're going to do it, aren't you?"

He smiled mysteriously.

And he left.

He may not have given her an answer, but she knew what she had seen in his eyes.

She'd seen them burning.

Burning with determination.

Reflecting the heart of a trainer.

***

Jason was too nervous to approach Professor Oak directly with his resignation paper. So that morning, he slipped it into Oak's mailbox.

He hoped his mentor would understand.

When his work day ended, he headed back to his room for the last time and packed his things. He left personal belongings that he didn't want to carry with him in the room, and he locked the door on his way out.

When he got to the room where his capture balls resided, he found that Professor Oak was waiting for him there.

They watched each other for a time, neither of them making a move.

Finally, Oak broke the silence.

"Good luck," he said simply.

Jason smiled, wheeled over to his shelf, and selected the Pokemon he would take with him.

Gyarados.

Gengar.

Cyndaquil.

Mareep.

Phanpy.

Charizard.

Half were older, trained, and evolved.

Half were none of the above.

Jason left the room.

***

Kelly stood at the entrance of the lab, watching Jason wheel himself down the path.

*There's my answer,* she thought.

As she watched her companion pass beyond the horizon, a tear rolled down her cheek.

*Be well, my friend.*

***

Jason made his way to the nearby creek and began to follow it. He knew it would lead to Tohjo Falls. From there, he could make his way to New Bark Town, where he would hopefully begin training his new recruits.

And he would register for the Johto League there.

He was ready to take however long it would take.

*But can I do it alone?*

Jason Creight journeyed on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
24th September 2003, 06:44 AM
Jason Creight awoke on a warm spring morning at Tohjo Falls.

His first thought was, *Whoa, that was a weird dream.*

His second one was, *Man, now I have to get into the chair. Glad I've got Gengar.*

As his Gengar helped him into his wheelchair, Jason spotted Gyarados shooting out of the center of the waterfall like a giant blue torpedo. He grinned; he knew that Gyarados was happy to be in the water for such a long time.

Jason had chosen to forego the Johto League for the time being in order to train his new Pokemon. Gyarados and Gengar were his only original ones now. He had traded Charizard in a while ago and had, in return, received a recently captured Skarmory; quite a rare find for Jason, considering the fact that he was restricted to his wheelchair for the most part.

It served him well, however, and he couldn't ask for better from it.

In fact, he couldn't ask for better from the rest of his Pokemon, either. He had been surprised at the amount of experience his new Pokemon had gained. They had shown initiative from day one; they went out into the wild grasses, never straying far from their master, and engaged in furious battles with other Pokemon. They had almost always come out victorious, as well. Jason knew that they'd had their share of falls, but he knew that they learned from it and kept going.

And that was just fine with him.

His Cyndaquil had evolved into Quilava fairly quickly, as had Mareep to Flaaffy and Phanpy to Donphan; all of these were developments that made Jason feel rather proud of himself. His Pokemon were learning new moves that allowed them to become stronger in their techniques.

But not *too* proud. He knew very well that it had been their own initiative, not just his, that had allowed them to evolve so quickly. It seemed to him, in fact, that Quilava and Flaaffy were having a good-natured contest to see which one would evolve the fastest.

And then he saw it.

It was in the water.

Jason couldn't believe his eyes.

Right in front of him, its eyes staring at him across the water, was a Pokemon Jason had always hoped to capture. He'd known it was rare, but he'd wanted to capture it so badly.

And now it was in front of him.

It was a Dratini.

But it was red.

"What the..." Jason muttered, not daring to make a move.

The Dratini left the water.

Jason abruptly realized that the Dratini wasn't touching the ground. It was floating in midair.

*A red Dratini? Approaching me?!*

It was indeed floating towards him.

Jason was captivated by its stare. He didn't know whether it was using a power beyond his comprehension, or simply because he didn't want it to leave his sight for an instant.

*Maybe it's both,* he thought.

Its eyes blazed a vibrant, electric blue, but the look in them was one of innocence.

And of some sort of desire.

Jason dared not move.

Its face was now within an inch of his.

And it spoke to his mind.

It spoke with the simple vocabulary of a child.

[I know who you are. You helped my mother and father escape from a big cage a long time ago. They keep saying they can't repay you.]

It turned to Gyarados, who had also stopped dead in the water and was now listening to its thoughts. [You made the big fires. You tore the cages apart. My mother and father say they can't repay you, either.]

It turned back to Jason. [But now I only talk to my mother and father when they come with people like you. People with other Pokemon in strange orbs. People who move with those.]

It looked at Jason's legs. [But you can't move with those.] It looked back up into his eyes. [Mother and father have those, too. Four of them. And long tails, and wings. I wish I had wings.]

Jason was fixed to the spot. He had to force himself to think.

"Do you really want wings?" he asked, hoping it could understand him.

[Yes, I really want wings. I want to fly into the sky, to see the world from a whole new place.]

"What would you say if I told you I could help make your wish come true?"

The Dratini made no facial expression, but Jason could sense its skepticism and the unbridled joy underneath it. [You can give me wings?]

"No. Only you can give yourself wings."

[How?]

"I can't explain. It's hard to understand."

[Can you help me understand?]

"I think so. I hope so. If I try to help you understand, would you like to come with me?"

The question had come unbidden from his mind, but now it was out in the open.

Now the Dratini had a physical response. Its brow furrowed just the slightest bit. [Go with you? Where?]

"Anywhere. Everywhere. Places that seem like a whole new world."

The Dratini didn't respond.

Even as he began to wonder if he was losing it, Jason continued. "And I can help you get wings. You'll be able to fly, to see the world. From up there, and down here, too. Your wish can be fulfilled if you let me help you."

It stared unblinkingly. [And if I don't want to?]

"I won't force you to go if you don't want to."

There was silence for a few moments.

[Then I will go with you.]

***

Jason knew that for its own safety, as well as to show "possession," Dratini would need a capture ball. Jason's only stock was Poke balls, but that wasn't a problem. After Jason explained the process to Dratini, it entered the ball without resistance. Jason then used his new Pokedex to send Donphan back to the lab, thus ensuring that Dratini would not feel dragged all over the place while inside the ball.

Jason wondered how Gyarados felt about the entire thing. Dratini's special attacks and original home both involved water, as with Gyarados. Jason thought Gyarados might feel a little put off to the side, while its master got a new water type.

After the business with putting Dratini in the Poke ball was concluded, Jason turned to Gyarados. "No Pokemon can ever replace you. Never forget that. I'll need you more than ever, now. I need you to help Dratini learn about its potential. It wants wings, and the only way it'll get them is by evolving all the way to Dragonite. It's gonna be tough. Think you can handle it?"

It nodded and growled.

"Glad to hear it."

Just then, Jason heard a rustling in the foliage nearby. Gyarados turned toward it and frowned.

"Hello?" Jason called. "Someone there?"

There was no answer, from either a person or a Pokemon.

Jason wheeled himself to the other side of the path and peered into the foliage.

And he was suddenly, violently knocked out of his wheelchair. He went sprawling and his chair tumbled to the ground a few feet away.

As he tried to recover, he noticed that a shadow was being cast on him.

A particularly large shadow.

He slowly moved his eyes upward.

Hovering above him was a Nidoking.

"Gyarados," he muttered, "a little help here?"

A multicolored energy blast boiled out of Gyarados' mouth and took the Nidoking in the shoulder. It hit the dirt and almost landed on top of Jason.

Jason's hand flashed to his capture ball belt. "Gengar and Quilava, help me out!"

As soon as Quilava's energy form solidified into its physical one, it blasted the Nidoking with its flame wheel attack. It wasn't enough to knock it out, but it certainly was painful. Nidoking got to its feet and gave ground as Gyarados came out of the water to aid Quilava.

Gengar, meanwhile, helped Jason back into his wheelchair.

"Thanks, Gengar. Now go help Gyarados and Quilava scare that Nidoking off."

But as soon as those words were out, Jason began to think about what he'd just said. *I wonder why I want it to be scared off. I have never, not once, seen a wild Nidoking. That one has to belong to someone.

The question is, did that someone instruct it to attack me?*

It didn't really matter, at any rate. Jason knew that he didn't want the Nidoking around; obviously, it hadn't taken a liking to him.

"Gyarados," he called, "dragon rage attack! Quilava, help Gyarados out with another flame wheel attack! Gengar, psybeam!"

The air around Nidoking crackled with the burning rage of Gyarados' and Quilava's combined attacks, along with Gengar's psybeam.

And Nidoking ran away.

Jason had been holding his breath; now he let it out with relief. He had been confident that his Pokemon would take it out, but he was still nervous.

*What could have caused a Nidoking to attack me like that? A trainer?

Could it possibly have been released by a trainer and attacked me in a rage?

Or is more to come than just that?*

He recalled his four Pokemon and wheeled away from Tohjo Falls.

*I don't think it's safe to stick around anymore. Time to go to familiar territory.*

***

Three shadowy figures crouched in the dark, dense foliage of Tohjo Falls.

Watching.

"He's heading for Viridian City."

"I can see that. How's Nidoking?"

"Pretty bad. I need to get him to a Pokemon center, quick."

"No, you don't. I've got a max revive in my pack."

"Oh. Thanks."

More leaves rustled.

"So, what do we do about him?"

"We follow him. But not too closely. If he finds out from his Pokemon that he's being followed, we'll never catch him."

"What are you talking about? He's in a wheelchair, for godsakes."

"He's got a flying Pokemon, a swimming Pokemon, and a psychic Pokemon to help him onto either one of those. For all we know, it can teleport. Just follow my lead, and stay quiet."

"Nidoking is my best Pokemon. If it can't take his Pokemon out, what makes you think yours can?"

"Sending Nidoking was just a test, to see which ones he's got. He's always changing his team. Now we've seen four of his six. We'll get him in all due time. But for now, we're moving out."

"Fine. Nidoking, return."

A brief light shone across from the waterfall.

But no one was there to watch.

***

Jason looked longingly down the path to Pallet Town. That was where so many memories resided, where he'd spent four years devoting himself to Pokemon as best he could, wheelchair-bound though he was. It was where people like Professor Oak and Mrs. Ketchum lived and made lives for themselves.

And it was where Kelly had chosen to stay.

He shook his head, trying to shake it off. *I can't think about her now. After that Nidoking, I should probably stay at a city for the night, and Viridian's closer. It's also more emotionally distant.*

And that was when he saw it.

It was a statue, gleaming in the evening light. It was distant, and down a different road, but Jason saw it now.

*I've never been on that road. Wonder why that statue's there?*

He resolved to find out. *I can make it to Viridian on Skarmory if I have to.*

***

"I thought he was going to Viridian. Why's he going there?"

"Maybe he can see the memorial."

"That's impossible! I thought we were the only ones with that kind of ranged sight!"

"He's been hanging with Pokemon all his life. I'm willing to bet he picked up a couple things from them."

"You know what I think?"

"No, I don't. Why don't you go ahead and tell me, even though I don't think I want to know?"

"I think he's going there to destroy the memorial, so there won't be any way anyone will remember!"

There was a low growl. "If he is, he'll regret it. Let's go. None of us moves on him 'til we figure out what he's up to."

***

Jason approached the statue. It was a statue of two people; one was a young boy, crying. The other was a middle-aged man standing over the boy with his hand on the boy's shoulder. The statue was carved out of black marble and polished to perfection.

Inset into the base was a small brass plaque, also polished to a shine.

*In Remembrance of the Tragedy of Tirenza*

Jason raised one eyebrow. *What was the tragedy of Tirenza?*

He sat and contemplated the image.

Inspiration struck him a few moments later. He took out his Pokedex, opened it, and ordered, "Open history files. Search subject: Tirenza."

It responded a moment later. "Tirenza. Formerly a peaceful town between Viridian City and Fuschia City, it perished in a wildfire six years, two months, and five days ago. Files indicate four survivors out of a population of approximately two thousand."

"And here's one of them!"

Jason's eyes shot upward in the direction of the voice.

A Charizard was flying overhead, and a boy slightly younger than him was mounted on its back. The boy was wearing black clothes, had dark blond hair, and a sour expression.

"Oh, yeah, and the wildfire?" he sneered. "It looked a lot like this!"

On cue, the Charizard opened its mouth and spewed a stream of flame towards Jason.

He just barely managed to avoid it by wheeling himself out of the way. He pulled out Gyarados' Poke ball and tossed it, shouting its order before it had even materialized. "Gyarados, hydro pump!"

The instant it emerged, Gyarados followed Jason's order with a vicious spray of water aimed straight at the Charizard's tail.

The boy's expression turned from one of sadistic smugness to horror as he realized where the water was heading. By the time he thought of a defensive maneuver for Charizard to act on, it was too late; he and his Charizard were both dropping out of the sky like rocks.

Then they disappeared in a blinding flash of light.

Jason frowned. *They must have teleported. But he didn't have a psychic Pokemon active, and unless he's a powerful psychic himself, he couldn't have done it. And why bother attacking me with force when he could have attacked with his mind, if he were psychic?

Someone bailed him out.

But who?*

***

"That was sloppy."

"Sorry."

"Don't 'sorry' me. I said no one moves until we find out what he's doing, and what do you do? You go and get cocky. 'Oh, no, I don't have to follow his rules. I'll go flying up there with my Charizard's tail fully exposed so that his Gyarados has an even bigger chance of murdering it.' Don't you dare do that again."

There was silence for a few moments.

"As for you, make sure this teaches you a lesson. We need stealth right now, not a stupid show of force. It didn't work before, and it sure didn't work just now. Got that?"

"Loud and clear."

"Good. It looks like he's not going to do anything to the memorial; maybe he'll head back toward Viridian. Coward that he is, hiding behind Giovanni like that."

"He doesn't even know we're following him."

"He does now, thanks to your little tactic. I didn't want to see you die right in front of me, that's why I had Alakazam teleport you to safety. Oh, yeah, you cost us big time. Now let's get moving."

***

By the time Jason made it to Viridian, it was sundown, and the glow of the city lights made the sky orange. Jason wheeled down the sidewalk towards a local motel.

As he passed a dark alley, he heard a voice say, "Hey, kid!"

Jason stopped.

He saw a man wearing a black uniform, with a large red 'R' splashed across the chest. Standing next to him was a Raticate.

*Rocket grunt,* Jason thought. "What do you want?"

"I want all of your Pokemon. Now!"

Jason snorted and tossed three capture balls.

Out came Gengar, Quilava, and Skarmory.

"Think you can take these?" he sneered.

The grunt stumbled backward and ran down the alley, his Raticate at his heels.

Jason recalled his Pokemon and continued down the sidewalk.

*It's a shame, really. My Pokemon didn't get more experience.*

***

"He's heading for that motel. I'll go after him. You two go to different places and call me when you get there."

"Why do you get to go after him?"

"Because I'm the oldest, why else?"

***

After Jason had checked in and was in his room, he put the Do Not Disturb sign on his door and put all the locks to use. Then he brought Gengar out.

"Gonna need you to make sure no one tries to come in, all right?"

"Gengar."

"Good."

Jason turned out the light and tried to get some sleep.

***

It was midnight, long after Jason had lost consciousness.

Three figures stood outside the door to Jason's room.

"Shall we?"

"Yeah. Hypno, come on out."

A brief flash of light lit the hallway. No one was around to notice.

"Hypno, unlock the door, please."

***

Gengar was standing on the window sill, watching its master sleep. It was glad that Jason wasn't one to snore; this provided some silence so it could meditate.

And then it heard the locks being unlocked.

Gengar reached out with its considerable psychic abilities and discovered a Hypno was the cause. Not only that, but the Hypno was under orders from three people standing outside the door.

Gengar's mind raced. How could it warn its master of impending danger and keep the intruders out at the same time?

It shrugged.

And then it blasted the door down with a psybeam attack. The door came completely off its hinges and sheared away from the locks, slamming straight into the three intruders and their Hypno.

***

Jason was rudely awakened to the sound of rending metal and the sight of light flooding in. His head snapped up, and he saw Gengar in a battle stance at the foot of his bed. He also saw the door...

No, that was the doorway. He couldn't see the door.

"Gengar, what's going on?" he asked.

"We're what's going on," answered an unfamiliar voice.

Jason turned back to the door and saw three people stepping into the room. One of them tossed something towards him; the object landed on his bed.

Jason had no time to react.

The canister exploded, spewing smoke everywhere.

He scrambled out of his bed and tried to reach his wheelchair.

It wasn't where he'd left it.

"Looking for this?" a voice called.

He looked up and saw that one of the figures had taken the chair. The figure tossed it to the other side of the room, behind his two accomplices.

He groaned, grabbed his capture ball belt out from under his bed, and promptly tossed two balls. "Quilava and Flaaffy, a little help here!"

As soon as his Pokemon emerged, fire and lightning erupted from them and spewed to all corners of the room.

Jason was on the floor now, pulling himself with all his might toward the window. He was on the first floor, if he could just...

"Where do you think you're going?" yelled another voice.

Jason felt himself being dragged back toward the center of the room by his feet.

*I could really have used those right about now...*

He became vaguely aware that the sprinkler system had been activated by the fire now consuming the room, and water was pouring down on him, his attackers, and his Pokemon. He paid no attention, grabbed Quilava's empty Poke ball, sat up, and thrust the ball forward, hoping to hit his attacker through the dense smoke.

He felt a solid impact, and he heard a strangled "Agh!"

The attacker released him.

Jason turned back toward his goal and found the window. With Quilava's Poke ball in hand, he smashed it. Then he grabbed his shoe off the floor and cleared out the bottom ledge; he knew that he would be slashed otherwise. He then hauled himself across the air conditioning unit and stuck his body out the window.

His legs were being less cooperative. "Gengar, help me out here!"

Immediately, Gengar came to Jason's aid and dragged him the rest of the way out.

"Okay," Jason muttered, "let's get out of here."

He tossed Skarmory's Ultra ball, and out came the steel bird. Gengar assisted him onto Skarmory's back, and Jason turned back to the flaming motel room.

Quilava and Flaaffy were jumping out the window as well, intent on following their master.

There were no signs of pursuit.

"Quilava and Flaaffy, return!" Jason called. "Skarmory, let's get out of here. Gengar, get on!"

Skarmory took flight, not knowing where its master wanted it to go, but not caring one way or the other. It understood that they needed to leave immediately, and it did so.

***

The attackers were far away from the motel by the time the firefighters got there.

"Man, this really sucks."

"You're telling me. Hey, fearless leader, is there any other possible way your plan could have been blown?"

"Shut up," answered the leader. He turned to the younger one. "How's your head?"

"Well, let's see, it's got a knot the size of a Golem on the right temple, but other than that..."

The leader shook his head. "He was ready for us."

"Yeah, he was ready for us! You and your stupid Nidoking had to try and get the first strike in! Of course he's gonna guard himself! All you've done is tick him off!" yelled the older one.

"We did more than that."

"Oh, how stupid of me! We have his wheelchair. Well, how good is that! He can get another one, you know. With his bank account and his contacts, it wouldn't be all that difficult. You might have tried to get the wheelchair while he was in it, at the very least!"

"We'll get him. It's only a matter of time."

"Thank you so much, O fearless leader, for that statement. You are aware, ae you not, that the bad guys are usually the ones to say that? You don't consider yourself the bad guy, do you?"

"No, of course I don't. It was just a figure of speech. But we'll get him in time."

"Yeah, well, in case you hadn't noticed, time isn't exactly on our side! We've got exactly... 37 hours, 28 minutes and 29 seconds before the big kablooie!"

"Then we'd better get moving, hadn't we?"

The leader stood and his hand moved to his capture ball belt.

"No, you don't!"

Suddenly, six Pokemon appeared and surrounded the figures.

Alakazam.

Slowbro.

Gengar.

Jynx.

Gyarados.

And a red Dratini.

Jason was mounted on Gyarados' back.

"Alakazam, Slowbro, Gengar, and Jynx, take their Pokemon from them," he said, remorseless.

The capture ball belts of all three figures were ripped from their grasps.

"Now," said Jason, "you three seem to have a lot to answer for."

"Look who's talking," said the youngest one.

"The one who's talking is me, thank you," said Jason. "Who are you?"

"Our names aren't important," said the leader.

"They are to me," Jason responded. "I won't ask again."

"Very well. You can call me the Star Wolf. These are my brothers, the Flame Viper, and the Neo Blade."

Jason snorted. "This sounds like something out of a video game."

"This is no game. We are members of the Shadow clan."

Jason frowned. "You mean, the ninja clan that Koga founded?"

"The same."

"You're bound by a code of honor, then."

"We are."

"What honor is there in attacking an ally?"

"You're no ally."

"True enough. But there was a lot more of a chance of my becoming an ally of yours had you not bombed me in my sleep."

"There was no chance for it before, and there never will be."

"Why's that?"

"We don't consort with Giovanni or his scum."

Jason frowned again. "Giovanni? What makes you think I work for him?"

"Your father was the owner of a business that sold Pokemon to Giovanni. Giovanni lined his pockets, and yours, with money in return."

"You think I work for Giovanni because of what my father did?" Jason laughed. "You've got your lines crossed, Wolf. I hate the work my father did. And I hate Giovanni. If I never see the man again, it'll be too soon. I had to go battle that buzzard for a badge in the Indigo League, and I won, but he didn't give it to me 'til I almost killed him."

Wolf shrugged. "For all we know, it was a front."

"A front, eh? Yeah, right. There was one spectator. One. My girlfriend. And she doesn't like the man any more than I do. But that's not what I came here to discuss. Back to the main vein."

"Yes, by all means," Wolf responded dryly.

Jason ignored the comment. "If you didn't want to consort with such scum as me, why come all this way to attack me?"

"Assuming that you're not one of Giovanni's rats for the moment, I'll fill you in. Leader Koga's gym is in serious jeopardy. The gym was receiving large payments recently, payments that were helping the gym stay out of debt. Not knowing where the payments were coming from, Koga took the money and used it. For the most part, he used it wisely. But some of it was for frivolous use. Enough that we began to depend on it.

"Then the payments stopped coming. The gym was badly in debt, and Koga began losing to trainers in the Indigo League. He, and we, are about to be evicted from the gym. We discovered that the money was coming from Giovanni. Giovanni's wedged himself in tight enough now that when the clan is evicted, he'll take it over. He plans to destroy it and build a new one for his flunkies to train in."

Jason shook his head, trying to take all this in. "So what does all this have to do with me?"

"We knew that between your battles and your family's wealth, you had collected a considerable amount of money. We suspected that you were involved with Giovanni, perhaps heavily. Maybe even to the point where you would know where he hides when he's not in his gym. The goal was to get to you, force you to cooperate with us, and take us to Giovanni's hideout so that we could have a personal conversation with him and sort it out."

Jason shook his head again. "You're out of luck, Wolf. I have no information on Giovanni or where he goes. All I know is that he's associated with Team Rocket."

"That's all the information we have to go on, as well. Unfortunately, it seems that he's ordered his subordinates to go into hiding until the eviction."

"And when does the eviction take place?"

"In a day and a half." Wolf crossed his arms. "If you're not one of Giovanni's punks, how can you have such strong Pokemon?"

"I train them," Jason answered. He didn't like Wolf; the guy seemed to look down upon him, even from Jason's high perch on Gyarados.

"I see."

"I'm sure."

Jason suddenly remembered something. Something vital.

"I can help you," he said. "I think I know where you can start your search."

"Where?"

"Not so fast. There's a price."

"Oh?" Wolf raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah. First off, I want my wheelchair back. You'd better have it."

Wolf turned to his youngest brother. "Viper?"

Viper sighed and said, "Your wheelchair is just down the hill there."

"Fine," said Jason, "go get it. Gengar, go with him."

Wolf turned back to Jason. "The information."

"Hold on. I want to get Giovanni back just as much as you do. He's done a lot of bad things to good people. He needs to be punished."

"That's why we're here, in case you hadn't noticed."

"If your Pokemon could bow to mine so easily, what makes you think you'll do any better against Giovanni?"

Wolf glared at Jason. He didn't like Jason any more than Jason liked him. "The plan is to catch him off guard."

"Like you caught me off guard back at the motel?"

Viper and Gengar returned with the wheelchair.

Jason pointed his finger at Wolf. "I'm coming along with you guys, whether you like it or not. And I'll prove to you that Giovanni and I have lost no love for each other since I worked for my father."

Wolf sighed, exasperated. "Very well. But when the time comes to make Giovanni pay for his crimes, you're not going to stand in our way."

"You're not going to stand in *my* way," Jason responded.

"We'll see," Wolf growled. "We'll see."

Jason Creight glared on.

To Be Continued


=================================

i may stop posting soon for a couple of weeks; exams coming up

Dragon_Knight
25th September 2003, 06:52 AM
Jason Creight awoke to the sound of the train stopping.

"Nuts," he muttered.

*Time to get to work. Too bad; I could've used the sleep.*

He looked over at the other bed in his room and saw that his roommate was already up and about.

"Good sleep, Creight?" Viper asked.

"Not really," Jason answered. "You?"

"Didn't sleep a wink," the young Shadow clan trainee responded, pulling his backpack over his shoulders. "After hearing about this kind of thing, I don't know how you could possibly sleep."

"Maybe because Koga's gym isn't my home," Jason replied. "No offense."

"None taken. But we're disembarking soon; you'll need your Gengar."

"Yeah, thanks." Jason pulled his capture ball belt off the hangar rack next to his cot-like bed, removed Gengar's ball, and opened it in his hand. "Come on out, Gengar."

The train's destination was Lavender Town. It was on its route around Kanto and Johto; it had several stopping points, and one of them happened to be just west of Lavender Town.

And Jason thought back to why they had come here.

***

After encountering each other, Jason and the Shadows returned to Viridian City.

"You'd better be right about your information," said Wolf.

"I've got no reason to lie to you. I already told you I don't like Giovanni, much less work for him," Jason responded.

"I think that's still up for debate. We'll see about your true motives soon enough."

"I'm showing you my motives, Wolf. Whether you want to believe it or not is your business. But think about this. Why would I lead you on to a place you'd most likely go anyway? I mean, Viridian's bound to have someone from Team Rocket inhabiting its streets, wouldn't you think?"

"You were sneaky enough to evade the police on many occasions, and then lead them into arrests of other parties. Maybe you've still got a grudge against us about the incident at the motel."

Jason turned to look at Wolf and stopped his wheelchair. "I do have a grudge, but at the very least, I'm willing to work with you. Now, let's settle this. You got a problem?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," Wolf answered. "Your family has a background in evildoing. I don't trust you any more than I trust Giovanni. And to be perfectly honest, I don't like you much, either."

"The feeling's mutual," said Jason. "You've been looking down on me ever since we met. Either there's more that you hate about me that you're willing to admit, or you've got a serious superiority complex."

Wolf's eyes flashed, but he didn't respond.

"My turn. If you had bothered to check around instead of arrogantly assuming that I must be working for that oily-haired jackal, you would have found that I want nothing to do with him. You could have done something as simple as take your investigation to Pallet Town and asked anyone there about me. They would have told you the truth, and about my motives. You might have found yourself an ally who liked you a whole lot more than he does right now. In my eyes, coming after me as quickly as you did makes you nothing more than an airheaded wannabe hero."

"Maybe. But at least this airheaded wannabe hero can walk. As opposed to the airheaded wannabe hero sitting in front of me."

Jason permitted himself no reaction outwardly. Inside, he was fuming. He didn't know what Wolf wanted from him, but Jason knew he'd never be able to show it to him in either of their lifetimes.

He turned back toward the walk and started moving again.

*There's as much love lost between me and Wolf as there is between me and Giovanni.*

***

The Rocket grunt was feeling down in the dumps tonight. After all, all he had was his Raticate. And, truth be told, it could be smacked down by just about any of the wild Pokemon out there. And after that little attempt at stealing that cripple's Pokemon had gone awry, he knew it couldn't get much worse than this.

*What I wouldn't give for a little action,* he thought.

And suddenly, he found himself floating five feet off the ground.

He gave a short, sharp bark of a scream, and looked for something to grab onto.

But there wasn't anything within reach.

He looked down...

And saw four kids looking up at him.

One of them had his palms open and pointed in his direction.

*He's psychic!* the grunt thought, panicking. *What did I do this time?!*

"We want to ask you a few questions," said Neo.

"Let me down!" the grunt yelled. "Let me down!"

"Will you answer my questions?"

"Yeah! Anything!"

"Who do you get your orders from?"

"Some executive! I don't know her name!"

"Where is she located?"

"Lavender Town! Somewhere in the radio tower! I think the basement! That's all I know!"

And he abruptly fell to the ground.

His head knocked against the alley wall.

He lost consciousness.

***

Jason stared at Wolf, amazed. *If I'd known he could do that, I'd never have argued with him. That explains how I was knocked over at Tohjo Falls.*

Wolf, for his part, was showing slight signs of strain on his face. *Maybe he doesn't do that all that often. Either that, or the guy had too many tacos tonight.*

Jason noticed that, not surprisingly, Neo and Viper were not the slightest bit outwardly impressed with this. He decided they must have seen it a lot during their travels.

"Think he was telling the truth?" he asked.

"Yeah. He was too freaked out not to have," said Wolf.

"You're sure?"

"Reasonably. Grunts are weak-minded. They'll rat out anyone, given enough time."

"Let's hope your confidence is justified."

Wolf scoffed. "Let's go. We're finished here."

***

That was how they'd ended up in Lavender Town.

Jason hoped that they wouldn't run into much trouble while in the building.

According to Wolf, the plan was for the Shadow boys to go in and split up once they got downstairs. Jason would hang around outside the building just in case the exec tried to escape.

*If there was any doubt that Wolf didn't like me, it's gone now,* Jason thought. *On the other hand, it makes sense for me to stay outside. It's not as if access to a Rocket base would be easy for someone in a wheelchair.*

The Shadows and Jason made their way to the radio tower. It wasn't a long trek; the tower was only a couple hundred yards away. As they approached the doors, Jason brought his wheelchair to a halt. "This is my stop."

"So it is," said Wolf. "It may be best if you get on your Skarmory and take to the air. If the exec tries to escape, she might do so from any part of the building, and obviously you can't see all of it when you're parked on the ground. Neither can you chase her down in a wheelchair."

"True," said Jason, trying to ignore the contempt in Wolf's last comment.

The Shadows entered the building.

***

As the Shadows made their way through the building, Viper turned to Wolf and said, "Jason's right. You have a serious problem with him, and whatever it is, it isn't helping us be a team."

"My problem with him is none of your concern."

"It is when it keeps us from being able to work together effectively."

Wolf and Viper stared each other down for a moment.

Finally, Wolf said, "We need to concentrate on finding the exec."

"Oh, yeah," said Viper, "avoiding it is really gonna help."

Wolf glared at his younger brother. "Now, you listen to me. I do indeed have a problem with him, and I will take it up with him in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I would advise you to keep the mission in mind for the duration."

"Fine."

As the Shadows continued down the hall, Neo spotted a computer lab on the left side. "Hey, what about using those to find the exec?"

Wolf snorted. "You think Team Rocket's database is in a computer lab on the upper levels?"

"No, but if we used my Porygon, it could track transmissions from the exec's computer and find out where she is."

Wolf considered for a moment. "Good idea. Do it."

***

Jason was beginning to feel eminently bored, even though flying around on his Pokemon was as fun as ever. What was there to do, when there was no one escaping?

*Besides,* he thought, *if they truly are part of the Shadow clan, they should be able to reach the exec without an alarm being raised.*

***

"Looks like Porygon found something." Neo sat down at the terminal.

"What have we got?" Viper asked.

"It says here that a transmission is being sent from one of the computers in the sub-basement to Viridian City."

"Can Porygon open up the channel for us?" asked Wolf.

"It's trying, but the transmission is heavily encrypted."

"Then use the line to get into the computer on this end."

"Good idea."

Even as Neo was typing in the instructions, Porygon was already moving through cyberspace to comply.

***

"They wanted what?!"

"They wanted to know who I took my orders from."

"And you told them?!"

"I was freaked out! One of them was psychic! He took the information from me!"

"This compromises our whole operation! The boss gave us strict instructions! He told us, and we told you, that all members of Team Rocket need to go into hiding for the time being, and here you go and blow the entire thing! What if those kids come looking for me?!"

"It's not my problem anymore, lady."

"I promise you that you will pay for this!"

The screen was deactivated, leaving the disgruntled Rocket exec in the darkness of the sub-basement.

And then the screen reactivated.

"What?" The exec looked up at the screen, confused. "Damn computer; that's the fourth time this week it's had problems."

But this was no ordinary problem brought on by malfunction. The exec's heart skipped a beat when an image came to life on the screen.

The image of a Porygon.

Then a warning flashed across the screen. "Virus Detected!"

A second warning flashed. "Intruder Alert!"

And to top it off, a nearby voice said, "Vileplume, sleep powder."

That was the last thing the exec heard before dropping into the ether of unconsciousness.

***

When she came to, the exec discovered that she was in a room even darker than the one her terminal was siuated in. She'd been bound to a chair, and in front of her stood three dark figures wearing black cloaks. Hoods concealed their identities, but they were undubtedly the ones who had done this to her.

"We're going to play a simple game," said Wolf. "I will ask you a question, and you will answer it."

"Let me out of here, you little brats!" snarled the exec. She struggled against her bonds.

"Such an attitude. Vileplume, stun spore."

Immediately, the exec's limbs all turned to jelly. She couldn't budge.

"Now, are you willing to play or not?"

"I'll never rat out the boss!"

"Oh, we know who your boss is," said Wolf. "It wasn't too hard for us to figure it out. But we want to know where he goes when he's not in his gym."

"You think I know this stuff?" the exec snorted. "The only one who would know that is the boss himself."

As if on cue, the computer terminal began to bleep.

"Not neccessarily true," said Neo, as he went to investigate. He sat down at the terminal, cracked his knuckles, and watched the screen. He grinned a moment later, though it couldn't be seen through the depths of his hood. "Looks like you won't have to play Twenty Questions after all. I've got what we need."

"Good. In that case, give her another shot of sleep powder, Vileplume."

The exec dropped off again.

Wolf reached into the closet the Shadows had stored her in and grabbed a spool of tape.

A few moments later, the Shadows left, and the exec was locked in the closet, incapable of speech.

"So where does he go?" asked Wolf.

"Whirlpool Islands," said Neo. "He enjoys catching some rays, apparently."

"Direct contrast to us," Wolf noted.

"Yup." Neo rolled up his sleeve and checked his watch. "We've got 28 hours before Koga's gym goes up in smoke. Hopefully, we'll have Giovanni convinced with time to spare."

"We'll see about that," said Wolf. "Right now, we ought to get going."

***

Jason saw the Shadows exit the building with considerably enlightened looks on their faces. "Skarmory, take us down."

As soon as Skarmory was within earshot of the boys, Wolf looked up and shouted, "Whirlpool Islands!"

Jason nodded, then said, "Skarmory, take us there!"

***

He was relaxing on the beach. There was nothing he enjoyed more than kicking back and relaxing, especially on a bright day like this. Though he couldn't deny the comfort of darkness, he also couldn't deny the comfort of the warmth the sun gave him.

And then a shadow passed overhead.

Two shadows, in fact.

He looked up through the tint of his sunglasses...

And saw two gigantic flying Pokemon hovering overhead.

One was some sort of metallic bird-like Pokemon that he didn't recognize. *Hah! Some sun and a rare Pokemon! What could be better?*

And then he recognized the other one.

It was a Dragonite.

He grinned. *It's a dream come true!*

And then he saw that there were people mounted on them.

A huge gust picked up all around him. He was sent flying from his seat.

As he recovered from the wind, he watched as three people approached him on foot, while the fourth stayed mounted on his Pokemon and led it to him.

The three figures were impossible to identify because they wore black cloaks and hoods.

He couldn't see the other one, either, because the shine of the sun off that Pokemon was overwhelming for his eyes.

None of them spoke.

Finally, he chuckled and said, "This beach is taken. Sorry."

"You'll be a lot more sorry when we're through with you," responded the figure in the center.

"Is that so?" He raised an eyebrow. Then he called, "Guards! Attack!"

When nothing happened, he frowned. "Guards!"

"I'm afraid your guards are incapacitated," said the figure.

"And what, precisely, do you want from me?" asked Giovanni.

"You will release ownership of the Fuschia City gym back to Gym Leader Koga and pay his debts in full. And you will cancel your order to destroy that gym."

Giovanni grinned. "I see. You must be members of his revered Shadow clan."

The figure didn't reply.

Giovanni stood up and approached the trio.

The leader whipped out a sword from the depths of his cloak. The light of the sun glinted off it.

"I would advise you not take another step if you don't want yourself run through."

Giovanni chuckled again. "Go ahead. Another will take my place. And my replacement will have control of the entire organization."

"Then we will negotiate with your replacement."

"There will be no negotiating with fake ninjas." Giovanni's voice had hardened. "I am not interested in your ultimatums. Likewise, I am not interested in performing the tasks you want me to perform."

The trio remained absolutely still, and absolutely quiet. The sword remained pointed straight at Giovanni's chest.

"What if I were to tell you that the Fuschia City gym is not the only one at stake?" he asked. "What if I were to tell you that the scope is much wider than just your precious gym?"

There was no response. *Like talking to a wall,* Giovanni thought.

"What if I were to tell you that other gyms in Kanto have already accepted their fates?"

"Then I would tell you to release ownership of those gyms to their original gym leaders, as well," said the center figure.

"And what if I told you, once again, that I will do nothing of the sort?"

It wasn't the center figure who responded.

"Then I would bet you five thousand credits that you're still afraid of heights."

Giovanni found himself being wrenched off the ground by steel clamps boring into his bare shoulders.

He looked down...

And saw the ground thousands of feet below him.

He began to scream.

"That's right, Giovanni!" Jason shouted. "Five thousand credits! Hope you got it on you, 'cause I want payment up front!"

Giovanni continued to scream.

"And if you don't have it with you, that's all right! It's five thousand more every day you don't give it to me! Interest, you see!"

Skarmory released Giovanni.

The crime boss began his long fall.

Skarmory dive-bombed back to the ground, and Jason said to the Shadows, "I've had my fun with him now."

Giovanni continued to fall.

Wolf looked up at him. "Think we should catch him?"

"Nah," said Neo. "Let him go splat."

"I think you should catch him," said Viper. "But only when he's an inch off the ground."

"Okay, then," said Wolf. "Which one of us gets to do it?"

"You do, of course," said Viper. "It hit you the hardest."

"And that makes me want to save his life? You've gotta be kidding me."

Giovanni was only a thousand feet from the ground now.

"Fine, fine," said Viper. "I'll do it. then you can do whatever you want. But at least I'm doing what's right."

"What's right isn't always what's fun," said Neo.

"Don't I know it. Kadabra, come on out and catch Giovanni."

As soon as Kadabra materialized, it used its psychic powers as a net for Giovanni.

"Deja vu," Jason muttered, as Giovanni hit the net.

"What do you mean, deja vu?" asked Neo. "You did this before?"

"Remember when I told you I almost killed him to get the Earth badge? Well, this was how. Only it was a much shorter fall."

"Hmm. Maybe you should've taken it outside."

"Probably. But it was fun anyway."

Viper and Neo snorted at this remark, but Wolf permitted no reaction. Grudgingly, he rather liked the solution that Jason had used.

He didn't want Giovanni to live.

The man didn't deserve it.

Wolf thought Jason had been plotting to do Giovanni in himself, without anyone else.

That was why Wolf hated Jason.

He hated Jason's confidence in himself and his Pokemon. He hated the fact that he and Jason had the same goal.

He hated the fact that the visualized end result of achieving their goal was the same.

Giovanni only had one life.

Wolf had felt it his duty to hear Giovanni's last breath.

That duty was for no one else.

Not Jason.

Not even his own brothers.

Just him.

He approached Giovanni and pulled out his sword again.

Giovanni stared up at him, dazed and confused.

"Does the name Tirenza mean anything to you, you heartless coward?" Wolf barked.

Giovanni grinned. "Of course it does. My favorite test site. It was a shame, wasn't it? So many good buildings were destroyed. But that's life, isn't it?"

"That experiment of yours cost more than you'll ever know. And it'll cost you your life now." Wolf put his hood back. "And this is the face of your judge, jury, and executioner."

"I see. You three must be the weaklings I told... *it*... to get rid of. A pity it did not do so. Another mistake that needs to be rectified."

Wolf roared. "*I'm going to kill you!*"

"Kadabra, stop him!"

The sword was psychically ripped from Wolf's hands.

Wolf turned around and glared at his brother. "Don't you dare take the opportunity away from me now!"

Viper didn't back down. "I'll take the opportunity away from you when I please! Killing him isn't the answer, and you know it!"

"Tommy, we're so close! We can't let him slip through our fingers now!" Wolf pleaded.

"No, Peter. This is where I hold the line."

"You want to do it as much as I do! You lost the same family, the same friends!"

Jason didn't understand the back and forth of the brothers. "What are they talking about?"

"Can't talk about it now," said Neo.

"You've gone insane, Peter," said Viper. "I know what he did hurt you. It hurt all of us. You think it's easy for me to tell my Kadabra to help save Giovanni's life?"

Wolf shoved a finger in Giovanni's direction. "He doesn't deserve to live!"

"No, he doesn't. And you don't deserve to kill him."

Giovanni was beginning to stir.

"Kadabra, use hypnosis," said Viper. "Convince him to perform the tasks we've requested, and make him forget any of this ever happened."

Kadabra, with a spoon in one hand and Wolf's sword in the other, complied.

Giovanni fell asleep.

"That's the end of it, Peter," said Viper. "We're finished with him now. You want to kill him, then don't do it on my watch."

Wolf ground his teeth.

Then he rushed Viper.

"Kadabra, hypnosis again!"

Before Wolf was even close, he hit the ground.

He was asleep.

Viper turned to Jason. "Under the circumstances, I think it might be best if we relocated to a place where Giovanni isn't snoring his head off."

"Good idea."

***

Three days after Jason and the Shadows had returned to Fuschia City, Wolf finally awakened from the hypnosis he'd been put under.

The first thing he did was mentally cuss Viper out for stopping him when he had the chance.

The second thing he did was realize that it may have been for the best.

He opened his eyes.

Viper, Neo, and Jason were looking down at him.

"How you feeling?" Viper asked.

"I'm still mad," said Wolf. "But did Kadabra's hypnosis work on Giovanni as well as it did on me?"

"Sure did. Giovanni's donations have pulled all of the Kanto gyms out of their debts, and he's returned ownership to their respective gym leaders."

"Boy, that must've cost him a pocketful."

"Oh, yeah. He'll be reeling for some time."

Wolf sat up. "Koga around?"

"He's teaching a class."

"Then I guess all is back to normal."

Viper's face contorted in a reluctant fashion. "Well... not quite."

"Oh?" Wolf raised an eyebrow.

"I'm planning to go with Jason."

Wolf contemplated this for a moment. "Okay. Why?"

"Because you're always saying I should learn from other people how to train my Pokemon. I've been hanging around you two so much that I'm not really learning anything. This is the perfect opportunity. Besides, I think that it may be more difficult having the guy who stopped you from doing what you wanted to do so badly hanging around you for much longer."

Wolf nodded, understanding his brother. He didn't know if he would actually mind having the kid around, but he realized that Viper was right. It *was* the perfect opportunity.

And, Wolf realized, Viper could learn a lot from Jason.

All three of them knew Jason's reputation as a trainer.

"All right, then," said Wolf. "When are you leaving?"

"Anytime he's ready," said Jason.

"And, uh, I'm already packed," said Viper.

"Well, in that case, you'd better hit the road. There's a lot of opportunity waiting for you out there."

Wolf got off the cot.

He and Viper embraced each other.

"Take care out there, all right?" said Wolf.

"You can count on it."

When the brothers pulled away, Wolf looked at Jason. He pointed at him. "You make sure he doesn't get into any trouble out there."

"I don't think that'll be hard," Jason answered, grinning. "Does this mean you don't hate me anymore?"

"I suppose so. Doesn't mean I like you, though." Wolf offered his hand.

Jason shook it. "Well, then, I'll be waiting for that day."

Jason and Viper left the building.

The wheelchair-bound trainer looked to his new companion. "I heard you and your brother using real names. Yours is Tommy, huh?"

"Thomas, to be precise."

"Can I refer to you by your real name?"

"If you like."

"Yeah. And Wolf's real name is Peter?"

"Right."

"Then what's Neo's?"

"Jonathan."

The continued down the path.

After a few minutes, Jason said, "I've been meaning to ask you something. Since we're gonna be traveling together, this is as good a time as any."

Viper--no, Tommy--shrugged indifferently. "Go ahead."

"When you were arguing with Wolf, or Peter, or whatever his name is, you were talking about losing your family and friends. How?"

Tommy sighed. "You read the plaque on the Tirenza memorial, right?"

Jason frowned. "You were survivors of what happened there?"

"We sure were. The fourth one your Pokedex talked about was Koga. He's our uncle. So not only did we lose a mother, Koga lost a sister. He was heartbroken after that incident. So were we, but especially Peter, since he's the oldest."

"And what happened there?"

Tommy shook his head. "I'm not ready to talk about it, and I doubt you would believe me anyway."

"Oh, I don't know about that," said Jason. "My life has been filled with unbelievable occurrances. But I won't push it."

"Really? Anyone else I've known has tried," said Tommy, raising an eyebrow.

"Hey, I've had my own dirty little secrets, too, as you well know. I'm told that my Gyarados was not alone, after all, when it came to freeing the Pokemon from those cages. And that means you three all know about my past."

Tommy nodded. "Every single juicy bit."

"Then why attack me under the assumption that I was a Rocket associate, when you knew my intentions all along?"

"Peter didn't care. Whatever his problem is, it made him refuse to believe that your hands were completely clean of Giovanni and his antics." Tommy threw his arms up. "I know it sounds crazy, but until he comes up with another reasonable explanation, that's the only one I've got."

"Yeah, I've noticed that your brother has a hard time warming up to people."

Tommy waved his hand dismissively. "He'll get over it in time. But in the meantime, we've got some training to do, haven't we?"

"True enough."

With a new companion at his side...

Jason Creight moved on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
26th September 2003, 06:46 AM
fractal

(from Latin *fractus* "broken")

an irregular shape or surface produced by a procedure of repeated subdivision

Webster's Concise Encyclopedia

-------------------------------------------------

Jason Creight awoke in a cold sweat.

It was the dream that had awakened him.

That same, horrifying dream.

He'd not seen any video footage of the incident, but it seemed so vivid in his mind that they might as well not have shown any videos anyway.

Jason looked over at his bedside table.

2:14 in the morning.

He hit the light switch, and squinted thorugh the brightness of the light he'd activated. *Fraggin' lights are supposed to be a benefit, not a hindrance,* he thought.

And there, on his table, was the picture.

With one hand, he pushed himself into a sitting position. With the other, he reached out and picked up the picture. He was in it, seated in his wheelchair, as usual. He was wearing a white lab coat over a casual gray T- shirt and jeans.

Behind him stood one of the most prestigious men of all time: Professor Oak.

And standing next to him was the love of his life.

Kelly Shields.

A tear rolled down his cheek.

*I'm so sorry, Kelly...*

Jason buried his face in his pillow and cried.

***

The next morning, Jason took a shower, dressed, and made breakfast. When he was finished with his shower, he looked himself over in the mirror. His once light brown hair had now darkened. His eyes were still the same dark brown. He now sported a bristly mustache and goatee.

He couldn't help but think how much he looked like Daniel the last time they'd encountered each other.

As Jason made breakfast, it seemed to him as if it were the same old boring routine.

*But it's safer this way.*

He scoffed at the thought as he chewed his scrambled eggs. There once had been a time when he had no routine. He had relied on change, and he would never have accepted a routine.

*Things are different now.*

He looked out the window of his modest home. He saw small mounds of brown soil; once they had been of larger proportions, but time and rain had made them shrunken.

And seemingly insignificant.

Jason shook his head. *The soil may be insignificant, but what's under it is anything but.*

Below that soil lay the remains of the Pokemon that had died while under his wing. Pokemon that had died while defending him, while battling others, while fighting illness.

The net result was the same.

They were gone.

It had hit Jason especially hard when Gengar had died. It had helped him so much after the accident.

When it was time for Gengar to go, it had simply vanished. Slowly, until it was completely gone.

That was the day the pain became too great for Jason.

That was the day he'd officially been declared a Pokemon master.

And that was the day he released his Pokemon.

Most of them left because he ordered them to.

None of them had been willing to leave his side.

He'd become too much of an influence to them. He had become closer than a father, brother, or spouse. He was bonded with them in a way that, with the exception of respect-imparting trainers, humans could never fully understand.

Jason was now twenty-eight years old, and felt fifty-six. Perhaps even more. He had no wife, no children.

And he preferred it that way.

He preferred his solitude.

He did now, anyway.

He finished his breakfast and left the table.

*Time for me to pay respects.*

Jason walked out the door.

***

The statue was made of the same black marble the Tirenza memorial had been carved from. Pokemon had carved it; it was rumored that Koga's Pokemon were responsible for the exquisite work.

And indeed, the detail was stunning. The statue was of Professor Oak with his usual stoic expression, and it was accurate down to the last crease in his forehead.

Jason approached the statue and felt guilty as soon as he saw it in full detail.

He always felt guilty as soon as he saw it in full detail. He couldn't help it.

*It's my fault,* he thought. *All mine.*

He felt the breeze blow at his back, and he knew it wasn't a natural breeze.

"Hello, Dragonite," he said.

[Jason, why do you return to this place? It only brings you grief.]

Jason turned around and looked at his former Pokemon. This Dragonite, he knew, was different from all other existing Dragonites. The physical differences were obvious; first, instead of its usual orange coloration, its scales were a sparkling red. Another obvious difference was the glowing blue orb attached to its tail, an orb which ordinarily would be attached only to a Dragonair's tail. And finally, the wingspan was much larger than the average Dragonite's; the wings easily dwarfed those of an average Charizard.

But the most important difference, Jason believed, was the bond he had with it. Only Lance had a stronger bond with his Dragonite than Jason did with his own.

Even that had not stopped Jason, and his Dragonite, from defeating Lance.

But he had no time to think about that now.

"I come here," he responded aloud, "because I want to pay my respects to my friends."

[How can they acknowledge the respect if they are dead?]

"You know we believe in an afterlife, Dragonite. They can acknowledge it there." Jason sighed. "Why do you insist on remaining ignorant of such traditions when you see it wherever you go? Surely you've seen more death than I have."

[I have. I wish I had not.] Dragonite paused. [I see that Gyarados is not here this year. Is it not with us?]

Jason shook his head and tried to repress his tears. "It's been seven months."

[You have buried it?]

"In the backyard."

[So now your own home brings you as much grief as this place.]

"That was where it chose to lie down and die. So that was where I buried it."

[Do you not think it might have been buried at sea instead, where it first came from?]

"Dragonite, Gyarados and I were together for seventeen years. You know how much that time meant to me?"

[Even more, I surmise, than the time I spent with you.]

"I hope you don't take it offensively."

[I do not. It was a matter of emotional bonding deeper than ours.]

"Yeah." Jason looked down at his legs. His mobile legs. "The entire thing was my fault, you know."

[You have blamed yourself for ten years.]

"And I'm going to blame myself until I die."

[It is irrational.]

"It's also the truth. It's my fault."

[Why do you torture yourself so, when you know there was not anything you could do?]

Jason shook his finger at Dragonite. "No, you're wrong about that. If I had been there--if *we* had been there when it happened, they would still be here."

[So much confidence you still hold in your former Pokemon.]

"Hopefully, it isn't undeserved."

[We may yet find out.]

A spark lit in Jason's eyes. "You've found it?"

[I saw it briefly.]

"Where?"

[I encountered it while flying near the Orange Islands. It was in the clouds. I could not maintain eye contact long enough to touch its mind, however.]

"And it didn't simply vanish?"

[I did not see it leave the time stream. However, it was moving too quickly for me to keep up. Perhaps it stayed within the stream only while I was able to watch it.]

"The fact that it's in this timeline at all means we may have a chance."

[The odds that either of us will ever see it again are astronomically against us.]

"Then we'll have to beat the odds."

[It may already know what we're planning.]

"If that's true, then it had to have encountered us at some point in the future. Which means we have a chance. Will you please take me there?"

[Very well. I do this only as a favor to my former master.]

Jason grinned and climbed onto Dragonite's back. "Onward and upward!"

And that was exactly the direction Dragonite went.

*We'll find it. I know we will.

Celebi, we're coming to find you.*

***

After four days of endless searching, Jason and Dragonite's efforts had been fruitless.

Jason was losing hope.

Dragonite had already lost its own.

And that was the night he saw it.

Jason stared at it for a moment, wondering if it was real or an illusion.

It was a sparkling blue outline, the middle of it impossible to make out.

Jason's hand moved slowly to his Pokedex, beliving he knew what it was but thinking it was best to confirm his suspicions.

"Suicune. The Aurora Pokemon. Database nonexistent; information unavailable."

{You know who and what I am,} said a mental voice neither male nor female. {Just as I know who and what you are.}

"And you know what I'm searching for?"

{I do.}

Jason didn't know how to take this. "Can you help me?"

{I cannot. Only the Unown have the ability to call Celebi.}

"And will they use that ability, if requested to do so?"

{They can only be ordered to do so.}

"And who can order them to do it?"

{Only that one which psychically bonds with them. The Unown turn dreams to reality, fiction to non-fiction.}

Jason nodded. "I know. They've made a couple of my dreams come true. But nothing compared to what my ultimate dream is."

{I am aware of this. You wish to go back in time.}

"Yes, to save myself from all this."

{Many people have wished the same, and Celebi refuses to help them. Why do you believe yourself different?}

"If Celebi takes me back, I can save a hundred lives, even more."

{And you would allow yourself to be destroyed by your own actions?}

Jason knew what Suicune meant. If he did this--if he changed his own past-- his current self would no longer exist in this time stream. Only a parallel version. Maybe multiple parallel versions.

But not him.

He would, in a sense, die in order to save himself.

He nodded. "Absolutely. I won't have to experience the pain of losing them. I need to avoid this future at all costs. There could be so many unborn because of my actions."

{You blame yourself for the tragedy. Yet you refuse to believe it was not your fault. Time is fluid, Jason Creight. It brings unpredictability, something most of your kind cherish. Only Celebi knows the true secrets of time.}

"And that's why I need to contact it. Can you at least take me to the Unown?"

{The Unown have chosen Entei as their vessel for this generation. I can only take you to Entei. Whether it helps you or not is entirely up to it. I will have no more say in the matter.}

"Then take us to Entei."

***

[Suicune is moving too quickly for me to keep up. It is moving at my top speed, which I can only maintain for a few seconds.]

"I thought Dragonites were supposed to be the fastest flying Pokemon."

[We are. But we are not the fastest running Pokemon.]

"Isn't this the way to Azalea Town?"

[Azalea Town is nearby, yes. However, we are not going there.]

"Then where *are* we going?"

[The Ruins of Alph.]

***

When Dragonite finally alighted, it was too tired to continue.

[You must go without me.]

Jason shook his head. "I can't do that. You're my proof. If I speak to my past self, he won't know that I'm who I say I am unless I have a Pokemon I had when I was him."

[I was only a Dratini at that time, not a Dragonite.]

"Exactly. He needs to know the possibilities. He needs to know that he may conceivably have a full-blown Dragonite in his future. And you need to talk to your past self, too, and ensure it that you're real as well."

Dragonite took a deep breath, then released it. [Very well. But I cannot be pushed to these limits for much longer.]

Jason chuckled. "That's the first time I've heard you say that."

[I'm growing old. It goes with the territory.]

Jason grinned.

{If you wish to continue, we must waste no time.}

"We know. Dragonite is tired, however."

{Very well. I will attempt to locate Entei.}

But Suicune didn't move.

{Look there!} it exclaimed. {Entei approaches!}

Jason and Dragonite glanced in the direction Suicune was looking.

A blazing trail of fire was racing towards them.

The trail stopped right in front of them.

And in front of them was standing a magnificent Pokemon, looking for the world more like the mythical griffin than a dog. Ethereal ribbons flowing from its back quivered in the light breeze, and it stared at them with no expression on its face and no emotion in its eyes.

/Suicune, I understand you have been searching for me,\ said a rich baritone of a psychic voice.

{I have. More precisely, this human is the one who wished to speak with you.}

Entei looked down at Jason. /And what is it you wish of me, human?\

"I want to bond with the Unown."

/Why?\

"Because my dream is one only they can fulfill."

Entei searched Jason's face with its gargantuan eyes. /I know of you, human. You are a Pokemon trainer.\

"I am. Why's that important?"

/You have Unown. Why do you require wild, untrained Unown?\

"Because my Unown aren't enough. I don't have enough of them, and the ones I do have don't have enough power to call Celebi."

/You wish to call Celebi?\

"I do."

Entei nodded its massive head once. /You are right in believing that the Unown are the answer. However, they have the power to call across the time streams only once in their lifetimes.\

"If I can convince Celebi to help me and I pull off the plan I have, the Unown won't need the power to call it."

Entei frowned. /You understand the intricacies of time. This may determine whether Celebi will help you in your quest.\

"I hope so. Because at this point, I don't know if there's any going back. Hopefully, I won't ever be faced with this decision."

It nodded. /Then I will help you.\

***

Jason and Dragonite were led to a vast chamber deep under the Ruins of Alph.

The path had been one that was somewhat recognizable to Jason. He had traveled some of these caverns.

But none of them compared to this.

The chamber glowed vibrant hues of red and blue. Interlacing "veins" of the blue made a visible pulsing effect, an effect which unnerved both Jason and Dragonite.

And in the center of the chamber was a sight that Jason could barely take in.

A colossal glowing blue sphere of psychic energy lit the entire chamber.

Shadows were being cast on the walls of the chamber.

And the shadows existed because of the Unown.

Hundreds, if not thousands of them, were floating around the sphere in a precise pattern. They were in a sphere of their own,a three-dimensional n- gon that surrounded the psychic energy and spun erratically around it.

Their strange song not only landed on Jason's ears, but in his mind, as well.

He didn't even have words to express his amazement.

/In order to bond with the Unown, you must join with the psychic energy.\

Jason stared at Entei. "You mean I have to go into the energy?"

Entei nodded.

"And I assume that doing this is dangerous."

/Extremely.\

Jason scoffed. "Thanks a lot."

He approached the Unown sphere, hands outstretched. He didn't know if the Unown had defenses up around them, nor did he know if their spinning would cause them to collide with him and lose concentration.

He could only hope that neither of those was the case.

The Unown stopped spinning and held position, allowing him through.

Jason glanced over his shoulder.

Entei and Dragonite were watching intently.

He turned back to the psychic energy that now filled his vision.

He clenched his eyes shut.

He jumped inside.

***

[What if he doesn't make it?]

/Then he will cease to exist.\

[And if he ceases to exist, there will be no hope of avoiding this day.]

/Correct.\

[Is there nothing you or Suicune can do to tip the scales?]

/There is nothing we can do. Not even the Unown have the power to change Celebi's mind once it has made a decision.\

[Then I hope he can do what the Unown cannot.]

***

Echoes of the past and whispers of the future surrounded him.

He had no form.

But he had his soul.

And his soul had joined with the Unown in a way no one could understand.

He was with them.

He was one of them.

And he was himself.

All at the same time.

From this very place, he could project himself anywhere, any*when* he wished.

But he didn't have a body to manipulate his environment with.

He needed one.

And the only way to get his body back was to extricate himself from the Unown.

Entei couldn't do it.

Suicune couldn't do it.

Dragonite couldn't do it.

Only Celebi could.

And so he did the only thing he could.

***

It loved crossing the time streams. It loved the indescribable sensation it felt when it crossed the streams.

It was just about to cross into yet another timeline when it saw the disruption.

From its vantage point, it could see from the Orange Islands to Johto with relative ease. So when the disruption came, it had already been quite visible.

A giant, expanding indigo bubble of psychic energy was blasting outward in all directions from Johto.

It didn't like the disruption. It left the timeline and entered another one.

The disruption was still there, still expanding towards it.

It left the timeline again and passed through three more, all with the same result.

The wave washed over it, and it heard a cry within its mind.

And then it knew that it was being called.

It left the timeline again.

***

He had no eyes, but that was no impediment. Now that he was one with the pure energy that the Unown created and fed off of, he could see in all directions, as far out as he wanted to. He could sense what was in the hearts of people and Pokemon alike.

He could sense Dragonite's concern.

He could sense Entei's detachment.

But most of all...

He could sense his quarry coming.

It appeared directly in front of Dragonite and Entei, no less.

*Celebi, I've found you at last!* he thought with joy.

|It appears you have,| it responded. |Would you please tell me why you saw fit to disrupt the time fractal in order to call me?|

*I need you to help me go back in time.*

|I can't cater to the desires of every human on the planet who wishes to go back and change a few mistakes. You know that. So why do you believe I'll help you?|

*My mistake cost the lives of many people, some of which were very emotionally close to me. I want to go back so that I can save those lives.*

|You're willing to destroy your own timeline, and with it your life, in order to save dead humans?|

*Yes.*

|And you believe I would help you in this endeavor?|

*I wouldn't have called you had I thought otherwise. Ironic, isn't it? My intentions are to save myself, and in order to do that, I have to die.*

|You don't seem to have a lack of resources when it comes to time travel. Why call me, when the Unown can send you to any part of the fractal?|

*I need my body back.*

|I am not the most powerful psychic Pokemon on the planet. You should have called Mew.|

*Mew can't send me through time.*

|Neither can I, if you don't have a body. Yours is gone. It was destroyed as soon as you entered the sphere.|

*Then I'm dead?*

|In a sense, you are.|

*In that case, I'll just have to come back to life.*

Celebi sent waves of amusement. |You are rather stubborn, aren't you?|

*Sure am. I just happen to love trying to beat the odds.*

|Very well. There is a rather simple way for you to return to your body.|

*How?*

|Send your spirit into the past. The Unown have only the strength to project you a few minutes backwards, since they have used most of their energy to call me at your behest. Once you are there, send yourself into your own body.|

*Will you be there?*

|When you are finished, yes.|

***

Just as Jason was about to enter the sphere, he stopped.

He looked at his hands.

*I actually have hands now.

I did it.*

He stepped back from the sphere, turned around, and faced Dragonite and Entei.

/Do you not wish to enter?\ Entei asked.

"I already did," Jason answered.

He stepped away from the sphere and rejoined the two Pokemon. "This may be difficult to understand, but I'm not who I appear to be. I'm Jason Creight, but I'm not Jason Creight *now.* After I entered the sphere, I called to Celebi, who told me that my body was destroyed as soon as I entered. It told me that the only way to regain my body was to send my spirit into the past and take myself over. And that's what I did."

|And now that you have, the real work begins.|

Jason turned around and saw Celebi floating in the exact same position it had been in before.

Or was it after?

|I will help you, Jason Creight,| Celebi continued. |But I will only help you to a point. After we arrive at your destination, I will withdraw my assistance and leave you to do your work. I offer you one chance, and only one. If you fail, I will not help you again. I have other obligations I must attend to.|

"Other obligations?" Jason said. "For all I know, you've got a million companions you've been traveling with and you've been coming and going through time as you please, and they don't even know it! You're the ultimate fun-loving Pokemon, Celebi. you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. So why offer me only one chance?"

|Because if I offered you more than one, you would treat this entire endeavor as a game. It is not a game. It is real. And if you fail, it will remain real.|

He nodded. "Okay, then. Let's do this. Can you bring my Dragonite, as well?"

|Yes. I must again remind you, if you succeed in your quest, you will be destroying a significant section of the fractal, and yourselves with it. All that you see around you will never exist.|

Jason nodded again. "I understand."

|Then prepare yourselves.|

Jason breathed deeply.

He closed his eyes.

A great flash of light blinded him even with his eyes behind his eyelids.

Jason Creight time-traveled on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
28th September 2003, 07:31 AM
... Humans have a saying: "What is past is prologue."

(We) also have a saying: "What is past is also sometimes the future."

Babylon 5

---------------------------

Jason Creight awoke on the outskirts of Saffron City on a beautiful summer day.

He looked over toward his companion, Tommy, who was still sleeping. He grinned. *Ever since he came aboard, he's been sleeping more and more. Maybe at some point he won't get up at all.*

It had been two months since Tommy had chosen to go with Jason on his training. Jason thought the boy showed great potential; he was deeply in harmony with the Pokemon he used. Since neither of them had competed in a gym match since they'd become journeying companions, Jason didn't know how Tommy looked on the battlefield.

But Jason didn't need to know what Tommy was like on the field to know he had great potential.

Jason had been fascinated by Tommy's history; seemingly, it was almost as dark as his own. Tommy had confided in Jason a few of his secrets recently, and what Jason had heard had him riveted, almost as much as Kelly had been when Jason told her his own secrets.

"One day," Tommy had said, "we'd gone out to do some training, not too long after we received our first Pokemon. We each got three; they were gifts from Koga. They were the starter Pokemon that most trainers choose from: Charmander, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle. We'd go out, battle them with each other and with wild Pokemon, and generally bond with them so that we became inseparable.

"But this particular day was different from the others. When we came home, we found our hometown of Tirenza burning to the ground. Hundreds of people were burned alive, and more were brutally slaughtered by other means. We saw members of Team Rocket putting Pokemon to use in creating and sustaining the fires. Needless to say, we were horrified.

"We ran to our home and found it had been one of the first to burn. And nearby, standing in the midst of all that destruction, was Giovanni himself. I guess he was overseeing the entire thing, just to make sure it went smoothly. And it seemed he was satisfied. Near him was another Pokemon that none of us had ever seen before."

Tommy had shaken his head, still disbelieving even after all this time. "It was protected by metal armor covering most of its body. We couldn't see its face; it was hidden behind a helmet and visor. Giovanni told it to 'take care of those pathetic weaklings,' and he left. He said he was late for a conference.

"The Pokemon was psychic, whatever else it was. It asked us why we looked out for each other, why we didn't think as Giovanni did, why we didn't have the same outlook on life as Giovanni did. I guess it thought Giovanni was your model human.

"And then..."

Tommy had shaken his head again. "No, I can't talk about that yet."

"I understand," Jason had replied. "But I'm ready to listen whenever you're ready to tell."

"Much appreciated."

Jason wondered if he would ever hear the rest of what Tommy had to say. But he wasn't going to pry. He knew what having people pry was like, and he didn't wish anything of the sort on Tommy.

He unfolded his collapsible wheelchair, then pulled out a Poke ball and tossed it. "Gengar, help me into my chair, please."

The dark purple ghost Pokemon grinned at Jason, looking as if it enjoyed seeing Jason make the attempt himself.

*Well, two can play at that game.* "Fine, then I'll just capture a Misdreavus and send you back to Professor Oak."

"Gengar." It approached and lifted Jason into his chair.

Jason nodded. "Much better."

A bleeping emanating from Jason's vest pocket alerted him to someone calling him. He groaned. "Wish I'd remember that stupid PokeGear."

Since he and Tommy had become traveling companions, they had both purchased PokeGears in Saffron City. They figured it was for the best; not only did they have computerized maps, but they also had a built-in video phone and radio.

Jason pulled the PokeGear out of his pocket, strapped it to his left wrist, and activated the phone. "Hello?"

He was surprised to see Professor Oak on the other end of the line.

"Hello, there, Jason," he said. "You're looking well."

"I'm feeling pretty well, too," said Jason. "How's it going in Pallet Town?"

"Well, it's going. Can't say much more than that," said Oak.

Jason grinned. "There's a reason you're calling, I take it."

"Yes, there is. I was contacted this morning by a doctor at Saffron City General Hospital. This doctor was actually looking for you, but he doesn't have your Gear number and I felt it rude to give it to him without your say- so."

