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Chapter 24: Diametrically OpposedEdit

“And so, here we are at Vermillion,” remarked Kirlia a bit languidly as they arrived at the city’s gym.

“For your information, we entered town an hour—“

“For your information, I knew what you were about to say before you even began saying it,” Kirlia amicably cut Cloyster off.

“Well, should we give it a try, hmm?” asked Ash. The others quickly gave their assent – more accurately, Ash peered into their minds and discerned that they were all excited. Of course, they were all worried. Even after their successful fight against Team Rocket back at Silph Co., anxiety consumed them. A gym leader wasn’t someone you could defeat so easily and then dismiss, particularly when they were match-oriented ones. Gyms like Sabrina’s and Giovanni’s were such match-oriented ones, whereas Erika’s was not. It mattered a lot, because a gym leader was often the best in the entire town. Beating one in a match really meant that you were something.

Because match-oriented gym leaders’ pokemon were all in the high-80’s or higher in maturity level, and far more experience – which was a lot more than the number might hint at. Not only did the constant life-at-risk theme mean that they matured incredibly quickly, but they had been at it for decades. Battle-preparedness wasn’t the same thing as maturity, and for them it was obviously even greater. These were about the top hundred-odd pokemon in the world, militarily speaking. By comparison, Ash’s pokemon, though already significantly above-average, were just that.

And enthusiastic though Ash and his team might be, none of them really expected to win this match.

“At least we had prepared,” Charmeleon offered. “Maybe it’s even a good thing I’m still not in my final form yet.”

Ash didn’t have a good reply in mind. Though it was true that Charizard, being a flyer, would be exceptionally weak against electric types, that only applied if the Charizard was actually mid-flight. Once it touched the ground such a temporary label would go away. Meanwhile, he really wanted his Charmeleon to evolve. Unless it was simply incapable of doing so, which was such a terrible thought Ash immediately dropped this line of reasoning.

On to another: This was the first gym he would be really challenging.

The Gym was large, but the entrance for trainers was not the same as the one for spectators.

“Hello! I see you’re here to take on the Vermillion City Electric Gym Leader Lieutenant Surge! Welcome! I’m the professional gym introducer. This gym focuses on electric type pokemon, so I hope you have some pokemon that know tactics useful against them. Type advantages would help too! Though nothing beats solid, all-around experience! Lt. Surge has been gym leader for ten years and a trainer for thirty!”

“Thanks for the intro,” muttered Ash. This was about the most disheartening ‘introduction’ he could receive. He picked up a pen and printed his name on the agenda. The fact that the wait list was incredibly short meant something about whom he would soon be facing.

“All right, come on in!” indicated the introducer. Ash found himself looking at an array of what looked like glass-lidded switches. “The entry to the arena up ahead is blocked by a digital lock. You will have to flip the right two switches if you want it to open. Every time you fail, however, the ‘correct’ switches will reset randomly. Good luck!”

“Well, I wonder what we should do?” asked Ash to his team as they walked in (good thing the first set of doors was a double, or else Cloyster couldn’t even fit in). “Uhh… sir? Are we allowed to break down these doors?”

“Absolutely not!” chuckled the introducer. “Too many people have asked that question…”

But there are thirty switches in this room, and that means only a 3 chance of success on any one try…Or I can try looking into someone’s mind for the answer… except if it’s random there won’t be any mind to look into… Gosh, I might have better luck if I had an electric-type pokemon to help sort this out…

“Okay then, let’s do this!” said Ash to Kirlia, who jumped down. “Here’s what we’ll do: You go teleport around until you run into the right switch, and then I’ll hit the first one. If we fail just start all over again. It’ll be fastest that way.” Kirlia nodded, then teleported, hitting switches one by one until Ash heard a chiming sound. Then he hit the switch right next to him. A winding-down sound was heard, which was not what he wanted. But after a few repeats (which didn’t tire out Kirlia the slightest, teleportation being the first thing it had mastered), the switch Ash was next to became randomly the correct one. The door creased open.

“All right, we’re in!”

As soon as Ash walked in he was confronted by a giant of a retired lieutenant. “Oh hey! You’re a little to small to be playing with the big boys, aren’t ya?” he asked.

“Well, looks can be deceiving,” Ash replied with a smile. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

“Hey, well if you put in the effort of finding the right switch, it’s the least I can do, right? Okay then, so this is how the match goes. Winner is two out of three matches, which may be interrupted by visits to the poke-Center next door. With that said, go Minun!”

