The plan for Arven and the Team Star bosses to help with bringing supplies to the lab got dashed in short order. Within an hour of getting to work, Penny had listed five different absolutely necessary items, none of which Arven could discern the look of, let alone find. After she named three more items, all of which were just weird-sounding acronyms, he suspected she was making stuff up.
So she decided to go get them all herself. With a quick stop by the Schedar Squad’s base to see how their repairs were going. Arven came along, not sure what else to do. And as weird as it sounded in his head, he did kind of feel like part of their their group now.
When the pair of them arrived, they found Nemona, Juliana, and the four Team Star bosses who weren’t busy doing rocket science in the crater all waiting for them. In a line at the entrance. And Mela looked like she was holding boxes of chocolate or something. Bribes for the grunts to keep them hard at work, maybe? At least the early spring weather was still chilly enough that they wouldn’t be melted chocolates.
“Hey!” Nemona waved excitedly, shouting at them while they were still a good distance off. “Hurry up already! Mela won’t let us start until you’re all here!”
“Start what?” Arven called back.
Nemona either didn’t hear him or pretended not to.
Arven turned to Penny. “You know what this is about?”
“I might have an idea,” Penny said but didn’t elaborate any more than that.
When they got a bit closer, Arven saw a third person waiting, but he wasn’t in line with the others. It was that guy from the International Police–not the kid in charge but his adult sidekick. Locker? No…Looker. That was it.
The man gave them a friendly wave as they entered the base proper. “You are free to come in,” he said. Like they hadn’t just done exactly that. “My officers and I are done all our interviews here.” He stepped up to Penny and gave a polite bow. “I want to offer my apologies to you and your friends for any stress or inconvenience we caused you.”
“Oh, u-um…it’s okay,” Penny said.
Arven didn’t blame her for being thrown off. He was pretty shocked himself. Even if the International Police were in the wrong, he never expected them to admit as much. It was more awkward than it was gratifying.
As Looker shook her hand, he also lowered his voice. “I understand you may be participating in some…corrective time travel? If so, I may be able to offer some advice.”
Arven perked up at his words, as did Penny. Now that they eagerly would listen to. “We’d appreciate it,” Penny said. “Though I have some things I need to do with my friends first…”
“Of course, of course,” Looker said. “Get in touch at your earliest connivence.” And with that, he handed her a business card and stepped away, blending into the crowd almost immediately. Arven wasn’t sure which impressed him more–the way he disappeared so quick or the fact that people in such a high-tech, modern organization still gave away their contact info via business card.
“So, with that out of the way…” Arven said, then he gestured to the weird line up and the stack of boxes Mela was holding. “What’s all this about now?”
Mela smirked. “The others bosses and I agreed you three deserve these,” she said, handing a box to each of them. Arven held onto his a moment while Juliana lifted the lid right away. Inside, atop folded satin, sat five badges–one orange, one black, two pink, and one red. The first two were sculpted together out of polymer clay, the pink ones were soldered together from scraps of metal, and the final one appeared to be whittled from a chunk of wood before it was coated with red and silver paint.
“Mela insisted she make her own badge without assistance,” Atticus remarked.
“I-it’s amazing!” Nemona gasped.
Mela went a bit red at the compliment. Or it might have been the light reflecting off her boots.
Quite suddenly, Juliana’s box slipped backwards out of her hand. She startled and looked around, only to find Clavell behind her, peering inside it. He held up Eri’s orange badge. “Why, these are perfect!”
“Perfect for what?” Mela said, her arms crossed. Nemona and Arven both closed up their boxes and shoved them under their arms where Clavell couldn’t get a hold of them.
“Well, I had this idea, you see,” Clavell said. He returned the badge to its place but failed to actually hand the box back to Juliana. “I’d like you and the rest of Team Star to run Naranja’s Academy’s latest addition–the STCs!”
“Um, director?” Penny said.
“Wondering what that means, are you? I thought so. Well, I call them the Star Training Centers. They’ll run exactly as your bases have been, only now the school will sponsor them, and students can challenge you–“
“Director?” Penny said again.
“–I’m thinking of labeling it as ‘school community service’ lest the students think your alterations to the standard uniform are acceptable behavior, but that would simply be a formality–“
“Will you shut up, old man?” Mela yelled as she stamped her foot. How she bent her knee with the boots on remained unclear.
Clavell looked completely deflated. “O-old man?”
Juliana looked a little guilty about it, but she still took the opportunity to snatch her collection of Star Badges out of his hands. Arven didn’t blame her. Eri stepped in to play mediator and fill the director in on everything that had happened–including what it would take to get Penny, Arven, and Ortega back to normal again. Clavell’s frown deepened with each part of the story.
“I am…so very sorry to hear all of that,” he said.
