Air puffed out of Rhea’s cheeks as she laid in bed, holding her phone in front of her while tuning into Kanto’s Channel 3 News.
The rectangular device projected the image, blowing it up to four times the object’s size; her mother always sent her the latest prototype technology since she worked alongside many of the top silicon-based companies such as Rocket, Silph Co., and Devon Corporation.
She frowned as a few big stories released that week appeared on the left side of the main feed, showing the mass recall of the Rotom-based technology that recently took off worldwide, starting in the Galar region.
From glancing through it, she concluded that the machines were brought into question after discovering an infamous terrorist, Commander Charon, had a hand in developing the process for the notorious criminal syndicate Galactic.
Upon further investigation by the United Indigo League, Rotom Corp was found to be housing many Galactic sleeper agents that had infected most of the devices with spyware to gather public information.
The scandal crushed the company’s stocks as investors jumped ship, but many were already under investigation by the International Police Force, and a few upcoming tech-kids purchased the failing business at a dirt-cheap price to try and salvage the company.
Many experts were joking that if they managed to revive the outfit, then it would be the biggest business-related miracle since Rocket came back.
Expectedly, the news flipped from the Rotom Corp scandal to Giovanni Rocket and his rise from the ashes of his burning empire to leave the world in shock at the conglomerate’s recovery fifteen years ago.
He’d been convicted of crimes a mile long, but through the efforts of countless lawyers and backroom deals with the newly formed United Indigo League, still evading reporters’ relentless assault for answers, he walked away clean. Yet there he was on the news feed, appearing to be in his thirties, despite his stated age of sixty-seven, and once again one of the world’s largest corporate authorities.
Rhea’s coral blue eyes moved away from the story, swiping the hologram to the left to minimize the other feeds.
Even with that massive exposé, the biggest news taking place around the world was the launch of this year’s Bronze League, turned International, and since she’d turned seventeen two months ago, this was her year.
Tomorrow she would be flown to Pallet City since she qualified for the Oak Starter Award, which would be televised.
Honestly, she didn’t want to go through it all since she hadn’t decided to take training seriously like her older brother or father, but it was a regional law to at least attempt one Gym.
She wasn’t sure which path to take for her future, and even if being a Master-tier trainer came with many perks, it was mostly a pipe dream since less than .05% of trainers ever reached those heights.
A text pulled her mind away from her conflicted heart, bringing a smile to her lips. Swiping off the news, she brought up her text messages and activated the most recent, connecting with her cousin, Bianca, in the Unova region.
“Hey, Rhea! Are you free to chat? Tomorrow’s the big day!”
In response, Rhea held down the left edge of her device, activating the voice feature. “Call Bianca.”
The ring only lasted a few seconds before her cousin’s smiling face entered the expanded holographic frame; since she was a Master-tier Trainer, she didn’t look much older than her mid-teens with the strength of her spiritual and physical fortitude when she’d become a Trainer.
“Rhea!” She squealed, shoulder-length blonde hair and red-rim glasses bouncing as she resituated herself on a couch. “So, how are you feeling?”
Rhea’s blue irises shifted to the side as she gave Bianca a half-smile. “Like I want to skip the whole thing.”
“No, c’mon,” Bianca giggled. “It’s not that bad, and you know, when I first went out, there was a pretty big upset with a lot of the trainers that weren’t used to the fourteen age restriction … seventeen now; kids were goin’ crazy!”
“Yeah, I heard,” Rhea mumbled. “A lot tried to fake their age and stuff, but that was forever ago…”
Bianca’s left eye creased suspiciously. “Aye, are you callin’ me old? I’m only twenty-six, I’ll have you know!”
Rhea giggled, brushing her long, creamy blonde bangs back. “Like I wouldn’t? How’s Auntie Cynthia?”
“Heh, how else would a woman about to reach fifty be when she’s a Legendary-tier Master?” Bianca scoffed. “Last I heard, my mom was meeting up with Steven Stone … gah, he’s so dreamy looking, too…”
Rhea smirked. “And like double your age!”
“Bah,” Bianca waved her hand, “he’s not THAT old, but yeah … Master-tier Trainers can fool the best of us, not even getting into Champion-tier.”
“Mmh?” Rhea asked with an impish grin. “Didn’t you text me last week about an eighteen-year-old that looked pretty handsome?”
Rhea giggled as she blustered.
