A/N: I really seem to be a fan of these eleventh-hour updates when it comes to this story. XP Anyway, here's the follow-up to the previous chapter, and I can assure you that lots of tears will be shed and lots of hatred will be felt for a peculiar team of characters... Or is it going to be hatred? :P :P :P
Also, in the wake of the Halloween bug that affected the visibility of new updates to fics and accounts, as well as newly-posted stories, I just wanted to remind you all that, if this site goes down for good, I will still remain active elsewhere, so there's no need to worry. For those of you who do not know, I have my alternate accounts listed at my profile, and their usernames are 100 percent accurate. It should NOT be hard to find me there. Go to my profile, and make sure you have the usernames and the websites memorized.
Alright, enough of this rambling! On with the chapter. ENJOY!
P.S.: Due to the ever-worsening situation regarding the coronavirus outbreak, I'm going to have to remind you all about the basic steps you should take if you want to stay healthy, courtesy of my university's reminder emails:
-Wash hands often with soap and water for 20-30 seconds at a time, and/or use hand sanitizer
-Avoid close contact with people who are sick
-Keep your hands away from nose, eyes, and mouth (I can't imagine how difficult this part is probably going to be)
-Eat well, get adequate rest, and exercise regularly
-Get a flu shot if you haven't already and are able to
And if you ARE sick (I hope you get better if you are), please be a good sport and save other folks the trouble of getting sick. You can do this by:
-Covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve, elbow, or a tissue whenever you sneeze or cough
-Not sharing food and drinks with others
-Avoiding touching your mouth, nose, and eyes (Again, I understand this is probably going to be difficult)
-Avoiding close contact with others
-Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects
-Staying at home if you're unwell (PRIORITY NUMBER ONE!)
-Staying calm and keeping yourself well-informed (My personal advice)
If you already know this, then great! If you didn't know any of this beforehand, please keep that information in mind as we all go through this trying time. It's a realm of unknowns at this point, and I wish myself and all of humanity well.
-Team 1 (Galar): Ash, Goh, Chloe, Bea, Sheena, Baraz, Raihan, Sonia, Nessa, Kabu
-Team 2 (Sinnoh): Serena, Dawn, Zoey, Kenny, Ursula, Paul, Reggie, Johanna
-Team 3: TBA
-Team 4: TBA
-Team 5: TBA
-Team 6: TBA
-Team 7: TBA
-Team 8: TBA
Rocket Frigate, Jubilife City
Saturn and Mars stood in a private room, simultaneously monitoring the live news coverage of their arrival and their own security cameras scanning the Contest Hall. As expected, people were fleeing from the vicinity of the building, but no one was ever seen entering or exiting the Contest Hall itself, courtesy of the Team Galactic grunts stationed at all of its entry points, both primary and secondary. They had spent many weeks preparing for this moment with their colleagues in the Syndicate, and so far, it seemed they were reaping the fruits of their labor.
Indeed, it was all paying off for Mars in particular. The excitement was evident on her face as the redheaded Commander monitored the screens. She was leaning forward, her hands clasping a railing in front of her, and her lips were trying to twitch themselves into forming a bigger smile. The light that shone in her red eyes was brighter than it had ever been in years as she absorbed the news of Team Galactic's triumphant return.
But Saturn didn't feel the same way. In fact...he didn't know what to feel.
The blue-haired Commander pried his eyes away from the scene unfolding a mile beneath him. Instead, he put his focus on the gagged lone woman restrained to the chair behind him. There was a camera propped in front of her, recording her pale, terrified visage at all times and streaming it to Jupiter's tablet below. Right now, as he stood there ruminating, the purple-haired Commander was likely informing Dawn, the girl who foiled Team Galactic's previous effort at a New World Order, that they were holding this woman hostage and that her safety depended on the cooperation demonstrated to her.
Narrowing his eyes slightly, and nibbling his lower lip uncomfortably, Saturn approached the restrained woman. Johanna. Her eyes flitted towards his direction, and they shone even brighter, while the terrified and indecipherable noises coming out of her became slower in frequency but more urgent in tone. Saturn knew, without a doubt, she was trying to beg for mercy, for the sparing of her daughter from all of this.
Her daughter. Yes. Her daughter.
As if Johanna's stare would turn him to stone, Saturn broke his gaze away from hers and refocused on the bay of screens before him.
"No, Saturn," he thought, trying to steel himself. "No emotion. Emotion is the enemy of true progress. Don't think about it. Don't think about it. This development, however...unexpected it may be, cannot pose an obstacle to my goals. It can't be..."
But no matter how hard Saturn tried, he couldn't guide his mind away from those troublesome emotions, the great and horrible truth that was staring at him in the face. He couldn't, not when he was already feeling conflicted and ambivalent about Team Galactic's dealings with the Syndicate in the first place...
Jubilife City Contest Hall
"MOM?!" Dawn screeched, her voice stricken with disbelief.
"Piplup!" Piplup squawked in horror.
"Dawn!" Serena had a sinking feeling on what was going to happen. "Dawn, let's just-" By the time she turned her head, the blue-haired girl was already running out of the dressing room, Piplup right behind her. "DAWN! DAWN, NO!"
"What the heck does she think she's doing?!" snapped Zoey.
The Top Coordinator didn't waste any time in running after Dawn, summoning a Glameow from her Poké Ball as she ran. Kenny and Empoleon ran after them, and Serena and Sylveon were about to do so as well when they soon remembered someone. They stopped and turned towards Ursula, Plusle, and Minun.
"You gonna come or what?" the honey-blonde girl asked.
"Oh, screw that!" Ursula replied, her scowl particularly pronounced in all of its arrogance. "If this place is surrounded by flashy-looking astronaut punks like that hag said, then I'm just gonna hunker down here till it all boils over!" She crossed her arms smugly. "They aren't looking for me, after all."
"Plah-plah?" Plusle asked, looking up at its Trainer with confusion and slight disapproval.
"Mi?" Minun squeaked, sharing its counterpart's reaction.
"Alright. Fine, then." But Serena turned away, a clever smirk quickly crawling onto her face. "But when Dawn beats Team Galactic at its own game and starts getting all the attention from the press, don't come crying to me. You're the one who wanted to, quote unquote, 'hunker down here till it all boils over', after all-"
"Alright, alright!" Ursula shrieked, her voice cracking in the process. "I'm coming! I was just...j-just trying to gauge how scared you were of this situation, th-that's all! I-I would've c-comforted you if you were, but I suppose that's not gonna happen." With an annoyed scowl, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a Poké Ball. "Come on out, Garchomp!"
The peach-haired Coordinator threw the Poké Ball, summoning the Mach Pokémon, which let out a triumphant roar that slightly shook the dressing room again. Serena gawked at it in awe and was reminded of Professor Sycamore's own, but she chose to keep her mouth shut, lest she wanted to appeal to that annoying ego of Ursula's.
"Right, then!" Ursula stubbornly looked down at her Plusle and Minun. "Plusle, Minun, come on!"
"Plah-plah!" Plusle squeaked, relieved that its Trainer was finally listening to some sense.
"Mi-mi!" Minun added, equally as relieved.
Serena smiled with relief, then she reached into her pockets and produced her remaining three Poké Balls. Following her fellow Coordinator's lead, she threw them into the air.
"Come on out, everyone!"
The Poké Balls opened up, unleashing a Delphox, a Pancham, and a Kirlia. All three Pokémon looked at their Trainer with anticipation, as if they already knew what was happening and were ready to help in any way they can.
"Everyone," she said, "Dawn's in big trouble, so we're gonna help her. We can't hold back on this one, you understand?"
Delphox, Pancham, and Kirlia all responded with noises of approval.
"Dawn, h-honey?!" Johanna cried through the rectangular screen of Jupiter's tablet.
However, Jupiter merely smirked as she watched Dawn run onto the Contest battlefield, her Piplup waddling right beside her. When Dawn stopped, she froze and tensed up, like a Deerling caught in the headlights. Her sapphire-blue eyes were glued onto the purple-haired Commander and her dozen compatriots, all of whom loomed ominously above her, aboard their hovercraft. She was quick to notice one of the hovercraft was unoccupied, and yet it still seemed to levitate in the air on its own.
"Well, well, well..." Jupiter said. "We meet again, Dawn. It's been quite a long time."
Dawn quickly mustered up her courage and angrily yelled, "L-LET MY MOM GO RIGHT NOW!"
"PIPLUP, PIP-LUP!" Piplup squeaked shrilly in agreement.
But Jupiter merely chuckled with amusement, as if Dawn had told a joke. She shook her head and then raised a hand at the girl's direction. Finally, she wagged her index finger at her, prompting Dawn to grit her teeth in fury.
"Oh, my dear, dear Dawn," the purple-haired woman said. "I was hoping a smart girl such as yourself would understand what's at stake here. But I suppose you haven't caught on to how serious this situation is for you. Yet."
She displayed her tablet, and the captive Johanna, for Dawn to see. The Twinleaf Town native's eyes slowly widened as she watched Jupiter's thumb wander towards what appeared to be a small blue button installed at the end of the device. Then, with a smirk, the Commander pressed down on this button.
Dawn hitched her breath while she watched Johanna scream, contort, and convulse in absolute agony.
"NO!" she screeched. "NO, NO, STOP IT! STOP IT, PLEASE!"
Jupiter's smirk became more pronounced as she lifted her thumb from the button. Dawn's heart sprang with relief as she watched Johanna slump into the chair, hurt but still conscious.
"I take it that Team Galactic has your unconditional cooperation now?" the Commander asked.
Dawn glanced at Jupiter's tablet again, watching as Johanna moaned in pain, tears dripping from her eyes and down her cheeks. In that moment, she knew there was no way she could stop Team Galactic, not by herself, not when Jupiter and her cronies were airborne while she wasn't, and especially not when she didn't know where her mother was within their strange airship.
So, she bowed her head in surrender and replied in a weak, feeble voice, "Yes..."
Dawn gasped and turned around, just as Serena and Sylveon rushed onto the Contest battlefield, soon followed by Zoey, Kenny, Ursula, and their Pokémon.
"SERENA!" Dawn cried in warning. "GUYS, DON'T-!"
Jupiter raised her tablet in the air, her thumb hovering precariously over the blue button. "Don't! One step closer, one lil' sound out of your mouths, and Dawn's mommy gets the shocking of a lifetime!"
"Guys, stop right there, please!" Dawn begged. "They're gonna... They're gonna k-ki-"
Fortunately, Serena and the others stopped in their tracks. Nevertheless, the honey-blonde and her Sylveon glared up at the sneering Jupiter.
