Re: Survival Project
chapter 21 ; [ATIS]
If there was anyone in the world I didn’t want to be (next to my hitmontop self, of course), it was Ezrem. Though valiant, he was being incredibly reckless. Running into an attack like that… I could never dream of doing it. And finding out he was a shiny pokémon… Well, it was a shock to me, too. Of course, I knew what shiny pokémon were, thanks to Earl. Their rarity and value were very well known to me; some of the kid’s dreams were to find one for themselves one day. So I knew what kind of trauma it would cause to find out you were one of them—to be wanted by so many pokémon lovers in the world would be unbearable.
While we were waiting in the pokémon center, I thought about what it would be like to not know myself as well as Ezrem. What if I didn’t know whether or not I hated my species? What if I didn’t know how I truly felt about humans? What would I have? Who would I be? In a sense, I didn’t know myself. I didn’t know where I wanted to go with the life that I was given. I didn’t know where I would go once I left Sai.
But Ezrem’s situation had given me some ideas. Maybe I could offer to work in a hospital—one for humans, and maybe pokémon—so that I could help people who truly needed it. Maybe I could volunteer—the term that Earl had pinned down for my job at the pokémon academy—my time to charities and assisting others. I would be around people whose lives didn’t revolve around pokémon, which was what I wanted, and I could explore other options—reading, poetry, games that involved skill and strategy—on the side.
Yes, I had ideas now, which is more than what I had ever had before. It was time to go. It was time to help Sai out, and repay him back for all that he had done for me… And he had done a lot, despite everything. He gave me shelter, and food, and entertainment, and he taught me what it was like to be human… It was tough, being human, there was no doubt. Though he didn’t live up to all of my expectations, it didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy our time together. I only hoped that he thought the same, but I couldn’t be sure. I believed that I was one of his problems. The art of pokémon training put such a great strain on him that I wondered if he thought he could go back and change it all. All those rules, all that pain, all those breakdowns… None of it could have been healthy for him.
If I could rid Sai of one of his problems, I could do that.
“Sai,” I said quietly as we waited, not wanting to disturb the peaceful atmosphere of the healing building. When he didn’t answer, I poked him in the shoulder gently. He looked thoughtful and stressed when he looked at me.
“I…” My voice trailed off; I wasn’t sure how to go about this. “Well… Do you remember the time you gave us a choice? You made us say whether or not we wanted to stay or go...”
Sai was quiet and his stare lingered. I swallowed and twiddled my hands around, nervous. Finally, he said, “Yeah, I remember. Why… Why do you bring it up now?”
The pause in his voice—it sent shivers down my spine. When he talked, he was always so brash, so sure in what he was saying, even if he regretted it later. In the moment, he knew what he wanted to say, and he said it with such admirable boldness. But now he was stopping his speech, and it made me wonder—
“I… I think I’ve made my decision,” I said, not daring to look him in those heartbreaking eyes of his.
“You want to leave, don’t you?”
I nodded, still refusing to look his way. The others, however, weren’t afraid to glare or peer at me, depending on their sudden views.
“So, you finally decided something for yourself, huh?” Senori said. He smiled at me, albeit sadly, and I forced myself to smile back.
“Atis,” Kuiora said, “we haven’t settled our competition yet to see who is stronger out of the two of us!”
“I can assure you,” I said, trying to sound as bold as Sai, “that you are stronger than me now.”
“You think so?”
“Yes. I never fight, and I don’t hone my skills. You do—all the time.”
“You’re still going to leave? Don’t you want to get stronger?”
“I want to get stronger,” I admitted, “but not in the physical sense.”
“Atis, I don’t know you enough to say you should stay or leave,” Rennio said, “but I would have liked to learn more about you. I’ll be sad to see you go.”
“Thank you, Rennio,” I said, surprised at his wanting to learn about me. I wondered what he would have thought about me, what with my abnormal view of not wanting to be all that a pokémon can be. In the end, I decided that this, too, was for the best.
Now, all that was left was to wait for Sai’s response. He continued to look at me, and I cast my eyes upward to see him. I knew that I would have to do it sooner or later, and it was as good a time as any. Those dark blue eyes still looked sad, but I was entirely convinced that it was only because Ezrem was in the back of the pokémon center, hurt and probably scared for his life. I didn’t envy him, but I empathized. And I was sympathetic for Sai, thinking that it even though everyone looked forward to being a trainer, it wasn’t a walk in the park when all was said and done.
“When would you like to go?” was all that Sai said.
“Soon,” I replied quickly, believing that his response was his way of telling me that he was glad for my departure, “to get out of your—”
“Atis,” he suddenly interrupted. “Do you know what today is?”
I froze. Today was the day that Ezrem got hurt, and today—hopefully—would be the day that I left this team for good. I couldn’t think of any other possibilities.
“N-No,” I managed to say.
“Earl told me all about you,” Sai said. He paused, seeming lost in thought. He seemed to be doing that a lot today… Eventually, he continued, “He told me that in the middle of June was the time that you came to him at the pokémon academy as a... tyrogue, I think it was. He said that you were with him for three years. If you were still with him today, this would mark the beginning of the fourth year.”
I stared at him, dumbfounded. Even I hadn’t remembered this. Did Earl really care about me so much that he remembered the exact day that I came to him? And he cared enough that he told my future trainer all about me! I mean, I never doubted that he was a caring man, but it still came as an eye opener to me. The beauty of loving pokémon seemed to shine through at times like this…
“It’s the middle of June, isn’t it?” I said, finishing his thoughts for him.
“Yeah,” Sai said. “It’s not the exact day, but it’s close.”
“Why,” I couldn’t help but say, “does it matter?”
“Atis,” Kuiora immediately scolded, “don’t you know what that means? It’s your birthday!”
My birthday? I knew what a birthday was, and it certainly wasn’t this. Nevertheless, I didn’t protest, and let her believe what she wanted.
“Professor Elm always celebrated the day that me and the other pokémon at the lab joined him. He said that the year was full of good memories of us growing up,” Kuiora went on. “This means that we should celebrate before you go! It’s a must, and I won’t take no for an answer. If you want,” she added, winking, “we can even celebrate the fact that you admitted I’m stronger than you.”
At this, I had to laugh. Kuiora’s childish self was really shining through, and I admitted to myself that I would miss it. I was sure that I could find a childish character just about anywhere in the world, but no one could be better at it than her.
“I don’t know what a birthday is,” Sai said peculiarly, “but I think she’s right. We should celebrate before you go.” He stopped again, thinking. “Please stay with us long enough to get to Ecruteak City again. This place has brought… interesting memories, but the celebration’s location should bring only good ones. And as you know, we have to tend to Ezrem, too.”
“O-Okay,” I said, knowing I could manage just a few more days with them. It would give them time to accept my leaving and adjust to the idea without facing the pain that I was already gone, anyway.
It was the least that I could do, I thought, considering the bad news that soon followed.
The next two days went by slowly and quickly at the same time. It was slow in my mind, because I was still befuddling myself over the fact that I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what my next actions would be. Clearly, I would be starting in Ecruteak City, but I didn’t know what the renowned city had to offer besides burned towers that once housed the legendary pokémon that created Johto. As fascinating as that was, the stories weren’t going to get me anywhere. They would be good for Kuiora, at least, though she had probably already heard the stories a thousand times before, knowing her.
The trip was quick—literally. With Sai carrying Ezrem in his arms and with his swift pace, we were making great time. We had reached the same clearing where the incident took place by the middle of the first day. We took a break, however, to temporarily tend to Ezrem’s wounds. Why Sai had waited until we reached the clearing again was beyond me; if it were up to me, the wounds would have been taken care of in the pokémon center. But I was in no position to judge Sai, no matter how odd he seemed.
As we went on, there then was the point where Ezrem was having his so called identity crisis, and he went off on Kuiora and—to a much lesser extent—me. Sai had to interrupt, and his sudden fury made me cower, as always, and it only made me glad that I was leaving. I would only partly miss his rollercoaster emotions. The situation did serve, however, to prove to me what happens when someone doesn’t know themselves—they go crazy, and can only be tamed by the goals they have set for their future. I continued to sympathize with the bird, even though he had caused many problems for me in the past. He did help me to know, after all, that I didn’t want to be someone like him.
Everything after that was quiet. I saw Ezrem and Rennio talking, but I couldn’t hear them. And Kuiora seemed both furious and pleased at the same time, but I didn’t question her. Senori passed me his famous all knowing smiles at me from time to time, as there were no more words to pass between us. All that needed to be said was said during the mock battle at the pokémon fan club. That was fine with me.
The night before we reached Ecruteak City, I woke up just in time to see Sai sneak off. I was too dazed and tired to follow him, but I still took great note of it. His walk was slow, too, making me believe that he was just… thinking. Yeah, he was just thinking. I convinced myself of this and went back to sleep. He would be there in the morning.
And he was there in the morning. This brought about a great sense of relief to me. To have him disappear on me again would have put a big dent in our plans and an even bigger dent in our broken team. No one asked where Sai had gone the previous night—it would only be until much later that I would find out.
“So,” Sai said as we walked past the front gates that indicated we were now entering the city, “what are you supposed to do on a birthday, anyway?”
“Have lots of cake,” I said before Kuiora could butt in and say something completely out of line.
“Don’t forget presents,” she said, getting her own word in, anyway.
“Okay. Cake and presents. Uh,” Sai said, stopping to rest for once. He peered around, taking in his surroundings. There were plenty of tall, well made oriental buildings around, and they looked like they were recently—and frequently—cleaned, to keep away graffiti and the harshness of nature. They were also thoroughly taken care of in the sense that, up close, I couldn’t see a single hole in any of the walls. The pavement below our feet was set up with a grid-like pattern, and along the roads were high, triumphal arches—I had learned that structures like this were meant to honor the rulers who had built the city in the past. The towers in the back of the city, of course, stuck out among anything, as they were among the tallest. One of them was noticeably burned and broken, while the other’s embattlements at the top still looked strong and loved.
This was obviously a city that took care of its buildings, and therefore its people. It looked like a very efficient and suitable place for me.
“Okay,” Sai said again, breaking my focus of the city. As he said this, someone approached the gate, motioning us to move out of the way so he could get past. We took a few steps forward, with Sai mumbling in discontent over the idea that someone had pushed him around yet again. Afterward, however, he was thrilled and inspired.
“Good thing we have money again, or this would be impossible,” Sai went on happily. “Clearly, the first place we should go is to the shopping center.”
And so that was where we went. We had to peer inside several buildings that were open to the public, seeing a restaurant and a dance hall in the process, but we eventually found it and ventured inside. The shopping center wasn’t nearly as huge as the mall in Goldenrod City, but it still brought back memories, and I vaguely wondered what Sai had done—or would eventually do—with the pocket knife he had bought. And I hoped that he wouldn’t think such a thing was a perfect gift for me.
Luckily for me, he didn’t think so. He went up and down the aisles, picking up peculiar items, just as he had done before, but he always put them back where they belonged. Soon he reached the electronics section, and he picked up a small, cheap camera.
“Atis,” he said, “do you like taking pictures?”
I was nervous so I nodded but then said, “I’ve never taken any before, so I don’t know…”
“Is it something you’d like to do? Won’t you remember us with it? Pictures can show you just about anything, right?”
“I could. Right. I could do it,” I said, now smiling. Sai was being thoughtful and considerate toward me, and only me, when often he put himself at the center of his world. I was grateful for that, even if I couldn’t show it. It only made me wonder further, though, about what kind of person he associated himself with back at home.
“It’s settled, then,” Sai said, handing it to me. “This will be your present from all of us.”
Kuiora cheered, Rennio was explaining to Ezrem what the situation was, and Senori was quiet. Would I like to capture this moment forever? I took the camera from Sai, and we went to the counter to purchase it.
“Next,” Sai said as we walked out of the store, “we’ll need a cake. That’s a food, right? So we’ll go back to that restaurant we passed by.”
Inside, chandeliers hung from the ceiling—the lighting was dim, giving off a relaxed atmosphere. I soon noticed that this was a pokémon themed restaurant, however, when the frames on the walls were full of pictures depicting pokémon from different regions, and, when we were seated (which Sai was confused about, since we had never been to a formal restaurant before), the table’s design was embellished with etchings of small, quick pokémon related facts. The theme served to remind me of why I was leaving, and, even if I wasn’t fond of it, the idea was appropriate.
Overall, though, the restaurant was a nice one, but I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be so specialized to the point where it would serve cake to anyone who asked. And I was right. Looking at the menu now, there was no cake listed anywhere. I had to laugh, though, when Kuiora was looking at it upside down, asking what all of the funny shapes on the paper was.
“Kuiora doesn’t know how to read,” Ezrem said in a teasing manner.
“Neither do you,” Rennio retorted. It helped that he knew things about Ezrem that no one else knew, and he gave Kuiora a high five for it. The difference in size between the two pokémon’s hands made it difficult, so it was amusing.
“Well, Atis,” Senori said in the middle of a chuckle, “what are you going to get? I can’t read, either, so I don’t know what’s there.”
“How nice of you to admit that you can’t read,” I said. “Aren’t you… confused as to why I can?”
“Nah,” Senori said, smiling that all knowing smile of it. He was probably remembering that I came from a school. It had seemed like such a long time ago that the three of them—Sai, Kuiora, and Senori—had come to whisk me away from the school just to fight Falkner at the Violet City gym, and then consequently take me on an entire journey.
“I see,” I said. “Well, they have cupcakes. I guess that works…”
At the right moment, the person who was waiting on us came to our table, asking us what we wanted. Sai immediately said that everyone just wanted a cupcake.
“Just cupcakes. One for Atis, of course”—he pointed to me, and then the others—“and one for Kuiora, Senori, Rennio, me, and I suppose Ezrem can have one too. Cupcakes.”
“Atis is the only one who should get a cupcake, Sai!” Kuiora said, rising from her seat. “It’s his birthday!”
Sai ignored her, and nodded to the waiter, who looked confused. Since this was a restaurant that specialized in hamburgers (since that was what the menu mostly consisted of), I assumed that he didn’t get many orders like this. Not to mention the quick, informal tone and words that Sai used to order. His odd self was continuing to show, and I wondered how it was possible that he had never been to a restaurant before, not only with us, but in his past.
When the waiter left, we all sat there, talking about random things. Rennio was the first to bring up the pokémon facts on the table, asking if there were any about his species. I looked over the table, seeing that apparently, the legendary ho-oh could revive dead people and pokémon, while the rare bird called skarmory could replenish its steel feathers by itself. There were other etchings, but these particularly stood out to me, showing that there was always a second chance in life. I didn’t see anything about the electric-type, and I told him that. He looked disappointed.
“Hey, now,” Ezrem said. Though he was burned by the neck, his voice sounded normal, and I was sure everyone was thankful for that. “Let’s all think about the cupcakes. I want to order so many cupcakes so that I can eat until my internal organs start a revolution and leave.”
“Haven’t they already done that? Kind of, anyway,” Kuiora said, though she covered her mouth as soon as she said it. “Sorry,” she said, her voice muffled.
Ezrem blanched. “Yes, I suppose they have. Darn it,” he said, quickly returning to his cheery self. “I guess I’ll have to settle for one cupcake.”
“Cupcakes aren’t healthy for you, anyway,” Sai said.
“So? Cake isn’t any better. I say we still should have gotten a cake somehow. We could have split it into parts, and then—”
“And then you could have conned everyone into give you their parts?” Senori said, interrupting him with a grin.
“Yes. You get me, Senori. I am so lucky to have someone who knows me as fantastically as you do,” Ezrem said sarcastically.
“You could just... uh… divide the cake by zero, and then keep it forever for yourself,” I said. Stupidly. I knew that you couldn’t divide by zero, but I wanted to keep the two from fighting, knowing that they weren’t particularly fond of each other. Apparently, Ezrem knew this, too.
“How is it logically impossible to divide by zero, anyway?” he said. “Let’s say this cake really exists, but no one owns this cake. It just exists. If I divide it by six, so there’s one piece for everyone, then there are six pieces. If I divide it by zero, then the cake still exists. It may be mathematically impossible, given that limits exist. But who is to tell me that I cannot divide a cake by zero?”
I blushed at his response. I didn’t know how to answer, and I didn’t even know if the question was directly aimed at me! Luckily, Kuiora answered for me.
“You, Ezrem,” she said, shaking her head, “are a smart pokémon.”
“I would hardly say so,” Senori said, folding his small arms.
“Annie used to tell you about all that math stuff, didn’t she?” Rennio chimed in, winking at Senori to keep the sentret—no, furret—calm.
“Do you want to hear another math joke, then? I know you do. Let’s say that my long lost brother”—I cringed at his reference to him being a shiny pokémon—“collects ghouls in his home. Yeah, you heard me, Senori. Don’t you look at me like that. He collects ghouls. Now, let’s say that two thirds of these ghouls are—”
Ezrem was, thankfully, interrupted by the waiter who had returned with all of the cupcakes. He set one down in front of each of us. I thanked him for it, even if he couldn’t understand me. Sai said nothing, and I silently scolded him for his lack of manners, not having the courage to say it out loud.
I looked down, nervous. Noticing the camera at my side, I decided that now was a good a time as any to start using it. I wouldn’t be able to look at the pictures right away, but with time, I would know that I was taking good ones without having to even see them before judging.
I picked it up in my hands again, enjoying the welcoming feeling of cool plastic on my hands. Twisting it around in my hand, I wondered if it would be misleading for me to take pictures of them. If I took pictures of them, it meant that I wanted to remember them forever, and maybe they would think that I wanted to stay, after all. I didn’t want to give them that impression, but I did want to remember them at the same time. I supposed that even if they thought I would want to stay, there would be undeniable proof at the end of the day: my departure, and, unlike Sai’s return… Well, there would be no return for me.
So I took my pictures, one by one. In his picture, Sai was looking at the cupcake as if it was an alien creature that he was studying. Highly appropriate, I thought. I caught Kuiora in the middle of her first bite; her jaws were hanging open and the cupcake lay unassuming on the table in front of her. Also appropriate—I would remember her power this way. Senori actually took the first bite, though, and it reminded me of his leadership. Ezrem was messy in his picture, as he had white icing all over his beak by the time his cupcake was gone. And Rennio, I could tell that his hands would look delicate as they held the food in his picture, as if he were trying very hard not to hurt it in the process of eating it. Impossible, but an admirable struggle.
And that was it—I had a picture of everyone. I could have asked for everyone to gather next to each other so we could all be in a single picture, but I was too nervous to ask. I didn’t want to disrupt the peaceful, hunger satisfied atmosphere that we had at the moment. Besides, I didn’t want to eventually develop these pictures and see me. I was afraid of seeing that I had made the wrong decision.
“Ah,” Ezrem said when he was finished, patting his stomach with his functioning but battered wing. “That was good. It’s been a while since I’ve had any sweets.”
“It’s definitely different from berries,” Rennio agreed.
“Berries aren’t so bad!” Kuiora said, folding her arms. “Cheri berries are good, anyway.”
“Whatever you say, whatever you say,” Ezrem said, waving her off. “Well, Atis, there were your presents. I sincerely hope you enjoyed them. And I wonder if there are any more for you.”
“There’s… more?” I said, thinking that it was unlikely—and particularly unfavorable—for there to be more.
“Who knows? If there’s more, then I’d like to warn you that some gifts are better left unopened, anyway. I’m mostly referring to the kind of gifts that explode in your face upon opening.”
“That’s…” I started, swallowing, “well, nice. Thanks for the warning…”
“Anytime,” Ezrem said, and I saw Senori glare at him from across the table.
“Don’t listen to him, Atis,” Senori said. “There’s nothing more.”
“Actually,” Sai interrupted, “there is.” His voice was quiet, perhaps the quietest that I had ever heard it.
“Oh? Please, Sai, enlighten us,” Senori said, looking at him suspiciously.
“It’s for Atis only to know. For now, the day is over. Let’s go to the pokémon center.”
Sai still didn’t have enough money to buy everyone their own room, and he apologized for that. I didn’t mind—in the end, it wouldn’t matter to me. It was odd, though, that it was the last time that I would see everyone together in a pokémon center room. I looked up at the top bunk, wondering if I would be sleeping there tonight, listening to the breathing of those calm heartbeats below me…
Sai was regarding me dubiously. He peered over at me every few moments, as if savoring his time with me, all the while knowing that there was more to come. I shuddered. It was an awkward stare he gave me, and those eyes that gave me mixed emotions would probably give me those same feelings every time I remembered them. I was sure that I would never see the dark glow of his eyes in anybody ever again, that was how unique they were to me.
When everyone was settling into their sleeping positions, muttering to themselves in tired discontent, Sai announced, “I’m going out with Atis for one last time. Say your good-byes… as I will be letting him go.”
Everyone stopped what they were doing just to come up to me. Senori simply nodded to me and went back to his position on the bed, with me thinking that it was rather cute to see the two of them so close together.
Since he couldn’t use his wings well enough, Ezrem stood up on his clawed feet to peck my on the head. He whispered in my ear, “Don’t forget about those exploding gifts.” I let out a stifled, forced laugh.
Rennio pushed Ezrem out of the way, and as a reward I smiled at him, telling him that I wished I could have gotten to know him, too. He didn’t have anything else to say. I knew what he was thinking, anyway, despite our lack of connection.
And Kuiora, with her enormous size and weight, just had to hug me. I thought she was going to crush my frail, skinny body in the process. Thankfully, she let go soon enough, and said good-bye in the least confident voice I had ever heard from her.
Sai didn’t say anything. Due to our past experiences together, I was wholly expecting him to say something later—in private. My gaze lingered on him, the sensation of us knowing something that no one else knew taking over. I got the vague feeling that he knew something that I didn’t, but I ignored it. After a few moments, he went to the door and held it open, motioning for me to step outside. I did so, looking back at the others one last time before watching the door close shut, which started this first new chapter of my life.
The walk to… wherever was silent. I wasn’t even sure where we were going, and supposedly, neither did Sai, as he was always peering this way and that every few seconds. We were seemingly making our way back to the entrance of the city. The night sky and lit moon loomed above us. There were very few people out at this time, which made me and Sai feel like the only ones in the world, with us being of the light and the city being of the dark. Nevertheless, we continued on, and we passed the front gates, just as we had done early this morning. I was already backtracking through my journey, and I speculated about how far I would go until I was satisfied.
Eventually, Sai stopped. We had reached an area that appeared familiar to me, though Sai had taken a turn that led us into a more forested section. Trees lined the peripheral parts of my view, while a small clearing lay ahead of us, with bushes marking a dead end.
“Atis,” Sai said. “Yesterday… Senori had told me that you didn’t quite know what you were going to do with your life after this. So I thought about it for you. I… remembered… someone that can help you. She will take you to a place where she thinks she can help you. I, ah, already told her that you would be coming with her, so it’s a little too late to say no right now. You can always say no later, I suppose, if you want to…”
I stood there, finding his voice even more unnatural than it had been earlier. I couldn’t quite place it—such was often the case with this boy—but the pauses in his words were finally starting to make sense. This was different from when he was giving me answers in other situations. When he talked about himself or his past life, he was at least being honest with us, though he kept his answers discreet for protection’s sake. But this… He was lying to me.
He was lying to me, and I didn’t know why.
Suddenly, anxiety welled up within me. Shifting around uncomfortably, I remembered when he had temporarily deserted us. Had he gone to this lady he kept speaking about? It seemed that he didn’t particularly enjoy her company, either, so perhaps he felt the need to lie about her. Not that this made me feel any better. In fact, it only made me automatically despise whatever disaster was waiting for me.
My concentration was broken when a strong gust of wind blew in my direction and knocked the camera out of my hand. It clattered to the ground, and I chased after it quickly, afraid of it being unusable and unable to be developed. When I retrieved it, I looked up, still feeling the wind blow against my skin. I noticed, however, that Sai seemed unaffected. His hair remained in one spot, and his body didn’t threaten to blow over with the force of nature.
And soon, I started to feel lightheaded, ill, tired.
Sai frowned as he noticed my abrupt distress.
“Earl told me all about you,” Sai went on, just like he had said at the pokémon center. This time, he didn’t pause; he let it all out, word by word.
I listened, wondering if his voice would be louder than the beating of my heart.
“He told me,” Sai started, “that you were an obedient pokémon that always acted with a clear head and a clear conscience. He said that you were smarter than he could ever be. Though you were shy, he always took it as a sign that you were simply breathing in the air and thanking life for every chance you could do that. As time went on in our journey, I could see that he was right, and I could see that I was proud to have you on my team. He also said that someday, you would want to accomplish great things. I suppose that now is the time…” I flinched at his pause yet again. “I know you’ve always been outcast from the rest of us by your own wishes, and I respected that, but I wished that we could have spent more time together. I will wish that always. You can say that you won’t miss me, but I’ll think about you every day.”
As he spoke, I began sobbing, not only because of his obviously heartfelt words and my consequent confusion, but because something was happening inside of me and it felt terrible. I was sick to my stomach, as if I would start retching at any moment. My head was about to split open. I wanted to believe that Sai would help me, but he did nothing. He knew this was going to happen. He knew it. I wanted to believe that this was really my trainer, the one I had trusted all this time…
My head kept spinning, spinning. Spinning.
Whatever was happening to me was happening fast. Soon, I was falling backward, hearing that Sai was sobbing, too. Before I could even question his enigmatic betrayal, everything went black.
Re: Survival Project
chapter 22 ; [KUIORA]
I had heard of many stories in the past, but the ones that I remembered in my mind, along with the ones I told the others, seemed to be of most significance.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Kuiora who loved a boy named Sai—and then the boy left her and she did not love him anymore. True. Not fiction. Fact. I had lost a ton of respect for Sai when he had disappeared on us, and he was slowly starting to gain my trust back, but he hadn’t quite reached the pedestal that I had put him on all those days ago, when he cradled my emotions and told me that I was the strongest pokémon he had.
Still, the story made me wonder. Did it have any unknown relation to Sai? Did he feel that it was his duty to leave us and do whatever he had to do? Was he affiliated with any legendary pokémon that gave him the chance to go on a journey with us? There were so many questions surrounding the boy, and no answers. I thought that perhaps the story could give me answers, but I didn’t like any of them. It meant that one of us would die—probably me, if I chose to go after him. It would be just like the story. Once upon a time, there was a boy who loved a girl—and when the girl died by his hands, he could not stop loving her. The roles were reversed, but they could still ring true. I believed that if I sought to figure out my trainer, then I could potentially be in danger. I didn’t want that, but Sai was irresistibly mysterious and indispensable to me.
And then… there was the story perfectly related to Ezrem, who was also an important part of my life when it came to friendships and teaching me more about what it means to be extraordinarily ordinary. He had recently told me that he burned down the forest and killed his trainer. In the story, a man was mourning his losses, and at the end, the town had accused him of killing his own wife and child by starting the house fire. It sounded perfectly applicable, almost scarily so. Again, I didn’t like the story’s ending. It meant that Ezrem would die of the burn wounds he had received lately. I worried incessantly for his safety and health once I figured out the connection between him and the stories.
