Some of you might not know me— I'm some guy who left for about a year due to being busy playing that wierd, addictive MMORPG called "Real Life" (RL for short)... but I'm finally back. "About time!" say all the people who do know me. ;)
The last story I posted was for last year's Winter Writing Contest, and I'm here to pick up where I left off. This story is set in the same world as that one, but takes place elsewhere and follows an entirely different cast of characters.
Click the link in the previous sentence only if you feel like it, because while related, that story is somewhat long and is not required reading in order to comprehend or enjoy this year's entry. :)
I apologize for the extreme length of this story; it was originally intended to be only ~120k-150k characters long, but kind of ran away with me. ^_^; I encourage you to bring your novel-reading mood, and to set aside an hour or two to read through it (depending on how quickly you read!)
---Imagine That — WWC 2012 Entry---
---WARNING: PG-13 (COARSE LANGUAGE)---
---WARNING 2: EXTREME LENGTH (554,567 CHARACTERS)---
Chapter 1: Wednesday
Chapter 2: Thursday
Chapter 3: Friday
Chapter 4: Saturday
Chapter 5: Sunday
Chapter 6. Monday
Epilogue: Tuesday, Wednesday Again
Chapter 1: Wednesday
Hello, pleased to meet you; I'm Rachel Avery, and I live in a world that was like your own; a world that used to be identical in every way... except for one.
It's been ten years since the creatures started appearing. The ones that the government officially termed Genesis Beasts, but that people refer to as Pokémon— short for Pocket Monsters— in everyday talk. Pokémon are mysterious creatures with frightening powers, powers that are often beyond anything technology can manage. There are over four hundred known kinds now, with more being discovered all the time. At first, forums and blogs everywhere wondered how the sudden, inexplicable presence of Pokémon would change the way everything works. The world held its breath, worried that the mere existence of these powerful creatures might throw society into chaos. All across the globe, people braced themselves for the worst...
And did they ever get it!
Things are a lot different now. For example, I'm told the police used to be a big deal. Well, not any more. I think I was too young to understand the concept of "lawkeepers" back when it mattered. Now— in most cities, at least— a bunch of guys in uniforms trying to keep everyone in line would be a total joke, whether they had guns or not.
Some things never change, of course: grown-ups still go to work every day, to earn money (but any kind of goods will do, as long as they can be bartered for food and other necessities at the downtown market); kids still fight over stupid stuff (although obviously the ones with Pokémon always win); and the schools are as bad as ever (only now they're run by crazies because no adult in their right mind would take the job.)
...I guess nearly everything is different, actually. It's safe to say that in the last seven or eight years especially, Pokémon have totally changed the way society works. Gangs of Pokémon Trainers roam the streets in broad daylight, and it's not safe to go anywhere alone. Corporate business is totally nonexistent, and travel and trade between cities is rare. As a result, most food is grown locally, in the farms that used to be suburbs. The government basically isn't even a thing any more. Anyways, you'll hear more about this stuff later.
Right now I'm on my way to school, with my Mom, Catherine Avery. The beige apron she's wearing over her practical green dress may look like just an accessory at first glance, but it carries the red-cross-and-Chansey-egg emblem that marks her as a healer. There's also a Pokémon with us; she's Mom's, and is named Dream. She's a Bellossom, and looks like a little one-foot-tall green-skinned girl with two pretty red-petaled flowers growing out of her head instead of hair and a "dress" made of flowers that chime softly when she moves. Even though Dream looks like a tiny person, her skin is actually made of a material that's more like leaf than skin. It gives me the shivers, so I usually avoid getting too close to her.
The three of us live in an apartment near the middle of downtown Seattle. Mom and Dream are walking me to school, because Mom's convinced it isn't safe to go alone. She's probably right, because most of the way between our place and my school is through a maze of alleyways with a bad reputation. She would probably make me go by a safer route if she could, but the nearest major street is so far out of the way that it's just not worth it.
I'm fifteen years old, and I'm in grade ten at Bastion High School, which has a nice name but isn't a very nice place. It was built on the ruins of the Seattle University, which was destroyed in the Second American Civil War because the army used it as a base of operations. Anyways, we're almost there. Bastion High is the only public school in the city that has a policy of not accepting students who own Pokémon. They advertise that like it's a big deal, because a lot of grown-ups treat any kid with a Pokémon like a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. Mom figured Bastion High— "the Bastion" for short— was the safest place around, but I still think the whole idea sort of backfired. Not letting kids with Pokémon into the school doesn't actually mean less bullying happens: it just means every kid who goes to Bastion is a prime target for the group of tough-guy teenage Trainers who always hang out across the street from the school's gates at eight-thirty in the morning.
Sure enough, they're there as usual— wearing their big coats and their nasty sneers. They should be at their own schools... But if they don't want to go to class, who's gonna make them? Skipping school is the easiest thing in the world for Trainers. So instead of going and doing something constructive, they just stand there leaning against the grimy brick wall of the building directly across from the Bastion, smoking cigarettes and making derisive remarks about the kids going by them. They've got special jeers for "babies" like me who get walked to school. I've tried to get Mom to stop walking me, but she's stubborn sometimes... And I'm actually glad she does it— even though I'd never tell her so— because Dream's presence means the Trainers won't bother us. Even though Dream doesn't seem very threatening, looks can be deceiving where Pokémon are involved.
