“You know…I figured a department store would have more food.” Jessie mused as they examined a poster depicting a recumbent Seviper. “And clothes.” They picked at the hem of their form-fitting black vest, which left a little skin visible above their black slacks and white walking shoes.
“On the bright side,” Jane answered, leaning down to pet her Sylveon, cautious hand on the back of her knee-length pleated black skirt, “they have lots of Pokémon vitamins.”
“That they do,” Jessie answered as their Dustox fluttered to their shoulder and their Wobbuffet released himself from his Pokéball, playfully saluting. Jessie gave their Pokémon partners an amused half-smile and reached over to gently scratch their heads. They approached the poster aisle, Dustox and Wobbuffet following, and Meowth returned from the direction of the drink vending machines. Jane crouched down to Meowth’s level.
“Quick, while they’re not looking,” Jane whispered, handing Meowth her paper shopping bag, “take this to the cash register and buy it. The money’s in the bag.” Sylveon looked quizzical. “It’s Jessie’s birthday present, and a little something for us, too.” Sylveon nodded, and accompanied Meowth in scampering toward the registers.
Something stirred in Jane’s hair, and her bright yellow Joltik shook off the strands and climbed down to Jane’s hand as she stood.
“What is it, Joltik?” Jane asked, sensing the tiny creature’s concern.
Clinging tightly to Jane’s hand with her rear limbs and gesticulating frantically with the front pair, Joltik stammered and flailed, barely getting words out, until Jane began gently petting her tiny partner and humming softly. After a minute or so, Joltik calmed enough to speak:
“That way. That way. Pulling. Need. Pulling. That way…” Jane kept stroking, and Joltik’s words became clearer: “Something…familiar…that way. It’s pulling me. I…we…I need to go that way. I need to…know.”
“Definitely,” Jane assured. “Once Meowth and Sylveon come back. Jessie should be finished by then.”
“Soon, little one. We can’t leave without the others.” Jane pressed Joltik against her chest and continued petting, reassuring but not quite calming the agitated arachnid. Joltik closed her eyes and took in Jane’s warmth, wiggling under the neckline of her lightly ruffled mauve blouse.
Sylveon made a show of sneaking back with the shopping bag and receipt in hand, Meowth following closely. Jessie walked over moments later, looking concerned. “What’s going on?” they asked, looking at the quivering Joltik against Jane’s collarbones and seemingly not noticing Meowth’s and Sylveon’s furtive moves.
Jane answered only, “I know where we’re going next.”
For the next few minutes, Jane, Jessie, and Meowth walked down Route 121, with Joltik on Jane’s outstretched hand providing eager directions. The route’s handful of competing trainers raised eyebrows at the group but otherwise ignored them. Before long, Joltik gestured north, at the entrance to the Hoenn region’s Safari Zone. Jane directed Joltik to return to her customary vantage, buried in her hair, and she complied. The trio approached the gate and were immediately accosted. A cheerful greeter in a uniform consisting of a safari hat, green crop top, shorts the same color, and field boots announced to them, “Good morning! Can we interest you in a guided tour of the Safari Zone?” Jessie and Jane both sighed and smiled knowingly, trading with the greeter the dead-eyed understanding of those cornered into similar roles in the past. With less artifice and more calm, she continued, “It’s free and it gets me out of the booth.”
Joltik nodded gently against Jane’s scalp, so the group agreed. The greeter pressed a button under the counter of her booth and then walked ahead of them, beckoning them to follow as she began her descriptions.
“I’m Samantha and I’ll be your Safari Guide today,” Samantha introduced. “Hoenn’s Safari Zone was founded as a habitat for Pokémon from other regions, primarily Kanto,” she continued, as a curious Oddish emerged from the nearby grass. She gave it a treat as the group continued walking through the park. “Our goal was to build a place where these creatures could live just as they do in their own homelands, without harming or being harmed by the broader Hoenn ecosystem.” The group arrived at a ledge and Samantha invited them to climb it, which they did. “Each of our four sections has a different assortment of Pokémon, and dedicated trainers have found even more species than we originally stocked.” Samantha followed Jessie and Jane, and helped Meowth up.
