Unlike most of my writing, I'm posting parts of this before it is complete.
Chapter 1b: Concessions, concluded.
-1b- Concessions, concluded.
Percival met with Joe again as he left school. Normally, Percival traveled with his clique of trainers intending to challenge Pokemon League in a year or two when they became old enough to sign-up, but today he was far more interested in returning home and seeing Joe's claim in the flesh than he was in loitering at a local game room to bide time until Rennin Gym opened its floor to under-aged and provisional trainers for a few hours between matches arranged by appointment and the evening's official competitions.
As they walked home together, Joe picked Percival's brain, hoping to get a better idea of what it was like to own a pokemon. The quality of Percival's responses increased when he realized that Joe really did not know anything more about pokemon in general other than that they all were alive to at least some degree, many were or could become quite intelligent, and that they possessed strange and diverse abilities.
Three blocks from their home street, the two students noticed an undeveloped area that was cordoned off, with a few men, some in uniform and others in suits, standing about. Joe approached to investigate despite Percival's protest. Before they could see anything more than trees, bushes, and yellow plastic ribbon, one of the men approached them.
"My name is Detective Palmer. Do you boys live around here?"
In unison, Joe and Percival said, "yes."
"We received numerous reports about a group of trespassers crossing private properties in this corner of town. Do you have any information that could help us piece this together?"
Percival admitted that his father had yelled at the men. The detective turned to Joe.
"Yeah, I heard some noise and I looked out my window. I didn't see any men but I did see a gardevoir. She did some telepathy thing and asked me," Joe caught himself before admitting that he was entrusted with the creature's offspring, "to help her, but she said I was too young. I was in bed when I heard more noise; sounded like guys with dogs."
The detective then asked for their home addresses and connected some lines on a map attached to his clipboard.
"Alright, thank you, boys. What you've said at least corroborates the information we've received so far. If you or your family remember anything else, give the P.D. a call." Detective Palmer walked away, returning to his wooded crime scene.
Joe called out to him as he left. "What happened in there?"
Palmer paused to select appropriate wording for his response, but immediately he realized that the most appropriate response was silence.
Neither Joe nor Percival felt much like talking until they arrived on the Finnegan's doorstep. Percival announced their arrival.
"I'm home, Ma. Joe's here, too; says he left his ralts here because he forgot that trainers are supposed to always keep a spare ball around."
Delilah's voice came from her living room's rear. "A ball would have been nice. Could'a saved everyone a lot of trouble."
Percival and Joe entered the living room to see Delilah peering beneath the reclining portion of a combination couch with a damaged mechanism that no longer let its extensible foot-rest return flush with the rest of the seat. Nearby, Percival's little sister was combing a mareep's wool, giggling as static electricity frazzled her own hair as Frankie's fluff became tamed and orderly.
"I'm sorry, Joe. She and Frankie seemed to be getting along fine, but I left the room to answer the phone and when I came back, he was chasing her around. I got Frankie's ball, but by then, she had lifted up that flap and crawled inside. I got a flashlight and saw her in there all huddled up. She didn't look hurt, but I haven't been able to coax her out."
Flashlight in-hand, Joe lifted the foot-rest and peered into the recess. "Hey, there. It's me. Would you like to go home?"
She tightened her grip on her knees, hinting to Joe that he had misspoke.
"Oops. Uh, I mean, would you like to go back to my room?"
She loosened her grip on her knees, hinting to Joe that he had her attention.
"Come on, you'll be okay. I'm not going to let Frankie chase you anymore."
The ralts slowly crawled forward beneath the couch's mat of springs and wove through the reclining mechanism. Joe withdrew his head to permit her passage, but she stopped in response. Realizing that her withdrawal was delayed, he peeked beneath the foot-rest again and saw the ralts reaching out to him with both hands. With the left half of his mouth grimacing slightly at the awkward posture required, he allowed her to read his mind again, and was thankful that the process did not involve loss of sensation this time. Seconds later, her question of whether or not Joe truly thought of his home as hers too was answered, and together their heads emerged from beneath the foot-rest.
Seeing that this ralts was exactly as Joe had described it, Percival was still in disbelief and avoided the topic of her distinct features. "Was she that dirty when you dropped her off?"
