4: A Sense Of Agency

The PC hummed rhythmically as it beamed out the items that had been stored inside it, each one materialising little by little as they turned from digital code to physical matter, appearing on the side of the Pokémon Centre's main counter. Moss watched the process most attentively, seeming enamoured by the fluctuating energy particles that were forming Mars' previously abandoned shopping goods. Mars herself, meanwhile, stood next to the PC, leaning against the wall with her arms folded and her gaze downcast, her mouth a thin line that, while making her appear emotionally cold, didn't suggest anger or sadness. If anything, the crimson-haired young woman was somewhat confused at present.

'I don't get it,' she thought to herself as she stood there in silence. 'Why would he want to do something like this for me? I'm a stranger to him, to say nothing of an unpopular member of society.' She turned her head slightly and glanced at Moss, the Pokémon Breeder developing a contented smile as the last few molecules of the final package materialised before him, thus completing the PC's item withdrawal cycle.

"Somebody order a dozen biscuits to go?" the young man asked playfully, holding up the packet of Lava Cookies and giving them a light shake. Mars rolled her eyes, but the tiniest of amused smiles crossed her visage before she could stop it. "Ah, I saw that!" Moss declared without missing a beat, causing Mars to instinctively force a scowl to save face - literally, in a sense. Moss let out a knowing chuckle. "What's wrong? Don't want anyone to see that the big, bad Commander Mars can actually show human emotion?" he asked her teasingly.

"Sh-Shut it," Mars replied, a light blush appearing on her cheeks. 'Oh, Arceus, this idiot is irksome.' She stepped away from the wall, straightening up and letting her arms fall to her sides. "Look, I…" She bit her lip and averted her gaze again. "I guess I should thank you for… you know… all this," she mumbled awkwardly. The former Galactic Commander was mildly flummoxed when she suddenly felt a hand gently take hold of her chin, lifting her head up slightly. Moss was there before her, his brown eyes focused directly on her own crimson ones, a gentle, reassuring smile on his face.

"That's better," he said warmly, tenderly. " See? Eye contact's nothing to be afraid of."

Mars stared into the Breeder's deep, soulful, inviting eyes, and for just a moment, there was nothing in the world except for her… and Moss. Then she realised what she was doing and quickly brushed the boyish young man's arm away. "I'm not afraid," she insisted irritably, hoping to Arceus that her face wasn't visibly reflecting how hot it presently felt - a hope that was very much in vain. "I just…" She bit her lip again, her gaze becoming averted once more.

"H-Hey, it's okay," Moss assured her. "Lot's of people struggle with eye contact. Heh. Now that I think about it, I was pretty shy and awkward myself when I was young."

"I don't care what you were like when you were young!" Mars snapped, suddenly focusing her gaze on Moss intently, glaring icily at him. "I don't care what you think in regards to anything! I just came here to get my stuff and go! I… I just…" Head turned, gaze averted. It really was starting to become a pattern, and one that had by no means escaped Moss' notice. "Just leave me alone," Mars muttered, trying to sound irritable, but an unmistakable hint of sadness betrayed her, her words almost pleading.

Moss sighed, but it wasn't an exasperated or disapproving sigh. It was a sad sigh. "I'm sorry," he said earnestly. "I just wanted try and to do right by you."


The question slipped out before Mars could stop it. Moss blinked, looking surprised. He then gave an awkward, bewildered-sounding chuckle. "Well, why not?" he responded simply.

"What're you, an imbecile?" Mars demanded, sounding irritable again. "I'm Mars! Commander Mars! The Galactic scoundrel who steals Pokémon, blows up lakes and takes candy from babies! At least, that last one is what I imagine people say about me! I mean, why wouldn't they?! I was part of a criminal organisation that threatened the stability of time and space! Time and space, Moss! Doesn't that tell you something?"

Moss was silent for a long moment, no doubt having been taken aback by Mars' words. The crimson-haired woman smirked, a cold, cynical smirk of satisfaction worthy of its ever-pessimistic bearer.

