"Hmmm..." Mawile said out loud, examining the sheets of paper in front of her. "So this is a reaction between two compounds, and one of them is an acid… the other one is a base…"

She thought about that. "So, um… there's hydro-chloric acid, that's an acid, and there are those metals which are called alkali metals… and if you mix sodium and chlorine that's salt. So that means there's going to be a salt!"

"Good afternoon, Mawile," Professor Oak said, nodding amicably to the Steel type. "How are your lessons going?"

"I think they're going okay," Mawile replied, thinking about her answer before giving it. "I do find a lot of it hard, I have to think hard about a lot of the stuff I learn to make sure I understand it properly."

"That's not a bad thing, necessarily," Oak told her with a smile, occasionally glancing at the nearest screen for Damos to render translation subtitles. "If you're thinking hard about something it means you're really trying to understand it properly, instead of just trying to remember it for long enough to say it in the exam. That's helpful."

"Okay," Mawile smiled, glad for the positive news. "Is there something I should know?"

"I just got a call from Ash," Oak explained. "He's going to be coming back here soon, there's a couple of things he wants to discuss. He was asking for you to be there."

"Oh, okay!" Mawile replied, jumping out of her chair.

She paused, then put her ruler carefully on the question she was still working on.

"I'll come back to that later," she promised.

As she left, Oak took a look at the paper.

"Chemistry?" he asked, looking up.

Her logic is that, as a Steel-type, she is uniquely suited to look at poisons and other chemicals, Damos explained. She isn't quite sure what she's going to specialize in, but she wants to have a good science grounding.

"That's very good of her," the Professor agreed. "I approve."

He frowned. "Now, I wonder how Ash is going to get here… he's got more than a few choices."

I wouldn't put it past Mewtwo to do a fractional-orbital Ash Ketchum delivery system one of these days, Damos said. You can imagine it, right? Launch Ash north from Sinnoh and most of an orbit later he comes screaming down to get dropped in the sea outside Pallet Town. Or possibly into Samiya.

"Let's not give anyone any ideas," Oak pointed out. "Especially Squirtle. Let's not give Squirtle any ideas."

"I missed you!" Mawile said, jumping up for Ash to catch. He took hold of her easily, supporting her weight, and gave her a hug.

"It's lovely to see you, Mawile," Ash told her with a smile. "How are you getting on?"

"All the science stuff is kind of hard," she replied. "Lots of learning things, memorizing things and stuff… but I think it's really helping! I feel much smarter now!"

Ash chuckled. "You're probably better at it than me, I only really paid attention to the stuff about Pokémon battles."

"But chemistry does come into Pokémon battles!" Mawile replied seriously. "Damos told me about this thing that happens sometimes where electricity breaks water up into hydrogen and oxygen, and then there's a really big bang!"

"...good point," Ash agreed. "Well done, Mawile. And I'm glad you're excited about it."

He put her down again, and Mawile beamed.

"And this is one of the reasons we came to visit," Ash added, reaching into his bag and taking out a Mega Stone.

Mawile looked at it, and gaped.

"That looks familiar," Houndoom said, closing in and sniffing it. "Is that a Mawilite?"

"It is!" Mawile told everyone. "It's a Mawilite! I'm so glad to have one!"

She reached out for it, a bit hesitantly, and took it from Ash before taking her hat off. "Do you think we can put it on here?"

"I'm not actually sure, but it sounds possible," Ash replied. "Um… who should I ask about that..."

"About what?" Metagross asked, emerging from their Pokéball without ceremony and landing with a wham on the grass.

Then they looked down at the grass he was now several inches into, before turning up to Ash. "Is there an appropriate behaviour in this situation?"

"I guess, um…" Ash began, then held up a hand as he thought for a moment. "Apologizing would be nice, and then you can remember to use Gravity in future so you don't end up hitting something too hard when you come out of your Pokéball."

Metagross considered that.

"And Mawile was wondering if we could fit her Mawilite on one of my old caps that she wears," Ash went on. "We'll see what we can do, okay Mawile?"

Mawile nodded.

"In the meantime, let's give it a go," Ash added, unlimbering his staff.

"Sure!" Mawile agreed, then tapped lightly on Tyrantrum's Pokéball. "Hey, if you're awake, I've got something cool to show you. If you're asleep that's okay, though!"

Tyrantrum came out with a flash. "I'm awake," he informed her, then noticed Metagross and shrank back a bit. "Um… is he new?"

"I guess so," Mawile replied, shrugging. "I haven't really been introduced to him yet."

"Metagross said they prefer they," Ash let them know. "But that's not the thing Mawile wanted to show you."

"It's not?" Tyrantrum asked, then saw Ash holding his staff and Mawile with a little gemstone in one hand. "Oh, is that a Mega Stone?"