Despite my worry, I was still conflicted about him. I wanted to believe that he was a good pokémon, but he was dead set on proving otherwise. And the things he had done were… unforgivable, to say the least. But he was trying. This, I could tell, and it made all the difference. I could deal with him and his trickery if it meant that he was going to try harder for me and everybody else. I hoped that whatever legendary pokémon was watching over him would keep him from dying.
Finally, there was the story about the thieving girl who stole hearts and never returned a single favor anyone gave her. While Ezrem was probably thinking that it was about him at the time (and I may have agreed with him… at the time), I believed that the story was about me. I was a con, a stealer of hearts, too. Sai obviously cared for me and so did Senori and Atis and everyone else, but I never showed any respect or love toward them. I only cared about myself getting stronger. Well, thanks to the ceremony with Lynn and the starmie, I had realized that everyone was special in their own way, and I was working on trying to be as supportive of others as I could possibly be. I feared for the karma that awaited me, but I hoped that the legendaries would find me to be inexorably invincible.
It was strange, being suddenly surrounded by the idea of death. I had told Ezrem that it was all a myth meant to scare children like me, but I had been lying. It was right in front of me, all the time, in these stories… and I knew that the legendaries wouldn’t lie to me. I just didn’t want to believe them, no matter how much I cherished them.
A story’s ending could be undone…
It had to be true.
It came as a shock to me when Atis left. It gave me the sensation that I had felt when I left Professor Elm’s lab. Although I hadn’t cared for the other pokémon, it was the familiarity that had made me feel comfortable there. And even though Atis was almost invisible to me, due to his quiet nature, his presence made everything feel more calm and peaceful. Without him there, I could only see a large, empty hole that couldn’t be filled.
Apparently, Sai was thinking the same, too.
It was safe to assume that no one was able to sleep the night that Atis left. We were all thinking about our own decisions to stay. We were all thinking about where Sai had gone with the hitmontop, and what they were saying to each other. Our thoughts had altered after seeing Sai leave, seeing Ezrem get burned, and seeing a fellow teammate leave. Before, the thoughts consisted of consolation. Now, they were full of fear and the sad feeling of wishing that we had known earlier what we knew at this moment.
Well, since none of us were sleeping when Atis left, no one was sleeping when Sai returned, either. He was in a rush when he closed the door. He was clearly sobbing, and we all believed we knew why. He was distressed over Atis leaving, over losing a pokémon on the team he had tried so hard to build. I vaguely wondered why he didn’t force Atis to stay with us, but I knew that it wasn’t in Sai’s best interests to do so.
Inevitably, we all couldn’t pretend to sleep anymore. We got up, tried to comfort Sai, but it didn’t work. We sat in a circle, as usual, and told jokes to each other to try to get us to laugh and calm down. But there was one thing we didn’t joke about, no matter what (and even Ezrem was mostly quiet and tame about it):
Sai cried all night.
When Sai’s demeanor was finally more serene, he immediately announced, “We’re continuing with our journey… We’re going to the gym.”
The sun had just started rising and peering in through the shut window on the far wall of the pokémon center room. We were all exhausted and emotionally drained, but no one protested. Sai stood up from the bed—where he had been all night—and opened the door, almost pushing us out of the room.
“Watch it, pal,” Ezrem said, frowning at the boy, but that was all he retorted with, which was unusual for his normal talkative self. Senori didn’t even seem to have the energy to glare back at him.
We slowly made our way to the Ecruteak City pokémon gym. Sai was walking slow compared to his preferred swift pace. The sun was fully visible in the sky now. It was just a speck in the daytime, and it was cold, distant… It was brighter than it had any right to be. It still seemed to be dark in my heart. Our hearts.
The gym had a more appropriate atmosphere for our team. It was eerie and shallow, to say the least. The gym was almost completely dark, with only three striking blue lights on either side. It was enough to illuminate the leader that stood in the back of the room, looking at us emotionlessly, as if he were nothing but a lifeless, heartless man. The simplicity of it all sent shivers down my spine. I found it odd that there was no trick to this place. The Violet City gym was intentionally open for flying-type pokémon. Azalea Town was purposefully made into a forest to encourage growth, and in Goldenrod City, there had been a maze. Here, there was nothing but a few lights, brown hardwood floors, and a… man, if you could even call him that.
Even Sai approached the “man” with caution. He kept his distance as he spoke: “Hello… I’m here to face the gym leader. Is that you? If you don’t mind, I’d like to fight now instead of making an appointment.”
The man lifted his arm, his sleeve falling down to reveal pale skin underneath. He snapped his fingers, and six more lights were suddenly lit up in various locations. We could see him a lot better. He had spiky golden hair with a blue headband around his forehead, and he had a matching blue shirt with yellow cuffs. He wore plain jeans, and now, he looked more alive and human. He was even smiling! I slapped myself for falling for the joke and letting him scare me. I should have known better than to fall for the tricks of a man who obviously wanted us to believe in ghost stories that I already knew were fake. Though the odd connection between my team and some stories made me really wonder if they were fake.
“Hello,” he said. “My name is Morty, and—”
“Marty? Is that you?” Sai said, his jaw nearly dropping the floor.
“No, no. Morty, not Marty. I assume you’re talking about the boy who just recently came by to say he would be challenging me soon. Our names are similar, but that is not me.”
“Oh,” Sai said, his body relaxing. “I don’t have to be afraid anymore, I suppose,” he added, chuckling. It made me smile. “The Marty I know wouldn’t hand me a gym badge even if I beat him ten times over.”
“Ah, yes, that would be a troublesome gym leader,” Morty agreed.
“Yes,” Sai said. There was a pause. “Can we battle now, then?”
“Sure. We will use two pokémon each,” Morty said. “I look forward to seeing your strength.”
Sai looked over to me. “Kuiora,” he said, “do you want to battle?”
If I was being honest, I didn’t want to. I was tired and sad and I wasn’t particularly focused on being stronger anymore. I wanted to help Atis, wherever he was. I appreciated Sai’s efforts to make it a point to let me fight first in every gym match, but he had to come to an end. I shook my head no.
“Okay,” Sai said, nodding, as if he could read my thoughts. “Rennio probably isn’t ready to fight yet. Uh. I’ll use Senori, then, since he just evolved.”
“Sure,” Senori said simply, running on all fours to get to the middle of the arena.
“A normal-type, huh? I’m sure you’ll have some interesting moves up your sleeve, then, if that’s the case,” Morty pondered, stroking his chin with one hand. He maximized a pokéball that I just noticed was in his other hand, and he threw it forward, bringing forth what looked like a spiky ball of purple dust… one that had hands and the ability to float around.
“What… What is that thing?” Senori asked.
“Who knows?” Sai said. “But you’re going to beat it, okay? Use tail whip!”
And like that, the battle was underway. Senori sprang toward the purple cloud of dust, a gleam of weary determination in his eyes.
“Haunter, just stay there for a moment,” Morty ordered calmly.
This made Senori halt his momentum. He was able to come to a complete stop before running into the haunter and falling for whatever trap the gym leader was trying to pull.
“What are you doing, Senori? That would be a free hit! Tail whip!”
“Okay…” Senori said carefully, probably not wanting to upset his trainer any further. If it were me in the battle, I would do the same.
Senori sprang forth once more, this time preparing to swing his tail in order to hit the haunter. When Senori collided with the smiling ball of dust, however, his tail went right through, as if the haunter were a… ghost.
And then it hit me. The haunter was a ghost-type! This explained why the gym was so creepy and why the gym leader was trying to pull jokes. Ghost-types always liked pranks and the darkness, and the trainer was just trying to accommodate their needs. It all made sense now, and I had apparently learned something new: normal-type attacks couldn’t effect the ghost in any way, shape, or form.
“You’re joking,” Senori said. “My tail just went right through it! This thing has no solid body!”
“Hmm,” Sai said. “Try a different body part! Tackle!”
But the same thing happened all over again. The furret charged at the haunter, this time looking like he was going to use a headbutt attack. This time, Senori’s entire body went through the haunter, and he landed on the other side, staring at it. The haunter looked completely unfazed.
Senori growled and said, “Evolution was useless for here, Sai. None of my attacks are going to hurt it.”
“Exactly,” Morty said, shaking his head. “You should have done your research before you came here. Ghost-types aren’t affected by certain kinds of moves. I hope you have something else going on in that head of yours, or this battle is as good as over.”
“I knew that already, but I had forgotten. I’m… a little out of it. If Atis were here,” Sai said solemnly, “I bet he would have warned me about that. He would know those kinds of things from being in the school. He would…”
“Sai,” I said, walking up to him and hugging his leg. He looked down at the ground, his eyes appearing stricken and confused.
“But just as certain attacks don’t affect ghost-types, ghost-type attacks don’t hurt normal-types. So you’ve got some advantage… just not enough. Haunter, use sucker punch!” Morty cried.
Fortunately for the haunter, Senori was already in close range so he could attack. Senori was peering back at Sai, unassuming about the move that the haunter was about to use. The haunter drew a significant amount of dark energy to one of its floating hands. It then raised its hand, causing a shadow to appear in front of Senori. Senori turned to look at the haunter now, and was about to dodge out of the way when the haunter struck him straight in the stomach. Before Senori went flying backward, the dark energy transferred into the haunter’s other hand, and the haunter struck Senori yet again.
“Senori,” I called, watching as he lay there, trying to get up after being attacked not just once, but twice, “are you sure that none of your attacks are going to work?”
“I don’t have any special elemental attacks,” Senori said slowly, rubbing his stomach, “so yes, I’m sure.”
“Sai,” I said, poking him in the shoulder. “You should call Senori back. He isn’t going to do well at all. He’ll just get beat up!”
“You think so?” Sai said, looking up. He had apparently missed the sucker punch attack. “Okay. Senori, return.”
“Are you sure you want to do that? If you call the furret back, then you only have one pokémon left,” Morty said.
“I’d rather lose once than let my pokémon continuously get hurt for no reason,” Sai said, though he still didn’t sound like his normal self. His voice sounded forced and hurt more than it had when he had been crying last night. My heart ached for him. “Senori, return,” he said again.
“You should use whoever’s strongest here,” Senori advised. “These ghost-types are no joke. They’re really tough, and they’re probably even more tough than usual since they belong to a gym leader.”
“But Rennio doesn’t want to fight, right?” he said, looking at the elekid.
“That’s right. Sorry… I have to prepare myself yet again…” the young pokémon replied.
“And Ezrem is injured… He’s not even my pokémon… Kuiora, you need to fight, okay? If Atis were here, I guess I’d try using him… He’d be smart enough to figure something out…” Sai trailed off, lost in thought. He appeared to be out of commission yet again.
“Sai,” Senori said, “I know you’re sad that Atis left, but you can’t let it bother you too much. You’re in a gym battle, for crying out loud! Get yourself together!”
“I agree. Don’t lose sight of your goal now!” I said, trying to be as encouraging as possible. “Can’t we have a normal gym battle for once?” I added, exasperated. I found that Senori was much better at handling these sorts of things and that I’d have to work on it.
“You don’t understand. You don’t understand what I did to him. You don’t—”
“I think that,” Morty interrupted, returning the haunter to its pokéball, “for the moment, this battle is over. Come back when you are ready.”
“Sai? What did you do with Atis? You didn’t hurt him, did you?” I said, ignoring the gym leader. We could always come back later, as he said. Sai would just have to deal with breaking the rules once more. I watched as the gym leader turned and disappeared in the shadows, turning off the lights yet again. We were shrouded in darkness.
“I didn’t really hurt him. Someone else did. They’re going to hurt him more, just like they hurt me,” Sai said frantically. He was speaking so quickly that Senori and I were having trouble keeping up.
“Who did, Sai? Where is Atis?”
“I need to go. He’s in Mahogany Town. After all this time, of course I know exactly where it is! I don’t want to know where it is, but I know where it is,” Sai said, out of breath. “Look, I need to go,” he said again. “Stay here. Don’t follow me.”
Just like he had during the Goldenrod City gym breakdown, he turned and dashed out of the building, leaving all of us behind. And just like before, when we left the place and searched all over for him, he was nowhere to be found.
“At least we have a lead this time,” Rennio said thoughtfully, trying to keep from crying. “Are we heading to Mahogany Town?”
“I have a feeling that none of us know where it is,” Ezrem said, and I nodded to him, “but yes, Rennio, I believe that is where we are going.”
We all stood there, slinking our shoulders and tired bodies, wondering where in the world Mahogany Town was. It could have been anywhere. We didn’t have a guide, or food, or water, or money, or a trainer. Again. Without any of this, we couldn’t get anywhere, anyway. All we had was each other, and just barely.
Our pathetic team, for the moment, was the epitome of loss.
Re: Survival Project
chapter 23 ; [SENORI]
Out of all of Sai’s breakdowns, the one in the Ecruteak City gym had to be the worst. His dark blue eyes, which had been reliably switching from crazy to sane in the past within a matter of moments, were completely, insatiably wild now. I would have even said they looked like they were about to roll into the back of his head, and then he would inevitably pass out. No such thing happened, but it was close. Instead, he ran off (again), his body moving in an odd zigzag pattern, as his knees were wobbly. He was screaming about Mahogany Town, and how much of a wretched place it had been all of his life, and he was screaming about all of the obscene things he would do to the place if he ever got the chance. It was the first time that I had ever heard him want to be violent, aside from the time where he had attacked me. I had come to the conclusion, though, that he had done it out of necessity, not out of malice.
And again, he was nowhere to be found when we left the gym. He had darted off quite fast, making it a point so that we wouldn’t follow him. It was either that or he was really in a hurry to put an end to the city that had apparently ruined his life. I remembered the last time that he had disappeared on us… It was safe to assume that all of us had lost some respect for him as a trainer, and that we had suffered for it. We had been cast off as wild pokémon, gotten our belongings stolen, and I had been beaten by a lady with a broom because I was, undoubtedly, trying to steal from others as a sort of revenge.
Admittedly, and unsurprisingly, I was feeling guilty over Sai’s second disappearance. I had finally found the path to moving on from my clan’s banishment by evolving, and now, since I was no longer focused on only myself, I was supposed to be helping my trainer. I still felt responsible for his overall well being. But after all this time, I had learned next to nothing about his past life, his tendencies, and his emotions. I knew no more about how to control him than I did my own life.
The only consolation we had was that we knew where he was going.
It would have been even better if we knew how to get there.
“The fact that none of us are humans is really a catastrophe. Then again, if we weren’t pokémon, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” I said, trying to keep everyone’s spirits up, but I was failing.
“I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve wished I was human, just to find a place. This is one of those times,” Ezrem said, shaking his head.
“Agreed,” said Rennio.
Kuiora remained quiet, and I knew that she loved being a pokémon, but now was not the time for us to be helpless and relying on a trainer.
We were standing outside of the Ecruteak City gym, ignoring the stares of people passing by. Obviously, it was strange for a pack of pokémon to be out and about by themselves. It was a good thing that no one could understand us talk about our missing trainer, or perhaps they would be calling the police, just like Marty had threatened.
And then it hit me. Marty. Marty knew about Sai’s untamed demeanor. As soon as that boy saw us, he would be questioning our trainer and threatening to do something about it. It was possible that some unfavorable consequences would come out of our search, but at this point, I was desperate for anything.
“It’s risky,” I said to the team, “but I think I know who to find.”
The first and most blatant place for us to look was the pokémon center. That was where most of the trainers decided to stay in a city, after all. Inside, the four of us disregarded the new, stranger looks of the new people as we went from room to room, knocking on each and every door. We split up to save time, though Rennio had to stay with me because he wasn’t sure what Marty or Sasha looked like. Some people answered, and when I didn’t recognize them, I bowed in apology and went to the next door, knowing it was useless to try to talk to them. In the end, however, no one found either of the people we were looking for.
“It was a good idea,” Ezrem said, which made me feel grateful for his presence for once. “But it didn’t work.”
“And we don’t have time to wait for the people who aren’t here, do we?” I said, rubbing my chin, making everyone believe that I was thinking. I really was only spacing out, worn out and wanting to rest, but it was good to pretend.
The next places we checked were the fancy restaurant and the mart, the same ones we had gone to with Sai for Atis’s “birthday.” We scoured the entirety of both places, but we didn’t find Marty or Sasha, and even worse, we eventually got kicked out of both places for supposedly causing a disturbance. We stood quietly outside of the pokémon mart now, more lost than we were before.
“This is a place where a lot of history about legendary pokémon originates, right?” Kuiora finally said. It was the first thing she had said during the entire search.
“Right,” I said. Even I knew about the story of the towers in the back of the city without the croconaw telling me.
“That probably means there’s lots of visitors, right? Like… Professor Elm was famous, and so a lot of people visited him. They always stayed in… hotels, I think they were called. Maybe Ecruteak City has a place like that for Marty and Sasha to stay in.”
“A brilliant idea, Kuiora,” Ezrem said, hopping over to her. He was getting along well without the patent use of his wings. “Let’s go find one.”
I hadn’t wanted to explore buildings in the city that we hadn’t been to yet, in case we weren’t allowed in. Then again, we hadn’t been allowed in the restaurant or the mart without our trainer, so this would be no different, and Kuiora had a point when she said that it was a likely place for Marty and Sasha to be. I nodded, deciding to go along with them.
So then we went from building to building, choosing to look in the windows instead of going inside. We saw normal houses, more restaurants, a dance hall, and I saw Kuiora even take a peek into the towers, though she clearly knew that they weren’t part of a hotel. The search reminded me of when I tried to get Sai to stop looking into buildings, and I wished that we were still at that point of our journey, when things somehow made more sense than they did now.
The last building that we looked in, of course, happened to be the hotel. Rennio had spotted it, saying that he could tell that it was a hotel because of the bellboys walking up the stairs with trays in their hands, and with the lady at the counter checking people in. We rushed inside, eager to have finally reached our destination. The hallways were mostly quiet except for the occasional person walking about, so we weren’t worried about getting kicked out this time. Again, we went from room to room, knocking and knocking and hoping.
By some great stroke of luck, we found Marty on the third floor. He opened the door, looking up and down the hallway, confused as to who could have been knocking. I had to pull on his pants leg to get his attention, even though there were four of us there, and none of us were particularly small anymore. He was rubbing his eyes, making me think that he had just woken up and was simply in a daze.
“A furret?” he said sleepily. “And a croconaw… And I’ve seen that rufflet before. Sai’s team?”
I nodded. “Sai isn’t here,” I said, although he couldn’t understand me. I had to say it to make it feel real.
“What the hell? What are you guys doing here?” he said, fully alert now.
“Sai isn’t here,” I said again, trying to hold back tears. They had snuck up on me when I least expected them. Stepping forward, I pulled on Marty’s leg, motioning for him to come with us.
“Do you need me for something?” he said, not moving an inch.
I nodded again, pulling him harder. The rest of the team looked up at him pleadingly, unable to say a word.
“I don’t know what you want… I’m sorry… Here, maybe Gracie will know,” Marty said. He pulled away from my grasp and went into his room for a moment. He returned with the same small fire-type pokémon that I had fought back when we had the battle to decide who would stay or go. This pokémon looked slightly different, however. For one, I could now see her maroon-colored eyes. Her body was longer and more slender, though the colors were exactly the same. And instead of having just some spots on her back for flames to shoot out of, I could see that she could use her head to fight, too. She had evolved sometime between our battle and now, it seemed.
“You’ve grown,” I said stupidly, trying to figure out a way to start this awkward conversation.
“You, too,” Gracie said. There was a pause. “What do you guys need? This is a little, um, different…”
“Our trainer… is missing. He went to a place called Mahogany Town, and we have no idea where it is. We were hoping Marty or Sasha would know. They’re the only two other humans we know…” I said, soon trailing off. I didn’t realize until I was done talking that I had been speaking almost as fast as Sai had been. At some point in time, it seemed that I had adopted some of his idiosyncrasies.
I smiled so widely when she replied, “We’ve been there once or twice. I’m sure we can take you there.”
“Really? Oh geez, this is great. Thank you so much,” I said, running up to hug her.
“Watch out for the fire-type,” Ezrem said, pulling me by the scruff of my neck. I glared at him, but was thankful that I hadn’t burned myself, too.
“Ahem,” I said, leaving that clumsy situation alone just to head into another one. “I don’t mean to be pushy, but can we go… now? We don’t want him to get himself hurt or lost.” I avoided saying that he had done it once before.
“Of course,” she said, smiling timidly. “One minute.”
After somehow conveying the situation to Marty for a few moments and after Marty told Sasha the situation, Gracie led all seven of us out of the hotel, taking us to the eastern edge of town. I had a feeling that the only reason Marty was listening was because it was his own pokémon. If it weren’t for Gracie, we would definitely be going much slower, or we wouldn’t be going at all.
When we reached the gate that would take us to the next section of the Johto region, she pointed to a sign and signaled for Marty to look at it.
That was when Marty got angry.
“Mahogany Town? Are you kidding me? Sai went to Mahogany Town and left his pokémon here?” He looked at me scarily, and for one brief moment I wished that I wasn’t the leader of the team. Ezrem could take the heat for this one if he really wanted to.
“Marty,” Sasha said serenely, probably trying to project her feelings onto him. “Maybe he had a good reason for going. We don’t know anything yet. Let’s just help these pokémon get to him for now, and stay calm.”
“Fine,” Marty muttered, and he kept walking ahead of all of us.
Sasha turned to all of us. “I’m sorry about him, guys,” she said. “We’ll find Sai. It’ll be all right.”
I could only hope that she was right. Despite everything, I had to admit that I wasn’t feeling as optimistic this time around. Sure, I was certain that we could locate him, since we were lucky that he talked more than usual, but I wasn’t so certain about us being glad when we found him.
We passed through the gate that would lead us to the Mahogany Town path. The guard there waved at us, and it was a relief to not be given threatening looks for the first time that day. Sasha waved back and smiled. I thought about how we were also lucky to have someone like her with us. She was always kind to us, and exceedingly so. It was preferable to her brother, who, instead of having identical characteristics as siblings should, had quite a temper and easily held grudges toward others. I remembered hearing Marty’s story at the pokémon fan club, however, and somehow I was glad to have him around, too. More than anything, he cared about our well being.
Deciding to bring this up to someone who could understand me, I caught up with Gracie, who was walking next to Marty while the rest of us trailed closely behind.
“I know now why Marty was so keen on having us battle before,” I said. It seemed like a perfectly pleasant way to start a conversation.
The newly evolved quilava flinched at my sudden appearance next to her. “You do?” she said. “I don’t… I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
Luckily for the quilava, Marty interrupted the beginning of our talk. Immediately after the guard postings was an entrance to a cave and a rather small body of water. I could already see the other side, and I hoped that it led to where Sai would be.
“Well”—I noticed that Gracie’s attention shifted toward him suddenly instead of me—“we could either go the long way, or the short way. And there is no way in hell that I am spending over a week in a cave for the sake of Sai. So we’re going over the river.”
He reached behind his back and pulled a red and white pokéball off of his belt. He threw it forward, just like every other trainer would. His throw was different, however, as he had thrown it into the river, and the ball disappeared beneath the water’s surface. Soon, a massive water-type pokémon emerged and floated above so that we could see the top of its body. It looked like it had long, blue wings, like a flying-type might, but they were really just fins that were larger than most sea pokémon’s. Short blue antennae sat on its head, swishing around with excitement. It had black beady eyes that were looking at us expectantly.
“She can help us, guys,” Marty said. “Marin, I need you to do us a favor. We need to get across this river and go to Mahogany Town. Do you think you can carry all of us?” he asked, motioning to every member of our group.
Marin surveyed us, giving us a good look over for a few seconds. Its face scrunched up into a ball when it peered over at Kuiora.
“The croconaw can swim,” she said, and I thought that she would tell the rest of us no for a second. But then she smiled, and I knew that everything would go smoothly from here on out.
“Fantastic,” Sasha said, stepping up to the edge of the river. Marin got close enough so the young girl could climb on her back and rest peacefully, without wobbling and falling over. Marty did the same, and then gazed back at us.
“Do you want to go back in your pokéball, Gracie?”
“No,” Gracie said, shaking her head. “I have to get over being around water sometime, right?”
So the quilava was scared of water. It was typical for a fire-type. I thought that was why she was scared of my sudden appearance—she simply was afraid of what was coming next. But soon I would learn that that had nothing to do with it.
Kuiora was able to lower herself into the water, and she mentioned how it had been a long time since she could swim like this. After that… Well, it was a gratifying thing that Marin was as long as she was wide, or the rest of us wouldn’t have fit. Gracie stood on her hind legs behind Marty, and I went to be next to her. This made sense since we were long and slender, and thus could accommodate our body positions satisfactorily. Rennio and Ezrem, on the other hand, had to sit in Marty and Sasha’s laps respectively.
“Your poor wings,” Sasha said, noticing rather swiftly. “What happened to you?”
Ezrem didn’t answer her. He sat there, looking straight ahead.
“Hmm,” Marty said after a few moments of awkward silence. If he seemed concerned about the rufflet, he didn’t express it. “I suppose we’re off.”
And so we were. Marin slowly turned her body around so that she was facing our destination. It only took a couple seconds longer for her to start wading through the water at a quiet pace that would keep us all from falling backward.
After a while, it occurred to me that it could be a long ride. I attempted to talk to Gracie again by saying, “But yeah, anyway, I know what Marty went through. He mentioned it at the pokémon fan club Sasha goes to.”
“Oh,” Gracie said simply. She was shy, and perhaps I was going to be pushing too far, but I wanted something to distract me from the mess that was Sai.
“Do you know anything about it? You’re a pokémon, after all, and Marty’s father used to… abuse pokémon.”
“I was supposed to be a pet, so I was in the house when he did that. It was because of that man that Marty left and went on a journey to the first place. He didn’t like it… as you know,” Gracie said. Though she was speaking more, I could tell that she was still being vague.
A part of my heart instantly ached for her. Her flinching at my appearance wasn’t because of her being scared of water; it was because of her being scared of touch in general. And why would someone be afraid of touch? I almost wanted to slap myself in the face because of how obvious it was.
“Hmm,” I said, not wanting to force her to admit to anything she didn’t want to. I despised talking about my clan; similarly, she would probably hate talking about Marty’s father. “That stinks,” I went on brainlessly. “Would you have rather been a battler or a pet?”
“It doesn’t matter to me either way,” Gracie said. “It’s just that Marty gets to be too much sometimes. For instance… you know how Marty’s acted with Sai. He acts intensely insane with every bad trainer he comes across, even if the trainer doesn’t seem too bad to Sasha or me. Sasha’s the only one who can keep him somewhat calm… since she can talk to him…”
Of course, Gracie didn’t know that I knew what was going on inside her head. I felt that I was invading her mind and making her spill all of its contents against her will, when in reality I was doing no such thing. And in a sense, I felt that I was betraying Marty’s privacy. We were talking about a very intimate part of his past without him knowing it, and even worse, we were doing it right in his presence! It was times like these that I wished others were like Sai—private and able to talk to pokémon—only less eccentric and less prone to running away.