"You're not gonna get Dawn!" she called. "Not if we have anything to say about it!"
"Sylve-ON!" Sylveon cried.
"You'll have to step over our dead bodies if you want to lay a hand on her!" added a defiant Zoey.
"Glam!" Glameow hissed.
Jupiter merely began chuckling at the show of defiance. "Ohhh, how adorable. Even after all these years, you still know how to attract the most amusing of characters, girlie. Ahhh, the memories. I still remember that boy with the Pi-"
"Look!" Dawn interrupted. "I-I'll do whatever you guys want! J-Just please, I...I need you to guarantee my mom's safety first!"
"Dawn?!" Kenny wheezed. "What're you doing?!"
"You're gonna go with these astronaut wannabes?" Zoey asked in disbelief.
"They have my mother!" Dawn replied in terror. "What else am I supposed to do?!"
"Look at the bigger picture!" cried Serena. "Dawn, you know as well as I do that these Team Galactic guys have nothing but the worst intentions in mind for you! And as long as they do, there's no way they'll guarantee your mom's safety-"
"Your mother's safety is guaranteed, Dawn," Jupiter interrupted, almost mockingly. "All you have to do is come with us. Come with us, and we'll never lay a hand on your mother ever again."
"You can't seriously buy the crud that woman's spewing, Dawn!" pleaded Zoey.
Dawn glanced at Serena, Zoey, Kenny, and Ursula, all of whom were looking back at her with expectant, protective looks, even Ursula. Then, she looked back up at Jupiter and her tablet, which still showed the live image of Johanna restrained to the chair. Her mind started to swim with confusion and ambivalence.
"Dawn, don't do it!" Serena cried.
"Dawn!" Kenny whispered urgently.
"Dawn!" Zoey pleaded again.
"At least do something, Dawn!" snapped an agitated Ursula.
"Piplup, piplup!" Piplup squawked.
Dawn clutched her head, the confusion beginning to make her feel lightheaded and short of breath. She had no doubt in her mind that Serena was right, that Team Galactic would simply substitute her mother with herself when it came to the cold-blooded torture she had just witnessed. But even so, in the absence of a better option that she could take, it had to be a lot better than simply leaving her mother, the only one who raised her and had faith in her through her life, to...
The familiar, gentle, maternal voice rang loud through the fog of confusion and pulled Dawn back to reality. She lowered her hands and looked up at Jupiter and her tablet again. She could see Johanna, who had recovered from the pain that she had to endure from the electrocution. The blue-haired woman was staring through the screen, her eyes, just as blue as her daughter's, shimmering with emotion. The uppermost strip of her lower lip was tucked underneath her upper lip.
"Mom...?" Dawn asked, her attention now completely on her.
"Dawn, ple-please, just..." She held back her words and grimaced for just a moment, as if she was already regretting what she was going to tell her daughter next. "J-Just listen to what they say... Please..."
"No!" Serena exclaimed. She then glanced at Dawn, her expression etched with determination but also concern. "Dawn, don't listen to them!"
"Yeah!" Zoey added. "This is clearly a trap! If you dealt with these people before, then they're clearly here for revenge!"
"Bu-But..." Dawn stammered, her eyes still glued on Jupiter's tablet. She could clearly see her mother looking extremely uncomfortable and distressed from her bonds. "They...They have my mother..."
"Come on, Dawn!" shouted a horrified Kenny. "Don't listen to them! Please, this smells fishy!"
However, Jupiter smirked and shut off her tablet. "Yes, girlie. Don't listen to us, the ones who have your mother's fate in the palm of our hands. Listen to your friends, the ones who apparently know what's best for you... More than your own mother-"
"If you think you can lure her into your trap," Serena growled, cutting off the Commander. "then you are sadly mistaken. She's not going anywhere with you, not if I have anything to say about it!"
"Phox!" Delphox barked.
"Eon!" Sylveon cried.
"Pancham, pancham!" Pancham snapped.
"Kirl!" Kirlia called.
"Ohhh, really?" Jupiter asked, her smirk becoming more pronounced while her Team Galactic grunt compatriots began to snicker and whisper derisively amongst each other. "I don't think you kids are in any good position to stop us. Not when we clearly have the advantage against you."
At that cue, the Rocket Frigate aimed all of its laser cannons at the Contest battlefield in warning, while Team Galactic's horde of Pokémon readied their attacks from above their Trainers' personal hovercraft. This show of force prompted the last of the spectators in the Contest Hall to scream and flee from the aisles of seats. Serena, Zoey, Kenny, Ursula, and all of their Pokémon looked up at the barrels, then back at their opponents' Pokémon, stricken with terror and uncertainty. As much as they wanted to resist, stop Dawn from complying with Team Galactic's demands, they knew that if they took one step that Jupiter would interpret as suspicious, they'd be dead on the spot.
However, Serena mustered up the courage, thought about Ash, and spat, "It doesn't matter! I'm gonna stop you, even if I have to draw my last breath doing so!"
"Oh?" Jupiter arched an eyebrow in amusement, while a couple of grunts wolf-whistled at Serena's direction. "You think your Pokémon can match the might of Team Galactic? I'd like to see you try."
"Y-Yeah?" Swallowing her fears, Serena prepared to step forward, fueled by nothing but her thoughts of what Ash would do. "And when you lose-"
She was cut off by Dawn, who held out an arm, stopping her from advancing. Serena looked at her friend in shock, only to be greeted by a sad smile from the blue-haired girl.
"I'm so sorry, Serena," she said softly. "But I...I can't let them hurt my mother."
"NO, DAWN!" shouted a horrified Kenny.
"PIPLUP?!" Piplup squawked, just as stunned by his Trainer's decision.
Jupiter promptly chuckled. "That's it, girlie. Just ignore your friends and come with us. Come with us if you know what's good for your mother-"
"She's not going with you, you-!" Zoey interrupted. She immediately ran forward with Glameow by her side.
"Wait a sec, Zoey!" Kenny called in warning.
"NO, ZOEY!" Dawn screamed, reaching out in an attempt to stop her closest rival.
But it was too late. With a smirk, Jupiter pointed at the incoming Top Coordinator, and her Golbat took off into the air. It then aimed itself at Zoey and Glameow and generated a series of sound-waves from its body. These sound-waves struck both Trainer and Pokémon; they fell to the ground, screaming and covering their ears.
"ZOEY!" Serena and Dawn shouted at the same time, as they too covered their ears, followed by the rest of the group.
Jupiter merely continued to smirk, and with her and her grunts being unaffected by Golbat's Supersonic attack, the Bat Pokémon continued its assault upon Zoey and Glameow. Within seconds, the Top Coordinator curled into a fetal position, covering her ears and screaming with agony. Glameow, on the other hand, was flailing on the ground from the effects of the Supersonic, shrieking and helplessly covering its ears with its front paws while its hind paws kicked at the dirt. Many of the Team Galactic grunts cackled and chuckled, evidently relishing in the suffering of the girl who tried to resist them.
"ZOEY!" Dawn screamed again. Then, she tearfully looked up at Jupiter. "STOP IT! PLEASE, STOP IT! I'LL GO WITH YOU, I PROMISE!"
Jupiter snickered and snapped her fingers, causing Crobat's Supersonic to subside. This left Zoey and Glameow splayed on the ground, still reeling from the Supersonic's effects.
"I know you want to go with us, lil' girl," the Commander replied. "It's your...friends that I'm more worried about. They are too unruly, unreceptive, and uncooperative. I'd advise you to get new friends if we were on better terms."
"Look, I'll go with you!" Biting her lower lip, Dawn lowered her head, and tears began to drip to the ground. "I'll go with you... Just...please...please don't hurt my friends... Don't hurt the people I care about..."
"Dawn!" Serena whispered urgently. "What makes you think they won't-?!"
The honey-blonde was silenced by Dawn's raised palm. After a few more seconds of weeping, the Coordinator swallowed her grief and raised her head, revealing teary eyes, slightly puffy cheeks, and a rosy-pink face, which was etched in total and unadulterated submission. Jupiter smiled approvingly and crossed her arms in wait.
"Dawn, for Arceus's frigging sake-!" began a stunned Kenny.
"Really?!" Ursula snapped in disbelief. "Even you wouldn't fall for-!"
"If I don't do anything, then they'll hurt you guys a-and my mother," Dawn interrupted, while she clenched her trembling fists. "There's no other way we can stop them. I...I have to do this, even if it jeopardizes my safety. My mom's loved me and taken care of me for so long, Serena. What else am I supposed to do?"
"Dawn..." Serena tried, but deep down, she knew there was no use in swaying her friend's opinion.
"Ahhh, now that's the spirit, girlie," Jupiter said, her tone one of mocking encouragement. "You certainly know what the drill is. Now, then..."
She pressed a couple of buttons on her hovercraft's dashboard, prompting the unoccupied hovercraft right beside her to descend towards the battlefield. It softly landed on the ground, putting the black metallic boots that it held up on display. Once it did, Dawn began walking towards it, her gait filled with ambivalence and yet so much certainty. Serena instantly grabbed her wrist in a last-ditch effort to stop her from going, but Dawn tore away without even looking back.
"Pip-piplup...?" Piplup chirped softly, looking up at his Trainer with stunned incredulity. The sound of her starter Pokémon prompted Dawn to stop.
"Piplup," she said, without looking back at him, "I need you to stay here."
"Pip?!" Piplup frowned and stomped his foot on the ground stubbornly. "Pip-pip-pip-piplup! Piplup, piplup!"
"Whatever Team Galactic has planned for me, I don't want you to be there. Please..." Dawn paused briefly, and everyone could tell she was holding back tears. "Stay with Serena. She'll take really good care of you."
Piplup stomped his foot over and over again, tears developing in his beady eyes. "Piplup, piplup-piplup-pip-LUP!"
"You won't do anything to stop me, Piplup. This is my choice to make." Dawn hiccupped softly. "I love you, Piplup!"
Dawn began walking again, towards the empty hovercraft, with her fists clenched and her lip quivering. Piplup continued crying and squawking shrilly after her, but his attempts to pursue her were stopped by Sylveon, who reluctantly used her feelers to hold him back. Delphox, Pancham, and Kirlia stood by Piplup's sides, just in case the Penguin Pokémon tried to do anything to break free.
Once Dawn approached the hovercraft, Jupiter pointed at the black metallic boots atop it and ordered, "Step into those."