"That's right," Ash said. "Let me know when you're ready."

Metagross shifted a little closer, now no longer sinking into the grass with every step, and Ash concentrated on Mawile.

Mawile was one of the first Pokémon Ash had met who was entirely new to this timeline, one he'd never even met in the previous timeline, and the first of those he had caught.

Something about that little detail could make all the difference to who Mawile was, to Ash, and when he thought about how she'd hatched and grown – without ever losing that bright, sunny willingness to learn everything she could about the world – it brought a smile to his face no matter the situation.

Mawile was… Mawile. No matter that she was older, wiser, studying for her own career as a researcher… and Ash felt a little sad about that, but it was only in the same way he knew how his mother had to feel about him. A melancholy sadness that came from a deep, proud love.

The grass lit up with a flash of gold and silver light, and when it faded Mega Mawile began inspecting her horns.

"That looks kind of… odd," Tyrantrum admitted, bending closer to give her a sniff. "Does it feel odd?"

"Not really, I've done it a couple of times before," Mega Mawile replied, then turned. "Um… can I stay like this for a bit? I kind of want to spend some time having a fly."

"That's fine," Ash replied. "Take Swellow and her Pokéball, though, in case you revert in mid-air."


"Sorry about that, Heracross," Houndoom said, loping back over. "I saw something interesting going on, so I thought I'd have a look."

"No worries," Heracross replied. "I think it's your move."

Houndoom restarted the timer he'd paused, then considered the tower of wooden bricks for a long moment. After touching a few of them with his tail, testing how strongly they were held in place, he made a decision and pushed one out of the tower.

It wobbled a bit but held in place, making Houndoom breathe a sigh of relief, and he placed it on the top row before Heracross reached in to take his own piece.

"I think… this one," he said, pulling a block out, and the tower swayed visibly before slowly coming back to rest.

"Close one," Houndoom commented, as Heracross put the wooden block in its own place.

Then the timer went.

"Duck!" Houndoom called, and he and Heracross both went flat as Chikorita charged the tower. The Grass-type knocked it over with a crash, sending the pieces cascading across the path, and once they stopped Houndoom carefully paced out the distance.

"I think that's the best so far," he noted. "Enjoying yourself, Chikorita?"

"Yep!" Chikorita agreed. "It's your turn to do the bash next time, right?"

Houndoom nodded. "Good luck – remember, if it doesn't move easily that's because it's got weight on it… but don't forget that you can make a block lower down less stable by taking out one above it."

"This is my home town," Ash explained, indicating the whole area around them. "The ranch belongs to Professor Oak, but my rival Gary and I both keep our Pokémon here because he lets us."

He made a vague gesture. "I've got… a lot of Pokémon by now. I try to make sure they all get some time, more if they need work with me to develop their skills or if they have some other issue to sort out, but generally most of my Pokémon do spend quite a lot of time here."

Metagross examined the area.

"What is there to do?" they asked.

"Ivysaur spends some of his time organizing big events, but apart from that… well, it depends what you want to get out of it," Ash replied. "Quite a lot of Pokémon are available for training battles, so just ask around and you should be able to find someone to do that. There's also things you can do to spend time and relax, like movies… well, Pokémon like Totodile will be able to show you that kind of stuff."

Ash then pointed at the lab. "Professor Oak does research in there, so you could help him out if that sounds like a thing you'd like the sound of, or you could learn something."

"And what about the other tasks you suggested?" Metagross queried. "There was a mention of space work."

"Mewtwo being involved with that more directly could be a problem, he's busy with me at the moment," Ash replied. "But the idea is – he's got a company, so you could do a bit of work there to see if it's the sort of thing you enjoy. It's all about space flight, especially by having powerful Psychic types help with it, so you'd definitely be useful if you wanted. It's basically..."

Ash paused. "What I'm trying to do is to try and make sure you know the ways you could try and find what works for you," he went on. "And the places where it could be… not quite perfect, or even just not work out."

"That is appreciated," Metagross declared. "But there is something missing. Your explanations have not covered it."

The Steel-type fixed Ash with a look. "Is it something which you can tell me?"

"Well… yeah, I guess I should," Ash agreed. "So basically the thing I need to explain-"

"We need to explain," Pikachu interrupted. "You'll only miss something."

"Right," Ash agreed. "Okay, so, um… firstly, I should explain that you might not actually be able to remember some of this. For some reason anyone who we tell who wasn't directly involved forgets about some of the details. And what it is is that… someone tried to destroy the world, and so Arceus sent us back in time. And we're worried that they're going to reach the point they can try soon, which is when we'll need to stop them for good – the first time their leader went into this new universe he had created, and then he came back somehow. So we need to stop him escaping."