"You get it now?" she asked quietly. "I'm not worthy of your time." Like clockwork, she bit her lip and moved her gaze away from the Breeder before her. "I'm better off alone." She then exhaled deeply. "Thank you for the items, Moss," she said curtly, moving to the counter to fetch the goods that had been purchased on her behalf, scooping them up in her arms. "Good day to you… and goodbye." On that note, she turned and strode out of the Pokémon Centre, looking quite the spectacle with all those packets and spray bottles bundled up together in her arms, the former Commander barely able to hold it all without dropping anything.

Moss stared at Mars' retreating back. He reached out with one hand, wanting to call out to her, but he was unsure of what to say, and Mars was already out the sliding doors regardless. The Breeder lowered his hand, looking glum… and then his expression hardened, becoming one of determination.

"What a day," Mars muttered to herself a short while later, placing the last of her items in the appropriate cupboards in her apartment's kitchen. "Those loudmouths at the Poffin House, those bizarrely dressed weirdoes at the Pokémon Centre… and that idiot…" She sighed. "It's all over now. Time to get back on track." She then snorted derisively at her own words. "Back on track. Because sitting on my butt stuffing my face in front of the TV is so fulfilling." She had meant it as a joke, albeit a cynical one, but even as she said it, a great sadness washed over her, clinging at her insides in a cold, clammy manner. Another sigh escaped her, a more drawn out, miserable sigh. "It is what it is," she told herself firmly. "I mean, it's not like I can just go out there and…" She suppressed the third sigh that threatened to leave her mouth. She reached up and opened the cupboard above the sink to see the orange and black colouring of the Lava Cookie packaging. "I got these for free, albeit in a round-about way. Might as well make the most of it."

Two minutes later, Mars was flicking through TV channels, her rear firmly and comfortably wedged into the couch cushion she sat upon, biscuit crumbs already littering her black top as she sat there with the remote in one hand, a half-eaten Lava Cookie in the other, the gooey chocolate oozing out of the biscuit's centre threatening to drip onto the crimson-haired young woman's jeans.

Knock, knock, knock.

Mars' head jerked in the direction of the apartment's front door. She hastily swallowed her mouthful of biscuit. "I've already paid this month's rent!" she called as clearly and as rudely as she could, thinking it was the landlord. She wasn't in the mood to get chewed out right now. She expected the landlord to shout something back at her, perhaps even being so petty as to address her as 'Galactic', as the man often did, but Mars was met with a curious silence. After a moment, however, she noticed something - a slip of paper - being slid under the door. How odd. Mars waited for a long moment, but when nothing else happened, she got up, warily approached the door and opened it, peering out into the hallway, glancing this way and that. As she looked to the left, she saw someone walk around the corner at the end of the hallway and out of sight.

Someone wearing a mossy green Pokémon Breeder bandana and carrying a rustic silver bucket in one had.

"You've gotta be kidding me," Mars muttered to herself. "He followed me home like a lost Growlithe puppy?" She then grimaced. "Or perhaps like a stalker?" She turned her attention to the note on the floor, reaching down to pick it up, turning it over in her hand. It was written in neat and - loathsome as she was to admit it - rather beautiful handwriting. It read:

To a certain red-haired pessimist who's worth a lot more than she realises,

Meet me at the Pokémon Centre in Eterna City at noon tomorrow if you're able to. There's something I'd like to show you, if you'll allow me.

-a certain 'idiot'.

Mars couldn't help but smirk at that cynical, self-aware signature, but she was still skeptical, if not suspicious. What exactly was this Moss guy's deal? Why had he taken such an interest in her all of a sudden? "'Worth a lot more than she realises…'" the crimson-haired woman read aloud in a soft murmur. Why did Moss care what Mars thought of herself? Why would anyone care? She hardly cared at this point. She was used to being the black Mareep of Sinnoh society. The only conclusion she could draw was that Moss wanted something from her…

…But what, exactly?

Zossie softly hummed to herself as she sat there on a lone bench in one of the less-travelled streets of Hearthome city, a contented smile on her face as she gently moved the brush she held along the white-furred back of the Furfrou that stood before her, the Poodle Pokémon motionless as the armoured girl continued to lovingly, rhythmically groom its coat.

"Aaaaand done!" Zossie said brightly, lowering the brush. "How was that, Furfrou? Did I do a good job?"

