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One Week Later

Johnson Residence - North of Route 102
Major White and Lieutenant Multis were reassigned due to the reinforcements Forrest had called. Jeanne showed the greatest appreciation for their work while the kids were more excited about their aunt and uncles being there and Forrest being more focused on training. But Forrest still took them aside to share his gratitude and offered the Lieutenant’s Indeedee to stay in contact with Shaq’ti and to call on him if they needed.
Caleb escorted Herbert and Barbara back to Oldale Town and then told Mitchell. It was a surprise reunion for Mitchell, but Caleb informed him of why he and his cousin and brother were there. Mitchell eagerly agreed to take time off work and work with Caleb in protecting Barbara and Herbert as well as the Academy. Mitchell and Caleb still made trips to Forrest’s home, though usually separate unless Barbara and Herbert were both going to visit their son, his wife, and their children. But this was more frequent given the circumstances. And with Barbara having temporarily closed the Academy and Professor Fir having halted his work at the Pokemon Laboratory, it was that much more frequent.
Robert, Jeanne’s father and the Gym Leader of Petalburg, took the den, if only due to the Rangers’ “insistence.” Valoria and Chesley stayed at Forrest’s home with the two of them “choosing” to camp outside until a more permanent solution was created. Valoria worked Forrest’s Pokemon harder than they ever had with Forrest. Chesley worked all day long to build a pasture large enough to hold all his Pokemon. Forrest still had difficulty to refrain from panicking whenever he saw Chesley’s Tauros. It didn’t help that the beast was only a bit smaller than Taurus’ Tauros. Forrest continued to work himself to the bone with Jerrek at least keeping him company the entire time. Jeanne soon took over her father’s Gym responsibilities so he didn’t have to risk being in a city - and risk its citizens.
Shaq’ti meditated with Caleb’s Slowking despite being no less than 50 miles apart from each other. This notably strengthened her psychic endurance. Marionetta spent most of her time within the ether to absorb as much energy as she could before being called to unleash it all. Syressa spared and dueled Valoria’s Lanturn and Manectric to increase her physical endurance and to push her physically and mentally. Halcrow and Valoria’s Tsareena were always sparing, and never lightly. Antligon chased Valoria’s Hawlucha and Dodrio, which tested his agility and accuracy. Kangooroom fought Valoria’s Cinderace and Sawk to increase his endurance and to better hone his ability to keep up with a foe much faster than himself. Wickengu worked on his own to get a single Leaf Blade to fell a full matured tree whenever he wasn’t being harried by the only other Pokemon he knew that was faster than himself, Valoria’s Floatzel. Damselraed worked with Valoria personally, much to each other’s dismay.

“Very nice, Louis! Let’s see it one more time!” Jeanne shouted from across the battlefield to a young boy.
“Taillow! Aerial Ace!” he called out.
The Taillow dove toward the Treeko who rained down Bullet Seeds. The Taillow weaved through with a grace far greater than Jeanne had ever witnessed from such a young Trainer. Bullet Seeds shot back next to the Treeko and lodged themselves into the ground to form an accurate asterisk into the grass with the seeds.
“Taillow, Whirlwind!” the boy called out.
The Taillow fell out of her Aerial Ace and smoothly transitioned into a forceful and precise Whirlwind that lifted those seeds next to Treeko so they floated at the top.
“Now!” he commanded.
The Taillow beat her wings one last time and the Whirlwind seemed to burst to make the seeds fly straight outward.
“That was excellent, Louis, Taillow! I’ve never seen such grace and precision before! Beautiful work, you too!” Jeanne said as she walked across the field.
The Taillow jumped a few times with a seed in her mouth, reluctant to let it go after having caught it from the Whirlwind. Louis rushed to his Taillow and the two congratulated themselves enthusiastically. Jeanne allowed them the time to celebrate before she knelt down to the both of them.
“This is for the both of you. You’ve done more than earned this, young man. Keep practicing that routine and you’re sure to score big points in next month’s Coordination Competition,” she said with a smile that forced her eyes closed.
“Thanks, Mrs. Johnson!” he said with exuberance and he gingerly took the Chloryph badge from Jeanne as if it would shatter if he held it any tighter. He gazed at it a minute and then held it close to his Taillow. She released the seed to chirp loudly and jump a few more times.
Jeanne pushed herself up and looked to the other trainers, an array of ages and skill levels, who looked equally impressed with the display. “I’m sorry, all of you. I have other business to attend to, today. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Lily,” she said with a smile. “Go ahead and work with Marcus today and we’ll get straight to work tomorrow, okay? The rest of you can see if Marcus is available later to get you started for your Challenges.”
Some showed brief expressions of disappointment but soon chatted amongst themselves with some excitement and left while others approached Louis to congratulate him. Marcus, Jeanne’s Gym Trainer, took the young girl onto an unoccupied portion of the battlefield and started to work on a routine with her Numel. Jeanne shouted a thanks to him and waved as she left the Gym after her daughters reached her.
The three met Barbara, Valoria, and Beth and Cheryl, Mitchell’s wife and daughter, respectively, just outside the Gym. The seven of them spent the rest of the day visiting some shops, eating lunch, finding an ice cream parlor, and then went swimming in a local pond. It was difficult for Jeanne to ever fully relax as she imagined the entire city could explode at any moment. But she tried to keep in mind the conversation they all had that included how unlikely it would be for that to occur since Team Zodiac would have done that already since they were more than capable of doing so.

Forrest carried Jerrek on his shoulders to the river on their day off. The girls had gone into the city, so they decided the boys would spend the day at the river. Chesley carried Rowan on his shoulders and Mitchell carried his own son, Hubert, on his shoulders. The three tried to play a game of catch with a stick one of them found. Mitchell caught a missed pass and then started to pass it amongst those carrying the boys who tried to take it back via playful but frustrated laughs until Chesley intentionally passed it to Hubert.
Caleb and Herbert reached the river first and started to set up a site with towels and baskets and coolers for everyone. Forrest, Mitchell, and Chesley lined up against the river by a deep section and the three of them counted before they launched the boys off their shoulders and into the water. The boys goaded them and wanted to see which one could make the largest splash. So they counted again and jumped in to create the biggest splash they thought they could. Despite being the smallest of the three, Chesley was declared the winner by the boys.
Forrest watched Jerrek and Rowan play chicken against each other with Jerrek atop Chesley and Rowan atop Caleb, as that was deemed the “most fair.” Forrest was amused by the two pairs of brothers wrestling to knock the other over. Soon, Rowan’s attention was directed at a muddy bank of the river, so Chesley offered to teach him what could be found inside it. So the chicken pairs shifted to Hubert atop his father and Jerrek atop his own. Forrest hadn’t wrestled with Mitchell since they were in their mid-teens. The two boys knocked each other off their fathers who continued to wrestle in the water until Forrest had to surrender if only because he felt it was getting too serious. Still, the seasoned sailor’s strength had only seemed to increase from his years working ships. He wondered if Mitchell was taking it just as seriously.
They had to convince the boys to eat lunch, which only led to a minute or so of whining. But they all sat or floated and ate, drank, and chatted for a while. Forrest saw Jerrek gazing at a particularly sparkly spot in the river due to the sunlight through the trees above them. Rowan absentmindedly played in the mud with one hand and ate with his other. Hubert sat atop Mitchell’s abdomen who floated while the two ate. They all chatted and shared stories, mostly ones that would be considered inappropriate with children around by almost anyone else. Language continued to loosen as the men drank their fill of alcohol, except Forrest who stuck to his strict diet.
Herbert and Robert followed lunch by throwing the boys one at a time into the deep portion of the river, the same portion as before. This allowed Forrest, Caleb, Mitchell, and Chesley to speak more frankly with each other which eventually turned into schemes and plans on how to attack the national terrorism that threatened the existance of their country - of the world. It was decided they would at least increase their personal physical training and their Pokemon's training. Chesley’s “increase” was tailored to the work he wanted to do. The others thought helping him would fit well enough into their own plans. Forrest reminded them that Valoria and her Pokemon could probably run laps around them and their Pokemon with her training, so working with her would be beneficial for any of them.
“Hey, c’mon now,” Forrest bellowed over his shoulder when he caught the sight of Jerrek having launched himself high off his grandfather’s shoulders by actively jumping from them. “Be mindful of what you’re doing!”
Jerrek made a sizable splash after he heard his father’s warning, but stayed under the water longer than he usually did. Forrest kept an eye to wait for his son to surface and then raise an expectant brow at him. Jerrek surfaced and caught his father’s look and blushed slightly. “Okay dad!” he said with some annoyance and rolled his eyes as he swam back toward his grandfather.
Forrest just shook his head with a smirk and continued to chat with his cousins and friend. Once the boys seemed to have tired themselves out enough to not be so rowdy, all of them gently drifted in the river for a while longer and chatted about less-serious topics. More “anatomical” topics were passed over, ones that the boys hadn’t really considered before. Mitchell shared stories about his work on ships. Chesley explained what he was currently working on in Johto. Caleb and Forrest bonded over their own involvements with their respective Ranger Corps, which the others listened with interest.
Sufficiently pruny, they all found the slowly-fading sunny spot left in a small clearing in the forest to dry off before returning for dinner. The boys chased each other around in a fluid game of tag-wrestle-leap frog-wheelbarrowing. The men chatted briefly about heavier topics while the boys were distracted.
“I didn’t really take it seriously before, but it really does sound like we have to kill them, huh?” Caleb asked.
“Fuckin’ rip their heads off - and their Pokemon,” Mitchell growled.
“Don’t be getting cocky, boys. Remember what Forrest told you about his encounter,” Herbert warned.
“Yeah, it all sounds really terrifying,” Chesley said genuinely as he picked at the grass beneath him.
“Don’t be such a Caterpie,” Caleb said through a rough voice and flicked at his groin. “Stiffen up, bro,” he added and punched his shoulder which knocked Chesley sideways.
“Ow, Fuck you,” Chesley whine as he swung a fist back but was too far to reach his brother.
“No, you’re right, Mr. Johnson. We can’t not take this seriously. For their sakes, at least,” Mitchell interjected and glanced at the boys who screeched and shouted at each other in glee.
The men fell silent and watched as the three played their ever-transforming games. “And that means we can’t be going and killing ourselves, either,” Forrest added.
“Oh, so you were listening, son,” Herbert said through a chuckle and gripped the base of Forrest’s neck and shook him a little.
Forrest took it stoically and lingered his gaze on the playing boys before returning his attention back to themselves. “I’m really glad you all came,” Forrest said low and quietly.
“‘Course, coz,” Caleb said with some incredulity.
“I don’t have much choice, anyway,” Mitchell said with a scoff.
“I don’t know why I’m here,” Chesley said.
“You’re doing it now,” Forrest said with a slight shake of his head. “We can’t rely on manufactured food products. Besides, I’ve wanted to get you here to help kickstart a farm for me, anyway,” he said with a wry smirk.
“Oh, I see. So you’re just using me,” Chesley said and rolled his eyes through a short chuckle.
“I’m using all of you,” Forrest said. “I can’t do this by myself.”
“That’s right, son,” Herbert said quietly through a grunt as he wrapped an arm around Forrest and pulled him into a tight side hug and rubbed his knuckles on the top of Forrest’s head.
Forrest winced at the pain but just chuckled quietly to himself. He then rose and pulled his father up to then give him a proper hug. Forrest hugged the rest of them to physically show his gratitude to them for the first time since his cousins had arrived.
“Of course, bro. But we’re thankful you even told us since this doesn’t just affect Hoenn,” Caleb said.
“We should be getting back now, I think,” Chesley said with his head tilted up at the sky that showed the slightest signs of dusk.
“Alright boys! Let’s go!” Herbert bellowed louder than any of the four of them ever could, or ever thought they could.

A sixteen-person dinner was difficult to coordinate in a smaller home. But they spread out between the dining room, living room, and porch and floated around freely. It was a rather lively evening as they then partook in some card games or dice games, or chatting and knitting or quilting, in the case of Jeanne and Barbara.
Herbert and Barbara had to leave before the sun fully set if only to get home at a reasonable hour. So Caleb and Mitchell with Beth left to properly escort them back to Oldale Town, and without having to do so on foot. Mitchell and Beth’s children were allowed to stay for a sleepover. Forrest knew how grateful the two were since Mitchell confided in Forrest that it had been difficult for them to get a night alone for almost a year now. It was at this time Forrest took all the children to get cleaned up and into their beds. He’d never underestimated how difficult it could be to wrangle all the children, but with the excitement of the day, it was somehow more chaotic. He was impressed that it only took them an hour to get cleaned up and into bed. Elizabeth shared her bed with Cheryl while Rowan shared his with Hubert.
Forrest didn’t realize he’d been shouting almost the whole time until he got back downstairs and heard how quiet it was. They could all hear the children talking and laughing through the walls and ceilings. Forrest only had to go upstairs about a dozen times to tell them to not jump on the bed or run around in the rooms and to put toys away. The last few times he stood at their opened doors for a while to watch them settle down.
Once they fell sound asleep, Forrest took out his cigar box and they all went onto the porch to partake. He found it remarkably easy to not crave alcohol despite them all partaking, as he usually did with his cigars. There wasn’t much chatter amongst them this late and after such an eventful day. They mumbled back and forth about some topics but mostly enjoyed the peace of the chirping Nincada and hoots of Noctowl and the rustling from Zigzagoon or Linoone just at the edge of the forest surrounding them. The night air was light and cool and relaxing. Forrest found himself being awoken by Jeanne who told him it was time for them to go to bed. Robert, Valoria, and Chesley said their good-nights without making any indication that they would retire any time soon.
Forrest slipped his shorts off, which he’d worn all day and truly reeked from the day’s events. Minutes after his head sank into his pillow did he fall asleep.