Dawn sniffled but softly nodded in agreement. She hesitantly stepped aboard the hovercraft and slipped her feet into the boots. Once they were fully inside, the boots automatically latched themselves onto her legs, barring her from moving an inch. Then, the hovercraft autonomously lifted itself into the air and flew back towards Jupiter and the grunts.
Serena gnashed her teeth angrily at how easily Dawn fell into Team Galactic's clutches. Once Dawn was several feet high in the air, she ran forward with her Pokémon and Piplup. Kenny and Empoleon also ran forward, but they chose to check on the fallen Zoey and Glameow.
"DAWN!" she hollered at the top of her lungs. "We'll come for you! You hear me?! We'll come for you! Until we do, hang in there!"
"Don't make promises you can't keep, missy," Jupiter replied, wagging a finger tauntingly.
"Alright," Dawn said, once her hovercraft reached the same height as Jupiter's; her calm voice was barely containing her anger. "I've done what you asked. Do I have your word that you will live up to the end of your bargain and not hurt my friends as we leave?"
"You have our word, girlie." Jupiter looked at her direction, her face wearing a triumphant smirk. "Team Galactic has no interest in collateral damage, anyway. After all..." She glanced mockingly at Serena and the others down below. "Why in Arceus's name would we continue this silly one-sided fight, when your friends are clearly weak and way too emotionally compromised to do anything to stop us?"
"Screw you, old hag!" spat an affronted Ursula.
Jupiter pursed her lips nastily at the insult, but she screwed her eyelids shut and took a quick moment to collect herself. Then, she opened them again and smirked down at Serena's group.
"Very well, then," she said. "Since some of you have big mouths..."
She reached into her pocket and procured what appeared to be a charcoal-gray cube large enough to fit the palm of her hand. Dawn's eyes widened in horror at the sight of the strange device.
"No!" the Coordinator cried. "You said-"
"Don't worry, girlie," Jupiter interrupted sleekly. "This will not hurt them...as long as they don't try anything stupid about it, that is."
The Commander threw the cube-shaped device at Serena's group, and once it got close enough, it unleashed six glowing blue tendrils from all of its sides. Before Serena or any of the others could react, the six blue tendrils planted themselves firmly into the ground, encircling them into a tight area. Then, a blue force-field materialized mere centimeters over the tendrils, creating a dome topped by the cube-shaped device, which trapped Serena's group inside.
"Delphox!" Serena cried, pointing at the force-field. "Use Flamethrower! Sylveon, use Swift!"
"Phox!" Delphox replied determinedly. She then pointed her wand-like stick at the force-field, and once a single, orange flame materialized at its tip, she released a stream of fire from this flame.
"Syl!" Sylveon replied loyally. Then, she jumped in the air and swished her tail towards the force-field, releasing multiple, sparkling yellow stars. "Sylve-OOON!"
The dual attacks struck the force-field, triggering several small explosions. However, neither attack did anything to break through the translucent barrier, and instead, they sent waves of absorbed impact energy rippling throughout the dome. Punctuating the small explosions were several ominous crackling noises and dark smoke, and Serena could vaguely see little bolts of blue electricity emanating from the points of impact.
"Empoleon!" Kenny ordered. "Use-!"
"Wait!" Serena cried in warning, holding out a hand to stop the Emperor Pokémon in its tracks. "It's gonna be no good! If any of us use stronger attacks, we could be electrocuted!" She glared hatefully at Jupiter. "That must be what she meant when she mentioned doing anything stupid!"
"My, my, my..." Jupiter replied with slight approval. "You catch on quick, young missy. Your brains are clearly as great as your looks." Then, she glanced at the horrified Dawn. "Don't worry, girlie. The force-field will turn off on its own in about, say, two hours. Hopefully your other friends aren't as dumb as they see-"
Just then, the purple-haired Coordinator was cut off by a powerful zapping noise. Within the force-field, Serena and the others watched as a massive beam of lightning cut through several Team Galactic grunts' hovercrafts from the right side, exerting such force that some hovercrafts were destroyed, others were damaged, and all of their riders were knocked off and sent falling to the battlefield. Fortunately for them, the ground wasn't too far below them, so when they landed, they were simply knocked unconscious
"What in Arceus's name?!" exclaimed one of the remaining grunts.
"Who in the world is DOING that?!" another grunt snapped.
"Probably another one of those kids that we didn't take into account!" a third grunt shouted in alarm.
"Fan out!" Jupiter ordered angrily. "Anyone who's still here and isn't in that force-field, I want them to be taken out!" She glared at Dawn. "Whoever your friend is, girlie, I'm afraid they aren't gonna be covered in our agreement. Glider Number 37, take her to the Rocket Frigate, at once!"
Responding to Jupiter's voice command, the hovercraft moved on its own once again, this time soaring higher into the air and taking the reluctant Dawn towards Team Galactic's gigantic metal airship above. With nowhere to go and nothing to do about it, Serena and the others watched her go helplessly.
"PIIIIIP-LUUUUUP!" Piplup squealed. He tried to go after his Trainer despite the force-field being in the way, forcing the empathetic Sylveon to hold him back with her feelers.
"Electivire," a familiar voice said calmly, "use Thunder again. Double time."
"Was that-?" began a groggy Zoey, recognizing the voice, but the Top Coordinator was soon cut off as a second Thunder appeared, striking more Team Galactic grunts, their Pokémon, and their hovercrafts.
"AAAGGGHHHHHH!" screeched some the grunts as they were shocked by the excessively powerful electricity and sent falling to the battlefield.
"Wh-Where is this guy?!" one unscathed grunt shouted.
"The Thunder came from over there!" another grunt called, pointing towards one of the entryways into the battlefield.
Serena and the others followed the direction of the grunt's finger and saw someone, a boy, approaching calmly, as if he was about to have a Gym battle. Walking by his side in a gait that almost resembled a predator was an Electivire, whose antennas began to spark with electricity. Serena didn't recognize the boy on sight.
He had dark-brown eyes and long, spiky purple hair that fell over his forehead. He also wore a long-sleeved, dark-purple sweater with a dark-red zipper, pocket, and cuffs; a black undershirt; light-purple jeans; and purple-and-dark-red-striped running shoes. His face bore a dark, unsettling brooding expression, and his gaze was intense, judgmental, and piercing, which brought an impulsive chill down Serena's spine. She had no idea why such a serious-looking boy, who didn't seem suited for, or even empathetic toward the Pokémon Contest venue, was in the Contest Hall in the first place and trying to intervene, apparently on her and Dawn's behalf.
Then, she heard Zoey's voice, filled to the brim with stunned awe and familiarity.
"Who the hell are you?!" one of the remaining grunts barked. "And how the hell did you get past our perimeter?!"
"Perimeter?" the boy asked, his eyebrow arching as he momentarily looked over his right shoulder. Serena was stunned by how casual and yet so confused he sounded. "So that was a perimeter? If so, then I strongly recommend reevaluating your training methods if you want to call those pushovers back there part of your perimeter."
"You dare?!" another grunt snapped. Then, he glared at his Golbat. "Golbat, use-"
Paul closed his eyes, looking rather bored from the developments. "Electivire, use Thunder again. Don't hold back."
The Thunderbolt Pokémon nodded, then it unleashed a particularly large, powerful bolt of yellow electricity from its body. The electricity hit many of the remaining grunts and their Pokémon, zapping them with relentless force. Eventually, their hovercrafts exploded, sending their soot-covered, unconscious bodies falling to the battlefield. With her numbers quickly dwindling in such an unanticipated manner, Jupiter gritted her teeth in anger and glared at her own Golbat.
"Golbat, use Supersonic again!" she ordered.
The Bat Pokémon quickly flew towards Paul and Electivire, but the two of them calmly waited for it to get close enough. Once it did, Paul swiped at the air with his arm.
"Use Thunder Punch, Electivire!" he commanded sternly. "Double time, let's go!"
Electivire propelled itself into the air with its feet. As it approached Golbat, both of its fists became enveloped in sparking yellow electricity. Golbat squawked in terror at its incoming opponent and tried to turn back, but Electivire cocked its left fist while hurling its right fist forward. It made contact with the Bat Pokémon, immediately sending it veering off-course and leaving behind a trail of crackling static electricity. Then, as gravity started to catch up, Electivire prepared to shoot its left fist forward.
"Damn!" Jupiter snapped in fury. Then, she procured a Poké Ball and held it out towards the plummeting Golbat. "Golbat, return!"
Golbat was recalled into the Poké Ball within a second, leaving Electivire to miss his follow-up attack. Once it landed back on the battlefield, the Thunderbolt Pokémon looked up at Jupiter and her remaining grunts, its eyes narrowed.
"Co-Commander Jupiter!" one of the grunts cried, his teeth chattering in pure terror. "W-Wh-Wh-What do we do?!"
"W-W-We're no match for them!" another grunt exclaimed.
"Our hovercraft wasn't designed for battle!" a third grunt warned. "One hit from Electivire's Electric attacks and we'll be joining our brethren, regardless of what our Pokémon do!"
"Agreed..." Jupiter snarled, her eyes narrowed at Paul and Electivire. Then, she hollered out to those who weren't within earshot, "Team Galactic, we've gotten what we came for! Now, we're making our leave!"
She slammed her palm down on a button on her waist before her hovercraft lifted off towards the Rocket Frigate, quickly followed by her grunts and their Pokémon. At the same time, jetpacks tore through the backs of the unconscious grunts, unfurling and activating themselves so their wearers could also be taken back to the Rocket Frigate. However, all of their defeated, unconscious Pokémon were left behind without as much as a protest.
"They're getting away!" Kenny cried.
"Ohhh, no they're not!" Serena growled. Then, she glared at Paul, who had his eyes closed and his hands in his pocket as Electivire landed back on the ground. "Hey! Hey, you! Get us outta here, please!"
"Relax," replied Paul. He opened his eyes and glanced across his shoulder at her, his lips curling into a soft but arrogant smirk. "Electivire, use Thunder Punch on that thing."
Electivire jumped high into the air, its right fist crackling with electricity again. Serena and the others winced, just as the Electric-type's fist collided with the cube that sat atop the force-field. It immediately triggered a small explosion, and like a dying computer, the force-field flickered into nothingness. The group shielded their eyes and noses from the billowing smoke with their forearms, and once it cleared away, they found Paul standing there, Electivire landing beside him.
"Paul!" Zoey cried, wincing as she stood up. "I didn't know you were here! What are you doing here?"
Paul gestured towards the grunts' unconscious Pokémon. "Training." His nasty smirk widened slightly at the others. "Plus, it looks like you weaklings needed some help."