Joltik stirred, trying to steer Jane’s head to the right. Jane asked the guide, “Is anything special in that direction?”
“Um…” Samantha hesitated. “That exhibit isn’t finished.”
“What are you working on?” Jessie asked.
“A new habitat for some Unova-region Pokémon we discovered in Hoenn, that should be much more comfortable for them than the places where they’re hiding today.” The guide fidgeted nervously. “It’s not ready for visitors yet, though…things keep going wrong.”
“What kinds of things?” Jane asked, as Joltik impatiently emerged from her hair and looked expectantly at Samantha.
“What—oh, of course,” Samantha stammered. Collecting her thoughts, she continued, “It’s a habitat for Joltiks and Galvantulas. They were discovered in Hoenn recently, but there’s no proper habitat for them here, so we brought in some chargestones from Unova to build one in a cave under—”
Joltik leapt from Jane’s head and skittered across the grass in the direction Samantha had pointed. The three humans and Meowth chased after her, Jessie and Jane with satisfied smiles, as she slipped into a vent set into a boulder up a small hill. Samantha reached into a crevice in the next boulder and caused a large secret door to swing open, revealing the boulder to be a hollowed-out entrance. “I guess you’re getting the whole tour after all.”
Jessie and Jane followed Samantha down a long flight of stairs, into what looked like a natural cave. Samantha continued narrating: “This is the maintenance entrance. The natural cave opening is closer to Lilycove City.” She gestured. “The vent your Joltik ran through leads back to the main habitat, this way.”
After a little more cave containing little more than faint drops of water and electrical monitoring equipment, the group arrived at the nascent habitat. The whole area glowed a diffuse, deep blue, emanating from several large rocks scattered around the room. The smallest of the rocks levitated a few centimeters above the ground. Additional light suggested similar scenes past upcoming twists in the cave.
“It’s beautiful, but none of the readings are what they need to be before we can keep a population in here. Everything’s too low, but the chargestones are fresh. The readings are lower than they were when we measured the stones in Unova.”
Jessie pushed over one of the larger chargestones, and found a tiny hole at the bottom. They released Pumpkaboo and gave the cryptic suggestion, “Trick or Treat.” The animate gourd shook, releasing a series of ghostly spirits from his body and directing them into the chargestone. As they entered the rock, each produced a spark, the rock’s color changed from blue to purple, and it rose gently into the air. A small device clattered to the ground from within, and Jessie retrieved it before directing Pumpkaboo to end the chargestone’s jaunt into the spirit world. The rock returned to solidity and its previous position. Jane approached as Jessie shook their head.
“Is it…?” Jane asked.
“Yes,” Jessie answered. They leaned into Jane, knees unsteady, dejectedly intoning, “No matter where we go, it’s never far enough. Even when they’re not looking for us.” Jane held her dear friend, guiding the pair to their knees, and then pivoted to face Jessie. Jessie wrapped their arms around Jane, their head on her shoulder, and quietly sobbed. Jane rubbed their back, picked up the tiny device, saw the too-familiar R logo, and clenched her hand. Samantha moved toward the two, but Meowth interposed, shaking his head.
“All those years you envied my strength,” Jessie choked out, “and here I am, envying yours.”
“It’s a team effort,” Jane answered, “just like your hair.”
Jessie smiled, and Meowth arrived to put an arm on each of them. “How’s the team?” he asked.
Jessie stood, closing their left hand in front of their heart and holding the other out and behind them, and responded, “Showing up.”
“I’ll get the stuff,” Jane volunteered.
Deep in the cave, out of sight of the region where the Safari Zone staff was setting up the Joltik habitat, a series of electronic devices the size of small refrigerators whirred and clicked. Their miscellaneous gauges stayed far to the right, and each was connected to a bank of wires that disappeared farther into the cave at one end, and a series of curious metal pads on the walls in the other. Ten people milled about, connecting new devices, checking wires, adding pads, and monitoring overall progress with tablet computers. Each wore a black uniform with a bright red R on the chest. The one holding the tablet suddenly looked concerned. “Davis, check why the transmitters are malfunctioning. They’re blinking out one by one.”