Ranger Headquarters - Rustboro City
After a week since Forrest’s cousins had arrived, he decided to take Caleb and Jerrek with him to the Ranger Headquarters. Caleb was interested to see how it differed from Johto, which was inherently connected to Kanto’s. Jerrek had been begging to visit since he’d first learned of his father’s involvement with the Corp to. This would have been the best time as any considering there would have been very high security not just in Rustboro City, but in the Headquarters, especially.
They teleported to Rustboro City by 7:00 AM, after Forrest and Jerrek finished their first routines of the day and ate breakfast. The three spent some time wandering the city since Jerrek had only been there once with his family. Though it was an overcast day, Jerrek was still amazed to see such a developed city, as his only reference was Petalburg City, which was much a residential city. The tall buildings and grid-like road structures and the amount of people walking around kept Jerrek’s eyes wandering all around. Forrest took him as close to the Wharf as he could get, since it was still roped off. They passed by the Fairfax Institute and Hospital on their way to the Rangers Headquarters.
The three were stopped from even approaching the Headquarters’ entrance, which initially took Forrest by surprise.
“Identification,” a Ranger said that blocked their path.
“Oh, uh, Forrest Johnson. My son Jerrek and my Cousin Caleb Rowes of the Johto Corps,” Forrest said.
Caleb took out his Johto Rangers identification, which the Ranger nodded and motioned for him to enter. But Caleb looked back and waited as it seemed Forrest and Jerrek weren’t allowed entry.
“I need identification,” the Ranger said rather apathetically.
“Please, just call Dick - the Master General. I never got identification.”
“Then you cannot enter,” the Ranger said and crossed his arms and looked past them as he allowed other Rangers to enter as they showed their identification.
“I’ll go get the Master General for you, bro,” Caleb said and waved from behind the iron fence. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
“Dad, are they not going to let us in?”
“I’m sure they will, bud,” Forrest said and wrapped an arm around Jerrek and walked him aside as to not impede the guard from inspecting the few other Rangers behind them from entering.
A minute later, Caleb returned and passed Forrest a rigid plastic card through the iron fence. “The receptionist seemed to know you and said they were going to tell the Master General to allow you to bring your son,” Caleb said without any confidence.
“Mr. Johnson,” the guard called from beside them.
Forrest looked up and he appeared expectant to be shown the identification, which Forrest showed.
“Are you this man’s son, boy?” the guard asked rather firmly.
“Uh, yeah,” Jerrek said, unable to hide the fear he felt for feeling like they were going to be in trouble.
“Next time, you must bring their birth certificates or equivalent form of identification for immediate family only,” the guard said and shifted to indicate that they could enter.
“Thank you, sir,” Forrest said with a quick nod and guided Jerrek in front of him and through the gate.
“Why didn’t you bring your ID?” Caleb asked with a scoff.
“I don’t have one,” he said and looked down at the identification.
The picture in the corner was the one he took after he’d won the Hoenn Championship Tournament. It didn’t look much like himself and thought he should work on getting it updated while they were here.
“Release all your Pokemon, please,” another guard at the entrance of the physical headquarters demanded. She appeared just as apathetic as the gate guard.
Caleb looked back at Forrest and Jerrek then back at the guard and nodded and passed by her. The guard and her Gothitelle prepared to scan them for something.
She looked up expectantly at both Forrest and Jerrek. Forrest guided Jerrek in front of him so he could go first. Jerrek looked back with a growing fear in his eyes.
“You’re okay, bud. We’re not in trouble. They just gotta make sure we don't have anything dangerous,” Forrest said in the most assuring voice he could manage.
“Release all your Pokemon, please,” the guard said.
“Uh, I don’t have any,” Jerrek said and looked back at his father. Forrest nodded approvingly and mouthed “you’re okay.”
The Gothitelle and the guard scanned and patted down the boy as if he was no different than an adult.
“Stay to the left past the entrance,” she said coldly and pointed, then shifted for Jerrek to go into the building.
“Release all your Pokemon, please,” the guard said as her attention immediately shifted to Forrest.
He compiled and was calm during the scan and pat down.
“Identification,” she said expectantly.
Forrest struggled to fish out the ID he’d just gotten from his pants. She appeared impatient but didn’t say anything as she glanced at the card.
“Next time, you must provide valid identification for immediate family members. Extended family require their own forms of identification. Please see the reception desk for more information. Both of you need to follow the signs for ‘Admissions,’” she said as if from a script and shifted to allow Forrest and his Pokemon to enter.
He returned his Pokemon before entering himself. Caleb was sitting next to Jerrek, which relieved some of Forrest’s concern for leaving his son alone for even a short period of time.
“Good job, bud,” Forrest said as Jerrek rose from his seat. He took the boy in his arms and hugged him briefly as he said “we have to go through Admissions,” to Caleb.
“Me too,” Caleb admitted and pulled a corner of his lips to the side.
The two looked around together while Forrest kept a hand against the side of Jerrek’s face so he could make sure Jerrek didn’t stray too far or get lost.
“Oh, right, I’m going to stop at reception real quick,” Forrest said and brought Jerrek with him to the desk with Caleb just behind them.
Forrest got pamphlets and small packets of information. The receptionist also verified where they needed to go. It was explained that Admissions were divided into different kinds and were conducted in different rooms. Forrest was concerned he'd have to be away from Jerrek for too long.
“Security’s pretty tight, huh?” Caleb said as they followed the signs they were told to follow. “Is this all in response to Team Zodiac or do you usually get summoned here and don’t visit on your own?” Caleb asked.
“Yeah, this is all really new. I usually just walk right in,” Forrest said as he focused on navigating himself and Jerrek through the Rangers rushing past them from every direction.
“Probably for the best. Seems like they’ve got pretty good measures,” Caleb said casually as his own nerves had settled.
Forrest didn’t say anything until they reached the Admissions Wing. It was crowded but seemed like there were Rangers acting as traffic control.
“Where are you going?” a Ranger asked flatly who sat in a folding chair at a folding desk at the entrance to the wing.
“International Ranger,” Caleb said with confidence.
“IR156,” she said and ripped off some kind of ticket and handed it to Caleb. “Don’t lose that and keep your ID out,” she said and looked up at Forrest and glanced at Jerrek.
"Are you two related?” she asked firmly.
Forrest moved Jerrek in front of himself to solidify his answer of "yes." She twisted around in her seat and waved someone over.
“What’s your full name, son?” the Ranger said. His voice was much gentler, friendly even, than all the other Rangers they had interacted with up to this point.
“Jerrek Warden Johnson,” Jerrek said after he got a nod from his father.
“And you are, indeed, this man’s son?”
“Yes, sir,” Jerrek said. His voice still sounded shy, but the demeanor of this Ranger seemed to put him at some ease.
“Very good,” the Ranger said. “Just wait on the right side of the door just inside while I ask a few questions to your dad,” the Ranger said and pointed to where Jerrek was supposed to stand.
The Ranger, Lieutenant Fletcher, from what Forrest could tell, took Forrest’s ID and examined it briefly. “You’re that boy’s father?” he asked.
“Yes,” Forrest said with calm confidence.
“How tall is he?” Lieutenant Fletcher asked.
“Oh, uh, 4’9” or 4’10” I think now,” Forrest said.
“What color eyes does he have?”
“They’re blue, but they could look blue-green,” Forrest said with more confidence than the previous question.
“What color is his hair?”
“Brown.”
“About how much does he weigh?”
“Probably 75 to 80 pounds.”
“Place of birth?”
“Petalburg City.”
“Mother’s full maiden name?”
“Jeanne Maye Beasley.”
“Maternal Grandfather?”
“Robert Beasley, Gym Leader of Petalburg City.”
“Paternal Grandmother’s maiden name?”
“Barbara Elizabeth Cooley.”
“Thank you,” the Ranger said with a polite smile and nodded at the seated Ranger.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"Oh, uh," Forrest started and tried to remember what Caleb said and answer relative to himself. "I'm a bounty hunter."
“V043,” she said and ripped off a ticket and gave it to Jerrek. “Keep your ID out,” she added.
Forrest stepped quickly to reach Jerrek who was, again, standing with Caleb. He looked at his ticket and then down the hall to find any signs to indicate where he was supposed to go.
“Looks like I’m down on the right,” Caleb said and pointed to a distant sign above a door that said “International Ranger Men” with a bold “IR” underneath with a long line of people at it.
“That must be you,” Caleb said and pointed to the second door closest to them on the left that said “Visitor Civilian Men” with a bold “V” underneath.
We’ll wait for you just outside the wing,” Forrest said as he assumed he and Jerrek would be finished before Caleb.
Caleb nodded at Forrest then looked down at Jerrek with a smile. “You’re doing great, bud. Remember, they’re doing this for your and the country’s safety. There’s no need to be afraid of getting in trouble.”
Caleb knelt onto a knee and hugged Jerrek. Caleb patted the boy’s shoulders and then stood. “Alright, I’ll see you boys soon,” he said as he clasped Forrest’s neck, which Forrest returned in kind.
“Okay, let’s get in line, bud,” Forrest said and guided Jerrek in front of him in the line they were supposed to wait in.
It moved rather quickly - steadily, too. When Jerrek was in front of a Ranger at the door, Forrest held out his own ID and said “he’s with me. This is my son, Jerrek.”
It was the same Lieutenant Fletcher from before. He looked down at Jerrek with a warm smile and glanced at Forrest's ID. "Your son is not required to be subjected to the full-body check and subsequent cleaning. We'll have him wait for you just outside that door where you will exit, sir. I'll have a Ranger stationed to look after him," he said with a calm smile and pointed behind Forrest and then hollered "Major!" over the din.
A Major Harris approached and was informed of the situation to which he quickly adapted as per their protocol. Forrest tried his best to reassure Jerrek but couldn't hide his concern for his son's well-being despite having always trusted Rangers.
But he took a deep breath and entered the room and took a seat where other men were sitting against the wall next to the door of the entrance. A small screen showed a letter and number in the same format as their tickets. Men were lined up, undressed with their clothes in a square bucket on a kind of conveyor belt. Rangers with blue medical gloves and masks closely inspected each man from top to bottom. They then followed the conveyor belt that passed through the wall into an adjacent room. The buckets of clothes passed through a scanner and a few different psychic-type Pokemon along the way.
Forrest watched a man escorted out of the room with a Ranger on each side of him before he could even put any clothes back on. He saw “V043” on the screen and walked to the back of the line to undress. Forrest held his bucket under his arm and showed his ticket to the first Ranger who pointed to the Ranger he would be inspected by. Forrest placed his bucket at the start of the conveyor belt and went to stand where he was told.
The Ranger checked and inspected every inch of Forrest’s body to find any signs of implanted devices or microchips or smuggled goods. It took at least 10 minutes for such a thorough inspection. He was then directed into the next room to shower with specific soap and instructed to clean himself in a specific manner. The Rangers often corrected some of the men. One man threw a kind of tantrum and was immediately escorted out of the shower room by a Ranger on each side of the man.
“Scrub your legs, sir,” Forrest heard close to him and felt a slap against his thigh.
A warm wave of embarrassment washed over him as he realized he was distracted by the commotion.
“Bottom of your feet, sir,” a Ranger said when Forrest looked to one to verify if he was finished.
When his washing was approved, Forrest went to dry himself off. He found his bucket of clothes but was interrupted just as he put a foot through his undercloth. They provided him with Land fatigues and took his civilian clothes to be sent to the locker rooms to be put into his own locker. He was then directed to have his picture taken to update his Ranger ID which was created for him to replace his apparently temptation ID.
When Forrest finally got to where his son was supposed to be, his heart fluttered at finding his son missing. "Sergeant Rowes took your son just outside the wing, Deputy Johnson," a militaristic voice announced behind him.
"Oh, thank you, Major," Forrest said through a sigh. He then realized and was taken aback by the use of a title. If he remembered correctly, a Deputy was an unofficial position between Major and General. "And there's no need to call me 'Deputy.'"
"Master General's orders, sir," Major Harris explained as he released his salute.
"Aw, fucking cunt," Forrest groaned to himself at the Master General and headed over to find Jerrek and Caleb.
“I was getting worried you got kicked out!” he heard beside them.
Caleb approached with his hands on Jerrek's shoulders in front of him. Caleb was similarly changed into Marine fatigue with no sign of his civilian clothes.
“Should have brought my uniform, huh?” Caleb said with a chuckle. “So, you get through okay?”
“Yeah, it was fine. They had me take a picture for an official ID,” Forrest said and flashed his new card for Caleb to verify Forrest was telling the truth.
“I heard the 'inspection' was just as invasive as mine.” Caleb said quietly and jabbed Forrest's abdomen a couple times. Forrest just chuckled and threw a few jabs back.
“Alright, well, I’m starving. Let’s get to the cafe. I’m interested to see what Hoenn slop is like,” Caleb said with a bellowing laugh. “They said it’s this way,” he added and led them down a hall that was already unknown to them even if they had already walked down it.
The three made their way through the complex. They were stopped at a couple unexpected check points where they learned Forrest and Jerrek were only allowed into the eastern branch of the Headquarters, which Forrest shared was the gymnasium, locker and shower rooms, and the cafeteria. Jerrek expressed some disappointment for not being allowed a tour.
“I don’t think you’d get much out of a tour if it’s like this everywhere,” Caleb said over his shoulder and winked at Jerrek.
Jerrek resigned to that unfortunate truth, but was still disappointed. Forrest’s tried to physically comfort his son in vain as they navigated their way through the busy halls and corridors. He took off his jacket and draped it over Jerrek’s shoulders, mostly because it was too warm for the jacket, but also to not leave him out from dressing like a Ranger with them.
It felt like a half hour before they reached the cafeteria that was somehow quieter than the halls. Rangers shouted playful commands at each other. A small group hollered at some kind of competition between two Rangers. There was a low din of casual conversation amidst the tinking and clanging of usual dining sounds. The cafeteria was huge with high ceilings which swallowed much of the excess noise. Long benched tables were lined up to cover nearly the entire floor that was painted with basketball court lines - four of them. Baskets were raised up to the ceiling as they weren’t going to be in use. Forrest caught sight of a few people playing a card game at an, otherwise, empty table. The line at the kitchen wasn’t long, so they made sure to get in line before it could.
The food was fairly good. Nothing like a home-cooked meal, of course, but it was still tasty. They overheard some Rangers and learned it was likely due to the number of civilians taking refuge in the Headquarters that made the kitchen improve the food they produced. Forrest couldn’t help but think that was a little counterintuitive, as it’d certainly consume more of the better resources sooner. But the Rangers’ kitchen wasn’t his to consider. So they ate quickly to get to the gymnasium so at least Forrest and Jerrek could get their second routine in for the day.
Forrest found silkies and tanks for them to wear since fatigues weren't known to be breathable. Within the first hour, Caleb had been sucked in to a kind of competition. Hoots and hollers, synchronized counting, cheers and shouts of encouragement filled the space. It seemed Caleb was at the center of it as Forrest was able to hear sentiments of trying to “outdo Johto.” From the shouts and from what Forrest could tell from a distance, it seemed none were able to best him. Though Forrest, himself, wasn’t a Ranger (or was he?), he was glad they were getting along well enough. It never crossed his mind that there would be rivalry or any bias between Ranger Corps.
Caleb was surrounded by new friends, so Forrest and Jerrek went to shower and put their clothes on. Jerrek convinced his father to continue to wear the fatigues so he could keep wearing the preposterously oversized jacket. They’d been told that they were given permission to roam the training grounds and gardens of the Headquarters - apparently directly from the Master General. But when they reached the doors to the training grounds, they saw it was raining. It was a warm rain, so there was no real chance of catching a cold, but Forrest convinced Jerrek that they should stay inside so as to not be soaking when they got home. Jerrek was understandably dejected for a bit, but they returned to the cafeteria for a snack and found themselves playing cards with some other Rangers. The Rangers took well to Jerrek and were eager to teach him the game they were playing. Forrest was familiar with the game and caught up fast enough. In the middle of their second game, Forrest spotted Caleb enter with a posse of probably ten other Rangers. He made sure to catch Caleb’s attention with a wave who waved back and indicated for them to join him.
Jerrek garnered even more attention when they learned his uncle was “the strongest Johto Ranger” and his father was “Hoenn’s best bounty hunter and Deputy Land Ranger.” The Rangers took them on unapproved tours of some of the less-regulated areas where they could get away with such things. Some Rangers mocked higher-ranking officers during their explanation of a meeting room. These particular Rangers’ dorm wing was where they spent a few hours just hanging out, which Jerrek made sure to share a comment on how smelly it was. Forrest found the time and excused himself and Jerrek so they could do their next routine before dinner.
Jerrek quickly grew comfortable navigating his way through the few large spaces they were originally given clearance into. He chatted with some other Rangers about their particular duties and responsibilities within their corp, which was a whole new topic Jerrek was eager to learn about. Forrest chatted with some Rangers he’d helped train once a few years ago and learned that most Rangers were now acting as local police and travel guides, which Forrest found understandable.
The cafeteria was packed at dinner time. Forrest overheard how civilians had breakfast and dinner brought to them but that they’d have to get dinner for themselves. It was much quieter than it was at lunch time, interestingly enough. Forrest thought that it must have been a long day for most of the Rangers with the other portion likely just starting their workday. Forrest let Jerrek indulge on more than one dessert before they would do their last routine of the day. He was just glad the kitchen was serving food that met his own diet requirements. Though, of course they would, he thought.
The lights flickered briefly, which set a hush over the entire cafeteria, though it didn’t reach silence and most figured it must have been because of the storm outside. Forrest overheard someone say that it wasn’t even windy, which made Forrest a bit uneasy. He reassured Jerrek but caught Caleb’s eye to silently indicate that he should be ready for action at any moment.
“Greetings citizens of Hoenn,” a voice echoed loud throughout the cafeteria.
The several television screens that showed local news or bad reality TV now showed the same image. What Forrest found particularly disturbing was that all the TV’s had been muted the entire day.
A man stood outside in a steady rain. He wore a dark blue suit vest and white button-up shirt with rolled sleeves. His dark hair was slicked back and water dripped down his rather chiseled face with a handsome and even light beard. A street lamp lit the top of his features, which would have made most appear sinister or distorted. It did nothing to detract the handsomeness of this man, though. Forrest’s heart pounded and his eyes widened, but he watched on in horror.
“I’m happy to finally speak with you all directly. I am Pisces of an organization called Team Zodiac. My colleagues and I have been working toward preparing Hoenn to see the bright future that is ahead for this beautiful country.
“But there are many things that keep us from realizing the true potential of Hoenn and its citizens. One such thing is what you are seeing me on now. I learned long ago that technology, however well-intentioned, is always detrimental to not only humans, but Pokemon as well,” he said with sad eyes that looked a bit too exaggerated.
“Worst of all, it negatively impacts nature. For example, where Mauville City now stands used to be a wondrous natural reserve where dozens of Pokemon used to live but are now extinct. We cannot pretend the conveniences we create for ourselves do not harm our planet and, thus, the Pokemon and people who call it home.
“That is why I am here, in Rustboro City, at the Fairfax Institute of Technology,” he continued and the camera panned backward to show that he was standing before that very building with a Gorebyss and Huntail floating on either side of him. He wore pants that matched his vest. All his clothes were solid in color which suggested he’d been standing in the rain at least long enough to become thoroughly drenched.
“Technology can not and will not be able to do anything that nature does naturally. We have to see this evil for what it is - the slow death of our country - of our world. We have to surrender our dependence on silly contraptions such as Pokeballs. Pokemon are meant to freely go wherever they wish and whenever they wish to do so. Humans have become soft and complacent as their needs are passively met and have lost their appreciation for how these things come to be and how they are maintained.
“And so, people and Pokemon of Hoenn, I will take the first step in freeing our country - freeing the world from the oppression and destruction that comes with technology. I ask that you all follow my example and free yourselves of your shackles.”
He turned around and nodded to the Gorebyss. It glowed marbled blue and purple as it swam in the air. The camera began to rumble. Pisces stood still with his hands behind his back. Glass shattered and flew in the air. Pillars crumpled floor-by-floor. The Institute was efficiently and quickly demolished by a singular Gorebyss, from what they portrayed on the TV. A light rumble was felt throughout the Headquarters. It wasn’t faked.
The TV’s projected distant shouts as Pisces turned back and the camera zoomed back in. “Now, my fellow citizens of Hoenn, it is your turn,” he said.
The smile that curled on his face wasn’t quite right - it was sinister. A chill ran up Forrest’s spine and he snapped out of the daze the TV’s seemed to have gripped him in. Buckles clanged against metal and tables. Boots thundered across the floors. A single shout became a roar of Rangers moving to action.
Forrest looked to Caleb who stood and looked ready to follow his fellow Rangers.
“Caleb!” Forrest bellowed through the din. “Take Jerrek out of here!”
Caleb looked at Forrest, his eyes harsh and determined, then softened as if disappointed. But once Caleb’s gaze reached Jerrek, a new fire lit in his eyes. “No, you take him! Keep him safe with you!”
“You don’t know what you’re getting into!”
“Bullshit!” Caleb spat back with a rage. “We’ve been training all week!”
“Fucking listen to me Caleb!” Forrest shouted and rose from the bench. “You’ll die! Take him home now and be ready to flee when I get there!”
Caleb let out a loud growl that was mostly masked by the din of shouts and roars all around them. Forrest knelt next to Jerrek when he made sure he had everything with him. “Go keep Mom and your siblings safe. I’ll be home soon. I promise you. I love you,” Forrest said as a tear fell from his eye when he kissed Jerrek’s forehead and hugged him quickly and tightly.
Slowking's paw gently landed on Jerrek’s shoulder. Caleb’s hand rested on his Slowking’s crown and he nodded to Forrest. “Don’t be fucking stupid,” he said with all the seriousness he could convey as they disappeared.

Screams. Some piercing and some blood-curdling. They were growing closer. Loud cries and roars of Pokemon faded away weakly. Rain produced a constant percussion of bass that did nothing to drown out the chilling reality of what was happening.
Forrest sprinted faster than he ever had. The rain soon soaked through every layer of his clothes. He drew his long hunting knife expecting to need to use it.
“Deputy Johnson!” Forrest heard shouted to his right down an alleyway. “Deputy Johnson!”
Forrest saw three Rangers with their partners - one psychic type seemed to be meditating on something.
“They’re dropping like flies,” the Ranger said as Forrest barreled toward him. The face the Ranger made - Lieutenant Fraiser - was of pure horror.
Forrest motioned for them to wait where they were as he stalked to the other end of the alley where the screams and roars were louder. He peered around the corner and saw several bodies of both Rangers and Pokemon lying on the ground with a dark pool below them. An explosion burst further down the main road. An entire corner of a building erupted from a jet of water. The aftershock was physically painful to witness.
Forrest spotted a live Ranger across the main road who looked to be hiding - cowering.
“Retreat! Don’t engage!” Forrest roared.
The Ranger looked over to him with a face of terror. “Go!” Forrest screamed as loud as his throat would allow.
“Fuck,” he said under his gasping breath as he returned to the three Rangers toward the middle of the alley. “Go! Leave! Don’t engage! Evacuate!” Forrest shouted at them, unsure as to what kind of order to provide.
He understood what it meant to be called “Deputy” by other Rangers. He hadn’t expected to be charged with leading a band of Rangers so immediately. Still, there was no point for them to risk their lives to accomplish nothing.
“Sir, where are you going?” another asked - his voice high and piercing - young.
“I’m going to get others out of here!”
“Sir, please, don’t!”
“Don’t tell him what to do, fucking idiot,” another said and slapped him across his head.
“Are you sure you don’t want assistance?” the first Ranger asked.
Forrest looked and pointed up. The distant roar of Antligon sounded. Then Shaq’ti hovered down to Forrest’s side. She showed him what images she’d seen so far. Utter carnage.
“Get the fuck out of here!” Forrest roared.
The three immediately moved into action down to the other end of the alley while Forrest went back to the main road where bodies littered the ground. “Don’t fucking engage. Get as many away as you can,” he thought to Shaq’ti who relayed the message to his other Pokemon.
Forrest tried to sneak closer to where he knew Pisces likely was. He looked everywhere he could and told the few more Rangers he saw to leave and evacuate. He eventually crossed the main road into an alley on the other side. He peered around the corner and saw Pisces and his Gorebyss still glowing and shooting jets of water from its mouth.
Forrest’s heart raced. He thought how his heart's outline could show through his chest. He took a deep breath to steady himself. Shaq’ti relayed how his Pokemon notified many of the Rangers who were then notifying others and the area was being evacuated quickly. He had to buy the Rangers and the civilians time.
“Pisces!” Forrest screamed in the hopes it would reach him through the rain. “Why are you doing this?”
He didn’t have the courage to look around the corner. He kept a hand on Shaq’ti.
He’s coming,” Shaq’ti thought.
His heart beat harder than before, but slowly now. He could feel blood rush into his eyeballs and past his temples and up his neck. “Get out of here,” he thought as he felt complete terror for the first time in his life.
I won’t leave you,” she thought and gripped his hand more firmly to focus teleporting them all away.
No, just you.
Shaq’ti was silent for a moment. She thought nothing but obeyed his command and teleported a distance away where she could still sense what was happening.
Forrest pulled his eyes to the side to look down the alley across the main road. He didn’t dare move his head. Wickengu leapt toward him from windowsill to windowsill far down the alleyway on the other side of the street. Once their eyes met, Forrest nodded and Wickengu nodded back and leapt out of the alleyway and straight toward Forrest.
Wickengu streaked through the air faster than Forrest had ever seen before. He suddenly stopped - frozen in mid air. Wickengu didn’t make a sound as he was torn apart in silence and fell to pieces onto the ground.
Forrest’s eyes widened. He couldn’t feel his heart anymore. The rain was silent. His eyes started to burn. Confusion. Sorrow. Fear. Rage.
The silence was finally broken by the clicking of a tongue. “What a foolish thing for you to do, Mr. Johnson,” said a lilting and smooth tenor voice from around the corner. “But there’s no need for any more of this violence. I would like to speak to you, man to man.”
Forrest’s feet were frozen to the ground. He was shivering violently - cold. The blood stopped pulsing through his body. His eyes remained on the pieces of Wickengu that now littered the ground with the bodies of other Pokemon and Rangers. It couldn’t have been more than a few moments before he heard the voice again.
“Don’t make me wait, Mr. Johnson. My patience isn’t endless. It would be sad for Jerrek to learn his father died because he was a coward,” he said conversationally.
Forrest’s eyelids stretched even further. Fire burned throughout his body.
“You leave my son’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Forrest said which started as a mumble but ended in a coarse roar.
Forrest found himself standing 20 or so feet from Pisces and his Gorebyss. Pisces’ arms were crossed but the face he wore was expressionless. Forrest gripped his knife so that his hand clicked around the handle. He felt himself gasping, panting, breathing heavily. But he couldn’t move any closer as if his subconscious controlled his body enough to not physically threaten the man.
“You asked me a question, Mr. Johnson. It’s only polite that I answer you face-to-face,” Pisces said in his persistently casual tone. “Why am I doing this, you ask? Was my little broadcast not clear enough? I wish to cleanse this world of its dependency on technology. Though I suspect you mean ‘why did Gorebyss demolish the Fairfax Institute of Technology and why she and her brother have been killing Rangers who try to engage with us?’ The first was a symbolic ritual to have the citizens begin to consider what is truly best for them. The second is simple self-preservation.”
Was that a smirk on his face? Was he smiling? Was he happy to have killed so many Rangers and their partners? Would he be equally amused to follow through with his threat to kill Forrest? Was he delighted in having Wickengu, who should have been immune to such psychic powers, be torn apart by it?
Halcrow entered Forrest’s diminishing field of vision. Just as Wickengu had been, Halcrow, too, was ripped apart before Forrest could even comprehend what was happening.
Pisces clicked his tongue again and shook his head slightly. “I’m disappointed, Mr. Johnson. I would expect the Pokemon of a former Hoenn League Champion would be more well-behaved. Pity.”
Forrest felt as if his chest concaved from a forceful blast. His heart skipped but the fire in his veins burned hotter. The tears of fire contrasted with the ice of rain falling down his face. His feet kept planted on the ground.
“I was glad my prediction came true in that I have the opportunity to speak with you,” Pisces continued as if nothing happened. “I hoped I’d be able to clear some paranoia from you in the hopes that it would reach Mr. Aeros. I was actually surprised that I had forgotten all about Conserve Kline. Poor woman - one of her first,” he said and stroked Gorebyss down the length of her body.
“Tonight I will be summoning Jirachi, who shares my vision of the future. Leo will be obtaining Victini right at this very moment at the Elite Four Headquarters so as to ensure our ultimate victory in achieving our dream. Unfortunately, that will be all we can do until five years from now. At that time, should the citizens of Hoenn not come to their senses, we will bring Hoenn to obey. It will start with the energy plants across Hoenn followed by Mauville City. We will then dismantle the major cultural hubs of Hoenn so as to recreate them in our vision of a pure world. Of course, the latter includes your mother’s Academy and the laboratory with which your father is employed. Please know that we do not seek to kill anyone else after tonight. This was merely a show of our power which proves how strong our convictions are. Still, we will not hesitate to push forward through any obstacle to achieve our dream.”
Pisces turned his head but kept his eyes on Forrest. “Come,” he said into the rain. “I think it is time.”
A faint roar sounded above them as a Huntail slithered from the left and to Pisces side. “Expect Virgo at your mother’s Academy, Mr. Johnson. You know what he looks like, if Mr. Aeros showed you what that Special Agent saw. I will be at the Mossdeep Space Center, if you must know.”
Forrest’s skin reddened. “Fucking kill them all,” he thought without getting a response back.
Pisces and his Pokemon turned around to walk away from Forrest who still couldn’t bring himself to move. The bright flash of light-blue energy hurt his eyes. Debris caused scratches across his skin as it flew past him. Dazzling light flashed while the earth erupted below Pisces.
Syressa and Antligon were pierced simultaneously by a single jet of water. They fell to the ground motionless. Kangooroom was half-eaten since the Huntail was interrupted by Marionetta who was then Crunched out of existence.
Damselraed finally neared and buzzed around Forrest. He caught her eyes that looked heartbroken as she scanned the scene. She put together that the man and the two Pokemon that stood a distance from them were responsible.
Damselraed created a storm of a Bubblebeam that quickly filled the space. They gently floated toward Pisces and his Pokemon and began to pop with each one containing a Bug Buzz.
A jet of water no thicker than a pencil shot through Forrest's palm he held up as if to block the attack. His eyes shifted to see that it went cleanly through his hand Damselraed’s body. She turned with sad eyes to her trainer.
Forrest’s body went cold as ice. Damselraed hovered gently to the ground where her wings soon stopped vibrating. Forrest had never seen what her wings actually looked like - shaped like diamonds and semi-transparent. Her face was peaceful.
Forrest fell hard to his knees. He then fell forward onto his hands over Damselraed’s body. Tears flowed from his eyes and onto her head.
“I guess it did take all but one to have learned your lesson,” Pisces said conversationally as if he’d known he was going to kill all but one of Forrest’s Pokemon.
Forrest didn't see how damaged and tired the Huntail and Gorebyss were. Forrest didn’t see the bright light shine high above Pisces as Forrest scooped Damselraed into his arms. A small white and gold figure slowly descended from the source of light and straight down toward Pisces who seemed to wait expectantly. Forrest didn't feel a hint of pain in his hand. Forrest had closed his eyes and hugged Damselraed and gently pushed his cheek into her soft fuzz while he sobbed.
“Thank you, Mr. Johnson,” Pisces said as his hand reached to Jirachi for them all to then disappear.

