"Do you ever wonder if our parents and everyone else we used to know survived?" I asked Monica.
She sighed. "If they did, they won't be able to come to us," she said shortly. "I don't mind what happened to mine anyway; they never cared two cents for me."
I sighed as well and stared towards the horizon, remembering the world as I had once known it when I was an ordinary teenaged girl training my Pidgeotto and Sunflora. Now, thanks to some jerk with nothing better to do than use germs as weapons, all the things we once took for granted were gone. We had to deal with the situation as best we could, starting by finding somewhere to stop for the night.
Luckily, there was a motel just round the corner; it stank of decay, but it still looked fairly sound. We found a visitors' book at reception and, just for fun, we signed it using a felt pen Marle found in her pocket.
Better than where I've been sleeping lately.
was what I wrote.
Night had swept quickly over the valley, prompting everyone to duck inside the motel for dinner rations and a good night's sleep.
Before I went to bed, I went back outside to take in the night sky. No matter how many times I looked up, I never got tired of stargazing; it was so peaceful staring up at the sky during the calm, quiet night . . . I frowned and brought my gaze down to the forest on the opposite side of the road. It was too quiet, no Pokemon cries, rustling or fluttering. Aside from the soft sounds from within the motel, there was no sign of anything around. I moved a little further away, but I still couldn't hear anything.
"Hey, Drake! What you up to?"
I turned round to see Marle and Stan in the doorway. Stan was still finishing his beef jerky, the only meat we could salvage from the bus.
"Oh, not much - just looking for some Pokemon," I replied.
"What? At this time of night?" Marle asked.
I shook my head and walked back towards the motel. Before I went back inside, I looked back at the forest, wondering if I was just parnoid or really onto something. Only major activity could clear an area of Pokemon, but everything seemed virtually undisturbed.
When Marle and Stan had gotten to their rooms, I let Blaze and Megavolt out. "Guys, I've got a bad feeling about this," I said. "Megavolt, keep watch until midnight. Blaze, you take it until three and I'll go from three until dawn. If anything happens, go to me first. I want to decide if there's any danger." The two of them nodded in acknowledgement; it wasn't the first time I'd asked them to keep watch. "Well, good night," I said. "Megavolt, we're in Room 4."
Megavolt then dutifully hopped over to the door while Blaze and I went into the room we had picked out for ourselves. Blaze settled down on the bed.
"Go ahead, buddy. I'll go sleep on the chair."
Blaze lay still for a moment. "Arrc," he told me. I didn't fully understand him, but I knew he meant: "You just be ready in case there is something out there."
I was standing by the window of my motel room, staring into the all-encompassing night. All the street lamps had failed long ago and the only source of light came from the full moon hanging in the sky like a giant lightbulb.
Suddenly, I saw a shooting star, a streak of light caused by a small rock entering the atmosphere, and I remembered something I used to do when I was little. My mum told me that, if I saw a shooting star, I could make a wish.
I closed my eyes and tried to think what it was I wanted most of all. So many things were lost to me and I knew no amount of wishing would bring them back. No amount of wishing would make the world as it had been before the Plague. In the end, I backed away from the window, but not before making my wish. I wished for us all to come through this together.
I had just fallen asleep, when I heard an impatient knocking on the door. "Melissa! Get up now!" yelled Stan's voice from out in the corridor.
Grumbling to myself, I got out of bed and made my way over to the door. Pushing it open, I asked what he was doing waking me up at goodness only knew what time.
"Quick, Melissa!" Stan told me. "Grab your Pokemon and get out! Marle had one of her visions; she said the whole place is gonna go up in flames!"
Wasting no time, I snatched Pidgeotto and Sunflora's Poke Balls and raced out into the corridor. Already, I could see smoke in the distance. "Would you mind telling me what's going on?" I asked Stan.
"Ben and Leon," he said shortly. "They lit a fire in the main lounge and they were supposed to bank it overnight, only . . ."
" . . . they forgot to do so," I finished. "Now, where's the nearest fire escape?"
"Down there," said Stan, pointing to a faded but still readable fire escape notice.
Stan and I clattered down the metal staircase just as the fire started to take hold. We met up with the others in the car park, or at least we met up with Ben, Drake, Leon, Marle and Kohaku. "Where's Monica?" I asked anxiously.
"Looking for her Charizard's Poke Ball," replied Marle.
"You mean she's still inside?!"
Kohaku nodded. "I told her to leave it and run, but she wouldn't."
I knew instinctively what I had to do: get back inside and rescue Monica. I coughed on the smoke as I made my way through the burning building, calling Monica's name between coughs. Finally, on the third storey, I heard a faint answering call. "M - Melissa?"
I groped my way towards the sound of Monica's voice and found her crouching by a window, her Charizard's Poke Ball clutched in her hand. "Are you OK?" I asked, kneeling beside her. "What were you thinking, going into a burning building?"
I could ask you the same question," Monica said. "But I think we'd better get out of here first."