“That was for you! Geez, you know I’m very happily married to a very charming young man. Humph … so, umm, yeah! So … what’s goin’ on over in nowhere land?”
Rhea spat out a long sigh while turning her head against her black pillow-sheet to stare at her room. She wasn’t sure if it was big or small by average standards because she’d lived in a remote forest village between Pallet, Viridian, and the ocean, three miles to the west.
The floors were polished wood that she kept clean, and a large Pokéball mat was in the room’s center. Above her bed was mounted a new crystal holographic display that would give her a high-resolution image of whatever she chose to beam to it through her phone.
She was lying on a reasonably comfortable full-mattress in the back-left corner, and across from her bed sat a plant collection; she’d harvested it from the local forest with her father to liven up her room when she was eight and had taken care of it ever since.
On the right-corner were her desk and thin laptop that handled all her school work, connected to the village’s central databank that housed every one of the residents’ twelve kids’ records. Once Jason and her left, there’d be ten left.
Rhea glared at the bright sun, beaming through the window between her desk and bed before settling on her door in the opposite corner; the walk-in closet was beside it.
“Yeah … nothin’ much happening here but Master Trainers zipping in and out, doing whatever it is they do.”
“Aww … I guess it is pretty busy right now,” Bianca mumbled while sucking on her lower lip.
Rhea’s eyes narrowed. “Oh? I heard Sabin’s coming back to see me off, but who knows when that’ll be … are you hinting that that might not happen? I hate that all you Masters know everything that’s happening while I’m left here, shocked when my brother just so happens to show up the night before, and no one tells me he’s back,” she pouted. “You know that’s happened!”
Bianca’s cheeks puffed to the side as Rhea swiped up to move the image to the overhead display, setting her phone to the side while glaring up at her cousin. “Hey, I know it’s rough … oh, that’s a cute blue dress you’re wearing!”
“Don’t change the subject…”
“Okay, okay,” Bianca sighed, repositioning herself on the couch and taking a sip of some liquid to buy herself time to think. “Yes, you live in a small government-affiliated base of operations that has a lot of Master Trainers … minimum, and that means you don’t get to have all the cool stuff and friends of a great big City-State like Viridian, but you see things no one gets to see!”
Rhea released a low growl, puffing out her cheeks. “I’m supposed to just go into this lab and randomly get selected to join a team of two girls I don’t even know … I’ll be the weird girl that’s never been to a big city … no, not even a small city like Pallet, which is massive compared to this nameless place.”
“Well…” Bianca trailed off, looking for the right words while Stoutland roamed in the background behind the couch, over four and a half-foot-tall at the shoulders. “Eh … wait, you won’t be the weird girl, Rhea!”
“Why not?” She mumbled, crossed legs tightening as she played with her feet. “Every one of them comes from renowned families, right? It’s always like that, and we both know who’s probably gonna be chosen…”
“Yeah, but there’s a reason for that,” Bianca replied, resting her cheek against her hand.
“I know, I know … the whole aspect of growing up around strong Pokémon strengthens your spiritual and physical fortitude over time.”
“Which is a blessing where you’re from!” Bianca chimed.
“Feels more like a curse…”
“Umm … yeah, I can see where you’re coming from … what? I can!” Bianca huffed, seeing her expression.
“Hey, you know I’m more of a researcher like your mom and not a big Battle-Trainer like mine.”
“Still a Master-tier Battle-Trainer,” Rhea countered.
“Yeah, well … I kind of blame Hilbert for that,” Bianca giggled with a reminiscent smile.
“Right?” Rhea’s mood lifted with the topic shift. “How is your clumsy Champion-tier husband?”
“He’s not clumsy!” Bianca growled defensively, lips falling into a searing glare.
Rhea’s hands came up to protest, but she couldn’t help the laughter in her voice. “Hey, hey, I’m just saying … there’s nothing wrong with being clumsy! He’s a former Champion, but … still couldn’t conquer that third step in front of all those press cameras … and the third time just made me go oof!”
Bianca’s cheeks darkened, likely feeling embarrassed on her husband’s behalf. “Okay, well … it was a bad day for him, okay? He had a rough battle; Iris wasn’t faring much better after she took the Championship Title.”
Her cousin forced a smile while switching the topic. “You know, he and Ethan are planning a little training session soon! He’s so excited to train with someone stronger than him; he can’t stop talking about it in his sleep,” she blushed with a light giggle. “He’s so cute.”
