Rather than stand outside where it could potentially rain again, Flint suggested they move the group inside for their awkward discussion. Maybe have some snacks, if Cynthia had them around. Aaron wholeheartedly agreed and the frowning guy they’d met when they’d arrived–Flint hadn’t caught his name–volunteered to go into the kitchen and throw something together.
Lucian and Cynthia sat down in two plush off-white armchairs, while Aaron and Flint relaxed into a surprisingly squishy blue couch opposite them. A coffee table sat in between with ample foot-resting space, but Flint guessed that Cynthia wouldn’t appreciate him utilizing it.
The Champion of Sinnoh looked over the group once again, pointing to each in turn. “Three…four…who’s not…? Wait, didn’t Bertha come with you?”
“Uh…” Flint scratched behind his ear and also surveyed the group. Considering there were only five of them there, this did not take long. “Guess not.” His eyes widened. “Flames! You don’t think she’s somehow caught in the fabric of space, do you?”
“Doubtful,” Lucian said, turning a page in his book. Flint didn’t even notice he had a book. “The fabric of space doesn’t like humans lingering about in it. Spits them out as quickly as possible. My guess is she’s back in Sinnoh.”
“How do you know any of that?” Flint demanded.
Lucian held up the lavender hardback he was cradling so that Flint could read the title: A Novice’s Guide to Instantaneous Travel. “Grabbed it off the shelf when that strange portal appeared in front of us,” he explained. “Seemed helpful.”
Flint groaned. Once, just once, he wished Lucian would put the books down and just follow his gut. Flint did that all the time, and he’d been pretty successful in life so far. Got in trouble for accidental arson here and there, but nothing he couldn’t smooth over with time.
“Got some cheese and crackers,” said Frowning Guy as he re-emerged from the kitchen.
“Thank you, Ingo,” Cynthia said, taking the plate. So that was his name. Ingo. Flint could totally remember that.
The plate was passed around, and Ingo took a seat on a stool in the corner of the room. “Cynthia mentioned your friend Bertha is a ground-type trainer? Maybe that’s why the portal left her behind?” he mused.
“Why would it matter?” Aaron asked.
Ingo nodded to Cynthia, who simply said, “It shouldn’t, but seems the Pokémon that brings everyone here doesn’t like ground types. Which is a real shame.” She took out her Poké Ball and released Garchomp into the room. It nuzzled against her hand and sniffed at the plate of snacks on her lap. Cynthia smiled warmly and sat the plate on the coffee table for Garchomp to munch on. Flint was never the subtle or observant type, but he couldn’t help notice how sluggish Garchomp seemed to be moving. Or how the usual fiery glint in its eye looked duller now.
“Cynthia, is your Garchomp feeling okay?” Flint asked.
She glared at him. “She’s tired, but I’m sure she’ll be fine,” she said, in that sharp voice she used when she had everyone in the room convinced of something except herself. Flint sunk back into the couch and munched on some crackers. Maybe Cynthia wouldn’t admit it, but he had the sense they’d arrived right when she might need them most.
After Cynthia explained the basics of Pasio living to her newly arrived colleagues, the tension in the room eased up somewhat. Lucian continued his book, while Flint went outside to run through some training exercises with his Infernape. Aaron remained in the living room where he regaled Ingo with bug-type Pokémon factoids. It was a topic Ingo had not asked about nor voiced any interest in. And yet, he listened to Aaron with apt attention, like an older brother with a wellspring of patience for his young sibling. Lucian found it rather sweet. It inadvertently encouraged Aaron’s focus-breaking chatter, but all-in-all, it was very sweet.
As for Lucian, he had his own objectives. If they were going to be on this island for the foreseeable future, thereby giving him no obligations to battle up-and-coming trainers from Sinnoh… well, that was quite a bit of reading time. He had better locate not only a bookshop but also a larger space to practice his hobby than a cramped living room. He excused himself and headed down the road towards town, only to be joined by Flint right before Cynthia’s abode left his view. Apparently, her tiny yard–fifteen square feet of grass, marked off by a translucent blue fence–did not make for sufficient training grounds.