To avoid feeling even more guilt, I kept quiet. It was Gracie who intentionally went on and said, “I wished that would leave it alone and let me forget.”
“You’ll move on,” I said. “I don’t know how exactly, since I’ve never been in your situation, but you will. I did, too, so I know you can.”
“Thanks…” Gracie said shyly, and then she turned away.
The rest of the trip was relatively quiet. There was some more murmuring from Sasha about Ezrem’s wings, and she kept checking them to make sure that the bandages were on as snugly and as tightly as they could be. Marty made some comments about being scared of accidentally dropping Rennio in the water and consequently electrocuting us all, and thankfully, though his fears were warranted, it never happened. The only other noise that accompanied us on our journey was the sound of Kuiora gurgling in the water, enjoying her time swimming.
I was reflecting about Gracie’s ambiguous yet straightforward story, my story, and Rennio’s and Ezrem’s and everyone else’s. I had originally thought that nothing bad could happen to me, and once I was banished, I thought that my story was the most unique in the world, that no one else’s story could ever compare. Like most older pokémon (or like most of the sentret in my clan), I thought I knew everything that I needed to know. When I met Sai, I realized that I’d been a total idiot and that I needed a lot more focus in my life. I worked hard as his pokémon, and when it began to dawn on me that my heart was not necessarily being my best friend, I tried very even harder to beat it. And did beat it, by evolving and getting rid of my tail, my only connection to my clan. Now, as Sai’s relocation was just a hair’s breadth away, I felt that everything I knew was wrong, my perspective was utterly indefensible, and that there are no objective standards for anything anyone could imagine… including the idea that there are stages to life that everyone must follow. There’s not much imagination or creativity there, when you start thinking about it. Humans and pokémon alike have created these artificial goals simply because we wanted to have some way to explain the way the world works.
At this point, I decided that I didn’t care much anymore. I hoped to spend the time that remained in a way that was best for not only me, but for every single one of us on the team… including Sai.
Mahogany Town looked like a pleasant enough place, one that I would have loved to spend more time in, if we weren’t on the lookout for our renegade trainer. I would have loved to spend more time here because the town almost looked like a humanized version of a forest. All of the buildings were a light green color, with the roofs being of a darker green. Unusually, there was no pavement to walk upon here, and the grass looked well taken care of, beautiful and alive. Several carriages were lined up next to every building, with a crowd of people at each—they were waiting for their turn at whatever goods the carriages were selling. Not a single person looked like they wished they were somewhere else in the world.
Well, we were about to ruin this trend, effortlessly so. None of us wanted to be here. Marty and Sasha and Gracie probably wanted to be in their cozy hotel room, and the rest of us wanted to be at the Ecruteak City pokémon gym, pretending that nothing was wrong with our trainer.
“Let’s start looking,” Marty mumbled. As expected, his mood was growing lower and lower by the minute.
Sasha decided to take over the hard part for Marty, as he “would talk about him terribly and then we’d never find him,” apparently. I supposed that was true. When Sasha talked about him, he seemed nothing short of ordinary. She went from person to person, speaking to anyone who would talk back, asking them if they had seen a boy of about fifteen years coming by lately.
“Medium build, black hair, blue eyes… Plain clothes…” she added, trying to think of anything that would make Sai stand out. His personality would, but that didn’t seem helpful at the moment.
“Are you trying to cut in line? Get in the back!” one old man said. He clearly wasn’t paying attention to anything Sasha was saying. We ended up leaving those kinds of people alone, not wanting to hear them speak again.
“I haven’t seen a boy like that,” one old lady said. “But there aren’t a lot of young people in this town. I’m sure he would stick out.”
That sounded more promising, but it took a few more tries before we reached any sort of conclusive answer.
Finally, someone answered nonchalantly, “I saw a boy like that. Hard not to miss him when he’s away from everyone else. He went toward that laboratory over there.” The woman pointed to a lone metallic building at the edge of town. It was away from all of the other buildings, and no carriages or large amount of people were there.
“Thank you very much,” Sasha said, bowing curtly. She was suddenly in a hurry. She strode over to the laboratory, and the rest of us eagerly followed.
“Of all places, he send Atis to a laboratory? Maybe Atis left us to be a lab rat,” Ezrem commented, scoffing at the thought.
“Shut up,” I said. “Sai would never do that. And Atis would never willingly agree to that, either.”
Ezrem said nothing more, but he coughed mockingly. Rennio was shrinking back from the place, staying behind all of us. Kuiora looked up at the building in awe, probably never having seen something more creepy yet fascinating in her life. Gracie didn’t seem to have a reaction… since it wasn’t her trainer that we were talking about. And Atis… I looked for him, but then I remembered that he wasn’t here.
He was in the building in front of us. And so was Sai.
Sasha stopped in front of the entrance, but Marty barged right on in, fists clenched and raring to go if necessary. I knew he wouldn’t hesitate to punch Sai in the face once he was given the chance. The rest of us followed. We were more reluctant this time, but we knew we couldn’t turn back now.
The first floor of the building seemed anticlimactic to us. I didn’t quite know what we were expecting to see, but it wasn’t an empty floor with a simple counter, much like the one we saw at pokémon centers. A fountain stood in the middle of the room, with plants and chairs surrounding it for comfort. Other than this, only one thing stood out: there was a guard blocking the stairs leading upward.
Marty approached this guard first and said, “Excuse me, but we were told one of our… friends came through here. We really need to see him. If you don’t mind, would you let us through?”
“Sorry,” the guard said in a husky voice with the slightest hint of an accent, “but no one is allowed upstairs. Authorized personnel only.”
“Authorized personnel? Like hell the boy is authorized to be in a place like this. He barely knows how to tell his right foot from his left.”
“If he was able to get upstairs,” the guard said firmly, “then he was authorized.”
Marty gritted his teeth; he was getting real angry, real fast. “I didn’t come all this way to be told that Sai is as mysterious as ever, and that I should leave him alone to stay that way. Let us through.”
“The answer is no,” the man insisted.
“Marty…” Sasha said, about to lightly touch him on the shoulder, but it was too late.
Marty had gestured to Gracie to attack, and, as loyally as ever, Gracie obeyed him. She dashed forward, running underneath the guard’s legs and knocking him off balance. He fell on his stomach, groaning at the impact of his chin hitting the ground. Marty thanked Gracie for her services and stepped over the guard, running up the stairs and motioning for all of us to follow. Stunned, we felt obliged to obey just as well as Gracie had.
Upstairs was where the real scenery came into play. The first floor donned nothing that any normal building would—and should—have. I had never been inside a laboratory before, so maybe that contributed to my unusual viewpoint, but I was sure that this place wasn’t normal. Along the walls were several computers and full desks where people sat, wearing long, white lab coats. They were holding clipboards and scribbling on them with their pens furiously, or they were messing with the vials that sat in front of them. What stood out the most, however, was the machine in the middle of the room. Part of the machine hung from the ceiling, and part of it was connected with the ground and a cot. On the cot lay a purple snake-like pokémon, and it was writing in pain as a man next to it was taking notes…
On the first floor, Sai wasn’t there, but there was the buzzing of the machines and a ton of screaming.
“Keep going,” Marty yelled over the screaming, “until you find him.”
We went to the edge of the room, which led us to the stairs leading to the second floor. As we ran through the room, the scientists nearby looked up from their clipboards and looked at us curiously, suddenly panicking and demanding that the intruders be attacked. As we ran as quickly as we could, I noticed that there were also stairs leading down, and I kept a mental note to myself that said we should return to this floor if we didn’t find Sai anywhere else.
The second floor wasn’t much better in terms of content, though it was quieter. The room was completely empty save for two people and two pokémon, taking their places on the arena that was designated by white chalk on the otherwise empty, bare floor. The battle would seem normal if the pokémon didn’t look like they were battling to the death. There was blood—both dried blood and new blood—all over their bodies and in the fighting area. The pokémon were panting heavily, while the trainers—if you could even call them that—stood by watching, completely unscathed.
“What the hell is going on here?” one of the people yelled when he took notice of us.
“I swear to Arceus… If I see Sai do anything so much as touch one of these pokémon like these other bastards, I’m going to pound his skull in,” Marty said.
Even Sasha didn’t try to stop him from speaking bad things about Sai this time. Her mouth was raised over her hand in shock. There was something wrong with the place, and there was something even more wrong with our trainer being so closely associated with it. Still, no questions were answered. Instead, more questions arrived.
“Attack the intruders!” said an unfamiliar voice. We looked behind us and noticed that some of the people in lab coats from the first floor had pursued us.
The other man from the arena pointed to us and said, “You heard the guy. Attack them, granbull!”
“You too, sunflora!” cried the second man.
“Oh, this is such a joke. You mean to fight with two injured pokémon?” Marty teased. “I’m just trying to find someone. Get out of my way.”
“No can do,” said the scientist behind us, and the ones who had followed us—there were three in all—also took out pokéballs and released their pokémon. I didn’t have time to get a good look at them, nor did I want to. I just wanted to find Sai and leave and forget any of this had ever happened.
“Senori,” Marty said harshly as he released Halcyon and another pokémon I didn’t know he had, “go find your goddamn trainer. Me and Sasha will be fine, here. Tell Sai that I’m going to beat the crap out of him when I see him, too.”
“Sure,” I mumbled. “Come on, guys.”
I darted forward on all paws, crossing the arena. The granbull tried to catch my tail in between its teeth, because I stupidly got too close—that’s what happens when confusion takes over—but I narrowly escaped. The sunflora tried to take Ezrem out since he appeared weaker, but Ezrem yelled something about being a flying-type and having the advantage, so the grass-type shrunk back, trying to cradle its wounds instead. Kuiora and Rennio got by without problems, unless you counted Rennio’s sudden sobbing problematic.
“I just want Annie!” he cried, and when he stopped, Kuiora had to start carrying him and tell him to suck it up. He stopped talking about his older trainer and now asked to stay and fight for his new trainer, but no one was actually going to let him do so.
“Not in this mess,” Ezrem agreed.
The third and fourth floors were standard rooms with desks and machines lined up everywhere. The only difference from the first floor was that it seemed that there were individual offices for the people who worked here. The privacy that the enclosed walls offered thankfully allowed us to sneak by quietly, and without being noticed. Kuiora let out a huge sigh of relief, but that was the only sound we made, and it was hardly damaging.
We kept running and running, floor after floor, not daring to stop even once. Most of the rooms looked the same, and thankfully, we went by relatively unnoticed. It was finally different on the seventeenth floor—I think it was the seventeenth floor, anyway. It resembled a modern, humanized living room. There was a couch in the middle of the room, a coffee table in front of it, and some plants in the each corner, giving the place a rather relaxing atmosphere. We were anything but relaxed, however. Questions were running swiftly through my mind. Where was Sai? Why was he affiliated with a place like this? Where was Atis, and what kind of tests could they be running on him? Why were there pokémon fighting so brutally when battling was supposed to be fun? My thoughts lingered on the basement that we didn’t get to see, but it was too late to go back and explore.
The stairs in this room were hidden behind the tall couch. When we arrived at the foot of the stairs, I could see that there was a door at the top, which was different from all of the other floors. From the light that was pouring inside, it seemed that these stairs led outside.
“Well, guys,” I said, out of breath from running, “this is one of the last places Sai could be. Let’s hope he’s here.” I paused. “Or not. Whichever you prefer,” I added solemnly.
Luckily—or unluckily, depending—Sai was at the top of the building. I was glad to see that he was safe and that he seemed physically unharmed. He wasn’t alone. I was also glad to see that Atis was standing a good ten feet in front of him. The only person I didn’t recognize was a woman that was by Atis. She was short and had a small body, but it seemed that she had a rather firm grasp on the fighting-type’s arm. And the fighting-type was visibly shuddering; we could all see it, even though we were far away.
“It looks like you have friends that are here to see you,” the woman said calmly.
“Mother, please—” Sai started, but then his body unmistakably tensed up. He turned to see us, and his eyes went wide with amazement.
I took a closer look at the woman that was with Sai. Apparently, it was his mother. Why wasn’t his mother back in Vermilion City, where he said he was from? Was it just another lie he told us? And surprisingly enough, she didn’t look very similar to him. She had green eyes instead of blue, and her hair almost looked black, but I could tell it was just a dark brown because of the sun that was highlighting it.
“You’ve grown, Sai,” the woman went on. “You have such loyal pokémon now… just like you always wanted.” I saw her squeeze Atis’s arm, and he only shook harder. “And you look even more like your father than before. You’ve got the same wildly lonely look in your eyes. Are you still lonely, Sai?” she said in a sympathetic, motherly tone.
“Stop it!” Sai cried, snapping his attention back to her. His voice had a much harsher tone than it normally did, and it almost made me shake myself. “I just want Atis back. Give me Atis back right now…!”
“You willingly gave me the hitmontop. You even let us poison him and make him faint just to capture him, so he wouldn’t fight back. And you’re telling me that you want to take it all back?” the woman said tauntingly.
I gasped. Had Sai really done that? It seemed unreal to me, to hear of him being so unnaturally… cruel. I looked at the others, and I could tell that they were all thinking the same thing.
“I do,” Sai said determinedly. “I thought… I thought I could abide by your rules, if it meant I could be free. I can’t do it, though. I won’t.” His words sounded reassuring. They sounded more like the Sai I knew, but I was still beyond confused. I stood there with the others, utterly frozen.
“You were ordered to prepare pokémon like this, and give them to us. You’ve done exactly so. We thank you for it.”
“No! I want him back! I’ve seen what you guys do to pokémon. You call yourself Team Rocket and say that you’re just trying to make the world a better place, but I’ve seen what you do! It’s nothing good. Nothing good at all. I won’t put Atis through that. I won’t—”
“And then you will never see the light of day again. That was the deal, was it not? I created this project to save you, Sai. To save you. To give you a life you’ve always dreamed of…”
“I didn’t want this! I never did. I only did it because… because you promised me things would get better. That I would get better. But I never got better! Not even for a second!”
“It’s not my fault that you believed my words,” the woman said evenly, but her words didn’t match the ruined expression on her face.
“You promised! You promised…” Sai said. He started sobbing as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the knife that he had bought in Goldenrod City. I almost cried, too. Had he been waiting for this moment all his life? He held it out threateningly toward her. His arm was as firm as the woman’s grasp on Atis.
“Are you going to hurt me, Sai? Just as I’ve supposedly hurt you?” she asked.
“Why not? You like weapons. You love them so much that you decided to name me after one. How nice of you,” he said sarcastically between sobs. “Give me Atis back. I don’t want to have to use it.”
The woman frowned, and she let go of Atis and put her hands in the air, as if signaling surrender. I watched in awe as Atis ran over to us quicker than I had ever seen him run before. When he got close to us, I could see real terror in his eyes. I went up to him and hugged him, but Atis said there was no time for a reunion.
“We’ve got to get Sai out of here,” he said with haste. “Before he goes crazy. Please, Senori, you’ve got to talk to him and… and…” But he couldn’t continue.
It was clear to me that Sai wasn’t fond of this woman. Despite this, she obviously knew about him more than anyone else. She knew everything, perhaps.
“If she knows Sai, maybe she can help us keep him from going crazy,” I offered quietly. Apparently, I hadn’t been quiet enough, because my trainer obviously heard me.
“Don’t talk to her! She’s only going to tell you about all the bad things I’ve done. Even if what she says isn’t true, she’ll win. She always wins…” Sai said, his arm twitching slightly now. He was staring directly at her, talking loudly to make sure we could hear him.
“Sai,” his mother said. “Just as you weren’t allowed to get close to your pokémon, I’m not allowed to be close to you. I’m your mother. Why else would I want to be like this to my son? I don’t want to be like this. Please understand and put the knife down.”
“No,” Sai said. “I won’t. I’m done listening to you.”
“…Then you will pay for it.”
“Please, Senori,” Atis begged again. “You have to do something.”
More than anything, I wanted to help Sai. I felt that it was all I lived for, really…
But Sai already seemed too far gone.
Re: Survival Project
You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen
to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.
— Mary Oliver
chapter 24 ; [SAI]
stand my ground
To my pokémon—
For you all to understand me is the last thing I want. It is a type of contradictory consolation when you tell each other that you want to know me better and I instruct myself to be gracious, but it is true. To truly understand me, my thoughts must flow through you and then consume you. You must see through my eyes to believe what seems to be a million tower-inspired legends, and you must fall victim to numerous pits. I would never demand this of you. For you to understand me is the last thing I want because I am nothing but the sum of the parts that others have made for myself, and that means I am either next to nothing or I am too much, an endless source of devastating fireworks (yes, I’ve seen those—once) and breath that feels like smoke. In the end, if I ask you to understand me, I will be selfish, and I will disappoint you somehow. I would never demand this of you, so think, think before you take a memory…
I was only four years old when Team Rocket claimed that I was a threat to everyone around me.
My mother had moved to Johto from a place that she called France. She said that she adored the things that we call pokémon because of their potential power and because of the kind of all-important feeling that they gave her when she owned this strength of theirs. She upped and left without a problem. My father was in prison for constant drug abuse, anyway, so she had nothing else to lose. When she reached Johto, she heard of an organization called Team Rocket and immediately went to join them, as her goals and Team Rocket’s were one and the same. She was loyal and a hard worker, and she went through the ranks faster than anyone the organization had ever known. Within no time at all, she was considered an executive, and she suddenly had a say about what went on in that little laboratory in Mahogany Town. But she was pregnant with me at the time, and I was inevitably her downfall. I was soon born, and for the first few years, I was fine; I was her precious little thing. At the age of four, after my brain had some time to develop, something went wrong with me.
Supposedly, I was an outrageous child—one that couldn’t be controlled by any means. First of all, my mother suddenly found it impossible to send me to any sort of daycare or babysitter because I would scream bloody murder every time I was apart from her for more than a few minutes. This separation anxiety that I experienced forced her to take me to the laboratory with her each and every day, which was where my recklessness shined further.
Unlike a normal child, I wasn’t interested in playtime. My moods shifted faster than the ticking of the clock, but no matter how I felt, I only wanted to follow my mother and do whatever she was doing. She was often in her office filling out paperwork and talking on the phone to other members in other cities, other regions. Besides this, she would supervise the experiments that went on in the laboratory, or she would supervise the battles that tested how strong pokémon were and whether or not they were fit to join a Team Rocket member on their endeavors. I would watch as pokémon were hooked up to machines with what seemed to be an endless number of black and white cords, and I would look at the fear in their eyes and wonder if I would ever want to trade places with them. I would watch as pokémon fought until their eyes were clawed out, until every part of their bodies were paralyzed with exhaustion.
It didn’t take long for me to start interfering with the experiments and the battling. During my frequent outbursts, I was running into the middle of the arena, screaming at the top of my lungs and getting hit by pokémon’s attacks. While I broke quite a few bones doing this, they always healed, so I felt no need to stop. I ripped cords out of the machines and I destroyed a ton of the research that the scientists had spent so much time working on. I was irritable and miserable and unstoppable, even as people tried to hold me down. I was irritable because I wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else, but I couldn’t find my own strength to actually leave. I was miserable for no discernible reason, and I was even more confused when my mood would skyrocket within the next few minutes to the point where I thought that I was the most special person in the world. I thought that I was the only person in the world who could fly, and instead of destroying things, I felt that I was creating. I jumped on desks and tried to pretend I had wings as I hopped off. The workers found this, at least, somewhat humorous, but I was always made angry yet again by their laughter and then I continued my destructive tendencies. I was unstoppable not only to others, but I also couldn’t even control myself.
I never listened to my mother when she told me to quit this kind of behavior. I wanted to listen, but I didn’t have the heart to do so. More research was ruined and more experiments were interrupted. More bones were broken. After a while, the leader of Team Rocket even called me into his office to speak with me in the sternest voice I had ever heard… but even he didn’t cease the insane thoughts that went through my mind and were translated into actions.
As time went on, things only got worse. My thoughts had changed from not only wanting to hurt myself by being a part of experiments and battles, but I also wanted to hurt others. I didn’t like the other scientists. They looked at me funny, they never seemed to smile, they hurt the pokémon that my mother loved so much, and they obviously wanted me—and my mother—gone. It started with me simply drawing pictures of stabbing them and killing them by breaking their necks. When I was finished with a drawing, I would show my mother proudly, thinking that she would agree with me, as she never spoke too highly of the other workers. But apparently her words were only jokes, as she quickly reprimanded me and told me never to draw things like that again. Of course, I didn’t listen.
What happened from then on was also out of my control. My thoughts raced so quickly that I couldn’t tell what I was thinking about most of the time. When I did unbelievable things, I only realized it after it had all happened. I spilled vials full of chemicals all over the workers, sending quite a few of them to the floor with their skin being torn apart. They writhed in pain, and I only laughed at them like they laughed at me. I yelled at them to try experiments on humans to see how they liked it. (Later, I would regret this, as it seemed that they took me literally.) I felt the pressure to keep talking, so I insulted them incessantly until my mother came to seize me and take me home for the day, even if she wasn’t done with her work.
Things weren’t much better in our actual home. I destroyed things and the house was often a mess that my mother never cleaned up. At night, I would either sleep too much or sleep too little. When I slept too much, I had vivid dreams about violence and gore that made me wonder every day about whether or not they had really happened. It was likely that they could happen, after all, given the nature of the laboratory. At other times, I found it impossible to sleep, even though my own bed was familiar to me. After spending about six hours trying to fall asleep, I would wake up sweating and screaming because of night terrors. The lack of rest only contributed to my untamed moods and actions.
Occasionally we went out to other places. Sometimes we went to restaurants and went to celebrate holidays and went to the park and went to buy things, and soon, I would have even been sent to school. But mostly there was no time for that, so I stayed inside those four metallic walls and learned about the world that way. If I had known that this was all I would see for about ten years of my life, I would have been fine with leaving more.
For two years this went on, until the leader of the laboratory had finally gotten sick of me and my wild antics. The boss had given my mother leeway since she was of a higher ranking, but there was only so much he could take.
I was only six-years-old when Team Rocket wanted me executed immediately.
“This boy has contributed nothing positive to Team Rocket’s goals,” the boss started bluntly. I had heard once or twice that his name was Giovanni, but not many people dared to say it. His appearance didn’t help matters. He was a tall man with broad shoulders. He had dark brown hair and thin eyebrows. He wore a black suit with black slacks that were held up by a belt. He wore an evil grin, too… and I didn’t think he was much better than the others I knew. My mother was the only good person in this place.
He had specifically set up a meeting time for my mother and me to come see him. She had brought me along, of course, since the meeting was about me. We were on the seventeenth floor, watching the leader intently as he casually sat back on the blue couch in the middle of his office. We stood in front of him, on the opposite side of the coffee table. All I knew was that he didn’t look happy, so I clung to my mother and let her do all of the talking, though I definitely had something to say.
“Master Giovanni, I can explain—”
“There is nothing to explain. If you had an explanation, the boy would have been stopped a long time ago. He has destroyed years of work, and he has put a temporary halt to our future research. He has blatantly hurt other workers in this building and made several of them quit. Above all, he has shown no signs of getting better throughout these past two years.” There was a pause. I flinched at his words and hid behind my mother now. “I like you, Melanie, and I want to like your son. But he is too much to handle, even for you.”
“What… What are you trying to say, Master Giovanni?” my mother said. Her voice was unnaturally weak.
“The boy is clearly… mentally impaired,” the leader said, “and he has no home in a place like this. I want him gone for good.”
“Master Giovanni, with all due respect, I don’t want to do that,” my mother said quickly. I clung to her harder, trying my best not to lash out. “He is my son. I have nothing left but my son. My husband is in jail, and I don’t want to lose my last connection to him. I can’t go through another loss like this. Besides, where will he go? Who will take care of him?”
“Melanie,” Giovanni said gently, though he was grinning. “If you let the boy loose now, he will speak of everything he has seen. You cannot tell me that he won’t speak, because he’s not yet been put in a situation where he could tell someone something. We cannot depend on him going somewhere else and staying quiet.”
“Master Giovanni, please—”
“I want the boy executed.”
My mother’s eyes widened. “You want him… killed?” she breathed.
I didn’t know the meaning of the word “execution” at the time, but my mother cleared it up for me. The leader of Team Rocket wanted me gone for good. I was only six years old. It didn’t seem plausible to me. Even though the team was ruthless and heartless, they didn’t kill people. They didn’t kill pokémon. At least, I had never seen them kill anyone… My hatred for them grew tenfold as I realized that this had probably been done in the past without my knowing. My feelings welled in my chest, and I huffed. I darted forward, reaching forward with my hands. I jumped at Giovanni, attempting to scratch at his face, but he had apparently been prepared for this. He held out his arms and kept me still. He was much stronger than I was, and there was nothing I could do to get any closer to him.
My mother gasped and pulled me away from him. “Sai, how could you attack Giovanni, of all people?”
“He’s evil! He wants to get rid of me!” I cried.
“Master Giovanni, please reconsider. This is probably just a phase. He will grow out of it…”
“I’ve given him two years, Melanie. As I’ve said, he’s shown no improvement. I want him gone, and that’s final.”
“Surely, there must be another use for him,” my mother said. She was struggling to speak, as she was still trying to hold me back. Eventually, finally, I went limp and started crying. I wailed and wailed and wished that my mother’s grasp was more comforting. I started thinking up ways that I could hurt Giovanni further—in his sleep, when he wasn’t expecting it…
“Another use? I cannot think of anything this miscreant could be useful for.”
“…I thought you might try to get rid of him. Hush, Sai, this is important,” my mother said, though I could tell that she was trying to hold back tears too. I sobbed quietly, but I couldn’t stop myself completely. “I thought about what happened if he couldn’t get better. Look, Giovanni, I don’t want to lose my job here. Or my son. There has to be a way. Why don’t we keep my son here while I’m working? In the basement, with the other pokémon?”
“He does apparently think he’s a pokémon that deserves to fight like one,” Giovanni mused. “Go on.”
“He’ll stay… locked up as I’m working. I’ll take him home at night, and—”
“No more. Have you not thought about him running away and hurting others? We can’t have him ruin our reputation.”
She gulped. “As you wish, Master Giovanni. He’ll stay in the cells. I will teach him there in my free time, as if he was going to school.”
“I have yet to see how he will be of use to us.”
“Well, as you said… Sai seems fond of pokémon. When he is old enough—you are free to choose the time, so that you no longer see him as a threat—we will set him loose on a journey.” She paused, waiting to see if he would interrupt again. When he didn’t, she continued, “He will raise pokémon and send them back for Team Rocket to use. We can see if he is any better at raising pokémon with his… outlandish personality, compared to the rest of us. It will be a… survival project of sorts.”
Giovanni leaned back in his seat, smiling. “Now this,” he said, “sounds interesting. Again, go on.”
“Okay,” my mother breathed. Her voice was barely audible. “Okay.”
“Mommy?” I said quietly, looking up at her.
What was she possibly planning for me?
