ACT TWO - DUST OF DREAMS
Chapter 14 - Boy meets Girl
Red Ketchum stared at the twenty-five foot tall insectoid statue standing to the left of the entrance gate. Its face was mostly triangular, with carved stone eyes staring at the world through its endoskeleton and a pair of unevenly carved scythes as hands. Clearly aquatic in origin, it represented the first foray of aquatic life upon land.
I'm trying to love you. I really am.
As someone who'd spent the majority of his life in a pokémon ranch, he was used to seeing them be active, whether it was moving as herds or hopping around on their lonesome. Somehow, seeing an architectural construction didn't evoke the same feelings as the real deal.
Slowly, Red's eyes drifted to the right, towards the other statue.
A towering avian rose before him, enormous wings outstretched on both sides and a serpentine tail extending backwards. Its head had a rigid snout and a large, gaping maw with what was surely a powerful set of jaws. The rocky exterior, however, felt out of place compared to a body that sported some draconic influences.
"Her name is Scylla," his mother whispered, stepping up beside him. "She's an aerodactyl."
"Pterasaurus predatum," he read aloud, off of the bulletin board. "The oldest flying type in existence?"
"Most people think that honor goes to archaeops, but aerodactyl easily predates it. What you're looking at is the earliest form of reptilian life transforming into avians."
Red gave the creature another pondering glance, before focusing on the slender man walking towards them from within the museum. He was wearing a black brocade sherwani and a turban— the traditional formal attire for the native populace.
"Greetings," the man began as he perused through a nearby assortment of nametags. "My name is Nando, and I'm here to welcome you to the Museum. May I have your names?"
"My name is Delia Ketchum," his mother immediately declared, flashing her ID. "Senior Researcher at Parthenon."
Nando's eyes widened as he glanced between her ID card and her face. "Forgive me madam, I didn't recognize you immediately! And you as well, sir. Please, right this way!"
Red couldn't really blame the man, seeing as how he could barely recognize himself. He'd been forced to cast off his usual attire for something more… formal for the evening presentation— a black coat, white shirt, polka-dot tie and freshly shined formal shoes. Delia had rented him a tux, but he was thankfully able to talk her out of it after hours of pestering her on and off.
Anything to get out of wearing a bowtie.
"It is a great honor for us to have you here, madam," the man went on as they walked towards the building. "In fact, your work on the Galar expedition is one of the highlights here in the Museum. Of course, I'm certain young Mr. Ketchum does not need to be told about it," he laughed, trying to be nonchalant. "Surely he's visited it several times already."
"Actually," Red admitted, much to his mother's embarrassment, "this is my first time here."
"Your first? I take it you're not a fan of archaeology then?"
"You know what they say," Delia interjected, trying to save face. "It's an acquired taste."
Yeah. One I haven't acquired yet.
"Well, you've certainly come to the right place!" Nando's exuberant tone made Red want to believe in him as they stepped past one of the other enormous statues, this one a sauropodian with a long neck and a mane. "I certainly hope you enjoy today's presentation, at the very least."
"Well it'd be a lot easier if I knew what it was about."
"You and everyone else here!" Nando laughed, merrily shaking his head. "Professor Oak has been very secretive about the true nature of tonight's event. Not even the Museum staff knows what is taking place. Truly, the mystery is half the fun of it— rumors are already running wild! Several hundred famous guests, and very few have any idea what's on the agenda!"
The declaration brought a grin to Red's face. He knew the old man and the League were going to reveal some kind of earth-shattering research tonight. His impromptu meeting with Sabrina had revealed that an enormous number of VVIPs from all over the world had come here to attend the event, all at Oak's personal behest.
As they rounded a bend in the pathway, Red finally allowed himself to look ahead at the massive, glimmering museum. The structure was nearly impossible to take in all at once. Instead, his gaze roved back and forth along the entire length.
This building doesn't just break the rules, he mused. It ignores them completely. A perfect spot to unveil a large paradigm shift.
Which, he understood, was precisely what tonight's event was all about.
All in all, the Pewter Museum of Natural History looked less like a scientific laboratory and more like something out of a hallucination— a swirling collage of warped metallic forms that appeared to have been propped up against one another almost randomly. Stretching into the distance, the chaotic edifice was draped in more than thirty thousand titanium tiles that glinted like scales of a fish, giving it a simultaneously organic and extraterrestrial field. It was like a futuristic leviathan had crawled out of the mountain to enjoy the sun.
People call this a museum. I'd call it a monstrosity.
Perhaps it was for that reason that as the doors at the building's entrance slid open, Red couldn't help but shake the feeling that they were walking into the mouth of a gyarados.
As the only child of a researcher, Red had often been forced to travel to other cities— even other continents at times —whenever Delia had an extended seminar or lab work to attend. Thus far, the most advanced place he'd seen was Lumiose City, located in Kalos.