The Trainers' Pokémon are hanging around them, glaring at everyone who goes by. I recognize a few of the creatures: there's a Blitzle, which looks like a zebra with lightning-bolt patterns in its fur; a Scraggy, which is a yellow thing with a froggy face that walks on two legs and carries its own rubbery shed skin to use as a shield; and even a Charmeleon, an orange-skinned lizard that stands upright, has deadly-looking claws and teeth, and carries a flame on the tip of its tail that marks it a fire-type. Along with those are a few Pokémon I'm not familiar with, including one that looks like a tall, thin cactus with pink flowers on its head. All of them look like they could take someone apart without too much effort— even the cactus— and most of them have nasty expressions on their eerily expressive animal faces, as if to say that they'd really enjoy doing just that.
Some days the Trainers and their Pokémon just loiter there and enjoy making people uncomfortable. Other days they're in a bad mood; those are the days they'll grab a couple unlucky kids and make them cough up their lunch money. Mom and Dream can't do anything about the Trainers, because there's too many of them; neither can Bastion's teachers, because they don't own Pokémon any more than its students do. School policy or something.
Mom stops halfway across the yard that separates Bastion High from all the smaller buildings around it, and kneels to kiss me on the forehead before letting go of my hand. I roll my eyes, as she expects of me by now, but really I don't mind. Even though I've never really enjoyed displays of affection, I know it's just her way of telling me that she loves me, and it's probably more comforting to her than it is to me.
She watches me as I walk the rest of the way to the gates of the school, even though she doesn't really need to. I'm pretty sure I'm safe anyway, because the Trainers aren't moving from their usual spot, and because, despite the dark grey clouds in the sky, it hasn't started raining yet. Rain is one of the things that's guaranteed to get the Trainers in one of their "lunch money" moods.
I walk up to the gates and join the line of subdued-looking kids waiting to get in. The Bastion's gates are massive, painted-black steel things, and they're always left open only wide enough to let us through single-file. They're set in a huge grey concrete wall that stretches at least twenty-five feet in the air and goes all the way around the school. The wall is about two and a half feet thick, and is basically what gives Bastion its name; I'm not even exaggerating when I say it makes the place look more like a prison than a school.
Everyone always relaxes just a bit when they get the gates between them and the Trainers... But only a bit, because even once you're inside, your lunch money isn't safe: now you're on the turf of the schoolyard bullies. They're not so tough outside the walls, because— duh— no Pokémon, but as soon as you pass through the Bastion High gates, the boys with the biggest muscles and the girls with the sharpest tongues become the top of the pecking order. Sound familiar? (Excuse my cynicism, by the way. It's just that I'm beyond tired of high school politics already, and this is only my second year of high school. Ugh.)
On the other side of Bastion High's gates, separated from the towering walls by a wide ring-shaped field of bare concrete, is the school building itself. It's technically a group of buildings, but they're all ugly concrete cubes with no windows, and are all connected to each other by ugly concrete cube-shaped hallways with no windows, giving the appearance more of an ugly concrete hamster maze than of a school campus.
There's nothing else inside the wall, just the big courtyard of empty pavement surrounding the hamster-maze. A fading squre of painted white lines border a tiny "soccer field" in one corner of the flat grey expanse; this and a few basketball hoops bolted to random spots on the inside of the wall are the closest thing the Bastion has to a gym. We don't have sports teams because, according to the school website, sports competitions would "unnecessarily expose Bastion students to conflict with schools which harbour Pokémon Trainers."
The twenty-five-foot walls surrounding the whole campus make everything look smaller than it is, and give you the feeling of being indoors even when you're outside. That's mostly because the sun doesn't actually make it over the walls except between eleven a.m. and one p.m., and that's when it's fall or spring. During the winter, the entire day is usually spent in the walls' shadow. I wish I were kidding about this, but seriously, it's like going to school in Mordor.
Not everything's bad at Bastion High, of course. I'm just being cranky because I hate mornings. Most of the teachers here actually care about teaching, and a few even make their lessons interesting most of the time. The cafeteria food is surprisingly good. Apparently the Bastion has the highest percentage of students who go on to post-secondary education out of any public school in the city (which, of course, was a major selling point with Mom.) Best of all, there are only three bullies in my grade— mostly because they pounded any other prospective bullies into submission back in grade nine— and those three generally stick to picking on certain favourite targets. This basically means that if you don't call attention to yourself, you can usually keep your lunch money in your pocket.
Anyways, first class for me on Wednesdays is History. To be honest, I don't mind History. I kind of like hearing about the way things used to be before Trainers screwed up the world. Not that I would ever tell anyone. There are few fates worse than being branded a nerd.
I head across the pavement and go through the door to the wing of the school where my classroom is. The lights on the ceilings are all the same type of old-fashioned, dim bulbs, meaning that walking into the windowless buildings is kind of like entering a cave. Inside, the hallways all look the same, with off-white linoleum tiling on the floor and iron student lockers with green numbers painted on the doors covering every inch of wall. The only breaks in the walls of lockers to both sides are doors to classrooms, which of course all look the same. I'm pretty sure whoever designed the Bastion wasn't exactly gifted in the imagination department.