"Okay," said Jason cautiously. "And why was this doctor looking for me?"

"Because he believes he has a therapy that will make you walk again."

Jason's heart skipped a beat. "I thought my vertebrae were fused and fried by the shock, that nothing could activate the nerves again."

"That's what Dr. Morgan said, yes, but this other doctor, Dr. Kendrick, was very insistent. He claims to have developed a new treatment, and he wants to use you as the guniea pig."

Jason snorted. "Wonderful. Okay, so what's this 'brand-new treatment' involve?"

"I'm afraid you'd have to ask him. Do you want the hospital's number?"

"Sure."

Oak rattled off the number. Jason logged it into his PokeGear.

"Okay, got it."

"Good. I have to go now; Kelly's going to be mad if she doesn't have someone else to work with in there pretty soon. By the way, thanks for all the new Pokemon you're sending in. We're learning more and more about them every day."

"No problem. Talk to you later." Jason deactivated the phone.

*What could possibly allow me to walk again?* he wondered.

*And what if this treatment worked?*

He stared down at his legs. They were anorexic, the muscles nonexistent, because of disuse. *I'd have to have a whole lot of physical therapy after this, that's for sure.*

"Oak was serious, wasn't he?"

Jason's head snapped around, and he saw that Tommy had managed to change into day clothes and roll up his sleeping pad without being noticed at all.

Jason didn't react outwardly. He was still mentally surprised, but he chastised himself for that. He knew he should have figured out by now that Tommy could do almost anything in perfect silence, just as his brothers could.

Jason wished Daniel had had that capacity for silence. Unfortunately, as both he and Tommy knew, Daniel had never been able to keep quiet.

He nodded. "Looked like it. And it's right up our alley, too."

"What about that party that your friend Ash was going to have back in Pallet? I thought you said you wanted to go to that."

"Yeah," Jason sighed. "Well, we'll find out just how long this entire procedure will take, and then I'll make the decision."

He activated the vid phone again and dialed the hospital number.

"Saffron City General Hospital, may I help you?"

"I'm looking for a Dr. Kendrick. Is he available?"

"Yes, sir. One moment."

That one moment actually turned out to be more like three or four, but soon Jason's quarry was on the line. "Dr. Kendrick."

"Doctor, I'm Jason Creight. I've been informed that you wanted to speak to me."

Since Kendrick was not at a vid phone himself, Jason couldn't see him, but he could hear the way the doctor's voice suddenly became much more alert and... positive. Almost bouncy, even. "Ah, yes, I'm glad you called. As I'm sure your Professor Oak mentioned to you, I've devised a treatment which I believe can cure you of your paralysis."

"Yes, he told me. But how is that possible, when my nerves can't be revived?"

"Dr. Morgan may have been wrong on that point. The nerves in your spinal cord may have been paralyzed, but that does not automatically mean that the nerves in your legs were."

Jason shook his head, though the doctor couldn't see it. "The net result is the same; the nerves have to be dead by now."

"I believe that with our revolutionary cloning process, I can grow an entirely new spinal cord from your DNA and extract the bones and nerves needed to help you walk again."

Jason hesitated. "Wouldn't a surgery of that sort be extremely dangerous? I mean, I've heard of organs being cloned and used to replace bad ones, but not spinal cords. I thought once the nerves were severed, they couldn't be reattached."

"Not necessarily. The hospital is not only staffed by doctors, but by Pokemon as well. Pokemon such as Mr. Mime and Alakazam are among the non- human staff, and they have been training for this procedure for some time."

"And what was your criteria for training? I was told I'd be the first human subject this would be attempted on."

"True. The criteria was two concentrations of ten thousand fiber-optic threads. They simulated nerve bundles. Both bundles were attached to separate computers, and the goal was to get the bundles attached with every single thread attached to its partner. The procedure has proven a success forty-nine out of fifty-one attempts."

"And what do I have to lose if the procedure isn't a success?"

"Money," Kendrick answered immediately. "That's the only thing."

"How much will the procedure cost, then?"

"I don't know. We'll have to figure it out once you're actually admitted out of the hospital. It could be anywhere from thirty to eighty thousand."

"And there's going to be extensive physical therapy, isn't there?"

"Actually, it may not be that extensive. Our new technologies also include a bio-stim machine that forces muscles to contract. This way, your muscle tissue can rebuild without you having to work at it. It tickles, but it's hardly painful."

"I'll still need to learn how to walk all over again."

"Yes, I'm afraid so. And that's why you will need physical therapy, whether it be extensive or otherwise."

Jason sighed. "Do you have an estimate on how long the entire course will take?"

"From entering the hospital in your chair to leaving it on your feet, it could take anywhere from two to four months. It all depends on how quickly you recover from surgery and how quickly you learn to walk."

There was a moment of silence from both ends.

Finally, Jason said, "I'll give it serious consideration."

He hung up.

***

A dark form atop a flying beast of gargantuan proportions stared down at the countryside below him, malice in his eyes.

*He'll pay for this. He'll pay for it all. I'll show him just how revenge is taken.*

***

A brilliant flash of light shone in the vast valleys of the Ruins of Alph.

Two forms now existed where none previously had.

*It was ten years ago. But now it's tomorrow.*

***

Tommy stared at Jason. "You're crazy. First you go on and on about how eager you are to see Ash after so long, and now you want to throw it away?"

Jason shook his head. "No, I don't want to throw it away. I'll give him a call while he's there."

"That can't possibly be enough!"

"Believe me, it isn't. But you don't know how badly I want this, Tommy. You don't know how hard it is, training while sitting on your rear the entire time. I want to get more in touch with my Pokemon, and the only way I can do that is if I reacquire the ability to walk and run."

Tommy waved his arms around. "Then visit Ash *before* you do this! You heard what Kendrick said! It could take a long time! Two months, at the least!"

"I want this, Tommy. As much as anything I've ever wanted in my life, I want this. And I want it now."

"What's wrong with you?!" Tommy exploded. "This isn't like you at all!"

Jason knew it wasn't like him. Tommy was absolutely right.

But suddenly he wasn't sure.

He knew that Professor Oak would be there.

But that was no problem.

He knew that Kelly was going to be there.

That *was* the problem.

*Why am I suddenly so urgent to get away from the party and get my legs back? Could it be that I have some grudge against Kelly for not coming with me? Am I mad at her for asking me about leaving her, when it'd be the last time I'd see her?*

"I mean, what's your problem?" Tommy continued.

*It can't be anything against Ash, and it sure isn't anything against Sam, either.

What* is *my problem?*

"Yeah, Jason. What's your problem?"

Jason and Tommy snapped their heads upward.

And they were baffled by what they saw.

A shining red Dragonite was descending upon them.

It landed directly in front of them.

Riding on its back was a middle-aged man wearing a mustache and goatee.

"Who are you?" Tommy asked, a Poke ball having appeared in his right hand.

Jason was speechless. Motionless.

Tommy might not have recognized the man, but Jason did.

Sans the facial hair, it was the same face Jason had seen in the mirror every day of his adolescent life.

***

The older Jason grinned at his counterpart. "You recognize me, eh? Good. That means you aren't as naive as I thought I was."

He watched as the other boy--*Tommy, right?*--glanced from one version of Jason to the other.

And then he laughed as Tommy's face grew pale.

"I don't think I've inspired this much fear in anyone since I took--for a long time," he said.

"Who are you?" the younger Jason whispered.

"Maybe I was wrong," the older one responded. "Maybe you are as naive as I thought I was."

"He asked you a question," said Tommy, his color returning. He cocked his arm. "You'd better have an answer."

The 28-year-old sighed. "Very well." He turned to his younger self. "I'm you. That's who you are, and that's who I am. But to distinguish us, you can call me Creight."

"How is that possible?" Jason asked.

"It's possible through the abilities of a miracle of Pokemon nature. And those abilities include time travel."

"You're from the future?"

The older one applauded mockingly. "Oh, bra-VO! He catches on quick!"

"How did you get here?" Jason continued, ignoring the barb.

"I just told you, time travel." Creight dismounted his Dragonite and stepped up close to his younger self. "But if you must dig deeper, it's by the abilities of the Pokemon known as Celebi."

"Celebi?"

Creight bent down, coming to his counterpart's eye level. "It has abilities beyond those you could possibly imagine."

He bounced back up. "But I'm not here to discuss Pokemon with you."

"In that case, if you're who you say you are, why *are* you here?" asked Tommy.

"I'm here to save my life," Creight answered cryptically.

Jason stared up at his twin. "Your life, or mine?"

"Both," Creight answered.

"And how, precisely, is my life... are our lives... in danger?"

Creight grinned mischievously. "I thought you'd never ask."

He turned toward Tommy. "Unfortunately, I don't want to answer that while you're around. No offense, you understand, but this is between me and myself."

Tommy scoffed, then looked at Jason.

Jason nodded. "I'll be all right."

"Of course you will," said Creight. "Why wouldn't you be all right with yourself?"

Tommy scoffed again. "Fine, I'll go look for some Pokemon."

"That's the spirit!" Creight called after him.

When Tommy was out of sight and earshot, Creight turned back to Jason. A deranged look was in his eyes. A look of madness. Of insanity.

"Okay, kiddo, here's the deal. I... am you..." He reached into Jason's inside vest pocket and pulled out a faded picture of Jason, Kelly, and Professor Oak.

"...without her."

Jason's incredulity, not stupidity, motivated him to frown and say, "What?"

"I... am... you... without... her." Creight was sure to emphasize every word. "Got it?"

"How are you me without Kelly? What happened?"

"Your idiot brother has some friends in high places. He managed to escape jail after Giovanni decided to send one of his crew to rescue the good ol' boy. Daniel made some promise to Giovanni to have you wasted if the man would let him out of jail. He agreed, and now that sack of Miltank manure is on the loose again. And he's massively ticked."

"I'll bet."

"When I was you, I decided to go ahead and get my legs fixed. The procedure was a success, too, in case you hadn't noticed."

"I had, in fact."

"Shut up and let me finish. While I was having surgery and therapy and all that good stuff, that little welcome back party of Ash's went awry. Daniel decided to 'make an example of what happens to good people when they make stupid choices'. He burned Pallet Town to the ground with his strongest fire Pokemon."

Jason was silent, taking in the full measure of what this meant. "How many died?"

"All of them. He didn't take any prisoners, didn't let anyone escape. It became the most heinous crime of the century, according to the press. Everyone died. Ash, his mom, his two friends, Professor Oak, the civilian population, Oak's assistants..."

"And Kelly?"

"And Kelly."

Jason couldn't believe it, absolutely couldn't believe it.

*Kelly?

Dead?*

It didn't seem possible.

"What happened then?" Jason asked, almost afraid of the answer.

"I tracked Daniel down and I showed him no more mercy than he'd shown for those people. Even less, actually. When I was finished, there was no way to identify him. No way at all. So I dumped his body in the ocean for Magikarp food. Then I went to Viridian City, looking for Giovanni. Thought I'd get some revenge on him, too. But he wasn't there; he was at Whirlpool Islands. So I went there and caught him off guard. I used my Pokemon to break his spirit like a twig, and I enjoyed every minute of it."

"You didn't kill him?"

"I didn't say that. I broke his spirit, then brought him back to Viridian. And I left him there to vegetate. I felt like committing suicide. I wanted to see Kelly again so badly, and there was no way for me to do it. At least, no human way.

"And then that's when I came up with a plan to find a Pokemon capable of time travel, one which could take me back to this point in time and warn myself." The counterpart's grin had more than a hint of evil in it. "For three years, I trudged around with no luck. I became a Pokemon master by defeating Lance, but that didn't matter to me anymore. I renounced Pokemon training. The only reason I'd kept after my journeys was because I figured that's what Kelly might have wanted."

"Then why renounce training?" Jason asked.

"Because that's what Kelly did, as well." Creight stared down at Jason. "I released all my Pokemon. None of them wanted to leave, and a few of them chose to stay, even though I begged them to do otherwise. Good ol' Dragonite here was one of them."

Jason looked over at the Dragonite Creight had come out of the air with. "Yeah, I was wondering about that. Is that...?"

[Yes, I am the future version of your red Dratini.]

"I brought it here to show you what's possible. Also to show you that my story is genuine, if you didn't believe me," said Creight.

"I'm still not quite sure of it. I don't believe I'd kill my own brother out of rage, not even after he killed so many people," Jason replied.

"Care to test that little theory?" Creight asked. "You'll have the chance tomorrow. That's when it's going to happen. Two p.m., Daniel's going to turn Pallet Town into his personal hell."

"How do I know if you're telling me the truth?"

"Attend Ash's party and find out."

"And why can't you do it?" Jason barked. "After all this time, wouldn't you want to take revenge on your brother while you're bigger than him? Before he even has the chance to burn anything?"

"You need to be the one to do it. This is a focal point, buddy. If you do this, nothing I've told you will happen, and I'll never exist. But if I do it, I'll still be around."

"How?"

"Time is difficult to understand, but once you get some of it, nothing is simple. You need to be the one to stop him, not me. We'll both be trapped in a time loop if I do it. I'll have changed the timeline without being a part of it, and everything will be thrown out of balance. But if you do it, the town is saved, and there'll be no loop because I won't exist."

"And you want your existence to end?"

"I've wanted that for ten years."

"So why didn't you commit suicide?"

"Because then there wouldn't have been any hope to change the past. It would have stayed as it was, and Kelly and all the rest would stay dead. This way, they stay alive."

Jason sighed. All this talk about time travel and time loops and time theory was giving him a serious headache. He didn't know how his older self could have taken the stress of attempting to understand it without going slightly insane.

"Look, kiddo, the only reason I can exist here and now is because you haven't stopped Daniel from killing everyone in Pallet Town. Once he stops becoming a threat to the town, I'll simply fade out of existence."

"And will I remember any of what happened?"

"I don't know," Creight admitted. "Maybe, maybe not. But we shouldn't worry about it. *Tempus fugit.*"

"Yeah, it does," Jason responded. He took a deep breath, then released it. "Fine. We'll go."

"Good. I'll go get Tommy." Creight turned to fetch Jason's traveling companion.

"How about you keep out of sight when we get there?" Jason called after him.

Creight grinned to himself. "Of course I will!"

Jason knew himself far too well to think Creight wouldn't try to catch glimpses of everyone at the party. After all, their faces had been dust for ten years, according to him.

"He'll stay out of sight," Jason muttered. "Doesn't mean everyone'll stay out of *his* sight."

***

That evening, Jason, Creight, and Tommy made their way to Pallet Town. As promised, Creight stayed out of sight; his method was to use his Dragonite to keep him high above the others.

[I still don't know if he truly believes you.]

"Well, he's going to find out one way or another that I'm telling the truth. And when he does, he'll just have to accept it."

[We'll see.]

"Yeah. We will. And then we'll fade out."

***

"Are you sure about them?" Tommy asked Jason. "For all we know, this entire thing could just be one big setup."

"There are a couple things that don't seem right," Jason admitted. "But he said he brought his Dragonite to psychically prove his case, if he didn't have me convinced. That made me start to believe him. I know I would've done the same thing. If I wanted to go back in time and keep myself from doing something, I'd bring proof, too. And even if he hadn't convinced me with what he said alone, you've got to wonder how many other red Dragonites are in this world."

Tommy nodded. "I suppose so. Still doesn't make me trust him."

"Would you trust a future version of yourself?"

"Good point. So, have you figured out why, exactly, you wanted to get away from all this so badly?"

Jason's face contorted. "Maybe. But I'm not sure. Maybe it was just anxiousness over seeing Kelly again."

"Your girlfriend?"

"Yeah. I've got a feeling that when I see her, I'll find out we're not on the best of terms."

Tommy shook his head. "I'm afraid I couldn't tell you what to expect. I'm not the expert on relationships with women."

*Deja vu,* thought Jason. He'd heard almost the exact same sentiments from Professor Oak once.

They continued toward the lab in silence.

***

When Professor Oak looked up from his research, he was stunned to see Jason and Tommy approaching him. He hid it as best he could. "My, this is certainly unexpected. And pleasing. Welcome back, Jason."

"Good to be back," Jason lied. "This is Tommy."

"Ah." Oak grinned at the boy. "I hear you're from the revered Shadow clan. You have my greatest respect."

He bowed. Tommy returned the gesture.

"I would be fascinated to find out about your Pokemon," said Oak, "but from the look on Jason's face, reminiscing isn't why you're here."

He caught the slight wrinkle that developed and just as quickly vanished in Tommy's nose; whatever the business was, Oak knew that it wasn't pleasant. And neither was the coming news.

"I think it'd probably be best if Jason explained it," said Tommy. "I'm not really in on much of the details."

"All right, then," said Oak. "What's the visit really about, Jason?"

Jason leaned forward in his wheelchair. "I've been thrust into a rather strange situation. Just after I talked to Dr. Kendrick on the phone, I found myself looking at myself. Specifically, a future version of myself. At least, that's what he claims."

"Okayy," said Oak, sounding skeptical.

"I know this sounds weird, but just let me finish," said Jason. "He claims that my brother, Daniel, is bent on ruining my life, and in his time, decided to take his revenge out on Pallet Town. According to him, Daniel used fire type Pokemon to destroy Pallet Town and burn everyone alive while Ash's welcome home party was taking place. According to him, there were no survivors, and since that day, he's been looking for a way to change the past."

"And just how did he find one?" asked Oak.

"He heard about a Pokemon capable of time travel and decided to seek it out. He apparently succeeded and has come back to this time to warn me and keep his past from repeating itself."

Oak nodded slowly, trying to take the infomration in. "And where, exactly, is this 'future self' of yours?"

"Outside," said Jason matter-of-factly. "I told him to stay out of sight so that he wouldn't confuse anyone."

"Ah. Would that be him peeking through the window?"

Jason head snapped around. Sure enough, Creight had his eye in the window, trying to get a good view of Oak. As soon as he realized that Jason and Oak had discovered him, Creight ducked. The damage, however, had been done.

"Yeah, that's him," Jason admitted. "You'll have to forgive him. He apparently hasn't seen you or anyone else from Pallet Town for ten years of his life, and he seems to be harboring a whole lot of loneliness."

"Understandable," said Oak. "But why not let events take their course, rather than go to such great lengths as to disrupt the timeline? He doesn't blame himself for the incident, does he?"

"Yes, he does," said Jason. "There's a reason why, though I think it's sort of a lame one. When he was me, he chose to go to Saffron City and undergo the procedures for rebuilding his legs. The procedure was a success, as was therapy, but he did it while Ash's party was taking place. I guess he was on the table when it happened. He apparently believes if he hadn't gone in at that time, if he'd gone to Pallet Town to visit his girlfriend instead, none of this would have happened."

"But by bringing you to Pallet Town, hasn't he already prevented it?" asked Oak. "What could you be able to do about Daniel that someone else can't?"

"No, he hasn't fully prevented it. Until it *is* fully prevented, he's going to be sticking around. If and when it's prevented, he and his Pokemon will supposedly vanish. And as for your second question, I have advance knowledge. I can catch him off-guard."

"Why can't he protect Pallet instead of you?"

"The two of us would be caught in some sort of time loop if he did."

Oak sighed. "Okay, then. Is there anything you need me to do?"

"Make sure you have a couple of my Pokemon with you at the party. I want to search for Daniel, but I don't know how powerful his Pokemon are, and so I don't know if he'll be able to get past me if we do face each other. I need you to be on your guard."

"What about changing your team so you have your six most powerful Pokemon?"

"He might slip past me and get to the party without me knowing about it. If that becomes the case, I want a couple of my powerful ones to be the backup."

Oak nodded. "Okay. Which Pokemon should I have with me?"

"Ones that trust you. And ones that can intimidate Daniel. That means high-level, evolved Pokemon. That said, take Gyarados." Jason handed Oak the Poke ball that contained his mighty water Pokemon, the one that had been with him from the very start.

"I don't know about this, Jason," said Oak. "You think Gyarados trusts me?"

"It still remembers you helping it to heal in your lab, and it trusts you implicitly. If you have to resort to using Pokemon yourself, this is a must. As for other Pokemon, I'd suggest using my Kingdra, Slowbro, Porygon, Octillery, and Poliwrath."

"Why all the water types?"

"Because Daniel favors ground and fire types. Water is the one weakness they both have. Porygon's in the mix just in case Daniel's lineup is a bit more interesting than just fire and ground."

Oak nodded. "Fine. But that leaves your water lineup a bit short on the strong side. What have you got left?"

"Lapras, Vaporeon, Azumarill, Blastoise, Seadra, Politoed..."

"Okay, okay, forget I said anything."

Jason grinned.

"In the meantime, where's your so-called future self?"

Jason looked back toward the window.

Creight was gone.

***

Kelly Shields heard a knock on her door as she was sitting in bed, quietly reading a book. She got up and opened the door.

"Who is it?" she called.

"It's me," answered a male voice.

She recognized the voice.

It was him.

"Jason?" She flung the door open.

And she gasped. He was different. *Much* different. His hair had darkened, and he'd grown a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee, reminiscent of the one she'd seen his brother, Daniel, had when she met him. He was much more muscular.

But above all those changes, he was on his feet.

Under his own power.

She didn't understand it. She'd heard about some experimental procedure that was supposed to help him heal from his injury, but she hadn't been sure she believed it. And she'd only heard about it a couple of days ago.

"How...?" she asked, not even sure where to begin.

"It doesn't matter," he responded. "I'm back. I came back for you."

Kelly saw the quiet calm on his face. She also saw the emotions roiling in his eyes.

She felt the same way.

She grinned and hugged him tightly.

She didn't know how he could be standing.

But now, she didn't care.

"I've missed you," she said.

"You don't know how much I've missed you," he replied. "I can't begin to describe it. I've been feeling so lonely for so long... I had to come back. I had to have you back."

They slowly released from the embrace, and he held her at arm's length. "There's something I've been wanting to tell you for so long. I just couldn't get it out while I was here, because I wasn't sure. But now I am. I love you, Kelly."

Her eyes widened.

He'd finally said it.

After five years, he'd said what she'd been waiting to hear.

He moved to kiss her.

She moved to respond...

"*CREIGHT!*"

Kelly jumped at the bellow, and her head whipped around to face the utter idiot who'd dared disrupt her moment.

And she saw Jason.

Clean-shaven.

Lighter hair.

Fewer muscles.

Seated in a wheelchair.

She looked at the one who was holding her.

And then she looked back at the one in the wheelchair.

She fainted dead away.

***

Creight caught Kelly before she hit the floor. He was furious. *Now* his younger, idiot self had decided to enforce his so-called "rule" of what Creight could and couldn't do. He stepped towards Jason. "Buddy, you really did it this time!"

"I could say the same for you," Jason shot back. "What the hell were you thinking?!"

"I wasn't! I was *feeling*, something you should have thought about doing while you had the chance! Do you have any idea what you gave up?"

"The same exact idea you have, Creight," Jason growled. "You think either of us enjoyed running out on her like that? I didn't want to do it, and neither did you. We did it for a dream."

"A dream that turned into a nightmare before my eyes!" Creight responded. "Maybe you haven't seen it yet, and maybe you never will, but I have. And it made me realize that I needed to confess to the girl I loved my--*our* true feelings! And don't you dare tell me that you don't feel the same way I just described to her! You're me!"

"No, I'm not," Jason replied. "I'm nothing like you, and I hope I never will be. Just because we have a crush on her doesn't mean I want to marry her. And it doesn't mean you should want to, either."

"If it's only a crush, how come she was our girlfriend for four years? Don't you think the crush would have ended when we left to train?" Creight asked. "Answer me that."

Jason shook his head. "I can't."

"Of course not," said Creight. "And that's because we both know how we truly feel for her. I'm just more ready to admit it to her than you are."

"And you think I wanted to share those feelings with her?"

"I know you didn't. That's why I did."

"And what? I should thank you for that? And another thing; you just made the entire situation a whole lot more complicated. Now I'll have to explain to Kelly what's going on. If there's one thing I've learned from this entire endeavor, it's to make sure that I don't make the same colossal mistakes you're making."

Creight glared at Jason. "You speak well now. Try living my life. Try envisioning all of your closest friends burning to death at the hands of your own brother. Try... try taking over Team Rocket."

Jason gaped, his request for repetition barely a whisper. "What?"

Creight stared at the floor. "Yeah. I eventually used my Pokemon to control Giovanni's broken mind and force him to hand over control of Team Rocket to me. He committed suicide afterward."

"Why? Why take over Team Rocket?"

"It was the only way I could have enough resources to track Celebi down with." Creight glanced back up. "It helped a lot, but eventually a point came where I couldn't narrow the search down beyond Kanto, Johto, and the Orange Islands. From there it was a blind search. So I set up new headquarters on the other side of the planet, relocated every single one of my subordinates there, and transferred command to an exec named Kyle McCraine. I made sure that Kanto, Johto, and the Islands became off-limits for the Rockets for eternity."

"You wanted to make sure you were the one that found it first."

"Yeah."

Jason didn't know what to say. Creight *had* been changed, utterly and irrevocably.

And it had been for the worst.

There was no turning back for him. He could only move forward.

At that moment, Jason knew that Creight believed Jason would succeed in his mission.

Why confess repressed love to Kelly otherwise?

*Maybe to get out something he's wanted to say ever since she died,* Jason thought. *Either one could be correct.

Maybe it's both.*

Jason sighed heavily. "Fine. What's done is done. We don't really have time to argue this. Let's get her back to her room; maybe she'll think it was a dream."

The look on Creight's face became inexplicably pained. "I want her to know me as more than just a dream."

"That's why I'm here."

"But you're not making any effort to show her what you really feel. You call it a crush. I call it love. It's two sides of the same coin. We both carry with us a deep affection for her." Creight paused. "You said that if there's anything you've learned from this, it's not to make the same mistakes I've made. Not telling Kelly how I--how *we* really feel about her is one of those mistakes."

Jason didn't say anything. Because he didn't know what to say.

He abruptly realized that Creight was right. At least, in his point of view.

It *was* a mistake. A terrible one.

One which Creight had only been able to rectify now.

Jason didn't know if he felt the same way Creight did.

But he *did* know that he didn't want Kelly to die to find out.

"I'm not ready to admit it now," he finally said.

"If not now, when?"

Jason shook his head. "I can't answer that."

Creight grinned. "You're lying. The answer going through your mind is, 'In my own time.' Well, you'd better find your own time pretty quickly."

Jason shook his head again. Creight was right, of course. It was, Jason supposed, the curse of having the same mind.

*No. Not the same. It never will be.*

Creight kneeled down, picked Kelly up into his arms, and gently carried her back into her room. He laid her to rest on her bed, and then put her book next to her hand for good measure.

He looked up at Jason. "Strange. I'll never have existed, and all this might as well have been a dream. So it's rather appropriate that Kelly remember me that way."

Jason didn't know whether to nod or shake his head. So he did neither.

Creight left the building.

Jason followed suit.

***

The dark figure and his Pokemon had watched the trio enter Professor Oak's lab. He knew immediately who the one in the wheelchair was; it didn't take a genius to figure it out.

That worried him. Knowing the wheelchair-bound trainer was there gave him an advantage. But then again, he had no idea what the boy's Pokemon were, nor did he know their capabilities.

And what about the other two that had come here with him? The one on foot apparently had no interest in showing his Pokemon off, but the other one clearly had no qualms of that sort. His Dragonite looked priceless.

And it also looked powerful.

*It'd be a perfect peace offering,* he thought, trying to convince himself to carry out his plan.

His human companion had bailed out on him upon hearing of his plan. It figured. Trust a Rocket, and you're liable to get his backwash.

Shame.

He'd just have to do it himself.

And he'd have to use every bit of force he had.

***

Jason saw the dark form crouched in a thick cluster of foliage.

"Hey!" he yelled.

The figure jumped, and Jason saw the figure's eyes peer out of the cluster.

The eyes glared.

Jason heard shuffling in the foliage, and suddenly the form was taking shape in front of him.

It was Daniel.

His once-neat mustache and goatee had now become ragged, and he now had a full-length beard. His hair had also become straggly, and his clothes were ripped and torn. *He's been on the lam for five years, but he should be even more uncouth than that. Unless he had help in breaking out?*

Jason had no time to think about the situation, though. Daniel grinned, and he spoke with a hoarse voice. "Finally, I get to do to you what I've wanted to do for so long."

"And what's that?"

"Beat you."

Jason grinned. "Whether you mean literally, or in Pokemon match, you won't be able to do it."

"We'll see. Now let's get on with it." Daniel tossed a Poke ball. "Charizard, here's your moment for revenge!"

Jason responded by tossing a Poke ball of his own. "He needs a good wetting down, Azumarill!"

Azmuarill was tiny compared to Daniel's Charizard, Jason knew, but it had the advantage of type. And level.

"Charizard, use fire blast!" Daniel commanded.

The conjured stick figure engulfed Azumarill and blasted it backward.

It stayed on its feet.

"Azumarill, water gun! Aim for the tail!"

Before Daniel could react to the order, his Charizard's tail had been drowned in water. It roared in pain, then slumped to the ground.

Jason grinned. "Deja vu."

"All right, then," said Daniel, recalling Charizard.

And he threw five more capture balls.

One by one, Pokemon emerged.

Houndour.

Ninetails.

Magmar.

Slugma.

Magby.

Jason's grin widened. "Sweet. You just gave me an easy victory. Pull out the stops, everyone!"

He hurled his other five capture balls into the air.

Blastoise.

Seadra.

Politoed.

Lapras.

Vaporeon.

Without orders from their trainer, all six of Jason's Pokemon began spraying immeasurable amounts of water at their opponents.

Daniel's Pokemon didn't even have time to whimper.

Daniel's eyes got wider. "You knew what I had, didn't you?"

"I suspected." Jason glared at his brother. "I know what you're planning, and it's not going to work with all of your Pokemon down. You want to get revenge on me, don't be a coward and torch a town. You want me, you know where to find me. It's exactly opposite of wherever you are. But for now, we're taking you back to jail, where you belong."

"I don't think so. Magby, teleport!"

Before Jason's eyes, Magby tapped a psychic power impossible for it to possess.

And Daniel and his Pokemon disappeared in a flash of light.

Jason gaped. It was impossible, simply impossible for Daniel's Magby to be able to teleport.

Then he noticed a slip of paper lying on the ground where Daniel had been standing. He wheeled to the spot and picked it up.

*We'll settle this on home turf.*

His PokeGear's phone feature began to ring. He activated it.

It was Professor Oak. "Jason, he's gone. He disappeared right in front of me."

Jason's shoulders slumped with relief.

But at the same time, he felt a pang in his heart.

He had killed himself.

However silly or strange it might sound, it was true.

*And this was such a terribly, terribly lame way to die. Why couldn't it have been more drawn out, like it should have been?*

He chose, for the moment, not to reflect on that.

It is, after all, a different story.

***

The party that afternoon was to everyone's full enjoyment. It was briefly disrupted by some clowns in a Meowth head balloon, but all in all, it was a good time.

Jason Creight partied on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
30th September 2003, 06:52 AM
Jason Creight awoke the morning after Ash Ketchum's welcome home party.

It took him a moment to realize where he was. After all, he'd not set foot in this place for half a year. But he soon recognized it as his old room in the dorm wing of Professor Oak's lab complex.

He glanced toward the window. It was dark outside, and the wind howled around the complex. Jason could see through his window to another area, where some Pokemon were being released, while others were being retrieved.

*I should be doing that*, he thought at first. Then, *No, I don't. I don't work here anymore.

But on the other hand, just because I don't live here doesn't mean I'm insensitive to the Pokemon who do.

Nah,* he finally decided, *they'll get in on time.*

He reflected on the events of the previous day. Amazing how lame it had all seemed. With one swift blow, Daniel's Pokemon had all been taken out. Just like that, with no one being the wiser. Jason suddenly realized he couldn't understand how no one else could have been so poorly armed with Pokemon--especially Misty, whom he'd only met during the party.

He'd not met her when traveling Kanto for gym badges; she'd been too young for the gym leader position. He'd battled her sisters, instead, who also had seemed rather young to him at the time.

In any event, he knew that she had, at one time or another, been the gym leader for Cerulean City, and he didn't know how, in the now-eliminated timeline, she couldn't have beaten Daniel with her own arsenal of water Pokemon.

*Maybe he knew who she was,* Jason thought, *and eliminated her first?*

It didn't really matter. The timeline set by that possibility had been destroyed when Jason defeated Daniel.

Jason shook his head. *It may be just as well that Creight didn't watch the battle. If it could even be called a battle. More like a massacre. He would have thought it even more lame than I do.*

Now was not the time to think about that, though.

Jason's thoughts flashed back to the night before last.

He thought about trying to find Creight in the lab complex, hoping he wasn't stirring trouble.

And he thought about how he had seen his future self.

With Kelly in his arms, he'd confessed his love to her.

And he'd almost kissed her.

Jason vividly remembered how furious he had been, furious at seeing Kelly in Creight's arms.

Furious that Creight was able to stand, so that they could embrace without impediment.

Furious that...

That...

*Oh, no.*

Jason had been jealous of Creight.

*How can that be?* Jason asked himself. *He was *me,* or at least a future version of me. What's going on with me? What's wrong with me? How can I be jealous of myself?*

And he began to realize that it stemmed not from the fact that Creight had been able to utilize his legs, but rather that he'd been more willing to express his feelings to the girl that both of them cared about so much.

*But why? I told him that I didn't want to tell her about whatever feelings I might have, because I don't know what they are!*

A knock on the door interrupted his reverie. He groaned. "Yeah?"

"It's me," said a voice Jason had no trouble recognizing as Tommy's.

"All right, come in," Jason answered.

Tommy did so, walked over to the bedside, and sat down in Jason's wheelchair.

Jason snorted. "Make yourself at home."

"Thanks, I'll do that."

The paralyzed teen shook his head. "To what do I owe the honor?"

Tommy squirmed. "I'm sort of acting as a courier."

"For Kelly?"

"Yeah. She wants to talk to you, but between her work detail and her own nerves, she can't seem to convince herself to visit you. She wants to know if you're going to stay, or if you're going to leave again."

Jason threw up his arms in a helpless gesture. "I can't answer her through you, Tommy. Middle men are not my preferred means of communication when it comes to personal messages."

"I know. But she wants to talk to you. She wants you to visit her in her room today, whenever you can."

"Doesn't she work today?"

"She asked Oak to let her take a day off. He said yes."

Jason sighed. "Truthfully, I don't even know if I want to visit her."

Tommy frowned. "Why not? She's your girlfriend, isn't she?"

"She *was* my girlfriend."

"Who broke it off, then?"

Jason snorted. "That's the weird thing. I don't know."

"So for all you know, the relationship could still be on, and you're completely unaware of it."

Jason paused. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Then maybe it's time you did." Tommy sighed. "At least talk to her. You owe her that much. You should tell her about all that's happened to you. And you need to reconcile whatever it is that's been keeping you apart."

Jason looked up. "I thought you said you weren't the expert on relationships."

"I'm not. But I *do* know that much. While I trained at Koga's gym, I learned the concepts of trust, honor, and loyalty to your friends and teammates. We didn't really get into a love fest, but Koga told us that trust, honor, and loyalty were three of the most sacred values a member of his clan could have. He taught us that if we're missing any of those values, then we'd better search for them, 'cause there was no way he was going to allow trainees to become full-fledged members until we had all three of them so deeply ingrained, there was no getting them out."

Jason sighed. "It's not that easy, Tommy. The urge to train your Pokemon to their full potential is hard to ignore when it's all you've got. You should know that, after all you've been through. You lost your parents at a younger age than I was when I rejected my own. Your only parental figure was Koga, and he was fiercely loyal to you and your brothers, his Pokemon, and his clan, probably in that order. Training was all he knew, and all he could pass on, so it seems rather inevitable that you would have followed in Koga's footsteps, however loosely followed those footsteps may be."

"Perhaps," Tommy admitted. "And you're right; the allure of training *is* hard to ignore when you don't have anything else. But my history isn't what's keeping you from talking to Kelly. *You* are."

Jason mumbled incoherently under his breath.

Tommy stared at Jason. "What's *wrong* with you? If you have feelings for her, you should let her know. It's what Creight did, isn't it?"

Jason looked back up at Tommy. "I'm not Creight."

"Maybe not, but whether you like it or not, he was you at some point, and he knew to take a chance when he could. Which means that part of you may develop, may already *be* developed. You're just not willing to admit it yet."

"I didn't ask your opinion!" Jason snapped. "I didn't ask you to analyze me! And I certainly didn't ask you to be a matchmaker for me and Kelly! We did that ourselves, thank you very much!"

"And then you left her," Tommy retorted. "You had it all, and you left it all behind so you could go train."

Jason glared at Tommy. "As if you'd do any differently in my place!"

"For everything that was handed to you on a silver platter, hell yeah, I'd do differently. I'd have stayed."

"It wasn't the life for me."

"What? Having a real-life, give-and-take relationship where sometimes your convenience has to take a backseat for the good of everyone else?"

"Look, I thought one of the goals of life was to be as happy as you could be, whatever you decide to do. And I wasn't happy living here. That's why I left. It wasn't because Kelly and I were having issues, and it wasn't because we were starting to drift apart or anything like that. I didn't want to be holed up in one place. I didn't want to be confined to the life of a Pokemon researcher. I wanted to be out there, free to do what I wanted to do."

Jason looked down at his useless legs. "And I really wouldn't have minded if Kelly had gone with me. I wanted to be with her. I'd even started to... to..."

Tommy tried not to smile. This was a serious situation Jason was talking about. But he couldn't help himself. Jason, though he'd not made a spoken confession, had just admitted to one of the hardest things he would ever be able to admit to.

Jason shook his head violently. "It doesn't matter. When I told her I wanted to leave, she got upset in her own way and began asking me the toughest questions."

Tommy nodded. "I know. You told me once. She asked if you'd go if you knew for a fact that you'd never see each other again."

"Yeah. And I couldn't answer her. So I let my actions speak for themselves."

Tommy stared at Jason. "You left her without saying goodbye?"

Jason nodded.

"There *is* something wrong with you. I can only imagine how many nights she spent crying herself to sleep."

Jason pointed a finger at Tommy. "Don't you dare try and put the guilt trip on me. I've gone over all of it in my mind already. I know it was a mistake."

"Oh, yeah. It was a *big* mistake." Tommy sat back in the wheelchair he'd borrowed. "Well, no wonder she wants you to come to her room, instead of the other way around. She wants you to come back to her. Not just to the lab, not just to Professor Oak, and not just to the Pokemon, but to *her*. She wants the relationship to keep going. And that tells me that if either of you broke it off, it sure wasn't her."

Jason grunted. "Since when did you become a counselor?"

"Just a little amateur deduction, that's all."

"Well, if you're right about all this, I'd say you've got some potential in that department."

"Me?" Tommy blew a raspberry. "I'm content to train, thank you."

"And so am I. But for now, I guess I'd better start thinking about other things. So get out of my wheelchair."

***

Kelly's eyes snapped open to the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder outside her window.

She moaned, then pushed herself off the bed. She'd decided to oversleep, since today was a selected "off" day. She'd only gotten up for breakfast, and had spoken with Tommy very briefly. But then she'd gone back to bed.

She felt something sharp stabbing into her stomach. When she got further off the bed, she saw why. She'd fallen asleep on the cover of her book again. Not only that, but her arm had ended up between the book and her stomach. It was completely numb, unresponsive to any messages she sent to it. She finally had to pick it up and fling it to the side.

She grunted. *Now I know how Jason feels.

Jason...*

She thought back to that moment that she'd seen two Jason Creights there in the lab with her. She remembered it vividly, but she still didn't know if it was a dream or not.

*But it couldn't possibly be real. I mean, two Jasons at once?*

She remembered how the bearded one had hugged her. So tightly, so needingly. Just like she had clung to him.

She remembered what he had said about missing her.

She remembered what he had said...

...about loving her.

Kelly had waited five years--five long years--for him to say that. She had dreamed it before, but those dreams had been more hazy than this. The elation hadn't lasted for more than a few seconds before she realized that it had all been in her mind.

But this...

This was so very different from anything else she'd ever dreamed or daydreamed.

This had been so... so *real.*

But it had to be a dream. It had to be.

Maybe something meant to be interpreted. One standing up, ready and willing to confess his undying love; the other one still wheelchair-bound, still closed up on the inside, still unwilling to make any sort of commitment to anything but training.

*Maybe... maybe the one that was standing was the Jason Creight I really want, and the other one was there to snap me back to reality...?

But that can't be right; I like Jason the way he is...!*

A knock on the door disrupted her musings.

Her heart skipped a beat.

Was it him?

*Only one way to find out.*

She approached the door. "Who is it?"

"I have an answer for you."

Kelly recognized the voice and opened the door.

It was Jason, in all his glory, seated in that titanium wheelchair that she had come to know so well.

Memories came flooding back to her.

Joys.

Sorrows.

Regrets.

Half a year became yesterday in an instant.

Neither of them said anything for a moment.

And then, Jason spoke.

"The answer is no. I wouldn't be able to leave you if I knew we'd never see each other again. And that's why I came back."

Tears of joy filled Kelly's eyes, and she beckoned Jason to come inside.

He did so.

She closed the door, turned, and stared at him for a moment. She was afraid to say anything; she knew her voice would break if she did.

"Come on over here," said Jason, patting the bed. "I'm not gonna bite."

She sat down and sniffed.

"Since you're not in the mood to talk, I'll start," said Jason. "I can't begin to apologize for leaving you the way I did. I should have said something to you, should have told you, should have said goodbye. I didn't. That was a mistake. I was wrong. And I'm sorry for hurting you."

"I hope so," she responded, her speech shaking and breathing ragged with the effort of trying to stop herself from crying. "Because I would hate to think that you left me because you didn't like me anymore. That you left because you didn't..."

She couldn't finish the sentence.

She didn't have to.

Jason watched the tears stream down her face. "Look at me, Kelly."

She looked up, and he saw the sadness in her eyes that could only provide a window to the suffering she had felt when he'd left.

He looked deeply into those eyes. "I would never, ever leave you because of that. I'm your friend, and you're my friend. I want that friendship to last. I'll never consider you anything less. And while I can't be the best friend you've got, you're the best one I've got. And that's all that matters to me right now."

She smiled sadly. "But you're going to leave again, aren't you?"

He sighed. "I'm pretty sure I don't want to stay here for long. I still haven't started competing for the Johto League. I haven't even registered." He pushed himself out of his wheelchair and next to Kelly on the bed. "But I'm not going to worry about it now."

She looked him up and down. He'd not grown much bigger, but he'd grown a bit more muscular.

But whatever else had happened to him, he was still the same old Jason Creight.

He looked at her. It seemed to him as if she'd grown even more beautiful than when he'd seen her only two nights before. To say nothing of more than six months ago.

And at that moment, both of them knew what they wanted, more than anything else.

They leaned in to each other. Hesitantly, at first.

But they knew what they wanted.

And they knew what the other wanted.

It was the same thing.

Their lips met.

***

Two days later, Kelly dropped in on Jason's room and found him doing what she'd feared he'd do.

He was packing his things again.

"You're leaving again." It wasn't a question.

Jason nodded reluctantly. "I'm sorry, but this is the way it has to be for me. I have to keep pushing. And I need to be free to do what I need to do."

"You don't have to explain," she said. "I understand."

He sighed with relief. "I'm glad. And like I said, I'm really sorry it has to be this way."

"Nothing to be sorry about."

He frowned. "I'm leaving again, and you don't care the slightest bit?"

She rocked her head from side to side. "I *am* somewhat disappointed, yes, but I can deal with it. And I'm going to deal with it."

"Well, glad to hear it." Jason turned back to packing.

She sat down on the bed. "I'm coming with you."

He'd been holding an extra shirt which he'd intended to insert into his backpack, but his hand stopped in midair upon hearing this. "You're what?"

"I said, I'm coming with you."

He turned his chair around to face her as he stuffed the shirt in. "You sure about this?"

"I'm positive about this, Jason. You have another secret up your sleeve. And it's something that you can't discuss right away, not even to someone who's been your girlfriend for more than four years. I can tell by looking in your eyes that you *want* to talk about it, but that you think I wouldn't understand. Well, fine. But you've had enough adventures out there without me. Besides," and she winked, "this'd be a good chance to get to know your friend Tommy."

Jason frowned at her incredulously. "You're gonna follow me around until I confess my secrets *again*? When will you quit?"

"Never," she answered playfully. "There's no way you're leaving me behind again. I'm already packed. Don't even try to discourage me. I've even changed my team for the occasion."

"Oh, really."

"Yes, really. I've still got Snorlax and Victreebel, and I added in some of my new Pokemon. They've been training against each other, so they're moderately strong."

"Good. Which ones did you pick?"

"Natu, Hoppip, Sunkern, and Totodile. Does that mean you want me to come along?"

Jason sighed and threw up an arm. "Of course I do. I wouldn't have minded you coming along before, but you didn't seem inclined to."

"Well, it just sounded like you were trying to dissuade me from it."

"I figured you were just as happy now as you were then."

"Not without you."

Jason didn't respond. There was nothing, he felt, that he could add to that simple, yet eloquent statement.

Kelly moved closer to him. "When you left, I was a total wreck. You have no idea how much I cried over that. I hated you for leaving, I hated Sam for trying to help, I hated myself for not saying what I really wanted to say."

Jason folded his hands in his lap. "And what was it that you really wanted to say?"

She shook her head. "That you were the most important thing in the world to me, beyond my own family. That I'd be devastated if you left."

"And why didn't you?"

"Because I thought I'd get one last chance to tell you before you left. Because I thought you were going to come and say goodbye."

Jason looked up from his interlaced fingers. "And if I had, would you have told me?"

"If I had told you, would you have gone?"

"I would have considered it more seriously. But let me ask you this." Jason leaned forward. "Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I *did* come to say goodbye, that you confessed that to me. Either that, or you told me when I first talked to you about the possibility. What if I had left anyway? Would confessing have made it any easier on you?"

She bounced on the bed and wrung her arms, frustrated. "It's not fair to ask me questions I don't know the answer to!"

"And now the tables have turned." Jason raised his eyebrows meaningfully.

Kelly sighed. "Point taken. But if I had to answer, I think it wouldn't have."

"Well..." Jason spread his hands. "There you are."

"Yeah. Here I am. And this time, I'm staying with you."

She kissed him. It was long, sweet, passionate.

Jason could feel his heart pounding in his chest when they pulled away. Kelly smiled innocently, almost shyly.

*Some people say that this isn't a perfect world,* Jason thought.

*What do they know?*

Jason Creight grinned on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
1st October 2003, 06:46 AM
Jason Creight awoke on a crisp fall morning in the grasses of Johto.

He looked over at his two companions. Tommy was stirring, and Kelly was squirming. Jason didn't know whether her squirming qualified her as awake, but he hoped so. He'd been training for a while, and he was finally ready to begin competition in the Johto League. Now that he was registered, he was ready to give it his all.

And hopefully more.

"Morning," said Jason, as he struggled to get his pants on over his shorts. It was rather cool today, and though he was unable to feel temperature in his legs, he felt it best to put pants on anyway. Besides, the sight of his spindly, anorexic legs might abate the gym leader's courage.

And as much as that tempted the paraplegic teen, he'd just as soon not to have to deal with that.

"Morning," Tommy responded. He was just sitting up and getting into a change of clothes, as well. He noticed Jason's own struggle. "Need any help?"

"No, thanks," said Jason. "I'll manage." Once again, he cursed the day he'd lost the use of his legs.

Finally, he managed to wrestle the pants on. He then pushed and shoved his way into his wheelchair and put on a shirt.

Tommy grinned. "Ready to face down your first Johto gym leader?"

"Ready and willing," said Jason. He looked down at the still form of his girlfriend. "Now, if only she were as enthusiastic as either of us..."

"Shut up," Kelly muttered. "I'm in the process of waking up. It takes me a while, unlike you two."

"Yeah, sure," said Tommy, continuing to smile. "We've heard it all before."

"I'm sure you have. It just happens to be true for me."

Jason, a creature of habit, had decided to upload history files on his new adversaries into his new-model Pokedex. He knew that all the Johto gym leaders favored three-on-three battles, at least for the moment. After seeing that Falkner favored birds, he had chosen to try and help Dratini learn an electric attack. Its thunderbolt attack was impressive, to say the least; it could split a tree in two. As for Gyarados, it already knew thunder, and Ampharos would theoretically be able to back them up in case they didn't make it.

Jason sat back and waited for his companions to give the go.

He was ready.

***

The trio of trainers approached the Violet City Gym. Jason and Tommy were ready to go in, but Kelly was somewhat daunted by the place. "It's been a while since I've been in a gym, guys."

"Hey, same for both of us," Tommy replied. "But it's not stopping us. Hope it's not stopping you."

"No way," Kelly shot back.

They entered the gym.

And found it was nothing but a stadium floor and four walls.

Jason knew to keep his guard up. Falkner favored birds, and he was supremely confident in his abilities.

As if synchronized with Jason's thoughts, a giant Pidgeot came swooping down out of the sky and alighted directly in front of the trio.

Kelly jumped back. Tommy stood his ground.

Jason stared up dispassionately at the figure mounted atop the flying Pokemon. He wore a simple outfit of light blue material, a thin chain of a necklace, long brown hair, and an unreadable expression.

"Welcome, trainers, to the Violet City Gym. My name is Falkner, and I am the gym leader here," he announced. He looked down at Jason, and his left eyebrow rose incrementally. "You're a Pokemon trainer?"

"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't," Jason replied. "What's more, I'm a determined Pokemon trainer looking for a badge or two. That said, I challenge you to a Pokemon battle."

"You're rather direct. I like that." Falkner stepped off his Pidgeot, recalled it, and returned its Poke ball to his belt. "Looking at you, I think I recognize you. You won the Indigo League championship a few years ago, am I correct?"

"You are," Jason replied.

"Well, hopefully you've kept up a strict regime. Because the Indigo League is just a warm-up, compared to this one!" He stepped back to his side of the stadium and tossed a Poke ball. "Go, Pidgeotto!"

The Pidgeotto Falkner had called out cawed agressively.

Jason wheeled himslf to the other side and removed the one Poke ball he possessed. "We'll see about that. Take it to 'em, Gyarados!"

The aptly named atrocious Pokemon emerged and growled at its foe.

A small grin touched Falkner's lips. "Let's keep an eye out, Pidgeotto. I wouldn't doubt if it had thunder, otherwise he wouldn't have called it."

"Gyarados, use iron tail!" Jason called, ignoring Falkner's commentary.

As they watched, Gyarados' tail underwent an amazing transformation from scales and flesh to organic steel. It approached Pidgeotto as the bird tried to evade its enemy's transformed tail.

"Pidgeotto, use steel wing!" Falkner called back.

Pidgeotto's wings also tranformed to organic steel and became not unlike a Skarmory's wings. It dove in.

Too late. Gyarados had anticipated the direct approach from its foe and knew exactly how to avoid it. It ducked straight under Pidgeotto, stuck its steel tail into the air, and allowed the bird Pokemon to crash head-on into it.

Pidgeotto dropped like a rock. It landed on its feet, but it stumbled around, dizzy from the attack.

"Gyarados, give it a good shock to the system!" said Jason.

Gyarados summoned all its strength in the elements and conjured a great bolt of electricity. It struck Pidgeotto in the back.

The flying Pokemon didn't get up.

"Pidgeotto, return," said Falkner. Then he threw another Poke ball. "Go, Dodrio!"

A three-headed bird with the proportions of a flamingo appeared. Only one head cawed at Gyarados.

"Dodrio, tri attack!"

"Gyarados, thunder!"

Water began to slosh at everyone's feet (and in Jason's case, wheels) as the triple-element attack was unleashed. Gyarados avoided the water as the second element--electricity--was called upon. No one else was harmed.

The third and final attack--fire--struck Gyarados in the midsection, but Gyarados simply shook it off.

And then it blasted Dodrio with its own electric attack.

Dodrio hit the wet ground and managed to avoid the attack.

"Good job, Dodrio, now use drill peck!"

Dodrio sprinted toward Gyarados and drilled it in the midsection with three whirring beaks.

Gyarados went down, but it came back up.

"Gyarados, use hydro pump!"

Gyarados sprayed Dodrio with an immeasurable amount of water.

Falkner tsk-ed at Jason. "You should have used thunder. Dodrio, tri attack again!"

More water splashed about, water which Gyarados took momentary refuge in.

Dodrio switched the order of its remaining attacks and used fire as the next one.

It struck home.

Gyarados hit the floor again, but got back up after a moment's struggle.

And then Dodrio unleashed its electric attack.

Falkner hadn't counted on the attack backfiring. Yet backfire it did. The water that Gyarados had sprayed onto Dodrio acted as a partial insulator, causing the attack to affect both it and Gyarados equally.

Both Pokemon went down.

Neither got up.

The trainers recalled their Pokemon.

"Good job," said Falkner. "You'll make a good Pokemon master, if you defeat me and all the others."

"Oh, I will. Count on it. But for the moment, this battle takes precedence," said Jason. He pulled out an Ultra ball and tossed it. "Go, Dratini!"

A burst of twinkling sparkles emerged from the ball, as did Dratini a moment later.

Falkner's eyes got wider. "What sort of a Dratini is *that*?"

"Mine," Jason responded dispassionately. "And it's a special one, too."

Falkner removed his final Poke ball from his belt. "I hate to battle something so amazing, but I'm afraid it's league rules. I can find out later. Go, Pidgeot!"

The Pidgeot from earlier re-emerged and stared at its opponent in curiosity. It cocked its head to one side, then the other.

"Pidgeot, fly!"

Pidgeot wasted no time in carrying out its master's order and took to the air.

"Dratini, safeguard!"

Dratini conjured a mystical wall, separating it from its enemy.

Falkner grunted. "Pidgeot, finish the attack, we won't get anything out of it."

Pidgeot struck the wall between it and Dratini, but got nothing out of the attack. It returned to the ground.

Jason allowed a small grin. "Dratini, wrap attack!"

Before Pidgeot or Falkner could react, Dratini wrapped itself around its opponent and began crushing it.

Falkner grit his teeth. "Pidgeot, try to break free!"

"No, you don't," Jason muttered. Louder, he said, "Dratini, thunderbolt attack!"

Dratini strained with all its might, both physically and mentally. It was difficult, keeping Pidgeot in place and attempting an attack at the same time.

Jason wasn't disappointed. The electric current ran throughout Pidgeot's entire body.

Dratini released it.

It dropped to the ground.

It stayed down.

Falkner groaned. "Pidgeot, return."

And then...

Dratini began to glow a blinding white.

Jason stared. *It's evolving!*

Everyone surrounded the glowing dragon Pokemon.

It began to grow. Its shape changed.

Four circular objects grew from the end of its tail. Another, larger one grew out of its neck.

Ornamental wings gre out the top of its head.

The glow faded.

And a sparkling red Dragonair stared up at Jason.

[That felt wonderful!] it enthused. [Amazing! Like nothing I've ever felt before! I wish I could describe it!]

Jason grinned. "Don't worry. You might find the words someday."

[Can I feel it again?] it asked eagerly. [Can you help me feel it again?]

Jason nodded. "Yes, I can. And I will. I'll keep training you, don't you worry about that. But for now, savor the moment when you evolve again. It'll be for the last time."

[I can only do it once more?] Its tone was rather sobered and saddened by this revelation.

"I'm afraid so. But I think you should consider yourself lucky. Some Pokemon feel it only once. Or never at all. Falkner's Dodrio, for example, only knew the sensation once. So did his Pidgeotto. His Pidgeot was fortunate enough to do it twice. But no Pokemon can do it more than twice."

"Yes, you should definitely consider yourself lucky," said Falkner, coming closer. He glanced at Jason. "Both of you should consider yourselves lucky." He looked at Dragonair. "You have a rare and beautiful gift... yourself. And you," and he turned to Jason, "are a remarkable trainer."

"Thank you," said Jason. "That means a lot from a gym leader."

"I know. That's why I said it. And also because it's true."

Jason nodded respectfully to Falkner. "And as noted, much appreciated." He turned back to Dragonair. "Do you want to come back into your Ultra ball, or do you want to stay out?"

Dragonair considered. [I think, for now, I want to stay out.] It looked itself over. [This is amazing!]

Jason took a good look at his new Dragonair. It was somewhat longer than a normal Dragonair, but not by much. The ornamental wings on its head were longer and looked even more sleek than those of a normal one, if that was possible. The orbs on its tail and neck glowed a neon blue, as did its innocent eyes. And, of course, its body sparkled red.

Unique to all Dragonairs.

Unique to all Pokemon.

Jason grinned. "I have no doubt. You make me wish I could feel it."

[I wish you could, too.] Dragonair looked at Jason wistfully. [It's a shame you can't.]

"Oh, I'm sure my time will come soon enough," Jason responded.

***

As they continued their journey through the modest dirt roads of Johto, Tommy glanced at Jason. "What did you mean when you said you were sure your time would come soon?"

"I'm not quite sure," said Jason.

Tommy snorted. "Then you said it for nothing."

"No, I said it for a reason. I'm just getting this terrible sense of foreboding, as if something big and disastrous were about to happen." Jason shook his head. "Not quite sure whether to trust it or not, though."

"Koga taught us to trust our instincts," said Tommy. "Maybe you should put a little faith in yours."

"If something big and disastrous happens, I will," Jason answered. "Until then, I don't think I'm going to put too much stock in what I had for breakfast."

Tommy shrugged. "Suit yourself. But when someone comes stepping over *my* grave, I'll take it seriously."

"You do that. For now, let's keep going."

***

A fist-sized, concentrated mass of flesh, blood, and bone floated in the middle of the container of fluid. The fluid was delicately balanced. Thirty-five hundred milligrams of metabolytes suspended in a hydro-saline solution, combined with refined nutrients and steroids, kept the mass...

Alive? It wasn't alive by any normal standard. It had no heart, much less a heartbeat. Nor did it have a brain.

Yet its blood pumped through its minuscule form. It looked almost like a fish, a fish with limbs slowly growing from its sides.

A fish with wings beginning to sprout from its back.

Thermographic scans were even indicating deposits of an unknown metal pocking the mass all along its form.

It was growing. Slowly, but surely, it was growing. The simulations showed that it would become exactly what they needed it to be.

Alive.

Sentient.

The scientists were not pleased with their employer.

"You'd think that after that business with the old lab, he'd learn not to ask us to do this," one of them muttered.

"Obviouly, he hasn't," a second one responded.

"Guys, I don't like this any more than you do," the lead scientist replied. "But he's paying us well for this, so we should try to give him results."

"Money in exchange for our souls," griped the second one. "This is-- inhuman. It's sick. It perverts everything about our research." He shoved a finger in the lead scientist's direction. "And being a survivor of that lab, you ought to know that."

The accused shook his head slowly. "It'll be different this time, I promise. R&D came up with a device to make it incapable of ignoring commands from its master."

"It's still sick. That abomination you helped create destroyed the very people that engineered its existence. And now he's asking us to do it again?" The skeptic shook his head. "Why? What does he hope to gain by it?"

"Knowledge."

All the scientists started at the new voice.

The voice of the man who was funding the project.

A shadow was all that stood in the entrance to the lab, a Persian standing at its side. The shadow stared at them with cold, pitiless eyes. "Knowledge is all I want. Is it not what you want?"

The angular face softened in a malevolent smile. "Best you get to work, before I retract my funding."

The skeptic spun around from his work station. "The knowledge we wanted to gain was meant for the benefit of mankind."

"As is the knowledge I want."

The skeptic shook his head again. "No. What you want is nothing less than conquest, and I won't stand for it. Forget you and your funding. I'd rather keep my soul, thank you."

The shadow tilted its head. "Then you are welcome to leave. I will not stop you."

It stood aside from the entrance to make room.

The skeptic frowned. "That's all?"

"Of course. What else would there be?"

The skeptic stood for a moment, uncertain.

Everyone in the lab was watching him.

He stripped his lab coat off, dropped it unceremoniously on the ground, and brushed past the shadow on his way out.

No heart dared beat.

The shadow stared after the departed scientist.

It glanced down at the Persian, still positioned next to the doorway.

"Persian..." it softly uttered.

***

Six days later, the trio found themselves approaching Azalea Town.

Jason and Kelly's thoughts were on battling the gym leader, Bugsy.

Tommy's mind was elsewhere.

Jason grinned as he watched Tommy ogle the local trees. "What, did Koga teach you to love nature so much as to marry a sapling?"

Kelly attempted to restrain herself from laughing, but ended up emitting a loud snort of amusement.

Tommy returned Jason's grin and approached one of the trees. "As a matter of fact, I was just noting that these trees are dropping ripe apricorns."

Jason wheeled himself over to the tree Tommy was admiring and saw that he was right. "Yeah. So?"

"*So*, Pokemon trainers of old used apricorns to capture Pokemon, since they lacked the technology to make capture balls."

Jason nodded slightly. "I remember reading about that, but I've always been in the dark as to exactly *how* they managed it. Something about hitting the Pokemon in the exact right spot, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, that's why most failed Pokemon trainers grew up to become minor league pitchers instead," Tommy joked. Then he knelt down to inspect one of the apricorns. He picked it up between thumb and forefinger. "Flawless. This should do well for Kurt."

"Who's Kurt?" asked Kelly, beating Jason to the punch.

"A very old, very wise man. Kurt makes capture balls for a living, and he makes them out of apricorns. Only certain apricorns can be used to make the capture balls."

"And what, do these capture balls have some special trait?" Jason asked.

"Yeah. Aside from unique designs to identify each kind, they each have a unique ability to make capturing certain Pokemon a little easier."

"Like...?" Kelly let the question dangle.

Tommy stood up and put the apricorn in his backpack. "Well, I've only seen two or three different kinds. There's one that helps making extremely heavy Pokemon a little easier to catch."

"Boy, I could've used that when I was catching Snorlax," Kelly muttered.

"Then there's a kind that helps catch water types, and I think there's one that almost guarantees a capture for a low-level Pokemon."

"Sounds interesting," said Jason. "Suddenly, I've a mind to start picking apricorns. Maybe we'll meet more ball makers along the way."

"Maybe," said Tommy. "But Kurt is the best."

"No doubt."

They continued along the path in relative silence for another fifteen minutes.

Kelly broke the silence. "Tommy, I've been wondering when we were going to see some of your good Pokemon."

Tommy chuckled. "Why should you care what Pokemon I've got? Planning to battle me?"

"Nah. I just figured that since you've seen mine and Jason's, you might return the favor sometime."

He looked at her. "I have. You've seen the Pokemon I'm taking with me. Rattata, Hoothoot, Sentret, Pidgey, Doduo..."

She snorted. "Low-level Pokemon which haven't had much time under your wing. I saw you capture that Pidgey with almost no effort at all."

He sighed impatiently. "Your point?"

"I think that you are better at training than you're letting on. I think you have Pokemon that are a lot more powerful than the ones you've got. Maybe..."

"Maybe... what?" asked Tommy.

"Maybe you've got Pokemon that we don't even know about yet."

He grinned and looked away. "That's ridiculous. You already have 226 Pokemon on-file. Researchers thought that there were only 150, originally."

"Exactly. And what if you had one of those still not yet discovered?"

Tommy chuckled again. "You're paranoid. Just because I might not be showing you the full scope of my abilities doesn't mean I have something else to hide."

"But why hide your true abilities as a trainer, when you could be using them to great effect?"

Tommy shrugged. "Simple. I'm more interested in watching Jason train. It's what I came along with him for. My brothers saw that my training methods were little more than a mesh of their own. But I'm not either of my brothers. They kept suggesting to me that I get out, find other people to travel with, and discover my true talents as a trainer." He looked back up. "And I have."

A mischievous look caught her eye. "Then maybe you wouldn't mind proving it in battle, after all."

He shook his head. "Not now. The Pokemon I've got with me are Pokemon I've not captured before."

She gaped at him. "You're joking. Even I went for Rattatas and Pidgeys when I started out."

"I'm not joking. When I first started, I only wanted to go for what I thought were the good ones. But now I've come to realize that there aren't good ones or bad ones. They're all different. I've got to embrace their diversity."

"Uh-huh," said Kelly, not convinced.

Tommy threw up his arms, exasperated. "What do you want from me?"

"You've mentioned the five Pokemon we know you captured. We've only seen you with those five," said Kelly. "But what about that sixth ball on your belt?"

Tommy's hand went to the ball in question protectively. "What about it?"

"I'd just like to know what's in it," she responded, amused by his response.

Tommy forced his hand away from the ball. "Nothing."

"Oh, really? No Pokemon in there at all?"

He shook his head. "Of course not. I just like to make it *look* like I've got six Pokemon. It intimidates other people that way."

Jason shook his head, but wheeled on in silence. He knew precisely which Pokemon was in that ball. He'd watched Tommy capture that one, and he knew that Tommy wasn't going to let Kelly see it very easily.

*Though, with its abilities,* he thought, *it does a mighty good job keeping itself hidden.*

Jason Creight brooded on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
2nd October 2003, 08:02 AM
Jason Creight awoke in a cold sweat.

He shoved himself into an upright position. He looked around, but at first, his eyes refused to focus. He reached up with his left thumb and forefinger to rub at them, but he lost his balance on his paralyzed rump and ended up on his back. The wind was knocked out of him, hardly helping his situation.

He passed out.

When he came to a scant few moments later, it was to the sensation of something warm and wet running down his left temple, down the side of his head, matting his hair and pooling slowly under it.

He groaned and gingerly touched it with his left hand. Blood, as he suspected. He reached behind his head, grabbed his backpack, and rummaged through it without looking. His hands found several articles of dirty clothing, his Sing earplugs, his Pokedex, but sadly, no band-aids. He sighed, then reached for a softer article of clothing.

He pulled out a sock. As soon as he saw it, he grunted. "No, thank you."

He put the sock back and pulled out a shirt on his second attempt. He dabbed at his head, and tried to remember what had happened.

*I was dreaming,* he thought. *And in that dream, I was able to stand. I was running, too. I looked up and saw a red sky. Blood red. The clouds were black.

I was running in fear.

I was afraid for my life.

But why?*

He pulled the shirt away from his wound and saw that the cut was not serious.

*Stings like hell, though,* he thought.

He saw that the sky was still midnight blue, and the temperature reflected the color perfectly. Jason shoved himself further into his sleeping bag and was suddenly thankful that he'd chosen to wear a sweater for the night.

It was getting colder. It was already November, mid-fall. The trees had shown their pretty colors in all their resplendent glory, but then they had turned the ugly brown they all managed to become before they fell outright. Jason remembered that along their way through Johto, his cadre had passed near several small towns that'd had kids playing in leaf piles.

Jason continued to stare up at the sky. It glittered with stars, unaffected by the glow of any nearby city. It showed no sign of producing a sun any time soon.

He reached into his backpack and grabbed his PokeGear, intending to check the time. When he read the digits, he groaned.

1:37 a.m.

He reflected on the sequence of events that had eventually led him to this point in his life. Upon examining them in retrospect, in detachment, he suddenly realized that grown men had undergone less torturous experiences and gone berserk as a result. Or, even worse, committed suicide.

To his own alarm, Jason began visualizing himself going off the deep end. He wondered what it had been like for those countless others, what it had been like to intentionally kill themselves. Drowning, slashing, bullets...

Jason came to the conclusion that the end result was pretty much the same for all of them.

They were all dead.

He stared down the length of his sleeping bag, his eyes coming to rest on the anorexic, unfeeling structures that he had once taken so much for granted.

Not for the first time, nor the last, he cursed those legs. Cursed the day he'd lost use of them.

Cursed himself for causing the loss.