But even that paled in comparison to this. It was like no building he'd ever laid eyes on before.
The atrium felt like a colossal, futuristic cathedral. As soon as he stepped inside, his gaze shifted skyward as he saw a set of colossal white pillars along a towering curtain of glass ascending hundreds of feet to a vaulted ceiling, where halogen spotlights blazed overhead. Suspended in the air was a network of catwalks and balconies, dotted with black-and-white silhouettes that moved in and out of the upper galleries and stood at high windows as they admired the artificial lagoon down below. Even the acoustics felt foreign. Instead of the traditional reverent hush created by sound-dampening finishes, this place felt alive, with murmuring echoes bouncing off of the stone and glass.
As Red followed Nando and his mother through a series of surprisingly tight security points, he couldn't help but notice more than a few armed guards.
"They have a tour service for guests to explore the Museum before the main show is underway," his mother whispered as they stood in line at a check-in table. "To show off what they've got."
It made sense. Pewter Museum was basically Kanto's seat of archaeological and technological brilliance. And considering the clientele this evening, he wouldn't put it past the League to throw some last-minute stuff into the exhibits just to turn eyes.
"Do you want to attend?"
"This late?" he asked. "We'll miss the introduction of the event, and the old man's probably going to need your help with setting up."
"There are already arrangements in place," she assured him. "Plus, I'm attending the event as a guest anyways. I'm supposed to be enjoying it with my son."
That stopped him short. One had to be blind not to notice how much effort his mother was putting forward to spend as much time with him as possible. Whatever the woman had gone through during his… episode with Mia, it had shaken her.
And this was her way of making up for lost time.
"Miss Ketchum? Fancy meeting you here!"
His mother tried to hide her face behind her palm as a stranger— a girl with long, blonde hair dressed in black, with a long black coat running all the way to her knees and imposing black hair clips —came striding towards them. She quickly crossed the remaining distance and reached out towards him with a confident hand. "And you must be Red Ketchum, correct?"
Deciding to ignore his mother's murmurs of 'not again' and 'I don't get paid enough for this', he pasted a practiced, casual grin onto his face. "Guilty as charged. And you are?"
"Cynthia," the girl briskly replied, tossing her golden curls backward. "Cynthia Shirona."
Shirona. The name evoked some kind of familiarity, but he couldn't exactly place it— maybe some kind of famous family abroad or something. Still, he couldn't help but wonder what the girl must have done to generate that kind of response from his normally unflappable, diplomatic mother. But that wasn't a can of worms he was keen on opening up at the moment.
"So, where are you from?"
"Sinnoh," she replied without skipping a beat, her bright blue eyes dancing with excitement. "My grandfather was an old contemporary of Professor Oak's. Did you know he personally invited us to attend this gathering?"
Technically, the professor had personally invited each and every delegate, but he doubted that was what this Cynthia person wanted to hear. Still, their small talk gave him enough time to pinpoint why the name sounded so familiar.
That was the name of the guy associated with the Galar expedition. And Cynthia must have been the prodigy the old man had mentioned earlier.
Narrowing his eyes, Red considered the girl before him again. She had a lithe, dancer's figure— not buxom, but not lacking either. Her blonde curls were long and the tresses fell all the way to her waist. And given the way she held herself, it wasn't very hard to conclude that she held herself in a rather high opinion.
It reminded him of Gary. And not in a good way.
"I've been very excited to meet the Professor," the girl began gushing, "and I've been trying to find him ever since I arrived, but he's always been busy or unavailable and I've been nothing but patient about it and—"
I stand corrected. She's Gary, but with a mountain-sized crush on Oak.
He wondered if he could use this as potential blackmail material on the old man.
"—I came all this way to meet him in person and maybe have a chance to work with him. With him. Like really, really. Professor Oak is a living legend to me, and trust me, I had this whole speech prepared which I now realize is completely pointless because I never got to meet him in the first place and instead I'm talking to you and—"
Red could do nothing but stare in growing confusion as the girl kept rambling on and on and on. Did she suffer from some kind of word vomit syndrome? He wondered if she'd run out of breath any time soon, and if so, whether the Pewter Museum had any EMTs on hand. If this was what his mother had experienced first-hand, suddenly her initial reaction didn't seem so far-fetched anymore.
Quickly, he tried to think of something— anything —to get her to stop, but his mind drew a blank.
Where intellect fails, he remembered the old man's saying, instinct must venture.
"Um, Cynthia was it?" he began, already unsure of what to say next. "Please— um, please calm down!"
The girl blinked.
And then she blushed, instantly shutting up as her face began imitating a ripe tomato. After several seconds of practiced, constant deep breaths, she finally seemed to have centered herself. "Sorry," she said, her previous exuberance now missing, "that came out all wrong. I guess I made a horrible first impression, huh?"
