July 24th, 2010
Photoshop and drawingtablet
PCBCOS Entry: Round 3
Entrants: Sandy Gano and team
Opponent: Aka Kanda and his team (Edowaado)
Theme song: Link
"Lost and found"
"Dead? Why would you think I was dead?" Aka's eyes narrowed questioningly.
He had just found his prize, the former Rocket warehouse underneath the Goldenrod Department Store. It was old, dusty and abandoned and it looked as though some of the walls were ready to come tumbling down. Really, it was a miracle that the giant shopping centre on top of it was still considered structurally sound, which could only mean that these walls were not crucially supportive. Still, despite its state, this place rekindled a lost sense of homeliness in Aka. To him the Team Rocket he had known as a kid, his adoptive family, was not the same criminal organisation everybody else knew and despised. To Aka Kanda Team Rocket was home. Or at least, it was until he learned the truth about them.
And now, just when he rediscovered one of the old bases, the one person who had revealed his family's ugly true face to him lay sprawled on the floor, looking as if she was seeing a ghost. The young man didn't believe in destiny, but even he had to admit this was just a smidge odd. The young, white-haired woman jumped to her feet when she noticed him. Behind her Steve, Aka's roommate was crouching. He wore an expression of absolute shock and confusion. His Porygon-Z and Rotom hovered silently overhead, and a small conical-shelled Omanyte sat on his shoulder, suction cups firmly anchored on his leathery perch. Its bulging little eyes were staring at him. Frankly said, Aka thought it was rather unnerving.
"What are you two doing here?" He kept his voice flat, as he regarded Sandy with interest. Apparently Isaac was right. She didn't look any older either. But then again, some people stopped aging altogether after they reached adulthood. He had seen people in their forties who could still pass for high school students; a mixed blessing, really.
"We're hiding," Steve said, "from the cops, apparently." He cast a somewhat accusing glance at Sandy who still couldn't tear her eyes off Aka. Aka turned to face his roommate as he spoke, and squinted against the light cast by Steve's Porygon-Z, H4XOR.
He was about to reply when he caught a glimpse from the corner of his eyes, of a figure dashing towards him. One arm shot around the back of his head and another wrapped around his left shoulder, clutching his back. Before he could react, Aka found himself in Sandy's tight embrace. She had pressed her head into his shoulder and just held him quietly, a slight shudder going through her body. At this unexpected and uncharacteristic gesture the young man froze up. He didn't know Sandy that well, but she had always seemed a bit aloof, having trouble connecting to people. Spontaneously hugging practical strangers was the last thing he expected from this lady. Heck. It was something he was not used to doing either!
A quick glance at Steve told Aka he was just as surprised. Steve was still in a kneeling position, mouth somewhat agape. His eyes betrayed slight frustration. Aka felt heat rise to his cheeks, but mercifully it was over as quickly as it started. Sandy, grabbing his upper arms, pushed him away a little to look him over.
"I'm so sorry!" She exclaimed. Was she biting back tears?
"After the battle with the MC," Sandy said, "I lost track of you. I couldn't find you! I tried, I really did!"
"The MC..." Aka muttered, realizing she wasn't apologizing for the assault on his private space after all. Somehow looking her in the eyes was disconcerting. She looked at him as a mother who had just found her lost toddler in the mall. It was embarrassing enough for a sixteen-year-old like him, but she wasn't even that much older than him.
"You just... disappeared. Nobody knew where you'd gone," she said. At that Aka straightened up. "They didn't? I mean, nobody saw me?"
That couldn't be true, right? He paused, trying to think, trying to calm himself. He looked composed on the outside - he always did - but inside his mind was racing. He knew it was the same for Sandy, only her eyes kept looking at him with that freakish look of motherly concern. It was weird for her too. He could tell, but she couldn't help herself.
"No, nobody saw where you went," Sandy explained softly as she glanced down. "Everybody passed out after the MC was killed. When we woke up, you were gone." She tilted her head, "I'm really sorry, we should have done a better job looking after you, kiddo." He flinched a little. Kiddo?