"Aw gee, thanks..." an unhappy Ursula spat.
"We don't have time to play catch-up!" Serena cried in dismay. "Right now, we gotta get Dawn back and-"
Serena was immediately cut off by the sound of terrible, precarious creaking. Everyone looked upward and realized they were looking at the ceiling of the Contest Hall, which had literally been sawed off the building somehow. Then, the ceiling suddenly started to glow brighter and brighter by the second before exploding into a cloud of ashy particles so minuscule that they were blown away quickly by the breeze
As the breeze carried the ash away, the airship's underside was revealed to the Trainers. They all noticed metallic panels unfolding outward, revealing several cannons that were slowly emerging from the underside of the Rocket Frigate. All of the barrels automatically directed themselves at the Contest Hall, causing everyone's skins to pale except for Paul's.
"What the?!" Ursula cried. "H-Hold up! I thought they were gonna spare us!"
"And you believed them?" Paul asked flatly. Then, he glanced at Electivire. "Electivire, use Thunder."
Electivire nodded and quickly discharged a powerful bolt of electricity at the Rocket Frigate's cannons. However, as soon as it got close enough, the Electric attack abruptly struck a force-field similar to the one that imprisoned Serena and the others. Everyone watched as the impact energy harmlessly rippled through the force-field without affecting the gigantic airship itself.
Then, once the last of the impact energy died out, the group heard a humming noise that grew in volume by the second. Soon, this was followed by blue electricity crackling from the tips of the Rocket Frigate's cannons, which then coalesced into energy that gathered around the barrels.
"They're gonna fire on us!" Zoey shouted. "Glameow-"
She was cut off by the cannons discharging their lasers, which passed through the force-field with great ease. But before anyone could run or order their Pokémon to try and intercept the Rocket Frigate's retaliatory strikes, another voice spoke up, quickly catching everyone's attention.
"Energy Ball, Serperior. Send them a barrage as a gift."
Then, a barrage of Energy Balls appeared, one coming after the other, and intercepted all of the lasers. Within a matter of seconds, smoke blanketed the area between the battlefield and the Rocket Frigate.
"What the?!" Kenny exclaimed, looking around in surprise. "Where'd that Energy Ball come from? Who ordered it?!"
"That would be me," the voice replied with a certain degree of smugness.
Everyone turned towards the entryway Paul came from; Serena and the others in her group wore looks of surprise, while Paul himself looked somewhat miffed by the unexpected intervention. This annoyance on the purple-haired Trainer's part only spiked when he and the others saw who exactly ordered the Energy Ball.
It was a Trainer around their age, with a composed posture, dirty-blond hair, and pale-gray eyes that were just as deeply piercing and judgmental as Paul's eyes, if not more so. He wore an orange jacket, a charcoal-gray hoodie underneath, a light-purple undershirt, silver cargo pants, and dark-blue-and-white sneakers. Slithering beside him was a Pokémon that Serena recognized as Serperior; like his Trainer, he was composed in his movements and yet looked so proud of himself for the show of power.
"Who are you?" Zoey asked. "And what are you doing here?"
"The name's Trip," the Trainer replied, averting his gaze immediately so he could stare at the billowing smoke above him. "But it does not matter. What matters is that it looked like you guys needed some help."
Paul pursed his lips with slight disapproval, but he didn't say a word in response. Instead, he too looked up at the cloud of smoke, just as it cleared away to reveal the Rocket Frigate. To everyone's surprise, it had just withdrawn its cannons back into its underside. As soon as it did, the Frigate's main engines, mounted at the stern, began firing off, allowing it to fly away from the wrecked Contest Hall, carrying with it Team Galactic's intended quarry.
"NO!" Serena screamed in horror.
"PIPLUP, PIP-LUUUP!" Piplup squawked loudly; he was still trying to go after Dawn, with Sylveon morosely holding him back with her feelers.
"They're leaving with her!" Kenny shouted. "We can't let that happen!" He glared at his Empoleon. "Empoleon! Use Hydro Cannon!"
"Garchomp, use Sandstorm!" Ursula ordered. "Plusle, Minun, both of you use Charge Beam!"
"Glameow, use Thunderbolt!" commanded Zoey.
"You too, Electivire," Paul said.
"Serperior, use Frenzy Plant," Trip said, just as calmly as Paul.
"Delphox, use Flamethrower!" yelled Serena. "Kirlia, try to reel that ship in with Psychic!"
Their Pokémon used their respective attacks, but all of them missed their marks. Serena and the others just watched as the Rocket Frigate soared off towards the horizon.
"We gotta go after them!" Zoey cried. She and Glameow were about to turn and run towards the exit when Paul grabbed her arm, stopping her. "HEY! Paul, what's the big idea?! We need to-"
But Paul closed his eyes and shook his head; no words were necessary to communicate the uselessness of a pursuit on foot. Defiantly, Zoey gritted her teeth and tried to break free from his grasp, but his grip around her arm tightened, and his strength was greater than her own. With nothing else to do about it, the redheaded Top Coordinator looked up and saw nothing but the blue, cloud-spotted sky.
"Dawn..." she whispered. Then, she screwed her teary eyes shut and hollered to the heavens, "DAAAAAWWWWWN!"
– An hour later –
Saturn sat on the lower level of the bunk-bed, perhaps the very first cushion that he could call comfortable ever since his escape from prison. He was no longer dressed in the Team Galactic attire that Team Rocket had graciously provided him, instead wearing pale-gray casual wear that would look rather ridiculous on him in the eyes of his inferior grunts. Looking down at the clothing, the blue-haired man realized that they reminded him of the clothes he wore in prison. It was as if Team Rocket (also the ones to provide him with such clothing) was giving him a tacit reminder that he'd still be behind bars if it weren't for them.
Saturn's eyes narrowed slightly as he continued to stare down at his clothes. He clenched his hands into tight fists as he felt his entire being become filled with ambivalence, self-doubt, and above all else, hatred towards his situation. He knew he should be happy about making Dawn Berlitz, one of the meddling children who thwarted Team Galactic's original plan, squirm. He knew he should've been spending his minutes rejoicing at the pain he knew she must've felt.
"Saturn?" a familiar voice asked. "Are you okay in there?"
The Commander looked up and saw Mars standing coolly in the doorway of the quarters he shared with her and Jupiter. She was dressed in her formal Team Galactic attire, just like before; her arms were crossed, and there was a tight frown etched upon her face. Saturn could sense what she was going to talk about from a mile away.
"Why aren't you dressed up, Saturn?" she asked. "Giovanni is expecting us to report to him in a few minutes."
Saturn blinked, then he swallowed up his deeper emotions and replied, "My sincerest apologies. I was just...caught up in my thoughts for a moment." He stood up. "I'll get on it right away..."
However, he didn't move, and Mars merely stood at the doorway, continuing to closely watch him. Finally, a bitter frown came upon the blue-haired man's face.
"What, Mars?" he asked dryly. "I do need my privacy, you know. Please, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"You know, Saturn," she replied, her voice tinged with suspicion, "it's been three months since our liberation from that... That Arceus-forsaken hellhole of a prison, and yet, all you've been doing that entire time is just sulking around like your Toxicroak. You haven't celebrated the occasion or anything, not even once. For Arceus's sake, I didn't even see you smile when we forced Dawn Berlitz to submit to our power. Very odd behavior, if you ask me-"
"If you're implying that I wholly prefer prison over liberation, then you're sadly mistaken, Mars. I am indeed thoroughly pleased in our freedom. I'm...just thinking..."
"Yeah." Mars scoffed mockingly. "Thinking about how untrustworthy the Syndicate truly is."
Saturn gnashed his teeth together. "We thought Cyrus was trustworthy when he confided to us about his grand vision of the New World Order. And look how that turned out, Mars. We wound up being...tools for his own selfish and egotistical ambitions, tools which he intended to discard once he was done with them. Like an old screwdriver! You've got no further use for the screwdriver when it breaks on you, do you?!" He crossed his arms. "And now we expect to trust Giovanni and his...his Team Rocket organization just as quickly?"
"They're our next opportunity to achieve the New World Order! We must seize this opportunity, for it is within our reach! We must!" She narrowed her eyes. "Unless you no longer believe in the-"
"I still believe in the New World Order!" shouted Saturn, startling his redheaded colleague. Then, he turned away on his heel and added in a vicious snarl, "Don't you dare judge me on that..."
Mars smirked. "Then hurry up and join us when we respond to Giovanni's summons. Do not keep him waiting, Saturn." She turned around and started walking away, but then stopped. "Oh, and Saturn? About your old screwdriver analogy... If you just glue the screwdriver back together, won't it become useful to its user again?"
A growl emanated from the man's mouth as he heard Mars walk away from the scene. Once he was sure the redheaded woman had left, he looked down at himself, examining his clothes once again. Every time he looked down at them, his head would wander back to his dark, dreary, cramped prison cell. To Saturn, it seemed as though nothing had changed. He was still a prisoner, left to suffer from the burden brought by the fallout of the crimes committed by Cyrus...
"And what happens when the glue on the screwdriver finally breaks?" Saturn thought. "What happens then, Mars? What happens then...?"
Jubilife City Contest Hall
"Good evening, everyone. We're reporting to you live from the Jubilife City Contest Hall."
Serena stood right in the middle of the Contest battlefield, scanning everything that was happening around her. She did so almost dumbly, as if it was all a waking dream and she was expecting herself to wake up at any moment.
Police officers, several cleanup crews, and their Pokémon were all around her, analyzing the crime scene and cleaning up the debris. Some of the officers were interviewing all of those who witnessed the incident in its entirety, Zoey, Paul, Trip, Kenny, and Ursula included. Other officers were taking the Pokémon Team Galactic abandoned into custody, using metal handcuffs and other types of restraints to keep them under control. Rhonda and her Sinnoh Now crew were standing off to the side, reporting on what had just occurred in Jubilife City.
But Serena was unable to register any of this. All five of her senses were dulled as she delved into her inner thoughts, as a sense of horror and defeat overwhelmed her.
"Dawn's gone... Dawn went with those Team Galactic goons, and now...now, she's gone... She's all gone, and I could've done something about it, but I didn't... I could've, but I didn't..."
"I-I wouldn't be me if it wasn't for her love and compassion..."
"Like my mom always told me, moms love their daughters, no matter what, so daughters should always return the favor."
"I...I have to do this, even if it jeopardizes my safety. My mom's loved me and taken care of me for so long, Serena. What else am I supposed to do?"