"It happens," Red diplomatically replied, wondering if it was just his luck to meet all the weirdos. First the guy who attacked him in Pallet forest, then the idiotic Samurai who also attacked him, then Misty and all her shenanigans, and now… this. Her.
"Sorry," Cynthia apologized again. "It happens at the strangest of times. Whenever I get nervous. Or excited. Or embarrassed. Or whenever, really. You'd think I would run out of breath and suffocate, but that hasn't happened so far."
"I could tell," Red replied, feeling a tad overwhelmed. "Especially since you're, you know, alive."
Cynthia ignored his wiseassery and tucked an errant strand of golden hair behind her ear. "Sorry." She really said that a lot. "I've just been a little bit too psyched about having the chance to meet Samuel Oak in person."
He would've had to be a deino to be able to not see something that obvious. Though, if nothing else, at least the girl wasn't endlessly bragging about herself. That already made her easier to bear than Gary.
A rather low bar, but beggars couldn't be choosers.
It was then that Red finally noticed the odd looks the Museum security staff were giving their group. He glanced at his mother, but she seemed relieved to let him deal with the girl.
Traitor, he mentally grumbled, before turning his attention back to Cynthia. "So, uh, my mother and I were about to leave…"
Cynthia blinked again, a little color coming back to her cheeks.
"Oh yes, of course." She turned towards Delia and bowed her head in apology. "I'm terribly sorry I came over so suddenly. Does that mean you aren't going to wait here until the program starts?"
Red weighed his chances. At a glance, it was clear that his mother didn't want to be in her presence longer than absolutely necessary. He made a mental note to ask about exactly what Cynthia had put her through in the past to elicit this kind of reaction. Her talkative nature was a start, but something told him he was yet to see it all.
"Actually," he exaggeratedly glanced around, "my mother and I were thinking of going on a tour before settling in for the main event."
His mother looked at him in surprise.
He avoided her gaze. As much as he disliked the overhyped fossil resurrection technology, he didn't want Delia to suffer anymore. Especially not when she was going the extra mile to mend her relationship with him. It was the least he could do.
"Anyway, you look like you want to wait here, don't you?" he asked Cynthia.
"Oh no," the blonde replied with a beaming smile. "A tour sounds great to me."
This time, it was Red's turn to blink owlishly.
"In fact," she went on, "would you mind if I joined you?"
He was starting to understand why even his mother disliked this girl.
"Sure," Red replied, with his best fake smile. "The more, the merrier."
"Good evening and welcome to the Pewter Museum of Natural History!"
The docent was a man in his late thirties, with a distinguished salt-and-pepper beard, fiery dark eyes, and sun-drenched olive skin— he gave off the aura of someone far more distinguished than a museum tour guide.
"Tonight, you are free to meander as you wish, anywhere you'd like, and I'll endeavor to enlighten you as to what it is you're viewing."
He paused for a moment as he regarded Delia, a surprised expression flitting across his face. "I do realize, however, that as a researcher, you are one of our more savvy guests, so perhaps you will have little need of my input. Worse yet, it is entirely possible you'll wholly disagree with my analysis of certain pieces!" he finished with an awkward chuckle.
Delia blushed. Red just rolled his eyes. And Cynthia… she was just fidgeting around for some reason. Seriously, what was with this girl?
He glanced at the enormous banner across the main atrium.
[ TONIGHT WE MOVE FORWARD ]
Just what were the League and Parthenon going to announce?
One thing was for certain— they certainly knew how to build anticipation.
Red looked to the crowd, easily spotting a cluster of really famous, well-dressed VVIPs engaged in casual conversation. He could recognize Steven Stone and his father Edward Stone talking to Bill McTavish, creator of the second-generation TMs. A little further south was Lorelei of the Elite Four, dressed in a tight bodycon, her round glasses sparkling as she conversed animatedly with several people, half of whom were garbed in attire that easily cost more money than he could spend in a year.
Feeling both disinclined and ill-prepared to mingle with them, he turned back to the docent.
"When's the main event going to start?"
"Some time in the next hour. Until then, you are free to meander around the Museum. So where do you wish to begin your tour tonight, madam?"
"Why don't you surprise us?" she replied.
Seeing as how his mother had visited this place several times before and Cynthia seemed more intent on staying with them than actually enjoying the tour, letting the docent take charge was the best option.
After all, it wasn't like he had any clue where to go.
"Perhaps we should start with our internationally acclaimed fossil collection then."
"Of course," Cynthia nodded her head, as if she were actually paying attention.