“Fuck! What the fuck happened, Forrest?” Caleb said airily. “Is he gone? The Elite Four Headquarters was attacked, too. Wait. Are those - ?”


Elite Four Headquarters - Ever Grande City
When Fredrick and Lois returned to the Elite Four Headquarters, they both eventually noticed how strangely Bingham was acting. He was no longer self-confident and aloof. He suddenly started to apologize for getting in the others’ ways. He would ask where they were going and when and why and for how long. Fredrick believed it wasn’t only because of having learned about Team Zodiac, since Tristan was directly involved with investigating them. But it was too suspicious that whenever Tristan spent any time at the headquarters, Bingham was even more on edge.
Bingham managed to time a brief chat with Fredrick via his Gengar. Bingham revealed that he was being extorted by one of the members of Team Zodiac - Leo - and that she threatened to kill all of them if he didn’t play along and give her access to their headquarters. Fredrick learned over time that Bingham had made a deal with Team Zodiac some years back. Pisces was to grant Bingham a wish when he obtained Jirachi in exchange for his prolonged cooperation. Fredrick also learned that Team Zodiac very much knew about the secret group of anti-terrorists Tristan was currently working with - that Bingham, himself, facilitated.
Fredrick told Lois as he learned this information but struggled to police her from making it slip that they knew about Leo. Fredrick struggled to call Tristan to the headquarters to relay this information without getting caught. But between Tristan’s busy schedule and Fredrick struggling to organize a time he wouldn’t be discovered was virtually impossible. It wasn’t until a week after his secret meeting with Bingham that he managed to get Tristan alone and in secret.
As Fredrick relayed this information to Tristan, the television turned on by itself beside them.
“Greetings citizens of Hoenn,” a man said.
The man stood outside in a steady rain. He wore a dark blue suit vest and white button-up shirt with rolled sleeves. His dark hair was slicked back and water dripped down his rather chiseled face with a handsome and even light beard. A street lamp lit the top of his features, which would have made most appear sinister or distorted. It did nothing to detract the handsomeness of this man, though.
“I’m happy to finally speak with you all directly. I am Pisces of an organization called Team Zodiac. My colleagues and I have been working toward preparing Hoenn to see the bright future that is to come for this beautiful country.
“But there are many things that keep us from realizing the true potential of Hoenn and its citizens. One such thing is what you are seeing me on now. I learned long ago that technology, however well-intentioned, is always detrimental to not only humans, but Pokemon as well,” he said with sad eyes that looked a bit too exaggerated.
“Worst of all, it negatively impacts nature. For example, where Mauville City now stands used to be a wondrous natural reserve where dozens of Pokemon used to live that are now extinct. We cannot pretend the conveniences we create for ourselves do not harm our planet and Pokemon and people who call it home.
“That is why I am here, in Rustboro City, at the Fairfax Institute of Technology,” he continued and the camera panned backward to show that he was standing before that very building with a Gorebyss and Huntail floating on either side of him. He wore pants that matched his vest. All his clothes were solid in color which suggested he’d been standing in the rain at least long enough to become thoroughly drenched.
“Technology can not and will not be able to do anything that nature does naturally. We have to see this evil for what it is - the slow death of our country - of our planet. We have to surrender our dependence on silly contraptions such as Pokeballs. Pokemon are meant to freely go wherever they wish and whenever they wish to do so. Humans have become soft and complacent as their needs are passively met. Humans have lost their appreciation for how these things come to be and how they are maintained.
“And so, people and Pokemon of Hoenn, I will take the first step in freeing our country - freeing the world from the oppression and destruction that comes with technology. I ask that you all follow my example and free yourselves of your shackles.”
He turned around and nodded to the Gorebyss. It glowed marbled blue and purple as it swam in the air. The camera began to rumble. Pisces stood still with his hands behind his back. Glass shattered and flew through the air. Pillars crumpled floor-by-floor. The Institute was efficiently and quickly demolished by a singular Gorebyss, from what was portrayed on the TV.
The TV projected distant shouts as Pisces turned back and the camera zoomed back in. “Now, my fellow citizens of Hoenn, it is your turn,” he said.
The smile that curled on his face wasn’t quite right - it was sinister. The TV turned off on its own.
Fredrick rushed to find Lois and Bingham. He found them at Bingham’s battlefield with most of their Pokemon out and facing off against a woman with a Solrock and Pyroar. Fredrick immediately joined in, too.
Within a few moments, all of Lois’ Pokemon were melted - killed - by the Pyroar, save her Aggron. It appeared as if it was still breathing, though just barely. Throughout the next few minutes, Fredrick’s Bisharp, Shiftry, and Hydreigon sacrificed themselves to save their trainer as the Solrock’s expansive psychic abilities bypassed their natural immunity and imploded their bodies. The Solrock did well to defend against most anything Tristan and his team could do against it. Bingham’s Decidueye was caught in a Flamethrower that seemed to instantly cook the Pokemon. Bingham was then shot with a Power Gem that punched clean through his torso and he dropped dead. At one point, Oracle’s vision of Forrest over a dead Damselraed in the rain appeared in her mind and played out with greater clarity than it had before as she watched her vision come true in real time.
A possibly-impervious Reflect Screen Barrier stopped the contradictingly lopsided battle soon after. The cavern began to rumble and stone began to fall from the ceiling. A giant hole shattered open to reveal a Victini against the rainy night’s sky and surrounded by brilliant yellow energy. It descended slowly until it reached Leo. She thanked them and as she barely touched the Victini, she and her Pokemon and the Victini disappeared.

Tristan’s Gauntlet rang with a call from Master General Hardy partway through their battle with Leo. He relayed that the Fairfax Institute of Technology was destroyed and that Pisces was present. A follow up call revealed that many Rangers had been killed and all but one of Forrest's Pokemon had died.


Mt. Pyre
The mountain was the same dull gray color as it had always been, perhaps since the beginning of time. The air was impossibly still for being near the peak of the mountain. The sky mocked them with its brilliant blue hue with elegant clouds spattered artistically around. The sun was a light yellow circle that caused warmth to radiate at their feet. The small patches of grass were a healthy green that contradicted the dead coolness of the earth and stone it grew through. The only other colors that could be seen in the area were from the brightly-colored wildflowers they held as they stood in silent mourning.
It never crossed Forrest’s mind that he’d be back at Mt. Pyre if anything went wrong. The last time he was here was to get the Banshee Badge from Mr. Gutermuth around 12 years ago, now. He remembered how it had crossed his mind at the time that he’d be back here to bury Damselraed and possibly the rest of his Pokemon if they didn’t outlive him. But that was such a distant thought to him that it simply ceased to exist until now. At least, that’s what he told Jeanne on their way to Mt. Pyre, which distracted him enough to not completely break down until he found himself in front of their headstones.
Jeanne’s eyes wouldn’t stop burning. She let the tears fall freely from her eyes as it'd become simply too tedious to continue to wipe them away. She wiped her nose a few times between the sniffs to keep her nose from dripping. She saw her husband’s shoulders quiver as he attempted to restrain his sobs that could be heard clearly from where they stood. She watched her husband struggle to push himself up off his knees to then move to the next headstone to properly mourn the next of his Pokemon. She felt her own knees grow weak and soon knelt down to better wrap her arms around her children.
“Mommy, why are you crying?” Shelynn asked in her tiniest of voices and gracelessly wiped the wetness across Jeanne’s cheek.
“Shh, we’ll talk when we get home,” Jeanne struggled to say and then kissed Shelynn on the head.
Jeanne glanced at the rest of her children to see how they were doing. Rowan’s head was sagged downward, but it seemed the dress clothes he wore made him more uncomfortable than the sadness he felt for his father’s Pokemon. Elizabeth clutched onto her mother’s sleeve as she silently cried. Her Surskit wiped tears from her cheeks, though struggled to keep up. Jerrek looked - angry. Tears flowed freely from his own eyes, but his face showed a vengeful anger that was far too mature for a boy so young. She made a point to have individual conversations with them soon after they got home.
“Stop fucking fidgeting,” Jerrek spat and elbowed Rowan hard.
“Ow!” Rowan whined loudly.
“Don’t you speak that way to your brother,” Jeanne said deeply through a whisper. She kept a harshly stern expression on her face toward Jerrek as she switched Rowan and Shelynn’s positions next to her.
Jerrek glared back in a way he must have thought looked serious, but would have been hilariously ineffective at any other time. At this moment, she was afraid Jerrek would be unable to grieve healthily and that it would negatively affect them all. Jerrek broke their eye contact and looked straight ahead again to watch his father mourn at each headstone. Jeanne turned to kiss Rowan on his head and rubbed where Jerrek had elbowed him.
“Please just stay still for a moment, baby. Do it for Daddy,” she said and managed to keep her quivering lip from affecting her speech. “Hold your hands together like this and think of all the fun times you’ve had with Daddy’s Pokemon,” she added.
It felt like hours before Forrest was knelt in front of Damselraed’s headstone. Quiet steps were made as attendees lined up at Marionetta’s headstone and moved to the right down the row of headstones. Most placed a flower at each headstone until each had overflowing bouquets of wildflowers. Forrest was kissed on the forehead by his parents who were first in line and stood by him for a while as others finished their mourning. His cousins hugged him tight and long as they reached the end. Aunts and Uncles patted his back and stood with him for a few moments since Forrest had bowed his head to the ground while kneeling to sob more freely without it being so loud. Jeanne simply continued to look forward as the line passed her to then descend the mountain.
Jerrek stepped in front of her and held his hand out for Rowan to take. Jerrek’s face had softened, it seemed, and made the effort to make up for his treatment of Rowan. Jeanne nodded to Elizabeth who did similarly for Shelynn.
“Just think about the last time you played with them,” Elizabeth said quietly to Shelynn who nodded back silently.
She didn’t realize how stiff her knees had become from kneeling on the ground for so long. She dusted off her skirt as MacKenzie Gutermuth approached her. His smart black suit fit well with the common traditions of mourning. The sides of his hair had grayed to white while the top of his head remained black - as if to match his suit. His face was sharp, but in a gentle way. His eyes looked somewhat tired, but held a hint of happiness.
“Please, take all the time you need. You’ll have this space to yourself and you can call me if you need anything,” he said and gestured to a barely visible Duskull floating near Forrest.
“Thank you so much for all this, Mr. Gutermuth. You are too kind,” she said and felt how the tear streaks pulled at her skin as they had begun to dry down her cheeks.
“For someone who was able to save so many others, I didn’t do nearly enough, Mrs. Johnson. I’m going to try to make up for it with a vigil next Saturday that we’d love for you all to attend.”
His hands cupped hers gently. Another tear fell off her chin and onto his hand. Mr. Gutermuth nodded solemnly and stepped away silently until the space was left to only Forrest and his immediate family.
Shelynn giggled as she told Elizabeth the last time she played with each of Forrest’s Pokemon. Rowan took the time to arrange the flowers in a way he thought was the most aesthetically pleasing. He certainly proved that his aestheticism was as appropriate as any other 6-year-old. Elizabeth tried her best to humor Shelynn through her own sadness. Jerrek stoically helped Rowan in arranging the flowers.
Jeanne always enjoyed Marionetta’s presence, as mischievous as she was. Jeanne also appreciated how she was the one to update her about Forrest wherever he was. She’d miss seeing her eyes and mouth glow yellow in the air in front of her.
Syressa always exuded a calming energy. Jeanne suspected Syressa did this to calm the children when they were being especially rowdy. And such a beautiful Pokemon. Jeanne always thought it a waste Forrest didn’t enter her into Coordination events.
Halcrow was hard to find love for. But now it was impossible for her to ever stop loving him. Jeanne remembered how angsty Halcrow was when she met Forrest. Jeanne believed his heart softened each time a child of theirs was born.
Antligon was such a strong force - overwhelming at times. But Jeanne never felt safer than when he was around. And he loved the children and was always the first to play with them whenever he could.
Kangooroom - so funny. He loved pulling pranks on Jerrek, which usually made him mad until Jerrek would get him back. He had such a lively spirit that would be sorely missed.
Wickengu was so fiercely loyal and protective. She remembered how he’d always be so concerned about Forrest’s well-being and try to convince Forrest to not do something stupid that he’d, of course, do anyway. She loved how that sentiment extended to the rest of their family.
Damselraed. Beautiful inside and out. Jeanne never much cared for Bug-type Pokemon. But something about Damselraed’s exuberance and glee made Jeanne never consider her inherent distaste for Bug-types whenever she was around. She felt so guilty for not taking her to more Coordinator events that Damselraed was always so eager to attend. Forrest likely felt similarly in not keeping up with the Coordination Calendar that was publicly available.
Forrest took a position amongst his children similar to Jeanne’s from earlier. Jeanne tapped Jerrek and Elizabeth on their shoulders. They scooched aside to allow Jeanne to enter their little circle atop Damselraed’s resting spot.
Forrest had certainly been ugly-crying. His face was patchy red and his cheeks shined brightly and his beard sparkled as the sun hit the dried tears within it. But there was the slightest smile on his face, now. Jeanne couldn’t help but reciprocate.
“Alright, guys. Go find Grammie and Grampie. Uncle Caleb will be taking you all back home,” she said and kissed each one on the cheek.
They individually hugged their father who also kissed each of them with a slowly-growing happiness. They both watched as the four of them walked away, holding each other’s hands. Jeanne’s hand automatically found her husband’s and she squeezed it gently. He squeezed back in response as their children left their view. They turned to face each other. Jeanne managed a quick but overcompensating smile and then fell into Forrest so that she could freely sob while comforted, in contrast to Forrest needing to be alone to do so.
“Hey, where’s Shaq’ti?” Forrest said as Jeanne’s sobbing lessened.
Jeanne fought to stop her sobbing and pulled back to turn where she’d seen Shaq’ti last - meditating on a small ledge on the cliff just behind the headstones. But she was gone. “She was just there,” Jeanne said as she looked around.
She pushed off Forrest and frantically searched until she shouted “Shaq’ti” with so much fear in her voice, Forrest thought she was being hurt for a passing moment.
Yes, ma’am?” Shaq’ti thought as she appeared before Jeanne.
Jeanne hugged her tight and let out a couple relieved sobs before she released Shaq’ti. “Where did you go?”
I was leaving,” Shaq’ti thought.
“Leaving? Where? Why?” Jeanne asked and shook her head in increasing confusion.
You don’t want me anymore. It’s my fault they’re all dead,
Jeanne stared at her incredulously and slowly turned to Forrest. He shared a lessened version of her expression.
“What are you talking about? It’s my fault they’re dead,” Forrest said sternly. “I was going to release you because you hate me and because I’m so weak.”
I would never leave you, Forrest. But I now see what your thoughts were - preparing for my assumed reaction. I’m so sorry for being so reserved since after - it happened.
“You have nothing to be sorry for Shaq’ti. The only apology here should be from me - and you should never accept it.”
Why should I never accept it? To continually fuel your shame and regret for something that was my fault?
“Stop, the both of you,” Jeanne said and stepped between them. “I can’t even imagine how disappointed they would be to see the two of you like this,” she said and gestured toward the headstones. “I’m sure they would think ‘how dare either of you take responsibility for our deaths? How self-important and conceited,’” Jeanne said with a sad chuckle. “No,” she started again slowly. “You’re supposed to be determined with everything you are to avenge them, to not let Pisces defeat you without having to lay a hand on either of you.”
They all stood still for several long moments. They considered what Jeanne said on their own. “She’s right, I think,” Shaq’ti thought.
“Yeah. Me too,” Forrest said low and looked at his wife with a smile that grew a little more since the last time. “You need to go give them a proper mourning, though. They deserve that,” Forrest said and placed a hand on Shaq’ti’s shoulder.
Shaq’ti nodded and slowly walked over. They both thought it slightly strange to see her actually walk on the ground rather than floating in the air. Shaq’ti placed her hands together, palm to palm, in front of her chest and lowered her head. A faint pink aura glowed around her while she mourned her party members. It transitioned into a purple color that reminded Forrest of Marionetta, though Shaq’ti was praying over Damselraed.
Forrest had never seen her glow such a color before. He also never saw her entire body glow white and so brightly that he had to squint. She grew more than a foot and her arms lengthened almost to the ground. Her fingers grew long and wide and her head shifted into a more cylindrical shape. The head extensions lengthened slightly and also became cylindrical. As the white light faded, her coloration had changed to a purple covering most of her body while her legs became a light gray color.
“I was wondering if that would happen,” a man said behind them.
Jeanne and Forrest turned to find Mr. Gutermuth behind them and gazing upon Shaq’ti.
“Medionshi,” he said. “Medicham that meditate at the peak of Mt. Pyre for 10 years straight will evolve into Medionshi. But they can also evolve after experiencing such great loss while also possessing powerful psychic bonds. The connection between her party members was so strong that her mental link with them has now become a spiritual link that she will live with for the rest of her life. She also becomes a Ghost-type.”
An idea hit Jeanne hard in the stomach enough to knock the wind out of her. “Please, train her in everything you know about Ghost-types,” Jeanne panted and looked at Mr. Gutermuth with wide eyes.
Mr. Gutermuth cocked his head and his brows furrowed. Forrest turned to look at him. “Please, I would be honored if you trained her. I never really could train Marionetta. She kind of just did her own thing,” Forrest said with a shrug and chuckle.
“Mr. Johnson, I-”
I need to be the strongest I can be. I need to push every one of my physical, mental, and now spiritual limits. I will get to my physical peak with Forrest. Mr. Percival Gutermuth and Mr. Tristan Aeros will have me reach my mental peak. I need you to get to my spiritual peak,” Shaq’ti thought.
Her voice lingered longer than Forrest had ever experienced from a Pokemon that could speak telepathically. And Shaq’ti’s voice never lingered or faded slowly. It sounded as if she was speaking directly into his ears. More notably, her voice had lowered into a smooth contralto that left an eerie air throughout the space.
She turned to face them. A spell tag had been attached to her forehead - or did it grow there naturally? They all gazed at her in silence as they digested her new appearance.
Fairfax Manor - Rustboro City
Tristan’s reception into the Fairfax Manor was entirely different. The atmosphere felt throughout the property was silent panic. None showed it on their face, of course, but all the servants and workers moved with a little more purpose than they had before. Maybe it was the look in their eyes that gave it away.
“Mr. Aeros, Lady Fairfax has been waiting for you,” the large security guard on the left of the entrance said as he approached.
The other guard unlocked the gate and swung it open so they could enter. Tristan was sandwiched between the two of them on the way to her office - throne room, which he could tell since none of the decor had changed. The furniture and artwork were unforgettable, given how gaudy they were. They passed by the statues of the former Lord Fairfax’s and stopped at the ornate door that led to the office into which Tristan had simply entered before.
“Your Pokemon will remain out here with us,” the guard said as he turned around to look over Tristan’s head.
Ether relayed that he couldn’t sense anything beyond the door or wall in front of them. Of course this was a risk to Tristan's well-being - to be separated from his Pokemon. But Lady Fairfax was known not to keep any Pokemon, herself. The chance of being cooked by a Fire Blast upon passing through the door was slim. Regardless, the guards were prepared to escort him out of the Manor if he did not comply immediately. So a quick decision needed to be made.
“All of them in their Pokeballs,” the guard said.