Ash had simultaneously thrown up his Charmeleon. The two faced off against each other on the arena, which was seriously in disarray from all the challengers’ pokemon using moves like Dig and Earthquake to take advantage of type. Charmeleon started off attempting the feint that Ash had taught it about a month earlier. But the Minun wasn’t distracted in the slightest. It released a violent burst of electricity just as Charmeleon had started rushing toward the cute mouse-pokemon. And the fire-type fell flat on its face, startled and evidently struck unconscious.

“Oh no!” cried Ash in dismay, rushing over to the poke-Center.

As always, his Charmeleon was soon fine again, and this town’s Nurse Joy greeted him as cheerily as did those in all the other hospitals. But when he returned to the gym he had to go through the switches all over again. And he had to win the next two in succession to get the badge. It didn’t sound very likely.

“Ah, so you’re back,” said Lt. Surge when Ash finally succeeded a second time.

“Yep, and this time I’ll use my Cloyster,” he said.

Lt. Surge chuckled. “Right, and forget everything you learned about type disadvantages? What level are your pokemon anyway?”

Ash was brimming with anger at having been thusly ridiculed. He knew his team was too. “Right then, well I’ll show you! Go Cloyster!” he said, and Cloyster ambled up to the arena.

“Go Plusle!”

The moment it came out it sent out a ream of electricity. The fact that the ground was broken dirt and clay, and that Cloyster quickly spun like a drill into the ground, should have meant that the electricity would be diverted. But it wasn’t, and upon striking the Cloyster it was electrocuted.

“Darn it! Return Cloyster!” said Ash, recalling his pokemon and rushing off for the poke-Center without a word to the gym leader who had so easily beaten him twice.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

It was June 14th. It was nearing prime time to for cruising season.

Ash had now finally arrived at his destination the Vermillion Port after having trekked to Celadon, then back to Saffron and then southward. The journey by foot would have only taken ten days, but he had been spending time training his pokemon on their new moves. After all, one couldn’t simply enter the tournament with their pokemon loaded up on TM’s and expect to win without getting them any practice. Now, his Cloyster could at least shoot a mark a hundred yards off quite accurately with its ice beams, and his pokemon team choreography had gotten better. With new abilities came new opportunities to take advantage of them, combining whenever necessary. For example, a head-on attack between Charmeleon’s flamethrower and Cloyster’s ice beam made for a potent flash-vaporization that generated so much steam it could toss them both backward…

He walked along the plank toward the waiting SS. Anne. His pokemon were all out and enjoying their first view of the coast in a long while (for Charmeleon, ever since they had left Pallet; for the others, Ash couldn’t remember them even going to the seashore). Just like all the others. The trainers had all gotten their pokemon out, and both in front and behind him, people were chatting to each other about their pokemon exploits and other small talk.

“Hey Ash, wait up! Why do you always insist on leaving me behind?” asked a petite fourteen-year-old girl right behind him as she rushed up, pokemon recalled for the moment. Ash knew her name to be, of all things, April, and knew that she hadn’t a single badge. Yet she was traveling for free, and all because of him, Ash. And now she was just a pest, following him so closely.

Flashback

Cloyster was saying, “are you sure that your Friend Emeritus badge is worth anything?” when he and Ash approached the registration desk several days earlier.

“Hello there! What’s your name?”

“Ash Ketchum from Pallet.”

“Do you have at least two gym badges? Two badges and fare is free!”

“Yeah, um, I have this one,” said Ash, extending his Rainbow Badge. The cashier checked it for genuineness, then handed it back. “And I also have this,” said Ash, putting forth his Friend Emeritus card-key.

“Huh? What’s that? Did a gym leader run out of badges?”

“Err… No…”

“Don’t you have another gym badge?”

“No, I don’t, but this is Silph Co.’s Friend Emeritus badge…”

“Strange, I’ve never seen it before…”

“It’s rare. It means that I’m a friend of Silph Co.”

“So? We can’t let you on for free just because you have something rare…”

“Oh come on, you do realize that Silph Co. is sponsoring this tournament thing, right? I don’t think your silver bowl is so stable you won’t be fired if the CEO himself gets mad at you!”

“What?! Who do you think you are?” The two glared at each other.

“Meh, I’m going to have to check this one with the corporation then,” said the cashier, backing down and taking up the phone. “Hello? This is a cashier from Bolt Brothers Inc., I need to know about your Friend Emeritus roster…”

Meanwhile, Ash’s concentration was thrown off by shrieks of protest from a girl in the line next to him. Like Ash, she had black hair and pale skin. She was definitely more cute than pretty, and carried on her shoulder was a small leather purse. She looked familiar to Ash… like he had seen her a long time ago – in a mirror, perhaps? But that’s not right… She evidently didn’t have the two badges required either, since she was blabbering on and on about how costly even the ‘reduced fare’ was. Ash looked up at the board and noted that the reduced fare was 2,000.00. Only 2,000 Kanto dollars. That was cheap… At least Ash thought so at the moment.