True, it had been the Tentacruel that had confused his Raichu. And it had been Raichu that had sent the electric current into the water Jason had occupied.

But that really didn't make much of a difference to him. He knew that the one who had devised the plan in the first place was himself.

It was his fault.

It had been his fault when he'd cared enough to destroy his own family.

It had been his fault when he'd run away.

It had been his fault when he'd started training.

It had been his fault when he'd allowed Kelly to travel with him.

It had been his fault when Daniel came to Pallet Town to hunt him down-- twice.

It had been his fault when he'd lost his legs.

All of the blame was on his shoulders.

Something in him wanted so desperately to snap. He chuckled, giddy with this sudden, unexpected burst of borderline insanity.

*What part of me is that?* he wondered. *Where would I snap, eh? My legs? I wouldn't even feel it. And what would I do if I snapped? Leave? Where would I go? Kelly and Tommy would surely find me, wherever I went.*

And then his thoughts fell back on themselves.

*Suicide.*

Jason continued to stare at the stars.

They continued to stare back.

*And what if I did it?* he wondered, frightened though he was of the dark path these sudden thoughts were leading him down.

He shuddered to think of flinging himself over a bridge.

He shuddered to think of slashing his wrists.

He shuddered to think of *death.*

*And yet, somehow, against all odds, I still survive,* he thought.

*Why?*

He looked for his answer in those enigmatic stars.

He found the answer lying three feet away.

Everything began to fall back into place, into that sense of order in the midst of the chaos of his own mind.

*I have to stay sane,* he thought. *For her sake, if not my own. I can't give in to it.*

He reflected on the times he and Kelly had gone through. It was no secret to Tommy--or for that matter, anyone in Pallet Town--that they cared for each other on the deepest emotional level.

Then the perturbing night of Jason's long-awaited return to Pallet Town came to mind.

Jason's spirit sank low again.

He still hadn't told Kelly about any of it. He doubted if she could understand, and he felt that it would simply complicate their lives by dwelling on events past.

*And future,* he amended ruefully.

He vividly remembered the insane, wild man's look in Creight's eyes. Eyes, Jason knew, that might have one day become his own, had his older self not come back.

But it wasn't Creight's near-insanity that still haunted Jason's dreams.

It was his loneliness.

His despair.

Jason knew he had to come to terms with that.

The problem was knowing who to go to.

Obviously, that person wasn't Kelly.

*But what about Tommy? Or Sam?* Jason asked himself. *Why not talk to them? They know Creight's story. Why do I still choose not to say anything?*

It was true; Jason was inexplicably unnerved at the prospect of telling either Tommy or Professor Oak about the *full* story. Possibly because it involved such personal emotions.

Jason had had no problem understanding Creight's desire to confide his full story only to his younger self. And he still didn't.

Perhaps he was attempting to honor Creight's memory.

Jason sighed and tried to stop analyzing himself. He was no psychiatrist. He knew that.

The simple fact was that he didn't want to tell anyone what had happened that night. It was too personal, and for the moment, too confusing and bewildering to him.

He looked back at Kelly. Creight's loneliness had prompted him to go to such extreme measures to stop his past and prevent his future. And his loneliness had prompted him to go to Kelly's room that night and confess undying love to her.

Jason had told Tommy about that part. But what he'd refused to tell either Tommy or Oak was that Creight had pushed and shoved his way into the position of Team Rocket boss.

All for Kelly's sake, supposedly.

Because Creight believed he loved her.

Jason didn't know what he felt when he looked at Kelly. He didn't know if it was love.

"Sure isn't hate," he muttered.

But he *did* know that he and Kelly cared for each other on a deeper level than boyfriend and girlfriend. Even after he had left her in Pallet Town to pursue his own future, he had still cared, even if he'd refused to admit it.

*I care,* he thought. *But is caring enough? Or does the relationship need to go deeper than that?*

Jason didn't know what to feel.

He look up to the stars once more.

"What is it you have planned?" he asked aloud. "Where do we go after this?"

Jason heard rustling over to the side. He turned toward it, and saw that Tommy had awakened, possibly to Jason's question.

And Tommy was the one who answered the question.

"You go any direction you choose, Jason," he said. "Hopefully, you'll choose the right one."

Jason quickly attempted to change the subject, though he knew that from Tommy's response, he'd not awakened the younger teen with his words. He'd awakened on his own. "Hey. I was hoping you'd wake up. I've been feeling sort of lonely, being the only one awake."

"Really?" Tommy was amused.

"Sure. And I'd like to know why you don't want to show your... other Pokemon to Kelly. If you don't mind telling me."

tommy shook his head dismissively. "No problem. I just want her to think it's worth something."

Jason chuckled. "Isn't it?"

"Sure. Why did *you* think I was trying to hide it?"

"Dunno. I just figured you were trying to annoy Kelly."

This time it was Tommy who scoffed. "Close enough."

"Nice to know."

Tommy searched the face of his secretive, paraplegic mentor. "This thing between you and Kelly... it's really bugging you, isn't it?"

*Nuts,* Jason thought. *I was hopoing he'd stay off the subject.* He sighed heavily. "Yeah. It's a weird relationship we've got. And I came back for the weirdest of reasons."

Tommy raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You came back to save her because you cared about her. What's so weird about that?"

Jason knew that Tommy was trying to make the situation sound normal. *It's anything but, though, and he knows it.* "Because it was Creight who let me know that that's what happened in his time."

Tommy shook his head. "Are you ever going to stop thinking about him? He doesn't exist, and according to this timeline, he never did and never will."

"It's hard not to think about looking into your own eyes and seeing that kind of madness, that kind of loneliness in them. Creight wasn't a mirror image of me, he was ten years older." Jason threw his arm up in frustration.

A long pause followed. Tommy spoke after those uncomfortable moments.

"There's something else, isn't there? Something you're not telling me."

Jason nodded dismally. "Yeah."

"Is it something you want to talk about?"

Jason bobbed his head in a defeated manner. "I'll have to, sooner or later. I guess I'd prefer it be you than a psychiatrist."

Tommy accepted the statement as a compliment. "Want to go somewhere private?"

"Yeah. Hang on a minute."

Three minutes later, a note explaining Jason and Tommy's absences to Kelly was on Jason's sleeping bag, and Jason, still in his night sweats, was comfortably seated in his wheelchair. "Let's go."

Jason and Tommy went off the path a little way, and stopped at a small bridge spanning a creek.

Tommy situated himself, prepared to hear the rest of Creight's story.

Prepared, that is, until he heard it.

***

The scientists buzzed about the dark lab, lit only by the eerie green light emitting from the containment tank.

Some of the scientists were understandably panicked, while others were frighteningly calm.

"We'll have to transfer the specimen to a larger tank. No smaller than a number 16," said one of the scientists, a stocky man named Grist.

"If we remove it from this one," another objected, "it'll be contaminated!"

"Particles of dust are negligible contaminants," said Grist. "Anyone else against physical removal? And with solid reasons, please."

"Its brain is too developed to risk it," said a third scientist, a redheaded man named Elledge. "It may awaken if we remove it from the fluid, and we haven't inserted the code commands. Speaking of awakening, why haven't you ordered the stronger sedative I've been asking for?"

A dark figure entered the lab.

Immediately, instinctively, the scientists snapped to attention.

Several believed the lab had just become twenty degrees colder.

"I don't want it to be suppressed," said the figure.

"You don't understand," said Elledge. "Suppression by sedation is the only thing preventing it from blowing the lab, and the man who funds the lab, to atoms. Quarks. Sub-quarks."

The figure grunted. "Do you not think its health will be at risk if you give it stronger doses?"

"It's resisting the doses we're giving it now. If it takes even one more cc, its system may be damaged. The sedative needs to be changed."

The figure sighed heavily. "Fine, then. Your sedative will be here in twelve hours."

"That's not good enough," Elledge pressed. "It's growing exponentially. We've been trying to slow its growth rates, but its resisting the slowdown. It's resisting everything we give it, except for the nutrients. If we don't transfer it to another tank, it'll burst free of this one within three hours."

"And we need half an hour to get the right ratio of nutrients and sedatives in the mixture," added a scientist in the background.

"And another half hour to fill a number 16 tank," said Grist, feeling decidedly bolder.

"So there you have it," said Elledge. "We need that sedative within two hours."

The figure's eyes were two slits of contempt. "Very well. You will have it within two hours."

He turned to leave.

But the scientists all heard the veiled threat he tossed over his shoulder.

"This had better be worth it."

After a moment of uncomfortable silence following the figure's departure, Grist turned to Elledge. "How do you suggest we deal with transporting it from this tank to the number 16?"

"Teleportation with a Kadabra."

"Not an Abra?"

"Larger risk of psychic feedback."

"Not that much larger."

"We can't make any room for error."

Whenever a psychic Pokemon or psychic human made use of teleportation abilities, they memorized the structure of every single molecule, every single atom of their target. They then dematerialized the target and sent the original atoms to their destination. Through a complex process of projected energy/matter conversion, they reassembled their target at the designated destination. Thus was the death of countless Pokemon trainers, and the "rebirth" of those same trainers, all within a matter of seconds.

Grist didn't need to ask why they couldn't use an Alakazam. They didn't have one, and even if they did, it would have been of little use; such highly evolved Pokemon often threw away such abilities in favor of attacks.

And of course, trying to raise one now would be pointless.

"Fine. A Kadabra, then," said Grist. "You need any help on those ratio calculations?"

"I'd've had them finished by now if these amateurs weren't bothering me about that thing," said Elledge, indicating the tank. "But yeah, I could use some help."

The tank was the most brightly illuminated object in the lab; all other lights were set on low. It was the greenish tint of the fluids within that tank that bathed the lab in such a green glow.

But the object floating within the fluids was the focus of the entire project.

It was a living being.

It wasn't human.

But one couldn't really call it Pokemon, either.

The best term any scientist could come up with was "creature."

No longer the size of an average goldfish, it was close to exceeding the limits of the containment tank. Its small wings had surged in their growth rates, along with everything else in it. Those wings shone in the light. They were black as space, impenetrable as titanium.

Its entire body was the same terrifying black color, shining in the same hypnotic manner.

The creature was of constantly growing proportions, growing so quickly that the naked eye would have no trouble watching the process. Its cells multiplied as rapidly as bacteria, granting it a regenerative process that could not be measured by modern charts.

Even as the scientists worked, it continued to evolve.

And not even its creators could stop it.

***

Two hours, fifty-five minutes later, the new containment tank had been filled with the life-giving nutrients and the life-protecting sedatives.

The creature was straining against the glass of its own tank. Spiderweb cracks began to grow across the surface of the glass, producing a mesmerizing fractal pattern.

"We'd better get this in the next twenty seconds," a scientist warned.

"Okay, then," said Grist. "Kadabra, teleport the creature to the new tank."

The armor-plated, spoon-wielding psychic Pokemon that was Kadabra bgean to concentrate, to focus its power on the creature in the tank.

The creature disappeared in a flash of light, leaving a leaking tank.

Kadabra's eyes suddenly grew wide with unrestrained, unbridled terror. It began screaming anguished screams that resounded throughout the lab. "DAA- BRAAA!!!"

Scientists swore collectively, knowing this shouldn't have happened. Grist raced up to Kadabra and grabbed it by the shoulders. "Focus! Send it into the tank! Focus!"

But Kadabra couldn't focus. Even in its dematerialized state, the creature was unbearably powerful. The patterns Kadabra had memorized to initiate the teleportation were now invading the patterns of Kadabra's own neural pathways. The pathways were being severed, rerouted, and reconnected, so that anything the frantic lead scientist said to it became nothing more than unintelligible gibberish, and anything it saw became an insane kaleidescope that would drive humans into psychosis.

In a last ditch effort to rid itself of the creature's infestation, Kadabra sent it to a random destination. Whatever else was happening in Kadabra's mind, it knew that the creature would harm it no more if Kadabra would just send it away.

Kadabra then keeled over, no longer able to bear pain nor any other sensation, and died.

The scientists had not witnessed the psychic barrage the creature had bombarded Kadabra with. Nor had they witnessed the creature's rematerialization.

Because the creature did not rematerialize in the new tank.

Grist cursed, cursed again, believing that the creature had not been saved, that it had died along with Kadabra.

And then they heard the roar.

It wasn't human.

And they doubted if it could be called Pokemon.

The roar echoed within itself. It was a roar elicited only by existence itself. It spanned the harmonics, heard and unheard, all at once. It was louder than they could bear... yet softer than a whisper.

It was coming from outdoors.

Despite their better judgment, the more determined scientists, including Elledge and grist, ran outside.

It was pouring rain. Lightning crackled across the black, clouded sky. The pelting, driving rain had already turned the packed dirt around the lab to the consistency of mud.

The scientists' determination led them through the muddy terrain of southern Cinnabar Island.

And then they saw the creature.

Many gasped in horror.

Many more turned and ran.

One scientist grabbed Grist by the lapels of his soaked lab coat.

"This is all our fault!" he yelled.

"No!" Grist responded. "It's alive; the whole point of our experiment was to make it live!"

"Don't you understand?! The code commands were never implanted!" the scientist screamed. "We don't have control over it! No one does!"

Grist's face became a window to his horror as he realized that the scientist was right.

They had *no* control.

The creature was wild.

It roared.

Roared again.

Grist whispered his final words.

"What have we done?"

And the volcano, Mt. Cinnabar, which had lain dormant for so many years...

Blew.

***

Though it was Jason's PokeGear that rang, it was Kelly who awoke to the sound.

She groaned, rolled over, and reached out to wake Jason up.

Her hand hit his empty sleeping bag, and the note he had left.

She frowned and read the note.

"Had to talk in private. We're nearby if you need us."

Kelly sighed, then reached into Jason's backpack and pulled out his PokeGear. The caller ID feature identified the caller as Professor Oak, much to her surprise. She hit the "call" button. "Hello, Professor."

"Kelly?" Oak's disembodied voice rang with surprise. "I thought I was calling Jason."

"He's indisposed at the moment. Anything I can relay?"

"Yes," Oak gravely responded. "Mt. Cinnabar had blown sky-high, and it's taken the majority of Cinnabar Island with it. Jason has a rather vast collection of flying Pokemon, and I was calling to let him know that I'm taking them to help with rescue and relief efforts. His water Pokemon, too."

Kelly sat up, instantly on alert upon this news. "I'll tell him. Anything you want or need me to do?"

"Yes. Make sure he doesn't try to go there himself. He'd just endanger himself. This is for the professionals. That goes for you and Tommy, as well."

"Right."

"Good. Meanwhile, best you get on to the next town for more news, unless one of you has a radio upgrade in your PokeGears."

Kelly shook her head. "No, none of us does."

"Then you'd better get yourselves some in the next town."

"Okay. Stay safe, Professor."

Oak snorted. "Somehow, I doubt this situation will permit it. But thank you, Kelly."

He hung up.

Kelly hit the "end" button and sighed. The sun wasn't even up, and already disaster had struck. She knew she wasn't going to get any sleep now; she started getting dressed.

This was going to be a long day.

***

The Pokemon gym was dark. Dark as the night sky above it.

Trainers didn't go to the gym at this hour because it impeded on their idea of common sense.

Not even the elite trainees visited the gym at this hour, despite the leader's encouraging to do otherwise.

The gym was almost totally unoccupied.

Almost.

One figure sat alone in it.

His eyes were closed. Even if they had been open, even he wouldn't have been able to tell the difference.

But he didn't need to have his eyes open to know the gym inside and out.

His legs were crossed, his palms loosely pressed together in his lap. His breathing was minimal, almost nonexistent.

He mentally reached down inside himself, as he had so many times in the past, and tried to find the point where physical and mental passed into the mystical.

It was his window to the only heaven he would know in this life.

Closer. Closer. So close...

And then the scent of one of his students wafted under his nose.

He smiled. The one who'd just entered the room had totally evaded his ears, but his nose was as good as the trunk of a Donphan--or so he liked to tell his students. "Hello, Peter."

He could detect no sign of surprise in Peter--no sharp intake of breath, no vocal confirmation, no audible bodily shifting. *Good,* he thought. *He knows my skills well. He will be one of the greatest of my students. I can only hope he will return to teach those that follow.

But why is he here?*

"Respects, Master," Peter responded.

Peter had been away, training and battling against some tough competitors near Indigo Plateau. Though the boy had not yet registered for a Pokemon league, the master knew that his former student had desired such competition to futher hone his skills.

"You have returned," the master noted. "I am pleased. I am also surprised. I thought you would stay at the plateau longer than this."

"The reason I've returned is a rather serious one," said Peter. "Mt. Cinnabar erupted nearly two hours ago. Even now, lava is pouring all across Cinnabar Island. Gym leader Blaine has disappeared. Many have already died, and many more are still on the island, despite rescue attempts."

The master frowned almost imperceptibly. "I wonder why I was not informed. I have encouraged the students to stay in their waking moments as the spirit moves them."

"I don't think the students are given to watch the news at 4:00 in the morning. Most of the city is sleeping at this point, no matter how people claim to pull all-nighters."

The master sighed. "Very well. Then why come here, if the rescues are occurring at Cinnabar?"

"More destruction has followed in the wake. Fissures in the earth have appeared between Cinnabar and here. Some areas have been flooded, others are burning in wildfires. I believe that Mt. Cinnabar's eruption wasn't natural."

The master finally opened his eyes, though they still could not see anything. He stood, walked to the nearest wall, and said, "Shield your eyes."

He then flipped a switch that activated a pair of low-setting strobe lights hanging overhead. They revealed a character hidden beneath a simple black robe and hood, the depths of which stubbornly refused to be penetrated by the light. Peter's hands had not moved from his sides; the master decided that from within the hood, no other protection from light was needed.

"So, you believe that the destruction is being caused by a Pokemon?" the master asked.

"I believe it's being caused by a creature with greater power than even the strongest Pokemon of the Elite Four combined possess," Peter responded.

"Then why come to one of the Elite Four for help?" the master asked, grimly amused.

"I didn't come to ask for help. I came to assist in protecting the city."

"You believe this creature is coming here?"

"The damage is in a straight line, and this city is on that line. Maybe the creature doesn't mean to pass through, but it will be if it keeps heading straight."

The master smiled a tight smile. "And you believe you can help defeat this creature when you yourself say that the combined Elite Four cannot?"

"I remember what you taught me, Master," Peter quietly answered. "I believe in the power of one."

The master waved his hand dismissively. "There is no master here. There is only uncle and nephew here."

Peter pulled his hood back around his shoulders, revealing blazing blue eyes, long whitish-blond hair, and a determined expression. "In that case, Uncle Koga, I ask you as your nephew: do you still believe in the power of one?"

Koga responded with an expression as determined as that of his oldest nephew. "I must. As you must. If this threat is as you say, it is all we will have in the upcoming battle. But I also believe in the power of the heart. And the heart beats stronger when it is with allies. You must call your brothers and friends. We will all face this threat together."

Peter nodded once. "Yes, we will."

***

Jason shook his head. First he turns Tommy's perceptions of Creight upside- down, then Professor Oak does the same thing with Jason's Pokemon collection.

*How much worse can a day get?* he wondered, as Kelly finished explaining Oak's reasons.

As if on cue, Tommy's PokeGear began to ring.

Kelly groaned, thinking that one call a day was quite enough.

Tommy paid no attention to the groan and examined the caller ID. He glanced up in surprise. "It's Peter."

"Who's Peter?" Kelly whispered to Jason.

"His oldest brother," Jason replied. "Also known as the Star Wolf."

He hit the "call" button. "Peter?"

"Tommy, I know this is abrupt, but I need you to come home. Right now."

Jason's head snapped up. Kelly raised an eyebrow. Tommy frowned. "Why? What is it?"

Wolf's whispered reponse was one name.

A name that held no meaning for Kelly.

A name that sent shivers down Jason's spine.

A name that froze Tommy to the core of his being.

"Tirenza."

Jason Creight gaped on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
3rd October 2003, 06:49 AM
NOTE: This is a tie-in to a story named "Shadows Cast" If there are details you are unsure about, refer to Chapters 12 and 13 of this story.

URGENT: I wrote some portions of this chapter under protest; therefore, I must reiterate that the author of "Shadows Cast," Star Wolf, holds rights to his characters (Peter/Star Wolf and Jonathan/Neo Blade), and the Pokemon they carry. (I hold rights to Tommy/Flame Viper and his Pokemon.) If at any point you consider this chapter a story killer... you're probably right. But please keep reading anyway.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------

Jason Creight awoke to the sweet smell of burning clothes... and the meaty stench of burning flesh.

He forced his eyes open, found them staring at the soil.

The soil of Fuschia City.

He craned his neck upward and looked over his shoulder.

His left leg was on fire.

"Damn!" he yelled, as he tried to wrench his body sideways, tried to bury the flames in the soil.

The wrenching motion caused his right leg to flop onto his left, smothering the flames somewhat.

Then his legs flipped completely over, and the flame went out.

Jason's breathing was hard. Ragged. He turned his eyes away from the still-smoking extremity and brought them to bear on the sky above him.

The sky was red.

The red of Jason's burnt flesh.

The red of blood.

Reddish-white lightning crackled across that blood-colored sky, and thunder followed it an instant later.

The earsplitting screech and booming roar of the creature nearly ripped Jason's eardrums to shreds.

And he remembered why he was here.

***

It had taken only one word.

"Tirenza."

That one word that Wolf had spoken had served to chill Jason's spine.

It also served to galvanize Tommy into instant action.

His hand snapped to his backpack, grabbed his capture ball belt, and pulled back within a matter of a split-second. It had happened so quickly that Kelly, who had been blinking that instant, had not even seen the move. All she'd seen was Tommy without a belt in his hand, then Tommy with a belt a blink later.

"When?" he demanded of his brother.

"Not yet," Wolf assured him. "But very soon. It made Mt. Cinnabar blow, I'm sure of it. Koga told me to call you home. He wants to face this as a family. We couldn't do that last time. We're both determined not to let it happen again."

"You're not alone," Tommy replied. "I'm coming."

He hit the "end" button. Then he grabbed all of his things off the ground, shoved them unceremoniously in his backpack, and started off at a dead run up the path. Jason quickly followed suit, knowing exactly what the entire exchange had meant.

Kelly was clueless.

Tommy and Jason had chosen not to share the Shadow boys' past with her. Jason had morbidly wondered why they never could trust her with anything personal, but Tommy had assured him that if Kelly never even knew there was a secret, she wouldn't pry into it.

She'd never figured out there was a secret being kept, other than what Tommy's sixth Pokemon was.

And now, for her, the mystery of Tommy's life was becoming as complex as Jason's had been.

But before she could even ask what the exchange had meant, Jason and Tommy had already started off.

*I guess I'll have to figure it out on the way,* she thought, as she sighed and grabbed her things.

***

Jason shook his head as he rolled his wheels as quickly as he could, trying to keep up with Tommy's considerable pace. "You know that Kelly's going to ask after this now, right?"

Tommy's reply was, "After all this is overwith, she can ask after it all she wants!"

"Glad to hear you're confident about the entire situation this time around!"

Tommy glared over his shoulder. "Not like we had much of a choice then! We didn't know about it!"

"True!" Jason conceded. "But somehow, I doubt if it's the same Pokemon you encountered last time!"

"What makes you say that?"

"The way you make it sound, if it could have made Mt. Cinnabar blow up, it would have!"

Tommy shook his head, though Jason could hardly tell from the way Tommy was shifting his body as he was running. "That's something else I'm worried about! The other one was taking orders from Giovanni!"

*And Giovanni's been swearing revege on all four of us ever since we last met...*

That uncomfortable thought rolled around Jason's mind. "You think Giovanni is responsible for what's going on?"

Tommy didn't respond. He kept running.

***

Tommy thought it was a distinct possibility that Giovanni was responsible, but now he was seeing it in two lights.

The first light was that Giovanni was giving this thing, whatever it was, orders to go to Tirenza. It had to be Giovanni; he was sadistic enough. And for him to have found out that they came from Tirenza, he had to have found out who they really were...

The second light was that whatever this thing was, it may have been *created* by Giovanni in the first place. The otther one most certainly had been--*Mewtwo*, he thought grimly--and for some reason, some mysterious reason, it had spared his life and the lives of his older brothers.

Would this one do the same?

Tommy didn't know.

He deigned not to let himself be in such a vulnerable position as to find out.

He looked over his shoulder and saw that Jason, handicapped though he was, was keeping up with him. Kelly, on the other hand, was not doing so well. She was lagging behind terribly, and for a moment, Tommy wanted to take pity on her, wanted to let her rest for a minute.

He mentally shook his head. *Sparing her a few seconds might mean losing Koga and my brothers. I can't let that happen.*

Tommy wondered if he was overreacting, even as the Pokemon center loomed large before them. Again, he mentally shook his head. *Nothing is more important than this.*

He'd seen total annihilation before.

He'd be damned if he saw it again.

As they raced into the Pokemon center, Jason said, "You're thinking what I'm thinking. You think that Giovanni created whatever this thing is."

Tommy nodded, seeing no need to supplement the statement. Instead of verbally responding to Jason, he approached Nurse Joy. "Where's your Pokemon transporter, please?"

Nurse Joy smiled, always the friendly and polite one. "Right over there." She pointed off to the far right corner of the room.

Tommy nodded. "Thank you."

Then he noticed how many people were crowded into the center. Trainers, mostly; he could tell by their capture ball belts. But there were a few people of other various occupations, as well.

They were all in front of the television.

Normally, Tommy would quietly scoff at their addiction to eye-frying pixels, but now, he could understand it. He imagined the tube was showing several good photos and video images of Mt. Cinnabar blowing sky-high, and taking a good chunk of Cinnabar Island with it. He peeked over a few shoulders and saw how horribly ugly the situation looked; red-hot lava was pouring down all sides of Mt. Cinnabar, mowing over trees and small villages.

He didn't dwell on it as he approached the transporter. Quickly, he programmed the coordinates for Koga's private student collections and began the tedious, time-consuming process of transporting his relatively useless Pokemon to his collection in exchange for a few of his bigger guns.

Belatedly, he noticed Jason had positioned his wheelchair to his direct left. He had seen the names and stats of the Pokemon he'd exchanged his current ones for.

Tommy had only traded in five. His sixth one remained on his belt.

Not that Tommy especially cared what Jason had seen. He considered Jason to be completely trustworthy, and he wasn't going to block Jason's view to keep a couple of his Pokemon secret. Tommy still had reservations on Kelly, and that was partially because Jason had reservations about her.

The fact that she'd been Jason's girlfriend for such a long time served only to convince Tommy that Jason was right in having reservations.

Jason looked up at Tommy with a grim expression. "Loading for Dragonite, are we?"

"Yeah, and you'd better do the same. Something tells me that nothing less is going to do any good against this thing."

"You're probably right. In that case, move aside."

Tommy was more than happy to do so. Some of Jason's Pokemon could easily match his own, and Tommy believed Jason to be one of the strongest allies he had, aside from his brothers.

He glanced back at Kelly.

*For her sake, I hope nothing is repeated today.*

Jason apparently caught the glance as he was preparing his Pokemon for transport, because he said, "I suppose you want to leave her someplace safe."

Tommy sighed. "Yeah, but I know she's not going to stay someplace safe."

Jason raised an eyebrow. "You don't trust her?"

"You don't, either."

"About some things, no," Jason conceded. "But what I *have* told her is what I believe she will keep secret." He then grunted at the machine he faced. "Professor Oak sure is serious about rescuing as many as he can. He took a massive chunk out of my collection. Mind if Kelly and I borrow a flyer?"

"I took Fearow out because I was planning on you asking," said Tommy. "I'll take this one." He patted his sixth capture ball.

Jason raised an eyebrow again. "You planning on letting Kelly see it, after all?"

"I'm less worried about that than what'll happen to Fuschia City if we don't get there in time."

Jason snorted. "What, you think we're going to make much difference? It's not as if Koga and your brothers aren't there."

"Ever hear of the power of one?" Tommy asked. "It's something Koga taught me and my brothers. Hammered it into us day and night while we were training with him. The power of one is based on the belief that any given one being, human or Pokemon, has the ability given to them to change the world. Anyone can make a difference. And any single being might make all the difference." Tommy looked pointedly at Jason. "That being could be you, me, Peter, Koga... even Giovanni, if the powers-that-be choose to throw that little irony our way."

Tommy could see Jason thinking on it. He was almost certain his paraplegic companion was thinking about Creight, who had gone so far as to change the flow of the timeline Jason existed in to make that difference.

Tommy shook his head. He hoped Jason would be able to get over the incident, at least for the time being. They had more important things to worry about.

His PokeGear began to ring. He checked the caller ID, to see it was Peter again. He hit the "CALL" button. "Yeah, Peter?"

"Tommy..." Peter's voice trailed off uncomfortably. "I hope you're bringing Jason with you, because I think we'll need him."

Tommy grinned. *Oh, that must have hurt to say.* He remembered all too well the bad note Jason and Peter had parted ways on. He remembered the bad note they'd *started* on. It was easy for him to see how Jason and Peter thought of each other, though Jason never spoke of Tommy's oldest brother with anything but openness and curiosity. And though Peter and his brothers had been present at the destruction of the Creights' marina-- nearly ten years ago now--and though Jason had proven himself to be a formidable trainer and a great ally, Peter still seemed to regard the paraplegic as a "bad guy." If not that, then certainly an enigma.

"Yeah, I'm bringing him." He leaned closer to the microphone. "We're also bringing along another friend of his, but I'm not sure if it's a good idea to bring her into the fight."

Tommy heard Peter snort. "It's not a good idea for any of us to go into this fight, little bro. Does she have powerful Pokemon?"

"Her Pokemon are decent, but against the enemy you're talking about, hers would probably be among the first to fall, unless she has an ace in the hole that we don't know about."

Peter sighed. It came out of Tommy's PokeGear as static. "Then it's probably best for her if we kept her away from the battle. If she has an ace in the hole, then we'll keep her in reserve."

"Right. Should I tell her about...?" Tommy trailed off, knowing that Peter would know exactly what he meant.

"No," Peter tersely replied. "That's strictly for us. No one else needs to know. She might leak."

*And if she did, who would she leak to? Jason? He already knows. And if the stuff was only supposed to be for us, then I've already broken a trust...*

Tommy didn't want to dwell on that. Instead, he focused on his conversation. "All right. Anything else?"

"John's here now, and Koga's making sure that an announcement gets out informing everyone to assume tornado conditions. I can see people already clearing the streets from here." Peter chuckled grimly. "If one thing's true about him, it's that he knows how to get a job done quickly and effectively."

"Right." Tommy turned to Jason, who was tucking the last capture ball into his belt. "Listen, I'm going to have to exchange Pokemon when we get there. Since there are three of us, I had to get more than one flying type."

"Fine," Peter responded dismissively. "Just make sure you're ready before the battle comes to us."

"I will."

"Good. We'll see you when you get here."

"Right."

They both hung up.

Tommy turned back to Jason. "Time to go, I'd say."

Jason nodded. He looked over at Kelly, who was ogling the TV, along with just about everyone else in the Pokemon center. It was showing the massive damage this supposed creature had caused at Cinnabar, as well as along its way toward Fuschia City.

*And we're heading right into the middle of it...*

"Let's go, Kelly."

***

When they arrived, they were there just in time to see the sky begin to change color. From pale blue it transformed into a lavender color, then purplish. Even darker colors loomed on the horizon.

Lightning flashed in the black clouds that approached.

Jason settled himself into his wheelchair as Tommy helped Kelly off Fearow and recalled his Pokemon.

Tommy turned to Jason. "We're going straight to the gym. Koga and my brothers are waiting for us there."

"Right."

When they entered the gym, Jason immediately noticed the empty scene to it, though there were many, many different aromas that suggested there were people here. The heaviness of the air hanging around him also said there were people, but there were none he could hear or see.

"Of course you can't see us. We're trained to disappear."

Jason recognized the voice as Wolf's, but the words bounced all over the gym and made it hard to determine where it had come from.

Tommy glared into the relative darkness of the gym. "We were also trained to keep our special little secrets hidden until the time came to use them."

A dark shape dropped down from the ceiling to the floor, not moving at falling speed, but rather at a controlled speed. Jason knew right away that Wolf was putting his telekinesis to good use, and recalled the last time he'd seen Wolf use it. It had startled Jason to discover the Shadow clan trainee had this ability.

It did not startle him now.

When Wolf touched down, Tommy glared at his oldest brother. Wolf shrugged. "I've learned a few more things since we trained under Koga. One of them is to use everything you've got to your advantage."

"And let me guess," said Tommy. "You've been scanning the minds of every trainer who ever challenged you to see what they would do next. And you've won every match you've been in."

"You're catching on," said Wolf. "But for the moment, let's not worry so much about my abilities as of those of that creature. It's man-made, just like Mewtwo was."

"*Who's Mewtwo?*" Kelly whispered to Jason.

"*I'll explain later,*" Jason responded.

Wolf glanced at Jason, and his face became expressionless.

Then he turned back to Tommy. "You told him."

Tommy stood his ground. "Yeah. I did."

"Why?"

"Because keeping it to myself was too much for me. And I trust him to keep it secret."

"How do you know he will?"

Jason grunted. "You've still got a problem with me, then."

Wolf shook his head. "Less of one than before. I can tell that you've been doing a good job with helping Tommy think and train in new ways, and I respect that. And I will admit, yes, I do have a problem with you. Doubtful that it's reasonable, or that it's something you can help or change, but there it is." He turned back to his youngest brother. "No, my bigger problem is with Tommy."

"Would you have suggested I take it to a counselor instead?" Tommy pointed out. "I needed to tell someone. And Jason understood everything, and realizes that it needs to be kept secret."

Kelly sighed. "*There go my chances of finding out. Don't lie to me like that, Jason.*" She whacked him on the shoulder.

"We don't have time for this right now, Peter," said Tommy. "I need to change my team, and we need to get ready for the fight."

And then came the horrible screeching, the terrible roaring.

The screech sounded vaguely like a million nails scraping along a mile of slate. The roar was as if a million lightning bolts had struck and the thunder was rushing to answer all of them at once.

Curiously, the two sounds were in concert with each other. Both were calls, both were responses.

Two more dark shapes appeared from the depths of the darkness. One was clearly Koga; there was no mistaking his indigo robes or his vaguely spiked, jet-black hair.

Jason didn't recognize the other one. She also had jet-black hair, tied back into a ponytail. She had brown eyes and wore a green *gi*, the sign of a martial arts master. Jason found her rather attractive, then began to wonder if it was okay to ogle her. After all, he still had Kelly to think about, yet neither of them seemed to know where their relationship was going...

"Jason Creight, it is an honor to battle by your side," Koga rumbled, and he bowed respectfully to Jason. Jason recalled Koga; he'd been an extremely formidable opponent, and had beaten Jason twice in battle before Jason had finally figured out how to stop Koga's irritating and debilitating poison attacks. Jason also ruefully recalled that the wagers he'd placed, based purely on his confidence in his Pokemon, had been outrageous. Koga was only too happy to receive the money, and when Jason finally beat him, the man did not return all of it.

Jason rolled his eyes at the memory. Full refund hadn't been the wager, only more money. So the entire ordeal had been perfectly legal, if not frustrating.

If Koga noticed Jason rolling his eyes, he chose not to comment or take any outward offense. "May I present to you my daughter, Janine."

Janine also bowed to Jason. "My father tells me you were a great opponent and will be a valuable ally. That you have his respect also means you have mine."

Jason nodded his head low. "It's an honor to meet you, though I wish it were under better circumstances. This is Kelly Shields, a longtime friend of mine."

Janine bowed to Kelly. "An honor and a privilege."

"The same to you," Kelly responded, returning the bow.

Jason continued. "Because of the nature of the upcoming battle..." He gave an apologetic glance to Kelly before going on. "...and certain histories I've been made aware of... I'd like to know if there is a safe place for Kelly to wait until this is all over."

"Jason!" Kelly glared down at him. "What makes you think I'll be going anywhere but where you're going?"

"Because where I'm going isn't safe for you and I don't believe your Pokemon are strong enough to protect you from this thing," Jason quietly responded. "You'd be much better off in a safe place."

"So would you," she pointed out. "At least I've got legs I can use. What if you were knocked out of your wheelchair for some reason?"

"My Pokemon can protect me, Kelly," Jason tried to assure her. "And I have to do this because I know why these people are doing it. I'm as much a part of it now as they are. Tommy and I didn't tell you because then you'd be even more willing to put yourself on the line, and I can't let that happen."

"Nor can I," said Koga. "Mr. Creight is right, Miss Shields. We cannot allow you to put yourself at risk."

She groaned. "I want to do this."

"Believe me," said Wolf, "you don't."

"Kelly." Jason took her bare hand in his bike-gloved one. "I promise, we will do our best not to put ourselves in harm's way, but it may be inevitable with this creature we're facing." He paused for a moment. "We might use you as backup, in case our Pokemon aren't enough. There's nothing more I can do in the matter except that."

She sighed heavily. "Fine." She turned to Janine. "Got a place for me to stay?"

Janine smiled politely. "In fact, we do."

As the women walked off together, Jason turned back to Wolf. "So where's your other brother?"

"Above our heads, actually. He's scouting out for the creature," Wolf responded.

As if on cue, Wolf's PokeGear alerted him to a caller. He activated it. "Yes?"

"Peter, it's coming. I can see it now. My God, it's nightmarish. Through the scopes, I can see it's quadrupedal and it's got fur. Looks like a gigantic flying dog. Its wings look like some kind of metal; I'd guess that not even Skarmory metal could touch this stuff, whatever it is. I estimate the wingspan to be somewhere around five or six meters. Wait a minute, now I can see--reptilian skin? Yeah, it's reptilian. And... huh? Oh, man, it's looking right this way. It's coming this way!"

"Damn." Wolf hit the "end" button, then turned to Tommy. "Bro, it's time you showed your true talents. Get your Pokemon, and join us outside as soon as possible."

"Right." Tommy raced off down an adjacent hallway.

"As for you..." Wolf eyed Jason carefully, then grunted. "I guess we get to see what you're really made of."

***

When they saw the creature, Jason was horrified.

He'd never seen anything quite like it, save in his nightmares.

And now his nightmares were being realized.

The creature hovering over Fuschia City was almost too hideous to describe. No longer did it look like a "flying dog," as Neo had said. Rather, it looked like some sort of quadrupedal reptilian with black titanium wings. The feet still looked mammalian, and all four legs were shaped in that fashion, but beyond that, it looked reptilian. It had a gigantic, always- swinging black metal tail, ending in a vicious series of spikes. On the other end, a huge, Arbok-length neck swung about, holding up the head of their enemy. Flowing out from the base of the neck and down the length of its body was a dark material that none of them could begin to fathom; it had the consistency of a cloud and billowed in the harsh winds. Only Creight had ever seen anything like that material, and his assistance was beyond the ability of time itself to lend.

*And the face...* thought Jason, horrified.

The face was flat, almost stumpy. Two glowing red eyes bulged from frog- like eye sockets above two slits for a nose. The lips of the creature were too short to close over the massive, razor-sharp teeth glinting in the light of the street lamps below.

Wolf turned to Jason. "We need to interlink our PokeGears to act as walkie- talkies."

"Right." Jason activated the LAN feature on his Gear and linked it to the Shadows' Gears, as well as those of Koga and Janine.

Neo immediately spoke up. "Guys, I think we've got some more bad company..."

Jason could hear the dual blades of a custom gyrocopter whipping the air in the distance. The copter was black and sleek, large enough for three people: a pilot and two passengers.

Jason heard Wolf growling, evidence that his chosen code name lived up to its namesake.

Jason knew who it was.

The creature whirled its massive, ugly head around and stared at the gyrocopter. It shrieked a roar of defiance.

***

"It's even more beautiful than I could have imagined," Giovanni opined.

"How the hell could you call something like that 'beautiful?' It's horrendous," said his pilot.

Giovanni stroked his Persian, seated to the right of its master. "To you, perhaps. But it is exactly what I need. Now all I have to do is capture it so we can input the command recognition codes."

"Good luck," the pilot scoffed. Then he frowned. "Hey, what are those people doing down there?"

"What people?" Giovanni barked, no longer smiling. "Show me on my viewer!"

And then he saw the people of which the pilot spoke.

He saw Gym Leaders Koga and Janine, though the former had been elevated to the position of Elite Four Master a while ago. Giovanni didn't recall when.

There were three others on the ground, and one other on the roof of the gym. The one on the roof and two on the ground, Giovanni didn't recognize.

But the third one on the ground, Giovanni recognized all too well.

"Mr. Creight," he chuckled, "you're still alive after all this time?"

Thanks to his encounter with Tommy's Kadabra, he didn't recall the identities of the Shadow boys, nor did he recall that Jason had been present during that time. The last time he could remember seeing Jason in person was the first time he'd seen him in person: at the Viridian City gym. Jason had had the use of his legs back then.

Not so anymore.

Giovanni remembered the reports on Jason when he'd been involved in the accident that had crippled him. He remembered being contacted by Jason's insane father, who begged to let him deal with his son by himself. He remembered giving the man at least a dozen of his prized Tentacruel to take care of Jason.

And he remembered how angry he had become when he'd discovered that Jason's Raichu had murdered the Tentacruel with a Thunder attack misfire.

Giovanni's only consolation was that Jason's father had died with them. His scouts had found the man before dragnets had been dispatched to find the Tentacruel, and they'd dealt with the body properly.

*Time to pay the piper,* Giovanni thought.

"Move us in closer."

***

"We cannot worry about him," said Koga. "Not if we are to concentrate on defeating this creature. Let' show it what it's up against."

Koga tossed a capture ball into the air, and out came a Weezing, ready for action.

Janine, Jason, Tommy, and Wolf all followed suit.

Janine's choice was Tangela.

Jason's choice was Electabuzz.

Tommy's choice was Xatu.

Wolf's choice was Dragonite.

Jason raised his eyebrow at Wolf. "Hope you've got more of that, Wolf."

Wolf grinned grimly. "Hope you won't have to find out."

And then a voice on a loudspeaker broke in.

"*Oh, look, how wonderful. A whole cadre of powerful Pokemon for me to pick through.*"

Giovanni rose out of his gyrocopter on a raised platform. "*This battle should prove interesting. May I present to you my pride and joy. From the fires of the Tirenza experiment, I give you... Firenza!*"

*Well, at least it has a name now,* Jason thought, trying desperately to keep the conspiracy theories out of his head. He needed to focus, focus...

The creature roared, roared again...

A powerful, immense psychic attack emanated from it in a sphere. It was visible, so powerful was the attack, and Jason thought he recognized it as a Shadow Ball attack, but he wasn't at all sure...

The blast struck them all.

Jason blacked out.

***

Jason looked around for his wheelchair, couldn't find it anywhere. He tried not to become frantic as he pulled himself along the ground, inch by agonizing inch. He saw that he'd been flung at least fifteen meters from where he'd been when Firenza had attacked.

He saw Electabuzz.

It had been KO'ed.

He snorted. *No surprise there. So was I.* He recalled his Pokemon, then tried to decide what his next one should be. He made his decision, yanked a capture ball from his belt, enlarged it, and lobbed it as best he could from the position he was in.

Out came Dragonair.

"Something tells me Electabuzz couldn't do the job," Jason muttered.

[Then I shall attempt to do better,] Dragonair responded.

"I hope so, for all our sakes."

[Do you need help?]

"For now, all I need is for you to try and help take that monster down."

Dragonair bobbed its sparkling head, then moved off to attack Firenza.

Jason pulled himself further along the ground until he heard groaning nearby. He groped his way through the dark soil.

He found Neo lying on the ground, groaning and cradling his leg with one hand. He looked up at Jason. "I've broken my arm and leg. I can't get up."

Jason snorted. "Neither can I. If I can find my wheelchair, I can find a first aid kit..."

Neo shook his head, then fumbled at his belt buckle. "No, there's no time. You can help by taking this." He unbuckled his belt and held it out.

Jason gaped. "Are you sure? I'm not in any better condition than you are."

Neo lifted his chin, indicating Jason's burned leg. "At least you can't feel your injuries when they occur. That makes you a lot more valuable in this battle. If it can be called that. It's looking one-sided from here."

Jason looked up and saw Neo's meaning. Wolf was flying on the back of his Dragonite, concerting its attacks with Dragonair's. An Ivysaur was also attacking; Jason knew it to be Tommy's, though Tommy was nowhere in sight, nor were Koga or Janine, or their Pokemon.

Jason turned back to Neo and nodded, taking the proffered belt. "How will I know which one to use?"

"I meant for all of them to be used, Jason, whether one at a time or all at once. They'll know what to do when you bring them out."

Jason nodded, then crawled forward and pulled another ball from his belt. "Gengar, a little help?"

The onerous ghost Pokemon grinned as it always had and used its psychic power to lift Jason off the ground. They spotted his wheelchair in a matter of moments, and soon, Jason was again rolling toward the nightmare that battled his allies.

He could see Koga and Janine now; they were choosing the Pokemon that would help determine the fate of Fuschia City. To one side appeared a Forretress, to the other a Vileplume.

And then Jason saw yet another Pokemon getting ready to join the fray.

Coming directly from Giovanni's gyrocopter was a Porygon.

Jason pondered why, of all Pokemon, Giovanni would choose that one. His mind raced...

*What he didn't have over his last genetically engineered Pokemon was total control. Maybe he found a way to have control over Firenza by using a chip or something, something that would force it to respond to his commands. In that case, he could be using Porygon to give Firenza new commands...*

He made his decision. "Gengar, don't let that Porygon near Firenza!"

"Gengar!" It floated up and began to bash Porygon for all it was worth.

And it was worth a considerable amount.

Jason looked at the belt given him by Neo a little uncertainly. *Which do I pick? Which?

Oh, the hell with it...*

Jason grabbed three and tossed them.

And from those balls emerged a Slowbro, an Umbreon, and a Tauros.

Jason groaned. *How am I supposed to use these in battle when the target is constantly flying?* But he resolved to give them a chance.

They took the chance... and dove full throttle into the battle. Slowbro engaged in psychic warfare while Umbreon used Faint Attack and Tauros blasted Firenza with Hyper Beam.

*Hyper Beam...* "Gyarados, I choose you!"

The giant leviathan rose its head in battle once again and didn't even wait for a command from Jason. Taking Tauros' lead, Gyarados fired off a Hyper Beam in the same area Tauros had attacked--the wings.

"Dragonite, Hyper Beam attack!" Wolf yelled, and Dragonite complied, also targeting the wings by sweeping the channel of focused energy from side to side.

Firenza's screeching roar split the dark again, and Jason clapped his hands over his ears as he watched the horrific creature fall.

It hit the top of an office building...

And plowed its way through the roof.

"Oh, no," Jason whispered, praying that there was no one inside.

After tense moments of crash after terrible crash, Firenza burst through the front door of the building.

And Jason realized that it now looked much different than before.

Firenza's wings were gone. In their place were multiple barbed vine whips, the barbs immediately recognizable as meant for a Spikes attack. Its body had now become armor-plated with that same black, shining metal. Its neck was now shorter, but its tail had made up the difference by becoming longer, metal-plated, and serrated, ending with a single harpoon spike, the cloud-like substance extending along the top of the tail to end a meter away from the spike. It has also grown two extra legs, and the four it had had before were thinner, plated, and pointed at the tips. The new two matched them, giving Firenza's body the apearance of an enormous insect. The cloudy substance now began at the base of Firenza's massive, ugly head, which seemed to be the only thing that had remained unchanged.

Jason could see the disbelief in Wolf's eyes at this incredible transformation. Both of them barely had time to speculate before Firenza was once again on the attack. This time it got even more serious; Firenza sent spikes in every direction, its mouth blasted Hyper Beam attacks, and its tail whipped out to catch buildings, cars, whatever it could hit.

"Jason!"

Jason whirled around and saw Tommy running up, panting. He tossed four capture balls and din't give them another thought. He looked down at the paraplegic trainer. "Sorry I'm late, I had to change my team again. Firenza took out all my initial Pokemon."

Jason shook his head. "We need to make a concentrated effort against it, press an attack and don't stop pressing until it's down. Your brother and I just did that; now Firenza's lost its ability to fly, at least for the moment."

"Yeah, but it's pushing back," Tommy pointed out.

"Exactly, which is why we need to be on the constant offensive. We can't just st around waiting for it to get tired; I'd bet you any day that Giovanni's scientists designed it so it wouldn't tire. We have to push as hard as we can."

Tommy nodded. "In that case, we might need this."

With that, he tossed his sixth capture ball.

And a Steeliz appeared.

"You're right," said Jason. "Does it have Hyper Beam?"

"Sure does," said Tommy.

"Good. Tauros and Gyarados, Hyper Beam attack!"

Tommy supplemented Jason's order. "Steelix, Hyper Beam!"

Wolf, hearing the conversation between Jason and Tommy over his PokeGear, added further firepower. "Dragonite, Hyper Beam!"

As the four full energy attacks struck Firenza, it shrieked--whether in pain or simple annoyance, Jason couldn't tell. But it arched its head toward the sky, as if to try to look away from the painful beams.

Wolf pulled out more capture balls, tired of this game. "Time for you to shine, team! Articuno! Zapdos!"

Jason gaped as he saw the two legendary bird Pokemon dive into the fight. He didn't think it was possible to capture either one, and thought it less possible for Wolf to have done it.

Tommy also ogled the birds, apparently not knowing that Wolf had possession of them, either.

Wolf wasn't finished. He tossed another one high into the air. "One of my favorites, Lugia!"

And yet another legendary bird Pokemon appeared in midair.

It didn't speak.

It sang.

Dragon_Knight
3rd October 2003, 06:53 AM
Jason and Tommy were almost overwhelmed over this turn of events. How could Wolf have captured such Pokemon as these?

Wolf dropped another ball toward the ground. "And, of course, Houndoom..."

Another neon beam of light solidified, this time revealing a barking, snapping dark Pokrmon. At first, Jason took it to be a normal Houndoom.

And then he saw the horn.

Between its two curved horns, Jason saw that Houndoom possessed a third horn. Not only was there a third horn, but the third horn was glowing a bright blue.

Just as it registered that this Houndoom could not be all it seemed, Wolf reached for yet another Poke ball and was preparing to toss it.

Then he pulled back and put the ball back in his belt. "I'm saving that one. Last resort."

Jason forced himself to concentrate on the battle. The new Pokemon certainly helped, each of them using their own special attacks against Firenza. While Articuno blasted it with a Blizzard attack, Zapdos caught it with a Thunder attack. To top that off, Lugia fired off an Aeroblast attack, sweeping it over its enemy.

Firenza screamed at the continuous fury of the attack the new Pokemon were unleashing.

And another psychic attack swept outward.

Jason held his wheelchair's armrests tightly as the blast hit. It sent him flying backward into the building behind him, and the wind was knocked out of him. Tommy was also knocked into the building, and Jason heard a *crunch* as Tommy hit shoulder-first.

As for Wolf, he was forced off his Dragonite and began a long fall toward the ground. Fortunately, he was caught by Lugia, which again used Aeroblast on Firenza.

This time, Firenza retaliated with the same attack. The Aeroblast caught Lugia squarely in the underside and was enough to knock it to the ground. It then shot dozens of spikes at Lugia as it tried to get up. Each spike lodged firmly in the armor-like outer shell that was Lugia's back. As Lugia attempted to recover, Firenza sent out numerous vine whips and snared its foe, and Wolf with it.

Articuno attempted to help Wolf and Lugia by sending a freezing attack to the vines. When it did so, Firenza turned to the blue bird and sent a Fire Blast its way. Articuno dropped like a boulder.

"*You have no idea what you've unleashed, have you?*" Giovanni sneered over the loudspeaker. "*I do not have control over Firenza. I am merely a spectator, and thanks to that Gengar, I cannot bring it under control. Your only hope is for me to capture it.*"

Jason ignored the Rocket leader and looked to Gengar, who was floating far above the battle, waiting for further instructions from its master. Jason gestured. "Go on, Gengar, get into it! Psybeam!"

Jason pulled out another two capture balls, determined to make sure that Wolf's Pokemon stayed in the fight. "Let's draw its attention, Ampharos and Quilava!" Then he plucked the remaining three from Neo's belt. "You guys, too!"

This time, a Charizard, a Blastoise, and a Fearow emerged. They needed no urging from Jason; they dove right in.

The battle seemed a horrible mismatch; almost two dozen Pokemon had been called out to defend Fuschia City and its inhabitants, against one Pokemon.

*But then again, we can't forget that this Pokemon is genetically engineered,* Jason thought. His Pokemon supply was exhausted; he'd used all of his and all of Neo's. Attack after attack battered Firenza's metal shell, but it simply wasn't going down.

Jason watched Umbreon and Houndoom make a joint Faint Attack against Firenza, only to get whipped back by their enemy's vine whips.

He looked up and saw that Wolf and Lugia were now suspended high in the air by Firenza's other vines. Wolf had squirmed his way out of the net and had pulled his sword out. He began to hack away at the vines.

The vines hardened into the same metallic substance its outer shell was made of.

There was no way to get past the shell.

Firenza opened its mouth, a prelude to another devastating attack.

That was when Tommy saw his opportunity. "Steelix, Hyper Beam straight into its mouth!"

Steelix didn't question the ethics of the order and executed its command. The reddish-orange beam went straight down Firenza's throat and caused it to choke on its own attack. Firenza lashed out with its tail and smacked Steelix sideways in retaliation. The serrated edge of the tail scraped along Steelix's metal skin and made sparks fly.

"Steelix, iron tail!"

Steelix's tail came up and pushed Firenza's away, then batted at its head.

Firenza gave ground, and then transformed again. Its two extra legs receded into its body, and the four remaining ones grew to enormous size. The body also increased in size, and began to grow spikes and razor-sharp projectiles along the back. The neck receded even further into the body, while the tail grew longer still.

And the end of the tail grew a head.

Jason was reminded of a Girafarig as this transformation occurred. Now Firenza had two heads, both looking pretty much the same. The one attached to the tail was smaller, however, but smaller didn't make it any more cute. Like its other end, this head had razor-sharp teeth and lips too short to close over them.

Wolf and Lugia remained suspended in the air, but the vine whips had receded into Firenza's body. It was holding them up with its psychic abilities.

Wolf's face suddenly became a blank.

Jason realized that he was attempting psychic warfare with Firenza.

*Is he out of his mind?!* he thought. Then he sighed. *I'd better distract Firenza to help out.* "Everyone, use your best attack and don't stop until you drop!"

Immediately, those that had Hyper Beam used it, and those with other attacks used those instead. Firenza's body became a glowing halo of converging energy beams and physical attacks.

Firenza's larger head turned to Jason, opened its mouth, and aimed a psybeam at him.

Jason threw his weight to the side as the attack happened.

He fell over.

The attack missed.

Firenza's smaller head whirled around and stared at Wolf for a moment.

Then it opened its mouth to discharge an attack aimed straight at him.

***

Tommy saw it coming, saw the small beads of energy coming to converge in the smaller head's mouth. He knew it was Solarbeam.

And it was aimed straight at his brother.

Tommy grabbed at his belt, tossed a capture ball, and was on his Fearow's back in a matter of seconds.

His life began to flash before his eyes.

*Training in the woods...

Seeing Tirenza burning...

The funeral service...

The building of the memorial...

Training under Koga...

Finding Giovanni...

Watching Jason battle...*

It all flashed by in an instant.

Tommy's Fearow flew to crash into Lugia and Wolf.

To keep them from being hit.

Tommy clenched his eyes shut.

It all came down to this.

Firenza knew that if the masters died, it could continue on its path of destruction.

Tommy knew that Firenza knew.

And he flew to stop it.

He felt the impact.

Felt Lugia and Wolf falling to the side.

And then--

***

Jason could do nothing but watch as Tommy flew straight at Wolf and Lugia.

He saw the Solarbeam attack being prepared at the last second.

He didn't even have time to shout.

Tommy's Fearow hit Lugia and Wolf. The legendary flying Pokemon and the psychic who possessed it budged to the side.

The beam flew.

And struck Tommy and his Fearow.

The beam consumed them.

The energy was enough to knock a Pokemon out.

The energy was also enough to kill a human.

Fearow dropped to the ground, burns all over it.

Tommy had disappeared.

He'd been vaporized.

Jason let his head fall to the side and wept.

He was devastated.

Tommy was dead.

***

Wolf's concentration had been broken the instant the Fearow had impacted. He'd been trying to get a read on Firenza, trying to find out if it had any weaknesses he could exploit.

And then he'd been thrown to the side.

Even as he fell, Wolf recognized the Fearow as belonging to Tommy.

And then he'd seen the blast.

He'd watched helplessly as his youngest brother vaporized in front of him.

He heard someone far away screaming a high pitched scream of denial as he hit the ground. He rolled, rolled more, and came to a stop near the Fearow. It had been knocked out and surely would not fly again for this battle.

But Tommy was gone.

There was nothing to bury.

Nothing to mourn.

Firenza had taken his brother away from him in an instant.

Giovanni and his scientists had created Firenza.

Giovanni was to blame for all of this.

Wolf heard continuous screaming as he pulled out his final capture ball and tossed it, then realized that it was he who was screaming.

The final ball opened and revealed that which had caused him so much grief in the past. That which would now be his tool for vengeance.

Pearly white body, thick purple tail. Two necks, tridigital hands and feet.

Immense psychic potential.

***

Even amid the tears that flowed from his eyes, Jason could see what Wolf was doing. He wasn't surprised at all; he would have done the same thing had he any more capture balls to throw.

And then he saw the Pokemon that emerged from the ball.

Tommy's description of it had been unerring, made it unmistakable.

Jason realized what it was.

And he felt a great sense of irony that Wolf would choose this Pokemon for his revenge.

*Mewtwo.*

***

It had watched the battle through the ball. It felt the roiling energies, both psychic and physical.

It detected the creature which seemed to hate all life.

It could compare. After all, it had itself once tried to destroy all life.

But now the creature had done something it had not accomplished during its stunted campaign against humanity. The creature had taken a life.

The life of the boy's brother.

It did not have a sense of relativity, per se. It felt somehow... "connected" with Mew, but no other. Not even the clones it had created. It considered itself more of a fatherly figure to those.

It did not know what it would do if one of those clones died, or Mew died.

It imagined it would avenge their deaths.

And now, here the boy was, using it to avenge his brother's.

It found a great irony that it had faced the same boy long ago with the same determination.

Not for the first time, it began to wonder why it had agreed to go with the boy. His potential was great, indeed, but its potential was greater still. Neither of them disputed that, at least not yet.

But for the moment, it was being asked to help the boy avenge his brother's death, and perhaps the deaths of others.

It would do so.

It began its attack.

***

The air was alive with the attacks crackling around Firenza, as the Pokemon who had witnessed the horrible turn of events were now mercilessly battering their enemy with everything they had.

Tommy's Pokemon were most likely fighting the hardest of all of them. Steelix was digging in with everything it was worth.

And then, as if a switch had been flipped, everything stopped.

Just for an instant.

Jason had seen the swift cutting motion of Mewtwo's arm.

It had caused all the Pokemon to cease their attacks.

Jason saw that the Pokemon were all exhausted.

But they were all enraged.

Enraged that Firenza would cause a human's death.

Pure adrenaline was what fueled them.

Nothing could stop them now.

Not even this abomination.

And then, as loud as a roar and as silent as a whisper, Jason heard the single command, the single word, in his mind.

*Go.*

The Pokemon dove in yet again, blasting and chipping and biting away at Firenza, which was, by this time, growing increasingly frustrated.

But nothing other than frustrated.

Or so it seemed.

And then Mewtwo began to attack.

And Wolf joined it.

Their psychic powers allowed them to insinuate themselves into Firenza's mind, to begin peeling away at it from the inside out.

Firenza tried to attack Wolf and Mewtwo with another Solarbeam attack, but this time Lugia was the one who took the impact for them. It stayed in the air with the help of its Safeguard defense. It retaliated furiously with an Aeroblast.

The noise was deafening, the light blinding. Jason squinted into the spectacle, not even bothering trying to right himself or his wheelchair.

Then he saw a small object flying towards Firenza.

He squinted even further.

It was a capture ball.

It had been lobbed straight from Giovanni's gyrocopter.

The head attached to what seemed to be Firenza's tail whirled around before the ball got close to its intended target.

And it used Solarbeam.

The devastating attack boiled out of its mouth and incinerated the ball.

Then the beam struck the gyrocopter.

The copter had been designed to take heavy damage. Giovanni was not such a fool as to allow himself to be so easily destroyed.

But the sheer momentum of the beam rocketed the copter far into the sky, blowing it like a leaf along a path that would take it far from Fuschia City, far from Kanto.

Jason knew Giovanni would survive. The man was born to survive, even if the whole world were attempting to rectify that situation.

But under that mass of unbridled energy and unleashed fury lay Giovanni's legacy.

Jason knew Wolf wouldn't stop until the creature was finished. Destroyed completely.

Wolf and Mewtwo kept pushing. The distraction of that capture ball had allowed them into a back entrance of Firenza's mind. They became a wrecking team, destroying everything they could within the foul creature's thoughts.

Wolf saw Firenza forming a plan to attack him and Mewtwo again. He shattered the thought with an ethereal fist. Mewtwo shattered yet another plan with its tail, and two more with dark psychic blasts.

More and more thoughts, now. More and more plans for destruction were being destroyed and forgotten forever.

Firenza couldn't concentrate, and its defenses, both mental and physical, began to falter and fail.

It screamed and roared defiance.

Jason couldn't take the light anymore. He looked away as the light became that of a sun, the convergence of all Pokemon attacks compressed into one--

And then came a colossal outward blast.

Jason was thrown across the ground like a pebble being kicked by a five- year-old.

The Pokemon suffered much the same fate, flying and otherwise.

Everything was bright, too bright--

*Make it stop make it stop makeitstopmakeitstop--*

The light began to fade.

It faded and faded...

The light where Firenza had lain vanished completely.

It was not replaced.

The sky was no longer red. It was black.

Black with rain clouds.

And it began to rain.

Thunder cracked across the sky. Lightning split the clouds.

All were natural occurrences.

Jason looked around at the battered landscape. Pokemon were strewn about the entire area, as numerous as the boulder-sized chunks of concrete that had either been dug up out of the ground in the midst of that final attack, or had been knocked off the building Firenza had fallen through.

And the place Firenza had occupied in that final shockwave...

...was now vacant.

Jason didn't know what to do. He wondered if he should just lie there in the rain, along with the rest of the Pokemon, or if he should expend agonizing ergs of energy to get his wheelchair righted and himself along with it.

He wanted to do the former.

And then he heard weeping.

Quiet weeping.

It was coming from just ahead of him.

Jsson had a good idea who it was.

He decided not to bother with his wheelchair, at least for the moment, and instead inched his way forward until he had reached the source.

The source was Wolf.

At first, Jason wondered whether it might be better to just let Wolf have his space. Wolf had lost more than Jason had.

Jason had lost a good friend.

Wolf had lost a brother.

Jason mentally shook his head and kept going. He knew it was reckless, but he also knew that Wolf was human, just as he was. And humans needed comfort and companionship in times of great pain.

Here was one.

He pulled himself along the ground until he was in arm's length of Wolf's foot. Wolf had propped himself against the side of a damaged building, and he'd let his legs simply drop in front of him.

Jason looked up at the battered Shadow clan trainee. His clothes had been reduced to so many shreds, he had multiple cuts and bruises, and a vicious slash across his collarbone that seemed to have penetrated deeply. He saw that the arm attached to that collarbone was hanging limply off Wolf's shoulder. Jason surmised it had been broken, the arm rendered insensate. Jason also guessed that he didn't look much better, though nothing he could feel was broken. He could only imagine what damage his left leg had suffered by the horrendous burn.

Wolf was still crying. Softly, to himself, nothing meant to be loud or demonstrative. Jason imagined that Wolf was allowing himself to be seen in this vulnerable state, most likely because he didn't care what anyone thought of him at this point no matter what he did.

And following that thought, Jason wondered if Wolf would become like Creight had.

They'd both lost someone close.

Creight hadn't recovered. He'd remained obsessed with her death, obsessed with keeping her alive in the past so that his future would not be realized.

It was a frightening thing to ponder.

But Jason couldn't help but ponder it.

So he closed his eyes and allowed himself to let go, at least for a little while.

He would regain control eventually.

But for now...

Jason Creight cried on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
4th October 2003, 02:32 AM
Jason Creight awoke to the sound of sirens wailing.

He'd been asleep for no more than two minutes. He didn't need a watch to tell him that. He wanted more, wanted to just fall back into that dark abyss where the shackles of reality are left far behind while the dreamer pursues far greater things...

He clenched his eyes shut against the blaring of those blasted sirens. Why the Fuschia City police had to make themselves so rudely known was beyond him. He didn't recall seeing their help at the battle; no, that had been left up to those who were "insane" enough to go out and face the demonic creature themselves.

And now a member of their ranks was gone forever.

*Strange, that,* Jason thought. *Creight comes here from the future in an attempt to save the life of someone he cares about, and then this.*

He began to hear shuffling and hurried voices, and from the sound of them, Jason decided it must be a crew of EMTs working their way through the rubble.

The driving rain didn't help their plight any, apparently. Jason heard the distinct sound of someone falling in the slippery mud, followed by an "Oof!"

He forced his eyes open and found them staring, once again, at the ground of Fuschia City. He snorted, then craned his neck upward excruciatingly slowly.

He saw that Wolf was still seated limply before him. The Shadow clan trainee's eyes were closed, and he almost didn't seem to be reathing. But no, Jason could see the almost infinitesimally small rising and falling of the man's chest. He was still alive.

Jason also saw that the area where Wolf's collarbone had suffered a brutal laceration had now swollen to almost three times its size. The bones were definitely broken, perhaps even severed. Jason didn't envy Wolf his injuries, no matter what the damage had been from the horrific burn that spanned his leg.

And then he heard a different voice. Distinct, desperate, and familiar.

"Jason? Jason?!"

He groaned to himself, feeling proud that he'd even managed that small bit of vocal communication. He pushed at the ground clumsily with the back of his left hand, determined to make sure that when she found him, he would be facing her. He managed to get himself facing upward, but in the process he rolled his upper body into a small mud puddle. He tried to call for her, but all that ended up coming out was more groaning.

His eyes rolled down toward his own body, and he took a look at what kind of condition he seemed to be in. His clothes were coated in a combination of mud and blood, and he had a shallow slash down his left forearm from which blood had obviously flowed freely for a few minutes. His burned left leg was, like most of the rest of him, covered in mud, so that he couldn't possibly make a clear analysis of it. He considered himself lucky not to be able to feel it, then noted that this was probably the first time he'd thought having insensate legs was a virtue.

Then Jason heard Wolf's breathing get heavier. It sounded as if he were waking up, either to the sound of the EMTs or the sound of those sirens, Jason wasn't sure. He arched his head and looked at Wolf in an upside-down perspective. Wolf's eyes were open, and he'd reached over to cradle his shoulder in his remaining hand. He looked at the laceration, then turned away from it, apparently deciding it was best not to think about it until the EMTs got here.

Then his eyes locked with Jason's.

Jason saw the world of hurt, emotional and physical, that Wolf was in through that gaze.

Wolf's jaw rotated, obviously attempting to withhold further tears or emotional outbursts.

But Jason knew perfectly well what he'd witnessed when he'd first crawled to that place.

He knew... and wished he didn't.

"Jason! Oh, my God, Jason! Guys, over here! Quick!"

And then she was there.

Jason wasn't sure if he'd seen a more beautiful thing in his life.

Kelly looked down at him with a pained, desperate look on her face and in her eyes. She knelt down to the ground and scooped her arms under Jason's upper body, uncaring of the mud. She pulled him close in a tight hug.