Tristan’s Gauntlet rang when he left the premises. It was Major Gold of the Interrogation Force.
“Senior Inspector Aeros. I was commanded to relay to you that Jonton Fairfax has passed away. His body rapidly deteriorated a few hours ago and we could not intervene fast enough to keep his heart and lungs working. An autopsy is currently being performed. It will be completed tomorrow. I do know after a blood test we took when we admitted him was that there was a rather high level of a foreign chemical in his body. We are currently running tests to identify it.
“Also, the Master General has told me to request that you soon rest well and to not return to work until you have done so. He made sure to tell me that I relay to you how critical your services will be and he wants you to be at your best as often as possible. The results of our tests will be sent to you not before 10:00 hours tomorrow.”


Underground - Mauville City
Tristan blinked and not 10 feet in front of him leaned Samantha against the wall he walked past.
“Ready?” she said rhetorically and turned to lead Tristan into an alley. “Down here,” she said after her Espeon levitated the cover to a man-hole. “Hopefully you’re not too attached to those,” she added and looked down at his shoes and pants.
The sewers of Mauville weren’t any different than anywhere else. People and Pokemon always made waste and it needed to go somewhere. The purification systems further downstream prevented pollution, but that didn’t mean it smelled of Roselia before it reached them. The narrow walkways were caked in sludge and Rattata droppings. There was a swell in the running sewage that had to be some kind of Pokemon, likely a Grimer or Muk. But it didn’t show itself as they passed.
“Fun that ‘underground’ is being taken literally, right?” she said incredulously.

It was a maze of a path Samantha led Tristan. There were small hatches they had to squeeze their way through and false portcullises her Espeon raised to continue their path. Her Espeon hovered over the mess, refusing to soil her feet or fur.
Samantha led Tristan silently. It felt like hours, if only because of the stench, until they reached a rather conspicuous wooden door with a window that a dull yellow light shined through. Samantha turned back to clock where Tristan was and then covered whatever she did to the handle of the door to open it. She gestured for Tristan to enter before her.
It looked like a stereotypical detective’s office. The smell of sewage did not pass through the door, somehow, and the air was filled with the scent of paper and ink and coffee. The floor was checkered with white and black tiles evenly throughout. The walls were painted in such a way as to almost mask the fact they were cement. Old and dull fluorescent box lights hung from the ceiling. An antique wooden desk, stately and stained dark, was covered in papers and files and a few mugs with coffee stains in a few spots. The lamp on the desk was not turned on which made it difficult to make out any of the words on the files. Behind the desk, the wall was lined with file cabinets. Some were opened to varying depths. Office supplies and folder stands littered the tops of them. The space was certainly well-used.
Samantha led him into another office directly across from the entrance that was much smaller and much more put together. Her Espeon curled up in the bed next to the desk and yawned and shut her eyes. The desk was much smaller and much more cheaply made. The lamp was turned on which illuminated the single file upon the, otherwise, neat and clean desk. It was labeled with the name “Tristan Aeros.”
She knocked on the door opposite the desk. A faint muffled voice sounded from beyond and she turned to Tristan. “She’ll see you now.”
Samantha sat at her desk and allowed Tristan to enter the room alone. He was met with a woman who was possibly the most plain-looking he could imagine for someone so secretive. Though perhaps that was for the best.
She appeared highly professional. She wore a dark gray pantsuit that was well fitted to her nearly-exaggerated proportions. Her reddish brown hair was neatly ironed into curls that fell elegantly over her shoulders. Her nails were painted a bold red and she wore matching lipstick. The rest of her make-up was modest and minimal. Her face was slender and fine, though still unremarkable. She wore square black-framed glasses which gave her face barely any more definition. A Zoroark was curled beside her on the floor. It opened an eye to look at Tristan and Ether, then closed its eye and breathed deeply as if to go back to sleep.
“Mr. Aeros, pleasure,” she said without any hint of feeling any pleasure at all. “Please, have a seat,” she said and gestured with her chin to the chairs in front of her desk.
“So, Mr. Keetra contacted me to work with you. That was before Samantha offered you a meeting with me, in the case you weren’t aware,” she said and lingered an eye on Tristan to gauge if she caught him off-guard with this information.
“Since we’re both in the business of preventing the destruction of the country, I suppose it’s within our own best interests.”
She already sounded bored.
“So, I’ve been brought up to speed with everything you showed Samantha last night. To save us from speaking redundancies,” she said and her brow raised lightly, “I should share what I know with you.
“First, Mr. Keetra used to run this operation. I took it over about 10 years ago now. We have connections with all the different pockets of the underbelly of Hoenn. The Black Market has been dealing with the void Jonton left since he died last night. I have some connections there, but they’re not reliable, if they’re even alive. As for the Brawlers,” she said and paused to see if Tristan recognized the underground fighting rings found across Hoenn, “I can get them to do some heavy lifting, if any of that is required. Granted, I think we both know this operation requires finesse that the Brawlers utterly lack. Perhaps we can use them as a diversion if we don’t need their manpower. Overall, we have no relation or connection to the Rangers. You are our only exception. And, yes, that means Mr. Keetra lied about his former occupations,” she said and strained to not roll her eyes for having to clarify as such.
“We both know Team Zodiac was not directly involved in the Mauville Attack, that it was the work of Jonton and his goons. The Secret Agent you met with yesterday provided you with a file that showed Pisces and, who we’ve come to learn, is Virgo - the one that killed the prior Secret Agents and attempted to kill Hawley.”
Ms. Shade sat back in her chair and crossed her fingers together in front of her. “The last thing you need to know is that we do not work with the Rangers and the Rangers do not and will not know we exist, which will continue as we work together. You may do with that information as you wish. But know that we will work with only you. There will be no more contact between myself and Mr. Keetra. The three of us are possibly the only people Team Zodiac does not yet know about, and we will keep it that way. I will provide you with updates via Samantha as we obtain new information and we expect you do the same for us. That is all,” she said and started to work on the files on her desk to passively indicate that their meeting was over. She gave brief and flippant answers to Tristan’s questions.


Johnson Residence - North of Route 102
The chill of the forest air froze his lungs for a moment. He breathed deeply as he looked at his house - the rather modest log house that stood quite tall but didn’t have a large footprint. Yellow light glowed out the windows on the first floor and from his bedroom, but not his sons’ bedroom, and could assume the same was the case for his daughters’ room. He blinked a few times as his eyes slowly adjusted to the dusk. The stars slowly came into focus against the dark violet sky that was mostly black now. He looked down at himself and realized he was still wearing only silkies and a tank top - that his clothes had been mostly ruined from the fight that happened only 8 or so hours ago, though it felt like it’d been a month already.
His chest and shoulders rose as he breathed deeply once more which seemed to prepare him to walk toward his house - with the intention of entering, but he couldn’t see himself doing that just yet. His feet pounded against the wooden steps that led to the front door - his legs felt heavy. A quick chill ran up his spine despite not being cold - nervous about seeing the people he knew were in grave danger. He rubbed his jaw and then the top of his head to counteract the soft prickly feeling that spread through his face and scalp - embarrassed for having failed so completely. He gripped his abdomen as a heavy iron ball curled around in his stomach - hungry as his body believed he was safe enough to eat for the first time since lunch.
He stood in front of the door for a few moments. His arm was too heavy to raise his hand to grip the doorknob and turn it open. He breathed deeply once more and opened the door quickly and turned to close it as soon as Shaq’ti passed through. He saw the silhouettes of people sitting at the dining table but instead turned around and bent down to take off his shoes and his Pokeball belt that he wore like a sash as there was no better option. He tapped the button on each one to release them one by one.
Electricity ran across his skin and he jolted himself straight up as he felt small hands curve around his middle. Jeanne grunted and stepped back but just looked at Forrest with concerned eyes. “I’m sorry, babe. I didn’t mean to scare you,” she said quietly while her face turned from concern to confusion as she didn’t expect her greeting to surprise him. Surely he saw them at the table.
“Sorry, babe,” Forrest growled and shook his head of the fear that prickled across his skin. He approached her and hugged her tight. He bent down to kiss her. She cupped his jaw in her hands to have it linger a little longer than usual for a greeting in the hopes that it would calm him down sooner. “It’s been a rough day,” he said with a slow shake of his head.
“That’s okay, darling,” she said and placed a gentle hand on his chest. She patted it twice and said “go sit at the table. Are you hungry? I’ll get you something to eat,” she asked and acted without an answer.
“Yeah, I’m starving,” he said to himself and grabbed his abdomen again as it growled painfully. “Hi Mum. Hi Dad,” he said as he walked over to the table to greet them.
They rose to meet him - hug and kiss him. Forrest sat next to his father who grabbed the base of the back of his neck and squeezed and forced Forrest to sway a little. Forrest had forgotten how large his father’s hands were - and how rough and hot they always were. It felt nice.
“You okay, bud?” Herbert said low and patted Forrest’s shoulder blade.
Forrest breathed deep. He didn’t even think about answering “yeah” breathlessly.
“Hon, we know what’s going on,” Barbara said and reached across the table to place her hands upon Forrest’s. “What happened today?”
He picked his head up when he realized it was slumped down. He looked over both of them. They had concerned love upon their faces. He felt he could have started to immediately cry.
“We encountered one of Team Zodiac’s members. Taurus. He was fucking huge,” he said and looked up to indicate how he had to look up at the half giant. Forrest shook his head and breathed deeply then continued. “He threw Halcrow around like he was nothing. It looked like Kangooroom’s Uppercut didn’t even faze him. Syressa and Antligon were knocked out with a single move, I guess it was an Altaria. There was a massive Tauros that endured the rest of my and Investigator Aeros’ Pokemon…”
“Oh, you were with the Elite Four?” Barbara said, rather surprised.
“No, just Aeros.”
“Wait, and you both used all your Pokemon?” Herbert asked.
“Yeah,” Forrest said through a sharp exhale.
Barbara and Herbert looked at each other and then at Forrest whose head was sagged down once more. “Fuck, man,” Herbert said and grabbed Forrest’s trapezius on the other side of his neck and squeezed. Barbara placed her hands upon Forrest’s hands in her own attempt to comfort her son.
Forrest looked up. His eyes red. “Yeah. It’s bad,” he said, low and quiet.
“Eat up, babe,” Jeanne said as she placed a heaping and steaming plate in front of him.
She set two beers in front of him. Forrest pried off one of the caps before she set down the bottle opener for him to use. He chugged it quickly and then attacked the food as if he hadn’t eaten in a week. His stomach growled a little louder - excited to be finally getting food. The other three simply waited for him to come up for air in silence. They shared glances of concern to each other that were meant to comfort each other in the fact they were all on the same page. They also took this time to digest his account of what he had gone through earlier that day.
“I set up the den for your parents,” Jeanne eventually said as she noticed Forrest was nearly done eating so ravenously. She knew it needn’t be said - ‘cause where else would they have slept?
“Yes, despite the circumstances, we’re still excited to stay here for a bit,” Barbara said without any hint of confidence in what she had just said.
“I don’t know what you expect me to do,” Forrest said through a scoff which caused some food to fly from his mouth.
“Do you have any plans for your training?” Jeanne said, anticipating her husband’s reaction.
“Yeah. It’s going to be all day every day,” he said. He showed equal parts exasperation, for how hard he was going to work himself and his Pokemon, and incredulity, for how little he believed it would make a difference.
“We’ll help you the best we can, bud,” Herbert said and gripped the base of the back of his neck again.
“I’m supposed to be protecting you,” he said, as if they were mutually exclusive.
“Hon, you’re not alone,” Barbara said with pleading eyes.
“I just feel bad for the kids. I’ll be here but I won’t be present, you know?” Forrest said with little emotion.
“That’s not true, babe. You can always find ways to incorporate interacting with them into your training,” Jeanne said as she brought a six-pack of beer to him, which he immediately began to open. “Seconds?” she asked.
“Mhm,” Forrest hummed through the bottle and nodded his head. He pulled the bottle from his lips and breathed deeply as if he was drowning himself in the alcohol. “I’m going to need to be eating a lot more, too. Do you think we’ll have enough for the week?”
“I’ll go into the city tomorrow,” Jeanne said with her back turned to him from the kitchen counter.
“No more beer - or any alcohol for that matter,” he said as he gasped from another bottle of beer.
“Well, I’m still getting my wine,” she said with a slight scoffing chuckle.
Forrest grunted a kind of affirmation as he finished a fourth beer and could start to feel it getting to him. Barbara and Herbert simply watched him in silence for a minute.
“We can build an extension together. If this turns out to be a long-term engagement, it wouldn’t hurt to add more space,” Herbert offered.
“Yeah, maybe, if the effort is high enough to be worth the time,” Forrest said around a deep and loud belch.
“Don’t be like that, hon. Killing yourself in whatever training you have in mind would be counterproductive,” Barbara said, though her concern masked the wry manner in which she meant the sentiment.
“Well, if I kill myself with training, Team Zodiac would have killed me anyway” Forrest said as if he had a point.
“C’mon son, we’re serious. We can always leave the country - go back to Johto,” Herbert offered.
“They’ll just follow us, won’t they? They have background checks on you guys. And your dad, too, babe,” he said and looked up to watch Jeanne lower another plate onto the table in front of him.
He attacked his food as ravenously as before, which impressed and concerned Jeanne. But she decided to carry on the conversation without her emotional husband. Since she was only tangentially involved, getting the opinions of those directly involved would likely be the best option.
“I hadn’t even thought of that. We could just go to Johto until this all blows over. I’m sure you can establish another Academy there and work with another research team there,” Jeanne said and gestured to them respectively.
“Possibly, though it’s not a guarantee,” Herbert said with sad eyes and a curled corner of his lips. “But I’d rather struggle to live than be constantly threatened with death.”
“Do you think the kids would struggle to adjust?” Barbara said and looked at Jeanne.
“It’s certainly likely for any child. They’d certainly miss Mitch’s kids,” Jeanne said.
“I’m not running away from these fucks!” Forrest bellowed and slammed a fist down onto the table to shake it under all of them.
Barbara gasped and raised her hands up in surrender. Herbert held onto the table to keep it on the floor. Jeanne slapped the table after his outburst.
“I don’t give a shit about your pride, Forrest,” Jeanne growled back with fire in her eyes. “You will be the last man to put my children in harm’s way,” she said with a firm finger pointed at his chest and stood up from her seat.
“Yeah, so I can show them how brave and strong it is to run away with my tail between my legs,” Forrest grumbled with his fork raised and frozen at his lips. “I won’t let them take my home away from me.”
“Your home is where your family is! How dare you put a place before your family!”
“Please, let’s just calm down,” Barbara said, though it sounded like a whisper between them.
“I mean, I am useless to the Rangers, anyway. Might as well be useless where we have a better chance to be safe,” Forrest grumbled lower and more quietly.
A sharp slap cracked. Everyone was silent. Forrest’s fork flew from his hand and onto the floor.
“If this is what you think, you’re even weaker than I thought. All those muscles are just for show, then, huh? Just compensating for your cowardice and fear. And you think this attitude wouldn’t obviously show them how weak their father is? A little man who cowers away in fear at a single loss. What happened to the man who took on the Championship and won against all odds and after so many losses? What happened to the man who built this house who didn’t have a clue what he was doing? What about the man who, despite being terrified of raising children, proved to be the best father I’ve ever seen? You’re going to throw that all away because you’re scared? I’ll be brave for the kids since you’re obviously too weak to show any real bravery.”
Jeanne stood above Forrest for a few moments. Her chest rose and fell quickly but soon slowed. Forrest eventually turned to look Jeanne in the eyes. They were both welling with tears but he kept them from falling. Forrest’s brows had sunk around his eyes.
“You weren’t there. The one Tauros took on, like, 10 Pokemon simultaneously. That Altaria easily knocked out three others. The man, himself, was pure stone and threw Halcrow like he was a sack of straw. I’m fucking terrified. We were sneaking in on them and that one guy came out with the upper hand.”
Jeanne breathed in deeply. She empathized with him but kept a brave and determined face. “Then you know exactly the bar you have to reach and then surpass,” she said simply.
Forrest’s eyes glanced back and forth around her and the room. It’s true, he’d seen one of them fight. He saw what kind of power one of them possessed. They were just regular Pokemon that were trained to levels Forrest had never seen. That didn’t mean it was impossible, it literally meant the opposite. He remembered his conversation with Broadson. He’d said the same thing. The meetings he had with Tristan were getting to him.
“And I have Mitch,” he said in a near-whisper. “And I can call Cal, Val, and Ches,” he said with his voice becoming more assured.
“I think you have a point, son. We can’t be sure that once this Team Zodiac has destroyed Hoenn that they won’t do the same to other countries,” Herbert said as he massaged Forrest’s shoulder.
“Well, I’m pretty sure they wanted to ‘purify’ the entire world, whatever that means,” Forrest grumbled angrily at the thought.
“So we should do our best to stop them before they can make any real progress,” Herbert said and slapped Forrest’s shoulder with a short chuckle.
“And don’t think you need to protect the world by yourself. I know pretty much everything about training Pokemon and your father knows a lot about their physiology. And Jeanne’s going to be a Gym Leader soon, and she is an accomplished Coordinator!”
“Well, used to be,” Jeanne said with a sad scoff.
“Nonsense. I always wanted you to go back into it, but I also understand wanting to raise your family,” Barbara said with a warm smile.
“And like you said, you have Mitchell. And I’m sure the cousins would be here in a heartbeat if you called on them,” Herbert added. “They’re probably better than you, now, anyway!” he said with a short bellowing laugh and slapped Forrest’s shoulder a few times.
“What’s going on? Why are you all fighting?”
The four of them turned to see Jerrek at the base of the stairs holding a bat in just his undershorts as if he had rushed down to fight an intruder. He yawned and rubbed his eyes but stayed where he was until his eyes focused more.
“Oh, Dad, you’re back,” he said tiredly.
“Oh dear, we got a little carried away, didn’t we?” Barbara said with a soft giggle.
“We weren’t fighting, hon” Jeanne said with a hint of embarrassment in her voice. “Just, trying to help your father.”
“Come here, bud,” Forrest said and turned to get up from his chair and walk toward Jerrek.
“It’s okay, guys,” Jerrek said and looked up the stairs and then shuffled toward his father.
Forrest picked Jerrek up in a tight bear hug and kissed his cheek a few times. When Forrest set him down, his other children were right in front of him, tired, but wanting a turn to greet their father.
One-by-one Forrest greeted them similarly. One-by-one they found a seat at the table. Save Shelynn whom Forrest kept seated on his arm. Forrest stumbled when he stepped on the fork that had flown out of his hand. He squatted to pick it up and cleaned it off with his mouth, to the dismay of his wife and mother who both rolled their eyes. His food was room temperature, but he ate quickly while the other adults tried to explain to them the situation in the most child-friendly way they could think of at the time.
“Aw, cool Dad! You’re going to be killing real bad guys?” Jerrek said with his body fully faced toward his father.
“No, hon, that’s not what I sa-”
“That’s the plan,” Forrest said with a struggled grin around a full mouth and then winked to remove any doubt behind the sentiment.
“Babe,” Jeanne said in protest.
“That’s why he’s eating so much. That’s his second plate! He’s gotta build more muscle to get stronger as do his Pokemon,” Herbert said through a wide grinned chuckle.
“Bert,” Barbara said in protest. “Stop encouraging them.”
Herbert chortled and wrapped his arms around Jerrek. “If you want to help, you’re going to have to follow what your dad does,” he said and ruffled Jerrek’s hair.
“Awesome! I’ve been bored doing it myself, anyway!”
“But you’ve had Major White,” Jeanne said with confusion.
“Does that mean we gotta get more stuff from the gardens?” Rowan asked his mother.
“Oh! And does that really mean Auntie Val and Uncle Caleb are going to be staying with us, too?” Elizabeth asked with enthusiasm.
“And Uncle Chesley, too,” Forrest said through another full mouth.
“Uncle Ches Ches!” Rowan shrieked with joy and clapped his hands.