"I shouldn't have let her make that choice," Serena thought, her fists clenching. "I shouldn't have! I know she cared for her mother, but that wasn't her choice to make! It wasn't! I-I should've just kept on fighting and giving it my all, for her, for my friend! That's what friends do, right?! They give their all for one another?! But I...I didn't do any of that..."
Serena's vision soon became blurry, and her eyes felt heavy. "Instead, I was weak... I let this happen to Dawn... I was a horrible friend... I'm...I'm sorry, Ash!" The honey-blonde screwed her eyes shut, as tears dripped from them. "I couldn't make you proud. I couldn't become the person you'd want me to be. Instead, all I did was prove how much of a failure I was-"
The five noises brought Serena back to reality, and she found herself staring at Delphox, Sylveon, Pancham, Kirlia, and...
"Piplup..." Serena whispered.
All five Pokémon were crowded around her, looking at her with concern. Even Piplup was no longer wearing the dismayed look he had been having for the past hour.
"O-Oh!" Serena quickly mustered a smile, though even she could tell it was faltering badly. "I'm...I'm okay, you guys. I-I really am."
But none of the five Pokémon were convinced, not even in the slightest. Soon, Delphox held out her arms and embraced her Trainer, followed by Pancham and Kirlia hugging Serena's right leg while Sylveon wrapped her feelers around her left leg and nuzzled her head against her shin. Upon feeling the affectionate touches of her Pokémon, Serena's true emotions broke free, especially at the sight of the lone Piplup.
"Oh, you guys!" she wailed quietly. "I'm sorry! I should've made you guys do something to help Dawn, b-but...b-but I..." She looked at Piplup in particular. "Piplup, I'm so sorry! I really am! I...I..."
Her voice trailed off, but no more words were necessary. Piplup's beady eyes softened and started to shimmer, before the Penguin Pokémon leaped into her arms and hugged her.
"Piplup, pip-LUUUP!" he squawked. Though Serena couldn't understand him, the apologetic tone of his voice was enough to convince her that the Penguin Pokémon forgave her.
"Phox," Delphox said serenely while nodding her head in approval.
"Eon," added Sylveon.
"Lia!" Kirlia cried as she tried to hold back her own tears.
"Pancham, pan-cham!" Pancham exclaimed encouragingly.
"Serena!" a voice called.
Serena and the five Pokémon broke apart, just in time to see Kenny approaching him, having just finished up his police interrogation. He was followed by Paul, Trip, Ursula, and a morose Zoey. Serena nodded at them, before the group chose to move towards the secluded hallway that led back to the dressing room.
"So, what do we do now?" Kenny asked, once the group entered the mouth of the hallway.
"Huh?" Ursula eyed the auburn-haired Coordinator suspiciously. "What do you mean 'What do we do now'?"
"Well, we gotta get Dawn back! Who knows what those Team Galactic goons are doing to her right now?! What they are planning on doing with her?!"
"We can't just leave her in their clutches while everyone else is still processing what just happened," Zoey added grimly.
"Uh, uh!" Ursula angrily shook her head, her twin pigtails bobbing to and fro. "No way! No way, José! Look, I only agreed to help you all out because Blondie here told me Dawn would get the better of those badly-dressed punks and take all of the credit for herself! I wasn't about to let that happen! But now that I know what exactly I'm going up against, then I'm definitely gonna sit this one out! Me and my Pokémon!"
"So all you cared about was snatching attention away from who I assume to be your rival?" Trip asked. Then, he closed his eyes and subtly shook his head in disapproval. "How pathetic..."
Ursula glared at Trip. "Hey, I heard that! And I don't know about you, but I know when someone's outmatched!"
"So you're saying we're outmatched here?" Serena asked.
"Now what would you call what happened in the past hour?!"
"It doesn't matter what happened," Zoey replied, her voice now filled with resolve. "We have to do something, because it is pretty clear that Officer Jenny and the other cops don't have any idea what they're dealing with."
Serena scanned the entire Contest battlefield and realized Zoey was right. The police officers were examining the smoky wreckage of the hovercrafts the Team Galactic grunts used, but they were at a complete loss in regards to the impressive technology before them.
"Zoey's right," the honey-blonde said. "They were not the ones who confronted Team Galactic. But we were. We have an idea on what we're going up against."
Ursula looked like her head was about to explode into flames. "Then why don't we just, I dunno, fill the cops in on what we saw? That is what I've been doing throughout my entire interrogation." She scowled and crossed her arms. "Don't tell me you guys were just busy talking about your fingers!"
"Hey, I told them everything that I saw!" Kenny snapped. "But honestly, I think I just scared the officer interviewing me."
"Same here," Zoey said grimly.
"Officer Jenny asked me a few questions," commented Serena. "Even she was rattled by my descriptions..."
Paul scoffed bitterly and closed his eyes in disappointment. "What a bunch of weaklings..."
"Darn right!" snapped Ursula. "All this proves is that we need to overhaul the entire darn Jubilife City Police Department!"
"Well, until then," Serena snarled, "we gotta use everything that we have at our disposal. If that doesn't include Officer Jenny and her fellow officers, then we might as well rely on ourselves and our Pokémon!"
"Yeah!" Kenny cried with a raised fist. "I'm in!"
"You're only in because you wanna-" Ursula began tauntingly, but she was suddenly silenced by a fiery look from Zoey.
"No one is forcing you to be of any help, Ursula," the Top Coordinator hissed, her voice as menacing as a Seviper. "So, if you want to get out of here and go on your day, then be. My. GUEST. But I'm gonna make one thing crystal-clear: you do NOT question or badmouth any of our intentions in helping Dawn. I don't know what it is about her that's riled you up so much, but if you have any decorum in you as a Coordinator, any decency as a human being, then you're gonna show us a little more respect. Capieche?"
Ursula didn't respond. Instead, she looked as if she had shrunken by a couple of inches, while her Pokémon simply didn't do anything about their Trainer's dilemma. Serena couldn't help but beam in pride at Zoey for forcing such an ungrateful girl into submission. Even Paul and Trip looked slightly off-put by how silently enraged the redheaded girl had been.
"C-Capieche..." Ursula squeaked meekly.
"Good." Zoey glanced at Serena. "Now then, since we're in agreement, how do you suggest we go after them? You saw how quickly that ship of theirs flew off."
"Well, one thing's for sure," Paul replied, his eyes closed. "There's no way a ship as big as that can be accepted into any airport in the world. Even the largest of airliners pale in comparison."
"And there's no way a ship that big can escape detection all day long," added Trip. "We should watch the news channels and see if they've got any reports of strange sightings."
"Good point!" Kenny cried.
"Let's head to the dressing room," Serena replied, gesturing towards the doorway. "Some of the TVs still work."
With their next course of action agreed on, the group headed towards the aforementioned room. Indeed, as soon as they entered, they found some of the TVs still on. Serena approached the nearest active one, which was now airing Rhonda's breaking news report.
"That was the latest from Officer Jenny on the incident at the Jubilife City Contest Hall. Initial reports of, uh, several people kidnapped from the area were confirmed to be false, but she did confirm that a Coordinator has been taken-"
"I can't listen to any more of that..." Kenny said morosely. "I can't..."
"Kirlia, use Psychic to change the channel," Serena instructed. "We'll tell you to stop if we see something useful."
"Kirlia." The Emotion Pokémon nodded before raising her hands, her pink eyes glowing. "Kiiiiirliaaaaa..."
Soon, the TV set began to scroll through its channels on its own. It was one news channel after another, reporting on the recent events in Jubilife City, with some reports mentioning the Motostoke Stadium incident as well. Kirlia didn't stay on one channel for too long; it would only spend a few seconds listening to the reporter's first few words before switching to the next channel. This transpired for about a minute, with Serena and the others closely analyzing the news channels for any new developments on the Rocket Frigate's current whereabouts.
"This is an unprecedented moment in the history of Jubilife City and, quite frankly, all of Sinnoh-"
"-We must stop wondering whether the Sinnoh and Galar incidents are related and-"
"-I am, quite honestly, worried about what this might mean for the Pokémon battling sport."
"To tell you the truth, Mary, this is something that authorities should've been prepared for-"
"-I can't even begin to imagine how the governments of Sinnoh and Galar-"
"-This wouldn't have happened had all these nonbelievers turned away from Arceus!"
"We have breaking news on the location of the-"
"Wait, wait, wait!" Zoey cried, holding out a hand towards Kirlia. "Kirlia, go back to that last channel!"
"Kirlia!" the Emotion Pokémon replied. Then, she used her Psychic to return to the channel she had just been on.
To the immense relief of Serena and the others, there was a live broadcast of the Rocket Frigate flying over a vast forest.
"There's that ship," Paul said.
Meanwhile, Serena read the caption. "Airship seen in Jubilife City now over..." She blinked in confusion. "Eterna City?"
"E...Eterna City?" Ursula asked incredulously.
Serena glanced at the peach-haired Coordinator. "Yeah... You know that place?"
"Yeah..." Horror now started to fill Ursula's face as she kept her eyes glued to the screen. "It's my hometown..."
"Then you know the fastest route there," Paul said firmly. "T-"
"Take us there," Trip said, cutting Paul off and earning an irritated glance from the purple-haired boy.
Finally, Ursula looked away from the screen and stared at the others in disbelief. "T-Ta-Take you there?! I-It's not like it's just a f-five-minute walk! You gotta go north and take Route 204, then pass right through Floaroma Town, and then you go right and take Route 205 all the way to Eterna!"
"That doesn't sound so bad," Serena remarked.
"Not so bad?!" Ursula glared at the honey-blonde incredulously. "It's gonna take you two, maybe three days to make the entire journey! That weird ship of theirs has had a head-start on us for an hour, and who knows how long it's gonna stay over that area?!"
"Well, we'll never know unless we try!" Serena raised a clenched fist. "Never give up till the end is what I always say!"
"Ursula's got a point, though," Kenny replied with a grim voice. "We've got quite a ways to go to get to Eterna. Plus, who knows what wild Pokémon we're gonna encounter on Routes 204 and 205?"
"It doesn't matter," Paul replied while closing his eyes. "I've traveled through that area before, and all the Pokémon living there are pushovers. My Pokémon and I can crush about a hundred of them in one day, easy."
"And my Pokémon can pummel two hundred to the ground per day without breaking a sweat," Trip added with pride.
Paul opened one eye and glared at Trip, his irritation more evident than ever. "You don't seem like the type who has been through these lands before. Plus, my Pokémon can defeat over three hundred wild Pokémon a day if they have to."