I find the specific door I'm looking for— the green painted numbers proclaim it "Room 130"— and go in. It's like every other classroom in the building: all the walls consist of varnished light brown wood that's probably a veneer, except for where a blackboard covers the entire upper two thirds of the wall opposite the door; a bunch of small desks with laminated wooden tops and metal legs sit in orderly rows and columns; plastic chairs accompany the tables, their seats just low enough that you can't quite comfortably sit in them and sleep with your head on the desk. I'm pretty sure that last detail is intentional, not that I'm particularly tempted to try sleeping in class. Being considered a slacker is just as sure a way to get you targeted by Bastion's sharp-tongued gossips as being a nerd is to get you wedgied in the halls.
About half of my History classmates are here, but I don't know most of them by name. The ones I do know, I know only from occasionally overhearing other people gossiping about them. Keeping yourself to yourself is usually a good idea at Bastion, because— in my opinion at least— there always seems to be way too much social drama going on. Getting involved isn't high on my list of priorities.
I find a chair near the middle of the classroom and sit down, neither slouching too much nor sitting up too straight. "Vague disinterest" is what's generally expected of Bastion students, and displaying too much interest or too much boredom is a good way to get a name for yourself (as a geek or as a slacker, respectively.) That said, I've gotten pretty good at appearing to be "vaguely disinterested" while actually paying attention. As I mentioned earlier, I kind of like History.
More of my classmates file through the door over the next few minutes. There are only a few empty seats left when our teacher, Mr. Ward, comes into the room and immediately starts briskly writing on the blackboard. Mr. Ward is about fifty years old, has short white hair that makes a thin ring around his bald head, and wears old-fashioned stuff (today it's a plaid shirt and grey pants.) Despite all that, he doesn't really come across as an old man. I think his eccentric-professor-syle rimless glasses have a little to do with it, but the least old-man-like thing about Mr. Ward is how he generally acts more energetic than most of the kids in his class. In fact, he's a bit over the top about it sometimes, pacing back and forth and gesturing wildly while he talks. (I mean that in the best possible way. Seriously, it's pretty funny.)
"NOW!" he says loudly, turning suddenly away from the blackboard and startling the more uninterested-looking of us. Just for the record, that doesn't include me. I've gotten used to this kind of thing in the last year-and-a-bit of having Mr. Ward for a History teacher— this is how he starts some of his classes, about one in ten I think. He likes to keep us guessing.
"If I may have your attention," he continues in a perfectly normal tone of voice, as though he didn't just shout in our faces, "Would anyone like to tell me what it is that I've written on the board?"
He steps aside to reveal what he was writing. On the board are two words: "Democratic Government."
Ugh. Mr. Ward does stuff like this a lot. He basically lays a trap for schmucks, which serves to get the more braindead of his students to wake up and think for a second. I understand why he does it this way— obviously, just talking at his class will put a bunch of us to sleep, whereas asking questions makes a lesson interactive— but it annoys me sometimes. It's like he thinks we're stupid.
Unfortunately, he's probably right about at least some of us. In a class of twenty-six, there've got to be at least some slackers. And I just know that any second, some smart aleck in this room is gonna read that phrase off the board word-for-word; probably that pudgy boy in the corner who's just picked his head up off his desk and is opening his mouth to attempt to form the words Democratic Government. I have about another second before he fully wakes up from his state of near-sleep and actually gives voice to the syllables, painstakingly sounding them out one-by-one like a kindergartener... Ugh.
I think I have to out-smart-aleck my classmates just this once, for my own sanity's sake.
"Obsolete crap?" I ask loudly, raising an eyebrow sardonically at Mr. Ward. His eyes fix on me; I return the glare. This staring contest is kind of a ritual with us, even though I only speak up about once every few weeks. He was my History teacher last year in grade nine, too, so there was time for it to become kind of habitual. A few seconds pass and my eyes begin to water, forcing me to blink and look down. He wins this time.
"Arguably, yes," he responds without missing a beat, switching his bespectacled gaze off of me and looking around the rest of the class, as though we had all come up with the answer. I'm okay with that: drawing attention to myself isn't my thing. Someone has to move the subject along and skip a bunch of unnecessary steps consisting of Mr. Ward laboriously drawing out a bunch of chorused "Yeeees" and "Nooooo" answers from the whole class. Of course, he's still gonna do at least a bit of that, because otherwise the less interested kids (like the pudgy boy in the corner, who's already almost asleep again!) will zone out.
"Can anyone tell me why some individuals might consider democratic government an obsolete concept?" he asks. A few seconds pass as his eyes sweep the class, and I can almost hear the crickets chirping. I return to my apparently uninterested slouch in my chair; I'm not about to jump in again. Once in a class is more than enough input for me, and at least this time there isn't an answer written on the board that the person reading it would never have come up with on their own.
A girl sitting in the front row of desks speaks up. "Maybe because of the definition of democracy, like we talked about last class?" Her wide-rimmed round glasses on their own would mark her as a nerd to most people, but to be honest, her choice of a seat in the front is probably more telling. Anyways, thankfully this class isn't made up entirely of slackers. That means I can usually keep my smart aleck responses to myself and let the other intelligent people in the class talk. That said, when I do put in my two cents, I try to keep my answers sufficiently snarky that most people will think I'm just trying to annoy Mr. Ward. Getting branded a geek would be mildly disastrous.