Metagross considered that.

"Error checking fail," they declared. "This is interesting."

"Huh?" Ash said, baffled. "What's error checking?"

"Based on your description, I have cycled the information between my four separate brains," Metagross explained. "The time travel section is intact. The section about your motives is unclear and fragmented."

"That… that could actually be a great help," Ash said. "One of the things that's really worrying about the Galactic thing is how many of my powerful Pokémon didn't come back in time, because they can't remember."

"This seems an acceptable reason," Metagross noted.

They slammed a leg into the hilltop, driving it several inches deep. "I will consider it my main task to become as strong as possible to resolve this threat."

"I… guess that works," Ash decided. "Though it's probably still a good idea not to spend all your time training – and to think about what you want to do afterwards.. If that kind of life with some battling, some training and some other stuff works fine, that's great – but if it doesn't, it's good to have an idea of what you'd do otherwise."

Metagross examined Ash.

"What is your backup?" they asked.

"I… guess probably Contests?" Ash said, thinking. "But I do like my current life, so I never really thought about it much..."

"Okay, so I've never really understood this," Goodra said. "So I'm a pseudolegendary Pokémon, and so are you. And so is the Metagross over there, and a Dragonite, and so on."

"Yeah, basic stuff," Tyranitar agreed.

"And Gabite could become a pseudolegendary Pokémon in future," Goodra continued. "So… why isn't Flygon one?"

Tyranitar frowned.

"That… is a good question..."

"Haxorus qualifies too," Goodra added. "Or ought to."

"It's probably a human thing."

"And… here we are outside Sandalstraw Town," Dawn said. "That is just so convenient, Mewtwo – thanks."

Of course, Mewtwo replied. A large part of what PsiTech is doing is about bringing that convenience to other parts of society – human and Pokémon. Though, admittedly, a lot of the visible component is about space exploration, as that's something I believe in passionately.

He lifted his eyes to the evening sky. I was thinking about it last night, and… the way I think of it is, I came into this world enraged that I was created to be used. But that was not the right way to think of it, and nor should I have transferred my rage to the rest of the world. Doctor Fuji created me because he wanted to create me, giving me the gift of life, and Ash as humanity's champion opened my eyes.

Mewtwo swept his hand through the air. You gave me life, and freedom. So I will give you the stars. The universe is grand, and vaster than words; it is not right that it should go unseen.

"That sounds really nice," Dawn told him, touched. "I… well, like you said, you got made for a terrible thing. It's really great that you've gone so far past that into being… nice, though nice sounds like a really inadequate way of putting it."

She frowned. "But, um… actually, I did have a thought. Is there a way apart from just teleporting to get someone a long way with the stuff you work with?"

There is one, Mewtwo replied. It's a little unorthodox, though… it would basically amount to stuffing someone – like Ash – into the business end of an intercontinental ballistic missile and hurling it thousands of miles to come down exactly where you wanted him to end up… but it's actually a bit slower than just asking Latias or Latios to do it.

Dawn chuckled. "I guess that's one of those crazy cost-benefit calculations you have to check you were actually making..."

Yes. Though the idea of literally firing Ash at our problems has a certain appeal.

He shook his head. My apologies. I understand there is a Contest here?

"Yeah, it's one with a single Pokémon you use for both the Appeal round and the Battle round," Dawn confirmed. "But the twist is that you then need a second Pokémon to work with your first one in the Battle round, but you can't completely swap out. And I know just who to use, as well..."

"Hey, we don't normally get to see you or your brother around here," Ivysaur waved. "What's the occasion?"

"Well, it's actually an idea Ash had," Latias replied, skimming down to a landing. "Right now the Soul Dew is being looked after by my brother's girlfriend for a few hours, because Ash thought it'd be good if everyone got to watch a Contest."

Ivysaur frowned. "I'm… not entirely sure I understand."

"You will," Latias replied. "I told Swellow on the way in, anyway, so everyone will know before long. Ash did especially ask for Metagross to come and watch, though."

There was a quiet thomthomthom as Metagross stomped up, their feet making much less of a dent than normal thanks to gravity manipulation.

"I am present," they declared. "What is the problem?"

"It's not a problem, it's something to enjoy," Latias replied. "My brother's going to be watching the Sandalstraw Contest which Dawn is about to take part in, and Ash thought it'd be helpful for you to get a look at one of the other ways Pokémon can do things together."

The other Pokémon from the ranch began arriving, not just the great majority of Ash's team but several others as well – Gary's soft-spoken Armaldo, Sammy's lithe Persian, and Professor Oak's wise old Dragonite.

"All right, they're starting in a minute or so, so everyone should gather around," Latias said. "Ready?"

There was a rumble of assent from the crowd, along with a faint feeling of confusion broadcast by Metagross.

