Warning: Contains major spoilers for the Starfall Street story
The next morning, Penny was awoken earlier than she would have preferred. Much earlier, in fact. An alert on her phone. It was generally set not to disturb her at night, but she had programmed exceptions for certain circumstances. Some more disastrous than others.
She yawned and fumbled for her glasses, squinting at the screen’s eerie glow, the only source of light in the room.
Defeat Alert: Mela
Her heart sank a bit at seeing the notice. Reading how her close friend had lost her status as a Team Star boss …well, it was preferable to getting alerts that reality was deteriorating much quicker than she initially thought. But even so, it wasn’t easy news to take. She checked the time on the alert: 4:21am.
Seriously? That weird student she’d recruited for Operation Starfall, Juliana, apparently had nothing better to do right before dawn than go running around attacking Team Star’s bases. But Penny had made a promise, after all, so she dutifully sent the promised funds to Juliana’s account. She took a moment to gather herself before calling Juliana directly, however.
With Mela’s leadership overturned, the Schedar Squad would disband. The students would return to class. And more time in class meant less time they were sending Penny the data she needed. If they still sent it at all.
All perfectly natural consequences of the code Penny herself encouraged Giacomo to write. Her grip on the phone tightened. If only she could go back in time to before she had this stupid idea for Operation Starfall at all. Keeping her friends from getting expelled was the only thing on her mind back then, because…well, because of course it was. How was she supposed to know reality would start deteriorating a few weeks later and the school might need Team Star after all?
Her first hope had been that Juliana would flake out and never touch the Team Star bases. But now that possibility had been well and truly torched to ash. She needed a backup plan and quick.
“How do I get into these messes?” she muttered to the Poké Balls lined up on her dresser, then shook her head. Sometimes it improved her plans when she spoke them aloud to her Pokémon, but there was no need to wake any of them now. She created this disaster, and now she had to deal with it.
Penny took a deep breath, turned on her phone’s voice filter, and tapped Juliana’s name in her address book. Signal strength came and went in the dorms, a problem that existed long before the students and Pokémon had followed suit. As Penny waited for a good connection (and for Juliana to actually pick up), she mulled over her potential approach to this little chat.
I’d first like to know why Juliana went after Mela before Giacomo. Just a bit of asking around would have revealed that he’s the least experienced trainer. Of course, Penny had some hand in his inexperience. Once Team Star secured its place in the school’s hierarchy, letting anyone know that messing with members would no longer be tolerated, Giacomo had wanted to “start all over” with new Pokémon he’d never trained before. He’d avoided Dark-types in the past–they had a reputation, after all. Every criminal organization loved them, even the ones who specialized in completely different typings. Team Magma was infamous for its hordes of Houndour and Houndoom, as was Team Aqua for its Carvanha and Sharpedo. The list went on. But Giacomo had changed since Team Star, no longer adjusting his team to what he thought would impress others. It was wonderful progress for him.
Then Penny had contacted him, asking for his base’s take on the strange happenings around Paldea…
“So you’re tellin’ me, you’ve seen Pokémon and people, moving all funny then vanishing?”
Giacomo had kept his tone flat and serious during that first call, leaving Penny clueless on how to respond. “You…haven’t noticed anything like that?”
Giacomo gave way too long a pause before he let loose with a loud cheer. “Of course we have! Are you kidding me? But no one believed us! We all thought we were losing our minds over here! Man, am I happy we have you, Big Boss!”
The ring tone ended, and Penny heard a click as Juliana picked up and greeted her. Then came some scuffling as it sounded like someone took the phone away. The call ended. Penny grit her teeth. Bad signal again? But if Juliana just defeated Mela, she should still be outside the Schedar Squad’s base. It shouldn’t have been an issue. Penny dialed again, breathing deeply and falling back to her memories of her last chat with Giacomo.
“So what exactly have you seen?”
“Well, for starters, it was training time the other day, and somebody’s Murkrow walked right through my Pawniard! Then part of its body vanished, and we just saw a floating Murkrow face for a second, then it went back to normal. Everyone was so freaked out, no one wanted to train the rest of the week. Especially the poor Murkrow!”
“Most members thought the base was haunted or something,” Giacomo went on, “And we almost abandoned it. You know what’s up, then, B.B.?”
Penny had cringed inside. If she would have told Giacomo the place really was haunted, maybe the Segin Squad would have disbanded on its own. No Operation Starfall needed to save them from expulsion. But somehow after all the hiding and deception she’d brought to the friendship so far, she couldn’t bring herself to pile on another lie. Not about something as big as this.