He swore to himself that he would return that embrace. His brain sent impulses roaring through his nervous system, and before he even fully realized it, he was hugging her back.

He could hear her crying softly.

He wondered if she knew.

He heard her say, "I was so worried..."

He drew in a ragged breath, then found his voice and asked, "Are the others all right?"

She nodded, her head against his. "The ones we could find, anyway. Koga and Janine were thrown clear of the buildings. Neo has multiple breaks in his arm and leg. But they say they can't find Tommy."

*Oh, no...*

Jason didn't want to break the news to her. He turned to Wolf.

Wolf remained silent, waiting for the EMTs to diagnose his condition. Jason could tell that Wolf didn't want to say anything, didn't want to think anything, didn't want to feel anything.

Jason sighed heavily, feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Sudenly, being paralyzed was no longer a virtue.

"He's gone, Kelly."

He heard her breath catch in her throat. It was an unmistakable sound. She didn't want to hear him repeat himself, but she asked for it anyway. "What?"

"Tommy's gone. It used Solarbeam while he was on his Fearow, and..."

He couldn't say more. "He's gone."

He couldn't look at her.

But he knew what she was feeling.

She held him tighter and cried as he had.

***

Jason, Koga, Janine, Wolf, and Neo were all released from the hospital within a week. Jason's burn had not been as serious as he'd originally believed; second degree, but hardly fatal. He'd managed to put it out in time. He got out of the hospital after about two days.

Koga and Janine suffered relatively minor injuries, perhaps a cracked rib or two, and cuts and bruises. They got out of the hospital the day after the battle.

Neo had almost completely shattered his arm and leg; he'd landed on them when he'd fallen off the top of the gym. Rods were inserted, and the doctors said it would take the better part of a year before the implants could be removed.

Wolf, as Jason had surmised, had a completely severed collarbone, which was subsequently reattached by delicate microfusion surgery. His arm was put in a cast, and he was released after four days, half of which was spent in the recovery room. He'd refused to wake up for at least 25 hours; the medical staff had almost been forced to feed him intravenously.

Jason and Kelly, after hearing that there would be a private funeral procession, asked to stay in Janine's gym dorms for a couple of days. Koga and Janine both agreed, and Wolf and Neo offered no protest. All four of them knew that Tommy had become close friends with Jason and Kelly.

But none of them knew it better than Jason and Kelly themselves.

The funeral was scheduled to take place at night, in the gym, which would be dark. The reasoning behind this was that Tommy had been raised in the shadows to become a shadow, and in the shadows would his memories rest. No eulogies would be offered; Tommy's memories would speak for themselves, should they be loud enough for the Shadow clan trainees to hear.

Tommy's Pokemon, which had all survived the battle, would be given to the clan trainees who had proven themselves to be worthy of such gifts. The rest of his personal effects would be burned in a funeral pyre on the grounds of what used to be Tirenza's central park.

The night before the funeral, understandably, Jason and Kelly were unable to sleep. Both lay wide awake, their eyes wide open, thinking about the horrific event that would remain burned in their memories and the memories of Fuschia City.

Kelly looked over at Jason through the darkness, trying to find reassurance in him. A tear rolled down her face, one of many she had shed for Tommy. "Was his death worth it, Jason?"

Jason sighed, having asked himself that same question countless times himself. "It was going to be either him or Wolf. I think he knew that when he got on his Fearow. But he was willing to make the sacrifice, and I think if someone's willing to die for a worthy cause such as that, then his death was most definitely worth it."

He turned to Kelly and they locked gazes. Each could see the pain and thoughtfulness in each other's eyes. Jason continued. "I'm not sure Tommy fully considered the impact of what he was doing, though. If he did, I wonder if he would have hesitated in doing it. But I rather doubt he thought about it at the time. All he thought about was saving his brother from certain death."

"And in the process, he died himself," she said. Her voice broke. "I don't think that's a fair arrangement."

"Neither do I," Jason responded, his own voice faltering. "But he knew that Wolf's Pokemon were stronger than his own, knew that Wolf's Pokemon would be without direction if Wolf didn't survive."

"I still don't think it's fair," she said. More tears flowed from her eyes. "If you had been in Tommy's place, would you have done what he did?"

"Absolutely." Jason's response was instantaneous. "I wouldn't have hesitated for an instant."

"Why?"

"Because I'm not going to contest that my Pokemon are more powerful than the ones he travels with. I don't know that, and neither does he. And I would have been saving a life." Jason paused. "That, I think, was probably Tommy's primary concern. Not his own welfare, but that of his brother. And if it was, then he's one of the most honorable people I've had the privilege to know."

Kelly buried her face in her pillow, and Jason was tempted to do the same. Tears were now trickling from his eyes, as well.

"Firenza's only concern was to destroy life. Tommy's was to save it. And he did."

She nodded. "Yes, he did..."

They remained sleepless for the remainder of the night.

***

During the next afternoon, Jason and Kelly spent some time at a nearby clothing center to buy some relatively inexpensive black jumpsuits. It was how the rest of the Shadow clan would be appearing, and it had been a favor asked by Koga himself that they dress accordingly. They tried not to think about exactly why they were buying the jumpsuits, but, understandably, it was hard not to.

After they had eaten at a fast food place in silence, they returned to their dorm, where they would remain until summoned for the procession. They were busy getting themselves appropriately attired when Jason's PokeGear began to ring.

He noted the name on the caller ID, then hit the "CALL" button. "Hello, Professor."

Professor Oak, haggard though he appeared, seemed none the worse for wear after his excursion to Cinnabar Island... what remained of it. He also wore a frown of concern and malcontent on his lined face. "Jason, I haven't been able to get back to the lab until now, what with all the uproar over this incident, and I just tuned in to the local news. The creature stopped at Fuschia City, it appears."

Jason nodded dismally. "Yes, it did."

"Can you tell me what happened?"

Jason sighed. "I think it might be much better if I told you in person. Kelly and I have some business to finish up here tonight, but we can start back to Pallet tomorrow. I'll tranfer for a flying type, assuming my Pokemon are returned and well."

"They did quite an amazing job, Jason. A true testament to your abilities as a trainer. I'm proud of them and of you." Oak frowned again. "Did I hear you say you and Kelly? What about Tommy?"

Jason paused. He didn't want to think about the battle, didn't want to think about Tommy, and above all, he didn't want to think about how to word it to Oak. "He's not coming." He felt the onset of tears again.

"I see."

Jason wasn't sure if Oak truly understood, or was just giving the impression to make things less awkward for Jason. Whatever the reason, it didn't make Jason feel any better.

Oak broke the silence over the link. "I must be going. The Pokemon need me. I'll see you soon, I trust?"

"Tomorrow," Jason promised. "Bye, Professor."

Kelly looked over at Jason as she finished packing her things. After the procession, they'd planned to head back out into the wild, but she understood perfectly Jason's feeling of obligation to Professor Oak for answers. The man had given Jason his second chance at life, his chance to become what he'd not thought he could be.

With that chance, as with all others, had come the inevitability of consequence.

And now their friend was gone because of it.

Jason saw the look in her eyes. The look of tiredness. The look that told him she wanted to cry, but she'd shed all of her tears already and had nothing left to cry with.

He reached out and took her hand gently into his. He felt the tenderness, the softness of it.

She knelt down and hugged him tightly, almost as tightly as she had when she'd first found him lying in the mud beside Wolf.

He stroked her hair with one hand and hugged with the other.

Jason and Kelly both knew well the value of human comfort in times of such pain and grief.

And that was why their lips met scant moments later.

The months of their separation evaporated in an instant, and their kiss lasted for what seemed an eternity. Some smart-alecky section of Jason's mind wondered if Celebi were to blame, but the thought was quickly silenced.

They pulled each other even closer and kissed with more passion for each other.

They wanted nothing more than this, nothing more than the feel of the other in their arms.

After a second eternity, they pulled away from each other, as breathless as they'd been when they'd first kissed nearly five years ago.

"I want to stay with you, Jason," she whispered in his ear. "I don't want to be left out again. I don't know if I could have saved him, but I would have tried..."

"I know," he responded in a soothing voice. "I would have tried, too. But I couldn't. Never blame yourself, Kelly."

"Promise you won't leave me out anymore."

Jason nodded slowly, gravely. "I promise."

They held each other close until the knock on the door.

***

As expected, the gym was almost completely dark. What little light shone was the light that came from the moon, glowing through the sun roof.

Jason couldn't help but notice the symmetry of even that. *The light from the moon is only a reflection of the sun. A shadow of its power.* He turned to Kelly, but if she'd noticed, she gave no outward sign of it.

Tommy's considerable collection of capture balls was brought before Koga and Janine, the co-presiders of the procession. Wolf and Neo were the ones who presented the balls to those they considered worthy enough to attain them.

And, much to the surprise of many a trainee, Kelly, and Jason...

...Wolf approached Jason and offered him a capture ball.

Jason didn't know the type of that particular ball, but he knew it was one of the special types Tommy had spoken of just before Wolf had called. The top portion was a shining gray metal and bore six sapphire orbs.

Jason had a pretty good idea which Pokemon was in that ball.

It was exactly the same type of ball that Tommy had been so protective of before.

The same type of ball that housed one of the most powerful Pokemon Tommy had had in his arsenal.

Jason took the proffered ball after an instant's hesitation. By this simple gesture, whoever had chosen for Wolf to make it, someone was paying Jason an extremely high complement. Technically, Jason was not a Shadow clan trainee, and he hadn't expected to receive any of Tommy's Pokemon as a result of that.

*Heavy ball. It's a Heavy ball.* The name came to Jason through the ether of his memories, memories of talking to Tommy during their truncated journey.

Jason vowed he would keep Tommy as alive in memory as he had been in life.

It was all anyone had left.

The battle with Firenza had been many things.

But in Jason's mind, it would never be a victory.

***

After the procession had concluded, Jason approached Wolf. Wolf looked surprisingly clear-headed and refreshed for such a grim and dismal ritual. The Shadow clan Pokemon trainer turned to his paraplegic ally. "Yes?"

"Should I even ask whose idea it was to give me this?" Jason held up the Heavy ball.

Wolf shifted his feet. "Don't bother asking. It was my idea. You showed true courage and true ability during that battle, Jason, and you deserve that ball and the Pokemon inside it." Wolf turned away. "I wanted to part with an ally on good terms. This will likely be the last time we see each other for quite a while. After recent events, I'm beginning to discover a whole new world of possibilities I hadn't considered."

Wolf pulled something out of his pocket and inspected it. Jason couldn't see it, but whatever it was, it was glowing. Wolf kept speaking. "When I first realized what had happened, I thought I would never forgive myself for it. For not seeing the attack myself and responding to it. For forcing him to do it for me, and for forcing him to sacrifice himself for my benefit." He turned back to Jason and returned the object to his pocket. "Anyone willing to take such steps should be canonized. But for now, I think that procession will do."

Jason tried not to raise an eyebrow. "The two are hardly comparable."

"Both involve honor, in a way. Have you ever known anyone as honorable as Tommy?"

Jason looked down. "I suppose not."

"Neither have I." Wolf gave Jason a pointed look. "And, personally, I think what he did for me was beyond what canonization was meant to convey. I think the procession did it for me."

He turned away once more. "At any rate, I hear that you and Kelly have an appointment with Professor Oak tomorrow. I trust you can make it there by then."

Jason nodded. "Yeah, if we start back now."

"Well, then, best you get going."

Jason understood and turned to leave. But he shifted his wheels back toward Wolf and said, "I've got one more question."

"Yes?"

"How on earth did you capture the Pokemon you used in the battle?"

A shadow of a smile played over Wolf's features. "I didn't."

Jason wasn't sure what to make of the response, but he sensed it was the only one he would get out of the man.

He left.

***

Neither Jason nor Kelly could sleep, comfortable though it was on Jason's Fearow's back. Whether it was because their thoughts on Tommy's death repulsed the idea or because they actively didn't want to sleep, they didn't know.

But they contemplated the beautiful starlight that hung so brightly over the land.

"So what now?" Kelly asked after a long time.

"We keep going," said Jason. "He would have wanted that. And I want it."

She nodded, silently vowing that she would stay with him.

After an even longer silence than the previous one, she said, "I heard that you have the option of getting back on your feet, so to speak."

He shook his head. "I don't want to think about that now." He tried to suppress a shudder as he recalled Creight and the insane look in his eyes.

She frowned somewhat, not knowing why he wouldn't want to walk again, but then she mentally shrugged. "Okay."

Jason didn't know how he was supposed to live with all these experiences he'd had in his life. From running away from his family to facing down his demented brother, he might have handled that. How was he supposed to handle seeing his future eyes blazing back at him in such a crazed state, or the death of such a close friend as Tommy?

He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind.

He had to focus.

Jason remembered what he'd felt when he'd seen Kelly in Creight's arms.

She thought it was a dream.

He knew it to be otherwise.

He'd confided in Tommy about the entire incident, something he'd not been able to do even with Professor Oak. And he'd known the latter longer, much longer.

Now he realized that Professor Oak was the last one he could ask for advice.

He resolved to ask.

***

Oak's face showed strong resolve in it during Jason's account of what happened at Fuschia City. He knew that the media were rushing to Koga and Janine for answers to their numerous questions on the details of the battle, but they were refusing to divulge any information. Whether it was because they knew they would become overcome with emotion by speaking of the matter, or simply because they wanted it to stay among those who had participated, it wasn't certain. Not over the TV screen, anyway.

When Jason was finished detailing the battle as best he could, Oak sat back and crossed his arms, a supportive look on his face. "Do you know what happened to Firenza after the blast?"

Jason shook his head. "I figured it must have been destroyed."

"Let's both hope so," Oak replied. "And with his lab destroyed, Giovanni can't clone another one. Or so we hope."

"And pray," Jason added.

Oak nodded.

Jason began to fidget, knowing that the time had come to ask Oak for his advice. "Sam, I have to talk to you about another matter..."

Oak leaned forward again, understanding that Jason would have a lot to say.

When Jason was finished, Oak wasn't sure how to reply. "You seem to have put a lot of faith in Tommy, Jason. Now you're asking me what you should do?"

Jason nodded. "I don't know what else to do."

"Personally, I think you can start by talking to Kelly," Oak responded. "You've left her in the dark long enough. Sooner or later, the truth has to come out."

"Not something particularly fun to think about," said Jason, rubbing at his neck. The incident at the Tengelo Island marina was still vivid in his mind, even after all these years.

"Well, guess what, Jason," said Oak, "you can't keep clouding your mind with fun thoughts. This is reality, and reality is full of as many dark and shady aspects of the mind as it is full of fun and glitz. My advice is to tell Kelly about it, all of it. Let her handle it in whatever way she chooses. You can be much more supportive of each other that way."

Jason sighed, knowing that Oak had him there. She wasn't trying to keep anything secret from him, at least not that he knew of. Why should he be any different about such matters? "Okay. Anything else, Sam?"

"Yes, in fact. I think I've found you the perfect opportunity to clear your mind of recent events."

"That opportunity being?"

"A new Pokemon league."

Jason raised an eyebrow, intrigued. "Go on."

"It's all but unheard of around Kanto or Johto because it's so far away. It's nearly five hundred miles south of Cinnabar Island, and it's always on the move."

"On the move?"

"The Pokemon gyms for this league are aboard luxury cruise ships. There are five ships, each capable of holding up to ten thousand people. Mostly, the ships carry rich people and famous people, such as actors, who want to be out of the spotlight. They also carry trainers, those who can make it to the first ship. Each ship does a rendezvous with the next gym in line, but the first ship is the only one that docks on land. It's the pivotal one, and it only docks once every three hundred days."

"Where does it dock?"

"The Selto marina." Oak saw Jason try to hide a wince. "I know you're not fond of marinas, but it's the only way to get aboard the ships; they don't dock anywhere else. They use massive photovoltaic arrays to power their ships."

Jason scoffed. "Don't make it sound more complicated than it is; just call them solar panels, all right?"

"Fine, fine, I see you've been keeping up with current tech."

"Like I've got anything other than training to worry about. And when is it scheduled to dock next?"

"It docks in about four or five days. And it doesn't take in people who try to board after its away from the dock."

Jason nodded slowly, his curiosity of this new league sailing through the roof. "Got a name for this league?"

"An appropriate one: the Atlantis League."

"And what about championship battles?"

"Much like the Orange League. If you make it past the fifth gym, you'll meet with the Atlantis League champion in an undisclosed location for your final match."

"Any information on the gym leaders?"

"None about their Pokemon. I looked everywhere, but there was nothing beyond names. And I couldn't even get the champion's name. You'll have to brave it alone if you want to go."

Jason considered all the info Oak had given him. It was an extraordinary opportunity, leaving Kanto, Johto, and the Orange Islands far behind to pursue a new league no one around here had heard of.

Then he nodded. "I'll do it."

And his thoughts turned from destruction and death to the proposition of a new adventure.

Jason Creight thought on.

----------------------------------------------

This is the end of a journey.

But not of *Against All Odds.*

Dragon_Knight
5th October 2003, 06:22 AM
NOTE: Materials used from "Kamon's Quest" are the property of Carbonite4 and are used with permission.

When I started getting rave reviews for AAO, a couple of people even said I might be beating out "Kamon's Quest", the most popular fic on TPM at the time, for popularity. This gave me a sense of rivalry with Carbonite4, which I really didn't want to exist. I e-mailed him and asked if we could do a crossover chapter, to which he graciously agreed. Here is the result.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------------------------------------

Jason Creight awoke to the sound of thunder rattling his window, the flash of light illuminate the room.

His eyes cracked open. At first he couldn't see; the green backlash of light was still assaulting his eyes. A few seconds later, his eyes adjusted, and he was able to see his white-wall surroundings.

He was in his room in Professor Oak's lab complex. Same old white walls, same old dresser and bedside table, same old badges and trophies from previous battles. Last night, he had updated the display with his Johto League badges; he wouldn't be needing them where he was going. Professor Oak made it clear to him during their conversation that the Atlantis League didn't care what credentials you had; they took anyone who would come aboard their cruise ships.

Jason snorted. He knew why they would take anyone aboard. It was because their ships weren't cheap, and neither were their traveling fares. And all fares were the same; it didn't matter if you were famous, a trainer, or a senior citizen. Anyone who got aboard had to be loaded, or at least loaded enough to get in.

He imagined they had numerous Pokemon battles while aboard the ships, waiting their turn to challenge the gym leaders. He knew he would have to get into the melee battles, too. Someone was liable to challenge him.

He'd be ready for them. But for the moment, what he needed were Pokemon that would get him there.

Jason rolled over, grateful for the distraction the Atlantis League was providing. It provided no such distraction in his dreams, or not those of the past few nights, at any rate. His dreams kept drifting back to that battle in Fuschia City.

As if on cue, lightning cracked the sky, and thunder rattled the complex a few moments later.

Jason reminded himself to be thankful of that lightning, as well. He had just started to recall his nightmare of the past week when he'd been awakened by thunder.

He muttered a curse, reached for his bedside table and grabbed his PokeGear, and checked the time.

He cursed again.

12:07 A.M.

Jason was convinced that after the battle in Fuschia City, nothing would ever move quickly.

Earlier that evening, he'd told Kelly about the Atlantis League and about his intentions to go for it. She was eager to go with him, a fact that gave Jason a strong feeling of irony. He'd chosen, however, to keep his mouth shut on that particular matter, a choice that he was sure had saved his neck during that conversation.

Then, at a little before 10:00, he was trying to go to sleep while reading a book. The book was over a thousand pages long; it was yet another distraction he'd fished for after the battle. He loved to read, almost as much as he loved to battle. Knowledge was power in this world, and the more you had, the more you had to get by with.

And then he'd heard a knock on his door. "It's open."

The door swung wide, and there stood Kelly, clad in loose pajamas and holding a pillow and rolled up sleeping bag. She smiled awkwardly. "I was going to apologize for waking you, but I guess you were already awake..."

She came into the room, knowing she didn't have to ask. Jason was far too close to her to force her to. "I was trying to sleep in my room, but I..." She sighed, feeling awkward about saying it. But she plunged forth after a moment. "I don't really want to be alone tonight."

Jason marked his place in the book, then closed it and put it on his bedside table. "That's all right; now that I think of it, I don't really want to be alone, either."

She smiled again, then began laying her sleeping bag out on the floor. "You should probably get some sleep, too, you know. You'll need it for the Atlantis League."

The plan was to sleep here tonight, then drop by the Pokemon Store and buy a few things before heading out early in the morning. Tonight's forecast was a moderate thunderstorm, something a guy in a wheelchair wouldn't want to be caught in.

The storm only served to remind them of the battle. It was the same storm that had hovered over Fuschia City after Firenza had disappeared; the storm was moving slowly on the account of having virtually no breeze or wind to work with.

Strangely enough, even with this perfect opportunity, Jason had found himself unable to tell her about Creight, and why his older self had chosen to go to Kelly's room and profess his unending love for her. Every time he thought he had the right way to start into the explanation, his breath would catch in his throat. He just couldn't manage it.

Finally, he'd stopped trying.

Jason was broken from his reverie by the sound of stirring. He craned his neck, to see that Kelly was moaning and squirming in her sleeping bag. The expression on her face was an equal mixture of concern, pain, and unbridled terror.

Part of him wanted to roll off the bed and go comfort her. But another part said, *Leave her there. She'll be fine.*

He chose to go with the latter, even as much as he thought it was probably against his better judgment.

A morbid part of him wondered what she was dreaming. Almost certainly, she was dreaming about that fateful day.

*But she wasn't present at the actual battle,* he thought. *Her dreams might be even more graphic than mine. Since she didn't see it, how could she know down to the exact detail what happened? She's got a lot more room for imagination than I do.*

He didn't envy her that room.

He sighed, and tried to go back to sleep.

As Kelly had said, he would need it, nightmare-ridden or not.

***

Mercifully, the rest of Jason's night, despite his pessimism, did move by rather quickly, and with few dreams, none of which he could remember. He was awakened by the sound of his PokeGear alarm going off; when he hit the mute, he saw that it was 6:00.

The Pokemon Store was just opening its doors now, and Professor Oak had probably already been up for a good half-hour or so. No doubt horsing around with that Muk or eating tofu, sitting next to that Kingler.

Jason shook his head. *Ugh! Tofu! How can he eat that?* Jason had always considered it a whole lot of nothing, which was, in fact, what tofu basically was, nutritionally speaking. A great way to lose weight, but a lousy way to enjoy food to the fullest.

He hoisted himself up, grabbed the clothes he'd prepared for himself from the floor, and began dressing, after which he settled himself into his wheelchair and awakened Kelly. She had long since stopped stirring and had fallen into a deep sleep; it took Jason a few seconds to even wake her the slightest bit.

"Come on, Kelly, time to get up. We've got a long day ahead of us," he said.

She shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs that had gathered in her brain during the night. "That we do. Hang on." She climbed out of her sleeping bag and began to wearily roll it up, tucking the pillow inside along with it.

Jason had to perversely admire her shape during this exercise. He thought this perverse only in the mildest sense; boyfriends and girlfriends, he felt, had a right to do that once in a while. He snorted. *It's a shame that I don't have anything to admire.

Although I might if I were to get my legs back...*

He still had not forgotten the offer made to him which would help him regain his ability to walk, even as much as he'd tried to put it out of his mind. Because to keep it in mind would be to remember Creight and the price he had paid to walk again.

*But that time is long gone,* Jason reminded himself, not for the first time. *Pallet Town is safe, and Daniel won't be back to bother them or me.*

Dr. Kendrick's offer was very tempting.

But Jason still wanted to put it off.

He wasn't sure why. Perhaps it was that degree of uncertainty as far as what other people thought of him would go. And while he had never really cared all that much what other people had thought of him, it came to mind now as part of his dilemma.

He remembered the Indigo League championship, and how many disabled people had come out to see him battle. For them, he'd stood as a symbol of courage and determination, and considerable stubbornness, as well. There had been no rule excluding Pokemon trainers with disabilities, which was the reason Jason was able to continue his training in the first place.

During those championships, he'd almost felt like a fraud.

But he had been the undisputed winner.

No one had chosen to gainsay the rules.

It was all just as well.

Jason and Kelly already had their things packed; as soon as Kelly was dressed, they said a hasty goodbye to Professor Oak (happily munching away on tofu) and chose their Pokemon for the journey. Jason chose Gengar, Charizard, Dragonair, Magcargo, Quilava, and Fearow. He figured they'd be doing a lot of flying, and it was best to have at least two flyers for trading off.

Kelly, meanwhile, chose her Victreebel, Snorlax, Haunter, Kangaskhan, Eevee, and Girafarig. She had no idea what Jason would be going up against, but she figured that if he were able to beat the gym leaders of the Atlantis League, then perhaps she should give it a shot. And even if she chose not to battle them, there were plenty of trainers aboard the ships they were going to cruise on.

Next, they headed for the Pokemon Store. They both bought radio upgrades for their PokeGears; after the incident at Fuschia City, they'd figured out that it paid to be informed once in a while, even if technology was sometimes what they were striving to get away from.

Along with the radio upgrade, Jason bought a miniature keyboard for his Pokedex. With the newest version, attachments could be made to it to turn it into a virtual full-function PDA. That wasn't his intention, though; what he had bought it for was to keep a file on the gym leaders and even the trainers he encountered along the way.

He imagined he would meet some very interesting people.

Soon enough, they were mounted on Fearow and headed south.

***

It was a longer journey to Cinnabar Island than had originally been expected, but only by about ten minutes; hardly time to cause a fuss about. Still, Fearow was getting tired of fighting cross-breezes, so Jason and Kelly both opted to land and stop to eat.

The view from above Cinnabar was anything but spectacular. The rubble and ash and solidified lava that had spewed from it as the ordeal with Firenza was beginning to flare up covered almost the entire island. The island was almost completely gray, looking for all the world like a gigantic boulder in the middle of the sea. One small settlement remained, one that had been unharmed by the inferno. It was a small area, but it contained a few houses, a small restaurant, a Pokemon Store, and a Pokemon Center.

After they landed, they took Fearow to the Pokemon Center and dropped by the restaurant. Understandably, there weren't many customers there, but the food was cheap, and it was decent, as well.

While they ate, Jason wondered to himself where Blaine would be battling, now that both of his gyms were gone. He remembered that Pokemon professors were privy to such information, and that he had taken the liberty of downloading what files he could pertaining to gym leaders from Professor Oak's computer.

He pulled out his Pokedex, accessed it, and searched for Blaine. What he came out with were at least a dozen entries, only two of which were relatively recent. The first one was an account of battling Blaine as reported by another trainer from Pallet Town. The second one was the info Jason was looking for; it was a hastily written e-mail from Professor Oak to Professor Elm:

"Professor Elm, the latest casualty figures at Cinnabar are ranging somewhere between one to two thousand. I am aware that this is a very large margin of error; however, I have been doing my absolute best to help with what remains of the evac procedures. You'll be thankful to know, I'm sure, that none of the newest trainers from New Bark are among the casualties, nor is gym leader Blaine. Blaine recently spoke with me and told me that the foams of the sea may as well swallow him up, now that he has lost his gyms."

*Foams of the sea? Oh, that's clever...* Jason was well aware of Blaine's bizarre mania for riddles, and this one was even more obvious that the last one he'd heard.

"What're you doing?" Kelly asked, as she finished her bagel and orange juice.

"Some reading," Jason replied. "Just wondering where gym leader Blaine is right now."

"Oh?" Kelly's eyebrow was raised. "And have you figured it out?"

"Sure have. Like it matters."

She snorted. "I guess it doesn't. Not to you, anyway. Though it might to someone else."

"Such as?"

"Trainers who haven't been here yet."

Jason shrugged. "We'll be in the air before we come across one, I'm sure."

Kelly drained her orange juice, then got up. "I have to go to the ladies' room, rather badly. Excuse me."

Jason nodded. "I'll be waiting at the Pokemon Center." He finished his meal, paid the check as well as a generous tip, and left the restaurant.

He was about halfway to the Pokemon Center when he felt a rumbling underneath his chair. He steadied himself and put on the brakes as the rumbling continued. It halted after about twenty seconds. *Guess the tectonic plates haven't had their say yet...*

After he reached the Pokemon Center, he pulled a Poke ball from his belt and twirled it around between his fingers, a nervous habit he was beginning to develop. *When's Kelly gonna get here?*

And that's when he saw the trainer.

Jason could immediately tell that this guy was a Pokemon trainer. The capture ball belt around his waist was full, and with capture balls no lower than Great level, to boot. He was somewhat tall and had long, dark hair tied back in a ponytail. He was dressed in plain-looking clothes, and his well-developed muscles were obvious. He looked a bit older than Jason, although Jason couldn't be sure.

Jason could see the amount of experience this trainer had just by looking him in the eye; the trainer's eyes were hard-edged, confident, and determined. The signs of a seasoned trainer.

And then the trainer spotted him.

Jason guessed that the ball he was twirling in his fingers was giving him away, because the next thing he knew, the trainer was approaching him.

"Excuse me," the trainer said politely. "do you happen to know where the Cinnabar Island Gym is located? Last I heard, it was in that general vicinity..." He pointed to the southwestern side of the volcano; that was about where Jaosn and Kelly had first discovered the entrance. "But as you can see, it's been demolished."

"Sure has," Jason responded, mentally rolling his eyes. *Maybe Kelly set this up. Either that, or she was right after all. Either way, I'm gonna look like one hell of a fool. Oh, well. Might as well make the most of it.* "And since you asked, yes, I do indeed know where the gym is. How about we battle for the info? I need the practice."

The trainer shrugged. "Sounds good to me. My name's Kamon, by the way. Glad to meet you."

"Jason. Pleasure's all mine." Jason had heard the name before; only in passing, but never without a great measure of respect. According to hearsay, Kamon had battled all the way through the Johto League, but had lost in the final battle against Lance, the Johto League Champion. After that, he'd disappeared for quite some time, only to resurface as the replacement for gym leader Pryce in the Johto League.

*And he wants to battle me? Hel-lo!*

"I'm sure," Kamon replied, putting a little distance between them for the battle. He seemed to catch the recognition in Jason's eyes. "I'm collecting Kanto badges, and this is my last one. So, what should the battle be? Three on three, six on six, two on two..."

"Three on three is fine with me," Jason responded. He suddenly took notice of the ball in his hand. *Oh, what the heck... I'll use this one.* "Ready?"

Kamon nodded and set himself.

"All right, then." Jason enlarged the ball and tossed it. "Go, Magcargo!"

Kamon chuckled. "Too easy." He plucked a capture ball from his belt, enlarged it, and tossed it. "Corsola, go!"

Out popped a Pokemon that looked almost like a ball with a bunch of branches sticking out across its surface. Not only that, it was also wearing a Focus Band.

*Uh-oh,* Jason thought. *Major disadvantage. Well, it's only for info... I'll just do it.*

Meanwhile, Kamon was already making his first move. "Use Surf!"

With this proximity to the water, it was but a small effort for Corsola to bring a wave crashing down upon poor Magcargo. Jason winced, imagining the pain; he was surprised and relieved to find that Magcargo had not fainted.

"Guess that goes to show," Jason called, "my Magcargo's been trained by the best. It's not gonna go down with just a Surf attack! Magcargo, let's take it back to them with Earthquake!"

In response, Magcargo barely moved. The earth around it, however, did anything but barely move. It rocked underneath Kamon's feet and Jason's wheels. Jason could tell it was taking a major toll on Corsola, but to its credit, the rock-water type Pokemon was too stubborn to faint.

Jason reminded himself to get himself a Focus Band whenever he could. They were rare and invaluable to Pokemon battles.

"Yes!" Kamon cheered. "Corsola, use a Whirlpool attack and K.O. Magcargo!"

Magcargo was again drowned by a rush of water. This time, it didn't get back up; it remained in a pooled state around its shell.

Jason sighed. *One down.* "Magcargo, come back. Awesome job." He pulled out another ball, more careful this time. "Let's go, Dragonair!"

He made sure to watch Kamon's reaction as Dragonair was released. The sparkling effect as it exited the ball didn't seem to faze Jason's opponent, but the actual appearance of the Pokemon sure did; Jason began to grin as Kamon gawked at Dragonair.

Jason almost hated to take advantage of the distraction Dragonair's appearance provided, but on the other hand, he knew that Kamon would do the exact same thing. He just came off as that sort of person... a type Jason had confronted, and had even been defeated by, before. "Dragonair, Extreme Speed, right now!"

Dragonair went straight for Corsola's midsection, just below its face, and caught it dead-on. This time, the Focus Band didn't help.

Kamon shook himself from his reverie. "Corsola, return." He reached for another ball first with one hand, then with the other. "Electabuzz, go!"

Jason appraised Kamon's Electabuzz. It looked strong and fast; he had no doubt that it was able to inflict considerable damage, and probably would. *Okay...*

"Use Ice Punch!" Kamon ordered.

*Huh? How'd he get Ice Punch onto an electric type? Must've been an effort...* Jason was intrigued in spite of himself. Pokemon hated learning attacks that weren't their element; Kamon's Pokemon had to be at least as loyal to him as Jason's were to him.

*Which means I'm dealing with a seriously formidable trainer.

But then again, if he wasn't formidable, how could he have become a gym leader?*

Electabuzz caught Dragonair head-on with an uppercut, icicles spinning around its fist as it made its strike. Dragonair stayed up and gave ground; it was determined to take this to the end.

*Good for you, Dragonair.* "Dragonair, use Slam, then follow up with Dragonbreath!"

Dragonair was quick to respond to Jason's commands; it lashed out violently with its tail, catching Electabuzz across the midsection and forcing it onto its back. Dragonair held it down as blue fire blew from its mouth. Electabuzz struggled, but Dragonair didn't let it up until the full power of its attack had been spent. Finally, Dragonair backed off and Electabuzz got to its feet, though apparently with great difficulty.

*Must be paralyzed,* Jason thought, as Kamon made his next move.

"Electabuzz, Thunder attack, now!"

*Oh, goody,* Jason thought, as a bolt of lightning seared down from the heavens and wrapped around Dragonair, forcing it into convulsions. Jason knew that after that attack, Dragonair would suffer the same gripping paralysis that also plagued Electabuzz; he wasn't disappointed.

"Now use Psychic!" Kamon shouted, apparently sensing victory.

*Yet another attack that isn't its element,* Jason mused.

The victory Kamon was going for didn't come; Electabuzz was fully paralyzed.

Jason pumped his fist in the air. *I've still got a chance...* "Dragonair, Waterfall to finish it!"

This time, the close proximity to the water gave Jason the advantage; a breaker washed over Electabuzz, shorting it out. Electabuzz went down and didn't get back up.

Even from this distance, Jason could see that Kamon was being a good sport about the battle; there was no discernible annoyance or agitation of any sort on his face, though at this point he was just a bit closer to losing than Jason was.

Kamon recalled Electabuzz. "Come take a rest." He pulled out his final capture ball for the battle. "Your turn to fight, Typhlosion!"

*Hmm...* Jason thought, as the powerful fire-type Pokemon emerged. *I could try to take it with Charizard. But on the other hand, I need the practice more for the other Pokemon.

In that case...*

Kamon was already dispensing his orders. "Typhlosion, Dynamic Punch!"

Typhlosion was upon Dragonair in an instant, and when its clawed fist struck, there was an almighty explosion that blasted Dragonair almost all the way back to Jason.

And the score was now 2 to 2.

Jason sighed and recalled Dragonair. "You did great." After another moment of consideration, Jason chose his final Pokemon. He looked at Kamon. "Well, then, my final Pokemon will be... Quilava!"

He tossed the ball, and out came the pre-evolved form of Typhlosion. The two Pokemon sneered at each other as they prepared for battle.

"Evolution doesn't really matter," Jason said, "because I'm willing to bet that your Typhlosion lost considerable speed when it evolved. Quilava may not have attack stats to match Typhlosion's, but then again, that shouldn't matter if you can't hit it." He turned to his Pokemon. "Quilava, Double Team!"

"Ha!" Kamon snorted, prepared to match taunt for taunt. "You'd think you could get away from me, wouldn't you? Well, let me tell you something, Jason. I've been around the block more than once. I know how to handle almost any attack. Nothing, and I mean absolutely *nothing,* is new to me. Typhlosion, Flame Wheel the ground!"

*Nuts,* Jason thought, as the illusions of Quilava disappeared. *I should have expected that.* He nodded in affirmation of Kamon's strategy, which was, admittedly, a winning one. "You know your stuff. Quilava, Iron Tail!"

Quilava's tail turned to organic steel, whipping out to catch Typhlosion in the belly. Typhlosion stumbled back, but recovered quickly and readied itself for the next attack order.

A small smirk appeared on Kamon's face. "Perfect. Typhlosion, Dynamic Punch!"

Typhlosion's clawed fist whipped out once again with explosive force, but this time, it caught nothing but air.

Now it was Jason's turn to smirk. "Good job. Skull Bash!"

Upon hearing this command, both Quilava and Typhlosion reacted; Typhlosion braced itself with Endure at the last instant before Quilava caught its opponent in the back with its hard head. Then, without waiting for a command, Typhlosion whirled around and cracked Quilava across the face with a Thunder Punch. Quilava was thrown nearly four meters backward, yet managed to hold on to consciousness. Jason attributed that little miracle to the fact that it was the first direct hit scored on Quilava. "Another Skull Bash, then follow it up with Bite!"

Partially in response to the commands, and partially in response to the brutal punch it had suffered, Quilava used its Skull Bash on Typhlosion's head. This time, Typhlosion wasn't fully prepared and took the full measure of the attack. As it reeled, Quilava jumped on its back and bit it in the neck.

"Typhlosion, Mega Punch!"

Typhlosion, after a great deal of whirling, threw Quilava off its back and lashed out with another powerful blow; Quilava bounced backward, then flipped over and landed on its feet.

Both Pokemon looked tired. Each had suffered massive damage; both had black marks all over their coarse blue-and-tan fur. Neither looked as if they were going to last much longer at this rate.

"Typhlosion, finish it off with Fire Blast!"

*Uh-oh...* Jason thought, and he yelled out his order in a rush. "Quilava, counter with your own Fire Blast!"

The infamous "stick figure" flames lanced out from both Pokemon and met between them. Both Pokemon continued to pour on the power, neither giving in...

Suddenly, there was a tremendous explosion as the compressed air pockets between the flames could take no more. Fire blasted outward in all directions, almost threatening to consume the two battling trainers. Jason threw up his arm to shield his eyes from the sight; watching the reaction was something akin to watching a gigantic magnesium rod burning.

The smoke seemed to take forever to clear. Jason was sure he wasn't the only one who thought so. He slipped the collar of his shirt up over his nose as the smoke moved in his direction, carried by a small cross- breeze.

"What?!"

Jason's eyebrows shot up upon hearing Kamon's surprise. He moved his chair forward, past the smoke, to find out which Pokemon had won the battle.

Then he got his answer.

Neither one.

The blast had knocked both of them out.

Draw.

"No way..." Jason muttered, as surprised as Kamon was. He recalled Quilava and looked up at Kamon. "I seem to have uderestimated you, Kamon. Gotta hand it to you, you're strong. Definitely worthy of the Indigo League. Hope you make it." Then he glanced back at his watch. *Where the hell IS she?* "But, for the moment, I have to get back to the Pokemon Center." He looked back up. "And I also owe you some info. The Cinnabar Island gym doesn't exist anymore, not since the volcano blew."

From the look on his face, Jason could tell Kamon thought he had been cheated. "What? But, then--"

"But, Kamon," Jason interrupted, "gym leader Blaine is still very much up to gym battles. You can find him in the Seafoam Islands. You may have passed them on your way in, depending on where you came from."

Kamon nodded. "Yeah, I did." He smiled. "Well, thank you. Thank you very much, Jason. I suppose this is good-bye, for now."

"I suppose." Jason offered his hand, which Kamon took instantly.

"Hope to battle you again," Kamon continued. "Maybe next time, I'll win."

Jason shook his head. "Nah."

"Oh?" Kamon grinned and raised an eyebrow. "And why wouldn't I win?"

Jason returned the grin. "Because I will."

Both trainers chuckled for a moment, and then Kamon was off.

Jason watched him go for a moment, then turned around...

...and nearly jumped out of his chair at the sight of Kelly standing almost right behind him.

Kelly giggled at his reaction. "Yeah, I've got that effect on people."

He glared. "Where *were* you? I had time to have a battle, for Godsakes."

"Yeah, I know. I was watching. You were too engrossed in your battle to look for me back there." Kelly chucked her thumb over her shoulder. "I was watching from the Pokemon Center. Hopefully, that other guy has some revive or max revive with him; he didn't seem to be headed there."

"No, but I am," Jason responded. "Get my Pokemon healed. And then get the heck out of here." He checked his watch again. "We're not behind, but I don't want to get there at the last minute, either."

"Just so long as you have our tickets," she said.

"Don't worry," he responded, pulling the tickets from his pocket. "They're right here."

After agreeing to go to the Atlantis League, Oak had given him an e- mail address that Jason could request tickets from. Jason had immediately done so, and he'd gotten a quick response. Within two hours of sending the e-mail, two tickets had been sent to him and Kelly through a fax. The font had been a unique style that Jason hadn't seen before; he assumed it was to show the tickets were authentic. On top of that, each ticket had a long authentication code printed at the bottom.

The end result was the same, in any case: Jason and Kelly had a ride aboard the Atlantis League ships. They would have to pay at the door, of course, as did everyone else who looked to come aboard, but it was no problem for Jason; he was loaded.

*Well, in the meantime, I've gained a new acquaintance,* Jason thought. He chuckled. *For an outcast, I'm doing pretty well for myself.*

Jason Creight chuckled on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
5th October 2003, 10:31 PM
Jason Creight awoke in the middle of the night on the back of his Charizard.

The air was pleasantly cool tonight; not cold enough to make Jason want a jacket, but not warm enough that he felt the need to remove his sweater.

He cracked his eyes open, and felt a surge of contentment at the image he'd opened them to. Kelly's head rested comfortably on his chest, and beyond her head he could see the awe-inspiring sight of a clear, starlit sky.

He gently wrapped his arms around Kelly, feeling the steady rise and fall of her body as she breathed the regular breath of deep sleep.

Jason smiled, then looked at Charizard. Even from on its back, he could see the expression in its eyes, if not in its face. Charizard was singularly determined to reach the goal Jason had set for it, or go as far as it could while moving at a pace that was regular enough for them to get some sleep.

That pace was beginning to pick up somewhat, however, and Jason looked up to see why.

Ahead lay what was considered one of the greatest technological marvels of the millennium.

The Selto marina.

Selto was the small region, where, as trainers from that area liked to say, "The sea meets the sky." It was the southernmost land one could find north of the expansive Southern Sea. Selto was renowned for harboring trainers who battled day and night, gambling anything and everything they desired.

But Selto really was nothing more than a small sprinkling of islands across a relatively small area. The islands weren't large enough to support many people, and no one had ever heard of Pokemon living there, besides water types; consequentially, Selto operated on a "King of the Mountain" system. Each island accomodated only one person, and that person earned it by toppling the last one who lived there.

The battles were rumored to be of titanic proportions.

Jason briefly wondered if there would ever come a day when he would be good enough to enter into the ranks of the Selto trainers.

For now, though, he was content with battling in the Atlantis League.

Each island in Selto was connected to all the others by the marina, consisting of massive wooden bridges, concrete lookout towers, and floating marketplaces. Small, cozy motel-type buildings also littered the area; however, the rooms within them were usually reserved for trainers planning to stick around for a while, for whatever reason. Jason felt a small swell of pride at having remembered to keep their reservations for one such motel in one of his pockets; they would be needed in a few minutes.

He reflected more on the past of the Selto marina. It was rumored that this was where the Atlantis League had its roots, but thus far, no one could provide evidence to that effect, except, of course, the gym leaders.

The marina had been constructed nearly two hundred years ago in a massive cooperative effort by architects, construction workers, Pokemon masters, and of course, Pokemon. When the marina had finally been completed, trainers and businessmen alike had rushed to it, eager to get their hands on a piece of the so-called "Selto pie."

And, Jason noticed, looking at it now, it was just as active as it had been when it had first been opened.

Torches along the bridges and within the marketplaces burned brightly, giving Jason and Charizard all the light they needed to make their landing. Jason nodded. "All right, start taking us down. Slowly, please."

As Charizard complied, Jason gently took Kelly's shoulders into his hands and shook her as lightly as possible. "Hey, Kelly, time to wake up. We're here."

She yawned and began to stretch, then looked up into Jason's eyes and smiled. "What a great thing to wake up to."

Jason's eyebrow rose. "Really? That's news to me."

She giggled, and planted a light kiss on the tip of his nose. "At least it's good news."

"I suppose so. But, as my elementary math teacher always said, 'No news is good news.'"

"We'll see about that."

It was at that moment that Charizard alighted on one of the empty bridges. Kelly slid off its back, then detached the harness that kept Jason's wheelchair on Charizard's back. The harness was really nothing more than a huge Velcro strap, but it did the job, and neither Jason nor Kelly was going to argue the results.

After unfolding the chair, she helped Jason climb into it, which took a little bit of doing; despite Charizard's broad back, it only had so much back, and Jason nearly toppled off while sliding into the chair.

He sighed and recalled Charizard. "You deserve a good rest after that flight." Then he reached into his vest pocket and pulled out his biker gloves, which he donned. He looked up at Kelly. "Shall we get to our rooms?"

"By all means," she responded.

It was a pleasure for Jason to move his wheelchair across such a smooth surface; going out into the wild had always been rough because half the time, the chair's wheels were sinking into mud, getting caught in potholes, or bumping up over rocks. Jason had built up a considerable amount of muscle in his arms from getting the chair out of such entrapments, and just moving around in general, and he took pride in that muscle.

*But,* he added ruefully, *no matter how much arm muscle I build up, it'll never replace using my legs.*

He glanced up at Kelly, who was yawning at that particular moment. She caught the glance, turned to him, and half-smiled. "What?"

He paused, wondering whether he should answer or not. He went for it. "I was just thinking... how much I'd love to be able to stand again."

He heard Kelly's breath catch in her throat.

And he abruptly realized that even after Oak's stern advice...

...he'd still not told her about Creight.

He sighed. Now was as perfect an opportunity as he was ever going to get. "Kelly, we need to have a serious talk."

The expression on Kelly's face changed to one that Jason recognized all too well... she was going to get defensive. "Why?"

Jason wanted to be careful in wording his explanation. "Because," he slowly responded, "you've had a dream that you've not told me about. One that was so vivid, you were sure it was real. And in the reality of that dream, I came to your room on my feet."

She stopped in her tracks, causing Jason to clamp his fists around his wheels' rims. *That got her attention.*

Silence reigned between them for several moments, during which time Jason saw Kelly's expression contort as her emotions roiled through her heart and mind. Those emotions showed in her eyes so very clearly that Jason felt a pang of guilt at having even brought the subject up in the first place.

When she spoke again, it was barely above a whisper. "How could you know about that?"

He was afraid she'd ask that. "I promise to tell you everything when we get to the motel."

She hesitated for a moment, then nodded.

Within fifteen minutes, they found their motel and registered. When they got to their room, they found it to be with sparse accomodations: a small-screen TV, small dresser, two single beds, a bedside table between them with a radio clock mounted on it... the usual for a motel.

Jason was the first one in, and he immediately got to unpacking. The first Atlantis League ship wasn't going to come in for two days, and he was going to make the most of the accomodations. He piled his clean clothes into one drawer and his dirty ones in another, then parked his wheelchair between the bed on the left and the wall and climbed onto the bed.

Kelly, meanwhile, hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door handle and locked the door, then came in and followed Jason's example. She didn't think she'd ever understand Jason's priorities; unpack, then have a serious talk? *Shouldn't the serious talk have precedence?* she asked herself.

But, in all truth, she understood what he was doing, if only in part. *He probably figures it's bad to finish a chat with, "Well, let's get unpacked."*

That was, as a matter of fact, precisely what Jason was thinking. He wanted to have all extraneous activity finished before getting into the subject matter. He pulled his PokeGear off, muted its alarm, and placed it in the bedside table's drawer. Next to that went his Pokedex, and his capture ball belt ended up hanging on one of his wheelchair's handles.

Kelly also put her PokeGear and Pokedex in the bedside table drawer, and she handed her capture ball belt to Jason, who hung it next to his own. She then sat down on the edge of Jason's bed and waited for him to get situated next to her. He did so.

"Okay, Jason," she said, her voice stronger this time. "Time to spill it. How do you know about that dream?"

He sighed. "First thing you have to understand, Kelly, is that this is all tremendously complicated. To an extent that I really hate the story myself."

She shrugged. "You hate the story about how you became a trainer in the first place. Doesn't matter now. Tell me."

"Okay, okay. It started the day before Ash's homecoming party..."

***

Jason was even more reluctant to tell her how the entire thing related to her supposed "dream," but he couldn't stop just for that. So he plunged through it as well as he could.

"He wanted to see you again. He hadn't seen you in ten years. All he had left were his Pokemon, and he'd already released all of them. Even his Dragonite. Gyarados and Gengar were..." Jason shuddered to think of the look in Creight's eyes as he had imparted that tidbit to his younger self.

Kelly was trying very hard to take all this in. She could tell that Jason really didn't want her to try and drag it all out of him. Not when what it had to do with her "dream" was becoming so obvious.

"So my dream," she said slowly, "wasn't just a dream, was it?"

Jason blew his breath out his nose, and shook his head. "It was real. All of it. He really did go to your room." He tilted his head, knowing this next one would have the fullest impact. "And he really did say he loved you."

Kelly, who had been looking at her toes by this time, let her head sink, as she took in the measure of Jason's words.

"And I think he did, too."

She looked back up at him, her gaze suddenly filled with anger and frustration. "You 'think' he did? What the hell's that supposed to mean? He was you, wasn't he?"

"I keep telling you, he was nothing like me by that time."

She glared. "I guess not. At least he cared enough to come back... why didn't you care enough to stay behind in the first place?"

He rested his elbow on his right leg and let his head fall into his hand. Kelly had never shown anger when the subject of him leaving Pallet Town had come up before. Only sadness. "That's not my point. And besides, those two times are totally unrelated."

"Are they? If you hadn't left, you wouldn't have--"

"The offer to repair my legs would have come anyway, Kelly. And I probably would have taken it with even more vigor than Creight did. And Daniel would have seen that as the perfect opportunity, and I would have become Creight."

"Okay, then, let's move on to another tack. He said he loved me, and you don't *know* whether he did or not?"

"No. I don't."

"Then I'll ask you flat out."

*Oh, no... don't ask that...* Jason knew it was coming. He could see it a mile away, coming with all the speed of a bullet.

"Do you love me?"

Jason saw the full implications of the question as it was asked.

It was the most important question he had ever been asked in his life.

And he was trapped.

He didn't know how to answer.

If he said no, their friendship could very well end right then and there.

But if he said yes...

...it would be a lie.

Nanoseconds ticked by as slowly as hours as Jason tried to think up a million different responses, only to curse himself for not being prepared for the question before she'd asked it.

He had asked himself that same question a million times since that entire business.

And he had yet to come up with an answer.

But he couldn't stall this question. Not this one. It was too important.

He only had one choice.

And one choice... really was no choice at all.

"Yes."

Jason felt his heart rip in two as soon as he said it.

It was the most important question in his life.

And he had answered it with a lie.

He felt the two pieces of his heart rip into shreds as he watched all the confusion, anger, frustration, and sadness slip away from Kelly's eyes and expression. Suddenly, her eyes shone with hope and eagerness, and her tightened jaw now hung slack.

For a moment, the hope disappeared and her former expression took its place once more.

And once again, Jason saw what was coming.

*What cruelty is this...?* he asked himself.

Kelly spoke.

"Say it."

And Jason was trapped again.

If he said it, he would be lying once more

If he didn't say it, she wouldn't believe his first response.

*Boy, I've had *this* coming, ever since I gave Gyarados that damn TM.

How will I ever forgive myself for this?*

And before he even realized it, he gave his response.

"I love you, Kelly."

And the hope and eagerness returned to Kelly's eyes, stronger than ever. A smile spread across her face.

Her reply was a whisper.

"I love you, too."

She wrapped her arms around him, leaned forward, and kissed him passionately.

He responded to the kiss, even as his heart was reduced to molecules within his chest.

*God... lie after lie... how will I *ever*live with myself?*

He could only hope that there was an honest answer to that question to be found.

Kelly did not break the kiss; neither did he. As much as Jason had not wanted to lie to her like that, kissing was the part of their relationship he enjoyed the most, and it was getting more intense; the kiss became longer and deeper than either of them had ever gone before.

All thoughts of guilt and lies and mistakes disappeared from Jason's mind as he took control of the kiss.

Neither of them was sure which one had pulled the other into a lying position on the bed... only that it had been done without breaking the embrace.

And, truth be told... they didn't really care.

The bed was where they stayed.

***

The next morning, Kelly was the first one to awaken from her deep, peaceful slumber. She turned to her right, where Jason still lay, sleeping silently. Neither of them had slept under the sheets. The sheets hadn't even been shifted, though wrinkled they most definitely were.

They hadn't slept with each other, not in the sense normally associated with that phrase. For Jason, it wasn't possible; everything from his waist down was paralyzed, and that included a rather vital organ for such an activity. Kelly thought that was just as well. She kenw that if it had gotten any more intense last night, they probably would have slept with each other, or would have tried; that was a place that, even now, even with him, she wasn't sure she wanted to go.

*But if I love him, why am I reluctant?* she asked. She sat up and sighed. *Wish it was as easy as the movies. I'd know right away whether I really want to sleep with him.

From being tired to going to the brink of ecstasy, and back to uncertainty. Why couldn't we have both died last night? It would have been so much easier...*

That last came unbidden, and Kelly didn't really take the thought seriously. She knew that as long as she and Jason were together, they could go back to that cliff whenever they wanted.

She went into the bathroom and turned on the shower faucet. As she stripped off her clothes and climbed in, she reflected on the events of the previous night.

Kelly felt a small pang of guilt at having made Jason tell her he loved her. She'd been able to tell it from the look in his eyes; he'd seen the question coming, but he wasn't prepared for it. It was that "Stantler caught in the headlights" look that she was so familiar with, especially from him.

Hearing him say it first had made it so much easier for her to say it back.

That was why she'd wanted him to say it.

She hadn't just wanted to hear a "yes." It wasn't enough. She had to hear it.

And he'd said it.

But with the same look as when he'd said "yes."

*He was so eager to get away from his own guilt that he almost forgot about us,* she thought. This disappointed her, but she understood to a certain extent.

*But until he starts facing his mistakes, instead of running away from them, he'll never forget them... or forgive himself for making them.*

This was a fact that had lodged in her mind ever since Jason had first told her about the incident at his family's marina. He had unilaterally caused a chain reaction that had utterly destroyed his own family. He had been assumed dead, a status that remained in place even now; news of his feats in Kanto and Johto did not go as far as the Orange Islands.

*But if he were to show his face there today,* Kelly wondered, *would he be recognized?*

She didn't think he would be. And she thought it would do him good to return. Maybe he could compete in the Orange League...?

*But he has to do what *he* thinks is best for him. It's not for me to decide,* she told herself, as she rinsed.

*Whatever he chooses, I'll stay with him.

I'll stay with him because I love him.*

***

Jason woke up to the blazing sun pouring in through the sheer curtains drawn across the window. He squinted through the light, and looked around the room for Kelly.

He didn't see her, but he heard the splashing of water in the bathroom. *Must be taking a shower. Sounds like a good idea to me.*

For a moment, he thought about the night before.

*I lied.

She asked me the one question that might very well have made or broken our relationship right then and there.

And I lied.

And now, because of that lie, she's admitted that she loves me.

Oh, God, why did I ever open my mouth?*

Jason forced himself into a sitting position and moved across the bed until he was sitting on the foot. From here, it was easy to reach the dresser; he pulled out a change of clothes from the "clean" drawer, put the clothes on the bed, then moved around the edge of the bed again until he was next to his wheelchair.

*Why do I do this to myself?* he wondered. *Why do I keep trying to distract myself from my mistakes? Why do I keep running away?*

As with Kelly's question last night, he had no answer.

He wondered if he ever would.

Jason looked back at the radio clock, which read 9:10 A.M. He'd slept late, all right... and from the look of things, so had Kelly. It didn't even look as if she'd used her own bed last night, but just slept next to him the entire time instead.

*Because she loves me.

And because I don't know if I love her.*

Jason refused to let himself be further paralyzed by thoughts alone. They'd said what they'd said, and whether or not what they said was true was up to time to figure out.

In the meantime, they'd both come here with a purpose.

Jason was determined to do his best in the Atlantis League.

And, along the way, maybe he would find some answers to the questions he was constantly asking himself.

***

Jason and Kelly spent most of the day browsing the expansive marina and its marketplaces. At times, it almost felt as if they were prowling around a treehouse, as many wooden bridges and platforms as they were moving across. Kelly said so, and Jason agreed wholeheartedly.

"But there's one notable exception," he added. "The fact that this entire place is wheelchair-accessible."

"Lucky for you," she responded.

"Well, not only trainers pass through here," Jason continued. "This entire marina is one heck of a tourist attraction. And I imagine a lot of overseas trading is done here. There've got to be some people passing through with injuries or some such that would need crutches or a wheelchair."

"I'd imagine so," she answered.

Already, Jason's mind had drifted from the subject, back to the Atlantis League. Oak had told him that there was no info on the types of Pokemon used by the gym leaders, and that he couldn't even find the name of the Atlantis League champion.

*Guess that means I'll have to improvise,* he thought. *Use my best Pokemon of each type for gym battles, and for trainer battles use Pokemon that have less experience. As usual.

But there are nine elements. And I can only use six. Hmm...*

"Hey, Jason, come take a look at this," said Kelly, turning and starting up a brisk pace toward one of the kiosks.

Jason raised an eyebrow and followed her.

When they got to the kiosk, they saw a respectable-looking man standing behind the counter. He smiled politely. "Something I can help you with?"

"Just looking for the moment, thanks," Jason responded. He looked up at Kelly. "So what is it?"

"Well, take a look." Kelly indicated the glass case inset below the counter.

Jason saw a considerable collection of several different types of capture balls, ranging from ordinary Poke balls to Ultra balls, and from Fast balls to Heavy balls. All of them looked expertly crafted. He wondered, if he bought one of those, whether he'd be reluctant to throw such a perfect piece of craftsmanship at a Pokemon, or into a battle arena.

He looked up at the salesman. "How much do each of these run?"

"Two hundred apiece."

Jason's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Back home, an Ultra ball costs six times that much."

"Costs six times that much just about anywhere," the salesman acknowledged. He leaned forward. "But then again, they cost more because there's more Pokemon to be found anywhere else. Around here, all you can find are water types, and even then, most of those are Magikarp. You might get lucky and catch, I dunno, a Poliwag or Horsea or somethin', but for the most part, wild and valuable Pokemon around here are few and *very* far between."

"So why sell them here?" Kelly asked.

"Cause no trainer wants to be empty-handed or armed with a weak ball when one of those valuable Pokemon *does* come floatin' around. And the balls can be bought in bulk around here a lot more easily than wherever it is you two come from."

"So you get good business?"

"Mediocre, most days," the salesman responded. "But sometimes, there'll be a trainer or two that can't resist the deal."

"Who's your supplier for the custom ones?" Jason asked.

"Lotta the time, I am. I've built a lot of the ones you see in that case. Some, though, I get traded in from trainers who don't need 'em, and some others I get imported all the way from Johto. Guy named Kurt makes 'em night and day. Those are the best ones."

For a brief moment, Jason saw an image of Tommy superimposed over the salesman, though the two looked nothing alike.

Jason knew this was a deal too good to miss. He pulled out his Pokedex, activated the digital checkbook, and checked what he had in savings. Of course, he had far more than enough to pay for what he wanted to get; he just wanted to check the total. Then he patted the sack hanging underneath the left arm of his wheelchair, where his empty capture balls normally resided.

*Almost empty. Guess I'll have to fix that. These'd make great subjects for tech research.*

"I'll take five Ultra balls, and... two of each custom ball," he said, handing his Pokedex to the salesman for verification.

"Thought you'd know a good deal when you saw one," said the salesman, accepting the Pokedex and linking it to his register. He rang up the total. "Twenty-two hundred here... all right, there you go."

After the transaction was finished, Jason and Kelly were once again on their way through the marketplace. Jason's thoughts were not so much on the merchandise as they were, of course, on the Atlantis League. That left Kelly free to explore what she wanted. She even goaded him into buying a few things for her.

When Kelly glanced toward one particular kiosk, however, she quickly turned the other way and didn't look back.

Jason caught this, mired in his thoughts though he was, and turned toward the kiosk that had caused such a rude reaction.

*LaHora, Inc.

We Deal In Rare Pokemon!*

His teeth ground almost audibly upon sight of that sign.

He quickly followed Kelly's example.

*Even now,* he thought, *people still sell Pokemon for money.

Sooner or later, it's gonna have to stop.

Pokemon are living creatures. They shouldn't be kept in cages.*

For an instant, Jason wondered if his efforts all those years ago had been in vain. His family had been ruined, yes, but their fall could have heralded the spawning of smaller corporations of the same type.

He didn't want to think about the implications.

He looked at Kelly for reassurance. When Kelly returned the gaze, he saw a measure of sympathy in her eyes. "I can only imagine what you have to live with every time you see something like that."

"I live with it," he responded. "Not very easily, but I do live with it."

She patted him on the shoulder, giving him all the reassurance he needed.

Already, he felt better.

Maybe their love life wasn't certain.

But their lives had been forever changed by the other.

And they were thankful for it.

Jason Creight reflected on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
6th October 2003, 11:36 PM
Jason Creight awoke to the sound of a big ship blowing its horn.

He rolled over and looked at the radio clock, which read 4:30 A.M. Quite early, but once one woke up at that time with things to do during the day, it was very hard to get back to sleep at that point.

Jason didn't bother trying. He knew precisely which ship that was blowing its horn out there.

It was the Colossal.

The first ship for the Atlantis League.

The only ship that ever docked anywhere near land.

And it was here.

Jason propped himself up and threw the sheets of his bed aside. Today was the last day he and Kelly would be in this motel; he would have to get his things together, get a bath, get dressed, and get checked out. He figured it could take a while to do all this.

*Sooner I get started, the sooner we can board and be done with it,* he thought.

He started in.

***

Kelly knew she was dreaming.

That knowledge didn't let her take control of the dream.

She dreamt that she was back in the lab complex in Pallet Town. She was in her room, and there was a knock on the door.

"Who is it?"

"It's me."

She moved to answer the door.

And there was Jason. On his feet. With a mustache and goatee, and the most serious look on his face.

*No!* she thought, even as she continued to play out the events that had actually happened. *That's Creight! It's not Jason!*

But there was nothing she could do to stop it all from happening again.

Suddenly, the parameters of the dream changed. She found herself in a dark area, the borders of which weren't clear. In front of her were Creight on the left, and Jason on the right.

They spoke as one, the harmonics of their voices matching perfectly with the other's.

"Which one of us do you love more, Kelly?"

They both began to circle her. Creight leaned in. "You love me more, right? The tall, dark and handsome guy who's always keeping secrets, has some of the most powerful Pokemon in the world, and came back through time itself to save your life. Ruthless and efficient."

He pulled back, and then Jason leaned in. "You love me more, right? The wheelchair-bound guy who, despite the odds stacked against him, has managed to survive, cared enough to come back to you, and listened whenever you had something to say. Sympathetic and patient."

Creight. "I'm the one who said 'I love you.'"

Jason. "I'm the one you said 'I love you' to."

"I gave my life for you."

"I'd give anything for you."

Both of them. "I said the one thing you most wanted to hear."

Those last words echoed painfully throughout the limits of the area, only to bounce back twice as strong, then four times, then eight...

Kelly felt completely and utterly overwhelmed. She fell to her knees and curled into a ball and tried to shut the voices out. *Wake up! Wake up!*

The voices only got louder.

She screamed, and kept screaming.

Whether it was in agony of the sound or despair of the paradox, she didn't know.

*Wakeupwakeupwakeupwakeup*

She was suddenly and violently snapped out of her dream and into the light of morning by a pair of strong hands holding her shoulders.

"Kelly!"

The worried shout sounded almost far away, though it was right next to her. Her head whipped around, and her eyes focused on Jason.

The one in the wheelchair.

He had more concern in his expression than she had ever known him to have before. His mouth hung slightly open, the space between his eyebrows was split by two creases, and his dark eyes showed more worry than she'd ever seen.

More than she thought he had the capacity for.

She fell into his embrace, and he held her as closely and tightly as possible.

She felt a sense of safety that she'd not fully realized before.

"You're the one I love more," she whispered, so low that he couldn't hear it.

***

Jason had just gotten out of the shower and dressed when Kelly had started screaming. He'd immediately responded, moving his wheelchair as quickly as he could to her side and taking gentle hold of her shoulders.

"Kelly, wake up!" he called. Then, louder, "Kelly!"

Her eyes had snapped open then, and Jason saw unbridled terror in them.

And she'd almost thrown herself into his lap, hugging him so tightly that breathing became a near-impossibility.

"It's all right now," he muttered, as he gently rocked her back and forth. "It's all right."

For a moment, he recalled the night Daniel had first come to Pallet Town and tried to frame Jason for murdering Professor Oak.

Neither the framing nor the murder had succeeded, thankfully. But Daniel had attempted to salvage his revenge by kidnapping Kelly.

And when Jason had found and freed her, she'd thrown herself into his arms with the same aggression.

Jason hated to see her in a moment of weakness like this. He hated it because she had, as far as he could recall, only twice before seen him in a moment of weakness, while he'd seen more than that in her. He knew that she was, in fact, a very strong-willed person, and it took a lot to scare her.

Whatever had been in her nightmare had been undoubtedly terrifying.

Jason was just as glad that he didn't experience it.

He wouldn't ask, either. She'd tell him when she was ready. She'd afforded him the same courtesy; now it was his turn.

Abruptly, this mix of thought and emotion began to click in his mind.

They were pieces of the puzzle he wanted to solve.

He was one step closer to discovering the answer to the question that would ultimately decide if he and Kelly stayed together.

What was more, he was heading towards "yes."

He felt better now. He was getting somewhere.

The horn of the Colossal blared once more, and Jason turned his right ear toward the window. He could hear people out there now. It sounded like a huge crowd; he could only assume that they were disembarking from the ship. He doubted if many people around here would be insane enough to board the ship now, at 5:00 in the morning.

A few moments later, Kelly's head rose from his shoulder. He turned back to her, to see that she was smiling. There was still a small amount of fear in her eyes, but even that was quickly fading, to be replaced by something akin to amusement.

"Even now, you're thinking of all the training you'll be able to do in this new league," she said, in a mockingly accusatory tone.

"Believe me, you're the one I'm more worried about right now," he responded. "Are you all right?"

She rose from the slightly compromising position she'd put herself into, and into a more comfortable sitting position. "Not really, but I'll live. Just as long as it was a dream."

"Okay." Jason swore to himself that he wasn't going to pry, though his curiosity was sailing through the roof.

Kelly sighed a heavy sigh, and looked around the room. "I see you've been at it, cleaning up around here." She playfully flicked her finger at the slight curl in Jason's still-wet brown hair, which had grown noticeably longer since the incident with Creight.

"Yup. After all, today's the day."

"So it is. I should probably grab a shower and get my stuff packed."

"Probably a good idea."

She got off the bed, rummaged through the drawers she'd used, got a clean change of clothes, and went into the bathroom to get started on her end. Before she closed the door, however, she poked her head back through it to look at Jason. "Think there's a barber shop aboad that ship?"

