Chapter 17: Behind Closed Doors

I awoke the following morning feeling rather tired. While I had gotten a good amount of sleep, the events of the preceding day had weighed heavily on my dreams. Not just my sleeping dreams, but also my dreams for the future. Losing happened to everyone, I knew that, but it still bothered me. What if I kept losing, or lost at a crucial moment? It was not a pleasant prospect. That said, I still had my rematch with Wake to think about. If I could beat him today, then I could put my fears to rest. If not, my dreams of one day being a Champion might slip through my grasp.

Eevee must have been able to feel my anxiety, because she was up the instant I was. She nuzzled my arm affectionately and cooed softly at me. I smiled back and patted her head. At least she wasn't worried, even though she had been the one who had really lost yesterday. I had checked on her, Cherrim and Rotom after returning from the Marsh, and they all had seemed to be coping well. Rotom seemed to think the whole thing was funny, while Cherrim seemed pleased that he had evolved more than anything.

I changed into my regular outfit and headed to the Pokemon Centre's lobby, Eevee retaking her place on my shoulder. I let out the rest of my team, along with Breloom, who I wanted the rest of them to meet. It did not go at all the way I hoped. Breloom acted aloof towards my other Pokemon when they tried to engage her, ignoring them rather blatantly. The exceptions were Kirlia and Skarmory, the two that had defeated her. She spent most of her time glaring at the two of them, and when Skarmory started glaring back, I recalled both of them before they could start a commotion.

I sighed and seated myself at a table for some breakfast. Lucas joined me shortly afterwards and I told him about Breloom's attitude. "To be honest, I wasn't expecting that," I stated simply. "Thus far all of my Pokemon have been pretty even mannered about being beaten by my team."

"Well," pondered Lucas, "each Pokemon is different, just like each person. It doesn't really surprise me that there are some that are more sensitive about losing."

"I guess she's kinda like me then," I remarked. "I'm still pretty bummed out about losing to Wake yesterday. I intend to return the favour."

"You're planning to use Breloom right?"

"Yup. With any luck, beating Wake's Floatzel will put her in a better mood. I know it'll make me feel better."

Lucas chuckled and we went back to eating. After their first impression of Breloom, my other Pokemon seemed a bit unsure. Kirlia projected concern about Breloom's confrontational nature, while Cherrim came off as a bit jealous, as he had previously been the only Grass type Pokemon on my team. I assured him that it was not a replacement, although he still seemed a little clingy. I didn't mind so much, since I knew that nothing could replace Cherrim. He was the first Pokemon I caught on my own after all.

With the addition of Breloom, I had inadvertently pushed myself over the six Pokemon limit, although the absence of half my team had kept it from being immediately invoked. I decided to leave Sableye behind for the time being, her stamina being lower than some of my other team members due to the injury she had sustained when we first met. Nurse Joy offered to look after her, for which I was grateful. With my team set and my goal firmly entrenched in my mind, I departed once again for Wake's Gym.

To the surprise of both Lucas and I, Wake was waiting for us outside the Gym when we arrived. He grinned broadly at us as we approached. "Welcome back young trainers," he declared loudly as we stopped next to him. "I had a feeling you'd be back before long. Nurse Joy and the Safari Warden told me that you guys helped him out yesterday, even though you weren't doing too well yourself."

"It wasn't that big of a deal," I replied, although a smirk made itself apparent on my face. "Besides, I got a new Pokemon out of it, and we're here for a rematch."

"Are you now? Bwahaha, I like your guts kiddo, but don't forget what I told you."

"Oh don't worry; it's been on my mind since yesterday. Even though I haven't been at this for long, I have no intention of letting that get in the way of my dreams. I'll take the experience as it comes and in the meantime, I'll just do what I always do."

"Good answer. Alright then, the Wakester accepts your request for a rematch. Come on inside."