The way I had come was blocked by flames, meaning we had no choice but to risk the window. And, since it was too high up for us to just jump out, we would have to use her Charizard to get us to safety. "Quick, Monica!" I told her. "Release your Charizard!"
Monica nodded and threw the Poke Ball she was holding. "Charizard, go!" she called as her Charizard emerged in a flash of light. "Now, break down the wall and fly us to safety!" Monica ordered as she climbed onto her Charizard's broad back and I got up behind her. In response, Charizard used Strength on the wall, making a hole large enough for us to fly through.
It was a miracle we all got out of the burning motel unscathed, but Stan and Drake were pretty ticked off at Ben and Leon. "Why didn't you stop to check that fire was banked?" Stan demanded as we made our way down an abandoned stretch of road. "You could've gotten us killed!"
"Sorry," Ben muttered.
"Sorry ain't good enough!" Stan shot back. "I think it's time someone . . ."
I could see an argument brewing, something none of us needed right now, and decided the direct approach might work best. So I marched over to Ben and Stan, grabbed each of them by their collars and banged their heads together.
"Stop acting like spoilt little children!" I yelled.
Right then, I figured anything was better than hanging around with Stan; after all, he always seemed to want to pick a fight with me and I was always the one who got the blame in the end. Of course, he got in trouble too, but that wasn't the point. The point was our team couldn't work if we kept bickering. But I couldn't abandon my friends after all we'd been through - there had to be another way to save the situation.
Stan wouldn't listen to reason no matter how hard I tried; he was too far gone into his own little world where it was every man for himself . . . Well, maybe he just wanted me out, but you couldn't have that kind of attitude in our situation. I eventually decided that, if I couldn't beat him, I'd have to join him - or at least hit him with something hard and claim the thugs got him.
My life could turn out to be a success yet.
I sometimes wondered if we'd have been better taking our chances in the Location. True, Tyler Banks had all the makings of a dictator, but at least we'd have food and shelter whereas, out here, we were forced to fight against the elements. When I next saw my reflection, in the mirror at some public washrooms, I almost didn't recognise myself. Part of it was probably down to the fact that I hadn't looked in a mirror for a while, but I was still shocked. My hair was dirty and matted from lack of washing and I was wearing a grubby t-shirt and jeans.
"Will this madness ever end?" I wondered to myself as I joined the others in the camp we'd built in an alley. Ben and Drake had found some plastic sheeting and we'd used it to set up some makeshift tents. I was sharing with Marle and I entered to find her stroking her Espeon with a decidedly preoccupied air.
"Marle?" I whispered, kneeling down beside her.
She looked up at me. "Hmm?"
"Is something bothering you? Only you seem to have a lot on your mind."
It's just . . ." Marle paused to collect her thoughts.
But it turned out that I would have to wait to hear what was bothering my friend. Suddenly, the sound of a diesel engine filled the air to cut off our conversation. Marle and I exchanged panic-stricken glances as we both wondered the same thing: who was it and what did they want?
Our answer came within moments. "Attention, Project Alpha fugitives!" said a voice directed from a megaphone. "We have you surrounded! Surrender and no-one will get hurt! We will shoot anyone who tries to escape on sight!"
I knew we had no choice but to obey and the others knew it too. Trembling with anticipation, we crept out of our hiding place to find ourselves facing the entire Alpha Division. Tyler Banks was there with a satisfied smirk on his face and, standing beside him, was Grey.
"G - Grey?" Drake stammered as he recognised his former team-mate. "But . . . why?"
"Silence!" one of Tyler's thugs barked. "Mr Kindler here very kindly informed us of your insubordination and we're here to take you back to the Location."
They forced us into an army truck and drove us through the ruins of our civilisation. I was scared, wondering if our captors would have us killed for running away. Or would we get away with a "milder" punishment such as beatings or starvation rations? Either way, I knew we would not get a warm reception.
"Looks like we've had it," said Ben, slumping down against the tail-board.
Stan looked like he was about to say something, but he stopped himself because he and Ben weren't on speaking terms since the fire at the motel.
"No!" I retorted. "Whatever happens, we mustn't give up!"
Kohaku agreed. "Yeah," she said, looking down at her Vulpix's Poke Ball. "We've survived so far and we can survive this."
As soon as Tyler and his thugs got us back to the Location, they shoved us into one of the cabins and locked the door.
I slumped to the floor, wondering what was going to happen to us now that we were at the mercy of a band of thugs. "We'll have to fight," I said out loud, staring down at Pidgeotto and Sunflora's Poke Balls. "We can't let Tyler win."
I know, but what can we do?" Monica demanded, sounding close to despair. This wasn't usual for her; she'd always seemed like the sort of person who could handle any crisis. I guess the stresses of the last few days were getting to her.
"For one thing, try joining the Freedom League," said a whispered voice from the next room. We all looked round with a start as it occurred to us that we weren't Tyler's only prisoners and we might find allies among our fellow captives.
I edged closer to the door. "Who's in there?" I whispered, hoping there was no guard outside.