Rhea couldn’t say anything in response to that, so she conceded. “He kind of is, isn’t he?”
“You eyeing my man, hmm?” Bianca grinned before giving her a wink. “I don’t blame you, but he’s taken! Now, what about your mom? Has she talked to you yet about your big…”
Her cousin gave a start as a beep sounded in the background.
“Cooking something?” Rhea mused, knowing how hard she’d been trying to learn better recipes.
“Umm, yeah … shoot, eh … give me two seconds!”
Bianca was already running off-screen, leaving her phone on the table; she could faintly hear her cousin talking to herself.
“Oh, Arceus … it didn’t smell like it was burning … wait, no, the edges are supposed to be darker. Why … no … I used Moomoo Milk…” She groaned. “It said it could be a substitute, though, right? The measurements were…”
Rhea got up, arching her back with a low groan as she moved to the bathroom to relieve herself.
Once finished, she washed her hands and stared at herself in the mirror, doing a quick inspection of her face, not wanting to have any blemishes when meeting the two girls she’d be spending a decent chunk of the coming year with.
She had sharp features, thick, straight, waist-length hair, and a decent figure like her Aunt Cynthia; although, Rhea took more after her father’s side of the family with her facial structure.
Standing at five-foot-eight, she was at an average height for most of the women in town, and she knew she was above average when it came to her looks, but the issue with being surrounded by Master-tier Trainers was that all of them had ideal physiques. She had to remind herself that the men and women here were not the standards she saw online.
Her fair skin was less common in Kanto, where most residents she saw on the news were more yellow-skinned, but she couldn’t do anything about something she was born with, and she didn’t tan well. All of those traits were quite normal to natives of the Sinnoh region, though.
Sighing, she walked back to her bed, noticing a text in the top left corner of the screen; Bianca was still struggling with her cooking fiasco, trying to figure out where she’d gone wrong.
Bringing up her phone, Rhea activated the message, reading the overlay as it popped up.
From Mom? Oh … she’ll call in a little bit. Well, at least there’s that news.
She stared at the message, mind retreating to ponder on the notice.
How long has it been since I last spoke to her … a few weeks? Yeah, ever since she had that big project, she’s been so secretive about it … typical.
Rhea’s focus returned to the projection as movement happened; Bianca was lifting the device up. “Gah … I seriously messed this one up,” she sighed. “I’m just glad Hilbert isn’t here…”
“Hmm, planning on hiding the evidence?”
“Already taken care of!” Bianca grinned. “Looks like takeout again … ugh, it’s only like two places I can go to here. I suck…”
“The casserole agrees,” Rhea chuckled as her cousin plopped back into her seat with a grunt, “and still not as bad as where I’m at.”
“Hey, a little support here! C’mon, and it was a … you know what, nevermind. How’s Aunt Christie? Talk to your mom?”
“Yeah, actually … she just messaged me.”
“Oh? What’d she say?”
“Uh … somethin’ about catching up. She’s been pretty busy with her latest project.”
Bianca rolled her eyes. “She’s always busy with a project … always going undercover.”
“Well, not anymore,” Rhea pointed out with a bright expression.
Rhea sucked in a breath through her teeth. “Eh…”
“Oof … yeah, kind of slipped my mind. Your dad’s not on good terms with her right now.”
“I mean, she was a bit rude last time she was here, from what I heard anyway,” Rhea shrugged. “I wasn’t there, but apparently things got a little heated between them about some kind of mission … probably with my mother involved.”
“... Yet she’s not here,” Rhea pointed out with a loud sigh.
“Your mom is one of the most premier breeders and scientists in the world … I’m sure she has a lot of work still in progress. Just give it a little time.”
“Time … I’m going on my Bronze-tier journey tomorrow,” Rhea huffed, glancing over at the drawer that held the damaged handmade letter her mother crafted for her eighth birthday.
Rhea’s brow furrowed as she heard a knock at the downstairs door, turning to stare at the floor.
Bianca tilted her head. “Expecting company?”
“Uh … yeah, one of the Granite twins asked for some help on his recent tests … Janice’s Pokémon nature quizzes.”
“Oof … I’ve heard horror stories. Alright,” Bianca beamed, fiddling with her hair for a moment, “I’ll catch you later, Rhea! Oh, and don’t sweat it! Everything will become a lot clearer when you have a Pokémon of your own.”