Lucas and I followed Wake into the Gym, although Lucas kept his distance from the pool this time. I snickered as I moved to the middle of the Gym, taking my place on the far end of the arena. The platform that had been damaged by Gyarados the day before had not been repaired, and still had a chunk broken off of it. Wake took up his position opposite me, grinning broadly.

"Alright then, let's make this simple," he called across to me. "This will be a one on one match, since you ran wild on the rest of my team yesterday."

"Sounds good to me," I called back, plucking Breloom's Safari Ball from my vest. Eevee licked my ear to show her support and I smiled. I tapped my Fedora for a bit of extra luck and let my ball fly.

Breloom materialized on the platform nearest me as her ball bounced back to me. At the same time, Wake tossed his Pokeball onto the opposite platform, letting loose his Floatzel. Breloom looked around the arena, almost seeming bored. She was clearly displeased that she had not gotten to settle things with Skarmory or Kirlia. Hopefully I could convince her to focus on the match at hand instead.

"Alright Breloom," I called to her, "I know you're not happy about getting beaten yesterday, but I think I know how you feel. This time will be different though, I'm not going to hold you back this time."

Although she seemed to only be half listening, Breloom turned her attention to Wake's Floatzel. However, both Floatzel and its trainer seemed intrigued by Breloom herself. "That's wild," remarked Wake. "I've never seen a Breloom like that before. You got some kind of crazy luck there kiddo. It'll take more than luck to get back at me though."

"I don't need to get lucky, I'm gonna beat you no matter what!"

"We'll see. Alright Floatzel, start this off with 'Aqua Jet'!"

I smirked. "Breloom, use 'Mach Punch'."

Floatzel tore along the surface of the pool towards Breloom, without any heed for the platforms in between. Breloom remained almost completely motionless, only slightly shifting the position of her legs. Just as Floatzel was on top of her, Breloom lashed out with each of her elastic arms. The first caught Floatzel square in the gut, stopping him dead in his tracks. The second blow came right at his head, tossing him back to the middle platform. Although momentarily stunned, Floatzel regained his balance and glared fiercely at Breloom. She responded with a rattling noise that sounds like snickering.

"Well I'll be," remarked Wake, "that Breloom is mighty fast. Not good enough though; Floatzel, Dive underwater!"

Since following Floatzel underwater was not an option, we would have to wait for it to resurface. Just like against Breloom herself the day before, the timing would have to be perfect. "Wait for it..." I said, watching Floatzel's silhouette under the water. Breloom did the same, watching her opponent swim around the bottom of the pool.

"Alright, now," called Wake, "'Aqua Tail'!"

Floatzel's silhouette blurred as she shot from the bottom of the pool straight through the surface. As he broke the surface of the water, I could just barely make out his form turning around, both tails spinning rapidly. Breloom saw him coming and turned to face him head on. The force he carried was incredible, and every ounce of it struck Breloom square in the chest. However, that was what I had been waiting for.

"Now, 'Counter'!"

The look on Wake's face as I called out was priceless; his Floatzel had gotten far too close. Breloom wrapped her rubbery arms around Floatzel's midsection and drew him in tight. Then, using the momentum from his attack and a remarkable display of her flexibility, she bent completely over backwards, carrying Floatzel with her. As a former wrestler, I'm sure Wake knew techniques like this all too well. Floatzel's head hit the concrete platform with a nasty thud, at which point Breloom released him. The impact was not without cost though, as Breloom staggered backwards a few paces from the shock.

Floatzel had taken a serious blow to the head, and slumped over onto his belly. He was still conscious, but was having a hard time getting up. I knew that Breloom couldn't take another hit like that if Floatzel got back up, so I had to keep it pinned down. Thankfully, my Pokedex had provided the answer the day before.

"Breloom, use 'Stun Spore'," I called simply.

Breloom croaked in response and shook the bulbs on the end of her tail. A thick cloud of yellow spores was released from her tail, and thoroughly coated Wake's Floatzel. The spores took effect instantly, catching Floatzel to twitch involuntarily. He continued to try and get up, but his movements were extremely limited by the paralysing spores. I was about to call out another attack to finish the job when Wake called to me instead.