Holding her in his arms, Joe noticed that she was now wearing many streaks of gooey lubricant from the chair's mechanisms. "No, I gave her a bath this morning. I guess she needs another, now." He looked downward and to his left when he felt a gentle bump nudge his knee.
Frankie bleated softly. His noise was meaningless to Joe, but the ralts replied with a strange sound that may have been in the same family as a raspberry.
When James returned home, he heard noises coming from his son's room and water running in the bathroom. He checked the bedroom first to find Percival playing a video game.
"I see the rule, 'no friends over before I come home,' is in full effect."
"Sorry, Mr. Rainier. Joe doesn't know very much about pokemon, so I offered to help him out."
"Help shouldn't be needed. I'm driving him across town to the Pokecenter so he can drop it off. I'm sure they'll find it an owner."
"Not a good one. When something as valuable as a shiny comes into the adopt-or-release pool, there's usually someone on the inside ready to sneak it out the back door and into the hands of a hoarder for fast cash. And, when that happens, being in ball stasis forever is kinda the best they can hope for. My uncle says a lot of them are weird people."
A slow exhalation preceded James' response. "I know. That's not my problem. See yourself out, Percy."
Percival turned off the game and departed as instructed.
James walked to the bathroom door. "Son, are you in there with it again?"
Joe's reply was muffled and distorted by both a shut door and a running shower. "Yeah, I'm cleaning off grease. She got messy again."
"Well, hurry up. We're driving across town in a minute."
Drying the ralts' hair took a little longer than it should have because she kept holding a worn bar of soap against the top of her head, making it look like she had three green horns instead of two, mostly to amuse a ralts performing the same antic in the bathroom's mirror.
Joe had nothing to say to his father between being informed that he was to dispose of the ralts and his walking inside Rennin Pokecenter.
James addressed a woman behind a counter. "Ma'am, we're here because this pokemon showed up at my home and we want it gone."
The young lady behind the counter seemed shocked. "You don't want to keep that pokemon? I haven't worked here very long, but I've never seen someone wanting to release a shiny. What's wrong with it?" Clara reached toward a rack of informational hand-outs and withdrew one to offer to James. "If it's a disciplinary problem, we can sign you up for some classes that teach both pokemon and their owners to--"
James was not distracted. "We want it gone."
Clara looked at their three faces and realized that what she was hearing was a royal We.
Her voice faded. "Okay, we'll take it off of your hands." Clara pressed a call button, summoning a staff member to carry the ralts to the center's rear chambers.
James expressed some irritation when Joe raised the ralts up so she could place her hands on his temples and read his mind. She began to fuss as she had when her parent abandoned her, and continued to fuss, as there was no calming promise of someone to care for her this time. Despite her panicked grasping at his shirt, Joe reluctantly relinquished her to the attendant, Chad, according to his name-tag, who accepted her with a crooked smile.
Joe's mood shifted from disappointment to frustration. "Why couldn't I keep her, dad?"
"Because you're not ready for that responsibility."
"You keep saying that to me about things. When will I be? Lots of kids younger than I am have pokemon. Percival got Sam from his uncle when he was like, six."
"I don't want one in my house."
"I think you're punishing me, and her, because you're scared of--"
"You watch your mouth, young man!"
James' outburst drew attention from the center's patrons, attention that Joe knew he could use to his advantage.
"Young man, but, not man-enough to take care of a pokemon. When mom left us, you said I was going to have to take on some adult responsibilities and you've criticized me every time you've thought I've been too much of a kid, but now that I actually want to take on more responsibility, you shoot me down."
James was thoroughly flushed, but could not think of any good response than admitting that he did not want his son to become a trainer; an argument that would most likely draw their now-growing audience into supporting Joe's side of the matter if any.
Chad set the ralts on an exam table and called an associate on his cellular telephone, while an intern began to perform a basic physical. "Yeah, it's me. You won't believe what some idiot just dropped off. Female ralts, shiny, unregistered. No shit--probably. Hey, is she 'intact'?"
The intern shoved the sitting ralts over onto her back and peeked under her skin, lifting the skirt out of his way with a tongue depressor. "Yep, mint condition."
