“Aw, man,” Tina moaned as stepped out of her hiding bush. “Can’t believe I let my phone die. Again.” She shook it a few times, not that she had any reason to think this would do anything, but hopefully it would let the device know she didn’t appreciate being let down this way.
Spying on the newest arrivals to Pasio didn’t prove nearly as interesting as she’d thought it would. Lear and the others quickly moved farther down the shore, where Tina couldn’t see or hear much at all. In normal circumstances, she would have shrugged and gone back into the woods to connect with Paulo. But circumstances didn’t turn out normal. After Lear’s escort service–aka the golf cart–had dropped him off, Rachel and Sawyer had parked the vehicle just off the sidewalk, waiting for him to return. Just off the sidewalk and right next to the bushes where Tina was hiding with the famous Red Ketchup.
If she came out, they would totally see her. If she moved backwards, that would rustle the branches. Which they would notice, and then they’d look in the bushes, and then they’d see her. Which would lead to major embarrassment.
So for nearly an hour, Tina had sat as still as she could, getting a nasty cramp in her legs and waiting for Sawyer and Rachel to leave. The phone had given up around thirty minutes in.
Now Tina sighed and took extra-wide steps across the sand to stretch her sore muscles. Maybe being embarrassed–even majorly so–in front of Sawyer and Rachel would have been an okay price to pay for an early freedom from shrubbery. She’d consider it next time she found herself in a similar situation.
“At least that’s over,” she said. “But we’ll have to go into town if I want my phone charged.”
“What about the friend you mentioned before?” Red asked. “Didn’t you want me to go meet him or something?”
Tina looked uncertainly back at the woods. She sort of remembered where she’d last seen Paulo, but without her phone to call him or the GPS to guide her, she didn’t feel great about her chances.
“I guess we could try…” she said.
Red grinned like she’d said it with full confidence. For a major celebrity, he had some improvements to make in reading people.
N sighed and slowly closed the front door behind him. He hadn’t been followed; he’d made sure enough of that. Rosa certainly had her eye on him, but the Subway Boss had distracted her enough to let him slip out of sight.
What am I doing? he thought to himself. He always believed there was a formula for everything. If that were true, surely the formula for friendship did not involve sneaking around and avoiding said friends. But all other potential approaches to his situation had an unavoidably high chance of blowing up in his face. He knew stalling would not improve things. But neither could he speak to his friends without some inkling of how to explain himself.
“It’s me,” he announced as he pulled off his hat and hung it on the doorknob. The entry way opened into a beige sitting room, with a large window to let in generous sunlight. However, the blinds were shut tight, leaving most of the lighting work to a trio of sphere-shaped ceiling lamps. And below them, cradling a mug of tea on a bronze-colored sofa, sat Ghetsis.
He’d changed out of his dramatic cape and monocle, his Team Plasma staff leaned against the far corner. For now, he wore a nondescript button-up shirt with black slacks. His blank expression held no ambition and no expectation. From the way he rested the steam-less mug on his lap, N guessed the tea had been cold for a while.
“There’s more people from Unova here than I thought,” he said, holding out his hand for the mug. Ghetsis brushed it off, took a sip, and set the mug on the table instead. His hand shook the whole way, and he made no attempt to hide it. It unnerved N to see this man who’d caused such harm sitting there looking so frail. He couldn’t imagine Rosa or Hilbert or anyone else taking Ghetsis for a threat in this state. Then again, N had confirmed Ghetsis’s intentions–or lack thereof–in way the others couldn’t. Once again, his gift with speaking to Pokémon made him an outsider.
N didn’t fully believe the change in Ghetsis when they had first crossed paths. It had been on the sidewalk just outside N’s home, and it was quite the opposite experience of when they first met all those years ago. Instead of beckoning N to come with him, Ghetsis had tried to leave without a word. When N had confronted him, the first thing he’d said was, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be here.”
N had never heard Ghetsis apologize for anything. Then came the real shock–a youngster’s Ralts had sensed N’s confusion and asked if there was anything it could do. Upon N’s request, it read Ghetsis’s emotions as well and reported its findings.
Remorse. Deep and genuine remorse.
Perhaps it was N’s natural curiosity, but he couldn’t let the matter drop after that. He invited Ghetsis to stay with him for time being and advised him to keep away from people who might recognize him. N would admit he still kept his own guard up around the man. If nothing else, whatever had changed his heart and mind this way might someday decide to change it back. But for at least the first few days, Ghetsis had been nothing but polite and mostly did his best to stay out of N’s way.
“You’re going to have to mention I’m here at some point,” Ghetsis said as N pulled out a chair from the adjoining dining room. “Your so-called friends will turn on you in an instant if they think we’re allies again.”
N turned the chair around so he could rest his arms on top of it while he faced Ghetsis. He wouldn’t refer to him as his father, not even mentally, no matter what had changed. “You can drop the ‘so-called,'” he insisted. “They aren’t like that. We trust each other.” He tried to remind himself of the events back in Unova. Hilbert had fought him, yes, but they had also formed a close friendship. Hilbert understood how N’s philosophy against humans and Pokémon living together had formed.
Hilda had always seemed a little more distant from him, largely associating him only with Team Plasma’s misdeeds until they got to know each other better. And Rosa? She’d been kind to him in all their interactions and seemed to trust him. Then again, until now, he hadn’t done anything to make her question that trust.
“If you’ve formed bonds that close, perhaps there’s nothing to worry about,” Ghetsis said, watching the closed blinds as if he could actually see through them.
“You’ve never had a close bond with anyone,” N said. It was neither a question nor an accusation, simply a statement of fact.
Ghetsis gave a silent nod in response. Of course he hadn’t. He’d always kept people at arm’s length to better manipulate them. No wonder he doubted that friendships like the ones N described could exist.