Giovanni demanded that the plan be put in effect immediately, so that I wouldn’t cause any more unnecessary damage. We went home shortly afterward, though my mother certainly was in no hurry. She walked slowly and stayed quiet the entire way. When we got there, she instructed me to get my suitcase and pick out my favorite toys while she looked at clothes. It was one of the first directions I got as an experiment for Team Rocket, but I didn’t know it at the time. I was still lost and asking questions that had no clear answers.
“We will feed you there, so there’s no need to pack food. Or water,” she said. She kept mumbling things like this, and then she was mumbling obscenities about Giovanni, which again made me wonder why she obeyed a man like him.
For once, I listened to her. It seemed like a life or death situation that I should follow. Since I didn’t care much for playtime, I didn’t have many toys to get. I only picked up a few stuffed animals and some talking machines that reminded me of the ones back at the laboratory. I put them in a suitcase and watched as my mother filled it with all different kinds of clothes, pieces even for different seasons.
In the middle of her packing, I stopped her by climbing into her lap and hugging her because she seemed so depressed. At such a young age, I even knew what depression was. It was feeling too little when you wanted to feel something, anything. It was a small yet enormous amount of apathy and hatred and loneliness and sadness all built into one hollow soul. Depression was needing all day tomorrow to recover from today. It was something that no one should have to experience, so I tried to comfort her. And I tried to get some answers.
“Mommy,” I said, “are you going to leave me?”
“No, Sai,” she said. She immediately broke into sobs and switched from holding me to holding her face in her hands, trying to mask her sorrow. It didn’t work; I could feel it emanating from every fiber of her being.
I sat there quietly, listening to the sound of her crying mixed in with my racing thoughts. Neither was pleasant to listen to. I couldn’t even come up with anything to say to her because I was thinking too quickly.
We sat there in silence for a long, long time.
Finally, she said, “Let’s go… before he thinks too much and changes his mind.”
We made our way ever so slowly to the laboratory. We passed the green brick houses and the green grass and my mother told me to remember the view forever, because it would be a long time until I ever saw it again. I didn’t take her seriously, of course, but I wished I had later on. The grass below tickled my feet and the green of the houses—including my own—made me feel envious of other people. It was an emotion that I would continue to feel for many years to come.
When we reached the laboratory at the edge of Mahogany Town, the one I had grown so familiar with, we went into an area that I had never been to before. We usually always went upstairs, but this time, we went downstairs. I thought that it would resemble the basement that we had in our own house—which was comfortable as it was a combination of a family room and a toy room—but it didn’t. Not at all.
In the middle of the basement was a movable cot which had a long, leather strap lying out. What caught my eye closely after that, however, were several cages lined up on the walls. They were all filled with pokémon. Some of them even had two or three of them in one small cage. So this was where all of those experimental pokémon came from, I thought. They came from these cages in the basement, and they were strapped onto that cot and wheeled upstairs for further examination or to battle. It all made so much more sense to me now.
My mother brought me over to the far left wall where three empty, larger cages stood. She explained that they were there for bigger pokémon… but now, they would be used for humans.
“This,” she said, “will be your new home, Sai.”
I stared at it, unimpressed. While my old home had two floors and several rooms, this cage was only about as big as the bathroom. It had a small bed in the corner, a sink, a toilet, and… a barred door. It wasn’t exactly appealing. I swallowed hard, squeezing the handle of my suitcase, wishing that there was no reason for it to exist.
My mother went to open the door, waiting for me to go inside. After a few minutes of me refusing to move, she pushed me and told me not to be so difficult. The time for being difficult had to be over, or I’d never get released. I didn’t think that the things I had done were really that bad, but I was starting to reconsider my notions.
“Sai, you are going to do extraordinary things for us,” she said in a more lighthearted voice. “Can you do that for me? Can you agree to this? I’ll be here with you always. I know that will help you. Can you do this for me?”
For her, I nodded. I trusted her wholeheartedly. I was only six years old; I didn’t know what I was agreeing to at all.
She smiled weakly and she shut the doors, but I couldn’t tell if they were shutting me out from the world or if they were shutting me in to keep me safe.
And so began my life as a human experiment for Team Rocket.
At first, it didn’t seem so bad. I was beginning to live in a relatively peaceful state of mind, which happened once in a great while. It had started when I had attacked Giovanni and had been hushed by my mother… I knew that I was going to be quieter because I hadn’t been as tough or as violent as I usually was. I felt luckier than ever whenever these kinds of serene moments happened in my life. For a while, it made me think that this cage was meant to be my home, after all. It was cozy enough. The bathroom was always accessible, and the pokémon that often stared at me from across the room looked away when I had to go. And I had my toys to play with whenever I felt interested. And the bed was comfortable, even if it was small, and I wondered what would happen when I outgrew it. Would my mother buy me a new one?
As she promised, she didn’t abandon me. She came to visit me every day—several times a day, in fact. She was becoming more involved in my life than ever before! It seemed like a great deal to me. She was teaching me my numbers and my letters, saying that I’d normally be in school by now and that she wanted to keep me on a regular schedule, like most kids would be on.
But as time went on, my old habits returned. The only thing that had improved was my separation anxiety; I had, indeed, grown out of that phase. Still, it became increasingly difficult to think about numbers and letters long enough to attempt memorizing them. I wanted to destroy things… and people, if given the chance. I was either too sad or too angry. When I was too sad, I spent most of my time huddled over my suitcase in the corner of the room, begging to go home. This riled up the other pokémon in the room, but I ignored them. And when I was too eccentric, I tore up the clothes that I had and the flashcards that my mother had given me to practice with. I yelled and yelled and yelled, both obscenities and random things on my mind, just to get the thoughts out of my zipping head, but no one came to rescue me. Not even my mother.
“If you ever want to get out of here,” she told me sternly, “then you have to focus. You can’t let your emotions get the best of you. I’m going to teach you everything that you need to know so that you’re prepared when you leave this… nice place. But we have to start small.”
I tried my best. I used self-made routines to help me. I used my forever growing fingernails to etch the alphabet into the stone wall of my cell. I continued to do the numbers, zero to one hundred, even when I started bleeding. It was the only thing I could think of doing. I needed something that I couldn’t destroy, and this was it. My mother didn’t seem to approve or disapprove; she only seemed pleased that I wasn’t being completely destructive. As a reward, she told me that most pokémon trainers set off on their journey at age ten, which was only four years from now. Four years! The first four years of my life now seemed like a blur, so perhaps the next four would go by just as quickly. I didn’t think anything of it.
Time passed so quickly I couldn’t keep up with it. Since I didn’t even have a window in this place, I couldn’t tell if it was day or night, winter or summer. Many things happened, but the one event that stands out the most to me is when I received a very special visitor.
He was a short man with a shiny bald head. His face was lean and taut. He had a soft, inviting smile, so I didn’t scream or attempt to attack him, though I was feeling especially wild when he came. He wore a red tie and a gray suit, and all I could think about was how I was so glad to see those colors outside of the blood and stone on my walls. I had never seen him before in my life, so I knew he wasn’t from the laboratory. He said that his name was Dr. Richards, and then my days were filled to the brim with new experiences and feelings that I didn’t even have names for.
“Sai… Sai Luart. Age ten. Is that right?”
“I don’t speak French. It’s my understanding that your mother has taught you several languages thus far. Is that also right?”
“…Sorry. I guess so.”
“It’s best to learn multiple languages when you’re young. You’re able to speak the different sounds and learn them better.”
“You know, I don’t get many young patients like you. I would say that you’re special.”
“That’s what they all said.”
“Who said that?”
“Everyone above us. They wanted me dead.”
“That’s not very kind, is it? Well, I don’t want you gone.”
“Sai Luart. Age ten. I have a lot of information written down about you besides this, but I’d like to hear your side of the story. Is that all right with you?”
“Did my mother bring you here?”
“Yes. She did.”
“…Nevertheless, I have no story to tell.”
“I bet you do. Everyone does. From my understanding… You were a very worrisome young boy. You seem to harbor a ton of anger toward yourself and others, and you seem to cherish violence when it seems most convenient for you. Many interviewees pointed out that they knew how you were feeling based on the look in your eyes. What do you think?”
“Yeah. Well, I’ve changed an awful lot since then. I’d love to tell you about it.”
It was true—I had learned many languages. And several other things. After teaching me the basics, she taught me how to write and read. Writing didn’t take long, since I had already partially taught myself by carving in the letters. My handwriting was legible enough for her. She said there wouldn’t be many instances where I had to sign something. Next came reading. This, at least, gave me something to do when sitting in my cell, but it was extremely difficult with my short attention span. It took much longer than it should have to teach me to read according to her, but she succeeded eventually by giving me plenty of children’s books. She had to replenish them every two weeks or so because I tore those apart too. When I said I wanted harder material, she brought young adult books for me. The new books were a challenge that I gladly undertook. My mother occasionally made jokes about me reading the research materials that were always being made on floors above, but I didn’t find it funny. I really did want to take part in that, just to have a chance to be somewhere else, breathing in air that wasn’t heavy and full of unpleasant smells.
Next, she taught me the basics of pokémon. There were different types belonging to each individual pokémon, she said. She used the ones across the room as an example. Mostly, there were fire-types and poison-types and dark-types with us, with a small number of steel-types. These types were the most difficult to raise, she said, but they were highly rewarding. She taught me which types were effective against others and which were not so effective. Fire beat grass, water beat fire, grass beat water. It seemed simple enough, and I passed these tests with flying colors. I thought that if only Giovanni could see how intelligent I was becoming, he would let me out sooner, but my mother solemnly told me not to get my hopes up.
History and basic mathematics came next. I learned addition and subtraction and division and multiplication, and my mother told me that although the lessons didn’t seem too fun, they would be useful later on when trying to keep money. Money would be absolutely vital, she said, and she promised that she would have plenty of it prepared for me. Every time, I told her not to go through the trouble, but she just shook her head and asked me to repeat the stories behind Kanto and Johto and Hoenn and other pokémon regions, along with the story of how pokémon were discovered in the first place. Apparently, these regions were uninhabited in terms of humans, and one day, pokémon showed up on the shores of Africa. Though plenty of animals lived in Africa, pokémon were deemed as reckless monsters at first, and the people there went to great lengths just to keep them in their native habitats. It took many years for the trusting bonds between pokémon and humans to form. It made me wonder whether or not I was meant to be a pokémon instead, only I ended up in the wrong body, the wrong life.
The lessons, though simple, kept me busy. The books kept me busy. My mother’s daily visits kept me busy. But it wasn’t enough. As it turned out… four years was a very, very long time when most of what I did was simply sit there, looking at the pokémon from across the room. While my mother taught me French (our family’s main language, I knew) and English and German and Japanese—she told me that I’d want to be prepared to speak to anyone I came across on my journey—I, out of sheer boredom and slight curiosity, taught myself the art of speaking to pokémon. When all I had was time, it was relatively easy, and I figured that it would be important to talk to my partners. Why my mother hadn’t taught me this on her own time was beyond me.
I learned by genuine observation. Since, to anyone who couldn’t understand, pokémon only spoke their names, intonation and body gestures were key. Each and every pokémon had a clear voice that they used for all of the individual emotions that they could possibly have. I learned the sounds of sadness, of anger, of happiness. The pokémon shook their tails in delight when they wanted something (in the cells, it was usually food), or, if they didn’t have tails, their eyes glittered when they talked. Ears flattened when they were worried or feeling guilty. And so on. I could feel the emotions pouring out of them with every action they did, and this translated into an understanding of their speech.
The first full conversation that I had with a pokémon—a long, purple snake named Arbok—went something like this:
“Hello?” I said, feeling pretty prepared. I wanted to practice. Above all, I wanted to socialize. It had been far too long since I spoke to anyone besides my mother and Giovanni. I knew that saying hello was appropriate, at least, because that was what my mother used to say when she answered the phone.
“The boy is talking to himself again,” I heard the arbok say nonchalantly. He wasn’t even trying to be quiet, and in truth I had come to understand the many insults that he had thrown my way over the last couple years. These insults had triggered numerous rages of mine, but I hadn’t stopped them. With my lack of self-control, I didn’t know how.
“That’s not very nice,” I said now. I was in one of my calm, peaceful states. It wouldn’t last long, so I had to make use of it while it was still there…
“It’s not?” the arbok said, glaring at me. And then his face softened and mouth opened in surprise, revealing a long, red tongue that looked like a fork. Forks were one of the things in the real world that I missed, since my mother couldn’t give them to me for fear of me using one as a weapon. The sight of the arbok’s tongue made me want to give up, but I somehow kept pressing on.
“It’s not,” I repeated his words, suddenly too overwhelmed to think of my own.
“It’s apparently a special gift to be able to talk to pokémon, boy. How long have you been listening to us?”
“I think,” I said, ignoring his question and finding the courage to go on, “it’s just because I have nothing else to do. I have a lot of time to learn, whereas everyone else is too preoccupied with life.” I shifted around uncomfortably, the bareness of my feet feeling the cold of the stone floor below me. It seemed appropriate and fitting, so I didn’t put any socks or shoes on. I wasn’t even sure if I had some anyway.
“That could be it, too. Would explain why all the Nurse Joys in the world can listen to pokémon and understand them perfectly fine.”
“Nurse Joys?” I asked curiously.
“You’ll meet one someday, I’m sure. They do nothing but spend time with pokémon… just like you,” the arbok said rudely. He sneered and looked away from me, and I could hear the sarcastic tone of his voice. It rang through my entire body, and I could feel his scorn firsthand amidst all of my own emotions that were stirring in my heart.
“Why do you say that?”
“You’re getting out of here. We’re not,” Arbok said, his contempt abruptly showing.
“I’m still stuck here for a long, long time,” I said sadly. I couldn’t bear to look at the snake anymore, so I stopped.
“Then rest, little boy. Quit making so much ruckus all the time. Be calm. And prepare yourself for the world,” Arbok said. It turned away from me and didn’t look back, and I knew that that was the end of the conversation.
Rest, he said! It was easy for him. He didn’t have a never ending list of things he needed to do when he got out of this forsaken place running through his mind. Okay, maybe he did have this, even though he was supposedly never leaving, but I could say for certain that my thoughts raced faster than his, so that didn’t count. He didn’t have a mind that constantly ticked over, counting the amount of specks in the patterns on the stone walls surrounding three sides of his body. He didn’t have three songs running in his head all at once, songs that were once sung to him by his mother. He didn’t have images from last night’s dreams haunting him and talking to him. Rest, he said… I would, if only it were that simple.
But it was getting easier. The symptoms of my mental illness (as Giovanni called it, though I wasn’t sure what it entirely entailed) were changing dramatically as I grew older. I no longer wanted to tear things—or people—apart. That was one thing that I had always been worried about thanks to the boss. My impulses consisted of other things now. And when my moods shifted, they stayed for longer periods of time instead of changing every hour or every few minutes. That meant that I had longer moments of peace and clarity as well. And my delusions of grandeur graduated from thinking that I was impossibly able to fly to thinking that I was, more realistically, sent as a special gift from the sky above to do Arceus’ bidding.
But while many things were different, many things were still the same.
I was still sick, no matter what happened.
“I would love to hear it, if you’d be willing to tell me.”
“I either feel too much or feel too little. I believe that I am better than everyone else and that they’re just keeping me locked up because they don’t want to admit my greatness. Despite this, I have no desire to live my life half of the time because things can’t possibly improve. When I do want to live, I want to do too many things at once. I have many plans for the future... My father is dying in prison, miles and miles away, and I feel like I’m the one killing him. I feel guilty, like I’m being punished for doing that to him. I can’t eat, or I eat too much. I can’t sleep, or I sleep too much. I can’t make any decisions for myself, so I have my mother make them for me. I am bored with everything, dissatisfied. I can’t overcome my loneliness or fear for the future. I can’t be with others without going crazy, but I can’t be alone. I can’t concentrate on anything for too long. I want to fight and fight and tell everyone that they’ve all let me down. I want to talk too much, all the time… if you couldn’t tell by now.”
“It sounds like you are very, very overwhelmed.”
“I am. I am beyond overwhelmed. All the time…”
“I think I can help you, Sai.”
“You can? Are you sure?”
“Yes. Why not?”
“No one’s ever offered to help me before.”
“Yes. Well. I can give you medications to keep your moods stable.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Give me a name. Tell me what’s wrong with me.”
“They call it bipolar disorder. Very uncommon in children, but it does happen.”
“There is one problem, however. As I told you earlier, Sai… you are very young. Medications for younger patients aren’t forbidden, but they aren’t encouraged, either. Do you know why that is?”
“This is because your brain is still growing. Your body is still growing. These medications can do things to permanently… mess up your brain chemistry.”
“You’re young, but this isn’t going to be a phase you’re going to grow out of. Bipolar disorder is forever. Medication will almost be a necessity for the entirety of your life. Nevertheless, it’s up to you. What will you do?”
“For your mother, will you take the medication?”
“…Yes… I will.”
“I hope they work well for you. I sincerely do. It may take a long time to find the right one, so… let’s get started.”
Another peculiar symptom that came to me when I was about eleven years old was… delusions. That was what my mother called them, though she regretfully said that she could do nothing for me. She said that Dr. Richards would have to take care of it. Dr. Richards only said that he wasn’t sure if it was because of medication or if it was just natural. He suspected the latter, as it was apparently common among the mentally ill. And I had come to accept that that was what I was—mentally ill. Messed up in the head. Forever sick.
I was lying in my tiny bed—I was, indeed, starting to outgrow it, and my mother promised that it would be replaced soon—trying to sleep when it happened. The room started spinning around me. I completely forgot where I was, even though the room was so familiar to me. My breathing grew heavy, and I wanted to punch myself or burn myself and convince myself that I was real. But I couldn’t move. It was hard to even breathe when it felt like a heavy weight sat on my chest, and my lungs seemed to have finally noticed that there was a dead spot in the middle of my chest, shriveled up due to lack of use. Everything I looked at quickly became blurry. I kept blinking to make everything clearer, but in my mind, everything was still muddy. I was suddenly convinced that all the memories I had belonged to someone else because I believed that I was a pokémon. In reality, I knew that I wasn’t, but that was what it felt like.
I was a small creature. I looked down at myself when I finally had the strength to do. I was a dark brown color, with some cream on a circular part of my belly. I had tiny paws and tiny feet. My sense of smell had increased tenfold, and the ears that I now had felt nothing but danger nearby. Yes, I was a pokémon, yet I was not.
Images flashed through my mind. There were images of destruction, of blood and gore, just like I had seen in my dreams so many times before. This felt different. This felt utterly and terrifyingly real. Several pokémon that looked just like me were being torn apart and eaten alive, even the babies. From far away, I was a spectator who was powerless and unable to fight, even though the urge to do so clung and screamed at every part of my body. I couldn’t do a thing. I watched and watched, mouth hanging open in disbelief.
I violently shook myself back to reality. I sat straight up, taking in the view in front of me. All was dark. All was quiet, aside from my obvious panting. I jumped out of my bed and tried to run to the other side of the room, crashing into the bars in the process. I wanted to look for that pokémon, but I had never seen it before in the laboratory. I had to find it. I had to find it and save it, but I didn’t have the means to do so.
The next day, someone was brought into the cell next to me. I was in my bed yet again, sleeping, so I never got a good look at him. When I woke up, the pokémon were murmuring and laughing to each other, saying that the person next to me was “just as crazy as the Sai boy.” I didn’t dare speak to the other boy because he was talking to himself frantically, wildly, praying to Arceus that He would shed some light upon him or that He would come rescue him, Senori Deliro, from the life that he had so suddenly been thrust into. Apparently, I had been so successful up to this point that they decided to bring in another test subject.
I had thought about it all night. I still vowed to find that pokémon. I vowed to put that pokémon on my team and take care of it as best as I could, since it was obviously injured emotionally after what it had seen. Remembering that everyone had to have something to call their own, I decided that I didn’t want to use my mother’s name, and I didn’t want anyone to remind me of the boss. I would find that pokémon, and I would call him Senori… for the sake of the one that was just like me, stuck behind bars in a life that was less than ordinary.
Sertraline hydrochloride, anti-depressant, 50mg. Used to confirm the diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder. Reported frequent headaches, symptoms of mania (delusions of grandeur, high motivation and energy). Discontinued.
Fluoxetine hydrochloride, anti-depressant, 10mg, increased to 20mg. Used upon request by Master Giovanni upon seeing the effects of sertraline hydrochloride. Reported weight gain (10lbs), frequent nausea, sweating, symptoms of mania (worsened insomnia, delusions of grandeur, impulsive and aggressive behavior). Discontinued.
Lithium carbonate, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 300mg. Reported severe pain and tremors, and thinking that he was a “zombie, though I’m not sure what that means, but I’ve heard my mother describe it as a bad, bad feeling.” Discontinued upon having intentions for suicide.
Lamotrigine, anti-convulsant/mood stabilizer, 25mg. Reported better sleeping, calmer moods, slight paranoia. Discontinued upon seeing rash.
Quetiapine fumarate, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 50mg, increased to 100mg. Reported sleeping too much (16+ hours a day). No other reaction. Discontinued.
Aripiprazole, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 15mg, increased to 30mg. Reported extreme paranoia (thinking that others wanted to poison him) and an unwillingness to eat. Discontinued.
Patient tried to refuse all further treatment but called for me five days later, saying he had changed his mind.
Divalproex sodium, anti-convulsant/mood stabilizer, 25mg. Reported severe weight gain (30lbs), returned homicidal thoughts, frequent dizziness and aggression, strange and vivid dreams. Discontinued.
Chlopromazine hydrochloride, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 10mg. Reported lethargy, depersonalization, numbness. Discontinued upon request.
Risperidone, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 0.5mg, increased to 1mg, then 2mg. Reported slight anxiety, calmer moods, better sleeping.
Re: Survival Project
I believed that I was nearing fourteen years of age. I had asked my mother to stop celebrating my birthday at the beginning of every January. After missing all of the holidays in the two previous months, I didn’t want her to take pity on me and try to cram all of those days into one. It only made me miss the outside world more, which wasn’t what I needed.
What I needed was to get smarter and stronger, both mentally and physically. And that was exactly what I did. The readings got harder, the mathematics got crazier, the history more complex, and science came into play, too, since it would be nothing short of important to know the kind of land I would be treading on. And soon, my mother went back to trying to teach me life skills.
At first, she tried to teach me about cooking, saying that food would be absolutely essential not only for myself but also for my future pokémon. Eventually, this endeavor failed, as the leader of Team Rocket made it absolutely forbidden for me to leave my cell for any reason. He thought that I would go on a vengeful rampage if I were let out too soon. As he had said in his office, it would be he who decided when I could be set free. So my mother told me all about berries, about which ones were good for a pokémon’s growth and which ones were poisonous. She told me about which types of human foods were good for me (for this, she brought well-planned meals to show me in person) and which were bad for pokémon. Avocados were bad for flying-types, excess chocolate was unhealthy for anyone, and so on.
She taught me how to fight. This, she said, was something that we would learn together. She read up on martial arts and watched videos about it and relayed all the information that she had learned to me. In the small room of the cells, we practiced kicking and punching and headlocks and any kind of move that could stop a potential murderer dead in his tracks. I asked her whether or not I would really have to use these techniques someday, and she said she hoped not, but it never hurt to be prepared.
She taught me about traveling. She told me to keep all of my pokémon out of their pokéballs at night. This was to ensure safety for myself when I was sleeping. I was to make damn sure, however, that none of them snuck off and got themselves hurt. Well, that would be easy enough, I mused, since I didn’t sleep much anyway. She taught me about making fires and how to prepare my backpack for upcoming trips and how to find clean water nearby if I didn’t already have some. I asked her if this was really okay, since one of the rules of the game was to not have any trusting bonds between pokémon and me (to prevent separation anxiety when the time came to give them away), and she said that it was just a risk that I’d have to take.
Lastly, she taught me how to read maps. She taught me about what all the little symbols meant, and how to tell which way was north and south and east and west. I learned information about each individual town in Johto, but that was it, seeing as how it would be impossible to leave the region. This would important, she said, when trying to figure out where to go… especially if I ever had to return to Mahogany Town at any point. She hoped that would never have to happen, because she could tell I didn’t like it here. Well, wasn’t that the truth? But I trusted her to make this game play out as fairly and as peacefully as possible, so I kept my mouth shut this time.
I tried to keep it all straight in my head, but my skill at retaining information was easily starting to fade. Ever since I had started the medication, my memory had become worse and worse. That was what Dr. Richards had meant when he said they could potentially ruin my brain chemistry, I supposed. I didn’t tell him or my mother, however, because I didn’t want to make it look like I was going to give up so easily, and I didn’t want my mother telling Giovanni that all of the lessons that were aimed at me were for nothing.
I focused on getting better, on not being sick anymore. But it was the hardest thing I had ever done and probably would ever do. Not being sick anymore required me to be an entirely different person… a person that I just didn’t know how to be. The fact that I had little contact with others made it impossible to live vicariously, and the fact that it was my brain causing me to be this way, not my own personal choices, made my decision even less than useless.
More people came into the cells. They were just as crazy as me, so they didn’t help. A woman named Kuiora Loki said that she had the same disease as me, though hers was easily controlled by creativity. She was obsessed with the idea of sculptures and carvings of pokémon, especially legendary pokémon. She tried to etch her drawings into the stone walls at first, threatening to break through the walls and escape to her freedom. My mother—who was officially in charge of this project, it seemed—brought her several carving blocks over the course of a few months. Kuiora was released almost immediately once Giovanni saw how gentle and genial she was when she expressed herself in her own way… and once he saw how much money he could make off of selling her work.
Another man, Atis Harleen, was the quietest person I had ever met… not that I had met many people. To me, it seemed that the saying which claimed the quietest ones were the ones to watch out for was true. It took me two months just to get his full name out of him. He slept most of his time away, and once I was released, he was still there. I never figured out what was wrong with him or if there was anything wrong at all.
The last person to come to the cells when I was there was another man. He could only stand it for one night. He soon went into a screaming frenzy, yelling about how he didn’t deserve to be put in a place like this. He was apparently going to go somewhere else, somewhere better, against everyone’s will. He said that he was going to give my mother—and anyone who could hear him—two hours before he let himself go. “If you really want me,” he said, “you’ll come and get me!” But no one came. Two hours later, just as he vowed, I heard the loud sound of bone cracking against concrete. It sounded very familiar to me, given my previous excursions on pokémon battlefields. I covered my ears, but still I heard it over and over. It was so loud, and soon, there was nothing. Later, I found out that he had banged his skull against the stone walls until he had put himself into a coma. Giovanni had him executed since he didn’t want to pay for the care it would take to repair him.
These people, though I had little to no contact with them (they were uninterested in me and in the pokémon in the room), they meant the world to me. I felt them in my heart and I didn’t even know them. They gave me hope, they gave me strength, even the unknown man. I especially felt this way when Kuiora was released. I knew that I would be set free somehow, someway, and that things would get better not only for me, but also for the world—because of my doing. My mother promised me the same thing, and when she did, I smiled wider than I ever had whenever she wasn’t around.