"And what do you mean by that, Amadea?" Mr. Ward asks with a satisfied smile, turning to regard the girl who spoke up. "What is the definition of democracy?"
"Uhh..." Amadea falters for a moment. I can't help but think, Paraphrased textbook regurgitation in 3... 2...
"Democracy is the rule of the many, where everyone's opinion is equal... Umm... Right?" she stammers.
"That's correct," answers Mr. Ward. "And why might this definition make democracy more difficult to maintain in today's world?"
There's a big hint in the last three words, but I'm content with just waiting patiently for him to get to the point. After a few seconds of either thoughtful or uncomprehending silence (depending on who you look at,) Mr. Ward continues with another prompt: "Is there anything you can think of that can give one person a lot more power than another?"
It's like I can smell the dawning comprehension in the air. Surprisingly, it's the half-asleep pudgy boy in the corner who comes to the realization most quickly. "Pokémon!"
"Correct!" says Mr. Ward loudly, with a dramatic, triumphant raising of his fist towards the ceiling. He holds the pose for about a second— it looks silly, but less silly than it would if performed by someone who was actually self-conscious about it. He relaxes abruptly and continues: "A well-trained Pokémon is a powerful thing. In a world where only a small portion of the population has a Pokémon companion, democracy is fragile at best."
Next he explains the term "social inequity," and asks if anyone can give him an example of situations in which Pokémon can cause it. A lot of people have responses to that one, for obvious reasons. The rest of the class continues in basically this manner, and although I don't stop feigning disinterest, I am actually paying attention. After making sure everyone understands how the government used to work before the appearance of Pokémon, Mr. Ward goes on to explain the reasons why it no longer works that way.
It basically amounts to this: after about a year of watching the police fight a losing battle against an underground resistance made up of thugs and criminals with Pokémon, the government decided to bring the army into the cities to try to regain power by force. They used propaganda campaigns to stir up hatred towards Trainers, and began to treat anyone with a Pokémon as if they were one of the criminals who were the 'public enemy.' If these tactics sound familiar, that's because they're basically the same ones every oppressive regime ever has used. This raised a lot of muttering about Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, and there were plenty of protests, which went unheeded by the panicked government.
Eventually, after attempts at peaceful protest failed, large coalitions of Trainers and non-Trainers alike slowly began to appear in the occupied cities, striking at the occupying armies; the turning point was supposedly when Trainers everywhere started to realize that the established power couldn't control them any more, and that they could make their own laws. Let's just say a military full of human beings isn't good for much when a Rhydon or a Charizard can total a field full of tanks without taking a scratch, and the stronger Psychic-types can leave entire military squads collapsed on the ground, clutching their heads and howling in agony.
In reality, the turning point was more of a period of change, one that was driven mostly by the increasingly drastic and unpleasant measures the government took to maintain control, but Mr. Ward is simplifying things for the sake of not making this one topic take all month. After a year-long series of clashes with a growing army of Trainers, a conflict now known as the Second American Civil War, the U.S. military had been decimated, and the government was reduced to a much-diminished executive branch which contented itself with just running public services and watching nervously as a new social order set itself up. They haven't done anything big since then— they only still exist at the mercy of the gangs that moved in to replace the government after the Trainers failed to set up any kind of better system.
The kids in the desks around me are starting to check their watches. I do the same: class is nearly over, only a couple of minutes to go.
Mr. Ward notices, of course. "That's about it for today, class," he says. "Tomorrow we'll discuss the civil war itself. For homework, write one page about how democracy could be made to work in a world with Pokémon. It can be in the format of a story or essay, and is due a week today."
He briskly wipes the board off and is out the door before most of us have even gotten out of our seats. A moment later, the clock reads 9:30, and the bell rings to signal the ten-minute transition from one period to another.
My next class is Science. At Bastion, grade nine and ten students take science in "rotations;" one group of the class takes Biology in the first quarter of the school year, then Chemistry, Physics and Earth Science in the next three quarters; the other three groups start with a different science and rotate at the same time. I'm looking forward to grade eleven, when I actually get to choose which sciences to take. I'm not really a fan of any science, but Earth Science and Physics especially are boring as heck.
Navigating the hallways between classes isn't too difficult, because if nothing else, they're wide enough to accomodate the storm of kids going from class to class as well as the ones stopping at their lockers to pick up and put away books. I keep all my binders of notes in my backpack, so I don't usually need to use my locker.
It's still early autumn, which means that we haven't rotated yet and that I still have Bio for my Science rotation. The class is okay, I guess— my Bio teacher this year, Mrs. Ker, is better than most— but here at Bastion they don't teach Pokémon anatomy; only cell biology and the anatomy of humans and normal plants and animals. I'd prefer if they taught some Pokémon stuff, but some of the teachers here have a dislike bordering on a phobia of Pokémon, so that's unlikely to happen. Besides, Pokémon study is such a new field that it's even hard for private schools to get a hold of teachers who know stuff about Pokémon. At the moment, the internet is better for learning things like that (as long as you take everything you read with a grain of salt.)
My Biology classroom is identical to my History one (and to every other classroom in the school) except for the presence of a single lab bench at the front of the classroom, which has a sink, a Bunsen burner outlet, and a microscope on it. Its drawers are full of the stuff the science teachers use for demos, I guess. There are some actual labs in one of the school's buildings, but we don't get to use them until grade eleven.