As the one called Davis stood, the room turned instantly dark and foggy. As the natural chargestone glow returned, two voices began speaking.
“To protect the world from devastation…” Jessie now wore the black-tie magician’s costume they had worn on previous missions, minus the domino.
“To aid the oppressed of every nation…” Jane wore the same strongly-shaped fuchsia dress she wore to complement Jessie’s disguise back then, again minus the face mask
“To end all evil with acts of love…”
“To apprehend the monsters who truck thereof!”
“Jessie!” holding a carnation as a spotlight from nowhere illuminated them.
“Jane!” holding a rose, also spotlit.
“Team That Showed Up, travel far to make things right!”
“Surrender now or prepare to fight!”
“Meowth, that’s right!”
The Team Rocket agents looked on thunderstruck for a few seconds. The one with the tablet shouted, “Let’s see how magic you are after this!” and released his Mandibuzz. The other Team Rocket agents followed suit as the bone-wearing vulture coalesced, bringing a Weavile, Nidoking, Toxicroak, Victreebel, Exeggutor, Hypno, and Heliolisk into the suddenly crowded space. Jane and Jessie looked at each other and bolted to the sides as a wave of lightning, venom, razor leaves, dark energy, and mind-scrambling radiation coruscated their way, releasing their Arcanine and Gyarados. Arcanine latched onto Exeggutor immediately with a Fire Fang and Gyarados swatted Nidoking away with Aqua Tail as if the spiny purple hulk were not the size of a car, nearly defeating both enemies.
Jessie quickly released Hippowdon as the Rockets’ Heliolisk readied an electric attack, which then dissipated harmlessly against the sandy hippo’s giant flanks. As the Heliolisk stepped nervously back, Hippowdon burrowed into the rocky cave floor. The Exeggutor tried to sedate Jane’s Arcanine with Sleep Powder, but the giant fiery dog shook off the soporific spores and burned the animate palm tree to unconsciousness with another Fire Fang. Jane released Chimecho into the fray, who immediately delivered waves of psychic power into Toxicroak’s mind, knocking out the assassin frog instantly moments before it would have jabbed poison into Gyarados’s body. Nidoking managed to fling Gyarados across the cave with the effort of a Seismic Toss, but its victory was stolen from it when Heliolisk struck Chimecho, Gyarados, and Arcanine alike with a circular wave of electricity. Gyarados fainted from the shock, and Hippowdon buried the grinning lightning-lizard in the explosive release of a Dig attack moments later. Jessie recalled Gyarados and commanded Hippowdon to Dig once more.
Chimecho turned her attention to Victreebel, but was knocked out of the air by Mandibuzz, cloaked with the dark energy of a Feint Attack. Jane sent Sylveon into battle, glaring at the bone-clad vulture and collecting fey power, but she was not fast enough to protect Chimecho from the Rockets’ Weavile, who had hidden in the shadows and waited for this moment to deliver a knockout Night Slash of her own. Sylveon knocked Mandibuzz into the cave wall with a Moonblast. She then barely dodged a Poison Gas attack from Hypno.
Victreebel launched a globe of toxic fluid at Arcanine, poisoning the giant dog. Arcanine lunged at Victreebel, mouth full of flames, but was knocked away from her target by a mass of earth Nidoking launched her way. Struggling to stand, she sighed with relief when Jane recalled her and Chimecho. Hippowdon’s Dig erupted from beneath Nidoking, slamming the spiky monstrosity into the cave ceiling and finally removing it from the fight.
Mandibuzz circled around Sylveon, pounding her with the bone in its hair over and over as she struggled to defend herself or respond. Weavile added to the whirl of violence with the flung spears of an Icicle Crash, as Sylveon began to falter. With a sudden smile, she lashed her feelers around Weavile and planted a vigorous kiss on its eye, siphoning its vitality with Draining Kiss. Weavile staggered back long enough for Sylveon to defeat Mandibuzz with another Moonblast and begin stalking forward, confident once more.
