Before I get the chance to ask what we should do, Keith is already in action. He runs out into the path of Jacob and his pursuers, grabbing Jacob by the cuff of his shirt.
“What seems to be the problem here?” He asks completely calmly, turning to the two workers. I stay where I am, but don’t return Charybdis. I’m wary, and can’t hide it as well as Keith apparently can.
“Do you know this boy?” One of the men asks, giving Keith a wary look. Keith glances at Jacob, who is still breathing hard but looks remarkably calm.
“Yeah,” Keith says after a pause. “He’s my brother…” The men exchange glances of obvious doubt, glancing from Keith’s face, with slick black hair, pale skin and narrow eyes, to Jacobs, with sandy grey hair, darker skin and large, rounder eyes.
“…Adopted brother, of course.” Keith adds, with a hasty grin. The men clearly aren’t buying it.
“Yeah, okay,” one of them says with a sneer. “let’s see some ID.”
Keith pauses for a second, and exhales. He glances over at me, and our eyes meet for just a second. He makes a small motion with the hand that holds Jacob’s shirt, and I see something in it; a poke ball. The one he was about to choose before our battle had been interrupted. I blink, understanding what’s going to happen next, and nod. He looks back to the guards, releasing Jacob and reaching for his wallet. I pick up Charybdis with one hand, nestling him into the crook of my arm. I walk forward, trying my best to look calm.
“Problem, Keith?” I ask, trying to be nonchalant. He looks up at me, and I see a brief look of surprise on his face, as if he hadn’t expected me to take the initiative. I make a note to myself to feel good about that later, since there’s no time to think about it now.
“Not at all, Tess…” Keith says, removing his hand from his pocket. “But I think we should put our battle on hold for NOW!” With the last word, he tosses his poke ball. The workers, caught by surprise, step back. I release Charybdis from my grasp as Keith’s Pokemon is released.
It’s a Crobat. I’ve seen plenty of Zubat and Golbat, but I had never seen a Crobat in-person before. I’ve always heard that it takes a very devoted trainer to evolve a Crobat. It’s body is about the same size of the average Golbats, but more sleek and aerodynamic. It’s mouth is smaller, but bristles with fearsome fangs. Its talons double as a smaller second set of wings, helping it to stay aloft. But the main feature of the bat is it’s pair of wings. As they flap, the gusts of wind are strong enough that I have to put one hand on my head to keep my hat from flying off. Its wings are enormous, muscular things, casting a shadow over us. I glance at the PFH workers and see that they can see the power of this beast just as I can. One of them reaches for a pocket, presumably for a poke ball. But I’m not going to give him time.
“Hit them with a water gun, Char!” Charybdis looks up at me with a brief look of confusion, unsure why he is being pitted against humans instead of Pokemon, but turns his attention to his new targets. He releases a jet of water wide enough to drench both of our opponents, enough to distract them for a minute. Keith turns to me.
“Nice thinking.” He says, raising his eyebrows.
“I’m more savvy than you think.” I say with a grin. “My brother and I used to get in some situations where we had to think fast, so I’ve had some experience.”
“Good,” he says, “then take Jacob and go somewhere safe.”
“Where?” I say. We don’t have time for this. “Um, you know what, how about the beach?” I’m not sure why the beach comes to mind, but it seems safe.
“Okay. I’ll hold them off, you go wherever you need to go. I’ll meet you at the beach as soon as we’re finished.” He gives me a grin, and turns back to Jacob’s pursuers. I look at Jacob, who doesn’t look worried or scared anymore. He’s just watching me. I exhale, pick up Charybdis with one hand, take Jacob’s hand in my other, and make a dash south. Behind me, I hear the yells of the PFH men, followed by the sounds of more pokemon being released. If my mind wasn’t focused on getting us to the beach, I would probably be worried for Keith’s safety right now. But all I can do is trust him.
The main street is fairly barren as we run. Most of the trainers are still hanging around the northern end of town. The few we pass don’t give us any trouble, just give us a curious glance as they see us run by. Jacob remains silent as we make our way to the beach, his hand firmly grasping mine. His feels cold and clammy, but he holds on tightly.
I slow down as we reach the south end of the cobblestone road. In front of us is the beach. It’s surprising, and for a moment slightly creepy, how little it has changed in five years. It seems much brighter here now, with no umbrellas casting shadows on the dunes. If anything, the place looks more inviting than it ever did before. I smile, taking in my surroundings. The mid-afternoon sun shines down on the sand, creating a warm, inviting glow.