The material for today's Bio class is an explanation of ecosystems and how they work. I know most of it aleady, but there's still a bit of new stuff about the distinction between 'abiotic' influences on an ecosystem (light, temperature, soil quality, etc.) and 'biotic' influences (the kinds of life forms that are in the ecosystem.) I try never to assume I 'know it all,' because usually I don't.
After second period, it's 10:40; recess time. That's my cue to go outside, pick an unoccupied place to sit (a safe distance from any of the groups of kids playing soccer or basketball,) and get my laptop out of my backpack. I seat myself against the Bastion wall and connect to the school's wireless internet network, because it's a little faster than the connection I get from my USB satellite chip.
Only a few seconds after I connect to AIM, a message pops up:
10:47 Group Chat: [ItsNotRight.org SEATTLE DIVISION]
ElloMello: hi Rachel!!
That's Ellen, the only one of my circle of friends who goes to Bastion. Our recess is at a different time from most schools', so we're the only two of our group online right now. I don't want to spam the Group Chat with a private conversation that'll pop up annoyingly on the others' screens when they log in, so I double-click Ellen's username on my friends list, opening a message window.
10:47 Now chatting with ElloMello.
10:47 RAVEry: Hello Ellen, how r u?
10:47 ElloMello: good!!! :D
10:47 RAVEry: Just had Bio. Easy stuff
10:48 ElloMello: yea, I had chem
10:48 RAVEry: Any news from Brian?
10:49 ElloMello: nope, i wasnt on b4 school this morning. why?
10:50 RAVEry: Nvm
h/o, checking to see if he emailed me.
10:50 ElloMello: k i will too
Last message from ElloMello at 10:50am
10:52 ElloMello: Nothing... but I'm sure hes ok.
10:52 RAVEry: Yeah, me 2.
10:53 ElloMello: wasnt that wierd tho! it just showed up like out of nowere!! now hes, like, our guy on the inside ^_^
10:53 RAVEry: I guess...
10:53 ElloMello: Lol are u jealous?!?
10:53 RAVEry: Not rly... being a trainer is hard, I bet.
10:53 ElloMello: yeha but SO COOL!!!!
10:53 RAVEry: I don't see why it's such a big deal. =|
10:54 ElloMello: r u kidding
pokemon are a HUGE DEAL!!1
10:54 RAVEry: >=\ Whatever, they r still bad news. Remember how worried he sounded?
10:54 ElloMello: ...Ya... he's going 2 have 2 hide it isnt he? :(
10:54 RAVEry: Probably. I mean, if he keeps it and his family finds out, theyll kick him out
10:54 ElloMello: T_T
10:55 RAVEry: Well, maybe it's better to be a Trainer with a Trainer's problems,
Than just a normal kid all the Trainers can push around...
He IS lucky I guess.
10:55 ElloMello: :o u ARE jealous lol!!
10:55 RAVEry: Aren't you?
10:56 ElloMello: ...
but mostly im happy 4 him!
10:56 RAVEry: Eh
Me too =)
10:56 ElloMello: ^_^
Class time in 3 mins
10:57 ElloMello has logged out.
I guess I should explain what that was about. Ellen and I are part of a group... almost a secret organization, I guess... dedicated to helping Pokémon-less kids with problems with Trainers. The original idea came from the leader of the group, a lady named Karen who uses the online nickname "Kares4UAll." She's a Trainer, and doesn't try to hide that fact, but she created the organization out of concern about non-Trainers who are being threatened or abused by people with Pokémon. Karen's idea was to make a low-profile help site where kids could come for help when they had nowhere else to turn. For a while, it was a one-person operation, intended only as a place to anonymously contact Karen and get her advice on problems.
But ItsNotRight.org isn't just an advice site any more. I'm not sure about the details, but long story short, two of Karen's real-life Trainer friends found out about the site, and instead of getting angry at her for siding with the non-Trainers, they pledged their support to the cause.
ItsNotRight.org has since grown into a hidden, continent-wide network of more than a thousand volunteers— adults and kids, Trainers and non-Trainers— who are anonymous to everyone except Karen and who can be called on to give small but important support to kids who come to the site with a serious problem and nowhere else to turn. Methods of help include escort to and from school, supplying a place to stay for short periods of time, and things like that. It's unlike any help network I've ever heard of, and it's something I'm proud to be involved in. Ellen and I are two of the five members in Seattle, but Karen got the five of us in touch (after we all agreed that we wanted to share our contact information, of course) and we've been comparing notes and chatting ever since.
Brian is another of the five; he lives just on the edge of town in a suburban neighbourhood. Yesterday he contacted us all, sounding worried, saying that the injured Pokémon he'd rescued about a week ago seemed to have taken to him, even trying to follow him home from the temporary shelter he'd built for it. He's got a decision to make now— whether to send the Pokémon away or to accept it and learn to be a Trainer. Him becoming a Trainer would be okay with us— we know he can be trusted not to use a Pokémon's power to hurt people— but his family is another story. His parents are very old-fashioned and religious, and believe Pokémon are evil and should be eradicated. The way he describes them, they strike me as kind of crazy; I'm not exactly a fan of Pokémon myself, but I hardly think it's their fault that the people they chose to trust screwed up the world. They're just dumb animals that don't know any better— if anyone should be gotten rid of, it's the Trainers.