Hippowdon trapped Victreebel in a whirling Sand Tomb and absorbed a Psychic assault from Hypno. Victreebel’s leafy attacks missed in its sandy impairment, and Hippowdon leapt on Hypno with a lightning-infused Thunder Fang. Weavile tried to get one last success in with an Icicle Crash against Hippowdon, but Sylveon interrupted with a final Draining Kiss. Jane released Cacturne, who leapt on Victreebel with Needle Arm attacks.
As Cacturne, Hippowdon, and Sylveon finished the remaining enemy Pokémon, some of the Rockets reached for additional Pokéballs. They did not succeed, however, as Meowth leapt on them from behind and slashed at their hands and faces with all his might. In a few moments, the eight Rocket agents were rolling on the ground in cat-scratch agony, and Jane, Jessie, Sylveon, Cacturne, and Hippowdon approached them, breathing heavily.
“You hurt Growly and Chimecho,” Jane announced as Jessie released Seviper to entangle the eight prisoners. “You’re going to pay for that, that’s a given.”
The lead figure laughed incredulously and began speaking: “Well, well, if my eyes don’t deceive me, it’s Jessie and James—” His screed ended as Jane dug her heel into his groin.
“That’s not my name,” Jane hissed.
“What are you doing here?” Jessie demanded. Hippowdon rumbled assent.
Some of the subordinate Rockets looked uneasy, but the lead figure answered, “Can’t you tell? It’s the kind of plan you two might have used, back in your prime. Of course,” his voice turned into a gasp as Seviper constricted a bit, “we’re doing it right.”
Meowth interrupted, “Um, girls, weren’t there ten of them?”
A high-pitched, mechanical whine and the sound of churning earth suddenly demanded all of their attention. The lead figure cackled as a giant metal snake with an equally giant drill for a head burst upward from the ground, spraying rock in all directions. Windows on each side of the region immediately behind the drill showed the two missing Rockets, each handling controls. The part of the robotic snake that was visible was the size of a truck, with much more length promised beneath the ground. Seviper, in shock, released her hold on the prisoners, and the panicked Rocket underlings ran in random directions, but the leader ran back toward the Safari Zone, cackling the whole way.
Jane looked at Jessie. “I’ll chase him down and see if I can’t find Joltik while I’m at it. Do you think you can handle this?”
From behind the pair, an expertly-lobbed Seed Bomb arced into the right window of the giant drill-snake, embedding large seed pieces in the glass and dropping rubble from the ceiling loudly onto the metal surface, and the snake shook ineffectually to try to dislodge them.
“Pumpkaboo’s back from disabling all of the energy transmitters and I have the rest of my team,” Jessie insisted, steeling themself for battle. “Go!”
Jane recalled Sylveon and Cacturne and sprinted after the leader. Jessie released Wobbuffet.
“I know you’re not feeling well, Growly,” Jane pleaded with her first Pokéball, “but I need you right now.” She brought forth her injured Arcanine and swiftly mounted her, rumpling her dress. Growly hesitated, and then bolted ahead, rapidly gaining enough to hear the conversation the fleeing Rocket commanding was having with his earpiece.
“Erikson here. Operations in Hoenn Safari Zone attacked by Team Rocket fugitives—” Erikson’s sentence abruptly ended when Growly pulled ahead of him and Jane released Cacturne directly into his path. Cacturne raised a spiny arm and he slammed directly into it, shattering his earpiece and sending him skidding across the ground. Jane dismounted and approached him, recalling Growly as she went, Cacturne close behind.
“This doesn’t have to keep going, Erikson,” Jane insisted. “Jessie will be finished with your giant drill soon. There’s nothing left here for you.”
“Ah, but there is, traitor,” Erikson insisted, pressing a button on a Pokéball on his belt to release the round steel globe of a Foretress. As the Foretress began spinning in place, Erikson again ran, and Jane gave a worried nod to Cacturne and followed. Cacturne lengthened his spines with Spiky Shield and braced himself for Foretress’s Gyro Ball. Foretress brutally collided with the well-defended animate cactus and serenely closed its eyes, starting to glow. Cacturne looked down in horror as Foretress exploded.