“I-it might not be anything you notice,” Penny said, looking down at the ground. Her glasses slid down the bridge of her nose, and she pushed them back up again. “I mean, it’s time travel. We could be back in a few minutes as far as the rest of you could tell, but…” She glanced back up. “…well, Ai is going to be monitoring our travel from her end, so that all has to take place in real time, so odds are it’ll seem like we’re gone at least a few months, if not more. Probably best not to rely on me or Ortega for Team Star stuff yet.”
“Of course,” Clavell said. “I don’t suppose you have a replacement lined up yet?”
“‘Yet’?” Penny was about to snap that nobody could replace Ortega ever, and the very suggestion that he was replaceable at all was pretty insulting. Then again, if none of this was happening, if school was just continuing as normal…Eri was due to graduate this spring. Either Clavell only planned for these Star Centers to run for a few months or he expected from the start that the bosses would intermittently change.
“It’s…not anything we’ve thought about much,” she said.
Mela crossed her arms and tapped her foot as best she could manage in her massive footwear. Then a spark lit up her face and she cracked a smile. “Well, I’m not against opening the position. But whoever would take over would have to be someone who’d proven their worth by getting all five of our badges already.”
“Agree 100%,” said Giacomo.
“Verily,” said Atticus.
“Huh?” Arven pointed to himself. “But I’m leaving, too. So that’s literally only two people who could do it.”
“Right,” said Mela. “And since she’s the student council president and all, I nominate Nemona to take the first open spot.” She motioned to Juliana. “Yer still a newbie, but with some extra training this semester, we could have you prepped to take over when Eri graduates, no problem.”
Nemona waved her hands frantically. “I-I’m flattered, but I’m hardly an expert in fairy-types!”
“So pick another type,” Mela said with a shrug. “It’s yer Star Base, ain’t it? Long as Ortie approves, ‘course.”
Penny smiled. “Well, I approve, for whatever that’s worth. I think he will, too.”
“Oo, now we get to settle our bet!” Mela said, elbowing Eri. Then she excitedly asked Nemona, “So, what’s your costume gonna look like? You’ve gotta give Atticus some ideas!”
“Whoa, whoa, is this, uh…something I’d be walking around school in?” Nemona asked, as she looked over Mela’s costume with a nervous giggle. “Because I don’t know if I can pull that off…”
“Walking around school would surely prove a viable form of advertisement,” Atticus said. “Though fear not–thine specifications are my first priority.”
“Oh.” Nemona looked decidedly less nervous now. “Can it just be a version of the school uniform, then?”
“Prithee tell me thou art kidding.”
Nemona was prithee not kidding, though she at least gave Atticus free reign to style her hair however he wanted. Penny wondered if she would come to regret that concession later. But for now, Team Star had a healthy future. She supposed that was the most she could ask for.
Ortega sat at a workbench with one of Arven’s infamous banana and wasabi sandwiches in his hand. He had no idea how the flavor combination was working so well, but he now wished more than ever that Arven was traveling with him and Penny, rather than going the opposite direction on the timeline. Whatever point in the past Arven landed in, they were going to be eating great.
Ortega’s Rotom phone floated in front of him, with Giacomo on speaker. There was some commotion in the background between Atticus and Nemona, which Eri assured him was nothing to worry about. She shared with him the success of their little badge-presentation ceremony–Ortega was especially proud of his craftsmanship on the fairy-type star badge–along with Clavell’s plans for the STCs and their proposal to let Nemona take charge of the Ruchbah base in his absence. Ortega gave his full approval; it felt strange to let go of something he’d built so easily. But Nemona didn’t feel like an outsider any more than Arven or Juliana did. Team Star had grown for the better.
“And she’s converting the base to focus on electric types, hmm?” he asked Giacomo. “Sure, I think that’d work just fine.”
Vanessa, who’d been tapping away at her phone in the corner, jolted upright at his last words. Her pink and purple eyes flashed with fury. Ortega sweatdropped. “Y-yeah, anyway, we’re basically set here, so come on over if you want to see us off.”
He shoved the rest of the sandwich into his mouth and signaled for the Rotom to end the call. Vanessa had already tucked her phone away, and marched pointedly over to him, showing her full height advantage. “Whoa, whoa, electric types are my dealy-o!”
Ortega wiped the peanut butter from his fingers and smirked. “As I recall, you said several times while we were working that you wished there was some way, any way, you could help. Give my team a workout at your gym while I’m gone.”
He expected Vanessa to blow up at the idea of changing her style in such a drastic way. And he had every intention of asking his fellow bosses to take care of his Pokémon in his absence. They were already doing the same for Penny and Arven. (Giacomo was especially happy to welcome Mabosstiff as a temporary member of his team.) But to his surprise, Vanessa thoughtfully tapped her chin. “Hmm…a total type change-up at the Levencia gym? That’s, like, exactly the kind of content that’d make my views skyrocket! Ortie, you’re a genius!” She gave him much too tight of a hug and said in her normal, non-Iono voice before she released him, “I’d fess up to Mom and Dad and let them shut the whole Iono Zone down if I thought it’d help you. Get back safe, okay? Promise me.”