She told him everything. Well, everything she had information on, which turned out to not be much. But Giacomo promised he and his crew would dedicate all their time to documenting the strange events and send her what they found. Which had left the crew very little time for Pokémon training. If she let Operation Starfall continue, she’d pretty much made him and the Segin Squad a bunch of sitting Duckletts.
I need to call off Operation Starfall, she thought, as Juliana picked up again. Any excuse will do. Tell her Team Star is too strong. Or maybe say they’re not as bad as everyone thinks? Ugh, like she would believe that when the school is set to expel all the members.
“Hello?” she said. “Juliana?”
“Is this Cassiopeia?” said a voice that definitely did not belong to a school-aged girl. The voice came from an older male, mid-forties at her youngest possible guess. And it sounded a tad familiar, too.
“Who’s asking?” she demanded.
“My name is Clive,” the man replied. “I would like to help with Operation Starfall. I’m a student at the academy, you see.”
And I’m Mega Diancie, Penny thought with a roll of her eyes. She hadn’t attended many classes at the academy, but she did pay attention to all the announcements the school made. And Director Clavell was almost always the one who made them. With the video feed to Juliana’s phone turned off, just listening to this “Clive’s” voice…yes, there was no doubt as to who he was. Perhaps the man should have tried to disguise his tone a bit better.
“I will need some time to consider this,” Penny said, trying to keep her answer as vague as possible. “In the meantime, I’m assuming the person I actually recruited for this operation would like her phone back.”
“Y-yes. Of course she would. I mean, uh, yeah. Whatever and such.”
More scuffling, and finally Juliana came through. “Sorry. I have no idea who that guy is, but he seems to be following me around. Should I get rid of this phone and maybe get a new one?”
“No need,” Penny said. “I’m pretty sure he’s harmless. He might even be useful, though that remains to be seen. About the next stage of the operation, though–“
Juliana cut Penny off with a monumental yawn. The poor girl sounded like a Snorlax after battle. “I need to get some rest in the dorms first, but I’ll be out again as soon as I can to take down the next base. I promise.”
“There’s really no rush–” Penny began, only to be cut off again.
“Well, there’s benefits to me, too,” said Juliana, tacking on an awkwardly long giggle. Penny tapped her foot. Most new students were like her–not much for talking, mostly letting the more aggressive seniors like Arven and Nemona tell them where to go and what to do. Why did she have to recruit the one new student who actually liked chatting?
“I guess what I really mean is, thanks so much for the LP,” Juliana said.
Penny’s stomach twisted. “Oh, um…of course. I mean, you earned it.” Another bonus to ending this whole charade. No more stealing. “Listen, Juliana, there’s something I need to–“
“I mean, I don’t know what I would have done out in the wild without those extra potions and revives,” Juliana went on. “I didn’t think I could afford them before, but since I knew you’d be paying me, I was able to spend more. My Pokémon are growing so much better and faster, and it’s all thanks to you!”
“Oh, um…my pleasure,” Penny said. “Your training helps too, I’m sure. Keep up the good work.” It was poor phrasing, which she realized the second the words left her mouth. She’d meant Juliana should keep up the good work of training her partners. Not the work she was doing with Operation Starfall. There Paldea depended on Juliana doing atrocious work.
“Thanks!” Juliana said. “And good night!” The call dropped again. Penny took a few calming breaths (or maybe more than a few–she sort of lost track) and tried to call back. Only Juliana’s voicemail responded. Penny hung up without leaving a message, which seemed like the Cassiopeia thing to do. No doubt Juliana would have turned the phone off so she could get back to the dorms and get some sleep. Penny’s hacking could do a lot of things, but it couldn’t remotely power on a phone.
So now in addition to figuring out what on Earth was going wrong with Paldea, she had to keep Juliana from completing Operation Starfall. Without revealing herself or getting Team Star in more trouble if possible. But if push came to shove…
The fate of Paldea has to take precedence, she reminded herself. That’s what Team Star would do. She smiled just the tiniest bit at the thought of her friends banding together once again against an overwhelming thread. Her first plan had been to go back to sleep if she could. But adrenaline had taken over. She needed to call Mela. Even if the Schedar Squad had to publicly disband, the crew might still be able to set some sparks in the shadows.
Metaphorically speaking, of course. Penny really did need to watch her wording from now on.