Jason chuckled and pulled out the guidebook he'd just packed. "They've got everything on the Colossal. Auditorium, exercise gym, dance hall... and yes, since you asked, a barber shop. Good thing the ship is steady enough for one."

"Well, good," she responded. She pointed at Jason's hair. "Might sound weird, but I was sort of wondering to myself how you'd look bald."

He raised an eyebrow. "Were you, now?"

"Yep." She ducked back into the bathroom and locked the door.

Jason scoffed. *Bald, indeed. Only time I was ever bald was when I was born. Even then, I had hair.*

But, despite that thought, he still looked himself in the mirror for a moment.

He returned to packing his backpack, eternally grateful for a laundromat within the motel. He could stand dirty clothes up to a point, but beyond that point, he almost went stir-crazy trying to find a way to get them adequately clean.

Being paralyzed from the waist down didn't help, either, not as far as his excretory system went; he was also grateful that he had been equipped with shunts for that particular problem. It wasn't as if he could exactly hold it, not when he couldn't use the muscles necessary.

Such were the thoughts that pervaded his mind as he continued to pack.

And this time, unlike others, he allowed them to take him.

After all, it wasn't like he had anything constructive to think about at that particular moment.

***

It was around 9:30 in the morning when Kelly and Jason got to the Colossal's dock, after eating a free continental breakfast at the motel, which was actually pretty good. Kelly ate two bowls of honey-covered Cheerios, while Jason ended up eating close to half a dozen cream-filled donuts.

Kelly had watched in disbelief as Jason wolfed down one donut after another. "Keep that up and you'll sooner get a twelve pack of soda than a six pack of muscle."

"*My* muscle isn't what I'm worried about right now," Jason responded.

Even though the Colossal was built to be wheelchair-accessible, Jason still felt awkward approaching the ticket counter, which stood right at the base of the docking bridge. After a couple of moments, he told himself to just do it, and with that thought in mind, he approached the ticket master.

As it turned out, Jason needn't have worried; the ticket master paid no attention to Jason's disability. He simply looked at Jason and asked, "May I help you, sir?"

"Yeah, I've got two tickets to board," Jason responded, sliding the pieces of paper under the bulletproof glass.

The ticket master nodded. "One moment while I authenticate these, please."

"No problem."

Actually, Jason did consider this a bit of a problem. He'd always hated waiting in lines for something or another, and he was afraid one would build up behind him even longer than it was now. Initially, he'd been surprised at how few people had been lined up to board, but apparently, some dense guy thought he could get in with fake tickets. Jason had considered the delay normal, so his hopes of getting aboard quickly had faded since then.

They were rekindled, though, when the ticket master returned to the counter only a moment later. "The tickets are authentic. I assume you have the necessary money, as well?"

"Right here." Jason handed the man his Pokedex, which he had changed to digital checkbook mode.

"Very well, one more moment, please."

Again, the ticket master was gone only as long as he'd requested, and he wore a polite smile as he handed the Pokedex back, along with two keycards; Jason's package had included a room. "Thank you very much, sir. We hope you enjoy your cruise."

"We will certainly do that," Jason responded, as the security gate was opened to let him and Kelly through.

As they moved across the docking bridge, Jason looked up at Kelly and mockingly glared at her. "Hope you're happy; you get to come aboard free of charge."

Kelly snorted. "You wound me. I guess with all that money you've got, you didn't notice the amount I uploaded to your checkbook."

Jason frowned. "You paid me the money for your ticket?"

"Sure did. You didn't really think I'd be that shallow, did you? And I'm not poor, either; I was well-paid for my time with Professor Oak, just like you were. I saved my money, too, just in case an opportunity like this might present itself."

"And now it has."

"Yep. And I intend to enjoy it."

"So do I."

"Good to know."

They made their way to the room, which turned out to be near the top of the ship. *No wonder it cost so much,* Jason thought, as he slipped his keycard into the slot and opened the door.

And as he entered, he saw that the room had been worth every credit.

The curtains had been thrown back, giving them a magnificent view of the entire marina, with the sun hovering above the horizon in all its blazing glory.

If Jason were a religious devotee, he would have fallen to his knees and thanked God for such a day.

Thus, he felt no surprise when he heard Kelly's gasp of awe and delight at the view. "Jason, this is beautiful!"

"That it is," he replied, as he looked from the window to see Kelly's expression. It was one of disbelieving joy.

He dared to make the leap, even without legs.

"But I can think of something even more so."

She turned to him, and her smile became even more overwhelmed with happiness and contentment. "That's so sweet!" She bent down and wrapped her arms around his neck in an awkward but happy embrace, one which he gratefully returned. She even gave him a kiss on the cheek.

*This complementing thing is almost as nerve-wracking as lying to her,* he thought. *But the end result is infinitely more desirable. For both of us.*

She straightened up after a moment and smiled down at him. "How 'bout we retire? We probably need more sleep than we got last night."

Jason grunted softly. "Something tells me whatever it is you have in mind, it isn't sleep. Or even rest."

She sighed mockingly. "You're probably right. Well, since you've figured it out, it's useless to try and seduce you into having a good time with the girl you love. Guess you should go and challenge the gym leader."

Jason raised an eyebrow. "Oh, I've got you figured out, have I?"

"You must," she replied. "You're something, you know that? Figuring me out like that."

"So what, you want me to just leave right after I've figured out something so major as a person?"

*Deja vu,* he thought. He didn't say it.

"Not really," she responded, walking over to the window and shutting the blinds. She turned back to him. "The view's beautiful, from in here. I just don't want the view becoming the viewer."

Jason's other eyebrow went up, and his grin got wider. "Ooh! Lucky me!"

***

That evening, the room phone rang; the person on the other end was a member of the crew, calling to remind them that dinner was being served as they spoke. Jason thanked the crewman and he and Kelly went to the nearest dining hall. There were five dining halls aboard, once again giving testament to the enormity of the ship.

As it turned out, the crowd was yet to come; Jason and Kelly didn't have to wait more than four minutes to be waited on. The waiter was even kind enough to move a chair aside for Jason, joking that Jason had come prepared.

Jason tried to recall the last time he and Kelly had spent dinner in a fine restaurant such as this. Several memorable ones during their time as lab assistants for Professor Oak came to mind, when they'd had to go out to Johto and had the spare time.

But the first time he remembered going out with Kelly to a place like this was during the Indigo League championships. He'd long since forgotten what they'd ordered, and even most of what they'd said... yet, it seemed to be the one that was most important to him now.

Perhaps it was because it was their first time going to a fancy place.

Or maybe it was something else.

He didn't know.

The next thing he knew, a heaping platter of chicken alfredo, with the sauce laid on extra-thick, was being set in front of him, and Kelly was receiving a plate of spaghetti with extra meat sauce.

Jason chuckled. "Never let it be said that we were ever vegetarians."

Kelly smiled as she twirled her fork around in her spaghetti. "Hey, none of that. I'm eating."

"Whatever you say."

They enjoyed a bit of small talk, but it was somewhat false small talk; they really didn't have much to say to each other. They fished for subjects, and Jason finally came up with one. "Have you talked to your family lately?"

"Not since we left Pallet Town to come here," she replied. "But I did talk to them. Dad's in the Orange Islands, trying to make a deal that'd consolidate his and his rivals' businesses into one, and Mom's fretting over him and me, as usual. She's sort of lonely at home, but she seems to be dealing with it rather well. Besides, she's got all those grass Pokemon to hang out with. Even if they can't really speak, they provide a great crowd of listeners."

Her father was your average businessman, making good amounts of money and away from home most of the time. Her mother was a housewife, and helping her out with her chores were grass Pokemon she'd captured herself. She had never gone out on a Pokemon journey, per se, but grass Pokemon had been her favorites when she was young, and she'd wanted some.

*Well, she'll never have to mow her lawn,* Jason thought, as he chuckled at Kelly's last remark.

"Speaking of the Orange Islands," she continued, "I've been wondering something."

Jason wasn't really in the mood to talk about the Islands--*when am I?* he wondered--but he allowed her to continue.

"I've heard there's a Pokemon league there."

Jason nodded. "The Orange League. Four gyms, and one championship match."

Kelly squirmed, clearly as uncomfortable with bringing up the subject as Jason was of listening to it. "You think you might go there to battle the league sometime?"

Jason shook his head. "I can't go back there. You know that."

"I've just been thinking that it's been almost ten years since you left the Orange Islands. No one would recognize you if you just went back to battle."

"Kelly, it wasn't just my family working in that reserve we owned. We also had a lot of workers to help out, workers who were no doubt laid off after the incident at the marina. I was assumed dead... I still am. If I go back there, and *any*one recognizes me, questions will start to be raised about how I survived. It'd eventually lead to getting the authorities involved, and they'd try to set the record straight."

"Jason, it's been ten years. You look so much different now, and the wheelchair also helps your anonymity."

"Anonymity? People stare at this thing. And the person sitting in it."

"Last time anyone there saw you, you were on your feet. How likely do you think it is they'll be ready to believe that that little eleven-year- old boy running around with water Pokemon was paralyzed? Or survived at all?"

Jason sighed. "The fact remains that I don't want to go back there."

"Why? Because you're afraid of what might happen if you do?"

"Exactly."

"Well, then, I can say that the fact remains that there is a great likelihood you wouldn't be recognized. And I say you need to take the opportunity."

"Can't exactly do that now, can I?"

She paused. "No, I suppose not. But at least think about it."

"Fine, I'll think about it." Jason pointed the tines of his fork at her. "But don't get your hopes up."

"Have no fear." Silence reigned between them for a few moments as they chewed, and it was Kelly who broke it. "Where's this ship going?"

"No one knows," said Jason. "That's the whole point. But the ride has been complemented by everyone who's been on it. I'm content to leave it at that."

Kelly looked out the large plate glass window about ten meters away. "I see the sun hasn't quite set yet."

Jason turned to look briefly, then turned back to his food. "Guess not."

"I've got an idea," she said. "How about we go out to the deck and watch the sunset after we're finished here?"

"Sounds good to me." He glanced up and smiled. "It's been a while since I last watched a sunset, or took the time to appreciate one."

Seven minutes later, the deck was exactly where they were. A slight breeze permeated Kelly's long brown hair, forcing it just slightly. She seemed totally absorbed in watching the view, which was, quite simply put, beautiful. The most vibrant pinks, reds, and purples imaginable streaked the sky as if an artist had thrown his collection of paints at the heavens and asked the angels to create the road to paradise using them.

And, if that were the case, the angels most certainly had it pinned down.

"Excuse me."

Jason was broken from Kelly's infectious reverie, and turned to see who was addressing him. It was a boy in his teens, perhaps a years or two younger than Jason. His short, light blond hair contrasted with the tan of his skin, and his gray eyes maintained a sincere and serious gaze. He wore a gray T-shirt and a black-bordered gray vest, as well as a pair of dark blue jeans that somehow seemed too big for whatever legs he had under them.

The one feature for Jason that stuck out most prominently, though, was the full belt of Pokemon capture balls.

*Trainer.*

The boy was half-smiling, and even with that serious gaze trained on him, Jason somehow felt immediately at ease. "Yes?"

"Are you Jason Creight?"

Jason turned his wheelchair to face the boy, now in defense mode; everything from the Indigo League championships to trying to recall some of the kids he'd played with in the Orange Islands flashed thorugh his mind. He had a pretty good memory for faces, but this one looked unfamiliar to him.

He decided to chance it as he returned the boy's innocent, awkward grin. "Yes, I am. What can I do for you?"

"Well, if you're not too busy, I'd like a little bit of your time," the boy responded.

Jason nodded slowly. "I think I can spare some time. Have a seat." He indicated the lawn chairs set up on the deck, one of which Kelly had taken a seat in. She was, Jason noted, still enthralled with the sunset.

The boy seemed hesitant at first, but he nodded and took a seat. The way he sat down seemed rather strange to Jason, as his right knee silently and abruptly snapped forward during the maneuver.

The boy's knee drew Jason's attention to the leg of which it was a part, and Jason noticed that the leg seemed as anorexically thin as his own. When he glanced at the other leg, he saw no such anorexic proportions; that one seemed thick and muscular.

Jason tried to avert his stare by looking back into the boy's gray eyes. "What's your name?"

"Adam." He seemed accustomed to the once-over that Jason was giving his legs, as his grin grew wider. "The knee is what causes so many people to notice. I'm afraid it's something that's yet to be worked out; no matter how hard they try, they just can't seem to get the flexibility and lock factor that's needed for a knee."

Before Jason had a chance to ask what he meant, Adam waved his hand dismissively. "Anyway... I saw you aboard, but I wasn't quite sure if it was you for a while. You've changed a bit, but not too much. I've followed your career ever since I first heard about you."

"Oh?" Jason felt calmer now; if Adam had to have heard about him, that meant that he couldn't be anyone Jason had known previously. And thus, he couldn't be from the Orange Islands.

"Yeah." Adam shifted his left leg around, but curiously, his left foot stayed in place. "You might have heard this kind of stuff before, but I'm gonna say it again. I first heard about you when you showed up at the Indigo League championships. You were the different one, the one that the media seemed to set their sights on, and with that wheelchair, it isn't hard to see why. You were an inspiration to a lot of disabled people."

Jason nodded. "I remember. I saw the reports." The news reports putting him in the uncomfortable media spotlight were not ones he would forget for a very long time.

"Reports don't really do very much to show just how big an impact you had," Adam replied. "You've been more of an inspiration than you'll ever know. I hope you realize how truly wondrous that was."

Jason shrugged. "I went to battle, not make a political or moral statement. My intentions weren't really to inspire anyone."

"Well, whether you know and appreciate it or not, that's exactly what you did. And I'm a prime example."

And Adam reached down to the cuff of his right pants leg and pulled it all the way up to his hip.

Jason's jaw hung slack, his mouth agape and his eyes wide.

Where Adam's right leg should have been, there were two thin metal rods connected by an axle gear. The upper rod extended further back than he was able to reveal, presumably to the hip. Where the lower rod met his sneaker, the metal expanded outward to accomodate a shoe.

Adam then reached down to his other pants leg and pulled it up, as well, revealing another metal rod. This one was attached via suction cup assembly to a natural knee and upper leg, and like the other one, the metal formed a "foot" at the bottom for a shoe.

Jason stared at the prosthetics that Adam had just revealed to him.

And the weight of what the boy had said suddenly increased exponentially.

"When I saw you battling in those championships," Adam quietly continued, "I was sitting in a wheelchair a lot like the one you're in right now. I'd never once given any hopeful thought to being a Pokemon trainer because I thought a disability would prevent me from doing it. Oh, sure, I dreamed of it, but I'd never thought I'd be able to do it.

"And then I saw you battling. I watched as your Pokemon took out their opponents one by one with expert precision that could only be gained by effective training. I started asking myself, 'Why can't I?' Eventually, I got to training Pokemon from my wheelchair. Within two years of getting my Pokemon license, I had the money I needed to buy top-of-the- line, cutting edge prosthetics that could help me walk and even run, in my own strange way, and the physical therapy I needed to make those prosthetics work."

Jason felt overwhelmed by what Adam had just submitted: the implication that many, so many others had followed in his footsteps (or chair tracks), convinced that their disabilities didn't matter.

The implication that Jason was the sole cause of a revolution within the ranks of Pokemon trainers across the country.

"Are you beginning to see the impact you've made on people like me?" Adam asked.

Jason was still stunned, still staring at the rods that constituted legs for the boy. He looked up at Adam and locked gazes with those sincere gray eyes. "How...?"

"Mutation," Adam replied. "Sometimes it's a blessing, sometimes it's a curse. And sometimes it's mixed. It's what caused me to be born without them. I've got no right leg whatsoever. This one..." He patted the bar that passed for his right leg. "...is connected directly to my hip. Luckily I have *some* muscle there that I can use to move it in an almost normal manner. But not quite normal. I can never call having a pole for a leg normal."

He gave Jason a pointed look. "We've got something in common here. Both of us know what it's like to sit in a wheelchair. Both of us know the feelings of hopelessness that go with the chair. And both of us chose to go against society's expectations because we had something greater in mind than personal image."

Jason remained silent.

"You're wondering where I'm going with this, right?" Adam chuckled. "Well, I wouldn't worry too much about that. Because here's my proposition. I've brought with me my best team of Pokemon to battle the odd trainer, and I imagine you have, as well. That said, I'd like to challenge you to a Pokemon battle. Odd trainer to odd trainer."

Jason rested his elbows on the armrests of his wheelchair and steepled his fingers, intrigued. "What are the stakes?"

"A new traveling partner."

Jason's eyebrows shot up. "You want to go with me?"

"You and Kelly, yes."

Adam saw the look of surprise in Jason's expression. He chuckled again. "Yes, I know about Kelly. She accompanied you on your first journey, right? And she was there with you at the championships. I'm assuming you're boyfriend and girlfriend, since you've been engaging in a bit of mushy stuff since you boarded."

Jason scowled. "And how, precisely, would you know about such things?"

"How else am I supposed to interpret a kiss on the cheek?"

Jason calmed himself. Kelly *had* kissed him on the cheek, when they'd first gotten to the deck.

"Besides, I can tell by the way you look at each other. You're a lucky man, Jason, to have that girl by your side. I'm willing to bet she makes great company."

"That she does," Jason agreed. "But your company is what we're discussing here, isn't it?"

"It is," Adam acknowledged, getting back to the subject. "If I win, I go with you. If I lose, I'll leave you alone, or at least until a rematch is set. Either way, you win, in a manner of speaking. You lose and you get me, or you win and your Pokemon gain what I'm sure would be invaluable experience."

Jason hesitated, seeing a dilemma before him. If Adam were to join him and Kelly on whatever future journeys they would have, he'd provide more company that Jason was almost positive he and Kelly needed.

But, on the other hand, Jason remembered all too well what had happened to their last traveling partner.

And before he'd died, that last traveling partner had gotten a good taste of what Jason's life was like.

Jason recalled a conversation he'd once had with Tommy, in which the Shadow trainee had commented, "I can't say I envy you or your life, Jason. You venture across the bumpy roads in a wheelchair, your relationship with Kelly is shaded at best, and you carry these dark secrets that you can never forget. Your brother is determined to take ultimate revenge on you, you've exiled yourself from your home, and you don't want to expose your friends to the same dangers you've seen, so you don't tell them anything important, no matter how much it's tearing you up."

"I've told you and Sam, haven't I?" Jason has asked.

"Yes. But two isn't enough."

And now, here was Adam, asking to come along with Jason and Kelly. Asking to become part of their lives. Asking them to become part of his life.

Asking, whether knowingly or not, to let him accept the risks and dangers of traveling with them.

Jason didn't want to risk it. He shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you do that."

"Oh? And why not?"

Jason sighed, afraid he was going to go into this loop. "Because we don't exactly do 'safe.' I don't want you to put yourself in danger."

"Too late. Danger is what a Pokemon trainer's life is all about. Taking risks. Making mistakes. Learning from them. Striving to be better."

"Still, it's even less safe with us."

"Since when has it ever been safe to do what we trainers do?" Adam's brow went up for emphasis. "And especially those of us who can't manage the way those with working legs do."

Jason was growing frustrated. "You don't understand..."

"Understand what? That you don't want me to go with you because you want me to be *safe*? I understand that perfectly. I'm just having trouble with the dynamics. What's more dangerous than doing everything you've done in a wheelchair?"

And before Jason even knew it was coming, it had already come out.

"You can't possibly begin to imagine what I've seen."

Adam wasn't fazed. "Then instead of hiding behind the veil of vagueness, give me a clue."

Jason paused, suddenly aware of what he would be doing if he imparted that information to Adam.

"You can't do it, can you?" Adam persisted.

Jason shook his head. "No. I can't."

"Then that means I'll have to experience it first hand. And that means I'd have to go with you to do it."

Jason locked eyes with Adam, showing how serious he was. "I can't tell you what you're getting into, Adam, because that would be impossible to describe in the space of one conversation. But I have to ask you... are you completely sure you want to do this?"

Jason saw his sincerity reflected in Adam's eyes.

"Absolutely."

The sounds of the ocean and the big ship's engines churning were drowned out by the heavy silence that engulfed the two disabled trainers.

And Jason gave his response.

"Then I accept your challenge."

He held up his finger. "But... I don't have a cohesive team with me. I wasn't expecting to battle tonight. I'll get a team together and we'll battle tomorrow morning. 5:30. Starboard battle deck."

Adam pursed his lips. He didn't want to wait, Jason knew, but they both knew that no one was going to leave or board the ship in that amount of time. In effect, neither of them was really going much of anywhere, except their next destination. And that one was mutual.

Finally, he nodded. "Agreed."

Jason offered his hand. Adam took it firmly.

Then Adam stood up and left.

Jason sat back in his wheelchair and returned to Kelly's side.

She looked at him. "What was all that about?"

He shook his head. "I don't want to trouble you in the middle of this..." He waved his arm dramatically, trying to adequately describe the sight they saw before them.

It was a shame that in a few minutes, it would all become dark.

She understood, and turned back to enjoy the sunset.

He glanced up at her, wondering how he could tell her what had happened in the space of that conversation.

No words could come to mind to encompass it all.

So, instead of worrying about it, he thought of the impending battle and what he could do to be ready for it.

Jason Creight considered on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
8th October 2003, 01:21 AM
Jason Creight awoke to the beeping sound of his PokeGear.

He pushed himself up in bed and looked around. He was in the room that he and Kelly had reserved aboard the Colossal.

And it was 4:30 in the morning.

*Second day in a row,* he thought, as he began his waking up routine.

Today was the day.

Jason had set the battle time for 5:30 this morning. He'd known the night before that he would need an hour of lead time to get himself ready. Once he was up for an hour, he wasn't likely to go back to bed for a while.

He turned on the small lamp on the right side of his bed, the one Kelly was less likely to wake up to. He didn't want her to wake up this early.

Jason reached down to the floor and grabbed the change of clothes he'd arranged for himself the night before, reflecting on the events of that night as he did so.

After they'd gotten back to the cabin, Jason had told Kelly what Adam had revealed and proposed. He'd tried to adequately describe the feelings and thoughts that had gone through his mind during that rather one-sided conversation, and even though it seemed as though Kelly had understood perfectly, Jason still felt he'd failed miserably at his description.

*How can he possibly understand what he's getting himself into?* Jason asked himself, as he pulled on his blue T-shirt.

*He can't.

That's why I have to beat him.*

Jason had turned it over and over in his mind which Pokemon he would use for the battle. Adam had told him that he had his best team of Pokemon to battle with, and Jason had little doubt of that; one look in those gray eyes had told him Adam was telling the truth.

Jason had gotten very little sleep, as a matter of fact, because he was so tentative about choosing his team. Since he'd never encountered Adam before, much less in battle, he had no idea what to expect, other than a hard fight. That much was guaranteed. He'd used a notepad to write out the names of the Pokemon he'd wanted on his team, and he'd finally narrowed it down to six.

He would use Gyarados, Gengar, Charizard, Chansey, Steelix, and Ampharos. Steelix, as a Pokemon that had belonged to Tommy to the end, would understand the implications of losing the match better than any of his other Pokemon, though the others had seen their share of what the circumstances of Jason's life had done to him.

Jason finished getting dressed and equipped, and got himself into his wheelchair. He needed to get to the on-board Pokemon center quickly, if he was going to make it to the battlefield he'd selected on time.

He took one last look at Kelly. She was sleeping peacefully, no hint of tension in that beautiful face.

*Sleep well.*

He left the cabin.

***

Jason had donned his leather jacket before leaving the cabin. As it turned out, it was a wise move; the early mornings here could get blisteringly cold, despite the warm and infinitely more pleasant weather that came only an hour or two later.

As he approached the starboard battlefield, he saw that he was not the only one wearing heavier protection from the elements; Adam, on the other side of the field, was wearing a long, dark blue overcoat whose tails clung to his legs in the breeze.

Both of them knew that there was no need for words now. They'd exhausted that need the night before.

The time was now.

Jason and Adam both chose their first Pokemon and tossed the capture balls into the field.

On Jason's side, Gyarados emerged from its Poke ball.

On Adam's side, a Jolteon appeared.

*Damn,* Jason thought, *major disadvantage... take it down as far as I can...* "Gyarados, Dragon Rage attack!"

"Jolteon, Agility!"

Gyarados was a fast Pokemon, but Jolteon was faster with its agility. It raced circles around Gyarados as the dragon type Pokemon sprayed bursts of blue-green fire over the field. Not one of those bursts hit their target.

"Jolteon, Thunder!"

Jason had seen this coming; he was prepared. "Gyarados, Mirror Coat!"

Gyarados put up the coat just in time; the crackling lightning bolt that was called down from the heavens was absorbed by the coat and refocused toward Jolteon, which took the full brunt of the attack.

It got back up, but it shuddered as it did so; it was paralyzed by its own attack.

"Gyarados, Hyper Beam attack!" Jason was deadly serious, and he wasn't going to beat aorund the bush.

The roiling energies of Hyper Beam did their job; Jolteon was blasted backward, and it hit the deck limply.

But it still got back up.

"Jolteon, one more Thunder!"

At the same time, Jason ordered, "Gyarados, Dragon Rage again!"

Another lightning bolt streaked down, and Gyarados took this one head- on.

It didn't even try to avoid the bolt.

It was too busy blowing fire at its opponent.

And both Pokemon went down.

Neither one got up.

Jason and Adam recalled their Pokemon and quickly made their next choice.

Ampharos vs. Vaporeon.

Jason didn't grin, although he felt a great swell of satisfaction. *The advantage is mine this time.*

Adam was already dispensing orders. "Vaporeon, Quick Attack!"

"Ampharos, Thunder Punch!"

Vaporeon's attack was strong. It headbutted Ampharos right under the chin.

Ampharos's was stronger. It caught Vaporeon in the belly with a spark-empowered blow.

Both gave each other ground as they awaited further orders.

"Hydro Pump!"

"Thunderbolt!"

Thunderbolt, while not nearly as potent as Thunder, was still a devastating attack, and Jason had chosen it over Thunder for a reason. While Thunder was cast directly from the sky, Thunderbolt was emitted from the Pokemon, and with a Hydro Pump attack on the way, it was the perfect opportunity to disrupt the attack.

And disrupt the attack it did; the powerful blast of water sent forth by Vaporeon became tempered with electricity, and the shock had an immediate effect on the water type Pokemon. The charged water also splashed Ampharos, but it was far from finished off.

"Now use Thunder!"

"Vaporeon, Aurora Beam!"

Yet another white flash of lightning fell from the sky and wrapped around Vaporeon.

But not before it pulled off its Aurora Beam attack and caught Ampharos in a daze.

Vaporeon hit the deck; it was finished for this match.

"Vaporeon, return! Let's take it to 'em, Flareon!"

Jason was beginning to see Adam's pattern. If he kept this up, he might very well display an entire team of Eevee evolutions. He'd exposed three; the only three remaining were Eevee, Umbreon, and Espeon.

*And if that's the case,* Jason thought, *Espeon is the only Pokemon that Gengar would have a chance against.* He knew very well the weaknesses and resistances of the types of Pokemon.

*Oh, well. Don't worry about it; Ampharos is still up.* "Ampharos, Thunder Punch!"

"Flareon, Flamethrower!"

Flareon's fire breath hit it's target long before Ampharos's curled claws hit theirs, but the effect on both was about the same. Still, Ampharos wasn't fresh out of the ball, whereas Flareon was; it was losing HP faster than its opponent.

Adam kept pressing. "Flareon, Quick Attack!"

Jason knew that at this rate, Ampharos wouldn't last long. Finally, Jason used Ampharos's fourth and final attack. "Ampharos, Solarbeam!"

The red light atop Ampharos's head began to glow vibrantly as his Pokemon gathered sunlight for the attack.

But this gave Adam an advantage; Ampharos couldn't attack on this turn. "Flareon, Fire Spin!"

Flareon complied, breathing flame at its opponent. Immediately, a hollow column of red fire engulfed Ampharos within its intense heat. Its coarse fur became singed, and Jason could see even thorugh the fire that Ampharos was about to go down.

But then Ampharos's entire body began to glow gold.

And a gargantuan energy beam split the distance between the two battling Pokemon.

It caught Flareon and sent it tumbling.

Flareon landed limply and didn't rise.

The Fire Spin ended, but Ampharos was clearly down to its final HP.

*I'll have to give it a defense TM of some sort,* Jason thought, as Adam returned Flareon.

Sure enough, the next one to come out was Espeon. It didn't come out of the ball in "battle stance"; rather, it simply sat down on the deck and waited patiently for Adam's first command.

"Espeon, Quick Attack!"

Jason didn't even bother dispensing an attack order; Quick Attack was always the first move in a turn when used.

Espeon didn't even seem to move at first, so fast was the attack; first it was sitting there on the deck, and then the next instant it was right in front of Ampharos, apparently having already executed the attack.

Ampharos pitched back and fell heavily to the ground.

"Ampharos, return." Jason knew precisely which Pokemon to use now. "Let's go, Gengar!"

Gengar appeared in the air, all glistening body and dark spikes and savage grin.

If Adam was fazed by this revelation, he didn't show it. "Espeon, Psybeam!"

"Gengar, Night Shade!"

Gengar conjured the Night Shade attack, surrounding Espeon with a dark cloud of impenetrable fog, just as the Psybeam cut across the field and caught Gengar fully in the body. Gengar was thrown back and cried out in pain.

Jason winced, suddenly wishing he'd sent out another Pokemon. But he knew, as Adam apparently did, that psychic Pokemon were weak against each other. And that meant this pairing would be catastrophic for both.

The Night Shade took effect, which stunned Espeon enough that it stumbled backward a few steps. Suddenly, it wasn't so calmly situated. It had no expression on its purple, whiskered face, but the battle readiness it had so suddenly adopted was clear to all who saw; it now meant business.

"Gengar, Hypnosis!"

Adam didn't have time to respond to this; Gengar was on the move instantly, screaming on a frequency humans were unable to hear, but that was very much audible to psychics such as Espeon.

Espeon suddenly fell over on its side, and didn't get up.

"Quickly, Dream Eater!"

Gengar flew in, took the full measure of Espeon's head into its mouth, and chomped. Espeon shuddered as Gengar retreated to its neutral position; the Dream Eater had clearly had an effect.

Adam reached into his coat and pulled out a device Jason immediately recognized as a Poke flute. He played a short tune on the flute, and suddenly Espeon was waking up from its nap.

*I ought to get one of those while I'm getting the TM,* Jason thought. "Psybeam!"

"Espeon, use your own Psybeam!"

*Uh-oh...* Jason knew what could happen and what was very likely to happen next. The attacks, if fired on the same plane, would meet in midair and cause a massive sphere of uncontrolled psychic energy to form.

Jason recalled the last time such a thing had happened, and what he'd done to stop it.

Sure enough, the beams hit each other and began to swirl around in that chaotic concoction that Jason knew all too well.

He let the attack continue for a few seconds, then said, "Gengar, stop firing and focus on containing the energy!"

Gengar complied, and Jason could see the strain it was under as it attempted to retain the power.

But after only a moment or so, it could do so no longer, and the sphere's contents exploded...

...all in Espeon's direction.

There was nowhere Espeon could go to avoid the energy; it was everywhere.

It was blasted full-on with everything the sphere had contained.

But it still stood.

Jason watched Gengar carefully. It was no longer it the air; it was standing on the deck, and it was panting. Jason found this almost amusing, since Gengar, as a ghost, shouldn't even have lungs to pant with.

Espeon was in much the same condition. Its huge ears were flipping back and forth and its coarse purple fur was bristling.

Jason held out Gengar's capture ball. "Gengar, return!"

And then he tossed out Gengar's replacement.

From the recesses of an Ultra ball came the one Pokemon in Jason's arsenal that could resist psychic attacks.

Chansey.

"Chansey, Blizzard attack!"

The chubby pink Pokemon, as useful as it was for medical purposes, was not usually used for battle. But Jason had trained this one specifically for that purpose, and it was ready for anything thrown at it.

The short tentacles on its head whipped about, and its expression became one of defiant determination as it called forth a freezing storm.

Espeon shivered in the sudden cold, slapped backward by the blast.

"Espeon, Quick Attack!"

*He's catching on,* Jason thought, as Espeon's hard head knocked the wind out of Chansey.

"Chansey, Fire Blast!"

The infamous "stick figure" of fire conjured by Chansey roared forward and engulfed Espeon, which by this time had gone to its final HP.

Down it went.

And out came the next one.

Eevee.

*So,* Jason thought, *he's saving Umbreon for last. Smart move. No weaknesses, and resistance to psychics.*

Adam wasted no time. "Eevee, Skull Bash attack!"

"Chansey, Thunder!"

Jason was running out of surprises. While he still outnumbered Adam for active Pokemon, Adam clearly had a strategy, and that strategy had yet to make its full potential realized.

The Thunder attack had smaller effect on Eevee, withdrawn as it was for the first turn. But it made up for that withdrawal in the second turn; it used everything it had to put Chansey on the deck.

Chansey was knocked back, and Jason could see how winded it was from the attack. Chanseys, no matter how much HP they had at high levels, were still among the weakest existing Pokemon in defense.

"Now use Extremespeed, Eevee!"

Again, neither trainer nor Pokemon wasted time; Eevee was all over Chansey in a second.

And Chansey fell to the deck, never to get up again during this match.

Despite having his third fainted Pokemon in this match, Jason felt confidence swell in his chest as he chose his next Pokemon. It was obvious, now, what his choice should be.

"Let's go, Charizard!"

It looked like a bad mismatch, a gigantic, fire-breathing, flying lizard against something that looked more akin to a puppy.

Still, Jason knew to be cautious. Just because Charizard seemed to have the advantage didn't mean it couldn't get hurt.

And with that thought in mind, he made his move. "Fly, Charizard!"

Adam's response was immediate. "Skull Bash!"

*Great, just great. I fell into a trap. Fly better have an effect.*

Charizard dove in and swept Eevee off its small feet, but Eevee landed on those same feet and returned the favor by ramming its hard head into the pit of Charizard's stomach.

"Charizard, Flamethrower!"

"Eevee, Quick Attack!"

*Come on, Charizard. You can take that little thing.* Eevee hit first, again targeting Charizard's gut. But the intense return fire singed Eevee's fur, and Jason could tell by the way it licked furiously at its wounds that it was burned.

"Eevee, Extremespeed!"

"Charizard, Fire Blast!"

Again, Eevee's ferocious power was demonstrated; it actually managed to knock Charizard off-balance with its attack. And, as if to claim total victory over the turn, Eevee barely paid attention to the return attack.

"Eevee, Quick Attack one more time!"

Charizard got another bellyful of Eevee.

And it keeled over.

*Impossible!* Jason thought, not believing what he was seeing. *How could Eevee have that kind of power?*

He shook his head. It didn't matter now. They were even in active Pokemon count, and Adam's seemed more vitalized that Jason's.

Jason resolved to change that with his next choice.

Out came Steelix.

*Steelix, you're just about my last hope for winning this match.* "Steelix, Rock Throw!"

There were no rocks, much less boulders, to be found aboard a boat. Steelix changed that, calling forth the stones littering the ocean floor and hurling them at the little Pokemon.

Eevee, with its weakness to ground attacks, dropped as quickly as the rocks thrown.

And then Adam revealed his final Pokemon.

The energy beam resolved...

*As I suspected,* Jason thought, and he sighed as he looked into the red eyes of Adam's Umbreon. *This will be down to the wire.*

"Umbreon, Faint Attack!"

"Steelix, Dig!"

The platform was self-sealing, able to heal any hole within it. It was with this knowledge that Jason had ordered this attack; as Steelix began burrowing into the deck, Umbreon completely disappeared from view, only to reappear as a black and yellow blur as it struck its opponent. The *clang* of Umbreon's head against Steelix's body resounded across the sea.

Steelix disappeared below the deck, and Umbreon waited for instructions.

Adam shrugged. "Agility!"

*Ooh, good one.* Umbreon danced about, ready for the attack that would inevitably come.

A moment later, Steelix blew through the deck...

...and struck nothing but air.

"Crunch!"

Umbreon came back around and clamped down hard on Steelix's metal body. The screech was horrendous, and Jason felt goosebumps rising all over.

He was determined not to lose. "Steelix, Iron Tail!"

Steelix flung Umbreon off its tail with one casual flip, and then, as if to emphasize its point, it brought its tail down on Umbreon to nearly grind it into pulp on the deck. Steelix didn't display any indications, other than small indentations on one of its sections, that it was hurt.

On the other hand, Umbreon looked as if it was feeling it.

"Another Rock Throw!"

"Umbreon, Quick Attack!"

Again, Adam's Pokemon got in the first attack; again, a *clang* reverbrated off the boat's walls.

And again, Steelix called the stones on the ocean floor to come to its aid.

But Umbreon's Agility was taking definite effect; it avoided nearly all of the rocks deftly. Three or four smaller stones grazed it, but for the most part, it came out unharmed.

"Faint Attack again!"

"Steelix, Slam!"

Steelix was ready for the Faint Attack this time and swatted its tail in the direction he'd last seen Umbreon. Sure enough, it caught Umbreon squarely on the top of its lowered skull.

But Umbreon's attack was still more than it expected, and both Pokemon were reeling from the attacks.

"Crunch one more time!"

Umbreon shook its dizziness off and chomped down on Steelix once more.

And this time, Steelix responded in pain with a metallic shriek.

*Uh-oh, I'm losing it,* Jason thought. "Hang in there, Steelix! Iron Tail!"

But it was looking bleaker by the second. Steelix's tail swung around clumsily and only managed to nick Umbreon in the shoulder.

"Umbreon, Faint Attack! Follow up with Quick Attack!"

The *clang*ing of Steelix's body rang out across the water, as did its roars of protest.

Umbreon was also beginning to lose it, Jason noted; its breathing was heavy and it was beginning to droop its shoulders.

Jason took his last opportunity. "Steelix, Slam!"

"One more Quick Attack!"

But Umbreon was no longer so quick about its Quick Attack. It charged forward, but was slow in making its move.

Slow enough that Steelix managed to bring its tail around one last time, just as Umbreon struck.

The force of the attacks was just as unbearable for Steelix as for Umbreon.

Steelix and Umbreon faced each other for a long moment after the attack.

No heart dared beat.

And then...

Slowly...

Steelix hit the deck.

And stayed there.

Jason sat for a moment, stunned.

Adam had won the match.

Jason numbly recalled Steelix, and stared across the field.

His opponent had not a trace of smugness, arrogance, or even triumph or victory on his face. Only a steady gaze that revealed a serious, dedicated mind behind the eyes that held it. Quiet confidence flashed in those eyes.

Jason nodded to Adam. "Congratulations. You win."

"I hope it turns out that we both won."

"We'll see what kind of company you keep. But if what you've displayed so far is any indication, then I look forward to getting to know you."

Adam nodded, then turned to stare at the horizon, where the sun was just beginning to show itself. "I imagine you'll want some more sleep, to make up for the hours you likely lost last night."

Jason raised an eyebrow. Adam was correct, there. However, it was a bit annoying to hear him say it. "What about you?"

"I like watching sunrises. They've always provided great inspiration for me."

Jason moved his wheelchair toward Adam. He wanted the sleep, but he figured that if they were going to be traveling together from now on, he might as well get to know the guy. "Inspiration for what?"

"Poetry. I write amateur poetry in my spare time. I've even been honored enough to be published a time or two in compilations."

Jason nodded approvingly. "And what does your poetry usually include?"

"My mainstay is what I call 'picture' poetry. I'll look at something and memorize it like a picture, then not look at it again until I write a poem describing everything I can remember about it. Sometimes the details are subtle, sometimes exaggerated. But it always comes out the way I like it." Adam glanced down; Jason had pulled up next to him. "Not sleepy?"

"How am I going to get to know you if I don't talk to you, or share your experiences?"

Adam half-smiled. "Strange that you ask that, just after you were battling to suppress a question so similar."

Jason shrugged. "I lost. I'll deal with it. And I'll have the privilege to get to know someone who's been here." He slapped the arms of his wheelchair.

"Indeed." Adam turned to face Jason. "And now, since we've shared interests and an experience of mine, maybe you could tell me a bit more about *your*self."

Jason smiled.

Adam was going to be a very interesting friend to have around.

Jason Creight spoke on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
9th October 2003, 07:00 AM
Jason Creight awoke to the sight of the sun setting.

He turned to look out the sheers of the window in his cabin and yawned. He'd decided to have a nice little siesta after missing all that sleep the night before, worrying about his battle with Adam.

*Not much I can do about it now,* he thought. *The battle's finished, and I have a new traveling partner. Reluctantly, of course, but still...*

He'd not even bothered to sleep under the sheets, but rather on top of the entire thing. He had depended on waking up somewhere around dinnertime, though since his PokeGear alarm hadn't awakened him, he imagined that it was not yet time. His shirt was wrinkled, and he was somewhat grateful that he couldn't feel whatever torture his pants were inflicting on his legs.

He pushed himself out of bed and got into his wheelchair. It might not be dinnertime yet, but he was hungry.

He left the cabin and made for the nearest dining hall.

***

Kelly, meanwhile, was entertaining herself by talking to Adam, the curious new boy whose eyes seemed to capture hers in an instant. They sat on the aft deck, admiring the sunset, much as they had the night before.

"How did you first hear about Jason?" she asked.

"When he began competing in the Indigo League championships. It was on practically all the news channels. No one had ever heard of a disabled trainer before, and it would probably be a while before one came along that was as good with his Pokemon as Jason. I made it a point to watch each and every one of his battles. Of course, I wasn't too thrilled about what Travis Johnson had to say about him..."

"Yes..." Kelly's face clouded over as she recalled the stinging remarks that the prejudiced trainer had made, both on the TV and in Jason's face, now more than five years before.

"And you can imagine how happy I was when I saw him win the championships. I almost knocked my wheelchair over, I was so ecstatic."

Kelly leaned closer, resting her elbows on her knees. "And what made you decide to train? Was it just Jason, or something else?"

"A good part of it was Jason," Adam admitted. "I didn't think I could do it because I didn't think disabled trainers would be accepted. But after seeing Jason win it, and seeing the good graces everyone was presenting, I thought that maybe I could do it, too. I love Pokemon, love them with a passion. I loved them in my infancy. I grew up in Celadon City, and I loved going around in the park all the time, where there'd be the harmless ones like Caterpie and Weedle. So I psyched myself up for it, and now here I am."

"Yes, you are. So now what?"

Adam spread his tanned arms wide. "What else? I'm going to battle the Atlantis League."

She noted his tan. "I see you've been catching some rays as of late."

"I was on hiatus for a while. I took some of my Pokemon to the beach to battle high-level water Pokemon, and trainers, too. Used up nearly half a bottle of suntan lotion during the time I was on that beach, and there's not much color left in my hair, as you probably noticed." Adam reached up and rubbed his head, agitating the short, bristly hair atop it.

"It'll come back, I'm sure."

"Yeah, but I sort of like this color. For now, anyway."

They sat in silence for a moment. Kelly was the one who broke it. "What do you do it your spare time? When you're not training and battling, I mean."

"I write. Poetry, specifically. Although a lot of my poems have despair and loss involved, so not many people want to read them when they're feeling upbeat. I'm getting popular among the more morbid crowds."

"Oh?" Kelly grinned and raised an eyebrow. "Have you been published?"

"On a couple of occasions," he responded. "In compilations, things of that sort. I don't get paid for it, but I don't mind. I make up for it by battling. Maybe I'll publish my own book of poetry."

"Now, *there's* a great goal to go for. One that doesn't have to involve Pokemon battling." Her smile widened. "Do you have any samples with you, right off-hand?"

He shook his head. "I'm afraid not; they're all back at my cabin. I tend to write them in solitude. Isolation has always been my thing whenever I'm writing. Just can't do it when someone else is around."

She shrugged. "Another time then." She sat back in a more relaxed pose, and she grinned. "So, what kind of social life does a guy like you keep up?"

"Not much of one. I've always journeyed alone. It's a bit tough with prosthetics, but I suppose it could be worse; the ones I'm wearing are reasonably comfortable and they're designed for high stress."

Adam saw that she was planning to ask another question, but she seemed hesitant to ask. He raised his eyebrows and a smile crept across his features. "What?"

Her face contorted. "I was going to ask if you've been lucky enough to have a girlfriend."

His smile disappeared somewhat, and his curious expression was replaced by sad resignation. "No. I keep up a rather busy schedule, so it's never allowed for time with a girl. Much less time for a girlfriend. And not many girls I knew really liked me, anyway. Except for my mom, and she hardly counts as that type."

"Well, now you've got some time with a girl. How about that for a deal? Traveling with Jason and a girl, too."

His smile returned, if a bit restrained. "Sounds good to me. Just as long as it's all platonic."

"Oh!" She started giggling. "Oh, oh, yes, of course. Sorry if I--"

Adam waved it away with a smooth swoop of his hand. "No, no, you didn't come across as that way. I'm just wanting to confirm that it'll stay that way."

"Yeah. Of course. I've already got a boyfriend, and he and I love each other. Platonic. No problem."

Adam nodded. "Glad we got that cleared up."

Without missing a beat, Kelly's PokeGear alarm began to go off. She glanced down at it and turned it off after a second. She looked back up at Adam. "Jason and I were planning to have dinner at the forward dining hall. Want to join us?"

Adam considered, then shook his head. "No, thanks. Not yet. I think I'll just head back to my cabin. I had a really big lunch, and I have no legs to be hollow."

She shrugged again. "Suit yourself. But, you know, you're welcome to eat with us anytime. You're part of the group now."

He nodded. "Thanks. I appreciate it."

They both got up and headed to their respective destinations.

***

Adam hit the lights, then closed and locked the cabin door behind him. He walked slowly over to his bed, his head swimming in thoughts, many having nothing to do with Pokemon or battling.

Many having to do with relationships.

He'd never felt confident in them.

He didn't think he ever would be.

Perhaps that was why he'd refused Kelly's invitation. He'd lied, of course; he was feeling hungry, just like almost everyone else aboard this ship.

He sat down on the bed, picked up the phone, and ordered room service.

He thought back to when he'd first chosen to go training Pokemon. He'd submitted the idea timidly, afraid it would be rejected and he would be humiliated for all to see.

But no. His mother had supported and encouraged the idea. She, too, had seen Jason battling in the Indigo League, and knew it to be the answer to all of Adam's prayers, the realizing of his dreams.

His stomach rumbled, but he paid it no mind. He told it that food would come soon, and that it should calm down.

Adam opened the drawer of the bedside table and pulled out his poetry notebook. He never wrote on a computer; his best work had always come from the moment, from his notebooks, many of which had become worn and faded throughout the years. This one was relatively new, no wear and tear to be found on the covers yet.

He'd not written in a while.

But now, he felt inspired.

He picked up his pen and began to write.

"She leans forward, looks straight at me

But I feel blind, feel I can't see

What such a beautiful creature is she

And there are so many feelings still to be..."

He slammed the notebook and pen down on the bed and shoved them away. They slid across the slick blanket's top and dropped down to the floor.

But the words were still there.

They'd been etched into the paper in ink.

They couldn't be erased.

They would remain.

He passed a hand over his face.

*Don't do that to yourself, Adam. That's forbidden territory.*

There was a knock at his door. When it came to room service, the Atlantis ships were renowned worldwide for their speed.

Adam slowly got up and answered the door.

He'd lost his appetite.

***

Jason and Kelly were taking advantage of the amazing selection of pizza at the forward dining hall's bar. The cooks in the back sure knew how to cater to trainers. How to cater to anyone, really. Kelly said as much.

"Tell me about it," Jason mumbled, around a mouthful of Hawaiian pizza. "I'm going back there as soon as my plate's clear."

Kelly's right eyebrow went up as she spied Jason's plate, on which he had piled at least half a dozen pieces of pizza... all different kinds. "You're actually expecting to eat that much?"

"Well, I gotta put meat back on my legs somehow."

"For what? You planning to get them fixed?"

He groaned. "Don't get me started."

"Fine, fine."

Silence reigned only for a moment, waiting for Jason to break it. "So, Adam decided not to join us, eh?"

"No. He said he had a big lunch."

Jason shrugged. "More for us, then. You talked to him?"

"For a while, yeah. I asked him at one point if he had a girlfriend, and--he was smiling, too--all of a sudden, his smile just vanished and he got this sad look. He said no, but after seeing a reaction like that, I'm wondering if that's not really true."

Jason's eyebrows worked up and down for a second. "Well, it's not really our business whether it's true or not."

Kelly went on, not paying any attention to the statement. "And then when I said he's fortunate enough to be traveling with you and a girl, he almost seemed to think I was trying to come on to him or something."

Jason's eyebrows stayed up this time. "Were you?"

"No, and that's the thing. It was weird. Conversation got awkward. I was glad to have my alarm go off."

"No doubt he was, too," Jason muttered. He recalled more than his share of awkward moments when talking to her, most of them before he'd quit his job under Professor Oak.

He shook his head and took another bite of pizza.

***

Adam knew that his gym match was scheduled for tomorrow morning, so he decided to go to bed early. His dreams did not give him respite; whirling, dizzying images of battling, the past, and imagined futures spun about him so quickly he was afraid he would go insane.

He woke up gasping several times during the night, each nightmare and collection of images worse than the last. He finally chose not to go back to sleep and instead pondered what Pokemon he would use for the coming battle.

Adam knew the rules of the Atlantis League. He'd reviewed them over and over again, each time more carefully than the last. The first gym was the kicker; the gym leader and the challenger were allowed one and only one Pokemon to use. This meant that while the gym leader was limited to the unique restrictions of their gym, he undoubtedly had a high-level Pokemon, meaning beating it would be extremely tough, if not impossible.

Beyond the first gym, it got somewhat easier. The second gym allowed two Pokemon per trainer, the third gym allowed three, and so on. It made sense that the champion would carry six. But the more members a team was allowed, the more freedom the gym leader had to change up the composition. There was a fine line between diversity and strength, and the gym leaders tread it with extreme care.

Facts that were not lost on Adam.

He had one out of his collection of sixty-two to choose from.

And half an hour later, he made his choice.

***

Spectators were not allowed in the gym matches. The badge was all that mattered here; it would determine who was worthy to go on and who wasn't.

Adam entered the expansive gym, his artificial right kneecap clicking loudly in the darkness. His dark gray hooded sweatshirt and black jeans seemed to provide perfect camouflage in this environment. There were no borders to the gym that he could detect. A single dim strobe light hung above one of the corners of the gym.

A deep, meditative voice echoed throughout the huge room. "You wish to challenge?"

Adam reared his shoulders back. "I do."

"Approach the light."

He did so, until he stood directly under it.

"Brace yourself."

The ground under Adam's metal feet began to shake, and it took him a moment to realize that he was being raised up on a platform. A barrier wall nearly a meter tall rose at the front of the wedge-like platform, which itself rose to a total of about five meters.

A light even dimmer than the one behind Adam flickered to life, and he found himself staring at a stout, muscular-looking silhouette with unkempt hair on another platform level with his. It was almost reminiscent of an Ursaring, if about three-quarters the height of such a Pokemon.

But this silhouette was recognizably human. Adam could see the shadow shifting as the voice rang out, giving further evidence to cinfirm his suspicions. "You know the rules?"

"I do."

"Then call forth the challenger."

*Not a conversationalist. Shame.* Adam knew now that this could only be the gym leader known as Darth. Adam doubted that this was his real name, though the nickname was appropriate; his voice was every bit as deep and imposing as those of a thousand Darth Vaders in unison.

Adam pulled the one capture ball he possessed from his belt, enlarged it, considered it for a moment, and then dropped it almost casually into the ring.

His Vaporeon appeared in a brilliant flash of neon light.

The light was cast on everything except, curiously, any defining features on Darth's person.

Adam saw and heard no reply for a moment, and he wondered if perhaps he'd made a mistake in choosing Vaporeon.

He shrugged mentally. *I won't know until I know.*

Darth made a slow, deliberate movement, and Adam heard the small *whoiee* confirming that Darth's capture ball had enlarged correctly.

Adam prepared himself for the worst.

And in a flash of neon light, he got a Tyranitar.

He gaped at it for a moment, not believing his luck. He had the type advantage; Tyranitar was as much a rock type as it was a dark type.

Darth wasted no time. "Tyranitar, Crunch!"

"Vaporeon, Hydro Pump!"

Tyranitar's huge jaws clamped down onto Vaporeon's lithe body, but not long enough for them to do very serious damage; Vaporeon was spraying water instantly, forcing Tyranitar to retreat.

Vaporeon was limping, something Adam had few problems believing. *High-level Pokemon. But still, that doesn't make it any less clumsy, stupid, or slow.* "Vaporeon, Agility!"

"Tyranitar, Earthquake!"

Even as Vapreon moved to comply, Tyranitar punched the ground with all the force it could muster, creating a giant split across the ring. It caught Vaporeon for a moment and the ground threatened to engulf it...

No. It remained outside the influence of the attack.

"Vaporeon, Aurora Beam!"

The multicolored beam of energy flew toward Tyranitar... and bounced off.

*God, that was stupid!* Adam smacked himself in the forehead. He'd forgotten that Aurora Beam was as much psychic as it was physical.

Darth emitted no snickers of satisfaction, made no snide comments on Adam's intelligence. Adam silently thanked him for that... the last thing he wanted was the leader getting cocky while Adam was still in the throes of humiliation. Instead, he simply issued his next command: "Tyranitar, Hyper Beam!"

A dime-sized, red-orange ball of glowing energy formed in Tyranitar's beak-like mouth, grew tenfold, and blasted forth in a roiling, contained explosion of pure concussive force.

Vaporeon was smacked backward by the head-on hit. It licked its wounded shoulder, then turned back to Adam for further instructions.

*Crap, the Agility must've been counteracted.* "Let's try it again. Hydro Pump!"

Vaporeon bounced across the gym almost playfully, teasing Tyranitar as it blasted water from its mouth. Tyranitar did nothing; it simply waited for a command.

A command which took no time in coming. "Tyranitar, Mega Punch!"

Adam shouted, "Watch out, Vaporeon!" but the shout was late in coming; Tyranitar was upon Vaporeon in a split-second, and the move had already been completed by the time the warning had gotten out of Adam's mouth.

*Jeez, this thing's fast!* "Vaporeon, one more Hydro Pump!"

Vaporeon once more blasted water at its opponent... but missed its target.

"Tyranitar, Crunch!"

The huge rock-armored lizard-like creature made a feast of Vaporeon's tail, biting down on it as if it were a slab of ham.

Vaporeon was starting to get tired. Adam could tell.

He had to act fast.

"Vaporeon, you've got it! Use one more Hydro Pump!"

Vaporeon's tired head lolled to the side, and it defiantly fired off more water at its gruesome opponent.

Tyranitar took the water head-on, and couldn't take it for more than a few seconds. It slid off Vaporeon's tail and gasped for breath without moisture.

Adam felt the faint tingle of impending victory in the back of his mind, but he ignored it as he shouted, "Quick Attack!"

Suddenly, Vaporeon was off like a shot, bolting around the arena and bearing down on Tyranitar at unbelievable speed. Adam himself would not have thought it possible were he not Vaporeon's trainer, but he had seen it done before.

Vaporeon slammed its head against Tyranitar's. This was a mistake, as Tyranitar's head was many times harder than Vaporeon's own.

But the water had done the trick; Tyranitar was softened just enough to be affected.

It tipped backward...

And fell.

It remained.

After a moment, Darth aimed his capture ball at Tyranitar and muttered the recall command. That done, he looked at Adam for a moment... or, at least, that's what Adam figured. How could he tell by nothing more than a shadow?

"You have won the match and the Shadow badge."

A small, hidden door in the floor of the platform opened up to reveal a hidden compartment. Inside the compartment was a sack of credits and a badge. The badge was a perfect circle, black at the core and gray along the edges.

Adam bent down and picked up the badge gingerly, almost as if he were afraid he might drop it. He unsnapped the pin attached to the back of the badge and pinned it to the inside of his hood, where no one would find it without some serious digging. He picked up the credit bag almost as an afterthought.

He looked back up.

Darth had disappeared. The strobe behind his platform had gone dark.

He silently scoffed. *So much for Darth.*

The massive entrance to the gym opened, and Adam's platform lowered to deck level.

He recalled Vaporeon and left the gym.

***

That evening, Jason and Kelly were pleasantly surprised to see Adam taking up their offer of eating with them. He took the opportunity to show off his Shadow badge, which he had since pinned to the inside of his gray vest.

"Wow," said Jason, his eyebrows somewhere about three meters above the ceiling. "I'm impressed. What Pokemon did you battle?"

"Check your Atlantis League rulebook. I can't answer that question. It's sort of a code of honor. The gym leader's already been humiliated by being defeated; there's no need whatsoever to give other trainers easier opportunities. That's why there's no spectating allowed. Besides, for all you know, the gym leader could change his Pokemon before you have a chance to battle him."

Jason shrugged. "Fine. I'll just hammer it out myself, then."

"Much obliged, on behalf of myself and the gym leaders."

"I'm sure. Still, I'm impressed and encouraged that you got that badge. Now all I have to do is win one, too."

Adam grinned and nodded.

Maybe this friendhsip wouldn't turn out too badly after all.

Jason Creight marveled on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
10th October 2003, 12:37 AM
Jason Creight awoke to the sound of a ship horn blaring.

It wasn't the horn of the Colossal.

Jason knew exactly what ship it was.

It was the Insurmountable. The second ship of the series.

He opened his eyes and saw darkness reigning in his room. No surprise there; the docking had been planned to take place at night. And the Atlantis ships were nothing if not punctual.

Jason reached over to the bedside table and grabbed his PokeGear, to see that it was almost 2:30 in the morning.

"Good," he muttered. "They're right on time. Punctual, indeed."

He began wrestling himself out of bed. He knew that the docking procedures would take about half an hour, and then the population of the Colossal would move to the Insurmountable. The only ones aboard the Insurmountable were crew; they'd docked with the third ship in the series some time back already.

Kelly was also up, awakened by the horn as Jason was, and for a few moments she watched Jason fumble out of bed and into his wheelchair. He was already wearing the pants he'd planned to wear during the transition, saving him the trouble of having to get into them at the last minute.

In fact, their things were already packed, save for the change of clothes they'd planned out for themselves. They'd both known that the Colossal would dock tonight, of course. They were both excited by the prospect, perhaps Jason more so than Kelly, but that was natural; Kelly wasn't participating in the Atlantis League, whereas Jason was.

Jason grabbed his black sweatshirt and matching vest, pausing for a moment to eye the Shadow badge hanging on the inside of the vest.

He grinned. Battling Darth had been every bit as tough as Adam had let on, but he'd succeeded with a little luck and a lot of experience.

Gyarados, too.

"Think we should call Adam to see if he's awake yet?" Kelly asked.

Jason waved the notion away as he pulled on his shirt. "He's probably already up and ready to--"

Before he could even finish his sentence, Jason was interrupted by a soft rapping on their door.

"--go," he finished.

He wheeled over to the door and opened it, to be greeted by Adam.

"Speak of the devil," Jason said, smiling. "Come on in."

"Thanks,:" Adam responded, accepting Jason's invitation. He carried a light backpack on his shoulders; he was obviously one who believed in economy of size. "Thought I might drop by to see if you guys were ready yet. Guess not."

"Not quite," Jason admitted, "but close enough. We're packed, we're just not properly attired yet."

"I'll say," said Kelly, hiding under the sheets of her bed as she got herself dressed. "You've got a knack for subtlety, Jason."

Adam shook his head, grinning.

"So, think this new ship'll feel any different?" Jason asked, as he pulled on his capture ball belt.

"Dunno. The blueprints are the same, but maybe it'll have something different to it. But I wouldn't know, since I've never been on these ships before."

Jason shrugged. "Then we'll just have to find out when we get there."

"I won't have a lot of time to get the feel of the Insurmountable, though. My gym battle's scheduled for tomorrow afternoon."

"That early?" Jason was surprised.

"Yeah. I was one of the very first to get a ticket for this trip. Bought it last year. I was too late to buy tickets for last year's trip, so I bought them for this year instead. Been looking forward to this trip for a long time."

"And now you're here," Kelly responded, emerging from the covers of her bed.

"So I am. And I plan to enjoy myself."

"What? You haven't been?" Jason chuckled.

"Of course I have. And I've been enjoying it with good company. What else can I ask for?"

They had spent nearly two months aboard the Colossal now. They had challenged other trainers, and they had been challenged by other trainers. Even Kelly had gotten into the spirit, participating in a battle or two. All three of them had had their triumphs and losses aboard this ship, all for gaining experience and having some fun.

True, it might be less than fun for the Pokemon, and especially those that lost. But it was all done good-naturedly, and they considered themselves all the better for the experience. Even the Pokemon were upbeat.

Jason briefly recalled his battle with Darth. Adam had honored the Atlantis League rule to not reveal the Pokemon carried by gym leaders, and not to discuss it with anyone. Jason felt they were keeping an unnecessary secret. They'd both battled Darth now, and they'd both received their badges fairly.

Jason kept a small journal file in his Pokedex to give the barest of info on Darth. Gym leader name, gym leader's revealed Pokemon, and location of the gym were all he was concerned with. He wanted to remember that, at least.

Jason had looked up the rules for himself, and indeed, Adam was bound by those rules not to reveal the Pokemon. And now, so was he. However, the one exception was Pokemon professors. They had apparently proven their trustworthiness to the Atlantis League, though how this came to be so was a mystery to Jason. He didn't really care, though; he'd have something new to give to Professor Oak.

He picked up his pack and set it across his lap. Then he looked up at Adam. "Well, you ready to go?"

Adam shrugged. "I'm ready whenever she is." He gestured vaguely in Kelly's direction.

"And I'm ready right now," she said, picking up her own pack. "So let's get going."

***

The boarding took little time, as it turned out, and soon, the trio had gone to their cabins to retire for the rest of the night.

Jason and Kelly were asleep by 5:00 in the morning.

And Adam was still wide awake.

He sat on his bed, his titanium prosthetics discarded almost carelessly on the floor next to the bed. The stump of his left leg moved back and forth idly, his poetry notebook sitting next to the stump. Lying on top of it was his pen, and the notebook was open to the last page in which he had written.

Adam believed he was developing a good relationship with Jason and Kelly. Even as stoic as he had been in the past, he would be the first to admit that their friendship was blossoming nicely.

Still, he was worried.

Worried that he was concentrating more on Kelly than on Jason.

He'd idolized Jason, and he'd set his standards according to those that Jason seemed to have set for himself. He'd trained as hard and as well as he could.

He'd lived throughout his training in the hopes that someday he would be able to equal, perhaps even surpass Jason.

And here he was now, as a direct result of that victory over Jason and his vaunted abilities as a trainer.

What did that leave Adam?

It left him nothing else to live up to. No expectations to rise above, no aspirations to someday meet.

He was his own trainer now.

Suddenly, he very much wished that he hadn't beaten Jason that day.

And now the worst was happening to him because he had.

Adam had no idea how to combat these new feelings. He didn't like being mentally aroused by Jason's girlfriend.

*Jason's* girlfriend.

He'd told himself that phrase over and over again. He'd made it as much a part of his conscious thoughts as he could, then tried to bury those thoughts with reflections on training, possible techniques against future Atlantis League trainers, and more poetry.

But every time he came back to that last page, he rankled at the final entry.

For others, it could be just any girl he was talking about.

But he knew the truth.

It was Kelly he'd written about.

Ever since the night he'd written those four lines, he'd felt the drive to write intensify a thousandfold. His inspiration was growing exponentially.

And all of it involved a single, central theme.

A girl so stunning it almost hurt to see her.

A girl so intelligent and quick-witted it boggled the mind to talk to her.

Namely...

Kelly.

Adam ran a hand through his blond hair, which had by this time grown out to more than twice the length it had been when he'd first met Jason. His darker roots were in evidence now, and he was having to wash it much more thoroughly to get it as clean as he wanted it. It was also becoming a bigger hassle to manage; it kept catching in his comb.

It occurred to him how much his hair and his new thoughts had in common.

He resolved to get himself a haircut after the gym battle. Maybe, by getting a haircut, he could also somehow carve out a second chance for himself, a chance that involved getting to know Jason and Kelly equally.

He sighed, put his notebook and pen away, and tried to sleep.

***

A month came and went. Adam got his chance to battle, and received a new badge for his efforts. Jason didn't need to see the badge to know that Adam had won it; it was the look of gratification on the boy's face that had tipped him off when they'd met for dinner the evening after that battle.

The haircut also seemed to give something away, too, although Jason wasn't quite sure what.

None of them were bored unless they wanted to be. There was simply too much to do to have a good excuse to be bored. There were video game arcades, open "come-one-come-all" challenges to the general trainer public, dance halls, even a movie theater for those who wanted to keep up on recent releases.

The evening of Jason's battle, he and Kelly sat in their cabin in silence. Both were reading. Kelly was reading a mystery novel, while Jason was keeping up with the latest Pokemon discoveries, no matter how mundane.

Kelly turned to Jason. "Have you noticed anything strange about Adam recently?"

"No," said Jason, not even looking up. "Not unless you think hanging on our heels like a hyperactive Eevee is strange."

"Has he been doing that to you?"

"Hasn't he been doing to you, too?"

"No," she responded matter-of-factly. "He seems to have gone out of his way to avoid me, and I was just wondering if he might have told you why."

Jason looked up and frowned. "That's weird. He's done all he can to learn as much as he can about me. I've told him all I've felt like telling him, and then some. He's real persistent."

"I hope it's not something about me he doesn't like," she said. "I mean, I'm trying my best to be courteous and polite to him, but he just keeps pulling away. Do you think he doesn't like me for some reason?"

Jason scoffed. "What's not to like? You're funny, intelligent, pretty, and you train and study Pokemon. More likely it's jealousy."

"What would he have to be jealous of?"

Jason laid his manual pages-down across his lap and beagn ticking off his fingers. "Well, for starters, you're the only one of the three of us that can walk by natural means. You're a Pokemon researcher, so that means you probably know more about Pokemon than he does. You're not obligated to participate in the Atlantis League, and you don't feel obligated, either, as you're not aspiring to be a Pokemon master. Not last time I checked, anyway." He stopped. "Are you?"

She shook her head. "Not since I met you all those years ago. I wanted to watch, to study more than participate, and I came to realize that when we met."

He nodded appreciatively. He liked being right. "Okay, then. Next-- "

There was a soft knock at the door.

Kelly got up and answered, to see Adam standing there with a very awkward expression on his face. "Hey, Kelly."

She smiled. "Hey. Jason and I were just talking about you."

Adam winced. "Ooh. With that grin, I hope it's all lies." He paused for a moment and took on a more serious composure. "Actually, I was wondering if I could talk to you out here."

She shrugged. "Sure. What about?"

He didn't respond; he simply gestured for her to come out to the deck.

Curious, she exited the cabin, closed the door behind her, and took a seat on the protective railing. Her long brown hair waved in the slight ocean breeze.

Adam rubbed at the back of his neck, then bowed his head and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth. He was clearly nervous. Kelly cocked her head to the side. "Something wrong?"

He shook his head quickly. "No, no, nothing wrong. I... I just wanted to ask you something. Since there aren't any spectators allowed to watch Jason battle, I thought that with him gone you might be a little lonely. So I was wondering if you might like to come with me to the forward dance hall while he's battling. It'd only be for a little while."

She half-smiled. "You're asking me on a date?"

He waved his hands around emphatically. "No, no! I'm just asking a friend if she'd like to spend some time with me. It just occurs to me that I haven't really tried all that hard to get to know you, and I think I'd like to."