“Everyone always says that…” Rhea chuckled ruefully, picking up her phone to end the call. “Alright, later, Bi.”
She cut the connection and went downstairs to welcome in the nervous thirteen-year-old boy. “Hey, Kristen. Ready to study up?”
“Uh … I just…” He paused, glancing back at the houses surrounding the forest they lived in.
“C’mon,” Rhea chuckled, swinging the door wide open, and her father’s Gengar appeared out of thin air beside her with a wicked grin on his face.
Kristen’s eyes widened upon seeing him. “Franky!” He cheered, running in to see the ghost-Pokémon. “Man … I really want a Ghastly for my first Pokémon,” he said with shining eyes. “Ghost-types are so cool.”
Rhea lifted an eyebrow at the hovering ball of dark energy as he puffed up his chest, and she tapped his forehead lightly with her knuckles, making him frown as she caught him in a corporeal form.
“Yeah … I don’t know about that. This dude has made my life a living nightmare! The first time I tried sneaking out … eh, I was a bit younger than you, and he put me in a dream! I thought Veridian City was filled with Ponyta and candy for weeks … no one even tried to correct me.”
She rolled her eyes as Franky snickered from behind her. “So, uh … you need help with Pokémon natures, right?”
“Well … MMH…” Kristen swallowed, glancing back at the door. “You see … my sister’s been making fun of me because I keep scoring lower than her, and … I just want to throw the paper in her face for once!”
“Mmh?” Rhea’s eyes sparkled. “You know she’s been getting help from Jason, right?”
Kristen’s eyes widened. “She … no! She said she was going off to study in the woods, and Dad said it was okay!”
“Yup … studying with Jason in the woods. Between you and me,” Rhea winked, “I think she’s got a crush on him.”
Somehow, his eyes opened further. “Yeah … now that you mention it … yeah. She won’t stop talking about him at home!”
“So,” Rhea giggled. “Do you want to get a better score?”
He nodded with a determined look.
“Good, ‘cause I know all Janice’s tricks!”
Rhea spent the next forty minutes tutoring him, and by the flush on his cheeks, she could guess that it took a lot of courage for him to work up the nerve to ask for her help since this was the last day she’d be in the village for a while.
She finished the lesson when her mother called, waving him off at the door. Once it shut, she answered the call.
“Hey, Mom … Mom?”
Her mother was close to the screen, dark bags under her bright green eyes, and her long golden hair, ordinarily well-groomed, was a mess. She scratched the back of her head with an almost manic smile. “I did it!”
“Woah … Mom, are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Her mother asked, eyes wide as she scratched her arm, voice unusually fast. “So, I was dreaming—running experiments, and there was things—thing that popped up—I got the egg, and boom!”
“Mom … Mom! Slow down, you’re not making any sense,” she mumbled, glancing toward her parents’ room to the top left of the stairs. “Uh … Dad isn’t here right now…”
“Huh, why do I need your father? No, no, no, I’m talking about you! I was going through all my notes and all the investigations, analyses, and trials I’ve been doing—oh, well, uh—what was I talking about…”
“When was the last time you slept, Mom?” Rhea asked, gut tightening as she sat on the front room couch, leaning forward with rising panic.
“Uh … sleep? No, no, no, I don’t—can’t sleep!” She laughed unsteadily, twirling her index finger around a lock of her messy hair. “I spend—no, no, that’s not right … no, I sent you your Starter Pokémon!”
“Wha…” Rhea was thoroughly baffled. She’d seen her mother go a few days without sleep for her research before, but this was a whole new level of insomnia and delirium. “What egg … Starters?”
“Eggs … eggs! I sent you your first two Pokémon!” She cheered.
“I … wait, but I’ve already picked out…”
“Oak’s little thing that you did online? No, no, that’s no issue,” she growled, scratching the back of her head again. “No, there’s a—I made sure it’s all good—it’s clearly in the rules that you can have a Pokémon beforehand! You just can’t choose one of the Starters … anyways, right—yeah! I did it!”
Rhea opened her mouth but no thought formed in her brain; there were just so many questions colliding together, resulting in her mind going blank.
Catching her slack-jawed response, her mother nodded with a bright grin. “Ah-hah! Yeah, I know! I’ve been thinking—doing and running—a fire was in the lake … wait, no, no … I got the package all done up and sent out! To the thing—t-the thing … what thing? Oh, it should be…”
Rhea shot to her feet as her mother’s eyes rolled back, and she slumped against the table.