"Arf!" Furfrou responded in a deep, throaty bark, eyeing Zossie with an approving look, giving a single stoic wag of its tail. Zossie giggled delightedly and recalled the Normal type back into its high-tech checkered blue Pokéball with yellow fins - a Beast Ball. The girl then looked up in time to see Dulse approaching the bench, his gaze focused on his armoured wrist, on which an open panel displayed a number of digitised symbols.

"No readings in this area…" the purple-haired man murmured to himself. He closed the casing on his arm with an audible click, turning his attention to his younger cohort. "What was that you were doing just now?" he enquired curiously.

"I was brushing Furfrou's fur," Zossie responded cheerfully. "I read in one of this world's books that Furfrou just love to be groomed." She then looked thoughtful. "Hey, do you think Naganadel would—?" she started.

"No," Dulse answered without hesitation, cutting off his cohort before she could finish, his tone as firm as it was curt. Zossie's smile faded. Dulse, meanwhile, turned away, glancing up and down the empty street. "Dusk is approaching. We should move along," he mused aloud. On that note, he started to walk away, no doubt expecting Zossie to follow him. Zossie pouted at her cohort's retreating back, and before she could stop herself, she poked out her grey tongue at him.

'Same old Dulse - all work and no play,' she thought to herself somewhat bitterly as she got to her feet and followed after her fellow Ultra Recon Squad agent without a word. 'Just once, I wish he would 'lighten up', as they say.'

The armoured duo walked in silence for a little while, reaching the city's limits just short of ten minutes later and beginning to make their way down Route 212. Zossie's bitterness quickly faded away as she took in the sights of the lush green trees that lined the path, the streams that flowed between said foliage… and the sky's pleasant golden-orange colour as the sun set over the horizon. Her eyes lit up with delight, the orange-haired agent quickly finding herself enamoured with the world around her.

'Sinnoh is so beautiful,' she thought to herself as she walked along, stopping every now and then to examine her reflection in a body of water, or to use her suit's scanners to analyse the bark of a nearby tree, always quick to scoot back over to Dulse's stead before he could notice her 'disregarding her priorities'. Zossie was tempted to snort at such an accusation; wasn't Dulse the one who had told her that gathering as much information as they could about the world they were currently in was instrumental to the success of their mission?

Oh, no, wait, it had been Leader Phyco who had said that. Dulse, meanwhile, was goal-oriented to a fault… and Zossie could certainly see the fault. She couldn't help but wonder what her fellow agent, Soliera, would say if she were here. Soliera more or less viewed Leader Phyco's word as law, as an absolute - again, to a fault. Zossie often felt that she was the only person who was aware of these faults in her fellow agents, or at least, the only one who seemed to regard them as such…

"Hold it! Who goes there?"

A flashlight beam was cast upon Zossie and Dulse just as the sun disappeared behind the treetops and the gloom of evening settled in, the beam illuminating the armoured duo. The flashlight's wielder was a uniformed police officer who had just begun his evening patrol. The young law enforcer's eyes widened in bewilderment at the sight of the curiously garbed Ultra Recon Squad agents. Zossie, unnerved by this sudden encounter, willed her visor to slide down over her eyes, which it did immediately, the girl stepping up to Dulse, partially concealing herself behind him like a child looking to their older sibling for reassurance and protection.

"What in the…?" the policeman started, instinctively reaching towards one of the Pokéballs at his belt, the fingers of his free hand hovering over it, ready to call out his Machop if these armoured individuals before him should prove to be any sort of threat. Before either party could move, however, a shrill scream rent the air quite suddenly, coming from somewhere further down Route 212. The policeman turned his head in response to the sound, very much alert. "That came from down near Mr. Backlot's place," he mused aloud. He glanced back at Dulse and Zossie, the latter still appearing worried while the former stood firm, as stoic and unwavering as ever.

"Dulse, someone's in trouble," Zossie murmured to her cohort quietly, sounding almost pleading as she stared up at him from behind her visor.

Dulse, after a moment's hesitation, nodded. "We should investigate this occurrence," he stated, and with that, he and Zossie started to hurry away in the direction the scream had come from without another word.