Forrest called for Shaq’ti before he got up from bed. She could still find Caleb’s Slowking to get in contact with and call for him, Valoria, and Chesley for their help. He also demanded that they either rest or train their hardest. Forrest kissed his still-sleeping wife and put on the silkies he wore yesterday since they were still clean. He opened his sons’ door and woke Jerrek up to follow-through with what Forrest's father suggested to Jerrek last night. He enthusiastically sprung out of bed and put on his own shorts and rushed to follow Forrest downstairs where he was already starting to make protein shakes.
They were well through their first routine of the day before they heard noises above them that suggest the others had started to wake. They had plenty of time to finish and shower to join everyone for breakfast. Forrest noticed how crowded the table was with both his parents there. He was amused at the image of trying to fit 3 more adults at the table.
Forrest called for Shaq’ti for an update. She confirmed that they would arrive by noon today, which allowed the first sense of relief to wash over Forrest since yesterday. He and Jerrek made sure to eat more than usual since their day had only just begun.
The second break the two had was lunch. It was extended as Caleb, Valoria, and Chesley entered through the front door while they all ate. The children didn’t bother to contain their excitement and immediately greeted them enthusiastically before the three could close the door.
Caleb was only a year older than Forrest. And though he was nearly a foot shorter, he was notably wider than Forrest and heavy with muscle. Forrest couldn’t help but think he’d gained some mass since the last time he saw Caleb about three years ago. But these were the only physical similarities between the two. Caleb had bold orange hair, with eyebrows to match over his emerald green eyes. His skin was naturally pale. He was clean shaven and, thus, looked at least a few years younger than Forrest. But thick chest hair poofed out in large curls of his button up shirt, which was only buttoned up to the base of his chest. He was certainly the boisterous one as his voice nearly drowned out all the others. His smooth tenor voice also contrasted starkly from Forrest’s deep and gravelly voice.
Valoria was at least a couple inches taller than Caleb. She had the physique of an athletic sprinter and wore athletic clothes to make that as obvious as possible. Her dark brown hair was pulled up tight into a bun so the loose curls didn’t get into her face. Her bold blue eyes were the only light feature she maintained. She kept a serious or sour look on her freckled face most of the time. Seeing her nieces and nephews was the only time her lips would rise into a flatter line than the naturally downturned corners. Elizabeth wasted no time in showing Valoria the Surskit she’d befriended not too long ago. Valoria was already talking training regimens for them.
Chesley was most certainly Caleb’s brother, but only because of their faces. He only wore faded blue jean overalls which allowed his slightly darker skin than Caleb’s to show. His shoulders and face were already reddened as if he’d been working outside for a few hours before he arrived, which was proven true by the fresh mud that caked his almost comically large boots for his comically large feet. He looked much smaller than Caleb despite being the same height. But Chesley had an average width and proportional musculature for working fields and herds all day every day. He wore his favorite straw hat that covered his thick and curly orange brown hair with streaks of sun-bleached rose blonde. The hat looked worse every time Forrest saw it.
The three refused Jeanne’s offer for lunch as they had made sure to eat before they teleported. Once the children were done eating, they were told to play outside, which took Jerrek more convincing than the others. Forrest took no liberties in describing why he called them here.
Zephyr Base - Sootopolis City

Samantha appeared generally disinterested in the Grand Conserve's monologue. She nodded along as if she'd heard it all before.
"Jonton wasn't involved with Team Zodiac, was he?" she asked genuinely confused. "I had no idea," she added and shook her head slightly.
Samantha rolled her eyes shook her head, clearly dissatisfied with the response. She thought how Pisces chose well someone that was so inept at investigation and information gathering. He likely purposely avoided the Watchers, and Grand Watcher Clerk, specifically, for this very reason.
Grand Conserve Kline looked at Tristan for a moment after he asked about her second meeting with Pisces. Her brows twisted and she looked up and around in confusion. She was searching for a memory she had no recollection of. Samantha and her Espeon visibly tensed as they realized the Grand Conserve was not trying to hind anything.
The Grand Conserve's mind went back to show the image of her in her office speaking with Pisces. She tried to find a time when he'd met with her again, but couldn't find it. The image began to wave and distort slightly as she tried to diligently search for any hint of this occurrance.
"What's that?" Samantha asked and directed Ether's attention to something beyond the window in the image of the Grand Conserve's memory.
The image was entirely frozen save the small distortions and waves as she tried to find the additional memory. But the image of the waves through the window appeared to actively crash into the white Sootopolis cliffs. They'd learned that Kline did not keep memories that moved, so this was certainly out-of-place. It was timely of Samantha and her Espeon to notice it so soon before Tristan could decide that Samantha had lied to him about what she saw.
They moved through the window and onto the cliff's edge. They looked down to see that only a semi-circular portion of the water appeared to move as if it was real. "Better go see what it is," Samantha said and jumped down with Ether.
Being a memory, they levitated down rather quickly. When they reached the water, they passed through it's surface. "What the fuck is this?" Samantha said on the other side. Her voice held a notably layer of fear.
On the other side of the surface of the water was an inverted black void. Under their feet was the moving water they had just passed through. Above and around them was absolutely nothing. Samantha was frozen in bewilderment and fear, though she could never admit the latter.
A rainbow sheen in the shape of a massive bubble around them streaked past. Samantha hardly noticed. Ether, on the other hand, was acutely familiar with the psychic signature.
"It's another mind shield," Ether told Tristan. "It feels much weaker, though," he said with an appropriate level of skepticism of how to proceed.
"I've never seen a mind shield before," Samantha said soon after. She was able to identify it, herself, which was possibly good, but most likely bad.
"This is Pisces', his Gorebyss' mind shield," Ether explained. "It took our whole team to break the one in Jonton's mind and nearly broke Oracle's mind."
"Really? It feels so flimsy," Samantha said with a tone of defiance.
A spot in the bubble pushed outward and the already-thin film of the shield was pulled taught that it would tear if her Espeon pushed any further.
"I wasn't lying. This has to be the memory of that meeting I saw her have with him at Lilycove," she tried to justify to Tristan. "We have to see what it is," she added and shook her head. Her tone and face were genuine, serious, lighter than how she normally held herself.
Before Tristan could propose a better route or method, Samantha's Espeon tore through the bubble. The blackness gave way to darkness - the darkness of a cave. The sound of waves crashing against rocks echoed throughout the space. It was almost too loud to hear anything else. They could smell the salt in the air. The cave's stone was brown, not white or gray. They were no longer in Sootopolis.
Grand Conserve Kline passed through them from the entrance of the cave. She walked forward and eventually stopped in front of a darkened figure - a slightly younger Pisces. Their voices echoed unnaturally long in the space.
"I'm glad you could make it, Grand Conserve."
"Please don't hurt my children."
"I am a man of my word. I keep my promises. You have nothing to worry about."
The slight smile on his face looked genuine and almost comforting at first. But it was definitively sinister as he held it for slightly too long.
"What do you want?"
"I just want you to leave my colleagues and me alone. I need you to stop poking around where you're not welcome."
"Wha-"
"Your detectives, Grand Conserve. We see them skulking too closely around our bases of operations."
Kline's eyes widened and her mouth opened slightly.
"That's all I ask. Please call off your investigations. I'd hate to have to involve the Rangers in our plans. The Rangers are a just and responsible organization, after all."
"What do you mean?"
"Your practices and ideals align with ours, of course. You understand the delicate balance between Pokemon, humans, and technology. You don't use Pokeballs or Gauntlets or Potions or any other of those filthy machinations."
The calm tone of his voice betrayed the vitriol of his words.
"My colleagues and I will not involve ourselves with the business and workings of the Rangers. All I ask is that you extend that courtesy toward us as well."
"But you said-"
"It is necessary to remove the weed and its roots to keep it from growing back. You - your organization - is not a weed. It is a - fairly attractive flower that we wish to use to start our garden and to tend it into the gorgeous flower we know it can become."
"You want us to work with you?"
"Not at all. We don't need your assistance, nor do we want it. We just request that we are kept and remain separate from each other. For now."
"I can't-"
"You will," he said and lowered his jaw slightly. The light upon his face changed to some kind of horrifying mask due to the shadows over his eyes and mouth.
A Gorebyss slithered from behind him. Its eyes and scales glowed like rainbow opals. Kline stood still for a few moments as they both exited the cave. When Kline snapped out of the trance she was temporarily in, the four of them were shunted out of the memory and back into the still picture of Kline's meeting with Pisces in her office.
Waves of nausea filled them all. The waves and distortions grew - became violent. They felt their feet sink into the memory of the floor. It felt like mud - like a goo that would keep them in the memory as it continued to rapidly deteriorate.
"Let's get out of here," Samantha managed to say without vomiting.
When they returned to their physical senses, Forrest was next to the Grand Conserve. She was foaming at the mouth and violently seizing. Forrest managed to get her onto her side on the floor without her hurting herself more than she already was. Her eyes were pulled far up into her head with only the whites of her eyes visible. As she convulsed, she grunted low as she spit up bile. Blood began to leak out of her ears and eyes. Forrest was shouting for someone to get a doctor or anyone to help her.
Luckily someone came to quickly sedate her. She was breathing and her heart was beating, but she was firmly unconscious. It took a few minutes for nurses and orderlies to get her on a gurney and to the medical bay. There was a frenzy of shouted orders being called out all around them, though not to either of them directly.
Whatever Tristan told the Rangers was enough to curb their confusion at the moment. They were obviously more concerned with keeping the Grand Conserve alive and figure out how they could restore her consciousness. Forrest's panic lingered on his face for a bit longer than one might expect.
At the end of the din, another nameless Ranger entered the office and addressed Tristan.
"Senior Inspector, Leader Gutermuth will be arriving within the hour," he said with a salute and left the office.

Forrest only nodded at Tristan's request - command that he return home. They both knew he was easily contacted should anything come up. Shaq'ti nodded and bowed her head at Tristan and teleported the two of them away.
"Well, that was a bit dramatic," Samantha said and dusted herself off as if they had actually been in a cave. "Considering how easy that was and her reaction, Jonton must be dead, huh?"
She was surprised to be reminded that it seemed to not affect Jonton at all, though he was unconscious at the time. It, instead, horribly affected Oracle. She also paused to consider how much different the mind shield looked when Ether showed her, where it was, how it behaved, and it what it showed when it was broken.
"Seems like they spent a lot of time developing that skill," she said flippantly as to continue to behave inappropriately considering what they just witnessed. "Pretty fucking scary," she said off hand.
"At least we know he's fucking insane. Don't know how much that's going to help us, though. I'm not great at anticipating crazies."
She remained invisible the entire time and continued to only speak telepathically through her own Espeon. She appeared entirely unaffected by the events within the Grand Conserve's mind and seemed unbothered to continue the dual task of invisibility and telepathy. It might have been seen as impressive given different circumstances.

"I gotta talk with Ms. Shade about Pisces," she said to herself once they reached his office. "Oh, and I guess you should speak with her, too. Meet me at the Southern Mauville Gate. I'll keep a channel open for you," she said and gestured to her Espeon.
"We're in deep fucking shit," she said matter-of-factly. "But, yeah, I have no idea what they could possibly be up to. That's Asuna's job. That's why she's still in Rustboro - to find any clues she can regarding their timetable."
"Oh, and I should be more transparent with what we've been doing. So, yeah, we were hired by Lady Fairfax to track down Jonton. That's what she wanted it to look like, anyway. She knew he was dealing with someone nefarious, that he wasn't intelligent enough to run the 'business' he was. She figured would eventually get caught and wanted to keep that from happening so 'we can prevent the bastard from besmirching our name,'" she said in fairly close imitation of Lady Fairfax.
"Ironically, I was also trying to find more information about Team Zodiac, but that was treated as a completely separate mission unrelated to Jonton."
"It never crossed our minds that it could be Team Zodiac that was behind Jonton. I'd only ever seen Zodiac's supposed leader interact with the Grand Conserve once and then encountered Aries, and that was it. The idea that they were working together, or was Team Zodiac puppetting Jonton?" she said and paused to consider the possiblility.
"Initially, it doesn't make sense that they would use someone directly linked with an organization they want to destroy. But maybe they were playing a more political angle. Jonton commits crimes of terrorism, he's found out, inherently associated with Fairfax, civil unrest slowly brews until they're ousted or Zodiac finds an opportunity for them to be ousted."
She paused again to consider what she just came up with. "Seems awfully convoluted. That could take decades. Are they immortal?"
"Oh, wait. Is that why they want those mythical Pokemon? Are they planning to make themselves immortal so they can create their 'utopia'?" she said with a scoff but then winced.
"Wow, I'm really not cut out for this whole theorizing thing," she said with a deep sigh and shook her head.
"Anyway, if you haven't figured it out yet, we're counter-terrorists," she said plainly and continued with their conversation.
"Lady Fairfax can be vaporized in a Hyper Beam, for all I care. If they weren't the heart of Hoenn's economy, they'd be on our short list. As it is, she's not worth my time. And I don't want to do anything with Jonton. He can go ahead and rot. Still, Jonton was found out, so if my theory is correct, they've succeeded with this part of their plan," she said with a shrug.
"I can't imagine their Pokemon being away from themselves. So we've gotta just prepare to encounter them together. I also can't imagine allowing themselves to be detained or allowing each other to be detained at all or for any length of time that we'd be able to get any use out of them. We don't have a choice but to be lethal," she said with a shrug of her mouth and her shoulder.
"I mean, they're known about. They're still a secret organization. No one would know if they died in the first place, especially if we're to believe there's only the 12 of them. Still, it's logical that if a Zodiac is killed and their Pokemon aren't, those Pokemon will just go to another Zodiac, which is definitely asking for a bad time."
"Like when I encountered Aries, she's fucking terrifying. She was so confident and the air she and her two Pokemon exuded was - I think I was literally paralyzed by her Ampharos just by being that close to it."
"But anyway, if Taurus, Pisces, and Aries are all accurate depictions of them as a whole, we're dealing with some seriously fucked up minds with horrifically powerful Pokemon. So, you know, no big deal."
"Alright, I'm gonna go, now. It's getting late and I'm hungry. So, yeah, just reach out when you find the time to meet with Ms. Shade," she said with a raised brow and shrugged mouth. She touched the head of her Espeon who's gem glowed and they disappeared.
Zephyr Base - Sootopolis City
Grand Conserve Kline tilted her head slightly at the first request. "Yes," she thought to have him continue. She pulled in her lips at the second request. "They're not," she thought as she nodded slowly. She nodded twice quickly and moved to take a file out of her desk at the last request.
The image of her memory of their meeting 5 years ago appeared once again. Her voice was heard over the image as she thought about what she remembered he'd told her. At the same time, she addressed Tristan's points in reverse order.
"It's perfectly fine, Investigator Aeros. We're well beyond protocol at the moment."
She placed the file onto the desk and opened it. It was a black file with "PROJECT SHADOW" typed in bold on the front. It was a relatively thin file. Most of the pages appeared to be loose lined paper with her own handwriting making up most, if not all, of the text. Her mind sped through the theories she had crafted which involved Team Zodiac managing to summon the Pokemon League and Rangers to somehow convince them to enact his ideals and the complete destruction of the entire world, among others. She closed the file as she seemed to grow nauseous from her own thoughts and slid it forward for Tristan to take from her.
"My understanding is that Pisces had already recruited those he was going to recruit: the 11 other Team Zodiac members. He gave no hint to amassing a large organization or converting the population to his ideals. I think he believes that will occur organically."
She was still very calm outwardly. But her heart raced and pounded in her chest a bit more vigorously than when they had entered. It was impressive how composed she could remain despite understanding the imminent danger the entire counter was currently in.
"I cannot speak as to the 'how' he went about recruiting the 11 other members he suggested, though. And, unfortunately, I have only met with Pisces that one time in my office here five years ago."
The image of the memory appeared once more. The same as the other three times. The room looked nearly exactly the same as it was in this moment. She also looked nearly-identical to her own memory. He appeared relatively the same as they had seen before, but noticeably younger - clean shaven and evenly short hair. His cheeks and jaw were a bit rounder than they had seen before. He was likely only in his late twenties now if he was in his early twenties during this memory of Kline's.
"All I know is that he was a young man with a Gorebyss and Huntail. He spoke about purifying the world in its relationship between humans, Pokemon, and nature. I remember him mentioning that our reliance and use of technology would lead to the destruction of the world, and he was going to do everything in his power to prevent that from happening. I tried to ask him what made him think the world would end if we continued on as we were, but he was awfully vague and essentially just repeated himself."
"Life is a cycle. Civilizations have risen to great power only to crumble soon after they reach their peak."
The voice was notably not her own. She seemed to be able to recall the timbre of his voice quite accurately. It was a medium and smooth tenor that as handsome as he appeared in his navy suit that he seemed to still wear back then.
"I recorded what I could remember of the conversation in there. The rest of those documents are my own musings as to what he possibly meant. I also tried to determine how he came to such beliefs and opinions and philosophies. But since the Master General denied all of my requests for resources to look into this - into him and this Team Zodiac - further, that is all I have on the subject."
She looked down at her hands that she had weaved together soon after she provided the file to Tristan. She breathed deeply in what felt like disappointment. She was disappointed in herself for not discovering more and disappointed in Dick for not providing her resources, as much as she understood his situation.
More interesting than her honest admissions, as far as Ether could tell, was the utter lack of any hint of any memory regarding the meeting they all knew she had with Pisces three years ago near Lilycove. There was no flash of an image or a short thought regarding that interaction. This was notably strange alongside her obvious effort in recalling all she could for the Investigator. She was actively trying to not hide anything, yet a memory they both knew she should have was nowhere to be found.