Trip glared at Paul as well, looking slightly perturbed by the claim. "Well, my Pokémon can defeat-"
"Oh, my frigging Arceus!" Zoey cried shrilly. "I can't believe I'm hearing this coming from you two! Can you two just drop it and focus on what's really important?! Or are you just gonna keep bickering about such a silly thing like children?!"
Paul and Trip stared at the redhead for a moment, then at each other. For a brief moment, Serena thought that the two Trainers would lash at each other's throats. Fortunately, they merely scowled at one another and looked away.
Zoey let out a loud sigh of relief. "Good! Now, there's gotta be a faster way to get from here to Eterna City!"
"Ursula," Kenny said, "are you sure there aren't any other routes that you can think of that'll get us to Eterna in about a few minutes?"
"Trust me," Ursula replied with a disappointed frown, "if I knew of such a route, then I wouldn't have said it wasn't like a five-minute walk, now would I?"
"That's not good enough!" exclaimed Serena. "Who knows what those guys are doing to Dawn now?! Her only hope is for us to reach her in less than five minutes!"
"Piplup, pip-pip-pip-piplup!" Piplup chirped frantically in agreement.
"Phox!" Delphox barked softly.
"Eon!" crooned Sylveon.
"Well," Ursula replied sardonically, "unless you've got a private plane, Blondie, then we're out of luck."
At that moment, Paul's eyes lit up slightly. "Hold on. Those...Those things the men were riding."
"You mean those hovering things?" Serena asked, immediately remembering the grunts' hovercraft.
"Yes. Surely they could suffice for quick and efficient transportation. They didn't look too difficult to navigate."
"But you shot them all down, remember?" asked Kenny.
"Not all of them..." Paul's forehead became wrinkled as he recalled his one-sided battle with Team Galactic. "I can recall Electivire's Thunder disabling some of them, but not destroying them outright."
"Well, let's go check them out!" Zoey exclaimed. "I still saw them lying on the battlefield!"
"But...aren't those gonna be taken in as evidence by the police?" Ursula asked.
"Perhaps, but the cops are clearly outmatched by those guys. And if they won't be of any help, we have to take matters into our own hands!"
Ursula's eyes widened with shock. "E-Even if it means getting arrested?"
Zoey stared at the TV determinedly. "If it also means getting Dawn back, then yes."
With the unspoken consensus being reached, the rest of the group left the dressing room, leaving Ursula and all three of her Pokémon behind for a moment. Fortunately, Serena heard the ghost of the peach-haired girl's exasperated muttering before she stormed after them.
Once they reentered the battlefield, they set their sights on the fallen hovercraft devices. By that point, the officers had gathered most of them in one small area in the corner, which conveniently remained unguarded. Serena glanced at the people present on the battlefield; they were all busy talking amongst one another or analyzing the crime scene.
"Alright, no one's looking," she said. "Now's our chance."
They all walked over to the corner of the battlefield and examined the hovercrafts. They all seemed to be a mix between a scooter and an aerial drone, retaining the dashboard and handles of a scooter whilst also possessing small wings and a miniature propulsion engine at the other end. Indeed, some of them were blackened and in pieces just as Paul described. However, others were in various states of preservation, with some even looking as if they hadn't been damaged at all.
"Looks like they're all big enough to fit only one person and one Pokémon, max," Zoey commented as she lifted one such hovercraft off of its side.
"One light Pokémon at that," Kenny replied, his brow furrowed as he took and examined his own. "Now if we get some of these running, then we may have to call some of our Pokémon back."
Meanwhile, Serena and Piplup both spotted a smaller pile lying next to the hovercrafts. She approached it and realized it consisted of the same black, metal boots that Dawn was forced to step into when she boarded her hovercraft.
"H-Hey, you guys?" she asked, picking up a pair and showing it to the others. "Remember when that woman made Dawn wear these things?"
"Yeah, that was peculiar," Zoey replied.
"Totally not the fashion of the day..." Ursula commented in disgust.
"What do you think they're for?" asked Kenny.
"Isn't it obvious?"
Everyone turned towards Trip as he stepped forward while dragging a hovercraft with him. They saw that it had the boots attached to them and were surprised to hear a soft but ominous humming noise coming from the small aerial vehicle.
"These boots have to be attached to this thing for it to activate," Trip continued, sounding as if this was already common knowledge. "See the foot-shaped impressions?"
Zoey looked at her hovercraft and realized there were, indeed, two depressed areas, right on the place where one had to stand on. Unlike much of the hovercraft, these depressions were colored red, and they were also just as big as the metal boots.
"I see them," she said.
"They're magnets, essentially," replied Trip. "To keep the pilot secured to this thing while also keeping the engine on."
"Well, seems like those magnets weren't especially strong," Paul remarked with a smirk, "since Electivire's Thunder was more than enough to knock them off."
Trip shot Paul a scathing look in response. "Regardless, we should put some of these...boot things on, step onto these air vehicle things, and put that theory to the test."
"If that's what Trip had to do," Serena replied, "then let's do it. We don't have anymore time to waste."
With that, Trip stepped onto the hovercraft he brought along and slotted his feet into the black metal boots. Just as they did with Dawn, the boots automatically latched themselves onto his legs, limiting his movement. Meanwhile, the others recalled their Pokémon back into their Poké Balls, took the most intact hovercraft vehicles they could, retrieved a pair of boots of their own, and placed them into the foot-shaped impressions. To everyone's relief, most of the engines activated themselves, one by one, with the sole exception of...
"Oh, Arceus frigging..." Ursula muttered upon hearing the comical sputtering noise coming from the hovercraft she took, while Plusle and Minun giggled to themselves.
"Get another one, Ursula, hurry!" wheezed Serena.
"Okay, okay! Jeez, you don't have to get yourself winded up just because we have these weird gizmos!"
Ursula then knocked over her hovercraft in a fit of annoyance, only for it to make a loud crashing noise upon hitting the ground.
Serena's, Zoey's, and Kenny's skins crawled upon hearing the voice of Officer Jenny.
"Hey, you! What do you kids think you're doing?!"
As Ursula hurriedly got herself another hovercraft, Serena looked towards Officer Jenny, who was approaching her group while being flanked by some of her fellow officers and a pack of Growlithe led by an Arcanine.
"Those are evidence!" the policewoman barked angrily.
"No, these are the things that'll help us get back our friend!" Zoey protested.
"I understand your pain, kids, but the longer you stay on those...those things, the more trouble you'll get into! I demand that you get off of those this instant, before you contaminate anything any further!"
"I've got one that works, guys!" Ursula cried as soon as she stepped onto her new hovercraft. "Let's get outta here! I do NOT wanna go to jail!"
"You kids are not going anywhere!" Officer Jenny snapped, while her Arcanine growled at them. "Now, I don't know how you managed to get those things working, but I am ordering you to get off those this instant!"
"Officer Jenny!" Serena pleaded. "We know where that ship is, and our friend is somewhere inside it! Please, you've gotta allow us to get her back!"
"Piplup, piplup!" Piplup squawked in agreement from the dashboard of Serena's hovercraft.
But the policewoman shook her head in concern. "No! No, I'm not about to let a bunch of kids like you go up against..." She hitched her breath. "Whoever those guys are!"
"You're free to stop us all you want, lady," Paul said, his dark eyes narrowed as his hovercraft lifted off into the air. "But I am afraid you're gonna have to shoot us down."
Before anyone else could stop him, Paul was already hovering out of the Contest Hall with his slightly sputtering aircraft, ready to soar off after the Rocket Frigate. Trip narrowed his eyes at the purple-haired boy and quickly followed after him, leaving behind a befuddled Officer Jenny and a group of perplexed, overwhelmed policemen and women. Upon realizing the authorities weren't going to budge an inch to stop them, Serena, Zoey, Kenny, and Ursula lifted off as well.
"Officer Jenny!" Serena called as she continued her ascent. "The ship is near Eterna City! You can tell the Officer Jenny at Eterna what's happening, but we're going after it, and we're saving our friend!"
Officer Jenny opened her mouth, and the honey-blonde could tell she wanted to yell another order at them, instruct them to stop what they were doing or face the consequences. But at that point, everyone in the police department still looked rattled and unnerved by the earlier, unprecedented attack, and the motivation just wasn't there anymore.
Serena's suspicions were confirmed when Officer Jenny closed her mouth, sighed softly, and then called out, "You kids be careful! I'm calling my relative at Eterna City, and I cannot guarantee her going easy on you if she finds any of you alive! She's not gonna hold back like I did! You hear me?!"
"We got it!" Zoey replied.
"Thank you, Officer Jenny!" called a relieved Serena. Then, she looked upward as Kenny and Ursula, who had ascended faster than her and Zoey, waited for the two of them; Paul and Trip apparently had gone on ahead. "You guys ready?!"
"Yeah!" Kenny exclaimed. "Ready to save Dawn and kick some Team Galactic butt!"
"Hurry up!" Ursula snapped. "Let's get this over with! We still have Pokémon Contests to compete in, after all!"
Once Serena and Zoey reached the same heights as Kenny and Ursula, the quartet directed their hovercrafts to face the direction Paul and Trip had gone off to. Serena promptly looked down at Piplup, who was staring ahead expectantly.
"You ready, Piplup?" she asked.
"Pip-LUP!" the Penguin Pokémon cried triumphantly.
"Alright, then!" Serena focused ahead as well. "Let's get going!"
The four Coordinators, relying on the directions on their dashboards, carefully sped the hovercrafts forward. Soon, they were soaring through the skies of Jubilife City and towards the outskirts where Paul and Trip were. Piplup held on tight to Serena's dashboard while the honey-blonde narrowed her eyes and held on to her tam o' shanter, making sure it would not get blown off her head by the wind.
And as Serena followed Zoey, Kenny, and Ursula, as the quartet raced to catch up with Paul and Trip, one thought quickly crossed her mind.
"Don't worry, Dawn! We're coming for you! We won't let you down again, I promise!"
Down in the streets below, Reggie was among the civilians watching the massive TV situated on the side of the Pokétch Company Headquarters. It was currently broadcasting a live news report chronicling the events of the past hour or so. As the news anchor discussed the increasingly likely connection between the incident at the Contest Hall and the events at Galar's Motostoke Stadium, Reggie and several others overheard a loud whooshing sound.
Looking upward, Reggie and the other civilians saw several strange-looking hovercraft devices passing right over them, hovercrafts that looked a lot like the ones ridden by the criminals known as Team Galactic. Many civilians began to panic, believing the city was being subjected to a follow-up attack.