"H-Hey! Wait a… minute," the uniformed officer called, speaking the last word dully as he realised that the armoured duo weren't about to stop. Gritting his teeth with apprehension, the young policeman began to jog after them, silently hoping that the strange pair wouldn't compound whatever trouble might be occurring within the vicinity of Mr. Backlot's Pokémon Mansion.

Dulse and Zossie rounded the corner of the path that led up to the front gates of the mansion in time to hear someone cry out fearfully, the pair stopping in their tracks. There, right in front of the mansion gates, was a teenage girl garbed in an orange tank top and matching shorts, her blonde hair tied back. She was on the ground on her rear, gazing fearfully up at the two Tangrowth that towered over her, one of the grass types having wrapped a vine around the girl's ankle, holding her in place.

"What's going on here?" the police officer demanded as he caught up with the Ultra Recon Squad, doubled over, out of breath. After a brief moment, he shined his flashlight forward, illuminating the troubling scene in front of the gates. "What in Arceus' name…?!"

"H-Help me!" the Battle Girl pleaded, catching sight of the trio of onlookers. The tough facade that Battle Girls were known for had fallen away to be replaced by genuine fear. "Please!"

Dulse and Zossie glanced at each other, nodding in perfect unison without a word. They drew their respective Beast Balls and tossed them skyward.

"Furfrou! Help us out!" Zossie called, her Beast Ball bursting open and unleashing a flash of light as she spoke.

"Arf, arf!" Furfrou barked as it materialised on the grass, its fur ruffling slightly in the evening breeze, making it look cool and heroic.

"Naganadel! I require your assistance!" Dulse proclaimed, the burst of light from his own Beast Ball giving way to a Pokémon unlike anything the onlooking police officer had ever seen. It was a large, insectoid creature of deep purple with pale purple stripes adorning its abdomen. It had a head, wings and clawed appendages that could be best described as draconic, with three metallic, stinger-like prosthetics protruding from its abdomen. It let out a spine-chilling screech as it appeared, hovering several feet above the ground on beating wings. The policeman was momentarily taken aback by the bizarre Pokémon's appearance, but he knew that he had a job to do, and it looked as though he'd be relying on these oddly dressed strangers to help him. With newfound determination, he reached for his own red and white Pokéball.

"Machop, go! Enforce the law!" he cried, unleashing his own Pokémon.

"Machop!" the Fighting type called as it appeared, thrusting its fist into the air with bold, dramatic flair as it joined Zossie's Furfrou and Dulse's Naganadel in front of the mansion's gates.

The Tangrowth turned to face the Pokémon that served human - and humanoid - masters, their eyes narrowing behind the tangled messes of vines that made up their bodies. "Tangrowth, Tan!" they called threateningly, warning the opposing Pokémon to stay out of matters that did not concern them. Machop responded in the Pokémon tongue, telling the Tangrowth that they had made it the Fighting type's concern the moment they had decided to prey on a civilian.

"Naganadel, use Poison Jab on the Tangrowth!" Dulse commanded. With another screech, Naganadel reared up, preparing to attack, its prosthetic stingers glowing with purple, venomous energy.

"Machop, support that, uh, Naganadel!" the police officer ordered. "Use Karate Chop to free the girl from that Tangrowth's vines!"

"Maaaaaaaaa…!" Machop cried, leaping forward in tandem with Naganadel's movements, holding its hand at the ready in a chopping motion. The Tangrowth glanced at each other briefly, and then they lashed out with their many, many vines. The various Pokémon attacks were about to collide in a chaotic flurry when-

"WAIT!" Zossie cried suddenly. Her visor's scanners had picked up something that everyone else present had failed to notice. The Pokémon all halted in their tracks. Even the Tangrowth hesitated in response to the sudden shout.

"Zossie?" Dulse said, watching his cohort expectantly, waiting for her to explain herself.

"Don't you see?" Zossie asked. "Cone on, Dulse, use your visor!"

