Despite her misgivings, Misty had no immediate regrets about signing up to assist the new trainer Sawyer had mentioned. Largely because once she got off the phone, she and Brock found themselves with non-expiring, VIP passes to stay at the luxurious Pasio Grand Hotel whenever they liked. As Misty slipped into a warm bubble bath on the top floor, Brock occupied his time with the weight-lifting equipment downstairs.
When the two of them met in the lobby the following morning, a well-dressed man at the front desk hurried up and handed each of them a pack of index cards, tied up with a satin bow. Attached to the bows were two identical notes in script-like font:
Dear Gym Leader and/or Adventurer and/or Elite Four Member:
I’ve helpfully printed your lines to welcome our new guest on these cards. With them, you will also find a helpful map of our lovely city. Please proceed out the hotel entrance, turn left, and walk approximately five blocks until you reach Centra City Plaza. Your fellow trainer will await you there.
Your assistance to our growing island community is appreciated.
Sincerely, Prince Lear
Misty exchanged a skeptical look with Brock and pulled the map out from it had been sandwiched between the cards. No one told them there would be lines to recite. Then again, maybe it would be nice not needing to think too hard about she’d approach a total stranger. She shrugged and tucked everything into her pocket. They were a little ahead of schedule, so there’d be plenty of time for reading the cards once they got to plaza. For now, they enjoyed a pleasant walk down Pasio’s streets.
The New Year’s decorations had almost completely taken over the streets now–lots of golds and silvers and bits of number-shaped confetti. Shops offered festive sweets, cute charms, and New Year’s postcards. Misty treated herself to some mochi while Brock claimed his stomach was still processing the concept of ink in last night’s dinner. She shrugged as she finished the treat and folded the wrapper in half, letting the sides stick to each other.
They passed the huge evergreen tree in the center of town, albeit with only half its decorations. A star and a bell still rested that the top, but a long thick blue tinsel with diamond-shaped ornaments lay folded neatly at the tree’s base. Two people worked nearby, one of them directing a Togekiss to fetch the highest decorations and bring them down. The other had a Comfy floating beside her and wasn’t giving it any directions at all. In fact, she seemed to be dozing off in front of it, her chin length black drooping down as she lowered her head.
Brock and Misty knew that pose anywhere. “Erika!” Misty exclaimed.
It was indeed Erika, standing alongside a young woman the reddish-pink hair. Erika made no reaction, but the redhead turned at their voices. The bulk of her hair was bundled high on her head with a ribbon at the base folded to look like a white flower. Her red hooded dressed was trimmed with white fluff, a green and yellow bow at her neck in the shape of Togekiss’s wings. Over her shoulder was a green satchel with the words “Skyla’s Sky Service” embroidered on the flap.
“Hey, there!” she said, waving them over like they were old friends. Then again, given the memory lapses, maybe they were?
“Do we, um, know each other?” Brock asked.
“Don’t think so,” Skyla said and pointed to her bag. “Name’s Skyla. Unova’s flying-type gym leader. And this is–”
“Erika, Kanto’s grass-type gym leader,” Misty finished for her. “Brock and I are gym leaders from Kanto ourselves.”
“No kidding? That’s awesome. Isn’t that awesome, Erika?” She gave Erika a nudge. “Hey, Erika! Look!” she said, leaning down closer to get nice and loud in Erika’s ear.
Erika startled. She’d gone fast asleep standing up. Brock had seen her do it once or twice before, but it still boggled his mind how she managed it. Erika’s festive outfit consisted of a simple white dress and a soft outer layer of red fabric with golden flowers.
“Oh, we were just about to decorate the tree,” Erika said with a sigh. “Would you care to join us?”
“We already decorated the tree,” Skyla reminded her. “We’re now un-decorating the tree. Remember that?”
“Ah, so we are!” Erika said cheerfully. She looked up. “What a large tree this is. I’m surprised we pulled off decorating it in the first place.”
“It was your idea,” Skyla giggled. She turned to Brock and Misty. “I figured with all her plant arranging experience, she’d have decorated lots of trees, but nope, this was her first time doing it.”
“I’m sure it looked amazing,” Misty said.
“Delicate yet dynamic,” Erika assured her. “We used flowers and berries and even items like these little white tickets everyone had but no one seemed to be using.” She pulled a paper snowflake off a nearby branch. “Recycling is important, you know. And using non-flowers in arrangements makes flowers look even better.”
Brock nodded, trying to his best to feign enthusiasm. He wasn’t sure how much time they had to chat, and given their experience with Erika, she could likely go on all day about her tree-decorating escapades.