The giant drill-snake lunged at Jessie and their team, and Wobbuffet interposed his bulbous blue body at the last moment, taking in the drill’s monstrous strength and thrusting it back with a Counter. The drill mechanism dented inward so badly it no longer spun, instead twitching and releasing sparks, but Wobbuffet wobbled and lurched with near-exhaustion, unlikely to endure a second blow. Jessie pointed, and Hippowdon conjured a whirlwind of sand around the windows, blocking the view and scratching the glass to near-opacity. As the whirlwind blew on, Seviper leapt onto the drill-snake’s back, pried a steel panel upward, and slipped inside.
Jessie released Dustox, her smallest Pokémon, and the large moth used Protect to place an unbreakable field of force between Jessie, Wobbuffet, and the drill-snake’s next, rather less elegant blow. The machine clattered and crunched painfully against the Protect field, looking like its drill might disintegrate entirely. As it reared up for another attack and Dustox prepared to Protect once more, Pumpkaboo struck the drill with another Seed Bomb, and it exploded into pieces, revealing the underlying rotor mechanism. Pumpkaboo approached, readying another Seed Bomb aimed at the sandy churn surrounding the window, when a panel opened on the snake’s side and a gout of flames issued from it. Pumpkaboo remained conscious after this assault, and Dustox shattered the flamethrower nozzle with a well-aimed Bug Buzz.
The two Rocket agents managed to shake off the Sand Tomb and other attacks aimed at their window, revealing a mostly-shattered glass panel between them and the outside. The robot snake’s tail began to rise out of the ground, and swatted across the cave faster than any of Jessie’s Pokémon thought possible. Dustox used Protect and Wobbuffet used Counter, but neither Pokémon’s measures were enough to keep them conscious after a thorough squashing against the cave wall. Jessie recalled the pair and shouted, “Thunder Fang!”
Hippowdon galloped over to the metal snake and latched his massive teeth into its hull, sinking deep and filling the snake with electricity. Panels popped open, other flamethrower nozzles exploded before they could be brought to bear, and control circuits overloaded. The pilots fumed, and flipped a large switch. All of the armor panels raised, revealing their sharp edges, and began to spin. The churn of metal struck Hippowdon repeatedly, eventually flinging the hulking beast deeper into the cave, where he lay still. Seviper seemed to remain safe by clinging to one of the rotating elements, but could not safely exit this oasis or finish her hole into the robot’s innards, and the snake-robot now bore down on Pumpkaboo. Jessie looked worried.
Suddenly, a guttural hiss permeated the cave, and from above, a swarm of dozens of bright purple snake Pokémon poured directly into the control room. They bit and entangled the two Rocket agents repeatedly, and flung them out of the cockpit to Jessie’s feet. Behind them, a giant purple cobra with red markings on its hood leapt into the cockpit and began wrenching the electronics apart until the spinning stopped and the drill-snake’s entire head fell apart around it. As the robot snake clattered to the ground in pieces, Jessie retrieved Hippowdon from afar and looked more closely at their unexpected aid. They froze.
Before her, surrounded by the Ekanses they had once saved from a cruel poacher, was Arbok, their Arbok, their first Pokémon and childhood best friend. Jessie’s and Arbok’s eyes welled, and the two rushed into each other’s embrace.
“I missed you so much, Arbok,” Jessie sobbed. “Sending you away was the saddest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m…I’m so glad to see you again.”
“I missed you too,” Arbok answered, tears sliding down his scales onto Jessie’s hair.
Erikson stayed ahead of Jane long enough that Jane had to stop and catch her breath, especially since she had gone back for Cacturne. She released Froslass and Sylveon and directed them to go on ahead of her, and Froslass complied, rushing a little faster than Jane could on her own. Sylveon insisted on staying near Jane, and Jane did not protest.
Froslass turned several corners, following the trail of Erikson’s warmth and wondering where he was heading, when a green-and-white humanoid lunged at her from a side route and sent the pair tumbling into the dark.
“Hello, Froslass,” Gallade greeted.
“Gallade,” Froslass answered, readying an Ice Punch in case this was not a friendly encounter.