The tour had just begun, and already Red felt a headache around the corner. He'd never understood the whole 'fossil pokémon' craze that seemed to engulf anyone that had heard about it. He knew Devon Corp had an exclusive patent over Fossil Resurrection Technology, and ever since one of their plants had been installed here in Pewter Museum, there'd been an undying hype for fossilized pokémon.
It wasn't that he thought Omanyte and Anorith weren't awesome pokémon or anything. But the idea of a trainer spending tens of thousands of dollars to purchase a single resurrected prehistoric pokémon was… a little over the top.
Red rubbed his neck, feeling slightly off.
"What's gotten into me?" he wondered aloud. Ever since he'd stepped foot into the Museum, he'd been feeling oddly reflective. And a little annoyed. And uncomfortable too. And—
He eased the knot in his tie.
Nope. Still uncomfortable. It didn't have anything to do with the tie. And he doubted it had to do with the Museum either. Maybe it would be best if he just walked out right now?
It only took a single glance at the congregation of tech-savvy geniuses and high-profile socialites around him to nip that idea in the bud. Several, if not all of them, held Pewter Museum and its antiquities in high esteem, and walking out on them all of a sudden like this was a terrible idea.
Not to mention, this was a special night for the old man. His mom would be there, talking to all the people inside while Professor Oak showcased something incredibly brilliant and groundbreaking and out-of-this-world. So why was he feeling like he shouldn't be there?
Like there was something wrong going on?
He scowled, shaking his head vigorously. No. This wouldn't do. No. He needed to be here. He needed a— a distraction. Yes, a distraction. If Mawile had been there, her antics would've easily kept him grounded, no matter the situation.
Thinking of his petite starter made him think about the rest of the team, and how they weren't there with him. For obvious security reasons, none of the visitors inside the Museum had been allowed to carry any pokémon. Instead, said pokémon were safely discharged into compartmentalized units of the Pewter City Ranch for the duration of the evening.
For better or worse, he was all on his own.
What would Mawile do in this situation? he asked himself, before chuckling. It felt a bit strange, trying to emulate his starter's reasoning towards real-life situations. Was this really a rabbit hole he was ready to leap down? Maybe—
Looking ahead, he saw both Delia and Cynthia standing far ahead of him, with a slightly impatient docent.
"What's wrong?" his mother inquired worriedly. Even Cynthia was peering at him strangely over her shoulder.
"Nothing, really. Let's keep going."
Of course I'm sure. Everything's fine.
"Yep. Let's continue."
"The Oak human needs to die."
Without any preamble, Mawile dropped the bombshell on everyone.
Under any other circumstances, Growlithe would have found such a declaration alarming, but he was having trouble taking her words seriously. For one, he couldn't even look her way properly. Say what you would about his limited experience as a free puppy, but even he found it difficult to look at the— dare he say cute? —fairy when she had a layer of bright orange ice-cream above her mouth like a makeshift mustache. Worse yet, every time she spoke, the icy mustache quivered, as if mockingly waving his way.
Every time he laid eyes on it— on her — he felt an inexplicable urge to start woofing.
Curse his accursed growlithe genes!
Their entourage— that is, Red's entire team —was currently having a team-wide assembly, something that always took place at the most inopportune moments. Skarmory, ever the regal queen, had absolutely no issues delegating administrative duties to Mawile, allowing her free reign to maneuver the assembly in whichever direction the crafty fairy wanted.
As long as Skarmory got to play royalty, that was.
Growlithe shook his head. Some pokémon…
"And so," the deceiver pokémon continued, "we should go ahead and execute the plan."
"Actually," Growlithe wisely interjected, "we don't really have a plan."
Mawile bestowed upon him a most gracious smile, before replying in the most mature manner possible.
By punching him in the nose. Hard.
"Stop mucking around on such minor issues," she snapped. But as quickly as it faded, her serene expression from before returned. "Good. Now that we are all in agreement—"
Growlithe coughed, nudging his new friend Scyther to speak up.
"I could disagree with her," whispered the diligent bug, "but then Skarmory would disagree with me, and then you'll need a new partner to continue the disagreement."
Nobody looked at Mia, who was contentedly nibbling away at her pastry.
From a far corner, Shellder squeaked.
"That's his way of expressing agreement," Mawile dutifully translated.
Growlithe vehemently shook his head. This… this couldn't be happening. Not now. He'd only gotten so many days of freedom thus far. It was far too early to lose his sanity.
"You still haven't told us why he has to die," he tried again, getting ready to guard his nose.
"Is that important?"
"…Yes," he deadpanned. "I think we'd all like a reason before you make us kill our trainer's mentor. Or anyone at all, for that matter."
For a long moment, Mawile just stared at him blankly, before letting out a long, weary sigh, not wholly dissimilar to an exasperated parent reiterating a simple concept to a particularly dimwitted child. "It's because he's completely insane, and therefore a danger to us all. And to Red, our dopey trainer."