A bit of a smile returned to his features. "Call it what you want. Would you like to go?"

She gave it only a moment's thought.

"Absolutely."

***

Jason looked up as Kelly came back inside the cabin. "So what was all that about?"

She shook her head and grinned a skeptical grin. "I think he likes me more than we thought. He just asked me to the dance hall with him tonight."

Jason raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yeah." Kelly sat down on her bed.

"What did you say?"

"I said yes." She looked at him. "I hope you're okay with it."

"Depends. You said tonight, does that mean during my battle?"

"Yeah."

Jason nodded. "Then I'm okay with it. I'm... sort of surprised at the audacity, but I'm all right with it." He thought for a moment, then shrugged. "It'll get him off my back and give you a chance to get to know him."

"That's what he said." She sighed out her nose and glanced around the room, perhaps out of exasperation. "He's so confusing sometimes! First he's pushing me away as far as he can, then he's asking me out? And when I've already got a boyfriend?"

"Well, how exactly did he put it?"

"He put it along the lines of 'A way to get to know him better.'"

"Then just think of it that way. If he wasn't asking you out on a 'date', per se, don't take it that way. Otherwise you'll be bogging yourself down in what-ifs and whys. You said yes; it's been done. So just go with it and see where it leads you."

She half-smiled. "You're encouraging me to go on a journey I'm not sure I want to go on."

"Deja vu."

"I guess." She paused a moment, then asked, "Seriously, are you okay with it?"

Jason's face contorted just slightly. "I'll confess to feeling a bit... put out. Excluded. Adam's asking you to the one place aboard this ship I'm least likely to visit."

"Oh? How's that?" Kelly asked.

Jason glanced over at his empty wheelchair.

And suddenly Kelly felt a pang of guilt for even having to ask.

For a long time now, she'd looked beyond the anorexic legs and even the chair. She saw only Jason, not his disability.

But there were things she was sorry that they might never experience. Standing next to each other, walking a path, seeing each other eye to eye on her level.

Dancing.

She looked down at her shoes.

Jason sighed. "Look, just go with him. Get to know him. I think you'll have a good time. He's great to hang around with."

Kelly looked up and smiled. "All right. I'll do it."

***

The doors to the gym were large, nearly five meters tall. They were built to intimidate the hardiest of trainers.

They didn't intimidate Jason. He'd seen bigger. True, he'd been intimidated by those, but after seeing so many, he was used to it.

But when he enteres those gargantuan doors, he was baffled by the innards of the room.

Because it didn't look like a room at all.

The walls, ceiling, and floor of this particular gym had been outfitted with holographic projectors. Those projectors were active, and they displayed vibrant blues, reds, and purples, with grayish matter interspered bewteen the bands of neon color.

Jason realized that the projectors were projecting a sky.

He looked down at his wheels, to see that the bottoms of the treads on his wheels were under the projection cast by the floor, thus making his treads look as though they'd disappeared into thin air.

"So. Another challenger."

The holograms covering the far wall near the corner suddenly melted around an emerging form, then retreated to reveal a young, spry-looking woman with wavy blond hair and purple eyes glowing with contentment and mischief.

*This can only be Leslie, the next gym leader,* Jason thought. He gave her a once-over; she wore black shorts, a black tank top, and a purple jacket hanging open, revealing a very fit form.

Jason chose not to appraise her figure. He'd come to battle, and battle he would.

A small smile passed over her features. "I've heard of you. You're Jason Creight, the vaunted wheelchair-bound trainer who beat the Indigo League."

He nodded slightly. "Yes."

Leslie reached behind her to the wall and hit a control hidden by the holograms. She turned back to Jason and started walking to her left. "Well, I think it's only fair to tell you, Mr. Jason Creight, that I'm no pushover."

Two platforms made themselves visible just above the holograms on the floor, one at either end of the gym. Leslie was apparently heading for the platform on her end.

Jason followed suit and smiled grimly. "Neither am I."

She returned the grin and exaggerated it by squinting her eyes speculatively as she pulled out a capture ball and enlarged it. "We'll see about that."

Jason also pulled out and enlarged a capture ball.

They threw the balls into the arena at the same time.

Leslie's revealed a Murkrow.

Jason's revealed a Charizard.

Leslie was on the offensive immediately. "Murkrow, Faint Attack!"

"Charizard, Fly!"

As Charizard moved to execute the two-turn maneuver, Jason wondered if it was such a good idea. He was putting Charizard at Murkrow's mercy for one of those two turns, and without knowing Murkrow's speed, that could mean the entire match.

The question was which turn it would take.

Murkrow began to match Charizard for rate of ascent, but then it vanished from view. It reappeared a moment later, bashing its curved beak between Charizard's wings.

"It occurs to me," said Leslie, almost casual and certainly flippant, "that a trainer in a wheelchair wouldn't know anything about speed, and so neither would his Pokemon."

Jason glared. "Then a blonde wouldn't know anything about anything. Charizard, complete the attack!"

Charizard was upon Murkrow almost before it had time to blink. Murkrow had been flying around in a rather cocky manner, but it stopped as soon as it saw the huge bulk that was Charizard barreling straight for it.

Murkrow was smacked to the side and barely able to keep itself aloft.

"Now, follow up with a Flamethrower attack!"

Charizard's response was instantaneous; a stream of liquid fire sprayed from its mouth almost uncontrollably, such was its desire to prove Leslie wrong. The sidewise pillar of fire flash-burned the top of Murkrow's head, and embers shot off to catch its leg and wing. It squawked in protest.

Leslie's face clouded over. "Tough guy, huh? Take this! Murkrow, Drill Peck!"

Murkrow's beak suddenly flattened out and seemed to sharpen before it began to twist around and around... a seemingly impossible ability to possess, but for Pokemon, nearly anything was possible, and so it was with Murkrow. Its beak whirred around in the manner of a drill bit, and it charged forward and stabbed at Charizard with the suddenly extremely deadly protrusion.

Fortunately, Charizard's skin was not so soft as to allow entry of the beak into its flesh, but that didn't stop Murkrow from trying. It dug in and caused Charizard to growl with something below extreme pain, yet above discomfort.

"Charizard, use Fire Blast!"

The innards of Charizard's mouth began to glow with white hot flames licking up from its throat.

Leslie squinted and grinned. "Murkrow, Night Shade!"

Murkrow suddenly backed off from its last attack and psychically called for night to be cast around the entire arena. Charizard was abruptly, violently knocked backward by a flash of blazing bright darkness. It's wings flapped less frequently, not so much concerned with staying aloft as with recovering.

But it returned the favor with its last command, Fire Blast. The character symbol flared across the ring and consumed Murkrow in a raging inferno.

Murkrow squawked in defiance, but its defiance was short-winded. It dropped below the emitted imagery cast by the projectors on the floor.

Leslie growled the recall and managed to hit Murkrow with the vacuum beam even through the illusion. She looked up. "Well, it seems you do indeed know a thing or two about speed. But can you handle this?"

She tossed her second and final capture ball of the match.

A Skarmory appeared.

Jason could now see why Leslie had chosen Murkrow first; Skarmory had a weakness to fire. But against a weakened and slowed Charizard, it stood a much greater chance of knocking its opponent out of the simulated sky.

And he wasn't sure if he liked his backup plan.

But he'd have to go with it now.

"Skarmory, Steel Wing attack!"

Skarmory immediately swooped in and slapped at Charizard with its six metallic wings. The assault was swift and vicious, and it didn't look as if Charizard could take much more damage.

Skarmory took to powerful flight, flapping its wings so quickly that they were a blur against the projected clouds. It glared down at Charizard from its higher position.

Jason deigned to try anyway. "Charizard, Flamethrower!"

Again, a ribbon of flame burst across the distance between the two warring Pokemon. It splashed against Skarmory's left wings, but didn't catch any more substance than that.

Leslie snorted. "You'll have to try harder than that. You may have the type advantage, but I'm all over you when it comes to speed this time around. Skarmory, Swift attack!"

Skarmory beat its wings forcefully against the artificial wind and pinpricks of light shot out from them, striking Charizard across its full length.

Charizard roared in defiance, flapping its wings even harder to stay aloft...

...but then it dropped below the holograms across the floor of the gym.

Jason didn't waste time exchanging his Pokemon. "Charizard, return! Go, Fearow!"

Fearow appeared in a spray of neon light, ready to battle.

"Quickly, Fearow, Drill Peck!"

Instantly, Fearow rocketed forward, its beak twisting impossibly to resemble a drill. It bored straight through Skarmory's defenses and into its metal skin, causing a shower of sparks and a highly pained, highly irate opponent.

"Follow it up with a Swift attack of your own!"

"Skarmory, Steel Wing!"

The two bird Pokemon circled each other, then made their moves as one. Skarmory blasted in with its razor-sharp wings, ready to reduce Fearow to so much mince meat.

Fearow sprayed Skarmory with spikes of light.

The attacks didn't stop either one from passing the other in the air.

They both stopped after moving about ten meters away from each other.

Fearow squawked and beat its wings defiantly.

Skarmory squawked...

...and hit the floor.

Leslie groaned. "You poor baby. Return."

She glanced up at Jason. There was a scowl on her otherwise faultless face. "You've won, but don't think I'm happy about it."

Jason shook his head. "I wouldn't expect you to be."

"I sure hope not. There are a lot of trainers out there who've gone out of their way to make an atrocious finish to their battles. I've almost gotten to hate battling."

"Why?"

Suddenly, the look in her eyes changed from one of anger to one of sorrow. "We gym leaders are restricted to the boats during our careers. We can't even set foot on land, much less 'see the world' as you trainers do. We aren't even allowed to pursue... personal... relationships with others."

Jason frowned. "Then why stay a gym leader?"

She shook her head. "I shouldn't tell you."

He hesitated, then said, "What if you were to consider the wager money null and void in exchange for that information?"

She looked up and frowned. "Why do you want to know about it so much?"

"Because I'm human, and believe it or not, I do care about my fellow humans. If there's trouble, I want to know how I can avoid it, or how others can."

She stared at him for a moment, touched by his insistence.

Then she nodded. "Fine. Half the wager money."

"Done. Now, why are you still a gym leader, if you want to pursue relationships?"

And as she spoke...

Jason Creight listened on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
10th October 2003, 10:28 PM
Jason Creight awoke to the creeping cloak of darkness surrounding his room.

He had awakened from a disturbing dream. That same dream that had plagued his nights for almost two weeks.

A dream in which, in a background constantly shifting, he and Leslie, the gym leader of the Insurmountable, faced each other.

Leslie had said, "You can't stop it, Jason. Don't try."

He'd glared back at her. "I can, and I will. I won't let it happen."

"It's already in motion. They're watching you."

"Then let them watch."

Jason sat up and looked over at Kelly's bed, where his girlfriend slept peacefully, completely unaware of the turmoil that clouded Jason's mind.

They were no longer aboard the Insurmountable; they'd debarked from that ship three weeks ago. Now they sailed on the Gargantuan, the third ship of five in the series.

The third gym leader awaited him.

Jason grabbed his PokeGear off the bedside table and hit the night light.

3:34 A.M.

*Come to think of it, that gym leader's probably battling Adam right now.*

Gym battles occurred day and night. Each gym leader was unique in their scheduling of Pokemon battles.

This one would do them night and day.

The mind of a relentless leader.

Jason tried to go back to sleep.

***

Adam peered through the darkness, towards the figure in the center of the three light strobes hung from a triangular overhang attached to the ceiling.

An artificial breeze created by the air conditioning within the gym swept about his equally artificial ankles. He sensed nothing.

He knew who stood before him. He didn't need to see her face.

He had known who it would be before he had even boarded the ship.

Adam wore a T-shirt and shorts. His well-formed muscles were in full exposure, as were his titanium limbs.

He didn't need to hide his condition from her.

The gym leader was wearing form-fitting black pants, matching black sandals, a pink tank top, and she had long, straight brown hair that reached almost to the small of her back. Her face was turned downward. "Welcome, trainer. I congratulate you on coming this far, but this is where you stop."

"Is it?" he asked softly.

She looked up at him, a determined look on her face...

...but that determination dissolved into shock as soon as she saw who her opponent was.

"Adam...?"

He nodded. "Yes. It's me."

A surge of emotion welled up in him, choked him on whatever words he had planned to speak next, clenched his heart in an iron fist, and forced his tense shoulders down.

And for a moment, he thought he saw the same thing in her.

For that moment, they were together again.

But a shake of her head put the years between them again.

"You came here to battle me, didn't you?"

Adam's heart broke--again--as he nodded. "Yes."

"Is that all you came for?"

"It is."

He didn't include his next thought, *But I want so much more than just a battle and a badge.*

"Then take your place and know it, as I have learned to," she responded.

Adam had a sharp retort in mind, but he let it die before it got anywhere close to his vocal cords. He could never speak a cross word to her. Not even now, seeing her as the contemptuous individual she had become.

He stepped to the outlined trainer's box on his end of the stadium.

She watched him for a moment. Neither of them moved a muscle for what seemed an eternity.

Finally, Adam reached for his first capture ball. He enlarged it, considered it for a moment, then reared back and hurled it into the arena. "Go, Graveler!"

A spray of neon light, and Adam's Graveler was revealed in all its round, four-armed glory. It was prepared for battle; Adam could sense it in the way his Pokemon moved.

The gym leader squinted her eyes appraisingly. He still knew what her favorites were, and that would be a disadvantage.

Nevertheless, she chose one quickly. "The girl you knew is gone, Adam Sands. Now you face the full fury of a gym trainer. Watch and learn as I show you why my name is Trixie!"

Adam barely shifted an eyebrow at the name. He remembered what her favorite Pokemon were, so the name seemed rather appropriate.

And from the capture ball emerged a Dugtrio.

Adam shook his head. "I'm stronger than when we last saw each other. Graveler, Dig!"

Trixie was surprised. She'd expected Rock Throw, and had planned to use Dig herself. She shrugged. "Very well. But you are still an amateur strategist. Dugtrio, Dig!"

Adam groaned. *I should've seen that coming.*

Sure enough, Graveler missed Dugtrio completely and came up empty- handed.

Dugtrio bolted through the artificial terrain and smacked Graveler in the back. Graveler twisted around.

"Graveler, Earthquake!" Adam shouted. *Take that, whoever you are.*

Graveler used both of its massive right fists to grab some inexplicable power from the air and bring it thundering into the dirt. The shuddering ground gave way under Dugtrio; even as fast as it was, it couldn't avoid the attack, and it fell upon sharp stones, taking damage.

Trixie glared. "Dugtrio, Slash!"

No one had ever seen the bottom of a Diglett or a Dugtrio, so no one could say whether or not it had a sharp posterior. One could only assume so; Dugtrio moved at the speed of light, as did its attack. A large crag seemed to almost spontaneously appear in Graveler's already rocky, craggy exterior. The attack pained it, but it still seemed determined to fight.

*I have to take that Dugtrio out...* "Graveler, Hyper Beam attack!"

Trixie's eyes grew wide. "Dugtrio, Dig!"

Graveler put its four hands up in the air, looking for all the world as if it were holding some invisible ball among them. The empty space began to fill with reddish-orange energy, seemingly from nowhere. It congealed into a ball and glowed with searing intensity.

Dugtrio again burrowed into the ground and hid there.

Adam tsked and wiggled his finger in a "no-no" manner in the air. "Now who's the amateur strategist? Turns are based on the speed of a Pokemon. The only reason Graveler performed its Dig before Dugtrio is because you were waiting for me to make the first move. And since Dugtrio is faster than Graveler, it'll attack first this turn. Then it'll be all over for this round."

Trixie's eyes glazed over with fury as she watched, helpless to stop Dugtrio and Graveler from dancing the steps of Adam's prophesied tango.

Dugtrio's hit did little to distract Graveler from its goal.

The energy ball's glow increased exponentially, and suddenly, Graveler turned its palms outward, all four of them facing Dugtrio, fingers spread wide.

The ball emitted a lancing beam of pure energy, directed straight at Dugtrio.

Dugtrio didn't even have time to blink.

Adam watched, arms crossed, as the airborne dirt cleared before his vision.

Dugtrio was down for the count.

Trixie's temper had gone past flaring to flaming. "Dugtrio, return! Go, Dodrio, and finish what Dugtrio started!"

Adam shook his head. *Bad move. Dodrio has a weakness to Ground types.*

A burst of neon light revealed the wingless, three-headed bird Pokemon in all its angry glory.

Trixie was instantly on the attack. "Dodrio, Drill Peck!"

Dodrio's triple beaks whirred around and bored into the exterior of Adam's Graveler. It was unfortunate that Ground types had no resistance to Normal types.

*Them's the brakes.* "Graveler, Strength!"

Graveler, using its own strength as well as usually untapped psychic abilities, conjured a gargantuan boulder from the rocks and dirt spanning the gym, lifted it high into the air, and hurled it toward Dodrio. The boulder swept the bird off its feet and took it to the ground.

Trixie's eyes grew wide.

Dodrio was being crushed by the weight of the boulder.

One more hit of any sort and it would faint.

And she had no adequate defense against Adam's Graveler.

She couldn't keep fighting Graveler. Not with what she had. To do so would be to lose, and then he would become closer to learning her pain.

But neither could she forfeit... and bring the same end result as losing to Graveler outright.

She didn't know what to do.

So she did what she needed to.

"Dodrio, return!"

She looked up at Adam.

She was lost.

Adam could see it in her eyes. She wasn't speaking, but she didn't have to.

She was pleading for an answer. Begging for one.

So he gave her one.

"Graveler, return! Go, Geodude!"

She remained on edge. Cautious.

And then... slowly... she plucked her third and final capture ball from her belt.

"Go, Magneton!"

Adam's response was immediate. "You always did like your three- headed Pokemon. Geodude, Selfdestruct!"

Trixie's jaw dropped as Geodude abruptly blew up in Magneton's three faces, causing both Pokemon on the field to faint instantly.

She'd not expected this.

Adam had saved himself from the Atlantis League.

But she would remain part of it.

Bittersweet tears welled up in her eyes as she recalled Magneton and put Dodrio back on the field.

Adam called out Graveler once again.

A single, relatively weak Earthquake attack was all it took to bring Dodrio down.

Adam grimly recalled Graveler, and Trixie recalled Dodrio.

They stared into each other's eyes for a moment.

In unison, they walked across the field, meeting at the center.

Both had tears in their eyes.

Trixie sniffed, then drew herself up. She knew she must present a strong face, even as the losing party.

Silently, she handed Adam his earned badge and bag of wager money.

Adam took a deep breath, blew half of it out his nose, and finally broke the silence.

"I'll find a way to get you out of here."

"Yes, but you don't want to take my place."

"Why would anyone?" Adam gently took her shoulders into his hands. "There *is* a lot still out there to see. And I promise that I'll get you out of here to see it. And no one else will be forced to take your place."

She looked into his eyes. Saw her reflection in them.

"Help me, Adam."

Adam squeezed her shoulders reassuringly. "I am. That's why I'm here."

He released her, turned around, and walked away.

***

When he got back to his room, Adam didn't even bother to turn on the light. He simply entered, then closed the door behind him and made his way to his bed in the dead dark.

He sat down on the bed and rubbed the stump of his left leg for a moment. It might have itched if the leg had been removed.

But he'd been born this way.

He removed the prosthetic attached to his knee. Nothing itched beyond it, but standing on it sometimes caused mildly uncomfortable heat and a small amount of itching. He scratched the stump.

And his thoughts returned to Kelly.

*Oh, no,* he thought. *Not again. Please, not again.*

But, as all memories are, it was unstoppable.

He recalled what had happened between him and Kelly the previous night.

***

Since the first time they'd done it, Adam and Kelly had gone to the dance hall numerous times. Usually it happened on nights when they were bored and Jason was focused on battling other trainers. They'd discreetly leave the scene, get dressed into something nice, and go to the dance hall.

That evening, Jason had been challenged by a trainer named Seth, who seemed to have what it took to be a tough trainer. Jason was intensely focused on the battle, as he and Seth seemed to be evenly matched.

Adam turned to Kelly. "How about we get out of here? I'm finished battling for the night, and I'd like to ease back a little bit."

"I'm all for it," said Kelly. She smiled knowingly. "Pick me up in ten minutes?"

"Absolutely."

They'd headed to their respective rooms, and five minutes later Adam emerged in black pants and a blue dress shirt. He went to Jason and Kelly's room, another four minutes, and knocked on the door.

"Come on in!" Kelly called.

Adam complied...

...and was taken aback by what he saw.

Kelly was wearing a lavender dress, a form-fitting black blouse, and a light lavender jacket to match the dress perfectly. She also wore a thin gold chain around her neck. Her hair was tied back into a ponytail, and to Adam, she was stunning.

Adam's eyes bugged out and his jaw hung slack. All he could think was, *My God, she's beautiful...*

A smile grew across her face. "I hope that means I look okay."

Adam regained his senses, and he chose to be witty to cover the awkwardness. He got down on his knees, stretched his arms above his head, and bowed down to Kelly. "I'm not worthy!"

She laughed. "Arise, my servant!"

Adam smiled as he got to his feet. "Shall we?" He offered her his arm.

"We shall!" She eagerly took his arm.

***

Though it was a dance hall, there wasn't much they did in the way of dancing. Adam's prosthetics didn't allow for much action, but that was okay... most of the songs played were meant for slow dancing, anyway.

After a particularly slow, enchanting dance, Adam and Kelly took a seat at one of the strategically placed, empty tables that littered the hall. They made small talk, discussing the music and the style. They also made quiet fun of those who were not as adept at dancing.

Adam stared at Kelly as she watched the dancers. His periphery kept track of them, but a much larger percentage of his attention was focused on her.

*God, she's beautiful.* The words he'd been thinking all night recurred once again in his mind. He didn't care; it sounded so natural, so right when he thought it.

In some ways, she reminded him of Amanda.

He had lied when he tole Kelly that there had never been another girl in his life. There had been Amanda, his next door neighbor in Celadon City.

A friend from infancy, Amanda had encouraged him on his every unsure decision, right to and beyond his decision to get prosthetics and train Pokemon. The other girls he'd known had scorned him for his disabilities; not Amanda. She'd always enjoyed his company, and he'd always enjoyed hers. They'd felt natural to be together.

They had even tried something beyond simple friendship once. They had kissed once, and had come close to a night together. But ultimately, they'd decided that if such a relationship failed, it would ruin their friendship totally.

So they'd stuck to being best friends.

After Adam chose to train Pokemon, she soon followed the same path, first battling her way through the Orange League...

...and then through the Atlantis League.

And in the Atlantis League she had stayed.

It was the hidden rule. The rule that went unread in every trainer's manual, the rule in the fine print at the bottom of the index.

But it was a rule.

And because of that rule, Adam had had to return to Celadon City to tell her parents that they would never see their daughter again.

Unless he could find a way to bring her back to them.

*Truth is so much more complicated than fiction,* he thought, as he continued to appraise Kelly.

She caught him staring and saw the thoughtful, distant look in his eyes. She smiled. "What is it?"

He shook his head. "It'd feel too awkward to say."

"Hey." Kelly leaned forward and laid a hand over Adam's. "You shouldn't feel uncomfortable talking about something. We're always willing to listen, no matter how awkward or bizarre. Just look at how my relationship with Jason developed."

Adam scoffed. "I suppose you're right." He sighed. "In that case, I was just thinking about how beautiful you look tonight."

Kelly's eyebrows shot up and her smile widened. "Why, thank you. Sometimes it's tough to get even Jason to say something like that."

Adam waved a hand dismissively. "Perish the thought. He sees it, I know he does. If I see it, he's got to."

"I hope so." She looked into his eyes further. "There's something more, isn't there? Something else you were thinking about."

He nodded reluctantly. "Yes. But that really is something I'd rather not discuss. As I understand it, you and Jason keep your own secrets. So it must be with me."

She nodded. "I understand. Always feel free to speak your mind, though."

He leaned forward. "I've been wanting to do that for some time now." He sighed. "I've got something I want to tell you, but I'm afraid that if I do, our friendship might end right here and Jason might never consider me a friend afterward."

She frowned. "What could you say to me that could possibly break our friendship? We've been friends for months now, Adam. How could you lose a friend in the space of one conversation?"

"It's happened before," he answered.

Her frown deepened. "How?"

He shook his head. "That's the part I don't want to talk about."

She groaned and smacked the table in frustration. "You people are impossible! You and Jason both think I'm going to go and tell someone all your dirty, hidden secrets that you keep stowed away in those strange minds of yours. Maybe it never occurred to you that I don't gossip? And that there's no one here to gossip with? Why can't you just tell me, Adam?"

"Okay, fine, then I *will* tell you," he snapped. "I've got a crush on you, Kelly. A serious one. You're one of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen, and you're one of the nicest, most caring and tolerant people I've ever had the privilege of meeting. That in itself is a plus, but when you take into consideration that physically, you are extremely attractive... finding someone like you is rare, and I don't want to lose a friendship because I'm afraid of what I might try to do behind Jason's back."

He wasn't finished. "Remember when we first met, and I hardly spent any time with you? I was trying to keep myself distant so I was guaranteed not to do anything that would wreck a rather fragile friendship. Then we went to the dance hall that first time, and I felt so much better. Now it's gotten worse again, and... it's overwhelming me, Kelly. *You're* overwhelming me."

He slumped back in his seat and threw up an arm dramatically. "There it is. That's one of my so-called 'big secrets.'"

Now it was Kelly's turn to gape and stare at Adam. Her jaw hung slack, her eyes had glazed over with the revelation, and she was staring straight through him, damn it, straight through him and his eyes and his soul.

"Adam..." was all she could say.

Adam felt her hand moving across his. Her fingers slid between his.

"I... I-I never knew... had no idea..."

"Of course not. I hide things rather well when I want to. But it's hard on me. It hurts to hide things, and especially from you."

Adam shook his head once more. "But nothing can happen between us, Kelly. You love Jason, and he loves you. I can see it in your eyes."

He glanced down at their intertwined fingers.

There was nothing more he wanted... nothing at all.

He knew it.

He looked back up at Kelly.

Saw her conflicting emotions.

And then...

...he pulled his fingers out from between hers.

"It won't happen, Kelly," he said. "You already made your decision to be with Jason long before I met you. And I'm going to respect that."

He looked into her eyes. "Do you want me to leave you alone for a while?"

She shook her head. "No. That's the last thing I want. You leave me here alone and I'll be sitting here all night." She looked back at him. "But suddenly, it's gotten very hot in here. Take me outside?"

Adam had started feeling the heat long before she had. "Absolutely."

They walked out to the forward deck. By this time, there were only a few people there, wandering the ship or taking a break from dancing to get a breath of fresh air.

He sighed. "I hope I haven't made you too uncomfortable with this."

"Honestly, Adam, I don't know what to think right now. To say I'm flattered would be an understatement. And so would saying that I'm feeling confused."

"I understand. Want me to take you back to your room?"

She paused, then nodded. "Yeah. I think I do."

***

All of this took place in Adam's mind.

In real-time, it was an instant.

In his mind, it was close to a lifetime.

He glanced down at his prosthetics one more time. They lay on the floor, discarded like so much scrap metal.

He didn't care.

Adam sighed, stripped off his shirt and shorts, climbed under his bed covers, and tried to get some sleep.

***

Jason squirmed in his bed and found he would not be allowed to sleep so easily.

He looked over at Kelly's bed again, where she lay peacefully, sound asleep, not a wrinkle to distort her sweet face.

He was still confused by what she had done after he'd returned to their cabin from battling. He'd had some late sessions with some particularly tough trainers... including Seth. He hoped for a rematch with that kid... it seemed almost impossible, the way Seth had defeated him.

When Jason had come back to the cabin, he'd found Kelly sitting on her bed, doing nothing but wringing her hands in her lap and staring into space. She was dressed very attractively, and Jason had been surprised. Apparently, she wanted to keep making a good impression on Adam.

Jason started to let jealousy creep into his heart.

Then Kelly looked up at him.

Her face lit up like the morning sun.

She rushed over to him and hugged him around the neck. It was an awkward position she had to get into, but she managed it.

She kissed him, sweetly, passionately. Again, he was surprised, but favorably so. He responded to the kiss.

After a few moments, Kelly pulled back and hugged him again.

And she whispered into his ear the three words that he could never, would never, deny.

"I love you."

Jason smiled at the memory, and turned back to his pillow.

Perhaps with that thought in mind, it would not be so hard to sleep.

And within a few moments...

Jason Creight slumbered on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
11th October 2003, 08:29 PM
Jason Creight awoke to the sight of sunlight pouring through the sheer blinds over his room window.

He sat right up and moved across the bed to the pile of clothes waiting for him at the foot. He was ready and eager to get going this morning. He wasn't sure why, but he felt invigorated. Perhaps he'd been inspired by something.

It could have been something to do with the three Atlantis League badges hanging on the inside of his vest. One was a perfect circle, space- black in the center and gray around the rim; one was milky white with a small black center, made to resemble a map translation of a tornado; and one had a silver sheen and was triangular.

*Darth. Leslie. Trixie. Now it's on to Marie.*

Jason, Kelly, and Adam had long since left the Gargantuan and boarded the fourth ship in the series, the Epic. A shorter name than any of the others, yet no less grand. Indeed, if anything, it seemed to hold more secrets than any of the others... such as where the dance hall was.

A small frown passed over Jason's face as he considered that. Ever since his intense battling three weeks ago, Adam seemed to be giving Kelly distance, as he had when they'd first met. Jason had noticed almost immediately.

Something had happened that night. He knew it. He could see it in Kelly's face whenever he got into one of those intense battles, when she was at the peak of her boredom. He'd seen it that night, too, when she'd approached him and given him a kiss of love and passion.

But Jason wasn't going to pry. It wasn't his nature. It never had been.

As he donned his clothes, he thought about how... secluded... Adam was making himself. The guy's confidence seemed to be on the up and up, yet he was growing more and more distant as the days passed. Jason wondered if Adam would stay with him and Kelly on their journeys, or if they would go their separate ways after their tenure aboard the Atlantis League ships.

Jason settled himself into his wheelchair and rolled over to Kelly's bed. She was still asleep, but she was sleeping fitfully. He wondered whether he should wake her up, or if he should just let her have it. She wasn't having a nightmare, he knew; if she were, she wouldn't be able to move.

*Perhaps it's something residual,* Jason considered. He chose not to dwell on it.

He dwelled, instead, on what he and Leslie had discussed after their match.

***

"Why are you still a gym leader, if you want to pursue relationships?"

"I don't really have a choice in the matter." Leslie paced back and forth. Jason might have considered doing the same, were his legs able.

"When I first heard about the Atlantis League, I was eager to get aboard. I did all I could to save the money needed to buy passage. I battled my Pokemon night and day against other trainers, and I kept as much of the money as I could. I finally booked passage two years ago, and I got through the entire league. And guess what? In total, I had only three fainted Pokemon through the entire ordeal."

Jason shrugged. "Good for you. But I don't see the problem."

"The problem is that if you don't lose more than four of your Pokemon to fainting in the entire league, they'll trap you with their hidden rule."

"What hidden rule?"

"The one that states, 'Any Pokemon trainer who wins the Atlantis League trophy with less than five fainted Pokemon shall be subject to assimilation by the Atlantis Gym Corps.'"

Jason frowned. "You win the Atlantis League and they force you to become a gym leader?"

"Yes. And I'm living proof that the rule is not only there, but strictly enforced."

"How can they enforce such a rule? It's tyranny."

"It is, indeed. And it's a double-edged sword. The gym leaders who were incorporated into the Gym Corps don't wish the same fate borught upon other trainers. That's what brings on our determination to stop trainers where they stand."

"Is there any way out of it?"

"The most commonly practiced one is to beg a winner of the Atlantis League to take your place as a gym leader. If you're replaced by the winner, you're free from the Atlantis League and all obligations to it. You can take the trophy and go home."

Jason shook his head. "That's unacceptable. There's got to be another way."

"There is one. But I hesitate to mention it."

His frown grew deeper. "What?"

She sighed. "In your rulebook, it states that if you defeat the Atlantis League, not only will you receive the trophy, but any one wish you make will be granted by the Atlantis League champion. Usually, such wishes made are those by trainers who want nothing more than material possession. Those who are about to be taken in by the Corps are free to go if they ask for it, but they never see it coming. All they're worried about is their financial security. Money is never a problem with the Atlantis League, as long as the rule gets what it wants."

Another sigh escaped her lips. "The problem is that the rule is staring them right in the face and they don't see it. It's right below the rule that states, 'Any Pokemon trainer who wins the Atlantis League trophy with less than five fainted Pokemon shall be granted one wish by the Atlantis League Gym Corps.' You get your wish, they stab you in the back."

"And what if I were win the league under those conditions, then wish that the rules be changed?"

She shook her head. "I doubt that it would happen. I don't believe they would grant that wish."

"You said any one wish, didn't you?"

"Yes, except for that one."

"There's still a chance."

"A slim one. The Atlantis League has maintained its rigidity in its rules for a long time now. Even if you did make that wish, and they granted it, they wouldn't do it before making you a part of us."

Jason's frown grew still deeper. "What're you talking about?"

"It's already in motion. They're watching you."

"The Corps?"

Leslie nodded.

"Then let them watch."

"Jason, I know you're a tough trainer. I know you could defeat all of us without flinching, and certainly without losing as many as four Pokemon in your upcoming battles. That means I believe you can make that wish of yours, whatever it may be. I would encourage you to use it wisely if you ever want to see home again."

He smiled thinly. "The joke'll be on the league. I don't have a home."

Leslie wasn't deterred. "Take it seriously, Jason. If you don't, you'll get trapped the same way I was."

***

Jason had battled Trixie and lost one Pokemon to fainting, after losing Ampharos to Dugtrio's insanely fast and powerful Dig attack. He had two remaining to lose, after fighting Leslie and losing one.

If he lost five, he wouldn't get the wish.

*I have to take Marie out fast and hard. It's the only way I can survive.*

Unfortunately, as had been the case throughout the league, he had no idea what Pokemon to expect.

*Wing it, as always.*

His time with Marie, the new gym leader, was approaching quickly. He had only a couple of days to figure out what team he should put together.

*I'll nab that match.*

***

Jason wheeled himself to the massive doors that always demarcated the Pokemon gym of the ship, prepared for his match. He wore faded blue jeans and a dark blue T-shirt, outlining his considerable upper body musculature; sitting in a wheelchair full-time was the perfect way for Jason to build what muscles he could. He locked the brakes on his chair, then braced himself and gave the door on the left a powerful, one-handed shove.

The door swung wide open, revealing not the gym Jason was expecting, but a ledge jutting out five feet beyond the four walls that housed the area. At the narrow ends of the area were ledges of twice that length, and white boxes had been painted on those ledges.

*Trainer boxes,* Jason thought. *But then...*

He carefully approached the ledge, locked his brakes, and looked over the edge.

Thousands of gallons of water raged below.

Jason winced. *Not my strength.*

"Welcome to my gym, trainer."

Jason glanced up. On the other side of the pool sat a dark haired young woman wearing a light blue one-piece swimsuit, her toes swishing through the water. Around her waist was a black capture ball belt, loosely cinched and carrying four capture balls. Her body was glistening with water; she had obviously just surfaced.

"I've been expecting you," she continued. She glanced at a waterproof watch circling her left wrist. "I notice you're on time. That's good. The faster I can beat you, the faster I can get back to the limited list of fun things to do."

"You can get to your fun stuff after I claim the badge," Jason retorted. He'd heard it all and more; this was just another attempt to psych him out before the match. It had never worked before; he wasn't about to let it work now.

Marie raised an eyebrow at this remark, and she got to her feet. "If that's your attitude, then we may as well just get started. Assume your position."

Jason complied silently, approaching the box on his right. He once again locked his brakes, then waited for Marie.

She didn't waste time. She went for a random capture ball and lobbed it straight into the water.

Jason's brow shot up for a moment, but quickly went back down as he pulled out his first Pokemon, allowing it to solidify on the edge of his platform.

Her ball revealed a Quagsire. It stared up at him through the water.

His revealed Ampharos.

*Damn. Quagsire has a resistance to electricity. All I can do now is pray the water'll help me out.*

"Quagsire, Rock Throw!"

"Ampharos, Thunder!"

Ampharos tapped its considerable electric reservoir to fire a massive lightning bolt straight into the water. Quagsire took damage, but because of its resistance, it was far from gone.

Quagsire returned the favor by heaving boulders littering the bottom of the pool straight into the air. It used its powerful fins to swim up, breach the surface, and slap the boulders precisely to hit Ampharos in the midsection. Ampharos stumbled back, but regained its ground after a second.

"Another Thunder!"

"Quagsire, use Whirlpool!"

Jason shook his head. *Slip of concentration there. Rock attacks do double damage to Ampharos, not water.*

As another of Ampharos's lightning bolts scorched the water and the Pokemon within, Quagsire conjured the water to its command and swirled it around with its latent psychic abilities until the waters had risen above even Jason's elevated ankles. He remained firmly planted, but Ampharos, who the attack was targeted for, was not so lucky. It was swept off its feet and into the swirling water.

"Ampharos, Swift attack!"

Ampharos instanty responded by activating its head- and tail-mounted lights and sending forth dozens of glowing spikes into the water. Because Quagsire was at the center of the Whirlpool attack, it didn't matter what direction they were fired in, therefore giving Ampharos cause to relax somewhat.

Quagsire took the attack in its full ferocity, dozens of spikes hitting it on every point of its rounded body. It floated backward limply; it was about to go down.

"Ampharos, another Swift attack!"

Ampharos bounced out of the calming water, drenched, tired, but still willing and able. It used its Swift attack again, this time concentrating on hitting their target.

Quagsire didn't have a chance. It went down.

Marie snorted. "You're tough. If they'd been the same level, Quagsire would've crushed it."

"I thought you said you wanted to make it a quick battle," Jason replied. "I figured I might as well use one of my best."

Ampharos glanced back at Jason and gave him its version of an appreciative smile.

"Use your best and do your worst, I'll find a way to beat you," she responded, returning Quagsire. She tossed another capture ball. "Go, Corsola!"

*No type advantage for me this time, either, but at least there's no resistance on her part. Shame that it's partially Rock, but then again, Rock types do have a weakness I can exploit...* "Ampharos, Solarbeam!"

Marie's eyes grew wide. "Corsola, Take Down!"

As Ampharos began concentrating, forming a sphere of pure energy above its head-mounted light, Corsola powered through the water and bashed its upper spines against Ampharos.

*Uh-oh, looks like this is it...*

Ampharos hung on.

And then, the energy sphere hit critical mass.

Ampharos released a gargantuan beam of energy straight at Corsola.

Corsola had no way to evade the beam; it took the full force of it.

And it was a Grass-type attack.

When the beam had passed...

Corsola was still standing.

Jason wasn't deterred. "Ampharos, Swift, right now!"

"Corsola, Rock Throw!"

But before Corsola could execute its command, Ampharos was executing its own. A final blast of Swift spikes, and Corsola was down for the count.

Marie groaned. "Corsola, return!" She chose another ball. "Omastar, finish what the others started!"

But Jason wasn't going to allow that so easily. "Ampharos, return! Go, Venusaur!"

Marie's eyebrow rose again, but quickly descended. "Omastar, Crunch!"

"Venusaur, Vine Whip!"

Omastar bolted forward, shell-bound though it was, and latched on to one of Venusaur's legs. Venusaur quickly removed it with its numerous vines, first grabbing it and squeezing it with bone-crushing force, then tossing it back toward its trainer.

Omastar rolled around like a coin, and when it finally stopped, its eyes were spinning. It struggled to right itself, and soon enough, it achieved the goal.

But Jason wasn't planning on letting it stay that way. "Venusaur, Razor Leaf attack!"

Venusaur roared and let loose a deadly barrage of sharp-edged leaves from the plant on its back, intent on taking its target down before it could attack again. And with the Grass-type attacks, it looked likely to happen soon.

Jason squinted. Perhaps Marie had something in store for him, perhaps not. But he had to keep pressing the attack.

Marie didn't seem interested in allowing him such an opportunity. "Omastar, Rollout!"

Omastar pulled into its shell, used its minimal psychic abilities to pick itself up off the ground, and began to spin in place, until it was moving at a dizzying pace. Then it boiled across the gym and bored into Venusaur.

Venusaur took the hit as best it could, but it still suffered decent damage from the attack.

Jason shook his head. "Venusaur, Leech Seed!"

A pair of egg-sized seeds burst from Venusaur's plant, bolted across the gym, smacked into Omastar, burst into vines, and began sucking HP from it. The vines emanating from the seeds also latched onto Venusaur's front legs and transferred Omastar's vitality to Venusaur.

The attack was double-effective. It took Omastar down and left Venusaur with a considerable amount of power to contend with.

Marie returned Omastar. "Well, well, looks like Venusaur has been watered down. Perfect opportunity." She tossed her last capture ball. "Let's go, Lanturn!"

*Uh-oh.*

Lanturn gazed up at Venusaur through the water with beady eyes, its twin lamps burning bright.

"Lanturn, Thunder!"

Lanturn conjured a bolt of lightning that flowed from the water and straight into Venusaur. Venusaur reeled from the attack. Fortunately, it didn't have a weakness to electricity.

Jason thought for a moment, then made his decision. "Venusaur, Vine Whip!"

Venusaur again used its many vine whips to whack away at Lanturn. However, under the water, their attack power was lessened.

He knew that he needed to find a way to take Lanturn out before it took Venusaur, or any of his other Pokemon, to the brink of fainting. He had to try and take the water out of the equation.

Then he realized that he was carrying a Pokemon that could do that.

He grinned. "Venusaur, return! Go, Jynx!"

Jynx solidified, assessed the situation, and waited for instructions.

Marie shook her head. "Can't figure out a strategy? I've got one for you... give up! Lanturn, give it a Thunder attack!"

"Jynx, Ice Beam!"

Jynx was the faster Pokemon. As Lanturn was charging up, Jynx fired the Ice Beam.

The beam froze the water's surface.

Lanturn's attack became, for the most part, restricted to the water. Some of it still did hit Jynx, but only enough to raise its hair a little bit.

But Lanturn's attack became turned on itself.

And the Ice Beam's effect continued to go deeper.

Soon, Lanturn was encased in ice.

And it couldn't attack.

"Jynx, use Metronome!"

Jynx closed its eyes, and its index fingers wiggled back and forth. They began to glow an eerie blue.

And then, out of nowhere, a hail of boulders rained down on the gigantic block of ice in the pool. It shattered the ice into millions of pieces, and pelted what remained of Lanturn and its HP.

Lanturn was down.

For a moment, silence reigned in the gym, whereas only a few moments ago, the shattering ice had resounded thanks to the incredible acoustics of a metal-encased gym.

Marie frowned. "Lanturn, return." She glanced up at Jason. "You're pretty tough. For what it's worth, I'd like to see you go all the way."

Jason pulled out of the trainer's box after returning Jynx and made his way back toward the doors. Marie followed suit, pulling out a money bag containing both her wager money and the badge he was after. "I'd like to see me go all the way, too. And without five faints."

The expression on Marie's face became one of suspicion. "You've been reading the rule book in your spare time, haven't you?"

"You could say that," Jason replied. "But I need a second opinion on something."

Marie's eyebrow rose again. "Oh?"

"Do you believe that, with the wish I get, I could rescind the rule about unwitting trainers becoming part of the Gym Corps?"

"Ah. You saw that rule, did you? Glad you're taking it seriously." Marie chewed her lip a moment before responding. "Perhaps. The league does everything in its power to make the wish happen. I don't believe they have any rules on the wishmaking."

"Not that I've seen," Jason said.

"Then whoever gave you the first opinion is being overly pessimistic. Conceivably, you could do it." Her shoulders slumped. "I tell you, it'd cut down on the amount of depressed gym leaders we have around here."

Jason frowned. "Who was taken in?"

"You've met Leslie and Trixie already. They were taken in only in the past couple of years. Me, I was taken in a long time ago... I think it's been about six years now. But then again, I had rich parents who practically raised me in the water, so I find a sense of home aboard this ship. As for Darth... I have absolutely no idea where he came from. He was here before I was. Maybe he's one of the original crew. I don't know. I've never even seen his face. No one has."

She looked back up. "Sorry. You wanted my opinion. In my opinion, I think you could do it."

Jason nodded. "Thanks."

Marie handed him the credit bag. "Make it happen."

***

That evening, Jason and Kelly went to the aft dining hall and had a full supper. Adam didn't join them. Kelly seemed to know something about it, but she didn't seem willing to talk about it.

Jason could relate. And, as Kelly had chosen to do before, he remained steadfast in his determination not to pry into the matter. He and Kelly both picked spaghetti platters; Kelly took the free salad, while Jason had the free peanut butter pie slice.

Kelly shook her head. "You're never gonna be healthy that way, Jason."

"There comes a time when one prefers something that tastes good to one's future as a health guru," Jason responded, twisting his fork to gather several noodles. He speared a meatball after that, contorting the noodles among the fork's tines.

Kelly searched Jason's face. "Is there something going on? You seem preoccupied."

"I am," Jason admitted. "It turns out there's a bit of a hidden rule to the Atlantis League."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. If I make it through without having five fainted Pokemon, I get to make a wish. The league does everything it can to make the wish happen."

Kelly's brow shot up. "Cool."

"Yeah, but there's a problem. If I make it through without having five fainted Pokemon, I have to join the Atlantis League as a gym leader. And as a gym leader, I would have to stay aboard the ship I'm assigned to... permanently."

Kelly dropped her fork. It *ping*ed quietly on the table. "What?! That's crazy!"

"I know that. You know that. Even the gym leaders who were taken in by that rule know that. But most others don't. And I aim to keep it that way."

"How?"

"I'm going to try and make it through the Atlantis League without having five faints. If I can do that, I can get the wish, and I'll try to use that wish to rescind the rule that takes in trainers in their moment of victory."

Kelly paused for a moment. "Does Adam know about all this?"

Jason shook his head. "I don't know, but I wouldn't put it past him. He seems to know a bit more than he's letting on, I know that. Especially when we got to Trixie, that last one. He spent nights just sitting in his room, brooding. Sometimes when I went to see him, he'd just sort of give me the cold shoulder. I mean, he'd talk to me, but I could tell he didn't really want me around."

There was a pause in the conversation. Kelly took a deep breath. "Jason, I think there's something I should tell you. And I need you to promise me something."

A slight crease formed between Jason's eyebrows. "What?"

"That you'll hear me out."

"I always have. And I don't plan to stop now," Jason assured her. He reached across the table and took her hand. "What?"

And Kelly told him the story of what had happened between her and Adam last month.

As she spoke...

Jason Creight frowned on.

To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
12th October 2003, 11:50 PM
Jason Creight awoke to the sound of the Astronomical's blaring horn.

He felt the ship shuddering as the reverse engines throbbed to life, slowing the ship to station-keeping.

They'd made it.

To the port sat a ship about half the size of the Astronomical, waiting to take home all those who weren't going to battle the Atlantis League champion.

And to the starboard waited a stadium-sized Pokemon arena.

It was where the Atlantis League champion waited.

Jason looked out the window to see the arena. It stood only a few feet above the sea, buoyed by unbreakable balloons around the perimeter of the underside. It was rectangular, as most gyms were, and it had four blazing strobe arrays, one standing at each corner. It was anchored to the ocean floor, but the chains were currently somewhat slack, as the tide wasn't coming in for a while.

The arena was a dark gray metal, and its trainer boxes and Pokemon starter points were very clearly delineated in glaring white.

A lone figure stood on the deck of the arena, staring resolutely at the Astronomical.

Jason knew it had to be the champion.

*Just you wait,* he thought. *I'll take you down and I'll get my wish.*

On the other side of the arena was a ship the same size as the one to the Astronomical's port, presumably to carry home those who did plan to battle the champion. The Astronomical would leave once all of its passengers were on one ship or the other.

As Jason stared out at the champion, he wondered what team he was going to use. Of course, it would have to be nothing less than his strongest Pokemon. That, of course, would include Gyarados and Gengar. It would also include Ampharos; its level was increasing at such a rapid rate that it was liable to hit its apex in a matter of a few days, were he to battle other trainers before his final battle in the league.

He also knew that he would have to take advantage of everything at his disposal, air, land, and sea. He decided that Charizard would be a good addition, were fire to enter into the fray as a weak point. Even though Quilava had recently evolved to Typhlosion, it didn't have wings, as Charizard did, so it had no way of avoiding the water. And Quagsire would also be a fine Pokemon to choose; it had Rock-type attacks without Rock- type weaknesses to water. Faking the opponent out was an integral part of the game, and Jason knew he'd need it.

That left one more Pokemon to choose.

Jason sighed. He'd need to take some time on that one. He pushed himself out of bed and struggled into his wheelchair. He glanced over at Kelly, who was still sleeping peacefully, even through the racket of the Astronomical's horn.

*Kelly...*

Jason's thoughts became darker, as he recalled what she'd told him about Adam. Even after nearly a month, he was still sore over it.

He wondered if he would always be sore over it.

He hoped not.

For the moment, he wondered what Adam was doing.

***

Adam, six doors down and on the other side of the ship, watched as the Astronomical pulled up next to the gym arena and the other ship.

He knew he wasn't going to the ship. He would go to the arena and wrestle Trixie from the Atlantis League's grasp.

He thought of his battle with Trixie. How he'd managed to save himself from the Atlantis League's "unconditional" rule. The one that stated, "If a trainer should win the Atlantis League without one fainted Pokemon, that trainer must join the Atlantis League Gym Corps effective immediately, replacing a gym leader of his/her choice."

The rule was one that even Jason didn't know about, though he most certainly knew of the five faint rule. But he didn't have to worry about it; he'd already had at least one fainted Pokemon.

Adam had wanted to stay out of that running early in the game. And the best place to do that was in Trixie's gym, where she could see that he aimed to keep both of them away from the league for good.

*I've gotten this far. No turning back now. I've got to go all the way.*

And he thought about what had transpired since.

***

Adam knew that he had to tell Jason sometime... there was no point in hiding it from him. He needed to get it out into the open.

That thought in mind, he went to Jason and Kelly's room aboard the Epic. He knocked three times.

"It's open."

Adam winced at Jason's voice. This was probably gong to be the worst conversation he'd ever had.

He grabbed the doorknob, twisted it, and pushed forward.

*Can't back down now.*

As soon as Adam was in the room, he looked around for Kelly, though he knew he wouldn't find her there. She was out at the arcade, having a grand old time with the numerous video games there.

Still, he felt cautious.

And he knew no one could blame him for that.

Jason was reading a book... a rather large one, it seemed. There had to be at least a thousand pages in it.

Adam took a deep breath as Jason looked up.

The expression on Jason's face became clouded.

*Oh, no. He knows already.*

Adam didn't know whether to consider this a blessing or a curse.

He chose to classify it as both.

"I need to talk to you," Adam began.

"Yeah, I'll say you do," Jason responded, marking his page and sharply closing the book. It's *thwap* was magnified in the strange silence between them. He put his book on the bed and folded his hands in his lap. "I can't wait to hear the explanation for this one."

Adam took it upon himself to grab the chair from the nearby desk, and seated himself. "I'm afraid it isn't much of one."

"Good. Then you won't waste my time."

Adam's face darkened. "I've never considered Kelly a waste of time, Jason. I hope you don't think so, either."

"No, I don't. But what I *do* consider a waste of time is hearing you explain away something I've already been told about. Kelly told me everything, you know. She told me the real reason behind your little trips to the dance halls, gallivanting across the ship like a pair of puppy-love struck pre-teens."

Adam had had enough. In a strangely quiet, yet loud voice, he responded, "At least I'm taking the chance."

That only made Jason even angrier. "What's that supposed to mean, exactly?"

"Ever since you started competing in the Atlantis League, you've spent a hell of a lot more time battling and thinking about your chances of winning that big, fat trophy than you've spent with Kelly. She's right there at your side, supporting you through all the trials you're going through. And you're ignoring her because you're too engrossed in your own battles, afraid of losing in some friggin' *gym battle*, for crying out loud. She *loves* you, Jason. Do you have any idea what that means? How hard it is for her to admit that?"

"I know that she wanted me to say it first."

"And what, exactly, is wrong with that?"

"I wasn't sure. I'm still not sure."

Adam gaped at Jason. "You mean to tell me that she loves you and is handing you her heart on a silver platter in exchange for *nothing*? My God, what's wrong with you? Were you raised in a loveless family or something?"

Jason glared at Adam. "Mind your own business. My upbringing isn't any of your concern, nor is my relationship with Kelly. And if you can't keep your nose out of that, then you can go ahead, walk out that damn door, and don't come back."

"Too late," Adam responded. "It's been my business for some time, and I'm only saying what Kelly is afraid to say. She doesn't want to lose you, Jason, and I don't blame her one bit. She loves you too much to even consider losing you. Hell, I'll bet she was afraid to say anything about her and me.

"She wants you to love her back. She wants to feel your love, know that it's always there, and never be afraid to lose it. And you sit there in your wheelchair dreaming dreams of a lone trainer. Didn't it ever occur to you that maybe you might just let her in?"

Jason's glare deepened. "I have. Whether you see it or not isn't my problem. And personally, I think it's rather arrogant and pretentious to put words in Kelly's mouth."

"You think Kelly doesn't think stuff like that? Think again. Just because I'm not her boyfriend doesn't mean I've never talked with her about you."

"This from the expert on relationships," Jason retorted. "I don't want, nor do I need your advice on how to pursue a relationship. I'll do it my own way. My life's too short to listen to other people tell me how to run it. The fact remains that you went after Kelly."

"Look, I didn't want to," Adam said, exasperated. "I tried. I tried to give distance to her, so that I wouldn't be threatened by the possibility. But then, it got worse and worse. And she wanted to get to know me better... it just sort of happened. I came to the door that night and asked her to go to the dance hall with me. I didn't hink of it as a date. I didn't think of any of those times as dates. That would have been ruining your relationship with her, and I would have blown any friendship with you."

"So you went with Kelly without meaning to. Well, well. The plot thickens. What next, you plan to propose to her without meaning to?"

"At this point, I'm beginning to think a proposal from me would have more meaning for her than any speech you could pull out of the air."

A dead silence hung in the room. Adam and Jason stared each other down, neither giving in to the other's angry glare.

Finally, Adam broke it. He slumped over and sighed. "This isn't working, either. Neither of us has anything to gain by arguing like this. It's petty." He looked back up, defeated. "Look, what's done is done. It's already in the open. Do what you want with it; I'm going to go after her anymore. She's all yours. I just hope, for your sake, that you make the right choices."

He stood up. "I'm sorry."

He left the room.

Leaving a considerably softened, and humbled, Jason.

***

Adam stayed away from Jason and Kelly afterward. He remained in his room for the most part, writing his poetry and conjuring a halfway decent short story. Three days after the argument, they boarded the fifth and final ship of the Atlantis League, the Astronomical. Six days after the argument, his gym match with the fifth and final gym leader of the Atlantis League, came to pass.

It took place in the early morning, when the eastern sky turned orange with the sun's still-soft light while the western sky still shimmered somewhere between blue and purple. It was a beautiful sight, indeed.

At seeing this, Adam felt inspired to write poetry. *I'll have to make sure to do that after the match.*

Unfortunately, he had a schedule to keep. *Shame I have to miss such a pretty sunrise.*

He sighed, turned away from the sight, and made his way to the gym doors. As with the others, these were gigantic and ornate, covered and painted with intricate designs.

Adam pushed the doors open and entered the gym, feeling remarkably clear-headed as he did so. He knew what he wanted to do, and he was ready to get going.

A pair of strobe arrays lit up the arena on either of its broad sides. The gym was painted black, and hot and humid to the point of excruciation. Adam felt himself fortunate not to have to deal with itching legs under his khakis, although the stump of his left leg was definitely feeling the heat.

On the other side of the gym stood a figure wrapped, head to toe, in a heavy black robe. A long black hood shrouded its face in black shadow, and an exact outline of its form was impossible to make out under the robe. Its arms were loosely folded, its hands hidden within the folds of its robe. Even its skin tone was impossible to determine.

*How can they stand the heat?* Adam wondered.

"Welcome, trainer," said a male voice. "I am Gym Leader Craig. I am here to stop you from continuing to the Atlantis League champion. Know that during our battle, I will go to any necessary lengths to reach my goal."

Craig moved backward, his robe moving so seamlessly, so gracefully along the floor that it was as if he were an errant shadow, melting back into its own kind.

"In the shadows I find my strength," said Craig. "Take comfort in the light, trainer. It will expose all of your intentions to me."

The robe shifted, and a black-gloved hand revealed a Lure Ball. The hand held the ball out, ready to toss.

Adam's right eyebrow shifted upward for a moment as he pulled out his own capture ball.

Craig let his ball drop straight to the ground. It popped open in rapturous response, a neon bolt blasting out of the ball to reveal his first Pokemon.

Adam dropped his capture ball at the same instant.

Craig's Pokemon was Shellder.

Adam's Pokemon was Jolteon.

Adam felt a grin trying to creep across his face. *Easy type advantage. I was right.*

"Jolteon, Thunderbolt!"

"Shellder, Supersonic!"

Jolteon bounded across the gym and blasted a spear of lightning at Shellder's thick outer covering. Shellder shrieked in surprise and pain, but recovered from the hit and blew a raspberry at Jolteon before whining out its Supersonic attack. Jolteon reeled; fortunately, Supersonic was an attack that didn't damage the opponent.

Not directly, anyway.

"Shellder, Hydro Pump!"

"Jolteon, Quick Attack!"

But instead of attacking, Jolteon found its tail to be a particularly enticing target, and ended up biting at itself.

Shellder took that opportunity to fire a huge stream of water out its invisible mouth. It drenched Jolteon and smacked it to the side.

The attack was a blessing, however: the cold water served to bring Jolteon back to its senses.

"Shellder, Crunch attack!"

"Jolteon, Thunder!"

Shellder, although it had no legs, still made time across the gym and clamped itself onto Jolteon's tail. Jolteon yelped, but remembered its attack order and stood still as it conjured a tower of lightning for Shellder to absorb.

And absorb the lightning, Shellder did.

And it stayed conscious.

*How did that happen?* "Jolteon, finish it with another Thunderbolt!"

"Shellder, Withdraw!"

*Heh. I've got him on the run,* Adam thought, as Jolteon powered up and blasted Shellder once again with a devastating electrical attack. Shellder's raised defense did little good; the bolt powered through the defenses as if they were little more than a sheet of paper.

Shellder was down.

Craig withdrew Shellder and presented his next Pokemon in silence.

Tangela.

*Good one. No advantages for either of us this time, and Jolteon's lost HP.* "Jolteon, Quick Attack!"

"Tangela, Bind!"

Jolteon hit first, as Quick Attack allowed it to do; however, its effect seemed almost nil on its opponent.

Then Tangela struck. Multiple vines disentangled themselves from its hidden body and lashed out at Jolteon, wrapping themselves around Jolteon's four extremities and lifting it up in the air. Jolteon yelped as the vines started squeezing.

"Jolteon, Swift attack!" Adam wasn't quite sure what to do now. *He's beginning to show me a bit of a theme here. He's dressed so I can't see any of him, Shellder's insides have never been seen, Tangela's insides have never been seen... hidden Pokemon. That's got to be it.*

Meanwhile, Jolteon cast forth dozens of shining spikes that embedded themselves in Tangela's vines. Tangela shrieked and released Jolteon in a hurry. Jolteon struggled to get to its feet.

Adam shook his head. *Paralyzed. That's gonna hurt my chances.* "Jolteon, return! Go, Flareon!"

Flareon sprung to life, ready to avenge its comrade.

"Tangela, Leech Seed!"

Tangela blasted three seeds out from its body. Each one hit Flareon and burst into life-sucking vines. Flareon growled and turned to its master for instructions.

*Better take it out as fast as I can.* "Flareon, Fire Blast!"

Flareon quickly conjured the "stick figure" symbol and send it boiling across the arena, striking Tangela head-on and catching it on fire. Tangela's vine whips reached out and desperately smothered the flames, but the damage was done; Tangela had been burned and would lose HP at a steady rate until fainting.

"Tangela, Razor Leaf!"

Tangela complied with a dozen sharpened leaves hurtling through the air. Some of them caught Flareon, who brushed the attack off.

"Flareon, take it down with Flamethrower!"

But even as Flareon attacked, Tangela used the Leech Seeds to restore some of its HP.

It wasn't enough. Tangela went down under a stream of liquid fire.

Craig didn't seem perturbed as he recalled Tangela. He dropped his third ball on the ground.

It revealed Cloyster.

Adam nearly smacked his forehead. *I should've seen that one coming.* "Flareon, return!"

He waffled for a moment. *I don't want to send Jolteon back out there; with its paralysis, it'd get taken down. Vaporeon would match it point for point, but I don't think I want that here.*

Finally, he made his choice. "Let's go, Eevee!"

Craig said nothing. Adam waited for a barb that Craig wasn't throwing; other gym leaders would be making fun of his choice now. But this one... this one just stood there.

Adam had a growing suspicion of Craig's origins.

He shook his head quickly. *No time for that now.* He had to stay focused. "Eevee, Skull Bash!"

"Cloyster, Aurora Beam!"

Eevee curled into a defensive posture, saving its energy. Cloyster took the opportunity to fire off its Aurora Beam; the multicolored energy blast sailed across the gym and engulfed the small, puppy-sized Pokemon.

In response, Eevee raced up to its foe and crashed headlong into it, making an audible crushing noise. Cloyster's shell was tough, but not tough enough; it took the full measure of Eevee's damage.

"Eevee, Extremespeed!"

"Cloyster, Hydro Pump!"

Cloyster didn't have the chance to attack first this time; Eevee smacked into its opponent again and knocked it backward. Cloyster retaliated with a thick blast of highly pressurized water, originating in its shell. Eevee was forced back, as well, but it stepped back up, still very much willing to fight.

Unfortunately, Cloyster didn't seem to be taking much wear and tear, either.

*Time to change that.* "Eevee, Ancientpower!"

Adam wanted to see the look on Craig's face as Eevee called forth a massive, splitting barrage of boulders, seemingly from nowhere, to collide with Cloyster. The crash of the boulders against its shell was music to Adam's ears.

Cloyster dropped to the ground exactly as those boulders did.

Craig wordlessly returned Cloyster and brought out his next Pokemon.

Pineco.

*Surely this isn't the best he can do. He must be saving an ace in the hole. Got to be Forretress. Both weak to fire, but I don't want Flareon coming out just yet... Pinecos are known for their Selfdestruct capabilities.* "Eevee, Skull Bash!"

Eevee withdrew into its defensive position again, waiting for Pineco's attack.

It didn't have to wait for long. "Pineco, Hyper Beam!"

Pineco began to concentrate on a point just above its eyes, where a faint spark came to life in midair. The spark grew to a ball of red energy, which focused a continuous beam on Eevee, pushing it backward across the deck and making it yelp in a high-pitched voice.

However, Eevee's defense held, and it came roaring back with its devastating Skull Bash attack. Pineco reeled from the attack, but as Eevee had, it held on to consciousness.

"Eevee, another Skull Bash!"

"Pineco, Selfdestruct!"

Eevee barely had time to defend itself before Pineco abruptly blew up in Eevee's face. The shockwave almost knocked Adam off-balance; he had to brace himself against the blast.

When the light and sound faded...

Eevee was still on its feet.

Adam resisted the urge to pump his arm in victory.

Craig returned Pineco and revealed his final Pokemon.

Adam allowed himself the grin this time. *I was right.*

Forretress.

Craig didn't waste time. "Forretress, Rollout!"

But Eevee was already on the move, smashing its minuscule skull against its metal-armored opponent. The resulting *clang* resounded throughout the gym. Forretress spun around and around, trying to clear the ringing within its own confines, but only accomplishing making itself dizzy. It ended up hitting the ground just to make itself stop spinning; the landing was hard enough that it actually took damage.

Taking advantage of Forretress's confusion, Adam recalled Eevee and tossed out what he hoped would be the dominant Pokemon of the round. "Come back out, Flareon!"

Gone were the vines that had wrapped around Flareon, sucking its life out for Tangela's benefit. It was ready and willing.

"Flareon, Fire Blast!"

"Forretress, Solarbeam!"

Adam shook his head. *Bad move. It'll take two turns.*

Flareon conjured another "stick figure" symbol of fire and sent it to meet Forretress. The metal surrounding Forretress became super-hot, causing Forretress to shriek in pain with a strange metallic voice.

"And finish it off with one more Fire Blast!"

But Forretress withstood even that, just enough to let loose its Solarbeam energy. The full fury of the beam washed over Flareon.

Flareon took the attack without a flinch.

"Flamethrower!"

Another stream of fire boiled out of Flareon's mouth.

Forretress finally went down, as Tangela had, to Flareon's hot temper.

The match was Adam's.

Craig paused for a moment, then recalled Forretress and tossed a credit bag in Adam's direction. Adam caught it deftly in one hand, using the other to return Flareon.

"You've fought well, trainer," he said. "You have my respect."

"And you have mine," Adam responded. "I haven't met all that many members of Master Koga's Shadow clan."

Craig paused. "How did you know?"

"I figured it out bit by bit. Your clothes were a bit of a giveaway. Your monologue included shadows, most of your Pokemons' true appearances are hidden by shadow, and you didn't say anything about my choices for battle. Shadows are proud, but they aren't arrogant. I would have expected something... anything... about choosing Eevee. But you said nothing. Always respecting the power of one theory, you're hesitant to pass judgment."

"You know of the clan?"

"As I understand it, members of that clan and even Koga himself were pivotal in stopping some sort of creature from rampaging through Fuschia City. Since then, it's been harder for Shadow clansmen to stay in the shadows they so deeply revere."

"Then, knowing of the clan, you must also know that it is a great dishonor for me to serve this league against my will."

"I do. And hope isn't lost for you, believe me. Your chance may be coming soon. Keep your faith in the power of one. It'll pay off soon enough. And no one will be forced to take your place."

"Let us both hope your confidence is justified. In the meantime, we must part ways."

Adam nodded once, and left the gym with the money bag firmly in hand.

***

Back in the present, Adam's memory of the match faded, leaving him staring out the window of his cabin at the ship that was half the Astronomical's size.

"No way," he said aloud. "I'm not going to go there. I'll get the trophy and the wish."

*And then I'll get Amanda back.*

His mind wandered again, and his thoughts inevitably fell back on Jason and Kelly.

He was pleased to think of them as a couple now, not just Jason... then Kelly.

He'd made the effort after the gym match with Craig to try and reconcile with Jason.

***

It was a week after Adam's match with Craig, and he felt he'd been avoiding Jason and Kelly for long enough.

He knocked on the door three times. He wasn't surprised when he didn't receive an answer right away.

He knocked again.

A heavy sigh. Then, "It's open."

Adam stepped through the door and saw that Jason was, again, the only occupant of the room. Kelly was out enjoying the swimming pool on the aft deck. Adam thought that this might have been something Jason wanted to spectate, but instead he was here, finishing off the last few pages of his book.

Jason's expression, unlike last time, remained carefully neutral. "Come in."

Adam did so, and took a seat at the foot of one of the beds. He didn't know whose it was; he didn't care. He looked the paraplegic trainer in the eyes. "Jason, I've been a jerk. This is ridiculous. I don't want to keep doing this... I wanted to see if there's any way we could get back on track."

Jason thought on this for a moment. Then, a small smile touched his lips, and Adam wasn't sure how to gauge this. Jason leaned back in his wheelchair and folded his hands in his lap.