The two friends walked for nearly an hour, chatting and perusing the shops around town, before Flint finally asked, “So…is there someplace specific you’re trying to find here?”
Lucian marveled at how he hadn’t posed this question much earlier on the road. Then again, he marveled at many things his fellow Elite Four members did. “A bookstore or library would be ideal. But I’d also love to find a coffee shop or bakery where I might enjoy some light refreshment with my latest book.”
“Ugh!” Flint threw his hands up. “Seriously? You didn’t tell me we were coming into town to read.”
“I didn’t think it necessary. What else do you ever see me doing with my time?”
Flint shrugged at that and offered a compromise–no bookshops today, but he was okay with finding a good reading spot if it came with some sweet snacks. Lucian agreed.
Most of the local coffee shops were grab-and-go locations with little or no sitting space inside. Some of the grocery stores had bakeries inside them, but again, there was no seating involved. At last, Flint managed to find a quaint restaurant, run by a renowned chef and fellow Elite Four member from Kalos. The inside had dozens of round little tables, many seated by the windows, and very few were equipped for a party larger than four. The decor was all pinks and pastels for Palentine’s Day, and a smaller menu of coffee and sweets was displayed alongside the larger lunch and dinner offerings. Lucian had to hand it to Flint, this place might just be perfect. He found a table by the centermost window and ordered his favorite drink–a simple Unovacano–with a slice of cheesecake for each of them. He even prepaid the bill as a thank you.
Then, satisfied that he’d fulfilled all his duties as a good friend, he took his book out once more.
Flint did not appreciate this. “Y’know, most people think leaving their dining buddy bored to tears at the table is kind of rude,” he muttered as the owner Siebold came to clear the plates.
“Mmm,” Lucian agreed as he turned the page.
Siebold chuckled as he balanced empty coffee cups with the precision of a Bisharp. “Well, if you’re desperately bored, I could always use a hand with some food deliveries,” he said.
Flint perked up. “Wait. Are you joking or serious?”
“Erm, serious about needing a hand, I suppose,” Siebold said awkwardly. “But I didn’t mean for you to actually–”
“Do I get free samples for it?” Flint asked, his tone deadpan and his eyebrows furrowed.
“I…that is…I would of course pay you if you really wanted to work, but yes, I suppose I can give some free samples as–”
“Job accepted!” Flint said with a grin, getting up and leaving Lucian lost between the covers of A Novice’s Guide to Instantaneous Travel.
Elsewhere on the island, Lt. Surge’s voice boomed across a cement floor, echoing around the pavilion where he, Sophocles, and the rest of Pasio’s Gadgeteering Club had gathered.
The members all winced and glared at him, but they did pay attention as he took roll. So it was a win.
The pavilion was actually one of several in an open plaza just outside the forest habitat. It seemed Lear had been completely at a loss for what to do with the space–too small for a shopping center, and too far from town for a single shop or restaurant. So pavilions it was. And while the area was supposed to be available for everybody, Surge’s thunder-like calls to order sent most non-club members scrambling away. Overall, Surge was pretty proud of this location he’d found.
The club had four members now–himself, of course. Then there was Sophocles, a trial captain from Alola. And Cyrus, a serious, silver-haired man from Sinnoh who had failed to give his occupation. And finally, there was a scientist from Johto who had given his occupation but not his name. Surge just mentally called him Seymore. He’d met a scientist back in Kanto named Seymore once, and the two looked similar enough. Hopefully the group would expand soon. Mostly they chatted about their latest inventions, and when Surge didn’t actually invent anything, it always ended the meetings on an awkward note.
Surge surveyed the area and found two people who had not fled at his yelling. The first was blond man in a frilly white uniform who seemed to be approaching the pavilion. A Clauncher floated alongside him, balancing a round box on its large claw. A man with puffy red hair followed behind, glancing back the way they’d come and scribbling on a notepad.
Sophocles perked up when he saw the two men and waved them over. “Oh, yeah! Siebold says we get a discount if we order refreshments weekly, so I agreed,” he informed the group. “I hope that was okay.”
Siebold thanked his Pokémon as he took the box and lifted the lid for all the club members to see. Inside were a dozen electric-themed cookies, glistening with yellow and white frosting.