However, Reggie was the only one not to react adversely to the sight, for he immediately recognized the clothing of the pilot in the lead of this group. And then, one brief glimpse of the pilot's hair was all that the Pokémon Breeder needed to confirm his identity.
"Paul?" he asked incredulously.
Uneasiness began to creep into Reggie as he pushed his way through the crowd, hoping to find an accessible method of transportation that he could make easy use of.
Rocket Frigate, Eterna City
"Hey! Hey, let us outta here, right NOW!"
"Shut up, little girl."
Dawn glared hatefully at the two Team Galactic grunts stationed at the door of her cell. They did not stare back, instead standing tall and firm with their Drapion and Machamp as they monitored any suspicious movement in the perpendicular hallway. Not that there was anything to monitor in the first place, for all of the other cells in her block were completely unoccupied.
It was just her and her mother.
"Dawn... Dawn, sweetie..."
Dawn turned towards the other corner of the cell, where she found Johanna sitting against it. She was holding her knees and using them to hide her face in shame. In that moment, she didn't look like the respectable Coordinator Dawn looked up to for all those years; instead, she looked like a child who was in timeout.
"I'm...I'm so, so sorry for putting you in this situation..." Johanna said, struggling to hold back her tears of grief.
"No, Mom!" replied Dawn. She ran over to her mother and crouched beside her, her expression one of consolation. "It is not your fault that we're in this mess. They were...They were torturing you, making you say all these things. I know that deep down, you didn't want me to do what they said. You had no say in this matter. But I willingly went with them 'cause I knew what they were going to do to you if I didn't agree to their terms. And I...I couldn't lose you, Mom! I-I couldn't!"
"Oh, sweetie..." Johanna raised her face, revealing her wet, red eyes and slightly puffy cheeks. She held out a hand and gently caressed her daughter's right cheek. "You shouldn't be so dependent on me all the time. I'm not gonna be around forever, you know."
Dawn placed a hand on Johanna's, relishing in the feeling of her mother's hand. "I know. But I am not gonna lose you in this manner. Not before I grow up to become the Coordinator that you could always be proud of!"
Johanna smiled, her blue eyes shimmering with happiness. "But Dawn, I am proud of you! I always have been. You...You don't have to keep improving yourself as a Coordinator, or chase after some self-made ideal of what a Coordinator must be, in order to make me proud." She clambered closer to Dawn and wrapped her arms around her in a tight and loving embrace. "I'm so, so, so proud of the young woman you've become, Dawn. Don't you ever, ever forget that."
Dawn's lip quivered, and she reciprocated the hug, all the while basking in her beloved mother's praise.
"I won't, Mom," she whispered. "Thank you. Th-Thank you so much..." She nuzzled her cheek against her mother's warm shoulder. "For everything you've done for me..."
The mother and daughter remained in that familial embrace for some time, unknown to anyone but Arceus. Then, after a while, a dark, jeering voice pierced through the gentle, maternal atmosphere of the cold, cramped cell.
"Isn't that sweet?"
Dawn and Johanna broke away and glared at the doorway to their cell. Standing there, staring through the bars of steel, was Jupiter, her smirk just as wide and triumphant as ever. Outraged by the smirk, Dawn shot up on her feet, marched over to the door, grabbed the cold bars, and almost slammed her face against them as she tried to glower at the purple-haired Commander, face-to-face.
"You've got what you wanted!" the girl snapped. "You have me all locked up in here! I did everything that you asked for! I handed myself over to you guys without a fight!"
"So?" Jupiter asked.
"So?" Dawn's grip on the bars tightened. "Let my mom GO! She's of no more use to you!"
Jupiter's eyes brightened up. "Ohhh, but she is!"
"From now on, she'll serve as our bargaining chip."
"But..." Dawn gritted her teeth in outrage. "But you promised-"
"I did not promise to let your mom go if you surrendered to us, girlie," Jupiter interrupted. "I only promised that I would not lay a finger on her. And believe me, that arrangement is still on the table as long as you follow our instructions to the last letter."
Dawn growled in anger, but she released her grip on the bars. "Fine. So tell me, what is it that you want me to do?"
"All will be revealed in due time, my dear." Jupiter's eye twinkled. "For now, you need to keep your trust and faith in us."
"I'll only do that when Tepig start flying," the blue-haired girl spat angrily. "You know, if my Piplup were here, I'd see to it that he douse you in Bubble Beam, just to show you what I think about putting my truth and faith in you people!"
Jupiter merely let out an amused chuckle. "My, my, my. You got a lot of spirit in you, girl. It's almost admirable, if it were not for the fact that you and your friends defeated me and my colleagues all those years ago."
"You've been defeated before, so that means you can be defeated again." Dawn smirked at her. "So I wouldn't sound so high and mighty if I were you."
"So the Rattata has faith in getting out of the maze. How adorable..." She stepped aside, just as a Team Galactic grunt stepped forward, holding a couple of trays holding food. "Anyway, I strongly suggest that you and your mother take the food we're offering you. And don't worry. It's not drugged or poisoned in any way."
The purple-haired woman then nodded at the grunt, who proceeded to slide both trays through the narrow gap between the cell door and the floor. Dawn cautiously examined both trays; they each held identical servings of salad, juice, and a mix of Berries, as well as a plastic fork and spoon.
"Eat up now," the grunt said. "You'll need your strength for later."
Johanna impulsively crawled towards the tray, grabbing the plastic fork and spoon and using it to eat some of the salad. As for Dawn, she looked up at Jupiter and the grunts and glowered angrily at them, her teeth gnashed together.
International Police, Precinct A-1 Headquarters
"Look, I really think the kid's right about this!"
"Agent Looker, I don't wanna hear about this anymore."
Looker stood firmly before the General Assembly of the International Police inside the cramped space of a small meeting room, a paper in his hands. Charlotte Durant was seated at the head of the oblong table, a small pile of additional papers before her. However, her cold eyes weren't focused on that; instead, they stared down the agent fiercely, though Looker was undaunted.
"Madam President," pleaded Looker, "you must listen. As I'm sure you can tell, we're running out of time!"
"Don't remind me about the highly limited amount of time that we have to crack down on this, Agent Looker," Charlotte replied sternly. "But I must say, do you honestly expect us to believe that you managed to assemble all this information that you have before us on your spare time? That the Hoenn region has a new organized crime problem of its own? That Teams Aqua and Magma, officially declared to be disbanded, have made a resurgence in activity, despite the fact that the G-Men froze all the assets of their leaders Archie and Maxie?"
"I-I know this all sounds implausible, but I can assure you, Madam President-"
"You do not have to assure us of anything, Agent Looker, for there is nothing substantial that you can assure us of." The woman's scowl became slightly more pronounced, bringing a chill down Looker's spine. "Now...what makes you so sure that your findings constitute a viable lead in this recent string of incidents?"
"I..." Looker struggled to think of a lie. "I remembered what our Kalos counterparts informed us, a-about a jailbreak with the exact same M.O., targeting the prison holding the remaining members of the Team Flare organization. And since we have positively identified Team Rocket as the perpetrators of that jailbreak, I had a-a hunch that th-there might be other organizations out there th-that Team Rocket may have recruited, right under our noses. So I-"
"So...you used the Pokémon Criminal Registry to track two years' worth of organized crime activity in Hoenn. Suspected organized crime activity. In a region rather notorious for its subpar handling of its annual PCR reports in recent decades. In spite of the fact that Team Rocket was clearly targeting incarcerated members of disbanded criminal organizations for recruitment, not members of active criminal organizations."
Looker scoffed softly. "I'm a dedicated agent following a hunch. It's part of the job description."
"Even the most dedicated agents don't just compile such thorough reports on something that has yet to be corroborated by the local authorities...by our field agents. And hunches aren't enough to give one investigation or another substance for consideration." Charlotte briefly eyed the paper in Looker's hands, her pupils darkening in suspicion. "Who provided you with this so-called information?"
"W-Who? N-No one. I told you, Madam President. I-I can assure you, I-I wrote this report, a-all on my own!"
"Agent Looker, if you are lying to me, if someone did help you with this-"
"But no one HELPED me!"
"Agent Looker, did you just interrupt me?"
Looker's skin paled, and he bowed apologetically. "I did, Madam President. I'm sincerely sorry, Madam President."
Charlotte pursed her lips disapprovingly. "You should be lucky you have a stellar track record, Agent Looker, otherwise I would've demoted you back to a D-rank agent on the spot. After all, your personal conduct on the job leaves a lot to be desired. There is a lot of precedent for the potential of your demotion."
The agent's eyes narrowed as he remembered something. Meanwhile, Charlotte swiveled her chair around, the back now facing Looker. After some brief consideration, she spoke again.
"Very well, then. Regardless of the vague and speculative nature of your lead, it's better than no lead at all. And there is no doubt that these attacks will stop at Motostoke Stadium and Jubilife City. Agent Looker, I hereby order you to gather more intel on your findings. Head to Hoenn and investigate this alleged crime activity at once."
Looker couldn't take it anymore. He looked back up at the General Assembly, specifically Charlotte.
"Before I go, Madam President," he replied through clenched teeth, "there's one more thing I want to discuss with you."
Charlotte turned back around to face him. "There's nothing else to talk about, Agent Looker. You are dis-"
"No. I want to ask you this, and I want to ask now." Looker clenched his fists. "Why didn't you inform me of the escapes of Teams Galactic and Plasma?"
Charlotte blinked slowly. "I beg your pardon?"
"Don't give me that Tauros-crap!" Looker slammed the paper down on the table, startling several, although Charlotte was the only one who remained calm. "Why was I not alerted to the jailbreak in advance, all those months ago?! I... I never heard so much as a peep before then!" He angrily slammed his trembling hands upon the table's mahogany surface and leaned forward ominously. "D'you remember exactly who was responsible for putting them behind bars in the first place? Do you?!"
"We did remember, Agent Looker," Charlotte replied calmly, her face still wrinkled. "It was you."
"Then why not tell me first, before all of the other agents? As the primary agent assigned to their cases, I should've had early access to any and all developments on their activities in prison. Anything new on them, anything whatsoever-" He jabbed a thumb at himself. "I should've been one of the first to know, if not the first! Madam President, I should've been up there with you during that briefing, sharing all of the basics of what I learned from my investigations.
"Instead, you...you treat me like a regular agent and brief me on the Sevii Prison incident at the same time as everyone else! And all of us know damn well that that is not how the chain of command goes! So tell me, why keep me in the dark about a thing like that?!"