Forrest Johnson Residence - Verdandale Forest

Major White felt it unwise for him to be in the basement. He should have been walking the perimeter of the property to know about any potential dangers as soon as possible. But Lieutenant Multis and her Indeedee convinced him to supervise Jerrek as he exercised. The Indeedee kept psychic communications between the three of them, so he felt marginally more comfortable to indulge the boy.
"Are we in trouble?"
Jerrek's naturally high voice that he tried to force down took Major White by surprise. He snapped out of his concentration and looked over to the boy with his mouth slightly open and blinked twice. He paused for a moment as he watched Jerrek stretch his legs.
"No," he said with slightly furrowed brows. "No. No. Nothing like that. No," he added as he managed to transition from a panicked to a more relaxed tone.
"Then why are you guys here?"
The Major's brows drew together and his jaw dropped slightly once again. He blinked a few times. He was relieved he didn't have to answer right away.
"And why is Mom so sad?"
His heart skipped. Mrs. Johnson looked fine - normal this morning. What made him think she was sad?
"Is Dad in trouble with you guys?"
"Oh," he said with a relieved but still-nervous chuckle. "No, your dad's not in trouble."
"He's risking his life for our country."
"But why do you say that - about your mother?" he asked both because he was intrigued but to also in an attempt to further Jerrek from the topic.
"Well, Mom's usually quieter in the morning. When she talks that much, she's scared or mad about something."
"She's just being a gracious host to both Lieutenant Multis and I," he lied.
"Yeah, that makes sense," Jerrek said and seemed disappointed that he was wrong. "Do you know where Dad went?" Jerrek asked as he thought about how his father left before any of them woke up. It was strange since Forrest usually said good-bye to all of them before he went off on one of his "jobs."
"No, I don't, son," he said with a slow shake of his head and a mask of sympathy over his face. "I'm sorry."
Jerrek transitioned from stretching his legs to stretching his groin and had moved to his torso. Major White was intrigued how seriously this young boy took his physicality. He thought how he didn't even step into a gym until he enlisted into the Rangers at 18. This boy had seemingly made this home gym where he spent most of his time. It intrigued Major White to the point of him asking a question he didn't intend or expect to ask.
"You really like exercising, huh?"
"It's okay," Jerrek said with a strange amount of apathy in his voice.
The Major pulled his brows together and tilted his head. "Well, you should be doing fun stuff like playing with your siblings."
Why was this kid working like a professional athlete if he didn't find it fun?
"Dad's not here, so I have to catch up to him so I can protect everyone."
The Major's heart skipped again and chills ran down his body. That was not a healthy thought for such a young boy to have, he knew that much. He didn't have children of his own because he knew he'd be away from them so often. He could intimately imagine how heartbroken he, himself, would feel if he had a son who had the same thought. It verified to him that he shouldn't seek out having children of his own.
"That's why we're here, bud," he said as he fought tears from welling in his eyes. He softened his voice if only because he felt it would break. "You should go out and play with your siblings."
He put a hand on the boy's shoulder that he was stretching. Jerrek looked back at him with his own sympathetic eyes and pulled a corner of his lip into his cheek. The only thing the Major could do was plead with his eyes.
"That's okay, I don't mind."
"You don't mind? What does that even mean?"
"And I kind of view this as spending time with my dad."
An Icicle Spear pierced through is chest. It was wholesome that Forrest's eldest son took after his father's apparent passion of fitness, if only out of a sense of obligation. It was heartbreaking to consider that Jerrek's dedication seemed to come from a place of feeling abandoned and that he had to fill the role his father left vacant while away on missions.
"Okay," he said as the cold feeling of utter defeat washed over and pierced through him.
"So, what are you working on today?" he eventually said as he composed himself - distracted himself from feeling the rush of emotions he felt inappropriate to reveal in front of a young boy. He looked over to a rather large dry-erase poster on the wall. The top said "DAD" and had tables and charts of different exercises and records. He looked around until he found the one that said "JERREK" and walked closer to it to read it more carefully.
"Just Tuesday," Jerrek said plainly with a shrug.
The Major saw how intensive each day was scheduled. He watched in awe at the tenacity and strength this young boy possessed. He, of course, worried Jerrek would hurt himself, which was why Jeanne told him to supervise Jerrek in the first place. But Jerrek's form was perfect and he seemed to understand how best to reach his limit but not overextend himself. He could tell Forrest was at least home often enough to coach Jerrek rather diligently while Jerrek took the discipline so seriously for a 10-year-old.
----------

Elizabeth sat on the branch and closed her eyes as she felt the Surskit crawl over her. She giggled when its little legs tickled her. She let it walk over her hands and arms. It sat on her head and blew small bubbles into the air that popped in front of her face that made her flinch. She opened her eyes and started to pop the bubbles.
"Indeed," the Indeedee said long and in a low alto. "It's not safe up there, Elizabeth. Please come down before you accidentally fall."
She groaned loud and threw her head back which made the Surskit fly from her head and fall to the ground. But the bug was so small and light that it seemed to harmlessly float down.
"Oh no!" Elizabeth yelled with a gasp and rushed to lower herself down the tree.
She didn't freeze when she noticed how high up she actually was. She had to be careful but quick to make sure the Surskit was okay - that she didn't hurt it. She didn't pay any attention to the Indeedee that watched as she raced down the tree and prepared to levitate the girl down should she slip.
She quickly reached the ground and proceeded to rush around and comb through the long grass to find the Surskit.
"Where are you? Are you okay?" she yelled out in a panic that sounded relatively exaggerated.
She shrieked which made the Indeedee panic and rush over. Lieutenant Multis even heard and started to search for Elizabeth.
"What happened?" she shouted at a distance.
They heard laughter and looked over to Elizabeth who was now rolling around and laughing boisterously. The Surskit had hid from her and surprised her with a Bubble, it seemed. The two took a deep breath looked at each other in relief.
"We're going to have to keep a close eye on this one," Lieutenant Multis thought.
"I will," the Indeedee thought back.
----------

"Don't stress too much about her. She's going to hurt herself - does it at least once a day. The record is 5 times in a day," Jeanne said with a light chuckle.
She didn't look up as she picked lum berries while Shelynn was on her back and picked berries above her head. They soon filled the basket so Jeanne grabbed it and rose to bring it inside. Shelynn clung to her back like a Pansage on a Simisage - like it was natural and expected.
"I wanna get that one!" Rowan shouted gleefully at Lieutenant Multis as he jumped and pointed at a sizeable bunch of cheri berries.
"Those aren't ripe yet, hon," Jeanne said. She walked over with Shelynn on her back to turn the branch with the berries around to show how green they were on the other side.
"Look, these are ripe," she said and pointed to a cluster on the tree next to it.
Lieutenant Multis picked Rowan up under his arms and put him on her shoulder. She made sure to hold the basket up for him so he could toss the berries in as he carefully picked them.
"You don't need to do that," Jeanne said quietly to the Lieutenant when she noticed the Lieutenant's apparent lack of enthusiasm for tending to the children.
"No, it's alright. I enjoy it," she said with a straight face.
Jeanne realized the Lieutenant was just naturally calm in her emotions which made her look unenthused or even stern. So she apologized and left to clean and preserve the berries in the house. The Lieutenant joined them about ten minutes later in the kitchen.
Jeanne instinctively looked out the window as if to look for someone or something.
"She's fine. Indeedee is still with her," the Lieutenant said as she intuited that Jeanne was searching for Elizabeth.
"Oh, good," she said with a smile. "That's good. Although, will you get in trouble for not focusing on - whatever it is you're 'supposed' to do?" she asked in a sense that she understood that the Rangers weren't here to babysit - they were supposed to be keeping on guard or acting as security or patrolling the area or something.
"We've got it covered. The Major's Ursaring is stalking the area."
"Oh, that reminds me, is that stream too far away? I feel bad we only have the small kiddie pool for him."
"If it is, neither of them have complained about it," the Lieutenant said flatly as she ran the berries under the faucet in the sink.
"Well, I hope you know how very grateful I am to have all of you here and how much I appreciate you both being so great with the kids," Jeanne said while she smiled to herself.
"Yes, Mrs. Johnson. You've mentioned it several times now," she said with the slightest hint of humor she was capable of. "But we're happy to do it. The Major has worked with Mr. Johnson before and personally requested to be posted here. And he picked me because he knew that Indeedee and I would enjoy working with you."
"Oh, is that so? I'll have to get him to tell me what my husband is like away from home," Jeanne said wryly. "I'm sure he's as naughty as you, Shelly," she said and pinched Shelynn's cheek which made her squeal with giggles.
"I'm a good girl!" she said in protest to her mother's accusation.
"Of course you are, sweetheart," Jeanne said and squeezed the girl in a tight hug. "But you get your mischievousness from your father, little girl," she added and ruffled Shelynn's hair.
"What's 'mishvissniss'?" Shelynn asked.
"It means that you go looking to get yourself into trouble," Jeanne said and continued to tease her daughter. "You go into the woods where we tell you not to go alone. You climb trees and can't get back down. And yesterday I had to hose you off outside 'cause you were covered mud!"
The two shared laughs and giggles as they canned the berries they had collected. Rowan seemed undisturbed as he worked diligently to clean his basket of berries as gently as he could. It was the most focused the Lieutenant had seen the little boy since they arrived. She was silently impressed.
"Hey Mom. What's for lunch?" Jerrek said as he entered the kitchen from the basement door. Major White followed behind him. Both were shirtless and looked recently wet.
"There's sandwiches in the fridge," Jeanne said with a shallow smile and gestured her head toward the refrigerator. "Looks like he worked you hard, Major," she added wryly.
"The boy's got stamina, I'll give him that," Major White said and grinned as he clasped Jerrek's shoulder and shook him a little. "Got me to push myself more than I usually do," he added with a chuckle.
"Come on, let's go eat by the river with your Ursaring," Jerrek said as he turned around to the Major with some containers and cans.
Jerrek weaved through to the other side of the kitchen with unexpected finesse - like he'd learned the skill of dodging many people in a tight space. He grabbed a medium-sized cooler and moved back to the Major so they could put in what Jerrek had taken from the fridge.
"I wanna go too!" Rowan cried.
"No whining, hon," she said as she looked into the boy's eyes.
"Yeah, we'll go swimming after!" Jerrek said with a childish enthusiasm that took Major White by surprise.
"And tell your sister to come in for lunch if you see her," Jeanne added as Jerrek continued to fill the cooler while the Major held it up for him.
"Okay," he said passively. "Come on!" he said and waved at Rowan who jumped and raced out through the front door.
Rowan left the strainer of berries in the sink with the water running. Lieutenant Multis continued where Rowan had left off.
----------

"Do you eat at the river often?" Major White asked the boys as they ran around the woods near him in a lax game of tag.
"Yeah, all the time when Dad's home," Jerrek said as he dodged Rowan's hand with a feint.
"Your mom doesn't like it?"
"No, she makes a wait a long time before letting us swim."
"Well that doesn't mean she doesn't like it. She's just making sure you're safe."
"But Dad let's us eat in the river while we swim. He does it with us," Jerrek said through a quick huff as he recovered from a short sprint.
Rowan leapt out of the bush next to Jerrek and tackled him. Jerrek let them both fall to the ground and roll around as they wrestled each other a bit.
"Yeah, we just float around and eat," Rowan said through gasps.
"See? Watch," Jerrek said as they reached the river.
Jerrek and Rowan took off the rest of their clothes. Jerrek took the cooler from the Major and waded with it into the river. He placed it against some rocks so that it would float in the water but not down the river. He opened it and took out a container for both himself and Rowan. They each then found a root at the edge of the river to hook their foot around so they could float on their backs. They put the containers on their chests and ate the sandwiches as they floated.
The Major's heart raced a bit as they rushed to do something their mother obviously wouldn't approve of. But he watched as they calmed down and ate in peace. So he brought his finger and thumb up to the corners of his lips and whistled loud and sharp. He then followed the boys' lead of undressing and finding a place to float in the river as he ate a sandwich on his chest.
He kept a vigilant eye on both of the boys the whole time. He positioned himself downstream from both of them and was prepared to sacrifice the sandwich in order to save either of them at any moment. The river was rather deep, enough so that Rowan couldn't touch the bottom. But they both seemed like they were strong and confident swimmers. But even he knew overconfidence had killed many a Marine Ranger. So he had to make sure they didn't grow too boisterous.
A low huff and growl sounded above the Major. He looked up to see Ursaring's head looking down upon him. "Come on in," he said with a half-chewed bite of sandwich in his mouth and through a smile.
The Ursaring huffed louder and turned to walk away, it seemed. The Major shrugged and turned his attention back onto the boys and finished his sandwich. He then got up to wade back to the cooler to grab a drink.
When he reached Rowan, he watched in silent amusement as his Ursaring gingerly walked into the river. So that's what he was doing. The Major smirked and turned to look at Rowan who had finished his sandwich and had started to return back to the cooler. The Major took the container to allow Rowan to rush toward the cooler but not before he squealed and tried to share his excitement with the Ursaring for being able to swim with an Ursaring.
The bear seemed disinterested in that level of excitement. So Rowan soon abandoned his brief playing and got another sandwich and started to eat it as he held onto a rock near the cooler. Once the Major made it to the cooler, he was surprised to see that all the cans were beers and that there were bottles of water underneath. Jerrek's foresight impressed the Major as he opened and sipped one of the beers. He sat in the water close to Rowan as the boy ate. Jerrek was back for seconds, himself, and he stood in the shallowest part of the river that reached just above his knees.
Jerrek watched the Ursaring silently. The bear slowly submerged himself to then only bring his head above water enough to breath. He looked straight upriver and seemed to pretend that none of them were there. The Major found it amusing.
"You said you're Search and Rescue, right?" Jerrek eventually asked.
Rowan swam away and directly toward the Ursaring which forced the Major to keep his attention there.
"That's right. I'm currently assigned to Foretree Jungle."
The Ursaring huffed as Rowan poked and prodded to beg the bear to pay attention to him and play.
"Dad said people aren't allowed to hike through there."
"Most of it, yes. The most central area is technically off-limits. But people will break the law to do the impossible. And all of it is really dangerous, anyway."
"So no one's hiked through all of it before?"
"I think there's a few people who've claimed to have done so, but there's no proof. And I don't mean it's literally impossible. It's just really dangerous and you shouldn't try to hike it in the first place."
"What's the most dangerous thing in there?"
"It's a toss-up between the Pokemon and the terrain, really. The trees make the ground unstable and prone to rock slides. The elevation changes so quickly, too. There's a lot of sheer cliffs that you have to go up and down. And then the Pokemon there aren't too afraid of humans and most will see us as prey or threats even though they've never seen one before."
"What's the strongest Pokemon you've had to fight off?"
"It was an Aggron. Fucking terrifying. I don't know how we made it out alive," he shook his head and lingered a look onto his Ursaring's face. "Oh, sorry, I shouldn't have cursed."
Jerrek giggled to himself. "Dad swears around us all the time, especially when we're not around Mom. He just says we can't swear ourselves until we learn what they mean."
Jerrek paused a moment. "What does that mean, anyway?"
The Major scoffed. "Nice try, kid," he said and pushed Jerrek's arm so he'd stumble, but didn't expect the boy to trip and fall into the water.
The Major rushed down to him to make sure he was okay, but he got a face full of water. Jerrek splashed the Major a few more times and then yelled taunts through laughter as he swam away. The Major laughed to himself and growled as he pounced into the water to chase Jerrek around. Jerrek wiggled out of his grip a few times before he felt a weight on his back that pushed him under the water. Rowan wrapped himself tight around the Major, so the Major had to muscle the boy off him to then swing and throw him as far as he could into a deeper portion of the river. Rowan shrieked but was quickly silenced by a splash as he sank into the water. The Major watched to make sure Rowan would come back up, but he felt arms wrap up around him from under his own. He hadn't actually felt how strong Jerrek but was still surprised despite having exercised with him. Jerrek almost managed to trip the Major forward, which was also unexpected. But he stiffened his body as if he was holding off an adult and looked over to where Rowan should have been.
"Where is he?" the Major said through a heavy exhale.
"What?" Jerrek said through gritted teeth as he playfully tried to wrestle a grown adult as best he could.
The Major dove forward and pushed through Jerrek's arms as he tried to hold on. Jerrek soon released him as he swam hard, which ended up with his kicking Jerrek in the shin and then the chest. He tried his best to make out the shapes in the murky water. He soon saw the form of Rowan in front of a dark mass. His heart skipped and he swam as fast as he could. He then saw Rowan shoot straight up out of the water. He quickly stood to see what was happening.
Rowan laughed and kicked his feet out as he sat atop the Major's Ursaring's head. Ursaring appeared a bit better humored as the bear then leaned to fall backward to drop them both back into the water. He shook his head and sighed.
"Ow, that really hurt," he heard Jerrek whine behind him.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry," the Major said and moved to attend to Jerrek after he glanced back to make sure Rowan was safe with Ursaring.
Jerrek sat in a shallow portion of the river where sand had collected to make a kind of platform. He held his shin and looked at it a couple times while he rubbed his chest.
"Did I break anything?" the Major said and gently took Jerrek's hands away from himself.
A spot on his right breast looked slightly red and there was no visible damage to the shin. He knew the redness on the chest was only due to Jerrek rubbing it hard.
"You're okay, bud. Just sit here for a bit. I'm sorry, I panicked."
"You could'a just told me," Jerrek said in a lesser whine.
"I did but I didn't explain myself. Still, I'm here to protect you guys. If anything were to happen to any of you, your Dad would kill me," he said with a huff of a laugh.
He thought how Forrest likely wouldn't actually kill him, but he'd feel entirely guilty and would give his own life as compensation - punishment - for failing his friend.
"But did you notice how I just stood still and wasn't paying attention to you?"
"Uh, yeah," Jerrek said with a curled face and genuine curiosity.
"That's a sign that the other person isn't playing with you and you should stop what you're doing."
The Major's eyes turned sad - sympathetic. He pulled in a corner of his mouth. "But I'm sorry I hurt you. Are you okay?" he asked and looked over his chest and shin once more to see if there was any unusual swelling or bruising skin that could indicate a broken bone or blood vessels, as unlikely as that was.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Jerrek said in a pout and pushed the Major away.
Jerrek got up and walked out of the river and kept going.
"Hey, calm it down, bud," the Major bellowed out through their splashing and Rowan's screeching. "I'm going to be over there," he said and pointed behind him in the direction Jerrek had gone. "You're in charge of our clothes, big guy."
He knew how ironic, or potentially counterproductive, that might be. But this would be a chance for the boy to prove to the Major that he could be responsible about clothing.
"Okay," Rowan called out and waved his hand.
"Not too rough," the Major added and rose a brow at his Ursaring.
The bear huffed and splashed Rowan while he kept eye-contact with his Ranger. The Major tilted his head down as a warning. The Ursaring rolled his eyes and then rolled his body down into the water. He let Rowan climb over him but didn't encourage too much rough-housing. So the Major turned to follow wherever Jerrek had gone after he took the cooler so that it wouldn't get lost or damaged.
Jerrek found a small clearing among the trees and laid on the tall grass to help dry himself off. The Major sat up next to him and took out a beer and sipped on it for a bit in silence. He heard Jerrek roll his head away to face the other direction, but didn't say anything for a while. They could still hear the occasional screech or shout from Rowan, which at least let the Major know Rowan was alive.
He finished the beer and crushed the can between his hands in front of his chest. He took out the last beer and opened it and started to drink. This gave him enough time to make some realizations about why Jerrek reacted the way he did.
"Hey, man. I'm sorry for bringing up your dad. It must be hard that he's away so much."
"I hate him," Jerrek spat.
"Hey, now. Don't say that. You don't mean it."
Jerrek pouted silently and didn't respond.
"He's on a very important mission, you know. He's out there trying to save the world."
"Yeah, right. I'm not 6. I'm not stupid."
"Come on, that's not cool. Don't talk about your brother like that."
"How can he not care?"
"I'm sure he cares. He just has a different relationship with your dad than you do."
"That doesn't make any sense. We're both his sons," he said and turned to face the Major as he engaged in the conversation.
"Sure, that's true. But you're four years older than him. You're the firstborn. You're his oldest son. I'm sure you do your best to fill his role when he's not here, right?"
"Yeah," Jerrek said through a pout of realization that the Major was making sense.
"You've had four more years to spend with your dad than Rowan has. And it seems like Rowan is usually in the gardens with your mom. I bet you spend a lot of time in the gym, right?"
"Yeah," Jerrek said with the same voice.
"Your dad has a passion for fitness. But it sounds like you do it because you feel you have to - 'cause your dad's not around to offer his strength to your family. Is that right?"
"Yeah," Jerrek said in a voice that relented any skepticism that the Major didn't understand what he was feeling.
"That's what's known as resentment. You're mad that you have to fill your dad's shoes when he's not here. And when he's not here for such a long time, you get tired, right? It's pretty exhausting, huh?"
"Mhm," Jerrek hummed with a nod.
"I can't imagine how proud he is of you. How much work you put into filling his place, to taking on his responsibilities. Your siblings probably look to you to protect them. They probably rely on you more than you know."
"They don't care about me. Liz hates me. They know I'm no good at being Dad," he said and fell back into a pout full of sadness.
"I know that's not true," the Major said as he fought to keep back tears. "They probably resent him for not being around, too. And because you're trying to fill his role, they're taking it out on you since they can't take it out on your dad. And when he is home, you all probably forget about it because you're excited he's around. Right?"
"Really?"
"Yeah," the Major said low and quietly. "My dad died when I was a few years older than you. I was the oldest of the three of us kids. I worked my ass off to be as strong as my dad. I had to take care of them most of the time while my mom worked all the time to stay in our house and to keep food around. I stopped being a child because I had to be my dad. My brother and sister treated me like shit for a while. But when we became adults, we made up and realized that we were grieving for my dad in our own ways."
Silence hovered around them for a while. The Major fought to compose himself while Jerrek worked to understand what he was saying.
"Your dad's not dead, though. He's coming back. But that doesn't make it any less painful. It's like he chose to leave you. I can't imagine how that feels."
"It - fucking hurts," Jerrek said as he fought through sobs and gripped the skin on his chest as if he was trying to reach his heart to keep it from beating so hard that it would burst out of his chest.
"I know, bud. It's okay," the Major said and and gripped Jerrek's shoulder.
Jerrek threw himself into the Major's chest and hugged him tight. Jerrek crawled onto him as if to try to get into him, to become him. Perhaps he was similar enough in physicality that he just wanted so badly to embrace his own father but was so desperate that he resorted to embracing a man he'd only known for two days. It probably helped that he was physically similar to Forrest. Jerrek sobbed hard into the Major's chest. He felt the boy's face burn against his skin. He felt his own tears burn in his eyes and down his cheeks. He reciprocated the boy's embrace. He rested a cheek atop Jerrek's head and and even squeezed a little harder than Jerrek was able to. He had no children of his own, but he related to the boy like no else could. He knew what he would have wanted from his own father during the hardest times of his life, and so he made sure to give that to Jerrek. His heart broke to see that he wasn't the only one to go through the same hardships he had to as a kid.
It felt like a long time before Jerrek stopped sobbing. He sniffed hard a few times into the Major's chest and then loosened his hold around the Major. Jerrek pushed himself up against the Major's shoulders - against the shoulders of an adult - the kind of person who should be the one carrying the burden this 10-year-old boy carried. The Major wondered if Forrest was aware of his kid's feelings toward his work - toward his absence.
"Thanks Major," Jerrek said. His voice was small and wasn't being forced down to imitate depth of tone.
"Anytime, bud," the Major said with a single nod and pulled lips.
Jerrek looked over when they heard a distant shriek. That's right - Rowan was probably still in the river playing with the Major's Ursaring.
"You wanna go back in?" the Major asked as he looked up at the boy.
"No," he said with some more strength in his voice. "We should get back to the house before mom thinks we died out here."
"Good idea," the Major said through a chuckle and pushed himself up to return to the river.
It took some convincing to get Rowan out of the river. Ursaring made sure to shake himself off right next to Rowan when they got out of the river together, which made the boy shriek and laugh. Rowan ran toward the clearing which left the Major to gather their clothes. He chuckled to himself for believing a 6-year-old wouldn't forget the task he was assigned.
Rowan ran around in the tall grass for a bit until he found a place he could fall onto and take a quick nap in the sun, as much as he didn't mean to fall asleep. The Major wondered if this was way Rowan's skin was so dark - because he'd sleep in the sun.
Ursaring rolled around a bit in the grass to dry off as much as he could before he left the three to continue walking the perimeter of the property. Jerrek laid next to the Major as they chatted more about the Rangers and more of the Major's life growing up.
----------