Latias blinked a few times, readying herself, then her eyes flared a brilliant white – and suddenly everyone was floating in the middle of a large room.

Everything going okay over there? Latios asked, floating invisibly under the ceiling of the Contest hall. Getting a good picture?

Yep! Latias sent back, along with the sensation of a hug. Thanks, Latios!

Down below, the first trainer sent out their Pokémon for the Appeal round.

Okay, so if you guys haven't run into it before, Latias continued, this is a thing that Lati twins can do. It's called Sight Sharing, though Latios just has to have his eyes open for me to project it – he doesn't have to be actually looking at that thing.

I already know this, sis, Latios pointed out. Don't include me in the explanation stuff.

Oops! Latias sent him, along with a blush, and redirected her focus to everyone else.

"I wonder who Dawn's going to use in this one," Brock mused. "She was pretty cagey about it last night."

"Yeah," Ash agreed. "She did have Dexter bring Mawile over, though, not sure if that's relevant."

"It probably is," Lucario opined. "But we'll find out. Hmm… you know, Dawn only has one Ribbon left to earn. Wonder how it'll work out once she has her fifth."

"I could go for a Contest," Pikachu suggested.

"Yeah, but then Ash would be giving you commands like… 'don't knock them out in one hit', or that sort of thing," Lucario pointed out.

"Hey, Ho-Oh won his Contest, right?" Pikachu asked. "That worked out."

"I think it's more likely that one or two of us will be asked if we want to take part," Sudowoodo suggested. "I know Ninetales and Stantler have been working on a routine they call 'not actually being there'."

"Is that a serious thing, or are you just making a joke?" Pikachu asked, curious.

"No, it's not a joke," Sudowoodo answered, then frowned. "Or, at the very least, it's not mine..."

"That thing that Gabite did with the Dragon Rush aura was kind of neat," Goodra said. "I wonder if our newly evolved teammate is going to do something similar?"

"Good question," Dragonite replied. "It might be a way they fly?"

"No, I'm pretty sure the way that Garchomp actually fly is through Ground effect," Glalie said firmly. "Makes perfect sense."

Noctowl gave him a suspicious look. "That's one of those stupid bally jokes you tell all the time, isn't it, old fruit?"

"Shush, look, that's Dawn," Quilava chided them. "Let's see who she uses."

Dawn held up her Pokéball, then flicked it out into the middle of the arena where it erupted in a flash of light and a shower of pink and yellow flower petals – releasing Pachirisu, who landed amid the swirl of petals and sent a flicker of electricity out to touch some of the petals and burst them.

Flicking her tail to the side, she did a twirl to gather the petals up around her – then she pulled out a much bigger pulse of electrical energy, forming an Electoball in her paws and capping it with a sparkling cupule shaped from Shock Wave.

The result was like nothing more nor less than a giant glowing yellow-white acorn, and she held it up to display before throwing it into the air and catching it.

Making a big show of looking around, she began running around the outside edge of the arena – then stopped about a quarter of the way around from Dawn, and took her electrical acorn and pushed it into the ground. The electricity all flowed invisibly back into her, making it look like she really had pushed it into the ground, and Pachirisu resumed her journey before jumping into the air and 'catching' a second acorn.

Repeating the process two more times, more quickly each time, Pachirisu 'buried' a total of four acorns before running around a second time and 'digging them up' – a quick flash of electricity, holding up the reconstituted acorn, and then letting it dissolve into her tail.

After pulling three back up again, however, Pachirisu slowed to a halt and looked around in confusion. Then she shrugged, and struck a pose.

As she did, however, a little trail of electricity went back to where she'd left the fourth and final nut. Pachirisu turned, tilting her head, then a giant electrical tree came bursting out of the floor – formed out of dozens of branching strands of Shock Wave, reaching up into the air with a thick trunk all the way out to hundreds of leaves.

Pachirisu took a few awed steps back, then turned away from the tree and bowed again.

"Interesting," Brock noted, as the applause spread. "I think she might have lost a few points for taking so long, but the control's really impressive."

"I've been working with her on electrical control for a while," Pikachu replied. "She's not got the oomph for a Volt Crash, but Shock Wave is a really versatile move because it's so controllable."

"So it works well for someone who does Contests, right," Ash agreed. "Because you can make it do more than just hit an opponent."

"Well, hitting the opponent has its place in a Contest..."

"So that means Dawn's using Pachirisu for her Battle round," Brock said, frowning, as the last person began their Appeal – their Spinarak throwing sticky webs around, using them as anchor points to move through the air and even running attacks along them in a timed sequence. "Assuming she gets through, but I think it's likely. So, who else is she going to use?"