“…But I’ve just got to go! I can’t pass up on this opportunity! I don’t have two badges, but I have one, and that counts for something, right? Come on, just let me, pretty please with sugar on top?” she pleaded.

“Umm… No, I don’t want to lose my job,” resisted the cashier at the next line.

Ash could hear someone shout through his own cashier’s phone, “…Ah yes, the only trainer Friend Emeritus is Ketchum, Ash, from Pallet Town, and if he’s trying to come on this cruise line you had better let him if you know what’s good for ya!”

The cashier was visibly taken aback. “Uh… Okay, I’ll take your word for it…” He hung up and turned to Ash, a bit startled that the little youngster Ash was actually someone important. “It’s been approved, you can go on the SS. Anne for free, even though you don’t have the necessary badges,” he said, sighing.

“See?” exclaimed the girl right next to him to her cashier. “He gets to go, and he doesn’t have two badges! Why can’t you let me go too!?” She was evidently making quite a fuss and not noticing that people around her were being embarrassed. Others’ faces had gone redder than hers. She was evidently pretty darn immature…

“No, sorry, we can’t do that,” the man replied.

“Humph!” exclaimed Ash. “Let her go for free too.”

“WHAT?! As if getting to go for free isn’t enough for you?” exclaimed Ash’s cashier.

Ash cocked a glance at him. “You really do want to lose your job, huh? Well then I’ll make it easy for you,” he threatened, reaching for the cashier’s phone.

“Aargh! Okay, okay, you’re the boss here,” the cashier gave in, and prepared boarding passes for them.

Ash smiled, then pulled the girl over to his line, handing to her a boarding pass.

“That guy’s going to make this company bankrupt,” muttered the other cashier.

“Hey, shut your mouth if you don’t want a dismissal letter coming your way,” bluffed Ash. Turning to the girl: “What’s your name?”

“I’m April from Violet City. And may I know your name?”

“Ash from Pallet Town.”

“I just want you to know, Ash, that you’re my hero.”

End Flashback

And that’s how it all started, lamented Ash as he finally entered the cruise ship. People were milling about everywhere – Ash was pretty sure just about all the rooms would be filled – and many had already gotten around to swimming in the pool or sunbathing.

April grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him along ever so innocently. “Come on Ash, let’s change into our bathing suits and relax by the pool!”

Ash resisted, which wasn’t hard, since he was significantly stronger than she was. “I didn’t come here to relax,” he protested curtly and pulled in another direction.

“Oh come on, Ash, this is a cruise liner! Oh yeah, you want to join the competition. That doesn’t start until evening. Until then let’s go get a tan! Erm… What are you waiting for?”

“Go do what you want,” said Ash abruptly as he twisted his arm out of April’s grasp (which was just about the simplest thing in martial arts he had practiced). He had no desire to have his goals tied down by a total stranger. “Cloyster, you can go overboard and do some swimming in a real ocean for a change as opposed to the Saffron City swimming pool. Charmeleon, those cooks may need your help in the kitchen, and it’ll be good practice for controlled fire. And Kirlia, how did the scanning go?”

“Hey, Ash!” exclaimed April indignantly. “What about me?”

“What about you?”

“Aren’t we going to do something fun?”

Kirlia jumped off and landed right in front of April. “How about let’s dance?”

April mused for a moment, then nodded sweetly, “okay, let’s do that!”

Ash chuckled. At least now she wouldn’t be distracting him. He stood on the sidelines, spreading out his psychic feelers to look for any threats – and especially any Team Rocket undercover agents.

After having scanned about a hundred of them he came across one such Team Rocket operative. From there, he delved into the man’s mind and quickly conjured up mental images of what he looked like, as well as the other agents in this mission and their appearances as well. Ash snickered. Their plot, which was so evidently to win all four master ball trophies if possible, would soon be thwarted – and by a boy at that.

By now practically everyone had boarded. The PA. suddenly announced, “Welcome everyone to the SS. Anne’s maiden voyage, and we hope you all will have a wonderful time aboard! To further make this a delight, make sure you know what the daily activities will be. You can find your complete schedules in your cabins. First up: those of you who have registered for the tournament, please come to the on-board poke-Center to draw lotteries for your first opponent. If you haven’t been informed earlier, the first three rounds will be the preliminaries…“

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