Growlithe tilted his head in confusion. Sure, he'd been poked and prodded at the hospital, but the Oak human had always struck him as a surprisingly rational person. For a human, that was. At the very least, he was much better than the men in white back at the Rocket lab.
"Well," he began hesitantly, "he's only helped us thus far—"
"That's what he wants you to think," Mawile ominously whispered, taking a step towards him. "But it's all a part of his master plan. You newcomers have no idea—" her voice dropped to a whisper, "no idea what he's put me through."
Growlithe felt a shiver run down his spine. He didn't want to believe her, but it was hard not to when the fairy sounded so sure of herself. Maybe… maybe this Oak human was in fact bad? It certainly lined up with the rest of their species.
Except maybe Red. Maybe.
"It was all sunshine and poképuffs when Red and I started my journey. A simple agreement between the two of us. I would have to accompany a dopey human trainer for a little while, and in return I would get to explore the world."
Mawile held her tiny hands to her chest, her eyes slowly dimming as the hope dwindled away.
"But by then, I had already fallen into his web."
"What do you mean?" Even Scyther was leaning in now. Say what you would about Mawile, but she was a damn good storyteller.
"He had Red attacked." Mawile dramatically paused as Mia, normally a non-contributor to their conclaves, let out an angry hiss. "A small yellow rodent. The electric type, Pikachu. Poor Red thought I'd attack him too."
By now, Red's entire team had surrounded the fairy in some kind of huddle.
"Then, we were attacked by a fearow in the forest. I barely managed to keep us alive then."
"Wait a second," Growlithe interrupted. "I've heard our trainer talk about this incident. Didn't it attack you because you ate its child?"
He winced as Mawile promptly whacked him on the nose again.
"You're falling for his tricks again, you naive puppy!"
Growlithe's eyes widened. "Huh?"
"It was actually all the Oak human's fault," Mawile explained patiently. "I heard from Red that his mentor's draconic monstrosity was responsible for keeping the fearow and spearow population under control. But obviously, he left that one alive because he knew I'd eat it." Mawile had the manic look of someone who had finally begun to put the pieces of a complex puzzle together. "It— it was all planned from the start!"
Growlithe was beginning to feel vestiges of fear take hold of him. Was… was she actually right? If Oak was able to orchestrate so many events with them being none the wiser, then he would perhaps be the most dangerous adversary they would ever have to face.
"He even made us fight the very same dragon," Mawile's voice was getting louder, "the one who failed at finishing us off. Sure we got away, mostly because of my quick thinking. But if it wasn't for the frea— other fairy, all of you would have died instantly. And then he has the nerve to label it a test," she spat. "What is that if not a thinly veiled attempt to kill us?"
"But why would he need to go through all the secrecy?" Growlithe asked, his tone bordering on pleading. "His pokémon are much stronger than us."
Mawile hesitated for a moment. "I— I haven't figured that part out yet, but it's probably not that important anyway. My point is, I thought we were on a journey with Red, away from Oak and his plots. But now I realize we're walking right into them. And they're only getting more and more twisted."
That alarmed him. Had Oak done even more to them after the Dragonite incident?
"Look at us," Mawile intoned, gesturing to all of them. "Red needs me— us, but here we are on some ranch. When we first met, Oak told me that I'd be Red's partner, that I would protect him from all harm. And now he's telling us that pokémon aren't allowed at that fancy program."
"How is that Oak's fault?"
"Because he organized the event, and none of it makes a lick of sense," she nearly shouted, pulling at her black hair-like extensions. "Think about it. What are they doing in there? Resur— resrui— something to do with ancient pokémon. And what are they studying in the museum? Pokémon. But what isn't allowed at the event?"
Mawile paused, slowly looking each one of them in the eyes, one after the other.
"Yes. That's right. Pokémon."
Growlithe nervously swallowed.
It… it made sense in a twisted kind of way. And why would Mawile lie? Unless she was just that irritated about not being allowed to attend the program with Red. But even she wouldn't lie about something so important, would she?
"As you can clearly see, the Oak human constantly changes his mind about things, and his decisions regarding Red make no sense at all. Already, we've seen him trying to convince our trainer to give up his journey and become a researcher. To become just like him."
Mawile tightly clenched her little fists.
"The only real choice we have is to get rid of him. For Red."
Dratini, the newest addition to Red's team, had grown up on the ranch back in Pallet Town.
She'd readily be the first one to admit the old man was far from perfect— he took away anything that seemed tasty, calling it junk food. But other than that, and a few other random rules he imposed from time to time, the Oak human was rather bearable.
A partner to her mother even, who was a great judge of character. Or so she told her.
"Are… are you sure about this?" she hesitantly spoke up.