Cyrus made no immediate reply but instead picked up one of the cookies and examined it from all sides. “These are shaped like lightning bolts,” he said in his ever-present monotone.
“I know! Aren’t they’re cute?” Sophocles said, taking the box and sampling a taste himself. “Oh, wow! And they’re delicious! Is that lemon curd?”
“Of course!” Siebold said.
Cyrus continued inspecting the cookie like it would stab him in his sleep if he dropped his guard. “This is…cute?” he asked.
“Hey, I get you,” Surge said. “It ain’t my cup o’ joe, either, but look–cookies!” He snatched two from the box and popped them into his mouth. “Mmm…amazing. You know how long it’s been since I had cookies?”
Seymore sighed as he cleaned his glasses. “Since before the war?” he muttered.
“Since before the war!” Surge roared in affirmation.
“You have yet to mention which war you’re referring to,” Cyrus reminded him. “Despite bringing it up unprompted in numerous conversations.”
“Not important!” Surge said.
“Indeed? Then please stop mentioning it.”
Surge made no promises, and no one really expected him to. But Cyrus would not be doing his job as the leader of the Gadgeteering Club if he didn’t tell Surge off at least a few times every meeting.
“I appreciate your patronage,” Siebold chuckled. “And I’m very excited to hear what new discoveries your group comes up with.” He motioned to the red-haired man next to him. “By the way, this is my new assistant, Flint, and he’ll be making the deliveries from now on.”
“Pleased to meet ya!” Flint said with a wink.
“Mm,” Cyrus replied.
“He’s sure you’ll do an awesome job,” Surge interpreted. “And thanks for the delicious baked goods!”
“Of course,” Siebold said. And with that, he gave a bow and left the group to their business.
“Speaking of exciting discoveries,” Seymore said once Siebold was out of earshot. “Wait until you see my notes. This new device of mine will magnify a Pokémon’s strength during battle. A real game-changer!”
“As long as it doesn’t hurt the Pokémon,” Sophocles said, arms crossed and eyebrows burrowed. Snacks were important, true. But it was equally part of their routine that Sophocles, as the moral compass of the group, warned everyone where they collectively drew the line.
“Ah,” Seymore said with a scientificy wave of his finger. “But may I submit that losing a battle is an emotionally painful experience that my invention may help prevent?”
“No, you can’t.” Sophocles pushed the box of cookies towards Seymore as an alternative to making dumb arguments. When Seymore didn’t take one, Surge helped himself instead.
“I agree with the kid,” he said between bites. “And besides, our Sinnoh friend here is already working on some kinda emotional pain removal thingy.” He nodded at Cyrus. “Aren’t you?”
Cyrus “hmphed” at that, which was generally his version of, Yes, I agree, and I’m ecstatic about it. “I’m not yet ready for volunteers to test it,” he said. “And I would still prefer a world where weak human emotions simply do not exist. But until that dream is realized, I believe this device will offer a temporary solution for those who seek it.”
Surge crossed his arms. He didn’t get why his war talk was banned from the table but everyone let Cyrus yammer on about how the incompleteness of humanity or whatever. Then again, he was first on the list to try Cyrus’s new machine once it was ready. So if a tyrannical speech here and there got the man working faster, Surge really couldn’t complain.
Surge had to admit that unlike Sophocles, he was no fan of emotions himself. Sometimes, when no one else was around for him to laugh with or yell at (or both), he found his mind wandering to darker memories he’d rather forget. Or simply not feel hurt by anymore. And until someone invented a way to accomplish the former, he’d stick with Cyrus’s plan for the latter.
He reached for another cookie, but Seymore pulled the box back. If they did get more members, they’d need to order more snacks.
More members…Surge mused, then snapped his fingers. “Oh, yeah, I promised I’d bring a gym leader from Kanto here,” he said. “Need to follow up with him. Wonder where he is right now…” His plan to get Lear’s help to contact Brock had failed when he realized he didn’t have Lear’s contact info, either. As he deliberated Brock’s possible location, his gaze wandered across the landscape–to the forested area nearby but also to the volcano area far in the distance. Nah, he thought and shook his head, only to note that the box remained out of reach with suspiciously less treats inside.