"Alright, that's enough," he called, bringing out his Pokeball. "I know when I'm beat." He recalled his Floatzel and began walking around the pool towards me. "I must say, that was impressive. I wasn't kidding when I said you were talented yesterday."

"Thanks," I replied, trying not to sound smug. It wouldn't have been proper, considering he had beaten me the day before. I moved to recall Breloom, although it was quite apparent that she was not happy about not getting to deliver the finishing blow. I would have to be careful not to let her get too pent up, otherwise she might pick a fight with my other Pokemon like she tried to do with Skarmory.

I walked over to Wake and met him at the edge of the pool. Lucas joined us shortly after, once it was certain that he wasn't going to get soaked again. Wake handed me an envelope, which I wasn't sure I wanted to know where he had pulled it from. I opened it and found inside some prize money, and also the Fen Badge. It was round, and bore some resemblance in shape to Wake's mask, but depicted a mountain standing above a lake. I pinned it to the inside of my vest with the others, bringing my total to four. I was halfway there.

"You earned that," remarked Wake. "It's always good to see young trainers with a lot of potential, I hope you get the experience you need to go as far as you want to."

"I plan to, and thanks."

Without any further delay, Lucas and I departed from Pastoria Gym. According to him, the next Gym was in a city called Veilstone a ways to the north. He also pointed out a couple stops along the way he wanted to check out. We made a quick stop at the Pokemon Centre so that Breloom could get patched up, and Nurse Joy was pleased to hear I had won my rematch. We ate some lunch before departing early in the afternoon. Knowing I was halfway to my goal of participating in the League only spurred me to get a move on faster.

Lee scurried down the hallway of the sparsely populated laboratory. The Boss had summoned him, and he was not one to be kept waiting. He would only occasionally come across another scientist, and they would nod to him silently before returning to busying themselves with whatever was at hand. If he could have things his way, there would be more staff, based on the important nature of the projects they were undertaking, but the Boss was concerned with keeping a low profile. Understandable normally, but given the remoteness of this lab, intervention was unlikely.

Along the way to the Boss' chamber, Lee ran into one face he would have preferred to not see here. Of all the blundering incompetents, he considered her to be the worst. The only reason the Boss had hired her in the first place was because of her low profile amidst a moderate number of successes. However, since coming under their employ, she had yet to retrieve a single specimen or object of interest. Linda's presence here served only to irritate him.

"Were you called for as well?" asked Lee, looking over the rim of his glasses at Linda.

"I was," she replied with as much contempt. "Unlike some people around here, the Boss recognizes all the hard work I put forth."

"Effort without results is meaningless. You can't even stand up to a young girl."

"Hey, she's tough. Besides, I heard you didn't fare any better."

"It's not like I had much choice; the Safari Warden was on me the entire time. Let's not forget that said incident was your fault anyways. The girl was nice enough to tell me about all the other times you've messed up as well."

"This coming from a guy who sits in a lab all day without taking any real risks."

The bickering of these two would likely have continued indefinitely, but they ceased all chatter upon coming to the end of the hallway, where the Boss' personal office was located. They both straightened as they arrived, knowing that he would not want to listen to their quarrels. Lee was the one to grasp the handle and open the door, while Linda followed him inside. However, what they found was an empty office, devoid of the Boss who had called for them.

They looked around momentarily, but saw nothing beyond the usual contents of such an office. Cabinets full of files, a desk covered in paperwork, a flicking light that would need to be changed soon. One thing seemed askew though; a bookcase that looked like it was obviously meant to conceal the door, but the fact that it was open indicated that's where the Boss was. This was confirmed by the fact that the door was open by a hair's breadth.