Gallade raised one of his arm-blades, and Froslass struck him in the chest, but the Ice Punch did not freeze Gallade solid this time and his psychically-charged Psycho Cut cut deep into her insubstantial body. Froslass wreathed the area in a hailstorm and slid out from under her attacker, turning to face him.
“What are you here for, Gallade?” she demanded.
“I knew that, if I worked for Team Rocket, you would eventually come to me,” Gallade answered, calling up energy for another Psycho Cut.
“Well, I’m here,” Froslass answered, collecting energy of her own.
“I’ve been thinking a great deal about what you told me,” Gallade continued, lunging at Froslass and, in the frosty gloom, striking only air. From behind, Froslass blasted Gallade with an Ice Beam, yet still, the Fighting/Psychic type remained mobile.
“Ortolan chose this body for me,” Gallade began, and Froslass stayed moving, keeping Gallade from pinpointing her location in the hail. “I didn’t think about it. I didn’t mind being a Ralts or a Kirlia, and I accepted becoming Gallade.”
One of Gallade’s slashes nearly touched Froslass, and she wafted away to re-establish distance. “It sounds like that’s not the whole story.”
“But you got me thinking. I imagined being a Gardevoir, dainty and beautiful. I imagined trading these blades for her hands, these legs for her draping skirt, this head for her flowing shape.”
“Did you like it?” Froslass asked, preparing another Ice Beam.
“It felt strange. It felt wrong. I don’t want that softness. I don’t want her Moonblasts or her Hypnosis.” Gallade drew closer to Froslass, and Froslass stopped moving away, lining up her aim. “I want these blades and this strength. I want this movement and this face. And,” Gallade continued as he rushed directly up to Froslass’s face faster than she knew he could, “I want you.”
Gallade put his arm around Froslass and let her frost rime it as he pulled her close. As he tried to kiss her, she released her Ice Beam, freezing him in place.
“You misread me,” Froslass insisted as the hailstorm died down. Gallade’s expression turned from desire to rage. Froslass called up a Shadow Ball and flung it into Gallade as soon as he cut himself free from the ice.
“It is you I want,” Gallade coughed out, on his hands and knees as Froslass’s attack left him reeling. “It is you I have wanted ever since you freed me, ever since I could see that you chose your difference and I merely accepted mine.”
“What I feel is concern for you, and worry, and hope,” Froslass responded. “Not love. We are not to be.”
“Would you love me if I were a Gardevoir?”
“If you were trapped in an evolved form you hated, without even the hope of a Dawn Stone to bring you to yourself,” Froslass asked, her own memories of the once-impending horror of becoming a Glalie adding ruefulness to her tone, “would it matter who loved you?”
Gallade rose, eyes full of rage, and lunged at Froslass, shouting, “It is you I want!” Froslass struck him in the chin with an Ice Punch, and he fell on his back. She leaned in as his consciousness faded, intoning, “You will find love, and hope, and light. I am your friend, and I will give you what I can and not one bit more. Find me again.”
Jane recovered enough of her strength that she and Sylveon could resume their search for Erikson. A few meters away, they noticed a crevice that Erikson and Froslass had missed in their chase. A familiar gleam of light and even more familiar skittering sound prodded the two to peek inside. Their jaws dropped.
Inside, Joltik spun thin, translucent webs over a group of chargestones that, unlike the others, had clusters of oblong globes inside. Over and over, Joltik leapt from one stone to another in the room, trailing silk the whole way, draping the chargestones in layer after layer of silk that refracted their light and gave the chamber an even more ghostly glow. Sylveon squeezed into the chamber, followed by Jane, startling Joltik.
“Oh! I…I needed to find them,” Joltik stammered. “They’re cold. They needed me.”
Jane put out her hand and Joltik climbed into it. “They needed me. They’re all alone. They have no one. They’re so cold.”
“I understand,” Jane answered. Sylveon touched each chargestone with her feelers, transmitting love at the Joltik embryos within.
“They’re so cold,” Joltik continued, increasingly frantic. “I keep putting webs on them, but they’re so cold.”
Jane smiled, and released Growly one more time. “Rest here, old friend. Keep them warm.”