"Get on the horn with your preferred buyers and set them up for an auction. We're going to pay all our bills for the month with this one."
The intern stepped away for a moment to prepare a few injections. The ralts gracefully stood on the examination table and leapt to the backrest of the chair that Chad sat in, while he entered false information to ensure that there was no record of a shiny ralts being dropped off today; instead, some common species that would be released to the wild without administration first considering placement for. She landed without applying any pressure on the chair, despite not knowing how to do that or even that she could, and gently placed her palms on his temples.
Chad did not notice her while she passively monitored his thoughts, but after she probed him for more information about what he intended to do to her, he became alert to what she was doing to him and swatted her away with a spastic swing of his right arm. She shook off the impact of landing on the floor, darted between Chad's legs as he attempted to grab her, and bolted through the doorway.
James pointed toward the door, as if Joe needed to be reminded where the exit was. "I'm not going to argue with you about this. Get in the car!"
Four steps along the way, a loud crash emanating from the rear hallway drew everyone's attention. A blue-haired ralts, panting and babbling as it ran, burst into the lobby and pounced on Joe, clambering up his clothing.
"What's wrong?" Joe asked, as he tried to position his arms to support the pokemon that was apparently trying to climb onto his face. As soon as he got a hold on her, she slapped her palms to his temples and showed him what was wrong.
James called out, "hey, someone help me get that thing off of him!" as he tried unsuccessfully to pull the ralts' arms away, assuming that the ralts was attacking his son. Clara cheerfully assured James that the ralts' behavior was much more likely a form of communication than a form of assault.
"You pokemon people are mad!" He grabbed his son by his shoulder, planning to tear the pokemon away from him. Joe responded by thrusting the ralts into his father's face, allowing her to share with him, too, what she heard Chad say and through his memories, saw what Chad, his associates, and their clientele do with, and to, pokemon like herself. She also imparted a copy of Joe's memory of the night when the gardevoir entrusted her to him, and how important this duty had become in his mind.
After the ralts released James, he needed a moment to clear his head. Seeing Chad standing at the hallway's entrance picking up items scattered by an escaping ralts drew from James an exclamation of "if what she showed me is real, you're a sick, sick person!" before turning to Joe.
"Alright, young man. Don't you dare disappoint me. You two, wait in the car."
Joe and the ralts exited and waited patiently for some time, while James demanded that Clara and the sick, sick person accompany him to the center's manager's office.
When James returned to his vehicle many minutes later, he carried a small electronic device. As he backed his car out of its parking space, Chad exited the center and flipped off the Rainiers before stomping away and venting his rage on inanimate objects he passed by.
James gestured at the device. "The guy said that that thing comes with some credit on it and that you need to buy Grace a ball."
"That's what you named her, right? When I came home, you said that you were cleaning up Grace."
Joe was about to issue a correction to his father's interpretation, when Grace tugged at his shirt and looked up at him, gravity pulling her cyan hair away from her eyes, and smiled with a gentle nod.
James drove around for a bit, not knowing where Rennin's Pokemart was located, but he found it eventually. While Grace, Joe, and his trainer's device went inside, James slipped a hidden cigarette and match-book out of the frame that supported his car's driver's seat and puffed away slowly. He "quit" soon after he started years ago, but would always light one up in times of crisis.
Joe walked up to the Pokemart's counter. "Hi. Can you help me? I need to get her a ball and I don't know what to do."
"Keep your voice down, for starters. If there was a team-member in here and heard you shout that, he would've already trapped your pokemon out of your arms."
Joe did not understand what that meant, exactly, and continued. "I was told this had some credit on it. Is it enough to get one?"
Ned activated Joe's device and examined its information. Issued a half-hour ago, signed off by the local center's manager himself, and with a pretty decent initial balance. Clearly, someone turned in an abuser today.
"You can afford any kind you like. Since your pokemon obviously wants to be with you, the type doesn't matter much since it won't be trying to bust out and run. The plain ones are cheapest, but you can shop for fashion if you like."
The varied offerings bore signs explaining their special purposes. Grace got Joe's attention when she saw one that she felt looked pretty. It was white, cyan, and blue, with a rippling effect, resting amidst many others of varied appearance inside a transparent plastic cylinder labeled "re-chips." Joe asked what they were.