Above all, they helped me to shape my future pokémon team. I wanted to honor their lives and memories, and I was going to do just that. I pledged to keep my future pokémon with similar personalities or hobbies. They would even have the same names. There was Senori and Kuiora and Atis and—well, I would figure out his name later. It seemed like the perfect plan to me, despite knowing that I would have to return them to Team Rocket someday. That part of the project was always stuck in the back of my mind, mostly ignored. I would deal with it when the time came, I decided.
And instead of having delusions (which the medications seemed to have thankfully destroyed), I had strange and vivid dreams instead, ones that also helped me shape my future team. I saw flashes of yellow and cackling electricity, which reminded me of the poor nameless man and the price he had to pay to reach the sky above. There were many rivers where water wavered between rippling calmly and rippling wildly. And there was an army and a strong leader in front of the pack. I took these as important signs that I should remember someday, as I wasn’t imagining gore and violence for once.
I dreamed and dreamed and dreamed, and for once, my future seemed beautiful.
“So, what was that man’s name? I’m sure my mother tried to get you to come and talk to him. Am I right?”
“The one who I assume tried to commit suicide and failed.”
“That has no place here. I’d like to know how you’re feeling.”
“I’d feel a lot better if I knew the man’s name.”
“I don’t know the man’s name.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Now, how are you feeling?”
“I feel better. But I still miss the outside world.”
“I don’t think that will go away.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the optimistic one?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“How about if I do you a favor?”
“Tell me anything that you want to see. Anything from the outside world, and I’ll bring it to you.”
“I will. Right now, whatever it is.”
“Well… I don’t have a window in here. Show me what looks like outside your window at twilight. My favorite part of day.”
“I can do that. I’ll be right back.”
A very, very long silence.
“I was starting to think you’d never come back.”
“Of course I would. I had to think about it, though. I couldn’t just take a picture and develop it, since it’s not twilight yet.”
“What time of day is it?”
“I brought you this.”
“Yes. I guess I can tell you one bad thing about myself... since I know so much about you. I’m, ah, afraid of the dark. At twilight, everything starts to turn black, just like the dots on the die. And for me, it’s scary. The only safe place is inside. It’s light and bright inside. The white resembles the purity that I feel from this safety. The intensity at which I feel this fear varies each day… thus the varying numbers on each side of the die.”
“You’re highly creative. I wish I was.”
“So I’ve been told. Does it suit you?”
“It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but yes, I suppose so. …Can I keep it?”
“Thank you. Thank you.”
To keep myself occupied, Dr. Richards suggested that I should try to find ways to make my future pokémon journey special. I told him that that would be breaking the rules. I couldn’t get close to my pokémon. Well, he said. If I really wanted to be creative, then I could find ways to follow the rules and make things special. So I did.
With my mother’s insistence, I would have a lot of money, so I would give each of my pokémon their own rooms. That would keep us separated, and would give them a lot of much needed privacy. Yes, that seemed perfect. And I would use the pair of die… somehow. I would make my pokémon roll the dice for me when I was catching them. If they were meant to be with me, then the die would land just right. One, two, three, four, five, six pokémon—they would get whatever correct number they were supposed to get. I knew that I was right because every time I thought about Senori being my first pokémon, I rolled the die and came up with only ones. That would surely make them feel like they belonged on my team and nowhere else, even if they didn’t particularly like me (when I assumed they wouldn’t, given my… disease).
I was going to be released soon. I just knew it. I could feel it in my bones, in my heart.
Of course, things didn’t always go as planned, especially not for me. Things never wanted to go my way.
The medication only partially kept me stable. I still went off into rages, and a few nights later, I went into one of my worst ones yet. It wasn’t my fault (at least, I didn’t like to think so), but the damage was still the same.
The pokémon in the cages were particularly restless that night. For some reason, my mother was late in bringing us food, and the water was dirtied from not being refilled as it should have been. I didn’t mind (and apparently neither did Atis), but the pokémon were fretting. If they had to be stuck here as loyal test subjects, then they believed that they should be treated right in every form possible.
“It’s bad enough that I have to share a home with this goddamn kadabra,” Arbok said. He, too, was in a hateful mood that night.
“Don’t forget that I can mess up your mind. You should watch what you say,” the kadabra replied in an even voice.
“If you could do that, then you should have ruined the minds of these scientists long ago and gotten us out of here. You’re useless,” the snake retaliated.
As their exchanges started to escalate, my mother just happened to come into the basement, a tray of food in hand. She apologized for her lateness, but she had thought of a great idea for me, which only made the pokémon glare in my direction. I shied back into the corner of my cell. She went on, saying that she had wanted to get approval from the boss. It always took a while to be able to talk to the boss. She settled down the pokémon by giving them their food, and then went back upstairs temporarily for the rest. She returned, gave Atis his food, which he thanked her feebly for, and then, before I knew it, she was in my cell, smiling excitedly. I stared at her, expecting her to say that it was time to leave—for good.
“Sai,” my mother said. “I thought about how else I could help you on your journey. Well, battles are going to play a huge, huge part. And Giovanni won’t let you out to battle on the second floor with everyone else, but he said—” She extended her arms out to show me the room, as if I had never seen it before. “—we could fight in here.”
“In my cell…?” I said stupidly. “That sounds quite a bit dangerous, even for you guys…”
“You’ll… still be in here,” my mother said regretfully, “but the pokémon will be in the center of the room. It’s big enough. And they know better than to disobey by now,” she added, peering over to the other side of the room. The pokémon didn’t dare look up from their feeding bowls.
“Okay,” I said simply. “Whatever you think is best. I trust you.”
“As you always have,” my mother said. “Let’s get started.”
Once the pokémon were finished eating, she locked me back in and then she took the arbok and the kadabra out of the cells. I silently told myself that the idea of her choosing any other pokémon in the room would be guaranteed if she had heard their scuffling earlier. She brought them out into the middle of the room, and as expected, they were on their best behavior as they obeyed mindlessly. The arbok was placed on my side, and she would be battling with the kadabra. The two pokémon hissed as they stared each other down, and I knew that they weren’t pretending to hate each other.
“You’ve seen battles before… and you’ve even been in them yourself sometimes,” my mother said quietly. “But it’s an entirely different thing to be controlling the battle. You have to know your pokémon inside and out to be able to predict how they’re going to fight. You have to know their attack specialties, their defensive strategies, and, of course, their moves. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said simply, as I so often had during previous lessons.
“Good. I won’t explain much. It’s better for you to learn by doing. I’ll let you go first.”
It suddenly occurred to me that this was what I would be doing in the real word if I ever got released—no, when I got released. I froze as what seemed like a million emotions welled up in my chest, threatening to make it explode. The thought of making pokémon battle in such a harsh manner, as Team Rocket so often encouraged, was unbelievable to me. I only wanted to make friends with pokémon, to share their hopes and dreams and to have them know mine. But I had to follow the rules. I wasn’t able to get close to pokémon. I had to battle with them and make them strong enough to become a fearful force of Team Rocket. To do anything else would lead to my death…
I gulped, pretending that there was something stuck in my throat that was preventing me from speaking. Finally, I said, “I don’t know any of the arbok’s moves.”
“Then think of standard moves like tackle, scratch, defense curl, and tail whip. Just like I taught you when we went over pokémon basics.”
“Okay… Arbok, use tackle!” I cried, using the force that my mother had instructed me to use, all that time ago. She said that it was vital to sound like I meant it when I was ordering them around, or they wouldn’t have respect for me or feel the need to listen to me.
It appeared that I had used the right tone of voice, because the arbok immediately lunged at the kadabra, headfirst and with full power. Or maybe he was just waiting for the command so that he could tear the kadabra apart. Either way, my first command as a pokémon trainer seemed to have worked. There was an odd sense of relief that passed through my body, and I welcomed it wholeheartedly.
This didn’t last long, however, as the arbok didn’t stop at just a tackle attack. The kadabra flung backward and caught itself before it fell on its back. The arbok darted forward again, and the same scenario repeated itself, except that the snake didn’t allow for the psychic-type to get up. He plopped down on the kadabra’s body and stayed there, watching the pokémon beneath him struggle to get back up.
“Arbok, get off of him!” I cried, clinging on to the bars, wanting to get closer to help the kadabra out. Apparently, the arbok couldn’t hear me over the kadabra yelling the same thing, because he didn’t appear to hear me. The snake, of course, was more prone to listen to me than its opponent.
“Kadabra, use psychic! Don’t hold back,” my mother said.
The kadabra stiffened, holding out the spoon in his hand as he closed his eyes and focused. The arbok was soon enveloped in a bluish light, and he rose up into the air. He tried to lash out at the psychic-type with his teeth without me ordering him to, but it was too late to reach far enough. He went higher and higher into the air, and suddenly, his body started twisting in peculiar ways. The kadabra telekinetically caused the arbok’s tailbone to crack and break, making the snake wail and wail. The mixture of horrible sounds seemed to reverberate in the air.
“Why are you doing that to him? This is supposed to be a battle!” I cried, my eyes wide and my heart hammering.
“The kadabra could have easily broken the arbok’s neck instead,” my mother said, entirely unaffected. “We believe that pokémon should, at all times, use their full power… and their full power should be enough to kill another if necessary. If they can’t do that, then they’re useless to us.” She sighed. “I thought you knew this, Sai.”
“I do know that. I did. I just… Bad things should only happen to bad people, like the ones I hurt… These pokémon are good and trapped here for no reason…”
I let my voice trail off as I had to center my attention to my abruptly shaking body. I tried to make it stop, but found it impossible. My volatile thoughts argued against each other. Some of them said that violence was the answer, while the other half claimed that no, there had to be another way, there just had to be, or life was meaningless. Absolutely meaningless. The sight before me was a blur, and the screaming deafened. I was rolling and rolling around in my head incessantly; I had a front row seat to the end of my world, and there was nothing I could do about it.
My grasp on the bars in front of me tightened considerably. I was used to my view being obscured by these long, thick pieces of metal that also blocked my freedom. Sometimes they were moved out of the way, but I could never see out of the door long enough to keep myself satisfied for more than a few seconds. And I thought—even if I were to be let out of this place, maybe nothing would ever be enough. Maybe I would never get used to the feeling of sun beating down on the back of my neck. Maybe I would never get over the way that grass can tickle my feet when I’m not wearing shoes. Maybe I would never get over the way it feels to converse about the simple things in life. I missed it so now, and although I wasn’t sure I’d ever get used to the experiences, it could at least be a wonderful time. Better than this. I had to know if things would get better or worse or if they would stay the same. I always wanted to be let go, but the desire to be set free wasn’t something you could just get used to, like catching colds or eating at the same time every day… Yes, it was just as terrible, just as terrifying every time it happened.
I shook the bars in front of me, trying to make them bend to my will and break, just like the kadabra had done to the arbok, only my actions wouldn’t have been cruel and unnecessary. The bars weren’t living and breathing creatures—or were they? What did I know? All I knew was that they didn’t budge. Instead, I beat at them with my head, but this only reminded me of the nameless man, and I didn’t want to be like him, I really didn’t, so I used my arms and hands and legs instead, and every strike hit with a loud clang, but nothing caused any damage, not even a dent. This only made me angrier. I used my own full force, ignoring the obvious pain that followed. Agony shot through my arms and up to my shoulders, through my legs and down to my feet, but I only kept going. I firmly believed that if I gave up now, then I would never get out. I would be trapped here forever, stuck in my own devious mind, my own spiteful body. I couldn’t deal with that. I just couldn’t.
“Let me out!” I screamed at my mother. Again and again. She was the only one who could help me. She was the one who had given birth to me, she was the one who had raised me, she was the one who had taught me things that I needed to know. She had done all of this for me, so why couldn’t she let me out? Why was she so powerless in the one area that could help me the most?
Let me out!
My arms were forming bruises that would last for weeks, a seemingly everlasting reminder of rage that doesn’t leave.
Let me out!
My legs hit a small, sharp section that was protruding from the main bar, which sliced my toes. Blood seeped to the floor, drip by drip, as if that part of my body was crying.
Let me out!
I hit and hit, screamed and screamed. My mother was on the other side of the door, trying to soothe me with her calming voice. It didn’t work, for it was obvious that she was scared of me. Otherwise she would have come in and held me, like she always did.
Let me out!
I slid to the floor and sobbed and sobbed for a life that I didn’t even know.
“You say that bad things only happen to bad people?”
“Bad things just happened to you. Are you a bad person?”
“Yes… I don’t follow the rules that I should. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to when I get out, either.”
“This isn’t your fault. You’re sick, you know.”
“You did this, and you don’t think you’re ill?”
“I never said that I didn’t think I was sick.”
“Well, you certainly don’t seem to act like there’s anything wrong with you. You act so… normal when you’re around me, it’s hard to believe you’re a patient at all.”
“I don’t know who I am.”
“You’re Sai Luart.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that you’re a strong, courageous boy who’s been through a lot. You’re kind and you’re a dreamer. And it means that you have a lot to look forward to.”
“What do you want from me?”
“What do you want from me?”
“What do you want from me? What do you want from my life?”
I want to love you… whoever you are and whatever that means. I want to eat ice cream on the swing set in the backyard with you and I want you to watch part of the moon say hello to its other half and I want to watch your favorite movies and listen to your favorite songs and eat your favorite foods just to wear your heart and I want to one day stop counting the months, the days, the minutes, the seconds, until I can see you and I want to have someone to talk to when something good or bad or extraordinary or humiliating happens to me and I want you to like your name just because of the way I say it and I want to learn to cook just for you and I want to laugh at stupid jokes until I cry and I want to try to take care of you before I send you to a doctor and I want you to love yourself more than you love me and I want to save you from your senseless fears and and and
and I want to go on adventures with you and pretend that there’s something left for me to find and I want to hear all about your past life and I want to remember every small detail about you and I want to find any excuse in the world to hold you and touch you and breathe you in and I want to worry about you all the time because I’ll be so scared that I’ll lose you any sooner that I have to and I want to stay up late into the night with you because reality feels okay when I’m with you and and and
and I want to tell you that you’re perfect again and again and wonder why you don’t believe me and I want to spend my life convincing you that you’re perfect and I want to experience the feeling of doing something you don’t understand for the sake of another and I want to cherish your existence because it gives me hope and I want to dream about all these things I want to do with you and for you and I want them to happen in real life and I want to tell you that dreams really do come true so we can feel young again
and I want to avoid shame and pain and fear and I want to repress my emotions and I want to beat the social norms I know and I want to fight against coercion and secrecy and I want to receive positive attention and I want to boost my self-confidence and I want to defend myself and I want to reach all of my goals and I want to stop charging toward my death
and and and
I want to
show you this
unbelievable enduring unbreakable everlasting persistent endless captivating overwhelming completing empowering undying love I feel for life.
More time passed. There wasn’t much left for me to learn, apparently, so I stuck to remembering things from the past, but it was hard. It was as if my memory had somehow been blocked recently. I could easily recall emotions that I had felt, but facts such as how type differences affected a pokémon battle slipped my mind. Not having anything to teach me meant that my mother showed up less and less. I became lonelier and lonelier. I slept with my books and shoes and clothes on the other side of the bed to make it feel like I was sleeping next to someone. It somewhat worked.
Once I heard the news--after much, much time had passed since the incident—that I was going to be released the following day, I immediately became restless. I felt wholly unprepared, and it was as if I had literally forgotten everything. I paced around the room the entire night because I was unable to sleep. The pokémon in the room looked at me with disgust and didn’t even bother to say good-bye the following morning. That was fine. It would be better, I knew, if we could say hello somewhere else. Somewhere better.
When my mother came downstairs to get me, she ignored them entirely. She took the keys to the cell out of her pocket and unlocked the door. I couldn’t help but notice that her hand was shaking as she did so, making it harder to slide the metal open. I looked up and smiled at her. She was nervous too, and I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
“Come on, Sai,” she said. “We’ve got a few things to do before you go.”
I nodded. I followed her upstairs, looking at my cell one last time before rounding the corner. It hit me that there was, at least, one good thing about being all the way in the basement for the majority of my life. The realization was this: no matter where I would go from here, I could only go up. Up the stairs and out the door into the world.
She brought me to the third floor. Walking up the stairs had already put a strain on my legs, and I made a mental note that I would have to build up strength if I really wanted to go on this long journey. I was also able to notice that the scientists had done a decent job at cleaning up the terrible messes that I had left behind as a child. All of the machines looked brand new, and their desks were organized. The floor I saw was the complete epitome of cleanliness. The second floor was the same, though I was brought into an office that I hadn’t known existed. The first thing I noticed was a desk that showed a nametag that said “Melanie Luart” on it.
“Sit down,” she said, motioning to the seat in front of the desk. I did so. It was the first of many orders that I would have to obey. I vaguely knew it at the time, but I didn’t feel the full force of my obligations until she started speaking again.
“You know your mission, yes? You are to set out on your own pokémon journey. Giovanni and I have decided that you are as ready as you’ll ever be.”
“Must you be so formal?” I said, shifting around slightly. I didn’t know what I had been expecting once I got released, but it wasn’t this. There was much more to come; I just had to be patient for a little while longer.
“Yes,” she said simply. “Anyway, your ultimate goal is to prepare pokémon for our use, experimental or otherwise. To do this, you must raise them to the best of your abilities. Utilize everything I’ve taught you thus far. Catch pokémon that have the most potential by any means necessary. The pokémon must become as strong as possible, and when you think they’re ready, you must report to us and send them to our laboratory. You are not to become attached to them. This ensures that you won’t betray us. You are not allowed to leave the region or stray too far away from the main route.”
“The main route?”
“Yes. You will start in New Bark Town and go from there. This is where all trainers start their journeys, supposedly... This is where it will be easiest to find pokémon that you can control.”
“...Do I need to know anything else?”
“Nothing that you shouldn’t know already. Train as much as you can. Don’t stay in one place for too long, or you’ll be prone to start wasting time. We can’t have you slacking off. If we do catch you doing anything that doesn’t meet our approval, then you will be punished accordingly.”
I stared at her blankly. Hadn’t I already been punished enough just for existing? Saying nothing, I then looked down to the ground, wanting to leave already. If the team was in such a rush, why were we wasting time here? I was feeling too energetic for my own good.
“If I think of anything else, then I’ll be sure to let you know,” my mother said, standing up. She gestured for me to join her and so I did. Before we left the room, I saw a picture frame sitting on her desk that showed me from when I was younger. Did I really ever look like that? And it had been so long that I didn’t even know what I looked like now. She seemed to notice my curiosity, as she led me into the room next door, which was just the staff bathroom. From my peripheral vision I could see a large mirror hanging on the wall, and my skinny frame immediately stuck out.
“You need to clean yourself up before you go. Make yourself look presentable,” she said. She reached into her pockets once more, making me think that she was going to lock me in again. Instead, she pulled out a small sharp device and handed it to me. “This includes shaving,” she added, smirking.
“How do I do that?”
“Figure it out. You’re a man now, right?” she said. She left me in the room by myself, alone and confused.
Of course, I wasn’t interested in making myself presentable. The mirror and the image of myself that I hadn’t seen in years mesmerized me instead. I leaned in over the sink, taking a look at my face. Noticing my dark blue eyes first, I couldn’t help but think that they looked rather intimidating. They were eyes that were accustomed to the dark. They were accustomed to the same old views, and now they were seeing something new. There was a spark inside of them that I had never seen anywhere else. I wondered if they would change at all over the course of my journey.
I also wondered when I had changed so much otherwise. When had my hair turned black? Had it always been black? I thought I had seen the little boy in the picture have brown hair, but now I was not so sure. Seeing myself all at once threw me off guard. And how old was I now, anyway? I still had a young face with soft skin and all, aside from the stubble that covered the bottom half... Well, I wasn’t about to ask. The answer would only tell me how many years I had lost.
I stared at myself for so long that it suddenly hit me that I was wasting time already, just like they didn’t want me to. After quickly taking a shower (and after not wanting to leave the relieving warm water it offered), I tried shaving, as my mother requested. For the most part I succeeded, but there were clear cuts that I made in the process that made me bleed slightly. I brushed the blood away, wondering if I was making myself look worse or better.
When I was finished, I stepped out of the bathroom to find that my mother was waiting for me, and that she had probably been standing there the entire time.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I got sidetracked.”
“Well, don’t make a habit of it,” she said, motioning for me to follow her once more.
This time, she led me outside. The sensation I automatically felt after my first steps out was overwhelming. The sun’s rays seemed to blind me in a matter of seconds and it seemed as if I was going to be blown away by the wind that had suddenly picked up upon my arrival. The only thing that was familiar was the feeling of concrete below my feet. I felt dizzy and struggled to keep myself upright.
My mother chuckled, but it was a sad chuckle that she was obviously using to lighten the mood. She dug into her pocket one last time and handed me a rolled up piece of paper.
“This is a map of the Johto region,” she said. “I taught you how to read one, remember? Head to New Bark Town, as I said. You’ll be fine.”
“You think so?” I said. “I can hardly stand the sun already.”
My mother’s demeanor quickly changed. She tensed up and said, “Your father would be proud, you know. He always said he would be proud, no matter what happened.”
“It was as if you both knew this was going to happen,” I mumbled.
“I didn’t. I never meant for this to happen,” she said. She wouldn’t look at me.
“I believe you,” I said anyway.
“Do you?” she said.
“You’re the one who brought up the idea in the first place. That means you thought about it... and probably for a very long time. But under the circumstances at which you brought it up, yeah... I guess I believe you.”
After a few moments of silence, she said, “Sai. Your name is like a weapon. Intelligently sharp, and very powerful. I know you can deal with whatever is thrown at you.”
That was something I couldn’t believe right away. It would take time to create that kind of thought within myself. Still, I trusted her words and nodded, but kept my disbelief silent. For it was not a prison of stone and metal that I feared, but one built of words and promises.
I was out of prison for nearly three weeks before I came to the realization that I had been in a flat place compared to the real world. I didn’t even notice it until I left. At the Team Rocket headquarters, there were flat colors, flat noises, flat people. It had nothing to do with geography or Mahogany Town in general. The real world was just that much more lively. All of its smells and textures and sounds seeped into my bones and made me half-forget everything I had known before. I was adapting and coming out of my shell. Yes, this sort of beauty was my new truth.
As instructed, I made my way to New Bark Town. I had to first travel through the cave on the east end of Mahogany Town and everything from there was just a matter of going south. My mother had warned me that this method was the fastest, but also the most dangerous. There were more powerful wild pokémon in the nearby ice cavern and the next city, but it would quickly level off once I reached a certain point, she said. That was fine with me. I was determined to get myself started as soon as possible; I had already wasted enough time. If I ran into a wild pokémon, I simply fled or fought it myself. It was only difficult for a while because my body wasn’t accustomed to fighting actual opponents. Eventually, though, I was able to stand my ground. A few pokémon even helped me out along the way and offered to come with me, but I had to decline their offer. Accepting would have meant breaking the rules too soon.
The ice cavern was cold and the nights were cold, but nothing could have prepared me for the chilling experience that I had when I met Senori. When I found him, my body seemed to freeze up immediately, and I had no idea what to do. He was just walking around aimlessly, maybe looking for something to eat. I knew that he was the right one because he was alone. His eyes told me that he was missing someone because he had seen terrible things, just like the pokémon in my vision had. He was the one, and I had to capture him... somehow.
It dawned on me that I didn’t have any pokéballs. No... On my way to the outskirts of New Bark Town, I hadn’t tried to go into another city and communicate with anyone. Not only did I want to get to my destination as quickly as possible, but also I wasn’t sure if I could talk to someone else without messing up. It was better to wait. In addition, it was better to start off with a bad impression. I wasn’t allowed to get close to my pokémon, after all. And that was why I attacked Senori when he was powerless—he would then dislike me from the start, and it was my only option in terms of catching pokémon, anyway. I forced him to join me with sharp words, like my mother would do.
“I don’t care what anyone’s called you. Your name is Senori,” I had said, trying to sound confident. Inside, I was regretful, but there was no way I could let it show.
My confidence only became somewhat founded when I started my tradition of asking the pokémon to roll the die that the doctor had given me way back when. Was I really expecting the die to prove to Senori that he was meant to be my first pokémon? Half of me was hoping, and the other half was overcome by intuition. When the die showed a single dot after it was rolled, my beliefs were confirmed in my mind and apparently in Senori’s.
“I’m going to take care of you,” he had said.
And so he did. He took me to New Bark Town and told me how all trainers begin their pokémon journeys. While he scolded me at the same time, I looked for one out of many for the pokémon that was destined to join me next, at the proper starting point. I watched the totodile, cyndaquil and chikorita through the gates nearby. I only told Senori that no one stuck out to me in order to buy time. In truth, Kuiora stuck out to me immediately. During the training sessions, it was clear to me that she was fierce so she could get what she wanted. She was the strongest mostly because she wanted to be the strongest. Outside of that, though, she was gentle, and when I overheard Professor Elm talking to her, I discovered her love for legendary pokémon. She instantly reminded me of the Kuiora I had known before, so I took her in. Lying to Professor Elm about my origins was surprisingly easy, but it made me paranoid that perhaps the police would come after me as well if I did something wrong. This journey was definitely going to keep me on my toes.
Next came Atis. Senori had told me about the journey that all trainers take, the one to get the gym badges. I assumed that this was what my mother wanted me to do because the gyms went in a certain order, just like the cities, and the badges proved just how strong you were. Atis was my first step into the real adventure. I stepped into the pokémon school out of curiosity, but then swiftly realized that it was to recruit my third pokémon. His quiet demeanor was too obvious for his own good. Standing at the back of the classroom, his eyes showed an odd mixture of boredom and terror. His reaction to me told me he didn’t want to be here, so I took him away even though he already had a trainer.
Meeting Atis was important not only because he was already evolved and powerful, but also because he set some ground rules for my journey. Falkner told me that I should set up appointments with gym leaders in order to not disturb them like I had with him. And during the actual battle, I remained on the sidelines and let him do whatever it is that he did during combat. My guise told the others that I just wanted to learn more about his strategy, but I knew otherwise. I stayed silent, unsure of what attacks to call out, and because I was afraid of calling out the wrong move, just as I had done during my personal training. We won—he won—and so it all began.
Several things happened before our next gym battle. I met a boy who thought I was a terrible trainer. Marty came along at the right moment, just in time to save Senori from the falling rocks in the cave between Violet City and Azalea Town. If it weren’t for him... Well, I don’t like to think about it. I don’t like to think about the violent words he threw at me, either, but they have stayed with me because they were true. My explanation was that I was too busy with the racing thoughts in my head that I hadn’t even noticed any imminent danger, but how could I tell that to Marty without sounding crazy? How could I tell him that I was actually a good trainer because I knew how to communicate with my pokémon and he didn’t? I didn’t know how to act around him at all. His reaction toward me justified my initial fear of interacting with others.