"You?" Mawile asked, nearly hysterical. "I can't believe you of all pokémon are asking me this."
Dratini's eyes widened as she slithered back an inch. "Wha— what do you mean?"
Normally, the azure dragon was rather bold. It was how she was raised— her mother's tutelage as well as her draconic instincts demanded her to look down on creatures she considered inferior to herself. Which, as it so happened, included most creatures other than her own line. And yet, after the events of her mother's fight and being knocked unconscious by Mawile, she could never muster the strength to stand up to the small yellow monster.
"I mean that you, more than anyone else here, have a reason to hate Oak. After all, he's been lying to you your entire life."
"Lying to me?" Dratini was getting more and more overwhelmed as the conversation went on. "What are you talking about? What lie?"
"All your life, you've been led to believe that you're powerful. A dragon, like the one we fought earlier."
"I— But I am a drago—"
"You are not," Mawile intoned, with a finality that simply couldn't be denied. "Can you do anything she can? Do you even look remotely like your so-called mother? Every single one of us looks nearly identical to our own parents."
Dratini slowly swiveled her head around and looked at the group, praying that at least one of them would raise their own voice and deny her statement. But as her gaze drifted from one shifting, uncomfortable face to the next, she felt her confidence wane more and more.
"We— well, when I evolve—"
"—Then you will still not be a dragon," Mawile continued, not allowing her to speak, "because you are, in fact, a snake." She smoothened out a crumpled-up picture, one she'd been clutching in her hands since the start of their meeting.
"This is your mother. An ekans."
Dratini felt her entire worldview shatter as she laid eyes on the large, purple serpentine creature.
"You were adopted as a baby. Your entire life has been a carefully crafted lie. But fear not." Mawile stepped forward, the afternoon sun reflecting off her jaw and surrounding her in a sacred-looking halo.
"For I am your salvation."
Despite his disinterest towards fossil tech, Red could easily admit that the Museum had some amazing sculptures and pokéfossil collections, of creatures he hadn't heard of with typings more bizarre than he'd ever thought possible.
Seriously, a rock and water type pokémon? Dual typings weren't rare by any means, but the combination of two mutually antagonistic types, at least by conventional standards, was definitely odd.
Still, none of that held a candle to the colossal behemoth standing in front of him.
The massive dinosaur stood a whopping fifteen feet tall, with carapace, metal, and feathers covering its entire body. It had two feet extending into four claws and a massive tail running from its back to the floor, ridges and metallic spikes protruding from it, but most noticeable of all was its overly enormous maw. Added to that was an oddly dichotomous color palette, with its body being largely brownish with shades of metallic red thrown in— it painted a rather strange, yet striking picture.
This was no pokémon. It was a monster— a king of the ancient world, one that would have ruled above all else.
"Tyrannus Rex," he muttered, reading the label in front of it. "Tyrantrum."
How in the hell did such a creature end up going extinct?
"Is it… alive?" he heard Cynthia ask.
"Yes," their docent replied, "but only just."
"What do you mean?" Red asked, startled. "This is a resurrected fossil, isn't it? For trainers and such?"
"Not every resurrected fossil is available for trainers, Red," his mother interjected. One glance at her calm face was enough to tell she wasn't surprised by the sight whatsoever. "Prehistoric pokémon belong to a different epoch, one in which the rules of the world were different from what it is now. Only the most mellow revivals are available for public sale."
"I'm guessing this one," he looked back at the invincible-looking monstrosity, "doesn't fall under that category."
"In its time, tyrantrum was the apex predator," the docent began to explain. "The strength of its jaws is speculated to be able to shatter a lairon's armor. Its body strength is off the charts. If this one ever went wild, we'd need multiple Ace-trainer squads to subdue it."
And that, Red decided, said everything he needed to know about it. Utterly dangerous.
"Then how is it being controlled?" Cynthia asked, her eyes fervently shining.
"Hypnosis." The docent pointed towards several tubes injected into the resurrected dinosaur's body. "These tubes allow the passage of a neuronal depressant into its system. Simply put, it keeps the creature's natural instincts at bay at its lowest level. The rest is a simple matter of psychic hypnosis."
"Why not just hypnosis?"Red asked, ignoring the look Cynthia was giving him. "I mean, it's a dragon, isn't it? Regardless of how strong it is, it shouldn't be too difficult to keep it down by psychic manipulation."
One time, he'd seen Kaz send droves of hyper-excited tauros to sleep with a single attack. For a museum and research facility as grand as this one, he had a hard time believing they couldn't afford to employ a single pokémon of that caliber.
"Allow me to answer that," Delia chuckled, gently clasping Red's shoulder with her fingers. "Prehistoric pokémon like tyrantrum here display an interesting trait which we call Vital Spirit. It keeps their instincts at an all-time high and ensures they remain highly resistant to psychic manipulation like suggestions and hypnosis."