Even so, this could be a perfect opportunity to compare notes with someone from home, he thought. Hopefully someone without amnesia. He and Misty met eyes and nodded at each other, their minds in sync.
“Erika, do you remember anything about what was happening back in Kanto before you got here?” Misty asked.
“Oh, yes,” Erika said cheerfully. “It was cherry blossom season. Vileplume and I had made the most lovely decor for the Pokémon Center…”
“We were thinking more along the lines of anything happening with Team Rocket?” Brock said. “Or something called, um…” He glanced at Misty. What was the term Seibold had used? “…these, um, DNA merger things?”
“Hmm? Is that a fancy term for crossbreeding flowers?” Erika asked with genuine-sounding curiosity.
Brock shook his head. This wasn’t going anywhere. Either Erika had lost her memories surrounding Team Rocket the same way he had or she never heard anything about their activities to begin with. “Don’t worry about it,” he said.
“Sorry I couldn’t be much help,” Erika said. “But do you want to hear how a trainer’s Comfey mistook my flower wreath for its long-lost cousin?”
“Um…we’d love to, but…” Misty began. Then she took a glance down at her watch. Her eyebrows rose and she turned the clock face toward Brock. So much for being ahead of schedule. They’d be lucky just to make it on time now.
“Oh, yes, you’ll want to hear this,” Skyla said. “It was pretty exciting. See, a gust of wind took our wreath away, and–”
“Sorry, have to skip this time!” Brock answered. When Skyla frowned at him, he tried his best to smooth things over. “See, uh…we have places we have to go for official Pasio business, um, stuff, so…”
“So thanks anyway!” Misty cut in. She grabbed Brock’s hand and dragged him past the tree and farther into Centra City Plaza. There were probably gentler ways to say, “Need I remind you how late we now are?” but she’d never mess with such a tried-and-true method. Behind them, they caught Erika calling good-bye, and Skyla turning her attention back to their de-decorating: “Hey, where do you want this wreath now anyway? Think Togekiss could wear it…”
Well, that was awkward, Misty thought as she released Brock’s hand. She felt a little guilty, but they couldn’t be late for their first job.
Thankfully, the plaza wasn’t too crowded when they arrived. And most of the people were walking with purpose along the streets, many chatting with friends along the way. In the center of the place was a large marble statue of a man in a gaudy suit, angular sunglasses, and an overconfident grin.
Misty scanned the area, searching for somebody with a just-waiting-here look to them. Sure enough, a girl wearing a visor stood at the corner of the block, scanning the sidewalks the same way Misty was. Her long, dark brown hair was done up in two buns on the sides of her head, each with a long ponytail underneath it. A Servine sat at her feet, nose pointed and alert.
“She doesn’t look like a disoriented new trainer,” Misty commented as they approached.
The girl heard her, but if she was insulted, it didn’t show. Instead, she gave a quick turn and cheerful wave. “Oh, hey, there!” She pointed to the script cards in Brock’s hands. “Ah! I see you’re the other two trainers Lear roped into helping. Nice to meetcha!”
“Um…” Brock raised an eyebrow. “‘Other two’?”
“Well, yeah,” the girl said as she adjusted her visor. “Didn’t you read your lines? Who did you think ‘Rosa’ was anyway?”
Brock flipped quickly through the cards, and several of the directions did indeed reference a Rosa. “I take it that’s you?”
Rosa nodded. “And this here’s my Servine, all the way from Unova!” She patted the leafy Pokémon on the head, and it purred in appreciation. “You can take your own Pokémon out, if you want. Or don’t. Some people here use Pokéballs all the time and others hardly use them at all. It’s up to the trainer, really.”
Misty shrugged and removed the single Poke Ball she had on her belt. At least she’d traveled here with one–her Starmie, she had confirmed last night. She released it onto the sidewalk where it happily turned towards the center of the plaza, letting the sunlight sparkle on its gem.
Brock kept Onix tucked away, at least for the time being.
“Well, then,” Misty said. “Maybe we should try rehearsing our lines or something?”
Servine growled a bit as the red glare from Starmie’s gem shined in its eyes. It crouched low and huffed, rubbing its face against Rosa’s leg. The act drew her attention to the plaza’s center.
“Hold up,” she said and pointed. A few passersby gasped. Some teenager was clambering onto the marble statue. Misty held her breath, hoping the teen didn’t impale himself on the sharper parts of the display.