Growly wiggled under the coating of webs and curled up, her ambient heat already raising the temperature in the room. Joltik jumped for joy, and then she, Sylveon, and Jane heard a loud, cold wind outside and rushed out of the room.
Just outside the chamber where Joltik had found the eggs, Froslass had tracked Erikson and trapped him in a block of ice. Jane, Sylveon, and Joltik approached.
“Looks like you’re finally done running,” Jane greeted, hands on her hips.
“Did you ever wonder why Team Rocket keeps chasing you two?” Erikson asked. The space around his right hand began to melt.
Jane stayed still, as did the three Pokémon.
“Think about it. You’ve been on the run for years. Why does Team Rocket even still care that you got Butch and Cassidy put away or disappeared with the boss’s talking Meowth?”
“I’m listening,” Jane answered, arms crossed in front of her.
“It’s because he wants you to be scared. He likes that you have to sleep with one eye open and move every few days. He likes that you’ve fled across entire regions to escape him. And,” Erikson continued as his icy trap shattered and three Pokémon coalesced around him, “he likes that you’re curious enough to let me stall.”
Behind Erikson, a black dog covered in bone armor and bearing curled horns growled at Froslass, and her eyes went wide with fear. On the other side of Erikson, an enormous purple bat with four wings flapped into existence, putting an expression of concern on Sylveon’s face. A little farther away, a gigantic three-legged rock creature covered in red crystalline spikes formed, and Joltik quaked in terror. Erikson cackled.
Crobat latched into Sylveon with a Poison Fang, injecting her with deadly venom. Houndoom roared at Froslass, unleashing an Inferno that melted her ice to almost nothing and left her ghostly center unconscious on the ground. Joltik concentrated, drawing Gigalith’s life energy out of it with Giga Drain, but the durable beast continued plodding toward the hatchery wall. Sylveon summoned up as much energy as she could and blasted Crobat with a Hyper Beam, slamming it into the cave ceiling with the force, but the beast flapped back into action. Gigalith pounded into the hatchery wall, making cracks that threatened to spill chunks of rock on the eggs within. Houndoom turned its attention to Joltik as Sylveon tried to recover from the exertion of the Hyper Beam and the venom coursing through her system.
Suddenly, smoke filled the cave, opaque enough that none of the participants could see each other. Jane recalled Froslass and kept Sylveon close to her, Pokéball ready in case she, too, needed to be removed from battle. Wind rushed around the group without clearing the air, as if creatures flitted about in the dark, followed by the squelching noises of venomous substances being poured and squirted at Erikson’s Pokémon. Houndoom used Flamethrower after the first time, but struck nothing, and the poison attacks continued. The sound of solid, metallic objects colliding with Gigalith over and over again drew their attention that way, as did several electric shocks aimed at Crobat. Soon, Erikson’s last three Pokémon fell, and the smoke cleared.
A swarm of Koffings filled the cavern, some in the last stages of belching Sludge Bombs onto Houndoom, a rare few with electric attacks discharging excess sparks after dispatching Crobat, some with the telltale gleam of a Steel-type Gyro Ball slowly ceasing to spin after pounding Gigalith into submission. Erikson lay on the floor a few meters away, a pyramid of Koffings holding him down. Floating next to Jane was a single Weezing, grinning ecstatically. Jane’s face lit up as she hugged her rescuer.
“I never thought I’d see you again,” she squeezed out before the crying started.
“This is my happiest dream,” Weezing stated, “to be here with you again.”
“It’s been so strange without you, like part of myself was gone.”
“I am here now,” Weezing continued, “and I feel whole.”
Jessie, Jane, and Meowth, the former two back in their ordinary clothes, reunited near the Joltik hatchery and caught up with their long-estranged Pokémon. Arbok was wrapped around Jessie, and Weezing sat in Jane’s lap, while the pair’s Koffing and Ekans packs stayed close and listened.
“Your plan was to move into the Safari Zone?” Meowth asked Arbok and Weezing.
“It seemed like the safest place,” Weezing answered.
“Poachers are everywhere. We even ran into Rico again,” Arbok continued, his voice quavering with remembered fear. “But this place is guarded.”