“Y-yeah,” he said, taken aback by the sudden shift in tone. She released him and stepped back.
“Oh, duh! Where-the-whatsit was my brain at?” Vanessa slapped herself in the forehead in an over-exaggerated manner, back in her Iono persona, despite being off-camera. “Mr. Walksabout gave me somethin’ for you three time travelers.” She reached into the pocket hidden in one of her huge sleeves and pulled out three large envelopes.
Ortega took them with suspicion. “And these are…?”
“Diplomas, apparently,” Vanessa said. “Somethin’ about saving the world bein’ worth a lot of independent study credits? Not that you can’t take whatever classes you want when you get back, but…” She shrugged. “I think it’s the old guy sayin’ ‘thanks’ the best he can, y’know?”
Ortega nodded and set the envelopes aside. “Well, it’s better than dressing as a student and bugging all of us with weird personal questions, I guess.”
Vanessa nodded enthusiastically. For the second–or was it the third?–time in only a few short weeks, she and Ortega actually agreed on something.
It took about an hour or so for the rest of Team Star–both old members and new–to arrive. This time, however, they didn’t crowd in the smaller laboratory. Ai walked the group of them into the chamber that housed the time machine proper. The walls were made entirely of reinforced glass and steel plates that shimmered with tera crystals.
It was a wonder either Sada or Turo had ever been able to work in this place without getting constant migraines.
Arven wrung his hands in anticipation while everyone filed into the room. Mela, Eri, and Ortega’s footsteps echoed the loudest on the tiled floor. Atticus was silent as always. Giacomo looked out of place without his laptop in hand. Nemona kept lifting her ponytail and pointing to Atticus as she whispered to Juliana all his insane ideas for her new Team Boss hairdo.
Arven missed carrying his giant bag. He missed knowing Mabosstiff would be at his side in a moment’s notice, even though he hadn’t left yet. And his heart ached at the idea that he’d be on this trip along. He looked behind him at the long table Ai and her two doubles had set out. The surface was covered with everything the group would need for their trip–the Poké Balls, necessary travel supplies, the three new Treasures, and of course…three hand-sized cubes. Miniaturized versions of the stabilization equipment. Which they had not attached to the Poké Balls despite Penny’s original suggestion. As Nemona so helpfully pointed out before she left with the Team Star bosses, “If you’re Pokémon as far as the balls are concerned, can’t you just hold them?” Penny had been pretty embarrassed. But it had sped up their development and production time quite a bit.
The Master Ball Vanessa had thrown at Turo sat on the table as well, though a little separate from the others. Arven had no idea if the Treasures had any mental connection with each other, but he reached out and laid his hand on top of it anyway. “I don’t think you’re fully gone. If that’s true, and if you really want to be a better father…” Arven swallowed hard and closed his eyes, saying the last words only in his mind, “I know I need to be braver. I know fear made this whole mess worse for me. But I’m scared. I don’t want to go on this journey alone. Please don’t leave me alone. Not again.“
He opened his eyes and stepped away from the table. Everyone was locked in small talk, which he suspected they did to give him some space. When he turned around to face them, the chatter in the room went instantly quiet.
Ai stepped forward. “I’ll start the machine and send Arven through first. It’ll need a full reboot and cool down to switch directions on the timeline for Penny and Ortega’s travels.”
“D-don’t we have to do anything else first?” Arven asked in a pathetic attempt to stall a tiny bit longer. “I mean, run more tests or something? We should really trying going into the Poké Balls a bunch of times first, shouldn’t we?”
Penny and Ortega exchanged confused glances, followed by some accusatory finger-pointing.
“You didn’t tell him?”
“I thought you did!”
“I don’t talk to people–you know that!”
Ortega shook his head and faced Arven. “We, um…did test them. Several times, actually.” He cleared his throat. “We’d be lousy engineers if we didn’t.”
“So it works, then? You can go in and out of these things?” He gestured to the Poké Balls on the table. “And you didn’t tell me?”
“I-I meant to,” Ortega said, going red in the face. “But it was…I don’t know. Hard? I thought ‘hey, great news! I spent the night in a Poké Ball!’ sounded stupid.”
“Your excuse sounds stupid,” Arven muttered and crossed his arms. Then, after a moment of debate, he added, “So, um…how is it?”
Ortega rubbed his arm and looked at the floor. “It’s quite comfortable, actually. I wouldn’t expect any less given the Luxury Ball’s qualit–ow!” He winced as Penny elbowed him in the ribs.