At any rate, if Brian's family finds out about his Pokémon, there'll be hell to pay. Hopefully he'll make the right choice and just release it into the wild before that happens... Not that I'd suggest that to Ellen. She's a bit naive; she believes that good people with Pokémon, working together for the good of everyone, will eventually be the solution to the problem of Trainer gangs. All I can see coming out of that idea is ugly conflict and plenty of heartache... But I don't want to disillusion her, so I'll keep quiet and let Brian make his own decision.
My next class, English, is pretty simple; spelling and grammar have always come easily to me. The teacher is a bit of a letdown, too; he just drones on and on about poetic devices and literary mechanisms, completely ignoring the fact that half his class is literally asleep on their desks. After about twenty minutes of this, I can't take it any more. Against my better judgement, I get my laptop out of its bag and switch it on under my table.
I visit ItsNotRight.org before anything else, to check the news feed. The site isn't a forum or a blog; kids speak directly to Karen or one of her friends via live chat, and their exchanges are kept strictly confidential. Other than the chat box, the site consists of a forum and a main page where Karen puts up excerpts from news articles to keep members and kids alike up to date with good things happening in the world. She normally picks news that gives her hope for the future; reading the featured articles is usually a feel-good experience.
There's a new entry on the news feed— a copy-and-paste from an article about a group of Pokémon Trainer kids who stood up to a local Trainer gang in Boston. The gang had been overrunning the entire neighbourhood for several weeks, terrorizing the western part of the city and robbing shops and homes with impunity; deciding that enough was enough, the entire city's population of kid Trainers got together and chased the criminals out.
I smile to myself, trying not to let the expression be too bitter. I wish someone would do that here. But that's not about to happen. Only gangs that totally overstep themselves get notorious enough for people to unite against them. In Seattle, like in most places, the kid Trainers are just as bad as the adult ones... And our problem here isn't just a single gang, but an entire sub-society of Trainers concerned only with their own interests.
The end-of-class bell rings; it's 12:00, also known as lunch time. I leave the classroom quickly and hurry to the cafeteria. The cafeteria is a grey concrete cube set a short distance away from the rest of the campus. Unlike the rest of the school, it has windows. I'm lucky (and speedy) enough to arrive to a nearly empty cafeteria; the line is only a few people long, and no one's sitting down yet.
The lunch menu today, according to the sign next to the cafeteria counter, is grilled cheese sandwiches, chili con carne, and some kind of spaghetti-ish pasta, with rice pudding for dessert. All the ingredients are local. That's the way most kitchens operate now— long-distance trade is a thing of the past, and most of the suburbs are slowly being converted into farmland. I grab a tray, get a bit of everything, and pay at the end of the counter. Then I have a seat near the end of an empty table and dig in. The food isn't great, but it's better than it could be, and I'm hungry.
I'm about halfway done eating when I see Ellen on her way towards my table from the door, her usual brown paper lunch bag in one hand and wearing her favourite navy blue sweater over a white shirt and blue skirt. Her funny-looking hazel eyes (hazel means sometimes they look green, sometimes blue, and sometimes brown) scan the crowded bench for a place to sit; I wave for her to join me, and she smiles and starts to wave back— then she freezes, staring at something behind me.
Before I can turn around, two big, threatening-looking boys drop themselves onto the bench on either side of me. I freeze; the boys are Bernie and Arnie, two of grade ten's most notorious bullies. What did I do to attract the attention of these goons?
I start racking my brains for some polite way to stand up and leave, but draw a blank. All that comes to me is, If these two are here, then Neil can't be far behind.
As if summoned by the thought, Neil himself materializes, walking around the end of the table to sit down across from me with a wierd, creepy half-grin on his face. Bernie and Arnie are tall, and muscly (from beating up nerds and playing football somewhere, I guess,) but Neil is almost as tall and has the wide shoulders of a bull. Even the grade eleven and twelve bullies rarely mess with him when he's on his own, and none of them would try to take him on with Bernie and Arnie there.
I glance around surreptitiously; the tables are too long to empty completely, but everyone sitting near me for a good few seats has found some excuse to stand up and go elsewhere. The general chatter seems to have gotten louder; the people who are farthest away and feel safe are whispering to each other about what they bet Neil's gonna do to me, and the ones who are closer are talking loudly and nervously to each other about the weather or their favourite sports team or the latest fashion. I can't help but feel isolated and ridiculously vulnerable.
"Hey, Rachel," says Neil, still grinning that scary, sadistic-looking half-grin. "Whassup?"
My mind is going a mile a minute. What does he want? Lunch time would be a wierd time to try and get people's lunch money— obviously we've spent it all already. Maybe he's hoping I brought extra? "Um... Just eating," I respond, more to buy time than anything else.
"Cool." Neil takes his gaze off of me for a moment, and looks to either side. People who were watching suddenly find somewhere else to look. "Uhh... What d'you think of the food?" he asks, planting his elbows on the table and leaning forwards threateningly. I hesitate, wondering what response he wants; a second passes, and his grin wavers and disappears. He looks like he could lash out any second.
"It's... okay," I stammer hastily, trying to control my instinct to lean back. Showing fear never helps. "Better than it could be. You know, with all the stories about bad cafeteria food. Glad we don't go to one of those schools with bad food!" I babble, still wondering frantically what he's after. Maybe he's planning to throw the tray full of food in my face, and say something nasty about how it tastes now?