"That all depends, Adam. I don't much like how we've been avoiding each other, either, and you're right when you say that this is ridiculous. But if we're to get back on track, then you and I will, from this point on, have to be totally honest and open with each other. No hiding any secrets. Period. You and I tell each other everything about ourselves, and I do mean *everything*. No more of this mysterious, brooding crap you've been doing ever since we met. All the good stuff, all the bad stuff, even the boring stuff."

Adam was caught now. On the one hand, it would be great to hear about Jason's life... he couldn't imagine anything especially boring about it. But on the other hand, Adam would have to spill his guts, too... and that meant telling Jason everything he'd thought about Kelly, and even about his relationship with Amanda.

*Oh, boy.*

But, ultimately, Adam knew that this would either continue or end a relationship. Two relationships.

And he wanted both of them to continue.

He nodded. "Deal."

***

Adam returned to the present once again upon another round of the Astronomical's horn blasting its irritating foghorn-like sound across the sea.

He began to pack his things.

*The last I'll ever have to do with this blasted league, if Jason wins.*

Curious, that someone else's victory would be his only hope.

Adam chose not to reflect on it.

***

Each of the trainers going to fight the Atlantis League champion battled him in quick succession. This champion apparently preferred a lot of action in a short period of time, which was fine with Jason and Adam.

Across a period of two days and one night, the champion battled nonstop. He had only ten minutes' rest between each match, enough time to fully heal his Pokemon and feed himself, as well as enough time to get another trainer down to the floating arena.

During that time, the ship to the Astronomical's port pulled away and headed for the nearest dock, no less than a week away.

Kelly was among the passengers of that ship, as she had not battled any of the Atlantis League gym leaders.

Jason and Adam both saw her off. She hugged Jason around the neck, then kissed him passionately, and smiled down at him. "I'll meet you back on Cinnabar Island. Don't keep me waiting too long."

Jason shook his head. "I promise."

She offered a firm handshake to Adam. "Good luck, to both of you. You may need it."

"We'll take all we can get," Adam responded, grinning.

It was good to know some things were almost back to normal.

The Astronomical itself waited patiently for all of the trainers to take their turn and depart to the ship on the other side of the arena, known as the Endgame.

Also during that time, trainers were restricted to the lower decks, where all the windows were covered. No one was allowed to watch the matches, though they were rumored to be battles of titanic proportions. All they heard was what the captain chose to tell them, things such as who won and what wishes had been made... wishes appropriate to announce, at any rate.

Adam and Jason spent most of their time either in their respective rooms, or talking to each other about past experiences. Jason confided in Adam what had started his Pokemon training; Adam told Jason about Amanda and her tragic run-in with the Atlantis League.

And then came their times to battle. Jason would battle first, Adam directly afterward.

Jason received his summons on the second night of battling.

Adam shook Jason's hand as Jason was about to leave. "Good luck, Jason. Win it."

Jason grinned. "I will, but only if you do the same."

With that, Jason wheeled off of the Astronomical, across the extending catwalk, and onto the arena.

The champion stood in a loose posture, his arms hanging behind his back. He wore a red T-shirt and a black, sleeveless vest. His capture ball belt was full of Ultra Balls. His black jeans stretched past the tops of his dark hi-tops. His acid-green eyes burned into Jason, and his short black hair went well with his outfit.

The champion grinned, a dimple appearing at the left corner of his mouth as he did so. "A trainer in a wheelchair. Such things I've not heard of for more than five years."

Jason's eyes turned to slits. The champion knew who he was.

The champion shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Trainers come with all sorts of faults attached to them. Perhaps yours lie within yourself, rather than your Pokemon. I look forward to our fight."

"In that case, let's get this party started," Jason replied.

"As you wish, Mr. Creight." The champion approached and entered his trainer box. He stood there for a moment, seeming to savor the moment when the first Pokemon would be revealed.

Jason entered his own trainer box.

"Ready your first Pokemon," said the champion, removing an Ultra Ball from his belt and enlarging it.

Jason pulled out his selection, and hoped it wouldn't fail him.

"When you lose to me, the name of Mark will haunt your every waking moment," said the champion, grinning.

"And when you lose to me, you'll remember me in your nightmares," Jason growled.

Mark and Jason tossed their capture balls into the arena.

The neon bolts solidified into their true forms.

And with fiery resolve...

Jason Creight battled on.



To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
13th October 2003, 08:05 PM
Jason Creight awoke for the briefest period of time. He felt himself rocking back and forth gently, almost immeasurably. But he was indeed rocking back and forth.

He was still out at sea. It was dark out.

And all he wanted was to return to the black pit of the dream world.

Moments later, that's exactly what he did.

And he dreamed.

***

Jason's first selection revealed itself to be Dragonair. It shone in the light of the strobe arrays.

Mark's first selection was a Sneasel.

Jason leapt right into it. "Dragonair, Extremespeed, right now!"

"Sneasel, Faint Attack!"

Dragonair got the first attack in, smashing straight into the pit of Sneasel's belly and causing it to keel over. However, it quickly recovered and vanished in the night, only to reappear a moment later right at Dragonair's front door. It slashed across Dragonair's body; Dragonair gave some ground.

*Good. I've got an idea on how bad its attacks are.* "Dragonair, Slam!"

Dragonair's tail lashed out and whacked Sneasel across the arena.

"Sneasel, Beat Up!"

Sneasel attacked for itself and every one of Mark's Pokemon. However, the attack seemed to do little good, which gave Jason some hope. Perhaps Mark's Pokemon weren't as strong as he made them out to be.

His memory of the Astronomical's captain's reports on the battles only served to reinforce that image of his opponent.

"Dragonair, Fury Attack!"

Dragonair conjured a variant of a Swift attack, hurling spikes of light at its dark opponent. Each hit chipped away at Sneasel's HP.

"Sneasel, Slash attack!"

Sneasel's sharp claws proved useful once again; it brought them to bear across Dragonair's lithe body. Dragonair did not so much as protest, and that made Jason proud.

But he also knew he needed humility for this match; he couldn't get overconfident. "Another Slam attack!"

"Quick Attack!"

Sneasel got in the first hit, smacking into Dragonair as it raced around the platform. Dragonair returned with equal force to knock Sneasel off its feet.

"Dragonair, Hyper Beam!"

A red-orange beam of pure energy boiled away at Sneasel's thick skin, pushing it across the platform as a hurricane would push a leaf.

Sneasel was down.

***

Adam grinned. His Eevee had managed to mop the deck with Sneasel rather easily, and he was looking forward to seeing what else this guy had in store.

"Your Eevee is strong," Mark admitted. "But can it withstand this?"

He tossed out another Ultra Ball.

Pinsir.

Adam raised his eyebrows, assessing the situation. Then he said, "Probably. But I'm not here to just win. I'm here to get my wish."

With that, he recalled Eevee and sent out the perfect opponent for Pinsir. "Go, Flareon! Flamethrower!"

Flareon was on the attack as soon as it took form, blasting liquid fire at its Grass-type opponent.

"Pinsir, Focus Energy!" Mark shouted.

The Pokemon withstood the Flamethrower attack, though it dealt a decent amount of damage. Pinsir's body took on a brassy sheen as it saved its power, presumably for Mark's next attack.

"Another Flamethrower!"

"Pinsir, Seismic Toss!"

This time, Pinsir got in the first attack, taking Flareon by its barbed horns and spinning it in circles. Flareon became dizzy, and Pinsir took that opportunity to slam in into the ground as hard as possible. The metal made a harsh *clang* that bounced off the hulls of the Astronomical and the Endgame, positioned on either side of the floating stadium.

Flareon struggled to get back up; the Seismic Toss had taken a good portion of its HP away.

But it faced Pinsir bravely, and with a growl, it blasted another stream of fire at its foe.

Pinsir took the full measure of the blast.

And it stayed up.

"Pinsir, Guillotine!" Mark shouted, apparently sensing an approaching victory.

But Adam wasn't finished. "Flareon, Fire Spin! Make yourself the center of the spin!"

Flareon didn't question the order. It had made such special dispensations before, realizing the strategy its master was employing. Adam didn't expect the Fire Spin to stop Pinsir from attacking; he was taking advantage of Pinsir's aggression and making sure that it would take damage, even if Flareon had to take it as well.

That's exactly what happened; Pinsir charged straight into the tower of flame and took damage even as it inflicted its own attack. Adam heard Flareon cry out as Pinsir's horns closed around its body, sensitive from the Seismic Toss, but he stared into the tower resolutely.

Moments later, the fire dissipated.

Flareon was down to its last HP.

But Pinsir had been taken down.

***

Jason resisted the urge to pump his arm in victory. Charizard had taken Pinsir down with relatively little damage to itself. The "switching" strategy he and Adam had agreed upon was paying off.

"Don't get too cocky, Mr. Creight," said Mark. "Otherwise you'll be drowned in your own overconfidence!"

He tossed his third Ultra Ball.

*A Kabutops? How did he get one of those?* Jason gawked at the long- extinct Pokemon for a moment, knowing that, comparatively speaking, there were only a handful of Kabutos in the world, and even less Kabutopses. *Must've been an archaeologist who took it to that lab at Cinnabar... or just an extremely lucky trainer.*

At any rate, Jason knew that he couldn't battle with Charizard against this one. "Charizard, come back!" *Hmm, I don't have any Grass types with me. Shame on me for that one. And it doesn't have a weakness to electricity, so don't use Ampharos yet... Gengar might be a good fighter, but I want to hold it in reserve...*

Jason made his choice. "Go, Gyarados!"

The huge leviathan that had been with Jason from the beginning entered the arena with a roar and a baleful stare at its shorter opponent.

"Kabutops, Slash attack!"

"Gyarados, Crunch!"

As Kabutops whipped in with its bladed extremities, Gyarados leaned forward and clamped its considerable jaws around its foe's thin, rocky form. There was an audible *crunch*ing noise, although the attack had little effect on Kabutops, as hard as its hide was. In total, it was a stalemate turn.

"Kabutops, Ice Beam!"

Kabutops began to concentrate on a point just away from its chest. That point began to gather blue-white energy, forming into a ball, contained ice energy just waiting to be released.

At the last moment, Jason shouted, "Mirror Coat!"

The beam flew on the word "coat," and Gyarados barely had time to defend itself before the attack hit.

But the Mirror Coat was erected in time.

The beam bounced straight back to its origin and shoved Kabutops violently backward.

"Cold?" Jason muttered, more to himself than to Kabutops. "We should warm you up. Gyarados, Dragon Rage!"

"Kabutops, Hydro Pump! Put those flames out!"

Blue fire crashed against blue water. The two were almost impossible to distinguish, and yet, at the same time, they were complete opposites.

The water pushed through the fire and blasted against Gyarados' body.

Gyarados barely paid attention to it.

"Another Crunch!"

"Ice Beam again!"

Gyarados lunged forth and caught Kabutops's midsection in its teeth. It crushed its jaws against Kabutops's body, intent on doing as much damage as possible, a requisite in all battles. The *crunch* was more pronounced than the first time; Kabutops was getting tired.

Kabutops chose that moment to strike its foe with its charging Ice Beam. The freezing energy wrapped around Gyarados and completely froze it.

But Gyarados still had hold of Kabutops.

"There's your chance! Slash!" Mark yelled.

Kabutops did so, and for all it was worth. It ripped into Gyarados as furiously as it could, trying desperately to get Gyarados to let up. But Gyarados remained firmly attached, and all Kabutops's antagonism seemed to do was make Gyarados bite down even harder.

The freezing effect let up a moment later, and Gyarados's tail flapped around shakily. It lifted Kabutops in the air and finally let go, allowing the Rock and Water-type Pokemon to drop to the ground.

"Gyarados, Hyper Beam!"

Gyarados emitted a flaring beam of red energy from its mouth, and the energy put Kabutops on the deck.

It stayed there.

***

Adam was no longer feeling so cocky. He'd used Espeon against Kabutops at first, which had seemed to work, but the Ice Beam attack had been effective on Espeon, and it only warmed up again when it was close to its final HP. Kabutops had knocked it out with its next attack. He'd revealed Umbreon then, and used it to take Kabutops down the rest of the way. It had been a taxing job.

But, on the other hand, half the match was overwith.

He had two faints to work with.

Meanwhile, Mark had lost three of his own Pokemon.

Mark wasn't being as cocky as before, either. The smirk on his face had been wiped off when Kabutops went down; apparently, that had been a trump card for him. He pulled out a fourth Ultra Ball. "Let's see if you can handle this!"

The ball revealed a Kingler. A strong-looking one.

Umbreon was obviously beginning to feel the burn of battling. Adam wanted to give it a few moments' rest, at least. And Kingler would be an easier Pokemon to deal with. "Umbreon, return! Go to it, Jolteon!"

Jolteon growled, ready to fight.

"Kingler, Crabhammer!"

"Jolteon, Thunder!"

Kingler was fast, Adam had to grant it that one; it was across the arena in a matter of three seconds, and it caught Jolteon in its left pincer almost too fast for Adam to track. It used its right pincer to bash down onto Jolteon's spiked body. Adam could hear the pincers make contact, and imagined it was rather painful for Jolteon.

But it wasn't nearly as painful as what Jolteon used to counter with. Its body crackled with static discharges, and it called forth a tower of lightning from the cloudy, early morning sky. The tower hit Kingler dead center, insinuating its effects beneath Kingler's tough shell and paralyzing it.

"Quick Attack, Jolteon!"

"Kingler, Harden!"

Kingler didn't have a chance to defend itself; Jolteon got in the hit, even as Kingler still stumbled from the effects of the Thunder attack. It was across the arena and back before Adam could even count to one.

Kingler belatedly increased its defenses by hardening its shell. The shell became more shiny than before.

"Kingler, Stomp!"

"Jolteon, another Thunder!"

Kingler moved faster than Adam would have thought possible, racing up to Jolteon and using its powerful legs to jump up and land directly on Jolteon's back.

Jolteon again called a tower of electricity onto Kingler, taking somewhat less effect because of Kingler's raised defense, but no less effective, in totality.

Kingler slumped over. It had been taken out.

***

Ampharos stood tall and proud, its skin marred somewhat by the cutting attacks of Kingler, but victorious over the Water-type Pokemon.

Mark was getting less cocky by the second. He pulled out a fifth Ultra Ball. "Take this!"

Scyther.

Jason knew that Ampharos, powerful though it was, would not be the best choice against this one. *But on the other hand, Scyther may have an unexpected move waiting for Charizard. Probably best to play around with it a little bit before changing.*

"Ampharos, Swift attack!"

Mark's eyebrows went up; apparently, he'd been expecting a shift to Charizard. Whatever was going through his mind, though, he chose not to divulge it. "Scyther, Double Team!"

Scyther had the faster move this time around, and multiple images of it appeared all around Ampharos.

But Swift had never failed for Ampharos. It fired glowing spikes all around, soon revealing the real Scyther and pummeling it with them.

"Ampharos, Thunder Punch!"

"Scyther, Swords Dance!"

Scyther began to spin around in place, its sword-like arms crossed in a defensive posture.

Ampharos raced up, sparks flashing over its clawed fist, and it pounded into Scyther for all it was worth.

And it was worth a considerable amount.

But Scyther, while it did lose HP, to its credit, didn't lose its balance, and continued to spin at a dizzying pace.

"Scyther, Slash!"

Scyther stopped spinning abruptly, and deftly brought its arms to bear across Ampharos's body. Ampharos protested this treatment, but it still took it with a measure of dignity; it didn't give any ground to its enemy.

"Ampharos, Solarbeam!"

Mark's eyes went wide. "Scyther, Double Team!"

Ampharos charged its head-mounted light as Scyther separated into multiple representations of itself.

Ampharos wasn't intimidated. Its head-light glowed bright, letting everyone in sight know that the attack was ready to be let loose.

And a moment later, it was. Ampharos swept its head back and forth, and the attack raked across the images. It speared three of them before hitting the real one, and Scyther screamed as the Solarbeam made it fly across the arena.

"Ampharos, Swift attack!"

"Scyther, Quick Attack!"

As Scyther charged forward, Ampharos called more glowing spikes into existence. They struck just as Scyther did.

Ampharos fell back.

And so did Scyther.

Ampharos struggled back to its feet. It was worn and tired and almost out of energy.

But Scyther stayed on the deck.

***

Jason and Adam had reached the final Pokemon.

Adam could lose two Pokemon to fainting and still gain his wish.

It was the same situation for Jason.

Mark revealed his final Pokemon of the match.

Scizor.

***

Jason's spirits rose when he saw the Steel-type Pokemon. *Weakness to fire. And Charizard's still ready to fight.*

"Ampharos, return! Let's get that wish, Charizard!"

Charizard looked eager to battle. Its intimidating roar served to confirm that.

"Scizor, Double Team!"

Jason shook his head. *Same as before.* "Charizard, Flamethrower! Sweep it across the images!"

Charizard complied, and Scizor was soon found out. It emitted a metallic screech at the flames heating its body.

"Charizard, Fly!"

Charizard took to the sky, hanging high above the arena.

"Scizor, Swords Dance!"

*He must not have evolved it too long ago. It still has Scyther's attacks,* Jason thought, as Charizard swept down to deal damage to its enemy.

"Fire Blast!"

"Steel Claw!"

Scizor's claw became even more rigid as it slammed into Charizard's midsection. Charizard grunted as it took the hit.

The "stick figure" symbol sprung into being and blasted its full measure into Scizor. Scizor screeched as the flames superheated its metal armor.

"We're not finished yet! Quick Attack!"

"Neither are we! Flamethrower!"

Charizard took a beating under Scizor's expert pummeling.

But Scizor took the worse beating under a sidewise column of fire.

Both combatants faced each other, neither willing to give in.

Charizard stared Scizor down, while Scizor looked defiantly up at its opponent.

And then...

Scizor fell.

***

Adam groaned. He had used just about the last of Flareon's energy to wipe Scyther out, and now Mark was revealing another Pokemon weak to fire. But Adam imagined it was stronger than Scyther, which had him in a bit of trouble.

*I'd better do what damage I can.* "Flareon, Fire Blast!"

"Scizor, Quick Attack!"

Scizor hit first and sent Flareon flying. Flareon barely held on to consciousness, and it had almost no energy left; it was down to its last PP for Fire Blast.

It made the most of it; the blast was super effective, washing over Scizor and burying it in fire.

Flareon looked almost sick, so starved was it for energy. Adam took pity on it. "Flareon, return!"

*What next? Espeon's out, Flareon's as good as out, Jolteon, Eevee, and Umbreon aren't exactly at their best... I haven't used Vaporeon yet. But I'd better save it, just in case...* "Go, Jolteon!"

"Scizor, Quick Attack!"

"Jolteon, Thunder!"

Again, Scizor got in the first attack, smacking into Jolteon with such force that Adam almost immediately began regretting having brought that one out. But the near-regret was pushed away when Jolteon's Thunder attack blasted into Scizor at full force. Sadly, Scizor was not as susceptible to electric attacks as Water-types were, but it still did a decent amount of damage.

"Scizor, Steel Claw!"

"Jolteon, Agility!"

Jolteon raced circles around Scizor as the Steel-type tried to hit its target. No success; the attack missed completely.

"Great job! Now use Swift!"

"Scizor, Pursuit!"

*Thinking ahead,* Adam thought, as Scizor attacked. Pursuit would do heavy damage to Jolteon if Adam pulled it out now.

He kept his mind on the match at hand. Jolteon called forth the glowing spikes of a Swift attack and fired them at Scizor. Each one struck it, making their own tiny *clank* noises. Scizor fell back, but stood up again.

And then both trainers made the same call.

"Quick Attack!"

"Quick Attack!"

Jolteon and Scizor met each other head-on with equal, brutal force. They both fell back to each other's attack, but both got to their feet again.

Adam kept pressing. "Jolteon, Agility!"

"Another Quick Attack, Scizor!"

Jolteon was undeterred by the hit, and it raced around the arena as it waited for its next order.

"Jolteon, Thunder!"

"One more Quick Attack!"

The Quick Attack missed this time, such was Jolteon's speed.

The Thunder attack did not miss, however. It hit Scizor dead-on, and Scizor fell back once more.

It was feeling it.

"Swift attack!"

"Steel Claw!"

Scizor powered through the spikes of the Swift attack and landed a devastating hit on Jolteon, knocking it across the arena. It landed limply, and stayed there.

Jolteon was down for the count.

Scizor was close, but not close enough.

Adam had only one more faint before reaching his limit.

"Jolteon, return! Go, Umbreon!"

The Dark-type stared Scizor down, its rings glowing bright.

"Umbreon, Faint Attack!"

"Scizor, Quick Attack!"

Scizor hit Umbreon with a decent strike, but Umbreon returned the favor a hundred times over with its own hit. It knocked Scizor back and to the deck.

Scizor stood up, but it was gasping for breath and its strength was almost out.

"Umbreon, Crunch!"

"Scizor, Steel Claw!"

Umbreon clamped its jaws on Scizor's leg and held on as Scizor beat it down with its claws. Scizor screeched as Umbreon bit deeper and deeper into its leg.

The pain overloaded Scizor's senses.

It began to slump down.

*And now for the grand finale.* "Umbreon, Quick Attack!"

Umbreon reared back, then crashed head-on into Scizor.

Scizor skidded across the metal stadium.

The shrieking of metal on metal brought goosebumps all over Adam's body.

The sound slowly faded into the morning.

Silence reigned over the sea.

Scizor remained where it stopped.

It didn't move.

It was knocked out.

And Adam had won.

Mark silently recalled Scizor to its Ultra Ball and looked up at Adam.

Adam took a deep, shuddering breath.

Surprisingly, a grin split Mark's face. "Congratulations, Mr. Sands. You've won the Atlantis League, and you've earned yourself a wish. What shall it be?"

***

"What do you wish, Mr. Creight?"

Jason stared straight into Mark's eyes. They no longer burned into his soul with their acidity. They only searched it for his answer. And he gave it. "I wish for Atlantis League Rule Thirty-Four to be rescinded, effective two days ago, never to be used again, nor replicated in a later revision of the rulebook."

Jason expected a fight of words. He expected some resistance.

Whatever he was expecting, he didn't get it.

All he got was a single nod from Mark.

"Very well. If it had been any more than one rule, we would have refused. We don't want trainers destroying our ways. However, you've requested a change in one rule, only. Your wish is granted. The rule will be rescinded. You will not be required to become part of the Atlantis League Gym Corps, nor will anyone else who has battled me and won. However, with the trophies you and your fellow trainers receive comes an open invitation to be part of it."

"And be restricted to a ship for the duration? No, thank you," said Jason.

"I understand. However, the offer does remain open. And the Atlantis League still has much to be seen, if you look hard enough." Mark smiled, and gestured toward the Endgame. "Your ride is waiting for you. When you depart this place, you will be awarded the Atlantis League trophy, and proof that your wish has been granted. And, as I understand, quite a celebration."

Jason grinned. "It's been an honor."

Mark extended his hand. Jason took it.

All of Jason's hostility dissolved in that handshake.

He patted his backpack, which hung securely on his wheelchair, left the platform, and boarded the Endgame.

***

Adam took a deep breath, remembering that the Astronomical's captain had announced Jason's victory and his wish.

"I wish for all Atlantis League gym leaders, present and future, to be allowed to leave the league if they should so desire, for as long as they desire. I wish for this option to be presented to them immediately."

Mark paused for a moment, then nodded once. "Very well. Your wish is granted. All future gym leaders will join the league of their own will. I imagine it will provide quite a variety." He smiled. "In the meantime, the Endgame awaits. Once you leave this place, you'll be awarded the Atlantis League trophy, and proof that your wish has been granted. There is also a celebration aboard; I doubt very much you will want to miss it."

Adam nodded. "Thank you."

Mark extended his hand, and Adam took it firmly.

Adam held no animosity toward Mark. Toward the league, perhaps, but not to Mark.

He rolled his shoulders, where his backpack hung securely. He left the platform and boarded the Endgame.

*We're going home. And Amanda is finally free.*

***

Jason saw Adam coming into the reception area of the Endgame. Adam had an exhausted look on his face, and he looked drenched in sweat, although the cold early morning of their battles had put Jason in his leather jacket and Adam in his overcoat.

Adam spotted Jason... and grinned.

Jason returned the expression, and he moved his wheelchair to meet Adam.

They warmly clasped hands.

"We did it," Adam said, his grin getting wider. "We actually did it."

"Yeah," said Jason. "And, good God, does it feel great to be finally finished with the league."

They both let out great sighs of relief.

"Well," said Adam, "I'm going to go find my quarters, drop my stuff off, and find this celebration Mark talked about."

"Yeah, it's something to see," Jason responded.

Jason Creight and Adam Sands, Atlantis League champions, made their way through the Endgame, and didn't look back.

***

Jason awakened once again, only two hours after the first time. It was still dark outside, although light was beginning to creep up over the horizon.

He didn't feel sleepy now, although he wouldn't have minded going back to his dreams again. Still, they were close to the Selto marina, where they had first left aboard the Colossal.

The celebration had been going on ever since the Endgame had pulled away from the platform. Trainers looking to party were partying, those looking to battle were battling, those looking to eat were eating, and those looking to sleep were snoring to their hearts' content.

He yawned, dug around in his backpack for some clothes, and found a gray T-shirt and blue jeans. He put them on, then got into his wheelchair and grabbed his PokeGear, PokeDex, and capture ball belt. He didn't actually expect to battle anyone, as he wasn't really in the mood, but he didn't see anything wrong in bringing his Pokemon to join in any festivities taking place.

He glanced down next to his backpack. There sat his Atlantis League trophy, customized to his specifications, as all had been. Sized gold representations of his team stood atop a black marble base, and a gold name plate was on the front of the base. It read simply:

Jason Creight

Atlantis League Champion

Also in the backpack was his proof that his wish had been granted: a revised rulebook, dated for the next league battles.

Jason smiled faintly, then left the room and made his way to the main hall, where trainers from far and abroad talked, joked, ate, and even battled. The battles were hardly the climactic struggles that inevitably broke out between a trainer and a gym leader; the hall wasn't big enough for the larger Pokemon that trainers here carried. No, the trainers aboard the Endgame wishing to battle participated in a tournament they jokingly referred to as the Half Pint League. Only Pokemon at skill levels of 10 and below were allowed, so their attacks wouldn't damage the ship. Trainers who didn't participate, or who lost in the tourney, spectated the matches, and a good time was had by all.

Adam had apparently chosen to participate in the Half Pint League, and he was doing well; from an original pool of 32, he'd managed to make his way to the Final 4 with a Wooper, a Gastly, and an Elekid.

Jason wheeled over to the table where the food resided, and got himself a bowl of oatmeal, mixing honey, strawberries, and bananas into it. Then he made his way back to a good spectator's post and watched the battling as he contentedly ate his breakfast.

It felt almost as if he were reaching a crossroads. He wasn't quite sure why that might be, but as he watched the tourney, he found himself getting bored. Disinterested. As if the battle didn't really matter, as if the Pokemon who battled didn't really matter.

*How can that be?* he thought, trying to maintain his interest. *I've lived with Pokemon all my life. Sure, the exhilaration of being around them has long since gone away, but how can I be getting bored watching a battle? Seeing trainers go at it, watching them as they sense their victory, as they try to get out of whatever rut they're stuck in...*

Still, the boredom was there. And it was manifesting itself quickly.

And suddenly, strangely... a thought entered his mind. A thought he had never believed he would end up thinking. It was there for only a moment or so, and then it flew away...

...but it had been there.

*What am I doing here?*

Jason couldn't believe it. He'd gone there to take his mind off some of the harder moments in his life, to try and get back into the spirit of battling for competition and not survival... he'd ended up fighting for his own salvation from a rule that other people had fallen to... he'd found a new friend and confidant...

And yet, there it was. For the briefest of moments, he had asked himself, "What am I doing here?"

It was one of the most unsettling thoughts he'd ever had. It implied that Pokemon battling was beginning to get old, that he needed to do something that didn't involve such...

*Violence. Barbarism.*

*Stop it!* he told himself. *This is the one thing I've managed to hold on to in my life!*

But he couldn't even bear to watch the battle anymore.

He moved away, and found an empty table. He placed his bowl there and kept his back turned.

***

Fifteen minutes later, Adam joined Jason at the table. He chuckled as he sat down. "I win a tournament, they don't even give me so much as a kewpie doll. Although I think they were taking a couple of bets as to who would win. At least my Pokemon got some experience."

Jason smiled faintly. "I suppose that's payment enough, eh?"

"If I plan to train them, yeah. And I do. My Eevee team is the best, but I also want the challenge of training new Pokemon. And it doesn't hurt for them to have experience in trainer battles like these."

Adam looked at Jason. "Something wrong? You seem a little down."

Jason shook his head. "I dunno, Adam. I've just been having some really weird thoughts lately. They're unsettling."

"Thoughts like what?"

"Well, I was watching the tournament for a little bit, when this random thought entered my head. It asked, 'What am I doing here?' And I thought it was ridiculous... I mean, I'm here for a lot of reasons, and good ones, in my opinion. But..."

"You're beginning to think battling is getting old, aren't you?"

Jason glanced up. "Is it that obvious?"

"No. It hits me sometimes. Sometimes it's easy to deal with, sometimes it's not. When I battle, and I'm in a mindset like that, I try to think of a reason that doesn't involve me. Otherwise it gets really boring, really fast. I think about the experience my Pokemon'll gain, and if there's a wager, I think about getting it and spending it to help my Pokemon training in some way or another. It's all about them, after all. You can't just do it for yourself."

"Maybe that's the problem, then," Jason said. "I went into the Atlantis League looking to take my mind off some things, and I ended up winning it for myself, because I didn't want to be stuck on a boat, fighting Pokemon for the rest of my life."

"Maybe it's that," Adam said, nodding. Then he shrugged. "Or maybe it's just because you feel worn out on it. You're tired of it, you feel that it's been a good haul, but now maybe it's time you might try doing something other than battling."

"Boy, you sure know how to cheer a guy up," Jason muttered.

Adam spread his hands wide. "Just being a realist." He sighed. "When we get back, take a break. Better yet, finish up your Johto League tour, then take a break. Go back to Pallet Town, work at Professor Oak's lab, like you did before. The call to train comes and goes. Maybe it'll come back, maybe it won't. But I can tell from that look on your face you're not feeling called to train right now. So get Johto overwith, and go home."

Jason smiled awkwardly. "I don't have a home."

"I figure you might call Pallet Town home. Home is where the heart is, and your heart happens to be with Professor Oak, Kelly, and Pokemon, all of which have chosen to reside there. I doubt if there'll be many people in Pallet Town who'll want to battle you, even for bragging rights."

Jason scoffed. "There aren't many people in Pallet Town, period."

"Exactly. So that's one place you know you won't be bugged. Anywhere else, they might ask you to become a gym leader or sign autographs or some such." Adam stood up. "Think about it, Jason. If you finish the Johto route, you'll have completed three Pokemon journeys. Surely that would be enough experience in battling to let you challenge the Elite Four."

"I could have challenged them when I finished the Indigo League."

"And now you're even better. You've taken on most of the Johto League and the entire Atlantis League, and you've made it. Finish Johto, challenge the Elite Four... if you defeat them, you'll be a certified Pokemon master. Then you won't need to go on any more journeys to prove yourself. The world will recognize you as one of the best. They'll ease up on you, and they'll let you live your own life."

Adam walked away. Over his shoulder, he added, "Maybe you will, too."

***

Two days later, the Endgame docked at the Selto marina. Jason and Adam gladly disembarked, finding themselves in the midst of a crowd of trainers who had both won and lost against Mark. It was a cool morning; they both wore their coats, and their backpacks were overstuffed with their trophies and personal effects.

Jason and Adam decided to take some time to peruse the marina, as lined as their pockets were with the money they'd won from the league. They didn't find anything that really piqued their interest, however.

They stopped at a local food court, where they bought candy bars and soda. As they ate, Jason said, "To prove my wish had been granted, I was given a rulebook for next season. It doesn't have the rule about being part of the Corps in it."

"Cool," said Adam, around a mouthful of candy.

The corner of Jason's mouth jerked upward a little bit, but it went back down as he asked, "Have you gotten any proof yet?"

Adam swallowed his candy and sighed. "No. But if you got proof, then I suppose I'll get mine soon enough."

Jason hesitated. "You want to see her, don't you?"

Adam sighed again and took a gulp of soda. "More than anything. If the wish came true, I know she'd have left the Gargantuan by now."

"You don't think she has?"

"I don't know what to think right now, Jason. I hope she's off that ship. She was so sad. All I wanted to do was take her away... get her away from the Atlantis League... help her..."

"And that's exactly what you did. If my wish came true, yours had to have come true as well."

"I hope so. For her sake."

There was a brief pause. Then Jason asked, "Do you think she might come here?"

"She might. She might not. She's always been the type to be spontaneous... as least, she was when I knew her. She might come here, she might go home to her family... I don't know."

Jason leaned back. "Tell you what. Let's go looking at some other stuff for a while... take our minds off the whole business. I think this place has got something I want to get. So I'm going to go look for that. You go on, and we'll meet back here at about four this evening. We'll head back to Cinnabar then."

Adam thought about this, then nodded. "Okay. Here at four."

For the moment, he and Jason parted ways.

***

Adam was rather glad he was wearing his overcoat; today was cooler than the days he, Jason, and Kelly had spent aboard the ships. Almost five months had passed them by. The rest of spring and most of summer were gone now, leaving them with the fall weather to contend with.

He went window shopping, looking at clothes, books, games, and the like. He also spied some specialized capture balls, which he found himself mildly interested in. He ended up buying several of those, as well as a guide to their enhanced performance.

He also found a recently published book of poetry, which he immediately bought. He was pleased to see that apparently, one of his own poems had gone into it.

"I think of nothing else from day to day

Than of how my friend has chosen her own way

She must follow her heart, her destiny

Her path lies before her, in its complexity

I hope that I may see her once more; her path I may tread

But will I find her, or her shadow instead?"

He snapped the book shut. *Perhaps it's not such a good thing that that one went in.*

He trod the wooden planks of the Selto marina, his head down, his overcoat and his clothes flapping slightly in the cold breeze. He barely noticed the people passing him by. The collar of his coat was raised up, hiding half his face from sidewise view. His hands were shoved deep into his overcoat's pockets.

The sun passed slowly overhead, less of a spectacle now than it had been during the height of the summer season; clouds also occupied the sky, diminishing the light of the sun across the otherwise beautiful panorama of the sea.

"Adam?"

His head came up.

He turned around slowly.

And there she was, standing not three meters away.

Large as life.

And as lost as a child.

Both of them stood where they were for a moment, neither saying a word, allowing the years to slowly evaporate between them until there was nothing left for them to hide behind.

The years melted away.

And all that was left was them.

Adam and Amanda rushed to each other. Embraced each other. Clung to each other, held by their own static electricity. Tears filled their eyes as they silently welcomed each other back.

She buried her face in his shirt, taking him in.

He held her close and stroked her head gently.

There was no need for words anymore.

***

Jason found what he was looking for, went on a search for useless things, found a couple of interesting items, and returned to the food court promptly at 4:00. He spotted Adam.

And he grinned when he spotted Adam's proof that his wish had come true.

He didn't even need to say anything. Adam said it for him.

"Let's go home."

Jason brought out his Charizard, while Adam called out a Pidgeot.

They took to the air.

No one looked back.

***

Jason landed at Cinnabar, but Adam and Amanda stayed in the air. Jason looked up. "So, where you off to now?"

"Back to Celadon City," Adam responded. "It's time to bring Amanda home. I've fulfilled my obligations. Now it's time to rest and relax. Maybe write a book." He grinned. "But keep in touch. I've had a great time with you guys. I'll try to make it to Pallet Town once in a while."

"You do that," Jason said.

Adam pointed a finger at Jason. "Finish the Johto League, and I guarantee I'll make the time."

Jason nodded. "You've got it."

Pidgeot slowly ascended, and Adam tossed off a final goodbye wave.

Jason knew their paths would cross again, perhaps sooner, perhaps later. But their paths would cross again.

He headed for the Pokemon Center, where he found Kelly waiting for him. She smiled. "Took your time, I see. Where's Adam?"

"He's gone home," said Jason.

Her expression became more somber. "Did he win? Did *you* win?"

"We did. And we were granted our wishes, too."

"What did he wish for?"

Jason smiled slightly. "A girl. And he got one."

Kelly frowned. "What?"

He chuckled. "Long story. But it's a good one. I'll tell you on the way back."

Still confused, she nodded and followed him out of the Pokemon Center.

"For now," he said, "let's go home."

He brought out Charizard once more, and he and Kelly climbed onto its broad back.

Charizard took flight.

Jason Creight held on.



----------------------------------------------



Jason went on to defeat the Johto League gym leaders, and he challenged the Elite Four. Unprepared and overconfident, he was defeated by Koga. Undeterred, he trained intensely for another month, returned, and fought the Elite Four again. He defeated all of them in a massive upset, then went on to battle Lance, whom he defeated in a nail-biter match held in secrecy. He became renowned as the world's first disabled Pokemon master, and returned to his research position at Professor Oak's side in Pallet Town. He has not yet made a decision concerning Dr. Kendrick's offer.

Kelly Shields stayed faithfully at Jason's side throughout his exploits in Johto, and likewise took up her old position at Professor Oak's lab.

Adam Sands returned to Celadon City, where both he and Amanda received a huge Welcome Back reception, organized by the mayor herself. He wrote several more poems, some of which have since been incorporated into books of international poetry. He also began work on a book about the lives of disabled trainers, traveling and gathering information on every one he could find.



----------------------------------------------



This is the end of a journey.

But not of *Against All Odds.*

Dragon_Knight
15th October 2003, 05:07 AM
Jason Creight awoke in his room at Professor Oak's research lab in Pallet Town.

He'd been living here for about four months now. He had no home of his own, and he'd not been especially inclined to build one, lush though his bank account was. He lived a modest life... no designer clothes or expensive dinners at snooty restaurants... he was just himself.

And he liked himself that way.

He glanced around the room. He hadn't built a home, perhaps, but he had moved his things to larger quarters that had been available upon his return to Pallet after the Atlantis League championship. The room was spacious, allowing for a small amount of furniture and a couple of single beds.

In the other bed, across the room, lay Kelly. She was lying on her side, and she was wide awake, quietly watching Jason. A small smile came to her face. "Hey. Have a good sleep?"

"Can't remember my dreams," Jason responded, "so I can only assume so."

Jason's eyes shifted away from Kelly and darted around the room again. On the bedside table sat his tech effects: Pokedex, PokeGear, laptop, a night lamp. His desk was buried in disheveled papers, thrown down in no particular order. His dresser had several books on it, all of which he'd already read.

A display case hung from the wall opposite the foot of his bed. On that display case were the trophies that Jason had won from the championships he'd been in, from Indigo to Johto to the Atlantis League. Hanging behind and above the trophies was a large piece of cardboard covered in black velvet, bearing all the badges that Jason had earned in his travels... 21 badges in total. The entire display was sealed behind plexiglass.

*21... I've only got one more year to go.* Jason had celebrated his 20th birthday the month before; no longer was he a teenager. He could now be called a full-fledged adult. An adult Pokemon master, to boot.

Jason looked over at his dresser again. Inside the bottom drawer, below his carefully placed piles of clothes, were some extremely special items he'd acquired from his training days. The items included one-of-a- kind sunglasses, a dragon fang, a martial arts black belt, and two Focus Bands.

He'd come across the sunglasses and black belt by trainers who no longer needed them... or so they'd claimed. He'd bought the Focus Bands off a martial arts master who was selling them near the Indigo Plateau. He'd acquired the dragon fang during a challenge from Clair, the final Johto League gym leader; she'd let him keep it.

His eyes came to rest on his wheelchair, positioned next to his bed.

That wheelchair had supported him for more than 6 years, now. He remained dependent on it, day after day, despite the difficulties and stereotypes.

His mind drifted through his memories, and, not for the first time, found Dr. Kendrick, the doctor from Saffron City General Hospital, who had offered him the chance to walk again.

That offer had been made almost two years ago.

Jason knew it was still open.

And yet, every time he thought about the offer, he thought about Creight, his now nonexistent future self.

And every time he thought about Creight, he thought about the possibility of losing Kelly.

For Jason, that prospect was too great to bear.

He didn't want to lose her. Perhaps not because he loved her, but because he cared for her. Deeply.

And he didn't want to see her leave. Not after the two of them had gone thorugh so much.

Rationally, Jason knew that this prospect was much less possible, since that had been a one-time occurrence, and his brother had retreated, presumably to the Orange Islands. Jason knew that the Islands had to have been what Daniel was referring to in his note.

*We'll settle this on home turf.*

*Home for him, maybe. Not for me.*

Jason had no intention of going back to the Orange Islands. He knew that Kelly wanted him to go, to resolve his issues with his past. Perhaps even find the capacity to forgive his brother.

But Jason knew better. Knew that if he were to ever come across Daniel again, the consequences would be disastrous.

He'd vowed to himself long ago to never go back.

To this day, he'd kept that vow.

And he would keep it for as long as possible. *Preferably eternity.*

Kelly continued to watch him, her smile growing wider. "We'd best get up if we're going to get to work on time."

"I'm feeling decidedly lazy today," Jason responded, throwing his left arm over his eyes and slumping back.

He heard the rustling of Kelly's sheets and knew that she was getting out of bed. A couple of quiet footsteps echoed in the room, their origins getting nearer to him. Kelly lifted his arm off his eyes by the wrist, smiled down at him, leaned forward, and kissed him softly. When she pulled away, she said, "There's your incentive."

Jason's eyebrows worked up and down. "Hard to argue with that."

He pushed himself out of bed, grabbed the clothes he'd laid out the night before, and got into his wheelchair. It was a routine now, though getting into the chair from a bed, as opposed to getting into it from the ground, was much easier. That was the way he'd had it on the Atlantis League ships, as well as a good portion of his remaining tour through the Johto League afterwards. Now, after dealing with it for almost a full year, he was getting used to it.

Little things like that seemed so much more pronounced to Jason nowadays.

After all, he didn't battle anymore.

***

Jason and Kelly met Professor Oak in the dining room, where Oak was happily munching on pancakes, eggs, and sausage. Jason couldn't help but think, *Thank God the cook is in, or else we'd have nothing but tofu...*

"Ah! Come right in," Oak said, smiling at the arrival of the two former Pokemon trainers. "The cook has some wonderful breakfast for us today!"

"Good to know," said Kelly. "I'd start to wonder if he gave us average breakfast."

"Yes, well, with his paycheck, one should hope that he makes good meals," Oak responded lightly.

"You seem rather chipper today, Professor. Something up?" Jason asked.

"Well, Jason, we're going to be having company tomorrow, around noon," the professor answered. "Company that you might recognize. He'll be at the complex for a day or two."

"Who?" Kelly asked, beating Jason to the punch.

"None other than your good friend, Adam Sands," Oak replied cheerfully. "I imagine you've been waiting for him to visit for a while, haven't you?"

Jason and Kelly were both pleasantly surprised. Jason answered, "Yeah, we have. I just bought his book the other day. Heard it's hit the Kanto and Johto bestseller lists already."

"And it's become one of the most controversial books in recent history," Kelly added. "He writes really well. I like his poetry, but it's so dismal... his book is really well-written."

"I'm aware of that Kelly," Oak responded. "I actually... heh heh, I bought a copy myself just this morning, over at the Pokemon Store."

He held up a hardbound book for them to see, and indeed it was the book in question.

*Sticks and Stones: Our Lives As Disabled Trainers*

*by Adam Sands*

Kelly glanced over at Jason, smiling at Oak's confession. "You recall the Indigo League match with that biased guy... Travis Johnson?"

A look of recognition passed over Jason's face. Not to mention a cloud. "Yeah."

"I wonder what he thought when he first saw that book on the stands."

At this, Jason's face split in a sadistic grin. "I wonder."

Kelly turned back to Oak. "And while I'm wondering, I wonder why Adam didn't try to get here sooner."

Adam had not been heard from since even before his book had gone to publishers. His calls and e-mails had become less frequent, though Jaosn and Kelly had figured that par for the course as far as writing went. Even after Jason had won the Johto League, beaten the Elite Four, and become a Pokemon master, Adam had not kept up his end of the bargain he'd made when they'd last seen each other... to make the time to visit.

"Ah..." Oak's expression became giddy, but also closed, in a peculiar way. "He has a good reason, but I'd prefer that he tell you."

"I suppose it's something to do with those undoubted millions he's raking in from the book, right? New house, new car..." Jason joked.

"As I said, I'd prefer he tell you," Oak repeated, his smile growing. "I think he would, too. I *will* tell you, though, that it's really good news."

"I sure hope so," said Jason. "I look forward to hearing it."

Oak sat back and laced his fingers in his lap. "In the meantime, Jason, there's a job opportunity that's opening up in a little while."

"What is it?" Jason asked, as his plate of pancakes and sausage was set before him. Whenever Oak said something along those lines, he usually meant that there was more than one candidate for the job in question.

"Well, before I tell you, I have to know something, and I hope you don't view it as too direct or rude."

Jason shrugged. "Don't worry about it. Shoot."

"Do you plan to take up Dr. Kendrick on his offer anytime soon?"

Jason's eyebrow rose. "Why do you ask?"

"Because this little assignment could take a while, and it's rather strenuous. In fact, I'd thought that Kelly might do this originally, but then chose to take you into consideration. It's not so hazardous that a wheelchair can't be used, it's just that... it might go faster if there's someone who can use their legs on this job."

Jason paused for a moment. "I suppose the third option would be to stay here and work with you while Kelly, or someone else, goes out on this job."

Oak nodded. "Probably the most financially safe option for you, Jason, but I know you like to take risks once in a while."

Jason blew his breath out his nose. "I've given the matter consideration, Professor. But I still don't know if that's what I want to do."

"Jason, it's been almost two years since he offered."

"I know that." Jason sighed again. "What's the job?"

"I want to send someone to Silver Cave, out near Tohjo Falls, and collect data on the Pokemon he or she finds there. Which kinds, skill level... risky, and that person would have to take a strong Pokemon team with them."

Jason shook his head. "Silver Cave's too rocky for my chair, Sam. And the marshes outlying it aren't all that forgiving, either. You'd be better off sending someone else."

Oak nodded. "That's what I figured. That leaves you with two options... Dr. Kendrick's surgery, or working with me."

Jason winced. "Ouch. I don't know which one would be more painful."

"Jason, I really think you should make a decision on this."

A slight crease developed between Jason's eyebrows, a sign that he wasn't exactly thrilled by Oak's declaration. "And if I should decide that I don't want to do it now? Is that a crime, Sam?"

Oak sighed. "No, Jason, it's not a crime. But I think it's an injustice. You have the chance to walk again, handed to you on a silver platter, and you're not taking it. Why?"

The crease in Jason's brow deepened. "We'll talk about it later. Right now, I want to eat my breakfast and just get on with work."

Oak waved his hand. "Fine, fine. But don't put off the decision too long."

***

Late that evening, Jason and Kelly got off work and returned to their room. As they shuffled their lab coats off, Kelly hesitantly asked, "So... do you want to talk about this morning?"

Jason scoffed. "What's to talk about?"

"You seemed sort of harsh with the professor."

"He was pushing me in a direction I didn't want to go."

Kelly frowned as she sat down on her bed. "What, you don't even want to consider having the surgery?"

"Not right now, I don't."

"Why?"

Jason sighed. "Are you sure you want to hear this?"

"Tell me, Jason."

"Fine." Jason wheeled over to Kelly, pushed out of his wheelchair, and put himself in an upright position next to her. He then folded his hands in his anorexic lap and looked down at them. "Every time I even think about it, I think about Creight. I think about what could have happened if he hadn't come, what would have happened if I hadn't come. And it scares me to death."

Kelly put her arm around his shoulders. He looked up at her, saw the concern for him in her eyes.

He opened his mouth again, but no words came out. He found his voice after a moment, however. "I don't want any chance of something like that happening. Ever. I could have lost you. And I could have lost Professor Oak, and I could have lost so many others here who've helped my life mean something. I know that it's not likely to happen now... in fact, I know it's almost impossible now, because Daniel's not going to come back here. Not when he thinks I've always got a rude surprise waiting for him. But still... this little voice in my head is telling me not to do it. It seems like... if I do it, I'll become Creight."

Kelly shook her head. "That can't happen just because of a surgery to help you, Jason. You'd still be the same caring, lovable, determined man you are. I know you would."

"It still doesn't change the fact that the surgery scares me." He stared into her eyes. "I haven't stood on my own two feet for six years, Kelly. For six years, I've been sitting in that chair, proving to one and all that even in my condition, I can still train Pokemon with the best of them. I gave people something to believe in, just by being in that chair. Now I'm a Pokemon master, and I don't train because I've got nothing left to prove.

"I put my heart and soul into my training because it was all I had. Then I discovered that I could do so much more, and that training wasn't what I wanted to do for my entire life... so I stopped after becoming a Pokemon master. With that part of my life gone, there's only one part of me left... and it's that chair." His eyes became distant. "Could you understand that, Kelly?"

Kelly shook her head. "I don't know."

She inched closer to him, and slowly, they embraced each other in a tight, reassuring hug.

She spoke softly into his ear. "But what I do understand is that no matter what you do with your life, I'll still love you. And I hope you understand that, too."

They pulled slightly out of the hug, just enough to face each other.

Both leaned slowly in at the same time, and they kissed passionately.

They shared that kiss for a long time.

***

Jason, Kelly, and Professor Oak were waiting for Adam in front of the lab complex the next day. Sure enough, close to 12 noon, Jason spotted a pinprick of darkness in the bright, pale sunlight of winter. All three of them wore heavy clothing and coats to combat the cold of the season, but the cold didn't dampen their spirits as they looked up to where Jason pointed.

Indeed, it was their old friend, Adam Sands, who possessed prosthetic substitutes for his missing legs, had survived the Atlantis League alongside Jason, had confessed a crush on Kelly, and had rescued a friend of his own from the tyranny of the league's oppressive rules. He was mounted on his Pidgeot, as he had been when Jason had last seen him, and he was wearing his dark overcoat. And a smile.

His Pidgeot touched down a few moments later, just yards away from where Jason, Kelly, and Professor Oak waited. They approached him enthusiastically; Jason offered his hand, which Adam took immediately and firmly.

"Great to see you again, Adam," Jason said, grinning.

"You, too, Jason," Adam replied, returning the expression.

Adam looked over at Kelly, who was also smiling, and decided to show that he was no longer embarrassed by the incident during the Atlantis League tour; he approached her with arms wide open, and she embraced him in a friendly hug.

"Wow, it feels like such a long time, doesn't it?" she asked.

"It does indeed," he answered.

Then Adam saw Professor Oak, and his grin turned more boyish than it had been before. "Wow. Professor Oak himself. It's an honor to meet you, sir." He offered his hand.

Oak took it eagerly. "The pleasure's all mine, Adam. I've read your book. It's an amazing piece of literature... definitely an eye-opener to everyone, I think."

Adam chuckled, and his grin became still younger. "Thanks. That means a lot to me, Professor, coming from you."

Oak smiled. "Don't worry, Adam, I'm not here to look down on you, and I doubt that's what you came here for, either. You want to spend some time with your friends, right?"

"Yes, indeed," Adam responded. He turned back to Jason and Kelly. "Are there any guest quarters not being used?"

"Yeah, near our room," Kelly answered. She headed for the complex and beckoned Jason and Adam to follow. "Come on!"

Jason glanced up at Adam. "I like the haircut. Looks good on you."

Adam scoffed. "Thanks." He'd taken a liking to having his blond hair buzzed; it kept any hair out of his eyes for a good long time, and he stayed cool during the summer. Shame that it was winter.

To emphasize the point, a cold breeze flared up and whistled about them, flapping the tails of Adam's closed overcoat and biting at their faces. They made for the complex.

"We'd been wondering what was keeping you," Jason remarked, as they made their way through the dorm halls. "I'd sort of been hoping you could have made it here sooner."

"I would have been," Adam said, "but I was... delayed."

At this, he put his left hand in his pocket and kept it there, though the complex was quite warm.

"Any particular reason?" Jason ventured.

"Yeah, but I think I'd prefer to say it at the dinner table," Adam responded. "Somehow, it'd feel more... I dunno, homely. Appropriate."

Jason shrugged. "All right, but this'd better be a good story."

"Trust me."

Kelly was already in the room when Jason and Adam got to it. She smiled a welcoming smile. "Here's your room, sir. Hope you enjoy your stay."

"So do I," Adam responded. "Do I owe you a tip for bringing me here?"

"Just an explanation for why you're so late in getting here," she answered.

"Believe me, I'll tell you. Dinner tonight. It'll be best there."

"I hope so."

Adam pulled his backpack off and set it on the bed, then did the same with his overcoat. Underneath, he wore an indigo dress shirt and dark jeans. Kelly appraised the clothes. "Been living well since you published your book haven't you?"

"Well enough," Adam responded. He grinned. "Someday I hope to be as rich as Jason."

Jason scoffed. "I wouldn't doubt if you already are. That book is making a lot of money, from what I hear."

"So far, it's doing well," Adam said. "I'm glad that I'm getting money from it at all; I was afraid that people wouldn't be interested in it."

"Well," said Kelly, "it's not as if there are any other books on the subject."

"True enough." Adam seated himself on the bed. "So, what's been happening with you guys since we last saw each other? You obviously completed Johto, you defeated the Elite Four and Lance..."

"Yeah. It was a tough road, too," said Jason. "It was made easier by the experience I gained from fighting the Atlantis League, but it was still pretty difficult. After I beat Lance, we came back here and we've been working for Professor Oak ever since."

"Doing what kinds of things?"

"Research. Right now we're trying to find out what moves can transfer to incompatible Pokemon when they're bred."

"Sounds interesting."

"Actually, it's boring, for the most part. I think we'll have to train the Pokemon we're breeding to find out, and even then, it could take some time."

Adam shrugged. "Well, as I understand it, research takes a lot of time, for the most part. So you'll just have to be patient."

Jason nodded. "Yeah." He looked over at Kelly. "Speaking of which, I think we'd best get back to work."

"Good idea."

Adam mock-saluted them. "See you guys at dinner, then."

Jason wheeled out of the room and made his way back up the hall. Kelly left the room as well, pausing to say, "This had better be a *really* good story."

"It will be. Don't worry." Adam smiled conspiratorially. "It will be."

***

Jason and Kelly got off work just in time for the evening meal, and it was Professor Oak who went to tell Adam that it was just about to be served. When the two of them entered the dining room, they saw that Jason and Kelly had already made themselves comfortable there.

"Come on, Adam, let's hear it," said Kelly.

"Oh, no you don't," Oak scolded. "No discussion before we eat."

They feasted on several different kinds of pasta, including spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna, even tortellini. All had meat sauce served over them; all were excellent.

As they waited for dessert, which turned out to be a selection of pies, Jason said, "Okay, Adam, you've stalled enough. What delayed you for so long?"

Adam leaned forward and laid his folded hands on the table. "Well, it has something to do with one of my fingers. Or, more specifically, what's on it."

In unison, Kelly and Jason inspected Adam's interlaced fingers, until they reached the seventh one down, his left ring finger. Around the first joint was a simple gold ring.

And in unison, Kelly and Jason's eyebrows rose and stopped somewhere around the ceiling. Jason was the first to speak. "You're married?!"

"Engaged," Adam corrected. He smiled. "We won't be married for a while. But we've been making arrangements for it. We figured it'd be best if we got everything done way in advance. It won't be big and fancy, but it'll be ours."

"Wow," Kelly breathed. "I didn't even realize you were left-handed until now, and you're announcing you're going to be married?"

A look of amusement passed over Adam's face. "If you didn't know I was left-handed before, what gave it away just now?"

"The way you folded your hands, left thumb on top instead of right. It doesn't exactly feel natural to right-handed people. I didn't know before 'cause I've never actually paid attention when you were throwing a capture ball."

Adam grinned in amazement. "That would have been your most obvious clue, Kelly."

Jason got back to the subject at hand. "What's the date?"

"September 16th."

"Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?"

Adam snorted. "I suppose so. Hadn't thought of it before."

"I suppose the lucky girl is Amanda, right?"

"Sure is. What's weird about it is that I didn't even need to propose. It just sort of... happened." Adam splayed his hands out for emphasis. "I don't know what set it off, but Amanda abruptly came on to me, and... we just decided to get married. Just like that." His smile returned. "But hey, right now, I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Well, we're happy for you," said Kelly. She smiled awkwardly. "I suppose this means you find her more attractive, right?"

"Don't answer that! Trick question!" Jason called out.

Adam's grin spread and he shook his head as he chuckled. "You've already got a boyfriend to think about, Kelly."

"Touché," she responded. She looked over at Jason hopefully.

Jason turned to Adam and muttered, "Damn."

"Well, there's my excuse. Between publishing and planning for marriage, I've sort of had my hands tied," Adam said.

"Is it scary, thinking about getting married?" Kelly asked.

"I'll be honest," Adam responded, "once we decided we were actually going to do it, and I started thinking about it, it was. Scared me to death. But now I'm only somewhat terrified." He smiled. "At least my fiancée is in the same boat... I talked about it with her, and we ended up relieving some of the other's troubles."

"And she let you come here by yourself?" Kelly teased. "Very tolerant woman."

"She has her moments," Adam admitted.

At that moment, their orders of pie came, and they dug in.

***

Jason was sleeping peacefully in his room when his PokeGear began to ring. He awoke, grumbled, then reached over to the bedside table and answered the Gear. "Yeah?"

"Jason, it's me."

"What do you want, Sam? It's late."

"I know. But there's someone here who insists on talking to you."

"Right now?"

"I'm afraid so. And you're going to like it even less when you see who it is. I'm sorry, but he's here to talk to you, so I can't tell him to leave. You'll have to."

"Tell whoever it is that you've got my blasted authority to tell him to leave! I'm tired."

"Doesn't work that way here. I'm not going to break the rules I set down for the sake of convenience, and he knew that when he walked in. It'll take you no more than five minutes."

Jason sighed. "Fine. I'll be right there."

***

Jason rolled down the hallway in his pajamas and lab coat. Even his wheelchair sounded tired... the right wheel kept squeaking every revolution. He made his way to the lobby, presumably where Professor Oak and the unwelcome guest were waiting.

Jason ground his teeth when he saw who it was.

It was none other than Giovanni.

It appeared that Oak and Giovanni were exchanging some rather harsh words with each other. Jason didn't much care what they were saying, however; the man was obviously here to antagonize him, and he was doing it at the perfect time to achieve maximum effect.

Giovanni noticed Jason's entry, and the scowl on his face turned to a rather insincere grin. "Ah, here he is now."

"What do you want?" Jason asked, moving his chair to Oak's side.

"To the point. I like that. I understand you are no longer training your Pokemon, now that you are oficially a Pokemon master."

Jason frowned. "That's right. What's it to you?"

"Considering the business your family was in, I became interested in finding out if you might be willing to part with your Pokemon, since they are no longer needed... for a price, of course."

Jason scoffed. "Forget it. My Pokemon aren't for sale. You ought to have known that; it would have saved you the trip from Viridian."

"Nonsense. I was passing through the area on my way back to Viridian." Giovanni's grin did not fade. "I will confess to some surprise, Mr. Creight. After all, you had quite a considerable lifestyle made for yourself when your family was in Pokemon sales."

"And look what it got them. A destroyed marina and a cutoff from business. Most notably from you," Jason pointed out. It pained him to discuss this, especially with his enemy... all he wanted to do was reach out, grab Giovanni by his neck, and throttle him.

"You, fortunately, have managed to survive your family's downfall. I thought perhaps you and I might be able to reach a business agreement."

"You'll get no business with me. I don't have any with you. And you don't have any here."

Giovanni's smile did fade, this time. He looked at Oak. "If you would excuse us for a moment..."

Oak stood his ground and stared directly into Giovanni's eyes. "This is my property. I'm not going anywhere."

Giovanni snorted. "Very well. But I must speak with Mr. Creight in private."

"Then step outside."

For a befuddled moment, Jason thought that Oak was challenging Giovanni to a battle, though he knew that couldn't possibly be the case. He knew that Oak had been an extremely talented and well-read Pokemon trainer in his younger days... but he didn't battle now, and everyone knew it.

But no. Oak was only telling Giovanni that privacy wouldn't be gained inside the lab. Giovanni glowered, but then glanced down at Jason and asked, "Will you indulge me in a moment of private conversation outside, please?"

Jason sighed. He didn't want to associate with this sadist for a moment longer, but the man hadn't made any threatening moves yet, and he doubted he would as long as Oak was in view. Jason looked up at Oak.

"I'll be at the door if you need me," Oak reassured him.

Jason felt better. He made for the door, and Giovanni paced along behind him.

There was a slight breeze outside, and it was rather cold... cold enough that Jason felt uncomfortable to be in just his pajamas and a lab coat. It made him feel vulnerable; if he could break so easily to the elements, surely Giovanni could do it, too.

Jason's resilience grew at this thought. No way that Giovanni would get him.

They stopped a few meters away from the door. Giovanni looked down at Jason, and his face became more intense than it had been inside. "I'm a businessman, Mr. Creight. I know how to play my cards right."

"Then you should've become an expert at poker, instead."

"I am, at that. And here's a hand you can't beat. Either you give me the Pokemon, or I release everything I have on your criminal activities in the Orange Islands."

"You've got nothing," Jason retorted coldly.

Giovanni chuckled and reached into the inside pocket of his sport coat. He pulled out an envelope and handed it to Jason. "Here's what I've got."

Jason inspected the contents of the envelope.

It had everything... police reports, pictures of Gyarados using its Hyper Beam, an article detailing the police's search for Jason, Jason reported dead, then considered a prime suspect in the case...

Jason looked back up at Giovanni, gaping.

Giovanni's sadistic grin grew wider. "Tell you what. I'll give you a little time to think about it. If you don't give me the Pokemon, I may end up finding a way to get them anyway. And then I'll release the information to the local police."

"Why hold on to it for this long?" Jason asked.

"I didn't know what to believe... that you were dead, or that you were roaming freely in Kanto. I sat back and watched, and sure enough, you were here. So I waited, and I saw that you were becoming a formidable trainer. Even crippled. I knew that if you could still train, even with that dismal chair, that you had to be a strong trainer. Your Pokemon suddenly gained value for me, and I saw my opportunity. I am a patient man."

"Not patient enough. You had to come interrupt my sleep."

Giovanni chuckled. "Only a small part of my revenge. You only have two options. Either one will break you, which was my plan from the beginning. And if I do both, it'll be even worse for you."

"That sounded like a threat."

"I don't threaten. I make promises."

"Broken promises. Get ready for another one."

Giovanni glared at Jason. "You'll regret this."

"Not as much as you will."

Jason turned his chair and began to wheel back to the complex. Giovanni began to follow.

Oak stepped out of the complex and moved to intercept Giovanni before he could do anything more. He stepped between the departing Jason and his pursuer.

"In case you hadn't noticed, he doesn't seem to want to talk to you anymore," Oak remarked.

"He hasn't heard all I have to say," Giovanni replied, trying to step around Oak.

Oak moved back into Giovanni's way each time. "No one cares about what else you have to say. That's what makes you a blowhard."

"Careful, Professor," Giovanni uttered softly, "or Mr. Creight won't be the only one to regret this meeting."

"Too late. You're already regretting it."

Giovanni ignored the comment. "I have more power than you think, Oak."

"And just by making that statement, you're underestimating mine," Oak replied, standing his ground.

"What power could you have?" Giovanni laughed. "You're washed up, old man, you and your dysfunctional lab."

"If my lab and I are washed up, it means we're a lot cleaner than you are."

Giovanni's smile disappeared, but before he could respond to this insult, Oak continued. "In the meantime, Jason's made it quite clear he wants you to leave him alone. Therefore, he's given me authority to tell you to get off my ground."

Giovanni edged closer, until he was almost nose-to-nose with Oak. "And if I don't?"

"Then I'm sure the media would take great pleasure in seeing you in Officer Jenny's jail."

Neither one budged.

A moment later, Giovanni backed down. "Very well. But remember this little conversation, Professor. I *am* more powerful than you think. Certainly more so than when I was like those hopeless excuses for trainers you keep generating."

"You were as despicable then as you are now," Oak replied. "You'll never learn."

Giovanni snorted. "We'll see."

He left the grounds and headed for the Pokemon Center.

***

Jason had not heard any of Oak's ensuing argument with Giovanni. All he wanted to do was get back to sleep.

But Giovanni's words, and his information, had him rattled to the bone. And being cold didn't help.

He climbed into bed, trying to forget what had just happened.

But he couldn't.

Jason Creight worried on.



To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
16th October 2003, 01:47 AM
Jason Creight awoke to the sound of the fire alarm going off.

His eyes popped open instantly, and he was on full alert. Fires were to be taken seriously; the fire alarm wouldn't be going off if the Pokemon could control it, and because of Jason's condition, he had to be even more cautious.

His head whirled over to where Kelly lay. She, too, had awakened to the blaring noise, and she was looking at Jason in an almost fearful manner.

Jason pushed himself up and out of bed, into his wheelchair. There was no time for changing out of his pajamas; he and Kelly needed to get outside on the double. Kelly likewise rose from her bed and grabbed a pair of bathrobes for her and Jason; she knew that they had to go outside, and it was blistering cold this time of night.

But first, they needed to get all the Pokemon out of the building, and quickly. Especially the Grass types.

Jason moved his wheels as fast as he could, nearly falling backwards through his own intertia trying to overcome the momentum. He made his way down the hall and up another one, heading straight for the vault where all the Pokemon were kept.

*If I can get a couple of my bigger Pokemon to help me out...*

Kelly ran behind him; he could hear the pattering of her bare feet against the cold tiles of the floor.

They made it into the vault, and Jason reached his stockpile of filled capture balls. He chose two, and got Golem and Gengar.

*Perfect.* "Golem, Gengar, start getting all the Pokemon out of here! Grass types first!"

But Gengar's smile was fading. It seemed to sense something. "Gengar! Gen-Gengar!"

Jason frowned. "What is it?"

Gengar couldn't answer him verbally, but it could answer him mentally. It projected an image into Jason's mind... an image of the outside of the complex, where no half a dozen helicopters were hovering... men in black uniforms were descending from the copters on ropes, surrounding the complex... men with red R's on their uniforms...

Jason's eyes snapped open. He started grabbing capture balls at random, enlarging and tossing them, until he had about 20 Pokemon in the middle of the vault. "Gengar, is there actually a fire?"

"Gen-gar." Gengar shook its head.

"Jason, what is it?" Kelly asked.

"Team Rocket," he responded. "Lots of them. They're storming the lab. It was a false alarm to get everyone out of the complex. Whatever it is, my money says they want all the Pokemon in here, and we need the Pokemon out of their balls to protect it." He looked at his living armada. "Guard the vault at all costs!"

Collectively, they confirmed his order and began filing out of the vault, forming waves and stacking themselves on each other. Jason and Kelly continued to send Pokemon out of their capture balls, ordering them to protect the vault.

Jason glanced to his left and noticed another tray of Pokemon. It possessed only six capture balls in it, all of a class that Jason had never seen before. The upper half was purple, with a lavender oval on each side of the enlarger button. Directly above the button was a white M.

The tray had no identification on it, but a capture ball belt sat next to it. The belt was white, as opposed to standard black, the color given to modern trainers. And instead of the slots being directly on the belt, there were two strips on it that apparently were meant to hang down from the trainer's hips. Each strip had three capture ball slots. At the bottom of these strips were locking straps that seemed to be meant to encircle the legs, presumably for stability.

Jason looked at it for another moment, wondering whose it might be, but then chose not to swell on it and instead returned his focus to protecting the vault. He tossed another half dozen capture balls, then felt satisfied that the vault was secure, at least for the moment. From Gyarados to Gengar, Golem to Lanturn, Cloyster to Steelix... all of them waited for any opposition to come running down the hallway.