A soft paw pressing at his calf gave Aka the excuse to look away and take a few steps back from his fellow BT-survivor. Reaf looked up, smiling shyly and rubbing his front feet over his snout and whiskers in a nervous gesture. The small Raticate's eyes shifted between him and the unknown woman. He could sense his master's unease and Aka was grateful for the distraction his buddy provided. He extended his hand, invited the Raticate to climb up to his shoulder. Reaf didn't waste a second. In one bound he was up at waist height, clinging to his master's arms and shirt with four little hand-like paws, tail lashing out for balance. Another hop and he was securely perched on both shoulders, giving Sandy an inquisitive yet reserved look. Reaf didn't like strangers too much. The rodent quickly ruffed its snout through Aka's hair and behind his ears before looking back at her. It was more than just a simple sign of affection. My human.
She couldn't help but smile at the rodent sitting on Aka's shoulders. It was always kind of endearing to see a Pokemon interact that way with its trainer. It meant they had a sound bond of friendship and trust, and Sandy could only approve of such relationships. But then a thought crossed her mind.
"If you're not dead," she said, "does that mean that your Raticate..." She broke off her sentence immediately when she saw his face turn sour.
"No," he said, "this is not the same Raticate I had then. Reaf is Nezumi's son." He scratched the side of Reaf's cheek as he spoke. Looking back to Sandy, he seemed a bit more cheerful. "He's every bit as brave as his daddy." Reaf puffed up, obviously agreeing with the statement.
"I'm sure he is," Sandy said.
"Uhm, excuse me?"
Both trainers turned as their conversation was interrupted. Steve had wandered further into the room and was standing next to a large collection of wooden crates. His face betrayed extreme agitation as he curtly shifted his hat to the back of his head.
"I'd hate to break up your little reunion, roomie, but has anyone else noticed something odd about this place? About these crates, specifically?!" Holding both arms out to his right, he moved them laterally to and fro in front a crate. Sandy paused as she watched him. It would have almost been comical if the crate he indicated hadn't been stamped with a bold red letter 'R'.
She narrowed her eyes and instinctively looked around her, waiting for Team Rocket grunts to jump from the shadows and attack. Steve also looked alert. His fists clenched as he alternatively looked over his shoulders and back again and the offending letters on the crates. Sandy couldn't believe she had been so careless! She had been so shocked at finding the boy she thought was dead, that she hadn't noticed they were in a bloody Rocket base! And a big one, from the looks of things. In the dimly lit room she could only just make out how rows of crates extended endlessly into the darkness. It was not so much a room as it was a large storage facility, complete with grim-looking cranes dangling from the high vaulted ceiling. Their conversation, now dropped to a whisper tone, produced several echoes.
But then, breathing sharply through her teeth, Sandy suddenly dropped out of her battle stance. Something wasn't right. Team Rocket disbanded years ago. They wouldn't have the manpower to set up a base like this without being noticed by the authorities. If the criminal syndicate even survived at all, it could only be as a tiny splinter organisation.
Shifting a lock of white hair away from her face, Sandy walked over to Steve, who looked ready to physically charge the crates. She leaned in closer and examined the wooden containers. They were made of solid timber, sturdy and practical. Nothing too flashy. Why Team Rocket had spray painted their logo on them was a bit puzzling. They used to do that with everything they owned, which seemed unpractical for a group of criminals. One would expect them to try and keep a low profile. But then again, in their heyday Team Rocket had been very powerful and omnipresent. Sandy always assumed that stamping their name on their property was the Rocket way of intimidating outsiders. Stay away from our stuff, or else.
The paint of the red 'R' was flaking slightly and the crates themselves looked dusty. The labels on the crates were faded too. Sandy couldn't make out what was written on them. At the corners of the crates, she could see large chucks of wood had been bitten off by various creatures. Rattata, Bidoof and Raticate were the most likely culprits. The crates themselves were riddled with woodworms, she noticed. It was quite a serious infestation too. There were countless holes in the wood, where the larvae had made their burrows and finally tunnelled their way out once they reached adulthood. Each crate stood in a pile of its own sawdust, further proof of their poor condition. This was no active Team Rocket base.
"This place has been abandoned," Sandy said, "There is no one here."
"Are you sure?" Steve's head whipped back and forth between the crate and his former opponent. "How can you be sure?"
Sandy shrugged. "This place is falling apart at the seams. Even Team Rocket has enough sense to maintain its facilities."
"She is correct, sir," the Porygon-Z's voice synthesizer cracked to life. The artificial Pokemon had come to hover behind them while shining its lights on the crates, thus highlighting the defects Sandy had already detected. "Even Team Rocket would ensure the safety of its own workers, sir. This place is quite unsafe."