The fear eventually dissipated. My moods quickly escalated once we hit Azalea Town after a few restless nights of sleep at the cave. I wanted to meet everyone and do everything at once because I couldn’t focus on a single thing. My speech was fast and I suddenly had an endless amount of energy. There was nothing in the world that could stop me. That was why I asked to visit Sasha in her home even though she suggested that she didn’t want me to come. I wanted her to be my friend because she accepted me despite being reluctant. Her being Marty’s sister was an unfortunate coincidence, but I wouldn’t know it until later.
In the midst of my mania (which was supposedly the term for these high moods I got), I recklessly started spending money on random things. I bought everything in sight, everything except medicine, because none of my medicine in the past ever did anything good for me. I even bought my pokémon t-shirts, which wasn’t so random, because it made me feel closer to them. I didn’t care about any consequences at the time because I was invincible... even at the hands of Team Rocket!
It wasn’t long, however, before this high energy changed into bouts of anger. I yelled at Atis and threw things at him simply because he suggested that we stay in Azalea Town longer than I originally wanted. I was angry because I wanted to stay, too, but I couldn’t. He knew nothing of my situation, and for that I despised him in that moment and acted in the only way I knew how.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about Atis and how I had so blatantly hurt him. In spite of everything, I wanted to stay. I wanted to be closer to my pokémon. The only good thing about my outburst was that it made him hate me more, but that was only desirable to people who were far away. I had to do something, anything to distract myself. I went into the Azalea Town well and caught as many magikarp as I could. I intentionally caught pokémon that weren’t meant to be on my team so they could be my friends, but I quickly dispelled this notion and released them later on to people who could take care of them better that I ever could. When I was manic, my desires and feelings changed just as quickly as they came.
I got back on track as quickly as I could. I fought Bugsy and that battle turned into a lesson I didn’t want. I couldn’t learn that weak pokémon were just as useful as strong pokémon because there could be no weak pokémon on my team. It just wasn’t an option. I felt proud at this outburst, at least, because I was finally following the rules.
Aside from wanting to stay in places longer than I did, Kuiora offered me the first example of my disobedience toward Team Rocket. She wanted to be stronger. The team wanted her to be stronger. I wanted her to be stronger for herself, but not for them. I knew everything. I knew that she was begging for my attention, even though I told Marty otherwise. I didn’t give her what she needed until I had no choice but to do so. My lashing out against her... I had no choice. I had already learned that sometimes violence was really the answer and as expected, things got better from there. Her obvious gratitude was the only thing that kept me sane.
When Marty saw the violent exchange and then challenged me to a battle, I wasn’t really surprised. I knew that he would try to work against me somehow. He wanted to prove that he was the better trainer and make my pokémon leave me. I agreed to the battle, thinking that I wasn’t going to let them leave regardless of whether or not they wanted to. I would convince them to stay just like I convinced them to come with me at all. I was surprised, however, when I didn’t have to do anything of the sort. They chose to stay. I was secretly glad, but this meant that none of my defenses were working. Somewhere along the line, I had let my guard down and had let them in.
Suddenly, another miracle happened: Rennio showed up. At that point, he was nameless to me, since I hadn’t learned the name of the final man in the cell. He seemed so young, so eager to grow, but something was stopping him. He gave off the anxious impression that he was scared to stay in Ilex Forest for too long, like the other man who wouldn’t accept imprisonment. He wanted to go somewhere, anywhere better. I offered to take him with me, so that things would be better for him—for a time, anyway.
Ezrem showed up, too, but I didn’t need him. I didn’t want to seem cruel, but he was just so persistent. There just wasn’t any room on the team. He didn’t belong. Since no one else was in the cells during my time there, I believed my team was complete, even though my mother told me the most pokémon I could have was six at a time. I simply said no, and expected my answer to be final. Still, I let him follow us for Rennio’s sake. If I wasn’t going to be the source of the comfort he needed, then someone else would have to take that role.
Despite these two positive events happening in a row, I suddenly fell into a depression, as I so often did after being manic. I believed the trigger was Marty telling me that Sasha would never want to be my friend or travel with me because I wasn’t a suitable companion. To have this confirmed to me by another person dispirited me to the point where I was miserable all the time and had no energy to travel any further. As a result, we ended up staying in Goldenrod City longer than intended. I ended up saying yes to Atis when he wanted to show me around the city instead of insisting that we should battle the gym leader and move on. Notably, there was a pocketknife I picked up at the large department store. When I saw it, I immediately thought of my mother and her love of weapons of any kind, be it a pokémon weapon or a handheld weapon. Turning it over in my hand, I decided that it would be perfect for her, and it was also then that I realized I would probably have to face her again someday, after everything was over.
Keeping the pocketknife, however, was a terrible reminder of the rules that she had given me. Never become close to your pokémon, she said... to ensure that I wouldn’t betray the team. But Atis was clearly telling me he wanted to get to know me better. He wanted to spend more time with me. When I let him write whatever secret he wanted on my back, I felt that it was etched into me like a tattoo or whatever those markings are called. I knew that I would have to fight the urge to look at what it was, but I let him do it anyway. It would disappear in the shower eventually and ruin any chances of me finding out, at least, but for the time being, I settled on rubbing myself there when I couldn’t sleep to remind myself that Atis was real.
Re: Survival Project
Time went on and revealed more events that I didn’t want to have to experience. The scene at the radio tower had told me that Team Rocket was lurking around for whatever reason. Automatically I assumed that they were after me. They had caught on to all of my misdeeds and were ready to take me back to my prison. I had to do something quick to make up for it. My choice: I had to make Rennio fight, despite his fear of battles. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have made him do it, but it was up to people who were much more powerful. When we lost to Whitney, my intention wasn’t to leave my pokémon behind for days at a time. I only wanted to leave and find a safe hiding spot for us to go to as quickly as possible. Before I could find any suitable location, however, I had already been confronted by a Team Rocket grunt who was instructed to come to me and bring me back to Mahogany Town for “rehabilitation.”
When I found out what this “rehabilitation” was, it seemed unnecessary for me to go all the way back to Mahogany Town, but others apparently differed in opinion. The rehabilitation involved me being in my cell once more while being asked to take my medication. This time I was forced by Dr. Richards to do so. He called me out on not taking it, saying it was fairly obvious when someone stopped. I had no choice but to give in to him. He would check my mouth after every swallow to make sure that the pills were actually gone, and then he would leave me alone with my thoughts.
Soon enough I was starting to feel manic again. I couldn’t sit still and I couldn’t think about my pokémon’s whereabouts and conditions anymore without my mind wandering off somewhere else. I asked him why this happened because the goal of medication, I thought, was to keep me stable, not to make me go up and down. He explained to me slowly that Giovanni had paid him money to give me antidepressants instead of mood stabilizers in order to keep my moods “high” and energized for proper travel. Supposedly I was more active and successful during these times in my journey.
“So they’ve been watching me the entire time,” I said bluntly.
“Yes... and they’ll continue to do so. I’m sorry.”
When I left about two weeks later (after they said I was “fully functional” once more), it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen my mother at all, but I wasn’t going to stick around and prove to her that I had temporarily failed. I fled back to Goldenrod City, hoping my pokémon were still there and that they were being well taken care of in my absence.
When I returned, I was overjoyed to find that my pokémon had waited for me. If they hadn’t waited for me... Well, I didn’t know what I would have done. Started over? Tracked them down? At least I didn’t have to think about it for too long, since my pokémon noticed my arrival almost immediately and of course wanted to know where I was. With me being secretive as always, I tried to pretend it never happened. It worked, to a certain extent. I could tell there was a different feeling in the air now, one of tension and mistrust. There was nothing I could do about that, and perhaps it was for the best, anyway. Now I could do things better than before.
But I quickly ran into a problem: Sasha. I had another choice to make when she confronted me about taking my pokémon to the fan club. Either I could say no and insist on going to the gym in order to not waste time or I could go with my own instincts, my own desires of wanting to be her friend. Despite everything, I went with the latter. I just didn’t have the heart to say no, and it was only for a few hours, anyway...
Seeing Senori evolve into a furret at the Goldenrod City rematch was worth it. It was a proud moment for both of us. He looked as if he were finally letting go of his past somehow, as his new movements were much lighter, much less tense. And to see my very first pokémon come so far in such a short amount of time made all of the exhaustion and pain I had gone through thus far seem like nothing compared to the joy I felt when I was with them. When Senori came to me that night with my antidepressant bottle in hand, asking me to stay with them, I felt like a true trainer for the very first time.
I thought that things were looking up then, and I didn’t just think it was the medication having an effect on my brain. But then the incident with Rennio and Ezrem happened. Once again, I had a choice... and I chose to backtrack and save Ezrem from the burns that he suffered. There was no way that I could leave him behind now, not with Rennio trying so hard to battle for me. When I actually called him by his real name in the waiting room and when I saw him cry, I had to try not to cry too, for similar yet different reasons.
Things got worse. That day, Atis told me that he wanted to leave the team. I understood and didn’t question him at all. After the Ezrem ordeal was settled, I tried to celebrate one last day to make Atis happy, and also to try to get him to stay. I couldn’t come up with anything that would convince him. I couldn’t even convince myself of wanting to stay. Only the evil thought of turning him in swayed in my mind. In a way, it was perfect timing. I hadn’t meant to deceive him... but I couldn’t let him go. If I had let him go, I was risking more suffering on my part. It was selfish, I admit. When I watched him faint in front of me, the disbelief in his eyes ripped into me. I felt sick myself. I could only hope that my promise to miss him every day had rung true in his mind.
It felt unnatural, but I cried all night. My pokémon tried to comfort me despite their own sadness, but there was no way I could tell them what I had done. They would all leave me and know me for the terrible person that I was. I couldn’t afford any more mistakes now. Anything else would have let Atis’s sacrifice be in vain... but when had I ever been known to stick to the rules? When had I ever not followed my own intuition? Never. I just didn’t have it in me. My adventure without Atis didn’t last long at all. When no one wanted to fight for me versus Morty, it reminded me of Atis and his introverted self. When Senori couldn’t attack the ghosts, it reminded me of Atis’s knowledge of the world that surpassed my own. My team was falling apart because it wasn’t just me that could hold the team together. We all held the team together in our own way, and the absence of one of us was showing.
I panicked. I wailed. I screamed random obscenities because I was so very tired of keeping quiet about all of my lies, all of my secrets. I didn’t know how much I was revealing, but I didn’t care. The only thing I cared about was getting to Atis as soon as possible, before he became an experiment of Team Rocket’s, like I had been. He was a special pokémon, just as I was a special child... but his situation could be handled much more effectively. Something else could be done—or so I hoped.
Thanks to the map that my mother had given me, I knew exactly how to get back to Mahogany Town. Coincidentally, there was a cave to the right of Ecruteak City that led me directly there. I didn’t stop to rest until I got there, even when my limbs felt like they were about to break down from fighting so many wild zubats and geodudes. I didn’t sleep or even hesitate a moment before running back into the laboratory that offered so many unfavorable memories to me.
Inside, I violently grabbed the first person that I came into contact with by the scruff of his collar and yelled, “Where’s my mother? Where is Atis?”
“I-I don’t know any Atis…” he stammered, dropping the papers that were in his hand.
“Where’s my mother, then? Where’s Melanie Luart?”
“Sai…? W-What are you—”
“Where is she?!” I said more fiercely, gripping more tightly onto his uniform to make a point. He was making small talk, and it was unacceptable to me.
“Last I heard, she was going to train and—”
I let him go, not needing to hear anything else. There were only two training locations in the entire place, and whichever one she was in, I knew that she—and Atis—weren’t too far from me anymore. I scrambled up the stairs in the corner, causing two more scientists to make a mess with the materials in their hand. I didn’t even stop to apologize, for I felt I had no reason to and I was in a rush. My head felt like it was going to explode at any moment if I didn’t see that Atis was somewhere in this building, safe. Not locked up or bruised or bleeding.
It seemed that, for once, there was one good thing about living in this place for so long. Despite being locked up for years, everyone recognized me. Everyone knew who I was and no one questioned my presence. There were no alarmed shouts about an intruder, so I could go wherever I wanted. They all chose to ignore the wild fire of tears that was undoubtedly falling down my face.
I ran up the next set of stairs, to the second floor, to the first set of training grounds. My gaze shifted from one person to another, from one pokémon to another, but neither my mother nor Atis were there. They all stopped to stare at me, even the pokémon who were in the middle of attacks. I panted for a moment before sprinting once more. I crossed the middle of the arena to save time, despite the fact that I might have been hit. It reminded me of the time when I was a child and would purposely do this, but I had grown up now. Couldn’t anyone see that? Couldn’t anyone see that I was as normal as I would ever be?
I went up and up and up, to the roof. That was the only other place they could be now that I knew the second floor wasn’t where I needed to be. Please be there, I thought. Please be there. I didn’t want to have to hurt anyone else just trying to find them. But at last, I did find them. Thankfully, I found only the two of them. No other pokémon—no other signs of harm—were present. The only bad sign was that my mother was standing next to Atis. She was too close, too close.
She looked at me in disbelief. “Sai?” she said. “What are you doing here?”
“You know exactly what I’m here for,” I said, motioning toward the fighting-type. Atis was also staring me down, but I couldn’t tell if he was glad or disappointed. It was times like these where I wished that he was easier to read.
“Hmm…” my mother said. “This pokémon is no longer yours. The moment we took him away, he was the property of Team Rocket.”
“But I’m… I’m part of Team Rocket, too!” I said, the words leaving a foul taste in my mouth. It was the first time admitting this in my entire life, and I could only wonder if I would regret it after all was said and done.
“You’re not part of this group. You’re… an experiment yourself—”
“Don’t remind me,” I said, gritting my teeth. “I’m a toy, I know. Don’t I have a say in anything, too? What about the others? Where are they right now?”
“The others? Well, we followed them for a short amount of time…” she said, shifting her gaze away from me and lowering her voice.
“What are you saying?”
“They’re dead, Sai. They’re all dead. Killed by pokémon, suicide, murdered… You name it, and it probably happened.”
My eyes widened. To know that I was the only survivor was hard to believe. Wasn’t the will to live supposed to push anyone through any adversary? Wasn’t misfortunate eventually supposed to give way to good fortune? It made no sense to me. I put my hands over my ears, wishing I had heard nothing.
“But they were sick like me… They were special…” I said, taking a few steps back.
“Whatever they were means nothing. All they are now is dead,” my mother said, shaking her head. “I told you that you would be able to overcome anything, Sai. By the looks of it, you didn’t even run into anything truly dangerous. Besides yourself, that is…”
I looked up and saw that she was walking toward me, still moving her head disapprovingly. I peered over at Atis and saw that he was shuddering. Lost and confused. What had I learned from Atis? How could I prove to him that his journey with me wasn’t for nothing? I tried to persuade him with pleading eyes. His mouth opened for a moment as if he were going to speak, but then his face scrunched up and his eyes closed.
“Sai!” he suddenly shouted, darting forward. But my mother seemed to anticipate his actions and caught him by the arm before he could even get close to reaching me.
I bit my lip. “I just want Atis back. I’ll do anything you ask.”
“You say that, but you haven’t done much of what I asked of you before you left.”
“I… I mean it this time. Do whatever you want to me, but let Atis go.”
“I can’t do that, Sai. Pokémon are more than beneficial to us. You know this.” She paused. “It looks like you have friends that are here to see you.”
I cut myself off. Confused, I turned around to see Senori and the rest of the group close behind him. I gaped at them, wanting to shout at how crazy they were, how they should be far, far away from here and why did they come here anyway? How did they know where I was?
My mother went on, talking about how I had such loyal pokémon now… She said I was still lonely… Was I lonely? Yes, I felt lonely in the sense that no one knew what I was up against in my life… but of course I didn’t want to give her the pleasure of knowing that. I yelled, this time being random, I just want Atis back, you told me things would get better and they never did, they never did, I won’t follow your rules because you lied to me. You lied to me!
But she knew where to get me most.
“…And then you will never see the light of day again...”
I wanted life. I wanted freedom. When she brought up the idea of me dying, I remembered the others and how they were gone now, and I fumbled with my pants until I found the pocketknife that I had bought at the Goldenrod City department store. I held it out threateningly toward her. It was the only weapon I had left, if words weren’t going to work and if my pokémon were going to leave me after what they were seeing.
“Are you going to hurt me, Sai? Just as I’ve supposedly hurt you?” she asked.
Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what my intentions were. I just wanted to seem like a scary person, just as everyone else seemed to me. I almost didn’t believe it when she put her hands up in surrender and let Atis flee over to the rest of us. Atis ran right past me, as expected, and started mumbling things to Senori that my mind couldn’t properly process. I could only focus on my mother’s words, which hurt me more than any damage the knife could ever do.
“I’m done listening to you,” I said, and it was the most confident thing I had said during the whole conversation.
“…Then you will pay for it.”
I watched as my mother reached behind her and pulled out a few pokéballs off of her belt and extended them toward me. “A pokémon battle,” she said. “If you win, I will see to it that you are allowed to leave this town and leave this project. If you lose… you must subject yourself to us once more, or choose death. It’s up to you.”
I stayed silent for a moment, unmoving, thinking through the proposal. How could I beat her, a trainer of many years? I had little experience in battling. I had done little actual training with my pokémon. Having three badges couldn’t be enough—and I didn’t even have the badges to prove my strength. They were lost. It felt like I myself had already lost. And would my pokémon fight for me, anyway?
Slowly, I put my arm down, and I put the knife back into my pocket.
“Unlike some people… I am not a torturer. I am not a killer.” I sighed. “I agree to your challenge, but only under fair one-on-one conditions. I also won’t be forcing any of my pokémon to actually fight. If they choose to leave me alone in this battle, then so be it.”
I turned to face my team. They looked up me with such innocent, questioning eyes. I smiled as best as I could and kneeled down so I could look at them directly.
“I’m sorry I left again,” I started. “I had to find Atis, but I didn’t want to put you guys in any danger. I hope you understand, but if you don’t… it’s okay. If you don’t want to fight for me right now, that’s okay too.” I extended my hand out toward Atis gently. He flinched slightly at my touch, but he let me pet him on the side of his head for a few moments. It was all I needed. I had intended to tell them everything after the incident was over, no matter what happened, but the touch felt so final, so conclusive, that I explained everything in that moment: that I was mentally sick and I had been imprisoned for it. My goal as a Team Rocket experiment was to train pokémon for usage in battles and other projects better than any normal person ever could. I told them everything and I was out of breath by the time I was done. I shook my head and repeated that they didn’t have to fight for me.
I didn’t wait to see their reactions. I didn’t think I could handle it. I simply stood up and turned to face my mother, saying I was ready, and that whoever wanted to fight could step forward.
“If you’re ready, then let’s begin,” my mother said, tossing a pokéball into the air. Out popped a small lizard pokémon whose tail lit brightly with fire. The orange creature let out a fierce growl, saying it was ready to go. It was my mother’s first pokémon, a charmander from the Kanto region, and it didn’t seem to recognize me. To go from playing with this pokémon as a child to fighting in a life or death battle seemed beyond surreal to me.
I held my breath and waited for the inevitable, my mind reeling with words of false persuasion and comfort. I knew in my heart that not a single pokémon was going to step forward. They had no good reason to defend me anymore, and I wouldn’t blame them for leaving. But Rennio—Rennio, out of all of them—stood in front of me and faced the fire-type pokémon in front of him.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Rennio?” I asked quietly.
He turned his head to me and nodded. Though he was frowning, I could tell his reaction was sincere.
“All right,” I said. “I won’t be commanding this battle… as usual. Everything is up to you.”
Again, he nodded. And then it began.
I would like to say that everything that happened next was by my own design. I would like to say that I watched Rennio battle and cheered him on like any normal trainer would. But I was manic from before, and now I was also depressed from everything that had happened. When you’re manic and depressed at the same time you can only keep yourself occupied on a single thought or situation for a few seconds before you succumb to something worse. The battle, then, was sporadic for me, and I only thanked myself enough to have found the strength, courage, and the time to be able to explain everything to my pokémon before the end of it all.
Come on, self. Keep me on my toes. Keep me in the know. But I couldn’t do it. Rennio shocked the charmander and the charmander retaliated with a tackle and then my thoughts turned to death. It was all over for me. I didn’t raise my pokémon well enough. I was a failure of a trainer, just as Marty had deemed me to be. He should have taken everyone away while he still had the chance.
Team Rocket should have executed me when they had the chance, all those years ago. I should have been a different experiment, one with cords and machinery and a bunch of paperwork filled with invaluable information. The white cords would have been happy cords and the black cords would have been sad cords and they would have hooked up to me simultaneously, sending me back and forth between the two extreme emotions that constantly pervaded my life. Because that’s what life was to me. It’s all a game, it’s all a game. It’s all a joke, a fraud…
Rennio was swinging the charmander around by the tail, an otherwise amusing sight. The charmander smashed into the wall. At this point, Kuiora asked to switch in, since her water attacks were much more effective. There’s another one on my team. Two out of five. Why are my pokémon here, anyway? Is that Ezrem cheering Kuiora on? Three out of five. My god, they’re raising hell. They’re raising hell to give to me what they already gave to me once—a chance at independence and happiness. They can’t do it again. It’s too late for me.
It’s okay. If I don’t make it, someone else will. A normal person, maybe? It has to be a normal person. Everyone else is dead. All they had ever been was dead. But I believe one of my kind will prevail someway, somewhere. We’re special, after all. Kuiora, when did you get so strong? I didn’t train you at all like I should have. You did all this for me? Stop raising hell already. It’s too late for me.
I couldn’t sit still anymore. I started making my way around the edges of the battleground, watching them as intently as I could, which doesn’t say much. Kuiora took down the charmander, as expected. She’ll be happy to know that my mother is a fire-type pokémon trainer. My mother sent out her ninetales next. I remember it being a young vulpix. Why hadn’t Charmander evolved? Is my mother threatening me again? If you mistreat a ninetales, she’s saying, you can be cursed. Do I want my pokémon to be cursed? I’ll take the curse for them. But you’re already cursed enough as it is, the ninetales said…
Unbelievable. I was cursed with depression and mania. Depression is needing all day tomorrow to recover from today and mania is needing all day today to prepare for the invincible tomorrow. It’s a vicious cycle. It doesn’t end. Because of my medication I hardly have had any periods of normalcy. I don’t know what it means to be stable, but my pokémon do. That’s why Atis just ran into the middle of the battle to make Kuiora save the rest of her strength for what was to come. Four out of five. That leaves Senori. Senori? What do you think of me? …What do I think of myself?
Well, how can your mind get this messed up? How can you be so clueless, so lost? How can you be so lonely that you don’t even like yourself for company?
How could you not?
I tried to give my love to the world. The world didn’t seem to want it. The only constant I have ever had in my life is my mood swings and air. Air has kept me alive and breathing and together with my pokémon. It has been with me in the cells, in my dreams, in my lungs.
It would be the perfect way to go. …And I was in the perfect position to go.
The ninetales was defeated. Was I winning or was I losing? I wasn’t even part of the battle anymore. Maybe I never was to begin with. I really can’t get over this pokémon training thing. I wanted it for so long and I never even grew accustomed to it. I liked the feeling of learning and having my pokémon teach me instead. I liked not being expected to know everything. Tell me, Senori, that I’ll never get used to this—this so-called form of living. The unknowing and uncertainty will come to me and I will always be ever so inviting.
Senori was the last one. He was the only one I had any hope of getting help from, and he was last. He was last! This told me something, but I couldn’t figure out what. My mother has six pokémon, and I only have four usable pokémon. We are overwhelmed, no matter what my furret does. It’s too late for me.
I backtracked to the edge of the building. This way I could see not only my pokémon but also my mother and my opponent. I felt like I was watching a show that I had no part of. I was completely dissociated from myself. My only thought: I was already gone. No matter how much I wanted to live, the idea of death and death itself were overtaking me. Even if I won the battle, I would never get better. I would forever be sick. If I lost… Well, then I was even more gone. Either way, I was dead. Who is dead? I’m dead.
It’s such a shame that I’m drowning in my goddamn shame.
…I always wanted to see myself become a better person. I wanted to see Senori stop having to worry about me all the time. I wanted to see Kuiora evolve into her final form and fulfill her dreams. I wanted to hear Atis smile so much that I forgot his normal scared voice. I wanted to continue watching Rennio learn to fight again and I wanted to feed him… whatever that meant. I wanted to see Ezrem through his old trainer’s eyes.
It never once occurred to me that any of these things could still have happened.
I might have begged for help, once upon a time… but I didn’t.
Re: Survival Project
chapter 25 ; [EZREM]
It’s odd, the things you remember when you’re watching someone die. I mostly remembered this: it only takes a second. It only takes a second for everything to go wrong; it only takes a second for everything to change. Such is what I learned when I manipulated Obieme into starting that fire and when I decided to follow Sai. And when he jumped… Sai, before this, you didn’t tell anyone that you were hurting so much. Or maybe you did and it went over our heads. Is that how it usually goes? Is that how death is supposed to appear to everyone—completely unnoticed and unexpected until the endless moments of reflection that scream otherwise?
When he jumped, the world stopped. The battle ceased instantly. It felt like there was cotton in my ears and everyone’s shouts emitted no real sound. The walking traffic from the ground below had been dulled and unwillingly shoved into our pathetic world. We were all experiencing the same thing. If anyone’s experience was different, it was Sai’s. Sai, is the white light at the end as bright as it’s supposed to be?
You’re going to tell me all about it, goddamn it.
It only takes a second, and I didn’t even have to think about it at all.
I sprinted forward and jumped after him. I did this because there was something about losing my own dreams that made me even more stubborn when it came to others. Annie would just have to understand my second betrayal, which wasn’t really a betrayal at all to me, but an act of desperation and the desire to see someone—my own savior—live. It was my only choice, just as the nurse had said…
I let myself evolve. At first I was flapping wildly from being unable to fly and soon I had a larger body with larger wings and larger talons and no pain, no pain! Easily and undoubtedly, I could focus now. I positioned myself so that I could dart straight down and catch up to Sai. The wind tried hard to push me back and keep me from flying, but I wasn’t going to take it. As I got closer, I could see that his body faced upward and looked to be at rest already. His eyes were closed and his small movements were graceful, as if this is exactly what he wanted. That was just too bad. This was what he was going to get for not giving me what I wanted at the beginning.
I don’t know exactly when I caught him or how far away from the ground we were. All I know is that he felt heavy in my brand new talons, though my evolved form was clearly stronger. I was carrying not only his body but all of the burdens that he had suffered in his life and had tried to release with one swift jump. I thought his unbelievable weight was going to make us crash despite my efforts, and I struggled to bring him back up to the top of the building. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was just me not being accustomed to my new form, and that I had only acted so fluently in the heat of the moment.
After setting him on top of the building—purposely away from the woman who had started this whole thing—I had to struggle not to collapse on top of him. My new form was exhausted already. As everyone ran over to us, I looked at my wings. There were no signs of scars or burning anymore. I was completely fine. And Sai, so innocent and lost, was clearly not fine. Surely, something more had to be done. Saving him from death itself was not enough. If we left him alone now, he would suffer more and maybe try jumping somewhere again.