Jason and Kelly waited there for many tense moments. Kelly grabbed her upper arms and shivered. "I'm cold."

Jason also noticed that the air was getting rapidly colder. "Must be from the open doors."

The distant sounds of explosions and battle commands reached their ears. They looked at each other in hopelessness.

And they wondered how bad it was.

***

Adam had stayed up late that night, doing some late reading and writing. He had an idea for another book, but he wasn't sure exactly how he wanted to go about writing it...

That was when the fire alarm had started.

Instantly, Adam had shoved his notebook and pen into his backpack, donned his prosthetic legs and overcoat, thrown his backpack over his shoulders, and rushed out of his borrowed room. He moved as fast as he could up the hallway, turned right, and...

One of the lab assistants was standing on the right side of that hall. His hand was still on the fire alarm, and it was spraying purple ink all over his hand and arm.

Adam frowned. This didn't make sense. There was no fire in sight, and he couldn't smell any smoke. For someone to pull a fire alarm here would be sheer nonsense; there were alarm panels all over the complex.

The assistant, who had not spotted Adam, took his lab coat off and revealed a heavy black sweatsuit.

He reached into the pockets of the coat he'd just removed, and took out a pair of black gloves, a black beret, and a black mask.

Alarms not associated with fire went off in Adam's mind.

*Rocket grunt.*

The grunt began to stalk up the hallway, away from Adam. Adam took the opportunity to quickly pull a capture ball from his belt, and he sent out his Espeon. Espeon's neon energy form flew out of the ball, up the hall, and landed directly in front of the grunt. It solidified, and then it growled menacingly at its quarry.

"And what do you think you're doing?" Adam asked, moving toward the grunt.

The grunt glanced from Adam to Espeon, and back to Adam again. He glowered under his mask. "Aren't you supposed to be asleep?!"

"Haven't you heard? There's a fire. Everyone needs to wake up and get moving," Adam responded. "What are you doing here?"

"Just a little hit-and-run," the grunt responded. "Nothing major."

"I'm sure," Adam responded. He stopped at arm's length of the grunt. "And what's the heist? The vault, I suppose?"

The grunt grinned evilly. "I guess you got me all figured out, don't you?"

Adam smiled insincerely... then his fist shot out suddenly, and with lightning speed, flying directly for the grunt's belly.

The grunt never saw it coming. He keeled over coughing, but Adam grabbed him by his sweatshirt, brought him up, and shoved him against the nearest wall.

"You couldn't possibly be stupid enough to do this alone, could you?" Adam growled, his nose a centimeter away from the grunt's.

"You... bet... I ain't," the grunt wheezed, winded from the punch.

"How many others?"

The grunt didn't respond at first. Adam pressed him harder against the wall. "How many?!"

"Too many for you to handle."

Adam whirled, and he saw at least half a dozen Rockets, apparently come to back up their comrade. Their leader was a taller man wearing an open black overcoat, its tails hanging at his ankles, with a Rocket uniform underneath. However, he did not wear a beret; instead, he wore a ski mask whose eyeholes had been covered by a visor with reflective surfacing. And his uniform top was slightly different, as well; the red R across the front was in a different font, its edges sharper and... more threatening, somehow.

Adam envisioned the man smiling underneath his mask.

"I'll give you five seconds to start running," the leader advised.

"Forget it," Adam retorted. "My Pokemon can take you losers on any day."

"Wrong," said the leader. With that, he pulled out a capture ball of a class Adam didn't recognize. The top was yellow, and a wide black rectangle in the center stretched across to either side. Just above the enlarger button was a yellow H. Its bearer simply held the bottom of the ball, and the top opened on its own.

It revealed a Rhydon.

Adam shook his head. "Easy. Vaporeon, go!"

As soon as Adam called out his water Pokemon, a grunt tossed another Pokemon into the "field". It was an Electabuzz.

Adam shrugged, though he didn't have a Pokemon that had stepped-up defense against Electric-type attacks. He called out Espeon.

Another grunt threw in a Slowbro.

Adam responded with Umbreon.

The leader began ordering attacks, as did the grunts.

Adam was in trouble, and he knew it. He only had six Pokemon, and among the Rockets, they could have as many as thirty-six. Forty-two, counting the grunt he'd just clobbered.

So he gave the only order he could. "Everyone, attack at will!"

***

He woke up to the alarm with a start. He'd barely gotten two hours' sleep; he didn't like being constantly awakened.

He sighed, turned to the psychic Pokemon standing next to the door, and asked, "What's happening out there?"

The Pokemon continued to stare into space, but at the same time, it projected an image for him. He saw it clearly in his mind's eye... and his temper flared.

*He'll never learn.*

He struggled to get his clothes on, not bothering with his lab coat, and said, "I'm going to the vault. Try to keep anyone from passing you."

The Pokemon kept staring.

***

The sounds of battle were becoming more intense. Jason looked at Kelly as he realized who it was that was battling, and the opposition he was against. Kelly realized it the same instant, and they knew they had to do something.

"He's in trouble," Jason said. "He can't fight that many people at once, not even with his skills."

"I know," she responded. "We have to help. My Pokemon are back in our room, but I need you to come with me in case we run into anyone."

He nodded gravely, quickly selecting a team of six. The two of them moved past the Pokemon guarding the vault and headed for their room.

***

Moments after Jason and Kelly had vacated the area, he made his way up the hallway to the vault. He was pleased, though not surprised, to see that many of Jason's Pokemon were standing patient watch in front of the door. All of them recognized him and moved aside just enough to let him in, though their gazes did not shift from the hall.

He quickly took the white belt, strapped it on, and inserted each of the six Master balls into the according slots. He then took other capture balls that had been left alone, enlarged them, tossed them, and told their occupants, "Just in case Jason's Pokemon can't make it, I need you in here to stand watch."

They acknowledged his request and took defensive stances.

He moved out of the vault and down the hall with determination in his stride and fire in his soul.

*Bring it on, Giovanni.*

***

Adam was seriously outnumbered. His Pokemon, while having done an excellent job so far, were beginning to wear out, and they wouldn't last very much longer. The leader had revealed the strongest Pokemon so far, and even with Vaporeon, Rhydon absolutely refused to go down.

Also, the grunts were getting frustrated and they had started throwing in two at a time. Now it was Adam's six to the Rockets' fifteen, and it wasn't getting any better.

And the leader hadn't revealed any of his other Pokemon. He just seemed content to sit back and watch.

Infuriating.

To make matters worse, Adam hadn't been expecting a battle with anyone, much less six people at once, and he had traded Eevee for Pidgeot in order to get to Pallet Town faster.

Suddenly...

Every single Rocket standing in front of Adam, and all of their Pokemon, flew across the lobby as if hit by a massive concussive blast. They smashed out the front doors and landed in a crumpled heap.

Adam was amazed. Only a psychic Pokemon of extreme skill could have accomplished such a feat, and his Espeon, while a powerful Pokemon, was not nearly up to the task.

*Does Jason have any Pokemon that powerful?* Adam didn't want to put it past the paraplegic Pokemon master, but then again, from what Adam had seen, it seemed rather unlikely.

Still, he wasn't about to argue the point. He took off his backpack and took out a package of max revives. "Everyone, come get healed!"

His Pokemon quickly obeyed.

***

Jason and Kelly had made it back to their room, and Kelly had insisted on putting on some clothes. She knew, as Jason did, that it would do her no good to battle if the elements were to bother her. She quickly changed into a pair of jeans and a gray sweatshirt.

Jason, meanwhile, had put on a T-shirt and his leather coat, and was struggling a pair of pants on when Kelly finished dressing. She clipped her capture ball belt into place, then said, "Come on, Jason, let's go!"

Jason didn't feel like getting caught with his pants down--literally-- but he understood the necessity of speed. "Just push me, Kelly, we'll make it!"

Kelly complied, taking his wheelchair's handlebars and pushing him quickly through the hallways. In Jason's opinion, they made better time than they might have if he'd spun the wheels himself...

They heard a massive explosion, followed by a horrendous screeching of metal on metal.

Their hearts stopped as the thought that they might be too late passed through their minds.

Abruptly, two rough hands grabbed the back of Kelly's sweatshirt and threw her across the floor. She emitted a sharp, piercing shriek as she hit the floor hard and skidded.

As Jason twisted around in his chair to find Kelly's attacker, those same hands grabbed his handlebars and shoved him down the hall.

Jason pulled desperately at his brakes, but before he could stop himself, his front wheels turned sharply to the right and he crashed into the wall. His forehead smacked into it, and, dizzied, he slumped back in his chair, his head ringing.

Another Rocket grunt took advantage of his predicament, rushed up, and toppled his wheelchair. Jason grunted in protest as the chair clattered to the ground, and his ribcage bounced uncomfortably against the armrest.

The grunt yanked Jason completely out of his chair and kicked the titanium frame down the hallway. Kelly screamed again.

He grabbed for one of his capture balls and threw it blindly.

Jason's Slowbro emerged and was immediately on the attack. It used its developed psychic powers to immobilize the bold grunt, lift him off the ground, and send him flying into his partner down the hall. Both grunts skidded across the floor, groaning at the counterattack.

"Kelly! You all right?" Jason called out.

She groaned incoherently.

"Kelly?" Jason pushed himself up just enough to see her. She was lying on the floor, and she wasn't moving.

"Kelly!"

She muttered something he couldn't hear.

"Slowbro, help me back into my chair!"

But before Slowbro could comply, another Rocket grunt came running down the hallway. He tossed a capture ball silently, revealing a Hypno. The Hypno attacked Slowbro with a devastating Psybeam, and Slowbro stumbled back. With its inconvenient habit of being an amnesiac, it forgot all about Jason, returned the attack, and a battle was on.

"Damn!" Jason muttered.

Yet a fourth grunt came around a corner at the other end of the hall and approached Kelly. Jason saw him and yelled, "Stay away from her, you low-life!"

The grunt ignored Jason and looked down at Kelly. "My, my, my. A damsel in distress. Why don't I rescue her?"

He picked her up and began pulling her out of the hall by her wrists. She struggled.

He slapped her across the face, then threw her to the floor again.

She screamed again. A scream of agony.

"Damn! Damn it all to hell!" Jason pulled out his remaining capture balls and tossed them all. One by one, Magcargo, Rapidash, Azumarill, Jynx, and Sandslash entered the fray. Jynx threw the grunt back with a psychic blast, and Magcargo and Rapidash created a doubled Fire Spin, trapping the grunt within a tower of flame.

"Jynx!" Jason called despairingly.

Jynx knew immediately what Jason wanted, and it wasn't going to stop him. It lifted him off the floor and flung him in the grunt's direction. It kept him just above the ground as he came to a halt in front of the inferno. He could hear the grunt begging for mercy within.

"Azumarill!"

Azumarill used a Water Gun attack to hose down the fire. The floor was charred and blackened from the Fire Spin.

Jason didn't care.

Jynx let Jason fall on top of the grunt.

Jason grabbed the grunt's neck and began squeezing with all his might.

He wanted to choke the life out of the man who'd dared hurt Kelly.

The grunt grabbed Jason's forearms, trying futilely to break free. He even shoved a knee between Jason's legs, but Jason's paralysis, as well as his rage, allowed him to totally disregard it.

After a few tense moments, the grunt gave up on it, his face turning purple. He finally slugged Jason in the stomach.

Jason's stomach muscles were already flexed and rock-solid, but enough of the hit slipped past his guard to make him relent just a fraction.

Jason shouted, and bashed the grunt's head on the floor.

He had solid force behind him, after all the years he'd spent using his arms to move himself around.

The grunt groaned and slipped away into unconsciousness.

At that moment, the grunt on the other end of the hall saw just how badly his comrade had been beaten, and he took a couple of steps back.

Jason's hate-filled eyes locked on him.

The grunt stepped back even more and recalled his Pokemon.

He began to run.

"*Get him!*" he shouted.

All six of his Pokemon answered the order...

The remaining grunt soon joined his other three comrades on the cold tiles.

Jason breathed heavily, trying to reclaim his grasp on reality from the red haze that had an iron grasp on him.

He saw Kelly still lying there, her chest rising and falling steadily.

Slowbro chose that moment to remember Jason's last instruction to it-- help him back into his chair--and sent the chair to Jason, righting it along the way. It then lifted Jason gently into it, knowing that he was enraged and that simply dropping him into it would not be the best option.

Jason sighed, rested his right elbow on his armrest, and ran his fingers through his short brown hair, still trying to regain his self- control. Shakily, he breathed in and out and looked up and down the hall.

There were very distant sounds of action, but none here.

He moved to Kelly's side. Her eyes were closed, but there was no peace on her face; she was in severe pain.

"Kelly," he uttered softly.

She gasped loudly. "Jason... my ankle..."

"Which one?"

"L-left..."

"Jynx."

Jynx moved to Jason's side.

"Is Kelly's ankle broken?"

It paused a moment, then said, "Jynx," and shook its head.

He breathed a sigh of relief. "Sprained, then. Can you take her to the hospital? She'll still need to be treated. And get Officer Jenny while you're at it." He glanced down at the four grunts littering the hall. "I imagine she'll want to talk to these gentlemen."

At that moment, Jason heard Gyarados roar. A second later, he heard the shriek of an energy blast. Moments after that, the sound of rushing water reached his ears, as well as the shouts of several surprised--and undoubtedly bedraggled--Rocket grunts.

Jason almost grinned. *Yeah. They're doing fine on their own.*

***

Adam and his Pokemon rushed through the shattered entrance to find out what had happened to the Rockets and their leader.

They were trying to find the source, as well. They looked all about themselves in confusion. But to their dismay, they could find nothing and no one out of the ordinary... besides Adam and his Pokemon.

The leader growled and advanced on Adam.

Suddenly, three other lab assistants exited the building. None of them were Jason or Kelly, but all of them bore full capture belts of Pokemon, and all three of them had determination in their faces.

Adam knew that Jason and Kelly weren't the only former trainers to work for Oak. Other assistants here had been, as well. *These must be some of them. Glad they're here.*

And they looked to be out for blood.

They tossed their capture balls...

And a massive battle was on.

The terrain swarmed with Pokemon attacking each other, then moving on to the next enemy. Adam's own Pokemon were no exception, diving right into the combat and letting loose a furious assault on their attackers. The air was alive with energy and flying extremities.

Adam finally took to fighting two of the grunts, while the other three trainer/assistants chose their targets.

The leader still refused to reveal his second Pokemon, and his Rhydon, as stubborn as its master, still wasn't hitting the ground.

Adam knew the man had to be smiling behind that mask. Nor was it hard to find out why. His single Pokemon wasn't down yet, while Adam's Pokemon, as well as most of the Pokemon belonging to the other trainers, had been revealed, giving him a perfect advantage against them.

Even in the titanic power struggle, Adam somehow managed to hear his PokeGear ringing. He hit the "CALL" button. "What?!"

It was Jason. "Adam, where are you?"

"Outside the lobby! Get out here!"

The line went dead, and Adam knew that his reinforcements weren't exhausted yet.

That gave him hope... and determination.

***

Jason wheeled out to the lobby, surveying the damage to the glass doors.

"Jeez..." he muttered. "Looks like a war zone."

And from the spikes of light illuminating the front desk, it looked like the war was still raging.

Jason mentally rubbed his hands together in anticipation, while in reality he wheeled himself out the entrance.

There, Adam and three lab assistants that had once been Pokemon trainers were battling half a dozen Rocket invaders. One of them was clothed differently, different enough that Jason suspected he was their leader.

He immediately released his Pokemon. He had sent Jynx off to take care of Kelly and replaced it with Quagsire.

His Pokemon, eager to join the battle, rushed into the wild fight.

Jason didn't even try to direct their attacks. They were smart enough that they knew which attacks would work best on which Pokemon.

He smelled smoke, and glanced to his left. Nearby, the wreckage of a helicopter smoldered.

*That must've been the noise Kelly and I heard,* Jason thought. *Could it have been brought down? Maybe by a Pokemon one of the others has?*

He didn't care, either way... it was one less getaway vehicle. Which meant more people Officer Jenny could arrest... if she ever got here.

*Then again,* he thought, as he turned back to the frenzied battle, *she's probably never seen anything like this. Doubtful if she could actually be of much help with only a Growlithe.*

Gradually, the energy beams, special attacks, and even the claws, fists, and feet began to slow down, as all of the involved Pokemon started wearing out. Even the leader's Rhydon was seeming to feel it, although it was still attacking the defenders' Pokemon with all it had.

But the leader stood calmly beside his desperate men, his gloved hands in the pockets of his flapping overcoat.

One of the grunts turned to the leader. "Boss, we may not be outnumbered, but we're outgunned! They're wearin' us down! We gotta get out of here before the cops come when we're down!"

The leader snorted and ignored his minion for a moment. Then he nodded. "Very well. Recall your Pokemon and take your leave. I will deal with these pests myself."

The grunts all gratefully returned their Pokemon and raced away.

The leader stepped forward, calm and collected. He addressed all of the trainers. "You've interfered with the wrong man. And it will be your final mistake."

He began to give Rhydon its orders...

"*STOP!*"

Everyone, even the leader, whirled and faced the complex entrance, where a lone figure stood. Shadows hid his features, and his dark maroon shirt and black pants blended with the night.

But his white belt stood out.

He waved the trainers and their tired Pokemon aside.

Amazed, the trainers and Pokemon obeyed the wave and stepped well away from the leader and his Rhydon.

"You speak of final mistakes. Yours was coming here in the first place."

The leader stepped forth. "You dare threaten me?"

"I don't threaten." The dark figure's smile was evident in his speech. "I promise."

"And you believe you have a chance against me?"

"You won't move an inch closer until you move me out of the way. And you won't move me out of the way until you defeat me in battle. And you'll never do that, because you can't. You don't have the heart of a trainer... you have the heart of a conqueror. Your day is done."

"Rhydon, Horn Drill attack!" the leader roared.

Rhydon charged forward, ready to gore the challenger on its drill-bit of a horn.

The challenger calmly removed a purple capture ball from his belt, enlarged it, and tossed it lazily.

The neon flash from the ball brightened the challenger's features for a moment, and the trainers saw the challenger's face.

They weren't sure what to deny more readily... who the challenger was, or what the Pokemon was.

The ball revealed a Pokemon that had once been thought extinct.

"Aerodactyl, Seismic Toss!" Professor Oak shouted.

Rhydon was six five four three meters from Oak, its heavy body unstoppable. It was sure to ram straight through the professor without slowing...

Aerodactyl, the fearsome Rock-type flying Pokemon, swept down on its huge wings and clamped onto Rhydon's shoulders...

And lifted it into the air as if it were a feather.

Rhydon's legs were still moving when it was ten meters in the air, not fully comprehending what was happening.

Aerodactyl broke the ice by putting Rhydon into a dizzying spin in midair until Rhydon literally didn't know which ways up and down were.

To finish the move, Aerodactyl held Rhydon firmly in its grip as it flew headlong for the ground.

When Rhydon hit, it penetrated the concrete and the hard dirt below it by more than two meters.

The move knocked Rhydon out.

The leader snorted as he returned his Pokemon. "Rhydon was worn down, anyway. You won't be so lucky this time." He tossed another of his strange capture balls. "Nidoqueen, go!"

Oak shook his head. "Aerodactyl, return! Go, Arcanine!"

"Nidoqueen, Body Slam!"

"Arcanine, Fire Blast!"

Arcanine's attack struck far before Nidoqueen's ever did. The "stick figure" symbol was much brighter and more powerful than even Jason or Adam had seen from their own Pokemon, and they were entranced by this one.

It flew and struck Nidoqueen dead center.

Nidoqueen went down.

The leader growled. "Nidoqueen, return! Go, Kingler!"

"Arcanine, return! Dragonite!"

Jason and Adam's jaws dropped about a meter below the ground at this revelation; Oak actually had a Dragonite of his own?

Even the leader seemed shaken by this. "Kingler, Crabhammer!"

"Dragonite, Thunder attack!"

Again, Oak's Pokemon was faster than the leader's could ever have hoped to be... the tower of lightning sizzled down onto Kingler's tough shell before it could even prepare for its attack.

"Kingler, return!" The leader stood for a moment, his hands shaking in rage and frustration. His enemy had him exactly where he had never wanted to be... on the run.

Oak smiled slightly. "I told you. You can't defeat me. Best you start running before I start chasing you."

The leader howled at the night sky in anger.

Oak suddenly moved forward with a quickness that none of the trainers had ever seen in him. He stepped straight up to the leader and ripped off his ski mask, and with it his visor.

The trainers couldn't see the leader's face.

But Oak could.

"You listen to me very... very carefully," Oak whispered. "If you ever... *ever* even *think* about pulling this sort of thing again... here or anywhere else... you won't survive the thought. As it is, you won't survive the media coverage when you go to prison. Believe me when I say I'll be enjoying every minute of it."

"Don't count your eggs before they hatch," Giovanni responded. He grinned. "Persian, come on out!"

Another neon bolt revealed Giovanni's favorite Pokemon, and it hissed at Oak.

Oak didn't back down, though he knew that Giovanni would be long gone before the police ever arrived. "I know you've threatened Jason with whatever you think you know. You'll keep that to yourself, or I'll personally make sure you don't have a reason to keep it. Nor any other earthly possession of yours."

"Cheap words," Giovanni responded. "We'll meet again, Professor. Persian, Teleport!"

Giovanni and his Persian disappeared in a flash of light.

Oak glanced down at his feet, where he'd dropped the mask. *If he left it behind, we can get DNA off it that'll be his...*

The mask was nowhere in sight, to say nothing of where Oak had dropped it. He sighed. *He must've slipped his foot into it and taken it with him.*

His shoulders slumped, and he turned around and trudged back toward the complex.

The trainers rushed up to him in awe. Adam was the first to get words out. "Professor... that was amazing!"

"Absolutely amazing," Jason breathed in agreement.

Oak stared sadly at the entrance to the lab complex. "Yes, but look what it cost us."

The entrance was completely demolished. Glass shards were strewn everywhere, and the metal frames for the doors were bent and ripped apart.

"We'll have to rebuild," one of the trainer assistants agreed. He smiled. "But that should be no problem with the collective riches of your assistants."

"Gen-gar."

A Gengar floated down from the sky and came to rest in midair directly in front of Oak. "Gar."

Oak smiled faintly. "I wondered where you went. Thank you for getting those thugs out of my lab, Gengar." He pulled out another Master ball from his belt. "Return."

"Why didn't you tell us you had such Pokemon with you, Professor?" another trainer asked.

Oak glanced at him. "Because I'm not a Pokemon trainer anymore. These are among the Pokemon that wished to stay with me, and I allowed them to stay. You've seen some of my Pokemon day after day... you just never knew they were mine." He looked at the group of awe-struck trainers. "They were my best team. They are now my only team. I trust you with them... and I implore you, never tell anyone else that they belong to me."

The trainers all nodded solemn affirmation. They would keep the secret.

Oak and the trainers re-entered the complex and awaited the police, who were just down the road now.

Jason and Adam exchanged looks of wonderment.

Oak had, almost single-handedly, reversed a hopeless situation by doing something he'd sworn he would never do again.

All for their protection. And the protection of the Pokemon.

*What a story we'll have to tell Kelly,* Jason thought.

But for now...

Jason Creight waited on.



To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
16th October 2003, 07:54 PM
Jason Creight awoke with a start in the lobby of the Pallet Town hospital.

He'd been here before. He remembered it well; how could he forget the day he'd awakened, to discover he couldn't use his legs?

But he was here for a different reason this morning. He was here to wait for visiting hours to begin so that he could spend time with Kelly. His Jynx had brought her here just the night before to be treated for what turned out to be relatively minor injuries... the doctors had still suggested she stay there for the night, and no one argued.

Jason had chosen to stay in the lobby, more for reassurance than anything else. Of course, Officer Jenny had wanted a report from him on what had happened at the lab, which he'd only been too happy to give. But he'd left directly after the questioning.

And, evidently, he'd fallen asleep in his chair.

He scratched at the corner of his mouth; fortunately, he hadn't drooled in his sleep, something he considered himself lucky for. There were only a couple other people in the lobby; other than the incident at the lab, last night had been quiet where injury was concerned.

The others had apparently taken no notice of Jason, somehting else he was thankful for. It meant either he hadn't snored, or they didn't care.

He hoped it was the former.

The sun shone brightly through the windows of the lobby. Perhaps too brightly. There was a small covering of frost on the ground, and the sunlight was bouncing harshly off it.

Jason's thoughts drifted to the night before. When he and Kelly had been trapped in a corridor with four Rocket grunts. The grunts coming two at a time.

One had tried to take her away.

And in response, Jason had come close to letting the full measure of his fury loose on the man.

How he'd gotten caught in that red haze of anger.

*I might have reached her sooner... helped her...

...if only my damned legs weren't so useless...*

He stared down at his anorexic legs. *I can't let something like that happen again. Even if Oak can protect us... he couldn't protect all of us... and I couldn't protect her fast enough...*

And his mind drifted further back in time, to two years ago...

*"I've devised a treatment which I believe can cure you of your paralysis."*

Dr. Kendrick's offer rang in Jason's mind. It repeated itself again and again, each time getting louder.

*"From entering the hospital in your chair to leaving it on your feet, it could take anywhere from two to four months. It all depends on how quickly you recover from surgery and how quickly you learn to walk."*

*"...you don't know how badly I want this, Tommy..."*

*"I want this, Tommy. As much as anything I've ever wanted in my life, I want this. And I want it now."*

The words echoed painfully in Jason's mind.

He let them take him over for a moment, sitting completely still in his wheelchair. To anyone else, it would have looked as if he were a dead body.

The memories drowned him, flooding his mind and leaving his body a motionless shell.

***

"Jason?" Adam snapped his fingers in his friend's face. "Jason?"

Jason suddenly seemed to come to awareness; he jumped in surprise at the snapping fingers. "Huh? What?"

Adam smiled in relief. "Thought we'd lost you, there. Come on, visiting hours started a while ago. I thought you'd be visiting Kelly before me."

Jason nodded, but he continued to stare out that same window. Adam leaned back down. "What is it?"

Jason shook his head in a quick, jerking motion. "Just some bad memories."

"All the more reason to see Kelly and get them out of your head."

Adam walked through the lobby and up one of the halls. Jason followed him a moment later. Adam apparently already knew where Kelly's room was, because he entered a room on the left. Jason did likewise.

Kelly was lying on the nearest bed. For some reason, Jason had half- expected to see an IV or some such device attached to her, but there was nothing there besides her. She still had her clothes on, as well; apparently this hospital had become more accomodating than they had been while Jason was here. Or so Jason thought.

Kelly's left ankle was wrapped in an ace bandage, and she had a couple of band-aids where she'd received scrapes from the altercation, but otherwise, she seemed to be doing fine. She was awake and reading a magazine Adam had been kind enough to bring from the lobby; Jason assumed Adam had sneaked it in.

She looked up, saw Jason, and smiled. "Hey."

"Hey," he responded. "How're you feeling?"

She sighed. "Better than last night, I'll tell you that. Give my ankle a little while and it should be fine." She reached out for his hand, which he immediately gave. Their fingers intertwined, and already Jason began to feel better. "They'll let me out of here around noon. I wish I could go now..." She smiled. "Maybe in your wheelchair."

Jason scoffed. "I need it too, you know."

"Who said you wouldn't be in it already?"

Jason grinned. "Wow. I look forward to that."

"Just make sure I'm not in the room," Adam said, reminding them that he was still there.

"So what happened last night?" Kelly asked. She looked at Adam. "I've been trying to get answers from him, but he thinks that both of you should be here to tell about it."

Jason's eyes went wide and he shook his head, still amazed by what he had seen. "Professor Oak still has a few secrets, apparently. The Rockets apparently had a leader with them... maybe it was Giovanni, maybe not, I wouldn't doubt it... but we were fighting the Rockets off, me and Adam and three others... it was the five of us against six of them, including the leader..."

"Then the Rockets ran off," Adam continued, "but the leader stayed behind and challenged all five of us to battle. Most of our Pokemon were tiring out... I don't know if we would have won or lost, but he had a Rhydon that was insanely strong..."

"Then Professor Oak came out..."

"And he challenged the leader to a battle."

Kelly's eyes grew wide. "He did? But he doesn't have any Pokemon."

"It turns out that he does," Jason said. "And good ones, at that. An Arcanine, a Dragonite, a Gengar, an Aerodactyl..."

"I thought Aerodactyl was extinct," she interrupted.

"So did I," said Adam. "But he's got one. So I guess it isn't, quite yet."

She shook her head. "Are you sure you saw Professor Oak battling? Could it have been someone else?"

"You know anyone else at the lab that wears black pants and maroon shirts? Or perhaps a white capture ball belt?"

She frowned. "White? That's not standard."

"It must have been once. Otherwise, he might have had it customized. It was a lot different from modern belts, at any rate."

She scoffed in amusement. "I wish someone'd had a video camera. I would have loved to see it."

"No doubt there," Jason responded.

Silence reigned in the room for a moment, as no one was quite sure what to say next. Finally, Jason struck on something, and he turned to Adam. "Could you give us a little time?"

Adam nodded agreaably. "Sure. Take your time." He left the room, and the slight ratching sound of his artificial right knee grew steadily more distant.

Jason turned back to Kelly. "I know that the professor really wants me to make a decision on the surgery. And I've made it."

Kelly's expression became serious and open. She was ready for whatever Jason had to say on the matter.

Jason took a deep breath. "Last night, when that guy grabbed you... I wanted to kill him with my bare hands. I came close. And if I hadn't been stuck in my wheelchair, if my legs had been working... it wouldn't have been that way. He wouldn't have hurt you... I wouldn't have come so close to crossing the line.

"And so, I've decided to have the surgery. After I leave here, I'll call Dr. Kendrick in Saffron and set the date."

Kelly paused, then nodded. "Okay. I'm glad you've made the decision. Just as long as you're sure it's what you want... the road's going to be long and hard, I imagine."

"Then when I stumble, it'll be on my own two feet... not four wheels."

Kelly squeezed his hand reassuringly. "When the day comes... do you want me to go with you?"

Jason thought about this. "I don't know. I'll let you know when I find out."

She nodded. "All right." She smiled slightly. "You'd better go make that appointment, then."

"Okay." He returned her small smile. "See you when you get out of here."

He turned and wheeled out of the room. He made his way down the hall and into the lobby. He positioned himself next to where Adam was sitting. Adam was reading a newspaper; when Jason leaned to the side to see what article had caught Adam's attention, he chuckled... Adam was reading the comics.

Jason moved his wheelchair to another area of the lobby, one that was unoccupied. He felt he'd do well to not disturb anyone else with this call; it was going to be difficult enough to make as it was.

The number was still stored in his PokeGear. He'd been careful about it two years ago.

He took a few deep breaths.

*I can do this.*

He dialed the number.

The phone rang once. Twice.

The receptionist picked up on the second ring. "Saffron City General Hospital, may I help you?"

*Deja vu.* "I'm looking for a Dr. Kendrick. Does he work there?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is he available?"

"Yes, sir. One moment."

As with two years ago, that one moment stretched into several. However, Jason's patience was rewarded with a tired-sounding, "Dr. Kendrick."

"Doctor, this is Jason Creight."

"Oh! Yes! Mr. Creight!" Kendrick's voice rose and intensified. "You've caught me by surprise. I was beginning to think you decided against having the operation."

"I'm still feeling somewhat iffy, Doctor, but recent events have convinced me to go for it. Can I do it anytime soon?"

"Absolutely, I can do it in... Becky? Spinal clone in three days... is that doable? Yes? Okay, yes, I can do it in three days, seven in the morning, Mr. Creight, if that's a good time for you."

"I can do it."

"Great. We've already started performing the procedure on Pokemon test subjects, and the results look very good. The odds are less favorable than with our artifical nerve tests, but we have a 70% success rate thus far. We've even had a human volunteer... he's still in recovery, however."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it's going well for you, Doctor."

"Ah. Yes. Well, I look forward to meeting you, Mr. Creight."

"You too, Doctor."

They hung up.

And Jason slumped back in his chair.

***

The evening before Jason's surgery, Jason was in his room, packing clothing, books, and assorted items into his backpack, determined not to be bored during his tenure in Saffron. Kelly, who sat on her bed, watched him pack. "Have you decided whether you want me along?"

Jason sighed. "I think it's probably best if I go alone. Otherwise I'll stay scared to death that I become like Creight. If I can manage this without incident, I won't have anything to be afraid of." He looked up at her and smiled. "Don't worry. I'll be all right."

Adam had headed back to his home in Celadon City the day before, but not before doing all he could to help Oak in his plight to repair the demolished front entrance to the lab. He'd donated money, even assisted the repair crew where he could.

Jason hoped Kelly would be all right.

But with Oak and his considerable Pokemon team, how could she not be?

*Then again... Oak did swear never to battle again. It must've been hard for him to break that oath, even for us. If something happens...*

Jason shook his head firmly. *Nothing will happen. Oak and Kelly and the lab will be just fine without me.*

He had been contacted by the Saffron hospital the day before; it was Dr. Kendrick, issuing strict instructions for Jason to follow, including the rule that said he wasn't allowed to eat anything past 5 P.M. today. It made sense; he needed to have all food flushed out of his system so it wouldn't interfere with any of the undoubtedly numerous drugs they'd be pumping him with.

*Boy, I'm being really optimistic about this, aren't I?* he thought ruefully. *I really shouldn't beat up on myself so much. I've known other people to have surgery... they always came out fine. Why shouldn't I, then?*

*I'll be fine.*

***

Jason got to the hospital from his motel room in Saffron at 6:00 in the morning, a full hour before he actually needed to be there. He was nervous. He knew why; he'd never had a surgery in his life. He didn't want to count the time he'd literally died in Kelly's arms, to be resuscitated on the ER table, because that wasn't really surgery. It was medical attention, but it wasn't surgery.

This was.

*But I'm coming in under pre-arranged conditions. They know what to expect here, whereas they didn't last time. And I'm alive this time around.*

Jason permitted himself a small, grim smile at this.

A moment later, a doctor approached him. He had short black hair, a long nose, and a kind expression on his face. "Jason?"

"Yes."

The doctor extended his hand. "I'm Dr. Kendrick. It's good to finally meet you in person. There's a lot of exciting things to hear about the world's first disabled Pokemon master."

"They're all true."

Kendrick chuckled. "Well, you're here early. That proves you're as dedicated as I've heard."

"Well, good. I'd hate to disappoint you."

"Glad to hear it." Kendrick smiled. "You look nervous."

Jason sighed. "Let's get going before I change my mind."

"If you say so. We'll need to prep you first. Actually, I'm glad you came this early, because it gives us more time to prepare you for it. Less stress when we can take longer."

Kendrick gestured toward one of the prep rooms, and Jason nervously wheeled himself in.

***

A figure clad in black, not unlike the Rocket leader that had plagued this place only days before, stepped through the entrance of the lab without hesitation or fear. He knew his objective and was completely sure in his movements.

He pulled a capture ball from his pocket and silently tossed it. The ball revealed an Alakazam, and it stood just as surely, just as silently as its dark master.

They stalked down the corridors of the lab, confident and single- mindedly focused on their objective.

The Alakazam abruptly stopped in front of a door. It used its immense power to unlock the door and open it.

The dark figure entered and saw his quarry lying facedown on his bed, snoring softly.

Alakazam turned to its master.

The master nodded once.

Alakazam approached the sleeping man and touched its right spoon to the man's back.

The man awoke. "Huh--?"

Alakazam and the man disappeared in a flash of light.

The figure shook his head. "Unprepared."

He then brought his right wrist up and activated the PokeGear wrapped around it. He hit the "CALL" button.

"Yes?"

"You've got him now. I've completed my end of the deal."

"For once."

"I want your best ones. And I want different types... I was taken down last time because I only had one type."

"Very well. I will send all of them to the teleporter there in five minutes... be sure the coast is clear there, or my Pokemon will go to amateurs."

The figure snorted. "Thanks for your vote of confidence."

"Five minutes." The line went dead.

The figure exited the room, locking and closing the door behind him. *That should keep them off-balance for a while.*

He stalked down the hall, and found the teleporter room. It was deserted, but the teleporter was active. He closed and locked the door behind him, and patiently waited for the capture balls that would eventually come.

Exactly five minutes from the time he had made the call, the balls appeared in two rows of three before him. He grinned under his ski mask and placed all of them in his belt. The ball that had been in his pocket had disappeared, teleported automatically back to a safe place.

He tossed each ball, eager to see what he had on his side. He became more excited with each revelation. When he was satisfied, he exited the teleporter room, making sure no one saw him, and made his way down another hallway in the dorm wing.

He found what he was looking for moments later. He brought out one of his new Pokemon, which obediently unlocked and opened the door.

He stepped through the open portal.

She was sleeping on the left side of the room. An open book lay on the floor underneath her arm, which was hanging limply over the edge of her bed.

He moved to her side slowly, savoring the moment.

He leaned over her form.

And that was when her eyes snapped open.

She began to scream.

He clamped his gloved left hand firmly over her mouth, and yanked her roughly out of bed by her arm. He pulled her uncomfortably tightly to his body.

"You have no idea how long I've waited for this," he whispered in her ear.

The Pokemon he had brought out entered the room, closed and locked the door behind it.

"Now the fun begins."

***

Nearly sixteen hours after the surgery had been performed, Jason woke up in the recovery room of Saffron City General Hospital. A nurse standing by his side looked down at him and smiled. "Hey, there. Just coming out of the deep, here... you've come close to waking up a few times already, but you kept going back. Glad to see you finally made it back to reality."

Jason licked his dry lips, which didn't really help, because his mouth was quite dry, as well. He found the words he was looing for after a moment's search. "Reality sucks."

She chuckled. "That you can speak is also a good sign."

"Need water."

"In a little while. You need some time to recover from the anesthetics. I imagine you're feeling really woozy right now."

Jason grunted hoarsely. "Got that right. Also thirsty."

"You'll get your water, don't worry. Just need you to wake up a little more... the anesthetic is still running its course on you. Meanwhile, I'm going to call the doctor, let him know how you're doing."

Jason grunted again. "Go ahead. I'm not going anywhere."

The nurse was right about one thing... he felt *very* tired. *Then again, it's not that big a surprise... no doubt I lost a good amount of blood during the procedure. That, and the anesthetic... man, it's a wonder I'm even awake at all...*

Jason's head rolled to one side, and his groggy eyes fell on a clock mounted on the far wall. He couldn't focus his eyes, however, and that made it extremely frustrating for him. What was more, he'd had to hand over his possessions, including clothes, backpack, and PokeGear.

*Not that I'd be able to raise my arm that high, anyway.* And he wasn't about to try. He knew he needed more rest.

Dr. Kendrick came around the corner and approached Jason's bed. He grinned. "How's it going, Jason?"

"I feel like a log," Jason responded.

"You certainly have been sleeping like one," Kendrick joked. His tone became more serious. "The anesthetic still needs to get out of your system, but after that, we'll move you to a room of your own and check your mobility."

"Did it work?"

"We won't know for a while," Kendrick responded. "Even you won't know for a while. You've had phantom limb syndrome. It may return... if it does, don't try to move."

Jason bobbed his head once, and he yawned.

Kendrick grinned. "Get some more sleep, my friend. You'll need it."

"Right."

And, as if he had hit a switch, Jason instantly let himself fall back into the dark pits of the dream world.

***

Twenty hours later, Jason was playing Nintendo 64. He had been moved from the recovery room to his own, where he'd been given as many accomodations as could be allowed by the hospital staff. He was seated upright in his bed, and he was trying to make his way through a Tetris game. One might think this was a very mediocre game to play, but Jason had started out with anesthetics in his system; he hadn't made it through the first level.

However, he had been getting better with each game, which let him know that the anesthetics were almost all flushed out. Meanwhile, his thumbs were getting somewhat sore.

During the course of the day, nurses and doctors had come in to check on Jason's condition, and had hooked up a hyper-sensitive sensor array to Jason's legs. He found it rather convenient that his phantom limb syndrome seemed to spike when they touched his upper legs. However, he hadn't sensed anything below his knees...

*But Kendrick said not to make anything of it, either way. So I won't.*

The hours seemed to pass by slowly. It had been dark when Jason was moved into the room; now it was late afternoon, and he was getting very bored of playing Tetris. The hospital food wasn't much help... all hospital food was necessarily bland.

Jason sighed and reached for his backpack, which contained the book he wanted to read.

Then a commotion rang out in the hallway. There was the *clomp clomp clomp* of feet hitting the floor at a running pace...

"Sir, you can't run in here! Sir!"

And Jason thought heard ratching action.

A moment later, his suspicions were confirmed. Adam burst through the doorway, breathless, sweating, with a desperate, wild look on his face.

Before Jason could even try to think of what to say to his friend, Adam reached into the inside pocket of his overcoat and threw Jason an envelope containing a single sheet of paper. The envelope landed in Jason's lap, and he stared at it, confused.

"Read it!" Adam gasped.

An orderly approached Adam. "Sir, we can't have you running in here. I must ask you to wait in the lobby."

Adam nodded at the orderly, then pointed at Jason and looked directly into his eyes. "Read it now!"

"Sir, either you leave this area right now or I'll take you off the premises!"

Adam grunted and stormed out the door.

Jason frowned at Adam's raucous entrance and exit. *What's up with him?* He glanced down at the letter.

He knew better than to ignore Adam when he was like that. He opened the envelope and empited its contents. He unfolded the sheet of paper.

*Hey, bro, I miss you. You ought to try the Orange Islands for a vacation; they're great this time of year, what with the winter weather up there. I've met a girl that I think you'd love. I think she might like to meet you, too. If you'd like to see her, come to Tangelo Island quick; she's only going to be here for a week.

Daniel*

Jason's eyes widened and he gaped at the letter.

The orderly re-entered Jason's room and walked up. "Sir, was that someone you know?"

Jason looked up at the orderly. He snapped out of his reverie. "Uh.. yeah. Yeah, I know him."

"Well, when you're released from the facility, would you be so kind to let him know that he can't do something like that?"

"I think you already did, sir," Jason replied. "Is Dr. Kendrick available? I need to see him immediately."

"I'll check."

"Thanks." Jason turned back to the letter. To anyone else, it would look like an innocent note from a friend of his.

But to a select few... it was something much, much different.

Jason found himself very lucky to have found a friend in Adam.

Then the horror of it hit him.

*It's happening. Creight tried to stop it, but it's happening anyway...*

The only hope Jason found in all this was that Daniel had enough mercy for Kelly to let her live for one week.

But Daniel was temperamental. *Emphasis on mental. He might not let her last that long. And he's sadistic, too. He might torture her, or worse...*

Dr. Kendrick marched into Jason's room, a look of strained patience on his face. "You wanted to talk to me?"

"I need to know when's the soonest possible time I can be released from here."

Kendrick frowned. "I told you, it all depends on the physical therapy--"

"Can I delay the therapy?" Jason interrupted.

"Yes, but it's not advisable," said Kendrick.

"If I were to decide against therapy for the time being, how soon could I be out of here?"

Kendrick considered. "We could release you late tomorrow morning, but--"

"Can you arrange it?" Jason asked.

Kendrick sighed. "Yes, I can. But as I said, it's not advisable."

"I heard you the first time," Jason said. "Would you please see what you can do? And posthaste?"

Kendrick's frown deepened. "What's the rush?"

"Something extremely urgent has come to my attention, and I need to resolve it personally."

"Are you sure it can't wait?"

"Positive. Now can you take care of it, or not?"

"You've become quite a hassle in the past two minutes."

"And I apologize for that, but I need this taken care of right now."

Kendrick sighed again. "Okay. Yeah, I can take care of it. In the meantime, get some rest. You're not at a hundred percent yet." He moved to the doorway, then turned around. "We just got your sensor results a couple of minutes ago. I'd assumed you'd heard about it somehow."

Jason shook his head. "No. Did they reveal anything?"

"I was about to find out when you had an orderly page me." Kendrick smiled ironically and left the room.

Jason groaned and slumped back in his bed.

He stared at the letter in anger.

*I'll find you, Daniel. And I'll get her back if it's the last thing I do.*

Jason saw the flaw in this vow.

With such a secure position, Daniel surely had to have better resources than he had before.

In which case, it might very well be the last thing Jason ever did.

Jason Creight obsessed on.



To Be Continued

SSMGoku
17th October 2003, 04:09 PM
Sniff,Sniff. This is one of the best stories that i have ever read in my life!!!!!!

Dragon_Knight
19th October 2003, 04:21 AM
SSMGoku:
um, Matt will be glad to know that...
I've clarified in the PM that matt wrote it, not me ^^;

-------------------


Jason Creight awoke in his bed in Saffron City General Hospital.

And he wondered how he could have fallen asleep.

The sun glared through the window, and the clock informed Jason that it was nearing the time when he could be released from the hospital.

A nurse checking his condition turned to him and smiled. "Hey, there. I know you're eager to get out of here... just be patient. We'll get you out as soon as we can."

"I hope so," said Jason.

*It's Kelly's only chance now.*

Jason, not for the first time, wondered what Adam was doing, and how he had gotten ahold of that letter. *It might have shown up at the lab... but if that were true, wouldn't the assistants have put it in my mailbox, rather than give it to him? Hmm... it might have shown up in Adam's mailbox, but that somehow seems unlikely. And why would he open a letter of mine?*

But the envelope had never been sealed... the top flap was very much dry, and it was open when Adam had tossed it onto Jason's lap. The letter did have "Jason Creight" written across it, which made Jason wonder if it might have shown up in Adam's mailbox after all... *He might have seen it open, was curious or suspicious, read it... brought it here...*

*I really need to get out of here. Wish I could just use a Pokemon to teleport me out of here... but then again, if I did that, I'd have cops chasing me down while I'm trying to chase Daniel down, and I can't have that.*

Even with Kelly's life at stake, Jason knew he had to be careful.

Dr. Kendrick walked into the room, and he was carrying some papers in hand. Jason hoped they were discharge papers.

A moment later, his hopes soared. "Jason, in this pile are some papers I'll need you to sign to get you out of here."

"Then by all means, let me have them."

Kendrick handed Jason the discharge papers, then pulled up a chair. He wasn't finished. "I also have results from the sensor array."

Jason didn't want to slow, even if the news was bad. He grabbed a pen and started signing the papers. "Let's hear it."

Kendrick sighed. "It's not looking good, Jason. The information tells us that you're slowly regaining your legs' tactile senses, but not a high degree of mobility. If you go through with the bio-stim and physical therapy, chances are good that you could stand, but I couldn't give you a good number on your chances for walking normally."

Jason continued to sign the papers, but he was listening to everything Kendrick was saying. "Just give me the number."

"Fifteen percent."

Jason took a deep breath. He'd figured something like this might happen; he wouldn't cry over such abysmal chances. If he had to remain in a wheelchair, he would... if he could stand, even make the attempt to walk, he would do that, too.

But he couldn't do it now. His legs' muscles had atrophied over six years of disuse... his legs might break, if he even made it out of bed or his wheelchair without falling.

He would stay in his wheelchair for the duration.

Kendrick searched Jason's face. "You don't seem overly concerned."

"I prefer to take some things as they come. There's no use in making a big deal out of them. You told me that if the procedure didn't work, the only thing I'd have to lose was money. Well, I imagine this is going to cost me a pretty penny, but I've got money to last for a good long while, even after all this."

Kendrick paused. "We... could try repeating the procedure. Perhaps we missed something along the way."

"If I were you, I'd put more confidence in your comrades, human and Pokemon. I'm sure they did the best they could. Right now, I don't really want to worry about what they might or might not have done. The matter at hand is very important, and I have to take care of it immediately."

Kendrick nodded. Whether he actually understood or not, Jason didn't know.

Nor did he care.

***

Jason was released from the hospital at 1:03 P.M. with all of his belongings. He immediately released his Charizard from its capture ball, got on its back, and took off for the Orange Islands. As soon as he was in the air, Jason activated the phone on his PokeGear and called Adam.

"Jason, thank God. I was beginning to think I'd have to go in your place."

"No, no, Daniel would know better. Where are you?"

"Pallet Town. Looks like Kelly wasn't Daniel's only target. Professor Oak's gone."

Jason almost fell off Charizard. "What?!"

"Yeah. Once I told the lab assistants what had happened to Kelly, they realized that they hadn't seen Professor Oak all day. His room's door was locked, so they all assumed he was taking the day off, but when I told them... they went in and couldn't find anything. He just disappeared without a trace."

Jason sighed. "Not good."

"No. Think Daniel's got him, too?"

"Maybe, but I wouldn't be sure why. Daniel really has no use for Oak."

"Bait. That's what he's using Kelly for."

"I suppose. But it doesn't feel right. Having two hostages wouldn't make much more difference than just having one." Jason hit upon something. "Daniel once told me something about being on Giovanni's payroll... maybe *he* wanted Oak."

"Maybe." Adam didn't sound too optimistic about the theory. "You want me to come along?"

"No. I know Daniel... he's gonna want me to come alone."

"You do realize, don't you, that it's a trap?"

Jason sighed. "Yeah, I know. He's setting me up and I'm going straight in. But right now, I'm Kelly's only chance. I'll have to do things my way while I'm on Daniel's turf... it'll be messy and I'd just as soon not get you involved."

"You expect me to just sit around and wait?"

"No. I'll find out what happened to Oak, and you can go after him if he's closer to you."

"This really sucks."

"Don't I know it." Jason hung up.

*I've got a lot of work to do.*

***

Charizard sensed Jason's plight and flew as fast as possible toward the Orange Islands. In an hour, they'd made it past the Whirlpool Islands.

It was late evening when they finally came within sight of Tangelo Island. Jason urged Charizard to move faster, and it did so, even as tired as it had become from the extensive flight required of it. Jason appreciated the effort Charizard was going to.

They landed on the western beach, outside the populated region of the island. Jason recalled Charizard and sighed. "I'm home."

He made his way to the outskirts of civilization, and soon enough, his wheels were crossing the threshold. The "welcome wagon" girls greeted him warmly, though they obviously had no idea who he was.

Jason stuck to the sidewalks near the beach. He remembered walking these same paths in his youth, wondering to himself what expansive regions lay beyond the Orange Islands. He remembered sitting on the railing, dangling his feet over the edge, staring up at the sky, and thinking about a bright future.

*Yeah. Some bright future,* he thought now, staring up at that same sky. It was unfamiliar to him now, the stars in new positions and so much smaller to the eyes of a twenty-year-old.

*Once a boy. Now a man.*

Jason continued down the paved paths, knowing that a guy with a wheelchair making his way about the beach was inevitably going to attract attention.

Minutes seemed to stretch into hours as he moved past each booth, each kiosk, his hopes rising and falling like a roller coaster.

"Paging Mr. Creight, please report to the East Info Desk. Mr. Creight, please report to the East Info Desk to meet your party."

Jason listened to the message echo across the beach and across the sea. For a few moments, it held him immobile.

But only for a few moments. He bolted down the sidewalk, almost knocking over a couple of tourists in his haste.

He didn't know if the message was for him or for his brother... but he would find out, either way.

He found the East Info Desk in a matter of moments, and moved even faster toward it.

There was a man wearing a tan overcoat and light clothes underneath standing at the booth. He looked familiar to Jason somehow, but he couldn't place the face.

As Jason approached the booth, the man turned to the desk operator, smiled politely, and said, "Thanks, he's here now."

The man then turned to Jason and said, "Let's take a walk, shall we?"

Jason glared. "Why bother? You wanted to talk to me, so just skip the walking part."

The man shook his head. "Can't do that. We need to be on the move. Your brother has something you want, am I correct?" He started walking away.

Jason sighed and moved to catch up with him. "Since you seem to know about all this, let's just skip to the point. What does he want? And who are you?"

"He wants you, of course." The man scoffed, as if it were obvious. "He got tired of waiting around for you to come and settle whatever issue the two of you have. He's insane, but he's determined, I'll give him that.

"As to who I am, I should think you'd recognize me. After all, how could you forget your biased opponent, Travis Johnson?"

Jason's eyes became saucers. "You...?!"

Johnson chuckled. "Yes, indeed. But you have no need to worry about me and my prejudices... ever since you defeated me at the Indigo League and I fell out of favor with everyone, I've tried to be more accepting of handicapped people. I came to realize that I was being unfair. I didn't like it, but I accepted it. So, in effect, I've reformed my evil ways, and I still train. Which is more than can be said for you, last I heard."

Jason glared. "I don't have time for this. Tell me where Daniel is, and I'll be on my way."

"Sadly, my friend, I don't know where he is. What I do know is that he's issued you a challenge that will be extremely taxing on you... he believes it to be impossible to meet before his deadline. Emphasis on *dead.*"

"Spare me. What's the challenge?"

Johnson chuckled. "Very well. Each Orange League gym leader has been given a disk meant to be issued to you. Each disk has a section of encrypted code on it, and when completed and deciphered, the code will tell you exactly where your brother is. And, you hope, where your girlfriend is, as well."

"And why should I believe you when you say you don't know where they are?"

"I told you about the code. You can go to Mikan Island right now and defeat the gym leader there; she'll give you the disk. That should be all the proof you need to see that I'm telling you the truth."

Jason gaped. "I have to fight the Orange League?"

"That's why your brother thinks it'll be impossible. You'll have to travel and battle day and night. It'll be tough enough on you; imagine how hard it'll be on your Pokemon. But if you somehow managed to beat them all, you'll get the entire code. Then you'll have to fight Drake for the cipher."

"What?"

"Yeah. Code's unbreakable, even by the best tech experts. Drake has the cipher, and he'll give it to you if you beat him."

Jason ground his teeth. "And how, precisely, would you know about all this?"

Johnson shrugged. "Easy. I'm a human telegram from your brother. He paid me a good amount of money to tell you all this and keep a close eye on you. He's got other eyes on you, too, but mine are the closest pair."

"And if anything... unfortunate were to happen to you or your other 'eyes?' Or if I were to arrange for someone else to come here and do it for me?" Jason asked, a threat in his tone.

Johnson shrugged again. "Then your girlfriend will be long gone by the time you get to her."

Jason grunted. "And what of Professor Oak? You keep talking about how it's Kelly's life on the line... where has he gone during all this?"

Johnson smiled grimly. "I was just getting to that part. Your brother sent Oak to Giovanni in exchange for some of his most powerful Pokemon, as well as a handsome amount of money. But Daniel doesn't seem content with how Giovanni has treated him in the past, so he specifically told me to tell you that Oak is in Viridian City, in the bowels of the gym's basement. They've got a secret HQ for Team Rocket down there. They're pumping him for information.

"Anyway, by all means, send any friends of yours after him... Daniel doesn't care. All he wants is to double-cross Giovanni and take revenge on you. So nothing will happen to Oak in the near future, and nothing will happen to Kelly if Oak is rescued."

"Oh. Well, that's nice to know," Jason barked sarcastically. He activated the phone on his PokeGear and dialed Adam.

"Jason?"

"Yeah. Good news and bad news. Which one first?"

"Bad."

"I have to tough this out alone."

"Damn."

"Good news: Oak is in Viridian City Gym's basement. Nothing bad will happen to him. You can go get him; Daniel's 'allowing' it."

"That's a relief. Somewhat."

"Yeah. But the faster, the better. He's being interrogated; when you get there, erase their files."

"I'm on it."

Jason hit the "CALL" button to end the short conversation.

Johnson chuckled. "You have a lot of confidence in him."

"You'd better believe it." Jason glared up at his brother's messenger. "You're going to follow me around the islands, are you?"

"I have to. I'm being paid."

"Uh-huh." Jason continued to glare at Johnson for a moment... then, in a rapid movement, grabbed Johnson's coat lapels and shoved him against the railing along the left side of the sidewalk.

"Your eternal reward's coming soon, buddy," Jason growled.

Johnson smiled. "Remember... anything happens to me, I'll be sharing that reward with your girlfriend."

"In your dreams. Kelly's going up. You'll be going a lot lower than six feet."

"From what I've heard, it's a lot more interesting than the other place. Besides, haven't you ever heard the expression, 'Don't kill the messenger'?"

"At this point, I'm tempted to ignore it."

"By all means. Then I won't have any more worries. Neither will Kelly."

Jason kept Johnson against the railing. Johnson offered no resistance.

Finally, Jason released his nemesis and groaned in frustration.

Johnson grinned. "I'll see you on Mikan Island, then."

Jason pumped his wheels away from Johnson, away from the beach, away from this blasted place.

He called out Charizard, climbed atop it, and made for Mikan Island.

***

Adam hastily filled the numerous pockets of his overcoat with items he knew he might need. His capture ball belt already held his best Pokemon, with the exception of Eevee; Pidgeot was in its place, ready to fly to Viridian City.

His fiancée, Amanda, sat on his bed as he dropped money bags, each containing a sum of five thousand credits, into his pockets. "Are you sure you don't want me to come along? Two heads are better than one, Adam."

"I know," he responded. "But this'll be complicated enough as it is. What if we were to get caught?"

"Then we fight off whoever catches us."

"Sometimes brains are better than brawn. Stealth is the key, and it's harder to be stealthy when there are two of us."

"Still, you might need backup."

He sighed. "True enough." He thought about this for a few moments, then said, "All right. We'll figure it out along the way."

She smiled with relief. "Got another one of those coats? Looks useful for night movement."

"Sorry. But I do have some black sweats, if it's night stealth you're looking for." Adam grinned. "You'll feel great about your body once you're wearing *my* clothes."

Adam was actually glad that she'd been insistent about coming along. He imagined he might need her... just in case.

In ten minutes, they were gone.

***

Jason was sweating. Leaving the cold weather of Kanto was nice, but apparently the Islands were suffering a heat wave.

Being on a Charizard's back didn't help.

They'd landed on Mikan Island five minutes ago, and he was in the Pokemon Center. Jason had long ago memorized the customs of this league, and he knew what challenges were ahead of him. He remembered that it depended much more on his Pokemon's skills in areas other than battle, although battle attributes such as speed did factor heavily into it.

His upper left leg itched. He scratched absently at it...

...then realized what he'd just done.

*It itched. It actually itched.*

Another part of him said, *Don't be ridiculous. It was phantom limb... you've had it before.*

*Convenient, then, that the itch should stop when I scratch it.*

*It happens. Then it comes back, just you wait.*

Jason touched his leg again.

He sensed something.

If he hadn't been looking, he probably wouldn't have known what it was that was touching him.

But he was sensing something.

*Maybe... maybe I will walk again, after all...*

However, it was a guarantee he wasn't going to walk before he rescued Kelly.

And took care of Daniel.

He made his way to the teleporter and sent a query to Oak's lab. One of the assistants answered, and Jason soon had the Pokemon he would need for his bout with the first gym leader of the Orange League.

*Delving into this rather quickly. Find out I have to battle them an hour before I actually do it... but then again, I don't have to be a registered trainer. I'm a Pokemon master already... I'll prove it again if I have to.*

He left the Pokemon Center and made for the gym. As he wheeled past a close bunching of assorted foliage, a voice rang out from within the branches. "Remember, you're being watched."

Jason shook his head. He wasn't going to let Johnson rattle him, no matter how he was getting around or how closely he was watching. His task was to battle and win.

The gym had no doors. Its entrance was completely open to all who entered. Jason moved through the huge portal.

"Well, well. We have a rather eager trainer today, don't we?" a teasing female voice called out. A moment later, an attractive woman stepped into sight. Jason knew her name was Sissy, and he also knew that she was anything but.

She glanced at his wheelchair. "And determined, too. I applaud you for not letting a handicap get you down. That's impressive in itself."

Her eyes hardened. "But I must treat all Pokemon trainers equally."

"And what of Pokemon masters?" Jason asked. "You might as well tell me, since you're facing one right now."

A glint of admiration shone in her eye. "Ah, yes. The vaunted Jason Creight. From this area, originally, as I understand. A relation to Daniel Creight, I suppose?"

"A distant one," Jason lied.

She permitted herself a brief smile. "I'm glad. I've met him. I don't particularly care for him. However, he seemed to know you were coming... he gave me something to give you, should you defeat me in battle."

"Yes, I know."

"Care to tell me what it is?"

"A surprise. That's all I know."

"Hmm. I'd say you're in for one, anyway. Because you'll have a tough time competing in the Orange League, Pokemon master or not. Our rules are much more trying on trainers than rules you'll find in Kanto."

"I'm aware of that. But I'm here anyway. So let's get on with it."

"Impatient. That may be your downfall."

"Then battle me and find out."

"Show me a water Pokemon and we'll start."

Jason removed a Poke ball from his belt and tossed it, revealing his Gyarados.

"Looks formidable," she admitted. "But can it beat this?"

She tossed a ball that revealed a Seadra.

As if on cue, the gym's floor split into two parts and folded back on each side. On the east side of the gym, a slot opened up, and two long rows of soda cans popped up.

Gyarados and Seadra entered the water.

"This challenge is simple," said Sissy. "Use a water-based attack to knock over more cans than me. If you succeed, you win the challenge."

Jason nodded.

"Begin."

"Gyarados, Hydro Pump, between cans!"

"Seadra, Water Gun!"

Gyarados knocked over all of its cans in a matter of seconds.

And so did Seadra.

"Hmm. A draw. Very well, the second challenge!" Sissy called.

The east wall began to rise and fold across the ceiling in the manner of a garage door. When the wall was completely gone, Sissy said, "Okay, now you have flying disks as targets. The goal is the same; use a water- based attack."

Jason nodded again.

"Begin."

The disks flew.

Gyarados waited patiently for some, moved quickly for others... at one point, two disks were flying in the same direction, one just slightly higher than the other; Gyarados used its Hydro Pump to catch and break both of them.

Unfortunately, Seadra also hit every single one of its targets.

"Another draw. Well, this presents a bit of trouble... for you, anyway."

Jason sighed. "I know. The surfing challenge. Would you want me to try such a stunt, with this handicap?"

"No, and that's the problem."

"I've got a solution."

"By all means."

"We've fought for two round on your terms. Let's fight the final one on mine. One on one Pokemon battle, traditional style."

Sissy considered it, then nodded. "As long as it's in the gym."

"That was the plan."

"Then I agree. Seadra, return! Time to fight, Blastoise!"

The requisite neon bolt solidified into a much larger, shelled Pokemon that Jason knew all too well.

"Blastoise, Bite attack!"

"Gyarados, Dragon Rage!"

Gyarados's blue fire did little to Blastoise as it rushed forth and clamped its large jaws over its enemy's body.

"Hydro Pump!"

"Mirror Coat!"

Blastoise's water cannons sprung from its shell as Gyarados erected the mystical barrier that would protect it from the attack, which would meanwhile be hurled back at the opponent. The concussive water blast bounced back without slowing and hit Blastoise head-on.

"Gyarados, Crunch!"

"Blastoise, Skull Bash!"

Blastoise withdrew into its shell as Gyarados's immense mouth closed over it and chomped down. Jason thought he heard something crack, and he didn't want to know what it was.

What he did know was that he had to sotp Blastoise before the Skull Bash could happen, and Gyarados was just slightly faster. "Gyarados, Hyper Beam attack!"

Gyarados released its hold on Blastoise just long enough to let red energy boil from its mouth and wash over its opponent.

Blastoise came out of its shell...

And it attacked with ferocity. It bashed its hard head against Gyarados's, and Gyarados roared in pain.

Jason was mad at himself with the desperate maneuver. Hyper Beam was great as a finishing move, but sometimes it didn't do the trick.

And now Gyarados had to wait another turn.

"Blastoise, another Skull Bash! Take it down!"

Blastoise again withdrew into its shell.

This was Jason's last chance.

"Gyarados, Mirror Coat!"

Gyarados again conjured a barrier to protect itself from Blastoise.

And now there was nothing Blastoise could do to stop itself.

It hit the barrier, and the attack energy rebounded entirely the instant it hit the shield.

Blastoise slumped back, sank to its knees, and fell to the ground.

It was down for the count.

Sissy fell to her knees as well. "Blastoise, return."

She was stone-faced as Jason approached her. She looked up at him, and he was amazed to find a tear trickling down her cheek. "Do you know why I became a gym leader here?"

"No."

"It was precisely because I was given an offer to become a gym leader in Kanto. I refused because I think battling the Pokemon against each other is barbaric. It's cruel that Pokemon should have to suffer so much because of what their masters think is best for them. It was my desire not to battle the Pokemon based on strength alone that brought me here. Here, I could devise my own way of doing battle... and yet, there I was just a minute ago, doing what I had never wanted to do."

She looked down. "I suppose you think that makes me weak."

Jason shook his head. "Never. And please believe me when I say I wish there was another way... I don't want to battle."

She looked back up, confused. "Then why...?"

He smiled sadly. "Right now, I don't have a choice."

Sissy got back to her feet, wiped her face, then pulled a money bag and a computer disk out of her pocket. "Your rewards for winning the match." Her voice cracked. "If you'll excuse me..."

She left the gym in a rush.

Jason could understand her desire for privacy. He sympathized.

In the money bag, there was not only a large sum of credits, but also a Pokemon badge. It was a shell, all of the Orange Legaue badges were. Jason recalled it as the Coral Eye Badge.

He put the items into his pocket and left the gym.

*One down, four to go.*

He called out Charizard, climbed onto its back, and instructed it to head for the next island.

Maybe this wouldn't be such a long road, after all.

Jason Creight soared on.



To Be Continued

Dragon_Knight
23rd October 2003, 05:33 AM
Jason Creight awoke from a quick nap on his Charizard's back.

He shook his head rapidly, trying to clear the cobwebs from his mind.

He realized that sleep was essential, and he considered himself lucky to have managed even the nap. Navel Island was still a distance away, and with it, the second section of code Jason needed in order to find Daniel.

*And, hopefully, Kelly.*

Jason found that he didn't have all that much to think about. His single-mindedness about the endeavor was causing his mind to be clear, his thoughts focused, even through the haze of tire. He wouldn't lie to himself; it was becoming tiring already, and he wasn't even to the second gym yet.

Charizard was feeling it, too, Jason knew it. The rate at which its wings flapped to keep itself on the same plane was becoming higher, and its breathing was steadily becoming more ragged.

He had made a point of encouraging Charizard every so often; it gave Charizard a sense of pride in itself, and made it want to please its master more. It would fly faster for a period of time before falling back to its current rate.

Jason gazed over the dark surface of the water. It was nighttime, and there was little light being produced. Most of it was from the stars... however, there was apparently a flotilla of Lanturn in the waters below. Yellow light pulsed from beneath the surface in a concentrated area, proving the point.

Jason smiled slightly. *At least I can still appreciate the small things of life. Wish I could enjoy it more.*

*Maybe I will, at that.*

*But right now, Kelly is my only priority.*

Bizarrely, Jason found himself almost wishing that Creight were here. Even as much as he had disliked his future self, he still needed to know where lay the point of no return. He wanted to know where the line was between remaining himself, and becoming what he feared.

He didn't know who to fear more... Daniel, or Creight.

*It doesn't really matter. Either one really is Daniel... if he were to do what I fear, that's when I'd become Creight.*

He thought about the floppy disk he'd been given by a tearful Sissy on Mikan Island. He didn't much care about the badge, and even less about the prize money... the disk was his true reward.

After he'd taken off from Mikan Island, he'd inserted the disk into the dataport on his latest issue Pokedex to see if it could make sense of the first section alone. When he opened the contents with a writing program, it revealed that the code was indeed heavily encrypted, and of no use to him even if it weren't. The code had been literally cut into "pieces", and Jason was faced with slips of characters in the code.

That left him with no choice; he had to battle the Orange Crew and Drake himself to find out where Daniel and Kelly were.