The docent exaggeratedly cleared his throat.
"Ah, the skitty is out of the bag, isn't it?" she nervously laughed. "I didn't know it was kept a secret here."
"Vital Spirit?" Red pressed, unwilling to let go of the loose thread. "Isn't that the one from that primeape research the old man was bugging me about?"
He nearly missed the slight twitch above Cynthia's left eye. Nearly.
"The very same. Professor Oak will be happy to know you actually pay attention to him."
"Ugh, please don't. Let him go bother someone else. I'm happy being a trainer, thank you very much."
Like before, Cynthia twitched again. But by now, Red had caught onto the pattern. Every time he said something casual or disparaging about the professor or his work, she seemed to get more on edge. A slight twitch here, a tightening of the lips there, sometimes even a glare if he was lucky.
"I didn't hear you complaining about the in-field researcher bit."
"No buts," Delia declared. "I was in that room too. You agreed to it before I could even say a word."
Red was baffled by why his mother was focusing on something so trivial. Then, he met her gaze. The slight upturning at the corner of her lips was a dead giveaway.
So that's how it is.
It looked like Delia Ketchum had a mean streak in her, too
"That's because he's an old coot who's not above blackmailing me to get his dirty laundry done," he replied, keeping up with her. "Honestly, I don't know how you put up with him."
"With great difficulty," his mother replied, with an overbearing sigh.
Cynthia twitched again. This was starting to become funny— he could almost see the aneurysm developing in real-time. Just a little more, and there'd be an explosion. That, or she would walk away, which would make his mother happy. Or both.
Either way, this was fun.
"So," Cynthia cleared her throat, her tone a little strained. "The tyrantrum is sleeping?"
"Yes," the docent answered, clearly aware of what was going on but too polite to comment. "It shares that behavior with the kangaskhan line. They sleep while standing upright."
"Makes sense, I guess," Red shrugged. "So what's next? The old man would go for my hide if I missed his grand entrance. Twenty years since he's been Champion, and the guy's still as puffed up as a pidgeot."
His mother snorted at that.
"What do you think, Miss Shirona?" he offered.
Cynthia looked like she was torn between looking aghast and outright throttling him. In the end, she simply offered him an awkward, twitchy smile. "If— if you say so."
Red inwardly grinned. Maybe Mawile had been a bad influence on him after all.
"So what's it like being a field researcher?" she asked, guarded curiosity evident in her eyes.
"I really haven't got a clue," Red easily admitted. "Honestly, I just agreed to it because it was my only option. Otherwise, the old man would've thrown my growlithe under the bus. Never knew he was a closet sadist till then."
"Your… growlithe," Cynthia repeated. "I— that just seems a bit… unbelievable."
He arched an eyebrow.
"It's a growlithe," she deadpanned.
Red just smirked back. While training with his team in Pewter City, he'd taken extra care in studying his growlithe. And the results, as he'd expected, were indeed surprising.
From the test reports the old man had sent his way, Growlithe was found to be the outcome of interspecies genetic splicing and recombination. The deeper mechanisms were beyond him, but he understood that Growlithe was an offspring between two species that were normally not genetically compatible with one another. Furthermore, its genetic structure was more of a fusion between ancestries than a descendant of anyone, proving that Growlithe was indeed the very first of its kind.
In fact, Oak had once coined a word for this kind of illegal breeding.
Apparently, there used to be an organization that ran such tests on pokémon in an attempt to create new species as weapons for war. When Oak had come down upon them with extreme prejudice and shut the program down, the leader of the organization, one Eugene Colress, escaped.
According to the old professor, if Team Rocket had indeed been tinkering with Colress's old experiments, it meant things were about to become messy very soon.
Still, he was more concerned with Growlithe than some shady underworld organization— that was more of the League's responsibility anyways —and so he took notes on everything the puppy displayed, from its obvious lethargic behavior to its abnormally high regeneration. He'd not forgotten about what happened with the machoke and the man named Meyers back in Viridian Forest. Given sufficient incentive, he knew that his seemingly benign puppy could turn into a rabid monster.
And his pokédex had revealed a certain, unexpected move that made such a thing easily possible.
A move that was now Growlithe's own, though not in line with the usual species.
At will, Growlithe could release incredibly acidic smog, capable of rotting even the thickest bars of metal given time. Combined with his Flash Fire ability and Regenerator, it was only a matter of time and training before the puppy became an absolute fiend on the field. Luckily for Red, the professor was willing to provide reimbursements for any money spent in training.
As much as he disliked the wily old man ever getting his way, this was a situation where he truly didn't have anything to complain about.
And that was without considering the elephantine amount of cash he'd received from the Waterflowers. He really ought to send Misty's father a greeting card or something at least. Maybe he'd get a chance to meet him during this event?