"There's Mamoswine, Piplup, Togekiss, Quilava, Luxio, Ambipom and Buneary," Lucario said, counting the Pokémon off on his spikes and having to use some of the spikes more than once. "Quilava and Ambipom got used last time, so not them… hmm, I'm not sure to be honest. Her biggest worry would be Ground types, so maybe Buneary or Mamoswine?"

"That might be looking at it too competitively, though," Pikachu said, half to himself. "Maybe trying for a combined water-and-electricity attack using Piplup?"

The scores went up, and Ash and Brock applauded – Dawn was through to the next round.

"Well, we'll find out soon," Brock shrugged.

"I hope this is the right decision," Dawn whispered to herself.

She took a deep breath, then nodded firmly and adjusted her dress a little. Once she was confident that she was ready to go, she stepped out onto the Contest floor – facing her first opponent, who by evil chance happened to be Ursula.

"Oh, hey, it's Dawn!" Ursula called, smirking. "Been studying the Pokémon type chart since the last Contest, I hope?"

Dawn didn't bother to respond, doing her best to not let Ursula get to her.

"Can both Coordinators send out their Pokémon!" the MC called, and Dawn nodded – holding up both Pokéballs. Ursula did the same, and then all four Pokémon came out at once.

Ursula's Gabite emerged in a flash of light and a cloud of smoke, and held out her hands to catch the Sandy Cloak Wormadam who emerged a moment later.

"I guess that means your Pachirisu's out of-" Ursula began, then stopped and did a double-take.

Dawn's Pachirisu had come out onto the arena floor, just as she expected… but so had Luxio.

"…really?" she asked, blinking, then shook her head. "Well, I guess you're just going to get it now!"

"Begin!" the announcer instructed.

"You know what to do, Pachirisu!" Dawn called. "Luxio, whiskers!"

Pachirisu darted off to the side, cheeks fizzing, and Luxio nodded firmly. His tail sparked a bit, and two pairs of electrical currents formed out of his mane.

Each one formed a loop shape, and taken together they seemed to extend his mane out well past the end of his actual fur both sides of his head – though the paired loop currents compressed it down, so they did look more like whiskers than anything.

"Sand Tomb!" Ursula called. "And Rock Blast!"

Luxio dodged to the side. The barrage of rocks and sand came hurtling after him, one or two of them scoring glancing blows as the rocks exploded, then Pachirisu came sliding back in to join her teammate.

She raised a paw into the air, and slammed her tail on the ground – sending forwards curling swipes of Shock Wave which corkscrewed through the air towards Gabite.

Just before reaching the Ground-type, they suddenly spread out into globes – and exploded in a powerful Flash.

"Ow!" Gabite shouted. "You'll pay for that!"

Ursula crossed her arms. "Gabite, Dragon Rage – and Wormadam, mix it with Earth Power!"

She pointed at Pachirisu, and Wormadam slammed her point into the ground to launch forwards a glowing orange trail – an Earth Power, which Gabite poured a Dragon Rage into to boost the strength of the attack. The combination resulted in a trail of flames weaving across the floor, orange with a purple core to them, ignoring Luxio to come straight in on Pachirisu.

The Electric-type flicked her tail underneath herself briefly, then pushed off the ground with an extra shove from the tail to add to her normal jump. Electricity flicked out in a Shock Wave as she did so, reaching for Gabite, and the Dragon-type flinched briefly away before scowling as it turned out to just be a useless Electrical attack.

"Iron Tail!" Dawn called.

Luxio slid to a halt, sending up a plume of sand and dust from the arena floor thanks to the earlier Sand Tomb attacks he'd avoided, and flicked his tail across to hit Wormadam.

At the moment of contact he let a flood of electrical energy burst through his tail, making the attack appear to have raised a cloud of sparks, then ran for it before either Pokémon could react.

"Forget Pachirisu," Ursula declared. "Go after Luxio – use Rock Blast, and hide it with Sand Tomb!"

Luxio closed his eyes at those words, not wanting to get sand in his eyes if the attacks were going to be hidden anyway, and perked his ears – listening not just to the attacks, but to everything else that was going on.

"Left slide!" Dawn called, and Luxio pushed off before using just a little bit of Magnet Rise – giving his movements an odd, gliding quality, which threw off the first Rock Blast.

The second one hit just underneath him, some of the fragments scoring a glancing hit, and Ursula frowned. "No, that's not good enough – hit directly! Gabite, get in front of him!"

Gabite broke into a run, moving around the side to trap Luxio between the two Ground-types – but Pachirisu came back into the combat before she could reach her position, cheeks flashing as she sent another Flash darting at Gabite.

Gabite shielded her eyes with an arm fin this time, but the Electric-type attack was more than just a brilliant flare of light – it spread out as it travelled, forming a ring around Gabite, then the ring split and branched so it acquired a dozen perpendicular rings to it.

