1: Forever Galactic
"Here comes a brand new world,
A step into a place you've never been…"
The young woman with meticulously styled crimson hair suppressed an irritated groan as that song, that same stupid pop song that had been blaring on just about every radio station lately, started up again for what felt like felt like the thousandth time that week, this time courtesy of the Veilstone Department Store's overhead speaker system. She was well and truly sick of it at this point. It didn't help that one of her fellow patrons nearby felt the need to hum along to the tune with all the discretion of a Rampardos having a bad day.
'Ugh. How juvenile,' the crimson-haired woman thought to herself as she watched the young Pokémon Breeder gently sway his arms this way and that, his eyes closed and a goofy smile on his face as he proceeded to 'rock out' right there between two displays of varying types of Pokéballs. His mossy green bandanna was lopsided, partially covering the boyish young man's right eye. He looked like a complete buffoon. 'I bet store security would come and escort me out if I tried that. Not that I would.'
The Breeder's azure eyes then flew open and he proceeded to lip-sync in time with the song's lyrics, looking as though he thought of himself as Arceus' gift to the music industry. "Raise your hand, sing along, we'll be as one…" He even developed a dramatic, over-the-top pose, raising his hand in tandem with the lyrics 'raise your hand'. In spite of her disapproval of such undignified behaviour, the crimson-haired woman was almost tempted to laugh. Almost.
The crimson-haired woman gathered up the last few items she needed - two Hyper Potions, a Burn Heal and a packet of Lava Cookies - and placed them in the provided shopping basket she carried before heading downstairs to the main checkout on the ground floor of the multi-storey shopping centre. In truth, she could have just paid at the checkout on the floor she had found the items on, but there was a small crowd of people gathered near that particular checkout, chatting to each other merrily as they browsed the wares on display, and the crimson-haired woman didn't want any of them to notice her; it was in her best interest to draw as little attention to herself as possible. She'd learned that from experience. Additionally, she wanted to put some distance between herself and that goofball of a Breeder, for if anyone in this store was likely to draw attention to themselves, it was him, and if he was anywhere near her, she'd probably get noticed just for being in the same postcode as someone so… outgoing. Yes, 'outgoing'. That was probably the politest way of putting it.
The crimson-haired woman waited patiently in the queue, careful not to speak to or make eye contact with anyone unless it was an absolute necessity. She was next to be served at the counter, once the lady in front of her - an Aroma Lady - moved along… and she couldn't move along fast enough. The scent of lavender hung heavily in the air, the ditzy flower lover having no doubt drowned herself in essence of the plant in question. The checkout clerk seemed to have noticed it, too, but he, much like the crimson-haired woman, knew how to maintain composure if the face of that which threatened to shatter it. He scanned each item the Aroma Lady was purchasing without a word, accepted her pay, handed her the receipt for her items and she moved along with a lighthearted giggle, no doubt riding a faint high on her own overzealous fragrance. 'Ditzy hippie,' the crimson-haired woman thought to herself before stepping forward. She then winced, feeling a discomforting weight press against the heels of her boots. "What the…?" she mumbled instinctively, turning to see what was pressed up against her, half-expecting to see some small, domesticated Pokémon that had gotten away from one of the other shoppers. Her expression became one of livid disbelief when she saw that the person behind her was stepping on her heels, and that lividness quickly escalated when she saw just who the person in question was.
"Oh! S-Sorry! My bad!" the Pokemon Breeder stammered, hastily taking a step back as he realised what he was doing. After a brief moment of looking horrified at and ashamed of his mistake, he suddenly chuckled awkwardly, putting a hand to the back of his neck, a sheepish grin on his youthful face. "Guess I really put my foot in it, huh? Both of them, in fact," he joked, a faint blush of embarrassment forming on his cheeks.
The crimson-haired woman stared at the boyish young man. He was only a few years younger than herself. His Pokéballs were strapped clumsily to his waist, one of them looking like it might fall out of the harness and roll away at any moment. His Breeder apron was stained with mud in several places and one of his green sneakers (the left one) had little pink hearts drawn on it, as though a small child had taken a marker and decorated the piece of footwear in their youthful innocence. He carried a small, rustic-looking metal bucket in his right hand, having put his shopping items in that rather than one of the store's clean, rectangular baskets of light blue. He looked like he was fresh out of… wherever aspiring Breeders went to be trained in their profession and looked to all the world - or at least, to the crimson-haired woman - like he had absolutely no idea what he was doing in any sense. The word 'idiot' came to the crimson-haired woman's mind.
"Hmm? What was that?" the Breeder asked innocently, tilting his head curiously. The crimson-haired woman quickly realised that she hadn't merely thought the word 'idiot' inside her mind, but had, in fact, mumbled the derogatory term aloud! She hastily cleared her throat, briefly stalling as her sharp mind worked to bring this situation to a conclusion that wouldn't involve an argument. There was a time when she would've relished in an argument, relished in the opportunity to knock this boy of a man down a peg or two… but those days were behind her, or so she kept telling herself.
"I said, be careful," she answered curtly. A simple, obvious response, but sometimes the simplest solution was the best one, if not the safest one. She started to turn away so she could get her shopping sorted and mercifully get out of this place, but then she felt the Breeder's hand on her shoulder.
"I'm Moss," he babbled awkwardly. "At least, that's what everybody calls me. One of my old pals back in school just started calling me that one day and the nickname kinda, sorta stuck. I've grown to like it, though."
'Why is he still talking to me?!' the crimson-haired woman wondered, both perplexed and exasperated. 'Does he think that introducing himself is the next logical course of action after stepping on someone's heels?'
"H-Hey, are you okay, ma'am?" the Breeder, Moss, then asked, concern appearing on his youthful face. "I mean, maybe it's none of my business, but you look like a Stantler caught in headlights."