“It’s…difficult to describe,” she told Arven. “But I’d say it feels like being back in my dorm. A safe space, you know?”
“Yeah, I think I do,” Arven said with a nod. “Appreciate the info.” He scanned the group, trying to guess who among them Penny and Ortega would trust enough to be the person throwing the Poké Ball in their experiments.
Then he noticed one extra non-Team-Star members in the group. She stood towards the back, but her aqua and pink hair was kind of hard to miss.
Arven pointed a shaky finger at Vanessa. “Hold on. Don’t tell me you’re the one who…”
She raised her hand and gave an awkward wave. “Uh, yeah. Guilty and whatnot.”
And just when I thought this situation couldn’t get any weirder, Arven thought.
“We agreed it would make the Poké Balls easier for Ai to trace while she monitors our progress,” Penny said. “O-of course, this is a really personal thing! I get if you want someone else to do it.”
Arven was about to say he would much prefer someone else. But when he tried to think of who that person would be, he came up blank. Juliana, maybe, but he felt bad putting that big a responsibility on the youngest member of the group. Ideally, if he was the only one leaving, he’d ask Ortega to do it. Maybe going with the person he trusted was the next best thing.
“Don’t really have anyone else,” he said. “Vanessa’s fine.”
She gave a solemn nod, one that suggested she understood full well how much he was asking of her. Then she stood up, picked up the plain, normal Poké Ball from the table and stepped a few feet back from Arven.
“Whenever you and your Pokémon are ready,” she said.
Arven nodded and stepped up to the bowl, though he didn’t quite touch it yet. It felt too soon to leave. He didn’t feel prepared. But all the supplies were there. Their route was planned. Even that weirdo from the International Police had given him a rundown of all the dos and don’ts of time travel.
But every time he watched a movie or read a book before someone left on a big journey, there was always this big good-bye. Like, a group hug or something?
Arven’s eyes burned, realizing he’d never had a big send-off to anywhere. He’d enrolled in school alone. Arrived at his dorm alone. Stupid as it was, he wanted everyone crowding around him, like they all had with Ortie to pull him back from Wo-Chien’s mind.
Then, as the tears welled up, he felt Ortega’s arms around his waist. Then Atticus patting his shoulder. Then Nemona, who had a good six inches on Ortie, flinging her arms around him from behind. Mela at her side, doing the same as best she could in the tight space. Giacomo ruffled his hair, Penny timidly held his hand, and Juliana clamped onto his arm. Then Eri stepped up, taller than any of them, and pulled the whole group of them in towards her.
Arven sobbed openly. It should have been humiliating…except for the first time in his whole life, he felt like he was in a place where that was okay. He was accepted. Welcomed. Home.
And there was no way he wouldn’t come back to this family. Not after it took so long to find them.
The group eventually broke apart, and Arven gathered himself enough to reach out and touch Ting-Lu’s new vessel once more. The sensation of earth and clay encompassing his body didn’t feel as strange as before. Maybe because it was familiar to Ting-Lu now, too? In fact, he suspected that if the Pokémon appeared separate from him, it wouldn’t look that much different than they did together. For better or worse, they were an inseparable part of each other’s lives now.
Arven collected his supplies. It still felt strange to move around in this form. Thankfully they could separate at each point in the journey. In fact, Penny recommended it for them to get some rest. She’d remembered to tell him that much, at least. With no reason left to delay, Arven finally nodded for Vanessa to go ahead. She readied the Poké Ball.
“You got this, Arven!” Juliana called.
“We’re gonna throw the biggest party at the Ruchbah Base when you get back!” Nemona called. “With lots of party battles! You’ll love it!”
“If you’re in the past, I know our present and future are gonna be awesome!” Ortega said.
“One-hundred percent guaranteed,” Penny agreed.
“Thanks, everyone,” Arven said. His voice was a bit deeper in this form. Another thing to get used to. He’d be glad to get some separation time when they arrived at their first stop.
As he closed his eyes, he could have sworn he heard Ting-Lu whispering to him, “We won’t be alone. We’ll have each other. And we’ll see them all soon again.“
Arven smiled, and Vanessa made her throw. Even with his eyelids closed, he could see a red flash of light as the Poké Ball opened up. A cloud of warmth surrounded him. Funny how with so much unknown up ahead, he could still feel safe. Like it was worth moving forward to see what would happen next.
And someday, he just knew it–he would see his friends once again.
A/N: And there it is. If you want to read Arven’s time travel story, you can find it here. Updates will come once a week on Thursdays.
One final shoutout to tearswerejerked for pointing out that Pokémon can hold things in Poké Balls. ^_^;;
Thank you to everyone who read this. I thought I lost a spark, and you guys gave it back to me times a million. I hope in return I created something that made you happy. And I hope you’ll join me on future writing journeys in this weird little fanon you all helped create.
With so much gratitude,