As Gabite lowered her fin and noticed the rings, Pachirisu jumped into one – and went flying around Gabite in a series of flashes of light and showers of sparks, doing a complete loop before hitting Gabite's nose with a Shock Wave on the way out.

The Dragon-type swiped at the hurtling squirrel, missed, and began running after her.

"No, don't do that!" Ursula said sharply, uncrossing her arms. "Ignore that Pachirisu!"

"That's kind of an odd combination of Pokémon to use," Suicune said, tilting her head a little. "Don't you think so?"

"I'd have gone with at least one non-Electric-type," Mawile agreed, thinking. "But that's mostly to make sure it's less stressful. On the other hand, I think Dawn knows her Pokémon better than I do."

"Luxio is pretty new, maybe that's part of it," Ivysaur mused. "By the way, is there a setting for this where we aren't all staring at the floor?"

"I could ask Latios to flip upside down, see if that helps?"

"I see your paw in some of those electrical tricks," Lucario said, as Pachirisu used a trio of Shock Wave rings to fire herself between Luxio and an attack. Her brilliant white Flash made Gabite start shouting imprecations, and Ursula had to shout to get Gabite back on task.

"Well, a bit," Pikachu replied. "I don't think it'd work as well if she had to spend electricity on attacks, though, a lot of what's making it work is that she has a lot of charge to propel."

"Interesting to know." Lucario raised his fist. "So I'd need to use Thunderpunch for you to sling me around like that?"

"No, you're metal, I can do it other ways."

"This is just ridiculous!" Ursula groaned. "Stop trying to hit her and hit him – okay, you know what, fine."

She glanced up at the scoreboard and frowned. She was losing points faster than Dawn, but Dawn hadn't done any actual damage so far and the scoreboard reflected that – and Luxio had taken some hits, as well, because those electro-whisker things worked okay but not nearly as well as just, you know, looking at things.

But there wasn't much time left, so Ursula folded her arms again.

"Sand Tomb!" she called. "And Draco Meteor!"

"Follow Me!" Dawn replied. "Pachirisu Pal Performance!"

Ursula blinked, then looked over at the Pachirisu – shading her eyes, in case there was going to be another of the annoying, dazzling Flashes. Instead, Pachirisu was surrounding herself in electricity, forming coiling loops as if she was about to try a full-power attack.

"Watch out for a Flash," she said, waiting for Gabite to finish getting her Draco Meteor ready.

Then she did, and Ursula smirked in triumph.

A moment later, her smirk vanished.

Using her carefully acquired skill with Shock Wave, something honed in a last-minute training session with Luxio the previous night, Pachirisu fired herself towards Luxio's position. She shot across the room, dragging the remainder of her prepared energy with her, and landed just in front of her teammate about two seconds before the Meteors arrived.

Putting both paws on the ground, she erected a brilliant blue-yellow Counter Shield – one which sprang up in a moment, spinning and sending coils of electricity going out in all directions. One of them formed around Luxio, a kind of protective cage of electricity in case any of the Meteors missed her and got him, but the rest of them went all over the place and anchored her to the floor at points all over the arena.

Then the Draco Meteor hit, a series of powerful explosions which hid her completely from view – and which made it all the more impressive when the Shield finally dissipated, revealing her to be still there and just fine. The sheer density of the Shield had worked just as they'd planned, deflecting almost all the energy of the explosions elsewhere.

A moment later, Pachirisu lifted up all her anchors into the air – and fired the one which Luxio was in.

Much like the earlier Shock Wave rings had launched her out of the way of an attack, this one launched him through the air – straight to the second ring, which fired him high into the air and towards the third ring.

Gabite and Wormadam could barely keep track as Luxio went all over the place, fired on a complex path by Pachirisu's prepared move, until finally she sent him directly towards Gabite, giving his whiskers enough of a twinge to let him know it was okay to open his eyes.

Seeing his opponent, Luxio Roared – the electric loops serving as his whiskers dissipating in a flash – and rammed an Ice Fang directly into his opponent, sending her skidding backwards along the floor.

Pachirisu used one last coil of Shock Wave to launch herself over to by Luxio, and they both Charged – ready to keep going.

"...wait, what?" Ursula demanded. "Ice Fang? He was sitting on Ice Fang the whole battle?"

"Using teammates as autonomous weapons that can be directed at will is an interesting tactical capability," Metagross declared. "This requires experimentation."

"I think that's going to be an interesting internal bit of advertising," Ivysaur mused absently, as they watched Ursula double-check the remaining time and clench her fists – trying to come up with a way to fix the point disparity before the end of the round. "Come and join my team for a practice battle, you won't have to walk?"