“Sai!” Senori yelled, trying to shake our trainer awake. Somewhere along the line, he had fainted in midair. “Wake up! Sai, why did you do this?”
“Isn’t it obvious why he did this?” I scoffed at the furret. “You’re a leader, right? What should we do next?”
“I-I… We should take Sai to a pokémon center!”
I fluffed my feathers, trying to prepare myself to take off again as I said, “Everyone get on my back. Yes, we’re going to take Sai to a pokémon center.”
“A pokémon center? That’s for pokémon—” Atis said frantically, but he didn’t seem to have any better ideas.
“It’s the only place we know. I’m trying, okay? We’re all trying,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m just as worried about him as you are. Let’s just do our best.”
Everyone was silent. Rennio and Kuiora were sobbing and holding each other because even though I had rescued our trainer, it wasn’t over yet. It wouldn’t be over until Sai sincerely smiled again.
“Are you going to take him away from me?” a voice said. I turned swiftly and saw the woman—Sai’s mother, apparently, though I found it hard to believe—walking to us, her head down and her body appearing utterly beaten by the event that had just taken place. When she was close enough, I could see that she was holding back tears.
I sneered. “Of course we are. You haven’t been much help, to say the least.”
“I always knew you’d take him away from me,” she said. She looked at me and smiled weakly. “I knew it from day one. But out of everything I’ve seen regarding this project, I could never have expected this from my own son.”
Her words made me sympathize with her, but I wasn’t about to admit so. There was nothing else for me to say. There was nothing that anyone could say that could change anything or make things better.
“There’s a human hospital right next to the pokémon center in this town. You should take him there instead,” she said after a few moments.
We all looked at each other, quietly deciding that we had to trust her words. As previously instructed, the team climbed on my back, one by one. Everyone except Atis, that is. After all this, he was still being shy and reluctant. I couldn’t blame him.
“It’s up to you, Atis,” I said. “Are you on this team or are you not?”
Atis looked to the ground, then nodded fiercely. With the help of the others, he was also on my back in a matter of moments. Aside from Kuiora, everyone was light and small, so I felt that I could do this. No, I had to do this anyway, even if I had trouble. I lifted myself off of the building’s roof and gently took Sai into my talons once more, noticing how light he was this time.
Together, the six of us flew to the pokémon center.
This was our second time sitting in a waiting room in a matter of days. At this rate, every Nurse Joy in the Johto region would know our names by the end of our journey. That was assuming that Sai would want to continue our journey after this, however. I was no psychiatrist, but I had a feeling that Sai would need to work on himself before even thinking of going back to the gym challenge.
When we had arrived, Senori had surprisingly composed himself enough to be able to explain to the nurse at the counter what had happened to our trainer. She took the boy in her arms and rushed him into the back room. When she returned, she said that there was a special unit in the hospital meant for these kinds of patients. He would have to stay for a week or more, until he was no longer deemed a threat to himself or others. Still, she said, visitors could be allowed at certain times.
So we waited for what seemed like hours. I had to go outside a few times to stretch my wings, and I almost missed being a tiny rufflet that could fit into any building without a problem. It was much easier to follow along and keep up with everything that was happening that way. The evolution had been worth it, though. Had I let Sai fall knowing I could have done something, I don’t think I could have lived with myself.
It was just turning dark outside when Nurse Joy said that Sai was awake, which meant that not too much time could have passed, considering that a majority of the day had been spent making our way to Mahogany Town. She led us into a room in the back, explaining that eventually Sai would have to be moved into a psych ward, but that we could visit him here for now.
“Pokémon are allowed to be with their trainers at all times, but if Sai has any friends that want to see him, they’ll have stricter visiting hours from here on out,” she said, making me wonder what had happened to Marty and Sasha. Surely they didn’t know about the situation and they couldn’t have just left us without figuring out how it ended…
I stopped thinking of them rather quickly when I saw Sai. He looked as normal as he possibly could, as there were no machines by his bed or any cords hooked up to him. He was lying down, looking straight up at the ceiling, eyes open and barely alert. I didn’t have to be near him to know how exhausted he was.
“I’ll leave you guys alone. If you need me, there are nurses all around the hall,” Nurse Joy said quietly, and then she was gone.
At first, things were awkward. No one wanted to go near him because none of us knew what to say. What do you say after you just watched the person in front of you jump off of a building to end his own life? The aftermath seemed like nothing but a delusion that a ghost-type pokémon was forcing upon us.
After a few moments of nothing, I offered to step up first. I told them that I felt obligated to talk to him first, since I was the one who saved him. So I flew over to his bed and nudged him on the cheek with my beak when he didn’t look in my direction. Slowly, he turned his head toward me, but his dark blue eyes were as hollow as ever. He looked back up at the ceiling.
“I’m alive,” he said simply.
“Yeah. That’s my fault. I’m not sorry,” I said bluntly. “If you have any pent up anger that you want to kill me with, I’d totally understand. Actually, I wouldn’t understand, but I’d let you do it anyway.”
Sai smiled at my words. He actually smiled. It seemed difficult for him, but he was then able to prop himself up so that he was sitting up. Staring at me, he said nothing.
“I’m not even part of this team and I saved you! I disobeyed my old trainer’s orders for you. That takes a lot. But you don’t have to be grateful,” I said, being dramatic by folding my wings to make a point.
At this, Sai frowned. “Ezrem,” he said sternly, “you’ve… you’ve always been part of this team. I didn’t know it yet, but you joined the team the same time that Rennio did.”
“Oh, come on,” I said, shaking my head. “You don’t get to be all sappy on me now. You’re supposed to tell me you despise me for saving your life and that the light at the end of the tunnel let you see your whole life over or something.”
The mood had been lightened enough for everyone else to join me at Sai’s bedside. I expected another breakdown from him at the sight of Atis, but he only reached out his hand and scratched the side of the hitmontop’s head. Atis accepted the touch without a problem, an odd feat for him.
“I’m not angry at you. You have to understand… I never wanted to die,” Sai said, looking at us seriously one by one. “I wanted to stop the craziness in my head. I wanted to stop my sickness. It seems… It seems that it’s something I just have to deal with.”
“Well, you seem calmer now, and that’s all that matters, right?” Senori said, jumping on the bed and snuggling into Sai’s lap. Sai used his other hand to scratch the furret behind the ears.
“Yeah… They gave me medication that they say will help,” he said. He added quietly, “Real medication.”
“I don’t know what you—” Senori started.
He was interrupted by a loud banging sound. The door had been shoved open and had crashed against the wall. In stormed Marty, who gave off a fierce glare in Sai’s direction. There was a nurse behind him who was begging him to calm down and stay quiet for the other patients.
“I’ll be quiet once I give this boy a piece of my mind,” Marty said through gritted teeth.
“Wait,” Sai said. “Stay there.”
“Sai, what are you talking about?! This guy’s going to beat you to a pulp!” Atis cried, pulling back from the boy’s touch to hide in the corner.
“Not if I can help it,” Kuiora said, taking a defensive stance in between the two trainers.
Ignoring the two of them, Sai swung his legs around the edge of his bed. He pushed himself off and struggled to keep his balance and stand up. He made his way over to Marty and looked the other boy in the eyes, his fists clenched.
“Whatever you have to say to me, we should at least be face-to-face when you say it,” Sai said confidently.
Marty snickered. “Good grief. Where do I start? First of all, what were you thinking, leaving your pokémon in Ecruteak City all by themselves? What the hell were you doing in a laboratory full of idiots who obviously didn’t know a thing about pokémon?”
“I didn’t want to get them into trouble—”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m sure you’ve got an answer for that. But next! What are the prerequisites for committing suicide? That you be ****ing insane? Me and Sasha just saw something fly down past us in the window while we were fighting, and it obviously wasn’t a bird… Well, then we saw a bird, but still…”
“That was Ezrem. Wait… You were in the lab?”
“You ignored my first question,” Marty said, rolling his eyes.
“I’m as insane as you think I am,” Sai said confidently. Ever since he had admitted to us all of his secrets in one breath, it had obviously been easier for him to speak about himself, especially about his past and personality.
“It’s just like you. You want to kill yourself, so you make it as inconvenient as possible for everyone else. What would have happened to your pokémon? Why’d you make them watch?”
This, however, made Sai look down. “You would have taken my pokémon, right? That’s what I was hoping…”
“Hmph. Of course I would have. You act confident, but I can tell you’re still avoiding some of my questions for a reason.”
“I’m sorry,” Sai replied. “It’s been a long day, as you probably already guessed.”
Marty’s eyes shifted to the empty air beside him, indicating that he had heard something nearby. “Anyway, kid… I’m just glad you’re all right,” he said, and then he stepped aside.
I would like to say that a much calmer person walked into the room this time, but it would only be half true. Sasha, her face red and her hands covering her mouth, came into the room quietly, but immediately burst into tears the moment she saw Sai. She ran up to him and embraced him, almost causing the boy to fall over from the surprise.
“Sasha…?” Sai said, looking at her with concern.
“I’m sorry… I waited to come in so I could stop crying… but I can’t help it!” she sobbed miserably. “I can’t believe you did that to us…” she added, burying her face into his shirt.
“Hmm…” Sai mumbled, putting his arms around her and squeezing her while resting his chin on top of her head. “I’m sorry, too. I didn’t think you’d be affected.”
“Of course I would! I-I wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone, but especially not a friend, dummy…”
I thought Sai was going to push her away as he lifted his head up and extended his arms so that they were just a foot away from each other, but it appeared he only wanted to put enough distance in between the two of them so he could take a good look at her. He gazed intently, as if trying to see if her words had been sincere. Finally, he acquiesced and smiled.
“I’m your friend, huh?” he said. “It’s... really nice to hear that. I don’t know how I can ever repay you because I don’t know what friends do.”
He continued to lean forward until his forehead was touching hers. To see Sai act so closely with another human partly made me want to roll my eyes, but another part of me was happy with embracing others like him rather than pushing them away after what he had just gone through. At first glance, it seemed like Sasha had just walked into our lives, used and seen out of sheer convenience. But if I thought about it, she had been there from the very beginning of my journey with Sai, and possibly even before then. Sai must have thought that she--and Marty--had been his companions this entire time despite their obvious reluctance toward him. And perhaps that was why he felt the need to express his gratitude in the only way he knew how: by tilting his head upward and kissing her on the forehead, right in front of her suddenly flustered brother and in front of all his watchful pokémon. He murmured something I didn’t hear and then looked at her again for a reaction. She blushed and stammered out intelligible words.
“I don’t know what the hell you think you’re doing, but don’t you ever make a move on her again!” Marty fumed, clenching his fists but not taking a step toward them.
“My mother used to do that whenever I was sad,” Sai said, frowning.
“I-It’s fine, Marty,” Sasha said, swaying her hand around. “You’re welcome, Sai, for... whatever I did.”
“You did everything.” He turned to gesture toward the rest of us. “You all did everything. Because of you guys, I have quite a few things left to do. If you don’t mind, Marty... Sasha... I’d like to be alone when she comes.”
“When she comes...?”
“One of the executives of the building you guys found me in,” Sai said. He took a deep breath before explaining everything that he had told us on the roof--about his sickness, his imprisonment, the rules he was forced to follow should he not want to be killed. While he was telling it, his voice was much quieter and less rushed. He wasn’t in a life or death situation anymore; he was free, and his voice portrayed this newfound freedom. By the time he was done, Sasha had broken out in tears once again, and Marty had calmed himself down considerably.
“So that’s why I’m weird. And that’s why I’m a terrible trainer. I wish I could have told you guys and my pokémon much, much sooner, but... I just couldn’t,” he said, stepping away from Sasha. He hung his head low as he sat down on the bed, visibly exhausted.
“It’s okay,” Sasha said.. She went over to Sai on the bed and ruffled his hair with her hands and chuckled through her tears. “That’s my version of your kiss, okay?”
“Okay,” Sai said, smiling.
“Sounds like a bunch of excuses to me,” Marty joked, waving his hand to gesture to Sasha that he was leaving. Indicating that he had gotten what he had come for and that there was nothing else for him to hear, he held the door open and said, “You’re all right, kid.”
And with one last good-bye, they were gone. Sai fell asleep almost instantly after they left, and us pokémon watched over him as if he were going to disappear again at any moment.
She showed up just one day later, at the very same time that Marty and Sasha had come the previous day. This showed me that she had called for information about visiting hours and had obeyed them, coming in at the earliest moment she could. Well, she could have come the day before, but she was probably still recovering. A mother’s loss of a son is quite different from a detached friend loss, so I could forgive her, despite her rather crude first impression.
As Sai had hinted, he knew that she was going to come sooner or later. Whether he knew she’d come so soon, I didn’t know. All I knew was that I was going to go crazy after listening to all of his rehearsing for their meeting. This clearly was not a woman that Sai was confident around. Even while practicing he stumbled over his words and everything came out wrong. He paced around the room and attempted to make small talk with us once in a while, trying not to appear frustrated. It wasn’t working.
When she knocked on the door, Sai supposedly knew it was her because he tensed up and cleared his throat before telling her that she could come in. She opened the door slowly, saying she hoped she wasn’t interrupting anything. She wasn’t interrupting anything at the moment, but I thought that maybe the sanity in the room might have dissipated by the time she left.
Her reaction to seeing Sai was the exact opposite of Sasha and Marty’s. She didn’t cry or appear angry or even seem sad. The tension in the air betrayed her body’s lack of emotion, however. It seemed that either Sai’s stellar intuition was rubbing off on me or she was just terrible at hiding how she was sad over the fact that own son had tried to commit suicide right in front of her.
“Hello, Sai,” she said, putting off the idea of looking at her son for a few more moments while she faced the door as she closed it.
“Hello, Mother,” Sai said, shifting around in his spot uncomfortably. He resorted to laying back down in his bed, probably to prevent any wild actions in the future.
“Did you think I’d come visit you?”
“Yes... I thought you might.”
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure if you’d want to see me. I debated over whether or not to come. But I told myself I just had to see you... one last time,” she said. She certainly wasn’t wasting any time getting to the point. I sat in the corner of the room, pretending to fluff my feathers while the rest of the team listened to conversation intently and, in Atis’s case, nervously. Sai’s mother was choosing not to notice us, perhaps knowing that Sai wouldn’t want to get rid of us for even a moment. This, he had already proven by chasing Atis down to Mahogany Town.
“One last time?”
“I know you, Sai. I know your plans. You won’t be able to keep quiet about us anymore, will you? After all this time, you’re ready to speak,” she said confidently.
Sai stared at her, dumbfounded, and I could only guess that he was surprised over how she had seemed to read his mind.
“What you guys do... It’s horrible. You torture pokémon and turn them into your slaves. You’re not afraid to do similar things to humans. You’re only out to do evil. I can’t... I can’t let that go. Not after being out in the real world for even a short amount of time.”
After a few moments, his mother said, “Do you think I’m evil, Sai?”
“I think that at some point in your life, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time... and you made the wrong choice. Because you’ve mostly been good to me, I think... I don’t really know anymore...”
“Say no more, Sai,” she said, putting her hand up. “I just want you to know that I only made you stay in the laboratory because I was too afraid to lose you, just like I had lost your father. I had no intentions of hurting you.”
“I already know that. But you... you did hurt me. In more ways than one.”
“I... I won’t pretend to understand,” she replied, looking away from him again. So she did have a weak point. This woman was making it hard to tell if she was an ally or an enemy. If I had to, though, I was ready to pounce on her and throw her off a building to see how she liked it instead.
“If there’s more to life out there, I want it,” Sai said, changing the subject. “I mean, I’m still here despite all logic and likelihood, right? I’m the only survivor of this survival project. So I should enjoy the rest of my life while I can--”
“I always knew you’d make it,” she interrupted, putting her hand to her forehead and shaking her head. “I really do marvel at how everything connects. With the way you acted as a child and an early teenager, I could tell exactly how your journey was going to go.”
“You knew I’d... jump off the building?”
“That was the only part I wasn’t expecting. Unlike you... I am not sick. You got that from your father. Like I said, I don’t understand it. It seems those sorts of things cause you to do things that are irrational and completely unexpected.”
“Yes... That sounds about right,” Sai said quietly, as if he were recalling painful memories from the past. It made me wonder just what else he had really gone through before he met me.
“Now, my only question for you is this: what will you do next?”
“I wish I could tell you, honestly, but I don’t even know.”
This was where the team reacted and decided to butt into the conversation. Senori, Atis and I all spoke at once, saying something along the lines of how the woman couldn’t know where we would go next. If she knew, then she would follow us and make our lives miserable, and he didn’t deserve that, he needed something better now--
“It’s okay, guys,” Sai said, patting Atis on the head like he had been doing so lately, to prove to himself that yes, Atis was still here, and he was healthy, safe. “She won’t follow us... even if she can.”
At this, his mother’s eyes widened while we settled down, not completely comprehending his words. We were thinking that this meant he was going to report her along with the rest of the Team Rocket organization, but as it turned out, it was actually the other way around.
“What do you mean, Sai?”
“I’ll give you two days. Pack your things, get out of here. Get as far away as you can,” Sai said. Surprisingly, he wasn’t stumbling, and unless I just wasn’t listening enough, he hadn’t rehearsed this part of the conversation at all. Then again, the conversation wasn’t going like he had imagined it. “I’m reporting the team to the police, of course. I’m giving away as much information as I know. You can tell as many people as you want, but I’ll make sure they’re accounted for in the report... just so you know.”
Kuiora suddenly yelled, “You can’t let this girl go, Sai! She made you go crazy!”
“You said it yourself, Sai. She hurt you and you’re just going to let her go?” Senori added, jumping onto the bed and onto Sai’s shoulders to make sure he was hearing the team.
“She’s still my mother, guys,” he said, not taking his eyes off of her. “I can’t do the same thing to her. I don’t have the heart to do it...”
His mother bowed and said, “I thank you, Sai, but you don’t have to do this. I deserve whatever is coming to me.”
“Your choice. But I won’t be reporting you regardless.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, shielding my eyes with my wing for dramatic effect.
“It’s really happening, Ezrem,” Rennio said. “Was Annie ever really as crazy as this?”
“I bet she wasn’t,” Sai said, smirking. I had to admit that Sai not only had a good sense of humor, but also he was doing a decent job at paying attention to all of us in the room at the same time when the most important person was obviously his mother at the moment. He seemed to remember this as he turned to her once more and said, “Do you have anything else to say to me?”
“Nothing that would make things better or change the past. What about you?”
“I want to ask you the same question. What are you going to do if you choose not to turn yourself in?”
“All I can think of is going back to your father, but who knows if that is a good choice or not? It’s been so long. But what I do doesn’t matter. What you do, on the other hand, does matter. Tell people your story. Continue your life and expand your story. Whatever the final product is... Well, that will be my story, too. You’re my son and I think it should be this way.”
“Whatever you want,” Sai said simply. “I’ll... I’ll remember everything you taught me. I’ll try to, anyway. And... I’m going to treat my pokémon right, wherever we go. And--”
“You don’t have to tell me. As your pokémon said, I don’t deserve it.”
“But I still think--”
“I think you’re still too sweet, as always. Remember that I lied to you and kept you trapped for many years.” There was a moment of silence. “I suppose I should just be glad to have witnessed the second day of your birth. The first fifteen years of your life don’t count anymore. I wish you the best of luck as you keep dancing in your fields of infinite possibilities... Sai,” she said.
I could tell that she didn’t want to leave as she opened the door just as slowly as she had before. As she was walking out, she stopped to look back at Sai one more time. Her son nodded, permitting her to leave without feeling any guilt. As the door clicked shut, he buried his face and his hands and I thought he was going to start sobbing.
“Is it bad to be more upset about how I don’t know what to do next? Shouldn’t I be upset that that was the last time I will probably ever see my mother again?”
Senori nuzzled into Sai’s neck in an attempt to comfort him. “You’re fine, Sai. I think you left things on a good note, even if none of us particularly... agree with your actions.”
“Thanks, Senori. I do think I did the right thing.”
“And that’s all that matters,” Atis said, speaking for Senori.
“I think he’s crazy,” Kuiora said, jumping up and down to get her trainer’s attention.
“Tell him something he doesn’t know,” Rennio said.
“I just have one question for you, dear Sai,” I said, interrupting the rest of the team. “I ask you this because, you know, near death experiences are my forte. Well, maybe you didn’t know that. But now you do. So, have you ever felt sorry for the ground because you thought you were putting too much weight on it?”
“Too much weight... as in all my problems?” Sai said, tilting his head in confusion.
“You’ve got it,” I said, impressed with him not taking me too literally, as he had been prone to do in the past.
“I never really thought about it specifically like that, but yeah... I guess so.”
“After that little conversation, I think the ground will be a lot happier from now on with two less people standing so heavily on it,” I said, recalling how heavy he had been in my talons just the day before and recalling how I had thought this same thing myself when I was the type of bird who walked on the ground instead of flying.
“Yeah, I guess so...” Sai said, “and it’s all thanks to you, Ezrem.”
Even though I had saved Sai from his suicide mission and even though I felt I had come to terms with Annie’s death, there was still one final problem weighing on my mind. It was the last kind of problem that made me feel sorry for the ground beneath me. So when the nurse asked us all to leave for a few moments, I told myself that now was the time. There was no exception anymore; there was no reason to put it off. No reason to keep the suffering going.
“Rennio,” I said simply, trying to get his attention. How else could I start to admit that I’d been lying to him for years? The elekid didn’t even have the decency to answer me. He seemed lost in thought, contemplating something, probably the fact that Sai had just let his imprisoner run free. Well, I supposed I could start off in a light manner. I unfolded my wings and wrapped them around him, covering his eyes so he couldn’t see. Not only was I getting enjoyment out of messing with him, but I was also in amazement that nothing was wrong with my wing anymore. I watched as my joke made him flail around for a bit and I only backed off when I saw sparks of electricity generating from the plugs at the top of his head, as I didn’t want to get injured yet again.
“What was that for?” Rennio asked, obviously worked up now. The sparks were still there, and they’d probably remain there until he unleashed the energy somewhere else.
“You should pay attention to me when I address you. I was just making a point,” I said, taking a few steps back, wondering if I was already trying to retreat.
“Well, what do you want?”
“Someone’s in a sour mood. Come here for a minute, okay?” I said. I had noticed that the others were looking at us weirdly now, so I posed the question to make myself sound as innocent as possible. I made the short flight to the other side of the room and watched as Rennio walked over slowly, wishing that I didn’t have to do this.
When Rennio reached me, he looked at me expectantly. It seemed that all of a sudden, I had lost my ability to be manipulative, to make jokes, to beat around the bush.
“Look, Rennio,” I began, “I’m just going to get right to the point.” I paused, deciding to start with the lesser of the two evils. And then, finally-- “You’re not the only elekid in the world... as I told you before.”
It was just like Rennio to suddenly appear overjoyed. The amount of sparks increased. “Really? You found another one? ...When did you have time to do that?”
“Don’t misunderstand me. I always knew you weren’t the only elekid in the world. The entire idea is pretty absurd, to be honest.”
“W-What...?” Rennio said, his face falling. “You mean... You lied to me?”
“I did,” I said bluntly. That was the best way to get to Rennio, otherwise he would think I was pulling another prank on him. But from the defeated look in his eyes, he seemed to believe me right away.
“Where are the other elekid? Why haven’t we seen them?”
“There are some in Unova... where we got you. We got you from a daycare, far away from their home, so you never saw them. And, well, there really are none in Sinnoh. Supposedly, there are even more in Johto, but I don’t know where... which brings me to my next point...”
“...More lies, I mean.”
I nodded again.
“Ezrem, do you know how scared out of my mind I’ve been this entire time? I’ve been so nervous that I was going to die before I could keep the line going. I thought... I thought I was alone this entire time...”
And then came the tears. I sighed, trying not to roll my eyes. As tough as Rennio tried to be at times, he was always just a baby at the end of it all. Maybe it was me being too harsh on him. After all, this was shocking news, and the worst was yet to come.
“You haven’t been alone, Rennio. You’ve had me, right? And you had Annie... for a while. Until I messed everything up, that is,” I added quietly.
“You didn’t do anything, did you? Annie just died in the fire... It was an accident...” Rennio said in between sobs.
“Well, yes, it was an accident. But haven’t you ever wondered how the fire even started? No one else was found in the forest, so it had to come... from us.”
“O-Obieme? Why would he do such a thing?”
“Yes... Obieme started the fire. But it was me who made him start it.” I took a deep breath. “It was me who caused Annie to die, Rennio. I’m so sorry.”
The elekid stared at me in disbelief. “I thought... I thought Annie’s cigarette just dropped after not being put out properly... Ezrem, why would you do such a thing?”
“I had heard stories of a legendary pokemon that comes out in the face of danger in Ilex Forest... so I made my own danger. I wanted the legendary pokemon--the time traveling pokemon--to take me home, back to Unova, back to before we started our journey. I know that doesn’t make up for anything, but there it is. And don’t blame Obieme, he had no idea at all...”
Rennio covered his eyes, an effective coping mechanism since his arms were so thick. More than anything, I wished that I could read his thoughts. I wished I could convince him that there was no real malicious intent in anything I had done. I only wanted--
I only wanted...
What did I want? His trust? To force him to grow up sooner? His undying loyalty? It was a mixture of all these things and more. And I couldn’t explain any of them to him; I was wordless and just as confused as him. But I owed it to him to try to speak.
“You don’t know what you do to me, Rennio,” I said. I had thought this before. I had thought this about him, about Sai. It seemed to be the best way to start out, but it wasn’t going to do if I wanted to get my point across. “You really don’t. If I didn’t lie to you, you wouldn’t have given me the time of day. If you had known about Annie’s death earlier, you would have left me. If I hadn’t done what I had done... Well, then you would have stopped asking for my help, my friendship.”
Rennio kept his face covered, his crying becoming noticeably louder. The other pokemon could even hear him, and as they tried to approach, I had to motion for them to stay away. This was personal. There was nothing they could do. They had Sai to worry about, anyway.
“I didn’t... give you the time of day because everyone warned me about you... I should have listened... Annie... Why did you keep him on the team? Annie...”
“Annie was too kind,” was all I could say. I vaguely wondered if I had chosen a bad time to tell him all of this, but there was no turning back now. I had used my gut instinct, which had usually served me well in the past, since if I thought about things too much, nothing went right. Nothing.
While it was too much to hope for, I had been imagining Rennio running to me and embracing me as if to say he forgave me by now. He did no such thing. He stood there, completely frozen, immobile, sobbing and reliving the experience of Annie’s death all over again. Perhaps he was picturing his own death, too, now that he was just another one of the many electric types in the world.
I shifted around uncomfortably. Was there really nothing else for us to say? Surely it couldn’t end like this. Surely it couldn’t end with him hating me after all we had been through.
“Rennio?” I said. “Is there anything I can do to make this up to you? I’ll do anything you ask.”
“No,” Rennio said instantly. “Y-You can’t bring Annie back. You’ve already tried to break my fear of death, but it hasn’t worked...”