Instead, to my relief, he leans back again. "Haha, yeah," he says, nodding and smiling. I'm not reassured by the dumb smile that spreads itself across his face, because it's the same smile he uses when whatever poor geek he's tormenting bursts into tears. "This school is great, isn't it?"
"Y-yeah, fantastic school," I say, nodding and smiling for all I'm worth. Maybe if I agree with him enough, I'll get out of this in one piece. "We're really lucky to be here, huh?"
To either side of me, Bernie and Arnie start laughing meanly, echoed by giggles from a few of the people in the closest seats, who have been listening intently. I shut up, turning crimson with embarrassment. Clearly, public humiliation was what the goon squad was after. I hope they'll decide this is enough and leave soon.
"Shut up," Neil says, glaring at Bernie and Arnie. His mood swings are the talk of the school, and clearly even his goons aren't exempt from his sudden anger. I freeze again, waiting for the glare to be turned on me and my doom announced. It's all I can do not to fall backwards out of my seat and run for the door.
"Sorry, Neil," Arnie says sheepishly from my left. "Just thought it was funny, y'know. 'Cause of how you were saying you hate this place yesterday at recess—"
Arnie doesn't get any farther, because Neil suddenly stands up and punches him in the face, right across the table. "Shut up! Didn't ya hear me say this school is great just now? Anyone who doesn' agree can take it up with ME!" he shouts angrily. Most of the cafeteria has gone silent, and is watching him.
Neil breathes hard for a moment, then returns his attention to me, with that awkward, scary half-grin returning to his face. "See ya around, Rachel," he says. The way he says it, it sounds like a death threat. I barely manage to suppress a shiver.
Suddenly, miraculously, Neil turns and walks away, throwing the cafeteria door wide open with a BANG on his way out. Bernie levers himself awkwardly out from next to me and sidles around the table to follow his leader. Arnie, sprawled on the floor with one hand to his face, scrambles to his feet and gives chase.
There's a moment of near complete silence, then everyone goes back to their lunch, albeit not without a fair bit of chatter— likely about my impending doom.
"Ohmygosh, Rachel, are you okay??"
It takes a moment for Ellen's concerned, energetic voice to filter into my spinning head. I squint up at her for a second before gathering myself enough to respond.
"Um... Sort of. Just getting over the fact that I'm still alive. For now, anyways."
She sits down next to me. "That was horrible to watch. What was he thinking?"
"I don't think he thinks at all. Bullying is more of an animal instinct, as far as I can tell."
"Oh... Um, yes." Ellen seems to be fighting the urge to laugh for a moment, but her expression steadies when I narrow my eyes suspiciously at her. "You're right. No thought involved," she says with a very serious look on her face. That in itself is even more suspicious to me, because Ellen is almost never serious... But I have no idea what it is that she knows and I don't. It's maddening, because I'm usually the first to figure out most things.
"Did you hear about Brian?"
"Huh?" I ask, a bit thrown off by the abrupt change of topic, and also a bit miffed that there seems to be something else I've missed the memo on.
"I talked to him on my cell just after lunch started. He said he'd decided to release his Pokémon..." She abruptly looks heartbroken. "The poor thing is all on its own again, now..."
"I see..." Personally, I can't help but think Brian made the right choice. His family wouldn't have stood for it, and it was only a matter of time until they found out. "He already helped it recover from its broken leg; it'll be fine in the wild," I reassure Ellen.
"I guess..." she doesn't look much happier. I'm beginning to think she's more disappointed for herself than for Brian: she was probably looking forward to living out her fantasy of being a Trainer through him.
"Don't worry, Ellen!" I say, putting one arm around her and smiling warmly in an effort to cheer her up. "You'll get a Pokémon of your own one of these days, and then you'll be twice the Trainer anyone else is. That way you'll make up for Brian missing out!"
Ellen stares at me for a moment, then starts giggling. "Hee hee, Rachel! You sound so silly when you're trying to be silly!!"
"Well, duh!" I exclaim in mock affront, laughing along despite myself. "What kind of silliness doesn't sound silly?"
We both dissolve into giggles for a couple of minutes, until the bell rings to signal the end of lunch. We part ways with a hug, and head off to our respective classes (I have Phys. Ed. and she has Math.)
An hour of torture later (twenty jogging laps around the whole inside of the Bastion wall, UGH!) I stagger back indoors to my locker and get out the books I stored there during the HELL CLASS, muttering about horrible drill sergeant P.E. teachers. My two remaining classes for the day are Math and Spanish. As I leave my locker, I hear a chorus of loud, stupid-sounding guffaws of laughter from around the corner. Only one group of three kids would dare to make such easily mockable sounds, specifically because they're the three no one would dare to mock. Not even bothering to close my locker, I turn and run the other way as fast as I can, even though my legs are burning already and despite the fact that this takes me in the opposite direction from where my Math classroom is.
I'm a few minutes late to Math because of a combination of exhaustion and taking the long way around the school's concrete hamster-maze, but it's definitely worth not getting beat up. Standing near an open locker when Neil and his goons are around is just asking to spend an hour or two locked inside it... especially if you've already been singled out for their attention. I've seen it happen to too many unsuspecting kids whose only mistake was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Math is another simple class. Unpleasant, but simple. I can never bring myself to read ahead in the textbook, but I never need to. I just sit there and watch the algebra scrawl its way across the chalk board, entertaining myself as best I can by figuring out for myself how it all works without even listening to the teacher. I don't even know my Math teacher's name, even though it's been a week since school started.