“Mom? Mom! Mom, get up!”
Head darting to the door, she tried to think of anything she could do, but who would know where her mother was in the first place? The only person that came to mind was her father, but he’d gone off that morning to speak to a few other Grandmaster Trainers.
Deciding there wasn’t any other option, she bridged the call with her father, hoping he’d answer. To her relief, it only took several rings before it connected; her dad’s handsome young face and thick blonde hair came into focus, blowing back in the wind. “Rhea, Christie? What’s…”
She could barely hear him past the rushing wind, and Rhea figured he was flying on the back of Jeffery, his Fearow. “Mom! She just collapsed…”
“Huh? I can’t hear you! One second…”
The angle shifted on the phone to show the Kanto Indigo Mountain Range as Jeffery fell into a nosedive, rushing to the ground, and there was a package strapped to the back of the saddle, only used when transporting goods.
Once on ground, her father addressed her again, staying mounted. “Now, what’s going on?” He chuckled while studying his wife. “Did she fall asleep on…”
“No, Dad, listen!” Rhea yelled, face turning red. “I’ve never seen her act so crazy! She was talking gibberish, and cutting her sentences, then just collapsed, but she was super, super hyper … crazy hyper like she was on drugs!”
“Eh?” Her father’s smile swiftly fell at her explanation, but he nodded calmly. “Ah … okay, okay, yeah, I get it. No, it’s fine—it’s really fine, Rhea, okay? Take a deep breath … feeling better?”
Rhea followed his instructions, but her heart was racing. “... No! You didn’t see her…”
“No, I’ve seen her when she gets like this,” her dad sighed, running his hand through his swept-back hair and adjusting his riding goggles. “She probably was experimenting with Mega and Synco-Burst evolutions or something … she can take it to the extreme. I’ll send Grandpa over to check up on her. She’s in Sootopolis City at the moment.”
“She’ll really be okay?” Rhea whispered, staring at the slumped figure of her mother, the spine of an ancient book was creating an imprint on her cheek as a bit of drool fell out of her mouth.
“Yeah, she’ll be fine! She’s just not that powerful as a Trainer to handle such things, but you know she can get impatient when I’m not there to help.
“I actually just picked up a package she had teleported over. It must be pretty important if she used an expensive method like that, and it’s addressed to you!” He laughed. “I’ll be back soon … oh, and I just heard Sabin’s flying in soon, too.”
Feeling a little better but still taking a few breaths to calm her racing heart, Rhea nodded. “I’m just happy … she really scared me!” Rhea growled, glaring at her mother; most of her face was hidden behind her ratty-looking hair.
“Yeah … she may be a borderline Master, but doing any kind of advanced synchronization is still pretty hard on Trainers of that level,” her dad stated with a forced smile.
“Umm, alright … so, when’s Sabin getting in?”
“Eh,” her father scratched his head, glancing to the left, “like … fifteen minutes or something? He’s flying in on his Aerodactyl, so it should be pretty quick.”
“F-Fifteen minutes!” Rhea yelped, glancing around the house. There really wasn’t a reason to be panicking, but she hadn’t seen her brother in person for over a month, and with limited people to talk to in her life, this was a big deal. “I’m not ready!”
Her father was more than accustomed to her flustered nature when Sabin came home; he chuckled silently as Jeffery prepared to jump into the air. “Anyways, I’ll see you soon, Honey! Love you, Christie; have a good rest…”
The feed cut, and Rhea ran upstairs, leaving the call with her mother on. Studying herself in the mirror and doing a few more brushes through her hair, she checked the house to see if it was presentable.
Why am I always the last one to know anything?!
Her back stiffened as a knock sounded at the door.
What … no, it’s too soon?
Doing one last glance over of herself, Rhea frowned at her sky blue, knee-length, flare dress. Puffing out a breath, she combed back her bangs and added a smile.
She took two steps before slowing to a stop in the hallway, brow furrowing.
Wait … Sabin wouldn’t knock? Who’s at the door, then?
Another knock sounded; it was a bit stronger this time but not rushed. Her lips became a line as she walked forward, pausing before the door. “Who’s there?”
“Who else?” Replied a lush feminine voice.
The hair on the back of Rhea’s neck stood up with surprised glee as she swiftly opened the door, flooding the hallway with the midday sunlight.