He didn’t. In fact, he climbed up to the stop as smoothy as if it were a flight of stairs. Once there, he straightened and waved to the crowd. “Attention!” he called out. “I am looking for three trainers to help me! I am supposed to be meeting them here, and I have no idea what they look like!”
“Guess that’s our cue, huh?” Rosa giggled. “Come on, rehearsal’s over. Let’s help this guy out.” She motioned for Brock and Misty to follow her. The trio approached the statue and Rosa waved like this was a perfectly normal way for a kid to be hanging out.
“Hey, there!” she called. “You looking for us?”
The young man turned and cocked his head at her. He had bushy, dark magenta hair and curious aqua eyes. His movements were strange; like he felt more at home poised on an awkwardly shaped rock than standing on solid ground. “Maybe,” he finally said. “You’ll show me how you battle here?”
“That’s the plan,” Rosa said. “Why don’t you come on down?”
He came most of the way down. One foot touched ground; the other stayed on the statue. He clung to the statue’s arm while extending his free hand to Rosa.
“Koko,” he said with a grin.
“Rosa,” Rosa replied, shaking his hand. “And these are my friends, Bro–”
“Ah!” Koko’s face brightened as he turned his attention away from Rosa completely. “Good to see you!” He pointed slowly between them. “It’s Brock and…Misty. Is that right?”
“Oh…you know us, then?” Brock asked.
Koko let go of the statue and dropped fully to the ground. “Yeees,” he said slowly. “I remember the gym leaders from Kanto.” He rubbed his chin. “Do you not want people to know you’re gym leaders? Should I keep it a secret?”
“No, no. That’s fine,” Brock said quickly. He was never that great at smoothing over a conversation, and right now his best idea was reading off the cards Lear had given him. He fumbled with the ribbon as Rosa and Misty got out their own cards.
“Welcome to you, new trainer!” Brock began in a massively dull monotone. “Yes, here you are, standing in Centra City, the biggest city on Pasio. Did you know? Pasio is a completely artificial island.”
“Wow,” Misty said, trying to show a bit more enthusiasm, but not doing much better. They really should have read these info cards ahead of time, rather than distracting themselves with Erika’s tree stories. “I did not know that, Brock. Tell me more.”
“It is true!” Brock read. “Pokémon were essential in building Pasio. Ground, Rock, and Grass types helped develop the landscape. Ice-types helped build a chilly ecosystem atop the mountains. And mysterious psychic type Pokémon keep wild Pokémon from entering the area. There is no other place like it in the whole wormed. Erm, world!”
Koko nodded like either one would have made an equal amount of sense. Since he did seem to know who they were, Misty skipped through a few cards that would have had her and Brock introducing themselves.
“Battles here take place in teams of three trainers each, but some teams prefer to be larger so that the proper trainer can step up in the appropriate situation,” she read. Then she lowered the card.
“I think I know someone who can join our team,” Brock said, making a show of pointing to his forehead. Which the card said he wasn’t supposed to do yet, but Misty went with it.
“Oh, are you talking about that girl from Unova?” she recited. “The one we saw standing in the square up ahea–um…right next to us? You are right. We should go talk to her!” She rotated to face Rosa, and Brock followed suit.
“Rosa,” he said, putting his hands on his hips, the cards loose in his hand. “We have something to talk to you about! We’re looking for–” A gust of wind blew the cards right out of his grip. Koko perked up, took a flying leap off the statue. He caught several in each hand and trapped the remaining cards under his foot as he landed gracefully on the ground. He re-arranged the cards neatly in his hands, glancing through them as he did so.
“You were going to ask Rosa to join us,” Koko observed. He picked up the cards from under his foot and flipped through them as well. “Then Rosa says, ‘I am so flattered!’ Then you all smile. Then Rosa says, ‘But first things first. We have to have a Pokémon battle!'” He lowered the cards. “Do we actually have to have a Pokémon battle, or can you just say we did?”
“Well, erm…” Rosa stuttered. “The, um, battle was supposed to help me learn more about you.”
“You could just ask,” Koko said. “I’m Koko. I’m thirteen years old. My Pokémon is Swovet, though I have a Pikachu now, too. And also…” He held the cards out. “…I know how to read.”
“Y-yep, so it seems,” Misty replied, taking the cards back.
The four of them stood in awkward silence for a good long while. The people who had stopped to stare at Koko leaping off statues had moved on already, re-joining the rhythmic bustle of the crowd.
“You guys want to, um, go down to the beach or something?” Rosa offered. Misty smiled. That was the first good suggestion she’d heard all morning.