“At least some things haven’t changed,” I say to Jacob. He nods, and I can see a small smile on his face. I let go of his hand, and start walking. Nowhere in particular. I just want to enjoy this. I feel Charybdis wriggle around in my grip, and let him go. He excitedly tries hopping towards the water, but only succeeds in falling over onto his side. I laugh, and to my surprise, so does Jacob.
I pick Charybdis back up, and we head towards the water. I notice Jacob rustling around in the pocket of his jacket for something. He stops moving his hand around after a moment, but leaves it in his pocket. Like he’s holding something he doesn’t know if he should take out. His Pokemon, I realize.
“You can let him out.” I tell him. He gives me a worried look.
“Aren’t you worried? After…after what happened on the boat?” I look at him for a moment, and think about this. Ever since meeting him this morning, this kid has had two distinct modes; shut off to the world, or too afraid to be happy. It’s starting to get to me.
“Look,” I say, sounding a bit angry. “Do you trust your Pokemon?” He looks down for a moment, considering, then nods.
“Then what are you afraid of? If you trust your Aron, don’t be afraid of what he can do. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? He’ll blow a little sand around? Big deal.” He extracts the poke ball from his pocket, giving it a long look. He closes his eyes, and nods.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. Just do it.”
He opens his eyes, looking at me. His mouth twitches into another faint prolouge of a smile, and he tosses the sphere in his hand into the air. In a flash of red light, his Aron appears in front of him, landing clumsily on the sand. He gives a little cry of joy upon finding himself in a veritable play place of soft sand, and begins rolling around in the stuff. Jacob’s face develops from a tiny smile to a full-on grin as he watches his Pokemon. At least he seems happy now.
My attention returns to Charybdis’ persistent wiggling in my arms. I tell Jacob I’m going to take my Pokemon to the water. He nods, not looking away from his Aron, who has now started burrowing his head into the sand.
At the water’s edge, I release Charybdis, letting him hop into the calm waves of the sea. I reach into my pocket, procuring Rosa’s poke ball. She’s still weak from the battle earlier, but I figure being near the water will help her wounds to heal. She finds a comfortable spot in the shallows, and nestles herself into the sand, letting the gentle waves caress her bruised body.
As Rosa rests and Charybdis plays, I look back to Jacob. He’s sitting in the sand now, tossing handfuls of sand at the Aron, who seems overjoyed by the game. Jacob has taken his jacket off, and the sleeveless shirt he wears shows off his arms. He’s surprisingly muscular for such a small kid. I guess he feels a need to make himself seem more mature. But whether or not this is true, the fact remains that he seems so much younger than Keith or I.
According to Keith, Jacob is my age, or a little younger. His size alone isn’t what could easily make someone question his age. He has a rounder, childlike face, but that isn’t quite it either. There’s just something about this kid that carries a youthful innocence about him. It’s not quite the same as a young child, more like someone who’s been raised in enough isolation to preserve that innocence that usually goes away as a person grows up.
I recognize it because I’ve seen it before. When my parents and I came to Pacifidlog, the transition in our lives was, obviously, major. One of the hardest parts for me had been fitting in with the kids there. Living in Slateport all your life gives you this sense of freedom. It’s such a big place, you could easily get lost in it and still have a good time. Michael and I would take our bikes up to Mauville whenever we wanted, to see a gym battle or look at the Pokemon at the day-care center, or just for the sake of exploring. Moving to Pacifidlog after that was like moving from a palace to a studio apartment. There was nothing but water in all directions, you couldn’t escape it. The place may as well have been on another planet.
As a result, the kids there were worlds away from what I had been used to. After a few months, when I finally came out of my “I just saw my brother die saving our lives” shell, I realized that nobody in the town was anything like me. Most of the kids had a similar kind of innocence to what I see now in Jacob - an innocence developed by living your entire life in isolation from the outside world. Not quite stupid - although I was quick to diagnose it as such for a while - but very simple-minded, just through a lack of experience with what else there was to the world.
Eventually I met Kara, another refugee like me, and we forged a fast friendship. She had hailed from Lavaridge, and had happened to be visiting family in Slateport when disaster struck. I think having each other helped both of us, because after we met each other we found it easier to start opening up to the kids who had always lived in Pacifidlog, and we began to understand them more.
Having someone to related to my past was what helped me open up to the future. If I can relate to Jacob in some way, maybe I can help him, too.
I snap back to reality when I realize Jacob is watching me. Our eyes meet as I realize I’ve still been staring at him this whole time, and I quickly look away. Not a very good start to making a connection with him.
Luckily, the awkward moment is broken by a familiar voice.
“Tess, you waited for me to start the interrogation? How kind.”
