Pokemon trainers are the lucky ones.

I asked Mom why I couldn't be a pokemon trainer and she explained it to me. To get a "starter" like you see on those big TVs, you need to already have enough money to buy "basic training supplies" so you can take care of the pokemon when you get it. Well, my dad does whatever work he can find on the docks and my mom spends every hour of the day she's allowed as a waitress at Cafe Sonata. We don't have that kind of money to spare.

I do my best to help out, but I'm not strong enough or old enough to be worth hiring yet, so I mostly hang around in the sewers. Sometimes I can find dropped coins or items. My biggest find was an ultra ball some really stupid trainer must have left behind. When I first spotted it I thought I was dreaming, but I touched it and it was real. Then I thought for sure one of the trainers hanging around would spot it and claim it from me. If they did, how could I stop them?

I stuck the ball in my pocket, but it bulged horribly. So then I took my jacket off and tied it around my waist, the ball still hidden away in one of the pockets. I tried to walk as casually as I could. When I was finally up on the open streets I nearly laughed with relief. I didn't, though. If people start looking at you funny, nothing good comes of it. They don't want scum on the streets.

I think the clerk at the pokemon mart cheated us when we sold it. Probably took one look at our clothes and decided he could get away with it. Mom says resale value is always lower, or something like that, but he only gave us 300 poke for it. I figure half of 1200 would be 600, and half again is 300. That's just a quarter of what it's worth, right?

That's not fair.

My best friend, Sammy, says I'm a whiner. She's right. I'm luckier than most of us: my parents have a house to rent with heating in fall and winter, and I have a jacket. I love my jacket more than almost anything else ever. Well, I love Mommy and Daddy of course. I love, love, love Castelia cones even though I've only tasted them once, when the nice lady had some left over on a cold day when nobody was buying. But my jacket is the most pretty light blue, the color the sky's supposed to be like. The sky here always looks gray. Mom says it's the pollution.

There's only one thing softer than my jacket, and that's Champ's fur. Champ's my best friend who's not a human. I call him Champ —Sammy says it's a lame nickname, but Champ tried to tell me his real pokemon name before and it just sounded like Rat-tat-tat-tata to me. He can't say my human name right either, so he calls me Rat-ratta-tat.

Everyone says rattata are pests, but they call me a pest too. I think Champ's amazing. His teeth can break through anything and he never gets lost when it's dark. I've gotten better at seeing in the dark, but I'll never be as good as Champ.

Champ and I have a plan. I'm worried it's a stupid plan, though. That's why I haven't told Mom or Sammy or Dad. That day when Mom explained about pokemon trainers to me, she said you don't need an "official" starter. You just need a strong pokemon —well, a pokemon strong enough to fight all the wild pokemon and trainers out there. But to catch a strong pokemon without another pokemon first you need to buy lots and lots of expensive poke balls. Or you need to pay for someone else to capture it for you or for someone else to raise it up for you.

So you need money.

Here's the thing, though. I don't need a pokeball for Champ to come with me. I've told him all about trainers —the free food, free healing, the quick money. Also, unlike battles down in the sewer, trainer battles end when the pokemon are uncon-unconscious! He got all excited when I told him, chittered a whole lot, and gave me his biggest grin. Well, not exactly a grin, but he does this thing with his whiskers and ears that's basically the same.

It's late now, nearly time for me to run home so Mom and Dad don't worry. I'm sitting with Champ, and we're both thinking over our plan.

"If we want to do this," I tell him slowly, "we have to train so that you're stronger than all the other rattata. I know that sounds tough, but I'll help you! I can give you some of my food every day, so that you don't have to spend the day looking for some, and instead we can practice your moves. We'll be a team, right? That's something none of the other rattata have got."

"Tatta!" In response, Champ lifts his front paws up and down really quickly, like he always does when he's excited.

And you know what? I think we can do this.

I do.

Because even if no one else does, I believe in Champ.