"Hmm?" Dulse mused, taking a moment to survey his surroundings. His gaze settled upon a nearby bush, his scanners indicating a life form concealed within, and not just any life form. "Ah. I see," the purple-haired man said before proceeding to hold his Beast Ball aloft and recall Naganadel into the capsule. While this was happening, Zossie walked over to the aforementioned bush, her Furfrou in tow. The Tangrowth watched warily, still appearing very bristled. Furfrou nosed around the bush, soon ushering out its occupant, which was a little ball of tangled vines on two small feet, a pair of big, cartoonish eyes peering out from within.

A Tangela.

"Ah," the policeman said, nodding in understanding. "They weren't attempting to harm this young Trainer; they were just trying to keep her away from their baby." On that note, he recalled his Machop and stood there with his hands on his hips, confident that the situation was under control.

"It's okay," Zossie assured the Tangrowth gently as Furfrou escorted the little Tangela over to its parents. "The little guy's safe and sound, see?"

The Tangrowth glanced at each other again, and then the one that was restraining the Battle Girl relented, gently unwrapping its vine from around her ankle and retracting the photosynthetic appendage, much to the young Trainer's relief. She got to her feet slowly. Very slowly, still extremely wary of the two large Pokémon before her. The Tangela jumped up into its mother's vines with a cheerful cry of its own name, prompting the maternal figure to hug its offspring affectionately. The two Tangrowth then started to stride away with their baby in tow.

"Well done, Zossie," Dulse commented as he stepped over to join his cohort. "You managed to resolve that situation peacefully."

"Y-Yeah, thanks for the save," the Battle Girl commented rather shakily. "I didn't even know that Tangela was there. I was just looking to pay Mr. Backlot a visit when those Tangrowth suddenly started advancing on me from out of the shadows. I took one look at them and, well, I panicked," she admitted sheepishly, her cheeks reddening slightly in embarrassment. "Didn't even think to call out my Pokémon to help me. Man, the other Battle Girls are gonna give me heaps for this."

The policeman chuckled knowingly at that as he walked over. "Well, the important thing is that you're safe, Miss. All's well that ends well, thanks to these… uh… Trainers here," he concluded, giving a polite nod towards the Ultra Recon Squad agents. "Care to tell us your names, you two?"

"I am Dulse, field agent of the Ultra Recon Squad," Dulse stated, demonstrating the 'Alolan wave' in greeting - a gesture that was lost on the policeman and Battle Girl, who were unfamiliar with Alolan culture.

"And I'm Zossie!" Zossie said brightly, giving a more casual, one-handed wave. "Nice to meet you!"

"Well, Dulse, Zossie, you have my thanks," the officer said. "Folks around here know me as Policeman Bobby. Let me know if there's ever anything I can do for you."

"I'm Tyler," the Battle Girl inputted. "Me and my partner Medicham are travelling the Sinnoh region to hone our battle abilities." She then chuckled awkwardly. "After tonight, I guess I'll have to work on honing my nerves while I'm at it."

"How about you two? What brings you to this part of Sinnoh?" Policeman Bobby enquired curiously.

Dulse and Zossie glanced at each other before the former answered the law enforcer's query. "Suffice to say that we are seekers of knowledge. To that end, we will readily offer our assistance to—"

"Anyone who needs it!" Zossie cut in.

"Zossie!" Dulse hissed disapprovingly; Zossie's words were not those with which he had intended to finish his sentence.

"Well, it's true!" Zossie insisted. "We helped out just now, didn't we? And I, for one, feel accomplished for having done so!"

Dulse bit back an irritated sigh. "We should be going," he said firmly to his cohort, causing her smile to noticeably falter. Suppressing another, more weary sigh, Dulse then added, "There may be others out there who require our assistance." That made Zossie visibly brighten up in an instant.

"Huh. They sure are something, aren't they?" Tyler said to Policeman Bobby as they watched the Ultra Recon Squad walk away. "Sure are strangely dressed, though - perhaps even stranger than Team Galactic…"

Before anyone asks, yes, Tyler is the same Battle Girl who tried to pick a fist fight with Mars in Chapter 1.

Anyway, I really hope that you're all enjoying this fanfic so far. I'm very passionate about the Gen 4 Pokémon games, and it means a lot to me to be able to tribute them with this fanfic… while also throwing in some characters and references relating to other Pokémon games here and there.

Still not sure how I feel about Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, though...

Stay tuned for more chapters… as the journey continues!