"Walking will be required," Metagross stated. "It will make the telekinetic movements more surprising."

"Hmm..." Raikou hummed. "I wonder..."

"It only works if you have a way of actually moving them, brother," Suicune pointed out with a chuckle. "Neither Entei nor myself are prone to being moved with electrical impulses."

"Ah, of course!" Raikou declared. "I should have realized! What we need is for both of you to get suits of full plate armour!"

"No," Entei stated simply. "I can see where your plan is going, and I would rather it left me behind. Otherwise it's going to fire me into a storm cloud at some point, I know it is."

"You have to admit, it'd be even faster than just running there!" Raikou implored.

"I quite like the ability to slow down myself," Entei replied, then amended that. "Without needing to use a massive column of flame to do so."

"Why are both my siblings boring?" Raikou asked the nearest Pokémon.

Snorlax just snored.

"I'm not entirely sure what value he's getting out of this, I'll be honest," Ivysaur noted.

"Dragon Rage!" Ursula called. "And Earthquake – just try and hit them!"

Wormadam rose into the air, a glow briefly building up, and rammed herself into the arena floor to send a tremor jumping through it. Both Electric-types avoided the hit, jumping into the air just before the shockwave pulsed through, but the ground continued shaking – so Pachirisu wove another movement field and launched both herself and Luxio into the air in different directions.

Gabite shot a blast of purple and yellow fire up after the closest one to her – Pachirisu – and the white-and-blue Electric-type flicked herself to the side with another quickly-constructed Shock Wave, then sent Luxio hurtling in towards her from the side.

The Dragon-type dodged away this time, and Luxio went right past her – into the extra Shock Wave ring Pachirisu had set up ahead of time, which re-deflected Luxio right into Wormadam.

Touching down for just long enough to recover his footing – and send pulses of sparks out in all directions – Luxio pounced on Wormadam, hitting her with an Ice Fang before she could compensate.

Pachirisu dropped down in between them to Counter Shield away a retaliatory Flash Cannon, and then the bell went.

"Well, it's… kind of a shame when the first battle in the Battle Round turns out to completely overshadow all the others that came after it," Joy sighed.

"I don't really think it completely overshadowed them," Contesta replied with a shrug. "Some of those were quite serviceable battles – even for Dawn. It's a shame we likely won't see her again until the Grand Festival."

"I wouldn't have seen her anyway, Raoul," Joy pointed out. "How come you and Mr. Sukizo are at all the Contests with her, anyway?"

Contesta held up a Pokéball. "I have a Kadabra – I do a lot of Contests."

"Oh, so you and Mr. Sukizo get a lift from him? Or her?"

"No, she just takes me," Contesta replied. "I'm not sure how Mr. Sukizo gets around..."

"Remarkably!" Mr. Sukizo said with a bright smile.

"Well, I think that went well," Pachirisu said, flicking her tail. "Don't you?"

"I think it went up, down, left, right and possibly inside out," Luxio replied. "That was really bizarre, especially when the only way I knew where I was going next was because you were tweaking my whiskers..."

"Hey, it worked," Pachirisu pointed out. "And it was incredibly satisfying."

"I'm not sure how to take that," Luxio admitted.

"No, no, not doing it to you," Pachirisu corrected quickly. "I mean what we did to Gabite. I've been waiting an entire universe to get back at her like that..."

"Rival from last time?" Luxio asked, getting a nod. "Right, I can respect that. A good rival is a real help."

He batted the ground. "The only problem now is finding a fitting rival for myself… you're too female-"

"Say what?" Pachirisu asked, turning to him in surprise. "Too female?"

"Well… it's how the ability works," Luxio replied. "I fight better when I have a rival, but they have to be the same gender as I am. And the electrokinetics in our team and our friends are… too female, that's you, too genderless – Rotom – too terrifyingly proficient..."

"Would that be Pikachu or Raikou?"

"I don't know, depends how I feel and which one's closer," Luxio replied simply.

Pachirisu considered for a moment.

"What about Arc?" she suggested. "He's male, and an Electric type. Also a dog."

"And I've never met him," Luxio noted. "Hmm… could work..."

"Hey, Ursula?" Dawn asked.

"Save it," Ursula replied, holding up her hand. "I don't want to hear you gloating, when it's only hiding that attack that meant you won anyway."

"I didn't want to gloat," Dawn replied. "I just wanted to say thanks – that was the toughest battle I had. I really appreciated getting that kind of test."

Ursula began to reply, then paused and frowned. Her finger went up, then down again, as she tried to work out what the trick was.

As she did, Ash's Gabite wandered over.

"Hey!" he said. "You're a Gabite as well!"

"Well spotted," Ursula's Gabite replied with a sniff. "I see you clearly made the most of your time as a Gible."