“Hey, seriously, give me another one of those,” he told Seymore. “You didn’t even want any!”
“That doesn’t mean you can eat all of them!”
While Seymore played keep-away with the cookie box, Sophocles simply shook his head, both enjoying the oddball company and wondering how this group hadn’t self-destructed after two meetings.
While Flint returned to Cynthia’s and settled in with familiar company, someone else arrived on the beaches of Pasio very much alone. It was not an uncommon state for him, though it was a disorienting one after vanishing from his home so suddenly.
The man stumbled and grunted. His long black robes hung like weights on his weakened arms. Thankfully, he still had his signature staff, emblazoned with Team Plasma’s logo. He stabbed it into the sand, using it to balance.
“What was–where am I?” he asked.
No one answered except the gentle surf.
“Show yourself to me, Shadow Triad!” he called out. “Show yourself to Ghetsis!”
Again, the barely lit beach gave no reply. Ghetsis walked around with what little energy he had after the shouting. He really needed to work on conserving his stamina.
“What’s going on here?” he growled. A large rock about half his height stood a few feet away, and Ghetsis leaned against it, trying to get his bearings.
Something shuffled in the sand behind him. He turned and scanned the area, but the landscape, aside from his rock and some nearby palm trees, remained empty. Is someone here after all? His body tensed, his old instincts putting him on alert. When one made no friends, an eventual backstab was inevitable, even anticipated.
The palms fronds rustled, and a figure stepped out from the tree’s shadows–simple, straightforward, and as far as Ghetsis could tell, making no threat. Yet.
“Now there’s a familiar face.” The figure revealed himself to be a man in black business attire, walking slowly into view. A greedy smirk marked his face, and an iridescent R shimmered on his breast pocket. “But this is Pasio, after all, so perhaps my face does not look so familiar to you in turn?”
Ghetsis took a cautious step back. Then he remembered that if one wanted to look formidable, stepping back when confronted was ill-advised. “Giovanni, leader of Kanto’s Team Rocket.”
“Excellent,” Giovanni said with a lackadaisical clap. “Your intact memory will be quite the time-saver.”
Ghetsis gave a noncommittal mutter and turned away. Not enough to put Giovanni at his back like a downright fool but enough to let the man know he wasn’t interested in a conversation. Giovanni huffed at the slight, which might have been entertaining if Ghetsis’s mind didn’t already have so many other thoughts racing through it.
What had brought him here? Had N come, too? The last they had spoken, it had seemed…but, no. Ghetsis had caused enough trouble as it was. It was a most uncharacteristic thought for him, but there it was all the same. Even if N was here, there was no reason to make contact. No one from Unova had to know he’d even–
“I’d like to propose a…partnership of sorts,” Giovanni said, interrupting that train of thought. “One where each of us can finally get the powerful Pokémon we desire.”
Ghetsis’s chest tightened. He knew what he desired, and it was nothing Giovanni, nor anyone else could provide for him. Or should provide for him.
“I want nothing to do with whatever your ridiculous plan is,” Ghetsis said, stamping the sandy ground with his staff. He might have lost Team Plasma, his dignity, and even his ambition, but he would not lose his ability to make demands. “Leave.”
Giovanni huffed again. If the man had any better retorts in his vernacular, he wasn’t using them. “I can see you need time to consider,” he said. Then he reached into his pocket and extracted what appeared to be business card from the edges of Ghetsis’s vision. He sat it down on the large rock before he turned and walked away. “Contact me when you’ve gotten your act together.”
Good riddance, Ghetsis thought. He listened intently until the sound of the man’s footsteps well and truly faded behind him. Of course, Giovanni leaving didn’t solve the problem of where to go or what to do next. He began with simply walking. Putting one foot in front of the other gave him a focal point besides the past. Besides all the wrongs he had committed.
Besides the way he’d hurt N.
Perhaps others lost something traveling to Pasio. Ghetsis, it seemed, had gained a conscience. What he was to do with such a thing was an entirely different mystery altogether.