"I…! Ma'am?!" the crimson-haired woman spluttered, her dignified composure crumbling in response to being addressed in such a way. "I'm only a couple years older than you, boy! Three at most! Now take your hand off my shoulder," she went on, forcefully brushing his arm away, "And let me complete my shopping transaction in peace!" With that, she turned to step up to the counter… only to find someone between herself and said counter, and it wasn't the clerk.
"Commander Mars," the girl greeted coldly, sneering out the name as though it were an unpleasant taste on her tongue, thrusting her fist into her opposite palm as she spoke. She was evidently a Battle Girl, judging by her attire; orange tank top and shorts, dark blue fingerless gloves and matching sneakers, her blonde hair tied back. "You've got real nerve showing your face around here."
The crimson-haired woman, Commander Mars, grimaced, realising that her outburst at Moss had drawn attention to herself. The exact kind of attention she had been hoping to avoid. She held her ground and addressed the Battle Girl calmly, however. "That was my former title, yes," she stated simply, almost curtly. "Evidently, that matters to you, Miss…"
"Ah, never mind who I am, and you're darn right it matters to me!" the Battle Girl declared. "You and your little uniformed friends tried to steal meteors from their historical site in this very city - the city I grew up in, I might add - right under Leader Maylene's nose!"
Many of the nearby shoppers gasped, some of them beginning to murmur. Mars suddenly became keenly aware of the feeling of many disapproving eyes on her back. She grimaced once again. It was true that Team Galactic had attempted to steal Veilstone City's coveted meteors in the pursuit of energy research, but she herself had not been directly involved in that particular example of Team Galactic's criminal activity. That wasn't to say that she was innocent as a whole, however…
"Your gripe is with Commander Saturn, not myself," Mars stated matter-of-factly, staring the Battle Girl right in the eyes without faltering. "I have no quarrel with you. Kindly stand aside. There are people looking to make purchases, myself included."
"'People are looking to make purchases, myself included'!" the Battle Girl mimicked jeeringly. For someone who looked to be eighteen, if that, she certainly didn't act like a young adult. "I'm not done with you, 'Commander'. Not even close. Those meteors are just the tip of the iceberg. I hear you were making trouble all over the Sinnoh region. I'm sure the people who live near Lake Valor in particular would very much appreciate me dusting my knuckles off on you. Do you deny your involvement in the Lake Valor incident… Galactic?"
The murmurs turned to boos, the onlookers glaring at Mars disapprovingly. The crimson-haired young woman visibly sagged in response to the Battle Girl's accusation; it was no secret that Team Galactic had blown up Lake Valor as a means of forcibly draining it in the pursuit of a Legendary Pokémon, which they had been seeking to capture and experiment on. The explosion had rocked the entire region, being felt as far away as Canalave City. Such a blatant disregard for nature, to say nothing of how much terror the blast had inspired, had made Team Galactic very unpopular from coast to coast, and had more than woken everyone up to their dastardly intentions as an organisation.
"Heh. Never would've believed it," the Battle Girl said quietly, smirking coldly at Mars' shameful expression. "Guilt. Actual guilt in your eyes. Guilt in the eyes of a Galactic!" she cried, raising her voice once more. "And so she should feel guilty! So she should be ashamed!"
"Yeah!" one of the onlooking shoppers exclaimed, and the people around him cheered in agreement before directing another rendition of booing at Mars. Despite every instinct telling her to be defiant, to not let anyone get to her, Mars could feel tears welling up in her eyes, threatening to burst forth. She then gasped softly as she felt the Battle Girl's hand gently take hold of her chin, lifting the crimson-haired woman's head up.
"Now that I think about it, no pain I could inflict on you could compare to just how truly ashamed of yourself you ought to feel," she whispered softly before pulling her free arm back, her fist tightened and at the ready. "Guess I'll just have to make this count, then." On that note, she let lose, thrusting her fist forward.
Mars winced, screwing her eyes shut and waiting for the Battle Girl's knuckles to slam into her jaw. She waited… but the blow didn't come. She dared to open her eyes, and what she saw very nearly made her mouth fall open in disbelief.
"Th-That's enough!" Moss stammered, sounding terrified despite the furious, disapproving scowl on his face as he stood there, holding the Battle Girl's arm at bay by the wrist. "You… You've made your point! Hitting her won't undo all the trouble Team Galactic caused!"
The Battle Girl glared at Moss, seeming just as dumbfounded as Mars felt. Finally, she stopped struggling against Moss' hold and relaxed her arm, soon lowering it. "You're right," she said at last. "After all, garbage splatters when you punch it," she concluded, folding her arms and turning away.
Mars looked around. The crowd had fallen silent, seeming just as shocked as she and the Battle Girl were at Moss' actions. After a moment, they started to go about their business, resuming what they had been doing before the confrontation had occurred. There were still some murmurs here and there, but the hostile atmosphere had dwindled somewhat. Mars caught Moss' eye and he offered her a small, reassuring smile… but it didn't comfort her. Not in the least. She glared at him in absolute outrage, the tears having burst forth, flowing down her cheeks. She let her shopping basket fall from her hands, the items strewing onto the tiled floor… and then she turned and ran.
She ran out of the Veilstone Department Store, away from it.
Away from the shoppers who had booed her.
Away from the Battle Girl who had tried to hit her.
Away from the idiot who had stepped on her heels and addressed her as 'ma'am', getting her all riled up and causing her to draw attention to herself.
And yet, she couldn't run away from the fact that she would, always and forever, be associated with Team Galactic and their previous misdeeds.
No matter where she went, no matter who she encountered, no matter what she did, no matter who she tried to be...
She would always be… Commander Mars.