Charlotte remained silent for a moment, and she spent that time regarding Looker with a wrinkled face of displeasure. A white-hot fire of anger and exasperation at the president's stonewalling bloomed within the agent, and he began to grind his fingernails against the table's surface, creating a bloodcurdling noise.
Finally, the woman replied, "Because we removed you from those cases."
Looker raised an eyebrow in stunned horror. "I...I beg your pardon?"
"You heard us, agent." Charlotte clasped her hands together. "Your status as the primary investigator had been revoked for both the Team Galactic and Team Plasma cases."
It took all of the effort Looker could muster to control his spiking fury. "Since when?"
"Two weeks after your arrests of Ghetsis and his followers."
"What?!" This time, Looker totally lost it, and he slammed his clenched right fist on the table, startling some of the other General Assembly members. "And why the HELL wasn't I given a Yellow Notice for either decision?!"
"Because we're all aware of your...off-the-record methods."
"Wh-What? What're you implying, Madam President?"
"Do not insinuate that I would imply anything. I am not a fan of such talk."
"Then don't be vague on me! I want an answer, NOW!"
Charlotte exhaled and separated her clasped hands. "Alright, then. I'll be blunt with you, Agent Looker, as you requested. We at the General Assembly could not trust you to completely follow the letter of the law. We haven't for some time. And we had a suspicion that you would be...vocal about your disapproval, at the very least."
"Damn right, I'd be vocal! But perhaps less so had you informed me of your decision at the right time!"
"Certain circumstances have convinced us that you would perhaps be more than simply vocal." Her explanation was met with nods and murmurs of agreement from the other General Assembly members. "Therefore, we thought it'd be in the International Police's best interests if you were kept in the dark about the revocation."
"Why?! Why wouldn't you have trusted me on these cases?! I know Teams Galactic and Plasma better than anyone else! I would've provided effective consultation on the manhunt!"
Charlotte raised an eyebrow. "You know Teams Galactic and Plasma better than anyone else, you say?"
"Well, if we can recall from these old reports..." She reached towards the small pile of papers before her and pulled out a file. "You voluntarily allowed innocent bystanders to get involved."
"I never said that in any of my reports," snarled Looker.
"Well, the reports from the Localized Law Enforcement Association told us otherwise."
Charlotte opened the file and displayed its contents to Looker, whose eyes widened at the sight. It bore the familiar logo of the Localized Law Enforcement Association, the organization overseeing all local police departments, particularly the ones headed by the famous and expansive Jenny family. Even moreso, the front paper bore the identification photos of five Trainers.
Ash, Dawn, Brock, Iris, and Cilan.
"The reports said that several people, including children, were caught up in your investigations."
"Civilians get caught up all the time as innocent bystanders." Looker narrowed his eyes. "It's an unfortunate by-product of the job, but it happens. Fortunately, they're useful as witnesses to the investigation."
"Yet the reports say these civilians were more than just witnesses."
"I...I don't understand, Madam President."
Charlotte narrowed her eyes into slits. "You allowed them to assist you, Agent. That is a serious breach in International Police policy. Keeping civilians clear of the investigation itself is one of the topmost priorities for any and all International Police agents. Surely you must've known that, Agent Looker?"
"Those kids..." Looker paused, as his memories of Ash, Dawn, Brock, Iris, Cilan, and all of their assistance came flooding back to him. "They were an exception-"
"There are no exceptions in the rules, Agent," interrupted a stern-faced Charlotte. "In fact, such actions were committed not once, but twice. Both times, you did not mention these transgressions in your reports." She promptly closed the file. "Need I remind you that these violations are punishable with removal of badge and status?"
Looker flinched subtly. "Yes... I'm aware..."
"You are fortunate that your high rank in the International Police affords you a three-strikes immunity. But your failure to mention the involvement of civilians after the fact twice in a row, as required by agency standards, gives us great pause. If it were up to me, you would've been terminated from the International Police as soon as this came to our attention."
"I..." Looker bowed his head apologetically. "I understand, Madam President."
"The only reason the General Assembly decided to refrain from making such a decision, Agent Looker, was because you have already contributed so much for the International Police."
Looker raised his head, surprised.
"But..." Charlotte placed the file back down on the table. "The General Assembly has recently decided that if you involve civilians in your investigation for a third time, your badge and status will be revoked immediately. It doesn't matter if you document the violation in your report afterwards. You're on a tightrope, Agent, so I suggest treading very carefully from now on. Do you understand?"
Looker blinked, reflecting on Charlotte's warning. Then, with extreme reluctance, he nodded.
"Understood, Madam President."
"Good. Now then..." Charlotte turned around in her chair again. "Go catch the first flight to Hoenn. Investigate your lead. And don't make me regret giving your report more consideration than it should've gotten. The International Police cannot afford to follow false leads."
Looker bowed again, his teeth gritted. "Understood, Madam President. It will be done."
Houndoom, the Dark Pokémon. If you are burned by the flames it shoots from its mouth, the pain will never go away. Upon hearing its eerie howls, other Pokémon get the shivers and head straight back to their nests.
Lillie: There are a lot of bad people out there, and if you get separated from us, some of those bad people might just get you...
Lusamine: It's been week after week after week, and yet whenever we're so close, he's always so far away somehow...
Brock: So, how're you enjoying the sights and sounds of Viridian City?
Misty: What's that?
Gladion: SIS! Behind you!
Proton: We've been looking for you...
Magearna: *terrified robotic squealing*
Looker: Remember, they cannot know that it was you who wrote up that report.
A/N: So now Serena's group is joined by Trip, and it looks like he and Paul have struck up a bit of a rivalry. XD This was something that was carried over from the original version of "Judgment's Fall", and so you can expect a lot of hilarity and competition between these two serious boys. Also, Dawn's now in Team Galactic's clutches, but everyone else has found a way to catch up with the Syndicate! Hopefully things will turn around when we get back to this group's point-of-view!
But for now, we'll be switching to another group in the next chapter, where more plot progression will unfold... ;)
Now, I'd like to thank the following for reviewing:
-The N01 Master: Yep! And now that Paul's with the group, you can expect a lot of badassery from him. :D
1) Well, I hope the resolution to the last chapter's cliffhanger is to your liking.
2) Looks like this time, the cavalry did NOT arrive in time, and Team Galactic was more successful compared in acquiring their target compared to Team Rocket.
3) No, I'm not mad at you. Just making a special emphasis. ;)
4) Yes, Serena's outfit is based on Gloria's outfit from the Sword and Shield games. Sorry, I forgot to clarify that in the previous chapter's ending Author's Note. The benefits of an eleventh-hour update!
-Amourshipper35: Could you please be more in-depth with your reviews? What did you enjoy about this chapter? Was there anything you did not like? Do you have any questions or miscellaneous comments you want to add? Please, I need as much feedback from you as possible, so I can keep up the quality of my writing. Your one-liner reviews are not doing it for me, sorry.
-Jman17: Yeah, it's going to be a s**t-show. XD XD XD
1) Yep, Best Girl and Second-Best Girl are together! It's a combo from heaven! :D :D :D
2) I will explain in a later chapter why Serena has preferred to keep Sylveon out of her Poké Ball more often lately.
3) I was actually planning on fitting Nando into the chapter too, but as I was drafting it, I found his official introduction to be redundant, congestive, and taking up too much precious space, given that I was also introducing Zoey, Kenny, and Ursula in the same scene. There was no other way I could introduce Nando in a timely manner within this chapter or the previous one, and so I decided to reassign him to another group. Which group it'll be, I won't spoil at this time.
4) Well, I do hope my portrayal of Ursula was to your liking! :D
5) I'll clarify how she had been doing in Hoenn and why she was in Johto first before going to Sinnoh. Don't worry. :)
6) You'll see why they would want Dawn... ;D
-CRAZY STORM (guest reviewer):
1) Yes, I'm confident I can handle all of these characters. Plus, it's not like everyone will have a role to play in this story. I've actually organized my cast and all eight aforementioned groups (see the list above) using a tier system that's based on their importance to the fanfic's plot. First, there's the main characters like Ash, Goh, Chloe, Serena, and Dawn; their significance to the story is obvious. Then, there's the supporting characters such as the rivals and others like Raihan and Sonia; they are mostly there as anchors for the main characters, and to help move those storylines forward. And finally, there's going to be all of the minor characters, which consist of most of the Gym Leaders, Elite Four members, Frontier Brains, Island Kahunas, etc., etc.; these people are just there for the fanservice, basically. In short, there'll be eight main plots to follow in the story, which are divided into approximately two or three subplots. I know it still sounds like a lot to follow, but trust me, this is something I've been thinking of and building for over a couple of years now. I'm confident I can do this, and if I can't, well, you told me so, and I'll eat my hat.
2) Ohhh, don't you worry! Every last Legendary, Mythical, and Ultra Beast will be featured, along with Mega Evolution, Z-Moves, and Dynamax/Gigantamax. It's going to be a bonanza!
3) Let's just say the Syndicate has something VEEEEERY big planned. ;)
-Guest reviewer: All will be revealed in due time.
1) Well, regardless of how different this story is from the original version, I can assure you that all the shipping-related drama hasn't changed one bit. In fact, I think I made it worse! :O
2) I honestly never hopped onto the PenguinShipping train. I don't mind Kenny as a character, but I simply don't see the potential in a relationship between him and Dawn. I see nothing beyond the one-sided crush, personally.
3) I already have a girl planned for Paul. I think it's going to be cute... ;)
4) Your suspicions about Trip were correct! Now, it's a battle between him and Paul to see who is a bigger douche! XD
5) Interesting. I haven't read "The Ash Connection", so perhaps I'll check it out when I have the time.
6) Well, let's just say Giovanni knows a lot more than what he's let on now that he's got Teams Aqua, Magma, Galactic, Plasma, AND Flare under his wing... And let's not forget Jessie, James, and Meowth's (mis)adventures...
7) All will be revealed in due time when it comes to Dawn and what Giovanni has planned... ;)
-ZoeInTheStars (guest reviewer): Can't spoil it for now, but I WILL tell you this: pay attention to the Pokémon that I have brought up and will bring up. There's something that they all have in common... ;)
-AF251298: Could you please be a bit more specific in your review? What did you enjoy about this chapter? Was there anything that you did not like? Do you have any questions or miscellaneous comments you want to add? Please, I need as much feedback from you as possible, so I can keep up the quality of my writing.
Well, hope you enjoyed this chapter! TheCartoonFanatic01 is out. PEACE!