"Mr. Johnson, good evening. I'm Major Stephen White," he said with a casual salute. "Is Mrs. Johnson in?"
"Oh, well it's my pleasure, Major. Yes, she is. Would you like to come in?" Mr. Johnson asked with some hesitation.
"I do need to speak with the both of you. It's rather urgent," he said without a hint of urgency.
"Um, okay," Mr. Johnson said with pinched brows. "Please, take a seat wherever. May I get you some coffee?"
"That would be wonderful, thank you," he said with a flat face and sat in one of the armchairs.
It wasn't long until Mrs. Johnson entered the room with a cup of coffee that she placed down on the coffee table in front of the Major.
"So we have company. It's a pleasure to have you here, Major. What can we do for you?"
She sat down on the sofa as Mr. Johnson entered the room with coffee for both himself and his wife. He sat next to her and took a sip of his coffee and kept it in his hands. The Major waited for the two of them to settle.
"I'm here on behalf of the Master General, himself. He's ordered that the two of you be transferred to your son's residence so he and the Rangers already stationed there, including myself, can protect you."
Confusion and disbelief fell onto both their faces. They looked at each other and then back to the Major. "I'm sorry, but what is the reason for this?" Mr. Johnson asked.
"Of course," he started and shifted in his seat which showed the only physical discomfort he felt being the one that had to have this conversation with his friend's parents. "We've gathered intelligence that placed both of you in a great deal of danger."
He paused a moment before he continued. He wanted to choose his words carefully as to not frighten them more than necessary. "There is a terrorist organization that is not confirmed connected to the Mauville Attack. Information has been gathered that suggests the both of you, specifically, are targets of theirs. We do not know what exactly this means. But we, the Rangers as a whole, are taking every precaution to protect those that this group appears to show interest in."
The two sat silently as their confusion and disbelief only grew the more he explained the situation. "It's been decided that it would be best if you were to stay at your son's residence so that he, Lieutenant Maltis, and I can protect you as best we can. It's certainly not ideal with the children, but with our resources stretched so thin as we work to protect their other alleged targets, it is the most secure thing we can do at the moment."
"And we don't have an option?" Mr. Johnson asked.
"Unfortunately, if you decline, we cannot offer you any security resources."
"What do you know about this organization?" Mrs. Johnson asked.
"All we know is that they are horrifically powerful and there are at least 12 of them. More information is currently being sought and we will update you as soon as we know anything."
"Is Forrest a target, too?" Mrs. Johnson asked.
"He was not present in the files we acquired. We do not believe your son to be a target, no."
"And what makes you believe we are targets?" Mr. Johnson asked.
"They have background checks on the both of you. They appear accurate according to our own records, though they are about 3 years old. They also managed to acquire blueprints of both the Johnson Academy as well as Prof. Fir's Laboratory."
"I don't understand-" Mrs. Johnson began.
"We don't quite understand, either. We just know that these are very powerful individuals who, if truly linked to the Mauville Attack, are capable of causing massive destruction and death in a moment and without remorse. The best we can do is speculate as to their motives, intentions, and plans. In the end, the Master General has decided this course of action for the two of you, specifically."
"Wait, who else are targets?" Mr. Johnson asked.
"Everyone at the Laboratory," he started with a nod at Mr. Johnson, "then the others include Mrs. James, all of the Gym Leaders and Elite Four members, and the Fairfax family. They have acquired blueprints of every major energy factory across Hoenn as well as key historical and cultural sites throughout the country."
"That's-" Mrs. Johnson started again, but found it difficult to form the words.
"I assume we are to leave as soon as possible," Mr. Johnson asked after he saw how much his wife was struggling.
"Yes, tonight so that we can make it to your son's residence before the morning."
"But what about the Academy?" Mrs. Johnson managed.
"There will be Rangers assigned to notify key personnel of your absences tomorrow. They will not be told anything I have just told you. And we require you don't speak of this to anyone else. This includes friends and relatives. Because we know so little, it would be counterproductive to alert the masses and cause a hysteria while we figure out our next steps."
"I understand, thank you," Mr. Johnson said.
"Is Forrest home?" Mrs. Johnson asked.
"He is currently away but is expected back this evening after dinner time at the latest."
"Does he know-?" she asked.
"Yes, he has been made aware of the situation," he said to obscure the truth as much as possible as it wasn't his place to expose his friend to his parents.
"Thank you, Major. We'll quickly pack some clothes so we can head out soon," Mr. Johnson said and quickly got up and left the room.
Mrs. Johnson sat in a daze. She was as still as a painting save her shallow breathing. She slowly took off her reading glasses and placed them onto the coffee table along with her mug.
"Mrs. Johnson. It is imperative that we relocate you as soon as possible," he said.
She snapped out of her daze and blinked a few times as she focused upon the Major's face. He looked as calm as he had when he'd arrived. It almost enraged her that he didn't seem to care, but she realized that it was likely his job to be as calm as possible. "Yes, of course," she finally said and shook her head.
She quickly went into their bedroom but struggled to actually pack clothing instead of standing still in front of the suitcase. "Barb, come on. What do you want to wear tomorrow?" he asked as he hastily folded her nightgown and other sleepwear and put it into her suitcase.
"Oh, um," she said and shook her head and walked over to the closet.
She grabbed the shoulder of a hanger with a blouse but she couldn't find the strength to lift it. Her husband grabbed it out of her hand and put it into the suitcase. He ended up having to finish packing for her as she continued to digest everything they had just learned.
"Come on, hon," he said but she didn't respond. "Bard, we need to go," he said more forcefully.
She snapped out of the daze that had recaptured her. She saw he was carrying both their suitcases at the bedroom door. She shook her head and followed him back into the living room where Major White was standing at attention to lead them to Forrest's house. The Major wordlessly took the suitcases from Mr. Johnson and led them out of the house. Mr. Johnson struggled to lock the door behind them, but soon managed. Their long hike to their son's house would last until midnight if they didn't move quickly. But there was a small sense of relief when they saw the Ursaring also accompany them on their hike.
Zephyr Base - Sootopolis City

Forrest glanced back at Samantha and barely registered that she was a stranger. He was simply just following where he was being led at this point. Everything was moving far faster than he was able to successfully understand quickly, and so simply resigned himself to act when Tristan ordered him to.
The Grand Conserve looked and felt - calm. Strangely calm considering their own states of mind. Suspiciously calm. She was focused and diligent with the top secret report she was authoring regarding the Ranger Summit she had just attended with the other Grands and Master General. She glanced over at the two, unaware that there were actually three, and gave a polite smile and greeted the two briefly.
"It's a pleasure to have you here, Investigator. Welcome to the Zephyr Base. And it is good to see you again, Mr. Johnson," she said with a delicate nod. "Just give me one moment. Please, take a seat," she said calmly and mostly to Forrest who stood there stupidly.
A Dragonair coiled itself in the air behind the Grand Conserve as if it were sleeping. It snaked around quite similarly to Forrest's Syressa due to their similar physiology, but this Dragonair was notably smaller than the Milotic - less than half her size and much slimmer. Its scales shimmered faintly in the late-afternoon sun through the windows the Dragonair hovered in front of. It didn't seem to take any notice of the visitors.
"I do hope your Xatu is doing better," she said as she continued to type quickly.
She looked just as thin as she did during the summit. Her uniform was just as pristine as it was yesterday, as well. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun as was likely standard dress code.
"I wonder if Dick told them. Hopefully they can use what little I've gathered."
The image of Pisces appeared in her mind. He was in her office. He stood closer to the door than where she sat at her desk. The memory of the conversation was silent and the two were perfectly still in the picture of the memory.
It was hard to decide for some whether a moving and active memory with sound but less vivid visual details were better than a still and silent image with crystalline clarity. But everyone's mind worked differently, and hers appeared as the latter.
"Now, what might I be able to do for you two gentlemen?" she asked as she turned and weaved her fingers together and put them in front of her on the desk to appear as attentive as possible. Her casual smile was uncharacteristic despite having only been in her presence once before. The sternness with which she held herself during the Summit was entirely gone, somehow.


Rangers Headquarters - Rustboro City

Veritas stood still in the corner of the room. Her mind stretched out far - through every corridor and hallway and into each room she could reach. The emotions ranged from stressed to intrigued, but nothing particularly sinister exuded from those she was able to mentally and emotionally reach. Still, she kept still and silent as Leon and Deirdre chatted with Percival and puttered around. They were provided a light meal soon after their arrival and had been notified that their scheduled dinner would be 6:30PM in the mess hall. It may not have been ideal, but Deirdre was intrigued with being able to eat among the Rangers, if only because she was curious to personally witness how they behaved in a less-professional space. Leon didn't seem to care much, but Veritas knew this was only because his mind raced with concerned thought for his wife and his son.
Before dinner, Percival was called to report to the Zephyr Base in Sootopolis per the commands of the General Master and Grand Conserve. He was briefed by the Master General, himself, since there were few others that knew the situation in its entirety. Percival agreed somewhat begrudgingly since he wanted to stay with Tristan's parents, which the Master General sympathized with. But he thought about it for a moment and knew other Gym Leaders would be arriving at the Headquarters soon enough and learn about what was happening soon enough. He was also told that Tristan was likely there and hoped to be able to catch him for a quick chat, though understood that that wasn't likely. So he felt confident enough to leave Leon and Deirdre, though not without leaving his Grumpig with them to aid Veritas should she require assistance.

Rangers with Psychic Pokemon that were adept at Teleportation were swiftly mobilized. Box Row quickly filled over its capacity with suspects related to the Mauville Attack. The overflow was kept in cells that were also quickly growing full. It was initially rather surprising and unexpected, but they all fell into an efficient rhythm of shuffling the suspects from cells into Boxes and back into cells. The best Interrogative Rangers worked quickly to learn all they could from these suspects. They were able to further verify the majority of these suspects were under Jonton's "employment" through vicious extortion. There were few that were as deranged and dangerous as Jonton, himself, that were given the full extent of the punishments they were able to place upon them. The others were worked with on a more personal level to see them rehabilitated and return to normal civilian life as quickly and as safely as they could.

"Thank you for arriving on such short notice, Amelia," the Master General said as she entered and sat at a chair in front of his desk.
"I have a team working to transport Mauville citizens back to their homes. The repairs are going much faster than anticipated," she reported mechanically as she shifted the files she had brought onto her lap.
The Master General sighed deeply. "That's good," he said with exhausted relief. "But I brought you here for an entirely different purpose. You won't be able to work on Refugee Management anymore."
The Grand Watcher looked up to the Master General and cocked her head. Her face remained still, but this was the extent to which she would visibly show confusion.
"We have a bigger issue that I need your help with..."
The Master General took the time to thoroughly go over all the notes he received from Tristan with the Grand Watcher. He hadn't the time to go over it all before she arrived, so they went through the finer points together for a time. He also recalled what he remembered Regita had learned when Pisces met with her. He hadn't remembered when he spoke with Tristan, which plucked at his heart. But at least he could share this with the Grand Watcher.
"Dick, how-"
"Because I thought it was a single radical individual. I had no idea of their level of power and, thus, didn't consider it a threat that needed to be looked into."
"Unfortunate but understandable," she said and started to write on the back of the papers within the files she had.
"I'm just concerned that the plans for the Rangers weren't in the files Tristan was able to gather."
"It could be that they have no intention of going after the Rangers," she said as she tapped a piece of paper with her pen. "And being philosophical radicals doesn't mean they're purely murderous or destructive. That philosophy doesn't necessarily call for the end of the world," she said, though mostly to herself as she continued to think aloud.
"I think it's just as dangerous to presume that they will kill all of these people and destroy all of these locations. It's just as well that they wish to 'convert' them for purposes that align with their philosophy. Of course we can't assume they won't just destroy and kill all these people, but overreacting will lead to rash decisions which leads to poorly-considered courses of actions that would put even more people at risk. Of course we need more information to make the 'right' decision, but we don't have that and we shouldn't operate as if we are going to. We need to consider all of our options and the risks associated with them.
"So first let's assume that they had plans to take out the Ranger Organization and it simply wasn't in the files Aeros was able to acquire. Let's also overestimate their capabilities per Aeros' and Johnson's account. We can also confirm that there are at least 12 of them. Given all this, they will destroy all the Bases and this Headquarters in but a few moments and kill everyone therein. If they were as dangerous and radical as the Mauville Attack suggests, we'd all already be dead. Soon after that, the other locations on that list would be destroyed and the people on the list would be killed. That would be their most efficient course of action when they learn that we were able to get this information.
"So why haven't they? What could they be waiting for if they have the amount of power we believe them to have? Why not take us out while we're scrambling and panicking? This would be the best time to strike the Rangers.
"This, alone, leads me to believe what's been plainly presented in the evidence you have - Team Zodiac was not involved in the Mauville Attack. Yes, I understand they are strongly implicated, but it will lead us down the wrong path if we simply believe the coincidence to be the truth as that would lead us down a path of actions taken and decisions made that would prove ineffectual at best and wholly detrimental due to the expenditure of resources at worst should we be wrong.
"But if that implication is correct, simply adding security to those locations and people would be a waste of time, anyway. There's no group of Rangers that I can think of that could take on even one of these Team Zodiac members other than an entire branch per member, which leaves them with 6 other members to do as they please. The entirety of the Pokemon League would be able to handle the other six at my first impression, though. I think it's safe to assume that, if we throw absolutely all of our resources at them, that we might be able to hold them back. And though we don't know their current location or locations, we do have definitive list that we could certainly begin with.
"However, this leaves us to poking around in places we know have direct links with Team Zodiac. If they are heavily protected, the scouting missions will fail. The bases and safehouses are presumed destroyed, so investigating those locations will be fruitless. Sending crews to each of the other locations to then stand guard falls back to the original issue of wasting resources we don't have.
"Speaking of which, what is the status of the scouting parties sent to the bases and safehouses?"
"Oh, uh, I haven't heard back," Dick said rather meekly.
"And this was about a half hour ago. They're MIA. So they're presumed dead," she continued coldly. "So this verifies that engaging them blindly is the worst course of action. Luckily, we're not so blind anymore," she said and gestured to Tristan and Forrest's account of their engagement with Taurus.
"Given the above, all resources need to be focused into evacuation and defense. We can only reliably work to be reactionary. Unless we can find a specialized team as powerful and skilled as Aeros and Johnson, they will need to be our investigative force and all our information will need to come from them."
"So, we need to start practicing evacuation drills?"
"That's too conspicuous and suspicious. Assign the best Transport and Teleporation teams to spread out across the country and prepare them to evacuate everyone they can in a worst-case scenario."
Dick nodded and scribbled something down onto a scrap of paper.
"They're meeting with Kline. Get me all of their planned actions as well as each action they take as they take them."
Dick hesitated a moment at this command, but eventually nodded and scribbled onto the paper.
"All we know is that they are interested in these Pokemon, though of course it's not a stretch to say they are seeking to obtain them or otherwise control them. There are historians in Rustboro, correct? The best historian in Hoenn. Get Madam Inderasa here ASAP."
Privately, this dynamic between the two of them was normal. Dick often sought Amelia's advice for most everything. But even the other Grands were unaware of how authoritative she was, especially when she needed to be. Luckily, Dick relied on this. But they both knew the other Grands would resent her for her assuredness since she hardly ever explained herself thoroughly and, instead, would make decisions and commands. This made her keep quiet during meetings with others and would only speak to ask questions. Furthermore, it was lucky for everyone involved that she held no significant level of pride. She cared only to serve and protect the people of Hoenn. Whoever was the face for those actions mattered little to Amelia. As long the citizens were safe, her job was performed satisfactorily.
The Master General thought quickly what his first instinct was in regards to the Grands and the Gym Leaders. He shook his head as he compiled the thoughts into words. "We'll use the assignment of each Base to specific Gym Leaders in the opposite. Those Gym Leaders will be assigned to protect that base and the Grand and vice versa," he said.
"As for a assault on Southern Island, we're going to need the Pokemon League's permission with that, which won't be difficult to obtain," he said and gestured to Tristan. "But I'll discuss that with Grand Watcher Clark when she arrives and we'll decide the best course of action with the resources we have," he said with a tone of defeat as he considered how spread thin they already were.

Agent Hawley excused himself as Asuna and Tristan shared what they knew. Forrest struggled to keep up and considered leaving, himself, as he felt he had nothing to contribute to the two's theorizing. But he stayed while Shaq'ti worked to simplify their ramblings.

"She told me," Asuna said with a shrug in response to Tristan asking how she knew it was Aries she had met. "Samantha intercepted some of her unprotected thoughts which led us to believe she was in league with Pisces. When I confronted her, she didn't bother to hide anything, which was rather unsettling," she said as she looked up diagonally as she recalled the memory.
"Oh, well that's good," Asuna said as if unsure as to her own opinion of what Tristan shared about the Master General.
"That's certainly a terrifying though," she said in response to Tristan's consipracy about Pisces' Gorebyss. "But since we can't confirm that, we'll have to continue forward with the understanding of the possibility that the Rangers are allied with Team Zodiac."
She turned grim at his admission to trusting the Master General and Grand Conserve. "You really shouldn't trust Kline," she said and slowly shook her head. Her eyes were wide with a sense of warning. "Samantha's been tracking her since she's the only public figure that's had contact with Team Zodiac. Samantha hasn't seen them meet since the last time three years ago. It was a short meeting," she said and looked up to find the memory of the information she wasn't in charge of collecting. "In a cove off the coast of Lilycove. It was the afternoon," she added with a nod to herself. "Anyway," she started again with a quick shake of her head, "Samantha hasn't come back with anything significant that Kline's done or said so she could be trying to convince him to not go through with his plans, but that's too optimistic for me," she confessed with a sneer.
Her brows raised at the "command" for the two of them to meet with the Grand Conserve. "I need to stay in Rustboro to keep an eye out potential Zodiac activity following the Wharf Raid," she said with a raised brown and turned to look at Forrest who was lost in thought and didn't notice. She turned back to Tristan and said, "But I'll get Samantha to meet up with you wherever you want to meet up. I think it'll be good for her to have a partner for once," she said and pulled a corner of her lip and widened her eyes.

"She is waiting for you in her office per the Master General's request," Lieutenant Cornne replied back flatly. "I will inform her of your arrival."
"At the Zephyr Base, then," Asuna said to herself.
Lieutenant Cornne worked quickly to set the meeting and start communications with the other Elite Four members after he notified Grand Conserve Kline's secretary of Tristan's arrival. He was glad Tristan's first request was already fulfilled by the Master General himself and the third request was carried out as the default procedure for refugees. He brought up the security questions the Elite Four provided every four years to confirm their identities before telling them about the meeting. He knew better than to bother the Head Investigator for something as trivial as teleportation. There were plenty of Rangers tasked with Teleportation that he called upon to carry out the required transportation the Elite Four needed.
She waited patiently for Tristan to ramble off the rest of his commands to this "Lucas." "That reminds me, I should go before someone realizes I shouldn't be here," she said with wide eyes and looked back and forth rapidly as if to search for hidden cameras or invisible people or Pokemon. "That said, you should really get to know who you work with and make sure your employees are familiar with their colleagues and establish better anti-infiltration measures," she said rather disappointed. "It was really easy to forge a badge and walk in like I had a purpose and not be bothered. Didn't even have to get a uniform," she added with a shrug. "Makes you think that any number of Zodiacs could be anywhere in the headquarters right now," she said and looked up and around. "I really should go before this place explodes," she added with a huff and wide eyes and quickly walked out of the office.

It took a few long moments for Forrest to return to the present. Even with Shaq'ti's help, he was lagging behind in the conversation between the two. It was dizzying how quickly they talked to each other. He wondered if they even noticed since he swore Tristan never spoke that quickly to him. He shook his head and blinked rapidly when Tristan, through Shaq'ti, got his attention. "Uh, okay," he said with a quick stutter and a look of general confusion on his face.
He recalled Shaq'ti into her Pokeball as she wasn't entirely comfortable teleporting herself, let alone someone else, while she mentally recovered from their operation. So Forrest rose from his seat he found in the other corner and walked toward Ether. Forrest stared directly at him as if he had to focus to be teleported by a Pokemon that wasn't Shaq'ti.