“What exactly do you plan to do here on Pasio, then?” N asked.
“Do?” There was an uptick in Ghetsis’s tone, like he had never considered the matter until N posed it to him. “I suppose I should ask you for advice there. What does one do when they realize their ambitions and dreams…everything they strove for up until this point…was wrong?”
N sighed. “Learn, I guess. At least, it’s what I did. I went on a journey across Unova with Zekrom. I tried to absorb as much as I could. About people. Pokémon. Everything.”
“I see,” Ghetsis said.
N waited for him to respond with something more substantial, but a knock at the door interrupted them. N stood and looked through the viewer, but he saw no one there. A delivery, maybe? He cautiously cracked the door open, only to see a short, orange-haired teenager starting to walk away.
“Hello?” N asked.
The guy turned, his arms full of flyers, one of which slipped to the floor. His Togedemaru, helpfully scurried over to snatch it up. The Pokémon had a friendly and energetic inner voice, showing a strong bond with its trainer.
“Thanks, Togedemaru,” the trainer muttered before turning back to N. “Hey, there. Sorry to bother you. My name’s Sophocles, and I’m handing out flyers for Pasio’s Gadegeteering Club. We’re hoping to…uh, Togedemaru, could you…?”
Sure! The little Pokémon handed the dropped flier over to N.
“Thanks again,” Sophocles said, as he rotated the paper stack to get a better grip. “Anyway, we’re a group of inventors and we’re hoping to show off some of best projects at the next big Pasio event.”
“What sorts of projects?” N asked.
“Well, I don’t want to spoil anything,” said Sophocles. “I think it’s important each member introduce off their own work. But it’ll be really cool and amazing, maybe even world-changing, and if you like technology and stuff, you should totally come to one of our meetings.”
N folded the brochure and slipped into his pocket. “I’ll consider it. Thank you.”
Sophocles grinned and attempted to wave good-bye, which almost resulted in him spilling more of his club papers. Togedemaru, now with its hands free, happily did the waving and followed its trainer down the hallway as N shut the door.
World-changing, hmm? he thought. The last person he’d heard describe their inventions that way was Colress. He looked over the flyer, which sported an electric blue heading: “Innovation Over Emotion.” Below that, the subheading read: “Watch the Gadgeteering Club Break the Limits of the Human Spirit.” The rest more or less repeated everything Sophocles had said–the “world-changing” part bolded–and included a meeting place and time.
N showed the flyer to Ghetsis, who glanced over it absently before using it as a coaster for the tea mug.
“It’s ambitious language but not inherently concerning,” he said. “Most likely a youth’s over-enthusiasm about his work.”
“And less likely?” N asked. While there were very few occasions when he wanted Ghetsis’s advice on anything, the man did know quite a bit about moving people through propaganda.
Ghetsis hesitated a while before answering, and his voice carried a heavy fatigue. “Less likely is you’re looking at a new organization whose leader has taken a page right out of Team Plasma’s playbook.”
Misty cracked open the spine on a fresh book of battle tactics that Barry had insisted she read. She’d picked out a bench on a smaller street away from the crowds. Brock had come along, too–not to read, but to practice some meditation exercises he’d heard would help you connect better with your Pokemon.
“I am one with my Onix…” he muttered, slowing moving his arms in an arc over his head. “Our minds are linked…we race across the land together…fly across the sky…swim across the–”
“Can you meditate to yourself, please?” Misty asked.
Brock didn’t reply, but he did stopped muttering. Misty sighed and went back to her book. Maybe she should have stayed in her hotel room. The space was starting to feel stale, and she hoped being out in the warm evening air would clear her thoughts. Only three pages in, some distracting movement caught her eyes. She glanced up to see a kid with shoulder-length blond hair, waving his hand and hurrying towards her. Misty’s first fear was that this was yet another person who recognized her and she couldn’t reciprocate. But at the kid got closer, it clicked. Paulo, the guy they’d met at the cave soon after arriving, who’d also given them some advice on where to gather badges. Questionably useful advice, but advice nonetheless. Misty closed the book and waved back at him. Paulo quickened his pace and took a seat beside her on the bench.
“Hey,” he said, sounding a bit winded. “Sorry to bother you, but have you seen Tina?”
The way he said it suggested Misty should know exactly who he meant. She didn’t. Perhaps Tina was a famous trainer from…wherever it was Paulo lived before he got here? Either way, she searched her mind for a way to get more information without sounding too–
“Who?” Brock said from behind her.
Misty ignored her impulse for a face-palm.
Thankfully, Brock’s bluntness worked in this case. Paulo rubbed the back of his head and explained, “Tina’s my childhood friend. We’ve been hanging out pretty much nonstop since she arrived, though I guess she wasn’t with me when I met you guys. We lost each other in the woods a few hours ago, and I’m getting worried.”
“I see.” Brock folded his arms, and his eyebrows furrowed into that deep-in-thought expression Misty knew so well. When Brock set his mind to solving a problem, his resolve became as unmovable as…well, a rock. “You think she’s still in there?”
“I mean, if she left, she hasn’t contacted me,” Paulo said. “But it’s possible her phone died, too. She’s not the best about keeping it charged, and she was using it a lot while we were walking together…” He trailed off as he said it, probably contemplating what part of their conversation was prompting Tina to turn to her phone so much.
“Right,” Brock said with an authoritative nod. “Then you go and look in the places she might be around town. Misty and I will search the area around the woods. We’ll call if we find anything. Can I have your number?”
Paulo nodded and dutifully took at his phone to exchange info. Like Surge should have done when they met and he said he would contact them for that club thingy or whatever it was. Misty wondered where the guy was now. Which probably meant they were due to run into him any minute. Things in Pasio had a way of working out like that.