After Tess escapes with Jacob, I turn back to my opponents. Both are soaked and angry from Tess’ Horsea. In front of them are two Pokemon, a Ninjask and a Gloom. I give them a mocking grin.
“I have you at an advantage here, guys. I’m sure you’ve realized that. But I don’t want you to run away just yet.” I’m managing to sound cool and collected, but inside my mind is reeling, hoping I can play it cool and make a clean getaway.
“I’d be very interested to know why the two of you were pursuing my friend back there.”
“What do you care? Do you even know who he is?” One of the men sneers.
“I know him well enough.” I lie. “Well enough that I know he’s not capable of doing anything bad enough to warrant his arrest…or capture, or whatever you think you’re doing.” The man doing the talking gives me another sneer.
“You don’t even know who he is, do you?” His voice is incredulous. “You’re just blindly protecting this kid. What’s in it for you? Just stand down, buddy, and we’ll forget this-”
“What’s in it for me,” I say, cutting him off. “is an ally. If his identity is important, he’ll tell me. You’re right that I don’t know him very well, but I still trust him a hell of a lot more than I plan on trusting you.” I cross my arms defiantly, watching my opponents. Their bodies seem to cower slightly in the shadow of my impressive Crobat.
“Let’s just go,” the quieter of the two men says to the other. “The kid isn’t even top priority right now…and we aren’t prepared to deal with anything like this right now.”
The other man looks ready to protest, but is interrupted by a tone of white noise from his pocket. He curses under his breath, reaching into his uniform pocket and extracting a walkie-talkie, as a female voice begins to speak from it.
“All PFH units, please return to base, code 501. I repeat, return to base. Code 501.” The two men look at each other.
“We gotta go.”
“I know that.” says the more talkative man. He turns to me.
“Looks like today’s your lucky day, buddy. But don’t count on that luck lasting too long.” He returns his Poekmon, turns and sprints, heading back to the north end of town, the other man fast at his heels. I sigh in relief.
“Wasn’t sure how that one was gonna play out, Vladmir. Thanks for looking scary for me.” I say to my Crobat. Vladmir doesn’t emote much, but gives a little twitch of his ears in return.
“Go fly for a while,” I tell him. “I’ll be at the beach.” Vladmir gladly propels himself into the sky, and soars west. He’ll be back in a while. Vladmir is fantastic at finding things from the air, so even if we leave the beach it won’t be an issue. Deciding there’s no reason to rush, I take a leisurely pace as I make my way down towards the beach.
I think about a few things as I walk along the stone street. First of all, the sudden recall of the two PFH agents. What is a code 501, I wonder? Something dangerous, or just a fancy glorification of “we dropped a bunch of stuff and need help picking it up”? There’s no use dwelling on that, so I move on.
Next is Jacob. The more persistently obnoxious of the two men had seemed to act as if he knew more about Jacob than I did. That’s not hard, of course, but it was the way he said it…you don’t even know who he is, do you?
Is Jacob someone important, I wonder? Someone wanted by the authorities? No, it couldn’t be. Full background checks were preformed on all applicants for the trip to the mainland, and Jacob was approved without a problem. Then what does PFH want with him?
One last thing comes to my mind, as my thoughts turn to Tess’ escape with Jacob. I was surprised at her speed in the moment, seeming to know automatically what needed to be done. She had mentioned something about her and her brother getting into similar situations as kids, which leads me to wonder what kind of lives the two of them led here.
As I approach the beach, I see the targets of my worry. Jacob sits in the sand, playing with Garnett. Tess is farther out, at the water’s edge. I see her Pokemon splashing about in the water. At least they’re safe.
“Tess, you waited for me to start the interrogation?” I shout to her from across the beach. “How kind.” She turns to see me, and raises an eyebrow.
“What are we, military?”
“I’m kidding. How’s everybody?” I inquire, passing Jacob on my way to meet Tess by the water. She smiles.
“Rosa’s resting from the battle, and Char…well, he’s enjoying himself, I guess.”
“Good, but…” I lower my voice.
“You know what I mean.” She grimaces, and nods.
“He…he’s okay, I think. Should we talk to him?”
“We should.” The time for keeping secrets is ending, I’ve decided. If Jacob expects me to come with him, he needs to open up. Now or never. Jacob is watching me, and stands As I start to approach.
“You ready to explain, bud?” I try to seem as non-confrontational as possible, but he’s silent. He just nods. And I see it again in his eyes, that ferocity I saw at the dock this morning. Just what is in his past that gives this kind of reaction whenever he thinks about it? He blinks, and begins to speak.