Time would tell.
"My growlithe is a hybridized experiment I found during my travels," he vaguely explained to Cynthia. "The old man charged me with keeping him, and now I'm training him to the best of my abilities."
"He just gave it to you?"
"And hung a field-researcher tag around my neck," he lightly growled. "As if anybody needs that."
"W— well," Cynthia's smile turned brittle. "I was hoping to do something similar. I'm a High-Intermediate trainer myself, actually. Do you think the professor would have another field position at hand?"
Red blinked, before giving her an evaluating gaze. "If you're a High-Inter, then why aren't you trying for the League?"
"I will, not that I'm looking forward to it," she wrinkled her nose. "The Indigo League is coming up, isn't it? Hopefully, I'll be done with all that soon enough and get a respectable job at the Parthenon. I'm just dying to work there."
Red stared at her blankly.
Cynthia stared back, cheeks flushed and slightly panting.
Delia started chuckling.
The docent pretended not to know them.
Was— was this girl for real? She, a High-Intermediate trainer, wanted to be done with her trainer journey as fast as possible so she could take up a field researcher job?
No, Red didn't immediately ask if she'd fallen and hit her head as a baby. That in itself was proof of his diplomatic skill in conversation. Instead, he opened his mouth, intent on saying the most childishly insulting thing he could think of—
"Ah, there you all are!" a voice broke him out of his musings.
Red stared stone-faced at Samuel Oak, the man of the hour, who strode up to him with a broad grin on his face. As the professor drew closer, he found himself growing strangely aware of the growing blush creeping up Cynthia's neck as well as the slight twitches of her arms.
He wondered if the girl was going to outright jump him.
He also wondered if she would cause a public scene and get arrested for indecency.
"I thought stars didn't mingle with fans before the concert," he quipped.
"Correct," Oak agreed. "They appear onstage in a brilliant puff of smoke."
"Good thing this isn't a concert then," Delia added her two cents.
Suddenly, the overhead lights started turning on and off. Pulling back his sleeve, the professor checked his watch, before glancing at him and his mother with a serious expression. "I don't have much time, I'm afraid. Tonight is a tremendous occasion for me, as well as for all of humankind."
Red felt anticipation coursing through him.
"Recently, the Parthenon made a startling scientific discovery— a breakthrough that will have far-reaching implications. Nobody here knows about it, except our own staff who helped set it up. Tonight, very shortly, we will be creating history in front of the world at large."
"That sounds amazing," Cynthia wondrously breathed.
"Er…" Oak looked towards her, confused at the additional member of their group. "My apologies, but I didn't quite recognize you Miss…"
"Cynthia," she quickly piped in, her eyes shining like diamonds. "Cynthia Shirona. It's an absolute honor to meet you, Professor. I've been dying to—"
"Wait," the man interrupted her, frowning in thought. "Shirona? As in, Atsushi Shirona?"
Cynthia held her breath, then nodded. Red was certain that if she became any more anxious, her heart would immediately stop.
"You must be his granddaughter then. The famous prodigy, of course!" Oak beamed, turning towards Red. "Remember the script I showed you about Galar, Red? About Atsushi Shirona?"
Red slowly bobbed his head. The old man mentioned something like that a while ago.
"Miss Shirona, I'd like to introduce you to Red Ketchum. He is a very gifted field-researcher."
"We've met," Red dryly replied.
"Professor, if I could get a minute to talk to you about my—" Cynthia began.
"This is hardly the time—" Delia interrupted.
Out of the corner of his eye, Red spotted the docent slowly skulking away, shaking his head.
"Wait wait," Oak held up his hands, before addressing the young blonde. "I would love to lend an ear to you, Miss Shirona. Come find me after the event is over. Also, Delia, Red, a word please?"
Red and his mother walked ahead and joined the professor. Thankfully, Cynthia decided to give them a little space, though he couldn't tell whether it was because she was polite or dumbstruck from talking to her hero.
"What's up, old man?"
But Oak didn't so much as crack a grin at his quip. Odd.
"Delia, I need a favor from you. It's my desire that you do not attend this, and instead leave for the hotel." His voice grew uncharacteristically tense. "Once you are there, collect my pokéballs and keep Orca's ball on your person at all times."
"Orca's here?" Red piped up.
But the gray-haired professor just ignored him. "Once that's done, I want you to collect Red's entire team from the city ranch. Get Kaz transported from home and be ready for anything."
Delia's face immediately turned ashen.
"Old man," Red asked, flabbergasted. "What the hell is going on?"
"I haven't a clue, Red," the professor admitted, his voice dark and heavy. "But I'm afraid everyone here might be in terrible danger."
Editor: Solo Starfish, the best goddamn starfish the world has ever seen.
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