“I’m glad you found your way here,” Jane continued, hugging Weezing and eliciting a smile and a contented puff.
“I’m just sad Gyarados and Wobbuffet won’t get to see you,” Jessie thought aloud sadly.
“Or Chimecho,” Jane added. “We all missed you so much.”
Weezing and Arbok’s faces turned sad. Jane and Jessie stood and disentangled themselves from their first friends, and Jane approached the hatchery.
“It’s time for us to go, Joltik. The police will be investigating this place soon, once Samantha tells them who we found in here, and we can’t let them find us.”
Joltik, still adding silk to the egg-filled chargestones even with Growly napping off her injuries underneath, turned frantic again. “But…they need me. They can’t leave. It’ll be…it’ll be so cold. They’re all alone.”
Jane’s face twisted in a cruel mask of elation and heartbreak. “Did…you want to stay here, Joltik?”
“I have to stay. They need me. They’re all alone. They’re…all…” Joltik began to glow, and to grow. From her hand-sized diminution, she swelled until she was larger than Sylveon, and her fuzz no longer obscured her four-legged, spider-like shape. With a new, larger voice that repeated “Galvantula” instead of “Joltik,” she continued, “…alone.” Under her, some of the rocks began to glow and crack, and one broke apart as a swarm of at least twenty Joltiks ran out and clambered all over Galvantula. “They need me.”
Jane got on her knees and took Galvantula’s pedipalps in her hands. “Jessie, Meowth, and the rest of us will see you again. We don’t know when, but we’ll find our way back here and visit you. And you can introduce us to your whole brood once they’ve grown a bit.” Jane scratched the nearest Joltik’s head and received a contented click.
“I’ll miss you.” Galvantula held Jane’s hands more tightly than she should have.
“I’ll miss you, too,” Jane’s eyes welled, and her voice began to crack “Here’s one last present, for old times’ sake.” She held up a nine-volt battery, the same brand that had been Joltik’s very first gift from her. The two hugged one last time, and Jane returned Growly to her Pokéball and walked out of the hatchery, eyes full of tears. She, Jessie, and Meowth took a few steps toward the maintenance entrance when Seviper, Arbok, and Weezing stopped them.
“We have done everything we could for the Koffings and Ekanses,” Weezing insisted, eyes welling.
“I will stay and protect them,” Seviper added, strength clearly hiding sadness, “in case Team Rocket tries anything here again.”
“We want to travel with you again,” Arbok added.
Jessie and Jane hugged their old boon companions with joy. “Nothing would make us happier,” Jane answered. Jessie was more reticent.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Seviper?” they asked. “The battles won’t be like you had traveling with us.”
“I think I’ve had enough of that kind of battle for a while,” Seviper answered. “It’s time for me to live a different life. I think part of me misses the Pokémon house.”
Jessie hugged their Pokémon, feeling their hands on her armor plates one last time.
“Besides, you heard Joltik. They need me.”
“I don’t want you to leave,” Jessie squeezed out.
“If there’s anything that traveling with you and Jane has shown me, it’s that there aren’t any heroes,” Seviper continued, choking on her words, “just the people who show up when they’re needed.”
Arbok wrapped around the pair, providing gentle compression. Jane, Sylveon, Meowth, Pumpkaboo, Weezing, Galvantula, and her brood of baby Joltiks added themselves to the hug, one by one, and the Ekanses and Koffings watched, sad and happy all at once. A few minutes later, Jane and Jessie recalled Sylveon and Pumpkaboo, and then dug deep in their backpacks to produce two scuffed, worn, and well-loved Pokéballs that Arbok and Weezing were only too eager to inhabit once more. Where those balls were, they placed the ones that once held Seviper and Joltik. On their way up the ladder, they took one last look at the Pokémon assembled therein, and smiled.
“What should we do next?” Jane asked.
“Pokémon center,” Jessie answered. “Then, picnic on the beach, all fifteen of us.”
“That’ll be the best occasion for your birthday present.”
Jessie gave their long-time companion a long, long smile. “I should have guessed.”