"Thirteen of us, all of whom offended Tyler Banks and his cronies," said the prisoner. It was a male voice, but I didn't know who it was. "But we decided we weren't going to let him win. Instead, we will fight, all of us!"
We soon learned the full enormity of what Tyler Banks had been doing and it shocked us all.
Late one night, he and the rest of Alpha Division locked the staff in their cabins and declared that they were going to run things now. The first thing they did was to abolish the old Divisions and "marry" everyone off. Tyler also declared that any couple who failed to produce at least one child within the next three years would be severely punished; I did not want to think about what that could mean.
Steve, the man who had started the Freedom League, told me everything. He said people were being forced to work day and night, beaten if they faltered and kept in check by the threat of having any Pokemon they'd brought with them confiscated and killed. One night, a group of people - Steve was one of them - tried to make a break for it like my friends and I had done. But, unlike us, they were caught straight away.
"That's my Golduck," Steve explained, showing me a dog-eared photo. "My best friend, raised from a Psyduck. But they . . ." He could not go on and I understood how he must feel. If anything ever happened to Pidgeotto and Sunflora . . .
I glanced round at the members of the Freedom League who now wished to make allies of us.
"You came at a good time; we were planning a bust-out tonight," Steve said, motioning our group to come together in the corner of the hut. He then made a series of hand gestures that sent the others scrambling to the windows and door to listen for anyone approaching. "Let your minds relax," Steve whispered. "Just open them and trust me."
I shrugged, cleared my thoughts and was suddenly enveloped in strange sights and sounds. I heard Steve's voice coming through the din. "I am a psychic; what you are seeing are my memories of what Tyler did. I told you the story. Now see for yourselves." Scenes from the past few weeks flashed by, showing us Tyler's near-complete control of the Location.
When the telepathic link was finally broken, Steve had a grim expression on his face. From somewhere deep within me, I felt a great anger rising. I had only one thing on my mind: make Tyler pay. I had not been here during the atrocities, but what Steve had shown us was so vivid, I felt an obligation to join him. "Well, I with you, Steve," I said, shaking his hand. The others also expressed their acceptance and we were soon exchanging greetings with the other members of the Freedom League.
"So what's the plan?" asked Stan. "There's too many of them to fight head-to-head."
"We're going to bust out of here quietly first. I'll fill you in on the rest as we go," Steve replied. "I've got a few friends out there who'll get us out. You lot better have your Pokemon ready."
"You can count on my Pidgeotto and Sunflora," said Melissa. "We'll be ready."
I grabbed my own Poke Balls. "Well, Blaze and Megavolt . . Uh-oh!" Everyone looked at me as I stared sheepishly at my Poke Balls. Megavolt's Ball was empty; he had been on guard duty at the time of the fire and I didn't have chance to recall him afterwards. "Megavolt ain't here!" I exclaimed.
"How could you just lose a Pokemon?" asked Stan.
"He was still out when we got recaptured," I replied.
"Sunflora! Razor Leaf!" I called.
In response, Sunflora sent a barrage of sharp leaves in the direction of the makeshift targets we'd set up. I watched with satifaction as her Razor Leaf Attack ripped several targets to shreds; she was getting stronger every time we practised for the battle that lay ahead. "Good work, Sunflora," I said. "Now, Pidgeotto, it's your turn. Use your Gust Attack to blow the targets over!"
Pidgeotto squawked and flapped her wings to stir up a powerful gust of wind which sent the remaining targets (the ones Sunflora hadn't shredded) toppling over like dominos.
At the end of the session, I went to join Marle and Monica who were part of a group making slings for use in the battle should we need them. Monica was cutting strips of material from an old sheet Steve had found while Marle knotted them at either end and checked them for balance by attempting to hurl stones with them. "How's it going?" I asked them.
"We've got about thirty done already," Marle told me as she launched another stone. But talking to me was obviously distracting her because the stone missed its target and ended up striking Stan on the back of the head.
"Ow! Watch it!" he yelled.
Marle muttered a hasty apology and went back to what she was doing. I looked at Stan for a long time, noticing for the first time that he looked remarkably like Tyler. It made me wonder about something and I plucked up the courage to ask him directly. "Um? Stan?"
"Yeah?" He looked up briefly and went back to grooming his Growlithe.
"Stan," I went on, "I was just wondering about you and Tyler . . ."
Stan sighed deeply. "I was hoping I'd never have to tell you this," he said in a voice heavy with reluctance. "But Tyler Banks is my brother."
I gasped. So that explained why they looked so alike. But it didn't explain why there was no love lost between them.
Stan continued his explanation. "Our mother was a famous movie star and I guess she kind of spoilt Tyler when he was little," he said. "So, when I was born, he was extremely jealous; he hated having to share the spotlight with me. One of my earliest memories is of him locking me in our toy cupboard . . . Anyway, I was twelve when I decided enough was enough and ran away from home. I pretended to myself that I didn't have a brother and, after a couple of years, I began to forget about Tyler. Then, when all this began . . ."
He stopped at that point and I chose not to press. Instead, I went to sit down on the floor and prepare myself mentally for what lay ahead.