"Well, I did shoot a lot of things with Draco Meteor," Ash's Gabite replied. "But I was really kind of asking… as one Gabite to another, I mean… how do you hold things in one hand?"

Ursula's Dragon-type tilted her head. "What?"

"You know, without opposable claws!" Ash's Gabite clarified. "I can hold stuff in both arms, but it's really awkward to do it with just one..."

The female Gabite stared at him, then shook her head and walked off.

"I guess I'll work it out for myself, then!" Ash's Dragon-type called.

"Congratulations!" Zoey called.

"Oh, hey!" Dawn replied, smiling, and the group halted for a moment in their trek towards Snowpoint. "Where did you come from?"

"I heard about your fifth ribbon," Zoey replied. "Largely through Dahak, though."

I am pleased to report that there were pictures.

"That trick with the Shock Waves was great, too," Zoey told her. "And it really made your point to Ursula – after she criticized you for using the wrong attack, to beat two Ground-types with two Electric-types is just perfect."

"That wasn't actually deliberate," Dawn admitted. "But I'm glad it worked out that way..."

Zoey chuckled as they got moving again, her Mismagius weaving a small heat technique around her to keep her nice and warm. "Yeah, it did… and it seems to have done great things for your self-confidence, too."

Dawn smiled.

"But I did want to talk about a couple of other things, too," Zoey added. "Do you want the heavy one or the lighter ones first?"

"...let's go with one of the light ones," Dawn decided.

"Sure," Zoey agreed readily. "So, first question… how was that your fifth ribbon? I went through and you won five ribbons plus the one in Floraoma town."

"That one was Princess Salvia," Dawn explained. "It's… kind of a long story, but she likes doing Contests-"

"Oh, right, yeah, that," Zoey realized. "I think you mentioned that once. I wondered why it wasn't in your ribbon box… how many ribbons did you win last time?"

"Well, I won five," Dawn replied. "Salvia won one and gave it to Jessie. Officially speaking I gave the Floraoma Town ribbon to Salvia out of gratitude for the loan of her Togekiss – this time, anyway."

"This is very confusing," Zoey admitted. "Keeping track of you, someone else who looks like you, someone else from the past who was you and did things that we both remember but almost nobody else does, and someone else who was another version of Princess Salvia… are those even the right tenses?"

One of my siblings has studied this matter extensively, Dahak noted. Ask for assistance if you feel a little tense.

"Points for that one," Lucario said.

Thank you.

"I did want to talk about the heavy thing, though," Zoey went on. "I wanted to check about what the plan is for the Galactic thing… you know, face to face. And see how you're handling it."

"It is kind of stressful," Dawn said. "Really stressful, actually… just knowing it's up there hanging over us, I mean. A little part of me even wants it to just go ahead and happen, but all of the rest of me knows we want it to happen as late as possible – or not at all."

She shook her head. "It's… yeah. And I think our plan is to basically try and hit them with everything in the world that can see what's there to be hit, once they finally commit to doing something where they can't just run away."

"It's kind of a shame that 'everything in the world that can see them' is such a short list," Zoey agreed, shaking her head. "And I really wish I could help more..."

"Honestly, you're helping enough just being available to talk to about this," Dawn admitted. "You know, a friend. Serena is a nice girl, but I can't talk to her about this Galactic stuff – she's safer thousands of miles away from any of us – and May's got a different set of experiences."

They crossed the crest of a ridge, walking down the far side towards the distant sight of Snowpoint, and Zoey nodded as she thought about that.

"That's fair," she said. "And I'm glad to do whatever I can to help."

She snapped her fingers. "Speaking of which! The other thing I wanted to talk about… since you definitely do have five Ribbons now, are your friends going to do any Contest stuff?"

"We've been thinking about it," Ash volunteered.

"I did have this idea," Zoey added. "Basically, the Pokémon who's going to be used for the next Contest is picked randomly from your friends' teams. More than one if need be."

"You know there's a pretty big chance of getting a Legendary Pokémon if you do that, right?" Dawn checked, chuckling.

"It would definitely be impressive," Zoey pointed out. "And it might be an interesting exercise for some of Ash's Pokémon not to level the building..."

"You heard about that?" Ash asked.

"Everyone heard about it," Pikachu told him. "There were news shows. I think it came up in your radio interview."

"I think I heard that interview," Zoey said to herself.

She frowned. "Oh, yeah, I forgot to ask – what's happening with your Ambipom? Didn't she leave about now?"

"You're right, she did," Dawn agreed. "But this time she's decided to stay at least until we get the Galactic situation sorted out. After that… well, she's already a black belt in ping pong. Maybe she'll branch out into squash?"


So, this chapter mostly involves Dawn, though not entirely.