“Okay, so I can’t do anything...” I said, disheartened. “Look, Rennio, I was desperate... but now you can look at me and laugh, right? I had a burned wing and had to evolve to save Sai. So I’m no longer a part of Annie’s precious, unevolved team. And I’m a shiny Rufflet! Those are so rare, I could really be the only one in the world. See how the tables have turned? See?”
“Yes... I see,” Rennio said, removing his arms, letting them fall limp at his side. He looked down and I could see that he was visibly shaking. The sparks that were above his head now surrounded his face, ignited by the tears.
“What... What are you going to do now?” I dared to ask.
“What can I do? I’m not going to leave Sai, not now... I’ll just hope to see another elekid sometime. That will be my new goal... I guess,” he said slowly, his voice void of all energy and happiness. “What will you do? Can I trust you if you say you’ll never lie to me again?”
“If I said yes, would you believe me?”
“No, I suppose not. Well... thank you for telling me. It’s a shame, though. I thought I knew you. I really did,” Rennio said.
I thought he was coming toward me when he started moving, but he only had to walk past me to leave the building. As he brushed past me, I could feel an electric shock even though we weren’t touching. Rennio was powerful, both in battle and in his mind. Whatever damage I had done, it would be fixed eventually. I just had to be patient... starting now.
I stood there, unable to face the rest of the team or even myself. Now that all of my lies were exposed, I felt naked and confused. Sincerely, though, I knew that everything was as it should be now. Sai had accepted me and changed me. Rennio hated me. Kuiora cared for me, though she was still wary and perhaps always would be. The rest of the team dealt with my presence in their own individual ways. It was all fair, whether I liked it or not. I had no choice but to remember that that day, in the mountains where Annie found me, a lot of things went wrong and unbelievably awry.
When Rennio came back not too much later, the sparks were gone. I felt bad for anyone or anything that had gotten in his way outside. I thought I heard thunder outside as I watched him go back to the team. Was it Annie speaking to us, or had Rennio started a storm to say sorry to her for believing in such a fool? I remembered... Patience, patience. Someday, he’ll come back around to you, Ezrem.
It’s too bad I’ve never had any patience. If only the time traveling pokemon could have at least granted me that. But that pokemon was given many chances to help me redeem myself, and it always chose not to do a thing. It didn’t bring me home. It didn’t save my old trainer in the face of danger. Its story didn’t help me convince Rennio that what I had done was right.
...What was I supposed to do now?
Re: Survival Project
chapter 26 ; [ATIS]
I had been teetering on the edge of Sai’s wild story. I was where the lies stopped and truth began to unravel itself page by page, thread by thread. Of course, I didn’t know this right away. I didn’t know anything because I was too busy being poisoned by a faraway butterfree’s poisonpowder and knocked out of commission only to be taken away by someone I had never met before.
The experience was, to say the least, frightening. Back at the school, no foes presented themselves, and I hadn’t been through anything dangerous like the rest of the team had. I only had to deal with being the closest pokémon to Sai despite my personality. I always kept myself in the back, hard to reach and impossible to break through should anything have wanted to attack me. I was always safe. To suddenly be thrust into the face of an enemy—an invisible enemy, no less—was unexpected. I had no way to counteract and I couldn’t even depend on my trainer to help me. All I could do was succumb to the feeling of despair and faint after seeing Sai one last time.
After that, I had woken up a few times. My body and ability to think recovered a little bit each time I regained consciousness, as if my capturers had given me a serum that was to slowly get rid of the poison in my body. They must have done this, or I surely would have died after our long journey. The journey felt long, anyway. It was hard to tell time when you had no idea where you were or what was supposed to be happening.
Whoever Sai had given me away to wasted no time in getting down to business when we arrived at our destination. I was able to overhear two people talking, a man and a woman, and they were discussing how Sai had finally sent a pokémon to them. Yes, the strongest on his team, he said. He was finally fulfilling his duty… Here, in Mahogany Town, was where my next life would begin, she said as they shoved me into a cold area that I soon realized was a prison cell.
I shuddered; a persistent shivering shook through my back. Trying to regain my composure, my hands flattened on the cement, and I instantly thought of my future life below. My future life, I had assumed, was going to kill me in some violent way. I was going to die before I had even accomplished anything at all. I wondered what my own headstone would say and how soon it would say it. For a moment, I regretted wanting to leave Sai, even though it meant I was reveling in his lies.
As soon as I was able to comprehend my surroundings, I was able to see that there were other pokémon around. But none of them were paying attention to me at all. They were all eerily quiet and they weren’t even sleeping. The room was almost pitch black, so I couldn’t see them, but I had a nagging feeling that told me they knew I was here. They just didn’t care. I could ask them for help, but it wouldn’t get me anywhere. Communicating with others hadn’t gotten me anywhere good so far, anyway… so I stayed silent.
After what seemed like forever, a ray of light poured into the room. Someone had opened the door to the basement and was coming to see us. This was the only thing that made the pokémon react. They started whining and pushing each other to get to the front of the cage. I was easily overcome and shoved to the back, since I wasn’t anticipating anything decent to come of the situation. When the person who had come down to us—a lady—grabbed me from the cell and left the others behind, I could see why they hadn’t interacted with me from the beginning. I was part of the outside world, a threat to their everyday lives. I wondered just how long they had been here, and why they were here at all.
Since I wasn’t accustomed to the light of the building, I was blinded as I was led upward to who knows where. I couldn’t see anything around me at all, but I could hear people shouting orders or mumbling loudly to themselves about plans and results. I couldn’t make sense of anything, but it was enough to scare me.
My vision finally focused when we stopped moving. Much to my horror, this appeared to be a one-on-one confrontation, a particular aspect about my life that I wasn’t able to handle well. To make things worse, we were also at the very top of the building, making escape very difficult. The lady in front of me seemed to be letting me roam wherever I wanted to, so I backed away and tried to appear intimidating, but it didn’t seem to work as she chuckled slightly.
“Have no fear, Hitmontop. I will call you that from now on… for we have no need for nicknames in a place where everyone is equal,” she said.
Her smile immediately threw me off. I looked over her once and couldn’t help but cower at the mixed emotions that followed. From my simple observations of her smile, her eyes, her body language, I could determine that she was related to Sai somehow. Her hair was a similar color, for one. And she had green eyes, but they had the same spark that his had, the same spark that I could never quite identify. Now I knew: it was the dangerous look of knowing things that no one else did. From her one single action, I could determine the nature and depth of my relationship with her, and it could have gone anywhere. Sai wasn’t so bad himself, but then again, he had just betrayed me. Her words seemed to bring some peace, but then I remembered that I was just in a prison cell. There was no way that everyone was equal in a place where some pokémon were free and others were not. There was something I just wasn’t understanding…
“I know you’re confused, but you don’t need answers. We’re here to gather an initial assessment of your strength…” she said, pulling out a pokéball from her belt.
But then she immediately put it back, and Sai showed up. Sai was frantic, Sai was angry. A great understatement, really. The lady grabbed on to me and I could tell this wasn’t going anywhere good, and then the rest of the team showed up. I begged Senori for help. Senori always knew what to do, he always had the answers, he had to have them this time. I felt like I was dreaming as Sai took over and told us a quick rundown of his story and then asked us to battle. Yes, I fought for him—because I felt obligated to. Even if he was a bad person, he couldn’t have been any worse than the woman we were fighting. There was something about her that made us all remember our own personal hells and then think that things could get much, much worse if we were with her for too long a time.
I was still never expecting him to jump…
You can say that you won’t miss me, but I’ll think about you every day.
…The nightmares surrounding my situation hadn’t dissipated in the last week. They always started out vivid and then became increasingly unclear once Sai ran into the picture. Was I trying to block out memories of my trainer because they were scary or because I didn’t want to reinforce my negative views of him? But I knew everything now. I knew that Sai had no choice but to give me up. I knew that Sai was sick and that he truly wanted to get better. His journey was never about pokémon at all. It was only about survival, and for this, I could forgive him in time. Of course, I had made this decision rather quickly, as I had to choose to jump on Ezrem’s back or stay with the lady who was worse than Sai. I hoped I wouldn’t regret it.
So far, I wasn’t. I was almost exactly where I wanted to be, considering I had once considered to volunteer for a hospital that would help humans. I wished, of course, that Sai was better and that he was encouraging me to go rather than being the actual patient, but… it would have to do for now. Sai needed my help, and I was willing to give him what he wanted since I had only hindered him up to this point. My intentions had been good, and I didn’t want to change now. It was hard to change, anyway, when I saw Sai peer over at me every few minutes, as if trying to remind himself that I was still here, and to tell me that he didn’t want me to leave again. I forced myself to give an eager smile every time he looked at me to support him.
What else could I do? The nurse had told Sai he would be here until he was no longer deemed a threat to himself or others. Sai was also asked to attend a group therapy session once a day and he was required to write in a journal about how he was feeling at any given time. Those directions seemed simple enough, but Sai was having trouble following them. He skipped the first day, saying it could do nothing for him since he was taught medication was the only cure. And when he tried to write in the journal for the first time, he kept breaking the lead pencil given to him, and so he eventually grew frustrated and gave up. It reminded me of the ferocity he had used when trying to convey his secret to me on paper.
What else could I do…? I wrote to him first, mostly to keep the pokémon from listening, but also because I wanted him to start following the nurse’s rules. I found a marker at the receptionist’s desk at the front of the psychiatric ward and used it instead, figuring Sai couldn’t possibly break this. At worst, his words would bleed through the pages.
What are you doing? I started. It was vague but it gave him room to answer whatever he wanted. After deciding my handwriting was easy enough to read, I gave him the journal. He was only sitting on the edge of the bed, listening to Ezrem and Kuiora bicker with each other as usual, so it seemed like a decent time. He looked at me oddly, but he took the journal nonetheless and wrote back to me.
I’m sitting here.
…Simple, but true. I tried a different approach.
How are you feeling?
Like I want to get out of here.
What are you going to do once you’re out of here?
No response—Sai only shook his head and gave the journal back to me.
Well, you should do what the nurse says and you can get better. We’re all rooting for you, you know.
I’m afraid you’ll leave when we get out of here after what I did.
I gritted my teeth. It was as I feared; Sai was worried about me and he was taking it out on himself. He could be so selfish sometimes… or was it selfless after remembering the dangers that he had put me through before? I couldn’t tell.
I won’t, I wrote confidently.
…So what do you want me to do?
Write how you’re feeling, and go to those therapy sessions. …I’ll even go with you if you want.
You will? Is that even allowed?
Uh… Yes? To be honest, I wasn’t sure, but I had to convince him somehow. I’m even having some problems myself, so I should go, I finished, shuddering as I recalled the nightmares about the preceding events.
Okay. I saw him pause as he wrote. I’ll go.
As Sai promised, he gave his mother two days to evacuate Mahogany Town with whatever belongings she wanted and with whoever she wanted before he turned Team Rocket in. And over these two days, as I (kind of) promised, I went to those therapy sessions with him. Surprisingly, I was allowed to, though I would have to stay quiet because not everyone understood pokémon. Well, that was fine by me. I was a better listener than anything, anyway.
When I first went in, I had no idea what to expect. My imagination had set up some kind of wild fantasy where a bunch of people came together and fought each other until they were spent and exhausted. Until their problems seemed to disappear into thin air. That was the idea Sai had given me, anyway, with his mental illness. He was prone to violence and arguments, and so I assumed all people like him were like that.
But it was nothing of the sort. The most violent action that occurred involved the six other people in the room—including the advisor—staring at us for being slightly late to the meeting. Everyone was calm and reserved as they seemed to try to curl up into their seats, as if to pretend they didn’t exist. Instantly I understood that these people had problems they were ashamed of, and it made me wonder if Sai would have told us he was sick a long time ago if he had the chance. According to these peoples’ postures, he would have kept it himself despite his freedom.
First, Sai was asked to introduce himself and then his guest: me. I felt awkward by the sudden attention—even though I had been anticipating it—but found myself able to relax when the others were clearly more focused on Sai rather than me. They gave him eye contact and smiled at him, exchanged hellos. It made sense. Sai was of their own kind; I was only there to absorb the information about my trainer and subsequently use it to understand him and help him better.
Since we were a bit late, we had missed the introductions by the other members, but they went around again and said all of their names and reasons for being present just for Sai. I could tell by the way his body unwounded that he was welcoming the positive special attention, something he supposedly wasn’t accustomed to. It made me realize suddenly why he felt closest to me—I gave him special attention that I gave no one else… and to help him, I would have to keep doing it. I was already surpassing step one by being by his side.
The next step that had to take place was the promise of confidentiality among members. It was vital, the advisor said, for everyone to understand that what was said in the room stayed in the room. This was to keep every member of the group comfortable when speaking and also to prevent trouble for spreading among the outside world. Members could talk about their own experiences in group therapy, but anyone else’s information was to be left out of conversation.
Breaching confidentiality was not my intention, so the overall expansion of the session has been left out here. This was the gist of it, though: everyone here had a hard life. They had all lost relatives and friends that were close to them in disasters that lay out of their hands. They had all lost their sense of self. They all were a puzzle that wanted to be put back together, but couldn’t figure out how to do it, even with the outside pieces intact.
And even though Sai wouldn’t mind, I have chosen to leave his segment out, too. I respect him as much as I would anyone else. It goes without saying, however, that his problems hit the most to home. This wasn’t because they reminded me of myself. It was because being with him really was my home, and it made me realize how little I knew of my home. I had no idea what went on inside his head. His moments that seemed crazy to me were completely normal to him. How did he live with such a scattered mind and no sense of control? Even if I asked, I doubt he would know, either. At the very least, I enjoyed seeing him work on himself.
The only piece of information I’ll completely reveal is his hardest confession, mostly because it ended up being on national television anyway. Before, Sai had beat around the bush by explaining his feelings and giving vague explanations of his past home surroundings, but he had never said he was part of Team Rocket. He never said that his mother put him through unethical experiments that left him imprisoned for the majority of his life.
It started with an awkward silence that only a human voice could fill. Another boy in the group had just finished telling a story and receiving feedback and advice about the situation, and now it was time for someone else to talk.
“Does anyone else have anything they’d like to share?” said the advisor, an older female who held a clipboard in her hand. She spent her time moderating the discussion and keeping notes of every individual and every conversation.
Sai was usually the one to remain silent until someone spoke to him first and prodded for answers. This time, though, he spoke up immediately. He even stood up to make him point.
“I have a confession to make,” Sai said, his fists clenched in determination, “and I expect it to leave this room. If it doesn’t, I’ll be pretty disappointed.”
This caused everyone to look at him, confused. Even the advisor stopped writing for a moment to raise an eyebrow at him suspiciously.
“Yes, Sai? Remember that anything you say in here is confidential to the rest of us,” she said.
“Well, I was going to tell the police, but it seems that I’m not allowed to see them from inside this place. So I’m just going to say it here… and hope it reaches the right ears.”
“We’re all listening,” she said slowly. The rest of the group nodded.
Sai took a deep breath before saying, “I’m sure we’ve all heard of Team Rocket. They’re infamous for stealing strong pokémon, selling weak pokémon, and using pokémon for questionable experiments. But no one’s known where to locate them. No one seems to know where they’re hiding out yet. Well, I’m here to say that I know where they are.” He paused. I pulled at his pant leg, urging him to continue. “I know where they are because I was a part of them. Not in the way you’re probably thinking,” he hastily added, “but because they’re the ones who… imprisoned me. For being sick. I was an experiment of theirs.”
“You guys might have actually… supported the idea behind the experiment, had they not gone about it all wrong. Can the mentally ill surpass the normal people in terms of raising pokémon? Can the mentally ill be good for anything besides destroying things and causing problems? It was my goal to help them figure this out. Well, I both passed and failed. I passed because I survived when no one else did. I failed because I left the experiment. That’s how I ended up here. I was tired of it and I left.”
“You know the laboratory on the northern edge of town? That’s where they are. They’ve been close to you guys all this time and you didn’t even know it. They were doing research on everyone like us and you didn’t even know it. I’m sorry I didn’t have the strength to say anything sooner. I was scared for my life. I wanted… I wanted the freedom the rest of you had. But in the end, we all landed in the same place. It’s funny how that works sometimes.”
Sai sat back down and leaned back in his seat. I saw the corners of his mouth turning upward but also saw tears threatening to leave his eyes. The rest of the group was stunned and merely looked to the advisor for guidance, as they so often did. No one said anything because there was nothing to say. No words could change the frightening past that Sai had had and nothing could change the fact that evil had been taking place not too far from their homes for years on end. There are times when the world proves itself to be a better liar than the rest of us combined. This was one of those times. You won, world. You won for a while, anyway… but now you lose.
“Well, it seems we’ll have to end this session early. The rest of you should go to your rooms,” she finally said. “Sai, you and Atis should come with me.”
And so we did.
“Sai, why are there so many uniformed people in your room?” asked a very curious Kuiora as she scrutinized every part about the men in the room. It was easy for her to recognize the weapons in their belts, but she was still young so she didn’t know they were here to help, not cause problems. It was easy for her to understand that they were here for serious business, but she didn’t seem to see that they weren’t here to play these games with her. She tried to defend Sai the best she could anyway. If they glared at her and gave her an unfavorable look, she did the same. If they advanced toward him without giving any warning about doing so, then she growled and started preparing a water gun attack. Ezrem had to take her out of the room eventually to keep her calm.
Rennio and Senori weren’t as wary. They knew the police, probably due to past experience or due to hearing about them before, so they stayed out of the way and let them question Sai. And of course, I was completely supportive of the idea. While none of us were particularly thrilled that not all of the culprits would be caught, we had to be satisfied with Sai’s decision. It’s not like we could have said anything even if we wanted to.
“We are questioning here since we have orders that say you are not to leave this place,” the policeman in charge said.
Sai nodded. I remembered him saying that he didn’t know other people could visit him, but now he knew otherwise. This was a special exception that the nurses were allowing. They also had told Sai that they had a special announcement for him once the questioning was over. He insisted on knowing at that moment, but they kept to themselves and told him to be patient, smiling all the while.
“Now, how long did you say this had been going on?” the policeman asked, peering at Sai sternly.
“At least ten years. That’s how long I was there, anyway. They’ve probably been there much longer,” Sai answered. He was fiddling with his hands, which told me he wasn’t confident with his answers. His knowledge was limited despite having been there for ten years. I knew from experience now that that was what happened when you were imprisoned and kept in the dark.
“And why didn’t you say anything once you were released?”
Sai gulped, then said, “Because they threatened me. If I told anyone, I was going to pay for it.”
The policeman coughed. Did that mean he believed Sai? Surely his current condition could tell the truth behind his story. These things just don’t happen out of the blue. For once, it was obvious that we, Sai’s pokémon, weren’t enough to comfort him when it came to believing his story was real.
“You say you saw them do experiments on pokémon and humans there?”
“Yes… They keep pokémon locked up, and only use them to train endlessly or hook them up to machines that do harm.”
“I see. We know Team Rocket is dangerous, but we just want to hear your side of the story.” He turned away from Sai and motioned to the others inside the room. “Some of my men are already heading there to look over the place. They have a warrant to get inside if they don’t comply. We’re also here to offer you protection if that is what you want. That’s why so many of us are here.”
“Yes. From what you’ve told us, you’ve been through a lot. These people are a huge threat to you, and they may continue to threaten you through outside sources. This is also possible if any of them escape in time. If you would like, we can keep watch over you and make sure these people don’t find you.”
“You mean that you’ll keep me in one place and tell me I’ll be safe within your care.”
“That’s the idea of it, yes.”
Sai shook his head and immediately said, “No. That sounds exactly like what they did to me. Even if your intentions are true, well… If I need anyone to protect me, I can count on my pokémon.”
“That is entirely up to you. Just know that the option is open to you.”
“Aren’t I stuck here for a while, anyway?” Sai said, rolling his eyes. I wondered whether or not he truly hated this place. He had shown me what was inside of his journal and he was progressively getting happier and more stable. And as if his healing affected mine, my nightmares had slowly been drifting away, too, so I could reflect on that incident with a clearer head.
“About that… Well, the nurse says you’re free to leave tonight if you want. She told us that you have been making significant progress in the last week and a half, and they are ready to let you go. Of course, you can choose to stay if you’d like, but it would cost you more money than you already owe. This is another reason we offered you the protection idea—just in case you had nowhere to go afterward.”
Sai’s face instantly lit up. “Really? I’m free to go?”
He softened up a moment, later, however, as he seemed to realize something. “Well, I really do have nowhere to go… but like I said, I have my pokémon. I’ll figure something out.”
“Then it’s settled. You will leave tonight. We wish you the best of luck, and we thank you for cooperating with us and doing what was right,” the policeman said. He took a step forward and extended his arm out to Sai. The boy didn’t seem to understand the gesture at first, but figured it out pretty quickly and shook the man’s hand.
When the policemen left, Sai didn’t hesitate to show his excitement once more. “You hear that, Atis?” he cried. “We’re getting out of here, and it’s all thanks to you!”
On cue, Ezrem and Kuiora returned into the room (with the croconaw sticking out her tongue to the others on their way out), but they only stared blankly at our trainer, along with Senori and Rennio. What were they so confused about? And then it hit me.
“Oh… It’s not all thanks to me! E-Everyone helped in their own way, you know…” I stammered out.
“Not really,” Senori butted in. “We stayed back because we figured you two needed, uh, some time together. To get things straight, you know?”
“Aren’t we so considerate?” sneered Ezrem. He flapped his wings and took off into the air, seeming as if he was going to fly into Sai. He flew over the boy’s head, though, and landed on the other side of the bed, where the policemen had previously been standing.
“Did you really have to do that?” Rennio scolded. It wasn’t like him to talk back to the bird, and I wondered what exactly had happened between the two of them. It wasn’t any of my business, but we couldn’t afford another break in the team…
“Yes, I did,” Ezrem said simply, in an even ruder tone than usual.
“Do we need to get someone to put a ‘do not resuscitate or save’ tattoo on that egotistical head of yours, just in case you get hurt again?” Rennio retaliated, folding his arms.
“I see you’re being critical of me. That’s good, because I’m obviously flawed. That’s why I need my daily dose of attention, since Atis has been hogging it all for the last week.”
“I… What? I didn’t… I mean—”
“It’s going to be the next big thing on the news next to the big Team Rocket scandal. Prizewinning pokémon scientist named Atis finds the cure for brokenhearted boys.”
I blanched, unable to find the ability to even stutter.
“Ezrem,” Kuiora said. “Be good.” That was all it took for the braviary to close his beak; he fluffed his feathers inside, hiding his face in embarrassment, probably from Rennio more than anyone else. The bird had no shame in most situations, I had come to notice.
“Speaking of news…” said Senori, who had just been listening intently all the time. “Doesn’t this mean… we’ll be on the news? Since Sai was the one who reported them?”
The room went quiet. None of us had considered this notion until now. We all looked at our trainer, but as usual, he didn’t have an answer.
It was a good thing Senori had pointed it out before, or we never would have been prepared to leave the hospital at all. Well, I still wasn’t prepared, but that was besides the point. In fact, I was even more nervous and less ecstatic than I had been before. I didn’t want the attention that was inevitably coming. If Sai wanted to move on with his life, though, I supposed this was step one…
Once Sai gathered his belongings into his backpack, he checked out of the hospital and was told he would eventually have to pay for his stay. Once he checked out of the hospital, we walked outside and ran into a giant crowd that apparently knew he was going to leave soon. Once we realized that there was a giant crowd in front of us, we noticed that they all had cameras and microphones—all aimed at Sai’s face and mouth. In response, Sai raised his hands, as if he were surrendering to their endless questions.
“Uh…” he started, unsure of what to do next.
“Sai Luart, would you please tell us about your life being imprisoned by Team Rocket?” one reporter yelled over the rest.
“Is it true that Team Rocket harmed pokémon and humans while doing their research?” another one asked.
I could feel myself blushing intensely, and I wasn’t even the one given the attention. Still, the anxiety I felt in public also attributed to others who were being humiliated. If Sai was being embarrassed by the attention, then so was I. It wasn’t logical, but nothing about my anxiety was ever really logical. I tried not to think about it too much.
Still, the overwhelming amount of people here was too much for me. I yelled for Sai to move along, to forget these people because they only wanted to earn money off of his story, but the loud crowd drowned out my voice. I changed my strategy and pushed him from behind, forcing the others to make a path for him unless they wanted to be trampled. The others seemed to catch on to what I was doing and tried to help out. Kuiora growled at everyone while Ezrem pecked at the cameras and broke some of the lens. Senori hopped on Sai’s shoulder and covered part of his face with his tail to avoid people from seeing him on television. Rennio forced people to back away in response to the threatening electricity surrounding his body. With all of this, we were able to create a sizable amount of distance between us and the news reporters. And when it was safe, we all let down our guards and gave Sai some room to breathe.
“Well, it looks like the police caught and arrested Team Rocket, at least… Do you think I’ll be wanted on television forever?”
“Just until the next big story…” I said, rubbing the back of my head nervously.
“Remember, Atis, you are a prizewinning scientist pokémon—” Ezrem started.
“So what are we going to do now?” Rennio asked, still not amused by Ezrem’s antics.
“I don’t know yet,” Sai said, shaking his head. He looked behind him to make sure no one was following him. Indeed, no one was, so he continued, “I thought about going back to Ecruteak City, but how can I show my face to Morty after what happened?”
“What happened?” I said without thinking. It didn’t occur to me that I might have had anything to do with the situation.
“You don’t want to know,” Senori assured me. I didn’t ask again.
“Anyway,” Sai went on, “I don’t have concrete plans. I want to keep traveling. I want to keep learning things. I want to be a better trainer… and friend… If we see something we really want to do along the way, then we’ll know. And we can go from there. How does that sound?”
“You sound like you’ve thought this out real well,” Ezrem said sarcastically.
Sai reached out his right arm and clamped his hand around the bird’s beak, not allowing him to speak. I thought that Sai was going to get angry with him like he had before, but Sai was actually laughing.
“You be quiet,” was all he said, and then he let go. “I thought about it in the hospital, but I didn’t think of anything. So sorry.”
Yes, he seemed a bit more stable now… and that was really all any of us could have asked for. It was one of the few times that Ezrem’s wild demeanor brought some positivity to us. I owed him a great deal already for saving Sai, but now he was helping even more. Hopefully the rest of the team could find their own niche in Sai’s life and contribute to it to the best of their ability. I believed they had found their niches already, they just didn’t know it yet. Their comments about me hogging the attention had told me so, but they would learn in time, I believed. Ezrem offered a good laugh once in a while, which never hurt anybody. Senori guided us down safe paths, and Kuiora gave off a sense of naivety that was ideal for staying sane. Rennio’s youth let Sai know that he was important and that he had someone to protect.
And I… I gave Sai the determination to want. To reach out. To have dreams. I wanted the world. I got the world plus Sai and the rest of the team. Now Sai wanted the world, too, more than anything. We just didn’t know what was in store for him.
I hoped for nothing but the best.