Ned was watching someone near the rear of the store talking on a cellular telephone, and did not reply until Joe asked a second time. "Oh, those balls were used but either missed their target or were busted open during a capture but weren't physically destroyed. We take them back in exchange for a small credit, pop in a generic third-party replacement control chip, and sell them cheap. They don't have any special features they might have had before, but they work as well as a plain ball. Dex collectors love 'em, since they look pretty and don't cost more than the standard ones."
Joe asked Grace if that was the ball she wanted, and she hummed twice with approval.
Ned was now looking out through the front window, and noticed a man wearing a fedora standing beside the door. He dug deep to the bottom of the clear plastic bin that contained the re-chips to reach Grace's chosen dive ball, performed a few actions on Joe's trainer device, and handed both it and the ball over. "Alright, I charged the ball to your account, and I registered the ball for you. Just capture your pokemon with this ball, give it a name when your T.D. asks for one, and you're all set." Ned leaned forward and spoke low. "I suggest you do it right now."
Joe placed Grace on the counter and activated her dive ball. She vanished as a crimson blur. The ball felt no heavier, but did jiggle around in his hands for a moment before coming to rest. Five seconds later, the ball's button popped back into its normal position.
"Can I let her out, now?"
"Yeah, you're okay. Want anything else while you're here? We've got some ball clips designed for non-competitive owners. It's a lot more convenient than trying to carry balls in your pockets."
Joe recognized the up-sell, and did not think that he would be carrying her in her ball very often, but agreed, knowing that it would be better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. He also felt a strange sense of having been done a favor. Joe selected a two-ball clip, since no single-ball clips were in-stock, and left carrying Grace in his arms.
James had been watching the man wearing a fedora through the corner of his eye for much of his cigarette. As Joe emerged, the man slipped a red and white pokeball out of his pocket and activated it. Its scanning beam flashed over Grace rapidly for a second before his ball emitted a buzzing sound and ejected its button cap, revealing a red button stem beneath it. The man wearing a fedora cursed beneath his breath and turned to enter the Pokemart, but was halted by James, who took him by the shoulder.
"Hey, what the fuck were you trying to do?"
"Nothing illegal. I know, because it's my business to know the law. Now, if you keep touching my person, we'll see how long it takes for you understand the laws that cover misdemeanor assault. Have a nice day, and don't smoke. It's bad for your health."
James cast the butt of his cigarette into a receptacle while the man wearing a fedora continued inside and sold back his dud ball, not that he needed the deposit money.
Inside James' car, Joe asked what happened.
"I think he wanted to steal your pokemon. See, this is part of the reason I didn't want you getting one. It gets you involved with all kinds of bad people. Not just trainers who treat their pokemon like, like what she showed us that that-Chad-guy is involved in, but with criminals and thieves and thugs. You were right, I haven't been treating you like the young man I've taught you to be, but I have to be your mother sometimes, too."
After dinner, Joe went straight to his homework while Grace busied herself by wandering around the house and learning its floor plan. She found James sitting in a love-seat, watching a program about oceanic wreck exploration. Grace crawled up beside him and got his attention by waving her hands back and forth between her horns and the direction of his head.
"No! I don't want you to ever do that to me again, or you will be out of here, no questions asked."
Grace let her arms drop to her sides before reaching to his right arm, picking it up by his wrist and the side of his hand, and shaking it up and down while nodding. He said nothing as she hopped off of his sofa and continued her explorations.
Joe's assignment was elaborate and he completed it without any time left for video games. He put Grace to bed and retired himself minutes later. He was almost asleep when he heard a dull hissing sound and looked around his room to investigate. He found Grace dragging a plastic crate with a pillow and towel on it across his carpet. She positioned it near the head of his bed, crawled back onto it, looked up toward his inquisitive face, brushed her hair aside, and smiled at him before giggling, lying down, and going to sleep.
In bed that night, James Rainier lied on his back with his arms folded beneath his head and pillow, muttering to himself. "Have a nice day, and don't smoke. It's bad for your health. Have a nice day, and don't smoke. It's bad for your health. I know I know that man."