It certainly felt different. He didn't expect that. He expected Teleportation to feel the same, but apparently it was as unique an experience as each Pokemon was unique. He looked up to see the burnt orange sky of the late afternoon with blue and purple streaks of clouds that brushed across its canvas. The salty air quickly hit their noses and it made Forrest hold his breath for a moment to adjust to the sudden change in air quality.
Before them was a rather large building, four stories. It was a starkly different architectural style from the buildings immediately surrounding it. But it simply looked like a new office building amid old residential homes. The glass walls shone brightly - reflected the sun in the sky in the distance behind them. It was notably quiet here. The buzz of activity at the headquarters had become white noise. The silence of a seaside Ranger Base took a moment to get used to. There were two Rangers standing guard at the entrance. They seemed to immediately recognize Tristan and saluted and addressed him as they approached.
"Investigator Aeros. Ensign Carney will show you to the Grand Conserve's office."
As they were escorted to the Grand Conserve's office, there was no sign of Samantha until a newly familiar voice spoke clearly into his mind.
"Hello, Mr. Aeros," she said with a tone of contempt. "Don't mind me, I'll just be watching and keeping invisible while we're in the base."
It was unique to hear only her voice clearly instead of her Espeon's voice or just her own voice sounding distorted in some way. She didn't hide her appearance from Tristan or Forrest, and so could be seen walking behind them. Her own Espeon's jem glowed as it focused on maintaining a telepathic link between them. Her Bronzong floating just behind her. Its nearly-inaudible ring was able to bend the light around just the three of them so as to make it appear as if they weren't there to anyone else.
The Master General agreed that Team Zodiac could take out the Headquarters swiftly and without much difficulty. He admitted he hoped their communications wouldn't be intercepted by them, but they only had so many anti-hacking measures, and anything could be overcome. He also agreed how they were easier to pick off now that they were separated from each other. The best they could do was increase their personal security, both personal and of their bases. But this would consume even more resources that were already lacking. He admitted that both options had different but seemingly equal risks involved. He thought aloud how he'd have to reassign Grand Watcher Clark so she could focus all her attention on anti-terrorist measures and decide their best courses of action going forward with what they knew. He then agreed that they would need to be very careful with how they discuss their plans and orders and their reasons with care.

Forrest hadn't stopped thinking about what to do about his parents - what to tell them, how to protect them. It was all a mess in his mind and he struggled to organize any of his quickly meandering thoughts. Bringing them to the Headquarters - it would be the same as having all the Grands in one location - to have several of their targets in one location would result in the same. They would have to stay with him in his house. Shaq'ti would be responsible for Teleporting them away if they were attacked. He felt conflicted putting his wife and children at risk. He wondered if Rob and Sue would stay with them as well despite having no room for them. He shook the plans out of his mind as he and Shaq'ti entered Tristan's office. He'd ask his parents what their own opinions were on the situation.

"Hello Mr. and Mrs. Aeros. I have come to collect you, Mr. Gutermuth, and bring you to the Rangers Headquarters."
They were taken aback for a moment and looked at the Rangers who were stationed to them. They looked at each other and shared their understanding of the situation. It seemed their son was unharmed, which allowed both to breath more easily. They called upon Percival who arrived soon after via his Grumpig's Teleportation. They were provided little information and were soon teleported into a basement level of the Headquarters that were assigned to them for the time being. They were understandably uneasy when they learned Tristan wasn't meeting with them immediately - that he was still busy working and would visit them soon. So Deirdre started and kept a conversation between them as they waited.

Special Agent Hawley had only one new piece of information to share - and it was purely conjecture. He believed that Pisces or one of the Team Zodiac members was behind the killings of the previous special agents before him. He'd learned that they had all been murdered, which was new but unfortunately not surprising. The other grunts - Jonton's grunts - never knew what happened to the previous secret agents when he was able to ask in a way that didn't blow his cover. Eventually he found deleted security footage that showed Special Agent Bobby Baloy being torn apart by a Lycanroc that seemed to be owned by a tall and thin man wearing a white button-up shirt, suspenders, khakis, and leather shoes. At the end of the footage, this man was approached by another man who wore a fine suit with a vest and no jacket and the two of them teleported away via a Gorebyss. This led him into learning about the existence of Team Zodiac and that they were working with Jonton, but wasn't able to learn about their relationship beyond that before the same tall and thin man attempted to kill him, which was how he ended up in the hospital. He admitted that had he not come across that deleted footage, he would have been killed. Only because he knew what to expect was he able to escape.

"So paranoid, Trissy," Asuna said with a giggle. "Not everyone is a criminal mastermind," she added with a wink. She amused herself with her hyperbolic hypocrisy.
She nodded along as she listened and saw what Tristan had learned. She rolled her eyes and said "yeah yeah, we know about that already," when he started to explain the Mauville Attack. "We're based in Mauville and know about everything that goes on there. They moved their timetable which is why we couldn't stop it," she explained and shifted to a slightly dejected demeanor. "But anyway, I'm here about Team Zodiac, so get to the good stuff."
She took no notes but sat attentively and was obviously paying attention. She nodded a few times and looked around to connect some pieces of information that she had to the ones Tristan shared. She flinched a few moments after Tristan asked his question. She was in her mind and snapped back to the present at the question.
"Well, we know about Team Zodiac and that their leader is Pisces. He met with Ms. Shade about 6 or 7 years ago," she said and paused. "6 years and 9 months ago," she clarified with a nod. "She's been trying to track them since then. I only started to work with her 2 years ago and that's all I've been doing this whole time."
She took a deep breath and looked up to find the next piece of information they had in common. "We know what Pisces looks like and what his Pokemon are, but we have no idea how strong they are. It's really great that you got to actually battle against one of them so we have a frame of reference," she said with unironic enthusiasm despite the very real and mortal danger they were in to learn how powerful only one of their members were.
"Otherwise," she said with widened eyes and looked directly at Tristan, "he shared with us his 'goal,' if that's what you want to call it. He said 'the modern way of life is an abomination. Our dependence on advanced technologies and Pokemon, themselves, would lead to the ruin of the world.' Oh, and he claimed he'd be the one to set the world back to its 'intended state of perfection.'"
Her brows curled as she recited what she remembered. It wasn't out of the struggle of recalling the information. Rather, it was the concern such ideas rose in her and how sinister and destructive enacting such a ideal would be.
"Oh, and we know what Aries looks like and the Pokemon she has," she said with a kind of enthusiasm that betrayed the gravity of their situation.
She explained how Aries was a woman of brown skin, black curly hair, brown eyes, and relatively tall with an athletic build. She seemed to usually wear athletic clothing and had a very 'energetic' personality. She had a Talonflame and a Dubwool. She was last seen walking northward through Mauville fifteen months ago, which is how they learned about her.
"But now we know much of their plans as well as their motivation. At least, we know about the leader's motivations. I think these targets definitely line up with what he claimed. Take out the major contributors' to the country's source of energy. Take out the leading source of technology and wealth (the Fairfax's). Take out a person with conflicting philosophies," she said with the inflection of a question - bewildered that Mrs. James would be a target they would even bother to put on a list of targets given her age.
"I'm curious, though. None of the Rangers, their bases, or this Headquarters appears to be a target. Do you think that information was missing from what you managed to gather? It seems odd..." she said and trailed off in thought for a moment with furrowed brows.
Rangers Headquarters - Rustboro City


Forrest stopped breathing. It never crossed his mind that the man he'd worked directly with for years now could be involved in anything these Zodiac people were doing. But Tristan pointed out the obvious evidence in front of them that such was a very real possibility. The rest of Tristan's conspiratorial hypotheses never registered with Forrest as he thought about how betrayed he felt - how betrayed he would feel if this were true.
No. There was no proof other than omission. That couldn't be valid - right? But Tristan was right. Why would every single other key institution and company and person be listed, but nothing and no one related to the Rangers? Even Mrs. James was a target. An elderly lady but not the head of the country's military? It didn't sit well with Forrest. He felt nauseous.
Forrest nodded at Tristan's offer to interrogate Dick together with Ether. They had to. If there was any possibility that this could be true, they had to know. There was some relief that Tristan agreed with his initial opinion, though. And he added a good point - they needed to underestimate themselves while overestimating their enemy. He'd already thought of this himself, but it hit differently being spoken aloud by someone else.
Forrest had to keep his composure. He felt he was losing his temper, his patience, his sanity. But he couldn't release any of this - not yet. When they revealed Dick's role in all of this, then he'd be able to unleash all the rage those emotions built up inside him. He wanted to hold out hope for Tristan to be wrong - but it made too much sense.

----------

They were escorted into the Master General's office. He wasn't in a secret meeting anymore, which was convenient. But the Master General was visibly stressed - frazzled. Papers and files blanketed his desk and voices sounded out of the intercom on his desk that he seemed to ignore.
"Grand Conserve has returned to the Zephyr Base."
"Sentinel Law's team has gathered the information you requested."
"Special Agent Hawly has arrived."
"The Guard Force has set their perimeter around the Wharf."
"Grand Watcher has returned to Lavaridge."
The reports felt like background noise considering everything else that was going on. Ether quickly felt how stressed - panicked - the Master General was feeling. His breathing was quickened and he heart was beating hard in his chest. He didn't acknowledge when the two of them entered his office.
Forrest decided he'd start off with the questioning so Tristan and Ether could focus on reading his mind.
"Master General, Dick, we need to talk."
"Yes, we do," he said plainly. "This is not good - this is not good..."
"Tristan has a list of suspects related to the Mauville Attack for you to look into," Forrest said and gestured for Tristan to hand over that file first.
"Great," he said dismissively and didn't look up to take the file or see who even handed him the file, so it was just set on his desk. "She didn't find a fucking thing - useless bitch," he thought with the image of the Grand Conserve, Regina Kline, handing him a file labled "Project Shadow."
"But you need to tell us what you know about these Zodiac people," Forrest said with an almost frightening level of authority in his voice. The vibrations from his chest could faintly be felt throughout the room.
"Fuck," he thought and froze where he was. He took a few deep breaths and pulled himself back into a neutral tone. "Of course they found out, damn." He looked directly into Forrest's and Tristan's eyes. He then glanced down at Ether and pursed his lips and nodded once. "You're right, I was hiding it from you. I'm sorry that I put you both in that position." His eyes started to turn red and began to well with tears. "Kline has been researching all she could about about them. 'Team Zodiac.' Their leader is 'Pisces.' They're just as if not more powerful than you experienced with 'Taurus.'"
The only images that showed in his mind were the files from which he recalled this information. "That's really all she's been able to find out since he - Pisces - revealed himself to Kline five years ago. She's found nothing fucking else out," he spat.
"Arceus fucking damn it," he growled loudly. "Of course they were fucking involved. So fucking stupid," he continued to reprimand himself. "I'm sorry," he said as he composed himself and looked back up at the pair. "We don't even know what they want or why they formed their 'Team.'"
He shook his head. The memories flashed through his mind about all the times Grand Conserve Kline tried to bring up the topic, which he always waved off. The memories of the times she requested resources to further investigate Team Zodiac, which he always denied due to the always-limited resources they had. The memory of his concern that the Mauville Attack could have actually been the work of Team Zodiac, but was ignored since he'd heard nothing about them for the past two years since Grand Conserve Kline ceased requesting help and resources from him. Another one of his failures as Master General of Hoenn.
"She currently has the file on Team Zodiac," he finally said and pressed the button on the intercom. "Mr. Johnson and Investigator Aeros will be meeting with Grand Conserve Kline at the PI's convenience," he said matter-of-factly and leaned back to the two of them.
The look on Forrest's face struck him. He couldn't understand why Forrest still looked suspicious. "Look, I'm sorry, but that's all I can give you," he said with a shrug. The feeling of defeat exuded strongly from the Master General.
"You don't know anything else. Anything at all? You've never seen any of them before?" Forrest said in a deep and harsh growl.
Dick's brow's curled and his eyes widened as if he was confused and afraid of this response from Forrest. Ether felt this confusion and verified that there were no seals hiding anything within the Master General's mind and that he was actively allowing to see everything he could recall to Ether. There was no hint of deceit or fabrication or even omission. But his face shifted out of fear and fully into confusion.
"What did you find?"
"We know who and what their targets are. You're saying you have no idea," Forrest growled again. It sounded more like an accusation than a question. It took Tristan to rein Forrest in to shift his expectations.
"You do? That's great, but I don't -" he started. "know," he finished the sentence in his mind as it raced to think of possibilities as to what it could have been.
"You're not one of them. None of the Rangers are. None of the bases or this HQ are on any of the lists of targets they have." His voice still growled, but it wasn't nearly as intense as before.
"Really?" Dick said incredulously.
It made no sense to him. How would the Rangers - the military of the entire country - not be on any kind of list or plans they had for whatever it was they were trying to accomplish? Surely he, himself, would be at the top of the list. Grand Conserve Kline should be on the list since their self-proclaimed leader exposed himself to her. Surely what they had was an incomplete list.
"I'm sure they must have plans to deal with the Rangers in another file that you didn't get," he said, still visibly confused. "A file on how to deal with the Rangers would be huge. They couldn't have gotten it with the few files they had. But it's probably destroyed by now so we can't know what they plan to do about us. They could only get a few files. Of course their plans on dealing with the Rangers weren't among them. Or it's with Kline and she's in league with them and they recruited her to dismantle the Rangers from the inside."
These were theoretical thoughts. Again, there was no deception or concealing of thoughts. There were no barriers or blocks. Unless there was an impossibly more sophisticated manner in hiding truths that Ether had never experienced before, the Master General was being honest. He seemed to have no connection to this Team Zodiac. He was just as bewildered that the Rangers wouldn't be in some sort of plan or another.
Dick's eyes widened as the realization hit him. "Oh," he said low and slowly. "This makes me - us - look like we're accomplices. Of course it does," he said to himself and shook his head. "But," he started again and gestured to Ether, "I know less than either of you. I've never seen any of them. I don't know if it's just the twelve of them or if they have hundreds within their ranks."
The shrug he offered was one of defeat. Sure he could tell them the truth that he knew, but even he understood that his truth could be false - implanted, possibly. If he was a sleeper agent, he wouldn't even know. He understood well enough that he - the entire Rangers Organization - were suspects. He breathed deeply and kept quiet as he had no excuses or pleas to offer them.
"Again, I'm sorry," he said softly and shook his head. "I don't have anything else for you." His eyes were sad - almost pathetic. "But I've sent Special Agent Hawley to your office, Aeros, if you'd like to speak with him. If not, just let me know and I'll cancel the meeting."
Forrest stood there with his arms crossed and his chest puffed out. He had never shifted from his aggressive and authoritative stance directly in front of Dick's desk. He stood with his feet shoulder-width apart and his head held straight and his eyes down at the old man. A few more moments passed and he turned to look toward Tristan and Ether with a raised brow so they could verify what he was saying and the thoughts they could find.




Rangers Headquarters - Rustboro City


Toward the end of interview with the special agent, the door was unlocked and a woman walked through - a familiar woman. Her long straight black hair and pinched eyes and pale skin were unmistakable. She wore the same style blouse and pants and shoes but in different colors.
"Mr. Aeros, hi," she said with a warm smile without any hint of appearing as if she'd interrupted anything. "It looks like Ms. Shade wants me to work with you more closely. So, what have you found out?" she said and gestured for Forrest to get out of his chair so that she could bring it up to Tristan's desk and sit in it. Of course he complied if only because he was too confused to not surrender his seat to the young woman.
"Uh, who are you?" Forrest asked gruffly as he realized what was happening.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Johnson. I'm Asuna, pleasure," she said and offered her hand to shake his gently, which he did as he looked incredulously at Tristan.
Rangers Headquarters - Rustboro City
Forrest's jaw seemed to bubble as the muscles flexed and contracted as he listened and looked at what Tristan had discovered. He remained silent, his face was perfectly still, nearly emotionless. It looked as if Forrest was unable to respond to Tristan's question at the end of his monologue. He simply looked into Tristan's eyes for a long moment without blinking. This silent anger was possibly more unnerving than when he'd physically express it. The muscles across his body twitched as if to fight himself from getting up or moving. His skin was reddening on his face and chest. The volcano had been made dormant only a little while ago thanks to Sergeant Broadson. That could all be undone any moment.
Bob B. Jeanne's father. Forrest was very fond of the man despite how much Bob criticized him for getting Jeanne pregnant at 16. Bob was stereotypically protective of his daughter and still very much was. But all that time they spent together to build his cabin made his eyes water. His mom and dad - all their work would be destroyed. Everything they worked for his whole life - gone. There was no relief that Mitchell nor Mrs. Honnings was on the list since he saw Mrs. James was on the list. A tear fell from his eye but his face remained expressionless.
Forrest breathed deep but didn't take his eyes off Tristan. He blinked rapidly and adjusted himself but didn't bother wipe away the tear track on his cheek. He lowered his jaw but words didn't come out until another moment passed.
"I - don't know," Forrest said. His voice was quiet - weak. "We've never been in a situation like this. I trust that he wouldn't send the entire country into a state of emergency, and he'd likely manage to call other country's Rangers to help. Can I talk to him first?"
He felt a little strange sincerely asking for permission from someone he hardly worked with. But he understood enough to know that all of this beyond what he could even imagine. He was neither mentally nor physically prepared for any of this. They were going to destroy the country. With those mythical Pokemon, they would destroy the world. Nihilistic thoughts flashed in his mind. Why bother to try to stop them? They saw how powerful just one of them were. If they were going to destroy the world, what hope did the two of them have at stopping them from succeeding?
But they, alone, certainly could not stop these people. Forrest knew they needed the Rangers and the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four to work together and quietly so as to not send the country into a panic. They didn't have a choice to not trust Dick. They would need to trust the Gym Leaders as well.
A revelation passed through Forrest's mind: they knew; they could tell the others; they could organize; they could strike back before they had the chance to do so. Sure, that Taurus guy would certainly tell that Pisces guy or whatever their chain of command was. But did that truly matter? If they were to follow through with what could be assume from the documents Tristan studied, we would be prepared. They might think they need to change their plan. What if they would just give up on the plan for a while - for years? He'd have so much time to train himself and his Pokemon.
No, that was wishful thinking. They could just as well push their timeline up to "immediately" and strike before either of them had the chance to share what they had learned. Then it wouldn't matter who they trusted and didn't trust since the Hoenn would be on the path of destruction they seemed to want to take. As much as Tristan discovered - Forrest realized how little it seemed to matter. Without times or dates, all they could do was hope they would have the time to prepare.
"We don't have a choice, though," he said after a pregnant pause after asking for permission as all these thoughts flooded his mind. "We don't have the strength to fight against them, the two of us. Even with the other Elite Four members, there's twelve of them. We don't stand a chance. We have to trust the Rangers, the Gym Leaders, and the Elite Four."
His voice quickly changed to deep and authoritative. Forrest was known to be "volatile" with his moods and emotions by those closest to him. Tristan would get to learn that soon enough, if he didn't already figure it out, that is. But his arms remained crossed and he straightened himself in the chair. He'd slowly been slouching through learning all of this and he looked tall again, even sitting down.
"We've got to trust them all," he said eventually and gestured to the television where he'd seen the list of people they had collected information about. "They need to know."
He was absolute in this opinion. The idea that it might be bad or naive didn't even enter his thoughts. He only thought how they deserved to know they were being targeted. It went back to his bounty-hunter process - those with bounties on them knew they had bounties on them. If even criminals got to know they were being targeted, normal innocent civilians certainly deserved to know.


A last glance through the personnel roster and inventory records proved beneficial. Tristan happened upon a complete list of all the individuals involved with the attack on Mauville City. Unfortunately, none of these Zodiac characters seemed to be directly involved, if these records were to be believed. It was easy to assume that such information was kept out of the records. But with everything else that was revealed, it wouldn't make much sense to hide that information. The Rangers would take great value from these records, surely. But the rest of these plans - well that was something none of them could be truly prepared for.
Forrest entered the office shortly after as if he was already headed in that direction. Only Shaq'ti hovered beside him. Oracle knew that they had been returned to their Pokeballs as they had fully recovered in the infirmary by this point. Surely Tristan didn't take that much time looking over all these documents - they must have simply been that efficient, which was ultimately a boon.
Forrest's size was somehow betrayed by the jeans and t-shirt he usually wore. In only high shorts and a tank top, Forrest's physique on display and so made it that much more obvious how large he actually was. He held himself as he usually would - tall and erect and confident. He sat down with his arms crossed and legs spread wide on the chair in front of Tristan's desk. Shaq'ti hovered in meditation beside him.
"So, what did you find out?" he said and pointed his chin toward Tristan's desk covered with papers.
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