Steve squinted. "Are you sure? I wouldn't be surprised if they..."
H4X interrupted him, "It would be unpractical, sir. Nobody would work for them."
Its trainer stared at H4X long and hard. "They're evil," he finally said, "It's what they do." Steve seemed content with that argument, while his Porygon threw its streamlined little arms up in exasperation.
"They were evil," Sandy joined in. It was fun to watch the mechanical creature try and reason with its trainer, but time was running short. "They are out of business now, either behind bars or on the run." Sandy crossed her arms, confident she had just decisively ended this little argument.
"She's right," Aka joined in. They turned to see him standing behind them, hands in his pockets and smiling a little. He seemed to be amused by them, as they huddled around the crates. "There are no Rockets here," he said, "Or, well... almost no Rockets at least." He looked at them and grinned slyly. Sandy drew up her eyebrows in a mild expression of surprise and sarcasm. "What do you mean?"
"It's nothing," he shrugged, almost throwing his Raticate off balance with the gesture. "Never mind. It's not important."
Again he cast them a curious look. Something was up. Sandy wanted to question him further, but before she could the door behind them was thrown open, making her jump. Had they been discovered after all? But it wasn't the police who came storming in. Instead, it seemed to be a girl in a pink jumpsuit. She was an unusual looking individual, with a horned mask covering the left half of her face. The newcomer looked around the room, surprised at seeing so many people there; confused also about the setting. Her eyes quickly fixated on the crates behind them, and judging by her facial expression she knew exactly what the red symbols meant.
Without saying a word she turned to Aka. "Why are you avoiding me?" She asked. "I'm your opponent for this round!"
"I wasn't avoiding you," he replied calmly, "I just wanted to pick a good spot for our match. It's a good location, don't you think?" He threw his arms out as he showed her the ramshackle structure, while looking at her with penetrating eyes. A faint smile played across his face as he spoke. Sandy shifted her weight. Why did she suddenly feel so uneasy? It must be this place, she thought. But that couldn't be it. She had said so herself, this place was deserted. There was no reason for her to be apprehensive here.
"You want to fight here? This place, it's..." The girl, who had introduced herself as Kinata cast a sweeping glace around the room, as if it still wasn't obvious to everyone present what an awful state it was in.
"Perfect, I know," Aka simply said, tucking his hands back into his pockets. Kinata seemed to fluster a bit, while Steve edged closer. "You guys are going to fight?" It was obvious he wanted to watch, but at the same time he seemed to be uneasy about the location. He shuffled a piece of concrete, which had presumably been part of the ceiling at some point, around with the tip of his shoe as he was searching for words. Before he could speak, however, Aka interrupted him. "I'll see you guys later, okay? At the mansion?"
Steve did a retake, but quickly recovered. "Yes," he said, apparently realizing spectators were not wanted here.
Without giving them a second look Aka pointed to a wall at the far left. "There is an elevator there, it still has power. It'll take you to the Department Store above, so you can just pretend to be shoppers and walk out."
"Alright... See ya later, I guess." Steve muttered.
Suddenly he was in a hurry to leave, tightening his leather jacket several times, rearranging his hat and his hair, and checking his Pokeballs as he walked out. Sandy hesitated a little before following him. On the way over to the elevator Steve recalled his troublemaker Rotom, who had apparently possessed on of the ceiling fans and was having an absolute blast kicking up a dust storm. Coughing and choking they made their way to the elevator. It was indeed still functional. Waiting for the doors to close, they turned around and saw Aka talking to his new opponent. He seemed to be explaining something to her and she looked surprised. Sandy looked harder. What was wrong? Why was she feeling so uneasy? It wasn't the building and it wasn't her rowdy round 2 opponent, though he was obnoxious.
It's Aka. She suddenly realized it. A few minutes ago he was just as she remembered him: shy and kind of sweet, a bit awkward even. But then he changed right in front of her eyes. He seemed driven and focused. And she didn't like that glint in his eyes. A hint of amber amidst the brown; it made him look... maniacal, almost...
And... She couldn't believe she hadn't noticed it earlier, but... didn't he used to be shorter?
Previous: Chapter 1
Next: Chapter 3
Sandy still has trouble with names, but I had to start calling Steve by his actual name, depite the fact that this story is party from Sandy's perspective. I can't keep calling him 'that guy with the fancy hat', now can I?
Rusty writing skills are rusty, but steadily improving, perhaps?
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