Linda did not approach any further, opting to wait for the Boss to come out and address them. Lee however, was not a patient man, and moved to the door by himself. He slid it to the side and beheld what lay beyond. The room was largely empty, and very dimly lit. At the back of the room there was a single specimen tank, tubes from which ran the entire length of the far wall. The contents of the tank were blocked by the frame of a massive, broadly built man, who Lee knew to be the Boss.

Upon noticing that he had been disturbed, the Boss turned away from the tank and stormed across the vacant room. He stopped dead in front of Lee, towering no less than a foot above him. "This chamber is off limits!" he said, his gravelly voice laced with fury. "If you set foot in here again, you'll lose more than your job."

"My apologies sir," said Lee, backing away from the intimidating, larger man.

Lee backed out into the main room of the office and joined Linda, who bore a look of delight at his chastisement. The Boss shut the door behind him and replaced the sliding bookcase, before moving to stand in front of his desk. He adjusted his large, square glasses and looked down at both of the people standing before him. He took a deep breath to calm himself before addressing them.

"Now then, intrusions aside," he stated simply, "I did call you here. What do you have to report?"

Lee hesitated for a moment before speaking, still shocked by the Boss' threatening demeanour. "We have completed our research at the Pastoria Lab. The information has been brought here and the facility itself has been abandoned."

"What of the specimens there?"

"They have either been reintegrated into the wild, or brought here for further study. There is one exception; a single specimen escaped as the result of an accident." Lee shot a glare at Linda when he said this.

"Was it recovered?"

"No. The specimen in question was captured by a trainer. Incidentally, this trainer happens to be the same one that Linda has attempted to retrieve an Eevee from in the past."

"Oh? Did you attempt to procure this Eevee yourself?"

"I did not. I was in the Safari Zone at the time and the Warden was not too far away. Given your desire for secrecy, I felt it would be too risky at the time."

"Very well, but remember that Eevee's unique nature makes it vital for the evolutionary studies."

"Of course sir. If I may say though, I think I can understand why Linda has had difficulty with this trainer. She is not without capability and is fairly clever in her own right."

"Is that so? Do you know the girl's name?"

"The Pastoria Joy told me her name was Amber."

"...I see. If she is as capable as you say, then perhaps I may need additional means to procure that Eevee."

"With all due respect sir," cut in Linda, "I can still take her, I just need more power."

"Is that so? Very well, we shall see about enhancing your Pokemon. With that taken care of, how fares your other Project, Lee?"

"It's a bit of hit and miss, sir. We have found information on additional sightings, and they seem to suggest a pattern we can work with, but there yet remains a problem with the credibility of the sources."

"Given the nature of this project, credibility is almost certainly going to be an issue. Even so, I want you to start committing more resources to that project, since the Pastoria Lab projects have been completed."

"While I have no objections sir, it does not strike me as wise to commit more resources to a project that is, at best, a long shot."

"I have found that our work on Evolution and the related energies alone is reaching an insurmountable peak. Long shot or not, the secondary project may yet be necessary."

"Very well sir. Will that be all?"

"Yes, you are both dismissed. Lee, see to it that Linda's request is taken care of."

"As you wish, sir."

Without any further words, Lee and Linda departed from their Boss' office. He closed the door behind them. He sighed deeply and walked around his desk, seating himself in the large chair there. He rustled a few stacks of paper, and glanced off to the side. Caught in his gaze was a frame containing a photograph. Depicted therein was himself, standing next to a woman much smaller than himself. Smaller still, a young girl sat atop his broad shoulders, and all three of them were smiling widely. He contemplated the photo for a moment, before laying it face down on his desk and returning to his paperwork.

Author's Notes: That took a while to get together, but I can't really blame myself, considering that school and work were inhibiting factors. Hopefully now that the semester has ended I can get back to regular updates for a while. As before, I ask anyone reviewing this story to keep their theories about characters meant to be a mystery to themselves for the sake of not spoiling for other readers who may not be that far along. Thanks for sticking with me readers.