An uneventful transition from my Math classroom to my Spanish classroom is an enormous relief, and I'm feeling almost normal at 3:20 when it's time to go home. I keep my head down and stick in the middle of the river of kids flowing out of the hamster-maze campus and through the black iron gates of the Bastion, praying to God that no one spots me and tips off Neil to try and get on his good side. Thankfully, I make it to the gates without incident, and Mom is waiting for me halfway across the courtyard with Dream on her shoulder. Like usual, all the kids leaving the school are giving Dream a wide berth, even though she looks so tiny and harmless. To some extent, I don't blame them— in the hands of the wrong people, Pokémon can be unbelievably dangerous— but Mom wouldn't hurt a fly. She's even wearing her beige healer's apron with its red cross and Chansey egg, which makes everyone's cautiousness just look silly.
Anyways, I'm extremely glad to see her. Even though hugging really isn't my thing, I walk over and give her a big hug, because I know it means something to her, at least. I breathe in the sweet scent of Dream's perfume that always clings to Mom's clothes.
She seems taken aback for a moment— I guess this is a bit uncharacteristic of me— then hugs me back tightly. "Are you all right, honey?" she asks.
I nod wordlessly and pull away, a little embarrassed. The Trainers lounging against the buildings way behind Mom jeer at me. I ignore them, and start walking in the direction of home. Mom follows, clearly a little nonplussed. I'll explain things to them later, but right now I really don't feel like talking.
The trip through the network of narrow alleys that connect Bastion High with my house seems to take less time than usual, and I sigh in relief as I walk through the door, a little faster than usual. Mom comes in behind me, not even a little out of breath, and closes the door behind her. She's pretty fit— she gets a lot of exercise going from place to place making house calls and delivering the medicines she makes using extracts from Dream's shed petals.
"Is something wrong?"
I think about it, and decide that Neil isn't Mom's problem. School stuff is school stuff, and she'd just try to meddle— or, worse, try to get help from the teachers. Kids who go crying to the teachers are just begging to be picked on. At least Pokémon aren't involved; that means I can handle it by myself. I hope.
"It's nothing," I tell her firmly.
"Hmm." Mom doesn't seem convinced. She's been practicing seeing through me since I was born, I guess, so I'm pretty used to not being believed when I'm not being truthful. That's all right— as long as I don't actually tell her what's going on, she won't be able to get me in worse trouble than I already am. "Well, you don't have to tell me what it is if you don't want to," she says, "But at least take these."
She digs in one of the pockets of her apron and comes up with several small spheres that look like pinkish-red beads, about an inch and a half in diameter. She hands them to me; they're cool to the touch and kind of soft, like marbles made of plastic instead of glass. "They have a bit of Dream's sleeping solution in them," she tells me solemnly. "If someone's giving you trouble and you feel like you're in danger, throw one at them, and they'll go to sleep for an hour or two."
My eyebrows rise all the way into my bangs. While I'm not sure if things like this are actually technically illegal— not that laws are even enforced any more— I'm 100% certain they aren't allowed at school, where the rules ARE enforced with exceeding strictness. The fact that Mom would trust me with these things is a huge deal. She isn't stating the obvious at me, either: she knows that I wouldn't use them for anything less than a serious threat.
I'm also more than a bit nervous to realize that Mom thinks I might be in the kind of trouble where I would need these sleep pellets. "Umm, I really don't think it's this big a deal, Mom..." I begin, offering them back to her.
"No, keep them. I should have given you these as soon as I knew you were responsible enough not to use them unless they were really needed," she says, tucking her hands firmly in her apron pockets so I can't give the sleep pellets back. "Everyone needs a trick up their sleeve, honey. Find somewhere safe to keep them, where you can reach them quickly."
After a moment's thought, I reach around to the back of my head and pull my ponytail straight out, tucking the pellets into the hair at the very back of my head and then tightening the hair elastic that holds the ponytail in place. My hair is long and brown, not really anything special, but it is thick and straight enough to make a ponytail out of. Now I guess I've found another use for it; nothing's gonna fall out of that part of my hair as long as I keep the elastic tight.
"How's that?" I ask Mom.
"Good," she says, hesitating a little and then smiling. "I hope you never need to use them, Rachel."
"Me too," I say, nodding fervently. To my relief, the motion doesn't even jostle the pellets, which I can still feel as little spots of smooth pressure against the back of my head.
Mom smiles her gentle smile. "Now, haven't you got some homework to do?"
I sigh, slumping my shoulders exaggeratedly. Nothing can distract Mom from making sure I do well at school. "Yes, Mom," I sigh melodramatically.
Time to get down to business, I guess.
After about half an hour of sitting on the edge of the living room couch, typing out a short essay in Spanish about exercise and healthy eating (as if we don't get enough lectures in P.E.!) I'm distracted by a pinging noise. Someone's messaging me on AIM.
3:52 Brian4theWin: Hey
I sent the pokemon away :(
I close the Spanish textbook I was using the table of verbs from, and sit back more comfortably in the couch. I think this essay can wait— it sounds like Brian needs some moral support.